Category: 50’s

Sesame Street puppeteer Carroll Spinney (born Carroll Edwin Spinney in Waltham, MA) – December 26, 1933 – December 8, 2019, RIP

Born on this day: December 5, 1932 – “The architect of Rock & Roll”, Little Richard (born Richard Wayne Penniman in Macon, GA). Happy 87th Birthday, Richard!!

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On this day in music history: December 4, 1956 – Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins and Jerry Lee Lewis record together at Sun Studios in Memphis, TN. This informal gathering of these iconic rock and roll and country performers takes place during a recording session for Carl Perkins, who is re-recording “Matchbox” and some other new songs. Jerry Lee Lewis, also a Sun recording artist is present to play piano on the session which is being produced by label founder Sam Phillips. Elvis, who by now is signed to RCA and is in the middle of his initial rush of fame, happens to drop by the studio that day to visit Phillips. Presley and Phillips are talking in the control room of the studio, when Johnny Cash (also a Sun artist) also comes by the studio. Eventually, Elvis, Carl, Johnny, and Jerry Lee end up gathering around the piano and begin an informal jam session, performing several gospel, rock and roll and country standards. Sam Phillips has a tape machine running throughout the jam session, capturing the final results on three reels of tape. The recordings are put in the vault and do not see the light of day until twenty five years later when an album titled “The Million Dollar Quartet” is released. An expanded edition of the album is released by RCA Records in 1990 featuring a total for forty six tracks, though most are only song excepts interspersed with studio chatter. Viewed as a once in a life time historic event in music history, “The Million Dollar Quartet” is adapted into a successful stage musical in 2007, with limited runs in Florida and Washington before moving to Broadway in 2010. The musical is a hit on the Great White Way, and is nominated for three 2010 Tony Awards: Best Musical, Best Book of a Musical and Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Musical. Actor Levi Kreis receives the Tony for Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Musical for his portrayal of Jerry Lee Lewis.

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On this day in music history: December 3, 1956 – “Come Go With Me” by The Del-Vikings is released. Written by Clarence Quick, it is the debut single and biggest hit for the doo wop vocal quintet from Pittsburgh, PA. Formed in 1955, Clarence Quick, Kripp Johnson, Samuel Paterson, Don Jackson, Clarence Harvey Ringo and Bernard Robertson are in the US Air Force when they begin singing together. The first line up changes when Robertson and Paterson are sent overseas to Germany, and are replaced by Norman Wright and David Lerchey. The inspiration for their name comes Quick and Ringo are in the airbase’s library. Either from a book about vikings, a basketball team called The Vikings, or from the book publisher Viking Press. The “Del” portion is added simply because they like how it sounds. The Del-Vikings are also one of the first prominent racially integrated vocal groups, with Lerchey being white, and the other four members are African-American. It isn’t long before they attract interest from local DJ Barry Kaye and Joe Averbach, of local label Fee Bee Records. Initially recording nine songs a cappella in Kaye’s basement studio, They’re re-recorded with Averbach in a studio located in the Sheraton Hotel in Pittsburgh with a band backing them. “How Can I Find True Love” and “Come Go With Me”, are issued as their first single. “Come” takes off locally, and is then picked up nationally by Dot Records in January of 1957. An instant classic, “Come Go With Me” peaks at #4 on the Best Sellers chart and #2 on the R&B chart on May 6, 1957, selling over a million copies. But with success come tensions, splitting the group into two factions. When their manager Alan Strauss receives a more lucrative offer from Mercury Records, the four younger members who were all under 21, jump ship. Kripp Johnson who is older, is still bound to Dot at continues to record with replacement members. Dot issues “Whispering Bells”, and it too becomes a big hit, peaking at #9 on the Best Sellers chart and #5 on the R&B Best Sellers chart. The other line up are only able to notch one chart single on Mercury with “Cool Shake” (#12 Pop, #9 R&B). Johnson returns and signs with ABC-Paramount, but do not have another hit before breaking up in 1965. Regarded as one of the definitive doo wop records, “Come Go With Me” is covered numerous times including versions by Dion, The Beach Boys, The Fleetwoods, and Sha-Na-Na. It is also one of the first songs performed on stage by John Lennon and The Quarrymen, on the day he and Paul McCartney first meet in July of 1957. The Del-Vikings original version is later used in the films “American Graffiti”, “Diner”, “Stand By Me” and “Joe Versus The Volcano”. “Come Go With Me” is certified Gold in the US by the RIAA. 

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On this day in music history: December 2, 1957 – “You Send Me” by Sam Cooke hits #1 on the Billboard Best Sellers chart for 2 weeks, also topping the Rhythm & Blues chart for 6 weeks on November 25, 1957. Written by Sam Cooke, it is the biggest hit for the R&B vocal icon from Clarksdale, MS. Formerly the lead singer of the legendary gospel vocal group The Soul Stirrers, Sam Cooke’s butter smooth tenor voice, natural charisma and movie star good looks make him an immediate stand out from the other members of the group. After enjoying more than five years of success as their frontman, Cooke is anxious to move out of the world of gospel into secular rhythm & blues and pop. At a time when it is deeply frowned upon for a gospel singer to make that move, Sam records his first solo single “Loveable” in 1956, an R&B/Pop flavored remake of the gospel song “Wonderful” under the name “Dale Cook”. It is obvious to all who it actually is and Cooke begins recording under his own name from then on. However, the singer and his producer Bumps Blackwell clash over musical direction with Specialty Records founder Art Rupe, and the abruptly leave the label. Cooke signs with Los Angeles based indie label Keen Records (owned by Bob Keane) in 1957, and begins working on material. Sitting with a  guitar, Cooke comes up with the chord progression that becomes “You Send Me”, quickly writing the lyrics. Sam gives the writing credit to his brother L.C. Cook, to prevent his song publisher from collecting royalties on it. The track is cut at Radio Recorders in Hollywood, CA on June 1, 1957 with musicians Rene Hall (arrangement and rhythm guitar), Ted Brinson (bass), Earl Palmer (drums), and Cliff White (guitar). During the same session, Cooke records a cover of the Gershwin classic “Summertime” issued on the B-side of the single. Released on September 7, 1957, “You Send Me” quickly becomes a huge hit. First racing up the rhythm & blues chart, then crossing over to the pop singles chart. Entering the Best Sellers chart at #6 on October 28, 1957, it leaps to the top of the chart five weeks later. The success of “You Send Me” is a watershed moment in music history, both proving the widespread mainstream appeal of R&B music, and ushering in the era in which rhythm & blues genre becomes known as Soul music. An R&B and pop standard, “You Send Me” is covered numerous times over the years, with versions recorded by Nat King Cole, Aretha Franklin, Otis Redding, Van Morrison, The Everly Brothers and Rod Stewart to name a few. Sam Cooke’s original recording is inducted into the Grammy Hall Of Fame in 1998.“You Send Me” is certified Gold in the US by the RIAA.

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On this day in music history: December 1, 1958 – “To Know Him Is To Love Him” by The Teddy Bears hits #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 for 3 weeks. Written and produced by Phil Spector, it is the biggest hit for the Los Angeles, CA based pop vocal trio. Written by a then seventeen year old Phil Spector, the title is inspired by a quote on his father’s epitaph. The group, consisting of Spector and high school friends Marshall Leib and Annette Kleinbard (aka songwriter Carol Connors) record the song at Gold Star Studios in Hollywood in July of 1958 at a cost of only $75. Released on L.A. based indie label Doré Records (distributed by Era Records), it quickly becomes a smash locally before spreading across the country. Entering the Hot 100 at #88 on September 22, 1958, it climbs to the top of the chart ten weeks later. The group do not remain together for long. Uncomfortable as a performer, Spector prefers to work behind the scenes, quickly establishing himself as a top notch songwriter and cementing his legendary work as a producer during the 60’s and 70’s. Kleinbard is sidelined from the music industry when she is involved in a serious car accident, requiring several surgeries while she recovers. Changing her name to Carol Connors, she also carves out a formidable career as a songwriter, co-writing such hits as the Oscar nominated “Gonna Fly Now” from “Rocky”, “With You I’m Born Again” (for Billy Preston and Syreeta), and the 60’s hot rod classic “Hey Little Cobra” (for The Rip Chords). A rock & roll classic, “To Know Him” is covered numerous times over the years including a version by Linda Ronstadt, Emmylou Harris and Dolly Parton that hits number one on the Country chart in 1987. Singer Amy Winehouse also covers the song, with her version appearing on the posthumously released compilation “Amy Winehouse At The BBC” in 2012. “To Know Him Is To Love Him” is certified Gold in the US by the RIAA.

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On this day in music history: December 1, 1957 – Buddy Holly & The Crickets make their national television debut on the Ed Sullivan Show on the CBS television network. The band performs their recent number one hit “That’ll Be The Day”. The band also perform Holly’s first solo release “Peggy Sue” on the show. Also appearing on the same program is Sam Cooke (also making his national TV debut) performing “You Send Me” (which hits number one on December 2, 1957) and The Rays performing “Silhouettes”. Holly and The Crickets appear on Sullivan’s show a second and final time on January 26, 1958 performing “Oh Boy!”. Initially, Sullivan does not want the band to play the song, feeling that it is “too raucous”. When Buddy insists, it angers the host and he cuts their performance back to that one song, rather than the originally scheduled two songs. Sullivan also gets back at Holly by deliberately mispronouncing his last name as “Hollet” during his introduction, then instructing the sound people to cut the line feed to Buddy’s guitar mid song. In spite of the attempted sabotage, Holly and The Crickets go over so well, that they’re invited back for the third appearance, but decline when CBS does not offer them enough money to perform again.

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On this day in music history: November 22, 1952 – “It’s In The Book Parts 1 & 2” by Johnny Standley hits #1 on the Billboard Best Sellers chart for 2 weeks. Written by Johnny Standley and Art Thorsen, it is the biggest hit for the actor, comedian and musician from Milwaukee, WI. Born in December of 1912 in Milwaukee, WI and raised in Oklahoma City, OK, Johnny Standley is born into a show business family, having performed from childhood with his parents at tent show revivals as “The Standley Players”. During WWII, Standley serves in the army and performs for troops in the USO along side comedian Red Skelton and bandleader Horace Heidt, further spreading his reputation as a comedian. After the war, he continues working with Heidt as a featured performer on “The Horace Heidt Youth Opportunity Program” on NBC. The show moves from radio to television in 1950, heightening Standley’s public profile even more. It is on Heidt’s show that Johnny Standley records what becomes his debut record and biggest hit “It’s In The Book”. The live recorded monologue is a humorous and dramatic retelling of the classic nursery rhyme “Little Bo-Peep”. The six minute long track is split into two parts for single release by Capitol Records in September of 1952. Part one of the single consists of the spoken monologue by Standley, with part two featuring him leading the audience in a sing a long of the traditional camp fire song “Grandma’s Lye Soap”. It is the only spoken word comedy recording to top the Billboard singles charts, and is the first live recording to hit number one on the pop singles chart before  Stevie Wonder’s “Fingertips Pt. 2” in August of 1963. “It’s In The Book” sells over two million copies in the US, becoming one of the biggest selling singles for Capitol Records. Years later, the record is heard in director Peter Bogdanovich’s film “The Last Picture Show” in 1971. “It’s In The Book Parts 1 & 2” is certified Gold in the US by the RIAA.

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On this day in music history: November 21, 1955 – Elvis Presley officially signs with RCA Records. With his star on the rise after scoring hits with Memphis, TN based Sun Records, RCA comes forth with an offer to buy Presley out of his contract with Sun. RCA Records A&R man Steve Sholes sends Elvis’ manager Colonel Tom Parker a letter (the original document is stored in Graceland’s archives) on October 27, 1955 expressing his desire to sign Presley. Parker rejects Sholes initial offer, and the pair negotiate back and forth over the next few weeks before a deal is finally reached on November 15, 1955. RCA buys Elvis’ contract from Sun for $35,000 (which includes a $10,000 signing bonus for Presley), with the singer signing his contract with the label on November 21, 1955. It marks the beginning of a historic alliance between the rock & roll icon and the record label that lasts until Presley’s death in August of 1977.

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On this day in music history: November 20, 1955 – R&B legend Bo Diddley makes his one and only appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show. Sullivan requests that Diddley perform the song “Sixteen Tons’, he defies the host by performing his current hit "Bo Diddley” on the live telecast. This angers Sullivan, and Diddley is banned from ever appearing on the show again. Though the major national television exposure introduces him to wider audience beyond his loyal R&B fan base. Though he never appears on the show again, Bo Diddley’s signature syncopated rhythm becomes one of the most influential in the history of rock & roll, inspiring countless songs from Buddy Holly’s “Not Fade Away” and The Strangeloves’ “I Want Candy” to Bruce Springsteen’s “She’s The One” and George Michael’s “Faith”.

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