Archive for the ‘Oldies’ Category
One of the most unappreciated rockabilly artists of the 1950s was Johnny Carroll, a talented and magnetic performer who was in many ways reminiscent of his friend, the much more successful Gene Vincent. In fact, Carroll’s surge of popularity later in his career was partly due to his appreciation for Vincent’s music, along with his own determination. And even though he never enjoyed a major hit, many of his records became favorites for knowledgeable fans world-wide and he ended up in the Rockabilly Hall of Fame.
Born in rural Texas as John Lewis Carrell (later changed to Carroll because of a record label misprint), he began performing on local radio as a child, and by age fifteen was leading his own band. He was still in his teens in the mid-1950s when his growing radio success led to a record contract with Decca. Some of his early records, including “Crazy Crazy Loving” and “Wild Wild Women” were solid, as was “Hot Rock” (his band was named the Hot Rocks). Also, his on-screen performance in an otherwise forgettable teen-rock movie showcased his music — and his moves — but Decca didn’t renew his contract.
Carroll was then at Sun Records in Memphis for a while, bumping into guys like Elvis, Johnny Cash, and Jerry Lee Lewis, but still didn’t find much success in record sales. As the 1950s wound down he moved back to Dallas and signed with a new agent, the same one used by Gene Vincent, who was a little older than Carroll and had already enjoyed a hit record with his classic “Be-Bop-A-Lula.” It would mark a turning point for Carroll, who soon came out with what would be his most successful record, “The Swing,” which had echoes of Vincent’s style (along with some of the same musicians in the studio).
Even though he retained some popularity in Europe, Carroll’s career was pretty much stalled by the 1960s, but he remained friends with Vincent until the latter’s death in 1971. Even more significantly, the loss of his friend inspired him to later generate a new record on a tribute song, which somewhat revitalized Carroll’s career. He was able to find a lot of success in subsequent years by performing the same style of music, and at one point in the late 1970s also recorded a brand new album that he called Texabilly. He was just 57 when he died of liver failure in 1995.
Johnny Carroll – “The Swing”
Exactly six years ago today we spotlighted J.P. Richardson, better known as the Big Bopper, a DJ and songwriter-turned performer who had the misfortune to go down in the same 1959 plane crash that took the life of Buddy Holly. But just before that, he was instrumental in getting another rock and roller off to a good start, even if he wasn’t around to enjoy it when Johnny Preston took “Running Bear” to the top of the charts.
John Preston Courville was born and raised near the Louisiana border in Port Arthur, Texas, and as someone who was part Cajun it’s not surprising that he was musically inclined. But even though he sang choir in high school, it wasn’t until he was in college in the late 1950s that he found himself in a breakout moment for his musical career. While going to school in Beaumont he’d formed a small band that entertained in area night clubs, and during one of his appearances he was spotted by Richardson, who was looking for someone to record a song he’d written.
The song — “Running Bear” — was a silly take on the old tale of Romeo and Juliet, but with American Indian characters. Richardson arranged for a studio and backup musicians and singers, including himself, veteran Link Davis, and young George Jones, who was even then beginning to build his fame as a country star. Richardson and Preston then took the recording to Mercury Records, and it was issued just about the time Richardson had his fatal plane crash, so he wasn’t around to see it shoot up the charts to #1.
It would be Preston’s biggest hit by far, although he did reach the Top Ten with “Cradle Of Love” and had several other lower charting records before things started slowing down for him. He was relatively inactive for a number of years, but like many others of his era, found some late career success on the oldies circuit and in Branson. He was 71 when he died in 2011.
Johnny Preston – “Cradle Of Love”
Yes folks, it’s time for another edition of Five Star Favs, the GMC Special Feature that has a pretty simple premise: it spotlights one of my tip-top, all time favorites. And a few of those might surprise you. For example, my infatuation with today’s featured song began about thirty years ago when I saw it on MTV, and it’s one that has had its share of controversy. (Although that has nothing to do with my fondness for it.)
With two teenagers in the house, it’s not surprising that our main TV set was often tuned to MTV in the 1980s. It also wouldn’t surprise you to hear that I was usually grumbling about those damned ‘no-talent’ rock and roll musicians, who seemed to me so inferior to those I remembered.
But one day I heard a MTV video starting that featured a pounding beat and a blazing guitar riff, a combination that’s always drawn my interest. What I saw intrigued me even more, because it featured computerized animation, something that was cutting-edge at the time. And finally — even though I’m not a lyrics guy and mostly get into the instrumental part of a song — I realized the blue-collar cartoon characters were poking fun at modern rock musicians. I was in.
When the British group Dire Straits generated “Money For Nothing” in 1985, it attracted a lot of attention for a number of reasons. Not only the song itself, but also that it was something new for the era, obviously designed for the MTV generation (MTV is even in the lyrics), and for its inventive use of computer graphics. It also didn’t hurt that Sting was involved and sang the introduction, but in any case it made a big splash and won a lot of awards, including a Grammy.
However, as time passed it also caused some controversy for its lyrics, which have been called racist, sexist, and homophobic. Defenders of the song point out that it was all in the spirit of satire, so I guess it’s up to the individual listener to make up their own mind. Below is the the full-length album version and below that the original MTV video.
Dire Straits – “Money For Nothing”
We might seem to be in a bit of a rut by featuring yet another actor/singer, but the story of Bill Hayes is a lot different from that of a recent GMC subject, Eddie Albert. For one thing, in 1955 he charted a #1 hit record — “Ballad Of Davy Crockett” — and for another, his acting career once landed him on the cover of Time magazine.
Hayes was born and raised in suburban Chicago, and pointed toward a show business career right out of college, where he’d majored in music. During the post-war years he kicked around for a while before finally hitting pay dirt in the early 1950s with a singing spot on Sid Caesar’s TV show. His subsequent popularity with fans became a springboard for his burgeoning career and he was soon finding work on Broadway too, including a starring role in a Rodgers & Hammerstein musical.
It wasn’t long before Hayes was also finding success in record sales with his chart-topper about the guy from the Alamo. (One of four hit records on the song, as described in a previous post.) Additionally, the 1950s saw him begin building an acting career, one that would eventually lead to the activity that many fans still remember him for — soap operas. He not only spent decades as a popular star in daytime dramas, but also met and married one of his costars, Susan Seaforth (pictured on the Time cover with him).
They are still a couple after almost four decades together, and during that time have often worked together, including a celebrated return in recent years to the TV program where they met, Days Of Our Lives. And even though he’s now 89 (she’s 71) Bill Hayes shows no sign of slowing down.
Bill Hayes – “Ballad of Davy Crockett”
If you’re a fan of guitar instrumentals from the early 1960s, you might remember a group known as the Tornados, a British combo that had a #1 record with “Telstar” in 1962. But we’re instead going to spotlight the Tornadoes, an American band that also had a couple of hits (although not as highly charted), one of which — “Bustin’ Surfboards” — has been called the earliest pure surf instrumental.
It was almost exclusively a family affair when the Southern California combo first appeared on the local music scene. Brothers Gerald and Norman Sanders, cousin Jesse Sanders, and their friend Leonard Delaney called themselves the Vaqueros initially, but then added a fifth member — saxophonist George White — and became the Tornadoes.
It didn’t take long for the Tornadoes to get noticed. Although the Marketts’ “Surfer’s Stomp” was technically the first surf instrumental to become a hit record, that group was more or less an anonymous bunch of session musicians. Most authorities now consider the Tornadoes to have been the first established band to do it, when “Bustin’ Surfboards” — with a no-name echo unit because the Fender reverb hadn’t been invented yet — rocketed up the charts and became a national hit in 1962.
As it turned out, that would be the combo’s biggest hit by far. The guys soon changed their group’s name to the Hollywood Tornadoes (because of the British Tornados’ success) and continued to make music, on stage and in the recording studio. Some of those records were pretty listenable, including one that was often banned from radio airplay because of its suggestive title (below). Aside from the name thing, it’s actually a rockin’ good song — in my opinion, better than the band’s big hit record.
Although the group was relatively inactive in later years, when “Bustin’ Surfboards” appeared on the iconic soundtrack of the 1994 film, Pulp Fiction, it triggered a new level of interest among modern fans. Some of the original members of the band restarted things and had — and continue to have — a lot of fun on the oldies tour.
The (Hollywood) Tornadoes – “Shootin’ Beavers”