Tuesday, February 28, 2012
Paul Evans is best known for several hits he had in 1959-1960; "Midnight Special", "Happy-Go-Lucky Me" and the immortal "Seven Little Girls Sitting In The Back Seat" (all released on the Guaranteed label, a division of Carlton Records). However, his greatest success was as a songwriter. It was Paul Evans who wrote hits such as "I Gotta Know" and "The Next Step Is Love" by Elvis Presley, "When" by The Kalin Twins, "The New Breed" by Jackie Wilson, "The PTA" by The Coasters, and his biggest hit song, "Roses Are Red (My Love)" by Bobby Vinton. He also won a Clio award (the advertising industry's Oscar) for the song "Happiness Is", which for years was used as the jingle for Kent cigarettes (and was a hit for The Ray Conniff Singers). But, as this record will prove, Paul Evans was capable of some grade-A wackiness, along with grade-A hit songs!
He's also a great guy; I have interviewed him on my radio show in the past, and recently talked to him about this record, cut for the Kapp label in 1963!
PAUL EVANS: After my first round of 60s Guaranteed Records hits, I wound up cutting for the legendary Dave Kapp. When he first signed me, he said, "You know what's stalled your career? You haven't found your one niche." And then we proceeded to cut various odds and ends, including the very silly "I'm Gonna Build a Girl". Oh well. I had had several "novelty" hits in the past, so we went looking for another. Don't know much more about it, except that it was cut at Associated Studios (Then my home-away-from-home) and I originally tried to produce the record with someone else, but he couldn't cut it and so I stepped in to record it. Definitely not my finest hour!
ON THE RECORD: Was "I'm Gonna Build A Girl" meant to be a throwaway flip, or was it supposed to be the "A" side?
PE: I cut it as a "lark". The session was, as you can imagine, lots of laughs. But because of my prior successes with novelties, Dave was willing to take a chance with it. Maybe not such a hot idea. It was my last Kapp release. I don't recall if it was released as an "A" or "B" side.
OTR: Where was Associated Studios?
PE: Associated Studios was primarily a demo studio - but at the time, many "demos" were turning into finals (like "Seven Little Girls Sitting in the Back Seat"). It was located at 730 7th Avenue in Manhattan and, as I wrote, was my home-away-from-home when I had time to spare in the city.
OTR: What inspired this song? And who was the artist that was originally supposed to record it?
PE: The original artist was actually my brother-in-law, a terrific actor and singer who unfortunately didn't have the "pop spirit".
OTR: What were the circumstances in signing to Kapp? Did Dave Kapp actively pursue you or were you just looking for another deal after the contract with Guaranteed/Carlton expired?
PE: Dave asked to see me when we bumped into each other at some event or another - after I'd left Guaranteed/Carlton.
This record certainly is, as Paul says, lots of laughs. Basically, it's about a mad scientist who has no luck with the ladies. So instead of going the Jerry Lewis-"Nutty Professor" route, changing himself into a studly Buddy Love, he decides to build the perfect woman. Unfortunately, the woman he builds is SO perfect that she gets snapped up by a Hollywood talent agent. Alas, now the only time our scientist friend gets to see her is when he goes to the movies - with his mother! On top of everything else, Paul Evans delivers the story in a completely OUTRAGEOUS German/Bavarian accent!!
I live for the days when I find weird 45s like this, and Paul Evans certainly delivers the goods here. Check out Paul's website here - it's LOADED with great info and even greater stories about life on the road and in the "teen-idol" star-making machinery!!
Also, if you've been looking for Paul Evans' music, you can buy it from Paul himself! Click here.
Thanks a lot, Paul, and keep rockin'!
Paul Evans - I'm Gonna Build A Girl (Kapp 567) - 1963
Monday, February 20, 2012
Just a few examples: after signing his first record contract, and having his first hit record, he completely breached his contract by signing with another label - because the first record company wouldn't buy him a new suit so he could appear on "American Bandstand". His great guitar playing landed him a gig playing for James Brown - until he was overheard calling The Godfather Of Soul a "monkey". He also turned down a badly-needed high-paying job playing guitar for Don Ho, saying "it just wasn't (my) style". Combined with the fact that he really, really liked to drink, and would basically sign any piece of paper that was put in front of him, Bright's career (and life) became a shambles.
Born Julian Ferebee Bright on August 17, 1934 in Norfolk, VA, he was nicknamed "Little Larry" by his stepfather, a Navy man, and "my lil' white bastard" by his black nanny. The family settled in Corpus Christi, Texas, and young Larry was exposed to the blues through a thousand Texas jukeboxes and radio stations. He learned how to play guitar, but not much else, moved to California and joined the Navy at 18. Unfortunately, Larry was a little too loony for the Navy, and was discharged on a Section 8 a year later. Larry started jamming in local L. A. clubs, developing a rep as a killer guitarist and a grade A flake.
In 1959, producer/arrangers Joe Sacareno and Ernie Freeman finally got Larry into a studio. The original idea was to have Larry cut a version of "Hound Dog" that was closer to Big Mama Thornton's original than Elvis Presley's. Instead, Larry came up with an "original" idea of his own. Claiming he "remembered" the idea of the song from New Orleans, Larry basically did a remake of "Got My Mojo Workin'", called "Mojo Workout". He said he couldn't remember which parts of the song were his and which parts were Muddy Waters' (actually, he was wrong on both counts; the song was written and first recorded by Ann Cole in 1957).
Interesting side note here - despite his rather spurious claim on the song, Larry Bright knew a lot more about a mojo than people thought; he actually had a mojo (monkey's paw) on a chain around his neck, claiming that his black nanny (who he called "Mammy") had given it to him when he was very young.
At any rate, the song was picked up by a small L. A. label, Tide Records, and the record began receiving a lot of airplay on the West Coast, and even charted at #90 nationally in 1960. Then the real lunacy started - you can read about Larry's further adventures here and here.
By 1971, Larry had been through a half-dozen record labels, one wife, and a LOT of litigation. Signing with Art Laboe's Original Sound Records (home of the "Oldies But Goodies" compilation series), Larry decided to get back to the blues, Jimmy Reed style, with this Beatles number. Released in October, 1971, there was NO WAY it was going to be a hit anywhere, but it is an interesting take on the Lennon - McCartney song - and only a certified nutjob like Larry Bright could make it work.
Larry Bright died on December 17, 2003, in Placer, California. Track down his singles wherever you can find them; they're all great, and many of them are compiled here.
Larry Bright - I Saw Her Standing There (Original Sound 103) - 1971
Thursday, February 16, 2012
I find it kind of funny that someone as urbane and smooth as Nat "King" Cole would be shilling for Italian Swiss Colony's Arriba wine - the professional wino's choice, right up there with Ripple, Thunderbird, Night Train, MD 20/20, Green River and Olde English. In fact, here's a great website which details the pleasures to be derived from drinking these fine spirits.
But then again, times were different. Nobody was asking poor Nat to be the spokesperson for Chevrolet or Westinghouse.....simply because of the color of his skin. In fact, Cole's groundbreaking TV show only lasted a short time - not because he couldn't get anybody to tune in, but because nobody would sponsor the show. Ridiculous....
So take a listen to this 45, available only to retailers who sold the Italian Swiss Colony line (and on red vinyl, no less), and enjoy the catchy jingle (you'll be singing "Arriba! The new wine drink...." all day long).
Now back to our regularly scheduled programming.....
Nat "King" Cole - Arriba Salesmen's Record (Capitol Custom 932) - c. 1960
Saturday, February 11, 2012
Then one night my buddy John called. He's a renowned girl-group authority (and has even written a popular book on the subject). We get together about once a month to hang, go out for coffee, then go back to one of our houses to spin records. John comes up with amazing stuff, but he's not exactly the biggest British Invasion fan, so it surprised me when he pulled out this 45 by The Merseybeats. "Ugh", I said, "I don't understand what the big deal is about these guys." "Well, I don't know much about them, but I LIKE this song" said John.
Well, once he put the needle in the groove, I was pleasantly surprised. THIS is what a British beat group is supposed to sound like! Great backbeat, cool guitar, killer bass and it's got groove!
It was a B-side, of course. It came out as the flip of their third single (their second released in the US), "Don't Turn Around". While the A-side was written by Peter Lee Stirling (same guy responsible for "I Think Of You"), this side was a group original, written by lead singer/guitarist Tony Crane and bassist Johnny Gustafson. Apparently these guys ROCKED in live performance, but when it came to their records, their management pushed the group's ballad sides.
Well, after hearing "Really Mystified", I HAD to have it. I ended up buying every Merseybeats 45 I could get my hands on until I finally tracked down "Really Mystified", and discovered that these guys weren't so bad after all. I still don't like the three songs I mentioned at the beginning of this post, but some of their other songs are great - they do a KILLER Brit-beat-ballad version of Bull Moose Jackson's "I Love You, Yes I Do", and "Last Night (I Made A Little Girl Cry)" is also a fave for the Sibello record machine.
Unfortunately for the group, their sound simply didn't translate to American ears - none of their five singles released in the States charted. Also, by early 1965, Tony Crane began a concurrent solo career, further undercutting the group's appeal in the UK. Their singles began charting lower and lower, and by the end of '65 they were finished as a group. Tony Crane then formed a duo with Billy Kinsley (who was the original bass player in The Merseybeats before Gustafson joined) and called themselves The Merseys, scoring a top 5 British hit in early 1966 with "Sorrow". However, that was their only hit, and after releasing a few more singles (including the original version of Pete Townshend's song "So Sad About Us") they split up in early 1968.
The moral of the story? Keep your ears open. There's a lot of good stuff out there, and almost every group has at least one song you'll like!
The Merseybeats - Really Mystified (Fontana 1905) - 1964
Wednesday, February 8, 2012
I'm not gonna go into a long story about Bill Medley and his career, with and without The Righteous Brothers. I will tell you about this 45. Probably recorded in 1961-1962 when Bill was singing with The Paramours, which also included his future partner Bobby Hatfield, the record sat in the can for several years until 1965, when Reprise Records released an LP of old Sonny and Cher recordings.
Let me explain. In mid-1965, Sonny and Cher took the world by storm with their recording of "I Got You Babe" on Atco Records. However, prior to that, they recorded several tracks as "Caesar and Cleo" for Warner/Reprise. With "I Got You Babe" screaming up the charts, Reprise dug through the vaults and pulled out "Baby Don't Go", which had already been released as a single in late 1964 (as the first single credited to "Sonny & Cher"), and reissued it in July, 1965. The single became so popular that Reprise decided to issue an LP, despite the fact that the label only had 5 tracks by the duo.
So Reprise did what any record company would do - they rummaged through their vaults and padded the LP with cuts by The Lettermen, The Blendells and Bill Medley. How Reprise ended up with the Medley and Lettermen tracks is still a mystery to me, but Reprise decided to put out a single of "Leavin' Town". It flopped, of course, no doubt partly because Phil Spector had Medley under contract with the Righteous Brothers, and he may have threatened a few stations with a Philles embargo if they played the record.....
Too bad, because this is a killer. Basically, it's a leaner, meaner, more stripped-down version of "Little Latin Lupe Lu" (which "Leavin' Town" may have preceded) with killer handclaps and a great backbeat perfectly complementing one of Medley's most soulful vocals.
You'd probably be better off tracking down the Sonny & Cher "Baby Don't Go" LP on Reprise than to try and get the single cheaply - because you won't.
Bill Medley - Leavin' Town (Reprise 0413) - 1965
Friday, February 3, 2012
Nolan Strong (1934-1977) with (and without) his group The Diablos, was a Detroit legend, a man who had many big sellers in the Detroit area, a man who Berry Gordy tried desperately to get signed to his fledgeling Motown label, a man who was IDOLIZED by the likes of Smokey Robinson and Lou Reed. But today, he is largely forgotten except in the hearts of aforementioned doo-wop and soul freaks, though the hipsters in Brooklyn probably whisper his name in hushed tones (not that they've ever actually heard his records, natch).
Once you've heard the voice of Nolan Strong, though, you'll never forget it. His voice is usually described as "ethereal" or "spooky" or "angelic". I agree on all counts. Plus, Fortune Records owner Devora Brown would put Nolan's voice through some kind of eerie echo chamber so that he sounded like he was being piped in from outer space while the rest of the Diablos were in Detroit.
The Diablos first formed in 1950 at Central High in Detroit. Influenced by The Orioles and Clyde McPhatter's Dominoes, they practiced and practiced until they felt that they were ready to record. They signed on with a local label, Fortune Records (which, up to that point, were recording mainly polka and country music) and released their first record - "Adios My Desert Love"/"(I Want) An Old Fashioned Girl". The record was released in the spring of 1954, and sold well in the Detroit area. The group was invited back to record a follow-up, and that follow-up became a legend - the original version of "The Wind". The record was a monster. From late 1954 all the way through 1955, "The Wind" sold tens of thousands of copies in the Detroit area, and continued to sell for years afterward (Fortune kept pressing it all the way up into the early 1980s), becoming one the label's all-time biggest sellers - yet the record only charted as high as #114 nationally, and that wasn't until 1960. Therein lies the problem with Fortune Records, and why Nolan Strong has been forgotten.
Basically Fortune Records was a local label who didn't have national distribution. Husband-and-wife team Jack and Devora Brown formed the label in 1947, originally as an outlet to record songs they'd written. They soon found that there was a market in Detroit for polka and country music - in fact, Fortune released records by Skeets McDonald and The Davis Sisters (featuring Skeeter Davis) long before they received national recognition. The records sold well in Detroit, the Browns were making money, and so they felt there was no reason to go national with their label. National distribution meant more costs for pressing, mastering, printing and, worst of all, having to deal with the large distribution houses, who were ALWAYS slow to pay up.
The industry was rough in those days. Distributors had everyone in a choke hold. Small labels would sign on with them to distribute their product to a larger market, but there were pitfalls; the records were shipped directly from the pressing plant to the distribution houses, who would distribute the records and collect the money from the various record shops, department stores, smaller distributors, etc. However, when it came time for the distributors to pay the record labels their fair share, other forces came into play - 1) they would deduct for returned records that didn't sell (and sometimes they would buy stock from other distributors cheaply and count those records as returns); 2) they would deduct a percentage for "free goods" (promotion copies that were given away) and breakage; and 3) sometimes the distributor would actually defer payment to the label on purpose just to see if the label could stay in business - if the label went bankrupt, chances are that said label wouldn't be able to sue for payment owed. As a result, a huge national hit could actually bankrupt a small label!
The Browns knew this, and stayed local. But their distrust of the industry did not exactly serve their artists well. There has never been a legal reissue of the Fortune catalog (though, apparently, Norton is working on a box set) and, as a result, great records by Nathaniel Mayer, The Five Dollars, Andre Williams and Nolan Strong remain relatively obscure.
In Nolan Strong's case, it wasn't just lack of distribution working against him. By late 1955, Nolan Strong and The Diablos were Fortune's biggest act, and their latest single, "The Way You Dog Me Around", was selling in such quantities that the record actually charted on the R&B charts (their only single to do so) on the strength of purely regional sales! But in 1956, the U. S. Army came calling, and Nolan Strong was drafted. Fortune released one single during his Army tenure, "The Mambo Of Love", but it didn't sell well, so Fortune basically waited until Nolan came back from the Army.
Nolan came back in 1958, by all accounts a changed man. Before his stint in the service, Nolan didn't touch anything stronger than soda pop, but after his discharge, he was drinking heavily, and was starting to become unreliable. But Nolan's name was still gold in Detroit, and Fortune continued to release records (now billed to "Nolan Strong and The Diablos" or just "Nolan Strong"). In 1962, Nolan and the group recorded another big seller - "Mind Over Matter (I'm Gonna Make You Mine)" - which hit #1 on the Detroit charts and caught the attention of Berry Gordy at Motown, who not only had earlier recorded Nolan's cousin, Barrett Strong, but also covered "Mind Over Matter" with The Temptations (under the pseudonym The Pirates) on his Mel-O-Dy subsidiary. Gordy wanted to sign Nolan to Motown, but failed. The story goes that Nolan was signed to an iron-clad (and unprofitable) contract with Fortune, though other sources say that Nolan's loyalty to Fortune couldn't be broken, no matter what. In either case, Gordy probably wouldn't have done well with Nolan; as "Mind Over Matter" became a hit, Fortune tried to send Nolan out on a local tour, with the promise of a national tour in the works. But Nolan didn't show up for half the dates, and when he did he was in no condition to sing. One other reason for Nolan's lack of exposure (and a possible reason for his drinking) was Nolan himself; he was, to put it lightly, quite effeminate, and Fortune's reluctance to bring him wider exposure could have been based on that - remember, this was a time when Fortune was making outside deals for Nathaniel Mayer to have Mayer's records distributed by United Artists for the national market, so why not do the same for their biggest star?
Nolan continued to record for Fortune through 1965 (though he and the Diablos "moonlighted" as The Velvet Angels for a few a cappella singles in 1964) and then disappeared, playing the occasional oldies show. Rumor has it that he spent his last years working as a janitor in Detroit. The heavy drinking finally took its toll, and Nolan suffered a fatal heart attack on February 21, 1977. He was 43 years old.
Though Nolan and the group are well-known for their ballads, the selection I've chosen here is one of their hardest rockers. Probably recorded just before Nolan's departure for the service in 1956, this was released as the B-side to their 45 "For Old Times' Sake" in late 1958 as the first "new" Diablos release after Nolan got out of the Army.
Nolan Strong. Gone. Somewhat forgotten. But not here. On The Record.
Nolan Strong and The Diablos - My Heart Will Always Belong To You (Fortune 529) - 1958