August 2010 Script
Troy Walker - Stardust / My Prayer (1965)
This is JD Doyle and welcome to Queer Music Heritage. I took that piece, including "Stardust" and "My Prayer," out of a longer medley from a 1965 album called "Gazzarri's Presents Troy Walker." And Troy Walker is the subject of my special feature interview this month. One thing that makes it special is that I love to share with you the actual voices of our pioneers, and this one started recording about fifty years ago, and he's still performing.
Now, he never became a household name, but he's done a lot of music and worked with many folks you do know, like Jerry Lee Lewis, Leon Russell, Timi Yuro, and has stories to tell about Johnnie Ray, Cher, and Phil Spector, among others. And he never compromised, in that he was a very flamboyant performer, and he did not tone down his style. L.A. in those years was a very cutthroat town, and Troy just tried to make his music amidst all that, and he was a quite popular performer up into the 80s, when he stepped back from the business for a while.
I first played his music on one of my shows in 2004 and since then have been wishing I could track him down for an interview. That finally happened when I found mention of a recent performance, and a person to actually ask for contact information. That turned out to be Jonny Whiteside, who happens to be the author of an excellent biography on Johnnie Ray. He got me in touch with Troy, and I started by asking him for a little about his growing up.
TW: I grew up in Illinois, first part of my life, and then we moved to Arizona, and I went to school there, pretty much, high school
And, what landed you in Los Angeles?
TW: Well, I went into the Air Force, and when I got out of the Air Force I wanted to come over here and see what the hell my life was all about, so I came over to Hollywood, and walked into a bar, and the guy asked me if I could sing. I told him I sang in high school. He shoved me a mic, I sang two songs and the owner came over and asked me to come in every night and sing and I was under-age but I came in anyway, and wound up singing ever since.
Who would you say your musical influences were?
TW: Mine? Wow, well, The Platters, Jackie Wilson, Little Richard, a lot of the black groups when I was a kid. They weren't popular but they were with me. We used to go in the alley and listen to them.
And, when did you start going by Troy?
TW: About the same time. I grabbed the name, whenever I first hit Hollywood.
Can you describe your stage act, back then?
TW: Back then, well it was never really an act. I just got up and sang, and I started regular singing and thank goodness that was bought for the most part. When I got on stage actually I started getting, you know, I got whistled at, cause it wasn't my fault, I was, for lack of a better way to put it, a little pretty boy. So I got whistled at and they would sound off with some names and so forth. And I'd come back with some smart-ass remark.
So you were good at handling hecklers?
Yeah, I became good at it. I can't say I was good at it. I seemed
to always have the audience on my side, so I played off of that. "I
get paid to be a jackass, why are you here?" That sort of thing.
TW: (laughs) I guess, yeah, kind of, you know, to say it was an act, I always kind of wonder about that, cause it's not something that I polished or perfected. It's just what I did. I happened to have this range voice that I could do other voices, and then getting a little clever.
I understand doing impressions of famous singers was part of your act in the 60s, and you were extremely good at it, doing folks like Diana Ross, Johnny Mathis, Roy Orbison, Elvis, and etc.
TW: Yeah, to say that I was an impressionist I don't think was all that accurate, cause what I did I would take the hit song and effect the voice and it would be just enough to make it work. It worked for me, you know, Dinah sang through her nose, Johnny sang through the side of his mouth, and I watched them and I met them and sort of picked up on it. I've never really thought that was that great a thing, other people did, but I didn't, I just kind of wove it into an act I would do a "remember when" and I would go back and I would throw out Dinah's voice or Della Reese, that sort of thing, making up kind of a little story.
You'll hear an example of how he could imitate other voices when he describes this next recording
I understand you have a bunch of 45s. I found one, I'm not sure it's you though. It's "She's All Right" and "I'm Getting' Hip"
TW: I'll be damn, yes that's me.
It is? It doesn't sound quite like your other stuff.
TW: No, it wouldn't, that was a pretty full arrangement. It kind of sounded like a Jackie Wilson tune.
Right. But I knew you were famous for doing all kind of different voices, so I figured, maybe it's him.
TW: That one was brought to me by one of Elvis' people. It's a good song, and I recorded that and the other side is "I'm Gettin' Hip." I wrote "I'm Getting' Hip." Again, that was something we were sitting and we threw together. They played it locally. It was one of those things where you call in and vote on it. I think I won that thing and then they play it for another week, or something.
Billboard mentioned it in 1961.
TW: '61! Oh, whoa. That is way back there.
And, in March of '61 they wrote a review, "Troy Walker turns in a swinging vocal on a bright hunk of material. March '61.
TW: I'll be darn. That's the first I knew that it got written up. I didn't pay too much attention, as you'll see.
And here's a bit of both side of that 1961 single, "She's All Right" and "I'm Getting' Hip." I switch songs at the sax break.
Troy Walker - She's All Right / I'm Gettin' Hip (1961)
You played a lot of clubs, and some of these were long engagements, like for many months
TW: Oh, yeah, I would do one-nighters and I would go for, gad, months, years a couple of them, I would be there on two nights a week, three nights a week, one night a week but I was moving around, all different clubs. I did that for years.
Timi Yuro - Hurt (1961)
For those who need a reminder or those too young to know, that was a little bit of the song "Hurt," from 1961, the biggest hit of an artist with a soaring voice, Timi Yuro. And that sets the stage for my next question.
I've read a number places about your professional involvement with Timi Yuro, and different accounts of why that didn't work. Can you fill me in on that?
TW: I met Timi. She came into where I was working in the Valley, and from clear across the room we started singing to each other, and we wound up a duet. We went to Vegas, played Vegas, and then they wanted a singer to do Dinah Washington's "Hurt," her song, and they wanted a singer that sounded black. And we were playing in Vegas and they flew Timi back here, and she cut "Hurt," and I didn't know anything about it, and I came back into town and suddenly there was a hit record playing on the radio. It's quite a story. It goes on to different things that happened but we were signed with Liberty Records.
But you didn't record for Liberty.
TW: Well, we did, they recorded, but they didn't do anything with it.
They didn't release anything. Well, I would have loved to have heard a duet with you two.
TW: It was something to hear. I'm sure there are tapes somewhere, but I wouldn't know where, cause they did record us. They recorded several things, but nothing ever came of it cause Clive Davis came in and got Timi. I was just gone. They offered me some tunes that I just wasn't interested in, and I didn't know that it was a planned separation. And that all came as a surprise, not a heartbreak, I was glad for her, but it was a surprise.
A couple articles I've seen suggested that you were maybe too flamboyant for Liberty.
TW: I'm sure I was too flamboyant for anybody at the time (laughs). I wasn't even flamboyant, I was really just being myself, and it worked for me. You know, I was small, for lack of a better way to put it, a pretty-faced thing, and I would get a lot of flack from that. It turned out to be good and bad. I was no one ever made me aware that I was "too much," all I got was praise and they're interested, but I was so busy working and just maintaining my status working that I really didn't deal with any of that other too much. But different people that I helped into the business went on and told me much later on that records companies were scared of me, I was a little much, they thought. But that was back when a lot of tongue in cheek, nobody talked about nothing.
One other rumor I saw was that another reason for a split with Timi was that you were seeing her boyfriend Joe.
TW: Yeah, that was true. And it turned out to be really a sad situation because it did hurt Timi. That was never an intent, but I was caught up in something I didn't have any control over, for that matter.
Another 45 I don't have but I've seen it on the internet is "Summertime" and "Midnight in Moscow"
TW: Yeah, that was recorded at Interlude, with Gene Norman Presents, GNP, that was his record label, and that was a cover. "Midnight in Moscow" came out and he wanted a vocal, to sing words to it, and that's what happened. I went in and did a vocal on (hums) however "Midnight in Moscow" went.
Yeah, that's how I remember it. It sounded like an odd song to sing.
TW: Yeah, it was (laughs). It was an odd song to sing and I'm trying to remember exactly how
Cause the instrumental was a pretty good hit.
TW: Yeah, the instrumental was a big hit, and Gene wanted to cover it, and we did a recording. And the other side was "Summertime," I remember doing that, and we did an up version of "Summertime," I think, but I'm not sure, but I think that we did an up version of it, and that was just me and three other musicians, I believe it was.
Troy Walker - Summertime (1962)
"Summertime" from 1962, and several weeks after our first interview I came back with a follow up question.
A few days after we talked about your recording a vocal version of "Midnight in Moscow" I was able to track down a sound file of the recording, and a picture of the label from a collector in Belgium, and I was surprised to find that it's an instrumental.
TW: It could very well be. I know we recorded it and there were words to it. I sang it. I never go really confirmed with Gene what he was going to do with it, and I never knew anything was done with it, cause it got it, so it could very well be an instrumental.
He may have figured that the words just didn't work.
TW: Yeah, he could have, cause I didn't think they worked either whenever I sang it. It was kind of funky, didn't make all that much sense.
Troy Walker - Midnight in Moscow (1962)
That brings us up to Troy's first full album, which was called "Troy Walker Live," and was released around early 1964. From that album, here's the opening song "Sinner Man"
Troy Walker - Sinner Man (1964)
It's been widely reported that after released of the Live album your career stalled because it contained the song "Happiness Is a Thing Called Joe." Is that a fair assessment?
TW: Yes, it was. They sent it back, it was sent back, Hi Fidelity, Richard Vaughn, told me that a man singing to a man they weren't accepting, and he was getting a lot of flack, so that kind of died on the vine. He said he got a lot of albums that were sent back, cause at the time it really stood out on the record. That was a big disappointment, but I didn't make a big thing of it, because again, I was working and the promise of whatever would happen in the future whatever would happen would happen.
Was that song one that you had been performing live? And how was it received, in a club?
TW: Very well, extremely well, in fact. My audiences at the time, they were into me, and I didn't ake a thing out of the song or for that matter the relationship. It just was there, and that's what is so funny is that none of that was ever discussed, with me. It was always just other people, as Richard Vaughn said to me at one time, you'd be amazed how many people want to know about what's going on between he and I, c'mon, tell us about Troy, and there was nothing to tell. You know how people (sings) "people like to talk, Lord, how they love to talk."
Troy Walker - Happiness Is Just A Thing Called Joe (1964)
Around 1965 Troy released his second full-length album, called "Gazzarri's Presents Troy Walker"
Gazzarri's was a club, I take it, and that album, do you know what year it came out?
TW: Gee, no, I really don't. That album was done what they did was, we went to Capitol Records, and they set up a whole studio like a night club, and that's where that album was recorded.
I was thinking it had to be at least 1965, because it contains one of the medleys contains the song "I-2-3" which came out that year.
TW: Yeah, probably, I would say it was about that time or shortly after, cause that was just another song we grabbed and threw in cause I liked it. It's in a medley of tunes, I believe.
And as it was a studio version of a night club, that explains the lack of any audience noise on the recording, which I think is a plus. Let's hear that medley I just referred to, called the "Rescue Me (Medley)" and you tell me it doesn't remind you of Jackie Wilson.
Troy Walker - Rescue me (medley) Rescue me/1-2-3/I know (1965)
What song that you've recorded seems to have been the most popular?
TW: I don't know, I really don't know, because none of them really went anywhere or did anything. I mean, "Marijuana Munchies," Dr Demento played it on his program, and it held on for a long time. That was all over the country, but we never put it out.
Let's talk about that while we're on it. That was later, was that like, '77?
TW: Something like that, I'm not really sure, there was that whole era there
Okay, and it was called "Marijuana Munchies," can you tell me about it?
TW: It starts out "I got the marijuana munchies and I can't help myself, I go into the kitchen and I can eat anything on the shelf, some burritos, estadas, it don't matter how much I eat I don't get any fatter, I got the marijuana munchies, and I can't help myself," (sings) "marijuana munchies and I can't help myself" it was a funny song, really and at the end, where "colonel got ribs, colonel got ribs, I want a burger, somebody get me a hamburger." It was kind of a funny thing that we did. And on the other side, I think "It's not the end of my world" is on the other side, I'm not positive. We just put it out there for almost a joke, a novelty record, and then Demento picked it up, and I've gotten more reaction on that everywhere I go they want to hear that, and I didn't know it had done anything or sell any.
Did you write that song?
TW: Well, I co-wrote it with Jay York. He was just a guy that hung around. Actually how it happened, we were in the studio, we had a rehearsal studio and we were in there, just messing around and somebody said they were hungry, and I made a statement, you got the marijuana munchies, and then he started making up words and I started making up words, and the engineer just flipped on the switch and we got a basis for it, and just put it together. Actually it was a joke, I was making fun of the band.
Troy Walker - Marijuana Munchies (1977)
I have a big section on you on my website, somebody wrote me asking if I had a song that you did called "My Friend Is Gone." Cause the person that wrote me. It was a lady and she said that she and her husband went to see your act and you sang that song and dedicated it to him. And they had the record but somehow lost it over the years, and the husband has died, so she's really sentimentally attached to that song.
TW: Yep, that's a recording that I did do, and it's a good one. It's a real good one, in fact. A lot of people picked up on it, because it was a sad song, but it kind of told it like it was, you know.
A lot of people could identify with it.
TW: Yeah, "my friend you gave your life, trying to understand what it means to be alive and what it means to be a man, so if you're listening I hope you understand for all the ups and downs we had they'll be no regrets, you almost reached the stars with your words and with your songs, but now they're all I have to remind me, my friend is gone." It's a good song. And it got an awful lot of audience response and different people wanting it. Nothing was ever done with it because the band, the band and I at the time, I believe we split, and it just kind of went with the munchies thing. I have that single myself.
Would it be possible to get a recording of that one so I could play it on my show?
TW: Oh, hell, yes, I can mail you one.
Troy Walker - My Friend Is Gone (1977)
And that was the very rare 45 of "My Friend Is Gone."
There's a story I've read about that you had a run-in with Jerry Lee Lewis.
TW: Did I ever! Yeah, he was going to be performing at the Palomino, and at the time it was the top country nightclub, in the country. And I was asked to be his opening act, and I went to work and he was a bit inebriated and I guess his daughter had flirted with my guitar player, and when I came in I rounded the corner, going into the back, into the dressing rooms, and he had two of my people in headlocks, and my piano player's glasses were falling off I did something I probably shouldn't put on the radio, but I told him to let go of my people.
Did you pull a gun on him?
TW: Ah, yes, I did. He had two of my people in headlocks. I had to do what I had to do. He was drunk as a skunk. I had already known that he shot people from the stage, and kicked pianos off on people. He's been pretty rowdy at times.
And he said, who in the something-something are you? And I said I'm your opening act or I was your opening act, Mr. Lewis, and he grumbled, he had no choice but to let my people go, and he went back into his dressing room and shortly one of his people came out and said, Jerry wanted to talk with me. And I said, screw that, because he had quite a reputation for being a tough guy, and he shot some people from the stage, so I was reluctant to go back, but finally did. He called me a ballsy little so-and-so, and comes to find out, his daughter comes walking in and called Jerry a few names and said, "he wasn't doing anything with me, I was flirting with him, you" and she called Jerry names. And anyway, he apologized and told me I was going on, and I said no, I'm not, cause I had told the boys to pack up. And he went on and introduced me. He said, "I've never worked with a dude in a doily, but I want to introduce you to someone I'm giving my name up to," and he said, "here's the killer, Mr. Troy Walker."
It wound up being a very beautiful thing, cause I wound up opening for him quite a bit, but it didn't start out pretty. "Country Soul & Rock & Roll," that's another, I just reminded myself, that's another recording of mine, where I sing about him. He asked me to come down to Nashville, to work in a club down there, you know, I never went, but it was a good thing that happened between Jerry and I, except that I think that he was quite surprised, a kid in a doily telling him to let go of my people and the way I did it.
This song that you just mentioned, was it something you recorded?
TW: Yes, it's on the other side of "My Friend Is Gone," if I'm not mistaken. So I can send you that, and that was a good one, that was a real good, what do you call it, country rock (sings) "I started singing songs sitting at my daddy's knee, they said I was as cute as could be, singing mary had a little lamb, beating on an old frying pan, watching Jerry Lee on my TV, doing country soul and rock and roll, one night stand at the Hollywood Bowl, it's always been a dream and I'll feel just like a king, doing good old country soul and rock and roll." It was a good song.
Wonderful, I can't wait to hear it.
Troy Walker - Country Soul & Rock & Roll (1977)
I understand you worked for a while with Leon Russell
TW: Oh, yeah, when I first came to Hollywood, Leon was just bouncing around town doing different, and he played piano, and my family was quite surprised we were at Musso & Franks on Hollywood Boulevard, they came in and my two boys and my nephew were there, and Leon walked in and saw me and came clear over and squatted down and "where have you been, what are you doing" and blah blah. My family couldn't get their jaws up. I said, Leon, could you tell them that we did work together for several years. That was another good moment. He was an extreme talent and I would go on stage and I could throw anything at him and we'd cut it. In fact we'd I have a sneaking suspicion we never discussed it but I used to do Julie London, her voice, and when we were doing this I told him, Leon, let's kick this thing in the behind, and he did the Joe Cocker and we rocked it out. I think that's where it came from, when Joe put it out, but I don't want to lay a claim to something that was strictly Leon's doing.
And I read you ran around with Cher a little bit.
TW: Oh, yeah, Cher and ran the streets, and there's (a story) one that has a bit of controversy involved. I recorded "What Now My Love," with a 21-piece orchestra, and Green & Stone, who I guess were managing Sonny & Cher at the time came into the studio and "oh, that kid's got some real pipes on him" and they bought I guess Dave Delconti who was producing it with me, sold them the whole thing, and they just lived my voice off of it and Sonny & Cher did it.
Sonny & Cher - What Now My Love (clip, 1966)
Wow, and her version's terrific.
TW: Yes it is, but it was my version, the whole arrangement was mine, and it was a hell of a recording. And it came out, and they were doing a benefit at the Tiger nightclub, and I went, and Sonny & Cher were there, and I walked over to Cher and I said "it's about your recording, you know that " She didn't know, she didn't know that had been done, and she asked Sonny and I guess there was a little bit of a burr flew, cause she got angry that they had taken my voice off. Well that's done in Hollywood quite a bit, but I didn't know anything about it, and she didn't either. But we recorded that at Goldstar.
Since you mentioned Goldstar (Studios), did you run into Phil Spector?
Did I ever (laughs)
the Teddy Bears, way back, "To Know
Him Is To Love Him," way back then I ran into Phil Spector. I
was running around with Marshall Lieb, who was one of the Teddy Bears,
and yeah, I ran into Phil Spector.
TW: No, there's some things that I could have raised that controversy a long time ago, but it has no place, I don't want the tag, you know what I mean? I just don't want the tag, cause it was strange team, but "To Know Him Is To Love Him" has a very unique bridge. Okay?
Right, and you contributed that and they took it.
TW: Ah, I didn't contribute they were coming up with a sound, I guess, and I suggested it and Marshall took it back in, and Phil of course, he was busy shooting somebody, I don't know I never cared for him very much, there's several reasons you know, Darlene Love was a dear, dear friend, and he did a lot of people wrong. That's my opinion, he did a lot of good friends, really did them wrong.
I used to say that I really admired his talent, but I wouldn't want to have lunch with him.
TW: Not at all, I wouldn't want to even talk to him. What I know and what I saw, he wasn't I've seen the threats, I've seen him pull the gun, I've seen him make demands that were unreasonable. Mainly I've seen him take great talents and bury them. What he did with Darlene was very sad, I have no respect.
In the 60s and 70s did you run around with any gay entertainers?
TW: Ah, the 60s and 70s, no, I really wasn't running with anybody. I was just busy seven nights a week, every night, doing a different club somewhere.
Did you know Johnnie Ray?
TW: I met Johnnie Ray. In fact he's the only person that ever said anything to me, critiquing me that sort of blew me away, cause I went to a party I admired Johnnie, I liked the voice and I was doing a party for him. I was playing at a party for him and I was singing his songs, and he came out in a robe, walked around the piano, looking at me, and I kept singing. When I stopped he said, 'I'm a has-been and you're mediocre." (laughs) and I fell out, I mean, it sort of blew my mind it kind of hurt my feelings, but not really, what is that? But when I thought about it later on it was kind of a slam, since he had recorded with Timi and they couldn't even do anything with the record. And she couldn't stand him. She said it was a week shot. But I personally always highly admired him, and when I met him it was not disappointing yeah, disappointing, that's a good enough word, I guess.
I was going to comment that I saw Johnnie Ray once in person, and it was in 1980 and I was in L.A. on vacation. I was in a gay bar, and he was in the bar and somebody I was talking to said, "see that guy over there, that's Johnnie Ray." And he was obviously drunk.
TW: Yeah, he was drunk whenever I met him. And Timi said when they when they brought him to record "I Believe" with her, that he was drunk and she said she had a terrible time recording with him.
Johnnie Ray & Timi Yuro - I Believe (1962, part)
TW: You know, the man, what can I tell you, I guess he put more of his life out than he should have, but he was, as far as I'm concerned, he was an incredible, innovative star. It's a shame that he had to put his personal life out like he did, and he had a lot of problems that way. But a legend is a legend and he certainly was one, and one that I highly admired. As growing up, you asked me my influences earlier as a singer. He was one of them. In fact the first song I did, that I ever sang, period, in front of an audience, was the high school follies. I did "Cry" and just tore the place up doing it. I highly admired him, I did.
Talking about Johnnie Ray, you said "he put more of his personal life out than he should have." Can you elaborate on that?
TW: Well, didn't he get caught in a motel room, or something or the other? Yeah, it was way back, but I remember, I read in some paper that he had been caught with a Marine, involved with gay performance, or homosexual performance.
Was he openly gay?
TW: I don't know that he was openly gay, but everybody seemed to think so. I know there was a scandal involved, with him, somewhere, and gotten in some sort of trouble, and it really hurt his career.
As a postscript, I did some research after our talk and found that Johnnie Ray had been arrested twice within a few months in Detroit for soliciting male vice-cops. This was in 1951 when his career was first sky-rocketing, and while still popular it must have hurt him with the public a little. Remember this was five years before many were scandalized by the stage performances of Elvis.
Do you think you ever experienced discrimination professionally for being gay?
TW: Oh, sure. Oh, sure, not overt, they wouldn't say that, but I've walked in where a husband and wife owner, and she was making comments, you know, "I'm not going to put that on our stage," and different partners. Yeah, I've had some of that, but I could care less. It never bothered me to the point of doing anything other than getting a little indignant, but that's there'll always be that. Even with labels, going to different labels, nobody knew nothing but there was always jibber jabber talk, that sort of thing went on. One time I can't remember who the columnist was "if you looking for a gay evening" things like that, nothing spectacular. But if it was discrimination it was behind closed doors. They didn't come out directly at me a couple times it did, but nothing was earth shaking. One time I was over doing, what was the show, Shindig, I think it was, one of those, the one that had Bobby Sherman, what was that show.
It was either Shindig or Hullabaloo.
TW: Yeah, one of the two. I was in the side room, and Wink Martindale and Jimmy O'Neil and Bob Eubanks, they were all talking, and the suggestion was that they get me for the show, you know, "Troy can sing anything." And the comment was made that I was gay and a little out there. And when I walked in the room the person that said it said "oh Troy, we were just talking about you and how are you doing" and I was aware of what was said, and I kind of got a little indignant there, "yeah, I know what you think." And they kind of walked out of that little meeting.
Were you on those shows?
TW: No, they were considering me for that show. I did Hullabaloo, but I did Hullabaloo at the Hullabaloo in Hollywood, the big thing that they had at the old Aquarius Theatre.
Did you sing on television?
TW: Yeah, I guess I did a couple times, but it was usually for benefits, for Jerry's Kids, that sort of thing.
Are there any questions that I should ask that I haven't asked yet?
TW: Gee, I don't know. I don't know what I would have to offer or say. I don't find myself that
been entertained for the last hour.
Yeah, this has been a treat for me. I've been wanting to track you down for years, and until Johnny Whiteside mentioned on his page that you did a show, that was the first person I found that I could ask, hey, this person may know how to get a hold of you. Otherwise I wouldn't have had any way to connect.
TW: I'll be darn.
This is JD Doyle and I thank you for listening and I hope you've enjoyed this very unique visit with Troy Walker. You can find out more information on my site, at www.QueerMusicHeritage.com, where I've compiled a lot of photos of him from over the years.
Since I noticed Troy recorded the song "No Regrets" twice I just had to ask him about it.
Is that one of your most popular songs, cause it's on both of your albums.
TW: Yeah, it was my closing song. I closed with it, it was done by Edith Piaf originally, and it was very inspirational because of all the heartache in her life. She sang "No Regrets," and it was sort of registered with her, and it registered very much with me and my audiences. It was a close for a lot of the shows.
Troy Walker - No Regrets (1964, Live LP)
Johnnie Ray - How Long, How Long Blues (1957)
This is JD Doyle and welcome back to Queer Music Heritage. On Part 1 I was delighted to share with you an interview with Troy Walker, and you heard him talk about lots of different people, including Johnnie Ray. So I wanted to give your some more Johnnie Ray music, and started out with a track from 1957 called "How Long, How Long Blues." Johnnie Ray was kind of a fascinating personality and folks today probably cannot appreciate the phenomenon that he was. He literally skyrocketed to fame on the strength of a huge, huge hit 45rpm record, the first one where both sides were wildly successful, reaching number 1 and number 2 on the charts, the first time that happened. And to go with that was his stage persona, a very theatrical style not seen before, which earned him nicknames like "Mr. Emotion", "The Nabob of Sob", and the "The Prince of Wails," with wails spelled w-a-i-l-s. He quickly became a teen idol, generating the same sort of excitement Elvis did later, which didn't always get the approval of parents. But remember, this was five years before Elvis hit, so this was a cultural impact as well.
It was not all rosy for him though, news did get out at the very start of his career of his arrest for soliciting a vice-cop officer, so the kernel was planted in the minds of the tabloids that Ray was gay, which of course was indeed the case. He had a great career, but by the 70s musical styles had changed and he fell out of public interest. He had problems with alcohol for decades, and died at age 63 in 1990. I lucked into actually seeing him once, when I was in Los Angeles in 1980. I was in a gay bar and a guy I was talking with pointed him out, as the obviously drunk guy on the other side of the room. But I want you to remember his two first huge hits. From 1951 here are "Little White Cloud That Cried" and "Cry."
Johnnie Ray - Little White Cloud That Cried / Cry (1951)
For the remaining segments of the show this month I'm reviving a show format I haven't used in about a year. As Queer Music Heritage mostly has themed shows, there was always a lot of music, especially new music that I could never find time to share with you. So about once a year I would do a show called "Songs I've Been Meaning To Play." This could include just about everything, new and old, and usually, knowing me, full of obscurities. Well, I'm doing it again, and my focus in Part 1 this month on the 60s and 70s got me in the mood to do the same here. Most of what you hear will be from prior to 1980, some a lot older. I started a new show in January, called OutRadio, that has given me an outlet for new music, but I've got a lot of oldies to give you, and of course, as I said, many of them will be obscure. That's the joy of finding and sharing music you won't hear anywhere else, and preserving it as part of our history.
Okay, enough intro. I'm going next to a very openly gay 45, and one I still find surprising. It's from 1973 and there's no subtlety in the lyrics; this is a very gay song. What's more interesting, at least to me, is that the artist is someone I had already heard of. In fact I bet many of you have heard this artist. Here's a little bit of his huge hit from 1965, that reached #3 on the Billboard charts.
Jewel Akens - Birds and the Bees (1965, clip)
That was Jewel Akens, with his only hit, "The Birds and the Bees." The record I found by him was called "He's Good For Me." In 1973 it was advertised in The Advocate as "the first gay rock single 45." Until I found that ad, which you can see a picture of on my website, I had never heard of the record or any mention of whether or not he was gay, and he was listed as one of the co-writers. Here is Jewel Akens singing "He's Good For Me."
Jewel Akens - He's Good For Me (1973)
Good For Me
when I was young you taught me right from wrong
told me to leave him, to let him go
when I was young you taught me about the birds and the bees
told me to leave him, and to let him go
woman, you better stop, the man is here to stay
Jewel Akens and "He's Good For Me." And that mystery was just too much for me, so I figured I would try to go to the source for the answer. Here's a short interview I did with Jewel Akens.
Jewel Akens Interview (2010)
JD: What is it like having a hit song that is still remembered by people 45 years later?
JA: Oh, it's just great, makes you feel so good. People you know you say "Birds & the Bees" and a little 3 year old jumps up and down. You can't say "Birds & the Bees" without somebody saying "let me tell you about the birds " remember that? And it's still being played, still being played.
JD: I produce a radio show about gay & lesbian music and I want to ask about a particular 45, a really obscure one, from 1973, it was on the West One label and was called "He's Good For Me." Can you tell me about that song?
JA: (laughs) You know what, I don't even, I don't even remember the lyrics to that song, you know. But it was a quick one thing, do it, I'll sing anything, it doesn't matter to me.
JD: Well, it's called "He's Good for Me" and it starts out "mama when I was young you taught me right from wrong "
JA: Oh, yeah, let me see, "mama, when I was young, you taught me right from wrong, now I'm grown and on my own " See, when I first wrote the song, it was "mama SHE'S good for me." And they wanted to change it, (they said) you know what, if you change this to this, you'd probably make a big hit with the whole gay community.
JD: Oh, so the producers talked you into making it a gay song.
JA: That's what they say, yeah, and then I did that, and we made it, and I haven't heard no more about it, and that was it.
JD: What did you think about them wanting you to do that?
JA: Well, I laughed at them and they just talked me into it. I never thought any more about it. You know we did it, those two guys I was dealing with at the time, was trying to do something with the music, but they really didn't know what they were doing, okay?
JD: Was that the other co-writers? Olds and Avenetti?
JA: Nick Avenetti, that was Nick's name, Nick Avenetti and Garner Olds. I don't even think they're alive now.
JD: So they were trying to tap into the gay market?
JA: I guess they were. I really didn't pay that much attention to it.
JD: Did you get any reaction to it?
JA: I don't even think it was ever played.
JD: Well, maybe not, I was wondering if people thought you were gay.
JA: No one has ever asked me that, no one has ever asked me that.
JD: Well, the song kind of comes across as a coming out song.
JA: Yeah, but people sing about everything, you know, all kinds of things. And you know back in the day I knew a couple people that was kind of that way. Now I don't have anything against gay people, cause I have gay friends, I've known gay friends, like Cornell Gunter that was with The Coasters, that was killed, and a few other people, you know. You meet them as you travel and being an entertainer you meet all kinds of people. And I played clubs where we had to sing in the club, where there was like 50% gays.
JD: Well, especially back then didn't it bother you that people might think you're gay and it might hurt your career?
JA: I never thought about it, because the song (was done) and there was no more said about it. I didn't think about what people were going to say or what people were going to think.
JD: It wasn't an issue because it disappeared right away.
JA: Yeah, that was recorded, and boom, it was over with. I recorded it, it was like a song for a girl you marry.
JD: Right, your lyrics were talking about a woman.
JA: A woman, right, and they just wanted to change the word she to he. I said, why you want to do that? They said, well, you can make both versions, you can sell through the mail.
JD: Well, they put an ad in the major gay magazine at the time, The Advocate, and they called it "the first gay rock single 45."
JA: Really? See, I never saw that. I never knew it. They were record people, so they were interested in where they could make some quick money, I guess. And at the time I was a songwriter and a singer, so I ended up singing the song for them.
So, the song started out straight, the artist was persuaded by producers to make it gay, and it very quickly disappeared. I thank Mr. Akens for clearing that up for me.
Up next is a R&B duo named Charlie & Ray. I've read accounts on the net that they were very openly gay, which was very unusual for both those times and the circuit of venues they played, which included the Apollo Theatre. They had pretty good success with their first record, "I Love You Madly," in 1954 and with another the next year called "Dearest One." And then they pretty much disappeared. I looked and looked and found only one photo of them on the internet, the one on their reissue CD. Here are Charlie & Ray.
& Ray - I Love You Madly (1954)
I've got a very rare record for you now, a 78 rpm from 1947, by Alphonso Horsley, but that's not the name on the label. Alphonso was professionally known as Petite Swanson, and was a member of Valda Gray's troupe of female impersonators, who for much of the 1940s were the main attraction at Joe's Deluxe Club in Chicago. She recorded the standard "Lawdy Miss Claudy" and this naughtier track, "My Jockey Knows How To Ride."
Swanson - My Jockey Knows How To Ride (1947)
Yes, that was called "Nasty," and there was lots going on there, a kind of surprising track to find on an album on a major label, 20th Century Fox, in 1974. The album had the tongue-in-cheek title of "Greatest Hits of the Eleventh Hour," and all the songs were written by Kenny Nolan and super-producer Bob Crewe, and Bob Crewe, we now know, thanks to the hit Broadway musical "Jersey Boys," was the openly gay producer and mentor of the Four Seasons. I could probably do a show a month on the hits written by Bob Crewe, but one of them was "Lady Marmalade," for which the original recording was on the Eleventh Hour LP. We are now way too used to the smash version by Labelle, but I thought you may want to hear the original.
Eleventh Hour - Lady Marmalade (1974)
I'm going to give you several spoken word pieces this month. Yes, that's unusual for a show calling itself Queer Music Heritage, but they were recordings, and they add to the collage that is our gay history. Back in 1964 a book was published that got quite a bit of attention, called "Mr. Madam," by Kenneth Marlowe. As the title might imply he was a male madam, and his house catered to exclusive Hollywood clientele, of the both gay and straight persuasion, and he was an author and female impersonator. Being an openly homosexual Madam in 1964 made it easy for him when his book was published to attract attention, and the book went into several printings. A curiosity is that he released a 45 rpm record, with one side telling about his business, and the other side telling jokes. They were called "Kenneth Marlowe Tells About His Callhouse Days," and "Mister Madam's Parlor Jokes."
Kenneth Marlowe - About His Callhouse Days / Parlor Jokes (late 60s)
By the way, here's some trivia. I added the background music to those tracks, which I got from the soundtrack for the 1958 movie "I Want To Live." I figured Kenneth Marlowe could use a bit of ambience to accompany his recitations.
Some of you hopefully have heard of the American artist Paul Cadmus, known especially for his realistic male nudes. A lot of those nude paintings were of his partner, Jon Andersson. He met Andersson in 1963 when he was 59 and Andersson was 27, and they spent the next 36 years together as partners, until Cadmus died in 1999. Cadmus was executive producer of an LP by Andersson called "Verboten," released in 1987, and they are both pictured on the back cover, with a portrait of Andersson on the front. The subtitle is "Songs by Jeffrey Roy," who I am thinking may have been a gay songwriter, who died in 1993 at age 41. I picked two songs from the album, "Stranger In My Bed" and "Keep Your Hands Off."
Andersson - Stranger In My Bed (1987)
Coming up is a very gentle but quite political song. In 1977 Anita Bryant began her bigotry brigade and that prompted a number of artists to write songs about her. I've played many of them on past shows. One of them is called "Tell Ol' Anita" and was written and sung by an artist going by Conan. "Tell Ol' Anita" was the title track of his 1979 album
- Tell Ol' Anita (1979)
Also from the Conan album was "Shameless In High Drag." And then I jumped thirty years to bring you the track "Gypsy." He's still around, and in fact his new album is called "Conan's Back." But I've got one more song for you from the first album, and it has an interesting connection. I'll tell you about it after you hear it. It's called "Passing Stranger."
Conan - Passing Stranger (1979)
Now the song "Passing Stranger" may not have been destined to make the charts, but it did appear in the soundtrack of a movie. Well, a porn movie is a movie. In the late 70s Conan's cousin, Richard Locke was a very popular gay porn star, appearing in films such as "L.A. Tool & Die," "El Paso Wrecking Company," "Heatstroke," and many others, including one from 1976 called "Forbidden Letters." I've not seen it but a review I found marveled that it actually contained sort of a gay love story, and what the reviewer called "some original, sorta hokey sounding folk songs." Some years ago someone sent me a CDR of four of those songs, and the other one of interest was by sung by Paul DuBois, and was called "Last Night's Man." I have been able to find no other information about the singer or the song, but here it is.
Paul DuBois - Last Night's Man (1976)
Paul DuBois and "Last Night's Man" from the porn movie "Forbidden Letters."
Again, this is JD Doyle thanking you for tuning into Queer Music Heritage, and I've got one more part for this month, where there'll be even more obscure song choices. And, who would think I would close a segment with Lisa Hartman? You remember her, actress, singer, star of "Knot's Landing" in the 80s, married to Clint Black. She released several albums, and gets points alone for recording the song "Where the Boys Are," when she was in the movie of that name. Why am I playing her? Well, in 1982 on her album "Letterock" she sang a very queer song, called "Johnny's Always On My Mind." It seems her Johnny's got a boyfriend. Lisa Hartman.
Lisa Hartman - Johnny's Always On My Mind (1982)
Thelma Houston - One Out Of Six (1976)
We're back, and this is JD Doyle and Part 3 of QMH for August. Most of you know Thelma Houston from her huge disco hit "Don't Leave Me This Way," which reached #1 in 1976. But she also recorded a very gay song that year for the movie "Norman, Is That You." The movie starred Redd Foxx and Pearl Bailey and the premise was their finding out that their son, Norman, was gay, and dating a white man.
I've played Tom Robinson many times on my show. He's a music hero of mine, and in fact I featured an interview with him in 2004, and of course I played his classic anthem "Glad To Be Gay." But I've never played the following version of the song. Now, I have to back up a bit. A music historian in the UK has set up I think a very cool website saluting the song "Glad To Be Gay." You can find it at www.gladtobegay.net and it is very well done. You can download 18 different versions of the song, including one Tom sang just for me during my own interview. That version was unique because it was the only one containing a verse about Matthew Shepard. Well, I picked for you to hear a demo recorded two years before what is generally considered the original version. So it was recorded with Tom's acoustic trio Café Society, in 1976. "Glad To Be Gay"
Tom Robinson & Café Society - Glad To Be Gay (1976)
In 1972 a band called Another Pretty Face recorded an album that was not released until 2004. Why not? Well, the music business has holes in the road and plans don't always work out, but the tapes were found and restored and the music did come out, and I think it's pretty good, and quite indicative of that Glam Rock period. Terry Roth, of Zen For Primates, fronted the band and there were a number of tracks I could have picked, but settled for "He'll Fall."
Pretty Face - He'll Fall (1972)
Above, 1974 Village Voice ad
Of course that was "Da Doo Ron Ron" as done by Another Pretty Face. And long-time listeners know I adore male cover versions of Girl Group songs of the 60s. I did a special show in October of 2005, playing three hours of them, so you know I'm going to continue to share them with you when I find them.
Now, some of
you may be curious where I get my info about some of these obscure
acts, so I'll tell you about one of them. I have a special interest
in female impersonation. No, not doing it, but in that history of
our culture, and I have a huge section of my website preserving this
information. This includes a section I call my Drag Artist Discography,
and I want to know about every female impersonator and drag queen
who ever recorded anything.
Carter - I Didn't Go To Your Wedding (1952)
Again, two from 1952 by Stash Carter, with the second being a musical version of the Joyce Kilmer poem "Trees." And for these next three tracks I'm going way back. I recently read that during World War I Irving Berlin was asked to write a show to improve the moral of the troops, which he was glad to do. But he ended up having to take out of the show one of the songs, because it caused way too much loud snickering by the soldiers in the audiences. It was called "I Can Always Find a Little Sunshine in the YMCA." Done here by Lambert Murphy and the Orpheus Quartet, from 1918.
Lambert Murphy & Orpheus Quartet - I Can Always Find a Little Sunshine in the YMCA (1918)
These next two are examples of something I love, cross-vocals from the 1930s and before. These are songs intended to be sung by a woman but are instead sung by a man, keeping those pronouns intact. They sound pretty gay now, but are only gay in hindsight. Here's why. In those days music publishers had a stranglehold on the rights to their catalogs. Singers could not change a word, period, so it was not uncommon for a man to seemingly sing a song to a man, or a woman to a woman. The public knew of the restrictions on singers, and did not really pay attention to any gay connotations. But today we do, which make these a lot of fun.
Six - What a Man (1926)
That was the University Six, also known as the California Ramblers, from 1926 singing "What a man." And closing that set was Billy Murray, from 1907, and "Honey Boy." He was an extremely popular and prolific artist, and had 164 songs make the Billboard charts between 1904 and 1925. I do not think these artists were gay, but the point of hearing them was to have fun with the lyrics.
Unknown Lesbian Group - What's Your Name? (late 70s)
The song was "What's Your Name," the Don & Juan hit from 1962, but I do not know who sang what you just heard, so I am calling them Unknown Lesbian Group. I do know that it's from a concert from the late 1970s that was aired on KPFA in Berkeley, on the program "Fruit Punch." Volunteers at The San Francisco Gay & Lesbian Historical Society have been working hard at restoring tapes of old radio shows, and they've uploaded a bunch of them for anyone to hear, which I think is wonderful. Information on the tapes is sometimes sketchy but still this is a treasure. Like this next song, from the same source.
I hope you've
heard of the Cockettes, the iconic San Francisco psychedelic drag
queen troop. Check out Wikipedia for a long entry on them but for
now, know that most of their original songs were written by Scrumbly
Koldewyn and Martin Worman. Worman unfortunately died of AIDS in 1993,
but Koldewyn is going strong and has been performing cabaret for years.
Scrumbly & Martin - Hots for a Hustler (1974)
That track by the way will be released hopefully by the end of the year on an Australian compilation put together by Guy Blackman. It will be called "Strong Love - Songs Of Gay Liberation 1972-1981," and I've seen the track list. It has some real gay music history gems, like this next one.
In 1977 an English artist named Robert Campbell released an album called "Living in the Shadow of a Downtown Movie Show," and it contained this song, "Dreamboy."
Campbell - Dreamboy (1977)
I've been meaning to play that one for a while. It's by Anthony Louis, and is called "Fantasy." I first saw mention of that record in an article in the 1978 book "Lavender Culture," which is a collection of essays by gay and lesbian activists, and was one of the first books I read when I came out, trying to devour everything available, and in those years that was an attainable task. Anyway the particular essay in mind was by writer and activist Tommi Avicolli Mecca, and was called "Images of Gays in Rock Music." I'll pull three sentences from that article where Mecca writes "Anthony Louis, a Philadelphia-based gay folksinger, released "Fantasy" last year; it even appeared on jukeboxes in some of the gay bars in the city. However, Mr. Louis's record and the work of gay performers in general have still not gained the widespread support of the gay community. The greater number of non-movement gays don't care if there ever is a distinctly "gay" music." Sadly, in my opinion, that could have been written yesterday.
Another song I've been meaning to play for a while is from the 1970 album "Eric Bentley Sings The Queen of 42nd Street, and Other Songs." And "The Queen of 42nd Street" is exactly the song that caught my attention.
Bentley - The Queen of 42nd Street (1970)
That was called "In the Bar," to me obviously a gay bar, and sounded a bit like Bob Dylan sings Lou Reed, and I thank one of my artist friends, Don Harvey, for sending it to me. The artist was a straight singer, guitarist and rock critic from Cleveland named Peter Laughner, who died way too young, at age 24 in 1977. That song appeared on a 1994 posthumus collection called "Take the Guitar Player for a Ride," which is now very out of print. My friend Don knew Laughner from high school until his death and even played in one of his bands, and surmises that Laughner was 100% heterosexual, but apparently like to hang out in gay bars, probably thought it was trendy.
Before I get to the last song I've got a very different sort of spoken word piece. It's from 1930 and is actually a sermon by the fiery minister Rev JM Gates, and he rants about those "Manish Women."
Rev JM Gates - Manish Women (1930)
To sort of counter that I've got Paul Lynde. No, really. Unfortunately while there's lots of Lynde in the movies and on television reruns, very little was preserved on vinyl. He had one solo comedy album, called "Recently Released," from 1960, but he got much more fame from being center square on "Hollywood Squares." In 1974 an album was released from the show, and here are all the Paul Lynde parts of the album.
Paul Lynde - from Hollywood Squares (1974)
Okay, again I'm out of show way before I'm out of songs, and I much thank you for listening. You have to really love obscurities to get this far, so again, I appreciate it. Closing is a song I can't believe I've never played before, because I think it's delightful. Yes, it's by a straight artist, but one loved by many a gay cabaret fan. From the Blossom Dearie album "Et Tu Bruce, Volume VIII," here's the John Wallowitch song, "Bruce."
Dearie - Bruce (1984)
No, nothing to do with this show, but I liked these two graphics