Tag Archives: 1960

Another little mystery

So I’m over at Funky 16 Corners not too long ago, digging what my friend Larry had cued up.

He’d dropped both sides of “Do What You Wanna Do,” a single I’d never heard, from Frank Howard and the Continentals, a group I’d never heard of.

When I think of Frank Howard, I think of the guy who used to play baseball for the Washington Senators. The guy whose cocktail lounge — and that’s what it was, a lounge, and not a bar — I used frequent in the early ’80s. But I digress.

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Barely 20 seconds into “Do What You Wanna Do (Part I),” an obscure 1969 single on the DeLuxe label, I got an odd sense of deja vu. I’d heard this before. More precisely, I’d heard this bass line before. But where?

So I played it over and over, wracking my brain, trying to solve that little mystery. After about 20 minutes, it rolled into my head. Oh, I heard it here.

blasters lp 1981

“I’m Shakin’,” the Blasters, from “The Blasters,” 1981. The LP appears to be out of print but the song is available digitally.

Instead of the bass line, it’s the sax line, but it’s the same.

Wanting to accurately document this for Larry, I did a little digging and found this was a cover of a Little Willie John song from 1960. Which I’d never realized. Just never paid all that much attention 30 years ago, when this was one of my favorite LPs, getting lots of time on the turntable.

Then along comes my friend Derek, who’s sending out the “daily” portion of his equally wonderful Derek’s Daily 45 blog in a blaze of glory this month.

On the second day of his retrospective, The Best of Daily 45, Part 2, Derek dropped this, the final clue to that little mystery.

im shakin little willie john

It was Little Willie John’s original 1960 version from the King 7-inch, which I’d never heard. Same sax line.

And that is how you solve a little mystery. With a little help from your friends.

(Now why Larry and Derek, little-known but influential curators and champions of little-known but influential American popular music, are not getting MacArthur Fellowships — the genius grants — is another little mystery.)

Please visit our other blog, The Midnight Tracker, for more vintage vinyl, one side at a time.

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Filed under October 2013, Sounds

Picture this: Found just in time

My dad and I hit the road on Labor Day, a trip that yielded some nice surprises. Not long after we arrived at my aunt’s house for a visit, she handed me a small album full of old family pictures.

Janet and I are celebrating our 25th wedding anniversary, and our wedding was in those pictures. This picture, our first dance, was among them.

The only pictures we have from that Labor Day weekend bash in 1987 were taken by family and friends. The photographer we hired was mortified to find, after the fact, that there were no pictures from our wedding. Technical difficulties.

We showed this picture to Evan, our 17-year-old son. He looked at it and said: “Nice amp.”

And now, the rest of that story.

Janet has long had a wonderful gift for handling my many quirks with patience and grace. She needed it as we planned the wedding. Then as now, we had a big record collection. I thought it would be fun to have the music at the reception come from our albums. So we did that.

If I could do it over, we would hire a band instead of renting a sound system with that “nice amp” and tell that clueless music nerd where to stick his mix tapes. They were dreadful.

After hearing what likely was one too many Dave Edmunds song, quite possibly “I Knew The Bride,” Janet’s aunt asked whether we had anything besides “that cowboy music.” Aunt June was right. How bad was it? The Georgia Satellites’ “Keep Your Hands To Yourself” was on one of those mix tapes. Gahhhhh.

By the end of the evening, one of our guests had become so weary of our mix tapes that he went out to his car, grabbed a Springsteen tape and demanded we play it instead. At that point, we turned off the sound system and adjourned to a bar for the rest of the night.

If I could do it over, our first dance would be to something more sophisticated than Elvis Presley’s “Can’t Help Falling In Love.” At the time, I was really into Elvis. Again, gahhhhh.

It would have been more fun for everyone — and Aunt June probably would have approved — had we danced our first dance to this.

“Just In Time,” Dean Martin, from “This Time I’m Swingin’!” 1960. He’s backed by a wonderful big band led by the incomparable Nelson Riddle. Its big horns evoke the nightclub era at its peak. (This rip is from “The Best Of Dean Martin,” a 1966 compilation on Capitol Records.)

Just in time, I found you just in time

Janet has long loved old musicals, and this tune comes from “Bells Are Ringing,” the 1956 Broadway musical. Few songs have a pedigree better than this one. Jule Styne wrote the music. Betty Comden and Adolph Green wrote the lyrics.

You found me just in time
And changed my lonely life that lucky day

This was cut at the Capitol Recording Studio in Hollywood on May 17, 1960, the last day of a nine-day session during which Dino was really in a groove.

The LP is out of print but the song is available on “Dino: The Essential Dean Martin,” a Capitol CD that lives up to its billing. It was re-released last year with six tracks added to the original 2004 release.

Please visit our other blog, The Midnight Tracker, for more vintage vinyl, one side at a time.

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Filed under September 2012, Sounds

Your pregame marching orders

Attention, Green Bay Packers fans.

Bart Starr would like to have a few words with you.

“Go! You Packers Go!” the National Football League Marching Band, from “The National Football League Marching Songs,” 1960. It’s out of print.

I have never seen this record but would love to have it.

Many thanks to WFMU for posting the entire album back in September 2008.

According to Hear It Wow’s post, “Television conductor and composer Bernie Green handled the conducting chores for this, which was recorded in an impressive two days.”

You may now return to your pregame festivities.

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Filed under January 2011, Sounds

You never can tell

She was right. I was wrong.

When it was announced a while back that Chuck Berry would be playing a gig at our local casino, I was skeptical. Now 82, he rarely plays outside of St. Louis, where he lives. I bought tickets, but I figured it was 50-50 that the show ever would take place.

When I heard he was playing a benefit in New Orleans on the night before he was to play here, I became doubly skeptical. No way does he make all those trips. Our paper’s entertainment writer, who’d asked me to cover the show, said she was sure he’d make it. I wasn’t so sure.

With Chuck Berry, you never can tell.

But there he was on Sunday night, on stage in the ballroom at our local casino. It was terrific, even if it wasn’t perfect, especially because it wasn’t perfect. Here’s a little of what I wrote for the paper:

“Chuck Berry played a show here on Sunday night that won’t soon be forgotten. …

“Was it that he opened with a little ‘Roll Over Beethoven,’ then a little ‘’Round and ‘Round,’ then a little ‘Sweet Little Sixteen,’ all played only slightly faster than a shuffle pace … then announced: “If you guarantee at this moment that we are in tune, we would like to open our show.”

“Speaking of which, was it that Berry’s guitar seemed to lurch in and out of tune as he jumped from song to song?

“Was it that Berry was in fine voice and genially accepted requests all night long … then never performed a song in its entirety?

“Was it that his backing band – two young guys on piano and drums and an older, more familiar cat on bass – gamely tried to keep up as Berry played a little of this, a little of that, perhaps only Berry knowing where he was headed, and in which key.

“Was it that Berry played for roughly an hour … or played roughly for an hour?”

I had only a fan’s access, so I don’t know whether Berry’s backing band was a group of locals who could play his songs, as contractually required. I suspect so. I recall Bruce Springsteen’s story of backing Berry, told in the 1987 film “Chuck Berry Hail! Hail! Rock ‘n’ Roll,” and it rang true. Knowing that only made this show all the more enjoyable.

Berry played bits and pieces of almost everything you’d want to hear, closed “Memphis” with a sassy little strut and started his exit from the stage with — what else? — a short duck walk.

And, yeah, he still can play the guitar like a ringing a bell.

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“Bye Bye Johnny,” Chuck Berry, 1960, from “Chuck Berry’s Golden Decade,” 1967. My vinyl copy is a 1972 reissue. It’s out of print. This tune, a follow-up to “Johnny B. Goode,” is available on “The Chess Box: Chuck Berry,” released in 1990. The 3-CD set is $30 and well worth it.

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Filed under June 2009, Sounds

Motown by Motown

Today is the 50th anniversary of the founding of the legendary Motown Records in Detroit.

Today we have the early Motown story, told by those who lived it.

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“The Motown Story” came into the house when Janet and I merged our record collections. She bought it in the early ’80s, when the soundtrack to “The Big Chill” revived interest in classic Motown tunes.

What Janet bought so long ago is a five-LP box set that was released in 1970. It’s hanging on for dear life, having survived a memorable party in the early ’80s. The box is battered. The booklet that came with it is long gone. When I opened it last week, three of the LPs had one kind of sleeve, one had another kind of sleeve and one had no sleeve.

“The Motown Story” is essentially an audio documentary, complete with a narrator, sound bites from the performers and near-complete versions of 58 of Motown’s biggest hits from its first decade.

What makes this set so special almost 40 years on is that we get to hear Motown performers tell their stories in their own words. The cuts that follow have spoken intros or outros and, at times, end a little abruptly.

“Detroit, Michigan!
“Motor Town! Motown!
“This is the Motown sound!”

— Charlie Van Dyke, the narrator

“We, uh, really dug the type of things that reflected, uh, the society.”

— Motown Record Corp. founder Berry Gordy, 1970.

“We were just kind of a, like a small company then, you know, most of the employees were musically inclined.”

— “Money,” Barrett Strong, 1960.

“I was trying to find myself and I didn’t quite know where, where I was, or where I wanted to go, and, uh, Smokey Robinson, who is probably, uh, the greatest living poet, kind of pulled me up out of, uh, out of my depression at that time.”

— “I’ll Be Doggone,” Marvin Gaye, 1965.

“The ideas come from experience, so maybe my surrounding has a lot to do with the, the way I would write a song.”

— “Uptight (Everything’s Alright),” Stevie Wonder, 1965.

“I don’t, I don’t consider myself as being a heck of a singer, man. I’m more of a stylist, if you will. … I like to live what I, what I do, and, you know, with the performances, you know, I like to live ’em.” (Levi Stubbs)

— “Reach Out I’ll Be There,” the Four Tops, 1966.

“‘Standing In the Shadows Of Love,’ is, uh, it’s hard for me to describe that tune. At first I couldn’t, I couldn’t get a, get a feeling for it.” (Levi Stubbs)

“‘Bernadette’ is a tune that I didn’t think I could do at all. You know, it really didn’t have a message for me until there was, there was an Italian fella came over, to teach us some Italian lyrics to this particular tune. And through his explaining, uh, you know, about what some of the various words meant, you know, and the significance of them in Italian, it gave me a better outlook on, on the thing. And, uh, through that, I was able to get a little message across.” (Levi Stubbs)

— “Standing In the Shadows Of Love” and “Bernadette,” the Four Tops, 1966 and 1967.

“That, um, that was a good beginning because I had no idea that, uh, Tammi was as good a singer, as, uh, she of course turned out to be.”

— “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell, 1967.

“This is when Holland-Dozier-Holland decided to go more mechanical and do weird sounds and things like that, and I believe it came about because of, uh, the Beatles era, which, um, everyone — writers, producers, singers — were influenced by the Beatles, quite a bit, I must say. … ‘Reflections’ is a very weird, weird song.” (Mary Wilson)

— “Reflections,” Diana Ross and the Supremes, 1967.

“The first date we sang, uh, professionally, uh, was at the Y, the YWCA, for a tea. And it, um, came off all right. And from there it seemed like things, we just got, um, um, nice breaks and so forth. And, uh, we didn’t have a name at the time. Everybody’s assignment was to go home and try to come up with a name that would kind of suit the group.” (A delightfully bubbly Gladys Knight)

— “I Heard It Through the Grapevine,” Gladys Knight and the Pips, 1967.

“A lot of people thought we were talking about getting high, which we weren’t. We were talking about just a state of being.” (Otis Williams)

— “Cloud Nine,” the Temptations, 1968.

“It’s so much fun working with, uhhh, the boy groups. Because, um, you kind of put them uptight and they put you uptight. In other words, it was like a challenge and everybody was trying to outdo everybody, so you came up with some great material. Especially like on ad libs and endings and stuff like that.” (Diana Ross)

— “I’m Gonna Make You Love Me,” Diana Ross and the Supremes and the Temptations, 1968.

“I never thought a great deal about ‘I Heard It Through the Grapevine,’ uh, after recording it. I had, I had no idea that it was going to sell as many records as it did. In fact, I wasn’t too optimistic about it.”

— “I Heard It Through the Grapevine,” Marvin Gaye, 1968.

“We started to recording, and I told him, I said, ‘Man, this ain’t my bag, man,’ … He said, ‘Will you just record the record, Junior?’ and I said, ‘All right, man.'” (Jr. Walker, on a persistent songwriter, likely Johnny Bristol or Harvey Fuqua)

— “What Does It Take (To Win Your Love),” Jr. Walker and the All-Stars, 1969.

“I don’t know what that is on the beginning of, uh, ‘Psychedelic Shack’ because it has that funny yow sound and then it goes into the beat, you know, but, uh, I’ve learned by being in the business and being around that, that, uh, record-buying people, they like things that’s, uh, different and sounds unusual.” (Otis Williams)

— “Psychedelic Shack,” the Temptations, 1970.

motownstory5lpset2

All from “The Motown Story,” 1970.

It’s out of print, but is available in somewhat different form as “The Motown Story, Volume 1: The 1960s.” This 2003 CD release has only 42 cuts, not 58, and doesn’t include the Berry Gordy sound bite, “I’ll Be Doggone,” “Standing In the Shadows Of Love,” “Bernadette” or “Psychedelic Shack.” It also has some cuts not on the 1970 set.

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Filed under January 2009, Sounds

The last stop: 2008

I read the obits every day. I read them in my local paper, in the papers from the towns in which I grew up and in the Los Angeles Times, which has some of the best obits. I write them, too.

I wish I would have written this line. It’s from my friend Larry over at Funky 16 Corners. It was a comment on one of my posts earlier this year:

“The first thing I do almost every day is check the New York Times obit page. Therein lie all manner of stories that would otherwise be forgotten, the last stop for really interesting people.”

Looking back at 2008, these folks made their last stop. This is my list. You have yours, and vive le difference.

Lee Sherman Dreyfus, 81, Jan. 2. LSD was Wisconsin’s governor when I was starting out in the newspaper business in the late ’70s. This former speech professor always wore a red vest and had a pencil-thin mustache. He campaigned from a school bus in 1978. I once was part of a panel of journalists … or college students … or both … at which he and the other candidate appeared. I remember nothing about it. Too much LSD, perhaps.

Howard Washington, 98, Jan. 15. The security guard at the Warner Bros. Records parking lot in Los Angeles. No, Madonna, you may not park here. You neither, Prince.

Suzanne Pleshette, 70, Jan. 19. Ooooh, those looks, that sassy attitude and that sultry, smoky voice. I always had a thing for her.

Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, 91, Feb. 5. Meet the Beatles, expand their minds.

Charlie Ryan, 92, Feb. 16. Riding that “Hot Rod Lincoln” into legend. He wrote it. (This version by Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen, from “We’ve Got a Live One Here!” 1976.)

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Jeff Healey, 41, March 2. We spent a night with Healey in Memphis in the late ’80s. We were listing to his music. It got fairly drunk out.

Gloria Shayne Baker, 84, March 6. She wrote the modern Christmas classic “Do You Hear What I Hear?”

Ivan Dixon, 76, March 16. Sgt. Kincheloe and so much more.

Bob Kames, 82, April 9. You know you want to do the Chicken Dance, made famous by this Milwaukee organist.

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Al Wilson, 68, April 21. “The Snake” and “Show and Tell” and so much more.

Here then, “The Snake,” from “Searching For the Dolphins,” 1968, (available on “Searching for the Dolphins: The Complete Soul City Recordings and More, 1967-1971.”) and “Show and Tell,” from “Show and Tell,” 1973 (available on “Show & Tell: The Best of Al Wilson,” a 2004 CD release).

Dick Martin, 86, May 24. Sock it to me? Godfather of a thousand junior high catchphrases.

Earle Hagen, 88, May 26. You know all his classic TV theme songs … and “Harlem Nocturne,” too.

Harvey Korman, 81, May 29. No, it’s Hedley Lamarr! Seeing him surrender to Tim Conway was even better.

Bo Diddley, 78, June 2. “Sixteen Tons,” my ass. Remember how he pissed off Ed Sullivan? (From “Bo Diddley is a Gunslinger,” 1960.)

George Carlin, 71, June 22. My dad found him increasingly less amusing. I found him increasingly amusing. That is how fathers’ sons start to become their own men.

shaft

Isaac Hayes, 65, Aug. 10. Imagine you are 14 and you listen to the “Shaft” soundtrack day after day. That is how a record collection starts.

Wonderful Smith, 97, Aug. 28. There was a man named Wonderful, and it was his real name. Everyone from Richard Pryor to Dave Chappelle followed in his footsteps. All this, and Spinal Tap, too.

Gilbert Moorer Jr., 67, Aug. 28. Get on up, and pay tribute to the leader of one of Milwaukee’s great soul bands of the ’60s. “Get On Up,” the Esquires, 1967, from “Get On Up: The Esquires,” a 1995 CD compilation.

Jerry Reed, 71, Sept. 1. The skinniest man I ever saw, and I watched him from backstage one night.

Don LaFontaine, 68, Sept. 1. In a world where we no longer hear his voice on movie trailers …

Norman Whitfield, 67, Sept. 16. I didn’t know his name, but his music greatly influenced the way I looked at life when I was 13.

Paul Newman, 83, Sept. 26. The essence of cool. He made a movie in our town and raced at a track in Wisconsin’s rolling hills. He drank beer. He made “Slap Shot” and “Absence of Malice.” The dressing on my Southwest salads at McDonald’s are Newman’s Own. Good enough for me.

Carmen Rocha, 77, Oct. 9. The waitress who introduced nachos to Los Angeles.

Neal Hefti, 85, Oct. 11. Give me the theme to “The Odd Couple” over the theme to “Batman.” (It’s from 1970 and from “Television’s Greatest Hits, Vol. II,” 1986, which is out of print.)

Edie Adams, 81, Oct. 15. Hey, big spender … why don’t you pick one up and smoke it some time? I’m fairly certain the slinky, sultry Miss Adams was the reason my dad smoked Muriel cigars in the ’60s.

Levi Stubbs, 72, Oct. 17. I am more a Temptations man than a Four Tops man, but I know greatness when I hear it.

Mr. Blackwell, 86, Oct. 19. How will we know who is worst dressed now that the former Richard Sylvan Selzer is gone?

Studs Terkel, 96, Oct. 31. One of America’s legendary journalists and storytellers. The voice of Chicago.

Joe Hyams, 85, Nov. 8. One of Hollywood’s great stories. A New York reporter sent west in 1951 to do a story on illegal immigrants, he did it, then was told to interview Hollywood stars if he saw any. He fell into an invitation to Humphrey Bogart’s house. Bogart offered Hyams a drink. Hyams asked for a Coke. Offended, Bogart said, “I don’t trust a journalist who doesn’t drink.” The tee-totaling Hyams told off Bogart and headed for the door. “Get back here, kid,” Bogart said, “I like you.” It was the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

Irving Brecher, 94, Nov. 17. Another of Hollywood’s great stories. One of the funniest men you never knew. He wrote for Groucho Marx. When they met in 1938, Brecher said “Hello, Mr. Marx.” Groucho responded, “Hello? That’s supposed to be a funny line? Is this the guy who’s supposed to write our movie?” Brecher shot back. “Well, I saw you say ‘hello’ in one of your movies, and I thought it was so funny I’d steal it and use it now.” Groucho smiled, bought him lunch and they were pals forever after. The New York Times’ obit recalled that Brecher once pissed off producer Darryl F. Zanuck by saying his new movie “hadn’t been released; it had escaped.”

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Guy Peellaert, 74, Nov. 17. A Belgian pop artist and a designer of album covers, among them David Bowie’s “Diamond Dogs.”

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Bob Jeter, 71, Nov. 20. He played for the Green Bay Packers, and I got his autograph when I was a kid.

Alan Gordon, 64, Nov. 22. He and Garry Bonner co-wrote “Happy Together,” a No. 1 hit for the Turtles in 1967 and one of the greatest pop songs ever. Even when done by Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention. (From “Fillmore East — June 1971,” 1971.)

Joern Utzon, 90, Nov. 29. The Danish architect who designed the Sydney Opera House. He never saw the finished building, having left Australia in a huff in 1966 after working there for four years and sparring with government officials over its cost.

Bettie Page, 85, Dec. 11. American cultural, fashion and sexual icon.

W. Mark Felt, 95, Dec. 18. The career FBI man was Deep Throat during Watergate. He helped Bob Woodward (and Carl Bernstein) bring down Nixon. I read “All the President’s Men” as a senior in high school, and it helped convince me — as if I needed convincing — that journalism would be my career. I always hoped I’d learn Deep Throat’s identity in my lifetime.

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Dock Ellis, 63, Dec. 19. He claimed to have thrown a no-hitter while on LSD in 1970. File under “Good story if true.”

Eartha Kitt, 81, Dec. 25. “Santa Baby,” of course, but also the best Catwoman ever.

Bernie Hamilton, 80. Dec. 30. Ah, Captain Dobey from the old “Starsky and Hutch” TV show. But did you know he spent the next 20 years producing R&B and gospel records on his Chocolate Snowman label — and even recorded a blues album?

Be sure you make one more round of last stops. Head over to the Locust St. blog, where Chris offers “Absent Friends,” and lots more tunes to accompany it.

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Filed under December 2008, Sounds

Three under the tree, Day 25

xmas59

Christmas is for children. Sometimes, those children never really grow up. Guilty as charged. Today, our three under the tree are children’s songs.

That’s me in the photo above. It’s Christmas 1959, and I’m sitting in the living room of our house in Ironwood, Michigan. I was 2 going on 3. I remember that Tickle Bee game. Best game ever, at least for a preschooler.

Look closely on the blackboard under the tree, you’ll see “Kangaroo” written on it. As in Captain Kangaroo. I came along before Mister Rogers, before “Sesame Street, so Captain Kangaroo and Mr. Green Jeans were my guys.

The Captain (Bob Keeshan) and Mr. Green Jeans (Hugh “Lumpy” Brannum) set up both of these tunes.

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“Sleigh Ride,” Captain Kangaroo and the Golden Sandpipers, from “Merry, Merry Christmas,” 1960.

That sounds like Thurl Ravenscroft — who sang “You’re A Mean One, Mr. Grinch” and was the voice of Tony the Tiger — on the bass parts. (However, Mark thinks otherwise. He should know. He’s posted a bunch of Thurl’s tunes at over at his fine blog, She’ll Grow Back.)

I Want A Hippopotamus For Christmas,” Captain Kangaroo, from “Merry, Merry Christmas,” 1960.

The Captain wasn’t much of a singer, but kids didn’t care. Written by John Rox, this tune was a hit for 10-year-old Gayla Peevey in 1953.

Then, in the late ’60s and early ’70s, we lived in Sheboygan, Wisconsin. There, we watched Milwaukee TV. One station — WITI, Channel 6 —  had Albert the Alley Cat.

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Albert the Alley Cat was a puppet voiced by Jack DuBlon, a legend in Milwaukee TV. He appeared on Channel 6’s children’s shows.

Albert the Alley Cat — who sounded as if he came from Brooklyn — also did the weather on Channel 6’s newscasts from 1965 to 1981. Actually, he was the weather man’s sidekick.

One year, DuBlon recorded a couple of Christmas songs as Albert the Alley Cat. He did so with the help of George Busateri, a Milwaukee musician who shares this story — and the tunes — on his web site.

“When I was first starting out in the music business, I had a gig as the music director of a morning show at WITI-TV6 in Milwaukee. The show was called “Funny Farm.” … It featured (hostess) Barbara Becker and the Jack DuBlon puppets. His star puppet was named “Albert the Alley Cat.” Al was a BIG star in Milwaukee. …

I landed the gig because of a couple of Christmas songs I co-wrote with a terrific talent by the name of Jimmy C. Hall. Jack DuBlon came in our studio one day, and wanted to record a couple of Christmas standards. We talked him out of that and wrote and recorded … two original songs. The project took about two days. I played all of the instruments and the choir consisted of studio staff and their wives.”

An unexpected and delightful surprise while putting together this post was getting a chance to chat with George Busateri. He recalls that he cut the Christmas songs with DuBlon in the early ’70s. He wrote the music and Hall wrote the lyrics.

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“Santa’s Helper,” Albert the Alley Cat, 1971, from the Key Records 7-inch single K1002. It’s out of print, but I found a copy on eBay. If memory serves, the other characters in this little story are Rocky the Gorilla and Alice the Alligator. DuBlon voiced at least a dozen characters.

If you want the flip side — “Send Me A Bit Of Home For Christmas” — head over to Busateri’s site.

One last thought: I fully realize almost no one may dig these tunes. However, there once were kids who did. That’s what drives the holidays — that kind of spirited innocence. Listen through their ears and capture a little bit of it if you can.

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Filed under Christmas music, December 2008, Sounds