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Cover Story January 5, 2006


 

  by Kent Ballard

 

by Kent Ballard

 

In the Fifties, if you wanted some real kick-ass rock n' roll, you had just about four choices; Elvis (on a few songs), Chuck Berry, Little Richard, and the Killer himself, Jerry Lee Lewis.

 

When Jerry Lee Lewis recorded "Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On" it was a good-selling record in the South, but after he performed it in front of the nation on Steve Allen's TV show it exploded and sold six million copies nationwide. At one time he was in the top five on the rock, R&B, and country charts simultaneously. The Killer stormed America, became an instant controversial figure (marrying his 13 year old cousin, for example), and the kids and DJs loved him.

 

But Jerry Lee was the fourth person to record that song, and he didn't even write the damn thing!

 

In fact, it was written by two guys who were--at the time--drunk and fishing on Lake Okochobee. And no, you've never heard of them before.

 

Two other quickies--by the time Lewis signed with Sun Records, he became part of Sun's famous "Big Three"; Johnny Cash, Carl (Blue Suede Shoes) Perkins, and himself. For decades Lewis led the most outrageous of lifestyles, often getting so drunk before a concert that he could not walk. Happily, they discovered that if they could even carry him out onstage and sit him at the piano, he'd play like a madman and never miss a word. My first wife saw him when she was a young girl. He was about an hour and a half late and just before a riot developed he lurched onto the stage, obviously staggering drunk, and then proceeded to put on the best live rock concert she would see until she caught the Beatles themselves in Indianapolis. And even then, Jerry Lee Lewis was the wildest live performer she ever saw. No one expected him to live past his thirties. He was a comet, a shooting star, and one and all knew he would burn out and die first due to his wild lifestyle.

 

He survives to this day, having outlived Elvis, half the Beatles, and the rest of Sun's original Big Three.

 

Also, if you ever watched his film biography "Great Balls of Fire" starring Dennis Quaid, the Killer threatened to crush the whole project unless his voice was allowed to be used on all the songs in the film--although he and Quaid did a helluva good MTV music video appearing  together. Quaid was just a young man at the time, and he had to hurry to keep up with Jerry Lee, decades his senior. And the scene where Chuck Berry and Jerry Lee Lewis decided--by having a fistfight backstage--who was going to go on first during a joint appearance at a concert? It's true. They had one, and later even Jerry Lee admitted that "Berry beat the livin' hell out of me. Don't wanna fight that boy no more, nosirr."

 

So, freshly beaten up by a superior fighter, bleeding from a few wounds and having been knocked silly, Jerry Lee had to go on first. Many consider his performance that night one of the great moments in live rock n' roll, as he drove the audience into an absolute frenzy and then lit his piano on fire, sitting there playing it as it burned furiously and the kids went nuts. As he left the stage and walked back behind the curtain, the kids out front deleriously shouting his name, he passed Chuck Berry and smirked, "Top that."

 

You can't get any cooler than that.

 

Why Do Fools Fall in Love?

by lyle e davis

 

At age 13 Frankie Lymon was a backup singer for The Premiers. The group was rehearsing in the hallway of an apartment building when one of the residents gave them a collection of love letters written in verse form by his girlfriend. They read them all, chose "Why Do Birds Sing So Gay," and put it to music. Richard Barrett, the lead singer of another New York City group (The Valentines), brought The Premiers to the attention of George Goldner, owner of Rama and Gee Records. At the audition, Lymon filled in at lead for Herman Santiago, who was sick at the time. Goldner liked the song but not all of its lyrics, and the group was signed to Gee Records. The reworked song became "Why Do Fools Fall in Love." The Premiers became the Teenagers when they went into the studio to record the song with Jimmy Wright and his band (Wright suggested the new name).

 

The single was released in January 1956 to avoid the Christmas rush. The group was not notified that it was released -- they found out when a group member heard a classmate singing it at school.

 

The Teenagers hit #6 with "Why Do Fools Fall in Love" despite covers by Gale Storm (#9) and the Diamonds (#12). Diana Ross took it back into the Top 10 a quarter century later (#7 in 1981) as her first single record on RCA.

 

Frankie Lymon And The Teenagers led the way for young black singing groups like The Jackson 5. As a huge talent thrust into the spotlight at a very young age, Lymon's was a lot like Michael Jackson.

 

Lyman died of a heroin overdose when he was 26.

 

Royalties for this song have been in constant dispute. Record companies often claimed a share of the copyright on songs written by young artists who didn't know enough about the law or the music industry to realize they were being cheated. When this was released in 1956, record company owner George Goldner told the group that only 2 names could be listed on the copyright, and credited himself and Lyman as songwriters. In 1964, Goldner signed over the rights to Morris Levy, who had been claiming copyrights for years, collecting royalties on songs he didn't write by Chuck Berry, Tommy James and many others. This song has endured as a classic, and when Ross recorded her version in 1981, it generated even more royalty money. In 1987, Jimmy Merchant and Herman Santiago, two members of The Teenagers who claimed they wrote this, sued Levy, claiming he stole the songwriting credit and threatened to kill them if they tried to get it (Morris was linked to organized crime). A judge eventually ruled that while Morris did not write the song, he was entitled to the royalties because Merchant and Santiago waited too long to file their lawsuit. Also in question is Lymon's share of the royalties. He was married three times but never divorced, and all three of his wives have claimed ownership of his share.

 

In 1998, a movie about Frankie Lymon was released called Why Do Fools Fall In Love. Lymon's wives were played by Halle Berry, Vivica Fox and Lela Rochon.

 

Lymon was the youngest artist to have a UK #1 hit until 9-year-old Little Jimmy Osmond topped the UK charts in 1972 with "Long Haired Lover From Liverpool."

 

Brian Wilson in Q Magazine's 1001 Best Songs selected this as one of his five favorite ever songs, commenting: "I first heard this in a cafe in Hawthorne (California) when I was a kid. My dad played the song on one of those little jukeboxes. I went, 'What is this fantastic sound?' I like the sax break, plus all the singers. It got inside my head." 

 

The Platters

 

Who hasn’t listened and marveled at the smooth and beautiful music of The Platters?

 

“Only You,” “The Great Pretender,” “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes,” . . . just some of the hits this fantastic group offered the world.

They’re still touring . . . but it’s quite a bit different group than the original. 

 

It all started out with a smooth sophisticated sound and the superb lead tenor voice of Tony Williams.  He was the “star” of  the Platters, among the most successful black vocal groups of the '50s.

 

And to think they started out as . . . .parking lot attendants!

 

They became one of the first black vocal groups to regularly hit the pop charts and enjoy massive popularity with white audiences, the Platters helped launch doo wop music and influenced generations of vocal groups with their harmonies and arrangements.

 

The Platters were founded in Los Angeles, California, in 1953, the same year original members Tony Williams, David Lynch, Alex Hodge, and Herb Reed were signed by manager Buck Ram to Federal Records. Indeed, it was Ram who had originally met the Platters while they were working as parking lot attendants.

 

Buck had a long career as an arranger for big bands like Duke Ellington, Tommy Dorsey, Cab Calloway, Glenn Miller, and Count Basie after earning a law degree at University of Illinois and studying music at Southwestern University.

 

After a few unsuccessful records, Ram made changes,  bringing in Paul Robi to replace Hodge, and to soften the sound, brought in Zola Taylor who belonged to one of his other acts. Shirley Gunter and the Queens. Their seventh Federal single "Only You" became their first regional hit. Buck then signed them to Mercury Records with another group he managed, The Penguins.

 

Tony Williams was the group’s lead singer in the years that they enjoyed a series of hits 1955 to 1960.

 

At Mercury they became a top vocal group and nightclub act. The first recording session with Mercury included a re-recording of "Only You." On July 3, 1955, "Only You" entered the charts and soon rose to #1 R&B and #5 Pop. It stayed on the charts 39 weeks.

 

The Platter's next release "The Great Pretender" was issued in November 1955 and became their second #1 R&B and first #1 Pop hit. This began a streak of eleven two-sided hits.

 

In 1958 they introduced "Twilight Time" on Dick Clark's American Bandstand Saturday night TV show. "Twilight Time" became  #1 on Pop and R&B charts in the spring of 1958.

 

In October 1958 Mercury released "Smoke Gets In Your Eyes" which had been recorded in France while The Platters were on tour. It reached #1 Pop on June 19, 1959, for three weeks and #1 R&B.

 

The summer of 1959 four male members of the group were arrested in Cincinnati and accused of having sexual relations with four female minors, among them three white girls. The men were acquitted but public reaction caused some radio stations to pull their single "Where" off the air.

 

1960 saw their last top ten record "Harbor Lights (#8 Pop, #15 R&B).

 

After 20 Mercury singles the label changed the credits to read The Platters featuring Tony Williams.

 

Tony Williams left the group in August, 1960 to pursue a solo career signing with Reprise Records, but never approached his success with the Platters. Sonny Barnes was hired to take Williams  place, but lasted less then a year. Barnes was replaced by Edward "Sonny" Turner who stayed with the group through most of the sixties

 

Zola Taylor left in 1962, for personal reasons and was replaced by Sandra Dawn. Taylor led a colorful life, but the world wasn't prepared for her 1984 confession that she had an affair with the thirteen year old Frankie Lymon beginning in 1956 while the Platters and the Teenagers were on tour together. She also claimed to have married Lymon in Tijuana in 1965, but couldn't produce a marriage license.

 

Paul Robi was the next to leave with his spot being taken by Nate Nelson, a former Flamingo. Nelson was still with the Platters when he died of heart disease in 1984.

 

When the Platters were originally formed each member, including Ram owned a percentage. As the members left Ram bought their shares and eventually owned the Platter's name. Former members formed their own Platters, but were successfully sued. In 1974 the Buck Ram Platters were recording for Mercury again. There were no hits, but the money was made in touring.

 

The seventies saw Ram and Williams fighting over who owned the Platter name.  Ram won the case, but in 1989 the rights were returned to Robi. Robi died of cancer in 1989.  His widow won back in 1995 from Ram the writing and publishing interests to much of the Platter's catalogue.

 

The Platters were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1990.

 

 

Paul Williams

 

Songwriters Hall of Fame -

-- inducted 2001 - Why?  Because he wrote (and often sang) the following:

 

"We've Only just Begun," "Rainy Days and Mondays," "Let Me Be The One," "You and Me Against The World," and the Oscar winning "Evergreen," among others.

Paul Williams hits a five foot height if he stands on his tippy toes . . . still has blonde hair (though there’s a trace of grey that creeps in here and there) and he has an impish grin on his face most of the time.

 

He used to be a frequent guest on the Johnny Carson Show . . and he was often the life of the party.  But, he sometimes partied too hard . . . with too many illegal, or ill-advised, substances.  He’s changed all that, in fact he now frequently lectures to folks who need rehab help.  He supports rehab facilities financially and is a bit of dynamo at spreading the word. 

 

No matter how you shake it out, or in which direction, it is clear that this man is not only talented, but a genius.

 

He was born in Bennington, Nebraska . . . about 15 miles from where I grew up. 

 

When I was a kid, Bennington was a very small town out in the country . . . the term suburb would have been overstating the case.  At that time it was a rather dreary little town, lots of very old homes, lots of very old people.  Not a real fun place to be.

 

It has changed.

 

Today, Bennington is a very handsome suburb of Omaha, Nebraska, and offers comfortable living.

 

I was aware that Paul Williams was from the Omaha area, had been told he attended Tech High there, though I have not been able to verify that. 

 

I do know he moved to the Los Angeles area and spent his latter teen age years there.  He would make contacts, develop his craft, and became famous as both a songwriter, singer, actor, raconteur and rather sardonic wit. He has been lauded and awarded over the years by audiences and his peers alike, not only as one of the most gifted and prolific lyricists and composers, but also as a humanitarian.

 

As a composer Williams received nine nominations from the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences and six nominations each from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and the Hollywood Foreign Press Association. He has filled his shelf with Grammys, Golden Globes and an Oscar. He has also been recognized by both ASCAP and BMI for the success of his songs.

 

While Williams has a long list of acting credits he reckons he’ll be most remembered for his role as “Little Enos” in the three “Smokey and The Bandit” films.  Other films in which he has appeared . . ."The Muppet Movie," "The Doors," "Battle For The Planet Of The Apes," and the cult favorite "Phantom of the Paradise."  His television acting credits include "Star Trek," "Walker, Texas Ranger," "Picket Fences," "Boston Common," "Babylon 5," "Hart to Hart" and a regular role in the CBS daytime drama, "The Bold and The Beautiful." He is also heard as the voice of the Penguin on the animated "Batman" series.

 

Songs written by Paul Williams have been recorded by some of the biggest and most diverse names in the music business, including Frank Sinatra, Barbra Streisand, David Bowie, Diana Ross, Elvis Presley, Gladys Knight, John Denver, Ella Fitzgerald, The Carpenters, Luther Vandross, Olivia Newton-John, Kenny Loggins, Sarah Vaughan, Art Garfunkel, Helen Reddy, Johnny Mathis, Judy Collins, Ray Charles, Bing Crosby and Vonda Shepard.

 

Williams' songs have also found favor with such country music artists as Garth Brooks, Anne Murray, Glen Campbell, Crystal Gayle, Kris Kristofferson, and Neal McCoy. In fact, Nashville has become Williams' "home away from home" and many of Country's newer faces have been recording his material.

 

Among his other film music credits include "Rocky IV," "The Secret of Nimh," "The Muppet Christmas Carol" and "Ishtar," which Paul laughingly talks about as "My hardest job ever…to write the 'good' bad songs required for this movie."

 

Paul Williams is very active on the speakers circuit across the country. Sober 14 years, his humorous observations of his own life experiences are augmented by the education and knowledge he gained through his studies and certification from UCLA as a Certified Drug Rehabilitation Counselor.

 

On the lecture circuit he shares stories from his life and career interspersed with some of the classic songs he has written.

 

Not bad for a guy who’s only five foot tall in height, but a giant in the music industry.

 

Harry Chapin

 

Most of us remember where we were when we heard Elvis had died.  I remember when I heard Harry Chapin died.

I was driving along in my car, listening to the radio, when the announcement came on.  It stunned me.  He was not a mega-star but he had written and sung several songs that touched the conscience of a nation . . . and particularly of fathers everywhere.  He was more of a folk-music artist than rock-n-roll . . . but people loved him and his music.

 

Harry Chapin Killed in Auto Accident

 

Rolling Stone August, 1981

 

As this issue of Rolling Stone was going to press, Harry Chapin was killed in a collision on New York's Long Island Expressway. The accident occurred at 12:27 p.m. on July 16th as Chapin, 38, was driving from his home in Huntington Bay, Long Island, where he lived with his wife and five children, to an appointment in Manhattan. Apparently, he was trying to change lanes when his blue 1975 Volkswagen Rabbit was hit from behind by a tractor-trailer.

 

Chapin had writtten one particularly moving song, “Cat in the Cradle.”  Chapin based the song on a poem written by his wife, Sandy, about Harry's neglectful father. He wrote the song after he got upset because he missed his son's birth while he was touring. The song tells of a father and son who can't schedule time to be with each other and its a warning against putting one's career before family.

 

The recurring verse has the son saying, "I'm gonna be like you Dad, you know I'm gonna be like you..." Over time, both father and son grow into a switching of life roles. The father realizes his son's ambitions and goals of college, grades, and driving and wants to spend more time with him, yet slowly grasps the reality that now his son has no time for such things. In the last verse, Chapin illustrates that the "son" is all grown up with a fast paced job and kids of his own. In a glaring twist of roles, we see that the son now has no time to spend with his father. Sadly, dad realizes that his boy has become just like him.

 

Singer, songwriter, humanitarian, Chapin died at just 32 years of age.

 

 

 

 

 

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