Saturday, March 7, 2009

American City Suite

One of the songs that has ALWAYS received a good response here in Forgotten Hits is "American City Suite" by Cashman and West. Despite the fact that this was not a big hit record, it got a TON of airplay on the soft-rock stations here in Chicago in the early '70's ... particularly the end piece, "A Friend Is Dying," which was often edited and played as a stand-alone tune. "American City Suite" peaked at #27 on both of the National Charts in 1972 and was strung together as a medley of sorts ... (thus the "suite" idea) ... three very distinct, separate tunes: "Sweet City Song", "All Around The Town" and "A Friend Is Dying".

Listening to the lyrics of the "A Friend Is Dying" segment, it's hard to grasp at first that this is not a song written about a personal friend who is dying ... but, in fact, it was actually about their concerns regarding the deteriorating state of New York City in the early '70's. In effect, Cashman and West were declaring their love for the city (in an almost "Be all that you can be" sort of way!) In view of all that has happened to this great city in the nearly 40 years that have passed since this song was first released, it makes for some pretty poignant and interesting listening today. Despite anything you may have thought about The Big Apple in the past, the city certainly has pulled itself together after facing one of its greatest tragedies ... compounded all that much more in these post 9/11 days.

Terry Cashman and Tommy West first tasted chart success in the late '60's as members of The Buchanan Brothers. (Their hit "Medicine Man" was one of our earliest Forgotten Hits features way back in 1999!) Terry Cashman, a former baseball player who went on to write and record several tributes to the sport (as well as write the Top Ten Spanky and Our Gang hit "Sunday Will Never Be The Same), adopted his stage name while still a member of The Chevrons in the late '50's. (His real name is Dennis Minogue.) Tommy West's real name is Thomas Picardo, Jr. Together, they produced ALL of Jim Croce's chart hits and even started their own record label (Lifesong).

American City Suite was a HUGE hit in the Boston area. I have their album, and have always loved this song. Moving around the country, it seemed like nobody else had ever heard this song! I used to request it on the radio, but nobody had ever heard of it! I'm glad you chose this song-I certainly haven't forgotten it!

Although it's not all that well known (and is RARELY if ever heard on the oldies stations anymore), American City Suite hit #21 here in Chicago, too, but I can't really remember ever hearing it on the AM dial...WBBM FM (our soft-rock station) played the hell out of it, however. (kk)

I don't live in NYC, but my daughter and I visit this magnificent place as often as we can. We were in the city, about a month after 911. It tore our hearts apart ... watching those people standing there, waiting for some word; the church with all the signs, flowers, ribbons and pictures; the odor in the air (they tried to cover it up with some perfumey stuff, which, to me, made it even worse), the peep holes, the cameras from the TV News, the sound of the firemen and other workers digging, all the police and service men, and those poor dogs, with bandaged paws ... and the smoldering buildings, still untouched. The food stands for all the workers, the veterinarians (my vet being one of them) ... such a sad waste of lives. Now, when we go to NYC, we see a big difference. The people walk at a slower pace ... they aren't in such a big hurry any more; they smile, and talk ... offer a chair, they will stop, and give directions, instead of turning away. These people have learned to SEE what they look at, and HEAR what others say. The men shake hands, and the women aren't afraid to hug. What a terrific place NYC is!!

I had always wanted to visit NYC, but never had a chance until a few months after 9/11/01. Several of us from my office at United Airlines took a day trip to try and get the feel of what the city was experiencing post 9/11. We went directly to Ground Zero, and the debris was nearly gone. However, the surrounding buildings were draped in black and American flags. It was hard not to be emotional at such a sight. The NY'ers were very helpful in explaining the wall erected around the platform used to view Ground Zero. The wall was filled with mementos, scrawled epitaphs and messages, stuffed bears, flowers, blankets, etc. Even the street hucksters kept their business at a distance. I hope that the next time I visit is a pleasure trip with you, hon. We will go and visit Ping and see a coupla shows :)

It's a date ... I'd love to go to New York with you ... see the shows on Broadway ... visit Ping (and listen to him complain about Joe Cocker ruining his favorite Julie London song!!!) lol (kk)

Friday, March 6, 2009

Yellow Balloon

Another TOTALLY inspired, creative band took their name from their big hit record when Yellow Balloon ... by The Yellow Balloon ... climbed its way up the pop charts in 1967, eventually peaking at #25. (This one, too, was a much bigger hit in Chicago, where it rose to #12 during The Summer Of Love.)

The band's BIGGEST claim to fame may be the fact that Don Grady, who portrayed Robbie Douglas on the hit television series "My Three Sons" for twelve years, was a member. But, the fact is, the "band" came later.

According to the liner notes of "Sunshine Days, Volume 3", the hit single was recorded by a bunch of studio musicians. Once the song became a hit, a touring band was quickly assembled to cash in on the hit. Since Don Grady was already a recording artist for the label (Canterbury Records), a good looking guy, AND a television star, HE was selected to front the band. (Actually, that's not quite true ... Grady was stuck in the back on the drums and had to wear a blonde wig and fake mustache so as NOT to be recognized by the fans!!! You can read all about it in the two links provided below.)

Grady was a pretty good musician, proficient on piano, guitar, bass, trumpet and drums. (In fact, much of his post-television career has been spent creating music for TV, movies, multi-media events and animated films!) In an interview with Noell Wolfgram Evans of Digital Media FX, Grady recalled the day "the jig was up", putting an end to his hiding behind a wig, a hat, a mustache, sunglasses and the drums.

"I would work during the week portraying Robbie on 'My Three Sons,' and on weekends, I would hop on a plane and travel to the city where the band was performing. To keep my identity a secret, I would wear a wig, mustache, shades and a big hat. I was on drums and harmonica, and sang too. One weekend, we were gigging in Denver, onstage for at least two hours. All sweated up while playing my harmonica, the fake mustache fell off. Immediately I was recognized by the fans, who stormed the stage and ripped off my wig. The jig was up." (In an effort to milk this sudden wave of publicity even further, Canterbury Records then sponsored a "Guess The Drummer" Contest in some of the teen magazines!!!)

Here are a couple more little known, interesting facts about The Yellow Balloon:

DIDJAKNOW?1: Ken Handler, the head of Canterbury Records, was the real-life model for the "Ken" doll. His parents founded the Mattel Toy Company and developed the Barbie and Ken dolls! In fact, Ken used HIS share of his parents' Mattel fortune to form Canterbury Records in 1966.

DIDJAKNOW?2: Yellow Balloon was written by Gary Zekley and Dick St. John ... who was one half of Dick and Dee Dee. It was first recorded by Jan and Dean (although Jan Berry was actually laid up in the hospital at the time after his infamous Dead Man's Curve accident ... Dean Torrence handled ALL of the vocals on the track but it was still released as a Jan and Dean record!)

Click here: The Yellow Balloon: Yellow Balloon Story!
Click here:

After we ran our Yellow Balloon piece in Forgotten Hits the first time, we heard

from Cass Kessler, who runs the official Yellow Balloon website, and then from two of the original members of the band: Alex Valdez and, by way of his brother, Don Braucht! All three of them have been Forgotten Hits list members ever since and have shared a number of interesting memories with our readers during that time.

In fact, I asked Alex if he might want to say a few words to the fans out there in honor of this piece going up on the web page this morning ... and here's what he had to say:

Right after the song took off, a group was formed to accommodate the requests for appearances. This group was made up of Mark Andes (pre-Heart and Firefall), John Beck (The Leaves), Darryl Dragon (Captain & Tenille) and I think Dave Andes (Mark's brother) ... and some guy with the last name of Rubin on drums. As I understand it, they wanted a better deal than was offered and pressured the label for more money. (I'm not 100% sure of all of this but the essence is there.) The label, not willing to be held hostage, asked Don Grady to take over the group and form a band. That is how myself and the rest of the guys came into being. Of course Mark and Darryl proved to be better off going in their different directions. Darryl (The Captain) has a brother named Dennis who went on a small southern tour with us ... he was a monster drummer who I have a great memory of ... he gave a drum clinic to all the hopefuls that came to our shows. He has done lots of studio work and had a group called "Surf Punks" whom I believe did fairly well.

There is also something that I'd like to clear up that is on some of the sites that are dedicated to the Yellow Balloon ... not yours ... but there's misinformation out there. Some of these sites mention that when the Yellow Balloon broke up, they went on to become the "Popcorn Explosion". This is entirely not true. Our guitar player, Paul, has a younger brother who brought his band out to L.A. and they were given the name "Popcorn Blizzard", by the Yellow Balloon's ex-manager. Nobody from the Yellow Balloon ever played in this group and for that matter never saw them perform. They eventually became disenchanted and returned to Tucson shortly thereafter.

The Yellow Balloon broke up primarily because we had nothing new to offer in the way of songs. We did some TV appearances around L.A. , but the guys were almost embarrassed to keep playing songs from our album that were just not catching on. We had released four singles from the album but it became evident that we needed something fresh and we just didn't have that. Besides, the label wanted to go in other directions.

I did some solo material after the Balloon burst. We had done the orchestra thing with big productions trying to jump on the Scott Walker model he was doing in England. The label was going big bucks with some other new artists as well and I think we may have been on the verge of coming up with something. BUT, all good things can come to a screeching halt sometimes. The label owner, Ken Handler, being the son of the Mattel Toy Co. owners was forced to close the label due to Mattel's financial problems starting to manifest. As I understood it, he lost some major money and was forced to curtail his life. There is a new book out called "Toy Monster" ... the big, bad world of Mattel ... that outlines that world and the family. I worked at Mattel while doing my solo album and had the privilege of working in R & D under Jack Ryan (the smartest man I've ever known). Of course I was treated somewhat special due to the fact that I was there because of the Handler family's interests. So my fellow workers were the actual people that invented and developed "Hot Wheels", 10 speed bike "Caps", Barbie"Slime", etc. A great part of my life.

The Yellow Balloon bass player, Don Braucht, had gone home to Oregon when the Yellow Balloon came to a halt, but later returned and became my roommate . I was in the process of starting a group which I was going to name "Smoke". We had auditioned and come up with a couple of monster players, one of which was a badass guitar player in the navy. Well, he went AWOL with one of his sailor buddies and we got 'em an apartment and they hid out. Smokey eventually turned himself in and did his time. His buddy, though, had applied for ID with the name I gave him, Jack Daniels, and got a job and later married. He eventually went back, too. Don Braucht joined a group called "The Relatives" which featured a young, unknown singer named Lynda Carter (Wonder Woman). That group ended up playing Caesar's Palace in Vegas for a long stretch.

Today we are all still alive, thank God. Don Grady, of course, will always be the success story. You can visit his website and hear the music he is putting out these days. It really is quite good, but then again he always was talented. Paul is an insurance investigator living in the L.A. area last I checked. Frosty, I believe, lives in the Carolinas and every few years I'll make an effort to track him down and have a short visit telephonically. Other than that the group does not stay in touch and, although I get calls to put something together, even if it's just me, to do some casino gigs, I just don't know if I'll ever muster up that kind of energy again. Although the people around me say I can still sing my A-- off ... so who knows!
Alex Valdez

Thanks, Alex ... you can visit Don Grady's website here:

Click here: - Home

Be sure to check out some of the new music he's got posted here ... REALLY good stuff!

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Sweet Inspiration

Over the years we've run into a few artists who've named their act after their new single ... or vice versa. Yesterday we covered The Boys In The Band. Other artists / songs that might immediately come to mind might be Bo Diddley or Bad Company. Tomorrow we're going to turn the spotlight on our Forgotten Hits buddies The Yellow Balloon once again ... but TODAY our featured song AND artist is Sweet Inspiration by The Sweet Inspirations!

The group's origins date back to the late '50's when a gospel group calling themselves The Drinkard Singers did some traditional gospel recordings for RCA Records. Led by Cissy Houston (mother of Whitney), along with her nieces Dee Dee and Dionne Warwick and sisters Judy and Sylvia Guions, they slowly began to develop more of a "pop" sound as their love for rock and roll music grew. (Early on, Doris Troy, who had the first big hit with "Just One Look" back in 1963, also sang with the group.)

Dee Dee and ESPECIALLY Dionne Warwick went on to have big, solo careers after leaving the group. Judy Guions hit the charts a couple of times as Judy Clay, singing duets with Billy Vera and Sylvia Guions (now calling herself Sylvia Shemwell) stuck with Cissy Houston as The Drinkard Singers continued to change personnel.

In the process, they became one of the highest regarded (and most recorded) group of background singers on record. Their first real "rock" record came when they were asked to sing back up for Ronnie Hawkins and the group that would later become known as The Band. Before being signed to Atlantic Records (and being renamed "The Sweet Inspirations" by the legendary Jerry Wexler), the girls (Cissy and Sylvia, now teamed with Estelle Brown and Myra Smith) recorded background vocals for everyone from Neil Diamond to Aretha Franklin to Dusty Springfield to Wilson Pickett as well as literally DOZENS of other well known pop acts. (According to Wikipedia, they also sang background on Van Morrison's big hit "Brown Eyed Girl" and did some selected vocals on the Jimi Hendrix / Electric Ladyland LP!)

In 1967, Wexler decided to let them cut their OWN recordings ... and, after a couple of minor chart successes, "Sweet Inspiration" became a Top 20 Hit a year later. After none of their other singles reached The Top 50, The Sweet Inspirations were soon back to singing back-up, gaining a whole new allegience of fans once they started singing behind Elvis Presley in Las Vegas during his late '60's / early '70's comeback.

Cissy Houston left the quartet in 1970 to pursue a solo career but, when nothing really materialized, she soon found herself on the road singing back-up for her niece Dionne Warwick. Meanwhile, Estelle Brown and Myra Smith are still recording (along with Portia Griffin) as The Sweet Inspirations today. (Original member Sylvia Shemwell, who used to sing with the group as well as introduce them on stage, suffered a stroke in 2001 and, as such, is no longer able to perform with her "soul sisters".)

Meanwhile, The Sweet Inspirations have a brand new song posted on their website ... and you can check it out here:

Click here: Sweet Inspirations On The Web!

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

How About A Little Hand???

Film critic Leonard Maltin describes "The Boys In The Band", one of the first openly-marketed gay films released as a major motion picture as " an excellent filmization of Mart Crowley's landmark play about nine men at a birthday party; eight are gay, the ninth insists he's not ... often hilarious, frequently sad, but always thought provoking, and sensationally acted by the original stage cast." (He gave the film 3 1/2 stars.) Other critics called it revolutionary for its time, portraying gays in a realistic light for the first time before a mass audience.
Having never seen the movie, I can't really comment any further ... but in 1970, a song called "(How 'Bout A Little Hand for) The Boys In The Band" ... by a band CALLED The Boys In The Band ... started making its way up the pop charts. Naturally, I assumed at the time that THIS must be the title song from this hot new film I'd been hearing so much about.

Incredibly, despite the timing, I later learned that the song was NOT from the film of the same name ... but instead came from a movie called "The Phynx" ... which Maltin describes as "A BOMB!!!" (An online movie review refers to it as an "all-star celebrity bomb of epic proportions".)

The premise of THIS motion picture was (what Maltin describes as) "a way-off-base satire about a rock group recruited to spy behind the Iron Curtain ... and the kidnapping of America's pop-culture heroes." As such, the film features cameos by such noted American icons as Ed Sullivan, Richard Pryor, James Brown, Huntz Hall, Guy Lombardo, Joe Louis, Johnny Weissmuller, Colonel Sanders, Ruby Keeler, Xavier Cugat, Dick Clark, George Jessel, Rudy Vallee and many, many others.

The artists on the record (recording as The Boys In The Band) were under the direction of Herman Lewis Griffin, who assembled a band of studio musicians and singers to complete the soundtrack. Griffin holds the distinction of recording the very first song held by Berry Gordy's Jobette Publishing Company. And that's not his only tie to Motown ... he was also married to Mary Wells.

The Boys In The Band ... by The Boys In The Band ... went to #41 on the Cash Box Chart ... but was a Top 20 Hit here in Chicago.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Jim Weatherly

Last week Forgotten Hits reader David Lewis sent us a copy of Jim Weatherly's original version of "Midnight Plane To Houston" ... which Gladys Knight and the Pips recorded as "Midnight Train To Georgia", turnng it into a HUGE #1 Hit Record back in 1973.

In fact, Gladys Knight and the Pips had success with SIX of Weatherly's songs: "Neither One Of Us" topped The Cash Box Chart (as well as Billboard's R & B Chart) in 1973, "Where Peaceful Waters Flow" went to #23 in 1973 (just before the aforementioned "Midnight Train To Georgia" topped the charts), "Between Her Goodbye And My Hello" hit #57 in 1974, "Best Thing That Ever Happened To Me" shot up to #3, also in 1974, and "Love Finds Its Own Way" peaked at #33 in 1975.

In between, Jim Weatherly, a former All-American University of Mississippi / Ole Miss Rebels quarterback, squeezed in his OWN hit when "The Need To Be" went to #11 in 1974.

Jim also had quite a bit of success placing his songs on the country charts ... Vince Gill, Glen Campbell, Kenny Rogers, Marie Osmond, Eddy Arnold, Lee Greenwood, Charley Pride, Steve Wariner and England Dan Seals have all recorded his songs ... and Ray Price reportedly recorded about FIFTY of Weatherly's compositions! Between 1975 and 1980, Weatherly placed half a dozen songs on Billboard's Country Chart under his own name. (For a very impressive, complete list of Jim's songs ... and who recorded them ... be sure to check out his website here:
Click here: Jim Weatherly)

Monday, March 2, 2009

Run Run Run by Jo Jo Gunne

We talked a little bit about Spirit last week in Forgotten Hits ... and mentioned the One Hit Wonder act, Jo Jo Gunne, who scored a #27 Hit back in 1972 with a song called "Run, Run, Run". (We LOVED it here in Chicago ... where it went all the way to #2!!!)

Jo Jo Gunne (named after the Chuck Berry hit Joe Joe Gun from 1958) featured Spirit alumni Jay Ferguson and Mark Andes. (The line-up was rounded out by Mark's brother Matt Andes on guitar and vocals and Curly Smith on drums.)

Mark Andes left after their first album and only hit single ... he later performed as part of Firefall and Heart. Ferguson stuck around for a couple more LPs and then went on to have a couple of solo hits in the late '70's with "Thunder Island" (#6, 1978) and "Shakedown Cruise" (#27, 1979).

DIDJAKNOW?: Jay Ferguson wrote the theme to our favorite TV comedy, "The Office".