Archive for August, 2007

The death of John Dolphin

August 29, 2007

bko14cac26tg2cav6ys47ca8z39f3ca3raodocacctorxcaeo5eb8cab8d3z6ca8tmp1pcap5600fca1ejujncag81vaoca4pldzrcax9x8pqcanfmqfmca6e1ajccanflkwtcaxl667xcae7u2hr.jpegzva3pcasapoxvcalvi4y9ca34c7emcau5sfctcaq362a7cao0wmptcaew3qhfcadowgeqca2j2ps1casu1asfcajs91wocaxsb1adcaxr16h8ca3wy4vpca3v3iv4cavbkoifcaaafymkca5b97xg.jpegcash-single.jpegBetween about 1948 and 1958, John Dolphin owned and operated Dolphin’s of Hollywood Record Shop in South L.A., most famously near the corner of Vernon and Central Ave. From the early 1950s to his death, he also operated a variety of local labels like Recorded In Hollywood, Lucky, Money and Cash, one which he recorded a host of local r&b, blues, jazz and even western music talent.

While recording for Dolphin, who was well known for making promises of rich payouts, only to forget to pay modest session scale to studio players, Rudy Ray Moore took on assistant duties, becoming his driver and picking up records for the store in ‘58 and ’59.

According to the L.A. Times, John Dolphin, 42 of 3918 Edgehill Dr. was murdered behind the desk of his office at 1252 S. Berendo St., Hollywood, on Feb 1, 1958 by frustrated singer Percy Ivy, 26, a shipping clerk who lived at 1124 W. 45th St. Teenaged songwriter and piano player Bruce Johnston witnessed the murder at Dolphin’s office in Hollywood. With him were musicians Dave Shostac, 16, of 10304 La Grange Ave. and drummer Sandy Nelson, both of whom were waiting with Ivy outside of Dolphin’s office for the man to arrive. “Ivy said he submitted four songs to Dolphin three or four weeks ago, but failed to collect a promised payment of $250 each.” One of the songs was “You’re Going Away.”

Ivy stated he “reached for the gun,” a 32-caliber Italian automatic, “when Dolphin pulled out a switch blade knife.” Ivy fired five or six shots at a close range. “Ivy let us in,” said Johnston. “He argued with Dolphin, then pulled out a gun and shot John, who landed on a heater.

Sandy Nelson was drinking a soft drink and when he ran out of the office to get some help, it was fizzing all over the place.” Shostac was grazed in the leg by a ricocheting bullet. Nelson recalled that when he returned with the police to Dolphin’s office, Johnston was making a deal with Ivy to have some songs recorded when he got released from prison.

“John Dolphin got killed on a humbug, he had nothing coming,” said Moore. “John sent Percy Ivy to Austin McCoy to make these dubs, John paid for these dubs. He brought these dubs to John and Percy Ivy wanted the dubs back.”

Upon his release from prison, Ivy went to work for Allied Pressing. Ruth Dolphin, who had arrived in L.A. in 1946, marrying John G. Dolphin in 1948, took over ownership, though Moore became the day-to-day proprietor. “I took over in ‘59, started working for his wife, run his store until 1970.”

Dolphin’s death meant the end of Cash, so in 1959, Moore issued all of his releases on the newly created Ball label.


The Invictas “Gone So Long” on Jack-Bee

August 26, 2007

34676Wenzel’s Music Town on Lakewood Blvd. in Downey was founded by Bill Wenzel in time for the Christmas season of 1958. By early 1959, the store, operated by Wenzel’s son Jack, had become successful enough that they were able to start their own label, Jack Bee (for Jack and Bill), which issued a half dozen releases before being changed to Downey.The Downey label lasted for much of the 1960s, issuing surf and other instrumental forms and leasing many masters to Dot.

Wenzel’s Music Town operated throughout the 1970s to decade’s end by Tom & Maxine Wenzel and their own offspring. The shop became famous world wide for its collector’s room, which generally offered up tasty 45s and LPs at reasonable prices.  On Sept. 2001, a sign was posted on the front door – “Wenzel’s has left the building.”

The Invictas with the Hollywood Rebels excellent pleading ballad “Gone So Long” b/w the jump “Nellie” didn’t chart, yet moved briskly at the Wenzel Music Town counter. Lead singer Sonny Patterson (RN: John Perkins; b: Texas) was backed by Robert Jones, Booker Banks, Alan Jay and Ervin Simril. All except Perkins hailed from the same Long Beach neighborhood with Simril singing briefly with the Debonaires.

Their name was derived from the brand new Buick Invicta. According to Simril, “a white Jewish guy named Pete” owned a meat market on Orange Ave. and contacted Jack Bee and arranged for the recording session. The backing group, the Hollywood Rebels were most likely Hollywood session players hired to back these acts.The Invictas then backed teen idol Jimmie Hombs on “Voo Doo Dolly” with the Twinkle Tones backing Holmes on the flip. When Jay left the Invictas, he was replaced by ex-Debonaires Bill Melvin. When Perkins got into legal trouble, he too left the group, but “Gone So Long” was reissued on the Vault label b/w “Troubles” with label credit given to Sonny Patterson & the Pastel Six.

The Robins “Double Crossin’ Blues” 1950

August 8, 2007


The duet between Little Esther & the Robins set the R&B style for the first half of the 1950s with female vocalists dueting with R&B groups.  The breakthrough release, ”Double Crossing Blues,” credited to Little Esther (RN: Esther Mae Jones, b: TX, December, 23, 1935) & the Robins zoomed to the top of the r&b charts in March 1950. It was known to record buyers of the day as “Lady Bears,” because of the following lyrics between Little Esther and Bobby Nunn.

Esther: You belong out in the forest fighting a big old grizzly bear.
Bobby: How come you ain’t out in the forest?
Esther: I’m a lady!
Bobby: They got lady bears out there!

In black parlance of the day, as “lady bears” was a reference to an ugly and sexually aggressive women, the song became a subject of controversy, which certainly didn’t hurt its sales. Written by L.A. songwriter Jessie Mae Robinson, Johnny Otis added the lady bears dialog taken from Apus and Estrelita, a black comedy act. At first, Savoy owner Herman Lubinsky didn’t like the dub, but when WAAT DJ Bill Cook (who recorded for Savoy in 1951) out of Newark heard it, he played it on his show that evening, and the response was positive. As Lubinsky only had that song, he had to find an instrumental filler for the b-side. The first pressings used an instrumental credited to the Beale Street Gang, one of several flip sides over the years. ”Double Crossing Blues” became the first 45 rpm record pressed by Savoy.“When they released that stuff, it sold 300,000 copies in New York City alone in several days,” said Terrell.According to a lawsuit filed after the song hit, “Johnny Otis had asked her to write a song for a recording session,” said Jessie Mae Robinson’s daughter June Lynch. “Some of the stuff about the bear out in the jungle was added in the studio. The song was ‘Double Crossin’ Blues’.”

When the record listed Otis as composer, Robinson sued. According to the L.A. Sentinal of Mar. 30 1950, she was awarded an out-of-court settlement, because her song had been appropriated and recorded by “a local drummer.”Asked about this, Otis told Bill Millar in “The Coasters,” “Jessie Mae Robinson had submitted a song to me called ‘What’s A Matter Baby,’ a little blues song without about four verses. I’d also written an untitled song, which was based on an old comedy act, Apus and Estralita, which I’d seen years ago in vaudeville. In the middle of their act, she’d say to him, ‘you should be out in the forest fightin’ a grizzly bear,’ and he’d say, ‘how come you ain’t out…’ and she’d butt in with ‘I’m a lady,’ and he’d say, ‘Hell, they got lady bears out there.’ And the audience would crack up, see. So I started to write a song. I forgot how it went, but I had two verse, including that catch-phrase. My eyes fell on Jessie Mae’s song lying on my bed and I though, Jeez, if I took those two verses and tagged them on, we’d have a great song. I called Jessie and she said, ‘go ahead. We’ll be collaborators’.”

“When we made ‘Lady Bears’ with Johnny Otis, we learned four songs, put the music to it, got a date from Ralph Bass, went to the studio for four hours,” said Terrell. “We always had some time left over, you could tell they liked the way we did it, put a bottle of wine, ‘Double Crossin’ Blues’ was the tag record to four we did.”

The Olympics “Western Movies” 1958

August 8, 2007

The first release by the Olympics was a national hit. After one release as the Challengers, a name they had to give up because of a competing group with that name, they became the Olympics. After all, 1958 was an Olympic year.

“We were originally the Challengers but we found out there was another group on the East Coast called the Challengers, so we couldn’t use that name,” said Olympics’ lead singer, Walter Ward. “We decided to use the Olympics name since everybody played sports in high school. The thing that was happening was slow dancing slow and squeezing.” Members were, tenor Little Eddie Lewis, baritones Ward, Charles Fizer and Walter Hammond and Thomas Bush, bass. According to Ward, “Bush and King Fizer went to Jordan the rest of us went to Centennial High School.”

Their success was a product of the production skills of Cliff Goldsmith and Fred Smith, son of Effie Smith. “The late Jesse Belvin was a very close friend of mine and he introduced me to Smith and Goldsmith,” said Ward. “They said ‘hey I like that voice,’ I’ve never been fond of it myself. They handed me the thing that said ‘Western Movies.’ ’Western Movies?’ We went in the studio and did it.”

Characterized by gunshot sound effects and the listing of westerns viewed on the fictitious channel 8, “Western Movies” b/w “Well” was a surprise novelty hit, reaching #18 on KFWB on July 12 and #8 nationally the following week and #7 R&B on Aug. 11.

According to Ward, “Demon Records gave away a stereo to everybody who could name all the westerns (Maverick, Sugarfoot, Cheyenne, Have Gun Will Travel, Wagon Train, Broken Arrow, Jim Bowie, Wyatt Earp and Boots & Saddles) in the song.”

“I was hoping the hit would’ve been ‘Well,’ because I wrote that,” said Ward. “Western Movies” also made the Wallichs Music City Flashbacks charts on Liberty at #14 on Nov. 29, 1965.

The Olympics moved on the Arvee label and the hits, “(Baby) Hully Gully” and “Big Boy Pete” just got bigger.

Lil Greenwood “My Last Hour” 1952

August 8, 2007

lilgreen.jpeg4-jacks-federal-12082.jpg Lil Greenwood & Four Jacks

On Apr. 28 1952, the Four Jacks were paired with Lil Greenwood (RN: Lillian B. Greenwood; b: Mobile, AL; 1923) who had been discovered by Roy Milton in Oakland in about 1950 and who backed her on several singles for the Modern label as Lillie Greenwood. In 1951, Greenwood signed to Specialty. “I wasn’t under contract to any label,” Greenwood told Todd Baptista for the book, “Last Of the Good Rockin’ Men.”

“I think Ralph Bass wanted to try to have me record for Federal Records, like he had Little Esther. She was popular and they wanted to do the same thing,” matching her with the Four Jacks as Little Esther had been with both the Robins and with the Dominoes.

On “Grandpa Can Boogie Too,” Greenwood stated it was very much like “Grandma Plays the Numbers” by Wynonie Harris, both songs being on the sister King and Federal labels. “I remember that song by Wynonie Harris. What they did was just rewrite it to fit a female lead. They gave us the songs and maybe I was rehearsing my part on my own and they were rehearsing their part. Then, we’d get together in the studio. Sometimes they would overdub a group and you wouldn’t even know who they were.”On “Monday Morning Blues,” Greenwood sang with Little Willie Littlefield and the Four Jacks, while on “My Last Hour,” she was backed by the Four Jacks only.Several of these records died on the vine when Hunter Hancock, citing racy lyrics, said he couldn’t play “The Last Of the Good Rockin’ Men” or “Sure Cure For the Blues.” After these sides by the Four Jacks failed, Bass turned his attention to the Lamplighters, whom he paired with Greenwood and who later recorded close approximations of songs by fellow Federal artists, the Midnighters, replicating the Wynonie Harris/Four Jacks sound-a-like pattern.

All of these Four Jacks efforts were bootlegged on 45 rpm in about 1970 with a host of other Federal label vocal groups.

Ed Townsend “For Your Love” 1958

August 7, 2007

story_townsend.jpegVocalist Ed Townsend (B: Fayetteville, TN; April 1929) was discovered by orchestra leader Horace Heidt in 1953, while Townsend was stationed in the U.S. Marine Corps in Korea, where he joined a troupe of traveling minstrels. Townsend recorded two sides for Aladdin, “Come On, Walk With Me” b/w “Give Me One More Chance” and “Every Night” b/w “Love Never Dies” in 1957. “That was probably my first record. I was a friend of Eddie Mesner’s who owned the label. He was married to a black lady, I knew his wife.”

“After Aladdin, I recorded for Dot records, ‘Tall Grows the Sycamore, Green Grows…stronger stronger grows this love of mine” in 1957. In 1958, he recorded the calypso, “Wo-Man’s In-Tu-It-Ion” b/w the pop effort “Bordertown Cathedral,” with a melody based loosely on “Cocktails For Two.” All of these recordings sank without a trace. Later in ’58, Townsend recalled, “Nat Cole brought me over to Capitol, I met him in Las Vegas when I was singing with Horace Heidt.”

Townsend’s breakthrough release, the powerful ballad, For Your Love/Over And Over Again on Capitol, which charted #13 nationally on April 21 and #7 on KFWB on June 14, 1958 used “the full sound of the combining of two gospel groups, one white, one black, in the background of this studio session.

Supplementing this background sound were Gwen Johnson and Betty Wright, who went to school with the Blossoms. Arranger Rene Hall recalled how Townsend was strongly opinionated about how he wanted the session to sound. “That would be an Ed Townsend trademark,” said Hall. “He liked background singers that sing in the Broadway production style and violas instead of violins. I only followed his style. He’d say, ‘get me plenty of violas and keep those high screechy things down as much as you can,’ that’s what he called violins.”

His next hit, “When I Grow Too Old To Dream” hit #59 nationally on Sept. 29 adn #34 pm KFWB on Oct. 11, 1958.  Neither of these records score on the R&B chart.  Townsend also hit with “And Then Came Love” on Challenge, #35 on KFWB on Nov. 24 and #24 on the Wallich’s Music City list on Nov. 20, 1961.

But according to Rene Hall, for “Ed Townsend as a singer, ‘For Your Love’ was his biggest and most sustained hit. The very title, ‘for your love, I would do anything,” something the average man or boy in love could easily say to his girlfriend and say, ‘this is a chance to have some impact.’ Titles have a lot to do with hit records, ‘for your love,’ this is an all-encompassing statement a singer is making.”

Jesse Belvin “Beware” 1957

August 7, 2007

jesse-joanne1.gifbelvinhandbill2.jpegIn 1957, the Gassers backed Jesse Belvin on the exceptional ballad, “Beware” b/w “Dry Your Tears,” a reissue of his 1954 release “Hang Your Tears Out To Dry” on Dolphin’s RIH. “Beware” charted #30 on KDAY on Jan. 3 and #18 on KFWB on Jan. 18, 1958.

According to Tony Allen, ’Beware’ was written on the spur of the moment by Jesse. That’s how he wrote songs. He could write 50,000 songs on one chord. He wrote with his voice. It’s the same chords, he could take his voice and restructure it. He had a very unique talent with his voice. A common c chord, you could hear other instruments of his voice. ‘Guess Who’ and ‘Goodnight My Love’ were the same basic structure. If you took his voice out you’d hear the same melodic line, but he’d use his voice to trick you.”

Eugene Church claimed, “I’m one of the writers of ‘Beware,’ also one of the singers on ‘Beware.’”

Allen recalled, “Jessie just stood there, his trick of the trade was his voice. Other guys used tricks – flips, spinning – to get over, he just stood there to get to you. ‘Beware’ was Jesse Belvin, Gaynel and Alex Hodge and myself, singing second. Gaynel was tenor, Jesse was baritone, he overdubbed certain parts.”

Belvin’s “Beware” with dubbed in voices was reissued by Jesse Belvin & the Capris, really the Hollywood Saxons, on Tender in 1959, the result of a deal between John Dolphin’s widow Ruth and Tony Hilder, who had replaced George Motola at the Tender label at the time.

According to Hilder, he and Ruth Dolphin agreed to split the royalties on the reissued “Beware” in exchange for Dolphin getting a piece of “Play the Game Fair” by the Shields. According to a press release by Kitty Davis of Tender, “Beware” by Jesse Belvin & the Capris “brings out the true quality and style of the singer”

Not really, that had already been taken care of by Belvin in 1957.

Richard Berry “Louie Louie” 1957

August 7, 2007

louie-lovie.jpg Okay, I admit it. When in my youth, in the 1960s, I would scribble my name on 45s. To understand why is to understand the era. 45s were easy to find. They were also important. My very good high school friend Bill Soon and I would cruise Hody’s, Grisingers and Oscar’s in his 56 Chevy and play cool records on his ARC under the dash record player that dug into the playing surface with extra pressure to prevent the stylus from bouncing around when the lowered car hit the driveway apron. Some of these 45s I recall was an original gold top Federal “Sixty Minute Man” by the Dominoes and and the silver-top “Work With Me Annie” by the Royals.  Then there were the rarities on colored vinyl, like “Church Key” by the Revels.  And just the great cruising music like “Take the Key” by Richard Berry and the Pharoahs, and of course, “Louie Louie” and “Have Love, Will Travel.”

Then there were the parties. To keep the music cool and prevent the playing of Pat Boone or Bobby Vee records (except for ”Suzie Baby,” of course), one had to furnish better records. But one wanted to keep track of these records, so name-writing was the method of sorting out a potentially dangerous “that’s my 45!” debate with a car club guy who brought some sides and some friends.

If you wore out a record or one was stolen, you could go to Wallich’s Music City or any of the stores in the Long Beach area and pick up a replacement with ease. But there were those 45s that were impossible to replace. In fact, it was while visiting Wallich’s and checking the James Brown section when I found out that the word “collector’s item” applied to “Mashed Potatoes U.S.A.” Looking further at the bins, I saw that some 45s were no longer available. That’s when I decided to buy all I could of these records, and a record collector was thusly born.

All of which brings us back to “Louie Louie” by Richard Berry & the Pharaohs on Flip, one of the coolest and best 45s to ever be played in a house party setting with the lights down low and the girl smelling like the latest scent of something romantic, her Angora sweater clinging to my sweaty T-shirt. Ow!

Except is wasn’t “Louie Louie.” It was an early mis-press, “Louie Lovie.” I’ve only seen two copies of this mistake press in my life, my own copy of which I lost track and in the 45 collection of a lady associated with Flash Records in the 1950s, who decided to not sell it to me at any price. And I’d lost track of my own. So I was “Louie Lovie”-less until I got a recent call from Jim Philbrook who published Record Convention News and who had come across a batch of 45s he was helping to price for a local charity sale. He wanted to know if I’d ever seen “Louie Lovie.” I told him the story of taking it to parties, losing it along the way, a record whose ownership was challenged in the day.

Within a day, Jim called back. “You’re not going to believe this,” he said.

He was right. As a result of what he told me, he sent me the record, gratis. It was my copy from a decade ago. I’ll let you guess how he knew it was once mine. I’m not admitting to anything else. But check the image.

There’s a very sad adendum to this story.

Shortly after the “Louie Lovie” story was published, Jim Philbrook passed away suddenly on July 11, 2007 at age 64.  Then, within a month, Bill Soon passed away suddenly on Aug. 3, 2007 at age 62. There are some things that just can’t be explained.

45 RPM is about L.A.

August 7, 2007

aladdin_this_is_my_story_783.gifThis blog is about R&B and rock n roll out of Southern California – everyone from Little Julian Herrera to Ritchie Valens, from the Robins to the Romancers, from Richard Berry to Eddie Cochran and well beyond.  Los Angeles has pretty big environs, and the time frame starts when recording began in L.A. until sometime in or beyond the 20th Century.  Get read for a ride