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From the Land of Band Box Records

A Child of Clay

June 10, 2016
craigr244

The “Other” Jimmie Rodgers

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The pop and folk singer Jimmie Rodgers (James Frederick “Jimmie” Rodgers ironically was born in the same year that “The Father of Country Music”, James Charles “Jimmie” Rodgers, passed away – age 35 – from tuberculosis.

I remember back in 1967 when a very unlikely source, (my mother), told me that the pop singer Rodgers had been brutally attacked by assailants while in a men’s restroom, leaving him with brain damage.  Not sure if my mother was reading something back  then like the Enquirer (it was around then – founded in 1925) or what, I just remember being more surprised by mom even knowing who Jimmie Rodgers was than learning about his attack.

I never gave the subject much additional thought.  I owned a couple of Rodgers recordings (Honeycomb and Kisses Sweeter Than Wine), neither ever receiving many spins from me because for me, after hearing them a thousand times on the radio, I just couldn’t bear enduring the monotonous  repetitive refrains of either.

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I guess what I have always liked most about Rodger’s vinyl output was his 1958 Roulette long play release on Roulette – self titled “Jimmie Rodgers” (see above).  With that Preston-like hair style.  Looked like a rocker to me.

It is interesting to me that the internet accounts of Jimmie’s beating strongly allude to L.A. Police involvement – providing many intricate details as well as the singer’s lawsuit again the department and so on.  But then there is 2010 YouTube interview with Rodgers which is strange.  Primarily he talks about his rise to fame and then dwells extensively on his bought with Spasmodic Dysphonia, a vocal disorder which brought his singing pretty much to a end – although he does perform today often via lip sync.

In this interview he makes an almost “off-handed” comment about his attack along the lines of ‘I can’t say much about (the attack) due to on-going lawsuits’. Then he follows that with a quick ‘Anyway I was driving home and somebody came up to my window and I rolled my window down, and they hit me with something.”  Obviously he was not willing to reveal anything further.

Also on-line are references to Roulette Records stable mate Tommy James who alleged in a biography that the attack was “ordered” by the owner of the label – Morris Levy who had “Mafia connections”.  Why?  Probably have to read the Jame’s biography to find out but perhaps because Jimmy had forsaken Levy’s Roulette Record label – although that occurred back in 1962 when he moved to Dot Records.  Maybe the Mafia was just a little slow on the draw.

Coincidentally, I am currently reading Richie Furay’s biography in which he speaks briefly about Levy and that he was a person “not to be crossed”.  (Furay was also in the Roulette family as a member of the “Au-Go-Go” singers – a folk act with one LP release on the label back in 1964.  That East Coast based group also included Stephen Stills.

Levy - Hit Man?

Levy – Hit Man?

CLAY 01So on to the “Child of Clay” track.  The lyrics to this song always mystified and sort of frightened me. The song was Jimmie’s last significant hit record and was released in August of 1967 not long before the attack in October of that year.  The lyrics dance with the dark side of this “child’s” activities and fate.  For the life of me I cannot document any specific reason that the writers (Ernie Maresca and Jimmy Curtis) penned this song.  Some example lyrics from the middle of the tune:

“Going out into the street at night
The answers he may meet hm hm
With sick and twisted minds
He shares the searching questions
His heart bears hm hm
And from the dregs
The answers find their way into his supple mind
In time the planted seeds will grow
Into a twisted vine below
No, no, no, no, no, no, no,
No, no, no, no, no, no, no,”

Goodness Woodness!  I hope they were able to catch up with the Child of Clay before it was too late – for someone else!

Ernie Maresca doesn’t seem like a likely source for this little ditty, but then again it was the late 1960’s.  Ernie started off his career in a New York vocal group called the Montereys then becoming the Desires.  He would depart the group who then became The Regents of later “Barbara Ann” fame.  In 1961 Ernie penned two tracks for the group “Lonesome Boy” and “Oh Baby”.  In the Spring of 1962, Ernie would land a big one on the Hot 100 “Shout, Shout (Knock Yourself Out) which vocally was a little lacking but had the bounce and spirit that both his earlier and future hit records would become know for.

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Ernie’s compositions included:

  • “No One Knows” by Dion and the Belmonts (#19 – 1958)
  • “Runaround” by his former group, The Regents (#28 – 1961)
  • “Runaround Sue” & “The Wanderer by Dion (#1 & #2 respectively in 1961)
  • Another Dion hit “Lovers Who Wander” (#3 – 1962)
  • “Come on Little Angel” this time by just the Belmonts (#28 – 1962)
  • “Donna the Prima Donna” Dion (#6 – 1963)
  • “Hey Jean, Hey Dean” by Dean & Jean (#32 – 1964) – I can easily picture Ernie singing this son
  • “Party Girl” by Bernadette Carroll (#47 – 1964)
  • And “Whenever A Teenager Cries” by Reparata and the Delrons (#60 – 1965)

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Then there was a bit of a layoff – almost two years with no charting success and then along came “Child of Clay” which reached #31 on the Hot 100.

The co-writer on the song, Jimmy Curtiss composed several songs that really went nowhere for artists that included Bobby Rydell, Bobby Sherman, The Hobbits (a group which included him as a member) and even one-time Red Sox star Tony Conigliaro who took a shot at a recording career with several dead end releases.

Curtiss

Curtiss

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Biographers for the late Curtiss seem to feel that he was the primary inspiration for “Child of Clay”, but none of those biographies delve into the subject matter any further than offering The song which was a hit for Jimmie Rodgers. A catchy, questioning (the 60s remember), non-confrontational protest song.”

4 Comments

  1. What a great article – Once again you’ve brought up a part of rock history that gets relatively little attention. I’ve long wondered about the attack. The impression that I get is that an off-duty cop (perhaps one who’d been drinking) pulled Jimmy over because he didn’t like the way he was driving and then proceeded to beat the singer to within an inch of his life. I think he then called his buddies to stage a cover-up.
    I don’t think Levy was involved. I’m not aware of Jimmy’s people demanding an accounting of back royalties, and that’s the only thing Levy would have cared about at that point. The A&Ms were well produced but – for my money – Jimmy’s best song was the self-penned “It’s Over,” the demo that he turned into a hit for Dot.

    Brian McFadden

    • Brian, I agree about “It’s Over” – exquisite, but I’ll still put “Wonderful You” an iota ahead. He had such a great voice; it was so pure that sometimes his records could seem too “cute,” but the good ones are, to my ears, THAT good.

      I don’t know if the beating was so much back royalties and Morris Levy’s resentment at Rodgers leaving his label. At least that’s what I had heard in a couple of off-the-record conversations with people I know in the industry, including one who worked for Roulette for a while. But Levy is dead, Jimmie isn’t talking, and so what’s left is built from circumstantial and second-hand evidence. Still, say what we will about Levy and company, but they did put some great music in many genres out on that label and its family of offshoots.

  2. Very interesting post, Craig, thank you. These are some interesting personages!

    The tale of Jimmie Rodgers being beaten up on orders of Morris Levy because he forsook Roulette Records is not unfamiliar to me. I have heard it said elsewhere, besides in Tomm6y James’ book (which is a really good read, by the way). I always wondered how Rodgers figured into the Roulette pantheon of artists with his delicate tenor. My favorite has always been the highly choral Wonderful You – it’s sweet, sentimental, and still puts me away!

    I forget where, but recently I came across a quite serious song Ernie Maresca wrote besides “Child of Clay.” I had always considered him a rocker only, and the sensitive side was a revelation. If I think of it I’ll post it. Meanwhile, here’s a good bio of his earlier years by Richie Unterberger, including an honest critique of his songwriting: http://www.allmusic.com/artist/ernie-maresca-mn0000203916 . There’s also a nice little bio of him on my friend Ronnie Allen’s page: http://www.jerseygirlssing.com/ErnieMarescaPage.htm

    By the way, Maresca died a year ago at age 76 “after a short illness.”

    Jimmy Curtiss, I discovered belatedly, was involved with an early group of which I was particularly enamored: The Emjays, from the newly-exploded suburb of Massapequa, Long Island, NY. The beautiful This Is My Love was a hit in New York; it’s an odd one, with a bass singer who never quite gets to the bottom, and Curtiss’ double lead with Judy Floyd floating hauntingly above. The flip side, Waitin’ (The Pitty Pat Song), is actually rockabilly with a doo-wop overlay. Strangely, Waitin’ does not have a bass (guitar or stand-up)! There was a follow-up, Cross My Heart, a strangely haunted cha-cha (yes, really), with a refrain that I remember ad hoc doo-wop groups singing in the halls of my junior high school.. The Emjays also did a wonderfully awkward version of Over The Rainbow. There’s a lot more about Curtiss and the Emjays here: http://doo-wop.blogg.org/the-emjays-a125368076. There are links to all their songs (I’ve never heard Cookie Jar – that’s my next thing to do after I hit send).

    • As always Paul – this is great stuff – I always get back better stuff than I give which makes this fun! Keep up the great contributions.

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