When you were doing those sessions — with Snuff Garret, Earl Palmer, all of those people — did they allow you input into what went down? How did that function, because all of your records, while they all sound great and like Bobby Vee records,I hear similarities in the production maybe say, on Johnny Burnette’s records at the time. Gene McDaniels ... I mean there was a Liberty/Dolton stable of artists who all had these great sounding records.
BV: Yeah they did. I’m glad to hear you say that ’cause I think that’s true also. When I go back and listen to the Liberty catalog, it’s pretty impressive. And I think, again, Motown had their players, and Memphis had their players. Nashville,and in L.A., it really wasn’t any different. There was a core of players that played on most of the Liberty records, the Johnny Mann Singers.
Whether they got credit for it or not, they sang on just about everything that came out of Liberty for about four or five years. Ernie Freeman was a primary guy in the success of those things, ’cause he always came in prepared, and we always recorded four songs in three hours. And the real unsung hero was Eddie Brackett. On the first 10 albums I did, he engineered them, and he came out of that school in the ’50s, where it was done live. So he knew how to listen to 25 players and ride the piano solo when it came up or the guitar solo when it came up — the ooh’s and the ahh’s and that kind of thing ...
I mentioned Johnny Burnette, Gene McDaniels — Timi Yuro, The Rivingtons, Troy Shondell, The Fleetwoods, The Crickets, The Ventures. And over on Imperial, which became or was connected to Liberty, was Rick Nelson, Fats Domino. This stable of artists was awesome — even Willie Nelson, at the time.
BV: It really was, and Eddie Cochran ...
Did you feel like you were a part of something really happening, or was it just whirling past you?
BV: No, I did. I felt like I was in a ... again, talking about a core of people, it was an exciting time. The record business was changing. Little garage labels had evolved into actual record companies.
When I started out, there were like 40 or 50 employess at Liberty, and it was exciting. The marketing department, the promotion department, sales department ... they would get excited about a record and hit the road with it, and it was a sight to behold (laughs). I went out on the road, too. We would go ’round to radio stations and do promotion stuff and record hops at that time — go to Detroit and play 12 record hops in one night. It was amazing.
I’d go in and sing “Rubber Ball” or whatever the record was, especially for those, ’cause the record hops were really left over from the ’50s, but the DJs were still doin’ them. And so you’d go out and you’d stand up and sing a song or two, or actually lip-sync it in most cases, or if they had a band, you’d slug your way through it ... or sing along with it, sign some autographs, jump in the car and go to the next one.
Amazing. But you were young and flexible! Indestructible!
BV: Yeah right. Absolutely. And [I] toured a lot with the original band, with The Shadows, and then my brother decided ... well, he got married. [He] always hated the road. He was always a good player and really my mentor. And then it started changing, started adding guys to the band.
So The Shadows was originally the band that you went out on the road with. So it was still a family affair, more or less.
BV: Right, they stayed with me ’til 1963. I always carried bands with me up until the mid-’60s and then started going out doing the charted versions, the big-band versions of the songs (with a band provided by the promoter). I had a conductor, Ted Gerow, who played with the Five Man Electrical Band. When they weren’t working he’d come out on the road with me. That worked out great, and he’s a great player, and we were still able to do some rockin’ stuff, but it was always a guessing game.
The acoustic versions you’ve done of “Take Good Care Of My Baby” and “The Night Has A Thousand Eyes” (from I Wouldn’t Change A Thing) are so much different than the originals or the demos. The original demos were probably just piano, right?
BV: Carole’s version of ‘Take Good Care Of My Baby’ had all of the indications of what the record eventually sounded like — even the pizzacato strings, she had that. She used to muffle the piano strings to have that plucking sound. She made great demos; basically, she had a complete road map.
How about “The Night Has A Thousand Eyes”?
BV: That was done ... there wasn’t a demo. Ben Wiseman, the guy that wrote the song, kept coming to Liberty, and he’d say, “OK, I got the second verse.” And he sat down and basically wrote the song over a period of a few weeks, and then he’d keep coming in until he had it the way he wanted it. So I learned the song as I was hearing him play it.
So this song sort of grew in front of you? As opposed to coming in as a completed piece.
BV: Right. Ben was at the session. The sub-plot is that the way records were made in those days, all those records up to and beyond “The Night Has A Thousand Eyes” in that time period were recorded live, and we always tried to get four songs in a three-hour session.
It turned out to be the last song on the session. Not for any particular reason, we [just] thought we had four good songs. We were running a little bit late, and we had 12 minutes left to record “The Night Has A Thousand Eyes.” I was comfortable with that; we had knocked ’em out sometimes with a couple of run-throughs, maybe change something, and seven minutes later you’ve got the song.
I could see Ben. He was pacing and pacing, and after the third song, he came into the studio. People were casual, no big deal. He came over to me and said, ‘You’re not gonna do my song, are ya?” And I said, “Yeah we are,” and he says, “But you’ve only got 12 minutes left!” So we did a couple of starts and stops and then did what we thought and what turned out to be the master. And he came in afterwards, which would’ve been into “golden time” (overtime).
Liberty didn’t want to pay for golden time because money is money, and we already felt like we had the take. He said, “You gotta do another take.” I thought sheesh, we had a good take. “Nah, you put a wrong word in there.” It was (sings) “one of these days you’re gonna be sorry ’cause your game I’m gonna play.” It was the rhyme that tripped him; [it was] supposed to be “one of these days you’re gonna be cryin’ cause your game I’m gonna play, cause you’ll find out without even tryin’...”
I thought, “Ah, well,” but he never forgot that; it was his song, and I talked to him for years. God bless him. He just died a couple of years ago — wonderful guy. [He] wrote ’em right up to the end. He said, “Ya know, you got a gold record out of it, sold a million copies. But just think if you had sung the right words. It would’ve been a better song’!
He still got his check though. He shouldn’t have been too unhappy! I never even noticed that it didn’t rhyme — never occurred to me. I went back and listened to the new version again, and you still haven’t changed the word back.
BV: Nope, never have!
Stay tuned for Part 5!