Monday, November 30, 2015

In The Background

Have you ever wondered who the female chorus was that backed up Mary Wells on "My Guy" ("what 'd you, say?"... "tell me more") or the great almost-operatic crescendo of voices on The Four Tops' records? Who sang with Frank Sinatra on his classic hit "That's Life"?

These songs, among many others, were all augmented by the backup singer or group. They sing in harmony with the lead vocalist, other backing or backup singers, or alone, but not singing the lead There are notable exceptions).

In bands or groups, sometimes the members alternate between singing lead or backup (The Temptations, The Beatles, and Three Dog Night, for example).

Phil Spector (Yes, the one in the news) and Brian Wilson (of The Beach Boys) were two pop/rock music pioneers with backup vocals-Spector added lavish orchestration to create a bombastic "Wall of Sound"-Wilson composed some of the most intricate
vocal harmonies in pop music.

In the recording studio, some lead singers choose to create their own backing vocals (Ian Gillan of Deep Purple, Les Paul and Mary Ford, Neil Sedaka, and Gene Pitney are examples).

The Andantes were a female session singing group on Motown during the 1960s. The trio of Jackie Hicks, Marlene Barrow, and Louvain Demps sang backup vocals on over 10,000 (!) recordings by virtually every major (and minor) act on the label. They're the female chorus you hear on "My Guy" and that fantastic crescendo of soaring voices prominently featured on all of The Four Tops' Holland-Dozier-Holland written/produced hits.

In addition to "My Guy", you'll hear them on "Baby I Need Your Loving", "I Can't Help Myself (Sugar Pie Honey Bunch)", "Reach Out, I'll Be There", "Ask The Lonely", "Standing In The Shadows Of Love", "Bernadette", (They did the great background vocals on this in one take!) and others by the Tops.

They're featured on "Laughing Boy" and other songs by Mary Wells, "How Sweet It Is To Be Loved By You" and other songs by Marvin Gaye, "What Becomes Of The Brokenhearted" by Jimmy Ruffin, and "Don't Mess With Bill" by The Marvelettes (they were use to overdub and "smooth out" the group's background vocals; the producers did this without the Marvelettes' knowledge. The final Marvelettes album, "The Return Of The Marvelettes", was actually recorded by Marvelette lead singer Wanda Young with The Andantes ).

The Blossoms were another of the top backup groups during this decade (and in rock and roll history), particularly on the West Coast.

This group's career actually started in 1954 as The Dreamers. Darlene Wright (later known as Darlene Love) joined in 1958 upon a member's leaving. By this time, the group not only did backup work, but were actively recording and seeking their own group success.

In 1962, The Blossoms would finally achieve chart success, but unfortunately their effort was credited to The Crystals, an already established group produced by Phil Spector.

Problems between Spector and his Crystals prompted him to record the new song without them. The Blossoms only received a meager session fee, nothing more. The song? "He's A Rebel" (written by Gene Pitney) one of the year's biggest hits, establishing Spector's career.

Over the next three years, The Blossoms became the favored singers on all of Spector's California sessions. That's The Blossoms you hear on "He's Sure The Boy I Love". Darlene and group member Fanita Barrett sang with Bobby Sheen as Bob B. Soxx and The Blue Jeans ("Zip-A-Dee Doo-Dah" and "Why Do Lovers Break Each Other's Heart?"). The Blossoms were also
doing all the backup by The Crystals, The Ronettes, and the newly renamed Darlene Love (Spector gave her the last name change). Chart success as The Blossoms still eluded them.

By 1964, the group were a trio (There were originally six members) consisting of Darlene, Fanita, and new member Jean King. They then became the featured female backup group and regulars on a new rock and roll show-"Shindig", and had their own spot, covering popular songs of the day. The group were also kept busy doing more recording backup work through the decade. That's The Blossoms you hear on Frank Sinatra's "That's Life" and on Shelley Fabares's "Johnny Angel". They also backed Sam Cooke, The Beach Boys, Dionne Warwick, Sonny and Cher, and Elvis Presley (They were also his backup group on his '68 comeback special).

Love left the Blossoms in 1974, and took time off from the music industry, but returned in the early 1980s (As a solo act again). And she's never looked back, doing singing AND acting. She'd even become an annual Christmas tradition (since 1986) for David Letterman!

The Ray Conniff Singers were founded in 1959 (consisting of 12 women and 13 men) by Joseph Raymond Conniff. Ray Conniff larned the trombone from his father and arranging from a course book! After serving in World War II, he was hired by Mitch Miller as home arranger for Columbia Records, where he worked with several artists backed by his orchestra (and eventually a male

"Just Walkin' In The Rain" by Johnnie Ray, "Chances Are" and "It's Not For Me To Say" by Johnny Mathis, and "A White Sport Coat" by Marty Robbins are just a few of the articles and songs that Conniff and his orchestra backed.

The Johnny Mann Singers provided backup vocals for Gene McDaniels. They may have also provided backup for Lloyd Price.

The Sweet Inspirations were the East Coast equivalent of The Blossoms, also in high demand as a backup group.

The group was founded by Cissy Houston (born Emily Drinkard) mother of future star Whitney and sister of Lee Warwick (herself the mother of Dionne and Dee Dee Warwick). Cissy and Lee were members of The Drinkard Singers, a family group that recorded the first gospel album to appear on a major label.

The original lineup included Judy Guions (who later became Judy Clay , who sang some duets with Billy Vera. They were rock 'n' roll's first interracial singing couple).

The original Sweet Inspirations in the early '60s included Doris Troy ("Just One Look") and Dionne and Dee Dee Warwick. By 1963, Judy Clay's sister, Sylvia Shemwell, replaced Troy and Cissy Houston replaced Dionne. The group continued doing backup for such stars as Wilson Pickett, Solomon Burke, Esther Phillips, and Aretha Franklin, among many more.

Dee Dee left in 1965; Myrna Smith and Estelle Brown joined, This was the lineup that recorded at Atlantic.

In 1968, The Sweet Inspirations began working with Elvis as both backup and his warm-up act. Thy also did occasional concerts with Aretha Franklin. And they had a no. 18 hit, "Sweet Inspirations".

Group member Houston left in late 1969. There were numerous personnel changes through the '70s, '80s, and the '90s.

Did you know that the Sweet Inspirations did the backup vocals on the Frankie Valli smash, "Grease"?

Some backup singers who later became famous on their own (besides some of the abovementioned) were: The Originals-They provided male backup for Jimmy Ruffin ("What Becomes Of The Brokenhearted"-The Andantes were also on this), his younger brother David Ruffin -"My Whole World Ended (The Moment You Left Me)", and others. With the help of fellow Motown artist Marvin
Gaye,(who co-wrote and produced the songs) the group broke through this year, 1969, with "Baby I'm For Real" and "The Bells".

The Dells were already R & B legends, but they also did backup for many Chicago-area singers. Probably their most notable backup effort was for Barbara Lewis on her 1963 smash, "Hello Stranger". (I believe they did backup on several of her records. Maybe not, but it sure sounds like them!)

The Ray Charles Singers (Not THE Ray Charles; this group was founded by Charles Raymond Offenberg) sang backup on Perry Como's records from 1950 on through this decade, and beyond. Legend has it that years later, it was Offenberg that sang the "Three's Company" TV show theme-"Come and Knock On Our Door"-with Julia Rinker Miller.

The Shindogs were the house band on the '60s TV show "Shindig": Several members of this group included Leon Russell, who was the keyboardist and band leader, Delaney Bramlett (later of Delaney and Bonnie), and Glen Campbell.

 I resurrected the unpublished draft of this post and published now because it a pears that girl groups are coming back in style!
So, for them and their legions of fans, I decided to add a little "bachground" of my own.

Stay tuned  ...

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Happy Thanksgiving 2015

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Thanksgiving 2015

Okay, Mousers - you know what tomorrow is, right? Thanksgiving Day (aka the dieters nightmare) is almost upon us. And we do have so much to be thankful for but ...
What?!? You don't BELIEVE me??
Well, let's see:
You woke up this morning. That's always a plus. 
Did you shuffle into the kitchen and get some coffee or a little something to eat from the fridge? Maybe you took in  a little TV.
Okay so you have your health,  food and you have your utilities.
Any gunfire or some kind of bombs going off outside your window? Wait ... what is that sound out there? 
Need to go to the store but can't get out because the state police or wardens are keeping you from it?
You mean you have ... freedom??
But do you have to go to the store immediately - or can you stop by your mom's first, go by Goodwill or someplace like that? 
So you can choose what you do and where you go??
Hmm ...
You see, you have more to be thankful for than you think.
After all, you could be in another, war-torn area like Syria, Afghanistan or Washington ...

So GIVE A LITTLE THANKS ... okay??  Okay!!!

Friday, November 20, 2015


As many of you know I'm writing these blog posts by way of a smartphone (at least until I can get another laptop).

Of course  that name's debatable I mean after all look at who's using this thing!)

And I'm also doing it by way of something called a "speech-to-text" engine - something  that was unheard of 20-30 years ago.
You know it's really interesting what these little rascals can do. From news to video games, music to social media, it can bring you just about anything you want
Oh - and you can even call on them, too!

Ah, but, Houston, we have a problem:

People are spending so much time looking down at their cell phones that they're actually becoming prisoners of their own devices I guess you call them "techno prisoners"; they get so hooked on those contraptions that their kids are invisible to them.
Of course, so are sidewalks, telephone poles and walking on ...

and, sadly, other drivers

But we're also becoming prisoners of techno music. Whether in elevators department stores or restaurants, we're surrounded by that stuff. Anything that can be plugged in and make a noise is considered music these days.

 Jim McGuinn of The Byrds once said that if you want to tell whether an act is good, unplug them and see if they can do just as well on acoustic.
But we're being force-fed that stuff no matter where we are. And it just doesn't work.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Goin' MAD ...

Awwww, who couldn't love that adorable little face on your left? Kind of cross between Alfalfa and George Bush, isn't he??

But Mr. Alfred E. Neuman (who looked a lot like me when I was young except for the freckles) headed up the (and teeth ... and hair ... and eyes ... ) great MAD Magazine™ -- and, along with parodies and spoofs, it had some of the craziest recordings you ever heard!

Sure, they were flimsy, paper-thin records that were stuck in the pages of special issues (remember, anyone?). My favorite was one whose backing track was a rip-off of a guitar instrumental called The Stinger, but was interrupted at times by ... loud BURPS! (and the EPA didn't say a word about their contributions to global warming!) It was really (hold on ... here it comes:) a GAS! (hey ... you were warned!)

More than that, though, came out of those inserts! In a 1968 issue, you could find fake record labels that you could stick on 45s to fool your friends: I AM A ROACH by "Slimy & Garfink" (on a realistic-looking Capitol Records label) and STRANGLERS IN THE NIGHT by "Frank Sinister" (same, but with Reprise Records!). Tres cool ...

While the "records" were cool, the entire magazine was considered "rock music set to cartoons." (This isn't to be confused with Archie or Josie and The Pussycats, which were cartoons set to rock music. Or Justin Bieber, which is both ...).

Of course, there were other "MadNesses" within its pages --  but one of publisher Bill Gaines' trademarks was that he wasn't afraid to confront issues of the day in a humorous way. The magazine was clean and upbeat - sort of a print version of Uncle Lloyd (in fact, we joked a bit about their similarities).

Today, you have so-called "humor" magazines, both in hard copy and online, that resort to the risque, filthy language, the gruesome or even violence - and they end up being anything but funny.

Considering all we've been going through lately (according to the news media), isn't it time we got back to the lean, clean, rib-tickling that drove us all pleasantly MAD??

Lord knows, we need it!!

Sunday, November 15, 2015

We Won't Stoop So Lowe ...

This past week the world experienced cowardly attacks that broke the hearts of millions upon millions of people around the world.
No, Rob Lowe, there's no humor in this (did you read his idiotic Twitter post?). In fact, the attack on Paris has only brought grief. And there's not much more we can say that hasn't already been said about this.
But for some B-list actor who's had his share of run-ins with the law and mocked them all, it's pretty sick to try and make a cheap joke just to get his name in lights again.
The French are a valiant and resilient people. Sure, they've had their downs as well as ups, but they've always come back strong.
They don't whimper or try to pass hard times as tasteless jokes like you've  been known to do.
As a result of this, they're flexing their collective muscle ... are showing their determination to rise above this.
In other words, terrorism is about to hear France ROAR!!
(Note to Obamanites: ARE YOU LIONS??  Or just a bunch of weak willed kittens on this?
Don't tell us ... SHOW us!!!!!!!

Friday, November 13, 2015

Friday the WHAT?!?

Wait a minute ...
I've just been informed this is Friday the 13th!!
All right ... all together now:


Normally it's a time reserved for black cats, spooky bats and Democrats. But how did we come up with it scaring the Dickenson out of all?
Read on, oh faithful frenzied followers of Fridays:

According to legend, the fear of Friday the 13th (proper name: friggatriskaidekaphobia) came about as a result of the Bible.
When the 12 apostles gathered for the Last Supper, Jesus appeared as the 13th person - and as we all know, He was marked for death.

In a similar Norse legend the 12 guests had a feast for the God Odin - one that was interrupted by an unwelcome 13th guest: Thor's mischievous and not-so-low-key brother, Loki.

Then in 1881 an organization called the 13 club started to dispel any negative association with the number. They did it by walking under ladders and throwing salt over their shoulders (I believe it wasn't until 1910 that they decided to take the salt out of the shakers before they threw it so nobody'd get clobbered!)

Besides it can't be all bad:
the accordion was patented on January 13th 1854, thus giving g employment to greats like Lawrence Welk and "Weird Al" Yankovic;
the Hollywood sign - one of the most famous symbols of moviedom - was unveiled on July 13th 1923;
And Ashley and Mary-Kate Olsen were born on June 13th 1986. Who've been to Tinseltown.  And like "Weird Al" Yankovic ...

who plays the accordion.

Stay tuned.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Lloyd, Have Mersey!!

Anybody who knew Lloyd Thaxton also knew he had an affinity for rock acts from the U.S. side of the Atlantic. He dug Astronauts, Challengers, Raiders and Knickerbockers.
But he understood the boss sounds coming from Jolly Olde England and began to include some of their acts on his stage roster. (*Those guys on the left weren't on the show, though. See, he only wanted name bands on the show ...)

But, from Herman's Hermits to Yardbirds to Donovan, he made sure his kids frugged to the best of the UK.

There was no doubt that Uncle LL showed Mersey upon the crowd; even his antics seemed to mimic them (or did they mimic his? I'll get to that in a few mimics if I can ...)

Nonetheless, he was very keen on the era (natch!) and, later, became a fan of The Fore. See, he realized that Merseybeat was more than just music - it was actually good-time fun!
It's something that, a few months before his passing, we talked about. Of course, much of the field was going techno, with all kinds of doodads from synths to loops to AutoTunes and such. It just didn't seem like today's music ... well, was music!

He'd like some of today's sounds, though. In Liverpool, a band called The La's was building a tremendous fanbase until about four years ago, when they disbanded. Of course, there are others that are beginning to make headway on both sides of the drink who are beginning to show the same spunk and liveliness of the Merseysiders years ago.

Maybe we Auto Tune the autotune out, desensitize ourselves to de synthesizers, and make music a lot less loop-y. In other words, get back to the basics of it all ...

Whatcha think, yardbirds? (PS Those in the pic on the right were The Yardbirds, who appeared on The Lloyd Thaxton Show.)

Well, that's it for the moment, so ...

Monday, November 9, 2015

Lloud Byrds (aka Lloyd's BYRDen!)

Now, what we're going to do here is bring in some all-new material while kind of threading in some of the classic posts from TMC (the Mouse Clique - not The Movie Channel.  So don't touch that dial!!).
We kicked it off last time by whining ... er, telling you what happened to keep us off the air for awhile.  So, now, we're going to put it alll back together and into action:
Starting with ... the LLOUD BYRDS (aka LLOYD's BYRDEN)!!

Take our llivelly lleader LLoyd, mix in (one of my all-time fave groups) Jim (now Roger), Mike, Gene, Chris and David -- collectively known as The Byrds, and you've got yourself a story for the ages! Now, remember: those dudes loved to play it loud and live. And the show was set in a slightly-bigger-than-a-breadbox studio, so ... Wait a minnit. Here ... let the Man tell ya about it, in his own write (actually, it was on one of his own blogposts, but bears repeating). It's wild:

"As you know, most artists did lip-syncs to their songs on the show. It was easier than carrying loads of equipment around with them from show to show. However, the Byrds didn't know how to lip-sync and wanted to do their song live.
Now doing a song "live" on the show was difficult. Our show was live itself and being as we only had one stage (dance floor), we had limited time to set up a full band with all of their electronics.
Actually we had to do it all during a two minute commercial break. Now live set-up means (1) Clearing the stage of all the teen participants. (2) placement of the act on platforms (3) setting up the HUGE speakers (4) Doing a sound check for the audio person in the TV booth. During the two-minute break everything was going well until I noticed that all the group's amps were turned full UP. The Byrds looked like reasonable people so I told them it would be better if they turned the volume down. I said that this was not a auditorium but a small TV studio and their amps at full volume would overload our system, blow out the kid's ears and either knock us off the air or, in the least, make them sound over modulated and, to put it more simply, "AWFUL."
After a few, "But Man, we gotta have loud man," and "We won't be able to hear it Man," I did convince them that it would be to their best interests to 'TURN THE F------- VOLUME DOWN!!!!'
Sheepishly they complied. By that time the two minutes were up, we were back on the air and everyone was ready. I picked up my mike and said, "And here they are ... THE BYRDS!"
At that point each musician turned to their amps and cranked them up full volume and away they went.
I looked up at the engineer in the booth and saw his hair standing straight up. The show was live and I've always wondered how it sounded."

I appreciated the PS he included when he sent this story to me: "You wrote, 'It was when I decided to make music on my own ... man,' So I guess it turned out pretty darn good after all."

Groovy, huh? Lloyd, crew and kids survived ... and the sound came through the tubes like a dream!

Okay ... starting with our next visit, what do you say we start making the Mouse House a little more interactive?  Here's how we can do it, gang:
Just send in your fave moments from the show, meetings or coversations with  LL, or even comments on ThaxThings like Stuff Happens, Dawks or whatever (c'monnnnnn ... you can do it!). Let's get this blog all over the globe and North Dakota, okay?? Let's make it one that everybody can contribute to ...
You can send your comments in a plain, unmarked envelope or send them to me at the new , okay?  (No, Cuzzin Gary ... you take them out of the envelope if you email them. Remember?)

Stay tuned ...

Wednesday, November 4, 2015


Taken from an old episode of "I Love Lucy", this title says it all ...
or some ...

ahem ...

maybe a little bit???

Anyway ...

You all know by now that I was the victim of a pretty bad theft and vandalism awhile back.  I've been trying to recoup (as opposed to initially couping, which I don't think is allowed online without a license ...), but it's been a little rough.

So far, making some pretty serious headway ... but still missing that one all-important piece of the puzzle:  a labtop (hey ... that's Uncle LL's way of putting it, not mine!).

But I do believe I'll have one by the time Windows 13 is released in 3-D ...

(seriously, it'll probably be the first of next week ...)


I've decided to cut down on the number of blogs I've had percolating for awhile.  Gotta trim things down so I can streamline it all ...

Howsomever (again, Uncle LL's word), this is the one I'm keeping intact ...

in honor and memory of a best friend, mentor and hero ...

(Yes, there's be more pictures, too!)

Anyway, thanks for hangin' in there with me.  It's all starting to smooth out now ...
and I'll be back in a few days to resume production ...
soooooooo ....