Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Goody Goody Gumdrops

One more "Goodie" for you this week ...

The 1910 Fruit Gum Company were one of the PREMIER Bubblegum Bands of the late '60's. Unlike many of the other artists signed to the Buddah Record Label, these guys were, in fact, a complete band and (for the most part anyway) played on their own records. (Many of you will recall that it was Chicago's own Shadows Of Knight who performed much of this material as Buddah's "House Band" ... with Joey Levine on lead vocals.) Artists like The 1910 Fruit Gum Company, The Ohio Express and The Lemon Pipers regularly hit the top of the charts in the late '60's with "Feel Good" pop songs like "Simon Says", "1, 2, 3 Red Light", "Yummy, Yummy, Yummy", "Down At Lulu's", "Chewy Chewy" and "Green Tambourine" under the guidance of bubblegum whiz-kids Jerry Kasenetz and Jeff Katz.

The 1910 Fruit Gum Company consisted of Frank Jeckell on Guitar, Floyd Marcus on Drums, Mark Gutkowski on organ, Pat Karwan on Lead Guitar and Steve Mortkowitz on Bass. While all of the guys sang and wrote their own music, studio musicians (and guest vocalists) were used on some of their later recordings.

In quick succession, the band scored five Top 40 Hits: Simon Says (#2, 1968); 1, 2, 3 Red Light (#3, 1968); Goody Goody Gumdrops (#31, 1968); Indian Giver (#4, 1969) and Special Delivery (#31, 1969). May I Take A Giant Step and The Train just missed, peaking at #45 and #52 respectively. In addition, THREE of these hits ... Simon Says, 1, 2, 3 Red Light and Indian Giver ... sold over a million copies each ... rare for a bubblegum group back in the day!

Keeping with our little mini-theme, it's "Goody Goody Gumdrops" that we're featuring today, along with a few words from some of the key players of the so-called Bubblegum Era.


We are fortunate to have both an original founding member of The 1910 Fruit Gum Company on our list ... Floyd Marcus ... as well as a member of the CURRENT band, Mick Mansueto. Each of these guys have agreed to share a few words with our FH Readers today!

For me, the period from around 1964-1970 was a great time for music. Of course the Beatles arrived, and there were the Stones, The Young Rascals, all the wonderful Motown artists, besides The Jefferson Airplane, The Buffalo Springfield, Vanilla Fudge, Crosby, Stills and Nash, Blood Sweat and Tears, The Byrds, Jimi Hendrix. I mean, what other period included such an acceptance of such a diversity of styles, sounds, along with great song writing.
The group that became The Fruitgum Company started out not only covering a wide variety of artists but also began doing original songs. My Uncle Sol (my dad's twin brother) had hits with songs he had written, including "Till Then" by The Classics and The Mills Brothers and "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood" by Nina Simone and later, The Animals. My Dad put up the cash and my uncle, along with his partner, Bennie Benjiman, took us to Dick Charles' studio in NYC. We recorded four of my originals. Jeff Katz and Jerry Kasenetz got hold of the demo and came to see us.
They of course liked the band, but already had a hit with "Little Bit Of Soul" by the Music Explosion, so they had different plans for us. We didn't set out to be a Bubblegum band. We weren't those kind of kids, but after negotiating with Jeff and Jerry we decided to take the ride.
Like other successful producers of that era, Super K had a good plan. They knew the market. Parents didn't want their 12 year old kids listening to Hendrix, The Stones, or Dylan. Jeff and Jerry knew their market. "Simon Says", "123 Red Light" and "Indian Giver" all achieved gold. Remember when a gold record was at least 1 million record sales?
With all the 'heavy' music out then, talking about drugs, sex and rebellion, it made parents uncomfortable. Most parents were aware of what was going on. Remember the older entertainers like Sammy Davis wearing Nehru jackets and beads and some letting their hair get a little longer? Bubblegum music became an alternative to the serious, political, sexual, drug music of the period. A certain part of the public was ready for music that was just fun, without thought provoking content. That's what Bubblegum music represented. A departure from that music.
Floyd Marcus
(original member of The 1910 Fruitgum Company)

Hi Kent,
Thank you for your interest. Goody Goody Gumdrops is a very happy song. Frank Jeckell does the lead on it these days and we re-recorded a number of the hits with a little more energy than the originals. We are doing well and performing wherever we can. We will be heading to Vegas again soon and have a number of gigs lined up for this season. The act consists of original member and founder, Frank Jeckell, his friend and partner Mick Mansueto on lead vocals, Glenn Lewis, Bass player and vocals, Bob Brescia, keys and vocals, Oscar Dominguez on keys, and Phil Thorstenson on Drums and vocals.
We are alive and well and looking to get to the UK for a tour ...
Thanks so much for the help.
A revamped version of The 1910 Fruit Gum Company (with original member Frank Jeckell) are still recording and performing today. You can find ALL of the latest information on these guys at their official website:
Click here: 1910 Fruitgum Company

During their hey-day, The 1910 Fruit Gum Company toured with big name acts like The Beach Boys and Sly and the Family Stone. (Remember ... this was a time when ALL this great music was heard side-by-side on the radio! And really, why not??? These guys had three Top Five million selling hits under their OWN belts!!!) We also found a great bit of trivia that's sure to make you smile in an interview that Floyd Marcus did with Carl Wiser, our buddy from Songfacts:
Before we became the Fruitgum Company, we used to do everything from Hendrix and Cream and The Rascals, and Motown, and Steppenwolf, and The Stones, Marvin Gaye. We did all of that. We did Vanilla Fudge, for instance. And there was a time when we came to a town and Vanilla Fudge was supposed to be playing at this venue, and they cancelled, and who do they put in there but The 1910 Fruitgum Company. So when the local DJ announced that we were going to perform, there was a lot of booing. They didn't like the fact that Vanilla Fudge "You Keep Me Hanging On" was going to be replaced by us. But the DJ was a nice guy, and he happened to go out and he said, "Well, give these guys a chance. You know, really." And we decided to do "You Keep Me Hanging On" because we had done it a long time. And by the time we got through that and did a few other songs, we really surprised the audience. We won them over and they were really on our side.
(You can read the COMPLETE Songfacts / Floyd Marcus interview here):
Click here: Songfacts Interviews: Floyd Marcus (1910 Fruitgum Co.)

DIDJAKNOW?: The 1910 Fruit Gum Company first formed as "Dr. Jeckell and the Hydes". It makes sense ... since the guitarist / founding member's name was Frank Jeckell!!!

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Goody Goody

Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers scored one of rock and roll's first teenage anthems (and created a doo-wop classic) when "Why Do Fools Fall In Love" hit the pop Top Ten (and topped Billboard's R & B Chart) back in the early months of 1956.

Lymon was all of 13 years old at the time ... but he was quickly livin' large, dating 25 year old women and building an insatiable drug habit that would ultimately take his life just thirteen years later.

Seems like EVERYBODY wanted a piece of Frankie ... women wanted to mother him, make him a man, or catch a free ride on the Frankie Lymon Express to sex, drugs and rock and roll. When he died, no less than THREE women claimed to be his rightful heirs ... AND his WIFE!!! (If you've never seen the film "Why Do Fools Fall In Love", you NEED to check it out ... it's about as fun-filled a romp through one of the saddest stories of rock and roll as has ever been told.)

Although "Why Do Fools Fall In Love" would be their biggest hit, it was not their ONLY Top 40 Hit on the pop charts. The follow-up single, "I Want You To Be My Girl" went to #17 on Billboard's Top 100 Chart, "I Promise To Remember" hit #33 in Cash Box, "The ABC's of Love" just missed, peaking at #42 in Cash Box and today's featured hit, "Goody Goody", hit #20. (Despite this chart success, the Frankie Lymon clip you're MOST likely to see in any good rock and roll documentary is of The Teenagers performing "I'm Not A Juvenile Delinquent", featured in the film "Rock, Rock, Rock". The group also appeared in the film "Mister Rock 'n' Roll" and were inducted into The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame in 1993.)

"Goody Goody" was a remake of a song that first hit #1 for Benny Goodman way back in 1936. It was promoted as Frankie's first solo single but, despite its familiarity and its Top 20 chart status, you'll RARELY hear it featured on oldies radio today.

But here in Forgotten Hits, it's just another one of this week's "Goodies" ... so enjoy!!!

The Frankie Lymon Story: Other than a remake of "Little Bitty Pretty One", released in 1960, Frankie Lymon would never hit the pop charts again. (Once his voice changed ... and the drug use started ... he was no longer the "cute" little teenager whose undeniable appeal helped launch the group's success in the first place. For all intents and purposes, Frankie was the ORIGINAL Michael Jackson!) The group's initial success spurred controversy right from the start ... virtually EVERYBODY connected with the group claimed at least part ownership and writing credit of "Why Do Fools Fall In Love" ... variously published accounts credit everyone from a girl named Dolores, who had written a poem called "Why Do Birds Sing So Gay" that the band reportedly reworked into their signature street corner serenade to band members Jimmy Merchant, Herman Santiago and Frankie Lymon ... to label A & R Man George Goldner (who reportedly changed the title of that poem-set-to-music to "Why Do Fools Fall In Love") to renown Roulette label chief (and infamous con man) Morris Levy, whose name ultimately ended up on the publishing alongside Lymon's. (At various times, ALL of these folks received at least SOME amount of songwriting credit. In fact, it was the release of Diana Ross' 1981 remake of "Why Do Fools Fall In Love" ... and the potential royalties thereof ... that promoted THREE of Frankie's "widows" to come out of the woodwork swinging, each looking to stake THEIR claim for the legal share of the new songwriting royalties that Diana's Top Ten hit might generate!)

One has to wonder if The Teenagers ever really had a chance ... as early as their first recording session, the record company powers that be were trying to single Frankie out as the star of the group, immediately starting dissension amongst the band members, who felt that too many people were already whispering in Frankie's ear. (Reportedly, the song was originally sung by Herman Santiago at the group's initial audition. Goldner asked Frankie to give the lead vocal a shot and then signed the group that same day based on what he heard. The record was released as "The Teenagers featuring Frankie Lymon" with Frankie's name TWICE as large when printed on the label, fueling even MORE friction between his delegated "background singers".) Nevertheless, "Why Do Fools Fall In Love" became an immediate hit and the band was soon all over the radio, on TV, touring as part of Alan Freed's road show and then very quickly appearing in the two aforementioned Alan Freed films. Two tours of The U.K. in 1957 helped to solidify the group's popularity there, where "Why Do Fools Fall In Love" had topped the charts the year before. (They even did a special "Command Performance" for Princess Margaret in The Queen's Chambers!) While in England, Frankie went into the studio alone to cut some new tracks ... without The Teenagers. (Reportedly, the band was led to believe that they would add THEIR voices upon their return to The States ... but this never happened.) A live album recorded in London, originally to be titled "Frankie Lymon And The Teenagers At The London Palladium) was later released as simply "Frankie Lymon At The London Palladium". To help soften the blow, Roulette Records (now their new record label) kept The Teenagers on as recording artists but they never had another hit record. (At one point, they were encouraged to find a new lead singer ... Billy Lobrano filled the bill on the single "Flip Flop" ... which is EXACTLY what it did!) By 1959, Frankie's voice had changed so much that the label was rejecting more material than it was releasing ... in fact, his last charted single, "Little Bitty Pretty One", had actually been recorded two years EARLIER for the "Rock 'N' Roll" album ... most likely, Roulette was hoping to capitalize on the "old" Frankie Lymon sound. It worked to a degree ... the single peaked at #45. Meanwhile, The Teenagers continued to try new lead singers (Kenny Bobo, Johnny Houston) in search of new success, but it never happened. By 1964, Frankie was regularly being busted for drug use ... at various times, he claimed that he first smoked marijuana in grade school, started heroin in 1959 (at the age of 17) and was introduced to any variety of drugs during the first major Teenagers tour of 1956. One of his most famous arrests came after he broke into a recording studio and stole the drums, trying to turn them into some quick cash to support his habit. In 1966, it looked like Frankie was trying to turn his life around. He enlisted in the U.S. Army and even entered a rehab program. A brand new manager booked him for an appearance on the hot new television show "Hullabaloo". (Prior to this, Frankie's TV appearances the past several years usually consisted of him lip-synching to recordings of his old hits as he could no longer hit those notes after his voice ... and life-style change.) By all outward appearances, it seemed that Frankie was on the road to recovery ... he had even landed a brand new recording contract. It seems all that much more of a shame that, while home on leave in 1968 ... and on the night before his scheduled "comeback" recording session, Frankie gave himself a celebratory injection ... for the very last time.

DIDJAKNOW?: Back in 1957, while on tour in Canada, a young kid approached Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers backstage with a song he had written that he thought would be PERFECT for them. The band wasn't interested ... so sixteen-year-old Paul Anka went ahead and recorded "Diana" himself instead!!!

Monday, February 16, 2009

Another Week Of Forgotten Hits Goodies

We've got another week of Forgotten Hits goodies planned for you ... kicking off with this one BY The Goodees!!!

Judy Williams, Kay Evans and Sandra Johnson formed their all-girl trio in Memphis ... and in early 1969 they took their ONLY Top 40 Hit, "Condition Red", up to #38 in Cash Box Magazine ... and all the way to #15 here in Chicago. (It "stopped short" in Billboard, peaking at #46.)

One of the last of the "Girl Group" records, it pretty much recycles The Shangri-Las' "Leader of the Pack" theme ... misunderstood teenage love, ended by a fatal car crash. (Only problem is, it wasn't NEARLY as good or commercial sounding as the #1 original it seemed to mimic!)

I'm honestly surprised the record did as well as it did ... it's pretty cheezy sounding, right down to the ripped-off "Leader Of The Pack" sound effects. By 1969, we'd already "been there, done that" ... but, with that said, doesn't this deserve at least ONE play per year on an oldies station??? Hopefully some of the jocks on the list will see fit to feature "Condition Red" on one of their programs this week!