Saturday, 24 September 2016

What the Eff?

Happy Saturday, my friends!

My recent shout-out for recordings that I have not previously written about turned up this little nugget. Fellow Blogger Bob at Dead Wax brought this to my attention; unfortunately I’ve only been able to find one side of the disc so far (and the B-side at that), but goodness – what a find!

Released on the tiny Lorida label, this disc was custom pressed by RCA in 1958 – just about the same time that they were pressing discs for Grace Pauline Chew’s Musicart label. Lorida isn’t a spelling mistake: it’s the name of a small, unincorporated community in eastern Highlands County, Florida. Originally named Istokpoga (a Seminole Indian word meaning ‘drowned man’), the name was changed to Lorida (pronounced lo-reed-a) by then-postmistress Mary Stokes 1937 by simply lopping the ‘f’ off Florida.

Credited to Leona Bass and The Lost Guitars, the amazingly inept I Want to Marry an Egghead appeared as the b-side to Ralph Tullo and The Lost Guitars’ My Heart's With You on Trial. The lyrics to both sides were written by Martin Manders, with René Bruneau providing the music (if you can call it that) to I Want to Marry an Egghead, and Phoebe Cole composing the music for My Heart's With You on Trial. Both songs were published by Fighter Music Publishing Limited in June 1958. Bruneau was an old hand (literally: he was born in 1900), and wrote the music to dozens of copyrighted songs, many of them with lyrics written by one Ed Kukkee (full name Edwin Waldemar Kukkee), including What Happens When a Bug Goes Bugs, Papa Stork is Paying Us a Visit and The Wiggle Wiggle Rag (I wonder if Bob Dylan was aware of that one?). Cole too had form, previously composing the music to the songs Kiss me, Sweet and Kiss me All the Time (both 1957). My assumption is that Mr Manders sent his lyrics in to song poem-esque services to have them set to music: this is borne out by the fact that all of Cole’s and Bruneau’s co-writers retained copyright in their respective compositions.

Other people associated with Lorida also had connections with the song-poem world: Earl Luton (of Lutone fame) composed at least one side for Lorida, and Harold Crosby - who also issued a 45 on Top Fifty - issued a brace of 45s on Lorida. Mike Sarlo, who performed with a band called the Footstompers on another Lorida release, was a programme director for a Pennsylvania radio station who also dabbled occasionally in songwriting and recording. 

It appears that Manders (1906-1978) was from Allouez village, Green Bay, Wisconsin – quite a way from Florida. It appears too that Lorida issued at least a half dozen 45s during the life of the company, and that this particular coupling was the first. Quite how it came about is a mystery: I assume either Leona or her dad paid for the recording and pressing themselves, or that the Bass family were friends of Martin Manders and he stumped up the $50 or so to have the record cut and pressed.

Perhaps one of you can help fill in the story... and find the flip side?


Friday, 16 September 2016

More sides from Mrs Slydes

Most of you will already be acquainted with Leona Anderson: I’ve written about her a couple of times before but it’s always nice to revisit old friends, especially if you have something new to share.

And boy, do I. Today I present for you the missing Leona Anderson 45, her second for Columbia and her third release at that point, Limburger Lover/Yo-Ho the Crow.

Let’s have a quick recap of her story (if you want more, there’s a chapter on Leona’s career in my first book: most of what follows is culled from there).

Born Leona Aronson on April 3, 1885, Leona was the younger sister of early cowboy movie star Gilbert ‘Broncho Billy’ Anderson. She began her showbiz career at fifteen and seriously thought about a career as an operatic singer (I’ve read that her brother paid for her to travel to London to study) before appearing in a number of films - thankfully all silent – including Mud and Sand (which starred Stan Laurel as Rhubarb Vaseline) and In the Park which starred Charlie Chaplin. Unsurprisingly she also appeared in several movies directed by and starring her brother. Many years later (in 1959 to be exact) she appeared in the Vincent Price horror film The House on Haunted Hill as the demonic Mrs Slydes.

By the mid-1950s Leona had developed her unique singing style and made many cabaret appearances sending up opera singers: she once said she chose this career because ‘Opera singers just can't kid themselves properly; they never can let their voices go’, which is not a criticism that you could ever level at her. Throughout her career she would wilfully let her voice go just about anywhere it damn well pleased.

Described by Billboard as ‘a gal with cultivated, and broken, pipes’, Leona (erroneously credited as Leonna Anderson) issued her first waxing, Fish, on both 78 and on clear red vinyl 7”, in 1953. Fish was released by Horrible Records (motto: if it’s really a Horrible Record it’s bound to be a hit) and put out as the B-side to the Dr Demento favourite There's A New Sound (The Sound Of Worms Eating Your Brain) by Tony Burrello. Fish was co-written by Burrello, who also played calliope on the track; Bill Baird (a puppeteer who would become better known a decade later for the Lonely Goatherd marionette scene in The Sound of Music) played tuba. 500 copies were originally pressed but within two weeks Horrible Records had received orders for a further 100,000 copies. TV comic Ernie Kovacs heard it and invited her on his show. Aided by Burrello and Murray Leona put together a nightclub act, which she called Songs to Forget; the success of the act, coupled with Kovacs championing her cause led to her recording a cover of the Pattie Page hit The Mama Doll Song (backed with I’m A Fool To Care) for Columbia (featured on this blog before) – of which Billboard wrote ‘her cracked tones, sadly out of tune (have) the same macabre appeal as the miserable chirping of Florence Foster Jenkins’.

Issued in March 1955, more than 18 months before her seminal album Music to Suffer By, her second (and last) 45 for Columbia – and the one I present for you today - featured Limburger Lover and Yo-Ho the Crow. Both songs also appeared, in re-recorded form, on the album. Catalogue info exists for 78 rpm versions of both Columbia singles although, as is often the case with these things, there appear to be more promotional copies of the 45 in circulation that retail copies. A fourth single, Indian Love Call/Habanera, was also issued, in March 1956 as both a 78 and 45 by Unique (it was also issued, with the sides flipped, in Australia: I’m lucky enough to have picked up a copy recently for my own collection). She also recorded a theme tune, of sorts, for the Bob and Ray radio show in March 1956.

‘I sing songs which cannot be ruined,” she once said. “I don’t sing very off-key… just enough. I decided that if I couldn’t be the best I’d be the worst.’

She died, on Christmas Day 1973, in a retirement home in Fremont, Alameda County, California at the age of 88. She may be gone, but she left us with a legacy for which we should be forever grateful.

A copy of this 45 recently turned up on Ebay: I was bidding for it but dropped out at $30. I’ll console myself with the MP3s until the next one turns up.


Friday, 9 September 2016

Help, Man!

On September 28 this blog will celebrate its ninth anniversary: yes, I’ve been writing about bad music for that long. To celebrate, I asked readers (via our Facebook page) to nominate a favourite bad record that I had not written about, and over the next few weeks I’m going to share some of those suggestions with you. You can suggest your own via the comments section at the end of this post.

Born in 1909, Sir Robert Helpmann was an Australian dancer who became an international ballet star and choreographer as well as a noted actor and director. Openly gay (he lived with his partner for 36 years) and with a flamboyant sense of theatricality, Robert had been on stage since the age of eight. ‘When he was a little chap’, his mother, Mattie Helpman, once revealed, ‘he used to take away my stockings and use them for tights. He would tie feathers round his head, too, and go roaming round the streets until I’m sure people thought I had a lunatic in the family.’

Knighted in 1968, during the 30s and 40s Sir Robert was one of British ballet's premier male dancers. Noted as ‘a dancer who could act and an actor who could dance’, his personality and talent played a vital part in building the fledgling British ballet.

After studying briefly with Anna Pavlova in Melbourne (which had been arranged by his rather dour father), Robert went to London in 1933 to study and perform with the Sadler's Wells Ballet, now known as the Royal Ballet. He was the leading male star with that company from 1934 until his resignation in 1950, frequently appearing with his longtime partner Dame Margot. In the 1937-38 season, he beat Laurence Olivier for the part of Oberon in A Midsummer Night's Dream at the Old Vic, playing opposite Vivien Leigh. He later repeated that role opposite Moira Shearer at the Metropolitan Opera House and on a US tour in 1954.

During his years with Sadler's Wells, Sir Robert took occasional leaves of absence to act, most notably in the classic Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger film The Red Shoes, a stylish, highly influential movie about backstage life in the ballet. Years later, when an interviewer asked him whether the high-pitched portrayal of the events and lives of the dancers were exaggerated, he replied, ‘Oh, no, dear boy, it was quite understated’. Other film credits included multiple roles in the Tales of Hoffmann, the Bishop of Ely in Olivier’s Henry V and the terrifying Child Catcher in the classic Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. In 1995 Marylin Manson paid tribute, of sorts, via the album Smells Like Children, with Manson dressed as the Child Catcher on the sleeve.

During his career he Puccini's La Boheme and Rimsky-Korsakov's Coq d'Or for the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, T. S. Eliot's Murder in the Cathedral for the Old Vic and directed the musical Camelot on stage. In 1955 he co-starred with Katharine Hepburn, touing in three Shakespearean plays in Australia, and from 1965 to 1975 he was co-director of the Australian Ballet.

But here’s one thing you’ll struggle to find a mention of in his official biography. In 1963 Helpmann recorded four surf-themed tracks for HMV in Australia. Seriously. Someone at HMV thought the gay, 54 year-old Helpmann could pass as a teen idol and ride on the coat tails of the Beach Boys, Jan and Dean and the like in to the charts. Two cuts from the session were issued as a 45 the following year (the same year he was appointed CBE) - Surfer Doll and I Still Could Care (HMV EA-4620) - with the second pair - Surf Dance and Let-A-Go Your Heart - issued the following year (EA-4665). All four tracks were collected on the Raven EP Sir Robert Helpmann Goes Surfing in 1982, dubbed from vinyl copies as the master tapes could not be located. There’s a hysterical film clip of Helpmann performing Surfer Doll on YouTube if you care to look for it and, apparently, sheet music featuring Robert on the cover in a peroxide blond wig. The first 45 was also issued in the US, on Blue Pacific Records.

Helpmann died in Sydney – appropriately for this anniversary post on September 28 – in 1986 after a long battle with emphysema, caused it seems by a lifetime of heavy smoking. He was 77 years old.

With enormous thanks to Graham Graham for bringing these tracks to my attention, here are all four sides cut by Sir Robert for HMV Australia.


Friday, 2 September 2016

Death and Disaster, Tommy Dee Style

A couple of weeks ago I introduced you to the delights of Tommy Dee, the stentorial DJ who cut more than a dozen ridiculous records for various labels during his career, several of which dealt with the deaths of musicians. Well, thanks to popular demand, we’re revisiting Tommy today, specifically to have a look at another of his specialities, the patriotic pop song.

There’s a Star Spangled Banner Waving Somewhere/The Hobo and the Puppy (Challenge 612) was issued on 1960, just a year after Tommy’s only hit, Three Stars. There’s a Star Spangled Banner Waving Somewhere tells the story of Francis Gary Powers – usually referred to as Gary Powers –an American pilot who was shot down while flying a U-2 spy plane for the CIA in Soviet Union airspace. The former USAF U-2 was equipped with a state-of-the-art camera designed to take high-resolution photos from the edge of the stratosphere over hostile countries, including the Soviet Union; Power’s mission was to photograph military installations and other important sites.

He was shot down by a surface-to-air missile over Sverdlovsk. Powers was captured and taken to Lubyanka Prison in Moscow. When the U.S. government learned of Powers' disappearance they issued a cover statement claiming a ‘weather plane’ had strayed off course after its pilot had ‘difficulties with his oxygen equipment’. CIA officials did not know that the plane crashed almost fully intact, and the Soviets recovered its equipment. Powers was interrogated extensively by the KGB for months before he made a confession and a public apology for his part in espionage. His trial began on August 17 1960, before the military division of the Supreme Court of the USSR. Members of his family were present, as were attorneys provided by the CIA. Two days later Powers was convicted of espionage and sentenced to ten years confinement, three in prison, the remainder in a labour camp. On February 10 1962, Powers was exchanged, along with American student Frederic Pryor, in a well-publicised spy swap at the Glienicke Bridge in Berlin. The exchange was for Soviet KGB Colonel Vilyam Fisher, known as Rudolf Abel, who had been caught by the FBI and tried and jailed for espionage.

Powers died in August 1977. He had been working as a helicopter traffic pilot reporter for KNBC News Channel 4 when he was forced to make an emergency landing as the helicopter was running out of fuel. As he descended he noticed children playing in the area, and directed the helicopter elsewhere to avoid landing on them. If not for the last-second deviation he might have landed safely. The ‘copter crashed and Powers died instantly.

Our next disc was released by Tommy in February 1967. Roger, Ed And Gus (America's Astronaut Heroes) is a tribute to the astronauts Gus Grissom, Ed White and Roger Chaffee, who had been killed during testing for the Apollo 1 mission at Cape Kennedy, Florida. The men died after fire swept through the spacecraft, designed for a manned flight to the Moon. It was thought an electrical spark started in the area holding oxygen supplies and other support systems which quickly spread in the oxygen-filled atmosphere of the capsule, killing the crew within seconds.

The autopsy report confirmed that the primary cause of death for all three astronauts was cardiac arrest caused by high concentrations of carbon monoxide. The third degree burns suffered by the crew were not believed to be major factors, and it was concluded that most of those had occurred postmortem. Asphyxiation happened after the fire melted the astronauts' suits and oxygen tubes, exposing them to the lethal atmosphere of the cabin. An Apollo 1 mission patch was left on the Moon's surface by Apollo 11 crew members Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, and the Apollo 15 mission left a tiny memorial statue, Fallen Astronaut, on the surface of the Moon along with a plaque containing the names of the Apollo 1 astronauts.

Blimey, our Tommy sure knew how to pick ‘em!

I have also included the B-side, School For Fools, a rarity in as much as (instead of simply narrating) Tommy attempts to sing, affecting a not unpleasant Johnny Cash-like lilt.


Friday, 26 August 2016

Fly Like an Eagle

I’m not, by any stretch of the imagination, a sports fan. However even the most curmudgeonly among us would have to acknowledge the truly remarkable achievement of Team GB at the recent Olympics. Their historic medal haul is only to be applauded – and the countless millions invested in British sport in recent years (thanks mostly to our national lottery) certainly seems to have paid off. No doubt we’ll see what – if any – difference this will make to participation in sport as a whole and to the overall health and wellbeing of the country, but the feelgood factor cannot be denied.

Purely co-incidentally, earlier this week we sat down and watched Eddie the Eagle, the almost entirely fictitious tale of Michael ‘Eddie’ Edwards, the British skier who in 1988 became the first competitor since 1929 to represent Great Britain in Olympic ski jumping. The movie itself, not unlike director Dexter Fletcher’s earlier Sunshine on Leith, is a pleasant enough, unchallenging watch but you’ll learn more about Mr Edwards by reading his entry on Wikipedia than watching it.

Unfortunately our Eddie’s recording career was completely ignored by the movie (and barely gets a mention on Wikipedia). Mr Edwards recorded two singles, the first being the better-known Fly Eddie, Fly/Straight to the Top which was released in the UK in 1988 (on Fly Records, catalogue number Eagle 1). I have a vague recollection of seeing him mime to this on Top of the Pops or some similar programme, but it does not appear to have made the British singles charts (according to Eddie’s biography, Eddie the Eagle: My Story it was on Terry Wogan’s early evening chat show Wogan). Unperturbed, three years later Eddie made another record – this time in Finnish!

Reading Suomi phonetically off idiot boards, Eddie recorded Mun Nimeni On Eetu/Eddien Siivellä, which roughly translates as My Name Is Eetu/On Eddie’s Wing. Naturally, it is this coupling that I present to you today. This utterly ridiculous 45 was issued by the Finnish label AXR in 1991; a year later Eddie was forced to declare bankruptcy. I’m sure the two events are unrelated. According to Rohan Candappa’s book Rules Britannia: The 101 Essential Questions of Britishness Answered Mun Nimeni On Eetu was a number two hit in Finland, but Eddie decided to completely gloss over this in his own biography. I wonder why?


Friday, 19 August 2016

Man, Do I Like Friday

Search the Internet for as long as you like, but you’ll discover that very little – make that absolutely nothing – about Roy Esser, the ‘unusual’ vocalist on these two tracks. Issued as a 7” on J-Rad Records of Hollywood at some point in the early 60s. In fact the disc - Can I Pawn My Teeth to You/Man Do I Like Friday - would have been forgotten if not for Dr Demento, who featured the b-side on his radio show back in 1981, or for fellow blogger and obscure music enthusiast Bob Purse, who posted both sides of the 45 at WFMU’s now inactive Beware of the Blog back in 2008. Thank you gentlemen!

Although I can find no information about Mr Esser, what is obvious is that the recordings I present for you today are somehow related to Sandy Stanton’s Film City set up. The clues are all there if you start to dig around. First of all there’s Stanton’s signature Chamberlin sound: Stanton promoted the primitive, mellotron-esque keyboard instrument and most of his records are swathed in the stuff. Then there’s the fact that both of the songs were published by Tweek Music, which appears to have been one of the many publishing companies owned by Ronald Solovay. Ron Solovay was an associate of Stanton who had also written and recorded for Stanton’s Action and Abbey labels.

Then there’s the address on the label, 6272 De Longpre Avenue, Hollywood: another important clue to this disc’s origin. In 1958 this was home to the Ruskin Export Company, and over the next few decades this nondescript little office block would house the Vine Medical Group, drinks importer Spirits of the World, and a number of doctors and dentists. However by the mid-60s J-Rad’s address was also the home of the Teron Recording Studio and record label. Teron, which had previously been at 1156 North Highland Avenue, Hollywood where they boasted of their complete tape and disc service and ‘major record company contacts’, was part owned by Ron Solovay. He’s the ‘Ron’ in TeRON: the TE was his business partner (at that time) Terry Dunavan.

All of which means that the Chamberlin player on these recordings is almost definitely Rodd Keith, who was recording for Stanton at that time under the pseudonym Rod Rogers. Yet to my ear the tracks don’t quite demonstrate Rodd’s usual flair, so I assumed that it’s m ore likely to be that player could be Stanton himself. It’s impossible to know for sure.

Or is it?

What we do know is that Dunavan and Solovay wrote and produced many tracks together over the years, usually working with a lyricist, and Dunavan had previously enjoyed a career as a rockabilly guitarist, releasing the incendiary (and these days very expensive) 45 Earthquake Boogie/Rocket to Mars on Fanfare Records in 1958 and other cuts on Devco. According to IMDB Dunavan appeared in the John Forsythe sitcom Batchelor Father in 1957; he was also one of the engineers on Jennifer Warnes’ Famous Blue Raincoat album (1987), having previously worked as an engineer for Frank Zappa on Over-Nite Sensation (1973) and Apostrophe (') (1974). He passed away in 1989 aged just 49.

At some point Ron Solovay changed his name to Leigh Crizoe and moved to New York. And it’s Ron Solovay (or Leigh Crizoe) who plays the Chamberlin on these tracks.

‘Yes, Leigh Crizoe and Ron Solovay are the same person: Me,’ the affable and approachable Mr Crizoe confirms. ‘That was actually recorded in 1963, and it was me who played the Chamberlain on that horrible record!

‘Back in 1963 Terry Dunavan and I were two young musicians who bought an old Magnacord recorder and opened up a small studio in Hollywood on a shoestring. My brother, who was in high school, built us a makeshift mixer that actually worked. We put ads in the newspaper to get clients.

‘Roy Esser came to our studio and wanted to put out a record of Can I Pawn My Teeth to You. It was the era of Tiny Tim, who (would go on to sell) millions of records being terrible. Roy paid us to have the record recorded and pressed up. Sandy Stanton, who I had worked for when I was in High School and for a time after, had a Chamberlin. I was one of the first people to play it, even before Rodd Keith.’

So now you know. The timeline could be a little out: Tiny Tim would not find fame for several years and Teron was registered at the DeLongpre address until at least 1967, but otherwise it all fits (apart from Leigh's assertion that Tim was terrible!)  A little further research has revealed just one Roy Esser living in California at that time: Roy H. Esser died, in Hawthorne, Los Angeles County, on January 1, 1979 six weeks short of his 67th birthday and just over three years after he suffered a heart attack. If this is (well, was) our Roy then he would have been 41 when Leigh says the recordings were made.

Still active today, Leigh Crizoe has written and produced hundreds of jingles for radio and television commercials including Nobody Beats the Wiz for The Wiz Electronic Stores in NYC, which later became the basis for Nobody Beats the Biz recorded by Biz Markie (since sampled by NAS). Leigh also wrote the famous You’ve Got the Look, the Jordache Look designer jean commercials. His music has also been featured on Seinfeld, Saturday Night Live; more recently he’s been working as a radio presenter for, co-hosting a series with his partner Rhio on raw food and veganism.

Anyway, here are both sides of Roy Esser's solitary 45, Can I Pawn My Teeth to You/Man Do I Like Friday. 


Friday, 12 August 2016

Unlike Eddie

Forgive the length of this entry, but there’s very little information about our subject out there – and quite a bit of what is available in print or on the internet is wrong – so I felt the need to try and do justice to his story.

Tommy Dee was an American DJ, country music producer and promoter. Born Thomas Donaldson in Vicker, Virginia in July 1933, he grew up in Boston before heading out to Flagstaff, Arizona, where he landed his first radio job at KCLS. From there he went to KOFA in Yuma before heading off again, this time to California.

Donaldson had been working as a disc jockey at KFXM in San Bernardino for less than a week when he wrote Three Stars, a tribute to Buddy Holly, the Big Bopper and Ritchie Valens who had perished in a plane crash that very same day. Legend has it that Three Stars took him all of 20 minutes to compose: ‘I was on the air, when it happened,’ Donaldson told writer Albert Leichter. ‘The bells went crazy on the tele­type. I started reading it… I wrote the song right on the spot: poured my heart out. I just put it down as I wrote it, just a strum of the guitar’.

Eddie Cochran became the first person to record Three Stars, committing his version to tape just two days after the ominous crash. According to Wayne Jancik (author of the book One Hit Wonders) ‘the next day, Dee went to American Music and Crest Records owner Sylvester Cross. As Dee recalls, “Cross said, ‘Do you mind if Eddie Cochran records this song?’ I said, “No.”  Within minutes Eddie and his manager Jerry Capehart were present. They listened to it. Eddie, in tears, said, “Let’s cut it right now.”  Cochran spent several hours in the studio, but as Dee put it, “It just didn’t come off.”’

Cochran had been close to the three men and was unsurprisingly distraught at the time he made the recording, virtually breaking down in tears at several points. He had originally been scheduled to join the Winter Dance Party tour and could just as easily have been one of the victims of the crash. According to R. Gary Patterson’s book Take a Walk on the Dark Side ‘the original purpose was to split the song's royalties among the families of the three fallen stars. The session proved to be so moving for Cochran that he entered into the control room and told his producer that if that song was ever released he would never cut another record’. Eddie’s recording remained unreleased until 1966 when Liberty Records issued the single in the UK, six years after Cochran's own tragic death.

Jancik’s book states that vocalist Carol Kay is actually world-renowned bassist Carol Kaye, yet she had already been working as a session musician (playing guitar for Sam Cooke and Lou Rawls among others) in Los Angeles for two years before the disc was cut. Unfortunately he’s not the only writer to make this assumption. I asked Ms Kaye if she was indeed involved in the recording and received this rather terse reply: ‘That's a terrible rock ‘n roll singer. I'm the most-recorded bass player in the world! That's not me!’ So there you have it. Our Carol kept recording with Tommy and as a solo artist, before going on to do some session work, singing backup on tracks by artists such as Chris Montez, and Jan & Dean.

With no release forthcoming from Cochran, and a UK cover version by Ruby Wright and Dick Pike about to be issued in the US (on King), Donaldson – as Tommy Dee – issued his own version on Crest Records of Los Angeles. Variously credited to Tommy Dee With Carol Kay And The Teen-Aires, Tommy Dee With Carol Kay And The Teen Tones, and Tommy Dee With Teen Tones, the song was released in March 1959. The record entered the top forty on April 13, 1959 and peaked at number 11 on May 4, going on to sell over one million copies and earn Tommy a gold disc. Three Stars would be his only hit as a recording artist. ‘My record was in the true sense of the word, a novelty record,’ he once said. ‘I was in the right place at the right time. Everything fell in place.’ Although he had a successful career as a DJ, record producer, promoter and record company executive in Nashville, Dee would issue a slew of similar singles over the next decade in vain hope of re-establishing a pop career. The inspiration for Three Stars would, of course, later provide Don McLean (and Madonna) with an international hit.

The next single from Tommy Dee With Carol Kay And The Teen-Aires - The Chair/Hello, Lonesome (about a man facing the death penalty) failed to chart, but keen to capitalise on their one hit, the pair quickly followed this up with the seasonal Merry Christmas Mary/Angel of Love (Crest 1067, November 1959), which Billboard called ‘a sincere Christmas ballad’ with ‘a strong message for the teens’. Again, chart success eluded him.

By June 1960 Tommy had struck out on his own with There’s a Star Spangled Banner Waving Somewhere/The Hobo and the Puppy (Challenge 612). August 1960 saw The Story of Suzy, the tale of a good girl turned into a junkie, backed with The Ballad of a Drag Race – no RuPaul in sight (Challenge 59087). Tommy Dee barely attempts to sing on any of his releases, preferring to ‘narrate’ the tale in a sonorous style. However he still chalked up appearances on Dick Clark’s American Bandstand show and toured with Eddie Cochran and Conway Twitty. Carol Kay (again accompanied by the Teen-Aires) followed her own path with O' Where, O' Where (Crest 1062) and Gee Gosh (Gosh Oh Gee) in 1961 (Keno 1002).

Tommy’s subsequent releases included Halfway To Hell/Loving You (On Someone Else's Time) (Pike, 1961), A Little Dog Cried/Look Homeward, Dear Angel (Pike 5909) issued in September 1961 (a-side originally recorded by Dicky Doo and the Don’ts and later covered by Jimmie Rogers), and Missing on a Mountain/Look Homeward, Dear Angel (Pike 5917) released in April 1963, wit both sides this time written by Dee. Like Three Stars, Missing on a Mountain (a duet with Bonnie Owens) was dedicated to three singers who had recently lost their lives in a plane crash, this time Patsy Cline, Cowboy Copas and Hawkshaw Hawkins. Little more than a rewrite of the earlier single, this mawkish monstrosity features the vomit-inducing line ‘a wonderful girl, so brightly did her star shine, God needed a new star in Heaven, and he called it Patsy Cline’.

Dee kept on grave robbing with An Open Letter (To Caroline and John-John)/Ballad of a Drag Race (Star 4304) November 1963. This time the a-side was about the assassination of John F. Kennedy, framed as a letter to the dead president’s children. Over the next 12 months Dee wrote (or co-wrote) and published over a dozen songs, including the nuts Chipmunks rip-off Bingo/Bingo’s Bongo Bingo Party, which was issued on VeeJay under the name Baby Bugs. An earlier attempt at a novelty that he recorded while at Pike, the twist-inspired Sheep, went unissued.

In 1965 Tommy Dee With Little Maxine And The Covinas And The Dayna Tones issued Thanks For The Memories on the obscure Hilton record label. Dee did not appear on the b-side (Five Minutes More, by The Covinas With The Dayna Tones) although he is credited as producer for both sides of the disc. The thought of death was never far away: in 1966 Sims records issued two versions of the Dee 45 Goodbye High School (Hello Viet Nam) – one backed with Missing While Surfing (Sims 260), the other as the b-side to How’s Your Momma ‘Em? (Sims 308) 1966. His first disc of ’67 was yet another death disc, this time a tribute to the astronauts Gus Grissom, Ed White and Roger Chaffee, who had been killed during testing for the Apollo 1 mission at Cape Kennedy, Florida: Roger, Ed And Gus (America's Astronaut Heroes)/School For Fools was issued as Starday 802 in February that year.

His final 45 releases appear to have been The Return of Billie Joe (Jack o’ Diamonds 1006, September 1967), a riposte to Bobbie Gentry’s Ode to Billie Joe; the undated (I’m the One You Stole) Heart, Body and Soul/You’ve Got Another Tear to Cry (on Sincere records of Nashville) and Welfare Cadillac/Puppy and the Hobo. The A-side is a cover of Guy Drake’s country hit, the flip a re-recording of his 10-year old The Hobo and the Puppy (K-Ark 995, February 1970). Unfortunately Jancik makes the same mistake many other biographers have: the 1981 release Here Is My Love is not by the same Tommy Dee – it was cut from the soundtrack of the movie Idolmaker, and Tommy Dee is a character in the film, played by Paul Land.

The real Tommy Dee retired from record making, and – reverting to his proper name - concentrated instead on production and promotion. In 1994 his name hit the headlines locally when his Gospel Tone Productions record label and talent show enterprise were accused by act The Green Triplets (later renamed Common Bond) of shady dealing: the Greens ‘became suspicious of Gospel Tone Records chief Tommy Dee Donaldson when he resisted to send the recording contract. Donaldson told them, “I don't do business that way”. “Tommy Dee wasn't being up front with us about anything,” brother Luke says. The Greens gave up on Tommy Donaldson's Gospel Tone recording contract, but not before they were swept up in a nationwide talent show circuit run by Donaldson and Nashville talent show promoter Johnny Eagle that required them to pay higher and higher entry fees and sell increasingly expensive “sponsorship”’, a scam that still works today for many of America’s beauty pageants.

He spent the last three decades of his working life in Nashville, raising his family (two wives, 12 children and step-children, 16 grandchildren and six great grandchildren at the time of his passing), working as A&R for Roxy Productions and promoting country music concerts through a number of his own businesses including T&T Productions, TNT Productions, Tommy Dee Donaldson Promotions and Killer Records. Tommy Donaldson died on January 26, 2007 in Nashville, Tennessee.

Anyway, here are three slices of prime cheese from the late Tommy Dee: The Hobo and the Puppy, Goodbye High School (Hello Viet Nam) and Missing While Surfing.


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