From the Land of Band Box Records

Beyond the Cover Girl…

May 13, 2017

The Search for Suze Rotolo…

Suze – 1959 High School

Several month’s back I was searching the library archives for a well crafted narrative of New York’s Greenwich Village.  I picked up several books and pretty much lost interest.  I was looking for something a bit deeper – something with more intimate – from a true insider.

This past week I found it.  “A Freewheelin’ Time – A Memoir of Greenwich Village in the Sixties” by “Suze” Rotolo (Susan Elizabeth Rotolo).  At first glance at the book’s cover I surmised that Suze was indeed the young girl locked arm-in-arm with the minstrel for our age.  So my next inclination was to thumb through the book.  I have read all the Dylan biography and autobiography I will need for the rest of my lifetime (The only one I really enjoyed was Bob’s own “Chronicles Volume 1”).

This book quickly grabbed my attention with it’s intriguing illustrations – not just a traditional center or double set of obvious glossies – but snippets, publication extracts, art and insider ‘memorabilia’ that only someone entrenched within the Greenwich Village community could possibly access.

What a satisfying narrative, not ghost written, but authored by the ‘girl on the cover’ of Bob Dylan’s debut album, “The Free Wheelin’ Bob Dylan”, 1962.

Suze is native of Queens, New York, a daughter of Pete and Mary Rotolo, both of whom were members of the American Communist Party.  Suze’s tale is replete with references to the era of “McCarthyism” which obviously impacted many of the people who surrounded her while residing in Greenwich.

Suze found her way to the Village early on – taking up residence there in 1961 at the age of 17.  I had never really obtained more than a passing knowledge of her relationship with Dylan, thinking perhaps it had dissipated soon after the famous album cover ‘photo op’.

Not true.  Suze was shepherd and guide for the ‘North Country’ minstrel who ventured in land far-apart from the land of many lakes.

A Very Young Greenwich Village Couple

This book is rich with information and tales of Suze’s friends, places and experiences; from Pete Seeger, to Phil Ochs; from Gerdes’ Folk City to Bob and Suze home at “Avenue B”; from her European travels to her involvement in testing the Cuba travel ban – and so much more.

Half way through this book I decided I would attempt to contact Suze, just to extend my gratitude for giving us such a introspective account of a mystical place and time in our baby boomer heritage.  Growing up in Denver- which I wouldn’t trade for the world and visiting Greenwich Village in the 1950’s or 60’s – could be likened to Dorothy growing up in Kansas – and – yes – visiting the Emerald City.

I’ve always held the opinion that Bob Dylan was never just what he was expected to be.  I recall him stating something along the lines of ‘I’m not leading anyone anywhere’.

And here is Suze’s account:

“Bob Dylan had to be the next One, the Prophet.  He fit the bill with the extraordinary songs he was writing, which expressed wisdom beyond his years.  The old-left wanted to school him so he would understand well and continue on the road they had paved, the one that Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger and others had traveled before him.  They explained the way of the road and its borders.

Bob listened, absorbed, honored them, and then walked away.  An artist can’t be made to serve a theory.  He headed toward the lights that beckoned at the end of the tunnel.  He made for the exit and from there he took the open roads that led him to where he chose to go instead.  He didn’t want to accept the torch they were trying to pass to him.”

In the final account -I was happy to learn that Suze found her own way – found herself – far beyond the Free Wheelin’ Bob Dylan.

And my attempt to make contact?  I was saddened to learn that Suze Rotolo passed away in 2011 – three years after publishing this fine historical account – losing a battle with cancer.  Do yourself a favor, locate a copy of the book, and walk the streets of Greenwich Village one last time with Suze Rotolo.

From Darlings to Dark Days

May 10, 2017

Veronica (Ronnie) Bennett & The Fabulous Ronettes

Still busy reading Veronica ‘Ronnie’ Bennett’s autobiography “Be My Baby – How I Survived Mascara, Miniskirts and Madness or My Life as a Fabulous Ronette” with Vince Waldron.

At the time of the book’s composition and publication, I am sure that Ronnie Spector considered it a tale of a very harrowing journey the world of rock and roll with one of the most bizarre music industry figures to ever hit the scene.

Little did she know what lie ahead after her final break with Phil Spector.  Looking back – she was very, very fortunate to emerge at all.  But that is Phil’s story.

When they were very young, driven by Ronnie insatiable drive to sing and perform, the sisters Ronnie and Estelle, joined by cousins Nedra Talley, sisters Elaine and Diane Mayes and a very young male cousin Ira, got a little taste future fame when they were granted a one song shot at Harlem’s famous Apollo Theater due to the efforts of the Bennett’s mother.

The six kids were mesmerized (and frightened) by the prospect of facing the raucous and unpredictable Apollo audience who lacked any semblance of tolerance for any act displaying amateurism.

When the family (nameless as a group at the time) stepped onto the stage, Ira the designated lead singer so the group could appear more like Lymon’s Teenagers, completely froze up.  Realizing the calamity which was about to befall the six, Ronnie stepped to the front and, in a manner, saved the day.  The Bennett girls and cousins didn’t bring the house down that day.  If anything it was nothing more than a very humbling experience.  At song’s conclusion there was a smattering of reserved applause.  The girls, after all, were very, very cute and that most likely was the saving grace.

A Very Young Ronnie

We have all heard the story over and over regarding Frankie Lymon’s influence on Ronnie, and by her account, she may never had pursued a singing career had she not heard Frankie deliver his self-composed hit “Why Do Fools Fall in Love”.  She cites that song with her entire vocal approach to rock and roll.

Ronnie had two personal encounters with Lymon.  The first came when she was 12 years old and Frankie was 13 when Ronnie’s mother met Frankie at a diner and approached him inviting him to come to Ronnie’s birthday party.  It was a close-knit neighborhood and Frankie agreed to stop by.  Come the date, he didn’t make it, but sent two of his brothers much to the disappointment of Ronnie.

Several weeks down-the road, Lymon made a surprise spontaneous visit to the Bennett household, taking Ronnie completely by surprise.  It did not go well.  Even at the very early age, there were trouble signs for Frankie and he presented them to Ronnie when he took large gulps of alcohol in her presence.  In short order Lymon was advancing on Ronnie for kisses or more, much to her distress.  Fortunately an uncle arrived on the scene (the Bennett family was a very tight knit and large extended family) and Lymon was escorted from the house.  There was a second encounter with Frankie before he passed away that did not go well either.

Little Darlings

The Harlem experience provided reason enough for cousins Diane, Elaine and Ira to all excuse themselves from any further rock and roll adventures.  But Ronnie, Estelle and Nedra would forge ahead.  (Diane would later on join the group as an on-the-road fill-in for Ronnie, when she was busy laying down lead vocals, and when the group was booked for multi-star traveling performances such as Dick Clark’s “Caravan”).  Diane possessed the family-look and slid into the role usually without much notice.

The three all grew up in ‘Spanish Harlem’ and while never “street tough”, they were exposed to enough to forge the consummate ‘girl group’ persona.  All three girls were of mixed race origins.  Throughout her biography, Ronnie makes reference to them being ‘half-breeds’, a designation that set them apart from many of the female groups of the day and sometimes was a barrier to being accepted fully as a black group by other blacks.

For a short time, the Bennett girls and Nedra would assume an appropriate moniker the “Darlings” for they were certainly that.  Then soon they came to the attention of record producer Stuart Philips who led the trio to Colpix Records where they would release a string of largely unnoticed tracks, now taking the name of “Ronnie and the Relatives” and soon, after a large family gathering and a name barnstorming, first the “Rondettes” quickly amended to “The Ronettes”.

The Phil Spector connection due to the direct efforts of Ronnie who knew where Spector was working as a composer in New York, and took the initiative to request an audience.  The Ronettes were stunned to learn that Specter was already familiar with them via their appearances at New York’s Peppermint Lounge working along side of Joey Dee and the Starliters as a dancing and sometimes singing group.  Phil was very smitten with the girls and that was that.

They found a way out of their Colpix contract and were quickly secured by Specter.  Their first-time-out effort on Spector’s Philles label would be their biggest moment in the sun “Be My Baby” rising to number 2 on the Billboard charts in August of 1963.  Seven more singles and one album would follow into 1966, none of them cracking the Top Ten.

But the Ronettes were very popular and always well-received on the road with in-person appearances.

Image result for phil spector prison

Spector in Corrections

The biography takes us up to her successful break from the abusive and overly domineering Phil Spector.  He was perhaps a genius in the studio – “wall of sound” and all of that – but was no doubt behind the scenes a monster.  In 2003 Spector committed murder and was sentenced to prison where he remains to this day.

Ronnie had a brief encounter with a recording opportunity with the Beatles’ Apple Records, and a few tracks composed by Spector and George Harrison.  Ronnie did not like either track, not being able to make any sense of them.  The music buying public agreed and the record went nowhere, and the Apple affiliation was done.

The Ronettes made one final public appearance with Ronnie and Nedra performing the hits, and Estelle present but unable to join in due to illness.   She passed away losing a bought with cancer.  Nedra settled down, raised a family and became a real estate agent.

Ronnie survived surfacing from time to time performing and recording with others stars, successfully marrying, raising two sons, and continuing on – right into 2016 releasing an LP of British hits titled “English Heart”.

Ronnie’s Failed Sojourn with Apple Records

Colorado “Boulevard”: MVP? (MVV?)

May 4, 2017

“Boulevard”? Creighton ‘Nick’ Holley?

About a month ago I received an email from a British record collector inquiring about a 45 I had posted on the 45 Cat (Catalog).

The record in question was released on a Denver label – most likely a one-off since the label catalog number was a very elementary “001”.  I could not recall posting this single and so I referred the Brit to a few of the Colorado record collecting ‘all-stars’ up and down the front range.

Turns out that I had obtained the images quite a while back from one of the all-stars during a trading/scanning session.  In many ways I am a rather fickle collector, often being content with the discovery of a Colorado based artist or label or composer – and not necessarily compelled to locate the actual record.  And now comes the most damaging confession of all…. I quite often purchase a record AND NEVER PLAY IT!!!

Okay, that little admission is now out of the way so back to the M.B.C. recording by “Boulevard”.

No one I have spoken with, including the Colorado owner of the record shown above knows a single thing about the label, the group or American Recording.  My Boulevard-owning record buddy did a little research after being contacted and made the decision to place his copy on EBay via Denver’s premier and historic vinyl store, “Wax Trax”.

I learned about this when meeting up with him at the Denver Record Expo late last month (April).  “How did the bidding go?” I inquired.  Without so much as even looking up from a stack of 45’s he replied.  “I sold it.”  Plain and simple answer.  “How much?” was a natural follow-up.  “A little over $1,100” was his reply.

In reality the record brought a figure closer to $1,200 with 11 bids.  Nearly every bid came out of Great Britain as did the winning one.

This song is very big with some Brits.  Since that sale I have heard from another U.K. collector who has the same or higher interest level in not only owning the recording, but knowing more about “Boulevard”.

Enter Nick Holley

Denver magazine “Westword” reporter Dave Herrera reported in early January of 2012 the news that Denver jazz musician Creighton “Nick” Holley had passed away at the age of 65 from cancer.

We learn from that obituary that Holley had fronted his own group the “Creighton Holley Band” Dan Treanor performing often at a Denver spot “Herb’s Hideout”.

Barge, Bonds & Church Street Five

Herrera further reported that Holley had – for a time – played with “The Rhythm Kings” in Chicago, a group show casing Gene Barge, a Virginia-born sax player who founded the instrumental group “The Church Street Five” famously backing Gary ‘U.S.’ Bonds on his many Legrand records releases.  Barge picked up the moniker “Daddy G” from a co-composition of his “A Night With Daddy G”.  A Denver Post obit speaks of Holley being in Chicago in the early 1990’s taking over lead vocals for the late blues singer – Larry Nolan who fronted “Big Twist and the Mellow Fellows”.

The Post reported that Holley missed the Denver scene, and elected to return where he teamed up with drummer Mark Emmons and vocalist Laura Newman in the band “AOA”.

Barge was also a co-writer for the huge Bonds’ hit “Quarter To Three” which originally recorded as an instrumental by “The Church Street Five”.

Barge would contribute to other Bonds’ hits including “School Is Out”, and naturally the sequel “School Is In”, “Twist, Twist, Senora” and many Bonds’ B sides.

Eventually Barge would migrate to Chicago recording often as a studio musician especially for Chess Records, and eventually finding his way into the “Rhythm Kings” where Holley would make his acquaintance and for a short time become the lead singer for the group.  I haven’t been able to determine whether this stint in the Windy City was earlier on before his “Big Twist” venture.

Carlisle Pennsylvania

I located a Holley tribute from musician and Blogger Forrest Brown out of Pennsylvania who paid tribute to Holley as well.  Brown knew Holley from his time growing up in Carlisle, PA where apparently relatives still reside.

Forrest Brown of Carlisle

Brown responded to my query “Man, this is crazy. A British gentleman contacted me last month about Nick and Boulevard. As I told him I don’t know much about that. I didn’t have any contact with Nick after he left Carlisle.

He had 2 sisters and a brother and I actually worked with his mother for a short period some years ago. I don’t know where his relatives may be but if they’re in town I will ask if they have any information.”

The “Westword” obit heaps accolades upon Holley from musicians throughout the Colorado music scene.

And so – the mystery of the group called “Boulevard” remains.  But at a minimum, now I have learned about the talent – Creighton Holley.  He would probably be pleased to know that two of his compositions now reside on what must certainly be Colorado’s MVV – “Most Valuable Vinyl”.