Home

Dreaming of Fenders

Leave a comment

On this 50th anniversary of the Beatles appearance on the Ed Sullivan show, it’s appropriate to discuss one aspect their impact on American kids: The desire to play rock-and-roll music themselves!

Image

The world was never the same for me after watching this!

I had heard many rock-and-roll records, but it wasn’t until the Beatles that I wanted to play that music myself. I played sax in our elementary school band but after watching the Ed Sullivan show that February Sunday night in 1964, I knew I’d never feel the same way about it.

Image

Later that year, my mom and dad gave in to my begging and ordered me a Silvertone guitar for Christmas from the Sears catalog. It was a solidbody in sunburst (a Japanese Teisco-made 1435 model) and cost about $65. It looked great but the thing was miserable to play, especially when fitted with Black Diamond strings, which was the only kind you could buy at the drug store. I had no amp, and I almost killed myself when, using some parts I found in my dad’s tool chest, I made a cable that had a 1/4” microphone jack on one end and a two-prong electrical plug on the other. I didn’t realize that an electric guitar needed an amplifier, so I was ready to just plug it into a wall outlet. Luckily my dad walked by just before I plugged the thing in and explained some things to me!

I was able to use an old shortwave radio that had a mike input jack as my amp after that.

Image

One day in 1966, when my family was living in Marathon, Florida, one of the kids in my ninth-grade class brought in a full-color Fender Electric Instruments catalog he had ordered by mail. I vividly remember four or five of us boys spending every lunch hour for the next week reading that catalog and studying the photos. Our discussions were funny as I look back on them:

“Hey! Are these the coolest guitars in the world or WHAT?!?! I wish I could buy one!”

“Yeah, but these are described here as professional instruments. I don’t think they sell them to kids.”

Image

“They have student guitars in the back of the catalog. Kids could buy those ones.”

“Maybe. But I don’t think they sell them anywhere but in California.”

“I bet you’re right about that. I’ve never seen one in the stores.”

“Don’t forget you’ll need an amplifier, too. So we’d better study those.”

Image

“They’re expensive. That Stratocaster model like Buddy Holly played is over $250!!!”

“My folks would never buy me something that expensive!!!”

Image

“If these Fenders are so great, why don’t the Beatles play them?”

“It’s probably because they live in England. That’s a long way from California. Maybe they haven’t heard of Fender guitars.”

“They play Rickenbackers, and those are made in California.”

“Maybe Fender guitars are just for surf music.”

“No; you can play any kind of music on these. It says so right in the catalog!”

“Well, they sure are amazing looking.”

“If you could have any one of these you want for free, which one would you take?”

John's Strat

By the time the Beatles recorded their Revolver album, John and George had matching Fender Strats!

We took turns borrowing that catalog overnight and reading it over and over.

I remember I wanted a Fender Jazz bass and a Bassman amp, because a bass, played with single notes, was more like a saxaphone than a guitar was.

Over the years, I had several Fenders. I still do and still get a thrill out of those wonderful instruments and amps. But I’ll never forget the excitement of reading that catalog over and over and dreaming of having whatever Fender guitar, or bass, or amp I wanted for free.

The Beatles Flunk An Audition

Leave a comment

At the end of the last Beatles public performance, held on the roof of their Apple Corps building on January 30, 1969, John Lennon remarked, “I’d like to thank you on behalf of the group and ourselves and I hope we passed the audition . . .”

Seven years earlier, they didn’t. On January 1, 1962, The Beatles, consisting at that time of John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Pete Best, auditioned for the Decca Record label in London; the Decca producer was Tony Meehan.

Decca Records rejected The Beatles, saying that “guitar groups are on the way out” and “the Beatles have no future in show business.” Of course, this verdict, delivered by an expert in a suit (no one at Decca Records would ever admit who it was) is the single most egregious mistake in the history of show business.

In the last few days, news outlets have been breathlessly reporting that the original Decca audition tape has been found after 50 years and will soon be sold at auction. What the articles usually fail to say is that Beatles manager Brian Epstein had several copies of that original tape made and that the audition has been available to Beatles fans for many years in very good-quality audio bootlegs.

Here’s CNN’s report:

http://www.cnn.com/2012/11/23/showbiz/england-beatles-audition-tape/index.html

And here’s TIME Magazine’s:

http://newsfeed.time.com/2012/11/23/rejected-beatles-audition-tape-to-be-auctioned-in-london/

One factor that might have lead to their rejection was the selection of songs that Epstein insisted they play at the audition. Epstein’s thinking was to show the range of material that The Fabs could handle, and he wanted to move them away from the rough-edged, leather-clad image they had developed on their own.

He put them in nice suits and chose their songs for them on this important day.  There were a few original Beatles songs mixed in with Broadway show tunes, a Buddy Holly cover, a couple of Coasters covers and some romantic ballads. There were no rough edges.

The order of the songs at the session was:

Like Dreamers Do (Lennon–McCartney)

Money (That’s What I Want) (Gordy/Bradford)

Till There Was You (Meredith Wilson)

The Sheik of Araby (Smith/Wheeler/Snyder)

To Know Her Is to Love Her (Phil Spector)

Take Good Care of My Baby (King/Goffin)

Memphis, Tennessee (Chuck Berry)

Sure to Fall (In Love with You) (Cantrell/Claunch/Perkins)

Hello Little Girl (Lennon–McCartney)

Three Cool Cats (Leiber/Stoller)

Crying, Waiting, Hoping (Buddy Holly)

Love of the Loved (Lennon–McCartney)

September in the Rain (Warren/Dubin)

Bésame Mucho (Consuelo Velázquez)

Searchin’ (Leiber/Stoller)

Here are some of the tracks from that session:

01 Like Dreamers Do

07 Memphis

09 Hello Little Girl

14 Besame Mucho

Epstein continued shopping this audition tape around and on June 4, 1962, The Beatles were signed by EMI-Parlophone comedy-record producer, George Martin, who could see the group’s potential. Ringo Starr (Richard Starkey) replaced Pete Best on drums in August of ’62.

Decca Records, stung by the ridicule they received after The Beatles became the most successful music group in world history, signed The Rolling Stones on the advice of George Harrison. And John Lennon told Brian Epstein to keep away from the musical side of The Beatles.

These Hits Missed!

Leave a comment

Growing up in the ’50s and ’60s, kids were suddenly the buyers of popular music. AM radio (which at that time was really the only kind on the airwaves) was playing lots of music aimed at kids and young adults and wherever there’s a buck to be made, some sharp promoter will come up with a way to exploit the situation. Nothing illegal, but these experiences were how kids learned to read the small print and be less trusting of grownups.

In the third grade, my allowance was 25¢ a week, and I did my best to get the most value for my two dimes and a nickel. Once, on a grocery trip with my mom, I saw a standalone cardboard bin that sold hit records at a great price: 39¢!!! What a deal!!! At that time, a legitimate 45rpm single by Elvis or Chuck Berry might cost 79¢ or more.

So I saved my pennies and I saved my dimes and the next time I went to the store with mom, I bought the record.

Yeesh. I hadn’t counted on the hit song being performed by a studio band that wasn’t even close to what I was used to hearing:
Wake Up, Little Susie/Silhouettes by two unknown Tops Records bands, 1958:

That first track didn’t sound quite like The Everly Brothers and as for the second, it wasn’t even close to the version by The Rays or The Diamonds. What a burner for me, huh?

Nowadays, though, it’s kind of fun to search out some of these tacky cover versions. They range from lackluster to lame to absolutely rank. But the purpose was to get the pennies out of a kid’s pocket and into the cash register and I suppose that was one way to make a living playing music. The musicians and vocalists seldom got credit on the records, but they probably preferred it that way!

Here a Jailhouse Rock cover by Jimmy Helms from 1957 from one of those cheapo records; he doesn’t manage to get his phrasing of the lyrics in alignment with Elvis’, so he just drops lyrics here and there:

When The Beatles came out, there were a slough of fake Beatle records out there. Woe to the kid who, like me, lived in a small town and asked his mom to pick up a Beatles record when she was going to the big city for the day. That unfortunate kid might be surprised by something like this:

I Want To Hold Your Hand by The Doodles, 1964:

Or even this:


I Want to Hold your Hand, by The Buggs, 1964:

It happened to me more than once, and I learned not to ask my mom to purchase records for me anymore.

“Like Joan Sutherland and Kermit the Frog . . .”

Leave a comment

Hey; he said it; I didn’t!

Great clip of three of my favorites live at The Odeon in NYC in 1983: Linda Ronstadt, Randy Newman and a slicked-down Ry Cooder. I have the complete performance on VHS somewhere but no way to play it.

Here’s their version of Mr. Newman’s Rider in the Rain from his Little Criminals album. On the record, he’s backed up vocally by The Eagles, who started as Ms Ronstadt’s backup band.

This clip is a great example of what I believe is a good rule for music and other things: Take the prep and practices seriously, but have fun with the performance. It’s obviously sung in a key that isn’t Mr. Cooder’s first choice, but I love what he does with it.

When Patty, her brother Billy and I saw Randy Newman at the spooky old Tampa Theater live in the 1970s, he worked solo. He is so talented and tuneful.

In George Martin’s memoirs of his days with The Beatles, he describes visiting Mr. Newman at a jingle factory in LA. He had been sent by The Fabs to recruit Newman as their first Apple Records artist. Newman turned Mr. Martin down, as writing jingles on demand was steady work and he had a family. The Beatles chose James Taylor instead for an Apple release, and he’s done pretty well!

As has Randy Newman.

Saturday Nights With The Usual Suspects . . .

Leave a comment

Music is a big part of my life. My aunt bought me a little kid’s record player before I went into the first grade, and she provided three 45 records with it: One was Elvis, one was Patty Page, and one was country singer Claude King. Stunned me; I had listened to radio, but being able to pick what I wanted to hear played opened up a new world.

Later, as a third grader, I was walking in the French Quarter of New Orleans one afternoon and saw a group of older men sitting in chairs on the sidewalk, jamming on some blues tune. I was gobsmacked; you mean regular folks can make their own music? Astonishing! Soon I had my aunt’s alto sax and was trying to play what I heard from those guys at Preservation Hall. It was so difficult to learn to play but that was part of the fun.

Seeing The Beatles on TV one Sunday night in early 1964 was another seminal event; I knew I’d switch from sax to guitar and bass.

Here are some of my musical buddies last night, playing in John Sapper’s backyard gazebo in Silver Spring, Maryland. We have a group of perhaps a dozen friends who get together most weekends to jam and sing. We call this assemblage The Usual Suspects, and we never know who will show up.

Last night, at John’s, it was John, Dan Collier, David Martin and me. I had already packed up my Telecaster when this song began, so I filmed it with my iPhone:

I belong to a more conventional band called The Gizmos, which plays blues, Bakersfield country, rockabilly and classic rock. I’ll try to get some video of that group soon!

The Office May End, But Scanton Lives!

1 Comment

Just heard from my son-in-law, Greg, that next season (season nine) will be the last for The Office. Too bad, but it had a long run and was always entertaining.

Greg and I visited Scranton, Pennsylvania, home to the fictional show, a couple of times and took the Office Tours of some of the locations where the show either filmed or mentioned frequently. The other Office fans on the tours were always a great bunch and we had a lot of laughs with them.

Scranton lays claim to being the Electric City and the electricity there was certainly splendid.

Poor Richard’s Pub, often mentioned on the show, is actually in a bowling alley across the parking lot from Alfredo’s Pizza Café, where I had what may well be the best pizzas of my life.

Scranton is an interesting city even without the Office connection. It has lots of trains; the Steamtown Mall downtown is adjacent to the old Delaware, Lackawanna and Western Railroad yard that goes back many decades and still has steam locomotives moving about. It smells very odd; coal fumes, I guess.

Thanks to the good folks at http://www.Shorpy.com, we can see a view from just about the same position taken in 1900. Doesn’t look all that different, does it? That long, sloping walkway is still in place, leading now to a railroad museum, I believe:


Scranton is also in coal-mining country, though I’m a little too claustrophobic to want to tour a coal mine.

Poor Richard’s is more my style:

There’s a street-corner sign claiming to be the site of the birth of doo-wop but I didn’t have time to explore the site or the claim. The town’s newspaper building has great old-fashioned elevators and there’s a 1930’s-era radio broadcast studio there that’s most interesting.

Greg and I had lunch both visits at Cooper’s Seafood House as part of the tours. That’s one of the tour buses in the photo below. Cooper’s as seen on the show is a Hollywood recreation, but they did a good job of it; it’s a fun and funky place and the food is excellent. You may not think a beet salad would be something special, but at Cooper’s it was. The bathrooms are even themed: Elvis for the ladies and The Beatles for the gents. Click on my photo below to enlarge it and you’ll see the pirate above the entrance and the octopus on the deck above that! Wonderful place and very near where Joe Biden and Hillary Clinton’s dad were born.

If you plan to visit Scranton, the Radisson Lackawanna Station Hotel, as the name implies, is the old train station repurposed and a very pleasant place to stay.

I didn’t take the two hotel photos; they’re from the hotel’s website, and the old black-and-white railyard photo is from the Shorpy.com collection of glass-plate and other historic imagery. All the other photos were taken with my trusty iPhone.

I hope to visit Scranton again. There’s a lot to see and do.

When Will Their Bubble Burst? Beatles For Sale!

Leave a comment

Folks who weren’t around in the Sixties may find it hard to believe, but The Men In Suits at Capitol Records refused, initially, to release Beatle records in the United States because no pop group from England had ever sold in this country. What made this even more nonsensical was that The Beatles’ UK record label, Parlophone, and the U.S. label, Capitol, were both divisions of the EMI recording giant. Thus, Parlophone was contractually obligated to offer their releases to Capitol first, and Capitol responded, more than once, “No, thanks!” Parlophone would then sell or lease the records to whomever they could find in the U.S. to deal with.

In an earlier post, I mentioned The Beatles’ Ed Sullivan Show appearance in early February, 1964. Both before and after that milestone, members of the press were constantly speculating about how long the Beatles “bubble” would last, and they’d query the band as to what they planned to do for a living once the bubble burst. Ringo famously replied to one such question that he’d like to own a beauty parlor!

So at first, if you wanted to listen to a Beatles record in this country, you had to look hard to find it. I remember the first 45 or single (two-songs, front and back for today’s younger readers) of The Beatles that I bought was She Loves You issued by Swan Records, a small independent label out of Philly.

As far as albums, or LPs (long-players) as we called them then, the first release of The Beatles in the U.S. was on the jazz/R&B VeeJay label. It was a version of The Fabs’ first British LP, Please Please Me. Here’s the VeeJay album cover with some very young-looking Beatles; note that Ringo’s hair hadn’t quite settled into the “moptop” style at the time this photo was taken:

After the appearance on Ed Sullivan, Capitol released Meet the Beatles in this country, and it was a chopped-up version of the second UK Beatles release, With the Beatles:

So began a long series of U.S. Capitol record releases that took Beatles UK releases and switched or cut songs, added reverb and generally fiddled around with them.

It wasn’t until Sgt. Pepper that a Beatles LP was the same in both Britain and the U.S., and even after that, there was still some monkeying around with U.S. releases on Capitol Records.

Older Entries