A fixture in the '60s, Gary U.S. Bonds continues rocking to this day
(No. 36 in a continuing series on artists who should be in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, but are not)
By Phill Marder
Revisionists will tell you the period between 1960 and the British Invasion was Rock’s darkest hour, a desolate wasteland where nothing but Frankie Avalon, Fabian and Bobby Rydell existed.
As with most Rock history written by those experiencing it second hand, this is total bs.
First off, many recordings by the three Philadelphia teen idols were good. Sure, Fabian couldn’t sing. But there’s about a dozen current Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductees who were just as bad…or worse. And at least Fabian had Doc Pomus songs.
Many rock journalists make it sound as if every major star vanished overnight. Not true. Early ’60s radio still had regular Elvis releases, even if he was in Germany. And many - “Stuck On You,” “A Mess Of Blues,” “I Gotta Know,” “I Feel So Bad,” “Marie’s The Name,” “Little Sister,” “(You’re The) Devil In Disguise” and more were solid rockers. Chuck Berry started the decade with the double-sided blast, “Too Pooped To Pop” and “Let It Rock” and added “Nadine,” “No Particular Place To Go,” “You Never Can Tell” and “Promised Land” in 1964.
And while Jerry Lee, Richard and Buddy Holly had all but disappeared from the airwaves, Fats still rocked and Roy Orbison, Ray Charles, the Four Seasons, Del Shannon, Gene Pitney, the Impressions, Dion, Chubby Checker, James Brown and many others were picking up the slack in addition to Motown beginning to fire on all cylinders. By the way, all but Chubby and a few Motown acts have been rightfully inducted into the Rock Hall of Fame.
Does that sound like a musical wasteland to you? On the contrary, Baby Boomers were now teenagers and we had plenty of great stuff to listen to.
Two more who left an indelible mark on Rock in the ‘60s were Gary U.S. Bonds and Freddy Cannon, who should receive serious consideration for induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
Bonds started with “New Orleans,” which climbed to No. 6 in 1960. This was not just a hit record, but an anthem of sorts, Bonds breaking in with the chant “I said ahey, heya, hey yeah.” The sound of the record, produced by Bonds’ mentor Frank Guida, was the ultimate in low-fi, filled with doubled (tripled?) vocals, tape hiss, heavy bass drum and Guida’s ripping house band, The Church Street Five, featuring Gene Barge (Daddy G) on sax.
“A rock and roll juggernaut had been launched that would roll on for only two years but leave an indelible mark on a generation of rockers and producers then coming of age at the dawn of The British Invasion,“ David McGee so accurately wrote in “The New Rolling Stone Album Guide.“
But surprisingly, the follow-up, “Not Me,” was a total flop, though it became a #12 hit for The Orlons in 1963. Maybe even the world of Rock was not ready for the line, “You better shut up before I bust you in the lip” in 1961. But shortly after, “Quarter To Three” brought Bonds back to the top - in fact, all the way to the top - becoming one of Rock’s all-time classics, in spite of some x-rated yelps buried in the party atmosphere crowd noise.
Through 1962, Bonds continued to hit the charts with hard-rocking blasts, “School Is Out,” “Dear Lady Twist” and “Twist, Twist Senora” all cracking the top 10.
When the hits stopped coming, Bonds continued making public appearances and co-wrote “She’s All I Got,“ a major country hit for Johnny Paycheck in 1971.
In 1981, Bonds received the considerable support of Bruce Springsteen. “The Boss” played “Quarter To Three” in many of his concerts and threw his weight behind a Bonds’ comeback, writing two big hits, “This Little Girl” and “Out Of Work” for Bonds while he and Steve Van Zandt produced two fine albums for the Norfolk native.
In 2004, he released “Back In 20” and in 2009 “Let Them Talk.” I had the pleasure of seeing Bonds three years ago, and he still rocked the house.
Calling Freddy Cannon explosive was an understatement
Cannon blasted - and that term is a mild description - onto the scene in May, 1959 when his “Tallahassee Lassie” began its run up the charts, eventually peaking at No. 6. As a budding deejay, this was the first record I ever played and it was a nightmare, the tone arm jumping all over the place thanks to the pounding bass drum, which became one of Cannon’s trademarks. The other was the well-timed “yelp,” which dotted most of Cannon’s records.
Cannon rocked as hard or harder than anyone in the early ‘60s, whether remaking old classics such as “Way Down Yonder In New Orleans” or “Chattanooga Shoe Shine Boy” or doing originals such as the double-sided “Jump Over” and “The Urge” or the wall-rattling “Buzz Buzz A-Diddle-It.”
Three years and one day after “Tallahassee Lassie” introduced Cannon to the Billboard Hot 100, his biggest success entered the charts. “Palisades Park” went on to reach No. 3 and become a staple of oldies radio stations. Cannon continued to have hits until 1966, reaching the top 20 with “Abigail Beecher” and “Action,” the theme for Dick Clark’s “Where The Action Is” TV show.
And speaking of Clark, Cannon was one of the most popular and accessible rockers of the early ‘60s, setting the record for most appearances on Clark’s “American Bandstand.”
The late, great Cub Koda, a former “Goldmine” columnist, wrote a glowing summary of Cannon for allmusicguide.com. Noting that many early rockers quickly abandoned the music that got them to the top for “tuxedos” and “supper club schmaltz,” (Bobby Darin anyone?) Koda wrote, “Freddy Cannon was a true believer, a rocker to the bone. Freddy Cannon made rock & roll records; great noisy rock & roll records…”
Koda describes “Tallahassie Lassie” as “a record that simply rocks from beginning to end like few others.”
Today, Cannon seems hardly remembered, except by those of us who grew up with his powerful records.
“…Cannon is wrongly lumped in with the "Bobbies and Frankies" that proliferated during that era (the early ‘60s),” Koda noted. “But a quick listen to any of his finest records … quickly dispels any preconceived notions of him being a pretty-boy teen idol no-talent…in a time frame full of phony baloney teen idols Freddy Cannon always remained a true rock & roller.”
Yes, it may have been the era of phony baloney teen idols, but it also was the era of much great Rock & Roll. And two who contributed mightily were Bonds and Cannon, and each deserves induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.