Dipping Into The Mystery Box

I realized the other day that there hadn’t been a Grab Bag post since we settled into our own digs here last winter. So it seemed to be a good time to dig back into the mystery box in which I keep about a hundred 45s.

I did things a bit differently this time. Earlier Grab Bag posts saw me reaching into the box and pulling out four or five 45s and then offering the three that played best among them. This time, I spent most of a day pulling records from the box and testing them on the turntable. Quite a few were rejected permanently because of scratches and pops. Some were laid back into the box for future consideration; they didn’t interest me that day.

And about twenty 45s both played well and seemed interesting, so I ripped them to mp3s and then spent a couple of hours with my new toy: the scanner that came with my new printer. And this morning, we’ll take a look at three of those 45s from last week’s work:

A Six-Pack of Singles From The Mystery Box
“Daddy-O” by the Fontane Sisters, Dot 15428 [1955]
“Adorable” by the Fontane Sisters, Dot 15428 [1955]
“Come Back, Baby” by Billy & Eddie, Top Rank 2017 [1957]
“The King Is Coming Back” by Billy & Eddie, Top Rank 2017 [1957]
“Keep Your Mind On Me” by Roscoe Shelton, Sims 240 [1965]
“Wedding Cake” by Roscoe Shelton, Sims 240 [1965]

I found a couple of 45s by the Fontane Sisters, who were very well known, which is a rare circumstance for the music I pull from the mystery box. In fact, there’s not much mystery about the Fontane Sisters at all. Wikipedia notes:

“The Fontane Sisters were a trio (Bea, Geri and Marge Rosse) from New Milford, New Jersey. Originally they performed with their guitarist brother Frank (1941–1944), but he was killed in World War II. They were featured on a radio show done by Perry Como 1945–1948 and Como’s later television simulcast program in 1948 known as The Chesterfield Supper Club and later (1949–1954) as The Perry Como Show.

“In 1949 they were signed by RCA Records, and did some recordings as backup to Como. In 1951 they had a minor hit with ‘The Tennessee Waltz,’ of which bigger selling recordings were made by Patti Page and Les Paul and Mary Ford.

“In 1954 they switched to Randy Wood’s Dot Record, where they had 18 songs in the Billboard Hot 100, including ten in the Top 40. Their 1954 recording ‘Hearts of Stone’, sold over one million copies, and was awarded a gold disc.

“The Fontane Sisters retired from show business around 1961, when youngest sister Geri was expecting her daughter. The daughter was named after Geri, and as an adult she went by the name ‘Geri Fontane Latchford’ – ‘Latchford’ coming from her father’s name, Al(bert) Latchford. Marge Fontaine felt that the trio did not want to continue the grind of tours and mixing with the newer members of the music scene. The sisters agreed that they did not want to be part of the evolving rock and roll scene, and wanted private lives.

“In 1963, Dot Records did release one last album, Tips of my Fingers, and single (‘Tips of My Fingers’/‘Summertime Love’) by The Fontane Sisters. But these recordings did not mark a return to performing for the trio, who remained retired despite having agreed to make the recordings for Dot.

“For the next 40 years, The Fontane Sisters remained out of the public’s eye. In 2004 an article in the New York Daily News reported that Geri Fontane Latchford had received royalties due to her mother and two aunts. It was revealed in this same article that all three of The Fontane Sisters had died: Geri (aged 65) in 1993, Bea (77) around 2002, and Marge (80) around 2003.”

So I know far more about the Fontane Sisters than I ever expected to know.

The record I pulled for today’s post intrigues me for one reason: The A side, “Daddy-O.” The title, of course, is drawn from beatnik slang of the mid-1950s, the time when the Beat movement – about which I am no expert, thank you – was derisive of the mainstream culture of the time. I do have a sense that “Daddy-O” was truly used by the beats to greet each other about as long as “groovy” was truly used by the hippies of the late 1960s: Only until each usage went mainstream.

And “Daddy-O” puts the slang term in the mainstream in 1955, as writers Louis Todd Innis, Buford Abner and Charlie Gore do what pop song writers have always done: take a hot topic, trend or piece of slang and make popular art out of it. The Fontane Sisters’ version of “Daddy-0” placed on four of the pertinent charts of the time, peaking at No. 11 on both the Top 100 and the Juke Box charts.

The B Side, “Adorable,” is pop that’s a little too sweet for my tastes, but it does show off to good effect the sister’s way with harmonies. So here’s the Fontane Sisters on Dot 15428 from 1955.

“Daddy-O”

“Adorable”

One side of the Billy & Eddie rockabilly record is intriguing. There’s not much to say about “Come Back, Baby,” which is a pretty generic lost love song, but “The King Is Coming Back” is an Elvis tribute, released in October 1957. I assume that it was released in advance of Presley’s imminent military service, which began in early 1958. The anticipation of Presley’s receiving his draft notice had been for some time one of the major stories of the day.

Still, it’s not certain from today’s digging who Billy and Eddie were. A page about their rockabilly contemporaries the Sparkletones at Black Cat Rockabilly Europe notes that there’s been speculation over the years that members of the Sparkletones might have sung on “The King Is Coming Back” as “the song was written by Joe Bennett and Jimmy Denton.” That’s an odd statement of authorship, unless Denton was using a pseudonym, as my copy of the record lists J. Bennet, C.Bennet and G. Brown as its creators.

The writers’ identities aside, Joe Bennett of the Sparkletones didn’t know much about who Billy and Eddie were: “I believe they were British guys,” he told Black Cat Rockabilly Europe.

Other than that, I don’t see a lot of information out there about Billy and Eddie. But there’s still the music, from Top Rank 2017 from 1957.

“Come Back, Baby”

“The King Is Coming Back”

Until I pulled his record from the box this week, I’d never heard of Roscoe Shelton. Born in Lynchburg, Tennessee, in 1931, Shelton – according to Wikipedia – worked with the long-time gospel group the Fairfield Four and with Bobby Hebb (“Sunny,” No. 2, 1966) as well as on his own. He had two singles reach the U.S. R&B chart: “Strain On My Heart” went to No. 25 in 1965, and “Easy Going Fellow” went to No. 32 a year later.

As the brief Wikipedia piece notes, Shelton was out of the music business from 1969 to 1994, and after a brief bit of success, Shelton crossed over in 2002.

The record I found in the mystery box dates to 1965, the year Shelton had the first of his two hits on the R&B chart. I’m not certain which of the two sides – “Wedding Cake” or “Keep Your Mind On Me” – was the A Side, but I’m guessing that it was the latter former, based on the listing of the single at Soulful Kinda Music.

And that’s just fine with me. “Keep Your Mind On Me” is a nice slice of deep soul, and there’s nothing wrong with it. But “Wedding Cake” is sly and cheerfully vindictive, as shown by the first two verses:

So you gonna marry the other guy?
Well, that’s all right. I ain’t gonna cry.
My heart is aching, but it ain’t gonna break.
’Cause I have already had a piece of that wedding cake.

 So you’re gonna be sorry when the new is gone
And when you are with him, you’re gonna feel all alone.
Then you think about me, but your heart will ache,
But I’ll be off and running with a piece of that wedding cake.

And there ain’t much to say after that. Here’s Roscoe Shelton on Sims 240 from 1965:

“Wedding Cake”

“Keep Your Mind On Me”

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