Saturday, June 28, 2008

My Babysitter, Immortalized in Song

Most of the time, when three-year-old caithiseach found a bargain-bin 45 that was to his liking, he focused on one side and ignored the other. “Skin Divin’” by Eddie Rambeau was such a fun tune that I didn’t feel the need to flip the record. It was several years before I took a longer look at “(Her Name Is) Toni” (Swan 4077).

What prompted that song’s re-entry into the caithiseach playlist was a domestic shift: my parents hired a teen girl from down the street to babysit me, my little sister, and the twins. Of course, her name was Toni. By the time she came into the picture in early 1968, I could read, so I knew the song existed without having played it. I amused her (I think) with occasional plays of that 45.

I know it was early 1968 when she started babysitting us because she was a staunch Republican, a rarity at Merrillville High School during the Johnson Administration. She was gung-ho for a guy named Richard Nixon, who was vice-president when I was born. My parents almost certainly voted for Bobby Kennedy in the May 7 Indiana primary. By September, my dad said he would be voting for Humphrey. The political dialogue in the house that autumn led me to my current belief that less dialogue is more: no one in the world knows my overall political views.

Toni taught me to count to 100 in German. After I mastered that task, she gave me some of her school worksheets to practice. I could pick out some words, including Milch, but I didn’t become fluent in German then. I do suspect that the early stimulation of the language center in my brain contributed to my ability to learn other languages quickly. So, thanks, Toni, for turning me into a language freak who landed in a less-than-lucrative career.

The thing about the B side of the Eddie Rambeau single was that the recording sounded pretty bad. Normally, a well-pressed 45 on vinyl sounds a lot like the master tape, with the requisite crackles from static and careless handling. But “Toni” on styrene sounded like my Ground to Dust 45s, despite having been played maybe a dozen times. The sonic issue made me give up on the song for the most part.

When I got my replacement copy of the 45 in 2003, I played “Toni” and found the sound quality to be just as bad. When Ed Rambeau kindly sent me an mp3 of “Toni” taken from a pristine 45, the sound was still pretty rough. It wasn’t until I bought the iTunes mp3 of “Toni” that I was able to confirm that the B side of the 45 was just a low-quality pressing all the way around. The remastered mp3 sounds great. So that you can compare the 45 to the remaster, I have made a mixed version that folds the 45 into the digital at the beginning of the second verse.

I want to take a moment to revisit the artist. Frequent Commentator stackja1945 has noted that many successful music people are gracious to the people who appreciate their work. Ed Rambeau is one of them. Apart from replacing “Skin Divin’” for me with the best recording then available, he agreed later on to an interview about his time in Hair to augment a chapter in a book I’m writing.

Ed has been working a lot lately, and he has a new album coming out soon, Rambeau Safari. He has written a number of songs that explore different musical styles and lyrical themes. You would never know he was active in the 1960s from this material. There’s no throwback aspect to this CD at all.

If you were too young to see Eddie Rambeau in action, you will want to check out the video below. There is about a minute of intro from the hosts of Shindig, but finally Eddie comes on, and you can see him in action:

And something newer, his surprise reunion with Diane Renay:

“(Her Name Is) Toni” was written by Louis Leggieri Jr. He turned up on the ASCAP site with no titles to his credit, though “Toni” was affiliated with ASCAP. A BMI search shows that Mr. Leggieri has registered nearly 50 titles, none of which I recognize at first glance. He seems to be a Philadelphia native, which would make him a natural for selling songs to Swan artists.

Speaking of Swan, the label was founded in 1957 in Philadelphia and scratched out a living until 1967 as the third indie label of that city, behind Chancellor and Cameo-Parkway. Swan boasted a roster that included Billy & Lillie, the novelty act Dick(e)y Doo and the Don’ts, Freddy Cannon, and . . . the Beatles. Swan leased “She Loves You” and, though it flopped on initial release in September 1963, a newly aware teen market took the single to #1 in February, 1964.

Swan lived primarily off Freddy Cannon and “She Loves You,” but the label did release some other worthwhile 45s. You should check out the Swan 45 discography.

I meant to note last time that “Skin Divin’” featured Frank Slay and his Orchestra. Slay worked with Bob Crewe from the late 1950s on. Slay’s production work includes “Incense and Peppermints,” a bit of a change from his orchestration of “Skin Divin’.”

If you like the song I’m posting, you can get the full remaster at Rhapsody, iTunes or eMusic. A flaw occurred in the remaster of “Skin Divin’”: the opening horn notes were deleted. I just added them back on from my 45, but not everyone will have that option. As for “Toni,” I have never heard a song improve so much from vinyl to digital.

Next time, I’ll introduce you to another vocalist who ended up on Swan, and who sang with Eddie Rambeau. See you then!

Eddie Rambeau, (Her Name Is) Toni

1 comment:

zrosemarie said...

Ed Rambeau is a wonderful kind, talented man

Thank you for your lovely post

Love & Hugs
Rosemarie (Barnsley UK)
Ed's Webdesigner)