Tuesday, March 25, 2008

The Last Laugh

First, a quick note about last Saturday’s post: I mentioned the Marlin Green website designed by Hideki Watanabe, but the link didn’t transfer to my flash drive, and I was so far from home when I posted I could not fix the matter. So, here is the excellent site devoted to Marlin:

Hideki Watanabe

And now, the new post:

Some songs written for adults were just made to please kids. I don’t even mean songs for kids that have double entendres to attract adults, like that “knick knack paddy whack” thing, which sounds like a double entendre to me. I mean songs like “Da Doo Ron Ron” and “La Dee Dah (Ha Ha Ha),” which are cheery enough and catchy enough to get such cognoscenti as three-year-old caithiseach groovin’.

I won’t discuss the Crystals this year, but the latter song wasn’t a hit, and even now I have trouble believing it flopped. When I was three, it ranked #2 on my playlist, behind next Wednesday’s song. Mind you, there were a couple of hits that got my attention around the time I was three, like “Yeah, Yeah, Yeah” by the Beatles. But that’s another example of a chorus designed to hook kids and make them bug their parents to buy the 45.

I played “La Dee Dah” a lot, and when I had the record player turned off, I sang it a lot. And my mom smiled and sang it with me, bless her heart. My Uncle Tom got the record for a nickel, and it was the second-best investment of a nickel he ever made in music, as far as I am concerned.

The artist is Jerry Jackson, who never charted nationally. I know more about him than some of the other No-Hit Wonders, thanks to excellent liner notes in the Bear Family compilation Jerry Jackson: Shrimp Boats A-Comin’ (BCD 15481). If you don’t know the Bear Family way of remastering music, you should explore the matter.

Jerry Jackson’s voice had the fluid ease of Sam Cooke’s when he approached a song, without the vocal mannerisms that helped you spot Sam a mile away. Jerry handled various pop dialects well, from Brook Benton-styled pop to Drifters R&B, to Motown, to ska.

Why couldn’t such a versatile performer click with the music-buying public? He was forced to handle various pop dialects well. No one let him settle into a style long enough to develop an audience. Most of the approaches were false starts, to be sure, especially the ska versions of “Shrimp Boats” and, if you can believe it, the Irving Berlin standard “Always.”

An overview of his career has Jerry recording singles for Kapp Records from April, 1961 to July, 1963. He was allowed to release eight singles, and he recorded two tracks that would have been his ninth. After his dismissal from Kapp, Jerry recorded three singles in two 1964 sessions for Columbia. Why did such a big label sign a singer who had failed eight times before to chart? Jerry Jackson could sing, and everyone wanted him to succeed.

My personal take on his sound would be that he should have continued in the 1961 “La Dee Dah” vein; this song (and its flip) give the sought-after Brook Benton feel to his work, and eventually Jerry might have gone somewhere with it. Jerry even recorded a tune co-written by Clyde Otis, “If I Had Only Known”; Otis wrote “The Stroll” and produced/composed for Brook Benton.

Instead, by October 1962, Bob Crewe was producing him, recording songs Crewe had written with Bob Gaudio of the Royal Teens and the Four Seasons. In fact, the Four Seasons sang on the four Crewe-produced tracks. A later track, “It Hurts Me,” produced by Allen Stanton, made it into Elvis Presley’s repertoire soon thereafter and reached #29 for Elvis. If you compare the two recordings, you can see where Elvis got his stylings for this cut. So close, and yet so far, for Jerry Jackson.

When Columbia dropped him, Jerry, a Connecticut native, did what he probably wanted to do all along and took up gospel music with his relatives in the Jackson Family, based in Tampa, Florida. Given those other Jacksons, from my hometown of Gary, Indiana, it’s difficult to Google Jerry and get meaningful data about his Jackson Family days. He could easily still be working the circuit. If so, I want to hear him.

Today’s single, my #2 hit from Uncle Tom’s five-cent cutouts, was recorded on October 31, 1961. Bob Johnston produced it. Johnston, apart from writing hits like the spectacular “What’s A Matter Baby,” which was credited to his wife, Joy Byers, eventually produced a couple of solid acts for Columbia: Bob Dylan, Simon & Garfunkel, Johnny Cash . . .

The song’s writers were Larry Kusik and Don Wolf. Kusik penned nearly 300 songs, including “As If I Didn’t Know” for Adam Wade. Wolf wrote half as many songs, but one of them was a set of lyrics for Santo & Johnny’s “Sleep Walk.”

My copy of the 45, Kapp K-448, is a white-label DJ copy. I know one other person who owned this record, Joe Katz. Finding that he and his children loved this song as much as I did was an amazing experience. Now I’m giving it to you for a listen, and I hope you dig it as well.

A note about the track: Bear Family did an impeccable job of remastering the Jackson masters, but the stereo rendering has Jerry’s vocals in one channel rather than centered. Since I was used to the mono single, I took the track and doubled the drums, then moved the vocals to the center. It’s still in stereo, but if you want the original Bear Family stereo mix, do them (and Jerry) the favor of buying this really superb 24-track collection.

When you listen to the song, be sure to listen to the whole fadeout. It's a fun song to the very last second.

On Saturday, I’ll reach another post I’ve been looking forward to writing. It’s the B side of “La Dee Dah,” but this time, the songwriter is the key to my experience. See you on the flip side!

Jerry Jackson, La Dee Dah (Ha Ha Ha)

1 comment:

thomasherrod said...

Hey, thanks for the info on Jerry Jackson. I recently found the Columbia 45 -'Always' really fantastic. With the exception of perhaps a few Johnny Nash sides, 'Always' has such a great Ska and soul sound I havent come across in other records from the mid 60s. Love it