Doug Thompson: “THE DAY THE MUSIC DIED”

                                                                                 Doug Thompson headshot

The recent passing of Paul Revere of Paul Revere and Raiders is another in an extremely long line of musical celebrity deaths.  There have been much bigger names who died in the past few months – Joan Rivers and Robin Williams deaths reverberated around the globe – probably because they both brought so much laughter to the world.  I’m in the first wave of Baby Boomers, so Lauren Bacall’s death, though sad, didn’t resonate as much personally.  James Garner’s passing did.  I used to watch him faithfully every week on “Maverick” when I was growing up and later “The Rockford Files” was must-see TV for me.

But there are three deaths that occurred during the past couple of months that touched me in a way I hadn’t expected.

Cosimo Matassa

Cosimo Matassa.  Anyone who knows anything about rock history knows how important Cosimo was to it all.  He was the New Orleans equivalent of Sam Phillips in Memphis or Berry Gordy at Motown, although Matassa didn’t own a record label at the time (later on, he did found Dover Records).  Cosimo passed away at the age of 88 on September 11th, 2014.  Fats Domino, Professor Longhair, Jerry Lee Lewis (who travelled from Farriday, Lousiana to cut his first record in Cosimo’s studio when he was only 16 years old), Little Richard, Shirley and Lee, Ray Charles, Big Joe Turner, Allan Toussaint, Lee Dorsey, Aaron Neville, Dr. John and many others are all part of the legacy of Cosimo Matassa.

In 1954, producer Dave Bartholomew brought a 21 year old Antoine Domino to Cosimo’s J&M Recording.  The result of that initial session – “The Fat Man”.

Cosimo opened his first studio, J&M Recording at 838 N. Rampart Street in the French Quarter, in the back of a record and appliance store in the French Quarter in 1945.  Although the site was declared a historic landmark by the City of New Orleans in 1999 and a Rock and Roll landmark in 2010, it’s currently home to Hula Mae’s Tropic Wash laundry.

Earl Palmer and CosimoThe original recording studio wasn’t large, it was much like Sun Studios in Memphis or Motown’s ‘snake pit’ in Detroit.   Legendary drummer Earl Palmer (with Cosimo) said it was “the smallest you’ve ever seen”.  Cosimo likened it to a decent sized bedroom, but somehow, he was able to capture the magical musical soul of New Orleans in that tiny room and subsequent studios.   Just think about all the hits that were recorded within those studio walls (and most of them engineered by self taught Cosimo Matassa) – Roy Brown’s “Good Rockin’ Tonight”, Fats Domino’s “Ain’t That A Shame”, “I’m Walking”, “Blueberry Hill” (and so many more), Ernie K-Doe’s “Mother-In-Law”, Lee Dorsey’s “Ya Ya”, Little Richard’s “Tutti Frutti” (in fact most of his Specialty Record sessions), Aaron Neville’s “Tell it Like It Is”, Lloyd Price’s “Lawdy Miss Clawdy”, Shirley & Lee’s “Let The Good Times Roll”, Huey ‘Piano’ Smith’s “Don’t You Just Know It”, Clarence’ Frogman’ Henry’s “But I Do” and “Ain’t Got No Home”, Chris Kenner’s “I Like It Like That”, Jimmy Clanton’s “Just A Dream” and Frankie Ford’s “Sea Cruise”.

Cosimo MIn 2007, Cosimo Matassa was honoured with the Trustees Award by the National Association of Recording Arts and Sciences (aka The Grammys) and was finally inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a non-performer in 2012.  Long overdue in my opinion, but that’s true of many deserving performers and behind-the-scenes people (and that’s a column for another day).  Cosimo Matassa never thought he was doing anything extraordinary.  He often said that his technique was to place the microphones and stand back.  “A lot of good musicians”, he once declared, “made me look good.”

There are plenty more fun facts (as well as additional song titles) at Cosimocode.com.

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Bob CreweBob Crewe, who also passed away on September 11, 2014, was another rock and roll legend who hasn’t really been given his due.  Yes, he’s featured in the “Jersey Boys” play and movie, and that’s as it should be, but frankly he’s not given the full credit that he deserves, since he was an integral part of the worldwide success of The Four Seasons.  But, despite his work with Frankie Valli and the boys over the years, his writing of over a dozen Top Ten hits, plus the Bob Crewe Generation, he’s not yet in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.  I couldn’t believe it, so I double and triple checked the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame website and he’s definitely NOT there.  Sadly, if Bob ever is ever inducted, he won’t be around to enjoy this celebration of his career.  That’s what happened when The Dave Clark 5 were passed over for a year by a certain someone at the top of the induction food chain.  By the time they were inducted in March of 2008, lead singer Mike Smith (co-writer of many of the DC5 hits), was dead.  In fact, Mike passed away just 11 days before the induction ceremony.

Bob Crewe’s career probably deserves its own Hollywood movie.  Born in Newark, New Jersey, Crewe began his career in the music biz as a writer.  His first chart hit (co-written with Frank Slay) was “Silhouettes”, a song taken into the Top Ten three times.  In 1957, The Rays climbed to # 3 on the singles chart.

That same year, Canada’s own The Diamonds reached # 10 with their version.  Eight years later in 1965, Herman’s Hermits brought it back into the Top Ten at     # 5.  Not bad for a first effort at songwriting.  A continued collaboration with Slay in 1958 yielded a # 9 hit for Billie and Lillie, “La Dee Dah”.  The duo continued their writing success in ’59 with Freddy Cannon’s “Tallahassee Lassie”, which got as high as # 6.

And this was BEFORE Bob Crewe ever met Frankie Valli, Bob Gaudio and The Four Seasons.

Crewe CoverAs a performer, Bob Crewe’s initial chart entry was “The Whiffenpoof Song”, which only barely managed to climb onto Billboards’ Hot 100 chart in 1960 at # 96.  But as a songwriter and producer in the 1960’s, Crewe had no peer, not even the mercurial Phil Spector.  Once Crewe hooked up with The Four Seasons and prolific writer Bob Gaudio, the Bob twins co-wrote The Four Seasons Top Ten hits “Big Girls Don’t Cry, “Walk Like A Man”, “Candy Girl”, “Ronnie”, and “Rag Doll”.  “Let’s Hang On” (was co-written by Crewe, Sandy Linzer and Denny Randell.  Crewe produced all of the Four Seasons hits throughout the 1960’s.

In 1964, Crewe brought a Bell Telephone employee from Toronto by the name of Shirley Matthews to New York, and produced her Top 5 Canadian hit, “Big Town Boy” (although he didn’t write that song).

Other artists that had hits with Crewe/Gaudio songs, included The Walker Brothers “The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore” in 1966 and The Tremeloes “Silence Is Golden” in ‘67.   Crewe also co-wrote later Frankie Valli solo hits, “Can’t Take My Eyes Off Of You” (with Gaudio) and “My Eyes Adored You” (with Kenny Nolan).

In 1967, Crewe and a gaggle of studio musicians he named The Bob Crewe Generation, saw their instrumental rendition of a Diet Pepsi commercial, “Music To Watch Girls By”, rise into the Top Twenty.  The following year, Crewe teamed up with composer Charles Fox to score the soundtrack to the film “Barbarella” starring a voluptuous Jane Fonda (and directed by Fonda’s then husband Roger Vadim).

Then there was the hit machine known as Billy Lee and The Rivieras.  Who?  Oh yeah, Bob Crewe changed their name to Mitch Ryder & The Detroit Wheels and proceeded to produce three Top Ten hits for them, “Jenny Take A Ride” (# 10 in 1966), “Devil With A Blue Dress On/Good Golly Miss Molly” (# 4 in ’66) and “Sock It To Me Baby!” (# 6 in ’67) which Crewe released on his DynoVoice label.  Oliver took two more Bob Crewe productions into the Top Ten in 1969, “Good Morning Starshine” (# 3 taken from the Broadway musical “Hair”) and “Jean”      (# 2), a song written by Rod McKuen for the movie “The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie”.

In 1975, Labelle had a # 1 hit with the Crewe/Nolan written song “Lady Marmalade”.  That song had a spectacular rebirth in 2001, thanks to the hit movie “Moulin Rouge” and singers Christina Aguilera, Lil’ Kim, Mya and Pink, who took “Lady Marmalade” back to # 1 for 5 weeks on Billboards’ Hot 100 chart.

(Editor’s Note: Here’s my favourite version of Lady Marmalade from Montreal, Quebec’s Nanette Workman…couldn’t resist._)

Also in ’75, Crewe co-wrote (with Denny Randell) and produced yet another Frankie Valli solo Top Ten hit, “Swearin’ To God”.

The 1980’s saw Crewe team with Sugarloaf’s Jerry Corbetta to produce the Grammy nominated original cast recording of Ellie Greenwich’s Broadway musical, “Leader Of The Pack”.

All of that incredible body of work and he’s still NOT in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame?  He is, and deservedly so, in the Songwriters Hall of Fame Songwriters Hall of Fame – Bob Crewe Exhibit Home.

Bob Crewe was 83 when he died.  He’d been living at the Piper Shores nursing care facility in Scarborough, Maine for the past three years, ever since he fell and injured his brain.

A sad end for an extremely talented man.  C’mon Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, get your heads out of your asses and induct Bob Crewe NOW!

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But of all the recent deaths, the saddest passing, at least for me personally, was a true broadcasting legend.  While I never met Cosimo Matassa or Bob Crewe, I did work with this next guy.

Pardo

“Tell them what they’ve won, Don Pardo!”  “Right you are Art!”  That’s an exchange from the original version of “Jeopardy” (long before current host, Canadian Alex Trebek, woodenly began asking the questions).  Back then the host was Art Fleming.  Don Pardo was the off-camera announcer.

Pardo was one of the last staff announcers at NBC and one of the very few to have received a lifetime contract with the network.  Don began his broadcasting career in the 1930’s at a radio Pardo3station in Rhode Island before joining NBC Radio in 1944.  Don made the move to NBC Television in the 1950’s as a staff announcer and worked on such shows as “The Price Is Right” and a number of other network game shows.  He got the “Jeopardy” gig in the mid ‘60’s.  He was at NBC for nearly 7 decades.  By the time “Saturday Night Live” launched in the fall of 1975, Pardo was 57 years old.  He continued to record the “Saturday Night Live” announcements every week, even after he retired from NBC and moved to Arizona.  He was 96 when he died on August 18th, and in all those years, only missed one SNL in March of 2013 when he fell and broke his hip.  Then cast member Darrell Hammond filled in for him that night and now with Pardo’s death, Darrell has officially been given Don’s gig.

Don was an incredibly nice man.  I worked with him several times on voice over projects.  The first time was in 1986.  I was Creative Director/Executive Producer at Telemedia Network Radio in Toronto.  The previous year I had created, written and produced a 26 hour radio series for the 30th anniversary of Rock ‘N’ Roll called “Rock 30”.

CandyI’d worked with actor John Candy on radio commercials for several years before he made it big on TV and in the movies and he enthusiastically signed on to host “Rock 30”.  John had such an enjoyable time, that the following year, he asked me to create a weekly radio show for him, so I came up with “That Radio Show with John Candy”, 90 minutes of John and his characters from SCTV plus music.  It quickly was scooped up by stations from coast to coast and only ran in Canada.  Now, how radio syndication works (or at least worked back then), radio stations got programs for free in exchange for giving up several minutes an hour for national sponsors and the syndicators to sell.  A demo is written and produced to show potential advertisers and stations how the program is going to sound.  John and I tossed around a few ideas and we came up with Don Pardo narrating and John interjecting as several of his characters (Dr. Tongue, Yosh Schmenge).  So I wrote the script.

Here’s the 1986 demo for “That Radio Show with John Candy”.  Take a listen!  It’s only 5 minutes long for gosh sake and Don and John (although recorded at separate times in different cities) are magic together.  John’s part was 100% ad libbed.  Don’s were scripted.

I called Don’s agent and booked a recording session.  It was a $1000. fee.  More than fair.  Back in the mid 1980’s, ISDN lines and the like weren’t around (at least I don’t recall that they were), so I flew to New York for the session.  It’s a lot more fun in person anyway.

At the studio, Don was right on time.  We chatted for a bit.  He had met John in the 1980’s when Candy hosted Saturday Night Live (October 22, 1983).  Back then, Pardo was on set every Saturday night and did his introductions LIVE!  TRIVIA ALERT:  In 1975, the year NBC’s “Saturday Night Live” launched, there was also an ABC television program, a new, weekly variety show in the Ed Sullivan style, hosted by Howard Cosell, called “Saturday Night Live with Howard Cosell”.

NBC had Don Pardo introduce their show as “Live…from New York, it’s Saturday Night”.

Remember that?

When Cosell’s show tanked after the first season, NBC had Pardo change the intro to, “It’s Saturday Night Live!” and that’s the way it’s been ever since.

I got to work with Don one more time in 1995 when I was starting a new creative production company in Toronto with two partners.  I wrote the demo for the company with Don in mind.  Called the same agent he’d had in ’86 and booked another session.  Flew to New York again.  Same nice guy, maybe a little slower than before, but still as sharp as a sharks tooth.  He read the script over once, went into the voice booth, said ‘roll tape’ (even though we were using DAT by then, it was technically still tape) and did the entire script in one take.  There were a couple of pick up lines I needed, but that was it.  It took him no more than 15 minutes.  Same $1000 fee too.

Don Pardo was one-of-a-kind.  A legendary voice that’s been part of the entertainment world for more than 70 years.  So Don, for all those years of outstanding work for NBC, “Jeopardy”, “Saturday Night Live” and to those of us who appreciate great talent…I have only one final word…”Goodnight!”

=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.

One Response to “Doug Thompson: “THE DAY THE MUSIC DIED””

  1. Doug Thompson Says:

    In the research I did on Don Pardo, two articles (that had interviewed him) mentioned that he only missed one Saturday Night Live show because he’d broken his hip. In one of the video interviews with Don in my piece, he says he had laryngitis and couldn’t do the show. Personally, I’ll side with Don’s version. He never lied to me before.

    Recently (Oct 9th), the nominating committee of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame announced a list of candidates for 2015. Once again, Bob Crewe was not on that list. Seriously, N.W.A. and The Marvelettes (Great Motown group, but they didn’t write anything or produce anything. They just sang.) deserve to be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame next year and Bob Crewe doesn’t? Holy crap, Jann Wenner, give your head a shake and then kick your own ass for being so obtuse.

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