Tuesday, October 30, 2012

New Oldies - Is It Time by The City Squires

(Top L-R) Gus DeAngleo, Jim Brickner, Jerry Colvin.
(Bottom L-R) Bill McCracken, Greg Burnett

The City Squires got started in 1963 as The Jaguars (named after the car) when a couple of 12-13 year old kids from the southern Cleveland suburb of Parma, Ohio, decided to get together and form a garage rock band. The original members were 13 year old Jim Brickner on guitar and 12 year old Roland Solomon on bass (who reportedly had the gift of perfect pitch). They added a drummer named Tom Sitzler. A few weeks later, Tom Kent from nearby Middleburg Heights came on board to handle lead vocals and rhythm guitar. Shortly afterward, drummer Tom Sitzler split from the band and was replaced by Tom Kent's friend, Dale Zack.

The Jaguars took their act to the streets and gathered up some fans. In June 1965, inspired by one of the biggest local band at the time, the guys decided it was time to cut some records. So they hooked up with The Baskerville Hounds manager, James M "Jimmy" Testa, and got into the Audio Recording studios to lay down some tracks. They recorded a cover of Jenny Jenny by Little Richard, and a couple of original tunes, including one Jimmy Testa wrote called Laurie and an instrumental penned by Roland Solomon. Jimmy Testa messed around with some interesting production techniques on that instrumental and ended up giving it a new name, Russian Ho-Ho. Jimmy convinced the guys to change their name to The City Squires and pressed up a couple hundred copies of Jenny Jenny b/w Russian Ho-Ho on his Tema label. (I know this is hard to believe, but I don't happen to own that record! If you know where I can get my hands on a copy of Tema 136, or at least a recording of these two songs, I'd love to hear from you! I'd especially love to hear that orphaned recording of Laurie.)

Just one year later, in June 1966, the guys were back in the studio recording three tracks, Child Of Our Times, I Want Your Girl, and Parma Polka, which was inspired by local Friday night horror movie host Ghoulardi (Ernie Anderson) on WJW-TV 8 who used to love picking on that suburb for it's Polish population, which he referred to as "A Certain Ethnic" population, and the pink flamingo statues found in front yards all over the city.

Parma Polka was more of a rocking polka, partly inspired by the song Gloria by Them, where the band spells out P-A-R-M-A instead of Gloria's name, and riffs from other current hits such as Day Tripper by The Beatles and Time Won't Let Me by Cleveland's Outsiders. They made an acetate pressing of Parma Polka b/w I Want Your Girl and gave it to Ghoulardi for possible use on his show, along with the many other cool records he liked to use which included Who Stole The Keeshka by Frankie Yankovic His Yanks. But Ernie Anderson was leaving Cleveland for a very successful voiceover career in Los Angeles, to be replaced by Big Chuck and Hoolihan, with Hoolihan later being replaced by Little John. A guy named Ron Swede, who called himself The Ghoul, picked up much of Ghoulardi's schtick when he began hosting movies on Saturday afternoons on another station. The Ghoul made extensive use of the Parma Polka on his show. (Again, I don't have a copy of this recording, but I'd love to get one. It may have been credited to The Esquires instead of The City Squires, but I'm not certain of that. I'd especially love to hear the flip side of that acetate, I Want Your Girl, which I hear is a garage rocker featuring some nice guitar work by Jim Brickner and a melody similar to Beg Borrow And Steal!)

Co-founder and bass guitarist Roland Soloman left the band and was replaced by a guy named Greg Burnett from The Canterburys. Greg could play sax and trumpet and was a good vocalist, but he really had to fake his way along as a bass player. The City Squires were a bit upset by the way things were going so they decided to break up for a while. A few months passed before Jim Brickner and Greg Burnett assembled a new band. Still using the name The City Squires, they joined forces with another band from Parma called The Set LTD, which included Jerry Colvin on keyboards and Gus D'Angelo on bass. They also picked up Bill McCracken from the Canterburys to handle the drums. Greg Burnett became the lead singer for the new City Squires and also got a chance to pick up his sax and trumpet for a change.

Practice makes perfect, and boy did these guys practice together! They became close friends and practiced together several hours every day. After practice, they might go out for a gig that same night and play together for several more hours! What if you throw a party and nobody comes? That's what happened one night when the City Squires were booked together with The James Gang at a place called the Painesville Armory just east of Cleveland. The event was hosted by a disc jockey from WIXY 1260 in Cleveland, but only a few people showed up! The guys decided to do an extensive jam session together.

The City Squires built a repertoire of over 500 songs. Fresh out of High School, they played at places as far west as Cedar Point, as far east as the clubs of Erie, Pennsylvania, and many places in between, including the Playboy Lounge, and the Columbia Ballroom. They became members of the Cleveland Musicians Union, which paid off for them on occasion when a club owner would try to stiff them on their fees. The guys put on a heck of a good show. They'd do some crazy stuff like auctioning themselves off for a dance with the girls who could scream the loudest. Sometimes Greg would take over playing the other guys' instruments, including the drums, right in the middle of a song without missing a beat!

They made their way back into the recording studio in 1967 to record Is It Time and Lonely Boy. Here's Is It Time by The City Squires on Tema 141 from 1967:

And here's the flip side, Lonely Boy:

Both songs got some spins on Cleveland radio and ended up selling several hundred copies around town. They also got a chance to lip sync to Lonely Boy on Big Jack Armstrong's TV show. The show's producer accidentally started the record at the wrong speed and the guys frantically tried to make it work anyway. Big Jack made them suffer by keeping it going at 78 RPM for an uncomfortably long time. During that same recording session in 1967, Jim Brickner wrote a theme song for the band and put it on a record for use every time they opened or closed one of their shows.

After an argument in 1968, Jim Brickner left the band for a few weeks. The rest of the guys got together and did a gig at Cain Park using the name Pye Jones And The 28th Day Ragtime Band, probably a takeoff on Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.

They went on to write and record even more songs, gradually getting even better and better over time. In 1968, drummer Bill McCracken was replaced by Pete Naster, then by 15 year old Bob Dillinger. In 1969, ABC Records got hold of their demo and the result was a visit by Bill Symzyck and a four-single recording contract. However, the label felt that the name City Squires sounded too dated and turned them into The Gregorians. The band wasn't thrilled with the new name, so it was only used on one record, a tune called Dialated Eyes b/w Like A Man.

Here's Dialated Eyes by The Gregorians on ABC 11225 from 1969:

To promote this record, the guys did an interview on WMMS-FM, which was a new progressive rock station in Cleveland at the time (and where I would end up working a few years later).

The band finally called it quits in 1970. Greg Burnett went into the Air Force. Richard Solomon played bass for the Baskerville Hounds for a while, then got back together with Tom Kent in a band called Raintree, which also featured Bob Dillinger on drums.

Jim Brickner, Greg Burnett, Roland Solomon reunited in 1979, pulling in Doug McCutcheon from The Baskerville Hounds on keyboards and Tom Napier on drums. They played some local clubs for a while, but didn't make any more records.

A lot of the music you'll hear on MusicMaster Oldies came from records that were big hits in just a single city back in the 1960's. I've found many of these records by traveling all over the world and visiting as many vinyl record stores and record shows as possible. I've also collected a whole bunch of radio station surveys. Songs that appear on these surveys that never appeared on the Billboard Hot 100 national charts are often very good. In most cases, they simply never got the promotion needed to launch them into the national spotlight back in those days before the Internet leveled the playing field for local talent and allowed them to publish their own material for the whole world to enjoy. Still, it's all about promotion. The world may be able to hear your songs on YouTube or buy them on iTunes, but people still have to find them first! You'll hear thousands of local and regional hits on MusicMaster Oldies. It's like taking a trip around the world in a a time machine!

Sunday, October 21, 2012

New Oldies - Mystery Girl by Billy Cook

Billy Cook was born William John Cook on 25 August 1942 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. His mom and dad, Daisy and Billy, along with his sister Peggy, all lived in a big house in Lester, Pennsylvania. Just like me, Bill was a big fan of gangster movies starring James Cagney, and television shows like The Untouchables. Bill graduated from Bishop Neuman High School in Philadelphia in 1960.

Bill also loved to sing, but he liked dancing even more. As a six foot tall teenager with sandy blonde hair and blue eyes, he landed a job as one of the top dancers on Dick Clark's American Bandstand. His unique dance style was a wild and almost mesmerizing spin on the classic Jitterbug. Although he personally preferred being called Bill, everyone on the Bandstand team always called him Billy. He had dreams of becoming a Broadway dancer one day, although few of the fellow dancers on the show shared that ambition. On one of his American Bandstand appearances, Billy had to endure a really short haircut. He wasn't thrilled with the way it looked and couldn't wait for his hair to grow back.

Billy made just one record, but it's a good one. This side sounds commercial enough to have become a hit back then. It's from the Lawn label, a subsidiary of Swan Records in Philadelphia.

Here's Mystery Girl by Billy Cook on Lawn 204 from 1963:

And here's the flip side, This Little World (Has A Moon Has Stars And You):

While working with Dick Clark, Billy frequently danced with Barbara Levick and Pat Molittieri. He and Pat became close friends and stayed in touch with each other for many years.

Pat Molittieri also made a really nice record of her own a couple of years before Billy made his record. It's about dancing, of course! Here's The USA by Pat Molittieri on Teen Magazine 414 from 1961:

Billy also got to know a lot of teen singing idols through his work on Bandstand and ended up becoming friends with Johnny Tillotson from Jacksonville Florida.

Here's one of my very favorite Johnny Tillotson records. This song peaked at #42 on the Billboard Hot 100 after hitting the charts on 18 January 1960 and staying there for 14 weeks. It did slightly better regionally, going to #25 on 1050 CHUM in Toronto and #31 on Cashbox.

Here's Why Do I Love You So by Johnny Tillotson on Cadence 1372 from 1960:

You can read more about Billy Cook and all the dancers on American Bandstand in a great blog called The Princes And Princesses of Dance. They've even put a video clip on YouTube featuring Billy Cook.

Of course, you can also hear Billy Cook's record, Pat Molittieri's record, and ALL of Johnny Tillotson's records on MusicMaster Oldies. While you're listening, feel free to roll up the rug, kick off your shoes, and dance like you're on American Bandstand!

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

New Oldies - South To Louisiana by Johnnie Allan And Krazy Kats

Today's New Oldie fits squarely into the category called Answer Songs on MusicMaster Oldies. This is a parody of the 1960 Johnny Horton hit, North To Alaska.

Johnnie Allan was born John Allan Guillot on 10 March 1938 in Rayne, Louisiana. He was the son of a sharecropper, so he and his brother worked on the family farm. His Great Grand Uncle was Joseph Falcon, a legendary Cajun accordionist. The young Cajun sold seeds to earn money to buy his first guitar. His mama taught him how to play it. By the time he was 13, he got together with a classmate named Walter Mouton and started a band called The Scott Playboys, playing pure Cajun music at clubs around Louisiana, like the Colonial Club in Esterwood. He got hold of a pedal steel guitar and taught himself how to play it, eventually earning him an invitation to join another Cajun group called Lawrence Walker And The Wandering Aces. He was only 16 years old. He was bitten by the rock and roll bug after watching Elvis Presley perform live on the Louisiana Hayride show. He and a couple of band mates split from Lawrence Walker's band to form their own band as The Johnnie Allan And Krazy Kats. Johnnie's background in Cajun music, blended with his new love for rock and roll and rockabilly music, helped pioneer a brand new musical style that became known as Swamp Pop.

His first record was called Lonely Days Lonely Nights on the Jin label with Floyd Soileau who, as a junior in high school, was already doing a Cajun music show on KVPI in Ville Platte, Louisiana. Johnnie followed this up with another single called Letter Of Love, both records enjoying regional success along the Gulf coast. After graduating from high school in 1956, Johnnie attended the University of Southern Louisiana in Lafayette. He graduated in 1961 and began working as a school teacher. But, just six weeks into that job, he was called up in the National Guard and shipped off to Berlin to prevent the Soviet Union from cutting off Allied troops as the Berlin Wall was being built. When he returned to Louisiana, a song he recorded with the Krazy Kats before leaving called Your Picture was getting local airplay on the radio. Johnnie hooked up with promoter Bill Hall and "Crazy Cajun" record producer Huey Meaux in an attempt to capitalize on the local success of Lonely Days Lonely Nights. The song was reissued on MGM 12799, but it just missed getting enough national attention to make the Billboard charts. He tried again with a song called Unfaithful One on the Viking label. When this didn't work out either, he went back to work with Floyd Soileau.

In the late 1960's, Johnnie took two years off to complete his education, earning a master's degree at McNeese State University in Lake Charles. He became the principal at Acadian Elementary School in Houma, Louisiana, until his retirement in 1981. A Cajun accordionist named Bessyl Duhon persuaded him to revive the Krazy Kats in 1970, resulting in a Swamp Pop version of Chuck Berry's Promised Land. He and Floyd filled the clubs across southern Louisiana. Johnnie loved to collect photographs and write about the Southern Louisiana and East Texas Cajun Country music scene. He wrote a book called Memories, A Pictorial History of South Louisiana Music 1920s-1980s. Later, he wrote a second book called Born To Be A Loser which told the story of a cult favorite singer and songwriter named Jimmy Donley. Last I heard, Johnnie settled in Lafayette, Louisiana, and hosted a Swamp Pop music show on local KRVS Radio for several years.

Now let's test your ability to understand Cajun-English! I'll get you started by telling you that the first line of this song is, "South to Louisiana, to the town of Thibodaux." That town, by the way, is located about 50 miles south of Baton Rouge, and 40 miles west of New Orleans, smack in the heart of Cajun country on the Louisiana Bayou. The lady he's singing about is Norine Collins and she still lives in Jeanerette, Louisiana today.

Here's South To Louisiana by Johnnie Allan And Krazy Kats on Viking 1015 from 1961:

Here's the flip side, a nice Country tune called If You Do Dear:

This song appeared on an album in 1964 on Jin 4001, along with several other of his previous recordings.

This may sound a bit strange, but if you really want to have some fun, trace the eastern border between Louisiana and Mississippi on a map. That has to be the most complicated state border in the United States. It wanders back and forth across the river, looping deep into Mississippi to capture a couple of nice lakes here and there!

You'll hear music from every part of the United States on MusicMaster Oldies, along with tunes from all over the world. Tune in and enjoy the trip!