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
In fact, it was
written by two guys who were--at the time--drunk and fishing on
Okochobee. And no, you've
never heard of them before.
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
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).
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.
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.
of a heroin overdose when he was 26.
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."
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."
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.
still touring . . . but it’s quite a bit different group than the
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.
think they started out as . . . .parking lot
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.
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
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
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.
Williams was the group’s lead singer in the years that they enjoyed a series of
hits 1955 to 1960.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
their last top ten record "Harbor Lights (#8 Pop,
Mercury singles the label changed the credits to read The Platters featuring
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
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.
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.
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
Platters were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1990.
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
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.
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
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.
Bennington is a very
handsome suburb of Omaha,
Nebraska, and offers
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
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.
composer Williams received nine nominations from the National Academy of
Recording Arts and Sciences and six nominations each from the
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.
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,
"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.
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.
songs have also found favor with such country music artists as
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.
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
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
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.
Most of us
remember where we were when we heard Elvis had died. I remember when I heard Harry Chapin died.
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
Harry Chapin Killed in Auto
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
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.
songwriter, humanitarian, Chapin died at just 32 years of age.