Big Girls Don’t Cry By The Four Seasons

August 22, 2014

 

The Four Seasons had one of the most successful six-month periods in pop history as three of their singles topped the Billboard Magazine Pop Singles chart for a total of 13 weeks.

“Sherry” and “Big Girls Don’t Cry” were recorded at the same session, but “Sherry’s” five-week run as the number one song in America ended October 20, 1962. Four weeks later The Four Seasons were back on top.

Success did not come quickly for the group. They formed during 1955 and used such names as the Variatones, Frankie Valley and The Travelers, The Four Lovers, Frankie Tyler, and Frankie Valle and The Romans, but a name change to The Four Seasons was the charm. They would go on to sell over 175 million records and be inducted into The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame.

 In the pop world of the 1960s pre-Beatles era, if you succeeded, the rule was don’t change anything if you could help it. “Big Girls Don’t Cry” and “Sherry” were very similar. Both were catchy up-tempo tunes with tight harmonies backing Frankie Valli’s falsetto. “Big Girls Don’t Cry” had a bigger sound and the harmonies were fuller. All in all, it had a very smooth pop feel, which would be similar to their string of hits during the remainder of the decade.

Band member Bob Gaudio wrote or co-write most of the group’s hits. Here he shared the writing credit with producer Bob Crewe. He and Crewe both agreed that the title came from a line in a film but they disagreed on which film. Gaudio has always stated it came from the movie Tennessee Partner and Crewe from the film Slightly Scarlet. Both starred John Payne and Rhonda Fleming. Whatever the song’s origin, it was a perfect blend of East Coast doo-wop and
rhythm & blues.

The Four Seasons had 40 chart singles during the 1960s with four reaching number one. They were one of the few American groups to remain commercially successful during the British Invasion years. “Big Girls Don’t Cry” is considered their biggest chart hit and on November 17, 1962, it began its five weeks on top of the American music world.


Coventry Blue by Jeremy Spencer

August 20, 2014

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Jeremy Cedric Spencer has been a member of The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame for over 15 years. He was an original member of Fleetwood Mac and remained with the band from its formation in 1967 until 1971, when he quit in the middle of a tour to join a religious cult. While he continued to perform, except for three albums released in the 1970’s, he did not return to the recording studio until 2006.

He has now released his third album in seven years. Coventry Blue follows on the heels of 2012’s excellent Bend In The Road. In many ways his new album is an extension of its predecessor. He has settled into a laid back bluesy groove that highlights his technical expertise and ability to explore a melody from a number of angles. His voice has aged but he does not over-extend himself and it fits his music well.

He is one of those guitarists who have always had a distinct sound. One you hear him play, whether acoustic or electric, you will instantly recognize his music in the future.

The first several tracks set the tone for what follows. “Happy Troubadour” is an instrumental on which he explores the main melody in a number of ways. “Got To Keep Movin’” is a smooth blues performance that re-introduces his under-stated vocal ability. “Dearest … Umm Yah” and “Send Me An Angel” find him settling into the smooth blues groove that dominates much of the material.

He reaches back into his past for two of the tracks. “The World In Her Heart” is an instrumental remake of a track from one of his early 1970’s solo releases. The poignant track is his take on “Open The Door,” which was penned and performed by him and Danny Kirwan back in their Fleetwood Mac Days. It evolves from a straight blues tune toward a rock/pop sound.

Coventry Blue finds Spencer not only producing a mature album of laid-back blues but one that seemingly finds him content.

 


The Atco Sessions 1969-1972 by Lulu

August 19, 2014

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Marie McDonald McLauchlin Lawrie, better known as Lulu, is best known in the United States for her series of late 1960’s pop hits including “To Sir With Love,” “Me The Peaceful Heart,” and “Best Of Both Worlds.”

Her career in her native England has now passed the half-century mark. She has been a successful recording artist, a television personality with her own series for seven years, and the first wife of Bee Gee Maurice Gibb.

One of the often overlooked periods of her career was her time with the Atco label during the late 1960’s and early 1970’s. Her pop hits had dried up and she decided to move in some new musical directions. Real Gone Music has just released all of her recorded material during this period of her career under the title The Atco Sessions 1969-72.

The release contains the 23 tracks that comprised her two albums for the label, New Routes and Melody Fair, plus a bonus disc of 16 tracks made up of single releases and previously unissued tracks from the sessions.

She decided to take her cue from Dusty Springfield’s soulful Dusty In Memphis. She cut the tracks for her first album New Routes with Hall Of Fame producers Tom Dowd, Jerry Wexler, and Arif Mardin. The music from these sessions forms the simpler of the two albums. The focus is on her voice with just guitar, keyboards, bass, and drums as backing.

While she does not leave her pop routes completely behind as the two Gibb compositions, “Marley Purt Drive” and “In The Morning,” attest, it is on the soul and blues oriented material that she shines. Delaney Bramlett’s “Dirty Old Man,” with a bluesy guitar solo by Duane Allman and Dave Mason’s “Feelin’ Alright” are fine examples of the white female soul style of the late 1960’s and early 1970’s. “Mr Bojangles” is filled with emotion and “People In Love,” “Where’s Eddie,” and “Is That You Love” have a gritty nature to them.

Her second album for the label, Melody Fair, is anything but simple. Her soulful vocals are still present but they are enhanced by the backing vocals of the Sweet Inspirations, Eddie & David Brigati, plus Carol & Chuck Kilpatrick. The Dixie Flyers Rhythm Section is on hand as is the full complement of the Memphis Horns. It all adds up to a much fuller sound than the previous release.

The title track is a Bees Gees tune from their Odessa album, which she takes is a soulful direction. Also of note is the building ballad “Take Good Care Of Yourself,” the smooth single release “Hum A Song (From Your Heart),” and “Move To My Rhythm,” which is a gritty blues piece.

The 16 tracks on the second disc are a hit and miss affair. She continues the connection with the Bee Gees with their “Bury Me Down By The River” from Cucumber Castle, which she moves far from its pop origins. Likewise the Bee Gees “Back Home” is transformed in a rocking performance. While many of the other tracks are leftovers, they may have been recorded with a third album in mind.

Lulu is largely a forgotten figure in the United States but the Atco Sessions 1969-1972 present music that form some of the highlights of her long career.


Set The World On Fire By Brent Johnson

August 18, 2014

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Set The World On Fire

Brent Johnson

Justin Time Records 2014

Review by David Bowling

 

Brent Johnson picked up his first guitar at the age of four and never looked back. While in his teens, his family moved to New Orleans and he was able to immerse himself in the music of the city. At the age of 22 he joined Bryan Lee and the Blues Power Band. Now all grown-up, he a a blues guitar gun-slinger who is also a capable singer. He has just signed with the Canadian Justin Time Record label and has issued his first album titled Set The World On Fire.

His new album is a combination of seven original compositions and four cover tunes. He wisely uses his road band of bassist Bill Blok, drummer John Perkins, and keyboardist Wayne Lohr to support his electric and slide guitar work. Also on hand for several tracks are guest guitarists Alvin Youngblood Hart and Sonny Landreth.

While he may branch out at times, he is at heat a modern day electric bluesman.

“Meet Me In The Morning” is an interesting mix of his slide technique and Hart’s electric guitar prowess. Landreth joins him on “Long Way Back To New Orleans,” only this time it is Landreth’s slide guitar and Johnson’s electric guitar that trade solos. The centerpiece of the album is a 13 minute-plus tour-de-force of the old blues classic “As The Years Go Passing By.” His singing and playing elevate the performance into an instant classic.

Brent Johnson has crafted an excellent album of modern day electric blues. It his hopefully a link in a chain as he continues to hone his craft.


Sunshine By Davina & The Vagabonds

August 18, 2014

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Davina (Sowers) & The Vagabonds cross a lot of borders musically but at their foundation remain rooted in the smooth and sweet sound of light New Orleans jazz. Their newest album, Sunshine, will be released July 19th.

They are a band who learned their chops playing close to 300 shows a year locally before expanding to a national and world stage.

Keyboardist/vocalist Davina is joined by trumpet player Dan Elkmeier, trombonist Ben Link, drummer Connor Hammergreen, and bassist Andrew Burn. They are a unique and formidable group that has a tightness forged by hundreds of performances.

Davina has one of those voices that is a gift. It is distinctive and easily recognizable. The flexibility of her vocals allow the band to travel in a number of directions, which allows them to avoid a sameness to their music.

The title song is an upbeat piece of jazz/pop. “Away From Me” can best be described as a smoldering soul ballad. “Through It To The Wolves For Love” settles into a smooth swing groove. “Heavenly Day” proves that sometimes simple is best as Davina presents a gentle solo piece.

Davina And The Vagabonds continue to expand their fan base through hard earned success on the road and in the studio. Sunshine is another brick in their wall of success.

 


He’s A Rebel by The Crystals

August 18, 2014

 

Halloween was over and so was the two week run at the top of the charts by Bobby “Boris Pickett’s hit “Monster Mash.” It was replaced by “He’s a Rebel” by The Crystals, but the story was not as simple as that. The group consisted of Dee Kennibrew, Barbara Alston, Patricia Wright, LaLa Brooks, and Mary Thomas, but not one of them sang a note on their biggest hit.

Enter Phil Spector. The Crystals were an important part of his wall of sound and one of the more commercially successful groups signed to his Phillies Label. During 1961 and 1962 they produced the hits “There’s No Other (Like My Baby)” and “Uptown.”

Enter Gene Pitney. Today he is best remembered for his Rock And Roll Hall of Fame singing career, but during the early 1960s he composed a number of songs that became big hits for other artists including “Rubber Ball” by Bobby Vee, “Hello Mary Lou” for Ricky Nelson, and the subject of this article, “He’s a Rebel.” The irony was Gene Pitney never had a number one song in the United States. His highest charting single was the number two “Only Love Can Break a Heart,” which was kept from the top position by you guessed it, “He’s a Rebel.”

 Enter Phil Spector. He loved the song and thought it would be perfect for The Crystals. The problem was Vikki Carr was planning to release the song and Spector wanted to issue The Crystals version first. The real problem was he was on the west coast and The Crystals were back east.

Enter The Blossoms. They were a vocal group formed during the late 1950s. They had a number of personnel changes and by 1962 Darlene Love had emerged as the lead singer. Spector hired Love to sing the lead vocal on “He’s a Rebel” and another song, “He’s Sure The Boy I Love,” and two others Blossoms, Fanita James and Gracia Nitzsche, to provide the backing vocals. Needless to say, the original Crystals were not amused. Neither were The Blossoms for that matter, as after years of struggle, their first hit was attributed to another group. On the other hand, Phil Specter was very happy.

If you want a crash course in the girl sound of the pre-Beatles era, then the two and a half minute “He’s a Rebel” is the song to turn too. It was a Spector song that did not have strings. Instead, saxophonist Steve Douglas and pianist Al De Lory provided the memorable sounds. It was Love’s voice, however, that provided the catchy song with its most important element. It was a voice that would ultimately lead to her induction into The Rock And Roll Hall of Fame in 2011.

The actual performers may have been a mystery at the time, but on November 3, 1962 it reached number one on the BILLBOARD Magazine Hot 100, where it remained for two weeks. .


Monster Mash by Bobby “Boris” Pickett

August 18, 2014

 

I can think of dozens of Christmas songs, a few Thanksgiving and Easter songs, but only one Halloween song comes readily to mind, and beginning October 20, 1962, it topped the Billboard Magazine Singles Chart  for two weeks.

The above fact brings us to Robert George Pickett, 1938-2007, who adopted the professional name of Bobby “Boris” Pickett. After a three year stint in the U.S. Army, he put together a vocal group called The Cordials with some high school friends. While performing one evening, he did a Boris Karloff interpretation in the middle of a song. Band mate Lenny Capizzi was so amused he suggested that he and Pickett write a comedy song using the voice, and so the perennial Halloween song, “Monster Mash,” was born.

“Monster Mash” by Bobby “Boris” Pickett and The Crypt-Kickers ended the five week run of “Sherry” by the Four Seasons at the top of the charts. Its time at the top of the charts appropriately included Halloween.

 The song was released in the middle of the pre-Beatles dance craze era. It was really a dance record about a dance. It was based on the popular dance song “Mashed Potato Time” by Dee Dee Sharp. The combination of Pickett’s vocal interpretations and the appeal of monsters doing the mash made it a wildly popular graveyard smash, selling in excess of one million copies.

The song had staying power. It reappeared on the U.S. charts in 1970 and 1973. It was banned in England during 1962, but 11 years later became a top five hit, and returned to the chart again during 2008, proving that a good song always remains a good song.

Picket would go on to become a radio personality and continue to record and perform until his death, but “Monster Mash” would be the highlight of his career. Fifty years ago it topped the music world and can still be heard regularly during the Halloween season.

One final note: Boris Karloff himself performed the song on a 1965 episode of Shindig, but that’s another Halloween story altogether.


Sherry By The Four Seasons

August 14, 2014

 

Life was good for The Four Lovers during 1956. They had changed their name from The Variatones and reached the Billboard Magazine Pop Singles chart with the song, “You’re the Apple of My Eye.” This led to an appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show. Little did they realize that one more name change would be the start of their journey toward The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and recognition as one of the best vocal groups in American music history.

There were personnel changes but by 1961 Frankie Valli, Bob Gaudio, Nick Massi, and Tommy DeVito had coalesced into The Four Seasons. A year later they signed with the Vee-Jay label and were poised to produce three number one singles within the next seven months, which would spend a combined 13 weeks on top of the singles charts.

Gaudio had spent some time in the group The Royal Teens for whom he co-wrote their hit, “Short Shorts.” While doodling at the piano one day he came up with a melody with simple lyrics, which he titled “Terri Baby.” Sherry Spector was the daughter of New York disc jockey Jack Spector, who was a close friend of his. He decided to name the song after her and so one of the big hits of the 1960s was ready to go.

 “Sherry” first entered the Billboard chart August 25, 1962, and three weeks later it was number one where it remained for the next five weeks.

The Four Seasons produced just about the perfect pop song. There was a short introduction and then Frankie Valli’s falsetto kicked in and was supported by the soaring harmonies of the other group members. It was 2:32 of up-tempo pop bliss. It may have been a simple song from the pre-Beatles era but it has held up well for half a century.

“Sherry” found The Four Seasons at the beginning of their commercial success. Four more number one hits and 47 chart singles would follow. Fifty-two years ago,  The Four Seasons ruled the American music world for the first time.


Sheila By Tommy Roe

August 14, 2014

Tommy Roe, born May 9, 1942, is best remembered today for his mid-to-early 1960s bubblegum hits. Songs such as “Hooray For Hazel,” “Sweet Pea,” “Jam Up and Jelly Tight,” and his other chart topper, “Dizzy,” all received extensive radio airplay and sold millions of copies. His early career was different, as during the early ’60s his single releases actually rocked a little.

 

Thomas David Roe grew up in Atlanta and counted Billy Joe Royal, Joe South, Mac Davis, and Ray Stevens among his boyhood friends. He sang in various bands during his school years and by the age of 16 had signed a contract with the small southern Judd label. He released the song “Sheila” as a single but it received little attention. He had written the song as a 14-year-old.

At the age of 20, he auditioned for the large ABC-Paramount label. The song that garnered the most attention was “Sheila.” Released as a single during the summer of 1962, it eventually spent two weeks on top of the Billboard Magazine Pop Singles Chart beginning September 1, 1962. It also peaked at number six on the R&B Chart, which was a real stretch even by the standards of the day. His days of working for $70 a week soldering for General Electric were over. On a subsequent tour of the United Kingdom, one of his supporting acts was The Beatles.

 “Sheila” may seem somewhat mild today, but by pre-Beatles standards it was a nice fusion of pop and rock. It was an up-tempo tune with a shuffle beat and some subtle early 1960s-type background vocals. In some ways it has some similarities to Buddy Holly’s “Peggy Sue.”

He was a consistent hit maker during the ’60s and early ’70s. Even with two years off while serving in the U.S. military, he managed to produce 23 chart singles, with six reaching the top 10. The hits may have stopped but he has continued to perform for the last 40 years and remains active on the oldies circuit.

Tommy Roe carved out a nice niche for himself and 52 years ago this week he sat on top of the American music world.


Remember Two Things (CD Exlanded Reissue) By The Dave Matthews Band

August 14, 2014

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The Dave Matthews Band’s has passed the quarter century mark. It has produced five number one albums, sales exceeding the 30 million mark, and has consistently filled concert halls and arena’s.

Formed in 1991, the band had an epiphany in 1993, when they decided to issue an album on their own Baba Rags Label. Remember Two Things was released November 19, 1993, and introduced the band to the world. It has now been reissued with two previously unreleased bonus tracks by the Legacy label.

Remember Two Things catches the DMB at the beginning of their career. They had learned their craft in bars and small clubs and this album reflects that period of their career. The music is recorded live and is basic, energetic, and does not have the layers of production that would inhabit their studio releases.

The band at the time consisted of singer/guitarist Dave Matthews, drummer Carter Beauford, saxophonist Le Roi Moore, violinist Boyd Tinsley, and bassist Stefan Lessard. Guitarist Tim Reynolds is also present on four of the tracks. They are not as tight a unit as they would become but more than make up for it in the energy they generate and the chances they take.

The recording equipment was running at The Flood Zone in Richmond, Virginia on August 10, 1993, and at The Muse Club on Nantucket Island, August 16-18, 1993. The live nature allow for extended versions of many of the songs. While a few of the tracks may drag a little; it is always interesting.

There are early versions of “Ants Marching” and “Tripping Billies.” The first radiates energy in waves, while the second is leaner and cleaner than the studio version that would follow. The live acoustic “I’ll Back You Up” has a poignant feel. The other live acoustic track, “Christmas Song” is equally as good and is a many times forgotten holiday classic.

The Dave Matthews Band has continued to evolve throughout their career. This is a release that not only stands the test of time but provides a picture of the group not far removed from their beginnings. The sound has been enhanced and archival photos have been added. It all adds up to a well-deserved resurrection of a sometimes forgotten album.