Monday, March 8, 2010

Sharing More Sad News Today

Boy, it seems like every time we turn around we hear more sad news about some of our musical favorites ... these came in this past week:

Ron Banks, founding member of the Dramatics of "Whatcha See Is Whatcha Get" (#9 - 1971) and "In The Rain" (#5 - 1972) fame, died unexpectedly Thursday afternoon (March 4) at his home in Detroit. He was 58. No cause of death has been determined but it is believed Ron died of a heart attack. The Redford, Michigan, native formed the group in 1962 with the late Elbert Wilkins and William (Wee Gee) Howard, along with Larry Demps and Willie Ford as the Dynamics. The 1967 name change was followed by their first chart single, "All Because Of You," which reached #43 on the R & B charts for Sport Records. It wasn't until the group was picked up by Volt (companion label to Memphis' Stax Records) that they broke through with "Whatcha See Is Whatcha Get." All told, the Dramatics charted 35 times on the R & B charts and a dozen times on the pop charts, including the tunes "Me And Mrs. Jones" (#47 - 1975) and "The Stars In Your Eyes" (#81 - 1975), which were credited to Ron Banks and the Dramatics. Ron sang with the group as recently as last Fall. The group will perform Saturday at the Westbury Music Festival in New York but the space in front on Ron's microphone will be empty.
-- Ron Smith (

We received this bit of sad news from a number of our readers this past week ... obviously, The Dramatics were list favorites. We hear "Whatcha See Is Whatcha Get" all the time on the oldies stations ... but they seem to ignore their OTHER Top Five Hit "In The Rain" ... so that's the one we'll feature here today. (kk)

Lolly Vegas, lead singer and guitarist with Redbone, died of lung cancer Thursday at his home in Reseda, California. He was 70. Lolly, whose real name was Lolly Vasquez, was diagnosed with lung cancer after being hospitalized with a stomach aneurysm in January. He had suffered a stroke in 1996 that forced him to leave the band. Lolly and his brother, Pat formed Redbone with brothers Anthony "T-Bone" Bellamy and Peter DePoe in Los Angeles in 1969. The name came from a cajun term for a mixed-race person. Their first, self-tiled, album came in 1970 but it was their second, that yielded the #45 single, "Maggie," early the next year. It was followed by two more chart hits -- "The Witch Queen Of New Orleans" (#21 - 1972) and "Come And Get Your Love" (#5 - 1974). The group was inducted into the Native American Music Awards Hall of Fame in 2008. T-Bone died of liver failure just last Christmas at the age of 63.
-- Ron Smith (
Lolly and his brother Pat had quite a long and illustrious career in music, dating all the way back to performing as members of the house band on the old musical television series "Shindig". As part of our "Honest Injun" Series several years ago, we kinda blew the whistle on these guys for portraying themselves as full-blooded Indians in the band Redbone when, in fact, they were of Mexican heritage. Here is an excerpt from what was at that time considered to be a pretty revolutionary piece:
Redbone are described in Joel Whitburn's "Top Pop Singles" Book as "a Native American Indian 'Swamp-Rock' Group" formed in Los Angeles in 1968. They have long been recognized for this distinction, considered unique in the music world as being the first (and only) successful, authentic American Indian Rock And Roll Band. They performed on stage dressed in what can best be described as ultra-stereotypical Indian fashion: buckskins, moccasins and full Indian headdress ... yet, despite all the hype, the truth is that only ONE member of the band was actually born a Native American Indian.
(Here we go again ... another thirty-year old myth is about to be debunked today in FORGOTTEN HITS.)
Brothers Pat and Lolly Vegas were the backbone of Redbone, but their musical roots date back even further. Pat and Lolly first hit the rock and roll scene back in the early '60's when they were backing up pop star Jimmy Clanton. In truth, they were Mexican-Americans, born with the last name of Vasquez. When they decided to split off from Clanton to concentrate on studio sessions and club work, they were taken under the wing of famed musical manager Bumps Blackwell (Sam Cooke and Little Richard), who suggested that they change their last name to the more "politically-correct" / "user-friendly" Vegas. Soon, as Pat and Lolly Vegas, they were recording as a duo with Pat on bass and Lolly on guitar, trading off lead vocals. They landed a gig on the popular teenage music television series "Shindig", performing as both up-and-coming recording artists as well as part of the "house band," backing many of the other artists who were appearing on the program. They continued to do a fair amount of studio session work (in fact, that's their fretwork you hear on the hits "Let's Go" by The Routers and "Out Of Limits" by The Marketts! They also sat in on recording sessions with the likes of studio session whiz kids Glen Campbell, Johnny Rivers and Leon Russell in the mid-'60's before each of THESE artists went on to have significant solo recording careers.) Along the way, they even took a crack at songwriting, placing material with artists like Bobbie Gentry, Tom Jones and Aretha Franklin. Their biggest pop hit was recorded by P.J. Proby ... the previously featured Forgotten Hit, "Niki Hoeky" went to #23 in 1967.
In the late 1960's, they formed a new group called The Crazy Cajun Band and, after a series of other players who came and went, spinning through the proverbial musical revolving door, added Anthony Bellamy on guitar and Peter De Poe on drums. Tony Bellamy was ALSO a Mexican-American (real name Tony Avila) but he had an Uncle who was a Navajo Chief. Peter De Poe was the ONLY native born American Indian in the band. Given the Indian name "Last Walking Bear", De Poe (from the Cheyenne tribe), was the ceremonial drummer on the reservation where he was born prior to discovering rock and roll and joining Redbone. With a slight change in musical direction (along with a quick name change ... Redbone was a "wink-wink" / tongue-in-cheek selection ... it is reportedly Cajun and Indian slang for Half-Breed), Lolly and Pat Vegas now claimed that they were descendants of the Yaqui Indians (who were, coincidentally, based out of Sonora, Mexico). Soon the gimmick (and the legend of Redbone) was in place. (Ironically, after reaching chart success, it was Native American Indian Peter De Poe who became the first member to leave the band, being replaced by new drummer Butch Rilera, another Mexican-American ... however, HE claimed to have had a great-grandmother who was an Iroquois / Seneca Indian princess! Rilera had previously played for The Righteous Brothers.)
Quite honestly, their musical inspirations were as varied as their own backgrounds ... Cajun, Mexican-American, Indian and Latin influences can be heard throughout their recordings. But it nearly didn't happen ...
Their first two chart singles bombed when they were released the first time around ... in 1970, "Maggie" hit #80 and "The Witch Queen Of New Orleans" never charted at all. Remarkably, a year later "Maggie" was revived by the record label and this time it just missed The Top 40, peaking at #45 in early 1971. When "The Witch Queen Of New Orleans" (with what was now their trademark Native American backing rhythms and chants) became an International Smash, (Top Ten in Holland, Belgium, France, Spain, Italy, Great Britain and Singapore!), it was quickly re-released here in the States, too, and this time it went to #19 in Cash Box Magazine (and was a #3 smash here in Chicago.) Their next release became their biggest hit ... "Come And Get Your Love" soared to #5 on both of the national charts and went all the way to #1 here in Chi-Town ... and then, mysteriously, at the top of their game, it was all over. (No official report as to whether or not they later sold or donated their stage costumes to that guy from The Village People!)
The hits may have stopped coming, but today Redbone is remembered and highly regarded as the premier, authentic American Indian band, staying true to their musical roots while bridging the gap to rock and roll ... even if that's not quite EXACTLY the truth!!! (LOL)

Bobby Espinosa, founding member and keyboardist for El Chicano, died Saturday (February 27) at an East Los Angeles hospital at the age of 60. The cause of death was not given, but Bobby had been in ill-health for quite some time. The group was formed by Bobby, along with Freddie Sanchez, Mickey Lespron, Andre Baeza, and John De Luna in the late '60s in East L.A. It was Bobby's Hammond organ work on the song "Viva Tirado" (an instrumental version of Gerald Wilson's homage to a bullfighter) that propelled the tune to #1 in Los Angeles and -- after a jump from tiny Gordo Records to Kapp / MCA -- to #28 nationally in early 1970. It was followed by two more chart entries -- their version of Van Morrison's "Brown Eyed Girl" (#45 - 1972) and "Tell Her She's Lovely" (#40 - 1973). The group performed for a PBS special on Latin music that was taped last November and will air this month. Bobby was inducted into the "Hammond Heroes" -- a hall of fame for those who played the Hammond organ.
-- Ron Smith (
Several years ago El Chicano bandmates Bobby Espinosa and Freddy Sanchez participated with Forgotten Hits on a piece we did spotlighting their group ... in fact, if I remember correctly two of our list "regulars" interviewed them for our publication.
El Chicago's music performed very well on the Chicagoland Charts ... "Viva Tirado" went to #19, "Brown Eyed Girl" hit #25 and "Tell Her She's Lovely" (my personal favorite) reached #20.

And here's one we missed:
Lee Freeman, rhythm guitarist with the Strawberry Alarm Clock, died Sunday, February 14, at his home in San Bruno, California after a long battle with cancer. He was 61. Lee formed Thee Sixpence, the forerunners to SAC, along with Ed King, Mark Weitz, Gary Lovetro and Randy Seol in Los Angeles in 1966. The group recorded three singles for tiny All American Records before 1967's "Incense And Peppermints" and even that song was so lowly-regarded by the group that they used a 16 year-old friend of theirs -- Greg Munford -- to sing lead and relegated the song to the B-side of "Birdman Of Alkatrash." However, when "Incense" started gaining airplay in Los Angeles, Uni Records picked up the single and made it the A-side. The tune reached #1 and spent 16 weeks on the national charts. SAC added George Bunnell and Steve Bartek but lost Gary Lovetro before their second single, "Tomorrow," which peaked at a disappointing #23 in 1968. It was followed by three other singles that never escaped the top 60. Lee left the group briefly in the Summer of 1968 and within three years the group broke up until the inevitable reunions -- the latest of which was in 2007.
Ron Smith (

Several years ago our Forgotten Hit readers voted "Incense And Peppermints" as their all-time favorite Psychedelic Song. (You can read ALL about it on The Forgotten Hits Web Page:

Click here: Forgotten Hits - Top 20 Favorite Psychedelic Songs). Long-time, faithful readers will ALSO recall that the 2007 reunion that Ron mentioned above was at the hands of former Chicago Sun Times Film Critic Roger Ebert, who asked the group to reunite to perform at a special screening of his film "Beyond The Valley Of The Dolls", a film for which Ebert wrote the original screenplay and in which The Strawberry Alarm Clock first appeared back in 1968. It was all part of a special film festival dubbed "Ebertfest"! Roger Ebert made the news last week, too, after his appearance on The Oprah Winfrey Show, where he debuted his new computerized voice! Ebert recently lost his jaw to cancer.) At various times, members of The Strawberry Alarm Clock have also participated with our publication, letting fans know about their latest goings-on. (kk)

>>>Some sad news for all the Johnny Maestro fans out there ... and believe me, there are PLENTY!!! (kk)
>>>Friends: Here is a Johnny Maestro Update -- Remember him in your thoughts and prayers. Johnny Maestro is ill with cancer and is taking a three-month break from performing at this time. He has apparently lost a considerable amount of weight and needs to rest. "JOHNNY WANTS TO THANK EVERYONE FOR THEIR PATIENCE OF THIS SITUATION OF HOLDING INFORMATION. YES, JOHNNY IS BEING TREATED FOR CANCER. HE NEEDS TO REST AND HOPE FOR A SPEEDY RECOVERY. JOHNNY NEEDS TO TAKE TIME OFF BUT REQUESTS THE BAND TO GO ON TO DO SHOWS. HE HAS PICKED A FRIEND OF HIS, JOEL KATZ, TO SING THE SONGS AT THE SHOWS.WE ALL KNOW JOHNNY CANNOT BE REPLACED. IT IS TOUGH ON EVERYONE, BUT JOHNNY WANTS THE SHOWS TO GO ON FOR THE FANS TO ENJOY THE SONGS OF THE BROOKLYN BRIDGE & JOHNNY MAESTRO. THIS IS A REAL DIFFICULT TIME FOR THE BROOKLYN BRIDGE FAMILY AND THE FANS. WE ALL NEED TO TAKE A STEP BACK AND KEEP SAYING THOSE PRAYERS!"-- from Ed "Smitty" Smith, production manager for Johnny Maestro and the Brooklyn Bridge (and sent to us by Forgotten Hits Reader Bob Hughes. We heard legendary Chicagoland Disc Jockey Dick Biondi read this official statement on the air the other night. We're all trying to do our part to get the word out to Johnny's fans. kk)
Messages of encouragement and support can be sent to Johnny and the group through their website at:
Through his gifts and the way he shared them with others, Johnny has brought much happiness to others. We pray for peace, acceptance, and health for Johnny, his wife, Grace, and the entire JM & BB family.
We ALL send Johnny our best wishes and prayers for a speedy recovery. (kk)


Dateline: February 3, 1959 - Clear Lake, Iowa:
Buddy Holly, Richie Valens and J.P. Richardson's 4-week tour of the midwest, played the Surf Ballroom in Clearlake, Iowa. Although February 2 was originally to be a night off following 10 straight shows, agent Irvin Feld and General Artists Corporation added a performance date, which cost the Surf Ballroom $319. After the show, on a cold winter's night a small private plane took off from Clear Lake, Iowa bound for Fargo, N.D. It never made its destination.Read the true story with pictures here:
-- submitted by Sam Lyt

Here's the story of how I learned how to play the guitar from Buddy Holly ... plus a rare 59 second clip of Buddy and Elvis together! Regards,
Artie Wayne

As you know, February 3rd is called The Day The Music Died. If you were tuned in to my program a couple weeks back, you heard my annual tribute to that day that changed rock and roll music. That terrible plane crash still haunts many of us.
Back in 2007 my friend Ronnie Allen interviewed Sonny Curtis, who not only was part of Buddy Holly's Crickets, but a singer and song writer as well. I recently featured Ronnie's full one hour interview.

(Note: This interview is still available as part of Ronnie Allen's Jersey Girls Sing website ... be sure to check out our upcoming "On The Radio" special mailer for a list of OTHER recent Ronnie Allen interviews!) kk
DJ Stu Weiss / The Pop Shoppe / Top Shelf Oldies

Studying music's past through reading old Billboard, Cash Box and other magazines often turns up amazing stories I did not know about the past days of artists. The attached story came from the Cash Box Annual of August 15, 1964. Just two weeks prior to this issue, on July 31, 1964, country music legend Jim Reeves died. I knew he died in the 60's, but did not know he died in a plane crash. The circumstances were a bit like Buddy Holly's death of five years earlier. Reeves was returning to Nashville from a gig. They recovered Buddy's glasses at the crash site, while they ID'd Reeves by finding his drivers license.
The first amazing thing I realized was that the crash and victims were not located for two days! In those hours, friends of Reeves searched a 20 mile area. This is what was amazing! Guess who was searching those fields. 700 people including Eddy Arnold, Chet Atkins, Ernest Tubb and Stonewall Jackson! Can you imagine today's country legends out in a field searching for a fellow star?
If that weren't enough, he was on the radio at a young age like many country superstars of that era. BUT, a second amazing story is in the article. He was ALSO an athlete and received an athletic scholarship to Texas University and decided to pursue a baseball career instead of music. Unlike what the article says, he dropped out of school after just six weeks and went back to working the shipyards in Houston. Soon, he returned to baseball playing in a semi-pro league before signing with the ST. LOUIS CARDINALS in 1944! Unlike the article's info, he played in St. Louis' farm Class B (much like today's Double A) league team Lynchburg (Virginia) Cardinals. He was a pitcher who played in six games in 1945. He pitched nine innings without a record. The following years he dropped down to Class C (with White Sox organization club) and Class D in 1946 and 1947. Despite seriously injuring his ankle in 1947, he posted a winning record in each league. 7-6 in class C and 15-10 in class D. At 24, his Field of Dreams try was over.
It took quite some time to become famous in music, but by the 60's he was a big star and at the time of his death was one of the top international stars of country music. He had a Top 10 record that week in the US, but also in other countries as well. He died just as "A Hard Day's Night" was reaching #1 at the early stages of Beatlemania in the U.S.
At age 41, Jim Reeves was gone. Elvis would die at age 40. Below is Jim's baseball record, but he will be known best for that low voice singing "Put your sweet lips a little closer to the phone" and his huge hit, "He'll Have to Go". Makes you wonder if there was ever a movie made about THIS legend?
Sometimes amazing stories still turn up!
Clark Besch

(Click to enlarge)

The cool thing about reading about new artists in old issues of Billboard and Cash Box is that these stories hit BEFORE much of the myth was fabricated over years of developing more "colorful" story-telling. (Of course it's never been above a good press agent to fabricate a little bit of the story going in, too, in an effort to launch a new artist, trying to make them sound just a little bit more interesting or, most often, shaving a few years off their birthdays!) Cool info about Jim Reeves ... and, just as a matter of record, Elvis died at 42, not 40. (We're all about getting it right, too! lol) kk

Members of our generation remember “where we were and what we were doing” when key events occurred: The Kennedy Assassination, The Challenger Explosion, 9/11 to name a few. For me, there’s another one that most people don’t think too much about.
In the 1950s and 1960s, only a very few country music acts earned enough money to become wealthy. Most country acts lived among the working class folks of suburbia, and many of them held other jobs to keep food on the table week after week.
Wednesday, March 6, dawned cool like most late winter days in Nashville, but there was something sad and different in the air that morning. I was only in third grade, but the memory of that morning is fresh and clear. The phone rang several times. Neighbors gathered and talked in driveways and porches before heading for work or school. A horrible tragedy had occurred the night before, and the bodies and wreckage had been discovered at daybreak. Singers Patsy Cline, Cowboy Copas, Hawkshaw Hawkins, and manager / pilot Randy Hughes had perished on that ill-fated flight through bad weather.
I walked past the home of Cowboy Copas every morning and afternoon going to and from school. His son Mike was a few years ahead of me, in junior high. Randy Hughes’ son Larry attended my elementary school. Patsy Cline, having made the big-time, had just moved into a new home a few miles away in another neighborhood of ‘spacious’ 1800 sq ft homes. Her husband Charlie worked in the composing room at the afternoon newspaper. These folks were our neighbors. Part of our community. Tragedy struck, history was written, we grieved.
Those who didn’t attend the funerals assembled at the cemetery to pay their respects in the days that followed. I remember riding through the packed cemetery after the burial and the family had departed. This was big stuff in our small world.
I drive by the cemetery daily. My dad’s buried there. Our earliest remembrances are the strongest. I look over at Mr. Copas’ gravesite and remember the third grade. The world has changed, but the music lives on and on.
David Lewis

Our special mailing remembering Dale Hawkins and Doug Fieger of The Knack went out by email this morning to those on the mailing list who requested it. Remember ... we have SEVERAL "Special Mailings" available that will go out "By Request Only" ... with so many new readers joining the list this past weekend, we figured we'd run 'em by you one more time. If you'd like to receive ANY of these special mailings, you MUST drop us an email requesting them. Thanks!

LEFTOVERS (For die-hard fans only ... some of this stuff takes us off the regularly traveled path of Forgotten Hits)
ON THE RADIO (Fairly recent ... old ... and even OLDER radio news and features!!!)
THE NEW COLONY SIX (yet another follow-up to our recent features)!