Monday, April 14, 2014

JO ANN CAMPBELL - MOTHER, PLEASE!

They called her The Blonde Bombshell. She was a real piece of, uh, Florida sunshine.....dated Bobby Darin for a couple of years, drove the men wild everywhere she went.....then suddenly retired.....ladies and germs, I give you Jo Ann Campbell.

Born on July 20, 1938, in Jacksonville, Florida, Jo Ann entered music school at the age of four. By the time she reached high school, she was an accomplished dancer and was also the drum majorette for her school's band. At 16, she traveled to Europe with the USO as a dancer, and upon her return moved to New York and became a member of the Johnny Conrad Dancers, who often made appearances on the Colgate Comedy Hour and Milton Berle's show.

But music was still in her in her blood, and in 1956 Jo Ann signed with Point Records (a division of RKO Pictures) and released her first single - "Where Ever You Go"/"I'm Coming Home Late Tonight". The record flopped, but Jo Ann's good looks got her noticed by Alan Freed, who put her on his stage shows and introduced her to several cronies of his, like Bill Buchanan and Dickie Goodman.

Buchanan and Goodman were, of course, riding high with their series of "flying saucer" novelty break-in 45s, and were looking to expand their music business activities. They formed several record labels, a publishing house, and began scouting new talent. When they saw Jo Ann, they immediately signed her to their newly-formed Eldorado label in late 1956. Dickie Goodman wrote the A-side of the first single, "Forever Young", but Jo Ann, who had been writing her own material, contributed the rockin' "Come On Baby" for the flip. The record got good airplay on Freed's show on WINS in early 1957, and was a strong seller in the New York area, though it never broke nationally. After one more single on Eldorado, Buchanan and Goodman split up their partnership and folded the label.

Lucky for Jo Ann that she had good connections. Eldorado was distributed by George Goldner, the mastermind behind most of the great New York doo-wop labels like Gee, Rama, Roulette, End, Tee Gee, Mark-X, Juanita and a dozen others. Goldner liked Jo Ann's style, and it didn't hurt that his buddy Alan Freed (not to mention Jocko Henderson) was spinning her records, so he signed her to his Gone label in late 1957.

In November, 1957, Jo Ann's first Gone disk, "Wait A Minute", started burning up the airwaves in New York. Over the next two years, Jo Ann released a series of first-rate 45s, such as "You're Driving Me Mad", "Happy New Year Baby" (written by Neil Sedaka and Howard Greenfield), "You-oo", and the two-sider "Mama (Can I Go Out Tonight)" (written by Bo Diddley) backed with Jo Ann's own "Nervous".

By late 1959, with the payola scandals knocking Alan Freed out of the picture, and George Goldner's gambling problem forcing him to sell Gone (and End, and Roulette, and a dozen other labels) to Morris Levy, it was time to make a move. She signed with ABC-Paramount in 1960, and immediately had her first national chart hit with "A Kookie Little Paradise". The flip side, "Bobby Bobby Bobby", was obviously a tribute to her then-beau (though soon-to-be-ex-beau) Bobby Darin. Unfortunately, ABC usually saddled Jo Ann with sugary "pop" material, and the few times she recorded really good stuff (like her own tune "Duane", a love song to Duane Eddy, complete with "twangy" guitar), the label didn't promote it properly. She did get a featured spot in the Joey Dee film Hey! Let's Twist singing "Let Me Do My Twist" (see the clip here - WOW!), but by mid-1962 her records were no longer selling, and after two years Jo Ann left ABC-Paramount behind her.

Signing with Cameo Records out of Philadelphia, she scored her biggest all-time hit right out of the box, with "I'm The Girl From Wolverton Mountain" (an answer record to Claude King's "Wolverton Mountain", obviously). But once again, Jo Ann's career took another shot in the foot when the follow-up, "Let Me Do It My Way", failed to chart.

The record featured here was Jo Ann's last 45 under her own name, and it was her best. "Mother, Please!" was based on a popular commercial (at the time) for Anacin pain relief, written by Kal Mann and Dave Appell. Appell's killer band (and the Cameo-Parkway studio group) The Applejacks back up Jo Ann on her super-tough vocal, with super-tough lyrics describing a girl who longs to get out there and, uh, "live a little", despite the warnings from her irritable mother about how rotten all men are - "You know I've got to take love and live a little/and what will be, will be/sure, you feel tense and irritable/but don't take it out on me!" Sounds like Mother was a wild child who got knocked up and daddy ran off, leaving her to raise little Jo Ann with the knowledge that all men are creeps (and I'm sure Mom is "tense and irritable" for more reasons than having a daughter that won't listen to her).

After this 45, Jo Ann got married to record producer (and former member of her backing band) Troy Seals. They teamed up to make a few 45s as "Jo Ann and Troy" for Atlantic in 1964-1965 (and even had a minor hit with "I Found A Love Oh What A Love"). They also made several appearances on Dick Clark's "Where The Action Is" in 1965, but early in 1966, Jo Ann decided to retire from the music business and raise a family, and she's never looked back. She's still around, but has decided to have her legacy speak for itself. We miss you, Blonde Bombshell.

Jo Ann Campbell - Mother, Please! (Cameo 249) - 1963

Monday, February 24, 2014

THE TABBYS - HONG KONG BABY

Ah, yes, we return to those heady days of 1963, and another bit of lunacy from the Cleopatra label, which I've discussed at great length before.

I literally have no idea what to say about this one. I can't even understand the words. Only thing I CAN say is that it's got a good beat, it's easy to dance to, and the personnel on this record are Kenny Clay on "lead" (you can't really say he's singing here), Timmy Scudder, Butch Henry, and Melvin Edwards. Oh, and since the last post about Cleopatra Records, I found out that the label was out of Hazlet, NJ (exit 117 on the Parkway to my fellow New Jerseyans), NOT New York. KIND OF LIKE THE 2014 SUPER BOWL.

The Tabbys - Hong Kong Baby (Cleopatra 1) - 1963

Monday, February 10, 2014

JERRY LEE LEWIS - GOOD GOLLY MISS MOLLY

HEY!!! Remember me???

Been a busy boy these past few months - got a new (and better) job, and I got engaged to my long-time girlfriend!! Planning the wedding now, but I had a few hours on my hands today, so....

I always found it fascinating (and fun) when classic rock and rollers (as opposed to classic rockers) remade songs by other classic rock and rollers. Examples - Elvis remaking Chuck Berry's "Promised Land" in 1974, Buddy Holly remaking "Bo Diddley" or Chuck's "Brown Eyed Handsome Man", and Jerry Lee Lewis remaking.....well, anything.

It's been written many times over the years how Jerry refers to himself as a "stylist" - in other words, he can take ANY song and tailor it to his particular style. Very, very few artists can pull this off - Elvis and Ray Charles are the only other examples I can think of right now. Jerry Lee usually gets overlooked because, well, he's crazy as a loon, but check out the material he's recorded over the years - he's remade stuff from Ray Charles, honky-tonk classics like "You Win Again", old folk tunes like "Carry Me Back To Old Virginny", Motown (he did a killer - pardon the wording - version of Barrett Strong's "Money" in 1961), blues tunes like "Hi-Heel Sneakers" - and it ALL sounds like the songs were written specifically for Jerry Lee.

The Killer doesn't even care if it's someone else's signature song. I mean, when someone says "Good Golly Miss Molly", you immediately think of Little Richard (even though he didn't have the original released version - The Valiants released theirs a couple of months before Richard). Jerry Lee doesn't give a shit what you think. He's gonna do "Good Golly Miss Molly", he's gonna do it his way, and you're gonna love it anyway!

While it doesn't match Little Richard for sheer rockin' mania, Jerry Lee's version does have a certain energy of its own, especially with his semi-hiccuping vocals and the great drumming (probably by J. M. Van Eaton). Even the chorus in the background adds to it!

Definitely the second best version ever. Unless you ask Jerry Lee, of course.

Jerry Lee Lewis - Good Golly Miss Molly (Sun 382) - 1962

Monday, November 11, 2013

CHRIS MORGAN and THE TOGAS - WOULD YOU BELIEVE (Love Is Dead)

In. Tense.

I don't know anything about Chris Morgan and The Togas, other than the fact that this was their second out of two singles (their first, a version of Bob Dylan's "Baby, I'm In The Mood For You", was simply credited to "The Togas") and that Chris Morgan later hooked up with Bill Medley of The Righteous Brothers who produced a pair of Bell label 45s for Chris in 1969. Also, they were probably from California.

Oh, and I know one other thing - when I first heard this on some college station I swore that it was The Animals. You will, too.

Chris Morgan and The Togas - Would You Believe (Love Is Dead) (Challenge 59330) - 1966


Tuesday, October 29, 2013

LAMAR MORRIS - SEND ME A BOX OF KLEENEX

As the saying goes, there's no such thing as a bad title for a country song - because the worse it is, the better. After all, this is a genre that has given us sweet melodies with names like "If I Said You Had A Beautiful Body, Would You Hold It Against Me", "You're The Reason Our Kids Are Ugly", "I'm Gonna Hire A Wino To Decorate Our Home", and the immortal "Flushed From The Bathroom Of Your Heart".

Those of you keeping score, add this one to the list. I first heard this on an old reel-to-reel tape my father had (remember?) and have been obsessed with it ever since. Turns out Lamar Morris was the lead guitarist for The Bama Band, who were Hank Williams, Jr.'s backing group. I'm guessing Hank had some pull with MGM, and got his buddy Lamar a contract. For his first 45, Lamar wrote "Kleenex" with Mack Vickery, who would go on to write a few of Jerry Lee Lewis' 1970s country hits (including the just plain dirty "Meat Man"). If not for anything else, "Kleenex" should be considered a great country 45 for its opening lines - "You can send me a box of Kleenex/Make it the biggest one they've got/'Cause since it seems I'm gonna be your ex/I know I'm gonna cry a lot".

Now, anyone who rhymes "Kleenex" with "your ex" is either a genius or a loony. I'm going with loony here. Let's face it, you couldn't have too great a stronghold on reality if you were touring with Hank, Jr. in the 60s and 70s, writing with a guy who once put out a live LP from a women's prison (and was one of Jerry Lee's best buddies, albeit one whom Jerry Lee never shot), AND allowed your first solo session to be produced by the truly certifiable Jack Clement (who had a gigantic swing installed in his living room and wrote the aforementioned "Flushed From The Bathroom Of Your Heart"). But, hey, so what? If we only allowed sane individuals to make records, there wouldn't be any good ones.

By the by, Lamar's still alive and kickin'! Check out his website.

Lamar Morris - Send Me A Box Of Kleenex (MGM 13586) - 1966

Friday, October 18, 2013

THEE MIDNITERS - EVERYBODY NEEDS SOMEBODY

"Best band I ever hired" - Casey Kasem.

Thee Midniters. The best band to ever come out of East L.A. Unfortunately, their records were seldom heard OUTSIDE of East L.A. But for those lucky folks who saw them live, or owned their records, these guys were unbeatable. They could do it ALL -rock any house, croon sweet ballads, raise the roof with a little soul, even get political (dig up their "The Ballad Of Cesar Chavez" 45 for that). In East L. A., these guys were like the BEATLES.

The group started out in the early 60s, evolving from a band known as The Gentiles (!!!) and playing local clubs and entering contests known as "Battle Of The Bands". They called themselves The Midnighters, but soon changed their name to THEE Midniters to avoid getting sued by Hank Ballard and his group of Midnighters. In those days, the group wore masks over their eyes for that extra air of mystery. The group's lead singers were Little Willie Garcia (aka Little Willie G) and Lil' Ray Jimenez. Jimenez left in 1964 to go solo (and made a single for the Impact label), but Little Willie G soldiered on.

The group's fortunes changed in late 1964 when one of their live shows was recorded by their manager, Eddie Torres, who got the group a deal with local L. A. label Chattahoochee Records. One of the group's signature songs was the old Chris Kenner tune "Land Of 1000 Dances", which the group released as their first single. With the support of DJ's like Huggy Boy (Dick Hugg) on KRLA and Godfrey on KTYM, the disc got heavy airplay. However, at almost exactly the same time, another group from East L.A., Cannibal and The Headhunters, released their version, which eventually became the bigger hit. As for who came up with the "naaah, na-na-na-naaah" riff (which is not on Kenner's version), we'll probably never know. Little Willie G says he came up with it, but according to Bob Shannon and John Javna's book Behind The Hits, Frankie "Cannibal" Garcia (no relation to Willie G) forgot the words one night and improvised the lick on the spot. Who knows? Who cares? Despite losing the hit to Cannibal, "Land Of 1000 Dances" became the biggest hit Thee Midniters ever had, hitting #67 nationally.

After several follow-ups on Chattahoochee (including "Whittier Blvd.", a wild instrumental, and the killer garage-rock 45 "I Found A Peanut"), manager Eddie Torres formed his own label, Whittier Records, in early 1966. Thee Midniters immediately had a big hit in L.A. with the label's first release, "Love, Special Delivery", and Whittier was on its way, though on a small scale - they didn't have the distribution of a larger label, so the records pretty much stayed in the L.A. area.

The 45 I'm blogging about now has a weird history. In early 1967 the group released their fourth single for Whittier - "The Walking Song (Shouldn't You Wonder)"/"Never Knew I Had It So Bad". Even though "The Walking Song" was the A-side, "Never Knew I Had It So Bad" started getting big-time spins in L.A., so Eddie Torres re-released "Never Knew I Had It So Bad" as an A-side, and put the group's version of Solomon Burke's "Everybody Needs Somebody To Love" on the flip. That was kind of a strange move, because usually a canny label boss would put a song on the flip that was one of his copyrights, to make even more money off of a hit record (this is why sometimes you find old 45s with alternate B-sides). But Eddie Torres apparently didn't care or didn't know any better.

In either case, I'm certainly glad he did what he did, because this version of "Everybody Needs Somebody" puts an ass-whipping on every other recording of it (yes, including Wilson Pickett's, though not by much)!! Supposedly recorded live (though who knows - many times it was studio cuts with audience noise dubbed in), the band is absolutely ON FIRE and at its garagiest and grungiest, with Little Willie G contributing one of his most soulful vocals ever!!

Thee Midniters went on from there, but with Little Willie G going solo in late 1968, the group lost a lot of its drive. That combined with the frustration of not having national success (and the money that came with it) caused the group to call it quits in 1969.

For many years, Thee Midniters' records remained buried in the L.A. scrap heap, and the group, though a local legend, were all but forgotten about. But over the years, this group has gotten the respect it so richly deserves. Norton has reissued several of their singles and an LP called In Thee Midnite Hour, but if you really want to get the full effect of the incredible range of these guys, check out the Micro Werks CD box set called Thee Complete Midniters (though, be forewarned, since the master tapes were lost long ago, and vinyl copies had to be used, the sound isn't quite CD-quality).

If you want to hear more of Thee Midniters (and other East L.A. groups), check out this AMAZING blog.

Thee Midniters - Everybody Needs Somebody (Whittier 504) - 1967

Saturday, September 21, 2013

THE TEARDROPS - I'M GONNA STEAL YOUR BOYFRIEND

I am more than happy to say that my buddy John Clemente has finally released the new, expanded edition of his book "Girl Groups: Fabulous Females Who Rocked The World"! So in honor of John (and girl group aficionados throughout the world), I'll blog one of the toughest, coolest girl group records of all time - "I'm Gonna Steal Your Boyfriend" by The Teardrops.

The group, consisting of Wanda "Wendy" Sheriff, Dorothy "Sunny" Dyer, Pat "Punkin" Strunk, and Linda "Lin" Schroeder, started in Cincinnati in 1961. Dorothy, Pat and Linda all went to the same high school, and Dorothy and Linda soon formed a duo, singing in local parks and teen hangouts. One night, they went to a spot called The Tulu Club, a place sponsored by local radio station WSAI, and run by one of their DJ's, Ron Britton. As the band was playing onstage, Dorothy and Linda began singing along. The bandleader heard them and asked them to come up on stage to sing with them (today, the musician's union would put the kibosh on that).  They were such a hit that they decided to form a group and get into the music business. They recruited Pat Strunk a short time later, and they worked as a trio for a little while, playing teen dance clubs in and around Cincinnati.

At one gig, the Teardrops were booked on the same bill as a band called The Matadors, whose guitarist, Bud Reneau, was co-owner of a small record label called Saxony Records. After the show, he called his partner, Paul Trefzger, to tell him about this great girl group he'd just played a gig with. Soon the trio was signed to Saxony, and shortly afterward they were joined by a fourth member - Wanda Sheriff. Wanda's hobby was hairdressing, and if you've ever seen pictures of The Teardrops (there are quite a number in John's book), the first thing you'll notice is the group's wild hairdos, with Wanda's being the wildest of all!

In early September of 1964, the Teardrops had their first session at the legendary King Records Studios, and the first single from the session was "Tonight I'm Gonna Fall In Love Again"/"That's Why I'll Get By". "Tonight....", with Linda Schroeder on lead, became a huge hit in Cinncy, and the group was on its way to the big time, touring all over Ohio and Kentucky while the DJs in Cincinnati wore out their needles on the Saxony 45.

But that's not the record I'm featuring here......their follow-up, in early 1965, is the pick for this blog post - "I'm Gonna Steal Your Boyfriend". Dorothy Dyer took the lead on this one, with one of the toughest, bitchiest vocals this side of the Real Housewives of New Jersey. Starting with handclaps and an irresistible "doom-bop-a-dooji-bop, whoa-ho", the record roars in like an angry dad picking up his teenage daughter from a frat party. Basically, the singer is pissed off because she sees her best friend treating her man like dirt and decides, "screw her, he's gonna be mine" - and is proud of it! Again, the record got some airplay in the Cincinnati area, but the record didn't sell as well as its predecessor - possibly because Trefzger decided to change the label design from something accessible (a nice light blue label with a large stylized "S" at the top) to something dark, obscure, and just plain plain (see the pic above).

The group fared better with their third single, "Tears Come Tumbling", which was such a huge hit in the midwest (and Philadelphia and Boston) in late 1965, that Trefzger and Reneau leased the record to Musicor, who released it in early '66. Despite all the airplay, the record never charted on a national level. The group cut one more single for Musicor, "I Will Love You Dear Forever", which flopped completely (though Trefzger re-released it on his reactivated Saxony label in 1993). The group soldiered on for a while, playing the Cincinnati club circuit as members came and went, but decided to call it quits in 1969.

The Teardrops were probably one of the best "girl groups" you've never heard of (and of course the idiots at Rhino completely missed the boat by not including them on their girl groups box - SHAME on you, Sheryl Farber and Gary Stewart). But you can become very familiar with their material easily - Saxony Records is still doing business, and you can buy Teardrops CD's (and even original 45s!!) on their website.

A lot of the research (okay, ALL of the research) for the factoids presented in this blog post was done by my good buddy John Clemente, and you CANNOT call yourself a girl group enthusiast unless you have a copy of his book "Girl Groups: Fabulous Females Who Rocked The World". Even if you have the one from a few years ago, you need to buy this new edition. First of all, it's THREE TIMES as thick as the old book, has MANY more articles on many more artists, plus there's a TON of rare and cool pix crammed in there!! You can get it here. So buy the book. Now. I said NOW!!!

The Teardrops - I'm Gonna Steal Your Boyfriend (Saxony 1008) - 1965