Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Debut 2

Before I head into this post, I want to expand on a point I was making last Wednesday. I said then that “the days when songwriters used three-syllable words in songs aimed at kids” were gone. I was mostly right about that, but I didn’t think in time of a counter-example. I know an excellent example of music aimed primarily at children that satisfies an adult’s wishes to hear music that is both fun and intelligent.

Kevin Kammeraad and his wife, Stephanie, are the purveyors of an incredible book with companion CD called The Tomato Collection. At their page, look down and click on “Track Listing/Listen.” You can sample as much or as little of each track as you wish.

The poetry is quirky and extremely engaging, full of three-syllable words that kids can ingest easily. The poetry of the book is set to music that is spectacularly arranged in every possible style, from Beatlesque to twelve-bar blues to . . . I mean it, every possible style. The production is stunning.

If you’ve been reading this blog, you know I like what I like. But I am not leading you astray when I tell you that I don’t know many CDs that are more entertaining than this one. The CD contains roughly 50 different songs. If it sounds as if I’m plugging a friend’s CD, I’m not. I have met Kevin and Stephanie, and they gave me valuable advice on setting up a small press. But they are friends of a friend, and they are not likely to remember me. Thus, I’m not angling for a cut of any sales here.

And now, the next topic:

At the end of August, I presented two songs by Davi, songs I had owned since 1963 but never played. I mentioned that I had another such 45, and I would bring it to you later. Now is later.

The artist is Johnny Cooper. He never scored a Hot 100 hit, but one of his singles made some headway in Chicago. “Bonnie Do” (Ermine 42) spent eight weeks being “played” at WLS, with a January 25, 1963 peak at #19. Not bad for a guy on a label that also engendered releases by Susan Dwight and the Minks, Angelo’s Angels and Freddie Montell. (Freddie has had a track anthologized, “Stop and Rock,” which was the A side of Ermine 110.)

What do I know about Johnny Cooper? As much as I was able to learn about Michael Allen, Jimmy Edwards and Davi, thanks to names that do not lend themselves to narrow online searches. There’s a Johnny Cooper who is currently recording, but the Ermine Johnny Cooper released his five singles in 1961 and 1962, so there’s not much chance that it’s the same Johnny. I find it interesting that “Bonnie Do” was not Johnny’s final 1962 release; “Oreo” (Ermine 44) was. Yet “Bonnie Do” debuted on the WLS survey in January, 1963.

Today’s previously unheard single is “Rivalry” (Ermine 37, 1961). Ermine’s discography on Global Dog indicates that Ermine 30 and 31 were released, then 32-36 were either skipped or unknown to the discographer. So “Rivalry” may be the label’s attempt to jump back into the fray. I am going to listen to the song now.

Piano reminiscent of “Love Letters in the Sand.” Matching strings come and go. Johnny Tillotson type of voice, doubled on the chorus. Not a bad set of lyrics. As for the playing surface, it’s clean from having no needles dropped on it. A pop or two from sitting in a box unsleeved for 45 years.

As was the case with Davi’s single, I don’t know what kept me from making “Rivalry” part of my playlist. The song is as good as some I played regularly. Considering that I played “Since Gary Went in the Navy” by Marcy Joe at least once a month despite not liking it much, I can’t justify blackballing this one.

John Francis “Johnny” Cooper wrote this song with Rita Blair. Johnny has 41 titles still listed with BMI, an impressive total and a sign that he wasn’t as obscure as he would seem. His songs are published now by Bill Erman Music, which tells me where the label got its name. As for Rita Blair, she co-wrote “Rivalry” and a song called “Sputnik,” which is not the song by the same name that Webb Wilder recorded. That’s all Rita Blair still has to show.

As for Bill Erman, I was able to learn from the book Chicago Soul by Robert Pruter that Erman owned at least three labels: Witch, Cortland and Ermine. The labels were in fact Chicago-based, and Erman must have worked “Bonnie Do” hard to get the Chicago clear-channel AM Top 40 station to give the song two months of airplay. Impressive. Erman owned the Diamond Coal Company, based on Cortland Avenue in Chicago, but he wrote songs (including some for Johnny Desmond) and finally decided to venture into label ownership. Witch and Cortland were his R&B labels, and Ermine was where his rock and country artists went. Overall, Cortland and Ermine, at least, did put a few songs on the outer fringes of the Chicago music map.

That’s it for now. If I find more details, I’ll bring them to you on Saturday. See you on the flip side!

Ooh, I see that this is my 100th post on the blog, for what that's worth. Thanks for letting me stick around this long.

Johnny Cooper, Rivalry


Stephanie said...

Happy 100th Blog Post...huzzah!

former lurker said...

¡Felicidades! Brindemos por 100 más. :))

And I do not know how you held out on listening to the song once you discovered its existence. When I get a new CD, even if it's one I've heard before, I trip over myself trying to get to the closest player. You are a far more patient person than I!

whiteray said...

Congrats, my friend! And another unheard tune for the landmark post. Way cool!

Yah Shure said...

Congrats on your first "hot 100!"

I liked "Rivalry" a lot. The arrangement strikes me as Johnny Tillotson singing a Jimmy Clanton tune. Except for that chorus, that it. That's where Johnny Cooper slips into his Bobby Vee costume. And that a capella start to the chorus is quite inventive, although it takes a second spin to really get the hang of it.

It does seem surprising that this made it onto the Big 89 for as many weeks as it did.