Super Soul Sure Shot

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(Pictured: Pete Wingfield.)

Forty-five years ago this week, an especially beloved but still obscure 70s hit achieved a bit of perfection that was too good to be an accident.

Pete Wingfield is one of the most prolific musicians in the history of rock. He came up as a blues musician in a band called Jellybread, but when it failed to find success, he got into session and concert work as well as songwriting and production. His list of credits is extremely long: B. B. King, Lightnin’ Slim, Memphis Slim, Nazareth, Keef Hartley, Colin Blunstone, Van Morrison, the Hollies (with whom he was associated for a very long time), Freddie King, Al Stewart, Maggie Bell, Edwin Starr, Lindisfarne, Richard and Linda Thompson, Bonnie Tyler, Olivia Newton-John, Dexy’s Midnight Runners, the Everly Brothers (whose band he joined for its 1980s reunion), the Alan Parsons Project, and Paul McCartney—and that is undoubtedly an incomplete list. He played so many sessions—over a thousand sessions in all—that he can no longer remember them all. He once told a journalist, “Well, I must have been there because my name’s on the sleeve.”

But apart from the long list of credits, what most people best remember about Pete Wingfield is one indelible record: “Eighteen With a Bullet.” In Billboard chart jargon, records that show potential for greater growth and a higher chart position are marked with what’s known as a bullet. So the phrase “eighteen with a bullet” refers to the #18 position on the chart, with the potential to go higher. Wingfield uses it as a metaphor for a budding relationship with the potential to get stronger.

“Eighteen With a Bullet” was a big hit in the UK during the summer of 1975. It first shows up at ARSA on a survey from WWIN in Baltimore at the end of June, but it takes a while to catch on. It starts getting traction across America in mid-September, and becomes particularly big at WCFL in Chicago, where it gets to #3 as October turns to November—although WCFL’s crosstown rival, WLS, didn’t chart it at all. It’s even bigger at KMBY in Monterey, California, where it spends a couple of weeks at #1 in November. In December, it tops local charts in San Bernardino and Sacramento.

There is little doubt that lots of radio stations would have been sorely tempted to rank “Eighteen With a Bullet” at #18 on their weekly music surveys at some point, and many of them did. WWIN was first, then KYA in San Francisco, WRKO in Boston, KTKT in Tucson, WHB in Kansas City, WFIL in Philadelphia, KTLK in Denver, KRIZ in Phoenix, and a few smaller stations. And Billboard gave in to the temptation too. During the week of November 22, 1975, “Eighteen With a Bullet” ranked #18, with a bullet. During the week of November 29, “Eighteen With a Bullet” peaked at #15 in Billboard—a remarkably high placing for something so quirky and original. I suspect that radio stations and record-industry people loved it more than the public did, and that couldn’t have hurt it one bit.

The lyrics to “Eighteen With a Bullet” could only have been written by a man with experience in the music business, somebody who spoke the language of records, record marketing, and radio, and who had the talent to turn that jargon into a love song. The music could only have been written by somebody who knew his way around the blues, New Orleans R&B, and doo-wop. In a world where every piece of music is described by comparing it to something else, there’s nothing quite like “Eighteen With a Bullet.”

I first wrote about “Eighteen With a Bullet” in 2006, and it was this website’s most popular post for a long time. This post is partially rebooted from material posted in 2012.

Len Barry, by the Numbers

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(Pictured: the Dovells, with Len Barry on the far left.)

Len Barry came out of Philadelphia at the turn of the 60s, out of Overbrook High School (alma mater of Wilt Chamberlain and other pro sports stars, along with rapper/actor Will Smith and members of the Delfonics) and the Coast Guard, at a time when when record moguls tried to make stars out of any young man who could carry a tune. He joined the Dovells, a vocal group that scored a handful of hits between 1961 and 1963, most famously “You Can’t Sit Down,” “The Bristol Stomp,” and “Bristol Twistin’ Annie.”

In 1965, Barry hit under his own name with “1-2-3,” which was a smash, going to #1 in Cash Box and #2 on the Hot 100. Thanks to oldies radio, it was once one of those records everybody knew, at least until oldies stations stopped playing 60s music. Among the musicians and singers backing Barry on “1-2-3” were guitarist Bobby Eli, a childhood friend and longtime collaborator of Barry’s who became one of Philadelphia’s major studio stars, especially with the group MFSB; keyboard player Leon Huff, future architect of the Philly soul sound; trumpeter Lee Morgan, famed jazz player pickin’ up a check one year removed from his hit “The Sidewinder;” Valerie Simpson, future Motown songwriter; and members of the Tymes, who had hit in 1963 with “So Much in Love.”

Barry continued to chart after “1-2-3,” but nothing broke as big. In 2011, I told the story of what happened next—one of the great moments in record marketing, a speculation on my part that nevertheless has the ring of truth:

Flash forward to the summer of 1968. Len Barry, three years removed from his biggest hit, is on a new label, and the new label is looking for a score. The thought process is easy to follow: Len Barry is best known for “1-2-3.” Ergo, if we want to get radio stations to notice his new release, shouldn’t it be called “4-5-6”?

Not an unprecedented thought in the entertainment biz then or now—if people like something once, make it a second time and they’ll probably like it again. But there was a flaw in the plan: Somebody would have to write a song called “4-5-6.” What in the hell would a song called “4-5-6” be about? A house number? An area code? A batting average?

It was at this moment some anonymous record executive was seized with a stroke of brilliance worthy of an era 40 years in the future, when no promotional gimmick is too shameless and people will fall for anything. Barry had recorded a song called “Now I’m Alone,” a weeper about a man who has lost his wife and family. In June 1968, that song was released under the title “4-5-6 (Now I’m Alone).”

Never mind that the numerals 4, 5, and 6 do not appear anywhere in it—a radio programmer who remembered “1-2-3” might be persuaded to give it a listen when it crossed his desk, just because of the title on the label.

As it turned out, “4-5-6” didn’t become a hit, although a few stations picked it up. At WRIT in Milwaukee, it rose as high as #14 in August 1968.

A more successful Barry project was the 1969 instrumental hit “Keem-o-Sabe” by the Electric Indian. He originally produced it for his label, Marmaduke, which he co-owned with Philadelphia DJ Hy Lit, although it didn’t become a national hit until after United Artists picked it up. Although Barry likely wrote “Keem-o-Sabe” (and recorded a vocal version of it), it’s credited to Bernice Borisoff, Barry’s mother, and another Philadelphia record mogul, Bernie Binnick. The musicians are all Philadelphia studio cats including Eli, Vince Montana, and other future members of MFSB. Wikipedia claims Daryl Hall is on it too.

From the 70s to the new millennium Barry stayed in the entertainment biz, producing and performing, and he even wrote a novel about growing up in Philadelphia. He died in his home town last week at the age of 79. There’s more about his life and career here.

One More Thing: I was on the air Saturday when the major news organizations called the presidential election for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, so I got to tell the people about it. I even broke the format to do it—on the country station, talk breaks have been severely curtailed for a couple of months now—but old radio dogs know when to bark, and it’s easier to ask forgiveness than permission anyway. Reading that bulletin was one of the highlights of my radio career.

A Year With Gale Garnett

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(Pictured: Gale Garnett.)

I have written many times about songs I knew before I knew that I knew them, and another one popped up on shuffle the other day: “We’ll Sing in the Sunshine” by Gale Garnett. It’s an easy-rockin’ singalong from 1964 that featured just enough harmonica to qualify it as a folk record back then, plus an orchestra, acoustic guitars, and a small chorus of what sounds like overdubbed Gale Garnetts:

We’ll sing in the sunshine
We’ll laugh every day
We’ll sing in the sunshine
Then I’ll be on my way

I must have heard it on Mother and Dad’s radio; it’s a song our hometown station would have been quite likely to play, and for years thereafter.

“We’ll Sing in the Sunshine” is the slow-cookin’est single I’ve seen at ARSA lately. It first appears on several northern California radio stations in June and July 1964 and gradually creeps east. It hits the Top 10 at a couple of stations in San Francisco in mid-July, and while it rides high at a lot of stations for the next several weeks, it doesn’t hit #1 anywhere in the west until the last full week in August. It continues to cook across the country into September, going #1 at KLIF in Dallas in early September, at KIMN in Denver a week after that, and at both WKNR and WXYZ in Detroit at the end of the month. By the time October begins, most every city that’s listing it has it in the Top 10.

During the week of October 17, 1964, “We’ll Sing in the Sunshine” reaches its peak of #4 on the Hot 100, part of a killer Top 10 that also includes “Do Wah Diddy Diddy,” “Dancing in the Street,” “Oh Pretty Woman,” “Last Kiss” by J. Frank Wilson and the Cavaliers, “Remember (Walking in the Sand),” Chad and Jeremy’s “A Summer Song,” and the Beach Boys’ “When I Grow Up (To Be a Man).” It hits #1 in Cash Box during the first week of November. In Bluefield, West Virginia, it’s still in the Top 10 come December.

“We’ll Sing in the Sunshine” ran the Billboard Hot 100 and Cash Box Top 100 for 17 weeks each. In Billboard, only the Louis Armstrong “Hello Dolly” and Barbra Streisand’s “People” charted longer. It did seven weeks at #1 on the Billboard Pop-Standard Singles chart (later Easy Listening, still later Adult Contemporary), from late September through mid-November. Billboard ranked it at #8 for all of 1964. The song would win Best Folk Performance at the 1965 Grammys. Garnett’s followup single, “Lovin’ Place,” would reach #54 on the Hot 10 early in 1965, but it would be her last visit to the American charts.

Music had interrupted Gale Garnett’s acting career. She had started working on television while she was still a teenager before a 1963 singing gig in a New York City club led to a record deal. After “We’ll Sing in the Sunshine,” a handful of busy years followed. She frequently played Greenwich Village clubs and college campuses, and she opened for stars including Bill Cosby, but after all that, she returned to Hollywood. In the late 60s, she fronted a psychedelic rock band called Gale Garnett and the Gentle Reign. They made two albums whose titles could not have been more pop-psych perfect: An Audience With the King of Wands and Sausalito Heliport. Still later, she wrote novels, reviews and other journalism pieces, and she appeared on the stage, usually under her full given name, Gale Zoë Garnett. She’s still with us, at age 78.

Unusual for a female singer in 1964, Gale Garnett wrote “We’ll Sing in the Sunshine.” She said it was about “settle-down fear,” but also “a happy approach to personal independence.” It’s also pretty bold for its time. We’ll do everything that lovers do, she says, and while “everything” isn’t explicitly defined, it’s reasonably clear that it includes acts that in 1964 were not yet considered respectable without the benefit of clergy. And nothing about it is permanent. “Although I’ll never love you, I’ll stay with you one year,” she says. And then:

And when our year has ended
And I have gone away
You’ll often speak about me
And this is what you’ll say
We sang in the sunshine . . . . 

Translation: “I’m gonna ruin every woman who comes to you after me, son. But I mean that in the most benign way possible.”

Superman

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(Pictured: Evel Knievel clears a line of buses in London in 1975. Seconds after this photo is taken, he will crash, and later announce his retirement. It didn’t take.)

America loves its daredevils and its outlaws, people who face down danger and do what cannot be done, but there’s never been one quite like Evel Knievel. At the same time, he is yet another in a long line of self-made entrepreneurs whose main product was himself.

Bobby Knievel took the name Evel Knievel in 1966, choosing to spell it “Evel” rather then “Evil,” the story goes, so that he wouldn’t be mistaken for a Hell’s Angels type. He first gained fame jumping his motorcycle over whatever a promoter wanted him to jump over. In 1967, he jumped the fountains at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas. Unable to interest anybody in broadcasting it live, he paid for the filming himself, and then sold it to ABC. And for the next several years, the legend of Evel Knievel grew. His jumps (and crashes) became a regular feature of ABC’s Wide World of Sports. In fact, the show’s single highest-rated episode, on October 24, 1975, featured a live Knievel jump at Kings Island, Ohio.

But that’s getting ahead of the story. As early as 1968, Knievel was trying to arrange a jump across the Grand Canyon. That was never going to happen, but he eventually settled on the privately owned Snake River Canyon near Twin Falls, Idaho. A standard motorcycle wouldn’t do the job. It took over two years of development and testing before the Skycycle—registered with the state of Idaho as an airplane but considered by the FAA to be a rocket—was ready to fly.

On jump day, Sunday, September 8, 1974, President Ford pardoned Richard Nixon. It took a story of that magnitude to pull the spotlight away from Evel Knievel, but his show went on. Knievel and ABC had been unable to agree on live TV rights, so the jump was presented on closed circuit in theaters. A parachute deployed prematurely and the Skycycle fell into the canyon. Knievel’s jump aired on Wide World of Sports the next week; see it here, both highlights of the jump and an interview with Jim McKay and ABC science editor Jules Bergman, who had covered the jump live.

Knievel’s notoriety led several recording artists to try cashing in on it. This had actually begun in the late 60s, but reached an early peak thanks to the 1971 movie Evel Knievel, which starred George Hamilton. Two Knievel-themed songs sung by Hamilton, neither of which was in the movie, were released on a single. Another single included the film’s opening and closing theme, “I Do What I Please.”

Knievel’s 1974 notoriety produced a few more records, but only two of them were on labels with national reach. To help promote the Snake River Canyon jump, Amherst Records released an album called Evel Knievel, which includes a load of ephemera: press conference clips, Evel talking with some children and reciting poetry, and “The Ballad of Evel Knievel” by John Culliton Mahoney. The latter (backed by one of Knievel’s poetic readings, which was heard on the TV coverage of the Snake River jump) made #85 in Cash Box and #105 in Billboard in late September 1974.

The most successful of the Knievel-themed records was “Evil Boll Weevil,” a break-in record on the Bang label credited to Grand Canyon and featuring an introduction by Chicago radio legend Fred Winston. “Evil Boll Weevil” (a name frequently used in media parodies of Knievel) got to #72 during a five-week run on the Hot 100 in November 1974. It was a Top-10 hit in Minneapolis and Columbus, and it got airplay in Detroit, Pittsburgh, Denver, Louisville, and Des Moines.

Knievel’s star peaked in 1975 and dimmed in 1976. He was jailed for the 1977 beating of a promoter, and he jumped for the last time in shows with his son Robbie in 1981. After a decade of obscurity, he embarked on a second career in the 90s—being Evel Knievel (but also engaging in some shady business ventures). He died in 2007 at the age of 69, not of motorcycle-related injuries, but of lung disease. Although he had been in ill health for a while, a friend is said to have said, “You just don’t expect it. Superman doesn’t just die, right?”

Evel Knievel’s Wikipedia page is crazy entertaining, if questionably sourced. For more on the Knievel media phenomenon, read Steve Mandich, whose book Evel Incarnate inspired a TV movie and which lives on at a website I strongly recommend.

No Gal Made Has Got a Shade on Sweet Georgia Brown

Certain pieces of music stop time, take you places, call up images that are indelible. When you play the song at the top of this post, what do you see? If you are of a particular age, you can probably picture the famous Harlem Globetrotters “weave,” the warmup the team does when they first hit the court, which has been accompanied by the sound of “Sweet Georgia Brown” since 1952.

“Sweet Georgia Brown” was already an oldie by 1952. The original recording by Ben Bernie and His Hotel Roosevelt Orchestra spent five weeks at #1 on the primordial charts of 1925, while competing versions by Isham Jones and Ethel Waters also charted. Bing Crosby took it to #2 in 1932. But the recording you know, the one that the Globetrotters use, came along at the end of the 1940s.

Freeman Davis was born in Alabama in 1902 but discovered in California. His prowess as a whistling shoeshiner earned him the nickname Whistling Sam, but he was also proficient on the bones, a percussion instrument often made from real animal bones, but also of wood. (They’re cousins to castanets and spoons.) In the late 40s—maybe 1947—Davis got a chance to record for the Hollywood label Tempo, laying down “Sweet Georgia Brown” and three other sides, which were credited to Brother Bones and His Shadows. In addition to Davis on bones and whistling, two other musicians are heard on “Sweet Georgia Brown”—a tenor saxophonist whose name is unknown, and Herb Kern on Novachord.

Herb Kern on what?

The Novachord was the original electronic synthesizer, manufactured by the Hammond Company and introduced at the 1939 New York World’s Fair as yet another avatar of times to come. It was a cousin to the Mellotron, capable of recreating a high-pitched flute or a deep theater organ, with 120 presets to create other, more exotic sounds in between. But the Novachord was not destined for mass popularity. Each one weighed 500 pounds, contained 163 vacuum tubes, and had miles of cable and hand-tied wiring. It required the skills of an electronic tinkerer to operate and maintain. A new one cost $1,900—which is equivalent to about $35,000 today. Only about a thousand Novachords were manufactured between 1938 and 1942. But one of them belonged to Tempo Records, which released a number of Novachord-and-organ duets in the 40s featuring Kern and a guy named Lloyd Sloop. Kern was the organist of the duo, but he moved over to the Novachord to provide the bassline for “Sweet Georgia Brown.”

“Sweet Georgia Brown” sat in the Tempo vault until the summer of 1948, when it finally was released to what was known as the “race” market. After it caught on among black audiences, it crossed over to pop, eventually hitting #10 on Billboard‘s main chart early in 1949. Brother Bones got his picture on the covers of Billboard and Cash Box, and a 1951 starring role in a blackface musical called Yes Sir Mr. Bones.

(In his Pop Memories: 1890-1954, Joel Whitburn says that the Brother Bones “Sweet Georgia Brown” features not sax and Novachord but organ and a clarinet played by Joe Darensbourg. Darensbourg was a prominent New Orleans-born clarinetist who worked in Los Angeles during the late 40s, and he played on some of Brown’s other recordings, apparently, but I’m pretty sure he’s not on this “Sweet Georgia Brown,” mostly because there’s no clarinet. On another matter, Whitburn says that Davis charted a version of “Ain’t She Sweet” in 1949. It was a duet with organist Barney Lantz but was released under the bizarre, awkward name of Mr. Goon Bones and Mr. Ford.)

Brother Bones does not appear to have had any connection with the Harlem Globetrotters apart from his performance of “Sweet Georgia Brown,” which has granted him a peculiar combination of immortality and obscurity. Freeman Davis died in 1971 and is buried in his longtime home of Long Beach, California.

The Novachord was used to score movies and TV shows as late as the 1960s, but apart from “Sweet Georgia Brown,” its most famous appearance on record might be on Vera Lynn’s original 1939 recording of “We’ll Meet Again.” Her more famous recording, which did not hit in America until 1954, was backed by a conventional orchestra, but her first recording features Arthur Young on the Novachord, sounding very much like an organ, but also very much not.

Additional postscript: it was easy to miss in the frantic 2020 news cycle, but Vera Lynn, who was one of the most popular performers in Britain during World War II and through the 50s, died in June at age 103. 

Adrian Smith, Phone Home

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We’re up over 2,500 posts in the life of this website since its birth in 2004. Most of those posts go unread, day after day, and that’s fine. It’s the nature of a website like this one. But all 2,500 of ’em live somewhere in the Google-verse, so at some point, any one might end up finding a reader again one day.

Back in 2009, in a post about a WCFL radio survey from the summer of 1973, I wrote the following:

I have been able to learn practically nothing about Adrian Smith, except that she’s not the guitarist with Iron Maiden. The phrase “tiny lady, big voice” pops up in a significant number of web citations about her self-titled album, but that’s it. “Wild About My Lovin’” rode the charts at WCFL for at least 12 weeks in the summer of 1973, and it got some play on other Chicago stations as well. If you know anything more, help a brother out.

Apart from one comment that linked to an eBay listing for Smith’s self-titled album, I never learned anything else about Adrian Smith.

One morning recently, I opened my e-mail to find some scans of newspaper clippings about Adrian Smith, sent to me by Drew, who was working on a research project and googled his way to my mention of her. An August 1973 clipping from what is probably a suburban Chicago paper reveals that Smith was from Harwood Heights, Illinois; local interest helps explain why WCFL gave her airplay. The clipping also reveals that after she cut her self-titled album, MCA Records wanted her to tour with the studio musicians who had backed her. But she wanted her own touring band, so she recruited a number of Chicago-area musicians for it. After losing out on a gig with Dr. John for some reason (the clip doesn’t elaborate, as if the story had already been well-reported and any reader would know what had happened), Smith and her band opened some shows for Sha Na Na, during which they were very well-received.

Two September 1974 clips from Indiana newspapers discuss an upcoming show at Ball State University starring Richie Havens, and mentions Smith as his opener. One article describes her as “a forceful, dynamic act that employs stage antics and ‘raw emotional energy.’ She combines pop, country, gospel, and rhythm and blues into a volatile mixture of powerful proportions.” That sounds like a direct lift from a record-label or management-company press release, but it fits the “little lady, big voice” characterization. It also fits with a quote from her bass player, Mark Beringer, in the 1973 article: “You’d have to see her to believe how much voice is in that body.”

Beringer also told the reporter in 1973 that the band and would be going to Los Angeles to cut a second album. The 1974 article mentions Smith’s first album (the one with “Wild About Your Lovin'” on it), but not a second one. Drew has a theory that the 1973 interview may have had more to do with promoting Mark Beringer than Adrian Smith—that he hoped the album to be made in Los Angeles would end up being his. Drew also suggests that Beringer’s mother, who worked for one of the major Chicago advertising agencies, might have used whatever clout she could muster to get WCFL to play Smith’s record. While it’s true that radio stations frequently played records that were not and would never be actual hits, and they jiggered airplay numbers reported to trade magazines, it was usually done at the behest of record labels and not advertisers. In any event, it does not appear that the second album was ever made, with Smith, Beringer, or anybody else.

ARSA listings show “Wild About My Lovin'” got to #13 at WCFL. WBBM-FM in Chicago listed it for a while, along with a couple of other small-market stations. It bubbled under at #114 in Billboard. But the trail of Adrian Smith goes cold after that, because she’s hard to search. The world is full of prominent Adrian Smiths, not just the heavy-metal guitarist but a Congressman, a body builder, an architect, and others. The only new-to-me bit of info I found about the singing Adrian Smith was a mention in Cash Box that she was 18 when her album came out. So if she’s still out there somewhere, she’d be 75 65. (Math is hard. Ed.) But if she were still out there somewhere, some Internet music aficionado would surely have found her by now.

Thanks to Drew for reading my old piece and helping a brother out. He’s recently posted the 45 of “Wild About My Lovin'” at YouTube, and it’s great. Listen here.