Saturday, January 30, 2010

Future Superstars

Another category of collectible records you'll hear on MusicMaster Oldies is what I like to call Future Superstars. When I first heard a new artist make a hit record back in the 1950's and 1960's, I honestly thought the band members were just born with natural talent. It never occurred to me that these hit songs might not be the first records ever made by these artists!

When The Beatles first came to America, most of the screaming girls in the stadium seats probably thought this was a brand new group who just got together to make great music. Nobody thought much about the background of these performers. Well, at least I didn't, and neither did most of my friends.

I did have one friend when I was a kid who liked to dig a little deeper and find out something about the artists on the radio. There were lots of sources for that kind of information, such as teeny bopper magazines, notes on the back of album covers, and interviews on radio and television, to name a few. But a lot of these contained fabricated information designed to promote the group and make them sound more interesting, rather than talking about how they crafted their trade. In some cases, the information on the album covers was completely untrue - made up by some record promoter to make the band look really cool. A famous example was the moody garage rock hit 96 Tears by Question Mark And The Mysterians. The record company tried really hard to keep the real name of the leader of that group a mystery. For many years, he was known only as Question Mark! We now know that his real name was Rudy Martinez, but only by looking at Library of Congress copyright registrations!

The really big teenage idols, and groups like the Beatles, would generate a thirst for information about the band members. The Beatles first hit the American airwaves around Christmas in 1963. They topped the charts very quickly. By mid-1964, almost every school girl and boy knew the names, John, George, Paul and Ringo. There were even songs written about the Beatles, which will be the subject of an upcoming post. The Beatles, of course, had been performing for more than a few years before anyone in America ever bought a single one of their records. They changed names several times, too, trying combinations like the Silver Beetles and the Quarrymen. They also backed up a lead singer named Tony Sheridan billed as The Beat Brothers.

Teeny boppers who read 16 Magazine and Teen Magazine, among others, might be able to tell you the names of all the Monkees, but many of them wasted time trying to memorize the likes and dislikes of their favorite stars, perhaps in the hopes that one day they'd somehow bump into them after a concert, fall in love, get married, and live happily ever after! They knew it would never happen, of course, but it's always fun to dream.

As the years went by, some of the new artists became superstars. We'd pick up more and more background information about them as their fame grew. But it's surprising how much information did not become common knowledge and was lost in the passing years. Google and Wikipedia can usually provide a wealth of information about your favorite artists. There are also a growing number of music historians, like me, who are busy scouring the web, tracking people down, and interviewing family members, friends and neighbors of even the most obscure performers in the hopes of learning something new about the mystery artists of the past. The amount of new information that has appeared on the web in recent years is simply staggering. Even this blog itself has become part of that explosion of new information. But even with all these people snooping around for information, and even with the amazing power of modern-day search engines like Google, there are still many artists from the 1950's and 1960's who are still a complete mystery. We know only the names of the songs they sung, the labels who hired them, and the names they used on those records; names that were often made up. Female performers can be especially elusive because many of them got married and changed their name. Even if you have some idea where they came from, there's always a good chance they moved away after dropping out of the music business.

For example, a record collector friend of mine tracked down a female singer from Wisconsin named Rose DuBatts. I don't know how he did it, but he managed to find her in Columbus, Ohio, working as a school teacher. She didn't even know that the one and only record she'd made many years ago, featuring a song called Signals From Saturn, had become a highly sought-after prize for Teener collectors around the world worth hundreds of dollars per copy. Alas, she did not keep a box full of un-played copies of her own record. In fact, she didn't even own a single one!

Listen now to Signals From Saturn by Rose DuBatts on Raynard 1014 from 1962, a fine example of a Teener collectable record!

But what about the big stars? You'd think by now we'd know every record they ever made. That's starting to be the case for some, mainly the result of information hunters who track these people down and get them to sign off on the reissue of their old recordings. In some cases, we're even lucky enough to find the original studio tape recordings, complete with chatter between the takes. If you buy a box set by the Beatles, Ricky Nelson, Elvis, and other big stars, you'll be delighted to hear these extra bits, and even some alternate takes that didn't seem good enough to the artist or producer to commit to vinyl. In some cases, these box sets come with a thick booklet that contains a wealth of background information. You might learn the dates of every studio session and the names of the studio musicians who played on every track. That can be a lot of fun too, since some of those studio musicians went on to become big stars on their own!

Most artists and rock bands who suddenly appeared on the scene had actually been working hard for many years to develop their talents. In many cases, they started out playing with an obscure band whose name you've never heard. Some of them moved from one such band to another before finally getting their big break into stardom.

Here's an example for you. Remember Gary Puckett And The Union Gap? They had a string of hit songs including Lady Willpower, Young Girl, Woman Woman, Over You, and more. Well, Gary Puckett actually started out as the lead singer of a band called The Outcasts who hailed from my new home town of San Diego, California! Listen now to a very young Gary Puckett sing Run Away on Prince 1265 from 1966. You can tell this kid's going to have a pretty decent future in the music business! If you happen to come across a copy of this record, by the way, it may sell for a couple hundred dollars.

Here are some more fun songs for you that fall into this same category!

Let's listen to Walking On The Water by The Golliwogs from El Cerrito, California on Scorpio 408 from 1964, later to become famous as John Fogerty and Creedence Clearwater Revival!

Let's try Leave Me Alone by The Canadian Squires from Toronto, Ontario Canada. This was issued in 1966 on Ware 6002. Listen for a young Robbie Robertson, who also wrote this tune, with a group later to become famous as The Band.

How about a song called When I Needed You by Chain Reaction, issued in 1966 on Date 1538. These kids from Yonkers, New York, including Steve Tallarice, went on to become famous as Steven Tyler and Aerosmith! You can tell by the guitar breaks that a bright future laid ahead for these lads!

Here's a cute tune called Dizzy Boy by The Webs of Marianna, Florida. This came out in 1962 on Heart 335. The unmistakable voice on this track is none other than a young Bobby Goldsboro!

This is so much fun! I could go on doing this for days. You can hear all these songs and at least a thousand more like them on MusicMaster Oldies. In fact, I'm still discovering and adding dozens of new ones every week!

Let's do one more. Here's the High Numbers from England doing a song called I'm The Face on Fontana 480 from 1964. These cats would soon be making hits in England and the USA as The Who!

Some Future Superstars started out as studio musicians. The producer might think a recording by a big star needed a little something extra, so a studio musician would be called in to add another track to the mix. This could be a saxophone solo, organ or piano melody, and so on. They might even call upon background singers to provide backup for the lead. Some very famous people started out as background singers!

Here are some examples of studio musicians who made it big -- VERY big, in fact!

On this track by Joe Alexander And The Cubans, you'll hear the very first appearance on record by a very young Chuck Berry on guitar! These tracks are from Ballad 1008 from 1955, a record worth at least $1500 today. These are recorded from MY copy, which, by the way, happens to be for sale! Listen to both sides, Oh Maria, followed by I Hope These Words Will Find You Well.

Here's a tune by Curtis Knight called How Would You Feel from New York City on RSVP 1120 from 1966. This is an "Answer Song" to Bob Dylan's hit, Like A Rolling Stone. Answer Songs happen when a band reacts to a hit song and records a response or parody, but I'll talk more about these in a future post. Listen to the stabbing fuzz guitar on this track played by none other than Jimi Hendrix, just before he went to England and became famous on his own!

Some of the great soul singers honed their talents singing gospel music in church. For example, the one and only Aretha Franklin began singing at her daddy's New Bethel Baptist Church in Detroit, Michigan. Her father's name was C. L. Franklin, Pastor. I think little Aretha was only 14 years old when she belted out this tune in 1956. Here she is singing Precious Lord on J-V-B 75, a 78 RPM record that I actually BROKE IN HALF by accident before I had a chance to record it. I managed to carefully push the pieces together with a touch of glue and then coaxed the laser turntable to read over the broken grooves. It skipped several times, but I was able to electronically edit the pieces together. The record was also in really bad shape, so it took a lot of digital "soap" to clean out enough of the hiss, crackle, rumble and pops to make the music easier to hear. Good luck finding another copy of this record! As you listen to this, try to imagine sitting in church on a hot summer day in Detroit. A 14 year old girl steps up to the piano and microphone and belts out this tune. People in the audience had to be frozen in their seats with chills running up their spine as they listened to her incredible range and power. You just had to know she'd one day be a superstar, and in fact, the ONLY singer who performed at the inauguration of President Barack Obama. For some really interesting reading, check out her entry on Wikipedia HERE. And now, The Queen of Soul, back when she was still just a Princess!

Sometimes the hit song you heard on the radio actually started out as an obscure record on a small local record label. The band may not have been using the same name. Once they were "discovered" by a record company, a producer or promoter would often convince them to change their name to something that might be easier for the public to remember. Next time, I'll dive into some of these tracks, along with some examples of how obscure musicians were brought together by a television producer with the deliberate intention of creating a teenage idol rock group! As it turns out, the plan worked even better than anyone expected.

I've been relocating to San Diego over the past month, which is why I've neglected to post anything new for a while. On the bright side, I'm moving away from Milwaukee, so at least I'll be writing future blog posts in a warmer climate!


  1. Excellent post! Enjoy your new town. That track by The Outcasts is ear-opening. I can't stand Gary Puckett's hits, but this early single is great. I'm also not a big fan of Aerosmith, but Chain Reaction track is very cool.

  2. Great post with some excellent nostalgia. Looking forward for more.