Sometimes, a blog post that starts out to be one thing ends up as something else. The other day I was in the car when “Judy Mae” by Boomer Castleman came on. A blogger’s subconscious is always scanning for topics, so I immediately started thinking that “Judy Mae” would be a good subject. Later that afternoon, back home at my desk, I started doing a little research on the song, a pure one-shot that peaked at Number 33 in Billboard during June of 1975. What I discovered was that while Boomer Castleman may have scored only once, he had more than one shot during an interesting career on the fringes of the bigtime.
Owen “Boomer” Castleman spent much of the 1960s in orbit around the Monkees. He had been in a band called the Survivors with Mike Nesmith, and was later employed as a staff songwriter at Colgems, the Monkees’ record label. Given the success of the Monkees, Colgems and Don Kirshner wanted to expand the Colgems brand to other audiences, so they created a band for Castleman and his songwriting partner, Michael Murphey. The Lewis and Clarke Expedition, with Martin as Travis Lewis and Castleman as Boomer Clarke, was intended to appeal to rock fans with its psychedelic edge and a few Native American elements. But their lone album, Earth, Air, Fire and Water, released in 1967, didn’t appeal much to anybody—at least not enough for people to buy it. Neither did it get much promotion from Colgems, which was consumed with the Monkees. The album failed to chart, as did a couple of singles that followed it, and before 1968 was long gone, so was the Lewis and Clarke Expedition. However, Colgems wasn’t ready to give up on Castleman and Murphey just yet. In 1969, the company developed a TV pilot called The Kowboys, which was an attempt to to bring young, Monkee-style chaos to the western genre. The pilot didn’t sell, although it was broadcast in July 1970.
Castleman continued his musical career as a session musician and singer after that, finally scoring his lone hit as a performer in 1975. He would produce Meri Wilson’s “Telephone Man,” a novelty record that was all the rage for about five minutes in the summer of 1977. Eventually, he operated a couple of record labels. Castleman’s erstwhile partner would score his own hit song in 1975: “Wildfire.” After modifying his stage name to Michael Martin Murphey, he would hit the country charts a few times in the early 80s as well.
Castleman was also a bit of a tinkerer, apparently. In the late 60s, he had come up with a device that allowed a guitar player to bend notes on an acoustic or electric guitar in the same way notes could be bent on a steel guitar. According to his website, the Bigsby Palm Pedal was invented by wrapping a coat hanger around a whammy bar and nailing it to the guitar.
So anyway, “Judy Mae.” It’s about a 17-year-old boy whose widowed father marries a younger woman and the fatal complications that ensue. And as it turns out, it’s only one of the things Boomer Castleman did.