Doug Thompson: CONFESSIONS OF A PROFESSIONAL ROCK AND ROLL INTERVIEWER – LOOK MA, STILL NO WORDS

Doug Thompson headshot“Well doggies” (as Jed Clampett used to say on the 60’s TV series, “The Beverly Hillbillies), there were quite a few responses to my last blog about instrumentals.  Most simply wrote to say ‘You forgot so and so’…or ‘what about…’, but hey, if that column sparked discussion about great instrumentals, then I have been successful.

And so, I guess I’m done.  Goodnight!

OK, not quite.  I did say at the end of my last blog that ‘This is by no means a complete list of instrumentals…”, but seems nobody really paid any attention to that line.

But having said that, let’s take a look (and maybe a listen) to a few more deserving instrumental artists/songs along with a couple that weren’t hits, but may well surprise you.  Once again, please bear in mind that I’ll probably leave out YOUR favourite instrumental, so suck it up already.

Duane Eddy.  You can’t have a serious discussion about instrumental artists without including the ‘guitar man’.  Duane Eddy’s chart success speaks for itself.  And yes, I did leave out (but not intentionally) Mr. ‘Twangs The Thang’ from my last blog. See, what happened was, Duane was on my original list, but when I actually started writing the column, I inadvertently deleted his name.  That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.  Anyway, during his hit making career, Duane Eddy charted 28 songs on Billboards’ Hot 100 between the years 1958 to 1986.  27 of those 28 hits were from the ‘50’s and ‘60’s.  The 28th was the “Peter Gunn” theme, Duane’s collaboration with The Art of Noise, which only climbed as high as # 50 in 1986.  Eddy’s original version of “Peter Gunn”, released in 1960, made it a bit further up the charts, peaking at # 27.  Surprisingly, Duane Eddy only had 3 Top Ten hits, 1958’s “Rebel Rouser” (# 6), 1959’s “Forty Miles of Bad Road” (# 9) and “1960’s “Because They’re Young” (#4).  The last one was the theme from the 1960 movie starring Dick Clark and Tuesday Weld.  Duane Eddy, his ’twangy guitar’ and The Rebels also appeared in that movie playing “Shazam”.

My three personal favourite Duane Eddy instrumentals are the aforementioned “Because They’re Young”, “Cannonball”, a # 15 hit in 1958, and “(Dance With The) Guitar Man”, which peaked at # 12 in 1962.  One of my all time fav singers, Darlene Love and her early group The Blossoms, can be heard wailing away on this record as well.

By the way, Duane Eddy was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1994 and he’s still performing today, ‘twangin’ up a storm.

Another influential instrumental artist of the 1960’s was Dick Dale.  Known as the “King of the Surf Guitar”, Dale only had two charted hits, “Let’s Go Trippin’” and “The Scavenger”, neither of which made it higher than # 60, but Dale pioneered the ‘surf guitar’ sound of amplified distortion and heavy use of reverb that influenced such musicians as Jimi Hendrix and Eddie Van Halen.

Now, let’s talk about one more 60’s rock and roll legend – Phil Spector.  Yes I know, Phil’s in a California prison for murder, and he certainly has had his personal problems over the years, but the man knew how to produce hit records.  Phil always had to be in control and radio DJ’s of the 1960’s, left to their own devises, would occasionally flip single records over and play the ‘B’ side of the 45 rpm single instead of the side the record company was pushing.  That’s how Anne Murray’s “Snowbird” became a hit, along with quite a few others.  But Phil would have none of that.  To ‘fix’ that pesky DJ problem, he had his session players (known collectively as ‘The Wrecking Crew’), record short instrumentals that Phil put on the ‘B’ sides of Philles Records 45 single releases.  Phil gave them strange titles such as: “Flip And Nitty”, “Dr. Kaplan’s Office”, “Tedesco And Pitman” (that one named for session guitar player Tommy Tedesco and bassist Bill Pitman), “Nino And Sonny (Big Trouble)” (named for sax player Nino Tempo and Sonny Bono), “Chubby Danny D” (named for Philles promo guy Danny Davis).  DJ’s simply didn’t play these flip sides.  Phil had made his point – play the ‘A’’ side of the record dammit.  The thing was, some of these instrumentals were actually damned good.  In fact, the recent Legacy 7 CD box set, “Phil Spector Presents The Philles Album Collection”, has one CD, “Phil’s Flipsides”, that features 17 of these so-called ‘throw away’ instrumentals.  One of my favs is a catchy little ditty called “Torpedo Rock (Surfing Corrido)”.

Now, I’m really gonna throw you a real curve ball…when you think of Bobby Vinton (and I know quite a few of you probably never have), you think of ‘tearjerker’ ballads such as “Roses Are Red”, “Blue Velvet”, “There, I’ve Said It Again” and “Mr. Lonely” (all of which went to # 1 by the way).  But there’s a side of Bobby Vinton you probably don’t know.  His father Stan led a big band (much like Tommy Dorsey or Glen Miller in the 1930’s and ‘40’s) and Bobby followed in his father’s footsteps by forming his own band in high school.  He used the money from his gigs to pay for his college education at Duquesne University, where he graduated with a degree in musical composition.  Early on in his career, Bobby led the back-up band on many of the ‘60’s Dick Clark ‘Caravan of Stars’ tours.  Those were the tours where about a half dozen or so artists with current hits, toured Canada and the U.S. in a bus and sang their one or two hits, then left the stage for the next performer.  And the higher your song was on the charts of the day determined the order in which you appeared on the bill.

In 1960, after a two year hitch in the army, Vinton was signed to Epic Records (a division of Columbia) as a bandleader, but after a couple of albums and singles that didn’t sell (or chart), he was about to be dropped by the label when he found a song he wanted to sing called “Roses Are Red”…and that, as Paul Harvey used to say, is the rest of the story.  One of the instrumental 45’s Bobby released on Epic prior to his singing career, was called “Tornado”.  CHUM was the # 1 Top 50 station in Toronto in the 1960’s, and they used the “Tornado” instrumental as the hourly theme for their “Saturday Afternoon Parade of Hits”, the countdown to their Top 50 chart.  I started at CHUM in 1965 and by then, that Saturday feature had been abandoned and the music library was tossing out the 45.  I’d remembered hearing it on CHUM on Saturdays when I was a teenager growing up in the suburb of Oakville, so I grabbed the 45 and added it to my small but growing record archives.

Flash forward to 2007 – I went to Casino Rama to interview Bobby Vinton for CHUM’s 50th anniversary and brought along the 45 of “Tornado”.  I told him the history of it on CHUM and whipped out the 45.  He was amazed.  He said he didn’t even have a copy of it.  So between the interview and his show later that night, I rushed home (an hours’ drive each way) and burned a CD of “Tornado” for him.  For CHUM’s 50th anniversary in ‘07, I produced a series of promos and in one of them, for a weekend where CHUM was going to play all # 1 hits, I played a small section of “Tornado”.  The CHUM switchboard received several calls from listeners who’d remembered it from the early ‘60’s “Saturday Afternoon Parade of Hits” and wanted to know the name of it and who recorded it.  Most, when told it was by Bobby Vinton, couldn’t believe it.  It’s a really cool instrumental that’s also among my all time favs.

And speaking of Tornados, there was a British group by that name who took their instrumental “Telstar” to # 1 in 1962.  “Telstar” was produced by Joe Meek (England’s Phil Spector) and was at # 1 for the last two weeks of December ’62 as well as the first week of January ’63.  Producer Meek, who wrote “Telstar”, also produced a # 4 hit for The Honeycombs (“Have I The Right”) and worked with many British artists very early on in their careers, including a young Tom Jones.  In February of ‘67, Meek, who by all reports was extremely paranoid and despondent, had an argument with his landlady and killed her with a single barrel shotgun, then turned the gun on himself.  But like Phil Spectors’ artistic legacy, and despite his personal demons, Joe Meek’s music will continue to live on.

Before “Telstar” hit # 1 at the end of 1962, two more British instrumentals had already made it to the top (and near the top) of the North American record charts.  In March of ’62, British trumpet player Kenny Ball and His Jazzmen had a # 2 record with the instrumental, “Midnight In Moscow”, which had a cool ‘Dixieland’ feel to it.  A few months later, Mr. Acker Bilk (that’s how he was billed), became the very first British instrumental to go to # 1 on Billboards’ Hot 100 chart.  Bilks’ haunting clarinet based ballad, “Stranger On The Shore” topped the singles chart for the week of May 26th.

In 1968, Capitol Records released an album of actual Beach Boys backing tracks called “The Beach Boys Stack-O-Tracks” and this was long before the karaoke phenomenon.  The LP featured such Beach Boys hits as “Sloop John B”, “Wouldn’t It Be Nice”, “Surfer Girl”, “In My Room”, “God Only Knows”, “Little Saint Nick” along with 9 others and came with a booklet that showed the chords, bass lines, lead lines and lyrics to sing along to the actual track from the Beach Boys hits.  It was kinda cool to hear the intricate sounds that Brian Wilson created before he added those amazing Beach Boys harmonies to the various songs.  “Stack-O-Tracks” was available originally in mono (and in Capitol’s horrific ‘Duophonic’ configuration aka ‘fake stereo’).  The album never charted and quickly disappeared from Capitol’s catalog for several decades, but was released on CD by Capitol/EMI in 1990, in 2001, re-released it on a single CD that combined “Stack-O-Tracks” with the “Beach Boys Party!” album.  This time out, EMI added bonus tracks for “Help Me Rhonda”, “California Girls” and “Our Car Club”.

So here’s your chance to sing along with the actual Beach Boys backing track to “California Girls” Here are the lyrics:

“Well, East coast girls are hip                                                                             I really dig those styles they wear                                                                   And the southern girls, with the way they talk                                               They knock me out when I’m down there                                                       The mid-west farmers daughters really make you feel alright                     And the northern girls with the way they kiss                                               They keep their boyfriends warm at night                                                     I wish they all could be California

Wish they all could be California                                                                     I wish they all could be California girls

The west coast has the sunshine                                                                   And the girls all get so tanned                                                                        I I dig a French bikini on Hawaii Island girls                                                   by a palm tree in the sand                                                                               I’ve been all ‘round this great big world                                                           And I’ve seen all kind of girls                                                                             Yeah, but I couldn’t wait to get back in the States                                         Back to the cutest girls in the world

I wish they all could be California                                                                    Wish they all could be California                                                                     Wish they all could be California girls

Wish they all could be California girls                                                             Wish they all could be California girls                                                           Wish they all could be California Girls                                                             Wish they all could be California Girls

                       

There, now don’t you feel 16 again?  Or at least 22?

CANADA’S INSTRUMENTAL CONTRIBUTION

In Edmonton, Wes Dakus and the Rebels (sometimes known as the CJCA Rebels or 93 Rebels) were the house band for Top 40 powerhouse CJCA (where I began my broadcasting career).  Wes’ band was extremely popular in Alberta and had several chart hits.  Dakus and company travelled all the way to Clovis, New Mexico to record with producer Norman Petty, in the same studio where Buddy Holly recorded his early hits.  Keith Hampshire, when he was a DJ on Radio Caroline in England during those “Pirate Radio” days in the ‘60’s, used a Wes Dakus record as his daily theme  song.  Radio Caroline was heard by millions of listeners across Great Britain every day.

In 1965, Terry Bush, a guitar player who played in Robbie Lane’s backing band and Doug Riley, the Musical Director for Robbie Lane’s 60’s network TV show, “It’s Happening”, wrote a jingle for Baby Ruth candy bars.  The single was released as The Butterfingers, but was, in actual fact, Robbie Lane’s band, The Disciples featuring Doug Riley on organ.  The song became a cool commercial hit in Canada.

Al Mair was co-founder (with Tom Williams) of Attic Records.  Attic became the most successful indy record company in Canada from the mid ‘70’s until it was sold several decades later.  Al’s a big believer in instrumentals…and he knows a hit when he hears one.  At MIDEM (the annual music conference held in France) in 1975, Al met composer Hagood Hardy and offered to release Hagood’s extended length version of Hagood’s catchy Salada Tea commercial titled “The Homecoming”.  It became a huge hit in Canada while peaking at # 41 in the U.S.

Another commercial instrumental 45 Attic released (although it wasn’t a chart hit), was the A&W ‘Root Bear’ theme song also known as “Ba Dum Da Dum” by Major Ursus.  It was written by Vancouver jingle production company Griffiths, Gibson and Ramsay.  I’ve always loved that silly little tuba tune.

In L.A., veteran record producers Steve Barri (The Grassroots/Bo Donaldson and The Heywoods/John Sebastian/Alan O’Day), and Michael Omartian (Christopher Cross) formed a group called Rhythm Heritage that quickly went to # 1 in the U.S. in 1976 with “Theme From S.W.A.T.”.  In Canada, two producers, Willie Morrison and Bruce Ley had a group called the T.H.P Orchestra (T.H.P stands for Three Hats Productions).  They covered the “Theme From S.W.A.T.” and since Canadian radio stations were required to play 30% Canadian content (they now have to play 35%), the T.H.P. version became the dominant hit in the Great White North.

Now here’s a cool story of an Canadian instrumental success:  Frank Mills grew up in Verdun, Quebec and for a time was a member of The Bells (“Stay Awhile”), but left before they achieved their major chart success.  In 1974, his then record company released an album that had the piano instrumental, “Music Box Dancer” on it…but nothing happened.

At least, not then.

Mills then signed with Polydor Records in ’78 and they released a 45 with a new song of Frank’s as the A side and “Music Box Dancer” on the B side.  Here we go again.  A radio station in Ottawa didn’t think much of the A side, but flipped for the flip side.  It eventually became a huge national Canadian hit.

In the U.S., a Nashville TV news producer started playing “Music Box Dancer” over the closing credits of the stations nightly newscast.  Nashville radio DJ’s started playing it, then it expanded across the country and voila…“Music Box Dancer”, climbed all the way to # 3 on Billboards’ Hot 100 singles chart in 1979.

And apparently in Mexico, ice cream trucks use “Music Box Dancer” on their PA systems.  I wonder if Frank Mills receives any royalties from that?

I miss instrumentals.  I think I’ll go grab one of my instrumental compilation CD’s and bring back some memories.  Ba-dum-ba-bum…

=DT=

Doug’s column appears here every 4th Monday.

Contact us at: dbawis@rogers.com.

DBAWIS ButtonDoug Thompson has spent his entire adult life in broadcasting, both in Canada and the U.S. and has won 152 awards for his work.  He worked with Canadian actor John Candy for 17 years, writing and producing commercials, specials and several weekly radio programs.

Currently, he’s writing and producing the second season of a television program for the Hi Fi channel in Canada called “Hi Fi Salutes”, a series of short biographical documentaries on Canadian musicians, producers and record industry pioneers.  One of those programs recently won a Platinum Award at the World Film Festival in Houston.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: