As today marks the 50th anniversary of the beginning of the Stonewall Riots, this seemed like an appropriate choice for this week’s blog.
Released in 1973 and credited to Ben Gay and the Silly Savages, The Ballad of Ben Gay is a riposte of sorts to Johnny Cash’s hit A Boy Named Sue, which Cash recorded live in concert in 1969 at California's San Quentin State Prison and that appeared on his chart-topping At San Quentin album the same year. Issued as a single it provided Cash with a Number Two hit on the Billboard pop charts (Number One on the country chart) and went Top Five in the UK.
The unidentified singer took the stage name Ben Gay from the topical heat rub (similar to our own Deep Heat) of the same name. I had always assumed that his backing group, the Silly Savages, were unrelated to the group that backed Teddy and Darrel on their album These Are the Hits, You Silly Savage, but now I’m not so sure. Teddy and Darrel were documentary maker Theodore ‘Teddy’ Charach and his friend Darrel Dee; record producer (and former Republican governor) Mike Curb produced These Are The Hits… (featuring camped-up covers of recent hits) by overdubbing their voices onto a session from his favourite studio band Arrows, led by guitarist Davie Allen. Charach and Dee also appeared with Curb on the soundtrack to the 1967 movie Mondo Hollywood. Could Darrel Dee be the same man as Darrel Gulland, co-author of The Ballad of Ben Gay?
I can’t be sure: Gulland continued to write songs for a few years after this, working with musician dale Norris, and appears to have passed away in 2000. The one thing that can be ascertained is that the disc is connected to Fabor, the country music label that was based in Hollywood, and that was owned by producer promoter Fabor Robinson. Robinson’s name appears as co-author of the flip side, Silly Savage Serenade and producer/arranger 9and co-author of the A-side) Edd McNeely also recorded for Fabor.
The silliness of The Ballad of Ben Gay follows a long tradition of campery on record. Depending on how you view these things these records are charming period pieces, badly dated Carry On-style comic cuts or complete anachronisms of a bygone age. Lispy, wispy and fey, and about as sophisticated as a hammer blow to the head the humour, such as it is, is broader than the backside of the average McDonald’s customer. This type of record reached its apogee in 1964, with the launch of the Camp Records label. Some of these records were advertised exclusively to the LGBT community through the pages of papers such as One, Vagabond and, later, Gay News.
Soon mainstream record companies would get in on the act and throughout the 1960s and 70s a string of camp 45s issued on both sides of the pond, such as The Butch Brothers’ Kay, Why? (on Thrust Records), Steve Elgins’ Don’t Leave Your Lover Lying Around (a silly song about bed-hopping issued in 1974 on Dawn Records) and Yin & Yan’s Butch Soap (on EMI). Many camp actors and comedians issued records: in the UK alone Kenneth Williams, Frankie Howerd, John Inman and Larry Grayson all put out novelty songs that pandered to their camp but closeted persona and that were meant to appeal to either children or grandparents, two demographics unlikely to blush at the tired single-entendres in a song like Inman’s Are You Being Served Sir? (‘I’m sorry that this fitting room is dark and rather chilly, just try these on and mind that zip in case you catch your…’). Interestingly, was covered by New Zealand act Des Gay And The Foolish Fag's (their misplaces apostrophe, not mine, I assure you) as the Ballad of Des Gay in 1974.
Anyway, here are both sides of this silly single. Enjoy!
Download Ballad HERE
Download Serenade HERE