The Penguins : Earth Angel (Street Corner Symphonies & Subway Psalms)

Street Corner Symphonies.

Subway Psalms.

Fountain flows of secular prayers unceasingly ascending to very Heaven.

Yearning, yearning, yearning.

A feeling in the heart igniting the spine.

Somewhere out there beyond the block there must, must, be someone waiting, yearning, believing, just like you.

The air is charged, vibrant.

Through the Ether you can hear the harmonies.

Through the Ether you can hear the echoes.

Listen!

Listen to The Harptones, The Orioles and The Five Satins.

Listen to The Cadillacs, The Charms and The Capris.

Listen to The Danleers, The Dubs and The Duprees.

Can’t you hear them singing just for you?

Listen to The Penguins.

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Oh, oh, the vision of your loveliness.

I hope and I pray.

I pray.

Oh, someday, someday, I’ll be the vision of your happiness.

Happiness. Happiness. Happiness.

Please be mine.

Darling dear.

Darling dear.

One Moonbeam.

Two Moonbeam.

A street corner symphony indeed.

A subway psalm for sure.

Oh to be just such a Fool.

A Fool in Love.

In Love.

Today, another ordinary/extraordinary Jukebox story surrounding a Doo Wop classic from 1954.

An ordinary/extraordinary story featuring:-

  • Two sets of high school friends recording a demo in a Los Angeles garage that goes on to sell at least 10 Million copies and feature in a succession of Hollywood movies.
  • A court case, with singing from the witness box, to determine who wrote the song and hence who gets the royalties (for it is a music business truth that where there’s a Hit it won’t be long before there’s a writ).
  • The near bankruptcy of the first independent record label to achieve a national smash hit.
  • One definite murder and one highly suspicious death.
  • A guest appearances by Frank Zappa.

So, let’s begin with The Penguins.

They took their name from ‘Willie’ the iconic mascot for the Kool Cigarette brand.

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The members who recorded, ‘Earth Angel’ were Cleve Duncan (lead vocal), Curtis Williams (bass), Dexter Tisby (tenor) and Bruce Tate (baritone).

Curtis and Bruce were alumni of Jefferson High while Cleve and Dexter met at Fremont High.

The piano on the recording was played by Gaynel Hodge (who had previously been in The Hollywood Flames with Curtis Williams and who would go on to be a founder member of The Platters).

No one is sure who played the drums though some speculate that Bongo King Preston Epps was in the garage on that fateful October day.

It seems that Earth Angel emerged out of the collective consciousness and unconscious of Curtis Williams, Gaynel Hodge and Jesse Belvin (a prolific songwriter and melting vocalist who had been their mentor in The Hollywood Flames).

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Jesse’s song from 1952, ‘Dream Girl’ is an obvious influence on ‘Angel’ as is The Swallows’, ‘Will You be Mine’.

Close listening to Patti Page’s, ‘I Went to Your Wedding’ (which The Hollywood Flames had demoed) and The Flames own, ‘I Know’  will reveal pre echoes of Earth Angel.

And. there’s a definite sonic signature traceable back to Rodgers and Hart’s, ‘Blue Moon’ which occupied some part of everybody’s musical memory.

When the royalties battle came to court Jesse Belvin’s virtuoso vocals convinced the Judge that he deserved his share of the greenback bonanza along with Curtis and Gaynel.

The Penguins were in the 2190 West 30th Street Garage because that was where Dootone Label owner, Dootsie Williams, liked to record.

The Garage Studio was owned by Ted Brinson, a relative of Dootsie’s, who had been a Bass player for the Jimmy Lunceford and Andy Kirk swing bands.

Dootsie is the beaming bespectacled gent below next to Johnny Otis a legendary black music mover and shaker who wearing his Disc Jockey hat (Johnny wore a lot of hats) gave, ‘Earth Angel’ many a spin to push it to the top of the LA Charts.

Dootsie heard something winning in The Penguins sound and, as a music publisher, thought that their songs might set the cash registers chiming.

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Thinking of those cash registers and Juke Box Nickels it wasn’t, ‘Earth Angel’ that Dootsie heard as the Hit.

No, he preferred, ‘Hey Senorita’ and that was the official ‘A’ side when the record was issued (the choice perhaps not unconnected with Dootie’s name having a writing credit on Senorita!).

Now, I like the Latin feel of Senorita and the heart racing bongos (hello Preston!) but even in 1954 I could have told you that the treasure was on the ‘B’ side.

And, if you want to know how a record will sell ask a man who sells records and then ask a man who spins records on the radio.

They know!

Dootise took an acetate of the two sides to John Dolphin of Dolphin’s of Hollywood an all night record shop and a network centre for the black community.

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Broadcasting out of Dolphin’s front window was White Disc Jockey Dick, ‘Huggy Boy’ Hugg who attracted a loyal audience across the Black and Latino communities.

That’s Huggy on the right below.

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John Dolphin and Huggy Boy told Dootise that there was there was absolutely no need for any instrumental overdubs as the ravishing beauty of, ‘Earth Angel’ lay in the impassioned foregrounded vocals.

Still, it was Senorita which went out as the A side but radio DJs and the public were in no doubt – flip that platter and give us more of, ‘Earth Angel’!

And, that’s exactly what happened.

Earth Angel tore up the charts in every territory and raced to the top of the R&B list and steadily climbed the Billboard Pop ladder.

Dootsie pressed as many sides as he could though the strain on his cash flow pushed him close to bankruptcy as the distributors took their time reimbursing him for the sales.

Eventually Dootsie made sweet dollars from Earth Angel as did Jesse, Curtis and Gaynel.

As for the rest of The Penguins the story was not so happy.

Through the smarts of Buck Ram (pictured below) they got out of their contract with Dootone and landed with major label Mercury.

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Buck’s interest in The Penguins was not perhaps as fervid as his interest in the group he insisted be part of the ‘transfer deal’ – a group called The Platters for whom he would write a series of immortal hits including, ‘The Great Pretender’!

So, while The Platters were launched into the showbiz stratosphere The Penguins languished and never really troubled the charts again.

Yet, they carried with them forever more memories of high times at the Moulin Rouge in Las Vegas and their name in lights at the gala reopening of Harlem’s Small’s Paradise.

They played Alan Freed’s Labor Day show at the Brooklyn Paramount with legends such as Fats Domino, the Teenagers, the Cleftones, the Harptones and the Moonglows.

And, deep in their hearts they knew that on an October day in 1954 they had made a record that would never die.

Cleve Duncan led a version of The Penguins for decades before his death in November 2012. It was the power of the plea in his tenor lead along with Dexter Tisby’s tender stewardship of the bridge section that made, ‘Earth Angel’ so distinctive and unforgettable.

In one of those, ‘you couldn’t make it up’ happenstances a deeply knowledgeable fan of The Penguins and all the greater and lesser Doo Wop groups was none other than Frank Zappa and when he wrote a song, ‘Memories of El Monte’ in 1963 he turned to Cleve Duncan’s Penguins to bring it to charming life.

El Monte is based on the chords of Earth Angel and celebrates rock ‘n ‘roll dances at El Monte Legion Stadium where the young Frank and like minded teenagers – Black, White and Latino mixed to listen to and dance to music they all loved.

The song and Cleve’s lovely vocal hymns The Heartbeats, Marvin & Johnny and The Medallions among others.

A wonderful homage that sends you right back to the original because through The Jukebox we can travel back to the past and find a sound and a love that will always last.

Earth Angel … Earth Angel .. will you be mine?

My darling dear  .. love you all the time

I’m just a fool .. a fool in love with you

Earth Angel the one I adore

Love you forever and ever more.

And, that’s how long, ‘Earth Angel’ will be listened to and swooned over.

Forever and ever more.

In memory of Cleve Duncan 1935 – 2012, Curtis Williams 1934 – 1979 and Bruce Tate 1937 – 1973. Wishing long life and good health to the surviving Dexter Tisby.

Notes :

Those murders?

Sadly John Dolphin was sadly shot to death in 1958 in his own store. A murder that was witnessed by Bruce Johnston ( later in the Beach Boys) and sandy Nelson (of Let There Be Drums fame).

Dolphin’s death was a profound loss to his community where he had been prominent as a business man, music promoter and producer and networker.

Jesse Belvin died in a car crash with mysterious circumstances on a tour of The South at the age of 27.

Jesse’s signature song was the exquisite, ‘Goodnight My Love’ which pioneer Rock ‘n ‘ Roll DJ Alan Freed used as his show ending song.

His 2 LPs, ‘ Just Jesse Belvin’ and, ‘Mr Easy’ are wonderful records ideal for late night reverie listening.

Dick ‘Huggy Boy’ Hugg 1932 – 1960 was a Rhythm & Blues and Latino music Evangelist.

The DJ persona in Dave Alvin’s great song ‘Border Radio’ (previously featured here on The Jukebox) is believed to be Huggy Boy.

 

 

Teddy Thompson : Dreams of Blue Tears and A Change of Heart

The Ague.

The Lurgy.

Viral Gastroenteritis.

Whatever you call the malodorous malady the effect is the same.

Total exhaustion moderating to laid low lethargy.

So, for the last few days no morning runs for me.

No Scotch, no Bourbon, no Beer.

The height of appetite – a slice of plain toast.

The height of visual concentration – one paragraph of a book or two minutes of TV.

Is it 3 in the afternoon or three in the morning?

Sleep. Restlessly doze.  Sleep. Restlessly doze. Sleep. Sleep.

Can’t concentrate on the radio.

What I need is music that is melodious and comforting and hauntingly familiar without being hackneyed which will faithfully abide with me as my state of consciousness veers from ten fathoms deep slumber to stunned heavy eye lidded awareness.

So, for the last 72 hours on constant repeat as the moon and sun replace each other in the heavens and my mind races with scudding dreams I have been listening to Teddy Thompson’s magnificent tribute to the Country Ballad : ‘Upfront and Downlow’ and marveling at the way his love and respect for these classic songs gives them new dimensions of beauty without any disrespect to the wonders of the original versions.

if I could sing this is exacttly how I would want to sound like singing songs of hard won wisdom and care worn truth.

Teddy is not imitating anyone.

Neither is he intimidated by any of the great artists who have taken on these songs before.

He gives an extra patina to these songs – burnishing their brilliance.

My mind performs slow aquatic somersaults as the songs flow in and out echoing each other and the all voices that sang them.

Don and Phil. Hank and Ernest. Elvis and Dolly.

Fragments of Fractured dreams abound.

Goodbye to all those castles in the air.

Guess you had a change of heart.

A change of heart.

Sing it for me Teddy.

Oh, oh, if we only could go right back to the start.

But the river flows. The river flows one way. One way.

Everyone wants, needs to believe the things the loved one says and everyone feels the same pangs when it turns out not to be that way.

In my hallucinatory dreams songs and images entwine and drift apart.

Entwine and drift apart.

Echoes echo on into infinity.

Boris Karloff as Frankenstein relentlessly pursues me through the splashy salt marshes as a fireball lights up the sky.

Elisha Cook Jr gibbers as he pulls out his gat ready to drill me full of holes.

He would have done it too if Ida Lupino hadn’t beaten him to the trigger.

Echoes. Echoes. Echoes.

There’s an emptiness tonight.

There’s a longing in my heart.

Though we said that we were through …

I’ll be waiting here for you.

Waiting here for you.

And, diving to the deepest depths of my deepest dream the entwined voices, balm and blessing, of Teddy Thompson and Iris Dement.

The heart echoes every time it beats.

Til the day it echoes no more.

What time is it?

What day is it?

Where am I?

Have a care! Chap here’s run absolutely amok.

Lilian Gish rocking on her armchair cradling a shotgun.

Is it 2019 or 1959 or 1969?

Ah, I must be sick but it’s ok my mum will be coming up the stairs soon with my favourite comic, a glass of orange squash and some ice cream.

There’s a baby crying somewhere.

Is that my sister, my daughter or my granddaughter (or my son)?

Too many questions and riddles.

Sleep. Restlessly doze. Sleep. Restlessly doze. Sleep. Sleep . Sleep.

What’s that Elvis song you’re singing now Teddy?

Well you tried to tell me so.

But how was I to know.

Guess I’m not so smart.

You’re right, I’m left, She’s gone.

I’m left all alone.

Right. Left. Gone.

Gone.

Ingrid Bergman on the tarmac as the propeller turns and the fog descends.

You’re right, I’m left, she’s gone.

Gone.

 

Sleep. Restlessly doze. Sleep. Restlessly doze. Sleep. Sleep. Sleep. Sleep.

A boy and his father and a bicycle.

How many songs with Goodbye in the title?

Good. Bye.

See you later Alligator.

I’ll see you, even if I don’t want to, in my dreams.

Let me tell ya something sister.

Just so you know and for the avoidance of doubt.

Youve messed with my mind and heart enough.

Enough.

You finally said something good when you said goodbye.

I’ll help you pack.

I’ll call a cab.

I’ll pay the fare.

I ain’t building my gallows for you anymore.

You finally said something good when you said goodbye.

Goodbye.

 

 

Sleep. Restlessly doze. Sleep. Restlessly doze. Sleep. Sleep. Sleep.

Mitchum and me never should have trusted Jane Greer.

Those string arrangements swirling around my head – there’s a signature there.

Whose?

Ah .. 1974. I’m in my room in college listening to the music of a previous alumni – Nick Drake and the strings are arranged by another Cambridge alumni – Robert Kirby.

Soft sift in an hourglass.

Soft soft.

1956. 1966. 1974. 1990.

Photographs fading into photographs.

The river flows.

Soft sift.

Sleep. Restlessly doze. Sleep. Restlessly doze. Sleep. Sleep. Sleep.

What’s that bird at the window?

Where’s that light coming from?

I’m in no mood for sunshine today.

Waste not your warmth.

What’s that song?

What’s that song?

Fly away little blue bird.

Fly away.

Go spread your blue wings.

Go light your blue sky.

Leave me here.

Leave me here.

Me?

I’ll shed my blue tears.

My blue tears.

 

Sleep. Restlessly doze. Sleep. Restlessly doze. Sleep. Sleep. Sleep.

Thanks to Teddy and Iris and Tift and Don and Phil and Elvis and Dolly and Felice and Boudeloux for seeing me through.

Thanks Teddy.

 

Note : As always if for corporate/copyright reasons any of these clips fail to play you will find they or an alternative clip can be quickly found by a quick Google/YouTube search.

Happy Birthday Don Everly! Singing beyond Singing.

Note : This Post is best read in conjunction with the previously published,’Phil Everly Remembered’ from January 2017.

Don Everly was born on February 1st 1937

Don is the elder of the two brothers – almost two years older than Phil.

When they started out on the radio singing before they went to elementary school they were billed as, ‘LIttle Donnie and Baby Boy Phil’.

Don had the deeper baritone tenor voice.

Phil had a pure strong tenor and generally harmonised one third above Don.

Together, singing in harmony for decades, they achieved an ambrosial sound that has never been matched in popular music.

When they started to record it was Don who played the punchy rhythm guitar licks that signalled that though deeply grounded in Country Music these young men were true Rock ‘n’ Rollers who had been listening to the thunderous groove of Bo Diddley.

That influence is unmistakeable from the intro to their breakthrough single ‘Bye, Bye Love’.

As no lesser an authority than Keith Richard put it :

’Don’s acoustic guitar, that rhythm guitar, was rocking man! I guess that rubbed off on me’.

Here’s Don and Phil at their epic, ‘Reunion Concert’ from 1983 showing that they had lost none of their instrumental and vocal potency.

Sadness never sweeter.

Bye, bye Love.

Bye, bye, Happiness

Hello Loneliness.

I think I’m gonna Cry.

Bye, bye Love.

It was generally Don who sang the solo parts in Everly Brothers songs.

There was a quality in his voice, a seeming deep acquaintance with the heartaches that assail us all, that never fails to move me deeply.

And, when he and Phil found a song like, ‘All I Have To Is Dream’ they graduated from being upcoming hit makers into an immortal presence in millions of hearts.

Gee whiz. Gee whiz.

Dream, dream, dream.

In 1960 Don wrote, ‘So Sad (To Watch Good Love Go Bad)’ allowing The Everly’s to demonstrate their unparalleled control of the slow harmony ballad.

Teddy Thompson (Richard & Linda’s son) said that he had spent thirty years seat hing for singers as good as The Everly Brothers before realising that it was an impossible pursuit.

Who could argue with the truth of that verdict?

Inevitably, two brothers who have been singing together since early childhood will have fallings out and Tne Everlys, deeply contrasting personalities, certainly did.

Working apart tney both made fine records.

I’ve chosen to showcase here a sublime duet recording of a Louvin Brothers song Don cut with Emmylou Harris.

I remember the first time I heard this thinking – Emmylou is a magnificent singer and a great harmoniser but Don Everly, Don Everly! has clearly been blessed with a gift that is  very rare indeed.

A gift that he shared in such generous measure with all of us.

Happy Birthday Don.

Thanks for all the songs and all the singing.

I’ll conclude with an Everly Brothers performance of, ‘Kentucky’.

This is singing that goes beyond singing.

Singing that is the heart in pilgrimage and the soul in paraphrase.

The dearest land outside of Heaven.

Heaven.