The Honeycombs

I remember when The Honeycombs visited Australia, in the middle of the 1960s and how the press was intrigued because the group possessed a female drummer, ‘Honey’ Lantree. Honey had worked as a hairdresser alongside the group’s founder, Martin Murray. Its leading singer was Denis D’Ell and its guitarists were Alan Ward and Honey’s brother, John.

Originally known as The Sheratons, The Honeycombs released the driving, earthy sound of “Have I The Right?”, which entered the British charts in late July of 1964 and a month later occupied the position most prized.

“Have I The Right?” deservedly became a success internationally during which time it reached No.5 in the United States and No.1 in Australia. Nevertheless, the quintet was unable to produce another single to maintain this widespread appeal although, in 1965, it did rise to No.12, in its native Britain, with “That’s The Way”.

The Honeycombs disbanded in 1967, four years after the band had been formed.

The Nashville Teens

Despite its choice of title, The Nashville Teens was actually a British pop group, which formed in the English county of Surrey, in 1962. Originally, the band was comprised of vocalists, Arthur Sharp and Ray Phillips; pianist, John Hawken; bassist, Pete Shannon Harris; guitarist, Mick Dunford and drummer, Dave Maine.

It was not uncommon for British bands of that time to venture to the then West Germany to play in nightclubs and gain experience. Whilst in the northern city of Hamburg, The Nashville Teens was afforded the opportunity to back the early rocker, Jerry Lee Lewis, on his album, ‘Live At The Star Club’; a recording that was to receive much acclaim.

Upon its return to Britain, the band played on tour with Chuck Berry, and, in 1964, released its initial single, “Tobacco Road”, which had actually been penned by an American, John D. Laudermilk. “Tobacco Road” rose to No.6 in Britain, No.14 in the United States and No.4 in Australia.

The Nashville Teens followed this latest success with “Google Eye”, a song that had also been written by John D. Loudermilk. This single ascended to a height of No.10, in Britain, in October of 1964. Nevertheless, the group’s subsequent entries did not perform as they were presumably expected to, and, in early 1966, The Nashville Teens ceased to be an entity on the charts.

Television series such as ‘Heartbeat’, ‘The Royal’ and ‘Mad Men’ have served to introduce the recordings of the 1950s and 1960s to subsequent generations.

Los Bravos

Although Los Bravos hailed from Spain, its leading singer, Mike Kennedy, was German by birth. Mike had changed his surname from that of Kogel because he reportedly believed that it would be more palatable to the British media.

The group sampled fame in the 1960s when its initial release, “Black Is Black”, became an international hit, in 1966. The single reached No.2 in Britain, No.4 in the United States and No.6 in Australia. In total, it was to sell more than one million copies.

Los Bravos’s only other success of note occurred in this same year when “I Don’t Care” peaked at No.16 in Britain.

In 1977, the French female vocal trio, La Belle Epoque, also took “Black Is Black” to No.2 in Britain, in the era of disco.

“Black Is Black”, by Los Bravos, is another of my favourite recordings.

The Bobby Fuller Four

Robert Gaston Fuller was born in Texas, in October of 1942. Robert, along with his brother, Randy, participated in a number of disparate bands.

“Bobby” Fuller moved to Los Angeles, in 1964, with his band, The Bobby Fuller Four. Bobby was its vocalist and also played the guitar. Just as his idol and fellow Texan, the late Buddy Holly, had done.

The group was signed to record for Mustang Records and, in January of 1966, what was to be its biggest hit entered Billboard’s Hot 100. “I Fought The Law” peaked at No.9. In Australia it only reached No.29 and, in Britain, No.33. The song had been written by Sonny Curtis, who introduced it to The Crickets, after he joined that group, in 1959, following the death of Buddy Holly.

The Bobby Fuller Four’s only other entry to the chart was “Love’s Made A Fool Of You”, a moderately successful cover of Buddy Holly’s recording.

The band disbanded shortly after the body of its leader was found, in his car, in July of 1966. Even to this day the cause of his death appears to be open to conjecture.

“I Fought The Law” was, in turn, covered by the English punk rock group, The Clash, in 1979.

Sue Thompson

Eva Sue McKee was born in July of 1925 (or 1926 — I’ve seen both years quoted), in Nevada, Missouri (or Mississippi). Nevertheless, she was raised in San Jose, California. As Sue Thompson, she was to record as both a pop and country artist.

Sue performed on the radio station, KGO, in San Francisco, while still in her teens. Although she procured a contract to record as early as 1950, it would be more than a decade before her recordings would enter the charts.

In the meantime, Sue appeared on television in the country series, ‘Hometown Hayride’, and, by the late 1950s, had joined the Grand Ole Opry, in Nashville. There she worked with the highly popular Red Foley.

I state in ‘About Me’ of how I really admire songwriters who can tell a story in two or three minutes. It was one such recording that really launched Sue Thompson’s career. “Sad Movies (Make Me Cry)”, written by the prolific John D. Loudermilk, rose to No.5 on Billboard’s pop chart, in 1961.

“Norman”, recorded towards the end of that year, was to become Sue’s largest success, in her homeland,when it rose to two places higher than her initial release.

Further hits followed, also written by John D. Loudermilk. These included “James (Hold The Ladder Steady)”, in 1962, and “Paper Tiger”, in 1965.

In Australia, all four of the aforementioned releases reached the Top 10. While “Paper Tiger” reached No.2, “Sad Movies (Make Me Cry)” proved to be her largest hit because it remained in the Top 40 for eighteen weeks, having peaked at No.3.

A hiatus of six years was to ensue before Sue Thompson would again appear on the charts, however, this time it was to be as a country artist. Not only did Sue record country music as a solo performer, in the 1970s, she also had nine entries that were recorded in duet with the famed singer, songwriter Don Gibson.

“Sad Movies (Make Me Cry)” appears on the list of my favourite recordings, which can be found in the suggested playlists.


Bobby Vee

Robert Thomas Velline was born in Fargo, North Dakota, in April of 1943. When Buddy Holly, The Big Bopper and Ritchie Valens were killed in that devastating plane crash in Iowa, on the 3rd of February, in 1959 it was Robert, at the age of just fifteen, who was called upon to fill in for Buddy at the tour’s next venue, in Moorhead, Minnesota.

From there this singer, songwriter soon adopted the pseudonym of Bobby Vee and within two years had emerged as an international popstar. The third single he released, under the livery of Liberty Records, was a revival of The Clovers’ ballad, “Devil Or Angel”, from 1956.

However, it was to be his fourth single, “Rubber Ball”, that was to stamp him as an international success. The song was co-written by singer, Gene Pitney, who substituted his mother’s maiden name of Orlowski on the record’s label.

Bobby, between 1959 and 1970, was to enter the American charts with singles which numbered almost forty in total. This was no mean feat when one considers just how highly competitive entrance to the charts was in those days, what with such a stellar array of talent, both ensconced and burgeoning, on hand.

In the wake of “Devil Or Angel” and “Rubber Ball”, in 1960, Bobby’s most popular recordings proved to be “More Than I Can Say”, Take Good Care Of My Baby”, “Run To Him”, “Walkin’ With My Angel” (all from 1961), “Please Don’t Ask About Barbara”, “Sharing You”, “The Night Has A Thousand Eyes” (1962), “Charms” (1963) and “Come Back When You Grow Up” (1967).

Across the Atlantic, “More Than I Can Say”, which had only risen to No.61 in his homeland, ascended to No.4. Similarly, “How Many Tears”, in 1961, also performed considerably better in Britain, where it peaked at No.10. In 1962, in Britain, “A Forever Kind Of Love”, reached No.13 and stayed in the chart for nineteen weeks.

“Rubber Ball” and “One Last Kiss” (which Bobby shared with Crash Craddock, who had released a simultaneous version) both reached No.1, in Australia, in early 1961, and, in the second half of the year, his revival of the classic, “Baby Face”, from the 1920s, reached No.4 there.

“More Than I Can Say” spent four weeks at No.2, in America, in 1980, when the song was revived by Englishman Leo Sayer. Leo became a naturalised Australian citizen, in 2009.

Bobby Vee has continued to tour into his sixties.

I have included Bobby Vee’s original recording of “More Than I Can Say” on my list of favourite recordings, which is located in the suggested playlists.

Mark Williams

Mark Williams was born, in 1954, in the Northland region — which is above Auckland — in New Zealand. When he was sixteen he started a band, The Face, with classmates. The Face finished third in the final of the ‘National Battle Of The Bands’ in Auckland, in 1970.

Mark was convinced to become a solo performer, in 1973, and was offered a position as a regular guest on a new television show, ‘Free Ride’.

Towards the end of 1974 Mark was signed to record on the EMI label and, in 1975, released a song, that had been written by Harry Vanda and George Young ( see the post, ‘The Easybeats’), “Yesterday Was Just The Beginning Of My Life”. The single rose to sit at No.1 on the national charts in New Zealand.

Regardless, the next couple of years were somewhat of a struggle as Mark sought to replicate this success. It took until 1977 and an excellent revival of the classic track by Buddy Holly, “It Doesn’t Matter Anymore”, for him to achieve this.

Later that year, Mark relocated across the Tasman to Australia. There he was paid well for singing on many commercials, made for radio and television, while also obtaining work as a session vocalist to established artists.

In 1980 Mark released his first Australian album, ‘Life After Dark’. He formed the group, Boy Rocking, which was based in Sydney and, in 1988, toured with Ian Moss’s band on the highly successful ‘Matchbox’ tour. Mark, in duet with Karen Boddington, recorded the theme song to the extant Australian soap, ‘Home And Away’.

Mark began working on new material in collaboration with Vanda and Young and from his new album, ‘Mark Williams ZNZ’, came the single “Show No Mercy”, in 1990.

Mark Williams continued to find work throughout the years and, in spite of still being based in Sydney, in 2005, was invited by Todd Hunter of the New Zealand rock band, Dragon, to join the re-formed group. Mark accepted the offer.

Barry Ryan

As Barry Sapherson, Barry Ryan was born in Leeds, England, in October of 1948. His career as a singer began in partnership with his twin brother, Paul, at the age of sixteen.

In 1965, the pair was signed to record on Decca Records as the duo, Paul & Barry Ryan. Paul learned that he could not cope with the stress associated with this and, consequently, it was decided that he would write compositions for Barry to record. One such composition was the brilliantly arranged “Eloise”, released in 1968.

“Eloise”, deservedly, sold more than a million copies. However, subsequent singles could not replicate anything like its success. That is, until “Love Is Love”, released in 1969, became warmly accepted in certain European nations. This meant that it , too, sold similarly to “Eloise”.

Due to his popularity in Europe, Barry decided to record songs in German. He ceased to record in the early 1970s but made a comeback in the late 1990s, when compact discs were released of he and his brother’s original recordings.

Whether “Eloise” appeals to one or not, I believe it is yet a further example of just how the standard of popular music has sunk, to find itself wallowing in the mire of mediocrity that it is in today. I was sitting in my new dentist’s waiting room just the other day having to endure what was being fed to me by the radio station that was playing. In the end I felt compelled to exclaim to the similarly aged gentleman seated opposite, “I don’t believe the dentistry that we are about to receive could be as excruciating as listening to this!” He laughed and concurred.

Johnny Cymbal

Johnny Cymbal was born in Scotland but spent his formative years in Canada. In 1963, at the age of eighteen, he had the novelty hit, “Mr. Bass Man”.

Five years later, under the pseudonym of ‘Derek’, he wrote and recorded the catchy ditty, “Cinnamon”.

A prolific songwriter, Johnny co-wrote the multi-million seller, “Mary In The Morning”. His songs have been recorded by many and varied artists, including Elvis Presley.

Thrice married and divorced, Johnny overcame his addictions while rediscovering Christianity. Johnny died suddenly, in Nashville, in March of 1993, at the age of forty-eight.

Sam Cooke

Although he was only on this earth for a relatively short time, Sam Cooke’s music was to influence artists for decades after his passing. Rod Stewart was once quoted as saying that for a period of two years he listened to no other recordings than those of Sam Cooke.

Sam Cooke, in some quarters is looked upon as the founder of soul, while in others one of its pioneers. As with other African-American artists of his era he began by singing gospel. His father, a Baptist minister, had taken the family from the state of Mississippi to the city of Chicago, Illinois, when Sam was a child.

A writer of his own material, Sam surely could not have envisaged a more impressive beginning than when his first hit, “You Send Me”, went all of the way to No.1, in 1957. A long succession of successful releases followed, with him even charting posthumously with hits such as “Shake” and the highly emotive “A Change Is Gonna Come”, in the midst of Civil Rights’ Movement.

Controversy still surrounds his death in a hotel, in Los Angeles, in December of 1964. I saw actual footage in a recent documentary, on Sam’s life, in which the manageress is seen to claim that she had fired up to thirty bullets into him, in an act of self-defence. Uncertainty even exists as to his actual age at the time of his obit, with me having seen it listed as twenty-nine and on another occasion, thirty-three.

Briton Craig Douglas did such a superb job of covering Sam’s “Only Sixteen” that, in 1959, it went all of the way to the top of the British charts. Dr. Hook revived this song in 1976. The British group, Herman’s Hermits, successfully revived “Wonderful World”; Rod Stewart, “Twisting The Night Away”; the Australian band, The Groove, “Soothe Me”; The Spinners, “Cupid”; and country star, Mickey Gilley, my favourite track of Sam’s, “Bring It On Home To Me”. Perhaps the greatest homage to Sam Cooke was paid by the incredibly talented Cat Stevens, when he departed from his own material to record “Another Saturday Night”.

The names of more recordings by Sam Cooke can be found in the selected playlists. Whilst there, why not peruse the list of my favourite recordings? I shall be updating this list from time to time.