A collection of articles
from "I WAS A TEEN-AGE IDOL?"
by Paul Evans
© held by Paul Evans (Please do NOT reprint anything from these articles without my permission.)
Click here to hear "I GOTTA KNOW",
(A live performance by Paul of his first Elvis recording.)
From Paul's Castle Records CD, "Happy Go Lucky Me (The Paul Evans Songbook)"
2) Getting There in the 50's
3) On the Road with Seven Little
4) The New York Song Writing Scene
Until "Seven Little Girls" hit the charts, I earned my way singing for other writers. I crossed paths many times with Gerry Landis (Paul Simon to you), Tony Orlando and Jerry "Here Comes Summer" Keller - all of us cutting demos while we waited for our big breaks. We did most of our work at Associated Recording Studios, the hub of the New York demo scene. We also worked a little further up Seventh Avenue - a block from Broadway - at the Dick Charles Recording Studios. Many demos were bought by record companies, released as masters and became big hits. That was the story of "7 Little Girls" which I demoed for Lee Pockriss and Bob Hilliard in 1959.
Carl Dobkins, Jr.: I sang on three demos for songs that eventually became hits for Carl Dobkins, Jr. on Decca Records. They were "My Heart is an Open Book" written by Lee Pockriss and Hal David (#3 in April, 1959), "Lucky Devil" written by Aaron Schroeder and Wally Gold (#25 in December, 1959) and "Exclusively Yours" written by Ben Raleigh and Donald Wolf (#62 in May, 1960). When I stopped doing demos, Carl mysteriously stopped having hits... and when I next ran into him he begged me (jokingly) to please go back to singing on demos so that he could go back to having hits.
The Electric Heater: I worked with some of the finest studio musicians in New York including Buddy Saltzman, the great drummer who found an old electric fan heater in Associated Recording Studios and played it with his brushes on many demos and masters.
It Started With a Demo: Actually, I owe my career in the music business to demos. I made my first demo at the Audiosonic Recording Studios in the fabled Brill Building in New York City. I then made the rounds of all the publishers in that music business building with my demo in my hand. When I stopped at the Fred Fisher Music Publishing Company, the office manager, Stan Cooper, listened to the demo and signed me to a contract. (I was seventeen years old at the time and my mother had to co-sign the contract.) Stan then played the demo for Brad McCuen and Steve Sholtz at Groove/RCA Victor and they signed me to the label.
On my way to "Seven Little Girls" I sang my way through high school, some local clubs and a few record companies. I ran my high school Variety Show and when it was my turn to perform, I was introduced as "Andrew Jackson High School's answer to Gary Cooper". I was somewhat long and lean and I did, after all, sing "High Noon" for the trapped audience. But I knew there might be bigger things in store for me. So sometime in the year 1957, I took the subway into Manhattan and started knocking on doors in the Brill Building - guitar in hand. I quickly discovered that no one wanted to give me a live audition, so I stopped into Audiosonic Recording and cut an audition record. (No cassettes tapes at the time. I delivered my audition on a small hole, large 45 rpm acetate.) I remember that I included Eddie Fisher's "Cindy, Oh, Cindy" and Harry Belafonte's "Mathilda" as well as a couple of my own songs. I took it to a few publishing offices where the inhabitants didn't want to bother with me - they were playing poker. But I finally ran into a music publisher, Stan Cooper, who signed me to a managerial and song publishing contract. Through his contacts he got me a recording contract with RCA. It wasn't too long before I was at my first recording session, armed with a couple of songs of my own. I remember some of the musicians muttering, "What kind of music do they call this?" Mickey Baker, a studio "sideman" before and after his Mickey and Sylvia smash, "Love Is Strange", answered, "Rock-a-Billy". I didn't care what they called it. I was on my way.
Not So Fast! First, my release was held up for several months. When "What Do You Know" was finally released and I hit the road to promote it, my RCA distributors took me to radio stations and introduced me to the disk jockey. But then they'd quickly add, "And look what else I've got for you, you lucky devil." And they'd pull out a new Presley or Belafonte or another established star's record. My records and I were quickly forgotten and I returned home - hitless.
Next! After I was released by RCA, Stan took me over to Decca Records where a song I'd written, "When", had become a smash for the Kalin Twins.
This is as good an opportunity as any to let you in on how the powers-that-pick-songs sometimes chose them for your entertainment and pleasure:
The Kalin Twins were signed to Decca and had one side picked for their recording session. They needed an office in New York to rehearse in, so they called their A&R man (Artist and Repertoire) who invited them to use his office. He told them that while they were there they should browse through a pile of demonstration records that he'd approved for them and find one that they'd like to cut as a "B" side. But when the Twins got to his office, they somehow got into a stack of records that he'd rejected. And that's where they found "When". They loved the song and rehearsed it, and when their A&R man returned to his office, he was too embarrassed to tell them that he had already rejected the song. The end of the story turned out very well, however - for me, the Kalin Twins - and the A&R man.
The record I made for Decca, "I Think About You All The Time", became their sixth best seller at a time when their top five were on the national charts. ("Volare" was their top seller.)
Next - Again! Decca couldn't put my record over the top however, so I was released and went trotting over to see Jerry Wexler and Ahmet Ertegun who signed me to their Atco label. I've always been sad that I didn't have any success on Atco, because I liked and respected Jerry and Ahmet so much. And they were fun. Once when I was playing a new song for them, they whooped and hollered and jumped around their office. Jerry even got on his hands and knees under his desk, singing along with the demo. When the demo ended, they both immediately quieted down and said they really didn't like the song and would pass on it. My brain reeled for days from that Wexler / Ertegun experience.
At Long Last - A Hit! While I was waiting for a hit, I was writing for other artists and singing on demonstration recordings (demos) for other writers. One day, Lee Pockriss and Bob Hilliard hired me to sing on a demo of a new song of theirs, "Seven Little Girls, Sitting In The Back Seat". Guaranteed Records bought the demo, released it without any embellishments, and it became a big, big hit.
And that's how I became a Teen-age Idol (?).
3) On the Road with Seven Little
I was hangin' out in my room, listening to WINS, one of the three or four pop music stations in New York at the time. My record of "Seven Little Girls" wasn't due to be released for a couple of weeks or so. And then the DJ played a song that sounded familiar to me. "Hmm," I thought. "What's the name of this song? I'm sure I've heard it before." Slowly and surely the singer, the lyrics and the music took on a familiar shape in my mind. "Wait a minute! That's me! They're playing my record! Wow! Thats 'Seven Little Girls'. Mom. Dad. Listen to this. Quick!" That day, switching stations repeatedly, I heard the record five times. And I knew that I finally had the hit song that I'd been waiting for.
By this time I had written "When", a #1 smash for the Kalin Twins as well as some local hits and songs recorded by the likes of Frankie Lyman, the Coasters and LaVerne Baker. I'd had a few records released on RCA, Decca (the Kalin Twins' label) and Atco. I had even heard my very first recording played on-air by Martin Block on his "Make Believe Ballroom". Unfortunately, Mr. Block hated the record and said so on the air. What a crusher that was. But "Seven Little Girls" was for real and I knew it.
It turned out that I'd come close with my Decca recording of "I Think About You All The Time". It was Decca's sixth or seventh best selling record at a time when the five or six above it were on the charts. But I only found this out when I played a date in Canada and was amazed to find fans asking me to perform the record. Decca had a reputation in the business not only for having hit records, but for misusing its artists. Bobby Darin, Gerry ("No Chemise, Please") Granahan and I (and some others whose names escape me) recorded for Decca before changing labels and having big hits.
My Bus Tour: Soon I hit the road on a bus tour with the Crests, Santo and Johnny and the Bobby Comstock Band (Bobby's record of "Tennessee Waltz" was a current best-seller.). I only had one song prepared for live performances - "Seven Little Girls". On the bus I jammed with Bobby and his back-up band. I sang songs for Bobby that I had sung in high school and at local bars. We landed on "Midnight Special", a folk song that we rock 'n rolled up. I sang it on the tour and wound up recording it. "Midnight Special" hit the charts, but stalled at #14.
I was quickly disillusioned by life on the road for us run-of-the mill pop stars. Playing for fans was just great. They'd scream for us. Some of them would even faint for us. They seemed to love us. But I had the # 4 record in the country and here I was earning a big $400.00 for the week - and no expenses! Our fees were low because our agent (General Artists Corporation) also packaged the show. That meant that they got a sum of money to produce the show, paid the artists that they were supposed to be protecting as little as they could - and kept the rest. This practice was later deemed restraint-of-trade by the government and GAC was put out of business.
I grew unhappy with the bus "thing" very quickly. The conditions were pretty poor for people who had achieved their dream - having hits. The bus was uncomfortable. We slept on it a couple of nights (or tried to sleep on it) and one night GAC even arranged for us "stars" to stay in a seedy and generally run-down single-unit motel. GAC had obviously been created to take advantage of a lot of kids with hit records who just wanted to sing and were not very worldly-wise.
After our last performance in Bluefield, WV, we got back on the bus and I asked the driver how long a drive it was back to our hotel. "No hotel." He told me. "We're taking a nineteen hour trip back to New York on the bus." Uh, uh. Not for me. I had the driver drop me off at the hotel, called the airline the next morning and flew home. (The flight cost me my week's salary.) No more of these bus tours for me.
The Good Parts: The rest of the hit record experience was gravy, however. I sang for my first national audience on the Arthur Murray Show. I was very, very scared. The rehearsal went fine in spite of the chimpanzee who played Fred in the back seat who insisted on pushing his way into the women's dressing room and gawking at the half-clad singers (I'm not making this up. The girls complained that the chimp had a nasty habit of pulling up their skirts.). But when I sat in the car that they'd prepared for me on the stage, heard my name announced and saw the curtain begin to open - I broke into a literal cold sweat. I couldn't remember the first words to "Seven Little Girls", which just happen to be - "seven little girls". I panicked at the thought of the fool I was about to make of myself. Luckily, when the overture ended and the song began, my mind went blank, I went on automatic, and sang my hit song with no problems at all. Whew!
Live performances on the Dick Clark Saturday Night show were always fun. And "Seven Little Girls" took me all over the country and abroad. I think I was the second act after Neil Sedaka to play at the Areneta Coliseum in the Philippines. Funny, we were treated much better abroad than we were here in the States. Here we were sent out by our record companies to play promotional (no pay) record hops, sometimes for DJs who played our records until we left town - and then dropped them from their play lists. Abroad, we were treated like kings and queens. Limousines, great food, really nice hotels - the works. In the Philippines I was even treated to a red carpet from the plane to the terminal. I looked up and there were my fans - with signs saying, "Welcome, Paul Evans, to the Philippines."
When I wandered into Tin Pan Alley in the late 50's, I found myself in the middle of a profession that was changing faster than a speeding bullet. It had evolved from Vaudeville and the days of the big bands when sheet music sales made up the bulk of a writer's income. Records and radio were now kings, and with this burgeoning exposure, the life expectancy of a song was becoming shorter and shorter and more songs were needed to fill the void. More and more writers were showing up at the Turf and Jack Dempsey's in the Brill building, and the B&G coffee shop at 1650 Broadway. Those two buildings were the heart and soul of the music publishing business at that time.
What an impressive group of writers I shared this portion of my life with. Burt Bacharach and Hal David had just made their first team appearance on the charts with Perry Como's "Magic Moments" (Hal had been on the charts, believe it or not, as early as 1949 with a song entitled "Four Winds and the Seven Seas".) Lieber and Stoller were there with "Black Denim Trousers" and "Hound Dog". Phil Spector was on the charts with "To Know Him Is To Love Him". Phil, by the way, was the first writer I'd ever seen arriving at the Brill Building in a limousine. Way to go, Phil.
Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman were warming up to write "A Teenager in Love, "Turn Me Loose" and a few other 60s ditties like "Save the Last Dance For Me" and "This Magic Moment".
Jack Keller and Howie Greenfield had just written "My Heart Has a Mind of It's Own" which Pete Myers, the late WNEW disc jockey once introduced as "the song that astounded the medical profession." My favorite Pete Myers introduction, however, was "Imagine Bobby Darin looking in the mirror and singing...." And then he played Bobby's version of "You Must Have Been a Beautiful Baby."
Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich were making their presence known, as were the great teams that were signed to Donny Kirshner and Al Nevin's Aldon Music; Howie Greenfield and Neil Sedaka, Gerry Goffin and Carole King, and my personal favorites, Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil.
I was there, too. I managed one big hit a year. "When" for the Kalin Twins in 1958. "I Gotta Know" for Elvis in 1959, my own hit record, "Happy-Go-Lucky Me" in 1960, written with Al Byron who co-authored my biggest songwriting hit, "Roses Are Red" by Bobby Vinton, recorded in 1961. (And a couple of local hits thrown in for good measure like "Valerie" by the Mello Kings and "School Bells" by Nicky and the Nobles.)
Wise Guys: Some of my contemporaries really did write their songs on the New York City subways. But most of us wrote at home or in offices that were "loaned" to us by our publishers. A publisher once offered me an office with a piano with no strings attached. (All right. That was a bad pun.) No obligations to ever deliver any songs to his firm. An unbelievable deal for me. He said he made the offer because he liked me. Well, this office was frequented by tough looking guys - collars up, hat brims over their eyes, bulges beneath their jackets - so when he came to me the very next week and asked, "Hey, where are the songs, kid?" - I split. Back to the safety of the streets.
Insecurities: This was a competitive field we were playing on. The trick was to know what artists were due for a recording session and to write songs specifically for him or her. The information usually came from a publisher, a skill that Donny Kirshner was great at and the Aldon writers were the beneficiaries of. As the field crowded up, the insecurities grew.
I remember stopping a breathless Barry Mann (of the
fabulous Mann / Weil married writing team and, of course,
of "Who Put the Bomp?" fame) as he ran down the
street on the way to a demo session for some of his new
The Turf Restaurant: Al Byron, my co-writer on "Roses Are Red" and other songs, looked a great deal like Buddy Holly. Two young fans came up to him while we were eating lunch at the Turf Restaurant and asked for Buddy's autograph. Al denied that he was Buddy Holly and refused to give them an autograph. Then the kids' mother came over, and, apologizing for the inconvenience, asked once more for the autograph. When Al repeated that he was not Buddy Holly and refused to sign the kids' autograph books for the mother, she threw an embarrassing screaming fit and banned Buddy Holly records from her house from then on.
I remember (with some embarrassment for the song-writing profession) that when the news came down to the Turf that the Big Bopper, Richie Valens and Buddy Holly had died in that terrible plane crash, the restaurant emptied out - the writers racing up to their pianos to write the first "pop" hit about the tragedy.
Jack Keller had written one side of the Kalin Twins new record. We were having lunch at the Turf when he bet me that his song, "Three O'clock Thrill" would be the "A" side. My song was "When". Jack lost the bet.
Here are some anecdotes from my experiences in the late 50's and early 60's. Some are written here for the first time and some have been pulled from my "I Was a Teen-Age Idol ?" articles.
Phil McClain, Bill Randle, and the 7'2" Watusi warrior.
Competition between disc jockeys in a city was sometimes fearsome. For instance, Bill Randle was "the man" in Cleveland. If he didn't play your record, your record would probably flop in his town. In return for his playing your record, he demanded an "exclusive" on its release.
Phil McClain, another DJ on the station was one of those jokers who made life on the road lots of fun. He told me about a joke he'd played on Bill.
Phil announced on the air that he had the exclusive on a new record recorded by a 7'2" Watusi warrior. And, he added - the record was sure to become a giant hit. When Bill Randle heard about this infringement on his territory, he immediately started calling all the local distributors, looking for a new record by a 7'2" Watusi warrior. There was, of course, no such artist and no such record.
WNEW's Pete Myers.
One of my favorite DJs here in New York was the late Pete Myers. Thinking of two of his quips always brings a smile to my face.
Pete once introduced Connie Francis' "My Heart Has a Mind of It's Own" as the song that astounded the medical profession.
My favorite, though, was, "Imagine Bobby Darin looking in the mirror and singing..." And then he played Bobby's version of "You Must Have Been a Beautiful Baby."
Ruining Buddy Holly's reputation.
Barry Mann. Stop and smell the roses already!
"Congratulations", I offered him.
"What for?", he asked.
It seemed pretty obvious to me. "For having three songs in the Top Ten."
"Thanks," said an obviously concerned Barry as he ran off, "but I'm in a big hurry.... Those three songs are all on the way down the charts."
Jerry Wexler and Ahmet Ertegun.
Bobby Vinton: "But it's not a number one
Bobby came over and I sang the song for him. "That's real good," he said. "Play it again." ("Jeez," I thought, "Bobby's definitely going to cut this song.")
"One more time," Bobby said, seemingly in love with the song and singing along with me this time. ("They might even call a session just to cut my song." I was psyched!)
"Paul," explained Bobby, "this is a great song. (I smiled. He was right!)
"It's a hit song!" (I beamed)
"It's a Top Ten song." (I fantasized a Cadillac, a house in the country, lots of royalties.)
But then - the blow below the belt. "But it's not a number one song. I'll pass on it!"
And he passed. Some days just seem to go like that.
Carl Dobkins, Jr.
When I stopped doing demos, Carl mysteriously stopped having hits... and when I next ran into him he begged me (jokingly) to please go back to singing on demos so that he could go back to having hits.
The Kalin Twins find "When" in the
They loved it and rehearsed it, and when their A&R man returned to his office, he was too embarrassed to tell them that he had already rejected the song. The end of the story turned out very well, however - for me, the Kalin Twins - and the A&R man.
The inquisitive chimpanzee:
Panic on the Arthur Murray TV show:
I panicked at the thought of the fool I was about to make of myself in front of this last national audience that I would ever be asked to perform for.
Luckily, when the overture ended and the song began, my mind went blank, I went on automatic, and sang my hit song with no problems at all. Whew!
In the Studios:
Two stories from Associated Studios. Strange but
. One of Associated's engineers could not get any
sound from the acoustic bass in a self-contained rock
'n roll band. He changed microphones and inputs.
Odds and Ends:
"Roses Are Red" disappointments - Jim
Reeves and Freddy Fender.
Stars have to have publicity. So they hire Press Agents. Press Agents have to get their work into the media. So they make up stories about their clients and then they "tip off" columnists to the stories. (They get paid by the item.) The following are some items that were reported about me and my comments about them.
A COLUMNIST, COMMENTING ON OUR
TELL ME THEN, HOW COME CONNIE NEVER CUT ANY OF MY SONGS?
December 16, 1960.
February 13, 1961
February 20, 1961
April 11, 1961
April 27, 1961
April 29, 1961
May 20, 1961
And from a Dorothy Kilgallen column,
"I Was A Teen-age Idol" © held by Paul Evans
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