Friday, October 10, 2014

Freddy Cannon - Part 3: The Story Behind "Tallahassee Lassie" ... As Told By Freddy Cannon Himself!

In 1958, a young 19 year old Frederick Picariello, Jr., was working for a costume jewelry company in Boston, Massachusetts, making deliveries.   

But at night he was billing himself as Freddy Carmen and the Hurricanes ... and playing what he called "Chuck Berry Rock And Roll", making a name for himself in some of the clubs around town.  

One afternoon, he came home for lunch and his mother said "When you have some time, put some music to this poem that I wrote."   

The poem was called "She's My Rock And Roll Baby".  So I got out the guitar and started to sing it.  And, at that very moment that I started to play it, I played the exact same melody that became "Tallahassee Lassie," which was destined to become a big hit for me."   

Forgotten Hits readers were treated to an EXCLUSIVE listen to this VERY rare, early incarnation of Freddy's first hit yesterday on our website.  Thanks to dee jay Eric Lee, who came into possession of this extremely rare disk, we were able to get it back into the hands of Freddy "Boom Boom" Cannon a couple of months ago!   

The middle of that poem that my mother wrote was destined to go into the song exactly the way she composed it.  Her exact words went on to become the centerpiece of the song:  "Well, she's romping to The Drag; The Cha-Cha, Rag-A-Mop; Stomping to The Shag; Rocks The Bunny Hop."

She had written all of that, but I didn't know what to do with the structure of the song.  So she said to me, "Why don't you go into the studio with your band and see if you can work it into a rock and roll song?"   

Well, at the time, to pay for a studio session cost $35.00.  I barely made $35.00 a week driving a truck for the jewelry company.  At the time, Mom was working for the optical company.  So she loaned me the money for the session, and I booked the local recording studio so we could record it.  The original title of the song, after I worked on it for a while, was "She's My Rock And Roll Baby."   

So, I rounded up my band and we went to Ace Recording Studio in Boston.  We were just a bunch of young kids, 17-and-a-half or 18-years old.  We ended up recording what was to become the "demo" for what ultimately became "Tallahassee Lassie" before it was changed and polished. 

This was our first recording session.  I didn't know anything about what I was doing.  And, assuredly, the band didn't know what they were doing either.  We had our song, we were a band, but that was about all we knew about what we were doing.     

A fortunate happenstance changed the direction and the sound of that recording that day ... so much so, that Freddy was instructed to recreate that exact sound when he would fly to New York to re-record this track again as "Tallahassee Lassie" a few months later.    

One of the things that we were missing was someone to play the guitar solo in the middle of the record.  I don't play lead guitar, I play rhythm guitar.  So there was this guy out in the hallway, a young kid named Kenny Paulson.  I didn't know that this guy was on a lot of records.  He was a "studio musician".  He would hang out in the recording studio to pick up work.  He was a typical musician who was looking for extra money, so he was working, picking up parts on people's records, for cash.   

We had to have a guitar solo in the middle of the song.  I mentioned this to the Yakus Brothers (who owned the studio) and they suggested that Kenny should be on our record.  So I approached Kenny and I explained, "I've got this rock and roll song that we are recording.  Do you think you can give us a real rock-oriented guitar solo in the middle of it?"  He said, "Well, give me $5.00, and I can probably come up with something."   

When I asked him to be on our record, I had no idea that he was so good at playing the guitar.  This guy was unbelievable, he was so good.  It was unreal!  He is the guy on the record who plays that guitar, which I think really makes the song a hit.   

Meanwhile, I was thinking about what all this was ending up costing me.  To hire Kenny cost me another $5.00.  I remember thinking to myself, "That's $35.00 for the recording studio, and now $5.00 for Kenny to play guitar ... wow, this is really adding up!"  But I paid him for the half hour session and he really rocked out on his guitar playing.  He was worth every cent of it.   

In the half hour session, we recorded six or seven versions of it and, at the end of the session, we left with a reel-to-reel tape of our songs.   

I still think that it was Kenny's guitar solo that really was "the frosting on the cake" of this record.  Later, when it became "Tallahassee Lassie", all of the British artists who fell in love with the record raved about the guitar solo!  They went crazy for the record's the sound, the feeling of the song and then that incredible guitar solo.   

After we finished the recording, we made a couple of reel-to-reel copies off the original tape.  To see what I had on my hands, I knew I had to get some feedback from people who could help me out.  So I started taking it around to different DJ's to get their opinion.   

Arnie "Woo Woo" Ginsburg was a disc jockey in Boston and he was really big at the time.  This guy was hugely popular in the record business ... and back then, a powerhouse disc jockey like Arnie could really sell records.  Kids listen to the radio, they hear what they like, and they run out and buy that record.   

I was at a local record hop and I gave Arnie Ginsburg my tape.  I said to him, "I would really appreciate it if you would listen to this in your spare time and let me know what you think."    

That transaction became the moment of magic ... Ginsburg played the recording for Frank Slay and Bob Crewe, who were very hot at the time, writing and producing hit records like "Silhouettes" by The Rays and "Lucky Ladybug" by Billy and Lillie.  Freddy continues ...

I don't know what happened behind the scenes when Arnie Ginsburg played my recording for Crewe and Slay, but I do know that Arnie liked my song well enough to give them my tape.  They took it back to New York City with them and then Bob Crewe and Frank Slay rewrote the verses ... not the middle ... but the verses ... where they changed the title from "She's My Rock And Roll Baby" to "Tallahassee Lassie."  The melody remained the same as the way I wrote it and everything else was the same, except for the verses.

So I got a phone call from Frank Slay and he said, "We love this record.  We want to buy you an airline ticket to New York City.  We want to pay you to re-cut your song.  We made a few changes to the lyrics, but we love your song.  We want to put your voice on this, singing the new lyrics ... but it's the same music."   

I was really excited!  I had never been outside of Massachusetts at this point.  So I said to my mother "Oh wow, this is terrific!  I get to go on the plane and go to New York!"   

When I got to New York City, Frank took me over to Bob Crewe's apartment.  When I got there, Bob played the song on his piano, just the way he wanted me to sing it.  I listened to the new lyrics to my original song and said, "OK, just tell me what you want me to sing and I will do it."   

Bob said to me, "The studio is booked for tomorrow.  We are gonna take you in the studio and we also have to have a B-Side song for you to sing as well."  I told them I had another song that I had already written called "You Know", so we made plans to cut that, too.   

(As Forgotten Hits readers learned exclusively this week, Freddy and his Hurricanes cut an early demo of THIS track, too, at Ace Recording Studio in Boston, the same day that they laid down the tracks for "She's My Rock And Roll Baby".)   

And then Bob said to me, "By the way, who is the guitar player on your original demo for 'She's My Rock And Roll Baby'?"   

"Kenny Paulson," I replied.   

"Well, we have to have him come in and play his guitar part on the new recording as well.  We will have him come in and play a couple of different guitar solos and we will let you listen to them all and tell us which one you like."   

I remember standing there and thinking to myself, "Wow, everything is happening to me so fast!"   

When the session was over, Freddy flew back home to Boston and resumed his job delivering jewelry for the costume jewelry company that he worked for.  Shortly thereafter, Freddy's mom received a phone call from Bernie Binnick of Swan Records, who pressed up copies of Freddy's New York recordings and wanted to send him a box of singles, hot off the press.  Freddy explains:   

I opened up the box of records and there it was, my first recording: "Tallahassee Lassie".  Much to my surprise, the artist listed on the label was "Freddy Cannon."  I had been calling myself and my band "Freddy Karmon and the Hurricanes".   

(Forgotten Hits Readers now know that, based on Freddy's own hand-written label on the rare acetate pressing we shared with you earlier this week, at the time Freddy spelled his name as "Carmen", not Karmon ... but this was the way he remembered it for his biography.  Since he's been "Freddy 'Boom Boom' Cannon for the past 55+ years, I guess it's easy enough to figure why he didn't remember the spelling ... after that infamous recording date in New York City, he's never been anything else BUT "Freddy 'Boom Boom' Cannon"!!!)  

At Swan Records, they hated "Freddy Karmon" so they changed my name to "Freddy Cannon" because Bernie felt that it sounded better.  So that's what they put on the record.  They didn't even ask me if they could change my name, they just did it!  I couldn't have cared less, as long as they released my record.   

At his mother's urging, Freddy then took a copy of this brand new pressing back up to Arnie Ginsburg at WMEX Radio in Boston.  (FH Readers will recall that it was from a WMEX dee jay that Eric Lee came into possession of Freddy's acetate pressing of "She's My Rock And Roll Baby"!  It's absolutely incredible to think that somebody from the station held on to this pressing for all these years ... all the while having absolutely NO idea what they had in their possession!  But that's EXACTLY what happened ... and thanks to that little bit of musical magic, that very first pressing is now back in the hands of Freddy Cannon!)  

Freddy describes what happened next:  

I drove to WMEX in Boston.  Arnie Ginsburg was on the air so I couldn't barge into the studio to see him.  When the commercial break came, I went in and said to him, "Arnie, I cut this record with the band.  It's the same song that I brought you at the record hop.  They changed the name of it and the verses of it, but it's the same record.  I want you to listen to it and tell me what you think."   

He put it onto the turntable in the studio to listen to it.  All of a sudden he picked up the arm of the turntable, picked up my record, and transferred it to the turntable he used to play records on the air.  I watched him with fascination and he turned to me and said, "You've got a hit!"   

"Oh my God, you're kidding?" I said.  I couldn't believe it.  One of the biggest disc jockeys in all of Boston declared it a hit! I was flabbergasted!   

As the song went out over the airwaves I couldn't believe it ... that was me singing on one of Boston's biggest rock and roll stations!  All of a sudden the radio station's switchboards began to light up.  Kids were calling and requesting that they play "Tallahassee Lassie" again and demanding to know "Who is that on that record?"  I couldn't believe all of the phone calls that the radio station was getting.  I was just amazed!   

It's hard to remember ... or even imagine ... a time when the hottest radio stations in the country trusted the ears of their on-air crew ... but these guys had their fingers on the pulse of teenage America ... and they knew a hit when they heard it.  They helped CREATE some of the biggest hits of the rock and roll era.  Today all of this has to "go to committee" ... unless the high-paid consultants and so-called experts declare it "radio-friendly", it just doesn't get played.  All spontaneity of rock and roll ... and radio ... are gone forever as every station in every city across the country is playing the exact same "chosen few".  It was a VERY exciting time in music, a time that just doesn't exist anymore.  The very next day, Freddy quit his job at the jewelry store.   

I hadn't even made any money from the record yet ... but Arnie said that I was a "hit" so I new I suddenly had it made!   

And Freddy never looked back ... he was booked for a few of Alan Freed's shows and then started his string of appearances on "American Bandstand".  He and Dick Clark remained life-long friends.  In 1965 when Clark launched a new after school rock and roll show called "Where The Action Is", he picked Freddy to sing the title cut ... and Freddy soon had another top ten record on his hands!   

But it all started at that little studio in Boston with a song Freddy wrote with his mother called "She's My Rock And Roll Baby" ... and you heard it here first, EXCLUSIVELY in Forgotten Hits! 


Get this great story ... and a whole lot more from one of America's original Rock And Roll legends in Freddy's biography "Where The Action Is", written with Mark Bego.
And pick up Freddy's Greatest Hits here:
Click here: Boom Boom Rock N Roll: The Best of Freddy Cannon: Music