Posts Tagged ‘Johnny Maestro and The Crests’

Continued..Book. 1 Favorite Singers and Rockaway Days

January 13, 2010 Leave a comment

Book. 1 Favorite Singers and Rockaway Days

We lived in a “court” a collection of summer bungalows gathered around a concrete “court yard” maybe there were four or five bungalows on each side, with one or two across at the end.

Just outside and to the left was a movie theater, just outside and to the right was a custard and French fry stand, The French fries came in a little pointy bottomed Dixie cup and they were the real salty greasy greats. The custard was beyond language. Among the neighbors were a couple who were war refugees from Hungry. He was the ‘super” (a New York term for the superintendent. A representative of the land lord or management company, whose job is to fix any problems or breakdowns in the building or court) and she was a housewife. They had a little boy named Adam, who’s head looked a little misshapen, but who seemed nice otherwise.

Alas, his parents decided to make friends with me so Adam would have someone to play with. I swear to you I don’t know how I got “the come to me sign” tattooed across my forehead, but it is there. You may not be able to see it, but anyone who is dinged, danged, damaged, desperate or dub-doodled, sees it as clear as red flashing neon, and the message says..”come to me..I’ve got the cure, I’ve got the answer, that’s for sure!”

Dear Lord Amighty, You above all know how grateful I am for my unearned and undeserved gifts, but..but..but..but..

So I was encouraged to play with Adam and as I was/am a nice, sensitive, well-mannered boy, I was encouraged to come/go back again. One day pretty soon, Adam is insisting that I come up stairs with him because there is something that he has to show me up we pass the bathroom he pushes me in, slams and locks the door, and produces a friggin’ butcher knife  at least three feet long. (yes, yes, its like a pre-ja vu,) The boy is making the most horrible faces, speaking hysterically in some gutteral eastern European language, and indicating that he is about to stab me to death.

Between my own hysteri-ac-s I’m thinking “Mother, I please don’t ever make me go play with someone just to nice ever again,” I’m squeeking and yodeling at the top of my voice for his Mother’s help, while wondering if she may be part of the deal and busy readying the roasting pan. In my wonder thunks, I’m thinking “if you grown ups know he’s crazy why did you take your eyes off of us, am I sacrificed so you can pretend he’s ok? (Can you do that? think, wonder, yodel and screech all at once? It makes for a noisy noggin, I can tell you.)

Finally his mother responded to my caterwauling and came to the locked bathroom door. After God’s own eternity she was able to de-escalate him, open the door and get the knife. She wanted me to.stay and play some more but God bless her and him, I could not. I was out of there, I fled for my flerking life. When his father came home he came over to our bungalow to apologize and to give me a shiny penny to come back and play again tomorrow, but ah, dear God, I would not. I was sorry for him and for them, but good God awmighty.

At that time the song “Enjoy Your Self It’s Later Than You Think” was a big hit. That’s when it first occurred to me that songs could have real meaning. My earliest favorite female singers were Billie Holiday, Judy Garland, Edith Piaf and Teresa Brewer. I think that you know about the emotion with the first three, but an additional reason is of course, phrasing, phrasing and phrasing. With Teresa Brewer, it was her spunk I loved her recording of “Music Music Music” (Put another Nickel in, in the Nickelodeon). It just jumps for joy. Later on I also loved “This Ol House” by Rosemary Clooney (and while we’re on records, “Blue Velvet” by Mr. Benedetto doing the once and for all rendition, of that once and for all song and Ella Fitzgerald singing “A Tisket A Tasket” a masterpiece)

In those Rockaway days, Gale and I each had our own very favorite song. The grownups made a big deal out of that, I guess they were reinforcing in us what we reinforced for them, the idea that songs are important. Gale’s song was “Dinah” It started out.. “Someone’s in the kitchen with Dinah, someone’s in the kitchen I know, oh oh oh , Someone’s in the kitchen with Dinah strumming on the old Banjo” and then it went

 “Fe Fi Fiddle de I oh, Fe Fi Fiddle de I oh oh oh oh , Fe Fi Fiddle de I oooh, Strummin’ on the old Banjo” .

And then It went “Dinah won’t you blow, Dinah won’t you blow, Dinah won’t you blow your horn.. or.. ..orn Dinah won’t you blow, Dinah won’t you blow, Dinah won’t you blow your horn.. or.. ..orn”

The song tangled up my poor noggin, there were so many sections that I didn’t know which went where and what went next,..But I loved my sister Gale. And I wanted to love her song too..

I just didn’t understand what the heck was goin’ on when we were singing it.. On the other hand, I had a favorite song that took about four seconds to sing before I’d got swept away and lost completely “Down by the station early in the morning, see the little puffer bellies all in a row” after “all in a row” I always found my self singing “Aluetta shantee alouetta” and then (even now) saying “Huh”? And starting all over again.

I listened to the music on the radio with great interest, I loved the singing and I loved the songs. They really touched me. I was interested in how I felt listening to them. “There’s A Small Hotel”, “The Tennesee Waltz”, “Three Coins In The Fountain” Even though I had not yet had the experiences being described or referenced, I was able to imagine my self in a same similar situation and be empathetic. And man, the harmonies in “Three Coins In The Fountain” were down right magical.

I remember being in a marshy sand dunes area at maybe Jones Beach, with Mud and Lea (and Lea’s boyfriend “Slope”) and Gale. It was fall. The car was parked and the top was down and although we were out walking around, the radio was on. Frankie Laine was singing “I Go Where The Wild Goose Goes” The power of the singing, the song and the imagery, eliciting an involuntary “wow” from me.

Incidently, for years I associated Frankie Laine with that record and related songs (like Rawhide) but Gale and I recently came across a CD of his Greatest Hits and we couldn’t stop listening. He did some really great work before (and after) being pigeonholed with “Wild Goose and Rawhide.” Listening to him sing through his catalog on that CD, One could make a really really good case for Frankie Laine being a White Rhythm and Blues or Rock And Roll singer.

Again, his phrasing is just beautiful. I recently saw his old hipster self singing “That’s My Desire” (a great tune) At ninety odd, on PBS, and then heard shortly after that he had passed away, God Bless Frankie Laine, he was the real McCoy.

The Rock and Roll singers that were my influences and favorites were Frankie Lymon, pre-army Elvis Presley, Gene Vincent, Roy Orbison, Chuck Berry, Johnny Maestro (of the Crests, (“16 Candles” says it all,). Paul Anka, Jackie Wilson, Bobby Rydell, Ray Peterson, Ray Charles and most of all Ben E. King. Every one of them with a great and expressive voice but ultimately, masters of phrasing.

The Rock and Roll Girls (I have learned an awful lot from female singers, particularly in the area of dynamics and..yep, phrasing) Lavern Baker, Arlene Smith of the Chantels, (after “16 Candles”, “Maybe” says the rest). Timi Yuro, Connie Francis, Brenda Lee, The Shirells, Dusty Springfield and The Ronettes.

As I’ve noted earlier, down in the Islands we had an awful lot of Southern Gospel and Country and Western, and some of those singers were important influences for me. Gene Autry, Hank Williams, Jim Reeves and Marty Robbins (El Paso is a Masterpiece) and the Great Patsy Cline.

In addition, we had Calypsonians who were second to none in their Vocal technique and presentation. The Mighty Sparrow (still going strong) Lord Melody, Lord Kitchner and The Duke Of Iron every one a great phraser. Out of Puerto Rico there was the incomparable Ishmael Rivera, singer with El Magnificante, Cortijo Y Su Combo, The Trio Los Panchos (The greatest harmonies ever), and Lucho Gatica singing “El Camino Verde”,.

Now, having listed all of these favorites, I have to say that I learned more about singing from my own dear Fadder dear than anyone else. As a teenager I often found myself (for one reason or another) “on the road” with him. We traveled together on and off for years, drinking and singing..”It’s all in the phrasing Fidel, it’s all in the phrasing” (My father called me “Fidel the F##king bomb thrower from the islands” well..because,)  he also said that my Mother had named me “Scott” after her army pilot “boyfriend” who had crashed his bomber into the Empire State Building, and she shoulda let him name me Claude like he wanted to.)

When he realized that he had sired another singer. he immediately auditioned me on one word and one word alone, “lemme hear you sing it Fidel, just lemme hear you sing it, cause I’ll know in a second if you can sing, jus lemme hear you sing it! Sing the word.. love”.  The interesting thing was, with that particular word, I didn’t care what any body said, I knew with all the confidence in the world that I could sing and express love vocally.

Fortunately he agreed and we got busy singing every kind of song under the sun including every Irish tune ever written or imagined… There were many a nerve-racking midnight performance (the first one especially) for women in sentimental settings when he would say, “Ah, Fidel, sing Danny Boy for me Fidel, sing Danny Boy for me”

One of the proudest moments of my life, was the first time I sang it through for him. Opening the song with just the right phrasing and dynamics, coming up to and hitting those high notes just right, hanging there just long enough and singing it through ever so tenderly and beautifully with just enough hope just enough cry.., just the way he had sung it for me. Yep..this singing is a good thing, an I like it…