Monday, November 14, 2011

And, Beginning Today ... Memories From The OTHER Side Of The Screen!

That's right ... we've heard back from a number of artists who got to plant their feet on the stage of The Ed Sullivan Theater back in the day. 

First up ... one of our early rockers, Charlie Gracie ... who remembers HIS appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show EXCLUSIVELY for Forgotten Hits:
1957 was a VERY memorable year for me ... 

I had been recording since late 1951, just shy of my 16th birthday (on the Cadillac and 20th Century / Gotham labels) and had gained loads of experience playing before audiences in clubs, theaters and even "strip joints" in and around the Philadelphia region.  By late 1956, I was ready for my "shot" when it came. Bernie Lowe, owner and president of the newly formed Cameo Label (later Cameo - Parkway) in Philly, signed me to a contract.  He previously knew my work from the many appearances I did as a kid on the Paul Whiteman tv / radio shows. 

Lowe was the pianist and arranger for the Whiteman Orchestra. I had been playing what came to be known as rock & roll for many years -- influenced by the likes of Louis Jordan, Joe Turner and even Bill Haley.

On December 30th, I went into the Reco-Art studio in downtown Philly to record 'BUTTERFLY' and 'NINETY-NINE WAYS.' By March of 1957, we not only had a hit record, but a national #1 Billboard hit with 'BUTTERFLY.'  The week that 'BUTTERFLY' fell to #4, the flip-side, 'NINETY-NINE WAYS' rose to #11. Remember -- there were also two cover versions by Andy Williams (Butterfly) and Tab Hunter (Ninety-Nine Ways), both of which became big hits that same spring. 

We had a monster of a record.

My agent back then, Bernie Rothbard, was contacted by the Sullivan people. who arranged to have me on the show Sunday, March 10th. It was such an honor. If you appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show, you knew you had "made it."  I was even paid $5,000! I met Mr. Sullivan earlier in the day when we started rehearsals -- which seemed to go on forever!  I found him to be warm and personable. On the same show with me that night were actor Henry Fond, comedian Ben Blue, opera singer Renata Tebaldi, ventriloquist Senor Wences, college basketball star and fellow Philadelphian Wilt Chamberlain, plus actor / comedian, Don Ameche.

Mr. Sullivan and Don Ameche took notice of my greased back DA hairstyle, which was all the rage back then. They warmly ribbed me about it backstage: "Would you look at the hair on that kid's head!"

I was told that I'd be closing the show that night, which caused my agent Bernie Rothbard great distress: "Gee Charlie ... I don't like you closing the show ... sometimes if the telecast runs over ... they cancel the last act!"

Well, neither of us had long to worry. Shortly thereafter, I got a knock on my dressing room door by one of the stage hands: "Mr. Gracie, there's been a change and you are now opening the show!"  That sudden change somewhat startled me -- especially when he added: "about 20-million people will be watching you tonight, kid!"  Well ... let me not tell you ... I seldom ever got a case of "nerves" before or during a performance, but all of a sudden I kind of felt it that night. As it tuned out, Mr. Sullivan gave me a very warm introduction and I somehow got through it pretty well.  Its a piece of history now!

You know its funny, but rock & roll was still far from being accepted as an authentic art form. Many in the industry were still not so sure about this strange new 'music.' I think my record of 'BUTTERFLY' ran 2-minutes and 20-seconds. Well, my performance was cut down to something like 1-minute and 30-seconds!  I laugh when I think about it now, but those were the early days and we paid our dues for all the artists who came after us.  'BUTTERFLY' went on to sell over 2-million discs and I was awarded GOLD DISC on another legendary tv show that year: The Paul Winchall Circus Time program, seen nationally every Saturday on ABC.

I've been in the business for 60 full time years now, but its hard to top the year we had back in 1957. My follow-up record, 'FABULOUS' also made the Top 20 and I enjoyed a total of 6 Top 30 hits over in Great Britain that same year!  1957 also marked the first of many concert tours for me in the United Kingdom -- and I've been returning almost every year ever since! We also did the Warner Brothers movie 'Jamboree!' that year.

Looking back, I'm just happy to have been a part of it. It amazes me how far we've come with sound equipment and technology since the late 50s. It was really like the 'stone age' for us back then. By the way, I still play that very same Guild X-350 hollow body guitar to this day. If you go to my website: Click here: Charlie Gracie Links ( you can watch the actual opening of the Sullivan show and see me perform 'BUTTERFLY' after Ed's introduction.
When I finished my performance, Mr. Sullivan remarked to his tv audience:  "After looking at that little fella, Don Ameche and I were standing in the wings saying: 'Ah ... wouldn't it be nice to be that young again!'"

Now, at 75 I can totally relate and say: YES ED, it certainly would be nice!

-- Charlie Gracie

And, while we're on the topic of '50's Rockers, let us not forget Joe Bennett and the Sparkletones ... who appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show TWICE!!!

We were on the Ed Sullivan Show twice - first, in November of 1957, when we performed Black Slacks ... and then again in March of 1958,  performing Cotton Pickin' Rocker. 
The 1957 show came after a 13 week show in Vegas.  The Ed Sullivan Shows were the highlight of our career.  We were greatly honored to be on them.  

Our manager, Bob Cox formally a CBS Talent Agent, surprised us with the bookings on the Ed Sullivan Shows. Ed Sullivan was a perfect show host and treated us with great respect.  

On the 1957 Show we performed along with other great stars, Paul Anka and Jimmy Rogers.  On the 1958 show, we appeared with the Everly Brothers and Jo Stafford. 

-- Joe Bennett
Joe Bennett and the Sparkletones