Friday, 15 May 2020

Surprise!


A couple of tracks today from the gloriously off-key Edna Mae Henning, pianist, empress of Henning Surprise Records and songwriter of the most authentic country-western songs you’re ever likely to hear.

What do we know about Pennsylvania housewife and outsider musician Edna Mae? Not a lot, actually. Born Edna Mae Wynegar, it appears that she had been bitten by the songwriting bug by the early 1970s, registering copyright for her compositions If You See My Baby, It’s Love, Love, Love and Walking and Talking Over You in 1973. She would later record If You See My Baby for her debut EP, released in 1979. Edna Mae would go on to issue at least five self-financed 45s and a couple of EPs between 1979 and 1988 (by which time Henning Surprise Records had simplified their name to Surprise), and in 1985 was placed third in the ‘over 21s’ group in a local talent competition.

In the late 1980s, having had no success with her recordings, despite having sent thousands of free copies to radio stations across the States, she fell victim to one of those unscrupulous ‘print your poetry for cash’ schemes. Operating for decades, these scams work in exactly the same way as song-poem enterprises, only this time instead of getting a few copies of a recording for your money, Edna instead saw her poem Abortion (yes, it’s exactly what you would expect) printed in a volume luxuriating in the title Great Poems of the Western World Volume II in 1990. It seems that Edna Mae decided not to cough up the few extra bucks to have her photograph included alongside her words. Three years later the publishers of that book went bankrupt.

I believe she’s still with us, still living in Pennsylvania, surrounded by children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Apparently Edna was still recording her own compositions as late as 2011 and, according to a post on the Waxidermy blog back in 2008, claimed at that point to have penned some 10,000 songs.

I love the sound of her discs: the upright piano and yearning vocals put me in mind of barroom ballads of the old West. I picture her in Victorian garb, lots of lace, banging away at a honky-tonk piano in the corner of the room while cowboys and prospectors drink, gamble and brawl, Edna Mae occasionally ducking out of the way of a flying bottle or stray bullet, valiantly playing on.

From her debut EP, issued in January 1979 (which, just to confound discography compilers, has the company credited Henning’s Surprise Records on the A-side; the flip features no apostrophe), here’s Mama, Forgive Your Truckin’ Man and, from the topside of her 1985 single, I Can’t Get Over You. For this, Edna moves from piano from her trusty upright to an odd-sounding synthesised keyboard: it’s her ‘Dylan goes electric’ moment.

Enjoy!

Download Truckin’ HERE



Download Get Over HERE

Friday, 8 May 2020

Sing It Again, Jim!


Avuncular, cardigan-wearing tenor Jim Noste would no doubt have loved to have been the Val Doonican of New Jersey, if only he knew who that was.

Born in Newark, after serving his country in World War II, in 1948 James C. Noste founded the business that would consume the rest of his life. A graduate of Montclaire State University, he began trading in home improvement supplies in 1948, before opening the doors on his store in 1953. Jim would spend almost half a century ‘at the helm of one of New Jersey’s most successful and reliable Home Improvement Center’ (according to the sleeve notes of his second LP Jim Noste in “Songs For You” Album Two), remaining the boss (“Mr Home”, as his desk nameplate proudly boasted) until his death in March 1997. Although much of Jim’s day was spent running the Island Home Center, he also made time for others; in the early years of the business he continued to teach business studies part-time at the Somerville High School, and in his later years he was a volunteer at the Cornell Hall Nursing Home and Rehabilitation Center in Cranford and at other nursing homes in the area.

Selling everything from windows and doors to power tools and furniture Noste’s business, the Island Home Center, was so named because it was situated on an island in the middle of Route 22. But home improvement was not enough for our Jim: fancying himself a bit of a song stylist, sometime towards the end of the 70s or early 80s he booked time at Shelby Singleton’s Studio in Nashville, Tennessee (not the Sun studio in Memphis, as you may read elsewhere: Singleton bought Sun from Sam Philips and moved the whole business to Nashville sometime before Jim went there) to record a bunch of jazz standards and popular songs, with the idea of giving albums away to his regular customers. His Sun sessions yielded material enough for his debut LP Jim Noste in “Songs For You”. At some point not too long afterwards he took part in a second session, this time at Powerplay Studios, to record his second opus, Jim Noste in “Songs For You” Album Two. That particular album was mastered at New Jersey’s Trutone Records and featured mostly local talent, including Dave la Rue, bass player with rock band Dixie Dregs.

Incidentally, Irwin Chusid’s ­Songs in the Key Of Z book mentions three albums but, so far, I have only been able to find evidence of two albums and a cassette version of the second with an alternate sleeve.

Very much a family concern, after Jim’s death the business was taken over by his son, James J Noste: sadly, after more than half a century of serving the local community the Island Home Center is now closed for good. He was survived by his wife, Lee, their three children, and his two (or possibly three) fantastic albums.

Here’s Jim senior with a couple of examples of his art, one from each album. From , Jim Noste in “Songs For You” it’s We’ve Only Just Begun and, from Jim Noste in “Songs For You” Album Two, the opening track Blue Heaven Medley.

Enjoy!


Download Begun HERE



Download Heaven HERE

Friday, 1 May 2020

Not So Much A Dream As A Nightmare


Today’s disc comes to you courtesy of my good friend, fellow Sheena’s Jungle Room DJ and oddball music enthusiast Rich Lindsay, host of the excellent Cratedigger’s Lung. I knew nothing of its existence until I opened up my email yesterday morning, but it the story behind it is so fascinating that I could not wait to share it with you. This is a long read but bear with it… it’s worth it.

Celebrity-obsessed con artist, all-round good time gal and mother of four Bonny Lee ‘Leebonny’ Bakley was shot twice through the head, aged just 44, in 2001 near Vitello’s, a restaurant in Studio City, California as she sat in the passenger seat of her 10th husband’s car. That husband, Robert Blake, is not exactly a household name here in the UK, but in the States he was a major star, having appeared in films and on TV since childhood, most notably in 40 Our Gang shorts (initially under his real name, Mickey Gubitosi) for MGM in the 1940s, and numerous hit films in the 50s and 60s – including Pork Chop Hill (1959), Town Without Pity (1961), Ensign Pulver (1964), The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965) and In Cold Blood (1967). In the mid-70s he cemented his star status by taking on the lead role of street-wise, plain clothes police detective Tony Baretta in the internationally popular television cop series Baretta.

Born on 7 June 1956 in Morristown, New Jersey, Bakley, whose sole goal in life was to marry someone rich and famous, was alone in the car at the time of the shooting, Blake having returned to the restaurant to retrieve a pistol that had fallen from his waistband. They sure do like their guns in America, don’t they? In a strange move, on discovering his mortally wounded but still breathing wife he ran to the nearby house of a friend to summon help, rather than straight back to the restaurant.

Blake had suffered with both depression and alcoholism. Bakley had a track record that included stints in jail, fraud charges and a reputation for running various scams to con money out of gullible older men. She had attempted to trap Jerry Lee Lewis into a relationship, turning up at his family home in Memphis and later claiming that the child she gave birth to in 1993 was his (it was not, despite Bakley giving the baby the name Jeri Lee Lewis). His sister, Frankie Jean Lewis would later claim that Bonny pushed her way into the living room holding a cassette recorder that was playing striptease music. ‘She takes off her blouse and peels down her stockings,’ she said. ‘It was good. She said, “I’d like to meet your brother”. So I got Jerry on the phone and I said, “Jerry, we got us a real live one here”. And he said, “Send her up”. That’s what he always said.’

Her pursuit of The Killer kept up even after he and his family moved to Dublin. Although she seemed intent on causing trouble between Lewis and his sixth wife, Kerrie (apparently issuing the real Mrs Lewis with death threats), Bonnie became close friends with Jerry Lee’s sister Linda Gail, herself a musician who later claimed that she had been in a relationship with Van Morrison, taking him to a tribunal over ‘sexual misconduct and unfair dismissal’. After three years she withdrew her claims and apologised to Van, who had always denied all of the allegations. According to Linda Gail, Bonnie Lee ‘was a nice person, but she did some unusual things… She also had an affair with my now ex-husband, who’s an Elvis impersonator.’ Nothing like keeping it in the family.

Bonny Lee, who also used the names Bonnie and Leebonny, tried to break into acting – according to IMDB she makes an uncredited appearance in the 1985 film Turk 182 and in Woody Allen’s Radio Days (1987) - and also fancied herself as a singer. She is known to have recorded at least four sides. The first coupling, Just a Fan backed with Let’s Not Dream, although hard to find, definitely does exist, and you could purchase a copy, complete with a photograph of ‘Miss Leebonny’ by answering an advert in the personal column of Amazing Science Fiction magazine - ‘Girl singer wishes correspondence’ – and sending her five bucks. It seems that Bonny had 100 copies pressed on her own Leebonny Records label. I cannot find a release for the second pairing, Tribute to Elvis Presley and Rock-A-Billy Love: although they are often mentioned books and articles about her, all information about them comes from one source.

When these attempts at stardom failed she set up a company, United Singles, Inc., which sold nude photographs of herself through the mail and operated a lonely hearts scam, advertising for companions and then, using various aliases, extracting money from them with hard luck stories. She had tried to finagle herself into Dean Martin’s affections but managed little more than a quick snapshot with him before he died. Apparently she also set her sights on Frankie Valli and Gary Busey. Bakley was arrested in 1989 for drug possession and again in 1995 for fraud. Three years later she was arrested again, this time for using a number of fake IDs.

She married at least 10 times. The longest-lasting of her marriages was to her first cousin, the father of her first three children – after the DNA test he was also found to have fathered Jeri Lee. Five of her known marriages ended in annulment within days of the ceremony; the last would end in death. One of those annulled marriages was to Baptist minister Glynn Wolfe, the world’s most married man with 31 marriages and 100 children to his credit. Another was to a man called Erik Robert Tellefsen (real name Robert Stuhr), a musician who – according to the book Blood Cold: Fame, Sex, and Murder in Hollywood by Dennis McDougal and Mary Murphy – issued an album on his own (and, frankly, obscure) Norway USA record label featuring both Tribute to Elvis Presley and Rock-A-Billy Love, although I cannot find any such album listed anywhere else on the internet.

Bonny Lee met Blake in 1999, while she was dating Marlon Brando’s son Christian. Officially the couple met in a rundown jazz club: according to Blake’s attorneys he did not even know the name of the woman he had sex in the back of a truck with. Bakley became pregnant and told both Brando and Blake that her baby was theirs, initially naming the child Christian Shannon Brando. After DNA tests proved that Blake was the biological father of the child the pair married, and their daughter was renamed Rose Lenore Sophia Blake.

But this as not a marriage in the traditional sense. Blake inserted a clause in their marriage contract, insisting that she stop fraternising with known felons and demanded that she bring an end to her dodgy business dealings. The pair never lived together: Bonny Lee and her kids sharing a house on Blake’s estate instead. Five months after the marriage, Bonny Lee was dead.

In April 2002, almost a full year after her death, Blake was arrested and charged with Bakley’s murder. Police alleged that he had her executed because he felt ‘trapped in a marriage he wanted no part of’. Blake’s bodyguard, Earle Caldwell, was also arrested and charged with conspiracy in connection with the murder, and retired stuntman, Ronald ‘Duffy’ Hambleton, agreed to testify against him, alleging that Blake tried to hire him to kill Bakley. A second retired stuntman, Gary McLarty, came forward claiming that Blake had attempted to contract him to murder his wife. Blake claimed that it was not he but Christian Brando who had her murdered.

The trail was broadcast on national television, garnering comparisons to the O.J. Simpson case. On 16 March 2005, Blake was found not guilty of murder and not guilty of one of the two counts of solicitation of murder. The other count, the solicitation of McLarty, was dropped when the jury could not come to a unanimous decision. Los Angeles District Attorney Stephen Cooley, commenting on this ruling, called Blake ‘a miserable human being’ and the jurors ‘incredibly stupid’ to fall for the defence’s claims. On the night of his acquittal several fans celebrated at Blake’s favourite haunt — and the scene of the crime — Vitello’s.

Bakley’s three eldest children filed a civil suit against Blake, asserting that he was responsible for their mother’s death, and in November 2005 a jury found Blake liable for wrongful death and ordered him to pay the children $30 million. His legal team appealed, filing evidence that suggested that Christian Brando may have indeed been responsible for the murder. The following February, Blake filed for bankruptcy. 

According to testimony Bakley had continued to claim Brando was the father of her child. Brando had form: he had already served a five year prison term for the manslaughter of his sister’s boyfriend. Brando’s friend Dianne Mattson told the court that she overheard a phone conversation between Brando and someone named ‘Duffy’ in which there was discussion about putting a bullet through Bakley’s head. A tape-recorded conversation between Brando and Bakley was played to the jury; in it Brando stated, ‘You're lucky. You know, I mean, not on my behalf, but you’re lucky someone ain’t out there to put a bullet in your head.’ Despite this, the appeals court upheld the civil case verdict, but cut Blake’s penalty assessment in half, to $15 million.

Blake continues to deny any involvement in the murder of his wife. Rose, their daughter, was taken into care and raised by Blake’s eldest daughter, Delinah and her husband, bestselling author Gregg Hurwitz. Christian Brando died in January 2008, taking any information about his involvement in the murder of Bonny Lee Bakley to the grave with him. In April 2010, the state of California filed a tax lien against Blake for more than a million dollars in unpaid taxes. Seemingly broke, and unable to find work, in 2017 he wed for the third time, although his marriage to Pamela Hudak – who had testified on his behalf during his trial - lasted for little over 18 months, the actor filing for divorce in December 2018. The one bright spot in this whole torrid affair is that Rose – who was just 11 months old when her mother died - seems to have grown into a well-adjusted young lady, who did well in school, made lots of friends and lives quietly with her boyfriend.

And so ends the sad story of Bonnie Lee ‘Leebonny’ Bakley.  Luckily, we have her 45 to comfort us. Here are both sides, Just a Fan which – in the light of the way her life panned out seems awfully prescient – and Let’s Not Dream.

Enjoy!

Download Fan HERE




Download Dream HERE

Friday, 24 April 2020

Kay L. Gale: Composer-Singer


When I began writing this I couldn’t tell you a lot about Kay L. Gale, the woman behind today’s bagful of badness. However, by happy coincidence, someone else decided to blog about Kay at exactly the same time… that’s serendipity for you! It would be unfair of me to repeat too much of the information on her that the Hometown by Handlebar blog has gleaned, so if you’d like to know more about colourful Kay from the people who knew her I suggest you go take a look HERE 

Kay L. Gale came from Fort Worth, Texas and appears to have released these tracks sometime in the 70s: my guess would be around 1976/77 when the entire country was undergoing bicentennial fever, although How I Love That Flag was originally registered in 1971 as How I Love That Flag, Red White and Blue. Songwriting was clearly only a sideline though; Kay sold newspapers for a living outside the Fort Worth courthouse, and was a popular fixture there, always smiling and always happy to sing you a song – especially if you paid her a couple of bits.

It seems that she had been trying to make it as a songwriter and singer since the early 1950s: she registered the copyright in her first songs, Drivin’ Through Texas and You Won a Heart Yesterday in 1951, and in January 1953 she paid for an advert in trade magazine Billboard advertising her wares as composer and singer and using the Leland Hotel in Fort Worth as her address. My fellow blogger tells me that she was paying $7 a week to live at the hotel in 1960: I guess that seven years prior to that the rent must have been significantly cheaper.

1971, the year she wrote How I Love That Flag, was a busy year for our Kay: she registered copyright in no less than 11 further songs: Come Into My Heart, Fairy Tales for Children, I Love That Bright Green Christmas Tree, If Christmas Could Come to Every Heart, I’m a Poor Poor Peon (The Peon Song) [a derogatory term for a Spanish-American day labourer or unskilled farm worker], It’s Christmas a Happy Christmas Because Someone Loves You, Love Sweet Love, Nickel Beer and Free Lunch, Silver Dollars, The Things That Love Can Do and When God Is With You.

Not a lot happened on the songwriting front for Kay until 1976 when, perhaps in a fit of concern perchance over someone nabbing her work or possibly because she had just recorded her first single, she suddenly decided to copyright another seven songs, including several patriotic anthems, under the name Kay L Millions: Beautiful Are the Roses, The Beautiful Land of the Free, Grand Old Liberty Bell, Tears In My Heart and What a Wonderful World Would Be and Your Love Is Sunshine to Me. She also registered another batch of seven compositions the following year, this time under her given name: Amigos, Fort Worth, Gold Dust, It’s Time to Hear Again ‘A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year’, Just Say ‘I Love You’, The Things That Love Can Do (again), and That Old-Fashioned Hayride. The fact that Kay chose to re-register The Things That Love Can Do leads me to speculate that she may well have recorded this song around the same time as Fort Worth Texas (notice the subtle change of name), which appears as an extra track on the download version of Irwin Chusid’s Songs In the Key Oz Z Volume Two.

Kay died in November 1983, sadly leaving no relatives. Luckily she left us a couple of amazing 45s. Here are three of the tracks from Kay’s two known 45 How I Love That Flag, the Team Song of the Dallas Cowboys and Fort Worth Texas. If anyone has that missing fourth track (possibly The Things That Love Can Do) I would be eternally grateful!

Enjoy!

Download Flag HERE



Download Cowboys HERE




Download Texas HERE


Friday, 17 April 2020

What a Blast!


Usha Uthup is my new jam, as the kids might say.

Indian singer and actress Usha - or Didi as she is known to her fans - was born in 1947 to a policeman father and a well-red mother and was raised in Mumbai: her two elder sisters had their own vocal act, the Sami Sisters. Although she had no formal training in music, when she was nine years old her sisters introduced her to Ameen Sayani, then the most popular radio announcer in India. Ameen gave Ushu a spot on the popular Ovaltine Music Hour on Radio Ceylon, where she sang Mockingbird Hill. Other radio appearances followed.

Usha began to pursue a professional singing career in 1969, at the Nine Gems nightclub in Madras. ‘It used to be in the basement of the Safire theatre complex,’ she told The Hindu newspaper in 2019. ‘There’s magic about Madras; there’s a buzz I get every time the plane lands here’. Her recording career around 1972, singing in more than thirteen Indian languages and dialects, including Hindi, Punjabi, Bangla, Gujurati and Tamil, and ten foreign languages:  French, German, Italian, Sinhalese, Swahili, Russian, Nepalese, Arabic, Creole, and of course, English. She has appeared in around 50 Bollywood movies, both on-screen and providing the vocals for other actresses.

According to Usha’s website, she has recorded more than a hundred albums in seventeen Indian languages, sung in several thousand concerts, performed in all major countries and has been on television since its inception in India. Usha has served as a role model for generations of young Indians and has been an unwavering ambassador for traditional Indian values. She has always worn a sari (kanjeevaram), fresh flowers in her hair and her beaming smile has won her many fans. She’s still appearing in movies, and making concert appearances, today after more than a half-century in the business.

Her 1984 album Blast Off! is just insane. For this collection Usha wrote the music, with the off-kilter lyrics provided by Abidur Rahman. I implore you to check it out: Blast Off! is beyond wonderful, with a peculiar mix of shredding electric guitar, great Indian beats, the occasional scat vocal (Usha does a great Cleo Laine), cheesy 70s keyboards, the odd splash of reggae (on Chewing Gum Lips), a Christmas song and a plea to Moses to give her his ‘stick’!

From Blast Off! here are my two favourite tracks: is the magnificent Welcome, Test Tube Baby and the bonkers Lucy Was Crucified, which deals with the taboo subject of unwanted pregnancy. The whole album is an absolute joy.

Enjoy!

Download Baby HERE


Download Lucy HERE

Friday, 10 April 2020

Christmas at Easter


UPDATED 16 APRIL 2020; MY THANKS TO DOREE MILES FOR HER KINDNESS

Happy Easter my friends! Something a little peculiar today, but something that seems perfectly suited to these peculiarly topsy-turvy times we’re living through currently… a Christmas record about the Easter bunny, from Californian country-western label Canary.

Canary was one of two labels set up by songwriter Earl Miles around 1966. First came Canary – named apparently after the birds that Earl kept ('Growing up we did own two yellow canaries: "Pretty Bird" and "Old Ugly",' Doree Miles tells me) – and then the mostly spoken-word offshoot Yellow Bird. The company held a registered office in Redwood City, California but recorded the majority of their material in Nashville (at the Monument Studios) because, as Earl explained, ‘Our artists are all local people, but we want the authentic Nashville country flavor’. After splitting their time between Nashville and Redwood City, at some point in the early 1970s they moved to Portland. It was then that Earl decided to amalgamate, and the company’s sole label became Canary Yellow Bird.

What sets Miles apart from most song-poem/vanity projects is that, initially at least, Miles had some money behind him and was able to employ some decent talent. Kentucky-born but San Francisco-based park ranger and part-time singer Durward Erwin recorded several sides and an album, Mod and Country, for Canary, and some of those tracks were picked up by the Irish company Emerald (distributed by Decca in the UK) for release here in dear old Blighty, and short-lived Philips imprint Nashville for release in Britain and in Germany. Erwin/Miles sides were even issued in New Zealand.

Sadly, despite some success for Miles via Erwin, including the almost-charting single A Girl Named Sorrow, Canary failed to take flight. Mod and Country (issued in 1967) and its related 45s would be about as close as he would come to success.

According to Erwin’s own website, he wrote and paid for the songs on Mod and Country to be recorded, but that is not the case. Of the 12 songs on the album eight are credited to Earl Miles, three to Grace Tindall and one to Gertrude Faith. 'My father wrote most of the songs on the Mod and Country album,' Doree confirms. 'His name is on the original copyright which my sister and I own. I was there as my father wrote many of his songs. He would play his Martin guitar as he created the words and music. I also have the original handwritten scores when he wrote the songs as well as the copyrights. To my knowledge, the songs were not written by Durward. Durward just sang the songs.' At first, I thought that Erwin and Miles could have been one and the same person, but apparently not, although according to later Billboard reports it does seem that Erwin was a shareholder in the business. 

By 1969 money must have been running out, and instead of using talent like Erwin, he was relying on family members to record for him. Linda Rae Miles  issued several sides for Canary Yellow Bird; further releases featured the ‘steel guitar artistry’ (that’s how it appears on the label) of one Smiley Miles, who also acted at Linda Rae’s personal manager. 'Justice (Jud) Miles, nicknamed Smiley, was my father's older brother,' Doree tells me. 'My sister and I referred to him as Uncle Jud. Norm may have been his formal name or middle name [For a while Norm Miles was the third partner in the business, along with Earl and Durward]. Jud was Linda's manager and at some point, they married.'

That same year Earl coughed up the moolah to record a cable TV pilot, Canary Ranch, featuring Erwin, Bobby Wyld, Smiley and Linda Rae singing and playing some of his songs. 'As far as I know, there were other investors in the project too,' says Doree. Canary continued for a few years, but with no hits coming Earl decided to diversify, setting up a country records distribution company and artists booking agency from his office in California in 1971. In 1973 Canary relocated to Portland, Oregon. That same year Linda Rae released what appears to have been the last 45 issued by the company, The Christmas Bunny backed with The Christmas Bunny (Interview), promoting the release by performing in the Palo Alto branch of Macy’s department store.

Earl Miles passed away in 1998, leaving his daughters, Doree and Darla, both of whom appear on The Christmas Bunny (Interview), to look after his legacy.  

Here are both sides of the fabulous Christmas Bunny 45. Enjoy!

Download Bunny HERE


Download Interview HERE

Friday, 3 April 2020

Boy Blunder


 This week I have a disc for you that, I’m sorry to say, I did not know existed until a few days ago. Not, in fact, until regular WWRRS listener Dennis Bookwalter brought it to my attention. And I will never forgive him!

Issued at the height of Batmania, Burt Ward’s 1966 45 Boy Wonder I Love You had somehow passed me by. Odd as I’ve ever-so-slightly obsessed with the recording carers of the actors and actresses who appeared in TV’s first (and, let’s be honest here, best) Batman. I’ve already featured Adam West, Burgess Meredith and Frank Gorshin on this blog and have for some time been planning a special Batman-themed episode of the WWRRS, which will also include some cuts from the ridiculous Jan and Dean Meet Batman.

What makes this insane spin-off even more delicious is that the A-side, based around Burt – as Robin – reading a parody of a fan letter – was written, arranged and conducted by Frank Zappa! The flip side, a godawful off-key rendition of the standard Orange Colored Sky (credited on promo copies as Oranged Colored Sky), was again arranged and conducted by Zappa, and features several members of the Mothers of Invention including Jimmy Carl Black and Elliot Ingber, who would later join Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band under the name Winged Eel Fingerling. Both sides were produced by Tom Wilson, who also produced the Mothers and the Velvet Underground. It’s just nuts. Batman himself, Adam West, performed Orange Colored Sky on TV show Hollywood Palace, in full Bat-drag, but does not appear on these recordings.

As Burt himself recalled in his autobiography, Boy Wonder, My Life In Tights: ‘I should have had the wisdom I now have when I signed a recording contract with MGM Records - I wouldn’t have signed it. MGM staffer Tom Scott [sic] was assigned as my producer. He brought in one of the visually wildest groups imaginable as my backup band, the Mothers of Invention. What a sight! Neanderthal. They had incredibly long, scraggly hair, and clothes that appeared not to have been washed in this century if ever. These were musicians who became famous for tearing up furniture, their speakers, their microphones and even their expensive guitars onstage. They were maniacs!

‘Of all the people in the world to team with this wild and crazy bunch, I can’t believe I was the one. The image of the Boy Wonder is all American and apple pie, while the image of the Mothers of Invention was so revolutionary that they made the Hell’s Angels look like the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Even I had to laugh seeing a photo of myself with those animals. Their fearless leader and king of grubbiness was the late Frank Zappa. After recording with me, Frank became an internationally recognized cult superstar, which was understandable; after working with me, the only place Frank could go was up.

‘Although he looked like the others, Frank had an intelligence and education that elevated him beyond brilliance to sheer genius. I spent a considerable amount of time talking with him, and his rough, abrupt exterior concealed an intellectual, creative and sensitive interior. For my records, the plan was to record four sides and then release two singles prior to producing an album. After listening to me sing, Frank got a wild idea to make use of my hideous voice to do a hilarious recording with a song that had some of the Batman feel to it. He picked “Orange Colored Sky.”

‘I can’t bear to think of this song. The memories are too embarrassing. Though the intent was to create comedy by putting my lousy singing to good use, the actual result was so disastrous that the studio thought the tape had been left out in the sun and warped. They insisted on re-recording. But first, MGM took a radical step as an insurance policy that my next session would sound better. They sent me to an expensive vocal coach—and no doubt hoped for divine intervention. Back in 1966 they were shelling out about $1,000 a week for those lessons. That was a lot of money, more than three times what I was bringing home after working twelve hours per day in my monkey suit for an entire week. With the coach raking in that much, even I am surprised that after two weeks of training, the lady politely asked me not to come back. I’m not sure if she felt that having me as a student was damaging to her career or if listening to me sing was destroying her eardrums, or both.

‘In an attempt at self-preservation, the record company had me just talk on the second two sides I recorded. That I could do very well! The material for the song was a group of fan letters that had been sent to me. Frank and I edited them together to make one letter, which became the lyrics for the recording. Frank wrote a melody and an arrangement, and we titled the song, “Boy Wonder, I Love You!” Among the lyrics was an invitation for me to come and visit an adoring pubescent fan and stay with her for the entire summer. She wrote, “I will even fix you breakfast in bed. I love you so much that I want you to stay the whole summer with me!” The lyrics ended with “I hope you know that this is a girl writing”.’ Just brilliant! 

Zappa himself expunged any mention of these sessions from his own story; thank goodness Ward had the good sense to record his memories for posterity. Although the disc was recorded and issued in 1966, Zappa did not register his copyright in the A-side until July 1968.

Ward, who also made a guest appearance on Adam West’s 45 Miranda, issued another 45, I’ve Got Love For My Baby, on Soultown records in 1970 (he did not feature on the instrumental flip, Robin’s Theme, credited to Burt Ward’s band) – a pretty awful record which is now something of a collectable in Northern Soul circles. A bonus for lovers of the bad: Orange Colored Sky was co-written, back in 1950, by Milton DeLugg. DeLugg also composed Hooray for Santy Claus, the theme song for the dreadful – but essential - low-budget 1964 motion picture Santa Claus Conquers the Martians, and was a long-time collaborator of TV producer and host Chuck Barris, working on The Gong Show, The $1.98 Beauty Show and many other projects.

Enjoy!

Download Wonder HERE


Download Orange HERE

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