Monday, January 9, 2012

New Oldies - Ballad Of Billy Brown by Mort "Doc" Downey Jr.


  1. Here's some additional information from a music historian friend of mine that makes it clear there was no known connection between Downy Records and Morton Downey Jr., aside from both being located in Downey, California at that time, of course.

    Gary Myers wrote: "Many interesting things on your blog. Joe. However, re: Downey Records, as you probably know they were in Downey, CA and I strongly doubt any claim of connection to Morton Downey. The location that had been the home of the label became an oldies store run by Tom Wenzel, the brother of the guy who produced the records. It was a great store (about 3 mi from where I now live), but Tom retired several yrs ago and passed away not long after. The name of the record store was Wenzel's Music Town and, IIRC, there was a sign on the side of the bldg that said something like "Home of the Chantays". (BTW, you may also know that Barry White was involved in a release on Downey)."

    Thanks, Gary! Gary Myers, by the way, wrote a couple of great reference books about Wisconsin bands of the 1950's and 1960's called Do You Hear That Beat and On That Wisconsin Beat. I highly recommend both to anyone who would like to research records from Wisconsin, or if you'd just like to reminisce about the little bands you might have heard while growing up in Wisconsin. These books are extremely thorough and well organized!

  2. "Ballad of Billy Brown" came out on two labels -- Magic Lamp and Cadence -- and the Cadence promo reveals that the female voice belongs to Harvie June Van.

    Downey was an extremely controversial and polarizing figure, while working at WFUN in Miami in 1965. He also dove head-first into the local band/record scene, which resulted in payola charges. The whole mess (including his involvement with "Don't Bring Me Down" by H.M. Subjects/The Montells, and his battle with WQAM's Charlie Murdock) is detailed in my book, "Savage Lost: Florida Garage Bands, The '60s & Beyond".

  3. I've heard about that reference to Harvie June Van, but it doesn't really make sense. At that time, Harvie June was singing Country songs in Nashville and married to producer Bob Ferguson. She lived in Tennessee her entire life, and still lives there today (age 71). I'm going to Nashville next month. If I can, I'll look her up and see if she can confirm this. Is it possible the Cadence pressing credited the wrong person? I mean, how would Harvie June have anything to do with a record pressed in a garage in Downey, California?

    That's really interesting about Downey and the payola charges. I didn't know anything about that, but it sure makes sense!

  4. Have you compared Cadence 1401 with Magic Lamp 517? Could it be Mort recorded a new version for release on Cadence? If so, maybe Cadence used a recording studio in Nashville, even though they were based in New York, in which case Harvie June might have been a handy session singer. I believe I have that Cadence single somewhere. I'll dig it out and give it a spin.

  5. I just played them back-to-back, and it's the same girl on both pressings. Downey played it a lot on his show on WFUN in '65, where it peaked at #23 in February 1965.

  6. Thanks! That's good to know. I'll try to confirm that it's Harvie June when I get to Nashville next month. Somebody in the business there must know her well enough to get the answer.

  7. Downey went by the name Morton "Doc" Downey Jr. when he worked as a DJ in Cincinnati. It could have been as early as the fall of 1964, in which case it was WCPO-AM. If it was the following year or later, that station changed its call letters to WUBE. I recall hearing this record a lot in the fall of some yesr, wither 1964, 65 or 66 on WCPO or WUBE.

  8. I bet the chick speaking & singing on that song is Joanie Sommers.
    But, then again, I may be drunk.
    But, I hear very well when I'm drunk. Not sayin' I am, just sayin'...

    1. It sure does sound like her, even when you're not drunk! But, I'm almost certain it's not Joanie Sommers. When Mort Downey made this record in 1964, Joanie Sommers was already a well-established artist based in New York City. She'd already had her huge hit, Johnny Get Angry along with a few more that barely dented the charts. I'd expect that she would have been credited on Mort Downey's record if she'd actually done anything at all. Karen Carpenter's first record being on the same label (Magic Lamp) makes it far more likely she was involved. She sounds a bit like Joanie Sommers in 1966, and may have sounded even more like her in 1964. Now that we've cleared that up, let's get drunk and listen to some more records!