Monday, December 13, 2010

Robin Luke

Hi Kent,

I heard "Susie Darlin'" by Robin Luke on the radio this morning and couldn't recall whether or not it had ever been discussed on FH at one time or another.
It's certainly an interesting story.
Do you know of another song where the studio version was killed and the original bedroom recording was put into production when a major label picked up an artist?

Now here's the studio version that was rejected in favor of the original home version featuring pencil tapping and bathroom echo effects (which went to Number 5 nationally).

This looks like another case of what's been discussed recently on FH: This studio version has appeared recently on some import CDs, and my guess is that the people putting together the CD weren't aware that this wasn't the hit 45 and just took a master tape into production. There's a huge difference in flavor and "feeling" from the hit 45 to this sanitized studio cut, and it's easy to see why the original was chosen for mass production by Dot.
Most of the CD compilations include the real 45 version, but with so few people working in the industry actually knowing the music, we're going to see more and more of this.
Wouldn't it be neat of the people doing this took just a little more time to check with someone who knows the music?
We've featured "Susie Darlin'" before but I don't know if we've ever really explored any of the "back story". (I know this is one of Scott Shannon's favorite songs so you'll hear him play it from time to time ... in fact, I think he even played it on Robin Luke's birthday this year! But otherwise it's not one of those that typically gets a lot of oldies radio airplay, despite its Top Five showing.)
According to Joel Whitburn's book, Robin recorded "Susie Darlin'" in Hawaii as a tribute to his sister. The single was first released on the Bertram International label in 1958 before Dot picked up the master for national distribution.
Luke was born in Los Angeles, California, but relocated to Hawaii because his father worked for Douglas Aircraft and, depending on where he happened to be assigned at any given point in time, that's the place that Robin called "home".
The story goes that Dot Distributor Art Freeman heard the original recording of the song (already a popular hit locally in Honolulu on the Bertram International label) while honeymooning with his newlywed wife Dorothy in Hawaii and was so taken by it that he called Randy Wood, the owner of Dot Records, and told him that he had just found their next hit. Based on Freeman's enthusiasm, Wood purchased the master without even hearing it (!) and quickly released it on his own label.
The original "bedroom recording" (with echoed vocals courtesy of the bathroom!) featured Robin Luke on guitar and vocal and Bob Bertram, head of the Hawaiian Record Company that first released the song, on percussion ... which consisted of tapping pens on a box and sticks on a pen! (Wayne Jancik's book, "The Billboard Book Of One Hit Wonders", says that the actual recording pressed on Bertram Records was recorded in a small studio in Honolulu. Actually, digging just a little bit deeper, it sounds like Bertram's "studio" WAS, in fact, a bedroom ... and it was the accompanying bathroom that provided the "echo chamber" used on the record!)
Jancik also says that Bertram didn't care much for "Susie Darlin'" when he first heard it. He thought "Living's Loving You" was the stronger hit, so that was pressed as the intended A-Side. But once again, the B-Side prevailed ... after becoming popular locally in Hawaii, Dot took the record national and it sailed into The Top Five during some of the earliest days of rock and roll.
The re-recording came about when Randy Wood initially had problems releasing "Susie Darlin'" because it was cut at a non-Union session. On his website, Luke explains that they next went into The United Recording Studio in Hollywood, California, to recut the track with union studio musicians: “We went over to the United recording studio, which was state-of-the-art at that time, and we had some of the greatest talent in Hollywood working on ‘Susie Darlin'’’ with formal sheet music and the Jack Halloran Singers. It was absolutely beautiful – but it didn’t have that haunting sound, so Randy Wood slipped the original tape into production.”
It worked and Robin Luke soon had his first ... and only hit. Although he recorded several other tracks ... backed by some of the best talent in the business ... he was never able to recapture the raw sound first recorded in Bob Bertram's bedroom studio.
He quit the business shortly afterward to continue his education and went on to become a college professor! (His website says that today he's most likely to be referred to as "Professor Luke", as he is currently the department head of marketing in the College of Business Administration at Southwest Missouri State University. (kk)
For more on Robin Luke, be sure to visit his official website here:
Click here: The Official Robin Luke Website - Home

I showed Robin Luke the piece we had prepared for the website and asked him if there were any additions or corrections he'd like to make to our presentation. He found quite a few and they're all listed below.
He ALSO told me that, despite his Professor status, he still does the occassional oldies show now and again ... and that Bear Family has just recently released a compilation album featuring 31 of his recordings. (Now how cool is THAT?!?!?)
So here, folks, EXCLUSIVELY for Forgotten Hits ... is The Robin Luke Story ... as told by Robin Luke!!!

Hi Kent:
Thanks for your email!
Almost everything you have shown me is true as written except that:
1. My birthday is March 20, 1942 (not March 19th, as stated in several other publications.)

NOTE TO JOEL WHITBURN: Please correct this in your next edition of Top Pop Singles! (lol) kk
2. I did NOT write Susie Darlin' as a tribute to my sister Susie (11 years younger than me).

I simply put her name on it to keep me out of trouble with the other girls at Punahou School (my high school and where President Obama graduated exactly 20 years after me in 1978). There have been many chat groups that say that I wrote this song upon her death, illness, and other gruesome such stories. Susie is alive and well and living in Columbia Missouri!
3. Bertram always thought Susie Darlin' was the “A” side. In fact, to make sure, he actually slowed down the song until it sounded like a death dirge. A little bit more up-tempo and it is a terrific blues song, and I am asked often to sing it when appearing in “oldies shows.”
4. The bedroom was a bedroom (not a studio) and we used a primitive Ampex portable tape recorded with “sound on sound” and one microphone. I would lay down a track and then put on earphones and sing over the original track(s) to put another one on. This went well until a mistake was made, and then we would HAVE TO START ALL OVER! It took about one month to get it right with seven tracks. That is why Susie Darlin' sounds so “mushy” ... because each time a track was laid down on top of the others it took a great deal of high fidelity away.
5. Although I will certainly admit that Susie Darlin' was a "monster hit", having sold over 2 1/2 million copies (and it is still selling … I get royalties to prove it), my small ego tells me that there were quite a few other songs of mine that made the Cash Box Top 100. One (“Make Me a Dreamer”) supposedly sold over 100,000 copies because the Arthur Murray Dance Studios purchased many thousands of copies because it was about the only contemporary “waltz” during the year! Bear Family has a CD out with 31 on my recordings on it over a six year period.

In the interest of accuracy, I double-checked both the Billboard and the Cash Box Singles Charts. While "Susie Darlin'" was Robin's only Billboard charted hit (#5 in 1958), he DID place one other song on the Cash Box Singles Chart ... but it WASN'T "Make Me A Dreamer" as he suspected. "My Girl" spent exactly one week at #97 right on the heels of "Susie Darlin'"'s #6 Cash Box showing and then that was it. (Sorry Robin!) But that didn't stop him from recording (as Robin will tell you shortly!) In fact, he continued to record for several more years. A quick check of some of the Record Price Guide shows that at least ten other Dot singles were released, several of which had first been recorded for Bob Bertam's International Record label. (kk)
6. In the mid-60’s I stated in Variety Magazine that I was leaving the recording industry to pursue graduate studies at the University of Missouri. I received an MBA and Ph.D. in Business Administration (Marketing) and have been an academic administrator for 34 of my 37 years in academia. Life has been very good to me, and I am about to enter the third phase of my life … retirement effective January 1, 2011. I plan to enjoy it with my two children, Tiffany, in Overland Park KS, and Dr. Bob Luke (Ph.D. in Electrical Computer Engineering from Mizzou, 2010) in Alexandria Virginia. Tiffany has blessed Mary and me with two grandkids, Nate (6) and Rachel (4). Mary has four children, Steve, in Ft. Worth, TX, Jeremy in Springfield, MO, Ethan in Springfield MO, and Rosie attending Mizzou in Columbia, MO. Steve has also blessed us with a grandson, Calvin (8), and Jeremy with a two-year-old named Emma. So … you can see that we will be doing some traveling as we have six kids and four grandkids!
I am still in good voice and health and do perform at “oldies concerts” that are of significant size. I have recently been to Austria, Hawaii twice and New York (Long Island to the largest “oldies show” on the East Coast … 31 acts in 2 days (LAR Entertainment). I’d be happy to consider other offers, so get the word out as I am free at last (retired).

Many thanks again for your email. I hope this brings you up to date.
Robin Luke, Ph.D.
Professor and Department Head
Department of Marketing
College of Business Administration
Missouri State University
Springfield, MO 65897

Have voice, will travel!!! If you'd like to talk with Robin Luke about appearing at an upcoming oldies concert event, please drop us a line ... serious inquiries only please. And thanks for taking the time to talk with us in Forgotten Hits today, Robin ... errr, Professor Luke!!! We really do appreciate it! (kk)
I am very interested in hearing from respected promoters to do additional shows in the future. In fact, one has been communicated with today!
Thank you again for your interest and to all for continuing to play “Susie Darlin’.”
All the best,

Robin Luke, Ph.D.