Betty Johnson

Born in North Carolina in March of 1929 (or 1931) Betty Johnson made her professional debut as a member of a group that included her parents and siblings. The Johnson Family Singers was signed up to sing on a local radio station and by 1948 Betty had obtained her own programme, in which she performed as a solo artist.

Betty’s early career as a recording artist was not a particularly successful one although she did get to work with Eddy Arnold, who was on his way to becoming one of America’s most prolific country singers. This association led to Betty being signed to RCA Victor Records, which meant that she had to relocate to Chicago.

It was while she was in Chicago that Betty released what was to become her biggest single, “I Dreamed”. “I Dreamed” was released on Bally Records, a small label. The single entered Billboard’s pop chart in late November of 1956 and reached its apex at No.9.

A cover of “Little White Lies” achieved only moderate success for her in 1957. This might have been due to the fact that the song had already been atop the hit parade in 1930 and had subsequently performed almost as admirably for Dick Haymes in 1948. Then again, listeners might not have appreciated this popular tune being sung in the style of rock.

In 1958 Betty’s last release of any significance was her recording of the novelty number, “The Little Blue Man”. While it barely entered the Top 20, the recording developed something of a cult following and remained on the chart for four months.

As a child, I loved “The Little Blue” at the time of its release and could not understand why my mother did not share my zeal. Perhaps forty years passed before I was to hear it again and had to admit to myself that it was one recording for which my adoration had all but evaporated. Another thing that struck me was just how much Betty Johnson sounded like the infinitely more popular Doris Day.

Phil Phillips

Philip Baptiste was born in Lake Charles, Louisiana, in March of 1926. Philip sang gospel in a group called The Gateway Quartet and worked as a pageboy in a hotel.

Having changed his name to Phil Phillips, he recorded “Sea Of Love”, in 1959. Phil dubbed the vocalists, who supported him on the record, The Twilights, and witnessed the single climb Billboard’s Hot 100 pop chart to peak at No.2. It also entered Billboard’s rhythm and blues chart, where it afforded him a No.1 hit.

Regardless, Phil Phillips was to receive little or no payment for the single’s success. He, therefore, turned his back on the recording industry although he did become a disc jockey, in Louisiana.

“Sea Of Love” was revived by Del Shannon, in 1981, and, in 1984-’85, the essentially British group, The Honeydrippers, experienced international success when it, too, revived the song. The Honeydrippers had as its nucleus two former members of Led Zeppelin, Robert Plant and Jimmy Page, as well as Jeff Beck, who, like Jimmy Page, had been a member of The Yardbirds, in the 1960s, before branching out on a solo career.

If you have seen the film, ‘Sea Of Love’, from 1989, you might recall that Al Pacino’s character repeatedly plays a 45 of Phil Phillips’ recording. Personally, I was focusing more on Ellen Barkin’s portrayal.

I have listed Phil Phillips’ recording of “Sea Of Love” on the list of my favourite recordings. This list is located in the suggested playlists.

Nervous Norvus

In ‘About Me’, I state that I should like to present you with, what I believe, is music of quality — I am pleased to say that many of you, via your comments, are finding this to be so — as well as tracks that might entertain. The singles by Nervous Norvus definitely, again, in my opinion, fall into the latter category. Of course, exactly how much entertainment you derive from these ‘entertaining’ tracks, depends on you, the listener.

Jimmy Drake was born, in Los Angeles, in 1912…the year the ‘Titanic’ sank. He was one of the performers to seize upon the sudden popularity of novelty recordings that arose particularly from the mid-to-the-late 1950s. Under the pseudonym,’Nervous Norvus’, Jimmy recorded numbers in this vein. Two of these recordings were to bring him almost instant fame, which was to last for not more than about six months.

“Transfusion”, was the larger of his two hits, both of which charted around the middle of 1956. It was destined not to be a success at all, for many radio stations refused to play it because of its unabashed promotion of unsafe driving practices.

Nonetheless, enough did support it and it peaked at No.8 on Billboard’s pop chart. Its reception prompted the release of the single, “Ape Call”, on which the ape calls are credited to a personality on the radio of that time, Red Blanchard. “Ape Call”, reached its zenith at No.24.

Jimmy’s alter ego was an apt one for he was extremely shy, to the extent that he declined the offer to perform “Transfusion” on the incedibly popular ‘Ed Sullivan Show’.

Jimmy Drake died, from cirrhosis of the liver, in July of 1968, at the age of fifty-six.

Another such recording from 1956 was the sole effort from Eddie Lawrence titled “The Old Philosopher”. It makes Tiki and I cringe to hear it and so we do not play it. However, recognising that listeners can possess vastly differing tastes I include it here so that you might decide for yourself. It followed hot on the heels of Nervous Norvus’s success and reached No.34 on Billboard’s pop chart.

Bo Diddley

Ellas Otha Bates — also known as Ellas McDaniel — was born in McComb, Mississippi, in 1926. However, he was to spend his formative years in Chicago.

Ellas became a classically trained violinist. He could also design and construct guitars. These included his trademark rectangular models. As a musician he drew inspiration from gospel, blues, rhythm and blues and whatever else took his fancy.

Popular music was in a state of turmoil in 1955, as rock and roll was erupting. Because no one really knew where the future of music lay, record companies were willing to take a chance on someone with a unique style and sound.

‘Bo Diddley’, as Ellas was now calling himself, cut the self-penned tracks, “Bo Diddley” and “I’m A Man”, in his first session at Chess Records, in March of that year and, in June this double A-sided single rose to No.1 on the rhythm and blues charts. ”

Bo wrote most of the songs he recorded. He is probably more famous for the influence his music had upon artists to come, as opposed to the sales his own recordings generated. In this way his music also influenced future generations.

Musical luminaries such as Buddy Holly (“Mona” and”Bo Diddley”), The Animals (“Road Runner”), The Rolling Stones (“Mona”) and The Yardbirds, and Jimi Hendrix (“I’m A Man”), and The Doors (“Who Do You Love?”) are included amongst these artists. As too, is Australian Craig McLachlan and his group, Check 1-2, who also covered “Mona”, in 1990, taking it to No.3 ‘Down Under’ and No.2 in the United Kingdom, where his role in the television series, “Neighbours”, had already made him popular.

Bo suffered from a stroke, in 2007, which was followed by a heart attack. His heart failed him in June of 2008.

I regard “Who Do You Love?” to be a classic example of early rock. Therefore, I am including it in the list of my favourite recordings. This can be found in the suggested playlists.

Connie Stevens

Concetta Rosalie Ann Ingoglia was born in August of 1938, in Brooklyn. Her father, a musician, had adopted the stage name of Stevens and Concetta was to do likewise.

When her parents divorced, Connie moved in with her grandparents. At the age of twelve she happened to witness a murder and, as a result, was sent to live with friends of the family in Missouri.

In 1953, she moved again, this time to live in Los Angeles, with her father. Connie’s career as a singer was already starting to develop. Following a short stint with The Foremost she joined The Three Debs as a replacement. In addition she began appearing in films, as an extra, however, it was not long before the attractive Connie was signed to a contract by Warner Bros.

Nevertheless, the role that was to make her famous came via television, in the form of the series, ‘Hawaiian Eye’. In it she plays nightclub singer, Cricket Blake. The series ran for four years from 1959 and continued parallel to her singing career.

Connie also appeared in several programmes of another popular series of the time, ’77 Sunset Strip’, and one of her hit singles was recorded, in 1959, in duet with one of its stars, Edward Byrnes, who played Kookie, a car-parking attendant who was renowned for almost continually combing his hair. It was a novelty song titled “Kookie, Kookie (Lend Me Your Comb)”. Connie’s other major hit was “Sixteen Reasons”, in 1960.

Eddie Fisher, a popular singer in the 1950s, became Connie’s second husband. Although the pair was only married from 1967 until 1969, she bore him two children. Connie remained active in film and television into the new millennium.