Monday, January 9, 2012
THE SNAPS - POLKA DOTTED EYES
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