Category Archives: Questions

Jackie Wilson’s diction

Sixty Minute Man” featured a bass lead and was a major hit for Billy Ward and His Dominoes. After some time, Ward wrote a sequel to the song called “Can’t Do Sixty No More.” This song was recorded after Jackie Wilson joined the quartet, but again, it featured a bass lead. Eventually, Ward wrote a tune that more or less formed a trilogy with these songs but featured Our Hero on the lead vocal, “That’s How You Know You’re Growing Old.”

One of my longstanding, nagging questions related to a Jackie Wilson vocal arose from this recording. Jackie developed beautiful diction under Ward’s tutelage, but this particular song, recorded well into Jackie’s tenure with the quartet, contained words I could not decipher. Thanks to my friend Dennis West, I now have the lyrics straight. And thanks to my friend Extinct 327, it is now available again on YouTube.

“That’s How You Know You’re Growing Old”
(Words and music by Billy Ward)

Look out, then, that’s how you know you’re growing old!

She wants to tease you
She wants to squeeze you
She whispers, “Love me, Baby”
You’re getting sleepy
You’re feeling creaky
You only whisper, “Uh, uh, maybe”
That’s how you know
That’s how you know you’re growing old

Chorus:
Lover, lover, lover, lover, lover, lover, lover, lover
You’re at the end of your road
Like old Jack Horner in the corner
Lay down your heavy load, load
That’s how you know
That’s how you know you’re growing old.

She loves the moon rise
Up in the June skies
It makes her feel so grooo-vy
You get no kicks, man
You’re in a fix, man
You want to see a movie
That’s how you know
That’s how you know you’re growing old

Jackie was “The Man”

Apparently fans already have Jackie’s tie and cufflinks

Dick Jacobs said that one of Jackie Wilson’s singles contained a splice from a different take because Nat Tarnopol accidentally erased part of the master. From the first time I heard “Am I the Man,” I have always thought there was some very minor glitch just as Jackie launches into the bridge the second time. You can hear it on this YouTube posting between the 1:30-1:33 points.

Anyone agree or have a different opinion about which recording Tarnopol screwed up in this particular fashion? Yeah, I know, Tarnopol   screwed up Jackie’s whole career, but here I am just concentrating on the recording he marred while playing with the studio equipment.

Next question: Who is the guitarist in the photo? Any chance it is Billy (Roquel) Davis, aka Tyran Carlo, songwriter and record producer? I’ve only seen a few photos of Billy Davis, and they dated from at least twenty years after he would have worked with Jackie.

Brown-eyed handsome men (Part Two)

Note: In the months since I posted this article, I have been discussing the Little Rock concert with Jesse Belvin Jr and others, sharing information and contacts. Having found significant errors in the reporting done by Eric Lenaburg, I no longer have faith in any of the information he provided. (For example, I have discovered that Jackie Wilson was indeed, as one would have expected, the headliner for the event.) As my own research progresses, I may revise or delete this article. As of now, I caution readers against accepting Lenaburg’s assertions, including even the assertion that the concert’s audience was integrated. I have now changed the font of these portions of the article to “strikethrough.” Needless to add, the questions I posed at the article’s conclusion are now more complicated.

In Part One of this posting, I mentioned that “Brown-Eyed Handsome Man” was not the only popular song to reflect the realities of race in America during 1955-1968, the years of the African American Civil Rights Movement.

In July 1958, Anthony Gourdine charted the first hit of many he made with his group, Little Anthony and the Imperials. The A-side, “Tears on My Pillow,” became the group’s signature tune; however, the B-side, written by the group’s own Ernest Wright, got ample play and became a performance staple for the group. “Two People in the World” has very few words, but its point cannot be missed or misinterpreted: The voice is male and Black. The Great Taboo was on the turntables again.

Little Anthony and the Imperials circa 2011

[Note: I could not find a YouTube posting of the original B-side version, but there is a wonderful alternate version here and an utterly spectacular live a cappella performance by the group which must have occurred sometime after 2010, given the lineup. Ernest Wright (second from the left) and Anthony would be close to seventy years old. If you are young and do not already know why so many of us old people love doo wop and revere its singers, either of these performances should provide all the necessary explanation.]

There are just two kinds of people in the world
Why can’t we fall in love?
There are just two kinds of people in the world
They are a boy and girl

Little Anthony and the Imperials hailed from New York City, of course, but the tune I want to direct attention to next was recorded in the state of Texas by southern white guys.

Running Bear and Little White Dove. You can find numerous postings of the Johnny Preston recording of “Running Bear” on YouTube, and I will let you take your pick of them. Although many of the videos “illustrate” the song, the fascinating thing is that not one of these renderings alludes to the song’s actual subject matter. Maybe the creators of these videos are too young to know the song’s context.

When this song was No. 1 in the nation, none of us listening to it thought the lovers were Native Americans. Little White Dove was white and Running Bear was Black, and the river in which they drowned was racism. The river had no bridge, so young love perished.

[Update: There is now a YouTube post of Johnny Preston doing a lip sync of the song on Dick Clark’s Beechnut gum show.]

Running Bear
(Words and music by J P Richardson)

On the bank of the river
Stood Running Bear
Young Indian brave
On the other side of the river
Stood his lovely Indian maid
Little White Dove was-a her name
Such a lovely sight to see
But their tribes fought with each other
So their love could never be

Running Bear loved Little White Dove
With a love big as the sky
Running Bear loved Little White Dove
With a love that couldn’t die

He couldn’t swim the raging river
‘Cause the river was too wide
He couldn’t reach the Little White Dove
Waiting on the other side
In the moonlight he could see her
Blowing kisses ‘cross the waves
Her little heart was beating faster
Waiting there for her brave

Running Bear loved Little White Dove
With a love big as the sky
Running Bear loved Little White Dove
With a love that couldn’t die

Running Bear dove in the water
Little White Dove did the same
And they swam out to each other
Through the swirling stream they came
As their heads touched and their lips met
The raging river pulled them down
Now they’ll always be together
In that happy hunting ground

Running Bear loved Little White Dove
With a love big as the sky
Running Bear loved Little White Dove
With a love that couldn’t die

J P Richarson aka The Big Bopper

J P Richarson aka The Big Bopper

“Running Bear” was written by J P Richardson, who was better known as The Big Bopper and, unfortunately, was best known for dying in the same plane crash as Buddy Holly. In life Richardson was a talented and sensitive young man who had become a disc jockey, a performer, and a songwriter before his death at age twenty-nine. He gave this simple but potent song to his friend Johnny Preston, who eventually had a monster hit from it. Among the voices chanting in the background of the recording are country music legend George Jones and The Big Bopper himself. Richardson, Holly, and Ritchie Valens died on February 3, 1959. Although “Running Bear” was recorded in 1958, it was not released until August 1959, and after a slow start it ended up No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 for three weeks in January 1960.

Back to Little Rock. Immediately after “Running Bear” peaked on the charts, the first-ever rock concert performed by Black entertainers to an integrated audience in Little Rock, Arkansas took place. According to investigative journalist Eric Lenaburg, when Jackie Wilson, Arthur Prysock, and Jesse Belvin took the stage the night of February 6, 1960, racists interrupted the show several times to walk through the audience and demand that white teenagers leave.

How many times do you think these same teenagers had listened to “Running Bear” and whispered about its coded lyrics in the weeks before the concert? How much do you think that song offended the racists who tried to make the young people leave?

Jesse Belvin, his wife, and their driver died as a result of a car crash after that concert. It is widely believed that someone tampered with their car, at least cutting the tires in a way that would encourage one or more blowouts once the vehicle was on the highway.

Jackie Wilson’s role in the concert. One fact Eric Lenaburg brought to light about the concert itself really startled me: Jesse Belvin, not Jackie Wilson, was the headliner. Why would a promoter have Mr. Excitement cede the stage to a balladeer? Jackie’s career was at its zenith. In the two years prior to this date, he had no fewer than six hits in the “Top Forty” (the AM deejay’s basic playlist) of the Billboard Hot 100, and two of those (“Lonely Teardrops” and “You Better Know It”) had reached #1 on Billboard’s Rhythm and Blues chart. No one was better suited to top the bill for an integrated audience. Furthermore, Jackie took pride in his stardom. Why would he agree to the lower billing?

The billing explained why Jackie Wilson was well on his way to Dallas when Jesse Belvin’s car crashed. If Jackie performed before Belvin did and was eager to leave Little Rock behind (as everyone performing that night probably was), he was free to leave earlier than Jesse and JoAnn.

But Mr. Excitement performing before Mr. Easy did not make sense . . . or did it? Jackie Wilson was a showstopper, the man promoters wanted doing the finale. That’s the reason he remained the headliner even in “oldies” revues for Murray the K and Dick Clark in the early 1970s.

Furthermore, most entertainers did not like taking the stage after Jackie. The most famous emcee of the era, Gorgeous George, said that even Sam Cooke hated to follow Jackie because Jackie’s performances left the women in a state of frenzy.

Recalling that anecdote about Sam Cooke jolted me into seeing the obvious regarding this particular concert: The last thing a promoter would want on that night was Jackie Wilson doing his Sleeping Stud variation on Sleeping Beauty (see Jackie at The Apollo) or feigning injury to induce women to run to his side to—uh—tend to his needs (see Teddy sees Jackie perform).

Of course, there could have been some humdrum reason for getting Jackie Wilson on and off the stage earlier in the show. Maybe he was nursing an injury and didn’t want to do his knee drops and back bend splits. But it would take a substantial injury for promoters to know far enough in advance that Jackie could not “go all out.”

It seems more likely that from the beginning, there was an understanding that Jackie would refrain from doing his usual provocative stage show. It also seems the event was carefully planned.

Jesse Belvin

Now I have more questions than ever about this concert. Who had the idea to put Jesse Belvin in the headliner role? Which artist was first booked for the concert? Was the decision to make Jesse the top of the bill made from the outset, or were plans changed at some point?

Why even risk having Jackie Wilson on the bill? True, Jackie had huge drawing power at the time, but if you wanted this experiment in integration to go smoothly, why not just book a tamer act?

And if the concert was planned carefully to forestall trouble, why were the performers’ cars left unprotected?

What did Jackie perform that night? Did he stick mainly to ballads in lieu of the rockers?

Jesse was to perform in Dallas, too, of course. What was the billing supposed to be at that venue? Did the tour promoters expect trouble at more than one location? Did the Dallas concert take place, or was it canceled?

How much did Jackie and Jesse know in advance about possible problems in Little Rock? How seriously did Jackie and Jesse take the potential for violence?

I hope someone who attended the Little Rock concert or the Dallas concert reads this and takes the time to get in touch. Even if you did not attend either, if you heard details from a source you consider reliable, perhaps a parent or grandparent who attended, what you know could help those of us interested in this event better understand what happened. I and others would really appreciate your efforts.

As I have said before, even memories of small details would be of interest most of all to Jesse Belvin Jr, who who lost his beautiful parents when he was only five years old.

What happened in Arkansas?

One of the first posts in this blog was about the deaths of singer Jesse Belvin, his wife, Jo Ann, and their driver in a car crash after a concert in Little Rock. Jesse Belvin, only twenty-seven at the time, was handsome, talented, and on the verge of major stardom. He had already written hit records like “Earth Angel” for the Penguins, and he himself had a major hit a year earlier with “Guess Who,” a ballad he and Jo Ann wrote together.

First post on Belvin. The original post introduced you to Jesse Belvin’s beautiful voice. Please check it out if you have not listened to him before. Like Jackie Wilson, Belvin did some of his best work with a full orchestra backing him. Not only did he have a great voice, but he was also a great interpreter of songs, especially love songs.

That post also recounted some of the questions that have bothered me over the years since Belvin’s death—questions about the concert, the widely different reports of it, Jackie Wilson’s involvement in the events, and the account Etta James gave in her autobiography, Rage to Survive.

Until I read the Etta James account, I suspected, as many others had, that foul play was involved in the deaths that night. I had read that the tires of the Belvin vehicle had been cut and that Jackie Wilson’s car, which left Little Rock before the Belvins departed, suffered flats on the way to Dallas that may have been caused by cuts. But James, who loved her friend Jesse Belvin dearly, seemed to put rumors to rest by stating unequivocally that the driver caused the crash by falling asleep. Still, I think many of us wonder what really happened.

Jesse Belvin Jr. Jesse Belvin’s son and namesake is also a singer. I particularly enjoy his rendition of “Fever.” Over on YouTube, I commented on a video of the recording the singer had posted, and he thanked me, adding that he liked my screen name, JackieWilsonLover, and telling me that Jackie Wilson had been a very dear friend to his father.


This thoughtful little statement made a deep impression on me. Yes, I reflected, I have wondered for many years what happened after the concert that night, but I am just a music fan. What must it have been like for the five-year-old boy that Jesse and Jo Ann left behind, growing to manhood in a racist society, wondering what really happened to his beautiful parents? I pray the day comes when Jesse Belvin Jr can have answers to the many questions he must have.

I have been able to find answers to one or two of my questions, but even as some of my questions are answered, the most important ones are still there. Most of all, I wish that Jesse Belvin Jr could know more about what happened that night more than fifty years ago.

Little Rock and racism. A little more detail may be helpful here, particularly for readers who are not from the United States. At the beginning of the 1957 school year, Little Rock, a small town but the capital city of the state of Arkansas, was one of the best known cities in America.

Why? The governor of Arkansas, a man named Orville Faubus, stood in front of the doors of Central High School to bar African American students from entering the building. This was in direct defiance of a court order to enroll these students.

Prior to this time in the southern United States, white students went to school only with other white students, while African American students, at that time called Negroes, attended their “own” very inferior schools. All the schools were public schools financed with tax dollars. The local governments that ran the schools kept the schools segregated until federal courts ordered integration.

This Arkansas “school desegregation case” is one of the best-known stories in the history of the American Civil Rights movement. It transformed Little Rock into a symbol of racism. In fact, for most Americans, racism remained the primary association with the state of Arkansas until Bill Clinton ran for President more than thirty years later.

Concert. The event at which Jesse Belvin last sang took place February 6, 1960. Jackie Wilson and Arthur Prysock also appeared that night for what was to be the first rock concert performed in front of an integrated audience—not the two separate, segregated “dance concerts” that were mentioned in some accounts.

Because Jackie Wilson did appear at the concert, the old story that he refused to perform for a white audience is false.

Car crash. The automobile in which the Belvins left Little Rock crashed on the highway passing the nearby town of Hope, which years later became famous as the hometown of Bill Clinton. Indeed, in his first presidential campaign, Bill Clinton was dubbed “The Man From Hope.”

Local newspapers reported that the Belvin vehicle collided head-on with a car carrying two white people who, like Jesse Belvin and his driver, died at the scene of the crash. Jo Ann Belvin was taken to a hospital where she soon succumbed to her massive injuries.

Did you see the concert? If you attended the concert that night, please share what you remember of the evening. Anything remembered about the concert itself, even down to what the performers sang or did as part of their stage acts, whether they signed autographs, or how the audience reacted to their performances, helps complete the picture of that night. All his life, Jesse Belvin Jr has tried to learn as much as possible about the events surrounding the deaths of his parents. If describing what you saw and heard that night serves no other purpose, it is a way to let Jesse Belvin Jr know there are people who care about what happened to his parents—and people who care about him, a man whose lifelong memories of his mother and father must always be bittersweet.

Sam Cooke gets a dance lesson

One marvelous bit of fun available on YouTube is this clip of Jackie Wilson and and his good friend Sam Cooke, who is supposed to be performing a lip synchronization of his recording “Everybody Loves to Cha Cha Cha.”

 

There are dozens and dozens of comments on YouTube about the video segment. Most of them are remarks about how wonderful it is that someone preserved this light-hearted moment between two of the greatest singers in history, how handsome they both are, how enormously talented they were, and how tragic that both their careers ended so much too soon.

What’s going on in the video. Some comments, however, indicate serious misunderstanding of what is happening. Some younger viewers think this video has another, “original” track, that it’s a video of a live performance, or that the video was made to deliberately mislead people.

In truth, when the camera light came on, Sam Cooke assumed he was just doing another day’s work, performing a routine task for a Sixties recording artist on tour: stop by the local television station, maybe record a brief interview, and make a lip synchronization video of your recent hit in the setting of the local teen dance party show. Only this time, Sam’s good friend caught him by surprise and provided a lesson in the cha cha cha.

The history of this video is covered in a book. The venue was Memphis, and the local television program was Talent Party. George Klein, who became host of the show in 1964, has written a book entitled Elvis, My Best Man: Radio Days, Rock ‘n’ Roll Nights, and My Lifelong Friendship with Elvis Presley, and one of the chapters is about Klein hosting Talent Party, a gig he landed with a little help from Elvis.

The program had at one point been a typical sort of local version of American Bandstand, but according to Klein, the station decided to stop having teenagers dance on the show due to fear that whites and Blacks would start dancing together on live television.

I am skeptical about some of the facts given in this excerpt, but I will reserve my comments and questions until you have the chance to read it.

One of my favorite Talent Party moments occurred in my first year as host, when, with the help of Wink Martindale, I got Sam Cooke booked to do the show. He was coming through Memphis as part of a co-headlining tour with Jackie Wilson, in which they’d take turns city-by-city as to who opened and who closed that night’s show. I’d met Sam before at a show at Ellis [Auditorium], and we got along well enough that I decided to ask him for a favor: I wondered if he’d invite Jackie Wilson to come along with us. Sam did, and Jackie said yes, though Sam gave me a firm warning: “Jackie loves the ladies, and if you don’t lead him by the hand out of here after the show, you can forget about seeing him again tonight.”

I worked hard to get them both to the studio quickly after the show, and couldn’t wait to shoot a couple songs each with such great talents. But as Sam was doing a practice take of his song “Everybody Loves to Cha Cha Cha,” I noticed that Jackie was mouthing along with every word and I got an idea.

“Jackie, you really know Sam’s stuff,” I said.

“Man, we’re like brothers. I know everything he’s ever done.”

“Well, tell me what you think of this. When we start really shooting this one, why don’t you sneak around back, and when Sam’s done with the first verse, you pop through the curtains and take over the song.”

Jackie loved the idea, and while he certainly surprised the heck out of Sam, Sam loved it too, and they were both having a ball as they tried to match each other line for line and dance move for dance move. Footage of the magical moment is still out there on the Internet, and you can’t help but smile when you see the smiles on their faces.

The date of the video. So here is my problem: I have trouble believing that this clip is from 1964. The date “1960” appears at the conclusion of the clip, and that makes sense, as Jackie and Sam were definitely touring the South together that year.

The date “1964” does not make sense. “Everybody Loves to Cha Cha Cha” was a hit in 1959, when it reached position #31 on the Billboard Hot Hundred. Between the success of “Cha Cha Cha” and 1964, Sam Cooke placed fifteen hits on that same chart, and ten of those were in the coveted Top Twenty. Why would he be making a lip synch clip for an old song that was a lesser hit? The record business then was about selling what was current. Artists promoted the vinyl available in the record stores.

Klein’s claim. Well, what if the correct date is 1960, and 1964 is just a typographical error in the book, or perhaps a mental slip of the author’s memory? Sorry, but neither of those explanations work. Klein took over the show in 1964, and his book makes the claim that he integrated the program that year, putting on the program’s first Black artist, Fats Domino. I’m not certain of many things in life, but I think both Jackie Wilson and Sam Cooke were African Americans. If Klein’s claim to integrating Talent Party was to hold up, he had to explain away a video that was available on the Internet at the time his book was being published.

So the issue becomes this: did Klein make up his part in producing this historic video clip, or is his account accurate? His position would be bolstered if Sam and Jackie toured the South together again in 1964. I do not happen to know that they did that, but maybe someone reading this will know.

There would still be, however, the awkward matter of the date at the end of the video segment.

Is the history of American music “real” history? Why am I making a fuss about this? After all, isn’t it just a bit of “infotainment”?

For me, no. I take the history of music seriously, particularly the history of American popular music of the Fifties and Sixties, when badly exploited Black artists did so much to raise the consciousness of young white teenagers about racism.

Jackie Wilson and Sam Cooke were not only two massively talented, hard-working men who created great music: they were also flesh-and-blood human beings living in a land where success was segregated and a second-class experience for them, two singers every bit as great and arguably better than Frank Sinatra or Elvis Presley. We owe it to what they achieved and to their memories to get their stories straight.

Does anyone reading this know if Sam and Jackie toured together again in 1964? Does anyone reading this have any further information on the making of this wonderful video clip?

On Jackie’s scent

What aftershave/scent did Jackie Wilson wear? I have faith that at some point, somebody reading this will know the answer to this question, which has been on my mind since I saw him on The Ed Sullivan Show the first time in 1960.

Jackie WilsonAt that time I was about thirteen years old, and my mother had just started permitting me to take the bus downtown alone to go to the public library or do some shopping. Timidly at first, I started going to the department store counters that displayed the small selection of men’s fragrances that were being manufactured in those days, trying to guess. Which one would Jackie Wilson wear? I always told the clerks (as though they cared) that I was shopping for a new scent to surprise my father for his birthday or Father’s Day because I could no longer bear the smell of Old Spice.

The number of men’s fragrances on offer did increase rapidly in the early Sixties, and before I gave up this practice, I think all the following were available, if it helps jog anyone’s memory: English Leather, Vetiver, Canoe, Moustache, Hai Karate, Brut, Aqua Velva, Jovan Musk, Bay Rum, British Sterling, Equipage, Jade East, Eau Sauvage, Pour Monsieur, and Aramis.

What scent did Jackie Wilson wear?

Please don’t tell me he wore Old Spice like my father.

Bruised . . . and beaten?

If you study Jackie’s face carefully as he sings “The Way I Am,” the video reveals something unpleasant, possibly disturbing, in the midst of all the fun.

Throughout the video, Jackie is winking, rolling his eyes, and smiling. If you focus on it, however, you can see that his left eye (to the right side of the screen as we view it) is badly bruised. I am still trying to find out what happened.

Jackie Wilson black eye

Jackie’s bruised eye

Does anyone reading this know what happened? Does anyone know when this video was filmed? The movie came out in 1961, but it may have been completed earlier. There is a story that in late 1960 Jackie was badly beaten before a concert in Texas. Is this the result of that beating? Did any of you reading this see that Texas concert?

The story is reported in that famous biography of Jackie Wilson, but the source for the story appears to be Johnny Collins, who may not be reliable. He claims racists beat Jackie brutally because they were upset to hear white women talking about wanting to rush the stage to touch Jackie.

The story continues that the assailants forced Jackie to take the stage wearing the bloody clothing he had on during the beating, that he completed the concert, sarcastically thanking the guys who “kissed” him, and was taken to the emergency room after the show.

Is all or part of this fiction?