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Christmas at Easter

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Happy Easter my friends! Something a little peculiar today, but something that seems perfectly suited to these peculiarly topsy-turvy times we’re living through currently… a Christmas record about the Easter bunny, from Californian country-western label Canary.


Canary was one of two labels set up by songwriter Earl Miles around 1966. First came Canary – named apparently after the birds that Earl kept – and then the mostly spoken-word offshoot Yellow Bird. The company held a registered office in Redwood City, California but recorded the majority of their material in Nashville (at the Monument Studios) because, as Earl explained, ‘Our artists are all local people, but we want the authentic Nashville country flavor’. At some point in the 1970s, Earl decided to amalgamate, and the company’s sole label became Canary Yellow Bird.


What sets Miles apart from most song-poem/vanity projects is that, initially at least, Miles had some money behind him and was able to employ some decent talent. Kentucky-born but San Francisco-based park ranger and part-time singer Durward Erwin recorded several sides and an album, Mod and Country, for Canary, and some of those tracks were picked up by the Irish company Emerald (distributed by Decca in the UK) for release here in dear old Blighty, and short-lived Philips imprint Nashville for release in Britain and in Germany. Erwin/Miles sides were even issued in New Zealand.


Sadly, despite some success for Miles via Erwin, including the almost-charting single A Girl Named Sorrow, Canary failed to take flight. Mod and Country (issued in 1967) and its related 45s would be about as close as he would come to success.

(A little aside: according to Erwin’s own website, he wrote and paid for the songs on Mod and Country to be recorded: of the 12 songs on the album eight are credited to Earl Miles, three to Grace Tindall and one to Gertrude Faith. At first, I thought that Erwin and Miles could have been one and the same person, but apparently not, although according to later Billboard reports it does seem that Erwin was a shareholder in the business). 

By 1969 money must have been running out, and instead of using talent like Erwin, he was relying on family members to record for him. Linda Rae Miles (his niece?) issued several sides for Canary Yellow Bird; further releases featured the ‘steel guitar artistry’ (that’s how it appears on the label) of one Smiley Miles, who also acted at Linda Rae’s personal manager. My assumption is that Smiley was either Earl’s brother or cousin. As far as I am aware it was not a nickname for Earl himself, and a 1969 newspaper article seems to confirm that Smiley and Earl were two different people.


That same year Earl coughed up the moolah to record a cable TV pilot, Canary Ranch, featuring Erwin, Bobby Wyld, Smiley and Linda Rae singing and playing some of his songs. Canary continued for a few years, but with no hits coming Earl decided to diversify, setting up a country records distribution company and artists booking agency from his office in California in 1971. In 1973 Canary relocated to Portland, Oregon. That same year Linda Rae released what appears to have been the last 45 issued by the company, The Christmas Bunny backed with The Christmas Bunny (Interview), promoting the release by performing in the Palo Alto branch of Macy’s department store.

Earl Miles passed away in 1998, leaving his daughter, Doree, one of the children who appears on The Christmas Bunny (Interview), to look after his legacy.  


Here are both sides of the fabulous Christmas Bunny 45. Enjoy!


Download Bunny HERE


Download Interview HERE


What a Blast!

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Usha Uthup is my new jam, as the kids might say.


Indian singer and actress Usha - or Didi as she is known to her fans - was born in 1947 to a policeman father and a well-red mother and was raised in Mumbai: her two elder sisters had their own vocal act, the Sami Sisters. Although she had no formal training in music, when she was nine years old her sisters introduced her to Ameen Sayani, then the most popular radio announcer in India. Ameen gave Ushu a spot on the popular Ovaltine Music Hour on Radio Ceylon, where she sang Mockingbird Hill. Other radio appearances followed.


Usha began to pursue a professional singing career in 1969, at the Nine Gems nightclub in Madras. ‘It used to be in the basement of the Safire theatre complex,’ she told The Hindu newspaper in 2019. ‘There’s magic about Madras; there’s a buzz I get every time the plane lands here’. Her recording career around 1972, singing in more than thirteen Indian languages and dialects, including Hindi, Punjabi, Bangla, Gujurati and Tamil, and ten foreign languages:  French, German, Italian, Sinhalese, Swahili, Russian, Nepalese, Arabic, Creole, and of course, English. She has appeared in around 50 Bollywood movies, both on-screen and providing the vocals for other actresses.


According to Usha’s website, she has recorded more than a hundred albums in seventeen Indian languages, sung in several thousand concerts, performed in all major countries and has been on television since its inception in India. Usha has served as a role model for generations of young Indians and has been an unwavering ambassador for traditional Indian values. She has always worn a sari (kanjeevaram), fresh flowers in her hair and her beaming smile has won her many fans. She’s still appearing in movies, and making concert appearances, today after more than a half-century in the business.


Her 1984 album Blast Off! is just insane. For this collection Usha wrote the music, with the off-kilter lyrics provided by Abidur Rahman. I implore you to check it out: Blast Off! is beyond wonderful, with a peculiar mix of shredding electric guitar, great Indian beats, the occasional scat vocal (Usha does a great Cleo Laine), cheesy 70s keyboards, the odd splash of reggae (on Chewing Gum Lips), a Christmas song and a plea to Moses to give her his ‘stick’!


From Blast Off! here are my two favourite tracks: is the magnificent Welcome, Test Tube Baby and the bonkers Lucy Was Crucified, which deals with the taboo subject of unwanted pregnancy. The whole album is an absolute joy.


Enjoy!


Download Baby HERE


Download Lucy HERE

Kay L. Gale: Composer-Singer

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When I began writing this I couldn’t tell you a lot about Kay L. Gale, the woman behind today’s bagful of badness. However, by happy coincidence, someone else decided to blog about Kay at exactly the same time… that’s serendipity for you! It would be unfair of me to repeat too much of the information on her that the Hometown by Handlebar blog has gleaned, so if you’d like to know more about colourful Kay from the people who knew her I suggest you go take a look HERE 


Kay L. Gale came from Fort Worth, Texas and appears to have released these tracks sometime in the 70s: my guess would be around 1976/77 when the entire country was undergoing bicentennial fever, although How I Love That Flag was originally registered in 1971 as How I Love That Flag, Red White and Blue. Songwriting was clearly only a sideline though; Kay sold newspapers for a living outside the Fort Worth courthouse, and was a popular fixture there, always smiling and always happy to sing you a song – especially if you paid her a couple of bits.


It seems that she had been trying to make it as a songwriter and singer since the early 1950s: she registered the copyright in her first songs, Drivin’ Through Texas and You Won a Heart Yesterday in 1951, and in January 1953 she paid for an advert in trade magazine Billboard advertising her wares as composer and singer and using the Leland Hotel in Fort Worth as her address. My fellow blogger tells me that she was paying $7 a week to live at the hotel in 1960: I guess that seven years prior to that the rent must have been significantly cheaper.


1971, the year she wrote How I Love That Flag, was a busy year for our Kay: she registered copyright in no less than 11 further songs: Come Into My Heart, Fairy Tales for Children, I Love That Bright Green Christmas Tree, If Christmas Could Come to Every Heart, I’m a Poor Poor Peon (The Peon Song) [a derogatory term for a Spanish-American day labourer or unskilled farm worker], It’s Christmas a Happy Christmas Because Someone Loves You, Love Sweet Love, Nickel Beer and Free Lunch, Silver Dollars, The Things That Love Can Do and When God Is With You.


Not a lot happened on the songwriting front for Kay until 1976 when, perhaps in a fit of concern perchance over someone nabbing her work or possibly because she had just recorded her first single, she suddenly decided to copyright another seven songs, including several patriotic anthems, under the name Kay L Millions: Beautiful Are the Roses, The Beautiful Land of the Free, Grand Old Liberty Bell, Tears In My Heart and What a Wonderful World Would Be and Your Love Is Sunshine to Me. She also registered another batch of seven compositions the following year, this time under her given name: Amigos, Fort Worth, Gold Dust,It’s Time to Hear Again ‘A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year’, Just Say ‘I Love You’, The Things That Love Can Do (again),andThat Old-Fashioned Hayride. The fact that Kay chose to re-register The Things That Love Can Do leads me to speculate that she may well have recorded this song around the same time as Fort Worth Texas (notice the subtle change of name), which appears as an extra track on the download version of Irwin Chusid’s Songs In the Key Oz Z Volume Two.


Kay died in November 1983, sadly leaving no relatives. Luckily she left us a couple of amazing 45s. Here are three of the tracks from Kay’s two known 45 How I Love That Flag, the Team Song of the Dallas Cowboys and Fort Worth Texas. If anyone has that missing fourth track (possibly The Things That Love Can Do) I would be eternally grateful!


Enjoy!


Download Flag HERE




Download Cowboys HERE




Download Texas HERE




Not So Much A Dream As A Nightmare

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Today’s disc comes to you courtesy of my good friend, fellow Sheena’s Jungle Room DJ and oddball music enthusiast Rich Lindsay, host of the excellent Cratedigger’s Lung. I knew nothing of its existence until I opened up my email yesterday morning, but it the story behind it is so fascinating that I could not wait to share it with you. This is a long read but bear with it… it’s worth it.


Celebrity-obsessed con artist, all-round good time gal and mother of four Bonny Lee ‘Leebonny’ Bakley was shot twice through the head, aged just 44, in 2001 near Vitello’s, a restaurant in Studio City, California as she sat in the passenger seat of her 10th husband’s car. That husband, Robert Blake, is not exactly a household name here in the UK, but in the States he was a major star, having appeared in films and on TV since childhood, most notably in 40 Our Gang shorts (initially under his real name, Mickey Gubitosi) for MGM in the 1940s, and numerous hit films in the 50s and 60s – including Pork Chop Hill (1959), Town Without Pity(1961), Ensign Pulver (1964), The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965) and In Cold Blood (1967). In the mid-70s he cemented his star status by taking on the lead role of street-wise, plain clothes police detective Tony Baretta in the internationally popular television cop series Baretta.


Born on 7 June 1956 in Morristown, New Jersey, Bakley, whose sole goal in life was to marry someone rich and famous, was alone in the car at the time of the shooting, Blake having returned to the restaurant to retrieve a pistol that had fallen from his waistband. They sure do like their guns in America, don’t they? In a strange move, on discovering his mortally wounded but still breathing wife he ran to the nearby house of a friend to summon help, rather than straight back to the restaurant.

Blake had suffered with both depression and alcoholism. Bakley had a track record that included stints in jail, fraud charges and a reputation for running various scams to con money out of gullible older men. She had attempted to trap Jerry Lee Lewis into a relationship, turning up at his family home in Memphis and later claiming that the child she gave birth to in 1993 was his (it was not, despite Bakley giving the baby the name Jeri Lee Lewis). His sister, Frankie Jean Lewis would later claim that Bonny pushed her way into the living room holding a cassette recorder that was playing striptease music. ‘She takes off her blouse and peels down her stockings,’ she said. ‘It was good. She said, “I’d like to meet your brother”. So I got Jerry on the phone and I said, “Jerry, we got us a real live one here”. And he said, “Send her up”. That’s what he always said.’


Her pursuit of The Killer kept up even after he and his family moved to Dublin. Although she seemed intent on causing trouble between Lewis and his sixth wife, Kerrie (apparently issuing the real Mrs Lewis with death threats), Bonnie became close friends with Jerry Lee’s sister Linda Gail, herself a musician who later claimed that she had been in a relationship with Van Morrison, taking him to a tribunal over ‘sexual misconduct and unfair dismissal’. After three years she withdrew her claims and apologised to Van, who had always denied all of the allegations. According to Linda Gail, Bonnie Lee ‘was a nice person, but she did some unusual things… She also had an affair with my now ex-husband, who’s an Elvis impersonator.’ Nothing like keeping it in the family.


Bonny Lee, who also used the names Bonnie and Leebonny, tried to break into acting – according to IMDB she makes an uncredited appearance in the 1985 film Turk 182 and in Woody Allen’s Radio Days (1987) - and also fancied herself as a singer. She is known to have recorded at least four sides. The first coupling, Just a Fan backed with Let’s Not Dream, although hard to find, definitely does exist, and you could purchase a copy, complete with a photograph of ‘Miss Leebonny’ by answering an advert in the personal column of Amazing Science Fiction magazine - ‘Girl singer wishes correspondence’ – and sending her five bucks. It seems that Bonny had 100 copies pressed on her own Leebonny Records label. I cannot find a release for the second pairing, Tribute to Elvis Presley and Rock-A-Billy Love: although they are often mentioned books and articles about her, all information about them comes from one source.


When these attempts at stardom failed she set up a company, United Singles, Inc., which sold nude photographs of herself through the mail and operated a lonely hearts scam, advertising for companions and then, using various aliases, extracting money from them with hard luck stories. She had tried to finagle herself into Dean Martin’s affections but managed little more than a quick snapshot with him before he died. Apparently she also set her sights on Frankie Valli and Gary Busey. Bakley was arrested in 1989 for drug possession and again in 1995 for fraud. Three years later she was arrested again, this time for using a number of fake IDs.


She married at least 10 times. The longest-lasting of her marriages was to her first cousin, the father of her first three children – after the DNA test he was also found to have fathered Jeri Lee. Five of her known marriages ended in annulment within days of the ceremony; the last would end in death. One of those annulled marriages was to Baptist minister Glynn Wolfe, the world’s most married man with 31 marriages and 100 children to his credit. Another was to a man called Erik Robert Tellefsen (real name Robert Stuhr), a musician who – according to the book Blood Cold: Fame, Sex, and Murder in Hollywood by Dennis McDougal and Mary Murphy – issued an album on his own (and, frankly, obscure) Norway USA record label featuring both Tribute to Elvis Presley and Rock-A-Billy Love, although I cannot find any such album listed anywhere else on the internet.


Bonny Lee met Blake in 1999, while she was dating Marlon Brando’s son Christian. Officially the couple met in a rundown jazz club: according to Blake’s attorneys he did not even know the name of the woman he had sex in the back of a truck with. Bakley became pregnant and told both Brando and Blake that her baby was theirs, initially naming the child Christian Shannon Brando. After DNA tests proved that Blake was the biological father of the child the pair married, and their daughter was renamed Rose Lenore Sophia Blake.


But this as not a marriage in the traditional sense. Blake inserted a clause in their marriage contract, insisting that she stop fraternising with known felons and demanded that she bring an end to her dodgy business dealings. The pair never lived together: Bonny Lee and her kids sharing a house on Blake’s estate instead. Five months after the marriage, Bonny Lee was dead.


In April 2002, almost a full year after her death, Blake was arrested and charged with Bakley’s murder. Police alleged that he had her executed because he felt ‘trapped in a marriage he wanted no part of’. Blake’s bodyguard, Earle Caldwell, was also arrested and charged with conspiracy in connection with the murder, and retired stuntman, Ronald ‘Duffy’ Hambleton, agreed to testify against him, alleging that Blake tried to hire him to kill Bakley. A second retired stuntman, Gary McLarty, came forward claiming that Blake had attempted to contract him to murder his wife. Blake claimed that it was not he but Christian Brando who had her murdered.


The trail was broadcast on national television, garnering comparisons to the O.J. Simpson case. On 16 March 2005, Blake was found not guilty of murder and not guilty of one of the two counts of solicitation of murder. The other count, the solicitation of McLarty, was dropped when the jury could not come to a unanimous decision. Los Angeles District Attorney Stephen Cooley, commenting on this ruling, called Blake ‘a miserable human being’ and the jurors ‘incredibly stupid’ to fall for the defence’s claims. On the night of his acquittal several fans celebrated at Blake’s favourite haunt — and the scene of the crime — Vitello’s.


Bakley’s three eldest children filed a civil suit against Blake, asserting that he was responsible for their mother’s death, and in November 2005 a jury found Blake liable for wrongful death and ordered him to pay the children $30 million. His legal team appealed, filing evidence that suggested that Christian Brando may have indeed been responsible for the murder. 

The following February, Blake filed for bankruptcy. 

According to testimony Bakley had continued to claim Brando was the father of her child. Brando had form: he had already served a five year prison term for the manslaughter of his sister’s boyfriend. Brando’s friend Dianne Mattson told the court that she overheard a phone conversation between Brando and someone named ‘Duffy’ in which there was discussion about putting a bullet through Bakley’s head. A tape-recorded conversation between Brando and Bakley was played to the jury; in it Brando stated, ‘You're lucky. You know, I mean, not on my behalf, but you’re lucky someone ain’t out there to put a bullet in your head.’ Despite this, the appeals court upheld the civil case verdict, but cut Blake’s penalty assessment in half, to $15 million.


Blake continues to deny any involvement in the murder of his wife. Rose, their daughter, was taken into care and raised by Blake’s eldest daughter, Delinah and her husband, bestselling author Gregg Hurwitz. Christian Brando died in January 2008, taking any information about his involvement in the murder of Bonny Lee Bakley to the grave with him. In April 2010, the state of California filed a tax lien against Blake for more than a million dollars in unpaid taxes. Seemingly broke, and unable to find work, in 2017 he wed for the third time, although his marriage to Pamela Hudak – who had testified on his behalf during his trial - lasted for little over 18 months, the actor filing for divorce in December 2018. The one bright spot in this whole torrid affair is that Rose – who was just 11 months old when her mother died - seems to have grown into a well-adjusted young lady, who did well in school, made lots of friends and lives quietly with her boyfriend.


And so ends the sad story of Bonnie Lee ‘Leebonny’ Bakley.  Luckily, we have her 45 to comfort us. Here are both sides, Just a Fan which – in the light of the way her life panned out seems awfully prescient – and Let’s Not Dream.


Enjoy!


Download Fan HERE





Download Dream HERE


Sing It Again, Jim!

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Avuncular, cardigan-wearing tenor Jim Noste would no doubt have loved to have been the Val Doonican of New Jersey, if only he knew who that was.


Born in Newark, after serving his country in World War II, in 1948 James C. Noste founded the business that would consume the rest of his life. A graduate of Montclaire State University, he began trading in home improvement supplies in 1948, before opening the doors on his store in 1953. Jim would spend almost half a century ‘at the helm of one of New Jersey’s most successful and reliable Home Improvement Center’ (according to the sleeve notes of his second LP Jim Noste in “Songs For You” Album Two), remaining the boss (“Mr Home”, as his desk nameplate proudly boasted) until his death in March 1997. Although much of Jim’s day was spent running the Island Home Center, he also made time for others; in the early years of the business he continued to teach business studies part-time at the Somerville High School, and in his later years he was a volunteer at the Cornell Hall Nursing Home and Rehabilitation Center in Cranford and at other nursing homes in the area.


Selling everything from windows and doors to power tools and furniture Noste’s business, the Island Home Center, was so named because it was situated on an island in the middle of Route 22. But home improvement was not enough for our Jim: fancying himself a bit of a song stylist, sometime towards the end of the 70s or early 80s he booked time at Shelby Singleton’s Studio in Nashville, Tennessee (not the Sun studio in Memphis, as you may read elsewhere: Singleton bought Sun from Sam Philips and moved the whole business to Nashville sometime before Jim went there) to record a bunch of jazz standards and popular songs, with the idea of giving albums away to his regular customers. His Sun sessions yielded material enough for his debut LP Jim Noste in “Songs For You”. At some point not too long afterwards he took part in a second session, this time at Powerplay Studios, to record his second opus, Jim Noste in “Songs For You” Album Two.That particular album was mastered at New Jersey’s Trutone Records and featured mostly local talent, including Dave la Rue, bass player with rock band Dixie Dregs.


Incidentally, Irwin Chusid’s ­Songs in the Key Of Z book mentions three albums but, so far, I have only been able to find evidence of two albums and a cassette version of the second with an alternate sleeve.


Very much a family concern, after Jim’s death the business was taken over by his son, James J Noste: sadly, after more than half a century of serving the local community the Island Home Center is now closed for good. He was survived by his wife, Lee, their three children, and his two (or possibly three) fantastic albums.


Here’s Jim senior with a couple of examples of his art, one from each album. From , Jim Noste in “Songs For You” it’s We’ve Only Just Begun and, from , Jim Noste in “Songs For You” Album Two, the opening track Blue Heaven Medley.


Enjoy!


Download Begun HERE


Download Heaven HERE

Surprise!

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A couple of tracks today from the gloriously off-key Edna Mae Henning, pianist, empress of Henning Surprise Records and songwriter of the most authentic country-western songs you’re ever likely to hear.


What do we know about Pennsylvania housewife and outsider musician Edna Mae? Not a lot, actually. Born Edna Mae Wynegar, it appears that she had been bitten by the songwriting bug by the early 1970s, registering copyright for her compositions If You See My Baby, It’s Love, Love, Love and Walking and Talking Over You in 1973. She would later record If You See My Babyfor her debut EP, released in 1979. Edna Mae would go on to issue at least five self-financed 45s and a couple of EPs between 1979 and 1988 (by which time Henning Surprise Records had simplified their name to Surprise), and in 1985 was placed third in the ‘over 21s’ group in a local talent competition.


In the late 1980s, having had no success with her recordings, despite having sent thousands of free copies to radio stations across the States, she fell victim to one of those unscrupulous ‘print your poetry for cash’ schemes. Operating for decades, these scams work in exactly the same way as song-poem enterprises, only this time instead of getting a few copies of a recording for your money, Edna instead saw her poem Abortion (yes, it’s exactly what you would expect) printed in a volume luxuriating in the title Great Poems of the Western World Volume II in 1990. It seems that Edna Mae decided not to cough up the few extra bucks to have her photograph included alongside her words. Three years later the publishers of that book went bankrupt.


I believe she’s still with us, still living in Pennsylvania, surrounded by children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Apparently Edna was still recording her own compositions as late as 2011 and, according to a post on the Waxidermy blog back in 2008, claimed at that point to have penned some 10,000 songs.


I love the sound of her discs: the upright piano and yearning vocals put me in mind of barroom ballads of the old West. I picture her in Victorian garb, lots of lace, banging away at a honky-tonk piano in the corner of the room while cowboys and prospectors drink, gamble and brawl, Edna Mae occasionally ducking out of the way of a flying bottle or stray bullet, valiantly playing on.


From her debut EP, issued in January 1979 (which, just to confound discography compilers, has the company credited Henning’s Surprise Records on the A-side; the flip features no apostrophe), here’s Mama, Forgive Your Truckin’ Man and, from the topside of her 1985 single, I Can’t Get Over You. 

For this, Edna moves from piano from her trusty upright to an odd-sounding synthesised keyboard: it’s her ‘Dylan goes electric’ moment.


Enjoy!


Download Truckin’ HERE




Download Get Over HERE


Erica Sang

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 The name Alice Armand may not mean much to you, but if you’re a fan of 1930s cinema the chances are you’ve seen her face.


Born on 15 December 1890, as Erica Herrmann, and known to her family as ‘Ricky’, when she was still a teenager she married a New York policeman, becoming Mrs Erica Newman.


It was as Erica Newman that she first struck out for fame. After appearing in several Broadway shows, she arrived in Hollywood at the dawn of the Talkie era. Erica appeared in a couple of movies (including The Girl Habit with Paulette Goddard) and several shorts, including a musical showcase for singer Rudy Valee at Paramount in 1929, and a Jack Haley short (1930s the 20th Amendment), but found it hard to compete, so returned to New York where she took up modelling. 

But acting was in the blood, and seven years later Charles Goetz signed her to 20th Century, in the process changing her name to the slightly more exotic Alice Armand.


By the time she got her second crack at Hollywood Ricky was already in her late 40s, far too old for the ingénue roles she once longed for. Instead, she was cast in a variety of minor character roles, as a secretary, a model, a clerk. Her biggest role came in the 1940 bio-pic Lillian Russell, playing one of Russell’s sisters. That same year she appeared in two Shirley Temple vehicles, the hit fantasy the Blue Bird and Young People, Temple’s last movie for 20th Century Fox, who allowed the future diplomat’s contract to expire aged just 12 years old. Sadly, the did the same to Ricky: she would not appear in a Hollywood movie again.


Leaving any hope of stardom behind her, she and her husband retired to a small farm in the Adirondacks, to be nearer to family, and the couple lived a quiet, contented life, Aunt Ricky enchanting her nephews and nieces with tales of her life in Hollywood.


Erica Sings, her one and only album, appeared around 1960. Self-recorded, self-financed and self-distributed, Alice even created her own company, Erica Records and handcrafted the sleeves, gluing a vintage photograph of the actress in her Hollywood heyday to the front of the cover.

It’s a thoroughly bizarre and rather wonderful album and, from the subject matter, I would imagine that she wrote the songs over a prolonged period. Over 14 tracks, Ricky sings her own self-composed songs, plays Hawaiian-style guitar and even drags her brother in to sing on one song. Recorded in the family home, the songs have a wonderfully old-fashioned, almost ethereal feel; she would have been close to 70 when these recordings were made.


Erica, or Alice, passed away in January 1964.


Here are a couple of cuts from this magnificently odd – and rare -record, the delightful Mommy Do They Shine Up Shoes In Heaven? and the ghostly To Hawaii’s Shore.



Download Heaven HERE




Download Hawaii HERE



Camp Records

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Happy Pride month everybody! To celebrate I thought I would relate the story of one of the oddest – and queerest - record companies of all time, Camp Records. If you have read the World's Worst Records Volume One or David Bowie Made Me Gay then much of what follows will be old hat to you: but bear with... or simply scroll on down to the two tracks at the foot of the post!


In the dark days before the Stonewall riots and the Wolfenden report you would never see LGBT people portrayed in a positive way in the media. Certain gay stereotypes (especially that of the effeminate man) were routinely exploited as source material for comedians, and camp characters often appeared in movies and on TV. LGBT people were used to being ridiculed, but away from prying eyes, a gay subculture sprang up: an underground social network where men and women conducted their lives away from the public and the police. LGBT people had their own places to go, their own language to use and their own entertainment to enjoy – from the politically subversive to the outrageously arch. 


In 1959 the American men’s magazine Adam began a series of stag party albums. There appear to have been about a dozen, put out by the Fax Record Company – a company that specialised in sex in its many forms. These discs, by mostly-anonymous performers, usually featured a mix of ribald songs interspersed with slices of blue humour, although they also issued a series of documentary-style albums, including Nights of Love on Lesbos, which was subtitled a Frankly Intimate description of a Sensuous Young Girl’s Lesbian Desires. Sold under the counter in specialist shops and through adverts in men’s magazines, these albums spawned many imitators, including those issued by the British company No Holds Barred, with many companies eager to jump on the bandwagon. It’s here, in the land of slightly risqué mail order, that the Camp label was born.


Although in the strictest sense the modern-day use of the word camp derives from the French se camper (to pose in an exaggerated fashion) this flighty, limp-wristed aesthetic got its name from the acronym KAMP, an effeminate man who was Known As a Male Prostitute. The actor and comedian Kenneth Williams wrote that ‘To some, it means that which is fundamentally frivolous, to others the baroque as opposed to the puritanical and to others – a load of poofs’ (The Kenneth Williams Diaries, edited by Russell Davies, Harper Collins 1993) and he should have known: the closeted Williams and his out companion in comedy Hugh Paddick (who spent the last 30 years of his life with his partner, Francis) made a bona little living, thank you very much, as the über- camp Julian and Sandy, stalwarts of the hit Brit radio show Round the Horne.


Originating from a company called Different Products Unlimited in Hollywood, California, Camp Records (run by the elusive E. Richman) specialised in producing gay-themed novelty records which they advertised, under the banner ‘racy . . . ribald . . . madly gay . . . way out!’ in the back pages of publications such as Drum: Sex in Perspective (a revolutionary magazine from the Janus Society with a national circulation of around 15,000), One and Vagabond, a mid-’60s catalogue aimed exclusively at gay men. Mail-order businesses that specialised in gay and lesbian books, such as Washington DC’s Guild Book Service (run by gay publishing pioneer H. Lynn Womack), San Francisco’s Dorian Book Service and Philadelphia’s Lark Publications also carried stock of the discs. The releases were, naturally, ‘shipped postage paid, in sealed plain package’. Described by their own press releases as ‘wilder, madder (and) gayer than a Beatle’s hairdo,’ Camp Records issued ten 45s. None are dated, but according to correspondence on the company’s headed notepaper, the first two releases (the single Leather Jacket Lovers and album The Queen Is In The Closet) were issued around July 1964. What is certain is that no new releases appeared from the company after late 1965. The material typically consisted of parodies of well-known songs with their lyrics rewritten to reflect a camp sensibility – I’m So Wet (the Shower Song) is a rewrite of the French folk song Alouette; London Derriere is a rewrite of Danny Boy (or Londonderry Air, geddit?) – or new songs in various styles including rock ‘n’ roll (I’d Rather Fight Than Swish and Leather Jacket Lovers), Sinatra-style crooner-pop and Latin jazz. 


Depending on how you view these things these records are charming period pieces, badly dated Carry On-style comic cuts or complete anachronisms of a thankfully-bygone age.  Lispy, wispy and fey, and about as sophisticated as a hammer blow to the head the humour, such as it is, is broader than the backside of the average McDonald’s customer. The lyrics comically portrayed homosexual subculture using broad stereotypes, gay slang and double entendres. Where artists are credited their names are jokey: Byrd E. Bath & the Gay Blades, Sandy Beech, The Gentle Men. The name Rodney Dangerfield crops up on several releases, he’s even credited as performing the tap-dancing solo on Homer The Happy Little Homo (‘a daring, madcap romp right from the pansy patch,’ went the advertising blurb for that particular oddity), but this is a pseudonym that had been in popular use for at least three decades prior to its appearance in the Camp catalogue, not the late Jewish comedian who found mainstream fame in frat house flicks in the 80s. Jack Benny had used the same name for a character on his 40s radio show.


It’s no surprise that the performers and producers of these discs were happy to go about their work uncredited. In fact, it was important that the entire operation was kept as anonymous as possible in order to avoid trouble: the company was operating in a time when the production of recordings like these could lead to arrest for possession and distribution of obscene material. Different Products were only contactable via a PO Box number: Richman kept an office on Hazeltine Avenue, Van Nuys, but no address or telephone number appeared on the company’s letterhead.


Camp Records also released two full-length LPs: The Queen Is In The Closet, which consisted of ten songs culled from the singles, and Mad About The Boy, a collection of ten popular torch songs which would usually be sung by a woman but recorded instead by a male vocalist without changing the song's gender. This produced what the album’s sleeve notes called ‘a wonderful potpourri of love songs done in a most unique way’ and, unlike the rest of the releases on the label, this album eschewed the campness for a much more ‘straight’ approach.


‘The primary reason for doing this album,’ the anonymous author of the sleeve notes wrote ‘was to prove that good songs could and should be sung by everyone. Gender should not be the determining factor as to who should sing what.’ A bold statement for the time. Two years before Mad About The Boy was issued, a similar album, Love Is A Drag, had appeared on the Lace Records label, featuring 12 songs including The Boy Next Door, Can’t Help Lovin’ That Man and, of course, Mad About The Boy. The cool, sophisticated torch song singer on Love Is A Drag (subtitled For Adult Listeners Only: Sultry Stylings By A Most Unusual Vocalist) was finally revealed (by LGBT archivist JD Doyle) as Gene Howard (born Howard Eugene Johnson in Nashville, Tennessee), a straight, married professional singer who had worked with a number of big jazz names including Gene Krupa and Stan Kenton.


No performers are credited on the two Camp albums, although the sleeve notes to Mad About The Boy– and flyers issued by the company - allude to some pretty big names being involved in what, for them, would have had to have been a covert project: ‘Unfortunately, we are not at liberty to give credit to the arranger and the many gifted artists involved in this production. However, to those with a discerning ear, you will recognise the stylings of some very fine and well-known personalities. Our male soloist is a delightfully gifted young man, whose name unfortunately must be withheld at this time. The vocal group used in this production is make up (sic) of four of the better known Hollywood T.V. and screen personalities. Here again, we are not at liberty to reveal true names.’ The front cover of Mad About The Boyfeatures illustrations from another Different Products item, a desk calendar called Roy’s Boys: E. Richman and his co-conspirators seem to have felt that using these images would made the album appeal to an audience already familiar with Julie London’s 1956 album Calendar Girl.


Very few copies of these records were pressed: even fewer have survived the past half-century. Luckily JD Doyle,  curator of the Queer Music Heritage website (www.queermusicheritage.com), has collected all of these recordings together and made them available once again.


Here are a couple of Camp classics – Stanley the Manly Transvestite and Florence of Arabia. Enjoy!


Download Stanley HERE




Download Florence HERE



Tinkle Tinkle Dash Dash Dash

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queermusicheritage.com
One of my all-time favourite records is the fey, fun Let’s All Be Fairies, issued in early 1933 by Durium records and recorded by the little-known Durium Dance Band. the song was composed by Algy More, writer of comic songs including We All Go Oo, Ha, Ha! Together (recorded by Jack Hylton) and Ever So Quiet.


Durium records differed from the norm, which in those days was the brittle shellac disc. These were made of a sturdy brown paper base coated with Durium, a lightweight synthetic resin discovered by a Dr. Beans of Columbia University. Flexible and with a high melting point, Durium was particularly useful as a protective varnish on aeroplanes.

The company claimed that their records were unbreakable, and that 'accidental scratching or dropping, even hitting with a hammer does not damage the playing qualities of a Durium record'. 

These one-sided, 10" square records (usually containing two songs) were sold in newsagents, inside a sealed envelope, for a shilling: the reverse of the disc was either left blank or occasionally contained an advertisement: by mid-1933 this was replaced with a photograph of the featured artist. New Durium records were issued every Friday. The company, which operated in the UK for just 10 years, was a subsidiary of the US company Durium Products Inc., which specialised in quick knock-offs of current pop tunes on this unusual flexi-disc hybrid under the label Hit Of the Week.

Most of the artists who recorded for Durium did so anonymously, mostly because they were under contract elsewhere. We shall probably never know who the vocalist on Let’s All Be Fairies is, but my best guess is that the Duriam Dance Band in this instance are in fact members of the Roy Fox Band, with trumpeter Nat Gonella on vocals. It seems that, in 1932, while Fox was being treated for pleurisy in Switzerland, the band recorded several sides for Durium without his knowledge. When he found out he was furious, and after a major row the band split up, with Lew Stone taking control of the majority of the original line-up, and Fox forming a new act. In June 1932 Lew Stone was made MD of Durium Records in the UK: surely more than a coincidence?  


However, this is only my opinion. Comic artist and composer Leslie Sarony also recorded a version of Let’s All Be Fairies for the Imperial label; the singer’s inflections are very similar to Sarony’s, and it is perfectly possible that he is handling the vocal, playing an exaggerated version of himself. Sarony was well-known for comic songs such as Jollity Farm, later covered by the Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band, and it’s interesting that the second song on the Fairies release was a Sarony composition, Toasts. 

There is a film clip in the Pathé archives from 1932 of Leslie Sarony performing Toasts, complete with a little tap dance solo. See what you think.


One of the things I find fascinating about Let’s All Be Fairies is that there are two almost identical but distinctly different versions in circulation. The first, as detailed above, appeared in 1933. A second must have been pressed at some point, possibly for export (Durium also operated throughout Europe) because it was compiled by archivist Robert Parker on the 1987 BBC Records compilation Silly Songs – which is where I first heard it.


So, here are both known versions of the magnificent Let’s All Be Fairies. I hope you enjoy the song as much as I do.


Download the original version HERE





Download the alternate version HERE


Why, Kay?

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As it’s still officially Pride month (not that any of us are able to go out and celebrate in any real sense of the word) I thought it would be the ideal time to discuss one of the more obscure – and fun - gay-themed discs in my collection.


Credited on the sleeve to The Brothers Butch, but on the disc to The Butch Brothers, the innuendo-laden Kay, Why? (titled, if you did not already know, after the leading brand of water-based lubricant, K-Y Jelly) was written penned by one Eileen Dover, a wonderfully silly pseudonym that would befit many a drag queen. There is a fairly good chance that the men behind the release had heard of California’s Camp Records, but the song itself, and the flip, I’m Not Going Camping This Winter, owe more to the British school of campery than its US cousin. This is Julian and Sandy-land, all double entrendres and limp wrists.


Who were the real people hiding behind the name the Butch Brothers, or for that matter who was Eileen Dover? Sadly, I cannot tell you. There’s not a trace of information on them anywhere. Issued in 1967, just as the law of the country was changing and finally decriminalising sex for homosexual men – assuming that those men were over 21 and only met in pairs and in private, of course - the disc appears to have been the only release from Thrust Records of 494 Harrow Road, London, now a flat above a fast food takeaway.


It’s vaguely possible that there could have been a second release from the label: a peculiar digital release of dubious origin is available from Amazon and iTunes, coupling both of these tracks with the very similar sounding The Girls In the Band and Bald alongside three other totally unconnected songs. With no writer credits or recording information available it’s impossible to know for sure, but could these tracks be by the Butch Brothers? The vocalists certainly sound the same, but sadly I can find no official release for either The Girls In the Band or Bald. Perhaps there was a second single planned or even pressed by Thrust and physical copies have yet to surface.    


There appear to have been two pressings of Kay, Why?, one – presumably the original – on a blue label with silver lettering and a four-pronged push out centre; the other (second?) pressing is on a red label with black lettering and either a solid centre or a push-out one. Both came in the same picture sleeve, and the four-pronged red label version does looks like late 60s pressing, so they may have appeared simultaneously. It is possible that if indeed there was a second pressing it was issued in late 1972: the disc was repromoted, with the sides reversed, in Gay News shortly before Christmas that year.


It’s not much to go on, I know, but that’s all I have. If anyone has the slightest idea who may be involved please do let me know.


Here are both sides of this rather fun 45: enjoy!


Download Kay HERE




Download Camping HERE


Neither of Them Are Just Soldiers

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 A real oddity for you today, a rare cover of an obscure Little Richard track, but one that has been taken to another level altogether.


The anti-war polemic He’s Not Just a Soldier was originally recorded by Little Richard, co-composer of the song as the flip side to his 1961 Mercury 45 Joy Joy Joy; it also appeared on the album The King Of The Gospel Singers: Little Richard, issued the same year. The single did not do well, stalling at 113 on the Billboard charts.


Recorded in Las Vegas, Thomas Douglas’s version, complete with an utterly ridiculous preamble, appeared in late 1969, updating the song to include overt references to America’s involvement with the war in Vietnam. When Richard recorded his version, the US were already participating in the conflict, however by 1969 protesters were demanding an end to the war and that the American government bring the troops home. It was a different world, a world that needed a different version of the song.


So, who was Thomas Douglas, the man credited for recording this, his only 45? Well, like me you will probably struggle to find much information about Mr Douglas elsewhere, because he doesn’t exist. Thomas Douglas was in fact two people, Tom Willett and Doug Rockwell and, although uncredited, the added spoken word passages must have come from the febrile minds of Tom and Doug themselves. Backed with a cover of the gospel standard He’s Got The Whole World (In His Hands), unsurprisingly this too failed to chart although, as Willett says, ‘We received a lot of airplay in Las Vegas and in some Texas markets’.


Willet also recorded several sides for Freeway, the label that put this out, under the name Herman Schmerdley and is still about today, regularly posting videos – a mix of product reviews, piano lessons and stock trading tips - on his popular YouTube channel, Featureman.


Here are both versions of He’s Not Just a Soldier… I know which one I prefer!


Enjoy


Download Douglas HERE



Download Richard HERE

What's It All About, Johnny?

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 A couple of song-poems for you today which I hope that most of you will not have heard before. They come from  my collection and I have not ripped them nor blogged about them before, so the chances are pretty good that, although they were released over 40 years ago, they will be ‘fresh’ to you.


Starting today, and for the next three Fridays, I shall be sitting in for DJ Jan Turkenburg, hosting three, two-hour specials. If you wish to join me the show starts at 7pm (BST) or 2pm (EDT), but you can also stream it at your convenience: https://wfmu.org/playlists/WR


Today’s show (3 July) is a space-themed special, featuring mostly-instrumental music (although I have thrown a Geoff Goddard vocal and a song-poem 45 into the mix) from the 50s and 60s. The following week I am hosting a two-hour audio documentary dedicated to the marvellous Mrs. Miller and, on 17 July, a two-hour song-poem special, featuring several discs from my own collection that have not been heard before.


Including this one.


Issued by Columbine record in February 1977, these two cuts come from one of the many four-track EPs issued by the company. Perhaps not as well known as Preview, Halmark or MSR, Columbine was, in fact, one of the most productive of all the song-poem labels, issuing hundreds of 45s, EPs and albums, and more through its’ associated labels Century 21, Hollywood Artists and others.


Both of today’s tracks come from Ralph Lowe, one of the busiest of all song-poem stylists, and both are fairly self-explanatory. The wonderfully-titled What's It All About - Our Bicentennial Year actually arrived a few months too late to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the founding of the country we now call the United States, and John F. Kennedy was a late addition – by a good decade at least – to the countless tributes to the assassinated President.


Ralph Lowe, the lounge singer from hell, is one of my favourite song-poem performers, along with Halmark’s Bob Storm and the ubiquitous Rodd Keith, of course. For years he was Columbine’s go-to guy for anything out of the ordinary; Kay Weaver usually got the mopey, dull country or Christian rubbish but it was Ralph who got the mangled and the mad, off-the-wall nonsense like the brilliant I’m The Cat or The Lottery Freak. And these two of course. He was Columbine’s Gene Marshall – until, of course, they brought Gene Marshall into the stable: Marshall (real name Gene Merlino) recorded for Columbine under the name John Muir.


Anyway, here are both What's It All About - Our Bicentennial Year, penned by Wilhelmina McClellan and, from the pen of Michael McDonald (no, not THAT Michael McDonald) John F. Kennedy.


Enjoy!


Download Bicentennial HERE





Download Kennedy HERE


The Incomparable Mrs Miller

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Mrs. Miller has featured a few times on this blog, but it's been eight years since I wrote about here in any detail, and seven since she appeared in my first book, the World's Worst Records Volume One. Later on today (10 July 2020) I am hosting a two-hour audio documentary on her life, so now seems like the perfect time to expand on her story, correct a few mistakes I have made in the past and bring you the Complete Mrs. Miller. It's a long read, but I hope you enjoy it!


The Incomparable Mrs. Miller.



I’m writing this on a gloriously sunny day while listening to, and thoroughly enjoying, the disjointed, off-key warbling of the subject of this chapter, Mrs. Miller. If you haven’t discovered the joys of Mrs. Miller’s recorded work yet then go out immediately and buy a copy of her one and only legitimate CD release, which collects the highlights from her first three albums and serves as a brilliant introduction to one of the most remarkable artists of the 1960s.


Elva Ruby Connes Miller first came to fame in 1966 when Capitol Records released her debut album, the ironically-titled Mrs Miller’s Greatest Hits. Her shrill, tuneless braying seemed to strike a chord with the record-buying public: that album sold 250,000 copies in three weeks and her bizarre versions of rock and pop standards, including Petula Clark’s ‘Downtown’ with its incredible whistling solo and the Nancy Sinatra chart-topper ‘These Boots Are Made For Walking’, led to her becoming known as the worst pop star of all time.


However, the Mrs. Miller story didn’t begin there – this overnight sensation was in fact a fifty-nine-year-old housewife who had been singing since childhood, had already self-financed a number of recordings and had released at least one EP before Capitol ‘discovered’ her and snapped her up. 


Born on 5 October 1907 to Edward and Ada Connes, Elva was born in Joplin Missouri, but by her teens was living in Dodge City, Kansas. According to one of the earliest major articles written about her (in a May 1966 issue of Time magazine), when she was a child people were forever telling her to ‘knock off the singing and please go skip rope or something. But she persevered, joined the high school glee club and the church choir’ and, remarkably, ‘later studied voice for seven years’. In 1934 she married John Miller (a breeder of horses and a man twenty-five years her senior) and later moved to Claremont, California. Theirs was a good marriage: John was indulgent of his wife’s hobby and she in turn created and kept a wonderfully comfortable and fragrant (she was a keen horticulturalist) home for him. Elva balked, however, at the oft-repeated theory that the man in her life had financed her way to the top. ‘Of course my husband supported my hobby of recording songs - he's paid all the bills since we were married. But he didn't buy me a career,’[i]she once said. Elva doted on John, but sadly by the time she found stardom the couple were living apart: at 84 years old he had become too frail was residing in a rest home.


In Claremont she became the founding member and secretary of the Foothill Drama and Choral Society and continued her music studies at Pomona College. ‘At first I worried about how the younger students would receive me, but they liked the idea of an older woman there. And within three weeks, they were coming to the house, to copy my notes or listen to my records,’[ii]she later revealed. Once every few weeks, Elva would drive into Los Angeles and indulge her hobby. Carrying her own portable tape recorder, she would spend a few hours in a recording studio accompanied by a young man by the name of Fred Bock, who would later carve out a successful career as a producer of religious music. Fred helped Elva record the self-financed EP Songs For Children, signed up to become her accompanist and manager, and convinced her to try more modern songs – including an unreleased (so far) version of the Bobby Vinton hit ‘Blue Velvet’ and the Petula Clark hit ‘Downtown’, which he then took to different record labels in the hope of securing her a deal. 



She never forgot Fred, or the encouragement he gave her: ‘There was a turning point in my singing, and Fred brought it about. He felt I always sang at a very slow tempo and suggested I speed it up.’ Fred Bock would, rather pleasingly for bad music-ophiles, go on to produce several Little Marcy albums. Elva became close to Fred’s young wife, Lois, who would accompany the pair on their trips and act as her secretary. ‘She was very proper,’ Lois Bock told writer Skip Heller. ‘Once she walked off of a session at Capitol because a musician told an offensive joke. I talked her into going back, and they put a sort of glass booth around her so she couldn't hear the musicians talking.’[iii]


Disc jockey Gary Owens (who would later write the sleeve notes for Mrs. Miller’s Greatest Hits and who would enjoy international fame as the announcer on Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In) was friendly with Bock and featured Elva on his radio program as early as 1960. He was the first person to bring her to public attention, including Elva as a guest artist on his first comedy album, Song Festoons (co-produced by Bock), in 1962. Owens would later claim (in a 2010 interview with Kliph Nesteroff for his Classic Television Showbiz blog) that he created Mrs. Miller. That’s stretching it a bit: Elva appeared on his album not as herself but in character as Phoebe Phestoon, the ‘wife’ of one of Owens’ own comedy characters, mauling the song ‘Slumber Boat’ (which had previously appeared on her debut EP), but he could certainly be credited with helping to bring her to the attention of Capitol Records and the composer, pianist, producer, arranger and conductor Lex de Azevado – who bad record aficionados will know as the producer of Ric King’s dreadful ‘Return Of A Soldier’ – who would go on to produce her debut album. Apparently Lex, who was friendly with both Bock and Owens, jumped on the Elva train after being won over one night while enjoying dinner with Fred and his wife Lois. He started to bring in acetates of her recordings into his weekly A&R meetings – which took place every Wednesday on the twelfth floor of the Capitol tower - and play them to the assembled company executives for a bit of light relief. Once they had recovered from the hysterical laughter induced by Elva mangling tracks including early versions of both ‘A Lover’s Concerto’ and ‘Downtown’ these hardened music business executives agreed that they had a potential hit on their hands.  


That first album - recorded with a crack team of session players that included Earl Palmer and Jimmy Bond, both members of the infamous Wrecking Crew - contained Mrs. Miller’s unique take on a number of contemporary hits, including ‘A Lover’s Concerto’, ‘A Hard Day’s Night’ and the Four Seasons’ classic ‘Let’s Hang On’. Released in the US on 11 April 1966, by 30 April music trade paper Billboard was reporting that the album had already sold out of its first two pressings (of fifty thousand and one hundred thousand respectively), and that Capitol Records were ‘one hundred and fifty thousand orders in arrears’. The previous week that same trade magazine stated that ‘the LP is reminiscent of another package which made sales noise several years ago featuring New Yorker Sam Sachs, who sang out of wack [sic] and became the favourite of DJs in many cities.’ The article went on to compare Elva to both Florence Foster Jenkins and Leona Anderson: high praise indeed. Mrs. Miller’s Greatest Hits reached number 15 on Billboard’s album charts, and soon copies of her debut album (and its accompanying 45) were being snapped up in Britain, across Europe, Australia and New Zealand, as well as in America and Canada. ‘The record certainly wasn't my idea’, Elva revealed to reporter Vonne Robertson. ‘It was just a series of coincidences that could happen to anyone. Everyone has a hobby. Some people take pictures and file them in albums. Others paint pictures and store them in the garage. My hobby has always been singing. I've made records and tapes of sacred or classical songs for my own amusement. A closet at home is filled with them.’[iv]


Mrs. Miller fan clubs were set up in Los Angeles and in New York, and teen magazines carried interviews with the latest rave. Orville Rennie, the one-time keeper of the Cherry Sisters’ flame, even attempted to establish an award in their name, and declared Mrs. Miller the first recipient. For a woman fast approaching 60, who only a few years previously had thought herself lucky if she could command an audience of a half-dozen or so at her local Baptist church, her sudden and massive success must have been a shock, but she seemed to take it all in her stride. Danny Fields, a reporter from Datebook, was entranced by her: ‘I don’t want to talk to all these old fogies from Time and Life and Look, and all the other old fogey magazines’ she told him at a press reception. ‘I want to talk to the teenagers… I love them and they love me.’[v]She and John were stoical about her success: ‘he knows I am mature enough to realise things like this run their course’.[vi]


According to that early Time article ‘While Elva may not replace Elvis, her rocking chair rock features a kind of slippin' and slidin' rhythm that is uniquely her own. Her tempos, to put it charitably, are free form; she has an uncanny knack for landing squarely between the beat, producing a new ricochet effect that, if nothing else, defies imitation. Beyond all that, her billowy soprano embraces a song with a vibrato that won't quit.’ The following year that same magazine, reviewing a live performance at the Coconut Grove (where she made her debut on February 1, 1967) said: ‘”A Hard Day’s Night”… was reduced to chaos - off-pitch, off-tempo, desperately tremulous at times, otherwise hopelessly shrill. The harder she tried, clasping a rose-coloured wrist hanky before her, the worse she sounded and the more they heard, the louder the audience responded - with peals of derisive cackling.’


However, the appeal of Mrs Miller goes beyond the humour found in a mere novelty act. She initially claimed to be serious about her singing and to begrudge the fact that Capitol made her recording sessions difficult for her in order to get the performance that they wanted. ‘Capitol Records created the angle that “she's so bad that she's good.” Or, it’s what you call camp,’ she told an interviewer from the Los Angeles Times. In his book Between Wyomings, Capitol executive Ken Mansfield, one of the men in the office the day Lex de Azevado dropped the needle on her Downtown acetate, confirms this: ‘Mrs Miller was dead serious about her singing career and actually thought that Capitol was signing her as a legitimate recording artist. She was so sweet and so sincere and completely clueless that this was all a joke.’


Once she became fully aware that her recordings were being treated as comedy releases by her record company she went along with it; initially at least. Mrs. Miller’s fame spread like wildfire, even though Time described her as possessing a ‘uniquely atrocious vocal style and [a] fearless gusto with which she assails - and destroys - a song’. She made appearances on countless TV shows, including Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show, the Ed Sullivan Show (where she was greeted by a ‘good luck’ telegram from Elvis, exactly as The Beatles had been a couple of years before) and Laugh-In; she performed with Jimmy Durante on popular variety show the Hollywood Palace, sangfor the troops in Vietnam with Bob Hope, and appeared on TV in the western drama the Road West – as a grandmother who had once been a dance hall singer – and in the film The Cool Ones alongside Roddy McDowell: her performance of ‘It’s Magic’, right at the end of the movie, is the highlight of this mediocre teen flick. Many column inches were given over to her unique whistling prowess, a skill she sharpened, she explained, by using ice cubes to shrink her prominent pucker. She performed live in New York, Hawaii, Ontario and even in Disneyland.


Both sides of her 45 ‘Downtown’/’A Lover’s Concerto’ became minor chart hits; she played the Hollywood Bowl and went on to release two more albums for Capitol – Will Success Spoil Mrs. Miller?! (which was originally scheduled to be released as Strangers in the Night:other rejected titles included Mrs. Miller Sings the Johnny Mercer Songbook and Capitol Punishment) and The Country Soul Of Mrs. Miller - and a fourth, Mrs. Miller Does Her Thing, on the Amaret label, although each sold significantly less than its predecessor. She even inspired an imitator, of sorts, when an act calling itself Mr Miller and the Blue Notes released their own, off-key rendition of the Herman’s Hermits hit ‘Mrs. Brown You’ve Got A Lovely Daughter’ on Swan records in 1966. It was a short, sparkling career, echoed in many ways by that of Tiny Tim and aped – much less successfully - by Canada’s Mme St Onge.


But she soon tired of being treated as a joke. ‘I don't sing off key and I don't sing off rhythm,’ she insisted. ‘They got me to do so by waiting until I was tired and then making the record. Or they would cut the record before I could become familiar with the song. At first I didn’t understand what was going on but later I did, and I resented it. I don't like to be used.’[vii] She left Capitol to set up her own company, Vibrato, which would lease her masters to independent labels (such as Kenny Myers’ Amaret), but was hurt when her former home announced that they had dropped her, an action which, she insisted, was untrue. Sales of her second album had been around ten percent of her debut: her final album for the company sold even less: she simply felt that Capitol were no longer prepared to give her albums the promotion they needed. Despite that, reporters guesstimated that she had made somewhere in the region of $100,000 while at Capitol: much of it had been placed in a trust fund to care for the ailing Mr Miller.


According to the Los Angeles Times, Mrs Miller was keen to leave her image behind by taking, of all things, vocal lessons: ‘”It's a gamble,” she admits, “but I'm willing to take a chance on a new Mrs Miller. After all, the people weren't responding to the old Mrs Miller.”’[viii]Again, Ken Mansfield backs up her story: ‘One day she walked into the Capitol lobby and, upon seeing the promotional cardboard stand-up (a life-size Mrs Miller proudly holding copies of her first two albums), kicked it over, stomped on it, then marched upstairs and asked to be dropped from the label.’ It was a rare show of pique from someone referred to time and time again as charming, sweet natured and sincere, but clearly illustrated how she felt she had been misrepresented by Capitol. It is little wonder that one reviewer described her as having the ‘charm and determination of a defensive Valkyrie.’[ix]

    

Leaving Capitol also meant leaving Fred and Lois Bock, and Lex de Azevado, behind too but, sadly, this reinvention would not produce the success she hoped for. By the time her final album Mrs. Miller Does Her Thingwas issued in 1968 the joke was starting to wear thin and her audience was deserting her; in the pop charts and on the TV chat shows her charming innocence was replaced by the high camp folderol of Tiny Tim. The blatant drug references on the cover – which had her dressed in a psychedelic muumuu brandishing a batch of hash brownies (the cakes hand-tinted a garish green in the printed photograph just in case anyone missed the reference) - and in the lyrics of songs such as ‘Mary Jane’, ‘The Renaissance Of Smut’ and ‘Granny Bopper’ were too much for her, as was the attempt to repackage Elva as a late sixties precursor to Anna Madrigal. However, the album does have its highs (if you’ll excuse the pun), and her version of the Lemon Piper’s hit single ‘Green Tambourine’ is a wonderfully shrill assault on the ears: there’s even a little dig at her ukulele-plucking successor. Even though ‘Mary Jane’ went on to become the theme to a film starring pop star Fabian as high school teacher fighting a marijuana gang (Mrs Miller’s version of the song was included on the soundtrack album, although she went uncredited on the sleeve), Elva had had enough, and the death of her beloved husband that same year put paid to any thoughts of a major-label comeback.


Although John had gone, his widow continued to record and to make sporadic live appearances. Two singles were released through her own Mrs. Miller Records in 1971: production values were high (she put together a great band of big name jazz musicians to back her efforts) but sales were poor and in 1973 Mrs. Miller had disappeared from the spotlight for good, retiring gracefully to her Claremont home before moving to Los Angeles where she would spend the remainder of her years. Still, this amazing performer took it all in her stride. ‘If something comes along to stop this merry-go-round, I'll be able to go right back to being a housewife,’ she once said. ‘In the meantime, I will have met lots of people and had a great deal of fun. Not many women my age have such an opportunity.’


Although she was often referred to during her stellar career as a grandmother, the childless Elva spent her remaining years doing charity work instead of employing what Jordan Bonfante, writing in Life shortly after she left Capitol, called ‘the voice of a tubercular parrot’. In her later years she gave few interviews: when she did she was always gracious and often surprisingly candid about here 15 minutes (more like 15 months) in the spotlight: Capitol, she said, wanted to make her into ‘some kind of kook… I belonged in opera. I wanted to do ballads but they wouldn't let me. Life was full of turmoil because of that. I didn’t need it, so I got out. I was glad when it ended.’[x]Luckily the world still had her recordings to comfort and confound.


It has been some time now since Elva left the building. She passed away on 5 July 1997 – just three months shy of her ninetieth birthday – at the Garden Terrace Retirement Centre, in Vista, California, three and a half years after the apartment she was living in was levelled by an earthquake. Sadly, she passed too soon to enjoy the resurrection of her career instigated by Capitol’s career-spanning compilation Wild, Cool & Swingin', The Artist Collection: Mrs Miller. In late 2012 news broke that a movie about her life (titled Will Success Spoil Mrs. Miller?, starring Annette Bening and written by Matthew Fantaci) was in the offing: sadly that movie has yet to transpire, it’s thunder stolen somewhat by the very real success of the Meryl Streep vehicle Florence Foster Jenkins. However, in March 2017 a stage musical, Mrs Miller Does Her Thing, written and directed by Pulitzer Prize winner James Lapine, opened to enthusiastic reviews in Washington DC, with Elva portrayed by Debra Monk (NYPD Blue, Frasier). It seems that Elva Miller’s story is not quite over yet.


Here are a couple of cuts from her final album, Mrs. Miller Does Her Thing: Green Tambourine and Mary Jane. Enjoy!

Download Tambourine HERE


Download Mary HERE  





[i] Vonne Robertson, ‘Sudden Fame at 59- She’s Having a Ball’, the Progress-Bulletin, 29 May 1966

[ii]Jordan Bonfante, ‘Mrs. Miller is Off-pitch for Profit: A Most Unlikely Lark’, LIFE Magazine, 22 September 1967

[iii]Skip Heller, ‘Searching for Mrs Miller’, Strange and Cool Magazine, Issue 14, 1999

[iv] Vonne Robertson, ‘Sudden Fame at 59- She’s Having a Ball’, the Progress-Bulletin, 29 May 1966

[v] Danny Fields, ‘the Sound of Mrs Miller, Twenty-minute Fandangos and Forever Changes; a Rock Bazaar (Jonathan Eisen, ed.), Random House, New York 1971

[vi]Bob Thomas, ‘Mrs. Miller Sings Beatle-Type Hits’, The Courier-News (Bridgewater, New Jersey), 12 July 1966

[vii]Bob Thomas , ‘Mrs. Miller Tries to Change Image’, Los Angeles Times, 2 October 1967

[viii]ibid

[ix]Martin Bernheimer, ‘Most Memorable Debut for Coloratura From Claremont’, Los Angeles Times, 6 June 1966

[x]Jim Houston, ‘Postscript: Bravo for Mrs. Miller - She Had to Be Free’, the Los Angeles Times, 7 July 1976



Piss Drinkers and Hell Raisers

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Born on 31 December 1941, Sarah Miles is a British actress, best known for films including The Servant (1963), Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines (1965), Blowup (1966), Ryan's Daughter (1970, for which she received an OSCAR nomination for Best Actress), White Mischief and Hope and Glory (both 1987).

She has also worked extensively in the theatre, and was nominated for a BAFTA for best newcomer in her debut, Term of Trail (1962)opposite Sir Laurence Olivier. She was just 19 at the time, Larry was 55, but the pair briefly became lovers.


So began a pattern that would dog her life. Over the years she has been the swain of several well-known men, including Robert Mitchum, Steven Spielberg and Burt Reynolds, and was twice married to playwright Robert Bolt, nursing him through years of ill-health.

In 1973 Miles was questioned over the death of her ‘business manager’ and one-time lover David Whiting, whose body was discovered in her Arizona motel room, on the morning of 11 February, while she was in America filming The Man Who Loved Cat Dancing with Burt Reynolds. Early reports suggested that Whiting had taken his own life, but as the story unfolded so did a tale of violence, with Miles admitting to having taken ‘a considerable beating’ from the aspiring scriptwriter. Miles had been spending time with Reynolds: when she returned, a jealous Whiting had ‘knocked her around the bedroom’, according to the statement she gave to police. Miles, who was married to playwright Robert Bolt at the time, left once again, staying with Reynolds. When she finally returned to her own room, at midday, she found Whiting dead.


The first police to arrive on the scene found a seemingly-bruise free Miles weeping on the bed. She would later claim that Whiting was the third man to die for love for her. The inquest into Whiting’s death questioned how the dead man had suffered head injuries and how his blood had been found in three separate rooms within the motel complex, however, a post mortem confirmed that he had died of a drugs overdose. 


Outside of her skills as an actress and deadly vamp, Miles is best known for swearing like a trooper and having once admitted to drinking her own urine daily since the mid-1970s. I think I’d like her. But it’s not the sex, drugs or piss-taking we’re interested in here, it’s her decidedly un-rock ‘n’ roll attempt at pop immortality, the Fontana release Where Am I?


In 1965, Sarah Miles recorded what I believe to have been her only stab at a pop single, a Burt Bacharach-style bossa nova written by Doctor Sam Hutt, aka Hank Wangford. It was a surprising move for a woman who, when promoting the disc, admitted to the Daily Mirror columnist Patrick Doncaster that ‘I haven’t got any records. Not even a gramophone.’ She went on to say that the reason she made the record was that ‘one must have a try at almost everything,’ but she was none too pleased with the results: ‘I’ve never heard a noise like it before’. And, until I discovered this little beauty, neither had I!


Unsurprisingly the 45 was not a success.  ‘The words were atrocious,’ Wangford himself would later recall, ‘And she couldn’t sing for toffee.  She made Ernest Tubb sound as if he hit every note on the button.’ The flipside, the whimsical Here Of All Places, was composed by David Mallet, who would go on to find fame as a much-sought-after pop promo director, working with Queen, Blondie, David Bowie (including the iconic Ashes to Ashes video), the Rolling Stones, Culture Club, AC/DC, Erasure and countless other acts. Dr. Hutt would later pen the highly collectable psychedelic 45 Jabberwock/Which Dreamed It, released under the name Boeing Duveen and The Beautiful Soup, before becoming better known via his country persona.


Miles would appear on The Anti-Heroin Project double album It’s A Live-In World in 1986, but she is not the same Sarah Miles that appears on the US cast version of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. That particular Miss Miles is principally known as a choreographer, not a seductress or singer.


Here are both sides of this wonderfully woeful 45. Enjoy!


Download Where HERE





Download Here HERE



Father? Oh Brother!

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When I was a wee lad, Patrick Cargill was ubiquitous. From playing a psychopathic Number Two in the classic Prisoner episode Hammer Into Anvil, to appearing in both Help! and the Magic Christian... which was a pretty big deal for a young Beatles fan. It was only later that I discovered he had also played opposite Tony Hancock in the brilliant Blood Donor and appeared in a brace of Carry On…films too. But, more than anything, he was the rakish Patrick Glover in the ITV sitcom Father, Dear Father.

Glover was an author, divorced and bringing up two teenage daughters along with his housekeeper (always referred to as Nanny), and a large St Bernard dog, HG (for H G Wells). The premise of the show was paper-thin, but it ran for 45 episodes over five years. Father, Dear Father was a huge success, a defining and somewhat stereotyping role for Cargill, and the inevitable spin-off movie followed. A couple of years after the series ended he was back in a new sitcom, originally to be titled Take My Wives, but eventually screened under the name the Many Wives of Patrick.


The success of Father, Dear Father led to Cargill being offered the opportunity to record an album and several singles based around the character of Patrick Glover. First came the 1969 album Patrick Cargill Sings Father, Dear Father followed two years later by a 45, a vocal version of the show’s theme tune, credited to Patrick Cargill And The Petticoat Twins and, another two years after that, the festive Father Dear Father Christmas.


He did not find being in the limelight easy, but like many British comic actors, he was ‘big in Australia’, and gladly accepted an offer to uproot and relocate ‘down under’ temporarily to make an Aussie version of Father, Dear Father in 1978. he continued to make trips to the country and, on his final visit there in 1994, he was knocked down by a hit-and-run driver, leading to erroneous reports that he had died. Back in Britain. although no longer in demand on television, he continued to work on the stage throughout the 1980s.


He passed away in a hospice, where he had been receiving care after suffering a brain tumour, in May 1996 at the age of 77. he had continued to act until he became too ill to do so, appearing in a touring production of Michael Frayn’s Noises Off the previous spring. I had no idea that he was gay: no one would have. Unlike many homosexual actors of the time the press left him alone, never hinting (at least as far as I am aware) that he was anything other than the slightly foppish heterosexual he often portrayed on screen. Even when he died, obituaries made vague mention of the fact that he had never married, but left it at that. Of course, being a trifle more sophisticated I can now look back and see the signs… chief of which was his long-term relationships with landscape gardener Vernon Page and, later, James Markowski.


By the way, in case those who recall the TV series had ever wondered, Nanny (the Glover’s long-suffering, slightly scatty housekeeper, played by Noel Dyson) had a ‘real’ name: Mrs. Harris.


Here are a couple of Patrick’s vocal performances for you. First up is Father Dear, the opener from the 1969 album Patrick Cargill Sings Father, Dear Father. Following that is the 1971 vocal version of the theme from Father, Dear Father from Patrick Cargill And The Petticoat Twins.


Enjoy!



Download Father Dear HERE

Download Father Dear Father HERE


Raving

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Just a quick post today… I’ve been a bit distracted working on the new book and have not had a lot of time to search out new material to share with you, so today I’m delving into my song-poem archive once again.


These two tracks come from one of the many, many, many Columbine compilations that appeared in the 1970s and 80s: this particular release being one of the earlier Now Sounds of Today collections, of which there were around 300 iterations. There’s no date on the record label or cover, as is usual with the vast majority of song-poem releases, but this would have been issued around 1977 or so.

Douglas Mac Arthur Tsosie’s Curse of an Evil Woman and Grace Dorsey’s wonderfully bizarre Miraculous for Miracle were recorded by Columbine’s in-house band of seemingly hopeless amateurs, the Rave-Ons, the most inept bunch of musicians you’re ever likely to come across, and a band who recorded the vast majority of tracks on the first 13 Columbine albums – well over 200 songs – before vanishing completely from the Columbine roster.


These two tracks are the first two cuts on side one of this particular Now Sounds of Today: back in April 2010 (yes, over a decade ago) I featured tracks three and four from the same album but at that time posted the wrong cover… oops! At some point I’ll get around to ripping the whole thing and sharing it with you, but for now here are a couple of horrors to blight your day.


Enjoy!


Download Evil HERE





Download Miracle HERE


Jet Lady

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Angela Masson is a true Renaissance woman: an artist, inventor, a decorated pilot, television host and – naturally – musician whose life we can but marvel at.


Born in California, Angela began flying lessons at age 15 and, shortly after obtaining her pilot’s license, she started air racing. At 21 years-old, while flying in the Powder Puff Derby, an annual transcontinental air race for women pilots which ran for 30 years from 1947, she set a record as the youngest person to fly coast to coast in a high-performance aircraft.


In 1971 she trained armed forces pilot cadets at fellow aviatrix Claire Walters Flight School to build her flight experience, getting over 1,000 flight hours in less than a year. “The place where I was teaching had two bathrooms,” she told reporter Benjamin Gleisser in 2019, “and both were for men. So I wrote ‘WO’ in lipstick in front of the word on one of the doors. There was a law on the books that said, essentially, ‘Women shall not fly for the military.’ I thought, Wait a minute, why can’t we be pilots? The military’s excuse was they didn’t have helmets that would fit us.” She then went on to fly as a charter pilot for Express Airways out of Naval Air Station Lemoore on a civilian contract for the Navy and became a full-time commercial pilot the following year.


Frustrated to see her former male students flying jets while females were barred (bizarrely they were allowed to fly helicopters, the US military not considering whirlybirds proper aeroplanes!), she went back to school, writing her Ph.D. dissertation “Elements of Organizational Discrimination: The Air Force Response to Women as Military Pilots”. That paper was read by Robert Crandall, president of American Airlines, who hired her, initially as a flight engineer on a Boeing 727, in 1976. Shortly after she became a pilot and was the first woman to fly as First Officer on the Boeing 707, 767 and Douglas DC-10. The Ph.D. that had so impressed Crandall was presented before Congress during the Hearings about opening military the Academies to women. In 1978, as airlines began investigating the idea of commercial flights into space, Angela’s name was being put forward, the first and only woman considered to pilot such a enterprise.


By the late 1990s she was living in Florida, still mixing and making and applying for patents for her various inventions. As their most senior female pilot, she finally retired from American Airlines in December 2007 after 31 years’ service. But of course, she had many more strings to her bow. In 1980 Angela decided to run for Mayor of Los Angeles. She didn’t win, and we should probably be grateful for that, because if she had become a politician we may never have heard her 1982 opus, Jet Lady.  


Jet Lady, released under the name Tangela Tricoli, is Angela’s her one and only album… but what a marvel that is. Released independently (and now worth a fortune) the disc features Angela/Tangela singing her own compositions, accompanied by her own solo acoustic guitar. Sounding like a cross between Frances Baskerville the Singing Psychic and Lucia Pamela, Jet Lady contains such stone-cold classics as Stinky Poodle (surely the inspiration for Phoebe Buffay’s Smelly Cat), Life of a Housewife and Space Woman. Occasionally, as on the original Stinky Poodle she double tracks her voice; many of the tracks are slathered with echo and reverb, producing a unique, ethereal sound unlike anything else. It’s just wonderful. As she herself said (in a 2010 interview), “I sing about everything I do. I can’t sing on-key, but that doesn’t stop me.” It’s a sentiment very close to my own heart.


She followed up the release with her own cable TV show, which ran for four years in the Hollywood area. By the late 1990s she had retired and was living in Florida, although still mixing and making and applying for patents for her various inventions. Sadly she would not record a whole album again, however in 2003 Arf! Arf! Records reissued the album on CD, complete with extra material, campaign ads, unreleased demos and a brand new re-recording of Stinky Poodle.


Angela may have retired from commercial work, but as recently as last year she was still passing on her love of flight, teaching at the St. Augustine High School Aerospace Academy and at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Florida. “Every day, I try to share with my students the love of flying,” she explained to Benjamin Gleisser. “Aviation is a lifestyle. There’s something sparkly in it for everybody. It gives you a reason to wake up in the morning and play with the reality of being alive.”


Here are two tracks to get you started – the original recording of Stinky Poodle and the wonderful Space Woman, but I urge you to go buy the CD of Jet Lady and wallow in the brilliance of Angela Masson, aka Tangela Tricoli.


Enjoy!


Download Poodle HERE


Download Space HERE


(Just Like The) Son of Sam

Previous Jet Lady
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If you’re a fan of Sam Sacks’ Sing It Again, Sam then Sam Chalpin’s My Father, the Pop Singer is the album for you: 10 songs mangled in the best Sam Sacks fashion, only with an au courant pop beat. With a title half-inched from comedian Allan Sherman (whose debut album was entitled My Son, the Folk Singer), My Father, the Pop Singer is a little treasure.


However, I must admit that I was confused when I first saw the sleeve (which, you’ll understand was before I had listened to the contents). I assumed that the girl on the right was Sam, and that the Bono-alike was her father Ed Chalpin, Jimi Hendrix’s former manager. Chalpin was the man responsible for those awful Hendrix and Curtis Knight jams, and for the so-called Hendrix and Knight studio tracks (Flashing, Hush Now etcetera) that have been endlessly recycled since their first appearance in 1967. It did not take long to discover that the young lady on the sleeve was an agency model with no connection to the recording at all, and that the uncomfortable looking man in the bell-bottom trousers was, in fact, Ed Chalpin’s own father, Sam, who provides the vocals on the album.


So how did this unusual record come about? The story on the reverse of the sleeve, which tells how 65-year-old Sam strolled into a recording studio and announced that he wanted to make a record is pure hokum. The simple truth is that Ed, always on the make, saw the success that Mrs Miller was enjoying and felt that he could come up with something that would sell just as well. And do it quickly.


He had form: Ed ran his own New York recording studio, Studio 76, and production company (PPX Productions), located on the 7th floor at 1650 Broadway, just around the corner from the famous Brill Building. Studio 76 was an unusual setup, specialising in quick soundalike copies of chart hits which Ed would license to countries outside of the States, meaning that they could often get carbon copies of the big US hits weeks before British or other European labels had gone through the lengthy process of licensing, mastering and pressing the originals.


Assembling a crew of musicians well-versed in Ed’s methods, he dragged his dad in and, over the course of two days, made him bark and bray his way through a selection of pop hits, including the Singing Nun’s Dominique, a couple of Beatles tracks and – in line with the image on the front cover – a version of the Sonny Bono-composed Cher hit Bang Bang. It’s a riot! Ahmet Ertegun, co-founder and president of Atlantic Records, clearly thought so too, snapping the recordings up for his Atco imprint which, with beautiful Irony, was also home to Sonny and Cher. The album was issued in July 1966, just four months after Mrs. Miller’s Greatest Hits had hit the stores.


That’s it in a nutshell: if you would like to read the whole story from someone who was there, engineer Mike Rashkow (who sadly passed away in 2013) wrote a feature for the Spectropop website that is well worth perusing. Mike goes into great detail about Chalpin’s studio set up and explains exactly how the album was recorded, edited, and produced.


As I’m feeling generous today, and because the whole thing only lasts for a little over 20 minutes, here’s the entire album. I defy you to keep a straight face while you listen to Sam Chalpin massacre the classics!


Enjoy!


Download Side One HERE



Download Side Two HERE


Sonny, Buddy, Elmer and Dick

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 If you were listening to the World’s Worst Records Radio Show this week, (and if you haven’t, you can do so now by clicking HERE) you would have heard me play a couple of tracks from one of my latest acquisitions, a Columbine Records song-poem compilation that was issued, it’s fairly safe to assume, in 1981.


It’s another one of the endless stream of the company’s catch-all Music of America series. There are well over 100 in all; no one has yet been able to fully catalogue them, although Phil Milstein’s long-dormant American Song-Poem Music Archives made a valiant effort some years ago: http://www.songpoemmusic.com/labels/columbin.htm


The cover – and I have several featuring an identical front sleeve – would lead you to believe that this dis was issued around 1976, in time to mark America’s bicentennial. In fact one of the songs on the album, U.S.A. (Garden of Roses) is bicentennial-themed, so how can I be so sure that the album was issued in 1981 when I’ve already admitted that no reliable catalogue exists? For the simple reason that one of the songs, To Yoko, was written about the assassination of John Lennon, which took place on 8 December 1980.


For sure, it could have come out in 1982 or 83, but there is no way that this album could possibly predate 1981. Unless the lyric for To Yoko had been composed by Criswell, that is. As a Beatle, Yoko and song-poem fan, finding and purchasing this album was essential. And it did not disappoint… as you are about to discover.


The tracks below feature Columbine regular Sonny Cash, who also appeared on the label as Ralph Lowe, as well as recording for MSR under the names of Dick Castle and Dick Kent. The singer’s real name was Elmer Plinger: no wonder he used a pseudonym. Plinger had been recording since at least 1940: in February of that year, as vocalist of the Modern Mountaineers, he recorded a couple of sides for RCA’s Bluebird imprint, which were also available via mail order retail pioneer Montgomery Ward. As Buddy Ray, he recorded a couple of vocals for the magnificently odd "Night-Club Music" Las Vegas & Country Western, by Ken ‘Nevada’ Maines, in the early 70s, and by the time these cuts were laid down in the studio he had been working as a professional vocalist for over 40 years.


Here’s Sonny/Elmer/Buddy/Dick with To Yoko and the rather wonderful Psychic Cigarette.


Enjoy!


Download Yoko HERE


 

 Download Cigarette HERE


The Eyes of Suzy Moppet

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It’s been more than seven years since I last wrote about the career of the late Tammy Faye Bakker (born Tamara Faye LaValley in 1942), and when I did I concentrated on her career as a solo singer. But before she set out to be a solo sensation, she and her husband – the disgraced televangelist Jim Bakker – began their recording career with the 1969 release Jim and Tammy and their Friends: Songs and Stories

 

The ‘friends’ included glove puppets Allie the Aligator, Muffin the Talking Dog, Mr Clown, Zippy the Talking Mailbox and the shrill-voiced Susie Moppet, who sounds for all the world like Little Marcy with a head cold. This couple had absolutely no shame: Susie Moppet is clearly a Porky Pig doll in a cheap dress and a wig made of yellow wool, but the money-grubbing Bakkers had the audacity to market Susie Moppet dolls as their own creation.

                                                             

At the time they recorded Jim and Tammy and their Friends: Songs and Stories the couple were broadcasting six days a week on Pat Robertson’s Christian Broadcasting Network. The show was wildly popular (so they claim) and a Jim and Tammy Friendship Club was set up, giving the huckster couple their first real sense of how easy t was to fleece the gullible. Jim and Tammy (and their friends) became the breakout stars of Robertson’s channel and were soon following the trail of all of that filthy lucre: in 1973 the couple joined with disgraced televangelists Paul and Jan Crouch to help co-found the Trinity Broadcasting Network, before moving to Charlotte, North Carolina to set up their own money-making megalith. During that time Tammy issued her own solo debut, 1970’s Tammy Tammy Tammy, but building an empire had to come first, and she would not revisit her solo career until 1977.

 

In 1975, following the Bakker’s defection from the Trinity Broadcasting Network  to establish their own multi-million dollar generating Praise the Lord Network (PTL) Jim and Tammy and their Friends resurfaced, with their sophomore release, the idiotically-titled Oops! There Comes a Smile, the ‘friends’ first album for six years.


The same year as Oops! There Comes a Smile was issued the ‘difficult’ third album, Building on The Rock, also saw the light of day. Two years later saw the release of the band’s fourth and final album Clap Your Hands, before Tammy put the dolls back into the toy chest and resumed squawking for God without her hand up a puppet pig’s arse.

 

The Bakkers' control of PTL collapsed in 1987 when it was revealed that Jim had been a bit naughty with the company secretary, Jessica Hahn, and reportedly used $287,000 of the church’s funds to buy her silence (that was a waste of money!). Further investigations into the Bakker’s extravagant lifestyle questioned their dodgy, and vastly oversubscribed, Christian hotel time-share scheme and the funds they had poured into their Christian theme park, Heritage USA.

 

With the couple in disgrace and Jim facing a stretch in jail, renowned Christian fraudster, fellow televangelist and friend (not of the puppet kind, you understand) Jerry Falwell offered a lifeline, but under his stewardship PTL soon went bankrupt. In 1989 Bakker was sentenced to 45 years in prison on 24 fraud and conspiracy counts. Falwell and the Bakker’s fell out, primarily it seems because Falwell was only interested in using PTL to boost his own television career, but also no doubt because the equally self-absorbed Falwell had the temerity to call our Jim a liar, an embezzler, a sexual deviant, and ‘the greatest scab and cancer on the face of Christianity in 2,000 years of church history’.

 

Jim and Tammy Taye divorced in 1992; a year later she married former PTL bigwig Roe Messner – the man who provided Jim with the cash to pay of Jessica Hahn and who claimed, during the bankruptcy hearing for PTL, to be owed $14 million by the church. Messner filed for bankruptcy himself in 1990 and, just like his former friend Jim, wound up being convicted of fraud. Tammy and Jerry both died in 2007. Sadly Jim is still with us (just: he had a stroke in May but was back at work fronting The Jim Bakker Show with second wife Lori in July), knocking out fake Covid cures and, as news site Christian Today put it, preying on ‘the most vulnerable kinds of people’.

 

Here is the entire Jim and Tammy and their Friends album, Oops! There Comes a Smile. The whole thing is only 25 minutes long, so I’ve simply broken it down to Side One (10 short songs: The Joy Of The Lord, What A Wonderful Day That Will Be, Oops! There Comes A Smile, Happiness Is TheLord, God Is Watching You, Do Lord, I Wonder, Heaven Is A Wonderful Place, Praise The Lord and God's Not Dead) and Side Two (two stories, The Pearl Of Great Price and Noah's Ark).

 

Enjoy!

 

Download Oops 1 HERE 


Download Oops 2 HERE

 

 

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