The first version of this article was published in Goldmine Magazine, August 21, 1992. Original interviews with Kenny Babcock, Donnie Brooks, Alan Clark, Odell Huff, John Marascalco and Dick Sherman were done from approximately 1979-1982.The article was placed on the Surf Records website (run by the Keith Babcock, the son of the label owner) circa 2008. My thanks to Kenny Babcock, Donnie Brooks, Alan Clark, Odell Huff, John Marascalco and Dick Sherman.
No Surf Music will be found on the Surf label – the company began four years before the birth of that musical genre – but the label’s output includes a super-rare release by Dorsey Burnette, two by a gentleman who went on to win an academy award in the film industry, two by a Mouseketeer, and several other interesting items.
Owner Kenny Babcock had been running his small engineering business in Burbank, California since 1946 and had started Marlinda, a square dance label, as a sideline in the early ‘50s. Babcock entered the pop/rock market when he formed the Surf label in 1957. My initial info had indicated that Jimmy Kerr was his first artist, but an earlier record number (5011) has turned up for a song by Suzanne Summers, albeit only one side. It’s possible that the song was part of an EP on #5015, but that would not explain the record number.
At any rate, Kerr’s initial release (5012) was pressed on red vinyl. His second (5014), “And There You Were,” was written by KABC music director John Epolito and arranged by Gus Levine, who was Dean Martin’s conductor. The B-side, “Let Me Be Loved,” was a song taken from The James Dean Story. The record managed some airplay and Kerr made an appearance at Blinstrub’s, a major club in Boston, as well as an appearance on Jack Paar’s Tonight Show, but none of that translated into record sales.
Judy Matson (5013) was apparently the actress who had appeared in The Harvey Girls (1941), The Big Store (1946) and The Band Wagon (1953).
The name Suzanne Summers is sure to catch the eye but you’re right, it was too long ago to be the one we know from television’s Three’s Company and Thighmaster commercials (and that one spells it Somers). The Surf Suzanne had jazz great Barney Kessel on guitarist for her first session. She also had a 1958 release on the Jaguar label.
John Marascalco, writer of “Rip It Up,” “Ready Teddy” and many other rock hits, wrote “Miss Ping Pong” for Portuguese Joe with the Tennessee Rockabillys. In fact, the second record was issued with a sleeve calling attention to that fact, probably one of the only times that a sleeve was used to promote the writer rather than the artist. Joe Alves’ vocals are often out of meter. Interestingly he wrote “Rhythm In My Bones” (which he apparently didn’t have) recorded by Danny Diamond for the Irvanne label so that may a pseudonym that he used. At any rate, he found success in another facet of show business.
Alves (5/21/36; San Leandro, CA) was the son of a Portuguese immigrant. He studied motion picture design at Chuinard Art Institute and later attended San Jose State and USC. He began his career as an assistant animator at the Walt Disney Studios in the 1950’s and he became a film production designer. He is probably best known for his work on three of the Jaws films. Alves worked on three features for Steven Spielberg and he was nominated for the Academy Award and won the BAFTA for Best Art Direction for his work on Close Encounters of the Third Kind. He worked on Jaws 2 as production designer and second unit director, and he directed Jaws 3-D, but that film received generally weak critical reception. The Golden Raspberry Awards nominated him as “worst director” in the 1983 and the film was his first and final effort as director.
The Vogues who appear on Surf were a vocal trio doing big band style material and they have no connection to the Vogues who were successful on Co&Ce and Reprise from 1965-69. However, the trio could be the same group that had a release on the Cascade label as well as two on Dot between 1957-59.
“Better You Should Whip-a Me,” by Dean Storey with the Dukes, was described by Babcock as “a real rocker.” The session consisted mostly of songwriters Bob and Dick Sherman and Bob Roberts. “That’s as obscure as you can possibly get,” said Dick Sherman. “That was my rise and fall (as Dean Storey). I’ve always been the demonstrator of our songs but I’ve never been an artist as such.” The Sherman brothers went on to write such hits as “You’re Sixteen,” Annette’s “Pineapple Princess,” “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious,” the Academy Award-winning “Chim Chim Cheree,” and Disneyland’s “It’s A Small World.”
Duke Lloyd was Harold Lloyd, Jr., son of the famous film comedian. His first release on Surf was produced by the Sherman brothers, with one side, “Daddy Bird,” coming from the film Frankenstein’s Daughter. Lloyd did major club work, including the Coconut Grove, and TV appearances with Art Linkletter and Johnny Carson. He recorded an album of standards and easy listening material on Coral about 1963.
Judy Harriet (Spiegalman) was the singer of a Surf release that, in a roundabout way, turned out to be the “break of our lives” for the Sherman brothers. “Bob got a call from Kenny Babcock,” recalled Dick Sherman, “and he said, ‘I’ve got this great little girl with a wonderful voice and I’m looking for some material for a girl to sing.” And of course, in those days, if somebody said they wanted some material for a giraffe to sing we’d say, ‘Of course, we’ve got a giraffe song right here!’ And I still do that! I think in a matter of three hours we squeezed out that song. They (the Sherman’s and additional partner Bob Roberts) had started a song called ‘Chalk On The Sidewalk.’ I had an idea for a tall guy named Tall Paul, and by the time Babcock came in we were still putting notes on the page. Bob was talking to him in one room and Roberts and I were scratching the lead sheet together.”
The Harriet recording got no action but bigger things were in store. Though Harriet had been a guest Mouseketeer, that fact had nothing to do with the song getting to Annette Funicello. Sherman explained: “A fellow named Moe Preskall in New York, who was working for Disney, saw that title on a stack of records in a New Jersey radio station, and they were looking for material for their little Mouseketeer, who had six months to go on her contract. She was getting the most mail so they said; ‘Maybe we’ll put her out on a teenybop record.’ It’s amazing how a little thing like that can start a whole ball of wax because if we hadn’t done ‘Tall Paul’ with Judy Harriet, Annette Funicello wouldn’t have recorded it and if Annette hadn’t recorded it, Walt Disney wouldn’t have heard of us, so our whole career kind of started taking off then.”
According to Babcock, Annette initially didn’t want to cover Judy Harriet’s record because of their friendship. Funicello had follow-up hits and many album cuts with songs written by the Sherman brothers. Harriet had a couple more releases by Surf and at least two later singles, one on Columbia and the other on American International, and she reportedly appeared in a Bing Crosby film.
“Hot Saki” by Eddie Atwood and his Goodies will probably be of interest to many collectors of instrumentals. The song is an obvious copy of “Tequila,” even to the point of employing “Tequila” composer and Champs saxophonist Danny Flores (aka Chuck Rio) on the session. Flores didn’t remember the record but Babcock recalled using him on other Surf sessions as well. Instead of a low male voice growling “Tequila,” the record features a sexy female voice grabbing attention with the words “Hot Saki” in a manner guaranteed to suggest something other than a drink.
Veteran country singer Patsy Montana recorded an updated version of her “Cowboy’s Sweetheart” for Surf. Montana, whose real name was Rubye Blevins, had become one of the first popular female country-western artists with her original version of the yodeling tune in 1936. She was one of the honorees in a singing cowboy tribute show at Gene Autry’s Western Heritage Museum in May 1992.
Both of Reggie Olson’s sides are respectable rockabilly, with “You Upset Me” adding nice background doowop vocals, a la “At The Hop”.
The real prize of the label, and the one with the most complicated story, is number 5019, “Bertha Lou.” The previously mentioned John Marascalco wrote the song and offered it to Johnny and Dorsey Burnette upon arriving from Memphis, where the three had been friends. The track was recorded with Johnny Burnette on rhythm guitar, Dorsey on bass, Odell Huff on lead guitar, H.B. Barnum on drums and Danny Flores on Piano. Though intended to be a lead vocal by Johnny, he backed out due to his contract with Coral.
As owner Babcock recalled, Dorsey said, “Well, they don’t care about me...I’ll do it.” Johnny’s voice was apparently already on the original track, shouting encouragement at the beginning of the guitar solo, but Dorsey went ahead and overdubbed the lead vocal and the record was released. Babcock got a call from Coral saying that Dorsey was still under contract to them and he had better pull the record off the market. Babcock remembered destroying all the remaining copies with the possible exception of one box.
About a year prior to this, Babcock had been impressed by a young singer named John Faircloth, who had auditioned for him at a party. Marascalco also knew Faircloth and they agreed that he could do the song. By this time Faircloth had already recorded two singles under the name Johnny Faire on Fable. When Babcock called him he was working as a pizza cook. He rushed over, got a copy of the record, spent the night learning the song, and returned the next day ready to record.
After getting through “Bertha Lou,” the flip side, “Til The Law Said Stop” (another Marascalco tune), presented a greater problem. Dorsey’s voice could not be completely erased so Faire had to phrase exactly with him and the result is an obvious double voice lead. As with the A-side, Johnny’s voice is apparently on the guitar solo singing the “bops,” so it seems all three voices are heard on the final version of this side. Meanwhile, Clint Miller covered the song on ABC-Paramount (9878). Babcock said some of the lyrics were changed on Miller’s record, possibly because they may not have understood all the original lyrics. (They did keep in one of the highlights of the song: “Bertha Lou, I wanna conjugate with you!”)
The Surf release did well on the West Coast and Faire himself helped to run the pressing machine. He remembered being behind on the orders but having to stop at sundown on Friday evening due to Babcock’s Seventh Day Adventist beliefs. Miller’s version became the bigger hit, reaching #79 in Billboard in early 1958.
Later developments included Larry Bright coming up with “Twinkie Lee”, which is virtually the same song. This resulted in an infringement suit by Marascalco. Bright had just hit the charts with “Mojo Workout” on Tide and, because Tide wasn’t paying him, he recorded “Twinkie Lee” for Rendezvous. Ironically, he claimed that Dorsey Burnette played bass on the record. Tide sued to obtain the master, which was later released on Highland, while Rendezvous, strangely enough, continued to put out the record, simply changing the artist’s name on the label to Pete Roberts. While this was going on Tide had another artist, Alan Knight, cover “Bertha Lou.”
Circa 1970 Ron Weiser of Rollin’ Rock Records convinced John Marascalco to reissue the original Dorsey Burnette version on Marascalco’s own Cee Jam label (#16). Apparently, there are two masters, one by Burnette and one by Faire, both still owned by Marascalco, who said that he pressed about 2,000 copies of the Cee Jam release. The Walker Brothers later covered “Bertha Lou” in Europe, as did Rocky Burnette (son of Johnny), reportedly in 1980.
The second Johnny Faire record for Surf had no involvement with the Burnettes’. About a year and a half later Faire changed his name to Donnie Brooks and signed with Era, where he had his million-selling “Mission Bell.” Ironically Dorsey Burnette also signed with that label where he had his biggest hits, “Tall Oak Tree” and “Hey Little One.”
Prior to his Northern California retirement around 1980, Babcock had turned up only two copies of the original Dorsey Burnette release of “Bertha Lou,” surely the rarest record ever by this artist, who passed away in 1979.
© 1992 & 2011 by
Gary E. Myers/MusicGem, PO Box 4777, Downey, CA 90241-1777