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Mad About Music: My Life in Records Mad About Music: My Life in Records

Part 5: Rocking Forward

Before moving forward in proper time sequence I’d like to talk a little more about Elvis. And to do it I’d like to discuss something that was recorded at the Sun Records studio in Memphis in December 1956. It was only released to the public as an LP in 1989 or ’90 but was known of it was made. There was a news photo taken at the time showing Elvis, sitting at a piano with Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis and Johnny Cash gathered around him. Since Johnny Cash does not play on this informal session taped by Sam Philips, my guess is that Cash probably didn’t show up ’til the whole thing was nearly over. Nevertheless this legendary session was forever after dubbed “The Million Dollar Quartet.”

It happened so spontaneously that Sam Philips didn’t even think to flick on the studio tape machine until the thing was well under way. You hear about things like this and often as not they turn out to be not true, or disappointing when found. Not so The Million Dollar Quartet! This really is a piece of the rock ‘n roll holy grail. There are some impressive Lewis things at the end, but one even feels that they might have been tacked on after Elvis had left the building. This is pretty much Elvis’ show. He’s even hogging the piano for most of it, which must have driven Jerry Lee nuts. But what a show! Here we have Elvis in an informal setting, but in a professional recording studio, singing and talking at the end of his most golden year, 1956. In a way here is another situation that seems to hark back to that Alan Lomax folklorist thing, a streak that was very much a part of Sam Phillips’ personal, messianic makeup. Musically, my favorite part of it is Elvis singing with much fascinating talk in the midst of it all, a song which he was soon to make a single of, That’s When Your Heartaches Begin.

I’m pretty sure the original record of this song had been made by a ’30s-’40s black groupcalled The Ink Spots, but I’ve never heard the record. It is a ballad, slow and intense with a recitation in the midst of it though, that has Ink Spots written all over it. Elvis is fantastic on the recitation, better than “Are You Lonesome Tonight”, made some years later. And on this version, it’s as if he just can’t let go of the song. It finishes, he starts talking, and at least once maybe twice he goes back into it. These are terrific musical moments. Another big highlight is when Elvis starts talking about visiting a nightclub where a black performer is playing (This kind of ties up another rock and roll loose end for me, too). He doesn’t mention this performer by name, but it was Jackie Wilson. Elvis describes listening to Wilson doing the recent Elvis hit, “Don’t Be Cruel”. Then he sings it with all the little touches that Wilson added to the song. This was all the more fascinating to me when shortly after hearing the Quartet LP, I watched a kinescope of the final appearance Elvis made on the Ed Sullivan show in early 1957, not very long after the quartet session. It was the last live TV performance Elvis would ever make, and a touching finish to this his all-too-brief golden age. The repackaging of Presley was already underway. His hair was dyed jet black now and the Gospel group The Jordanaires, whom Victor had started adding to his sessions, were with him. But in it he sings “Don’t Be Cruel” with the Jackie Wilson touches he discussed on the Quartet album! He also sings a wonderful spiritual, “Peace In The Valley”, on this appearance, which was certainly great use of the Jordanaires. It is a moving Elvis musical moment. We didn’t know it yet, but those would be few and far between in the years to come.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3DiEJmAX_Mw

As my friendship with Tony Eastman grew, so did our record collecting activities. In 1958 Tony came across his Father’s old wind-up Victrola in some dark corner of the family garage in Westport Connecticut and moved it into his room. He also unearthed some of Phil’s old childhood 78s. One in particular that really stood out was an early electric Ted Lewis side. As far as we were concerned, it was a double0sided hit. One side had a tune called “Angry”, and “Say Arabella” was on the flip. Both were lively, as fun as you could want and, boy, did they sound great on that old wind up Victrola!

This opened up a whole new branch of record collecting for both of us. We hadn’t stopped collecting rock ‘n roll, but we were haunting the Goodwill store In Norwalk near where Tony lived for old 78s now as well. And I became a regular patron of the Salvation Army store on Orchard Street in Tarrytown New York, where I then lived. One Tony discovery that we never got tired of was “The Dipsey Doodle” by Chick Webb’s Orchestra. We didn’t know that Chick Webb was a black band or that the vocal was by young Ella Fitzgerald, (even though it said so in tiny letters on the label). She sounded white to us. Good, but white.

My old man had also given Tony one of his old acetate dubs of a Jelly Roll Morton Red Hot Peppers side, with a vocal by Morton (rare in those days) of “Dr. Jazz Stomp.” We played that one to death! At the Tarrytown Salvation Army I wasn’t doing so bad either. I found a lot of Fats Wallers. One I never seemed to get tired of was a reissue of a 1929 piano solo of Fats playing his famous composition, “Ain’t Misbehavin’.”

I also picked up reissues of most of the 1920s Lewis Armstrong Hot Five sessions. Sure my Father had these right downstairs in his own collection, but somehow having my own personal copies made me really focus in on them. For the first time I got into those amazing Armstrong solos ’til I just about knew them by heart. Odd pop stuff started asserting itself too. I found a ten-inch cut down reissue of Paul Whiteman’s version of “Sweet Sue”. The sappy effeminate sounding vocal by Jack Fulton was beyond my comprehension, and frankly the minute-long Bix Beiderbeck cornet solo (that almost sounded like bebop in places) was also something I wasn’t quite ready for yet. We were also finding things that I guess you would have to describe along the lines of record archeology. One was a record on plastic coated flexible thin brown cardboard on the Hit Of the Week label. The song was, I’ll be Blue Just Thinking Of You, by Bert Hirsch and his Orchestra and I kind of liked it. It turned out to be from 1930. These were single sided but often played longer than a normal 10-inch 78. My old man explained to me that this was a depression marketing ploy, selling records cheap at newstands, and that it didn’t last too long. He did add though that Ellington had made a few. Tony found another fascinating peculiarity, which was a 1909 marketing record heralding the advent of double sided records. Apparently up to that time all records recorded only on one side. This record had a song by old timer Henry Burr on one side and, in a very stentorian voice, a commercial for double sided records on the other. Fascinating! Shortly after that Tony bought a red labeled Victor that was single sided, figuring that this then must also be a REALLY old record. It was a song, I can’t remember what song, by the very famous singer John McCormack. What we didn’t realize was that Victor continued to issue what they called Red Seal records (their classical, opera and general prestige line) — single sided all the way to 1923. So, relatively speaking ,this McCormack side wasn’t all that old and had no appeal for us. Tony’s father, Phil, tried his best to explain to us who McCormack was and his place in the grand musical scheme of things but, we just weren’t ready for anything like that. What’s more, you couldn’t have told me that I ever would be at that time. That came much later.

One prophetic kind of thing happened to me one day in 1958 or ’59. I was walking along in the rougher part of downtown Tarrytown when I found a box with some 78s in it just sitting there on a street corner. This was the first (but not the last) time that such a thing happened to me. I can’t remember just exactly how many records were there, but there were three that live in my memory. The first was a very peppy dance band version of “Keep Your Sunny Side Up”, maybe from 1929, since all the voluminous versions of this DeSylva, Brown and Henderson song were made that year; there was a record called “Tijuana” by someone named Smith Ballew and his Orchestra. I would learn more about him in years to come.

Finally, there was the iconic double-sided Bluebird Glenn Miller hit, “Moonlight Serenade” coupled with “Sunrise Serenade”. The one among them that made the biggest impression on me, at the time, was the Smith Ballew side. It had a tricky, intricate latin beat that fascinated me. Smith’s vocal didn’t exactly grab me, but I didn’t hate it and it seemed to strangely work with the rest of the record. Forty-odd years later, I just about fell out of my chair when Rich Conaty played this long forgotten side on his weekly  WFUV Sunday radio show, “The Big Broadcast”. Talk about weird deja vu! It opened up a veritable rat’s nest of memories! At the time, I wasn’t really ready for the Miller side, though I found it of interest. I’d heard all about Miller’s search for, “the sound”, but my Father dismissed him as commercial and lightweight, and just then I was willing enough to agree with that. It was only years later when I heard all the fascinating Miller arrangements for classic sides by the orchestras Ben Pollack, Red Nichols, Ray Noble’s American band, and the Dorseys that I had the context for what he was trying to do and finally succeeded with in that double-sided hit Bluebird, somewhat deceptive in its simplicity. There was the earlier, killer side by Miller under his own name, “Moonlight On The Ganges”, with great Bunny Berrigan trumpet and creative use of violins, which I guess was another attempt at “the sound” before he came up with the clarinet led sax section on “Moonlight” and “Sunrise Serenade. I think he owed a little to Guy Lombardo on that, too: a sweet band that eschewed violins in favor of a tightly led sax section.

(Arrangement by Glenn Miller)

Meanwhile, by 1959 rock ‘n roll had leveled off a bit. Elvis had been drafted into the army. I guess he left a few things in the Victor vault because at least one really good Elvis side did come out that year, “A Big Hunk Of Love”, which was the first new Elvis record I ever bought. By this time, besides going to high school and collecting records, Tony and I had started our own cartoon company, Eastman Deitch Cartoons, and were shooting our own cartoons on 16mm film. The ones Tony made were awesome; mine, not so much. We did make some interesting collaborations though. Most memorable was our magnum opus, “Dial M For Monster”, a live action send-up of horror movies, with animation and stop motion sequences by Tony. The big news in rock ‘n roll in 1959 was not good. Stemming out of the quiz show scandals came the payola scandal, which in reality was an attempt to kill off rock ‘n roll. It all came out of the so-called revelation that DJs were taking money to play and promote certain records. Surprise, surprise. Well, of course it wasn’t a good thing but it had been going on a lot longer than rock ‘n roll. The very term payola goes back at least to the 1940s. An easy target for all of this was poor old Alan Freed, who already seemed to have fallen on evil days. By 1959 he didn’t look so good and was running a local weekday rock ‘n roll dance party type show where various acts came and lip synced their current sides. There were a lot of these shows at the time. Dick Clark was top dog by this time and his show was national. One interesting sidelight to this was at least two people who never lip synced but always insisted on singing live on these shows were Bobby Darin and Fats Domino. Class will tell. Anyway Alan Freed was the first poor bastard of real prominence that got nailed by the payola scandal. He lost his W.I.N.S radio slot and was fired off of his local TV show. His last week after getting the boot was a very bitter sweet thing to behold; heart breaking really. He may have been a flawed person, but there was something about the whole thing that seemed to stink to high heaven. His radio replacement Murray (“the K”) Kauffman always started every show off with a Frank Sinatra record, so you knew where his heart really was. I came to have some appreciation for Frank later, but right then it seemed clear evidence that Kauffman was pandering. And the music got worse, too; at least the top forty did.

In 1960, Tony graduated from high school and was soon packed off to college. He joined a fraternity there and bit by bit we began to drift apart. Musically, however, he was getting into more advanced rhythm and blues, which considering the sorry state rock and roll had drifted into, was really kind of revelatory. He started playing me things like “Fannie May” by Buster Brown (on the Fire label), who was doing a great r ‘n b take on the Sonny Terry blues harmonica style. Then there were all the great Jimmy Reed records on Vee Jay. I started studying up on the blues a little more myself. I read a book called The Country Blues by Samuel Charters, which basically traced blues records all the way from the Blind Lemon Jefferson sides of the 1920s to more or less contemporary rhythm and blues times. One performer he spoke about was a singer named Muddy Waters. Remember when I told you about that Alan Lomax field recording of a 1940 Mississippi blues sing named McKinley Morganfield that my father played me as a particularly outstanding example of country blues singing? Well, this Muddy Waters was the same guy! I wish I could have shown that to my old man but he was gone by then. More about that later. Tony and I started buying Muddy Waters singles on the Chess label. One of them, “I Just Can’t Be Satisfied”, was even a somewhat electrified remake of one of the 1940 Alan Lomax sides! This was huge to me. If this wasn’t the missing link to what Dad listened to and what was going on now in r ‘n b, then there simply was no such animal. A little later I got my hands on the classic Chess Muddy Waters LP, The Best of Muddy Waters, an essential record of this kind of music if ever there was one. One cut, “Rolling Stone”, was absolutely stellar. It was the side heard round the world. It’s where the Rolling Stones got their name, not to mention the well known “rock” newspaper. It may not have ever hit the top forty, but it certainly hit a lot of very influential types right where they lived.

But there was something else going around in my parents social set: divorce. It just suddenly seemed to be in the wind as it happened to one couple after another among my parent’s friends. Long before it finally hit our house, I was getting a kind of sick feeling that it was heading our way.  Well, it finally got there and set off huge shock waves in our house. I don’t think my Mother was ever really the same after that.

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18 Responses to Part 5: Rocking Forward

  1. “That’s when your heartaches begin” is almost certainly an Ink Spots song. This rendition exactly follows the Ink Spots template:

    1-strummed guitar intro
    2-lead tenor sings
    3-spoken bass recitation of lyrics (usually addressed to “Honey Chile”)
    4-lead tenor again, closing with a high tenor wail

    The only thing missing is the background wooo of the other Ink Spots. Elvis even alludes to the format a couple of times in his side comments.

    PS – Wasn’t Smith Ballew a cowboy star too?

  2. Kim Deitch says:

    I feel certain that the Spots did it, though i could find no such record on youtube. Smith Ballew did indeed star in cowboy movies. I will have more things of interest to say about him in future posts.

  3. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6NA332r73As

    That’s the Inkspots doing That’s When Your Heartaches Begin.

    Lovin’ this series, Kim.

  4. patrick ford says:

    Roger Kinkle’s “The Complete Encyclopedia of Popular Music and Jazz 1900-1950 doesn’t contain a listing for “That’s when your heartaches begin.” The entry for the Inkspots doesn’t list them recording “That’s when your heartaches begin” either.

    Found this on the net.
    http://inkspots.ca/ISALPHAZ.htm#T

  5. Kim Deitch says:

    Thanks Mark. Hang in there. There will be many novelties to come.

  6. Kim Deitch says:

    Well, I have to admit, I can’t prove it. I heard somewhere it was the Ink Spots and just assumed it was true. Now I am really curious. If not the spots, I wonder where it came from? It was the B side of the record Elvis made for his Mother in 1953, [the side that to my knowledge has never been released,] but where did it come from?

  7. patrick ford says:

    Kim, Sorry if that wasn’t clear. The link shows the “Spots” recorded the song on Dec. 23, 1940.

  8. Kim Deitch says:

    Well good. It’s nice to get to the bottom of that. You know, that Million Dollar Quartet version beats Elvis’ commercial record of it by a country mile.

  9. Kim Deitch says:

    Hey! I just went over to youtube and someone just posted That’s When Your Heartaches, by the Spots. So… anyone, including me, who wants to hear it, it’s posted on my facebook wall.

  10. Kim Deitch says:

    It is interesting to finally hear the Ink Spots version. I like it well enough, but it doesn’t totally grab me the way, say their version of We’ll Meet Again does. I think Elvis really sells That’s When Your Heartaches Begin. He feels it and somehow elevates the material. The song has a nice melody but IS just a ditty. The spots are ribbing it as they so often do [though not always]. It sounds too formulaic to me; just another Ink Spots song.

  11. R. Fiore says:

    Back before the Million Dollar Quartet recordings were released there was this tape discovered that was purported to be a duet between Jerry Lee Lewis and Elvis Presley. Lewis’s record company built a whole album around it called “Duets”, all the while being very coy about whether it was Elvis or not (it was actually Charlie Rich). At a concert a reporter asked Lewis, very cautiously as he was not nicknamed “Killer” ironically, if that was really Elvis on the record. Lewis answered, “I’M on the goddamned record! What the hell else do you need to know?”

    Did you ever hear Armstrong’s 1930s version of “West End Blues” on Decca? It wasn’t a revolution like the original was, but the closing solo is postively majestic.

  12. Kim Deitch says:

    Really! I’ll have to look for the Decca version on Youtube. I know I have heard a later Armstrong version of West End, but I think it was a cut off a Columbia LP from MANY years later. I generally like Armstrong on Decca and have many of them. The way I discovered the original record was back in the 50’s when I found a 78 of West End from the 40’s by Charlie Barnet, [a band I like.] It had the opening Armstrong obligato transcribed to a brass section. My Father heard me playing it and said they got it from a 1928 Armstrong record which he played for me telling me that many considered it to be the most beautiful jazz record ever made. He also told me that Armstrong’s crooney scat vocal on that side was one that very much influenced Bing Crosby’s crooning style.

  13. Kim Deitch says:

    Bob. I found the Decca and your description is, on target. I have posted it on my facenbook wall if anyone else wants to hear it. I would recommend it. It’s slower, more laid back [of course the original is pretty laid back]; a good old one.

  14. Tony Eastman says:

    Those interested in Elvis must know… there were lots of imitators. One of the best known was Ral Donner – singing his moderate hit “You Don’t Know What You’ve Got (Until You Lose It)”. The thing is… this wasn’t a visual impression like an Elvis impersonator… this was coming from Top 40 radio. We had originally thought it really was Elvis and that RCA had licensed the sides to Gone Records as an experiment to see if he would be as popular a singer without his famous name. The whole thing started to fall apart… why Gone Records? They were usually associated with black R&B like the Dubs. Donner’s voice was believable as Elvis, but the production and back-up vocals were not as convincing. The whole thing eventually faded away. In that regard it was almost like the “Paul Is Dead… Miss Him… Miss Him… Miss Him” thing of a few years later. Can anyone fill in the blanks?

    I have a bunch of those cardboard “Hit Of The Week’s” and they are all warped in varying degrees – some to the extent that they are not playable. Is there a good way to flatten them enough to be playable?

    You and I would check the Westport Goodwill as well as Norwalk – some new stuff every week or so! We speculated a lot… our fathers would have told us ‘don’t bother’ with certain artists. The records were cheap, we had to find out for ourselves… and we disposed of those that didn’t suit our tastes.

    Sad about Alan Freed. I always rooted for him… especially when compared to Dick Clark. Clark either owned outright or partially owned the record companies who put out the records he played on American Bandstand! Labels like Swan and Chancellor… even Cameo and Parkway… it was so obvious!

    Hey Kim, Remember this? It was 1962 – Spring Break (or perhaps a better title would be ‘Record Break’) 4 of us, 3 fraternity brothers and me, leave from Pittsburgh for Florida (Daytona Beach – then the poor man’s Ft. Lauderdale) in Morgie’s 1960 Volkswagen Beetle. There was a small midway – and a 3 balls for a dollar throw game that, instead of aluminum milk bottles as targets there were 10″ 78’s! I looked down at the counter where there were 2 Muddy Waters discs – I grabbed them and said you’re not smashing these! They agreed to 25 cents each and I proceeded to spend some dangerous time standing on a one foot thick pile of smashed records dodging baseballs as I went through those that were not yet smashed! To the best of my recollection some of what I found that day: “Just Make Love To Me” & “I’m Your Hoochie Coochie Man” by Muddy Waters on Chess, “Walkin and Talkin” by Ray Charles on the Rockin’ label, “Things Ain’t Right” by Jerry McCain on Excello, “Before You Accuse Me” by Bo Diddley on Checker, “Mean Old Twister” by Lightnin’ Hopkins on Aladdin, John Lee Hooker on Sensation, and many others – all playable, but some with extra wear on one side because of jukebox use. Not bad collecting for a ‘frat boy’ if I do say so myself!

    I have to admit… I went to Daytona the following year. The record smashing stall was still there and I bought more records. It has been so long that the 2 trips blend together.

    We heard a lot of odd-ball music in jukeboxes and on the radio… not what we were hearing in Pittsburgh. Someday I will document the whole thing… it was a blast!

    A couple of other places we found records… 45’s – 8 for a dollar at Sam Goody’s near Grand Central (Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf). 6th Avenue was ‘Record Row’ in my estimation. A store with mostly 45’s on 6th was Geiger’s Record Counter. Nothing over 69 cents! I know we can’t go back… but the info might ring some bells!

    Tony

  15. One of my favorite Elvis “soundalikes” is Terry Stafford’s version of “Suspicion” from 1964. Elvis originally recorded it as an non-single track on his Pot Luck LP (1962). When Stafford’s version was climbing the charts a few years later, RCA desperately re-released Elvis’ version as a single, but it was too late. Stafford’s “Suspicion” peaked at #3, while Elvis’ only made it to #103.

  16. Kim Deitch says:

    Flattening hit Of the Weeks is problematic. and all that surface noise too. I think they recorded them extra loud to overcome that. There IS some sort of Hit of the Week Box set which, I think has them all. I sure do remember the Westport Goodwill. If I’m not mistaken the records were a nickle a piece there, and the pickins were generally good. I think Alpha Video [cheapo DVDs has some kinescopes of those old channell 5 Allen Freed shows. I remember Tony, the 16mm film you shot off the TV screen his last week on the air. Boy, I haven’t thought about all that 45 record hunting we used to do in the city. sam goody’s had a lot of stuff. I remember finding some odd Decca Buddy Hollys over there which I later found out were some of his first sides; a little more compromised and toned down from what came later.

  17. Kim Deitch says:

    Yeah, I know I have heard good Elvis imitators. [I’m gonna use that clip of Eddie Cochran doing an Elvis in, The Girl Can’t Help It, in a future post.] Imitators of certain people and things can be legitimately good in their own right. Originality isn’t everything if you’re feelin’ it and know what to do with what you are imitating. I think it also holds true with Louis Armstrong imitators such as Louis Prima, Nat Gonella, and Henry Red allen to name three; all pretty great in their own right; not as great as Armstrong in his prime, but who was?

  18. Tom Parmenter says:

    Kim, There’s an almost perfect Ink Spots parody on ‘Jukebox Saturday Night’. http://www.naplyrics.com/glenn-miller/juke-box-saturday-night-lyrics.html

    If I didn’t know why the roses grow
    Then I wouldn’t know why the roses grow…
    Now listen, honey child
    If I didn’t know all them little things I’m supposed to know
    Then I wouldn’t be one of the Ink Spots
    If I didn’t know…

    The verse about

    Goodman and Kyser and Miller
    Help to make things bright
    Mixing hot licks with vanilla

    is also pretty clever.

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