Monday, January 30, 2012

New Oldies - Why Am I The One by Mary Frances

Tracking down information about Mary Frances made me feel like a kitten chasing a laser pointer. I ran into way too many dark alleys and dead ends on the information superhighway. But tracking down the record itself was even more challenging. Don't believe me? Just try to find a copy of this for sale anywhere in the world. Try to find a record store, dealer, or collector who even owns a copy of it. Go ahead, I'll wait.

I needed this Mary Frances record to complete my collection of Canadian records that appeared on the 1050 CHUM radio charts in the 1950's and 1960's. Although I eventually found them all, this was one of the very last ones to join my collection. I found it in a storage unit in Canada that was filled with at least a hundred thousand 45's. Out of all those records, I only found one that I needed for my collection. This one. Both sides of this single were listed on that chart, making it a double-sided hit. It debuted on the chart on 8 July 1961, and lasted only one week at #44.


Here's Why Am I The One by Mary Frances on Chateau 123 from 1961:




Now here's the flip side of that single, Everybody's Got Somebody:



Now that I owned the record, I wanted to find out more about Mary Frances. A Google search is pretty much useless. That name is so common, you get millions of useless hits when you search for it. I assumed that 'Mary Frances' was just her first and middle names, but that doesn't help much! Eventually, I found a bit more information about her, but it sure wasn't easy.

At first I thought she might be Mary Frances Penick, the girl you know as Skeeter Davis, best known for cutting one of the most definitive 1960's oldies ever made, The End Of The World, in 1963. But it would have been impossible for Skeeter to have been the Mary Frances on those Canadian music charts. By the time the Canadian record was made, Skeeter was already working with the legendary Chet Atkins, cutting hit records in Nashville under the name Skeeter Davis, and touring the country with Ernest Tubb. Alright, that's fine. Once I figured this out, I was one step closer to my goal. I still didn't know who Mary Frances was, but at least I had ruled out one candidate.

While researching another artist, I happened upon a small news item in the 10 October 1960 edition of Billboard Music Week that mentioned Mary Frances, announcing that she had joined the regular cast of a musical variety television show called Country Hoedown on CBC (the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation). That show began in 1956 as a summer replacement for On Camera on Saturday evenings, but moved to Friday evenings when it became a regular series. It ran for nine years, ending in 1965. The host was Gordie Tapp, a Canadian entertainer who also played a couple of characters on the show called Cousin Clem and Gaylord. The show featured some of Canada's best performers on a regular basis, including Tommy Common, Tommy Hunter, the Hames Sisters, and the Singing Swinging Eight square dance group with caller Johnny Davidson. Mary Frances made her debut on that show when it began its fifth season on 30 September 1960. I found a few other mentions of her in later editions, but was only able to learn that she was a brunette. Another piece of news about her appeared in the 9 January 1961 edition. She would record several original Western songs written specifically for her by Les Pouliot, musical arranger for Country Hoedown. An article in the Montreal Gazette from 29 September 1961 noted that Mary Fran, formerly known as Mary Frances, would be returning for the show's sixth season. One final mention of Mary Fran simply listed her name in the show's credits on 13 October 1961. Whatever happened to her after that is a complete mystery to me!

Now that I knew she had changed her name, I thought that would help me find later information about her. No dice. Searching for Mary Fran produces even more useless information than Mary Frances! At one point I found an actress and singer named Mary Frances, also known as Maria Frances, and who later began using her real name, Paca Gabaldon, who appeared in several foreign films and later started appearing in Italian pin up magazines in the nude! I actually thought I'd figured out what became of Mary Frances, until I realized that in order for these two women to be the same person, Mary Frances would have had to be just twelve years old when she appeared on Country Hoedown and cut this record. That was obviously not the case. Needless to say, if anyone reading this knows anything about Mary Frances, a.k.a. Mary Fran, please let me know!

Someone named Mary Fran cut a record on D 1258 in 1964 called Tic-Tac-Toe b/w I'm Tired Of Waiting. I'm still trying to track down that record because it could be a later release by Mary Frances.

I've spent fifty years tracking down obscure records like this one. But you can enjoy them all without working so hard. Just listen to MusicMaster Oldies as often as you can. You'll hear songs from the 1950's and 1960's that you never even knew existed, and some that money simply cannot buy. If there's a record you've been trying to find for a long time, let me know. Odds are I either own it, or I can find it for you!

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