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.


Friday, 5 August 2016

The Dumber of the Beast

According to the sleeve notes, this album is ‘one of the greatest original interpretations of the new dimension of Psychedelic sound’ – it’s not though: it’s a load of old nonsense.

Underground by Satan and Deciples (sic) is about as satanic as my dog’s farts: released (by Goldband Records) in the same year that Charles Manson and his Family were enacting something the world would forever see as satanic, this silly symphony was hardly likely to turn anyone into a Satanist. It is a load of fun to listen to, though.

Satan was (and quite possibly still is) one Roy O. Bates. Bates started out with a New Orleans bar band and recorded at least one, Screaming Lord Sutch-like single as Satan & Satan’s Roses (a cover of Elliott Small's I'm a Devil backed with We Recommend, Sable 404), before mutating into Satan and Deciples (sic). There are no credits on the album sleeve, although Bates, Childs and Denson were credited as writers on the labels, and the opening Track – Satan’s First Theme – is merely a re-recording of the plug side of the lone Satan & Satan’s Roses 45. Roy Bates/Satan’s show included some fire breathing pyrotechnics, highly unusual for the time – although soon Arthur Brown would be seen on our TVs setting fire to his head! 

Two tracks that didn’t make it to the album were issued on the 45 Mummie’s Curse (sic)/Cat’s Meow. Co-author credit on both cuts is given to ‘F Fender’, and although there’s no mention in his official biography of country star Freddy Fender being our Satan it does appear that he was at one point part of the group. According to Jeff Strichart (commenting on the Bad Cat Records blog in December 2015) Freddy ‘told me that all but one of the Satan and Deciples were dead. They were all Mexican and were hired as a backup band by the mysterious and presumably non-Mexican Roy O. Bates and even Freddy did not know much about him, who he really was, what his agenda was, if he was alive or dead’. With Fender’s passing in 2006 much of the story will remain untold.

As the Bad Cats blog makes plain ‘to be honest, a bunch of 5th graders could have probably come up with something at least as good’. The album seems to catch a band on the cusp of changing from a Sam the Sham or Seeds-style garage band into a more progressive rock band, but the material and the performances just ain’t good enough: despite the band’s best efforts to come across as sinister ‘the predominant satanic theme is about as ominous and threatening as a Tellytubby’. On Ensane (sic) Bates does a passable Lou Reed impersonation, while on Devil Time he goes for a James Brown vibe (even referencing Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag in the lyrics. It’s all a bit of a mish-mash.

Anyway, have a listen to a couple of tracks from the (according to the sleeve notes) Underground and decide for yourself. It’s been reissued on CD and is all over the YouTubes if you want more. Here, for your listening pleasure, is Why the Seas Are Salty and the dreadful Satan on Universe.


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