Wednesday, March 23, 2011


The world of pop music is loaded with mysteries - one hit wonders, obscure records that suddenly become hits a few years after their initial release, artists who were major hitmakers in their day and are now completely forgotten; the list goes on and on. My favorite form of music mystery is the artist that only made one or two records on a big label, made appearances on the big TV shows of the day (American Bandstand, etc.) and then DISAPPEARED, never to be heard from again. Like Karen Verros.

Very little is known about Karen Verros. I don't know if she is alive or dead. The only things I do know are these - she released two singles on Dot Records in the latter part of 1965, appeared on "Where The Action Is" and "Hollywood A-Go-Go" in early 1966, and has not been heard from since (though I did see some website a long time ago saying that she was still owed money by some agency - it couldn't have been much). Judging by the Dot Records connection and access to those TV shows, I am assuming Karen was from California.

"You Just Gotta Know My Mind" was her first 45 on Dot, released in October, 1965. It was written by Donovan for his girlfriend Dana Gillespie, who recorded the original version (though it wasn't released until 1968). The track was produced by singer Mike Minor, who would later find fame on the TV show "Petticoat Junction" as pilot Steve Elliott (and would marry the series' star, Linda Kaye Henning), and Dave Hassinger, the man who, among other things, engineered the first few Rolling Stones albums. But the real work here was done by arranger and conductor Jack Nitzsche, fresh off of Phil Spector's "Wall Of Sound". It was probably through Nitzsche that Karen Verros was able to gain access to an unreleased Donovan song. Apparently, this was the only song recorded that day, because the flip side, "Karen's Theme", was simply the backing track with Karen's vocal wiped off. But what a track! A killer guitar riff runs through the song, and the vocals are LOADED with echo. The record was so good that, years later, it was comped on "Girls In The Garage, Vol. 2" and the original 45 now goes for big bucks (according to, the last original copy that popped up on eBay went for close to 600 bucks - I paid 20 dollars for mine about 10 years ago). So, for her first record, Karen Verros was given a new song by one of the best folk-rockers in the world, produced by a future TV star and The Rolling Stones' favorite engineer, and arranged by Phil Spector's right-hand man.

The record stiffed, of course. Karen had better luck with her second single, a remake of the Crystals' "Little Boy", released in December, 1965. That record got some airplay in California and led to appearances on "Where The Action Is" and "Hollywood-A-Go-Go". To see what Karen Verros looked like on the latter show, click here.

After that record, Karen Verros vanished from the public eye. Part of the problem might have been the fact that there were a hundred other local girl singers who had better voices - saxophonist Steve Douglas remembers her as being "awful" - but this 45 is unforgettable.

One of the odd things about "You Just Gotta Know My Mind" is that there are two versions of it - one edited, one not. Strange for a non-hit record, but it happened. The first pressing runs 1:57, just as it says on the label. On second pressings (which are rarer, apparently - though this record is near-impossible to get either way), the label says 1:57 but plays at a duration of 2:12. I have the "long" version. The only difference, so I'm told, is Karen singing a few more repetitions of the title at the end.

Karen Verros - You Just Gotta Know My Mind (Dot 16780) - 1965

Thursday, March 17, 2011


Ah, the double-entendre blues of my favorite sub-genres of music.  Strangely enough, it's also a long-lost form of music - most "dirty" blues records today simply hit you in the face with profanity - probably because we, as a society, have brought so many of life's seamier experiences to the forefront that almost nothing is shocking (or even titillating) anymore. But I'm not going to get into a whole indictment of the world we live in - let's just lament that they don't make records like this anymore, and leave it at that.

This record is from 1954 but the genre has been around as long as blues have been recorded (such as 1920s and 1930s classics "It's Tight Like That", "It Feels So Good", "She Squeezed My Lemon" and the incredible "Shave 'Em Dry"). This is definitely one of the best examples, right up there with The 5 Royales' "Laundromat Blues". Dinah Washington, the Queen Of The Blues, gets lowdown and dirty here like she rarely would again (by 1959, she'd had a huge pop hit with "What A Difference A Day Makes", and afterward rarely got back to her earthier, bluesier roots, though she was also a hell of a singer of standards).

Her story goes like this: she's been looking in every bar and honky-tonk in town looking for her man with "that big long slidin' thing". She meets a guitar player who tells her that she doesn't need her man - he's there for her. Then he took his guitar amp and "hitched it" in her "plug". After he "planked it and plunked it", she dumps him for not being "good enough". Then a knock comes on her door, and Piano Jack takes a shot at Dinah, telling her he wants to do some "tinklin' on her piano keys". Dinah's feeling nostalgic at this point, and she talks about why her man is so great - he thrills her because he "blows through here" and works his fingers and his thumb. Plus he slides it out and slides it in! Then, after he catches his breath, he slides it back again!

Of course, it's a trombone that he's doing all this with, but listening to Dinah sing, you KNOW that's not what she's talkin' about!

Please excuse the noise on this record - it's one of Dinah's rarer 45s and I've not been able to track down a cleaner copy.

Dinah Washington - Big Long Slidin' Thing (Mercury 70392) - 1954

Saturday, March 5, 2011


March 5, 1963. The world of country music experienced their own version of "The Day The Music Died". That was the day the plane carrying Patsy Cline, Hawkshaw Hawkins and Cowboy Copas crashed, killing everyone on board. In many ways this crash was even more of a tragic loss than the Winter Dance Party crash.

Unlike the Buddy Holly crash of 1959, the stars were not forced onto the plane by extenuating circumstances, were not on a tour run by an unscrupulous promoter, and were not even doing their last concert for money. Plus, no song by Don McLean. Unfortunately, this story starts with death, ends with death, and has an epilogue with more death.

On January 25, 1963, a disc jockey named Cactus Jack Call perished in a car crash in Independence, Missouri. Cactus Jack was a popular DJ on KANS and KCKN for a few years, and had recently gotten a shift and a programmers' job at KCMK-FM (93.3 on your dial), America's first country music FM station. He had just turned 40 and life was looking good, but his car collided with a truck on US Highway 40 in Missouri, and Jack died, leaving behind a wife and two small children.

Jack was very popular with a lot of the big Nashville artists; his son Don remembers many country music legends coming to his house to hang out. Read more about Don Call here. After Jack's death, many of the big stars decided to hold a fundraising concert to help Jack's family. There were three concerts held at the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall in Kansas City, Kansas, on March 3, 1963, at 2:00, 5:15 and 8pm. Artists on the bill were as follows: Patsy Cline, George Jones (with George Riddle and The Jones Boys), Cowboy Copas, Hawkshaw Hawkins, Dottie West, Billy Walker, Wilma Lee and Stoney Cooper, and George McCormick and The Clinch Mountain Clan. Quite a show! The country music stars came together on their own volition to honor a fallen comrade. No greedy managers, no shady promoters, just great music. Proving once again that no good deed goes unpunished.

After the concert ended, the stars were scheduled to leave the next day. Most of the stars decided to drive back to Nashville that night, but Patsy and Copas had flown in. Dottie West offered Patsy Cline a ride in her car, but Cline wanted to get back to Nashville as quickly as possible to see her children, so she declined. Billy Walker was supposed to go back to Nashville with Pasty and Copas, but he received an urgent phone call from his management to get back to Nashville right after the concert. Hawkshaw Hawkins had a ticket for a commercial flight leaving that night (March 3), and so he switched tickets with Billy.

Unfortunately, Cline, Hawkins and Copas had to wait another day to leave. High winds and inclement weather prevented the trio from leaving on March 4th. The three stars and the pilot finally left Kansas City on the afternoon of March 5th. After stopping to refuel in Dyersburg, Tennessee, the plane took off for Nashville at 6:07pm. They never made it. The plane crashed in a forest near Camden, Tennessee, at 6:20pm (the time of the crash was known because it was taken from Patsy's stopped wristwatch). Apparently the pilot, Randy Hughes (who was not only Patsy's manager and guitar player, but Cowboy Copas' son-in-law), had plenty of flying experience, but was not certified to fly on instruments, meaning if visibility was low, he couldn't fly using just the gauges. When the plane was refueling, Hughes took the opportunity to call his wife to ask how the weather was in Nashville. She replied that it was fine. Unfortunately, unbeknownst to her, she was literally in the eye of a huge storm that was causing rain and floods all around Nashville. So Randy Hughes literally flew head on into the storm. Visibility was next to nil, and Randy, not having flown on instruments before, had no idea that the plane was going into a tailspin. The passengers probably had no idea they were in trouble until about one second before the impact. The plane and the passengers were literally shredded into pieces. They were only 70 miles from home. Country music would never see a bigger tragedy.

But it wasn't over yet.

As the world was mourning, the stars of Nashville were busy running from funeral to funeral for the three stars. One of them, Jack Anglin, was part of the duo Johnnie and Jack (Johnnie was Johnny Wright, Kitty Wells' husband and Jack Anglin's brother-in-law). On March 8th, Jack was on his way to Patsy's funeral, alone, when he took a curve too quickly and crashed his car in Madison, Tennessee, dying instantly.

Rock and roll may have had an awful day (February 3rd, 1959), but country music had an awful MONTH.

A few weeks before the crash, Hawkshaw Hawkins released his latest single on King Records - "Lonesome 7-7203". It had hit the country chart for a couple of weeks, then fell off. After the crash, it received constant radio play and became Hawkins' only #1 country hit.

Patsy Cline had a few posthumous hits (including her immortal version of Don Gibson's "Sweet Dreams") and may have faded into the woodwork like Copas and Hawkins if a movie based upon her life ("Sweet Dreams", starring Jessica Lange) hadn't revived her career in a big way. Today, she's one of the most recognizable names on the classic country music roster.

As for Cowboy Copas, well, I decided to go back to 1949 for today's selection. "Hangman's Boogie" was one of a string of big country hits that Cowboy Copas had between 1946 and 1950. The cool thing about this record is that it (along with contemporary recordings by Hank Williams and Tennessee Ernie Ford) prefigures rockabilly by a few years. Plus, it fits well within this post due to its macabre subject matter. But it's fun!

Hopefully, records like this will get people to remember that, great as she was, Patsy Cline was not the only great loss in that plane crash of March 5, 1963.

Cowboy Copas - Hangman's Boogie (King 811) - 1949

Tuesday, March 1, 2011


My girlfriend asked me what I was doing today, my day off. Among many other tasks (laundry, pulling this week's radio show, working on my website - if you're interested), I told her I was going to blog about Phluph. I don't think the phrase "blog about Phluph" has ever been uttered before...

Anyway, this post is about Phluph, a band whose one and only LP is a sort of obsession of mine. I got it many years ago with a clutch of other LPs for nothing. I thought this one was pretty cool because of the green cover and the MONO mix DJ copy. Over the years, I play this with increasing frequency, but I am no closer to finding out anything about this band than I was lo so many years ago......

Here's what I DO know about Phluph - 1) they were from Cambridge, Massachusetts, 2) they unfortunately got lumped in with MGM/Verve Records' ill-fated "Bosstown Sound" marketing campaign of 1968, and 3) there was one guy in the band who wore glasses that were held together with tape - and he wore them on the LP cover.

The band was actually pretty good, for its time. You wanted rock? Covered. Psych? No problem. Folk-rock? Hell, yeah - they even do a Dylan remake on this LP ("It Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes A Train To Cry"). Problem was, while Phluph did all those things pretty well, they didn't sound any different than a hundred other bands - they had no sound of their own.

But that doesn't mean they didn't make good records. My fave cut on this LP (I really hate the term album - an album is that book that 4 or 5 78rpm records by one artist came in. Peter Goldmark invented the Long Player in 1948 to replace those heavy, bulky albums. But the name stuck, unfortunately.) is "In Her Way". This is great pop-psych, not too mind-blowing, but trippy enough. Unfortunately, the track was all but thrown away on this LP. Verve had high hopes for the opening cut, "Doctor Mind" - seems like every group in the 60s had a song about doctors ("Dr. Robert", "Dr. Stone") or the mind ("Where Is My Mind", "Mirror Of Your Mind"), so how could Phluph miss with "Doctor Mind"?? Unfortunately, the backlash against the "Bosstown Sound" - which was MGM's marketing hype for a bunch of bands from Boston they had recently signed - rendered Phluph unthinkable (and unplayable) to the hippie crowd. The LP and "Doctor Mind" died a chart death. But somebody was playing "In Her Way" from the LP, because it got released as Phluph's second single. It never went past promo pressings, and Phluph never recorded again.

So, no big messages here, no deeply-researched history lesson, just a cool tune from my collection that I wanted to share.

Phluph - In Her Way (Verve V-5054) - 1968