These selections are noteworthy not only for their curio factor, but also for their contributions to the same aesthetic that made Cozy Cole’s “Topsy” (hear excerpt here) and the Viscounts’ “Harlem Nocturne” popular. They seem to speak the same Lonelyville argot, conjuring clichés and swirling them about in a cocktail of inflamed passions, bongos and street smarts.
West Side Story and Mike Hammer and The Nervous Set was post-War America besotted with the image of the city as alternately dangerous, bohemian and craaaazy. Certain subcultures suited this image more colorfully than others, and pop culture would be right there, ready to fire the suburban imagination with a confusion of stereotypes and garbled slang. Nowhere did pop culture’s various creations – its jazz musicians, its detectives and underworld types, its juvenile delinquents, its beatniks, especially its beatniks – turn up more mangled and mixed than in popular music. From the jazz-punctuated chases of Johnny Staccato and Perry Como ridiculously crooning “Like, Young” to the gangland theater of Link Wray’s “Rumble,” it was a good time to be a cliché.
If they didn’t satisfy some deeper level of middle class fantasy, then the macho action and sexual license were all still pretty exciting at least. Which is not to say hard-boiled detectives were mere invention or that there wasn’t anything by way of “authentic” poetry readings or recreational drug use in certain quarters – there was. But realism was plainly not why viewers turned to Peter Gunn every week. Allen Ginsberg wrote in editorials and spoke on radio, defending his cohort against the insult of the term “beatnik.” To which the Life magazine readers of America distinctly answered: less “Howl,” more “Kookie’s Mad Pad,” please.
This week: little authenticity, plenty of fantasy. These three achieve a sort of hat-trick by offering no fantasies specifically, yet many fantasies all at once, and vaguely. Sometimes you can be all things to all people.
1. Fleet & Freddy, Pad (Protone)
Fleet & Freddy were Fleet Tomlinson and Freddy Countryman.
Fleet Tomlinson had a forgotten 45, “Bumping Knees,” on Los Angeles indie label Arlen. He also produced, wrote and played on Bobby Hicks’s rocker “Hassle It Jack,” a 1958 single on the hip Skyway label. Freddy Countryman – a guitarist, I believe – had a handful of early ‘60s rockin’ country numbers and twangy guitar instrumentals on yet another tiny Los Angeles label, Western Electronic Divisions.
So what happens when two aspiring spirits on the fringes of the record industry knock heads?
1959’s “Pad” clearly never set out to be any sort of pop masterpiece. Nor, sadly, did it have much of the bounce of popular contemporaries like “Tequila” or “Topsy,” instrumental hits with commercial appeal and, of all things, drums. “Pad” was just too weird. But there is something beautiful about the way juvenile delinquency, slang, drugs, jazz and rock ‘n’ roll – all the sideshow clichés of the beatnik craze – are woven together so deftly.
As if trying to prove the limitations of the concept, there are actually three different recordings of “Pad.” Fleet & Freddy’s is less manic than the Bobby Summer’s original version (hear excerpt here), by far the most popular – to misuse the word – version, which came out earlier that year on Capitol Records. Fleet & Freddy’s version was also more atmospheric than the song’s third and final incarnation (hear excerpt here) by Fritz & Jerry on Los Angeles’s RIP Records.
Fleet & Freddy had one more record together, 1961’s “Drag Race Boogie,” again on Arlen.
2. The Madmen of Note, Peppermint Fink (Ra-O)
Appleton, Wisconsin. Plattsburgh, New York. Albuquerque. Wherever. Wherever there were towns and hinterland cities and teenage abandon – that is where the sound of regional rock ‘n’ roll of the late ‘50s and pre-British Invasion ’60s will take shape. There will be armory halls to be rented cheaply, bands in matching suits every Saturday night, teenagers to dance.
The Pacific Northwest had its network in these transitional years – the record shops, recording studios and teen dances from Portland to Pullman. It had the sympathetic DJs, small-time record label owners, producers and entrepreneurs – all the teen scene prerequisites. If only the Kingsmen, the Raiders and, to a lesser extent, Tacoma’s Wailers (with 1959’s “Tall Cool One”) ever enjoyed much in the way of national chart success, the region in its time was a paradise garden of rock ‘n’ roll combos, teeming with cheap guitars and overdriven amplifiers. Bands like the Wailers, Dynamics, Viceroys and Galaxies defined the sensibility: raucous instrumentals, ballads and shouting R&B-edged; party numbers.
Except for sometimes being racially integrated, it must be pointed out here that there was nothing unique about the Northwestern combo itself. Rather, it’s just that the Pacific Northwest was the most cohesive and crazily fertile of all the regional scenes of the transitional era. This would eventually change with psychedelia and the new infrastructure of Rock.
Before that, though – before the British Invasion, even – there were the Madmen of Note, one of hundreds of groups breaking strings across the region’s dancehalls and ballrooms. On pape
r, other Seattle-area 45s like the Exotics’ “Oasis” or the Night Peoples’ “Zazerac” promised hip exotica but had a way of winding up closer to “Ooh Poo Pah Doo” or “Night Train.” A peppermint fink sounds like some Doctor Seuss phantasm, but this 1963 selection is the real thing, a booming drama somewhere between striptease grind and Middle Eastern raqs.
The Madmen of Note, live. George Lind, Elliot Wakefield, Bob Delgato, Charlie Johnson, Larry Evans. (Photo from Pacific Northwest Bands.)
Consisting at various times of Robert Delgado (drums), Larry Evans (keyboards), Charlie Johnson (bass), George Lind (guitar), David Raby (guitar and organ), Ken Raby (bass), and Elliott Wakefield (saxophone and vibraphone), the Madmen of Note hailed from Lake Stevens, just north of Seattle. All in their late teens, they played local clubs in the early ‘60s, and recorded this one exceptional 45. As was typical of the age, many of the Madmen’s members played with other area groups. Additionally, both “Peppermint Fink” and its flipside “Club 21” were co-written by saxophonist Ray Guyll, who played in Lake Stevens compatriots the Cherchers.
3. The Rockbusters, Tough Chick (Cadence)
Soundtrack composer and “Barry” of the Tamerlanes, Barry De Vorzon was born in New York City in 1934. Like his parents, De Vorzon was musically inclined; his family moved to California, and there, De Vorzon, clearly taken with the allure of pop music success, set about finding it.
De Vorzon was first, though not necessarily foremost, a pop singer. He released a few teen-oriented 45s in the late ‘50s, a fairly short-lived arc that hit paydirt in 1963 with “I Wonder What She’s Doing Tonight,” by Barry and the Tamerlanes, the group he’d assembled with songwriting partners Bodie Chandler and Terry Smith.
It would be songwriting and music publishing that proved the more durable line for De Vorzon. Initially his royalties owed more to songwriting – Marty Robbins and Johnny Burnette squeezed minor hits out of his “Just Married” (’58) and “Dreamin’” (’60) – than to musical compositions, which were not unqualified successes. In late 1958, De Vorzon, operating under the nom de plume John Buck and the Blazers, released the “Forbidden City” instrumental 45 on New York City’s Cadence Records. “Forbidden City” (hear excerpt here) was especially hip, but its release on Cadence – as well as its inexplicable re-release a few months later on Warner Brothers – failed to arouse any interest. (Except in Germany, where flipside “Chi Chi” was a fluke hit – another story altogether.)
Which brings us to 1959’s “Tough Chick.” The Rockbusters’ sole release, it was released six months after “Forbidden City” and another twelve hours before it went out of print. Certain clues suggest that the Rockbusters and John Buck and the Blazers are the same. “Tough Chick” appeared on Cadence Records, and, moreover, it was another De Vorzon composition. Not to mention the atmospherics of both.
But De Vorzon had bigger fish to fry. Since 1960, he and partner Billy Sherman had run Valiant Records, a Los Angeles label with a string of hits running from the pre-Beatles era – Shelby Flint (“Angel on My Shoulder”), the Cascades (“Rhythm of the Rain”), and, of course, Barry and the Tamerlanes – to the Association’s sunshine pop to some nifty garage band and psychedelic records.
Ever the prolific songwriter, De Vorzon’s career solidified in the late ‘60s with his film and television music credits. Among them would be the films Xanadu and Private Benjamin and the themes for television’s S.W.A.T., Rolling Thunder and Simon & Simon. One tune, “Cotton’s Theme” (originally heard in Bless the Beasts and Children), was re-recorded as “Nadia’s Theme,” the eternal opener of The Young and the Restless.
De Vorzon also scored cult soundtracks like 1970’s R.P.M. and 1979’s The Warriors. So often with career music-types, their most interesting work is clustered near the beginning. This was the case with De Vorzon: deadly and deliberate, “Tough Chick” came before all the nutty impulses were quashed by record industry protocol and life’s little details, like earning a living.
De Vorzon has won a total of six daytime Emmys for his music for soap operas Another World and Guiding Light, and one Grammy (Best Instrumental Arrangement) for “Nadia’s Theme.”