July 30, 2014
Many people probably remember Shelley Fabares for her portrayal of Christine Armstrong on the popular television series Coach, 1989-1997. If you are a little older you will probably remember her as teenage daughter Mary on the first five seasons on The Donna Reed Show, which ran 1958-1966. If you are a fan of Elvis you will recall her as the co-star of the movies, Girl Happy, Clambake, and Spinout. All of which leads us to her short time as a genuine female teenage music idol.
She was a reluctant singer with an average voice but with the power of a hit television show behind her, she would become a popular one. During the fourth season of the series she premiered “Johnny Angel” on the show and the single would go on to sell over a million copies, topping the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart for two weeks beginning April 7, 1962.
It was a typical song of teen angst that was popular during the pre-Beatles era. It was the story of a girl who was in love with a boy who doesn’t know she exists. She begins to turn down other opportunities as she pines for this guy who’s out of her league. She finally got the boy in the follow-up single, “Johnny Loves Me,” which was released a few months later.
The song was innovative as it contained an early use of an echo chamber in the recording studio where she repeatedly sings “Johnny Angel” at the beginning of the song. Backing vocals were provided by the veteran group The Blossoms, featuring 2011 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee Darlene Love. It doesn’t get much better than that.
“Johnny Angel” was a song from a different and far simpler era and it sounds dated today. The arrival of the Beatles and the subsequent changing tastes in music in the United States would signal the end of her music career by the mid-1960s. Still, very few singers can make the claim of having had a number one hit song. It was 52 year ago that Shelley Fabares and her “Johnny Angel” sat on top of the American music world.
July 30, 2014
Concetta Rosa Maria Franconero—professional name Connie Francis—sold more records than any solo female singer during the 1950s and 1960s. She produced a number of perky, upbeat pop songs, including “Stupid Cupid” and “Lipstick On My Collar,” and a few soaring ballads, “Where The Boys Are” and “Follow The Boys.” But it was through her series of sad ballads that she gained the greatest fame.
“Don’t Break The Heart That Loves You” was symbolic of her group of angst-laden ballads. It was the story of a woman trying to understand why her lover was treating her so bad, and ends with her begging him to take her back. Released during early 1962, it reached the number one position on the Billboard Hot 100 chart on March 31, 1962 for one week. It also spent four weeks at the top of the Billboard Easy Listening Chart. It was her third and last number one hit.
She issued a fairly creative interpretation of the song (written by Benny Davis and Ted Murry). It featured her voice overdubbed into two-part harmonies. She then added a spoken bridge to connect the two parts of the song.
After the song’s success in the United States, Francis recorded versions in German, Italian, Spanish, and Japanese that would propel the song to becoming a worldwide hit. She has recorded her material in 15 different languages. (Margo Smith would take the song to the top of the Country Chart during the late 1970s but would substitute a saxophone solo for the spoken bridge, which made it a little less maudlin.)
While she would continue to issue a number of hit singles and albums, as the 1960s progressed and musical tastes changed, her commercial success began to wane. Despite a number of tragedies and personal issues, she continues to tour and perform and is a regular on the Las Vegas circuit.
When performing on stage, Connie Francis has a vast catalogue of hits to draw from. One of the biggest was “Don’t Break The Heart That Loves You,” which topped the music world for seven days 52 years ago.
July 28, 2014
Amy McCarley 2014
Review by David Bowling
Amy McCarley has returned with her second release, Jet Engines. She is an artist who treads the line between traditional and alternative country. although she comes close to a modern folk sound every once in a while.
Her newest release has several things in its favor. The music creates a feeling of comfort and familiarity. She has a style that does not overwhelm the listener but sets him or her at ease. The album also has a good tempo to it. Up-tempo songs and interspersed with slower material and simple performances share space with a full band sound. It prevents a sense of sameness, which tend to plague many independent releases. She quickly proves she can write a good song with strong melodies and incisive lyrics as she composed all ten tracks.
There are a number of highlights. The album opening “Everybody Wants To” is a gentle acoustic style tune that moves in a folk direction. It is followed by the up-tempo “Here I Am” which is country music to its core. The best track is the energetic and rocking “Radio On.”
She is a good acoustic guitarist and an her vocals have an earthy sound. She is supported by guitarist Kenny Vaughan, drummer Derek Mixon, bassist Michael Rinne, plus additional guitarist George Bradfute on two tracks.
Amy McCarley has released an excellent sophomore album. It will hopefully receive some deserved airplay and give her some exposure. Jet Engines is worth the price of admission.
July 28, 2014
“Hey Baby” by Bruce Channel was like the little engine that could (and did). It was first released as a single on the small LeCarn label, located in Fort Worth, Texas, during early 1961. Most songs would have disappeared then and there, but “Hey Baby” managed to acquire enough airplay on a few local radio stations to be noticed up by the larger Smash Label. Rereleased during December of 1961, it reached number one on the Billboard Magazine Hot 100 March 10, 1962. It remained on top of the American music world for three weeks.
Bruce Channel, (pronounced Shu-Neal), began his career as a country rockabilly singer during the late 1950s. He is a member of the Rockabilly Hall Of Fame. His early music partner was Delbert McClinton, who provided the memorable harmonica play on his big hit.
“Hey Baby” was a song that reached out and grabbed you due to the sustained first note when Channel’s voice just soared up and away. It was a mid-tempo tune that had a smooth and lazy melody that formed the perfect backdrop for Channel’s clear and powerful vocal.
The song was a departure from his usual country/rockabilly style, which moved him into the mainstream for his only top 40 hit. It really was a classic pop tune that combined elements of doo-wop and early rock ‘n’ roll. It was one of those catchy tunes that were perfect for AM radio play at the time as it just would not leave your mind for days.
On the strength of his one hit, he was a star for several years. On a tour of Europe The Beatles were his opening act and, as the story goes, John Lennon was impressed with McClinton’s harmonica play and incorporated the sound on such early tunes as “Love me Do” and “Please Please Me.”
Channel retired from touring during the mid-1970s and settled in Nashville as a songwriter. For the rest of his life can look back on his big shining moment when his “Hey Baby” was on top of the music world.
July 28, 2014
“The Twist” had dominated the top of the Billboard Magazine Pop Singles Chart for five weeks during early 1962. First Chubby Checker (two weeks) and then Joey Dee and The Starliters (three weeks) had kept America dancing, but that all ended 50 years ago this week when Gene Chandler ascended to the top of the charts.
Chandler was a Chicago born (1937) and based rhythm & blues singer. His career spanned and remained commercially successful from the late 50s doo-wop era, through the British Invasion, into the disco era of the 1970s, and to the present day. His musical landmark occurred February 17, 1962, when his “Duke Of Earl” spent three weeks as the number one single in the United States.
He was originally a member of the vocal group, The Dukays. When their record label refused to release “Duke Of Earl” as a single, he went solo and released the song, which he had co-written, under his own name. It proved to be a wise decision as one million records sold later; he had produced one of the signature songs of the pre-Beatles era. The song’s vocal beginning, “Duke, Duke, Duke, Duke Of Earl,” is still instantly recognizable by many music fans.
The song was a cross between do-wop and smooth R&B that resonated with the mainstream music audience. It was a clever love song about making the girl his Dutchess Of Earl. After each stanza, his clear tenor voice would soar in a do-wop style. It was one of those simple songs that had a beat and lyrics that would not leave your mind and was perfect for AM radio at the time.
Chandler would begin performing in a cape, monocle, top hat, and cane and calling himself “The Duke.” At the age of 77, “The Duke” is still on the road performing his favorite song, which was number one 52 years ago.
July 26, 2014
Janiva Magness is a rare modern day blues artist who has actually lived the blues. She lost both parents in her teens and was shuttled through a number of foster homes. She gave up a child as a teenager and had a long-term marriage end. Like many blues artists, she is a survivor and has been able to channel her experiences, both good and bad, into her music.
Now over 30 years into her career, she has released her 10th album titled Original. While this release may fly under the radar of many music fans; for blues aficionados it is an event to celebrate. She has received 22 Blues Music Nominations, been honored as Female Blues Artist Of The Year three times, and received the coveted B.B. King Blues Entertainer Of The Year Award in 2012.
Her new release not only finds her incorporating some rock and soul into her music but is also her coming out party as a songwriter. She has always been an apprehensive composer but here she steps forward and contributes seven original tunes, which reflect her journeys through life. The passion she brings to her own creations explores the very heart of the blues.
She is a vocalist with excellent tone and command of her instrument. She can soar and purr as needed but is always able to present her stories with authority. Her basic backing band consists of guitarist Zach Zunis, keyboardist Jim Alfredson, bassist Gary Davenport, and drummer Matt Tecu.
She is an artist who continues to evolve. Her sound is fuller and she uses creative rhythms and sounds to enhance her music. “When You Were My King” features her pure voice, some guitar reverb, plus acoustic and electric interplay. The confessional “Let Me Breathe” introduces the album with a blues guitar enhanced by a glockenspiel. From the simple to the complicated, songs such as “I Need A Man,” “Mountain,” “Badass,” “The Hard Way,” and “Standing” are not only a trip through the American blues but a journey through her mind and psyche as well.
Janiva Magness continues to fuse herself with her music. Original is another excellent leap into the world of the American blues by an artist who is still standing.
July 24, 2014
Long John Baldry, 1941-2012, was one of the key figures in the early British blues movement and thus a connector in the development of British rock and roll. He was a contemporary of early blues artists Alexis Korner and Cyril Davies and heavily influenced such artists as The Rolling Stones and Eric Clapton. During the mid-1960’s he played in bands with Rod Stewart (Steampacket) and Elton John (Bluesology).
He moved to Canada in 1978 and in 1991 formed a relationship with the Stony Plain Label. The label has now established a new compilation series titled The Best Of The Stony Plain Years. Baldry is one of the first artists to have a CD release in the series as tracks from his albums for the label have been combined with two previously unreleased tracks.
The album begins with a creative version of “Good Morning Blues.” There is a 30 second snippet of his 1958 recording of the song before sliding into the version he recorded in 2001. The modernization of the song presents a much smoother sound and the instrumental backing is full, yet his roots are very apparent.
While the blues are painful at times; “I’m Shakin,’” “Easy Street,” and “Midnight Special,” which are presented in a row, are a joyous romp through the modern day blues. His voice has gained strength as the years have passed and has developed into a strong instrument.
His take on “Gallows Pole” is very different from the famous version by Led Zeppelin. It is a rollicking and boisterous interpretation that comes close to a traditional Americana sound.
Kathi McDonald toured with Baldry for close to two decades and she duets with him on the ominous “Insane Asylum” and the hitherto promo only release “Black Girl.”
The album ends on a high note. “Time’s Getting’ Tougher Than Tough” contains a duet with blues legend Jimmy Witherspoon with backing by The Duke Robillard Band. It all adds up to an excellent example of a modern day fusion of rock and blues.
The Best Of The Stony Plain Years presents a nice taste of the last part of Baldry’s career. The music may not be as influential or important as his early work but it is very listenable and shows the end product of his evolutionary process.
July 24, 2014
During the late 1950s and early 1960s, Joey Dee & The Starliters were similar to thousands of other east coast bands playing in clubs and hoping to receive a recording contract. While later touring versions of the group would include Gene Cornish, Felix Cavaliere, and Eddie Brigati who went on to form the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame band, the Rascals, Jimmy James better known as Jimi Hendrix, and even a very young Joe Pesci, his early bands included a rotating cast of characters. The key addition was David Brigati, brother of Eddie, who joined as the lead vocalist.
Their big break came when the twist became a dance craze with adults. It had been a teen sensation during 1961 when Chubby Checker topped the Billboard Magazine Pop Singles Chart with “The Twist.” A year later adults were dancing the twist in clubs across the country. Checker made history when “The Twist” topped the charts again in 1962 for two weeks.
The Peppermint Lounge was a famous New York night club, 1958-1965, where many celebrities would hang out. Joey Dee & The Starliters became a fixture at the club, and Dee wrote a song that capitalized on the popularity of the Peppermint Lounge and the twist. “Peppermint Twist Part 1” was released November 11, 1961, and 53 years replaced Chubby Checker’s release as the number one single in the United States where it remained for three weeks.
“Peppermint Twist” was a long song spread over both sides of the single release, but it was part one that became the hit. It was an up-tempo organ driven tune, with an outstanding guitar solo by Sam Taylor in the middle, with Brigati’s lead vocal that was perfect for dancing the twist. The band usually employed three singers to front the band and provide harmonies for the lead.
The hits would cease for Joey Dee with the beginning of The Beatles era and the changing moods in music. Today he and David Brigati are still on road as Joey Dee & The Starliters, and the “Peppermint Twist” remains the highlight of their act. A little over a half-century ago they were the kings of the United States music world.
July 23, 2014
Joe Louis Walker is just shy of the retirement age of 65 but shows no sign of slowing down. He has spent a lifetime playing the blues and early in his career toured with such luminaries as Thelonious Monk, Steve Miller, Buddy Miles, Willie Dixon, and Otis Rush. He was a roommate of Mike Bloomfield until his untimely death. A disciple of John Lee Hooker, he has released over 20 albums during the course of his career. The quality of these albums has varied but the three he released for the Stony Plain label, Between A Rock And A Hard Place, Witness To The Blues, and Blues Conspiracy: Live On The Legendary Rhythm And Blues Cruise were some of the best of his career.
The Best Of The Stony Plain Years gathers the better tracks from his three albums for the label. The only negative is each of his albums for Stony Plain was a cohesive whole and removing them from that environment creates a disconnect. The positive is this compilation album contains some of the best music of his career.
“I’m Tide,” “Send You Back” with Sugar Ray Norcia, and “Black Widow Spider” were culled from his Blues Foundation 2010 Blues Album Of The Year, Between A Rock And The Blues. The first is a fierce rocker while the other two are excellent examples of modern day electric blues.
The tracks from Blues Conspiracy were all recorded live. The cruise had a number of blues artists and they tended to play on each other’s songs. ”Slow Down GTO” with Mike Finnigan, “Ain’t That Cold” with Johnny Winter, and “You’re Gonna Make Me Cry” with Chris Salgado & Mike Finnigan find Walker in an energetic live mode as he trades licks with some of the best in the business. The live tracks tend to be longer as they contain a lot of improvisation.
“Sugar Mama,” “Highview,” and Hustlin’” were taken from Witness To The Blues. They unite rock and blues into a fusion sound.
Joe Louis Walker has moved on from the Stony Plain label but has left behind some of the best music of his career. The Best Of The Stony Plain Years mines some of those nuggets.
July 23, 2014
“The Twist” by Chubby Checker remains a unique single in American music history. While a number of singles have reached number one on the Billboard Pop Singles Chart, fell out of that position, and then returned to the top, only “The Twist” reached number one in two completely different chart runs. It reached the top for the week of September 19, 1960, and again January 13, 1962, where it remained for two weeks.
The song first saw the light of day as the flip side of an obscure Hank Ballard and the Midnighters single “Teardrops On Your Letter.” Ballard re-released the song as an A-side on July 18, 1960. Checker released his version a couple of weeks later on August 1st. It all came down to Dick Clark’s American Bandstand. Ballard wasn’t available but Checker was, and the rest, as they say, is history as his performance on the show made his release the big hit.
Its first chart run was fueled by teenagers, but during the intervening 18 months the dance had become a phenomenon, even accepted by adults. It was one of the first rock songs to cross over to an older audience as the dance craze was appearing in clubs across the United States. Dozens of artists would issue Twist songs to capitalize on its popularity. Joey Dee and The Starliters would also top the charts with their version called “Peppermint Twist.” Checker would release “Let’s Twist Again,” “Twistin’ USA,” and “Slow Twistin.’” Its lasting appeal would be apparent by its reaching number two on the U.K. singles chart during 1988.
The dance was brilliant in its simplicity: swivel your hips and move your knees and arms back and forth, and there you have it. It was so simple even I can do it, and I can’t dance.
Checker would go one to release a number of dance records including “Pony Time,” “The Hucklebuck,” “The Fly,” and “Limbo Rock,” but none had the lasting impact of “The Twist,” which ruled the music world 53 years ago.