Saturday, August 15, 2009

1969: HAIR

1969 gave us the first Broadway Musical for OUR generation ...

Described as "The American Tribal Love-Rock Musical", "Hair" actually first opened off-Broadway in 1967 at Joseph Papp's Public Theater before it began its run of 1750 performances on Broadway in April of 1968. But the music of this extravaganza exploded on the pop charts in 1969 when FOUR hits from the musical dominated the pop music scene: "Aquarius / Let The Sunshine In" became a #1 Hit for The Fifth Dimension, topping the charts for six weeks that Spring. The title track, "Hair", recorded by the family act The Cowsills actually replaced "Aquarius" at #1 on The Cash Box Chart. Oliver's rendition of "Good Morning Starshine" peaked at #3 a couple of months later ... his recording of "Jean" from the Academy Award Winning Film "The Prime Of Miss Jean Brodie" was ALSO a HUGE hit that year ... and Three Dog Night took "Easy To Be Hard" to #3 later that Summer. (Even The Happenings, who previously had their greatest chart success covering old standards like "I Got Rhythm" and "My Mammy" placed a Hair Medley on the charts when "Where Do I Go / Be-In / Hare Krishna" peaked at #38 later that year in Cash Box Magazine.)

Hailed as the first Rock Musical (some might debate that point ... we've even seen "West Side Story" credited with that distinction), it certainly garnered a whole lot of attention when it first hit the mainstream. It pre-dated "Jesus Christ Superstar" by a couple of years, (which is often listed in this same category) and grabbed a lot of attention for its live, on stage nudity. (This, too, was not a first ... "Oh! Calcutta" had opened earlier, shocking audiences with their full-frontal assault ... speaking of which ... and I'm going strictly from memory here ... wasn't John Lennon supposed to have something to do with "Oh! Calcutta" at some point in time??? Wasn't he supposed to write a scene or something??? Did that ever happen?)

"Hair" addressed many of the issues of the day head-on in musical fashion ... The War in Viet Nam, Drugs, The Sexual Revolution, Protests and "Be-Ins", the whole Hippie Counter-Culture ... you name it, they tried to work it into the story line. But it ALSO had a stick-in-your-head soundtrack that pop music embraced, ultimately making the whole trip more palatable to its mainstream American audience. (The musical was recently revived this year and is STILL playing to sold-out crowds some 40 years after it first debuted!)

Quoting the mini-synopsis listed in Wikipedia (which we virtually NEVER do) "'Hair' tells the story of the 'tribe', a group of politically active, long-haired hippies of the 'Age Of Aquarius' living a bohemian life in New York City and fighting against conscription into the Viet Nam War."

Actors James Rado and Gerome Ragni say that they first began writing "Hair" back in 1964, pretty amazing in retrospect, but certainly there were war resistors even then ... and folks were just starting to grow their hair around this time, due to the influence of The Beatles and The British Invasion. It was Chicago Businessman Michael Butler who caught the play at The Public Theater and bought the rights to it with the intention of moving it to Broadway. (Ironically, Butler was planning his run for the U.S. Senate on an anti-war platform when he caught an advertisement for "Hair" in The New York Times. He went to see the show because he believed it to be about Native Americans! After catching several more showings, he bought into the production.) The play went through some major revamping prior to its Broadway run and, in fact, 13 new songs were added to the line-up, including "Let The Sunshine In", in the hopes of giving the play a more uplifting ending. Early-on stage performers during "Hair"'s initial Broadway run included Diane Keaton, Ben Vereen, Keith Carradine, Ted Lange, Melba Moore and singers Barry McGuire, Ronnie Dyson, Robin McNamara, Meatloaf and Eddie Rambeau as well as Kenny Seymour of Little Anthony and the Imperials, Joe Butler of The Lovin' Spoonful and Peppy Castro of The Blues Magoos! Ted Neeley, Gloria Jones, Jennifer Warnes and Dobie Gray were part of the Los Angeles touring company which played, ironically, at the Aquarius Theater on Sunset Boulevard. Soon Chicago, San Francisco and Detroit were also hosting productions ... and then the play moved to London where Tim Curry joined the cast. (The London run lasted for 1997 performances ... and it only closed then because the roof of the theater collapsed!!!)

Despite all of the controversy attached to it, the celebrated nude scene lasted all of twenty seconds. The stage was so dimly lit that after witnessing a London preview comedian Jack Benny quipped "Did you happen to notice if any of them were Jewish?" (lol)


The story of how The Fifth Dimension came to record their all-time biggest hit is one worth re-telling.

The band always had an ear for new material by up-and-coming songwriters and, as such, had already had major chart hits written by the likes of Jimmy Webb and Laura Nyro. John Phillips (of The Mamas and the Papas), Neil Sedaka and the songwriting team of Ashford and Simpson ALSO provided hit material for the group in the late '60's and early '70's. But one can only surmise that Jupiter TRULY must have been aligned with Mars when you consider how "Aquarius" fell into their hands.

It seems that while out in New York City for an appearance at The Americana Hotel, Billy Davis, Jr. was finishing up some shopping when he grabbed a cab back to the hotel, only to realize when he got there that he had left his wallet inside the cab. Frantic, Davis began pacing the floor of the suite while Marilyn McCoo began looking through the phone book, trying to find a way to contact the cab company. All of a sudden the phone rang ... it seemed that the next passenger in the cab, a good samaritan (and honest citizen) by the name of Ed Gifford had found Davis' wallet and wanted to return it to him. Grateful for his honesty, Davis comp'd Gifford and his wife two tickets to that evening's Fifth Dimension show at The Royal Box in the Americana Hotel. Backstage after the show, Gifford repaid the favor by giving Billy and the rest of the group tickets to see HIS new show ... a little Broadway production called "Hair"!!! All five members of The Fifth Dimension went to the theater that night but they were unable to secure seats together. When they met outside, every single one of them was raving about the song "Aquarius" from the production. (By the way, the guy they heard sing "Aquarius" that night was none other than Ronnie Dyson, who we recently featured right here in Forgotten Hits. Ronnie would have his OWN hit from a musical a year later when "Why Can't I Touch You" from the off-Broadway production of "Salvation" went into The Pop Top Ten!!! You can read all about it here:

Click here: Forgotten Hits: Ronnie Dyson)

At their very next recording session, they told producer Bones Howe how they were SURE that this was a hit song. Howe wasn't so sure ... he recorded the song as a means to appease the band, since they all seemed to feel so strongly about it, but then told them that to HIS ears, it was only "half a song" ... he felt that it "needed an ending." A number of ideas were kicked around, including some sort of a gospel-like sing-along, but they just couldn't seem to agree on anything that pleased everyone. It wasn't until Howe went to New York to see "Hair" for himself that the idea for the perfect ending hit him. Watching the audience's reaction to the last three bars from the play's "The Flesh Failures" segment ... which simply consisted of everybody repeating the phrase, "Let The Sun Shine, Let The Sunshine In", moving the entire audience to clap their hands and sing along, Bones took those last three bars and added them on to the end of the basic "Aquarius" track that the group had already recorded. Billy Davis, Jr. did some of his very best R&B ad-libbing during the fade-out and, once they had tacked on the "cosmic opening" developed by Bill Holman (who said that he "channeled the Don Costa arrangement of Frank Sinatra's 'Lost In The Stars'"), the hit record was complete. Any reservations about the song being too long to receive sufficient airplay were quickly dispelled. It topped the Billboard Pop Chart for six straight weeks and won the Grammy for Record Of The Year.

DIDJAKNOW? - Apparently there WAS some concern about the length of the new "medley". (Kind of surprising in a way, coming on the heels of the seven minute successes of "Hey Jude" and "MacArthur Park"!) Apparently, Bones Howe had originally come up with a seven minute edit that he then cut back to about 4:50 for the single. When he played it for the legendary Bill Drake of KHJ in Los Angeles, he told Howe that it was STILL too long to play on the radio. Drake said, "If you don't feel you can cut the record down, I'll go with it. Everyone in the country will play it. If you can find a way to shorten it to three minutes, you'll get twice as much airplay." Bones said he went back to the studio and did two more edits, one just under three minutes and one just over. According to Pat Downey's Book "Top 40 Music On Compact Disc, 1955-2003", all three edits found their way into the hands of radio stations and the public. Radio was sent both the 3:50 and the 3:02 edits to choose from ... while all commercial copies clocked in at 4:49. Today you'd be hard pressed to find ANYTHING other than the 4:49 edit (unless you happened to come across one of those original DJ singles.) I'm not sure what happened to the seven minute edit ... unless it wound up as the album cut! (kk)

Friday, August 14, 2009

August 14, 1964

In the early Summer of 1964, Dean Martin was telling ANYONE who would listen that he had JUST recorded a song that would knock The Beatles out of the #1 Spot on the Charts.

Quite honestly, there was really no reason to believe him ... Martin hadn't had a #1 Record since 1956 when "Memories Are Made Of This" topped the charts ... and he hadn't even made The Top 40 since 1959 when "On An Evening In Roma" snuck in at #36.

But that's EXACTLY what "Everybody Loves Somebody" did ... it dethroned The Beatles' movie hit "A Hard Day's Night" and took over the top spot for a week in August of 1964. (Imagine his son Dino's surprise ... he admired The Beatles so much that he was inspired to start his OWN rock and roll band ... that's how Dino, Desi and Billy were born!!! Now his Dad had the biggest record in America!!! Talk about your mixed emotions!!!)

(click to enlarge chart)

"Everybody Loves Somebody" was recorded (without much success or fanfare) by Martin's Rat Pack Buddy Frank Sinatra years earlier. In fact, Ken Lane, who co-wrote the song back in 1949 and went on to become a fixture on Martin's NBC Television Series as his musical arranger, says other artists like Dinah Washington and Peggy Lee ALSO took a crack at the song ... but NOBODY made it a hit until Dino did it ... and, in the process, he made it his signature tune.

Martin had quite a varied career, first reaching fame as one half of the Martin and Lewis Comedy Duo with Jerry Lewis ... then branching off on his own as a singer with a fair amount of early-to-mid '50's chart success ("That's Amore", "Return To Me", the aforementioned "Memories Are Made Of This" and his version of "Volare" are amongst his best-known and most-loved tunes.) He had also turned to movies and in the '60's would film westerns with John Wayne, assume the role of super-sleuth Matt Helm and pilot the inaugural run of "Airport." But it was on television that we all grew to love Dean Martin and his always loose and just-a-little-bit-tipsy personna. His NBC Series ran for nine years, ultimately spawning a new series of Celebrity Roasts that continued on into the early '80's. Today Martin is considered to be the epitome of "Lounge Cool" ... his songs are routinely used in movie soundtracks and television commercials and, surprisingly, one of his best known tracks, "Ain't That A Kick In The Head" never even made the pop charts!

Back in August of 1964, music from the new Beatles film was all over the chart ... "A Hard Day's Night" backed with "I Should Have Known Better" was now at #3 after spending two weeks in the #1 spot ... "And I Love Her" sat at #21 and "I'll Cry Instead" (recorded for ... but then later dropped from the film) was in at #23. The Beatles also had the #39 record that week with a track that they had
recorded in Germany back in 1961 ... it was John Lennon's rip-roaring vocal on "Ain't She Sweet", reminiscent of his take on "Twist And Shout", that makes THIS track so noteworthy ... yet it's one of those RARE Beatles tunes that isn't still played to death these days.

Other British Invasion Hits on the chart this week include "Wishin' And Hopin'" by Dusty Springfield (#2), "How Do You Do It" by Gerry and the Pacemakers (#8), "Because" by The Dave Clark Five (#13), "Nobody I Know" by Peter and Gordon (#16) and "I'll Keep You Satisfied" by Billy J. Kramer and the Dakotas (#17) ... those last two were both Lennon and McCartney cast-offs, given to other artists in Manager Brian Epstein's stable ... and "How Do You Do It" was the song Producer George Martin WANTED The Beatles to record as their follow-up to "Love Me Do" before they insisted (and convinced him) that "Please Please Me" was a better song!

The Animals were new on the charts with "House Of The Rising Sun" ... this record would top the WLS chart for a week in September after The Supremes' three week reign on top with "Where Did Our Love Go". "Rag Doll" by The Four Seasons, "Little Old Lady From Pasadena" by Jan and Dean, "Handy Man" by Del Shannon, "Under The Boardwalk" by The Drifters and "People Say" by The Dixie Cups rounded out The Top Ten this week.

"Everybody Loves Somebody" was quite an unlikely hit to unseat The Beatles from the top of the charts ... but it wasn't the only time this happened during the early reign of Beatlemania. Earlier that year, Louis Armstrong topped the national charts with his reading of "Hello Dolly", knocking "Can't Buy Me Love" (also from The Beatles' film) out of the top spot after a five week run!

I never heard the story about Dean predicting that his song, "Everybody Loves Somebody Sometime" would take the #1 spot away from the Beatles on the Billboard / Cash Box charts until you mentioned it to me in a recent email. However, I know he took pride in the fact that he supplanted whatever song the Beatles had at the top of the charts with this song.

What I do know about the song is that it was a late addition to an album already in progress. Dean's Producer at the time, Jimmy Bowen, needed one more song to complete the album. Dean's friend, accompanist and Musical Director Kenny Lane suggested a song he had written over twenty years earlier - it was "Everybody Loves Somebody Sometime." He played it on the piano right there in the studio and Jimmy decided to add it.

Don't forget, Dean was at the top of his game at the time with a hit television show (the Dean Martin Show), a successful movie career, sold out performances in Vegas, etc., so everything was aligned perfectly for him. Not to mention it is a GREAT song and a great "reading" by Dean. It's no wonder it went all the way to #1.

Billy Hinsche
Dino, Desi & Billy

Actually, it was the success of this record (and several others released shortly thereafter in the same musical vein) that GOT him the TV Show. Dean had been recording for Frank Sinatra's Reprise Record label for a couple of years already without much chart success ... "Everybody Loves Somebody" was the first #1 Record recorded by the label ... ironically, Frank himself would top the charts a couple of years later with "Strangers In The Night"! And, the addition of Dino, Desi and Billy to the roster certainly helped Reprise Records appeal to the kids. (Watch for YOUR record to be featured as part of NEXT week's WLS Chart, Billy!!!) Soon Frank's daughter Nancy would also start having hits for the label ... and signing British Invasion artists like The Kinks helped the label compete with the other teen sounds of the day. (kk)

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Woodstock ... And More - Part 3

Of course Woodstock wasn't the ONLY festival going on back in 1969 ... but it certainly was the biggest. Concert settings like The Monterey Pop Festival (held in 1967) and The Newport Jazz and Folk Festivals had been going on for years already ... and, by the mid-to-late '70's, more and more of these "concert events" would become the norm ... three or four (or more) big name acts performing at a baseball stadium or racetrack somewhere across The United States, providing an entire afternoon and evening of music ... in the '80's, we'd see fund-raising festivals like Live Aid and Farm Aid come into prominence (and let's not forget George Harrison's Concert For Bangla Desh that kind of kicked off this whole charity concert concept back in 1971.) Heck, in June of 1969 at Milwaukee County Stadium ... two months BEFORE The Woodstock Music Festival ... they held a concert billed as "The Milwaukee Pop Festival" that featured The Monkees, The New Colony Six, , The Classics IV, The Cryan' Shames, Tommy James and the Shondells, Gary Lewis and the Playboys, The Buckinghams, Andy Kim, The Guess Who, The Royal Guardsmen, The Bar Kays (with Eddie Floyd) and The Bob Seger System!

As mentioned before, however, Woodstock introduced us to some acts that would become household names for the next 40 years to come. Artists like Joe Cocker, Santana and Crosby, Stills and Nash would catapult into our consciousness thanks to their appearances at Woodstock ... and groups like The Who, Sly and the Family Stone, Jimi Hendrix and Ten Years After would see their performances at Woodstock live on to become regarded as some of their greatest achievements.

Thanks to Carl Wiser of the website, we recently met a guy by the name of Bruce Pollock, who has a brand new book coming out called "By The Time We Got To Woodstock" ... and he agreed to share a short excerpt from his new book with our readers ... you'll find it at the end of today's feature (along with a few comments from me about the rediscovery of some of those early rock classics that we all know and love as "oldies" ... most of which have since disappeared from the airwaves, even on the so-called oldies radio stations.)

We've also got a couple of reminisces about some OTHER concerts and festivals that occurred in and around the Woodstock Era. Enjoy! (kk)


My friend Carl Wiser mentioned your site. Very cool.
I have a special interest in 1969, having written a book on the subject, "By the Time We Got to Woodstock: The Great Rock Revolution of 1969", coming out in September on Backbeat Books. It's already gotten reviews in the Huffington Post and Goldmine.
You might also want to check out the blog I started, which is kind of a jukebox, featuring songs related to each chapter of the book. It's called
Maybe we can team up on some content for publicity ideas. For instance, Pete Fornatale and I are planning to do a Mixed Bag devoted to 1969. Let me know,
Click here: The Joy of Segues
A VERY cool blog, spotlighting the whole Woodstock scene ... and I like the way you've worked the music into your blog. Definitely a place worth coming back to that I think our readers will enjoy. (Look for Bruce's contribution to our Forgotten Hits Salute to 1969 at the end of today's piece.) kk

LBN-MUSIC INSIDER: The rock icons who played Woodstock 40 years ago got peace and love -- but they didn't know if they'd get paid. "The promoters threatened that any band that demanded money would be exposed to the crowd," Dave Marsh reveals in the September issue of Relix, noting that one of the bands that struggled to get paid was The Who. "The Who's management got the $11,200 owed them . . . When Roger Daltrey called it 'the worst gig we ever played,' he didn't mean the music."
-- submitted by Wild Bill Cody

Graham Nash reports on a new angle to Woodstock -- his helicopter almost crashed: Ron Smith

Hi Mr. K:
Here is a photo by an unknown person of Jefferson Airplane at a concert in Grant Park Chicago in May 1969. I was there. It was the postponed concert that was originally going to be during the Democratic Convention in 1968. The band foresaw trouble and they were right ...

From left to right: Grace Slick, Paul Kantner, Marty Balin (with back turned), Spencer Dryden, R.I.P.,Jorma Kaukonen (obscured) and Jack Casady.
JBK aka Java Jive Jay
Surf City Sounds Plus

To me 1969 was a great year ... almost cut my hand off in a factory ... going to the first Atlanta Pop Festival the month before Woodstock ... seeing Hendrix on the Electric Ladyland Tour with Chicago opening before they had a record out. Those were the days! The Sixties will never happen again.You had to be there!

Ask Scott Shannon to fill you in on more of the details of The Nashville Music Festival, held August 22 - 24 at Centennial Park in Nashville. Held just a week after Woodstock, this event drew 30,000 people and featured Grand Funk Railroad, Tony Joe White, Steppenwolf, The Unchained Mynds, and many others I can't recall.
David Lewis

These types of shows were becoming more and more common around this time ... a whole day's worth of entertainment, communal style, for under ten bucks!!! (kk)

Kent -

Here's an excerpt from By the Time We Got to Woodstock. Could you please also include this link to Music Dispatch, which is Hal Leonard's direct sales site:

You can also include this special offer:
Order By the Time We Got to Woodstock from Music Dispatch and get 25% off, plus free shipping. Enter promo code NY9 at checkout. Free shipping is by least expensive ship method. Free shipping applies to U.S. orders only. Offer expires October 31, 2009.

By Bruce Pollock
For the clearest expression of what we needed, as a weary generation approaching the end of a long strange trip that had begun with Elvis overthrowing the establishment in Memphis and Nashville, New York City and Hollywood; continued with Timothy Leary turning on in a lab in Stanford and Lyndon Johnson dropping out in Washington, D.C.; and culminated on a pig farm in Woodstock, one need only revisit the morning of the last day of that fabled get-together, just before Jimi Hendrix summoned the crowd to attention with “The Star-Spangled Banner,” when a smart-aleck group of greased-up showboats in gold suits from Columbia University named Sha Na Na presented a set consisting of “Yakety Yak,” “Teen Angel,” “Jailhouse Rock,” “Wipe Out,” “Book of Love,” “Duke of Earl,” and “At the Hop.”
I’m talking, of course, about the oldies revival that engulfed the airwaves of 1969, more powerful than the folk revival for the same wounded soldiers who’d expected so much of their music, their country and themselves. Barely two months after Woodstock, the boys from Columbia U. were to be found on the stage of Madison Square Garden’s Felt Forum, performing with the likes of Chuck Berry, the Platters, the Shirelles, and headliner Bill Haley and the Comets, in the first of what would be many Rock ’n’ Roll Revival concerts presented by Richard Nader. It was, to paraphrase astronaut Neil Armstrong, one step forward for a group of men, a giant leap backwards for music.
In retrospect it was as inevitable as the heavy nostalgia binge for the '50s that was to follow in Film (American Graffiti), theater (Grease), and TV (Happy Days) as an embarrassed and harassed generation began to realize that no matter how many of “us” there were, there would always be more of “them,” and therefore effected a retreat back to a simpler past.
It would be comfortable to blame it all on Tiny Tim. But his version of “Great Balls of Fire” barely dented the charts in February 1969. In March, Otis Redding revived Clyde McPhatter’s now suddenly relevant “A Lover’s Question,” Righteous Brother Bobby Hatfield took on the Platters’ “Only You,” and Paul Anka went up against the Five Satins’ monumental “In the Still of the Night.” In April, Chubby Checker was probably being facetious when he recorded the Beatles’ facetious rewrite of Chuck Berry “Back in the U.S.S.R.” But Jay and the Americans and the Vogues were totally serious in their homage to doo-wop classics “When You Dance” and “Earth Angel,” respectively. If we’d doubted his motives in March, Paul Anka was back in May with the Moonglows’ “Sincerely.” Ray Stevens nearly had a hit in June with the Coasters classic “Along Came Jones,” which appeared on the chart the same week as Cat Mother and the All Night News Boys’ “Good Old Rock and Roll,” a medley of “Sweet Little Sixteen,” “Long Tall Sally,” “Chantilly Lace,” and “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On” that nearly cracked the Top 20. It was produced by Jimi Hendrix, the man for whom Sha Na Na served as opening act at Woodstock.
The biggest oldie revived that year belonged to an L.A. group called Smith, who brought the Bacharach-David hit for the Shirelles, “Baby It’s You,” back to the Top 10. But the most heartwarming oldie of the year, far surpassing Harlem scufflers turned Vegas stalwarts Little Anthony and the Imperials’ version of “The Ten Commandments of Love” (with Galt MacDermot’s personal favorite version of “Aquarius” on the B-side, titled here “Let the Sunshine In”) had to be “Oh What a Night” by the Dells, a remake of their very first R&B hit, from 1956. “People say we came from the doo-wop era and we did,” Dells original bass singer Chuck Barskdale said in Adam White and Fred Bronson’s book Number One Rhythm and Blues Hits. “But we grew — we grew as men as well as musically and we were singing a lot of very hip jazz things, just trying to keep food on the table.” The song not only hit No. 1 R&B, but was a Top 10 pop crossover, entering both charts the very week of August 16 that Sha Na Na served notice to the elders of the Baby Boom generation that it was time to shed the love beads, the long hair, and the rustic trappings of the counterculture and come home.
“As evidence I give you ‘Summertime, Summertime,’” I wrote in the liner notes to a 1986 reissue of the live Sha Na Na album From the Streets of New York: “They understood the one-shot miraculousness of the Jamies. They knew the tone poem of summer release and relief, the boardwalk, the roof, the submarine races. And then they made a one-act play out of all these rock and roll verities, complete with Max Factor’s hair and pre-slacker patter down to the taps on their dancing pumps. They even named themselves after a line in “Get a Job.” After hearing that song Smokey Robinson wrote “Got a Job,” but it was Sha Na Na who got the job and not as a ten-headed bicycle messenger either, but as messengers and scavengers and impresarios of rock and roll itself.”
Of course, being listed as a coproducer of that reissue, I may have had a slight conflict of interest in the writing of those notes. But, it was surely not enough to stop a true believer from preaching to the choir.
-- Bruce Pollock

There will be radio stations all across the country saluting the artists and music of Woodstock this weekend on the 40th anniversary of the concert's event. But Bruce points out some interesting perspective that we may not have considered when looking back at the music scene, circa 1969 ... the birth of the "Oldies Generation!!!" (It certainly has given US something to talk about these past ten years!!!)

1969 seemed to be the first time we as a musical society took a look back at our rock and roll roots. Certainly Sha Na Na's "camp" performance at Woodstock gave us a fun way to relive some of this great music ... but we can't hold them solely responsible for this trend in nostalgia. Several other factors certainly helped to influence this trend.

Elvis' 1968 Television Comeback Special, for example, did it for me ... I've told the story before about how I only tuned into this in the first place because I had read in some teen magazine that Ringo Starr was going to be appearing, playing drums on some of Elvis' songs. By 1968, Elvis was pretty much off the radio ... his mid-'60's hits weren't making much of an impression on the charts ... but in December of 1968 he COMPLETELY blew me away when he performed some of his biggest '50's hits clad in his black leather outfit. I simply HAD to have this music ... and went out the next day to buy copies of most of the songs I heard that night. (Fortunately, a nearby record shop had a selection of Golden Oldies 45s and I was able to pick up the Elvis hits "Heartbreak Hotel", "All Shook Up", "Hound Dog", "Love Me Tender", "Can't Help Falling In Love", "One Night" and "Guitar Man" that day ... along with his brand new single, "If I Can Dream", which would put The King back up at the top of the charts again for the first time in a long time. Keep in mind that Elvis' greatest contribution to the advancement of rock and roll music was already a full decade behind him by 1968 ... after be got out of the Army, he started cranking out all those God-awful movies and saw most of his chart action reflected in the title tunes and soundtrack filler from those films. In 1968, he introduced a whole new generation (myself included) to the music and excitement we missed the first time around. (We have a special Elvis Tribute coming up this weekend on the anniversary of his death.)

Keep in mind that in 1969 Oldies Radio didn't exist yet ... although within a couple of years this would become a VERY viable format of radio programming. Back then, our oldies were the hits of the late '50's and early '60's ... Top 40 Radio pretty much only played the hits of the day in repeated fashion ... there really wasn't anybody committed to keeping this older music alive or in our consciousness. Quite honestly, music was changing and evolving SO quickly back then, those early hits probably seemed even more passe then than they do to so many programmers now!

Thanks to the concert film, Sha Na Na was singled out as providing a fun, nostalgic look back in a camp sort of way ... but Ten Years After ALSO incorporated some of these early hits into their performance of "Goin' Home" that night at Woodstock. And let's not forget the big Cat Mother and the Newsboys Hit "Good Old Rock And Roll" from earlier in '69 that ran a medley of Sweet Little Sixteen / Long Tall Sally / Chantilly Lace / Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On / Blue Suede Shoes and Party Doll together ... produced by Woodstock closer Jimi Hendrix no less! Certainly ALL of these factors helped to introduce a whole new audience to "Good Time" Rock and Roll.

Soon, some of the outlets described above by Bruce like "American Graffiti" and "Happy Days" became THE way to look back to "Where Were You In '62?" ... I personally discovered some of my all-time favorite oldies (like "Since I Don't Have You" by The Starliners and "All Summer Long" by The Beach Boys and "Sixteen Candles" by The Crest ... which Sha Na Na ALSO did an incredible job on, by the way ... "I Only Have Eyes For You" by The Flamingos, "The Stroll" by The Diamonds, "Come Go With Me" by The Del-Vikings and SO many others thanks to the "American Graffiti" soundtrack. "Happy Days" took it a step further by pounding "Rock Around The Clock" and "Blueberry Hill" into our heads every Tuesday Night.

Most of these early rock artists had been absent from the airwaves for quite a few years thanks to the artists of The British Invasion in the mid-'60's and a turn to much "heavier" and progressive rock by the late '60's ... but by 1972 ... right around the time that Oldies Radio first came into prominence ... some of the biggest Rock And Roll Forefathers were back up at the top of the charts when Elvis, Chuck Berry and Rick Nelson ALL scored Top Five Hits with the likes of "Burning Love", "My Ding-A-Ling" and "Garden Party" respectively. Even '60's artists who had been absent from the charts for a while were enjoying newfound success ... The Hollies with "Long Cool Woman in a Black Dress", Johnny Rivers with "Rockin' Pneumonia and the Boogie-Woogie Flu" and Cher with "The Way Of Love", all of which were MAJOR hits in '72 by artists we hadn't even THOUGHT about in ages!!! (Let's face it ... Sha Na Na never even had a hit record!!!) 1972 was ALSO the year that Don McLean gave us "American Pie", a look back at Buddy Holly and "The Day The Music Died" ... "Rockin' Robin" was a hit all over again in the hands of little Michael Jackson as was "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" by Robert John (incredibly produced by a couple of the original Tokens who first took that song to #1 back in 1961!) Other big remakes in 1972 include "Puppy Love" and "Too Young" by Donny Osmond, "Hot Rod Lincoln" by Commander Cody and the Lost Planet Airmen, "Little Bitty Pretty One" by The Jackson Five and "Sealed With A Kiss" by Bobby Vinton, another name from the past.

And quality remakes have been with us ever since, introducing each new generation of radio listeners to the music that made US feel good way back when.

Thank you, Bruce, for sharing this perspective with us and inspiring us to take a closer look back at yet ANOTHER contribution Woodstock may have made to our listening habits. We wish you LOADS of success with your new book and can't wait to pick up a copy. (Hey, sign a couple of 'em and we'll give them away in Forgotten Hits!!! lol)

We hope you all enjoyed this look back at The Woodstock Era ... lots more great 1969 Memories to come so please stay with us! (kk)

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Woodstock - Part 2

Longtime Forgotten Hits Reader Bill Hengels (he's the guy who's been supplying us with those pristine copies of the old WLS Charts we've been running every Friday) just sent us THIS interesting article pertaining to the 40th Anniversary of Woodstock.

One glance at this photo and you'll know IMMEDIATELY who we're talking about. It's been etched in our brains for nearly 40 years now!!! Enjoy!

I saw this last week in the papers. Thought it was timely for the article!

Woodstock concert's undercover lovers, Nick and Bobbi Ercoline, 40 years after summer of love
Updated Tuesday, July 7th 2009, 3:08 PM
© Burk Uzzle / Courtesy Laurence Miller Gallery, New York

Love in 1969: Nick and Bobbi Ercoline were immortalized on the cover

of the original 'Woodstock' album in 1970, as well as on the movie poster.

And still going strong in 2009 -

the couple, now both age 60, reprise their iconic pose nearly 40 years later.

Of all the images snapped during the original Woodstock weekend, one stands above all: a young couple huddled together in a blanket, standing alone in a sea of people lying on wet ground.

It's an enduring image of love, care and protection that earned iconic status through its placement on the cover of the original "Woodstock" album in 1970, as well as on the movie poster.

Forty years later, the couple in the photo - Nick and
Bobbi Ercoline, both 60 - remain together. They married two summers after the fabled weekend, and they still live less than an hour's drive from the original concert site of Bethel, N.Y., and within spitting distance of where they both grew up.

Nick Ercoline works for the Orange County, N.Y., Department of Housing. Bobbi is a resident nurse at the elementary school in their hometown of Pine Bush.
The 40th anniversary of the ultimate hippie be-in, this Aug. 15-17, has thrown the Ercolines into the spotlight again - something they never expected or sought.
They say they remember nothing of the original shot, taken by
Burk Uzzle. "We weren't striking a pose," Nick says. "We were as surprised as everybody to see that photo on the album cover."

They discovered it while at a friend's house listening to the album and passing around the gatefold jacket. First, Nick recognized the famous yellow butterfly staff in the left corner. "It belonged to this guy Herbie," Nick says. "We latched on to him that day because he was having a very bad experience. He was tripping pretty heavily and he had lost his friends. After I saw that staff I said, 'Hey that's our blanket.' Then I said, 'Hey, that's us.'"

Bobbi, then 20, wasn't overly impressed. "Woodstock was over and done with at that time," she says. "It didn't seem like a big deal. The only thing was that then I had to tell my mother I had gone. She didn't know. But by then, she didn't mind."

The two had arrived in the middle of the weekend, a rare feat given that all main roads were closed by then. "We were local kids, so we knew the back roads," Nick says. "About 5 miles away we abandoned this big white 1965 Chevrolet Impala station wagon."

The two didn't realize the impact their photo had until Woodstock's 20th anniversary, when the world's media began seeking them out. In fact, their memories of the original event have more to do with the scene than the music, because they were too far away to hear or see much.

"I remember the rain, the lack of toilets and the body odor," Bobbi says.
"I also remember an orange haze from the glowing lights of the stage. It was everywhere, lighting up the sky."

The pair had met only three months earlier, over Memorial Day weekend, at the bar where Nick worked. "This waiter brought this beautiful blond in one day and said, 'This is my girlfriend; keep an eye on her,'" Nick explains. "Every night she stood in front of me and we got friendlier and friendlier. Then one weekend he made the mistake of leaving her home while he went to the shore with the guys and he never told her. That was the end of that. And the beginning of this."

Despite all the time gone by, Nick says they still get recognized. "We were in Germany, and right when we walked into the hotel they knew who we were."

As to why their photo was chosen, Nick has a theory. "It's peaceful, which is what the event was about," he says. "And it's an honest representation of a generation. When we look at that photo I don't see Bobbi and me. I see our generation."
-- submitted by Bill Hengels

VERY cool!!! (How on earth do they find and keep track of these people?!?!?)
Thanks, Bill!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Woodstock - Part 1

40 Years Ago This Week, The Woodstock Music and Arts Festival took place just outside of Bethel, New York. Three Days of Peace, Love And Music ... and nothing BUT Peace, Love And Music ... well, and a little rain ... and some mud ... and some naked hippies running around ... and some REALLY bad brown acid ... and a COMPLETELY shut down New York Freeway System ... and an award-winning film documenting all of these events and more!!! Woodstock was ... and will always be ... the ULTIMATE Music Festival. When the film was released the following year, I was COMPLETELY blown away ... running at close to three hours (nearly FOUR hours in the Director's Cut!), it did a GREAT job of capturing ALL of the aspects that went into this festival. (When it opened in theaters here in Chicago, a bunch of us went on opening night ... and sat through it TWICE!!! We just couldn't get over how AMAZING all of this was ... and what we had missed!!!)

For many of us, we were discovering most of these artists for the very first time. I was COMPLETELY blown away by the likes of Joe Cocker and Ten Years After, my two immediate favorites ... and while I was familiar with The Who and Sly and the Family Stone, I had NEVER seen them perform like THIS before!!! Debuts by new artists like Crosby, Stills and Nash, Santana and Sha Na Na (what the heck were THEY doing there?!?!?) won me over as a fan for life. And Jimi Hendrix at the end?!?!? Could you have choreographed a better ending to this whole extravaganza?!?!? Even some of the "folksie" artists like Ritchie Havens, Joan Baez, Arlo Guthrie and John Sebastian put on steller performances ... and we haven't even scratched the surface on all of the OTHER acts that were there who didn't make the final cut of the film for one reason or another (MOSTLY because their record labels were too greedy to come to terms with any sort of cross-licensing.)

Our online buddy Artie Wayne was there ... and documented his memories for his own website ... but when he did, he only ran Part One of the story!!!

That's because he saved Part Two of the story for US!!! To run EXCLUSIVELY on The Forgotten Hits Website!!! (Thank you, Artie ... we REALLY appreciate this!!!)

When Artie heard that we'd be saluting 1969 throughout the month of August, he gave me a call ... and permission to run HIS piece on OUR site. So today ... please enjoy the COMPLETE Artie Wayne Woodstock Story ... available ONLY on Forgotten Hits!!!


Kent ...
How ya' doin'? I hope you and your readers are having a great summer. I want to thank all of you again for helplng me to reach a million hits on my blog!
I plan to resume posting articles in September, but I didn't want to miss the excitement of of the 40th Anniversary of Woodstock, the crowning achievement of my friend Artie Kornfeld, The Father Of Woodstock. So I'm letting you post the second part of my 1969 Woodstock experience from the forthcoming book, "I Did It For A Song" copyright 2009 by Artie Wayne.

You can read part one at

Part two ... you can read EXCLUSIVELY on Forgotten Hits during this wonderful celebration! I hope you enjoy my "trip"!
Artie Wayne
When my friend, the Father Of Woodstock, Artie Kornfeld invited me to the festival in 1969, I thought it was going to be a great picnic, I wasn’t expecting a life changing experience!
Back in 1967 my wife Sheilah was working at Mercury records as a secretary to Artie Kornfield (“Pied Piper”, “Dead Man’s Curve”) We hung out a lot with Artie and his wife Linda. When we got divorced I got the dog and she got the Kornfelds!

Then one day Sheilah calls me up to tell me that she’s working with Artie again. It seems that he and his partner Michael Lang are putting on a music and art festival at the end of August in upstate NY at a place called Woodstock, and she’s his personal assistant. It sounds a bit disorganized, but I don’t say anything ... if anyone can pull it together, they can.

It’s three hours before Allan Rinde and Rick Bolsom, from Cashbox magazine, Lita Eliscu a freelance writer (Rolling Stone), Cookie the groupie, and I are scheduled to go up to the Woodstock Music and Art festival. Artie Kornfeld and Michael Lang, are having serious troubles getting permits and have to change locations to Max Yasgur’s farm in Bethel, NY, at the last minute. Unfortunately, I’m having serious problems of my own, I can’t score any grass to take to the event!
As a last resort I call my friend Heather MacRae, who’s currently starring in the smash hit, “Hair” On Broadway. She must know someone in the “Hippie” cast who can help us out. She leaves our names at the backstage door with a note to go upstairs to see her friends, James Rado and Gerome Ragni, who co-wrote the musical.

When we walk into Rado and Ragni’s dressing room, they look at Allan and me suspiciously, with cameras hanging around our necks, and tape recorders dangling from our shoulders. I laugh and nervously explain that we’re not cops or from the press trying to get a story, and show them our Woodstock press pass. Fortunately they believe us and when we tell them our “predicament”, they sell us a “lid” from their personal stash (at cost) and hand us a couple of capsules of mescaline for free, in the spirit of “Peace and Love”. We thank them and go to the garage to pick up Allan’s Buick Cutlass, and our friends, then head we head off for our weekend adventure.”

“Let The Sun Shine … Let The Sun Shine In … The Sun Shine In!”


Copyright 2009 by Artie Wayne from his forthcoming autobiography,
“I Did It For A Song”

For more on Artie Kornfeld and the official celebration of 40th Woodstock anniversary :

Special thanks to Phil X. Milstein for the enhanced Woodstock poster he made!

(By the way, you'll find a complete chapter devoted to "Hair" ... The Musical ... coming up this weekend in Forgotten Hits!!!) kk

(a Forgotten Hits Exclusive, courtesy of Artie Wayne!)

The festival gets off to a great start with a set by Ritchie Havens, and then it starts to rain … and rain … and rain. There’s a buzz already that this is going to be a historic event. The press tent is alive with anticipation of seeing the artists and people behind the scenes.

I’m skeptical when I hear that a lawyer is taking over as head of Columbia Records, until I meet Clive Davis awash in the rain, the mud, and the good vibrations. How cool it is for the head of a record company to be out here “roughing it” like this with his artists!

Although my friends and I have warm, dry accommodations, food, water, and plenty of intoxicants, a half a million other people who are also here have to rough it in the mud and the rain! We run into a completely soaked (and delightfully stoned) Artie Kornfeld, The Father Of Woodstock, who tells us that thousands of people are crashing the gates, and Woodstock has become a free concert! Starry eyed and drooling, he turns around and melts back into the crowd.
Thousands of people are still pouring in after midnight and I warn my friends that we were probably going to be in the middle of a riot between the “haves” and the “have nots!”

I knew that this whole “Peace and Love” thing could blowup in a minute … but no one is listening to me as they slowly passed the bong around. I don’t know if it’s my paranoia of “Drug Crazed Hippies” rushing the motel or my fear of getting my new Fry boots dirty … I just knew I had to get the hell outa’ there!

After being at Woodstock less than 24 hours, I say goodbye to my friends and decide to hitchhike back to the city. I’m 27 yeas old but, hitchhicking is something I never tried before. At the side of an on ramp, I see Vince Aletti, writer for the Village Voice, who I know from the press parties I crash. He has his thumb out and looks pretty discouraged. This is his first time hitchhiking, too … but I act like a veteran and convince him that if we put on great big smiles, and act sincere … we’re bound to get a ride! In less than 10 minutes we’re picked up by a guy in an old Chevy wagon, who happens to be going all the way into the city! Just like the guys who rode the rails and became “Boxcar Buddies”, Vince and I had a shared experience that went “without a hitch”, so to speak, “Hitchhiking pals” for the rest of our lives!

Finally, I’m back in my apartment, thankful to be away from all of those people … I don’t believe all those people … Damn! It’s still early, so I pack my duffel bag and grab a subway out to Coney Island, stopping only long enough to swallow a little capsule Rado and Ragni, had given me. I don’t know why, but the rest of the day is magical! I feel so much love for Everyone I run into. I don’t even notice that I’m surrounded by a million people on the the beach … twice as many as there was at Woodstock … but now … somehow I don’t care!”
From my forthcoming book, “I Did It For A Song”
Copyright 2009 by Artie Wayne
To reach Artie Kornfeld:

Thanks again, Artie, for this GREAT exclusive. Now since you're not posting this month, why don't you spend this time finishing up that frickin' book so we can read the WHOLE thing already?!?!? (lol) kk

Monday, August 10, 2009

Gary Lewis

The Gary Lewis controversy continues!!!

Actually, I thought we'd put this one to bed a couple of years ago when we went round and round on this topic ... but apparently not ... so we'll share some of this with you again ... along with some NEW information that has surfaced thanks to the recently released "The Complete Liberty Singles" Collection put out by Collectors' Choice Music, featuring ALL of the Gary Lewis and the Playboys singles, A-Sides, B-Sides and a few rarities thrown in for good measure, too.

It's an EXCELLENT collection and belongs in everbody's music library ... like we keep saying, regardless of how they MADE these records, Gary Lewis and the Playboys put together an INCREDIBLE string of hits in the '60's that STILL sound just as fresh today.

Anyway, on with the debate!!!

>>>My husband I thought it would be fun to go see Gary Lewis on Monday night at the Music Pier in Ocean City NJ - it was! He and his band put on a really fun show, sang all their hit songs and a lot of other groups hits of the 60s. Gary had a ball singing and telling stories. His voice - well, he was a bit off key and whiny through most of the songs - but his exuberance made up for all that, in my opinion. He was gracious to stay after the show and sign autographs for the crowd. (Eileen)
>>>We saw Gary a few years ago ... nope, not one of the better vocalists out there ... but he sure did seem grateful and appreciative of the career he was able to enjoy back in the '60's ... and he was genuinely having fun up on stage, performing for an audience again. We've covered the fact that Lewis may not have even sung much on his own records back then, typically following a "guide vocal" laid down by someone else! (kk)

We've spent numerous pages in Forgotten Hits over the past several years discussing just how much Gary Lewis was involved with his own recordings back in the day. The general consensus seems to be that yes, he DID sing on the hit records ... usually following a "guide vocal" laid down by a guy named Ron Hicklin. We've even heard from some of the folks who were present at the actual recording sessions who told us that Lewis pretty much just mimicked, "followed-along" or tracked his voice on top of these guide vocals. According to the recently released CD collection "The Complete Liberty Singles" ... which features interviews with ALL of the key players involved in these sessions, here is how THEY all ... unanimously ... recall the recording routine for Gary Lewis and the Playboys:
Gary's inexperience as a studio vocalist presented Snuff (Garrett) with a challenge ... enter Ron Hicklin.
Bones Howe, who engineered the early Playboys sessions, remembers the "This Diamond Ring" date well. "When we started to do vocals, Gary was having trouble getting through the first pass. He was not an experienced singer. I suggested to Snuff that he get Ron Hicklin to sing with Gary."
Ron immediately hopped into his car and drove to Hollywood. "They had gotten to the point where they didn't know what to do, so I said, 'Let me put a harmony part on with him.' Snuff thought that my voice, mixed with Gary's, would smooth his out a little and he liked the lift it gave to the song." In fact, Ron's harmony contribution worked so well that he became an integral part of the Gary Lewis sound.
Gary double-tracked his own voice on "This Diamond Ring" but from then on, the lead vocal became a Gary / Ron duet. "I sang all the leads right along with Gary," says Ron, 'the two of us on the same mic at the same time. Whatever he was doing, I could phrase it right with him at exactly the same time, almost as if we were linked mentally. Then we'd do the overdubs, multi-tracking the voice, and then I would do any backgrounds myself."
When asked about singing "live" with the studio players, Gary explains, "I never sang live. Everything was tracked first."
For an idea as to how Gary really sounded on his own, give a listen to his 1968 hit "Sealed With A Kiss". Incredibly, here is what Lewis said about his own recording: "I hate the way I sang that song and I hate the way Snuffy produced that record. He left me totally bare. Only one voice, no effects whatsoever. I was singing flat and sharp with no confidence. I'm embarrassed for anyone to hear that song."
So, naturally, THAT'S the one we'll feature today!!! (lol)

Compare THIS vocal to ANY other Gary Lewis and the Playboys hit and you'll see what I mean ... it doesn't take a genius to determine that ALL of Lewis' hits were "enhanced" in some fashion. Yes, without question, he double-tracked, triple-tracked and maybe even quadruple-tracked his voice on many of these recordings ... but he ALSO had some vocal help from Ron Hicklin, whether it be a guide vocal to follow, a "sing-along" or a prominently featured harmony ... or, in most cases, all of the above! As I've said numerous times now, I don't have a problem with ANY this ... these were HIT records and this was the Gary Lewis Sound ... it just seems that somebody ought to own up to this arrangement after all these years. (kk)

Sealed With A Kiss

Lewis also said about this tune,
"If I could have been given another chance to sing that, I would have taken it in a second. That's the only song I will never listen to as long as I live. I cringe every time I hear it."

Please understand that what you've just read above isn't what I have to say about these recording sessions ... or my OPINION about whether or not Gary Lewis really sang or didn't sing on these records ... everything expressed above is in the words of the people who were THERE at these sessions ... including Gary himself!!! (Hicklin also says that it wasn't until he received a personal check for $25 in the mail, thanking him for helping out on his son's recording session, that he realized that he had just been singing with comedian Jerry Lewis' son! He had simply been introduced to "Gary Lewis" and that was it! And be honest ... didn't you ever wonder, when watching Jerry's Muscular Dystrophy Telethons, why Gary NEVER sounded like his records when he'd perform live on these shows?!?!?)

You've got to remember that it wasn't the least bit unusual for musicians to come in and "enhance" the sound at these sessions ... this is the way records were made back then ... and The Wrecking Crew built their whole reputation by being the "go to" guys whenever you needed to get the sound just right ... and, as such, they played on the majority of The Playboys' hits, too. Gary's band would then LEARN these musical bits and pieces so that they go out on the road and perform the songs live. Using someone else's VOCALS, however ... especially to strengthen those of the lead vocalist, was a bit unusual. (In all fairness, Gary typically double or triple-tracked his vocals anyway on these records, leading me to believe he simply wasn't a strong lead singer ... prior to their recording contract with Liberty Records, Guitarist Dave Walker sang most of The Playboys' leads when they performed at Disneyland ... Gary was simply the drummer in the band. Lewis was moved up front in the studio in order to best capitalize on his show-biz name and connections. He pretty much BECAME the lead singer by default!!! With no real singing experience, it's not the least bit surprising to think that he may not have been ready to assume this role ... without the necessary training and "dues-paying" normally associated with most lead singers, odds are his voice was too weak to achieve the effects they were looking for without some enhancing or over-dubbing. His ability to stay in tune and on pitch is another matter entirely. Needless to say, he probably wouldn't have made it to The American Idol finals!!! lol)

ALL that being said, it doesn't in ANY way diminish the success these guys had on the charts ... or how well their records STILL stand up today. Gary Lewis and the Playboys had fifteen straight Top 50 Hits between 1965 and 1969 ... and the first seven of those made The Top Ten: This Diamond Ring (#1, 1965); Count Me In (#2, 1965); Save Your Heart For Me (#2, 1965); Everybody Loves A Clown (#4, 1965); She's Just My Style (#3, 1966); Sure Gonna Miss Her (#9, 1966) and Green Grass (#8, 1966). Even his version of "Sealed With A Kiss", in all its cringe-inducing glory, peaked at #8 in Cash Box Magazine in 1968 ... and was a Top Five Hit here in Chicago. (kk)

re: '60's FLASHBACK:
Here is some of the discussion that ran a couple of years ago in Forgotten Hits when the subject of Gary Lewis singing (or not singing) on his hit records first came up:

How dare you suggest that Gary Lewis couldn't sing ... the next thing you'll tell me is the Cubs haven't won a World Series since 1908 ... or that Lovie Smith defines the word "charisma."
Chet Coppock

Rumor has it that Jerry Lewis got Gary signed to Liberty Records, but as stated before, his voice sucked so bad that they wouldn't sign him to a contract till he had over six months of voice lessons!!!
Wild Bill
I think we're ALL about to learn more about GARY LEWIS' "vocal abilities" than any of us were EVER supposed to find out!!! Read on!!! (kk)

I've heard it from several good sources that it's not Lewis on those recordings, but a studio singer. Sort of the Mili Vanilli of his day. Not sure who to believe, but if you've ever heard him live, you gotta wonder.
Bob Stroud
I HAVE heard him live ... and it's NOT a pretty sight!!! (lol) Keep reading!!! (kk)

And didja know, This Diamond Ring was first recorded by Sammy Ambrose on Musicor Records. When the Gary Lewis version was rushed out, someone did not double check the label information so all copies of the single that are out show the writers credit as Kooder - Levine - Bras. Tom Diehl

This Diamond Ring by Sammy Ambrose

Actually, I no sooner got YOUR email and then I received one from AL KOOPER HIMSELF!!! Check it out! (kk)

Yo Kent!
Ron Hicklin was the guy who "sang along" with Gary Lewis on his records. Ron was a very talented session singer at the time. The song was written as an R&B tune originally pegged for The Drifters, but they turned it down. Because it was originally an R&B tune, I never liked or understood the Gary Lewis version. S'matter of fact, I recorded it myself on my album "Act Like Nothing's Wrong" in 1975. It's reprised from that out of print work on RARE & WELL DONE: A double album on SONY-Legacy released in 2001. It's also on iTunes. That explains the original concept of the song. Only a music publisher would have sent that song to Snuff Garrett, who, as far as I know, NEVER produced an R&B record.
Keep up the good work.
By the way, my favorite Lewis / Hicklin hit was Count Me In, which I believe was written by Glen D Hardin. Jim Keltner, drummer to the stars, started his career as a Playboy, as did Carl Radle, and Tom Triplehorn, guitarist & father of actress Jeanne.
Bye for now -
Al Kooper
So there's the inside scoop on who REALLY sang the GARY LEWIS vocals.
I ALSO asked AL KOOPER about the erroneous label credit ... evidently a far more common practice than one might think!!! (We recently talked about Davie Allan's name being regularly misspelled on his record and the music charts a short while back here in Forgotten Hits!) kk

The three of us (Levine & Brass) had a writing cubicle at a publishers office at the time. We had a professional sign made up for the door that said:
Kooder -- Levine -- Bras
Al Kooper

Count Me In

Yeah I read in a book or something how it was originally intended for the Drifters. Supposedly Kooper wasn't at all happy with the finished product as it didn't turn out like he'd heard it in his head. Let's face it, the Drifters are another couple of zip codes away from Gary Lewis & the Playboys!
Bob Stroud

I think I heard an interview once ... (was it Gary?) ... that his father un-pulled strings that would have kept him out of Viet Nam ... and while he was in Viet Nam, his then-wife spent all his 'Playboy' money ....
PS ... and Jerry Lewis' office was his bathroom! He had it set up ... desk, phones, all the acoutrements ... but he was able to sit on the throne all the while, while doing his business ....
So ol' Jerry was doing his business WHILE he was doing his business, eh?!?!?! Jerry Lewis has always been a FASCINATING character to me. I read once that he only wore a pair of socks once ... he considered them disposable ... and wouldn't wash them and wear them again. There are some VERY good books out there that tell his story ... and the biography that Lewis wrote about a year ago ("Dean And Me") will just grab you by the heart. Despite the way things often appeared in public, I honestly believe that Jerry NEVER stopped caring about and loving this man. (kk)

Apparently the "mystery voice" on all those Gary Lewis records is not as well kept a secret as I originally thought ... I easily found the following published reports earlier today: Click here: The PF Recording Sessions!
And, Ron Hicklin ALSO apparently sang on a number of Partridge Family recordings!!!
Check out THIS blurb from the ever-(un)reliable WIKIPEDIA!!!
The Ron Hicklin Singers were Los Angeles studio singers let by Ron Hicklin.
The group mainly consisted of Ron Hicklin, Tom Bahler, John Bahler and Jackie Ward. While most people don't know the group by name, their sound was unmistakable and heard everywhere. Sometimes they were credited under other names. For example, when singing the theme to Love, American Style, they were credited as The Charles Fox Singers. The Hicklin Singers also sang the TV themes to Batman and Flipper. They were also the vocalists on the majority of the Ray Conniff Singers albums. Further, they were part of the vocal sounds of the Anita Kerr Singers, Henry Mancini and Percy Faith's orchestra.
Brothers Tom and John Bahler were part of Imperial Records vocal group "The Love Generation" in the sixties. Ron Hicklin was the real lead singer of
Gary Lewis & The Playboys (with Lewis' vocal slightly faded into the mix). He also sang the lead vocals for the TV theme from Happy Days. Jackie Ward had a hit on her own as Robin Ward with 1963's hit "Wonderful Summer".
As the Ron Hicklin Singers, the group backed up or were the real vocals on tunes by
The Monkees, Gary Puckett & The Union Gap, Paul Revere & The Raiders, The Brady Kids and most famously known for being the singers behind The Partridge Family. They sang commercial vocals including campaigns for Kawasaki ("Kawasaki lets the good times roll"), Datsun ("Drive a Datsun, then decide") and McDonald's ("You deserve a break today").
jingle companies throughout the last four decades utilized The Ron Hicklin Singers in their productions including "The Heller Corporation"[1]. Jones TM utilized the Ron Hicklin Singers on syndicated ID jingles packages including HOT HITS, YOU (The "You" Campaign), GOOD FEELINGS and several others. JAM Creative Productions also utilized their vocals in several of their packages.
Today, the group is split up and mostly retired. John Bahler lives in Banson, MI, and conducts the "new"
Lawrence Welk orchestra. His wife, Janet Lennon, is a member of The Lennon Sisters. John also runs Portraits By Bahler[2]. Tom Bahler retired to Playa del Rey in 2005. Ron Hicklin is still a studio singer, contributing vocals to Harry Connick, Jr.'s Christmas CD in 2004.
Retrieved from ""
And here's some GREAT information on the band courtesy of
Click here: Gary Lewis and The Playboys

I don’t care what Gary Lewis was doin’ on those records, he made a bunch of excellent 45’s! Ken

>>>Ron Hicklin was the guy who "sang along" with Gary Lewis on his records. (Al Kooper)
Notice Al Kooper said Hicklin "sang along with" Gary Lewis. He did not say that he sang "in place of" Gary Lewis. This was a common practice for many singers in those days to get that "double tracked vocals" sound, which was very common on records. Listen to the Lesley Gore songs and it sounds like more than one person on lead vocals. Thinking about Jerry Lewis, (who had a national hit in the 1950s on Decca with Rock A Bye Your Baby) about eight minutes into the film, The Family Jewels issued in July, 1965, Jerry Lewis (as the chauffeur) sits down to listen to a phonograph record. It's his son's band's (Gary Lewis & The Playboys) biggest hit, "This Diamond Ring." The Gary Lewis record was introduced supposedly, from what I have read, by Murray The K in January, 1965 , but the film was probably shot by then and being edited, so having the song in the film probably would have gotten a record deal. According to Wikipedia, in 1965 Gary Lewis was Cash Box Magazine's "Male Vocalist of the Year," winning against nominees Elvis Presley and Frank Sinatra and was the only artist during the 1960s to have his first seven single releases reach Billboard Magazine's Top 10 on the Hot 100 chart. So other folks besides myself liked his records. So let's kinda hold up on Gary bashing as he has left us some good music, even with his limited vocal talents.
Paul Urbahns
Radcliff, Ky
Most accounts I have read state that Gary Lewis' voice was HEAVILY doctored in the studio ... even looking at the reports we published referencing Ron Hicklin's
contribution (who I had never even heard of before, by the way!) state that Lewis' voice was "buried in the mix". Personally, I don't really care either way ... these were GREAT pop records that still hold up EXTREMELY well today ... and the "studio musicianship" of The Playboys was absolutely stellar. (Look who they had to work with!!!) The facts are really pretty simple: Gary Lewis and the Playboys had 14 straight National Top 40 Hits ... and their 15th release, "Rhythm Of The Rain", didn't miss by much. (It peaked at #49 in Cash Box Magazine.) Among those hits were EIGHT Top Ten Records, including a #1. Those are impressive stats by ANYBODY's standards ... yet these guys have ALWAYS been dismissed as lightweights. If you can name ANY other artists who posted similar stats between 1965 and 1969, I'll bet you that today we refer to THEM as "Superstars"!!!!!

Regarding your recent piece on Gary Lewis and the Playboys, there was a comment about "their stellar musicianship". Whoever toured with Gary Lewis, Hal Blaine's discography lists This Diamond Ring, Count Me In, Save Your Heart, She's Just My Style and Sure Gonna Miss Her, so I'd guess the rest of the players were studio guys as well. I'm with whoever said "so what, great product", I'm with them. It's a bit like the Monkees -- the best songs, played by the best players, produced by the best producers yields great pop songs. They just SOUND good, and you know by now that my sweet spot is the well-crafted pop song. My secret guilty pleasures include a lot of songs from people and bands who wouldn't pass the critics' definition of "serious artists".
Rick Barr
The New Colony Six
The band that performed on stage as Gary Lewis and the Playboys was NOT the same band that performed on the records ... for those, most of The Wrecking Crew were utilized ... and Leon Russell was a significant member of that team, handling not only the keyboards, but also co-writing, arranging and producing many of these tracks. And if Lewis' vocals were doctored to the extent that we've been told through the previous feedback to this piece, why do they STILL sound so "borderline" at times?!?!? That being said, you are 100% right ... I absolutely LOVE their records!!! Maybe the flaws are part of their charm ... maybe Lewis was just a likeable enough performer ... maybe it was the stellar musicianship and production of the records and the strength of the material ... but whatever it was (and odds are it was a combination of ALL of the above), they made some GREAT, GREAT records!!! And the general consensus from our readers seem to echo your sentiments ... "We don't care HOW they made the records ... we just LOVE 'em!!!" (kk)

Paul was right, Gary Lewis’ vocals were often double tracked to get a fuller sound. He was not in the background. He is very pronounced on his records. His Diamond Ring is still the best, just an excellent Pop-Rock record.
The more I research this, the more discrepancies I find ... and, let's face it, neither Gary Lewis or Rob Hicklin are going to confirm ANYTHING for us at this stage of the game!!! I've heard that Gary's actual vocals were buried so deep into the mix that you couldn't even hear him sing ... but I don't think this is true as there definitely IS a Gary Lewis tonal quality to these recordings. I've ALSO heard that Ron Hicklin recorded a "guide" vocal to keep the thing on-key ... Lewis then sang OVER Hicklin's vocal, often multi-tracking his own voice to achieve that fuller sound. That's probably the more likely scenario, listening to all this music back now. (And, having seen Lewis perform in concert a couple times now, I can only say that he DEFINES what American Idol Judge Randy Jackson refers to as "pitchy"!!!)

I sure didn't know about the Gary Lewis & the Playboys / Leon Russell connection. Is he in the pictures? I'll have to check. A bio I read says that he was one of the Playboys! I always liked him. The recent info on his work with Gary Lewis and the Playboys was interesting. I'd only been familiar with his later work; the solo stuff, and the Concert For Bangla Desh appearance, that was very good. addlepate
Yep, Leon wrote, produced and performed with The Playboys for a few years ... primarily in the studio, but he was also photographed quite often with the band. Keep in mind, the legend goes that Gary Lewis and the Playboys (then simply "The Playboys") auditioned to perform at Disneyland without telling anyone who they were or about Gary's famous dad and then were "discovered" and offered a recording contract. (At the time, Lewis was just the band's drummer ... the lead vocals were being handled by guitarist Dave Walker. It wasn't until they were signed to Liberty Records and it became public knowledge that this was Jerry Lewis' kid that Gary moved up front both vocally AND ahead of the band's name on all their records.) I'm not sure how much truth there is to that whole Disneyland legend ... keep in mind, the Gary Lewis legend ALSO states that "This Diamond Ring" was first offered to Bobby Vee, who turned it down ... but in our special Gary Lewis and the Playboys segment a few years back, we debunked THAT story completely ... courtesy of Bobby Vee himself ... and Al Kooper, who cowrote "This Diamond Ring" with The Drifters in mind!!! I'm more inclined to believe that "Daddy" helped Gary secure his recording contract upfront. The Playboys, however, WERE a "real" band ... Snuff Garrett just preferred to use more "seasoned" musicians in the recording studio to crank out these hit records and that's how The Wrecking Crew came into play. (kk)

I once spoke to someone who had access to some of the Gary Lewis multitrack tapes while working on a project at Capitol and he mentioned that for some of the early hits, there were nine different tracks for a song spread out over three 4-track tapes (one tape would be recorded for the backing track music and would be mixed down to mono on one track of another 4-track tape, vocal overdubs added, those mixed down to mono on one track of another track of a 4 track tape with the backing track still remaining in one track on its own, and then the remaining two tracks used for more vocals). They had also mentioned to me that Gary's voice is the main one you hear on his records, as his vocal was often recorded 3 or 4 times with Hicklin's vocals using only one or two tracks (listening to some of the re-mixed versions that are out on cd, with the vocals split between the two speakers, you can certainly hear multiple vocal parts in each speaker ... citing Green Grass as an example, I think Hicklin is doing the harmony vocals but that Gary is handling the lead).
Tom Diehl

Green Grass

Will the REAL GARY LEWIS please sing a tune for us? Comparing these two songs, you'd hardly think it could be the same singer. "My Heart's Symphony" sounds to me like Boyce and Hart, while "Count Me In" sounds like someone else whose voice has been modified or masked with a touch of Dyna-Phase.

My Heart's Symphony

Hi Kent,
You're pretty close -- check out this tidbit on the vocal recording of This Diamond Ring:

During the recording of Gary Lewis and The Playboys 1965 number one hit, "This Diamond Ring", The Playboys were used sparingly. Studio musicians, including Tommy Alsup on guitar, Leon Russell on keyboards and Hal Blaine on drums were used instead. Even Gary's vocals got some help from a singer named Ron Hicklin, who did the basic vocal track; then producer Snuff Garrett added Gary’s voice, overdubbed him a second time, added some of the Playboys, and then added more of Hicklin. Garrett would later say: "When I got through, he sounded like Mario Lanza".
The above can be found among a whole slew of fascinating stuff in this site:
Click here: - rock and roll trivia - classicbands.com_

This Diamond Ring

You really know how to hurt a guy. When I was about 16, I was riding in the car with my mom when Gary Lewis's song, Paint Me A Picture, came on the radio. My mom said that's sorta what I sounded like when I played guitar. At the time I had no knowledge of the nuances that went into making a record. As far as I knew, your band went into the studio, made the tape, and that was it. Now ya tell me it's not Gary Lewis! I saw Gary Lewis in concert about 1985. It seems to me he sounded no better or no worse then many 60s bands on oldies circuit then as now. Methinks that many a band has had their vocals punched up back then, with or without their knowledge.
Jack Levin

Actually, "You Really Know How To Hurt A Guy" was by Jan and Dean!!! (Just kidding!!!) And, "(You Don't Have To) Paint Me A Picture" just may be the MOST appropriate song title we could use in conjunction with Gary Lewis' recording career!!! Hey, the guy made GREAT records. (How naive was I??? At one time, at a very early age, I used to think the artists were actually there in the studio at the radio station performing these songs on the air!!! I could NEVER figure out how they could pack up ALL their stuff and run over from the WLS studio to the WCFL studio to play "Hanky Panky" again just three minutes later!!! LOL) Did your Mom suggest recruiting Ron Hicklin to sing along with you during your street corner serenades??? 'Cause THAT would be down-right scary!!! (kk)

Paint Me A Picture

I just happened to catch 'Gary Lewis & The Playboys' early this morning on the Jerry Lewis Telethon and his singing sounded more nasal and thin than ever - he sounded more like his old man!
I found a interesting site on The Wrecking Crew.
Apparently a great many of our 60's bands weren't playing their own instruments in the recording studio. Check out The Wrecking Crew Top 10 list at the bottom of the site! I think you'll be particularly interested in item # 6 ! LOL Bob
Click here: / The Wrecking Crew
This is a GREAT article ... and it just shows you again how IMPORTANT these studio musicians were in creating the music we all know and love and hold so close to our hearts. (I'm telling you guys ... you have just GOT to go check out this new Wrecking Crew Documentary that I've been talking about for the past year and a half ... an OUTSTANDING behind-the-scenes look at how ALL this great music that we all know and love was really created!) Isn't it funny how it always seems to be The Monkees who are singled out for not playing their own instruments ... a quick glance at The Top Ten on the above site shows that The Beach Boys, Simon and Garfunkel, The Mamas and the Papas and Herb Alpert ALL supplemented their sound by way of these studio session whiz-kids. The article also mentions The Byrds, The Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan. What's so unusual about THAT list??? ALL of those artists have been inducted into The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame ... as have The Beach Boys, Simon and Garfunkel and The Mamas and the Papas!!! But the MAIN excuse given for The Monkees having been ignored is because THEY didn't play their own instruments!!! Now is that a double standard or what??? Don't get me wrong ... I'm not for a minute suggesting that The Monkees (who wrote precious little of their own material) belong in the same category as musical geniuses like Brian Wilson, Paul Simon, John Phillips or Bob Dylan ... but come on already ... let's get OVER this whole "didn't play their own instruments" thing and look at what The Monkees DID bring to the table!!! Stop hiding behind the same old "they didn't play their own instruments" excuse. And, for the record, EVERY SINGLE ONE of these Wrecking Crew musicians ought to ALSO be inducted into The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame ... because they TRULY, TRULY deserve it!!!! (Isn't that the whole purpose of the "Sidemen" category?!?!?) kk

I don't know how much Gary Lewis is going to be willing to share with you regarding the making of those records ... let's face it, he's still earning a living performing these songs ... but I've maintained throughout all of this discussion that I'm of the opinion that I really don't care HOW these records were made because they're GREAT records!!! And the public certainly agrees with that statement ... they rewarded Gary with fifteen straight Top 50 Hits!!! If Gary DOES reveal any insight, please share it with us ... or, by all means, invite him to join in on the Forgotten Hits fun!!! Perhaps he can clarify a point or two along the way! As for Lennon double-tracking his voice on The Beatles' records, without question this was regularly done by ALL of the artists of the day ... whether to enhance their vocals or simply sing harmony with themselves. As strong as The Mamas and the Papas were vocally, they would quite often have as many as FOUR sets of their voices on any given record, making it virtually IMPOSSIBLE to reproduce their sound live on stage. Over in The Beatles' camp, John in particular was always looking for new ways to make his voice sound different ... "I want it to sound like I'm singing underwater" ... "I want it to sound like a thousand Tibetian Monks chanting" ... "Can we move the microphone into the loo? The echo is FANTASTIC in here!" "What would it sound like if I was laying on the floor" ... or "hanging upside down" ... or "singing through this plate of glass" ... or "cam you run that tape backwards" ... and on and on and on. ALL of this was part of their experimentation to try to create new sounds that hadn't been heard on record before ... NOT because they were trying to cover up a Mal Evans "track" vocal laid down ahead of time showing the guys how to sing their song. BIG difference there in my mind (kk)
It's not a bad little song ... in fact, I think they wasted it as a B-Side ... I believe "I Won't Make That Mistake Again" had the potential to be another Top 40 Hit for the band. (I didn't know that Gary Lewis had written this song ... now THAT's kinda cool!!!) kk

I Won't Make That Mistake Again

Now THAT's the kind of cool stuff we want to know about!!! (Did the subject of Ron Hicklin come up at all??? I think THAT would be a tough one to discuss ... even after all this time ... especially with Gary still out on the road making a living singing the hits. There are certain secrets better kept, I suppose ... but check out The Wrecking Crew piece above ... these guys REALLY deserve some credit ... and although I think MOST knowledgeable music people do know who they are, there are still MILLIONS of "Average Joe" music fans who have no idea. I don't think it's debunking the myth at all in this case ... more a case of FINALLY giving credit where credit is due!!! And that's just ANOTHER reason why people need to see this new film. (kk)

She's Just My Style

Having just exhausted you with our Gary Lewis rambling, let me take just one more moment of your time to encourage you to see the INCREDIBLE Wrecking Crew Documentary put together by Denny Tedesco ... it is MUST-SEE viewing, not only because of the EXTREME talent involved with this band of musicians ... but also because it CLEARLY shows you just how hit records were made back in the day. Be sure to check out their website for information regarding upcoming film festival appearances, out-takes not shown in the film and all the latest details regarding this fine, fine film:
Click here: The Wrecking Crew Movie Tommy Tedesco, Carol Kaye, Hal Blaine, Don Randi, Glen Campbell, Earl Palmer