Monday, January 23, 2012
The American record-buying public thought the same way. Between 1956 and 1958, Elvis outsold everybody. It is said that RCA Victor didn't sell Elvis 45s by the millions - they sold them by the ton. Other record companies scrambled to find young, good-looking singers so that they could have their own "Elvis". But none of 'em sounded like Elvis.
However, by the time 1960 rolled around and Elvis had finished his stint in the Army, the other diskeries got a little wilier - instead of finding good-looking guys who resembled Elvis and could sing OK, they now were finding guys who sounded EXACTLY like Elvis Presley - Ral Donner and Vince Everett.
Vince (born Marvin Eugene Benefield in College Park, GA - no, he was NOT British as some folks say) had recorded a few songs under his own name (and as Marvin Fields) for the Jam and Town labels in 1960. In late 1961, Marvin somehow caught the ear of Ray Stevens, who, at the time, was working for Rick Hall in an early version of the Fame studio band down in Muscle Shoals, Alabama. Ray introduced Marvin to some of his friends - Tommy Roe, Bill Lowery, Joe South, Mac Davis and a young producer/musician named Felton Jarvis. Jarvis heard the young Marvin Benefield and knew he could produce records that would sell - Ral Donner had just had a top ten hit with "You Don't Know What You've Got" - so he got Bill Lowery to sign Marvin to his NRC label. Unfortunately, Lowery's label went bankrupt soon afterwards, but he soon got a new production deal from ABC-Paramount Records to record his stable of artists.
However, Lowery (and Jarvis) knew that "Marvin Benefield" just would not do as an artist's name. So, at Jarvis' suggestion, and to reinforce the fact that this guy sounded EXACTLY like Elvis, Marvin Benefield became "Vince Everett", taken from the name of the character Elvis portrayed in "Jailhouse Rock". By the way, if you want to see the picture sleeves of Elvis as Vince Everett (made as props for the "Jailhouse Rock" film), check out the cool "Dead Wax" blog here.
Anyway, for the first Vince Everett 45, Felton and Bill decided to go the Ral Donner route and have Marvin record a tune that Elvis had already recorded for the "Elvis Is Back!" LP (Ral's first hit, "Girl Of My Best Friend", was originally done by Elvis on this same LP), "Such A Night". Written by songwriter Lincoln Chase, the song was originally done by The Drifters in 1954, but was soon banned from airplay due to its "suggestive nature". That didn't stop Mitch Miller from covering the song with Johnnie Ray a few weeks later. Elvis loved the song, and recorded it on his first post-Army LP, but at this point - 1962 - it was only an LP cut (Elvis would eventually release it as a single in 1964), so it wasn't getting airplay anyway. Jarvis copied the arrangement from the original Elvis record (even hiring The Jordanaires as backup singers), and released it in March of 1962. The record became a top 20 hit in Chicago - and almost nowhere else. It stands to reason, really - why would someone, if they were an Elvis fan, buy a 45 by a guy doing an Elvis song, sounding just like Elvis, with the EXACT same arrangement as the Elvis record, if they already had the original by Elvis? At least Ral Donner's version of "Girl Of My Best Friend" had a better arrangement than the Elvis recording of it! So the record was a national flop. Everett would go on to make three more singles for ABC-Paramount (all rare as hen's teeth) and in 1966 he got drafted (though, thankfully, he never went to Vietnam). After returning from the Army in 1969, he decided to forgo the music business and went back to work at his old job as an electrical parts assembler at Square D Company in Atlanta, GA. He's still around today, living in nearby Buchanan, GA, happily anonymous.
Felton Jarvis ended up becoming the producer for the real Elvis Presley in the early 1970s. I wonder if they ever discussed the Vince Everett 45s.....knowing Elvis, he probably had them all.
Jarvis and Lowery, in my opinion, probably would have been better off promoting the other side of Vince's first 45 - "Don't Go", an original tune written by Marvin Benefield. Great vocals, cool backing by The Jordanaires, and great rocking groove (supplied, according to Marvin, by all-star session guys such as Jerry Reed, Ray Stevens, Floyd Cramer and Boots Randolph) all make for one hell of a B-side. He may not have been Elvis, but at least for a handful of 45s, Marvin Benefield was as close as it got.
Vince Everett - Don't Go (ABC-Paramount 10313) - 1962
Wednesday, January 18, 2012
In the "conventional" history of rock and roll, Brenda Lee gets short shrift. Generally the books will say that Brenda Lee was one of the top pop singing stars of the early 60s, having a bunch of hits until the Beatles came along and wiped out her career. Well, yeah, from a pure "Billboard charts" point of view, that's true. But the charts don't even begin to tell the whole story.
For me, Brenda Lee is one of those early rock and roll artists, like Dion and The Everly Brothers, who made more interesting records AFTER the hits dried up in America. Brenda (born Brenda Mae Tarpley on December 11, 1944 in Lithonia, GA) also has the ONE rock and roll story that I'm just WAITING to read in an autobiography (not written yet, unfortunately) - signed to a major label at 11, working with the certifiably loony Ronnie Self at 14, a star at 15, traveled the world by 17, losing most of her possessions in a fire at 18, MARRIED at 18, recording in the UK with Jimmy Page and Mickie Most at 19 - Brenda's got one hell of a story to tell. By age 21, Brenda Lee had seen more of life than most people do in a lifetime.
That's why anytime Brenda gets into a blues/soul groove, I put on my listening ears. Brenda Lee could sing the blues like nobody's business, but she sang them her way - she wasn't trying to sound like Ma Rainey. For me, Brenda and Charlie Rich are the king and queen of the great white blues singers (sorry to break it to you hippies who dig Janis Joplin and Johnny Winter). I mean, listen, really listen to the job Brenda does on "Break It To Me Gently" - this was a first-rate soul singer at work. What's even more amazing is how old she sounds on that record - at seventeen, she put out a knowing vocal that most forty-year-olds couldn't muster.
Unfortunately, this side of Brenda Lee didn't come up for air too often, mainly because manager Dub Albritten pushed her toward country-pop ballads in order to repeat the success of her first million-seller "I'm Sorry" (the formula worked surprisingly well; between 1960 and early 1964, when the Beatles hit town, Brenda had a staggering thirty-one hit songs, and about 25 of 'em were slow ballads). Even though the formula was well in place, the records hold up surprisingly well. However, once the hits stopped coming, Dub stopped sticking his nose in Brenda's song choices (and main songwriter Ronnie Self flew over the cuckoo's nest), and that's when some VERY interesting 45s began appearing under Brenda's name, like the rocking "Is It True" (recorded in the UK with Jimmy Page playing lead guitar), her 1969 version of Arthur Alexander's "You Better Move On" (as much a soul record as almost any other) and "Take Me", from early 1967.
First time I saw this 45, I looked at the George Jones - Leon Payne writing credit and said to myself, "Ah, it's probably one of Brenda's straight country singles." I picked it up anyway, more because it was a Brenda Lee 45 I didn't have than anything else. I let it sit on my shelf for weeks before I decided to give it a spin. I was blown away when I finally did.
Brenda comes on like a cross between a hillbilly Dinah Washington and Muscle Shoals-era Lulu on this track, recorded at the end of 1966 when she had just turned 22. "Take me", she sings over a solitary bass guitar, "take me to your darkest room / close every window, and bolt every door", and you KNOW she means business. Then the Hammond B-3 and the horns come in, and it's really grown-up time: "the very moment I heard your voice / I'd be in darkness, darkness no more". The female backup comes chiming in and what you have here is a deep soul record, the kind that most women singers wish they could pull off. No longer was Brenda the "little girl with the big voice", this was a record sung by a woman - a woman who'd seen a lot, and was gonna tell it like she saw it.
Until Brenda's book comes out, though, this is as "tell-all" as it gets.
Brenda Lee - Take Me (Decca 32119) - 1967
Friday, January 13, 2012
Any meathead rock critic will tell you that Neil was wrong - that it is NOT better to burn out. Well, of course not! Because if a rock star burns out, and doesn't record any more, said rock critics would actually have to do their job and search out good NEW records by NEW artists for the masses to try out instead of slavishly drooling over the latest release by a should-really-have-quit-a-long-time-ago "classic rock" star who only made said record for the money so he could buy more coke and pop Viagra like they're Chicklets in yet one more attempt to hold on to his youth.
I mean, let's be honest here - can anyone name ONE great song by the Rolling Stones from the last ten years?? Does anyone really think that Robert Plant made some kind of artistic leap with that stupid album he did with Alison Krauss? I'm not 100% sure, but I don't think anyone's sitting around, jonesing for the day when the next album by Crosby, Stills and Nash will come out (except maybe David Geffen).
Lenny Bruce said it best - "there's nothing sadder than an old hipster." Hell, Steven Tyler's spent the last 10 years proving that - and he wasn't that much of a hipster in the first place. Mike Love and Brian Wilson are now going to tour as The Beach Boys for the band's fiftieth anniversary (let's read that again - fiftieth anniversary), so we'll get to see two doddering old men in front of a bunch of nameless, faceless session guys. And John Stamos, if we're lucky.
The harsh truth is this - rock and roll is a young man's game. Roger Daltrey sang "hope I die before I get old" in 1966, and if he had jumped into a time machine right after recording that and witnessed the performance he and Pete Townshend gave at the Super Bowl a couple of years ago, he'd have offed himself right there and then. Don't believe me? Look at the idol worship that gets afforded to rockers who died young - Hendrix, Cobain, Joplin, Morrison, Brian Jones, Buddy Holly, even Eddie Cochran - and ask yourself, are they REALLY any better than any rocker who lived to tell the tale? Well, maybe Hendrix.....but the point is, the dead ones didn't have a chance to go downhill, because, even though they had no choice, they got out of the game early.
Let's imagine that they never died.....
2012. The new Eric Clapton/Jimi Hendrix duet blues album is released. Dave Marsh IMMEDIATELY gives it five stars, despite the fact that he didn't even get his review copy yet. "Classic Rock" radio talks about it constantly (though you'd be hard-pressed to actually hear them play a cut off of it). They do a 15-city tour, sponsored by Budweiser (the king of horrid beers) - tickets start at $850.00 for nosebleed seats, so floor seats at 5 grand is a relative bargain. You'd get a much better bargain across town, where the Jim Morrison Doors Experience is playing. Tickets start at $150.00, because you never know if Jim is going to show up. He's been in and out of rehab more than Lindsay Lohan. He's bald, and what little hair is left has turned white. He's also fat, but still insists on wearing those leather pants - they're custom made, 'cause you can't buy leather pants with a size 48 waist off the rack. Oh, and Ray Manzarek's with him on this tour - as he is on every tour. Last concert, in Akron, OH, Jim vomited all over the stage - Ray told the press, "you don't understand - this was a poetic gesture by Jim for his followers." Robbie Krieger and John Densmore wisely stayed away. Kurt Cobain's suicide attempts are really getting boring, as are his cover stories for People magazine ("life is so good now, I really want to live!!!"). Janis Joplin is also in People this week, talking about her happiness with new life partner, Amy Winehouse. They're touring this summer (sponsored by AA), though neither one of them has put out a record in years. Brian Jones is the subject of an article in the London Daily Mirror, called "Why, After 40 Years, Won't Mick and Keith Talk to Me??? Waaaaah!!" He's living on the dole, but is recording a new album, produced by Jeff Lynne and Tom Petty. Buddy Holly, as administrator of Buddy Holly/Warner/Elektra/Asylum/Atlantic Music Publishing, LLC, has just bought the entire Beatles song catalog and is licensing "Fixing A Hole" to Home Depot for use in their commercials. Eddie Cochran works for Buddy these days, since the divorce from Sharon Sheeley left him with nothing. He's got a new album out with Brian Setzer called "Two Old Stray Cats In Heat". Slim Jim Phantom and Lee Rocker are suing.......
That's why I like a group that knows how to get in and get out. Like the Boys Blue. This group made ONE single for England's His Master's Voice label in 1964 - "Take A Heart"/"You Got What I Want" - that got a US release on ABC-Paramount in early 1965. They should have been at least as big as the Pretty Things. Lead singer Jeff Elroy looked like the bastard son of Arthur Lee and Johnny Mathis, the music was tight, jagged guitars, MURDEROUS drums and bass - these guys had it all. I have no idea why they imploded after just one single (well, two, if you count Jeff Elroy's solo single credited to "Jeff Elroy and The Boys Blue"), but one clue might be their producer, Miki Dallon. Dallon wrote both sides of the single, put it out, then almost immediately gave the songs to another group he was producing - The Sorrows. The Sorrows' version of "Take A Heart" became a hit, and Dallon focused all his attention on them. I could be wrong, though....anybody out there know the real story?
Anyway, this is one killer 45. I used to see this all over the place, now not so much. Track it down, pay the price, because you'll play both sides of this one to death! Plus, you won't have to pay $250.00 for nosebleed seats!
Click here for videos of the Boys Blue, and you can hear "Take A Heart" there, too!
Boys Blue - You Got What I Want (ABC-Paramount 10658) - 1965
Monday, January 9, 2012
Here's an absolute monster from Philadelphia's Virtue Studios, which was THE go-to studio for young bands wanting to lay their sound down on wax. The studio was started in 1958 by Frank Virtuoso (stage name - Frank Virtue) in the basement of his home. Virtue was an accomplished guitarist and bassist who had been a fixture on the PA/NJ scene with his group, The Virtuoso Trio. It was in that basement studio that Frank (and the group, now known as The Virtues) recorded one of the all-time great rock and roll instrumentals, "Guitar Boogie Shuffle", which became a huge national hit in 1959 (originally released on the tiny Sure label in 1959, the record soon started to get airplay on "American Bandstand" after Hunt Records picked it up. Hunt was one of the labels owned outright by Dick Clark; coincidence? I think not). With the money he made from "Guitar Boogie Shuffle", Frank bought property in North Philadelphia (1618 N. Broad St., to be exact) and moved his studio there in 1962. He also started several record labels as an outgrowth from the studio - Virtue, Fayette (named after the street on which Virtue lived) and Mary Hill (named after Virtue's wife).
For almost 20 years, Virtue Studios recorded doo-wop, R&B, soul, white pop, and whoever came into the studio. His studio also had mastering facilities, and it was Frank Virtue who made the metal masters for the American release of The Beatles' "She Loves You" single (released on Swan Records - one of Virtue's biggest clients). Just some of the hits recorded at Virtue were: "Hey There Lonely Girl" by Eddie Holman, "Boogaloo Down Broadway" by The Fantastic Johnny C, most of Barbara Mason's early hits, including "Yes, I'm Ready", Cliff Nobles' "The Horse", many of the early Gamble and Huff productions, and countless others by folks like The Dreamlovers, The Victors and The Twilights.
Virtue also recorded a LOT of garage bands (many of them can be heard on the "Crude PA" two volume series on Distortions Records - sadly out of print, but they can be tracked down), and The Snaps were one of the many. Formed in 1964 in Folcroft, PA, The Snaps were Robert Hummel (lead guitar and vocals), Gary Young (bass), Robert Forsythe (aka Linc Davis; keyboards and sometime lead vocal) and Charles Walsh (drums) (by the way, thanks to the excellent Flower Bomb Songs blog for the lineup info; there's also a short interview with Charles Walsh here).
The Snaps' first single, "You Don't Want Me"/"You're All Mine", was released on the small Cuppy Records in 1966. That one sold a number of copies in the Philly/south Jersey area, and Cuppy asked the group for a follow-up. In late '66, the group recorded "The Voice" and "Polka Dotted Eyes", and in early 1967 released it on Cuppy's subsidiary (!!!) East Coast Records. Both sides were written by Robert Hummel, and "The Voice" was picked as the A-side. The record flopped, and the group soon changed their name to The Underground Balloon Corps., then later shortened that to Balloon Corps., making records for Scope, Bell and Dunhill, and breaking up in 1970.
Over the years, the B-side to "The Voice", "Polka Dotted Eyes" has become a garage collectors' classic thanks to the aforementioned "Crude PA Vol. 1" comp AND the "Psychedelic Unknowns Vol. 6" comps it appeared on. I found my copy in a used record store for a dollar in 1994 (as you can probably see by the pic, it's nowhere NEAR mint condition, but plays well nonetheless - the sound clip below was taken from the actual 45, as are all my sound clips) and I have loved it ever since. Tough, echoey vocals, killer drums, cutting guitar licks, and the overall noisy production (who says clean sound is so great? Doofus recording engineers, that's who) make for a GREAT garage record. One of the best things about owning the original single is that on this side, the production is credited to Tony Messina, but on the other side, it says, "Produced by Goofy Anthony". Well, Anthony couldn't have been all THAT goofy - he produced a killer here.
The Snaps - Polka Dotted Eyes (East Coast 1022/1023) - 1967
Tuesday, January 3, 2012
Let's start the new year with a real dancer! I haven't posted a good soul 45 in a while, so we'll do this one, out of Philadelphia.
The Bronzettes were a Philadelphia group (not to be confused with the George McGregor Bronzettes who recorded for Twilight - they were from Chicago) that were produced by Chubby Checker after his hitmaking days were over. Stress on HITMAKING, not creative. Chubby (and the whole Cameo-Parkway complex) continued to make great, danceable records all through the 1960s, despite the fact that the British Invasion pretty much shut the door on Chubby's chart career after 1964.
Chubby saw it coming, and decided that if those moptops were gonna keep him from having big hits, he'd better give himself some leeway for a career on the other side of the studio glass. So he wrote and produced this record for a local girl group (whom nobody seems to know anything about - not even the super-geeks at Spectropop) and released it in the fall of 1964.
.....and the Bronzettes were never heard from again, leaving us one cool 45 to listen to and wonder about.....
The Bronzettes - Hot Spot (Parkway 929) - 1964