Saturday, May 9, 2009

Jimmie Rodgers - Part 3

Besides the incredible "Hit List" we featured the other day tracing Jimmie Rodgers' pop chart career, three of Jimmie's B-Sides also received several of your votes in our "Favorite, Forgotten B-Sides" Poll a couple of years back. In addition, Rodgers ALSO had a Two-Sided Hit place in our Top 200 Biggest Two-Sided Hits Of All-Time Countdown when Secretly / Make Me A Miracle came in at #162. (We featured that barely-remembered B-Side yesterday ... while "Secretly" peaked at #4 on both the Billboard and the Cash Box Chart, "Make Me A Miracle" climbed to #31 in Cash Box on its own! Rodgers recorded his own remake of "Secretly" in 1978 ... and it actually hit Billboard's Adult Contemporary Chart, peaking at #46!)
"The Long Hot Summer" was the title song from the 1958 film starring Paul Newman, Joanne Woodward, Anthony Franciosa, Orson Welles, Lee Remick and Angela Lansbury. (How's THAT for an incredible cast?!?!?) It began climbing the charts on its own strength just as its A-Side, "Oh-Oh, I'm Falling In Love Again" was making its final descent. Because "The Long Hot Summer" never rose above #49 in Cash Box Magazine (and, inexplicably stalled at #77 in Billboard), it became eligible for our special Favorite B-Sides Poll.

Coming close to disqualification was "Waltzing Matilda", the B-Side to Rodgers' 1960 Hit "T.L.C. Tender Love And Care". It peaked at #41 in Billboard all on its own, one position away from elimination. (In order to qualify as a "Favorite, Forgotten B-Side", the A-Side of the record HAD to be a National Top 40 Hit ... but the B-Side could NOT be a Top 40 Hit on its own.) Just as strangely, this side failed to chart at all in Cash Box.

"Waltzing Matilda" was an old Australian Folk Song that I remember singing in grade school (and learning the literal translation to each Australian slang term used in the song ... I couldn't even BEGIN to tell you what it means now!!!) The song rose to popularity when it was used in the 1959 film "On The Beach",
starring Gregory Peck, Ava Gardner, Fred Astaire and Anthony Perkins ... and shows once again the diversity of different musical styles that Jimmie Rodgers introduced us to in the early days of Rock And Roll.

Finally, the flipside of Jimmie's 1967 "comeback" hit "Child Of Clay", a personal favorite of mine that we featured at the beginning of this series, was nominated ... and, as such, Rodgers' version of "Turn Around" earned some of your votes in our B-Sides Poll. This one's a folk music standard, first introduced by Harry Belafonte back in 1959 on his "Love Is A Gentle Thing" album.


Here's what some of you had to say about Jimmie's movie theme "The Long Hot Summer", a #49 hit in 1958 (and the flipside of his Top 20 Hit "Oh-Oh, I'm Falling In Love Again") after our B-Sides Series ran.

Here's one I eagerly flipped over way back when, since I was (and am) a movie nut. In fact, I MAY have bought it for The Long, Hot Summer. As you know, I was no child when this one came out and my tastes leaned more towards melodic ballads than bouncy pop tunes so this one gets my vote. Jimmie seemed an odd choice for a major motion picture theme song, but he sure did it well.
Hil (TheOneBuff)
Jimmie made a few film appearances himself ... and was reportedly due to begin filming another motion picture the morning after he was attacked back in 1967. There certainly have been STRANGER choices to sing a movie theme!!! Here is yet another case where the EXPECTED A-Side ... the theme to a major motion picture ... wound up on the B-SIDE of the record instead!!! (We saw a few examples of this during the course of our B-SIDES Series!) Thanks, HIL. (kk)

For me, nothing by Jimmie outranks "The Long Hot Summer." The combination of that song and the opening scenes of the film make for an unforgettable audio-visual experience.
Jerry Osborne

Thank you so much for "The Long Hot Summer". I LOVE that song, and the movie is one of my favorites.


After our series started, we heard from Ronnie Allen, who sent us a link to an interview that he did with Jimmie shortly after his surgery:

Kent, I look forward very much to your Jimmie Rodgers tribute. I was the first person to do a full-length interview show with him after his life-saving "miracle" surgery in 2007. It's on my Radio Page:

Ronnie's Radio Page .....

This is one incredible man!

Ronnie Allen

I also received some VERY special Jimmie Rodgers Memories, courtesy of our recuperating buddy, Fred Vail, who asked us to share these stories with our Forgotten Hits Readers:

1957. There are not too many years of rock's 'golden era' that can match that singular year. Think about it: Elvis makes his final appearance on the "Ed Sullivan Show" and purchases "Graceland." Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel form "Tom and Jerry." Pat Boone stars in two films, "Bernardine" and "April Love." Bo Diddley records "Hey, Bo Diddley." John and Paul meet at St. Peter's Church in Liverpool." "American Bandstand" premiers on television, and, while it can't quite be considered a 'rock' classic, Leonard Bernstein completes his work on "West Side Story."
Not a bad year for great singles, either. Elvis scores with "Jailhouse Rock," "Teddy Bear," "Loving You" and "All Shook Up." Pat Boone scores with "Bernardine," "Love Letters In The Sand," "April Love" and "Don't Forbid Me." Sonny James and Marty Robbins crossover from country to the pop charts with "Young Love" and "A White Sport Coat." The Everlys hit with "Wake Up Little Susie," Jerry Lee Lewis contributes "Great Balls of Fire," The Crickets amaze us with "That'll Be The Day," Little Richard gives us "Lucille" and "Tutti-Frutti," and Sam Cooke delivers "You Send Me." Roulette Records artist, Buddy Knox, scores with "Party Doll," and a label mate, James Frederick "Jimmie" Rodgers bursts upon the national scene with his chart topping "Honeycomb."
I was an eighth grader at Starr King Elementary School in Sacramento in the fall of 1957 when Jimmie had his first #1, "Honeycomb." In the midst of all the great rock and roll songs -- to say nothing of the great 'pop' icons who were still having hits like Doris Day, Perry Como, Frank Sinatra and others, here was this very refreshing new talent singing about how the 'Lord made the bee and the bee made the honey." It was different. It was distinctive. It was pop, it was folk, but one thing was for certain: it was a smash.
I was already a huge Elvis, Ricky Nelson and Pat Boone fan and a member of their respective 'fan clubs.' I called the radio stations faithfully to request their latest release, not that I really had to. All were 'automatic' adds at the local radio stations. But when you were a member of their fan club, you would do anything and everything to support your favorite 'star.' By the fall of 1957 I'd already scored my first major interview for my elementary school paper, meeting Ricky and David Nelson on the set of television's "Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet." I'd also started working as a radio 'gopher' and teen news announcer at KRAK Radio, then a 50kw Top 40 station serving Stockton and Sacramento.
When I heard Jimmie's hit record I knew I'd have to find a way to interview him. And I could hardly wait for a follow-up single. I didn't have to wait long. Another #1, "Kisses Sweeter Than Wine," managed to stay in the Top 100 for over twenty weeks the later part of 1957 and well into 1958. Then, a succession of other hits: "Oh, Oh, I'm Falling In Love Again," "Secretly," "Are You Really, Really Mine," and others. By that time, however, I had joined Jimmie's fan club -- run by his secretary and assistant, Merry Stevens, and -- on a trip to Los Angeles with my folks in '58 -- I made it a point to visit her at their fan club office on North Highlands Avenue, south of Sunset Blvd.
As all of us "Forgotten Hits" readers know, it was an era of hit singles. It was all about the '45.' Albums often contained a hit or two, but were also made up of 'filler' tunes. You often felt a bit disappointed when you paid $3.99 for an album - a lot of money for kids who typically made fifty cents to a buck allowance -- only to find one or two tracks you really enjoyed.
With Jimmie, however, I began to get into the entire album, not just the hits. That's where Jimmie's folk sound really came through. Songs like "Woman From Liberia," "Waltzing Matilda" "Froggy Went A Courting," "Soldier, Won't You Marry Me," and "Black Is The Color of My True Love's Hair." These songs became favorites of mine and fifty+ years later, merely reading these titles evokes wonderful memories of a era when our passion for music denominated our lives. We could hardly wait to get out of school so we could rush home to tune in "American Bandstand." We waited patiently for our favorite singer or group to come out with a new single or album.
Sometimes, we were a bit disappointed but not so with Jimmie. His songs -- and the distinctive sound he brought to them -- never let me down. I knew I had to interview Jimmie and when I heard he was coming to the California State Fair in August of 1958, I got my chance. I called Merry and she arranged for me to meet Jimmie and his wife, Colleen, at the Sacramento Inn. My friend, Bob Jones, accompanied me and we had a wonderful visit. We even met their two poodles, "Honeycomb" and "BeeBee." The interview was my first published feature in my high school newspaper, The El Caminian, shortly after I began my freshman year.
Over the next year or so I entered several contests that Jimmie's fan club put on from time to time. We were asked to write a story about our favorite song or we'd get 'points' for mailing out post cards to radio stations requesting Jimmie Rodgers songs. I'd get periodic notes or autographed photos from Jimmie from time to time and when I learned he was to appear at the Venetian Room of San Francisco's world famous Fairmont Hotel, I called Merry once again, asking if she could arrange for me to see Jimmie. The arrangements were made and my Mother and I drove over to San Francisco to attend the concert. Since San Francisco was my home town, and since we would always stay with my Grandmother at her home on Guerrero Street, we would not have to rush home to Sacramento immediately after Jimmie's performance.
The Venetian Room was one of the top showrooms on the West Coast, much like the Empire Room at New York's Waldorf - Astoria, or the Coconut Grove Ballroom at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles. Ernie Hecksher and his Orchestra provided the music -- it was a big band, not a combo -- and everyone from Nat "King" Cole to Ella Fitzgerald, to Cab Calloway to Pat Boone played the room. There were two shows, a dinner show at 8 PM and a cocktail show around 11. It was a suit and a tie affair. Everyone dressed up if they were going to The Fairmont. My Mother and I were escorted to our seats by the Maitre de, and they were right near the front of the room, just to the right of the stage. The menu offered everything from salads and sandwiches to full dinners.
An evening at The Venetian Room was not a 'cheap date.' It was expensive by late 1950's standards, and we were very careful what we ordered. If I recall, my mother had a house salad and I had a sandwich. Still, the bill, with 'cover charge' and gratuity, was probably in the twenty-five dollar range. That sounds like a pittance today, but in 1959 and 1960, it was a lot of money!
After we'd finished our meal and the waiters had bussed the tables, the audience was ready for the show. Jimmie came out decked in a black tux. He did all his hits and some of those equally familiar folk songs. Jimmie had this distinctive curl in the middle of his forehead and it was his trademark, so to speak. His gracious smile, his warm voice, his friendly demeanor filled the room. Then, just as I was getting into the show, it was over.
Merry had arranged for my Mother and I to meet Jimmie between his two shows but first we had to 'settle up' with the waiter. It seemed forever for the check to come. Finally, my Mother got the attention of one of the table captains and asked for our check. "Oh, I'm sorry for your wait, Mame, Mr. Rodgers has taken care of it," was his reply. Jimmie's kind gesture became a conversation topic for years. My mom and I always joked about the fact that we had made it a point to be thrifty at the dinner show, not knowing we could have ordered anything on the menu and Jimmie would have graciously picked up the tab! :)
My Mother and I had a wonderful visit with Jimmie that night at The Fairmont and the memory of that dining experience is fondly remembered fifty years later. My Mother and Father are gone now, as is Jimmie's first wife, Colleen. I can't begin to recall what Jimmie and I spoke about that night but I'll always be deeply indebted to him for the generosity he showed a sixteen year old fan and his Mother.
I caught up with Jimmie several times after that evening. One was his 'comeback' performance at the Coconut Grove Ballroom in Los Angeles after he had recuperated from his December, 1967, beating on the Hollywood Freeway. There he was, up on the stage, wearing the familiar black tux, and sporting the spit-curl. I was managing The Beach Boys then, so when the check came, I gladly paid for my own meal!
Jimmie also recorded an album with Jimmy Bowen in Nashville. It was in the late 70's. I visited him briefly at the recording studio -- and we spoke to each other once or twice since he's been living in Branson -- but that evening at The Venetian Room in San Francisco's Fairmont Hotel fifty years ago -- remains one of my favorite remembrances of my fifty-two years in radio and records.
Fred Vail
Treasure Isle Recorders, Inc.
Nashville, TN
"Music City, USA"

Thanks, Fred ... my guess is that reading this will stir a memory or two for Jimmie, too!!! (kk)