In the summer of 2008, I was hired as a contributing writer in the creation of The Rock Annex, described by Ben Sisario in The New York Times as “a smaller, quicker offshoot” of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland OH. The Annex occupied a 25,000-square foot space beneath an Old Navy store at 76 Mercer Street in Manhattan’s Soho district.
For the Annex project, I wrote the text panels introducing each thematic section: “Roots and Influences,” “Moments to Movements,” etc. I created some captions for specific exhibits or artifacts. I also researched and wrote the descriptions for “New York Rocks,” a 26-foot long scale model of Manhattan identifying the location of two dozen different historic music sites. The Annex was slickly designed and built to a high professional standard by operating partner Running Subways. There were special exhibits dedicated to The Clash (where it was nice to see an old issue of my former magazine New York Rocker on loan “from the collection of Mick Jones”) and to “John Lennon: The New York City Years.”
The Rock Annex opened in late November 2009 with considerable fanfare. I attended the gala opening party, held in a vast Soho loft where corporate sponsors proffered freebies ranging from vodka shots to makeovers, with live performances by Dave Mason and Blondie’s Chris Stein & Deborah Harry.
This was less than three months after Lehman Brothers filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, plunging the US economy into its worst crisis since the Great Depression (and far from over, at this writing). Meanwhile, a ticket to the Rock Annex cost $26.50 — at that time, more than the Museum of Modern Art. There was a gift shop, but no screening room or performance/lecture space in which to hold ancillary events. The Rock Annex closed January 3, 2010 after just over a year in operation. The artifacts were returned either to Cleveland or to private collector who had loaned them; the exhibit components, including my text panels, were sold at auction a few months later.
Before the closing, I returned to the Annex in late December 2009 with my good friends Doug Milford and Eliot Hubbard–and with permission to photograph all but the John Lennon exhibit, in order to have a visual record of my work. Doug Milford shot the photographs posted below, and I thank him for his invaluable contribution to this post.
On Monday, March 15, I attended the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductions at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York. This was hailed as “the 25th anniversary” although in fact the first induction dinner was held in early 1986. I did not attend that inaugural event but have attended the majority of inductions since 1987 including events held in Los Angeles (1993) and Cleveland (2009). I’ve never paid for a ticket — a tablemate told me the price was three grand apiece this year — but rather have earned admittance either through the largesse of my former record company employer or (more often) as an editorial contributor to the program book distributed to all attendees. Holly George-Warren has served for several years as the managing editor of this handsome volume, accompanied by a sampler CD assembled by A&R veteran Gregg Geller.
I know there are quite a few Hall of Fame haters out there — some of whom I count as friends — but I’m not going to take the time and space here to address their assorted beefs ranging from “Why isn’t Link Wray in the Hall of Fame?” to “Why isn’t Yes in the Hall of Fame?” I take pride in my past work on the program book and have had a blast at the induction dinners, even if a lot of the event’s spontaneity was sacrificed years ago to the strictures and rituals of a televised awards show. Here are my thoughts on the 2010 ceremonies, in chronological order by inductee:
GENESIS: Sorry, prog people, but I never did and never will “get” this group in any of its stylistic phases and personnel lineups. It was therefore entirely appropriate that guitarist Trey Anastasio of Phish should have inducted the venerable British band, since I never “got” Phish either, even after attending one of their endless concerts (April 1998, Nassau Coliseum). I could relate to Trey’s fervent fan-boy appreciation: He spoke with the detail and devotion of a true believer and referred to Selling England By The Pound (1973) as “my all-time favorite album.” Certainly, this was preferable to Bobby Brown saying of Wilson Pickett, back in 1991, that he’d never really heard of Wilson Pickett until being asked to induct him a few weeks earlier.
[Perhaps it was just as well that Pickett was not even present for his own induction. I remember Seymour Stein portentously announcing from the stage that “Wilson Pickett is fogged in.” Since at the time Pickett was living in Englewood, New Jersey — roughly 90 minutes by car from Manhattan — I took this explanation to mean that maybe the defroster on his car had conked out.]
Phish then performed two long, meandering Genesis, er… compositions is what I’d have to call them, since they sure didn’t sound like “songs” as I define the term. After this mildly excruciating interlude, the honorees (minus former lead singer Peter Gabriel) took the stage, genteel expressions of gratitude were aired, and…oh fuck it, let’s get to
THE STOOGES: Billie Joe Armstrong of Green Day began his induction speech in a curious but effective way. Having been born one year before the release of the Stooges’ Raw Power in 1973, Billie Joe had no personal memories of the original band performing in its own era. Therefore he chose to begin by quoting at length from Dictators guitarist Scott “Top Ten” Kempner’s account of the Stooges live at Ungano’s in NYC in 1970, as told to Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain for their 1997 book Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk. (Anybody still with me?)
Probably this is as close as Kempner, the Dictators, McCain and/or McNeil will ever come to actually being in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame — which, for some observers, will sum up all that’s heinously wrong with the thing. Indeed, following a few heartfelt remarks of his own, Billie Joe proceeded to reel off a long list of his favorite bands not yet inducted into the Hall, ranging from the Germs and Social Distortion to DEVO and the obscure UK group Penetration (with Pauline Murray).
The Stooges’ acceptances were very moving. Drummer Scott Asheton and guitarist James Williamson were thoughtful and touching but Iggy Pop was positively gripping. He began his speech by saluting the audience with both middle fingers upraised and ended by nearly breaking into tears.
Maybe Pop was thinking of all the dead Stooges: bassists Dave Alexander and Thomas “Zeke” Zettner (neither one made 35), road manager-turned-guitarist Bill Cheatham, and especially founding guitarist Ron Asheton. Asheton died of an apparent heart attack on 1/6/2009, still aggrieved and mystified that his band had yet to be inducted into the Rock Hall after 15 years of eligibility and at least one prior appearance on the ballot.
“Here we are, in the belly of the beast,” intoned Iggy. And: “A lotta money and power in this room…But music is life, and life is not a business.” And: “Ron Asheton was cool.” And: “Danny was cool” — a nod to the thankfully-still-living Danny Fields, who signed the Stooges and the MC5 to Elektra Records over the same weekend. And: “The poor people who started rock and roll, they were cool.” Joined by bassist Mike Watt (on board since 2003) and veteran Stooge sidemen Scott Thurston (piano) and Steve Mackay (saxophone), the Stooges tore it up with their two-song set of “Search and Destroy” and “I Wanna Be Your Dog.” They succeeded at least partially in breaking through the audience’s well-fed placidity and offered a thrilling taste of the tour that will follow on Sony Legacy’s deluxe reissue of Raw Power.
DAVID GEFFEN: With Hall of Fame honors already bestowed upon music biz moguls like Ahmet and Nesuhi Ertegun, Clive Davis, Chris Blackwell, and Mo Ostin, I suppose this was inevitable. Jackson Browne spoke with what seemed like genuine fondness for the man, invoking Geffen’s boundless enthusiasm for his artists and relentless efforts on their behalf. He managed to slip in the names of David Blue and Judee Sill, two Geffen signings that flopped in the marketplace (the latter’s fate was especially tragic) but whose work is more appreciated today. Of all that Eighties corporate rock crap that Geffen served up, like Whitesnake and Asia — the less said, the better. The honoree himself was at his most charming and disarming, cheerfully admitting that “I have no talent.” Geffen noted that his introduction to the music business occurred “when my brother was dating the sister of Phil Spector’s first wife” and thus provided David with entree to some of Spector’s legendary hit-making sessions at Gold Star Studios in Hollywood.
Safely stashed somewhere far from the Waldorf Grand Ballroom were the countless tales of insatiable greed and lust for power, of Machiavellian plots and whisper campaigns unleashed to destroy enemies, ex-partners, and even longtime friends. Details may be found in Wall Street Journal reporter Tom King’s 2000 biography The Operator: David Geffen Builds, Buys, and Sells The New Hollywood, which Geffen initially authorized (and co-operated with) before turning on King and doing his best to suppress the book.
Little Steven Van Zandt inducted the Hollies with what can only be described as an unfolding oration on the past, present, and future of rock & roll. Part William Jennings Bryan and part Silvio Dante, it was really something to hear in this forum, although as Steve rolled along I wondered if he was about to announce his candidacy for the U.S. Senate. Like a 747 approaching Newark, Van Zandt circled over the subject of the Hollies for
about ten minutes before he finally came in for a landing with astute praise of their compositional, instrumental and especially vocal prowess. In the last-named category, Steven ranked the Hollies second only to the Beatles, a judgment with which I concur.(Got time on your hands? Read the complete text of Little Steven’s speech here.)
With blandly competent vocal support from Maroon 5’s Adam Levine and Pat Monahan of Train, original Hollies Allan Clarke and Graham Nash sang strongly on “Bus Stop” and an exhilarating “Carrie-Anne.” I was particularly impressed by Clarke, who retired from music in 1999 and may not have sung on stage since then; he and Nash have been close friends for sixty-three years. Things got a bit weird with “Long Cool Woman (In A Black Dress)” when another of the Hollies, Terry Sylvester, tried to grab Pat Monahan’s microphone away from him during this uncharacteristic Creedence-style rocker that — although intended for an Allan Clarke solo project (his is the only voice on the record) — became one of the group’s all-time biggest hits in 1972. Two other founding members, singer/guitarist Tony Hicks and the dynamic drummer Bobby Elliott, were MIA — reportedly fulfilling tour commitments in the UK with the version of the Hollies they’ve co-led for nearly two decades.
As is customary at these events, time was set aside for a still-photo montage of performers and music industry personalities who died in the year since the last induction ceremony. Among those depicted were the brilliant “American primitive” guitarist Jack Rose; fearless six-string adventurer James Gurley of Big Brother & the Holding Company); Memphis roots godfather Jim Dickinson; ex-Wilco member Jay Bennett; Richard “Squirrel” Lester of the Chi-Lites; rampant Fifties rocker Dale Hawkins, and folk music legends Kate McGarrigle and Mike Seeger. They’re all dead, and we’re left with…Adam Levine.
JIMMY CLIFF: He looked terrific and sounded great on “You Can Get It If You Really Want,” “Many Rivers to Cross,” and “The Harder They Come” — all from the soundtrack of The Harder They Come, released in 1972. It’s anyone’s guess as to why this stirring singer and charismatic performer was never been able to match this early and groundbreaking success, despite extended major-label stays at both Warner Bros. and Columbia preceded in 1969 by a fine album for A&M, Wonderful World, Beautiful People. (The title track became one of Cliff’s only two US Top 30 Pop hits, followed in 1993 by a predictable cover of Johnny Nash’s “I Can See Clearly Now.”)
Jimmy Cliff was inducted by Wyclef Jean, who I find a little tiresome in his seeming ubiquity but who at least has a personal relationship to the artist. Years before Wyclef reached multi-platinum stardom with the Fugees, he recalled, his boyhood idol Jimmy Cliff accepted an invitation to crash at Clef’s modest New Jersey apartment after the two musicians worked a session at The Hit Factory.
ABBA: I collected a lot of their singles and occasionally still play their first two Atlantic LPs, Waterloo (1974) and ABBA (1975). These immaculately arranged and produced records are descended directly from Phil Spector’s greatest “Wall of Sound” hits, with added elements of Swedish folk music, French chanson, and Italian aria. Of the four members of ABBA, only Benny Andersson and Anni-Fryd (Frida) Lyngstad showed up at the Waldorf, and only Benny had something historically meaningful to say.
“We had no blues, not what you in America would call blues,” he said, but in Swedish folk songs Benny heard what he called “the sound of ‘The Melancholy Belt’ — sometimes mistakenly known as ‘The Vodka Belt’ — this region that stretches from Siberia to Finland to Sweden…If the sun disappears for two entire months, you can hear it in the songs, you can even see it in the eyes of Greta Garbo.” Swedish radio in the Fifties, he noted, consisted of one station that played very little music of any kind and no American pop or r&b. Record shops thus became the sole purveyors of the new sounds, and after Benny bought a copy of Elvis Presley’s “Jailhouse Rock” in 1957, “there was no turning back.”
As for the importance of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, Andersson noted that at present there are about 250 inductees in all categories: “Imagine what our world would be like if none of those people had ever existed, or ever created…I think it would be pretty dull.” The surviving Bee Gees, Barry and Robin Gibb, inducted ABBA in rather jovial fashion, reading awkwardly by turns from a teleprompter. With Benny Andersson on piano, Nashville star Faith Hill sang ABBA’s massive 1980 hit “The Winner Takes All” with what the late Lester Bangs (referring to another artist in another time) once described as “all the soul and passion of a doorknob.” Hill’s performance was not enhanced by the extravagant arm-waving and finger-pointing of the other keyboard player to her right, whoever he was.
The hour was growing late as a radiant-looking Carole King spoke, soulfully and unpretentiously, about the historic contributions of her fellow songwriters and now Hall of Fame inductees Jesse Stone (1901-1999), Otis Blackwell (1932-2002), Mort Shuman (1936-1991), Barry Mann & Cynthia Weil, and Jeff Barry & Ellie Greenwich (1940-2009). By this time I had stopped taking notes, being more concerned with my table’s dangerously low stock of red wine. But I paid enough attention to know that Cynthia Weil’s acceptance speech went on far too long, given the number of other award recipients (or their family members) lined up behind her and awaiting their turn to speak. Weil didn’t clear the room, but she certainly depleted it.
Jeff Barry had lobbied as long and hard for his own induction into the Hall of Fame as any potential candidate since the hapless Chubby Checker. But when this magic moment finally arrived, Barry was unable to attend the ceremony due to flight delays from Los Angeles and instead Little Steven read Jeff’s acceptance speech from his Blackberry. Students of the Brill Building may wonder why Mort Shuman was not inducted back in 1992 alongside his former songwriting partner Doc Pomus; and why Jesse Stone — a crucial creative force in the early years of Atlantic Records — couldn’t have been inducted sometime between, say, 1988 and 1995 since he lived to the age of 98.
The musical tribute to these inductees featured a rough-sounding Ronnie Spector on Barry & Greenwich’s “I Can Hear Music” and “Be My Baby,” the two songs she sang at my wedding in 1995; Rob Thomas (ex-Matchbox 20) singing Pomus & Shuman’s Drifters classic “Save The Last Dance For Me” (bleh); and FeFe Dobson (who?) giving a good account of herself on “River Deep, Mountain High” (by Barry/Greenwich/Spector). This segment and the evening closed with an all-hands-on-deck version of Jesse Stone’s immortal “Shake, Rattle, and Roll” led by Peter Wolf of the periodically re-formed J. Geils Band — another real rock & roll group that has made the ballot in past years but has yet to be voted in, despite selling millions of records for Atlantic (1972-77) and later scoring a Number One album with Freeze-Frame (EMI) in ’82.
”]”In 2002, I interviewed the great American musician, inventor, and raconteur Les Paul on the subject of his good friend and fellow guitar wizard Charlie Christian. By that time, Christian had been dead for 60 years but Les seemed to recall their every significant encounter, beginning with a Bob Wills gig at a Tulsa, Oklahoma ballroom. This interview was included in the booklet that accompanied the Sony Legacy box set Charlie Christian: The Genius of the Electric Guitar.
-> Les Paul on “My Friend Charlie Christian” as told to Andy Schwartz here.
-> New York Times obit by Jon Pareles here.
-> Les Paul Trio plays “Dark Eyes” on YouTube.
-> Les stars in a Coors beer commercial on YouTube [thanks to Al Masocco for this one]Arthur Levy writes: “I watched the CBS Evening News to see how they would handle LP’s passing…They name-checked and photo-checked a slew of guitarists who, they said, played the great Les Paul guitar — Paul McCartney, B.B. King, Keith Richards, Joe Walsh, Steve Miller, several others — and not one photo showed any of them playing a Gibson Les Paul, not one! There were Stratocasters, Telecasters, a Gibson 335 or two, even a Gretsch in there — but not a single Les Paul.”
All portraits of Jimmy Page found at Flickr.com.
My on-and-off association with the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame goes back more than two decades — initially as a voter, then more significantly as managing editor (for a few years) and contributing writer (ongoing) to the program book published for the Hall’s annual induction dinner. I could write at great length about this organization’s pros and cons, ups and downs, and why (The Stooges) (The Hollies) (Jan & Dean) (the New York Dolls) (KISS) (Insert Your Favorite Band Here) still have not been inducted. For the moment, suffice to say I’ve had some memorably great times at these events. The ceremony held April 5, 2009 in Cleveland was no exception — beginning the day before when, entirely by happenstance, I met Jimmy Page at the Rock Hall itself. This post is based on the notes I took immediately following our encounter.
It was a violently wet and windy Friday afternoon on the shores of Lake Erie, and the museum was crowded — not surprising, given the week-long local buzz surrounding only the second Hall of Fame induction to be held in Cleveland in the event’s 23-year history. I was strolling alone through the exhibits when I spotted a friend, chief curator Howard Kramer, leading a guided tour for a small group.
“Andy!” he hailed me, “Great to see you — have you met Jimmy Page?” In fact, I had not.
I shook hands with the founder of Led Zeppelin, a well-preserved 65-year-old wearing his silver-gray hair in a ponytail. Unprompted, Howard gave me the Big Build-Up, effusively describing my recent work on the Rock Hall’s Soho annex. After some uncontrolled fan-boy babble noting about seeing Led Zeppelin opening for Iron Butterfly at the Fillmore East (1.31.1969) I explained to Pagey that I’d written the site descriptions for the Annex’s 26-foot-long scale model of historic “Rock and Roll Manhattan.”
“You must have Steve Paul’s The Scene on there, I’m sure,” said Jimmy, and I hastened to assure him that this legendary West 46th Street nightspot is included in the installation.
“Great club!” Pagey continued, with genuine enthusiasm. “That’s where I saw Howlin’ Wolf for the first time. He’d been to England a few times but I’d never gotten the chance to see him there. I still remember, he and [guitarist] Hubert Sumlin had had some sort of falling-out and I was a bit disappointed that Hubert wasn’t on the gig that night at The Scene.
“I was sitting there slack-jawed, watching Wolf just tear it up, when Buddy Miles came in. Some guy comes over and says to me, ‘y’know, we can get this guy’ — meaning Howlin’ Wolf — off the stage so that you and Buddy can jam.’ I couldn’t believe it — I’m sure I told him to fuck off!” I asked Jimmy if he’d ever jammed at The Scene on another occasion, but he said no, it was a place he went to hang out and listen rather than play.
“Y’know, Andy, a lot of Mafia punks used to frequent The Scene — these young guys pouring out piles of coke on their tables. Some people wouldn’t go there because of that element.”
Jimmy’s thoughts shifted to another, more short-lived Manhattan venue, the heavily Mobbed-up West Village rock club Salvation. (Salvation only lasted about a year as a live music venue but during that time, it was a favorite hangout for Jimi Hendrix. Although I can’t vouch for the accuracy of his account, author Jerry Hopkins wrote at length about Salvation’s troubled history in Chapter 13 of his 1996 biography The Jimi Hendrix Experience.)
Page: “I may have been there only once but I remember that Jimi came in, or rather was led in by some people” — and here he assumed the heavy-lidded, open-mouthed expression of a very loaded Hendrix. “He was at another table and someone came over and asked if I wanted to join him, as we’d never met before.
“But I said no, because Jimi seemed really out of it and I just didn’t want to meet him under those circumstances. Unfortunately, I never got another chance — really too bad.”
Page seemed happy to go on in this vein for a while: He engaged directly with me the whole time, never looking at his watch, checking his PDA, staring into space, or otherwise signaling that the conversaion was now over. However, photographer Ross Halfin and Jimmy’s female companion (we weren’t introduced) were ready to move on. As we shook hands once more and said goodbye, I urged him to check out the Rock Annex on his next visit to New York. A few days later, the NY Daily News reported that Jimmy Page had toured the Mercer Street museum, stopping at the gift shop to purchase five Led Zeppelin t-shirts (I guess he can afford them).
Trying to precisely define the term describing black music performed by white artists can be a slippery slope — while some of the genre’s greatest practitioners are among its most obscure.
One night in early December, I sat with music-business veteran and fellow Hall of Fame voter Gregg Geller in a Manhattan nightclub. When the conversation turned to the topic of this essay, he reflected: “ ‘Soul’ as a vocal quality is timeless, eternal. But ‘blue-eyed soul’ is a moment in time.”
Gregg was referring to a pop-music phenomenon whose rise and fall paralleled that of African-American soul music itself. Among its spiritual predecessors were Bing Crosby (“The first hip white person,” according bandleader Artie Shaw); Johnnie Ray, whose histrionic style borrowed heavily from black gospel and early rhythm & blues; and Elvis Presley, who scored across-the-board hits on the pop, country and R&B charts alike.
When I e-mailed some twenty music aficionados around the country, informally soliciting their favorite “white soul” artists and recordings, their enthusiastic replies cited nearly seventy artists, spanning the musical alphabet from Mose Allison to Timmy Yuro. A New York label entrepreneur’s all-British list included Tom Jones, the Bee Gees and Simply Red. A Georgia journalist named prewar jazzmen Bix Beiderbecke and Jack Teagarden. A New Jersey memorabilia dealer vouched for Mark Farner of Grand Funk Railroad and the Four Seasons’ Frankie Valli.
But soul music “has a beginning and an end,” noted another respondent, Dan Hodges of Berkeley, California, in his provocative three-thousand-word (!) response. “I’m unwilling to call something ‘white soul’ that wasn’t recorded during the historical period of soul music. Whatever else, for example, the Beastie Boys may be, I don’t consider them blue-eyed soul.” In awarding his soul seal of approval to the Motown recordings of the little remembered singer Chris Clark and Dusty Springfield’s landmark Dusty in Memphis, Hodges established two compelling criteria for the sound:
“One . . . is that the white singer and song should ‘fit’ with what we recognize as soul music already. It would mean that, for example, the white soul singer was recorded by a record company that released soul records and that the records were made as they would have been with a black singer.”
“Two . . . is that the white singer’s performances should be accepted as soul music since they would be so accepted if sung by blacks [italics added] . . . and [that] if a black singer recorded the song, it would be considered soul. In contrast, whether a white group or the Supremes made an album of Rodgers & Hart show tunes, it wasn’t soul music.”
Dan’s definition would accommodate such exponents (whether famed or forgotten) as the Righteous Brothers, the Magnificent Men, Roy Head, Eddie Hinton, Len Barry, Billy Harner, Roland Stone, Bob Brady & the Con Chords, Bob Kuban & the In-Men—even Lulu (in her Muscle Shoals period) and Charlie Rich (whose version of “When Something Is Wrong With My Baby” predated that of Sam and Dave). But it would exclude Hall of Fame inductees the (Young) Rascals, as well as the Box Tops, Tony Joe White, Bobbie Gentry, Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels, Sir Doug Sahm, Laura Nyro, and the Spencer Davis Group featuring Stevie Winwood – to mention just a few more names that came over my Internet transom._
[Gregg Geller’s personal favorite, Aesop’s Fables, were from Huntington, Long Island. “Performing Stax, Motown and especially James Brown’s hits of the day,” he recalls, “their lead singer Sonny Stiles was one of the greatest live performers it has been my privilege to witness. To complicate matters (this is America, after all), Sonny was Puerto Rican – which I guess makes him a brown-eyed blue-eyed soul artist.”]
Wayne Cochran, the Rationals and the Temptones are three classic examples of the profound impact of soul music on a generation of white performers.
Throughout the Sixties and Seventies, Wayne Cochran may have done more than any other single white performer to spread the gospel of Southern soul music – and he did so without having anything close to a hit record.
Born in Thomaston, Georgia, in 1939, Cochran was a close friend and frequent performing rival of Hall of Fame inductee Otis Redding in the early Sixties. (Wayne played bass on Otis’s second single, “Shout Bamalama,” in 1962.) In 2001, Cochran described his red-dirt upbringing to author Scott Freeman in the Redding biography Otis!: “Father a cotton-miller and moonshiner. Grandfather a paid-up member of the KKK for life. . . . Music just takes all that away. You appreciate someone’s talent and they become your idol. Who cares what color?”
His imposing six-two figure topped by a towering white-blond pompadour, Wayne fronted a skin-tight, horn-heavy band known as the C.C. Riders that served as an incubator for such gifted musicians as bassist Jaco Pastorius, later of Weather Report. In a 1994 essay, writer James Porter noted that throughout the Sixties, Cochran regularly performed in “the same places as Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and Sammy Davis, Jr. At a time when Black soul acts who played that circuit . . . were reduced, in their heyday [italics in original], to doing stuff along the lines of ‘There’s No Business Like Show Business,’ the fact that Cochran could get away with performing maximum r&b for a blue-haired audience is significant.”
Cochran recorded sporadically for such labels as King, Chess and Mercury, but his closest brush with the Hot 100 came when his version of Bob and Earl’s “Harlem Shuffle” bubbled under for a few weeks in late 1965. As a songwriter, however, Wayne had better luck. In the fall of 1964, his classic tale of teen tragedy, “Last Kiss,” became a Number Two pop hit for J. Frank Wilson and the Cavaliers, obliterating Cochran’s original version on King. Thirty-four years later, Pearl Jam cut the song in one take at a pre-show sound check and pressed it up on a seven-inch single as a fan club giveaway. Radio programmers picked up on the track, which took on an unexpected poignancy in the wake of the April 1999 massacre at Columbine High School. By the year’s end, “Last Kiss” had reached Number Two and become Pearl Jam’s highest-charting song to date.
Wayne Cochran retired from the music business in the early Eighties and today is a pastor at the Voice of Jesus Christian Center in Hialeah, Florida. “In the end, it wasn’t music to me – it was a cause,” he told Scott Freeman. “. . . What we did, we took soul and r&b music and dressed it up like Las Vegas. And while they weren’t lookin’, we snuck up behind them!”
In 1965, four Temple University students – Daryl Hall, Paul Fogel, Ken Halpern and Brian Utain – were performing around Philadelphia as an a cappella vocal quartet called the Temptones. After Fogel enlisted in the Air Force, another Temple student, Barry Glazer, replaced him.
The new lineup recruited a rhythm section and shifted its repertoire away from doo-wop revival standards toward contemporary soul music, with a particular emphasis on the songs of their idols, the Temptations. A typical Temptones set might include the Spinners’ “I’ll Always Love You,” the Miracles’ “Ooh Baby Baby,” and such Tempts favorites as “I Wish It Would Rain” and “My Girl.”
“The Temptations’ harmonies were tighter and more melodic than [those of] the doo-wop groups,” says Barry Glazer. “Daryl, who was a music major at Temple, did all the vocal arrangements and was our main lead singer.”
When the Temptones finally met the Temptations, backstage at Philadelphia’s Uptown Theater, the Motown stars were impressed by the white group’s unaccompanied rendition of an early Tempts ballad, “Farewell My Love.” Temptation Paul Williams became a solid supporter, buying the white kids some new stage clothes and later arranging for an audition with Smokey Robinson (a Motown recording contract was not forthcoming, however).
When the group took second place in a James Brown Talent Show at the Uptown (coming in behind the Ambassadors but ahead of the Delfonics!), WDAS jock Jimmy Bishop brought them to local indie Arctic Records. On their 1966 sessions, the Temptones were backed by many of the session players who would later form MFSB – the musical backbone of Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff’s Philadelphia International Records.
Barry Glazer and Daryl Hall co-wrote the group’s first single, “Girl I Love You,” as well as the followup, “Say These Words of Love.” “‘Girl I Love You’ went Top Twenty on some local radio charts and got us on TV shows with the deejays Hy Lit and Jerry Blavat,” Glazer recalls. “We also played two Freedom Shows, big concerts sponsored by the NAACP. We almost always played with black acts.”
Neither disc did anything to extend the Temptones’ appeal beyond their home turf. A second Freedom Show at Convention Hall would have been the group’s last gig but for the thunderous reception that greeted their rendition of “Old Man River” (in the Temptations’ arrangement, naturally). This led to a showcase for the Ashley Famous Agency at New York’s Village Gate, where the Temptones’ rhythm section included one John Oates on guitar. It was the first time he and Daryl Hall had ever performed onstage together.
Following some personnel changes, the Temptones disbanded for good in 1969. “John and Daryl started doing music together,” says Barry Glazer, “and the rest is history.” (Hall and Oates released their debut album, Whole Oates, in 1972.)
“But the Temptones were pretty damn good and very unusual for our time,” he adds with a chuckle. “We didn’t even like the Beatles. I mean, we really wanted to sound black!”
Of all the white teen rock & roll bands to emerge from the Great American Garage in the mid-Sixties, none interpreted contemporary soul music with more skill and passion than the Rationals, from Ann Arbor, Michigan.
Scott Morgan (vocals) and Steve Correll (guitar), fellow students at Forsythe Junior High in Ann Arbor, formed the embryonic Rationals in 1963 and were joined within a year by Terry Trabandt (bass) and Bill Figg (drums). By then, their focus had shifted from guitar instrumentals to a blend of hip British Invasion covers (Pretty Things, Them, et al.) and promising originals. Meanwhile, Morgan recalls, “Steve Correll’s mother would drive us to the Fox Theater in downtown Detroit to see the Motortown Revue shows with Little Stevie Wonder, the Temptations, everybody. We’d be among the few white kids in the place.”
Jeep Holland was the group’s manager, the founder of the A2 (A Squared) label and a dedicated collector “extremely well-versed in rhythm & blues,” says Scott Morgan. “Jeep was the one who turned us on to songs like ‘I Need You’ by Chuck Jackson, ‘Listen to Me’ by the Esquires and ‘The Entertainer’ by Tony Clarke.” In late 1966, Holland chose an Otis Redding song called “Respect” for the Rationals’ third A2 single. This recording anticipated Aretha Franklin’s “Respect” by nearly a year and – in light of its local-hit status in her hometown of Detroit – likely influenced the Queen of Soul’s own arrangement.
Creeping to Number Ninety-two, “Respect” became the Rationals’ sole Billboard chart entry. Several more intense and soulful singles followed; none broke nationally, despite heavy regional airplay. The Rationals commanded a loyal following in the 1967–69 heyday of Detroit’s Grande Ballroom scene but gradually lost momentum. Only months before the group broke up, in August 1970, New York label entrepreneur Bob Crewe finally released their self-titled debut album. It’s an uneven LP, but the Scott Morgan–Steve Correll duet on “Temptation ’Bout to Get Me,” in its raw power and desperate yearning, actually cuts the Knight Brothers’ hit version. (“Hijackin’ Love,” an obscure 1971 single by Morgan’s next band, Lightnin’, is likewise a more thrilling record than the Johnnie Taylor original.)
Although their greatest recordings have never been legally reissued, the Rationals are partially represented on Medium Rare (Real O Mind, 2001). This Scott Morgan rarities compilation features the group’s last studio recording alongside tracks from their 1991 reunion sessions, including Major Lance’s “The Monkey Time” and Darrell Banks’s “Open the Door to Your Heart.” For thirty years, Scott Morgan has continued to perform and record with such groups as Sonic’s Rendezvous Band, Dodge Main and the Hydromatics. A still vibrant survivor of a legendary music scene, he remains (to quote David Fricke) “one of America’s Great Voices.”
[Thanks to all Blue-Eyed Soul Survey participants. Special thanks to Gregg Geller, Geoff Ginsberg, Barry Glazer of the Temptones, Daniel M. Hodges, Scott Morgan of the Rationals, Phast Phreddie Patterson and Don Waller.]