Friday, August 24, 2012

New Oldies - Happy Happy by Bobby Rydell

Looking over my older posts it occurred to me that I frequently spotlight an artist who has recently passed away. Today I'm going in another direction. I'm going to talk about one who was probably days away from death, but is now on the road to recovery.

Bobby Rydell was born Robert Louis Ridarelli on 26 April 1942 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He set out to be in show business before he even started school. Inspired by Gene Krupa, he was playing drums when he was only six. Just a year later, seven year old Bobby appeared on a TV talent show called Paul Whiteman's TV Teen Club. He won first place and spent the next few years working with Whiteman, a 60 year old musician who headed up a very successful dance band in the 1920's. He became a regular performer on that show. Along the way he changed his name, later joining some local bands in his home town. At local nightclubs around Philadelphia, young Bobby would entertain the guests with impersonations of famous TV stars, such as Johnny Ray, Louis Prima, and Milton Berle. While still attending Bishop Neumann High School in south Philly (now known as Neumann-Goretti), Bobby played drums with a group called Rocco And The Saints which also featured a young Frankie Avalon on trumpet. He and Frankie became best friends and are still close to this day. Another kid from the old neighborhood known simply as Fabian was another of Bobby's friends.

He made his first solo record in 1958, a song called Happy Happy released on Venise 201:

I apologize for the inferior audio quality of the flip side of this record. My copy of this rare platter has a lot of scratches on both sides, but much more on this side. It's a fairly obnoxious novelty called Fatty Fatty:

Happy Happy was issued again in 1958 on Veko 731 with a different song, Dream Age, on the flip side:

Neither of these records made the national charts, but they did earn Bobby a contract with Kal Mann and Bernie Lowe's Cameo records in Philadelphia.

His first single on that label, Please Don't Be Mad backed with Makin' Time, was issued in the summer of 1959 on Cameo 160. Both songs escaped the charts, despite the fact that the topside was an awesome group record:

Bobby followed this up with a couple more Teenage Idol attempts, For You For You backed with All I Want Is You, on Cameo 164. He finally landed a hit with his next record, Kissin' Time (USA), which went to #11 in June 1959.

Bobby toured Australia a year later with The Everly Brothers, Marv Johnson, The Crickets, The Champs, and Billy "Crash" Craddock. For the tour, he recorded a different version of Kissin' Time for the Australian market. The original version never charted Down Under, but with the new lyrics it climbed to #7 there in November 1961. This version was never released anywhere else. Here's Kissin' Time (Australia Way) on Columbia 4235:

Here's an interesting bit of Bobby Rydell trivia for you. While Paul McCartney and John Lennon were sitting on twin beds in a hotel writing She Loves You in May 1963, Bobby Rydell's last big hit, Forget Him, was a #13 hit in England, but it hadn't caught on yet in the states. They liked the way the backing chorus would "answer" Bobby in that song and wanted to do the same thing in She Loves You. The idea was for Paul and John to sing "She Loves You" followed by everyone singing "Yeah Yeah" immediately afterward. After trying it that way, they decided it wasn't a very good idea and a couple hours later had changed it to the smash hit everyone knows.

Bobby recorded a fun "answer record" for his 1963 album, Top Hits Of 1963. It's actually a cover of a song that was first recorded as an instrumental called Chariot by Franck Pourcel in 1961. Lyrics were first added in 1962, turning it into a European hit for Petula Clark called Chariot, which she sung in French. She also recorded a German version called Cheerio. You probably know the song best as I Will Follow Him by Little Peggy March, which became a #1 hit on Billboard's Hot 100 in January 1963. Bobby's cover changes the lyrics again, very slightly, so he could sing it from a male perspective.

Here's I Will Follow Her by Bobby Rydell on Cameo LP 1070 from 1963:

Here's the original French version, Chariot by Petula Clark on Vogue EP 8000 from 1962:

And here's the German version, Cheerio:

While we're on the subject, here's Little Peggy March singing I Will Follow Him in perfect Japanese:

Ricky Nelson took a different approach when he sang the song on TV as I Will Follow You:

Nearly all the hits issued on the Cameo-Parkway labels featured the same backing musicians led by Dave Appell, who liked to use up to four saxophones on his rock and roll sessions. Blowing those tenor horns were Buddy Savitt, George Young, and Fred Nuzzolillo (using the name Dan Dailey). The guitar work was handled by Dave himself, or Joe Renzetti. Bob McGraw or Joe Macho played bass. At the keyboards you'd hear Fred Bender or Roy Straigis, although co-owner Bernie Lowe would take over for Charlie Gracie's recordings. Ellis Tollin or Bobby Gregg worked the drums.

Here's another interesting bit of trivia about Bobby Rydell. Did you know that, despite putting more than a couple dozen songs on the charts, he never had a number one hit on Billboard's Hot 100? Nor did he score a chart-topper in any other part of the world. It's true. His biggest hit, Wild One, only peaked at #2 in February 1960. That's amazing when you consider that he placed 19 hits in the Top 30 from 1959 to 1964, many of which became million-sellers.

This next piece comes from a very strange 45 that was actually issued as a bonus record in the same 1963 album that included I Will Follow Her. One side of this record featured the song Forget Him, which at the time of this album's release had been a #13 hit in England in May and June of 1963. The song would become a #4 smash hit for Bobby in the states in late December 1963 and early January 1964. But it's the other side of this record that's most interesting. This is called A Message From Bobby, and it features Bobby just talking about what was going on in his life at the time. It's a wonderful glimpse into the past, and into the world of rock and roll from the perspective of a true Teenage Idol.

Here's A Message From Bobby by Bobby Rydell on Cameo 1070 from 1963:

Here are just a couple more interesting YouTube clips:

In March 2010, Bobby, who suffers from diabetes, missed a show because he wasn't feeling well. Bobby was forced to cancel his Australian tour this year when his health problems suddenly became much more serious. He was in urgent need of a new liver and kidney. In fact, his doctor told him he probably had less than a month to live. Just six weeks ago, Bobby underwent a 20-hour double organ transplant at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital in Philadelphia. During his hospital stay Bobby's old friend, Frankie Avalon, called to let him know that he'd gone to church and prayed for him. He's back home now with his second wife Linda Hoffman, who is also a nurse, and recovering very nicely. He met his first wife, Camille Quattrone, in 1968 and they had two children together. They were still married when Camille died of cancer in 2003. He married Linda on 17 January 2009. Bobby and his doctor will work together to raise awareness of the critical need for organ donors. For updates, check out his official website at

There are nearly one hundred Bobby Rydell songs playing right now on MusicMaster Oldies. This includes his duets with Chubby Checker and the duet he sang with Ann-Margret when he starred in the movie Bye Bye Birdie.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

New Oldies - Special Date by Scott Ross

Scott Ross

Here's proof that there's still more buried treasure waiting to be found in those boxes of old vinyl records that live in dusty attics and garages across America! While helping a good friend clean out her dusty garage in Dallas, Texas, we stumbled upon several custom pressings and a couple acetates that were recorded by her late husband, Scott Ross. There were a total of fourteen different recordings, and I hadn't heard any of them before. In fact, I didn't even know they existed. That's a bit unusual, considering the fact that I've seen millions of records in my life!

Listen to Special Date by Scott Ross on Capitol Custom 2593-2594 from 1959:

The artist is Scott Francis Ross, born on 6 October 1936 in the Queen of Angels Hospital in Los Angeles, California. Scott was named after his father, Scott Cunningham, who died just two years after he was born. Scott's very lovely mother, Ruth, was a private nurse. She eventually got remarried to a doctor named Donald Ross and young Scott Cunningham became Scott Ross. Scott's new step-father had started a medical group called Ross-Loos Medical Center in 1929 with his partner H. Clifford Loos, whose younger sister Anita Loos created the book that became the movie Gentlemen Prefer Blondes starring Marilyn Monroe. The Ross-Loos group is famous for being the very first Health Maintenance Organization (HMO) in the country. Needless to say, Dr. Donald Ross became a very rich man.

Scott (left) checking things out in the control room.

Raised in the Catholic faith, Scott attended Loyola High School in Los Angeles. Scott and his friend John Valenzuela somehow ended up dating the same girl at the same time. Her name was Harma. She must have mixed up her schedules and invited both of them to pick her up for a date on the same night. Scott and John came to her front door at exactly the same time. When Harma's father told her there were two gentlemen here to see her, Harma must have freaked out! John Valenzuela ended up marrying a girl named Nancy who's sister was Patricia Ann Priest, one of the girls who played Marilyn on The Munsters. Scott would later become Godfather to John and Nancy's two children.

After graduating from high school in 1954, Scott attended the University of Arizona to study business administration. This didn't sit well with his step-father, who would have preferred that Scott follow in his footsteps and become a doctor. But Scott had a passion for business and a natural talent for sales. While in college, Scott picked up the nickname "Hollywood" from his friends. He drove around in a Cadillac convertible that his parents bought for him. A college buddy of Scott's from Texas named John attached a huge set of bull horns to Scott's car to give it a "Texas" look.

The chorus that provided backing vocals on Scott's records.

Scott's parents lived in the Los Feliz area of Los Angeles up near Griffith Park. It was an area known as "Pill Hill" because so many doctors lived in that neighborhood. They lived at 2227 Chislehurst Drive, about a mile northeast of Hollywood and Vine. After graduating from college in 1958, Scott returned to Los Angeles. He cut these records in late 1958 and early 1959, probably with the hopes of landing a recording contract with a major label.

The oldest record I found by Scott is an acetate made at the Gold Star Studios located at 6252 Santa Monica Boulevard in Hollywood just west of Vine, the same place where Brian Wilson and The Beach Boys recorded the album Pet Sounds, Ritchie Valens recorded La Bamba, and Phil Spector perfected his "Wall of Sound" production technique. The second acetate was cut at Radio Recorders located at 7000 Santa Monica Boulevard in Hollywood. This was considered the finest studio in Los Angeles at the time and was used extensively by several major labels including Capitol, Columbia, RCA Victor, and Decca. You might have heard of some of the folks who recorded there, such as Charlie Parker, Elvis Presley, Frank Zappa, Jimi Hendrix, The Carpenters, Louis Armstrong, and many others. The acetates were both 78 RPM pressings.

By my estimation, the first 45 RPM single Scott made was pressed on the Audio Arts label. The rest of his records were pressed on the Capitol Custom label. When you listen to all fourteen songs, you can clearly hear his voice mature and the production quality improve. It's clear from these recordings that Scott had a wonderful voice. The backing musicians did a superb job as well, and I think I know who they might have been.

Red Callender (real name George Sylvester).

Scott's 45 RPM recording of Special Date credits Red Callender as the arranger. Red's real name was George Sylvester, and he was an incredibly talented double bass player who could also blow a mean tuba. He played for Louis Armstrong back in the 1930's and mentored Charlie Mingus. Around the time Scott was making these records, a trio of very fine African American musicians were working as studio musicians at Gold Star Studios, none other than the legendary Ernie Freeman on piano, René Hall on guitar, and Plas Johnson on saxophone, who recorded Sax Fifth Avenue under the name Johnny Beecher in 1963 that reached #65 on the charts. There's a very good chance that these three gentlemen, with help on bass from Red, laid down the backing instrumental tracks on Scott's recordings!

Ernie Freeman (Far right seated at the piano below)

René Hall (seated with guitar below)

Studio musicians working on Scott's records.

Scott's later records definitely had hit potential, but there's a good chance they were overlooked because he sounded a bit too much like many other hit makers at that time.

Scott working out his arrangements with Red Callender.

Would you like to hear a few more of Scott's recordings? Here's My Little Annette by Scott Ross on Capitol Custom 2593-2594 from 1959:

Here's Trip To Chicago by Scott Ross on Capitol Custom 2593-2594 from 1959.

Here's Write Me One Letter by Scott Ross on Capitol Custom 2121-2122 from 1959:

Here's Peppermint Sticks And Penny Balloons by Scott Ross on Capitol Custom 2121-2122 from 1959:

My guess is that this record is the one Scott was banking on to be a hit. Here's Satisfied by Scott Ross on Capitol Custom 2123-2124 from 1959:

Scott wasn't quite in the Teener groove when he laid down this early track. Here's Jerry by Scott Ross on Audio Arts 140 from 1959:

The audio quality on this one isn't the best. That's because it came from a 78 RPM acetate. On both of acetate discs I found, Scott had covered the track on one side with white tape with the words "Do Not Play" written on it. I was able to carefully peel off the tape and remove a lot of the glue, actually getting these damaged records to play well enough to record. This song, a cover of St James Infirmary by Scott Ross, was on the undamaged side of his Radio Recorders acetate, probably from 1958 or 1959:

There were two different versions of both Special Date and Satisfied. An earlier version of Special Date was issued on Capitol Custom 2123-2124 and also on this acetate and featured a backing chorus. I think the later one without the chorus is much better. The earlier version of Satisfied on the Gold Star acetate is a completely different mix with more of a jazz arrangement.

Scott landed a job with Disney's Buena Vista Records around the time he made these records. During his time with Disney, he rose to become National Sales Manager.

A&M Records was started by Herb Alpert and Jerry Moss in 1962. It was first called Carnival Records, but quickly changed when they learned of another label using that name. Scott Ross was hired by the company and worked his way up to West Coast Sales Manager. When A&M Records first started, Jerry Moss asked his friend Nate Duroff, owner of the Monarch Pressing Plant in Los Angeles, if he would be willing to give him $35,000 credit so he could press 350,000 of their initial platters. Nate agreed to help his friend. Nate Duroff and Scott Ross also became very good friends. A lot of people in the business thought that A&M Records would be a flash in the pan and that Herb's Tijuana Brass would be unlikely to score more hits. But they hung in there and made it work. They picked up some great artists along the way, too, such as The Carpenters, Supertramp, and Cat Stevens.

Around 1969, Scott bought a boat and joined the Balboa Bay Club in Newport Beach, California. It was there where he met his future wife, Melanie James. Scott was 33 at the time and Melanie was only nine years old. Scott had a lot of girlfriends, but he was particularly fond of Melanie. Scott's friends would often ask him why he wasn't married and he'd always reply, "I'm waiting for Melanie!" When Melanie turned 19, she and Scott were married on 22 September 1979. Scott and Melanie raised two daughters, Amanda and Bridget.

Nate Duroff (L) with Scott Ross (R) at the wedding of Scott and Melanie.

Scott left A&M Records to become West Coast Sales Manager for Warner-Elektra-Atlantic Records in November 1970. Just five months later, Elektra opened a huge new studio office building complex.

Scott and his co-workers are mentioned in Billboard Magazine on 27 February 1971.

At some point, Scott began working with MGM Records where he had a hand in the promotion of Candy Man by Sammy Davis Junior, The Osmonds, and many others. The gold records found in his garage attest to the fact that Scott really loved music and did an excellent job promoting and selling records.

Scott with The Osmonds.

Scott with Sammy Davis Junior.

In 1974, Scott became West Coast Sales Manager for Nate Duroff's Viewlex-Monarch pressing company in Los Angeles. At the time, due to an Arab oil embargo, Viewlex was having problems getting enough plastic needed for their vinyl record pressings.

Source: Billboard Magazine 16 November 1974.

In late 1986, a Japanese joint-venture of Mitsubishi and ElectroSound Group began building a large compact disc and record pressing plant in the Dallas suburb of Plano under the name Memory-Tech. When they bought out Viewlex-Monarch in 1988, Scott stayed with the new company, but he was forced to relocate with his family to Texas. Memory-Tech was later purchased by an Australian company called Disctronics, which also used the names DiscUSA and U-Tech. In May 1995, the company became involved in a huge lawsuit alleging that Disctronics, Sony, Philips, Discovision and Pioneer had conspired to monopolize CD production and manufacturing. That lawsuit was finally settled in 1999 following a four-year legal battle. At some point during all this, displeased with the new management, Scott left the company to become head of operations for the Dallas National Golf Club.

In December 2009, Scott Ross was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Eventually he got too sick to continue working. He passed away on 13 August 2010 at age 74 and is buried Forest Lawn Cemetery on Harry Hines Boulevard in Dallas.

Now I've told you just about everything I could uncover about Scott Ross. You might wonder how I happened to be cleaning out his garage when I stumbled upon these rare records and photographs. Well, it turns out that Melanie Ross and I met a few months ago and began dating -- and now you know "The Rest Of The Story!"

If you were in the record business and knew Scott Ross, maybe you can add some details to his story. We'd love to hear from you. By the way, all fourteen of the songs Scott Ross made have been added to the rotation on MusicMaster Oldies. Listen long enough and you'll hear his entire catalog. Melanie Ross may even consider selling some of these rare platters at some point -- for the right price!

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Jessie Garon's Talented Twin Brother

It's been 36 days since my last blog post and I've been feeling guilty about that for at least a month. My only excuse is that I've been on the road nearly all the while, including the annual pilgrimage some friends and I make on our way to the radio broadcaster Conclave in Minneapolis. That's when me and four friends get together, rent a big car, and drive a thousand miles or so across America looking for eclectic musical history sites.

It all started with my visit to the farm where Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and The Big Bopper died in a plane crash over 60 years ago. After telling my friends about the almost religious experience, we all decided to go there together. We visited the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake Iowa, the last place the world got to hear Buddy Holly sing. If you've never been there, it's absolutely worth going out of your way to see.

In later years we've visited the crash sites of several other members of music history, including Ricky Nelson, Jim Croce, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Otis Redding, and Chase, each time seeking out people from the area who could tell us more about what happened. We've seen parts of the airplanes that carried Ricky Nelson and Lynyrd Skynyrd on their final flights. People who were there told us stories about what happened, including many details that you just won't find anywhere else.

We've also visited other musically significant places, such as the Dan Fogelberg memorial in Peoria, including the infamous grocery store he sang about in Same Old Lang Syne, his old high school, and the house where his mother still lives to this day.

We've seen many of the more traditional tourist attractions as well, such as Graceland, Sun Studios, Beale Street, The House On The Rock, the Louisiana Hayride auditorium in Shreveport, along with the homes of rock stars, radio stations, record collectors and used vinyl record shops.

We spent a lot of time at Dealey Plaza in Dallas trying to recreate the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in our minds. We've also watched several baseball games along the way, including that Texas Rangers game in Arlington when Shannon Stone, a 39-year old firefighter, fell out of the upper deck to his death while trying to catch a fly ball for his son. We've eaten a lot of great local food, too, including barbecue all over the south, Chicago pizza and hot dogs, Milwaukee frozen custard, and even paid a visit to the Jelly Belly factory in Wisconsin.

This year we started in Cleveland with the Rock And Roll Hall of Fame. From there we went to Detroit to see the house where Motown was born, along with the church where Aretha Franklin sang gospel songs to her father's congregation. We listened to live music in Indiana where Dweezil Zappa played his father's music (extremely well!) We went to a basement club in downtown Chicago to experience the blues scene in person. We've also watched the Milwaukee Brewers lose a game in what should have been the very last pitch.

Next year we're thinking about Nashville where we'll find the place where the airplane carrying Patsy Cline, Cowboy Copas, and Hawkshaw Hawkins crashed back in 1963. While there, I'm sure we'll stop by the Station Inn for another evening of great music from The Time Jumpers! Or, we might make a California swing looking for the place where John Denver crashed his experimental airplane, along with the apartments where Art Linkletter's daughter jumped to her death, or the places where Sam Cooke and Marvin Gaye were shot and killed. There's also the place where James Dean crashed his car, or the street where Jan Berry of Jan And Dean crashed his car near the spots they sang about a couple years earlier in Dead Man's Curve. There are so many other similar places that I'm sure we'll never hit them all in just one trip.

You may be wondering if we're obsessed with death when you hear about all the crash sites and other morbid stuff. Yeah, maybe we are a little guilty of that. On the other hand, many of these places are unmarked and difficult to find. It's a challenge to track them down, then find people who are kind enough to let us onto private property and share stories with us about what happened. We've learned a lot from these expeditions! We're trying to assemble all the photographs we've taken during these trips. I'll share some of the better ones with you in future posts. Here are just a few of them.

A piece of the wreckage of Ricky Nelson's airplane in DeKalb, Texas.

The Peoria grocery store Dan Fogelberg sings about in Same Old Lang Syne.

The exact spot on the Alpine Valley ski resort where Stevie Ray Vaughan died in a helicopter crash on 27 August 1990. I had tickets to this concert but there was an emergency at the radio station and I decided not to go. I remember telling my assistant, "I'll catch him the next time he's here."

A view of downtown Madison, Wisconsin, from the tiny memorial site where Otis Redding and members of the Bar-Kays died when their plane crashed into Lake Monona on 10 December 1967.

My friends and I standing outside the Motown house and museum in Detroit. From left to right: Bill Barr, Keith Hill, Dave-O Thompson, Shane Finch, and me.

But I digress. I wanted to take a moment to recognize another rock and roll icon who died tragically. Elvis Aaron Presley passed away at his Graceland home in Memphis on 16 August 1977, just four days shy of 35 years ago. Elvis had a twin brother, Jessie Garon, who was stillborn. I can't help but wonder what Jessie might have done had he lived. What if he had the same kind of talent as his brother? He might have been the original Elvis impersonator. Or, maybe the King's concerts would have been duets!

Elvis was born on 8 January 1935 in a two room house in Tupelo, Mississippi. His parents, Vernon and Gladys, moved to Memphis in 1948 where Elvis attended Humes High School. He graduated in 1953, the same year I was born. In 1954, Elvis visited the Memphis Recording Studios, home of Sun Records, for the first time to record a song called My Happiness as a gift for his mother on her birthday. Here is that recording:

His last recording session, done in October 1976 in the Jungle Room at Graceland, produced four final songs: It's Easy For You, Way Down, Pledging My Love, and ending with his cover version of the ironically titled, He'll Have To Go. A few overdubs later, that song was released. He was working on another song called Fire Down Below at the time, but never laid down the vocal track for it. That's the Elvis hit we'll never get a chance to hear, at least while we're down here on Earth.

Rest in Peace, Elvis.