Friday, 24 June 2016

Dilly Dilly

Another ridiculously obscure record I know next to nothing about, but felt compared to share with you.

I Won’t Say I Love You, recorded by Don and John Lampien, is a pretty standard, pretty dull country tune, but what pushes it well in to the realm of the absurd is the outrageously out of time and out of tune drumming. It’s Helen ‘Shaggs’ Wiggin terrible: whoever is playing drums on this (and I have my theory) is almost as bad a drummer as Paul McCartney!

The record does not credit an author, but I’d hedge my bets that Don wrote it himself. But what on earthy is going on with the B-side? A ‘medley’ of the standard Sheik of Araby and the uncredited (on the label, anyway) 1910 show tune , the song is sung as a duet between Don Lampien and Quacker, the cute duckling who appears in several Tom and Jerry cartoons.

Lavender Records, of Seaside, Oregon, had previously issued 45s by The Impacts (Don't You Dare b/w Green Green Field, around 1968) and local beat band The Fugitives. There were at least two dozen singles released on Lavender, with one of the first being Jerry Merett and the Crowns’ Kansas City Twist (1960). Owned by Pat Mason, an agent and promoter who for two years managed Gene Vincent (the story has it that Gene spent a year living in Pat Mason’s basement!), Mason also owned the Cascade Club and booked both national acts and local bands to perform there. Groups played the Cascade (which was at 3202 Jasper Road) at weekends: during the week the premises served as a recording studio, and it was here that Pat would cut his Lavender 45s.  

‘I had a nice club here in town in the 1960's,’ Mason told Blue Suede News magazine. ‘This is a resort town, so we had some national acts in the summer time. My club is where bands like the Kingsmen, Don and the Goodtimes, and Paul Revere and the Raiders cut their teeth musically. This is the part of the country where these future national bands started.

‘I had a small record label called Lavender, and we would press a few hundred copies of a song to promote a band. Sometimes we gave the records out at teen dances or sold a few copies. We never dreamed the records would be collector items like they are today. I asked Jack Ely and the Kingsmen to cut "Louie, Louie" for Lavender Records for promotion reasons. It turned out so good that it was a local hit on another label and finally hit nationally a full year later on the Wand label out of New York.’

It seems like the Lampiens were from Seaside itself, and that their record was more a vanity project than a tool for a band to book gigs. Although definitive information is non-existent, from what I can make out Don and John were a father and son act, rather than brothers, with Don on vocals and the very young John trying his best on percussion. Donald Max Lampien was born on June 13, 1928 and died, aged 74, on September 11, 2002; John Lampien, as far as I know, is still alive, somewhere in his late 50s and living in Toledo, Washington. If my theory is correct, John L would have been born around 1956 and probably hadn’t reached his teens by the time this 45 was recorded. Pat Mason died in 2001 at the age of 93.

Enjoy!

Friday, 17 June 2016

Happy Father's Day

It’s Father’s Day (or very nearly), and what better way to celebrate that to enjoy the heartfelt strains of a little girl, and her love for her daddy?

Wendy Sings With Mommy and Daddy was issued some time in the early 70s. Although not credited on the front cover, little Wendy and her parents are otherwise known as the Folmer Family, a cute and happy collection of Christian worshipers, singers and occasional preachers.

Little Wendy Folmer was just six years old when her parents dragged her into a recording studio to do her stuff all over this horror. Wendy Sings With Mommy and Daddy was issued by Baldwin Sound Productions, a Mechanicsburg, PA based label that specialised in wholesome Christian pop and that was run by one Donald P Baldwin. Don also owned a well-equipped recording studio that was established in 1966 and was more open to secular activity: blues harmonica legend Sonny Terry recorded there, as did Dan ‘Instant Replay’ Hartman (who produced a single there by an act called the Hydraulic Peach!)
  
I can’t tell you much more about this album, although one listen to the brace of tracks I’ve selected for you today should tell you just about everything you need to know. Luckily all three of the Folmers seem to still be with us, and they are still involved in  the Christian community. Even more luckily they have decided not to carry on with the family singing business. If you need more after listening to Something's Happened to Daddy and How Far Is Heaven then you can find the whole album on the internets (thanks to fellow bloggers Music forManiacs and Mr Weird and Wacky) if you want. God help you.

Enjoy!

Friday, 10 June 2016

Do Us All A Favour

Everything is better when it comes with a ‘four to the floor’ beat.

Or so it seemed for a short while in the early 80s, when the British charts were deluged with discs featuring a medley of hits stapled roughly to a disco rhythm. The trend started back in 1976, when the Ritchie Family scored their biggest hit with The Best Disco in Town, which incorporated various pop hits of the day.

In1977 Disconet, a DJ subscription service that put out discs exclusively for club and radio use, issued The Original Beatles Medley, official recordings by the lads, snipped and stapled together over a disco beat. Although the Disconet 12” has long been believed to be a bootleg, Disconet was a legitimate operation and that all of the medleys they produced (including those for Elvis and Michael Jackson) were officially sanctioned. However for one reason or another – presumably because Apple hated the rough and ready medley that Disconet’s Ray Lenahan produced but that capitol seemed to endorse – the Original Beatles Medley soon vanished and it quickly became a collector’s item. Pirate copies appeared and, in an effort to fill the void, Atlantic records issued the dreadful Disco Beatlemania, which featured a covers band imitating the Beatles over that relentless disco beat rather than snippets of the original recordings, and EMI France issued the similar Unlimited Citations by Café Crème.

Then, in January 1981, as the world was recovering from the shock of John Lennon’s murder, came Stars on 45. Another Beatles medley, this time recorded by a studio band put together by former Golden Earring member Jaap Eggermont, Stars on 45 was a huge international hit – Number 1 in Holland and the USA, Number 2 in the UK. Suddenly the floodgates were open, and anyone who was anyone had a disco medley of their songs issued, either by their own record company (remember Squeeze and Squabs on Forty Fab?) or by cover acts climbing on a very lucrative bandwagon, such as Platinum Pop by This Year’s Blonde (Blondie). There was even the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra whose Hooked On Classics (Parts 1&2) was a massive UK hit, and spawned it’s own imitator in the guise of the Portsmouth Sinfonia and Classical Muddly – itself a Top 40 UK hit!

It was endless: Lobo’s Caribbean Disco Show, Tight Fit’s Back to the 60s, Gidea Park’s Beach Boys Gold and (Four) Seasons of Gold and so on. Unsurprisingly EMI, the company that owned so many of the original recordings that were being plundered, decided to get in on the act with official medleys from the Hollies (Holliedaze), the Beach Boys and, naturally, The Beatles (The Beatles Movie Medley).

There are many, many records I could have chosen from this era to illustrate just how awful it was, but this obscurity is a prime example of how any tu’penny ha’penny band could, and would, sell it’s soul for a stab at chart stardom.

Antmania is, obviously, a medley of hits by Adam and the Ants (then at the height of their popularity). However this is not an officially sanctioned CBS release (although, by a quirk of fate, it was distributed by a company owned by CBS), rather it’s a cover issued on the tiny Eagle Records label in 1982 by the otherwise unknown Future Heroes... a band that clearly knew nothing whatsoever about the post-punk, new wave stylings of Mr Ant and his crew.  

To get an idea of what Future Heroes were actually like, flip the single over for Hold On, a poor disco/funk number written and produced by Dave Myers. Information on Future Heroes is impossible to find: I do not know, for example, if the Dave Myers that wrote and produced this dross is the same Dave Myers of Hairy Bikers fame (although I’m trying to reach him to find out). He produced a number of non-hits around 1981/82 then seemed to disappear. This was, unsurprisingly, the only single issued by Future Heroes.

Still, here it is, a sad footnote in a sad period for pop music.

Enjoy!

Friday, 3 June 2016

Ooh! Ooh!

Anyone who watched Saturday morning cartoons in the 70s will recognise that as the exclamation uttered endlessly by Botch, assistant zookeeper at the Wonderland Zoo on the Hanna-Barbera cartoon Help! It's the Hair Bear Bunch. If you were an attentive child you would have noticed that the actor who voiced Botch also provided the voice of Sergeant Flint in another H-B Saturday morning staple, Hong Kong Phooey.

If you were a little bit older, or perhaps if you later watched the BBC2 re-runs of the US TV sitcoms The Phil Silvers Show and Car 54, Where Are You?, you would have eventually realised that Botch, Flint and both Car 54’s Gunther Toody and Bilko’s Rupert Ritzik were all portrayed by the same man – actor Joe E. Ross.

Born in 1914, Ross was a blue comedian whose career was interrupted by World War II: he served in the United States Army Air Corps and was stationed for a time in England. Discharged after the war, Ross went back to his former career of announcer and comic in Hollywood. He appeared in Irving Klaw's feature-length theatrical film Teaserama (1955), a re-creation of a burlesque show which starred Bettie Page and Tempest Storm. Before making the movie Klaw was principally known for producing bondage photographs which he sold through the mail.

In 1955 Ross was spotted by Nat Hiken and Phil Silvers, who were planning a new TV show called You'll Never Get Rich (which became The Phil Silvers Show but is probably best known as Sgt. Bilko). Ross was hired on the spot and cast as the mess sergeant, the henpecked Rupert Ritzik. Ritzik was a hit with viewers, his ‘Ooh! Ooh!’ catchphrase, which came from Ross's frustration when he couldn't remember his lines. After The Phil Silvers Show ended in 1959, Nat Hiken created Car 54, Where Are You? casting Ross as Patrolman Gunther Toody of New York's 53rd Precinct. Fred Gwynne (better known as Herman Munster), played Toody's partner, Francis Muldoon.

Like The Phil Silvers Show, Car 54, Where Are You? was a huge success, and it wasn’t long before an enterprising producer at Roulette Records decided it would be a good idea to drag Ross into a recording studio. The resulting, Love Songs from a Cop, was issued in 1964, the year after Car 54 went off the air. Roulette was run by Morris Levy, a notoriously shady individual, described as ‘one of the record industry's most controversial and flamboyant players’ by Billboard and as ‘a notorious crook who swindled artists out of their royalties’ by Allmusic. Featuring covers of such staples as Hello Dolly and When You’re Smiling Love Songs from a Cop is a horrible record, and about as funny as herpes. Produced by the infamous Hugo and Luigi, at least the sleeve notes acknowledge that Ross ‘is not about to give Frank Sinatra concern’. Surprisingly the album was also issued in the UK, by Columbia. 

This would not be Ross’s only foray into the recording world: in 1973 Laff Records, which usually specialised in African-American comedians, released his album Should Lesbians Be Allowed to Play Pro-Football? On the cover Ross looks tired and bloated. Apart from a few cameos in some terrible exploitation movies, and the occasional job as a voice artist for Hanna-Barbera his career was over. Ross died in 1982: his grave marker reads ‘This Man Had a Ball’.

Anyway, here’s a brace of tracks from Love Songs from a Cop: Ma (She’s Making Eyes at Me) and Are You Lonesome Tonight.

Enjoy!


Friday, 27 May 2016

Meet the Kaplans

‘Three funky cats, all brothers, having just as much fun on stage as their audience,’ as the sleeve notes to their second album read. ‘What kind of sound do the Kaplans have? Three parts of harmony coming together with a new contemporary sound as well as a healthy golden Oldie Show. Interwoven voices along with guitar, congo drums and bass blend together in a crisp fresh sound of today that doesn't forget the best of yesterday.’

Playing around the Illinois, Iowa, Michigan and Wisconsin area, the Kaplan Brothers released their first album, The Universal Sounds Of The Kaplan Brothers, on their own Kap Records imprint in 1969. At that point the Chicago-based duo consisted of brothers Richard (aka Dick, guitar and lead vocals) and Ed (percussion and flute), backed on their recording by guitarist Scott Klynas and bassist Jeff Czech. Very hairy, very Jewish (their first two albums both feature covers of Hava Nagila), very oddball, the Kaplan sound mixes spaghetti western whistles with South American congas and a splash of Greenwich Village folk.

For a while the two brothers performed on stage by Larry Andies (bass and backing vocals), before teaming up with younger brother John and issuing a second album, the much more pedestrian lounge folk collection The Kaplan Brothers which features three Beatles covers amongst its tracks. It’s a record that, according to Dick Kaplan himself ‘Hasn't gotten any better over the years’.

For their third – and last – album the boys shot off in an altogether different direction: quite literally. In early 1974 they relocated to California and, a year later, issued their magnum opus Nightbird, a mellotron-drenched slice of kitsch like nothing else you have ever heard in your life. Timothy Ready, on his blog The Progressive Rock Hall of Imfamy, described it rather well when he called it ‘Yom Kippur and Purim combined, in one mega-dose of cheese’.

Nightbird is a classic of wrongness, a prog-rock nightmare which is so gloriously perverse it somehow works. A song suite of sorts, Nightbird even includes a hideous (and hysterical) cover of the King Crimson classic Epitaph and an overwrought reworking of the Jose Feliciano song Rain. Small wonder that the Acid Archives called Nightbird ‘The ultimate lounge-rock extravaganza. A self-proclaimed 'electric symphony' that mixes Ennio Morricone with King Crimson as recorded by a Holiday Inn/bar mitzvah band from outer space. Crooner vocals soar on top of overly-elaborate keyboard arrangements as the music abruptly throws you from one intense mood into another in true psychedelic fashion.’ Although uncredited on the record, the title track Night Bird was written by Larry Andies. According to Kaplan Brothers’ fan James Webster (writing on Bad Cat Records in 2011), Larry ‘was also the composer of most of their original music’.

You need to hear this record. In fact for a couple of quid you can own a CD reissue of it. Search eBay for a copy of the (less than 100% legit) Erebus Records release from around 2009: I found my copy for 99p plus postage! You won’t regret it. But for now, here’s a couple of tracks to whet your appetite, the aforementioned Epitaph and the nutso album closer He, a rewrite (of sorts) of the folk classic He Was A Friend of Mine.  As a bonus, I’ve also added a track from each of the Brothers’ earlier albums: Running Scared from The Universal Sounds Of The Kaplan Brothers and, from their second album The Kaplan Brothers, their batshit crazy interpretation of Eleanor Rigby.

Enjoy!

Friday, 20 May 2016

Sing it Again, Again Rock

Now, cast your mind back to last week, when I introduced you to the horror of Rock Hudson’s lone album release Rock, Gently. As I told you at that time, Hudson and his co-conspirator Rod McKuen had also recorded a 45, coupling Wings (a Hollies song which first appeared on the charity album No One’s Gonna Change Our World) with a cover of the classic Love of the Common People, a song first issued in 1967 by the Four Preps. Promo copies were pressed and full page ads were taken out in Billboard to promote the release, but it appears that – probably due to lack of airplay – that the single never reached the shops.

I told you that I had tracked down a copy (unlike most of Rock’s other recordings, this coupling seems to have been ignored by YouTube), and I promised that I would let you know how terrible it is. Thankfully, the disc is just as hideous as I had hoped.

Recorded in London in 1970, unlike Rock Gently, which features Hudson as sole vocalist, Wings and Love of the Common People feature our two protagonists duetting with each other like some other worldly Simon and Garfunkel. Given their sexuality (Hudson, of course, although he had been married for a few years in the 1950s was gay; McKuen’s sexual preferences were rather fluid, with the writer telling a reporter from the Associated Press that ‘I’ve been attracted to men and I’ve been attracted to women. You put a label on,’) and their long friendship, the two songs could easily be construed as duets between a couple of same-sex lovers – something that certainly would have hampered airplay.

Not that that makes one iota of difference. Irrespective of if the singers are gay, straight, bi- or poly-sexual, it’s still a dreadful disc. And that’s after Hudson took five years worth of singing lessons ‘because I said to myself, someday a musical will come along and I want to be ready.’ Years of singing in his high school glee club hadn’t prepared him for this.

‘Rock and I first met and became friends in the 1950’s when we were both under contract to Universal-International as actors’, McKuen (who died in 2015) wrote in answer to an fan’s enquiry on his website. ‘He had been through some rough times in his personal life and I spent a lot of time with him on his set. He was pretty much of a loner and I certainly related to that.

‘It’s no secret that Rock and I both liked a good drink, in fact, other than Johnny Mercer he was the best drinking buddy I ever had. We spent a lot of nights knocking a few back and, with or without friends, the nights usually ended up around the piano. Rock loved singing on or off key and I liked the timber of his untrained voice. I guess in the back of my mind even then I always thought someone should produce an album of Rock singing but I certainly had no idea that it would eventually be me or that he would be singing my songs.

‘After finishing three films for Universal I was put on suspension by the studio because I turned down a script I didn’t like. This meant that because I was still under contract to them my days as an actor were over. I moved to New York to try my hand as a full time singer-songwriter. Rock and I stayed in touch and in April of 1961 he called and asked if I’d like an early birthday present. Sure. Six days before I turned twenty-eight our mutual friend Judy Garland was to make her first (now legendary) appearance at Carnegie Hall and Rock had tickets. What a night.

‘Eight years later I made my debut at Carnegie Hall and of course Rock was there to share my own triumph. We had already started talking about Rock singing my songs and he even knew Jean and The World I Used to Know by heart.’ Hudson and McKuen set up a company together, R & R Productions, and discussed the idea of issuing at least two albums – possibly one musical and one spoken word, and even a film, Chuck, starring Rock with a script by Rod.

‘As 1969 ended we had selected the songs and arrangers for the Rock, Gently album,’ McKuen continued. ‘He chose the title based on a song from my album New Ballads. 40 songs made the final cut and we ended up recording 30 tracks plus several duets.

‘The marathon sessions began in March of 1970 at Chappell and Phillips studios in London. Arthur Greenslade, my principle conductor for both concerts and recording was the leader on every session. I went for good tracks, knowing we could overdub vocals later back in LA. The sessions were documented by ace photographer David Nutter in a limited edition book entitled “Rock Hudson/Rod McKuen: First Recordings March 1970, London”

Hudson described the sessions as ‘terrifying,’ telling the Reuters press agency in July 1970 that ‘it was such a shock to hear myself on playback. What I thought was right was so totally wrong.

‘It took three days to loosen up properly. It took two weeks to do all the songs. We were supposed to do enough for one album but we ended up with enough for three.’

‘A full album of unreleased material is still in the can,’ McKuen revealed. ‘The material still in the can includes several duets I did with Rock. Warner Bros. Records did release one single we did together, Wings and Love of the Common People. My favorite of the released recordings is Gone with the Cowboys, a song I wrote with Rock in mind and one that given my own past has a great spiritual connection for me.’

The album, as I noted in last week’s post, didn’t sell. It was reported at the time that ‘according to Rock his buddy mistakenly forgot to arrange for a distributing company to pass the disk along to retailers. As a result, thousands of copies of Rock, Gently are gently gathering dust in McKuen’s warehouse’.

‘Rock was a misunderstood, complicated man but one of the good guys,’ McKuen added. ‘More stories on our relationship personally and professionally will have to wait for an autobiography if I ever get around to writing one.’ Maybe, now both of them are no longer here, the whole story will one day come out.

Enjoy!

Friday, 13 May 2016

Sing it Again, Rock!

Rock Hudson: film actor, TV star and, sadly, the first major celebrity to die from an AIDS-related illness. But singer?

Apparently so, if the album Rock, Gently is anything to go by. Subtitled Rock Hudson Sings The Songs Of Rod McKuen, Rock, Gently wasn’t Rock’s first foray into pop: he recorded solo versions of several tracks from his hit movie Pillow Talk (co-starring Doris Day), two of which were issued on a 7” in 1959: Roly Poly and Pillow Talk. He also recorded a version of the film’s hit song (You’re My) Inspiration.

The year before Rock, Gently was issued McKuen and Hudson were to issue a co-credited 45 coupling Wings with a cover of the classic Love of the Common People. Promo copies were pressed, and full page ads were taken out in the music press, but I’ve yet to see a stock copy listed anywhere, which makes me think that it never reached the shops. Neither track was included on Hudson’s debut (and only) album as neither song was composed by McKuen. I’ve just tracked down a copy on eBay and purchased the same. I’ll let you know how terrible it is in due course!

Rodney Marvin John Michael James McKuen and Hudson (born Roy Harold Scherer, Jr) had been friends since the late 50s; they appear to have met when McKuen was contracted as a bit-part player to Universal. At that time Hudson was a worldwide star, but McKuen’s own career had been patchy, involving meagre movies roles as well as stints as a poet, activist and folk singer. Then there were the infamous Bob McFadden sessions which yielded the Brunswick single I’m a Mummy, subsequent album Songs our Mummy Taught Us and the follow up Dracula Cha Cha, before he hit it big – writing English lyrics for Jacques Brel. He’s responsible for, among others, the mega hits Seasons in the Sun and  If You go Away. He also wrote the Oscar nominated-song Jean, which appeared on the soundtrack to the hit movie The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, which Hudson covers on this collection.

Recorded in London, and documented in book form as First Recordings, London, March 1970, Billboard liked the album: ‘Hudson comes of strong as a compelling balladeer’, their reviewer wrote, declaring that ‘this package offers much for MOR programming and sales’. Rock, Gently was issued in 1971 on McKuen’s own Stanyan Records label. The name Stanyan came from McKuen’s hit poetry anthology Stanyan Street And Other Sorrows.

Stanyan was an interesting set up with an eclectic roster, and although the company had a distribution deal with Warner Brothers Records, McKuen preferred to sell direct to the independent trade and via mail order: ‘By selling my records directly to the customer or retailer, I am able to hold the list price down,’ he revealed to Billboard in January 1973. Hudson, who was very pleased with the results, fell out with McKuen when he discovered that orders for the album would not fulfilled by Warners but rather by McKuen’s own mail order operation. Consequently Rock, Gently didn’t sell, didn’t chart and there was no follow up.


Anyway, have a listen to a pair of tracks from the album – the opener Open the Window and See All the Clowns and Things Bright and Beautiful and see what you think.

Enjoy!

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