Saturday, December 6, 2008

The Next Big Reindeer Craze

As an indication of how this week has gone, let me tell you that, on Wednesday evening, I was walking toward my car in the parking lot of my apartment complex. The pavement was completely dry. Except, of course, for a saucer-sized spot of hard ice from a beverage that had been poured onto the asphalt. I skidded on it, hyperextended my knee, twisted my ankle, and landed on my hip. The good news: only one leg was involved. The bad news: that was the good news for the week.

I will contrast that story with the fact that, no matter how awful the economy is or how bleak a particular year may seem, I always have good memories of Christmas celebrations. Many people hate Christmas because they have to gather with people they don’t like, or they feel obligated to buy presents they can’t afford. I understand the pressures; I almost bailed on a Christmas event where my stepmom made me drive to the store six times in three hours for things she had forgotten she needed.

I am, therefore, grateful that my first seven Christmases were so darn good. I hope to capture some Super 8mm footage of those years and YouTube it so I can link to it on this blog. We’ll see how that goes.

Regular readers won’t be surprised to learn that some of my best Christmas memories involve music. I already posted audio of 1963, when I got an upgrade in audio equipment, as well as a bunch o’records. In 1965, Uncle Tom came over, and soon I heard a record playing. I ran to the record player, and it wasn’t on. I ran to the source of the sound, and I found a suitcase-sized Magnavox stereo with detachable speakers and an automatic Garrard record changer. Stereo. I had never heard stereo up close until then.

Most of my Christmas music was on LPs, and all of those LPs and every Christmas-themed 45 I owned succumbed to the Great Vinyl Meltdown. I owned a Bravo Records mono LP of Christmas music, a 20th Century Fox LP that included my favorite version of “Away in a Manger,” and two LPs that will get their due before Santa arrives this year.

I have managed to retrieve three recordings of Christmas-themed songs that I owned on 45 or 78. One of them was the flip side of Lennie LaCour’s “No Privacy.” At this time of year, three-year-old caithiseach was playing “Twinkle Toes (The Christmas Cha Cha)” (Lucky Four 1001) on a fairly regular basis.

Considering that one famous artist has rendered the term Amer***n P*e unusable by anyone but himself without a license, it strikes me as odd that Lennie LaCour could write and record a song that adds to the Rudolph mythos. This recording predates the 1964 Burl Ives television special, but it still plays off the Johnny Marks composition enough to be considered a derivative work for copyright purposes. I’m not going to dig to discover any possible lawsuits or settlements; I suspect that Twinkle Toes flew so far under the Reindar that Marks never learned of its existence.

The premise of the story is that Rudolph hooked up with Vixen, and the nose light that caused Rudolph so much childhood grief somehow showed up in Twinkle Toes’s hooves. Santa “gets more light from Twinkle Toes,” so the kid comes in handy on Christmas Eve.

I said last time that I remembered the name of the Lucky Four label, as well as this title, “Twinkle Toes.” I didn’t connect them until I searched for both of them and found intersecting links. I couldn’t remember the tune to “Twinkle Toes” until I put the 45 on, but after the first two guitar notes, the whole memory returned. I love it when that happens.

I discovered an odd thing about that purchase today. At Terry Gordon's Lennie LaCour page, there is a link to a label scan of “No Privacy.” “Twinkle Toes” is not scanned there, so I pulled out my 45 today. The “No Privacy” side looked familiar, so I compared it to the scan online. Sure enough, there is a handwritten “10” and a bit of tape adhesive on both the scan and the 45 I own. So, it seems that Udo Frank scanned the label, then either sold me the 45 by mail or unloaded it on a dealer. Either way, I own THE official copy of Lucky Four 1001.

I also learned more about Lennie LaCour. I said on Wednesday that he seemed to have let his compositions lapse with BMI. I was wrong. Wrong, I tell you! Despite having entered his name under various permutations, I gave up too soon. A BMI search for “Twinkle Toes” unearthed 31 titles, and I didn’t catch his version. Today, I looked up his co-writer for “Twinkle Toes,” Carrie Fraley, and it all became clear. Lennie is now an ASCAP writer, it seems (though I searched for him there as well), but his early material is registered with BMI. Carrie Fraley is still a BMI-listed writer, and she has 55 titles to her credit, including several more with Lennie. I couldn’t find any details on her.

I forgot to mention last time that Lennie’s big break came when he won a jingle contest for Orange Crush, the inimitable orange soda that I hereby endorse free of charge. Get yours at Kmart or selected Walmarts or, if you never moved out of Indiana, darn near any store in the state. Orange Crush distributed Lennie’s debut 78, “Rock N Roll Romance,” in 1955. Carrie Fraley co-wrote that tune, so their collaboration lasted a number of years.

Now that I have filled in that gap, it’s onward from the early 1960s. Once Lucky Four stopped being lucky for Lennie, he did what every Louisiana-to-Chicago music mogul does: he went to Milwaukee. There, he ran the labels Dynamic Sound and Magic Touch. He produced the Ethics, later known as the Invasion, and Attila and the Huns, whom Lennie renamed as Filet of Soul. Lennie got Chess records interested in the band, and when Chess didn’t want to release the album he had produced, Lennie bought the rights and released the album himself. The entire intriguing story is here.

Lennie did disco in the 1970s, and at some point in the 1970s he started billing himself as King Creole. He seems to have been on the trailing edge of most of the trends for which he wrote novelty tunes, but he’s getting a decent amount of respect these days.

Why? Check it out: Night Train International (Tuff City) just released (November 2008!) a 25-track CD compilation of Lennie’s work, Walkin’ the Bullfrog (Night Train 7160). You can find “No Privacy” and “Twinkle Toes” there. Lennie, as Lenny, contributed to the liner notes. At 76, he’s still going strong. I know what I’m getting myself for Christmas. If you like the 45 I put up here at all, you should make Lennie’s year by buying the CD as well.

So, that’s Lennie. He and I go back to 1962, though he doesn’t know it. I should write to him to tell him that I made a fool of myself when the family was talking about Rudolph and the other reindeer, and I brought up Twinkle Toes. “Who?” everyone asked. Oh, well.

I’m going to make a special post for Monday, then it’s back to business as usual with another oddball Christmas 45 I lost to the sun. See you Monday and Wednesday!

Lennie LaCour, Twinkle Toes

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