Dion DiMucci – better known simply as “Dion” from his 1950s doo-wop fame – is a highly successful recording artist much loved by Baby Boomers. Dion flourished first with The Belmonts and then alone, scoring a series of hit songs in the 1950s and 1960s. Among the more famous of his Top Ten hits are: “A Teenager in Love” (1959, with the Belmonts), “Runaround Sue” (1961), “The Wanderer” (1961-62), “Ruby Baby” (1963), and “Abraham, Martin and John” (1968). But in later years, as he continued recording, Dion took on new musical genres – folk, Christian music, blues, country, and back to rock. During these years, he did not always have the commercial success he once had. And sometimes he was dismissed by critics as being defined by his teen idol years. But reassessments of his work found value in his later recordings, with a range of artists – including Paul Simon, Bruce Springsteen, Lou Reed, Bob Dylan and others – citing his influence.
As a teenager growing up in the Bronx, Dion DiMucci began singing on street corners. In those years, he also picked up a drug habit that would lead to heroin addiction – something he would struggle with for years. After dropping out of high school, he recorded a demo that made its way to the producers of the Teen Club TV show in Philadelphia, where he made a performing debut in 1954 and released a few early songs with a group called the Timberlanes. But by 1958 Dion joined another neighborhood group called The Belmonts – named after Belmont Avenue in the “Little Italy” section of the Bronx. This group became “Dion and The Belmonts.”
1959: From left: Carlo Mastrangelo, Freddie Milano, Dion DiMucci, Angelo D'Aleo – Dion & The Belmonts.
Dion & The Belmonts included Dion singing lead and three others singing background – Carlo Mastrangelo, bass-baritone; Fred Milano, second tenor; and Angelo D’Aleo, first tenor. With their second recorded single released in April 1958 – “I Wonder Why” – they nearly broke the Top 20, peaking at No. 22. The song remained in the U.S. Top 40 for ten weeks. “I Wonder Why” was classic doo-wop, described by Bob Hyde in a 1993 booklet for the Doo Wop Box as follows: “…[T]he song opens with bass Carol Mastrangelo’s masterpiece of nonsense syllable-stringing, and just rolls from there. The Belmonts had a highly recognizable sound to compliment Dion’s voice…” After this song hit, Hyde wrote, “it was Katie-bar-the-door for white, predominantly Italian-American groups singing in what [was] called a ‘new-doo-wop’ style.”
“I Wonder Why”-1958
Dion and The Belmonts soon rose to the national scene, appearing on the American Bandstand TV show August 7, 1958, performing their hit song, “I Wonder Why.” They would also perform “No One Knows” on Bandstand, a song that would break the Top 20, hitting No. 19 on the U.S. charts.
Years later, “I Wonder Why” would find subsequent use in film and television soundtracks, including the 1983 film adaption of Stephen King’s novel, Christine; the 1993 film, A Bronx Tale; and the January 1999 pilot episode of The Sopranos TV series. Nicolas Cage also did a cover version of the song in the 1983 film, Peggy Sue Got Married.
London American Recordings 45 rpm label for Dion & The Belmonts’ 1959 hit, “A Teenager in Love.”
While visiting his old Bronx neighborhood some years later, Dion would recall the first time he and The Belmonts heard their song being played: “I remember the night that they first put ‘I Wonder Why’ on the radio… Everybody on the block turned their radios up loud and stuck them out the window….” Back in the late 1950s, meanwhile, Dion and The Belmonts released a couple of other songs after “I Wonder Why.” But their big hit came in March 1959 – “A Teenager in Love”– hitting No. 5 of the Billboard chart. That song remained on the U.S. Top 40 list for 13 weeks, became a million-seller, and was also an international hit, reaching No. 28 on the U.K. charts. The song was written by Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman, and is ranked among the great rock `n roll classics. About the trials and tortures of adolescent love, “A Teenager in Love” was actually the antithesis of an earlier Pomus/Shuman song – “Great to Be Young and In Love.”
“A Teenager in Love”-1959
“A Teenager in Love” was followed by the group’s first album, Presenting Dion and the Belmonts. “Teenager in Love,” meanwhile was later covered by a number of other artists, including: The Fleetwoods, Helen Shapiro, Simon & Garfunkel, Bob Marley & The Wailers, Less Than Jake, and the Red Hot Chili Peppers. The song is also used in a Nintendo video game.
Dion & The Belmonts toured with Buddy Holly and Ritchie Valens in early 1959, but fatefully did not take a tragic plane flight that crashed and killed Holly, Valens and two others.
As Dion and The Belmonts’ songs rose nationally, they began touring in the U.S., beginning in 1958. On one tour in early 1959, they were part of the “Winter Dance Party” featuring Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and The Big Bopper. On February 2nd 1959, after playing the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa, Buddy Holly had arranged to charter a plane to fly the performers to their next gig. Dion, however, decided not to ride with the group because of the expense. Shortly after midnight, however, on February 3rd 1959, the plane carrying the other members of the tour crashed not far from Clear Lake, Iowa, killing Holly, Valens, the Big Bopper, and the pilot – a tragedy which hit popular music hard, taking some of the era’s rising young stars.
Later that year, in November 1959, Dion and the Belmonts released another song that rose on the charts, a remake of a Rodgers & Hart standard, “Where or When,” which actually did better than their previous hit, “Teenager in Love,” rising to No. 3 on the charts. The popularity of this song helped bring the group back to American Bandstand for another national appearance. At about this time, however, Dion’s drug dependency worsened, and reportedly he was in the hospital detoxifying as “Where or When” peaked.
1963: Dion DiMucci with guitar.
Before he ever came to singing on the street corner with the guys, Dion DiMucci as a young boy created his craft from what was around him at his home and growing up on 183rd Street. His uncle bought him an $8 guitar.
At home, Dion would sometimes hear songs on the family radio that got his attention. In 1949, when he was about 11, he heard Hank Williams singing “Honky Tonk Blues” on Don Larkin’s country music radio show broadcast out of Newark, New Jersey. “I had no idea what a honky-tonk … was,” he would later say. But he liked what he heard. He liked the way Williams sounded so committed; how he pronounced and dug deep into the words of his songs.
But family life wasn’t always the best then for young Dion, but he turned inward toward his music, as New York magazine writer John Lombardi explained in a 2007 interview incorporating some of Dion’s recollections of those years:
“…There was a lot of unresolved conflict in my house… My pop, Pasquale, couldn’t make the $36-a-month rent on our apartment at 183rd and Crotona Avenue.” He was a dreamer, a failed vaudevillian, and sometimes Catskills puppeteer. He’d talk big and lift weights he’d made from oilcans, while Frances, Mrs. DiMucci, took two buses and the subway downtown to work in the garment district on a sewing machine. “When they’d start yelling, I’d go out on the stoop with my $8 Gibson and try to resolve things that way.”
Apollo Theater marquee, Dec 1955.
Then there were also the local haunts where Dion would watch and learn from other musicians. At around age 14 or so, hanging out at the stage door of 125th Street Apollo Theater, he learned a few things about harmony and choreography. “In those days,” Dion explained to New York magazine’s John Lombardi, “it was the Cleftones, the Cadillacs… You could say we copped some moves from the brothers…”
Dion would first succeed in doo-wop and rock `n roll, but in his later years he would explore the roots of this music more deeply. After he joined Columbia Records in 1962, Dion met John Hammond, a famous producer and talent scout at the label who introduced Dion to older blues recordings from artists like Robert Johnson. Dion would record some of this music at Columbia, but it would not be released until later years.
Dion's No.1 hit of 1961, "Runaround Sue," shown on its Laurie Records 45 rpm label.
In October 1960, Dion quit The Belmonts and started a solo career. By the end of the year he released an album on the Laurie label, Alone with Dion, and a single “Lonely Teenager,” which rose to No. 12. Follow-up recordings had less success until he began working with the Del-Satins as an uncredited backup group.
In September 1961, “Runaround Sue” was released and became the No. 1 song on the Billboard Hot 100 from October 23 through November 5, 1961, overtaking “Hit the Road, Jack” by Ray Charles. It spent 12 weeks in the Top 40. “Runaround Sue” went on to sell over a million copies, and also rose to No. 11 in the U.K. Dion wrote this song with Ernie Maresca, who had written the earlier song, “No One Knows.” Maresca would partner with Dion on a few of his other songs as well.
Music Player “Runaround Sue”-1961
Dion later described “Runaround Sue” as a song about a girl “who loved to be worshiped, but as soon as you want a commitment and express your love for her, she’s gone. So the song was a reaction to that kind of woman.” More than 40 years later, in 2004, the song was ranked at No. 342 on Rolling Stone magazine’s list of “The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.”
1961-62: Laurie Records single sleeve with Dion’s hit song,“The Wanderer,” which peaked at No. 2.
For Dion’s next single, Laurie Records of New York had two new songs lined up for December 1961 – the “The Majestic,” which was featured on the “A” side of the 45 rpm disc, and “The Wanderer” on the flip side. Despite Laurie’s hope that it would be “The Majestic” that would take off, radio DJs instead played “The Wanderer.”
The song entered the U.S. charts in December 1961 and rose to No. 2 in February 1962. “The Wanderer” also hit No. 10 in the U.K. and No. 1 in Australia. The uncredited background singers with Dion on the song were the Del-Satins, a Laurie Records contract group at the time who later formed the core of another doo wop group, Johnny Maestro and the Brooklyn Bridge.
Music Player “The Wanderer”-1962
Dion, later offering his interpretation of “The Wanderer,” would say of the song:
…At its roots, it’s more than meets the eye. ‘The Wanderer’ is black music filtered through an Italian neighborhood that comes out with an attitude. It’s my perception of a lot of songs like ‘I’m A Man’ by Bo Diddley or ‘Hoochie Coochie Man’ by Muddy Waters. “The Wanderer” is really a sad song. A lot of guys don’t understand that. – Dion DiMucci But you know, ‘The Wanderer’ is really a sad song. A lot of guys don’t understand that. Bruce Springsteen was the only guy who accurately expressed what that song was about. It’s ‘I roam from town to town and go through life without a care, I’m as happy as a clown with my two fists of iron, but I’m going nowhere.’ In the fifties, you didn’t get that dark. It sounds like a lot of fun but it’s about going nowhere.
A CD of 1962's top hits by Billboard includes “The Wanderer” on its cover at No. 7.
In any case, “The Wanderer” – which came to be owned by Michael Jackson’s Mijac publishing – was ranked at No. 239 on Rolling Stone magazine’s list of “The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.” In 1962, it was followed by a string of other Dion singles, each of which broke the Top Ten, including: “Lovers Who Wander” (No. 3), “Little Diane” (No. 8), and “Love Came To Me” (No. 10). Two albums were also produced – Runaround Sue and Lovers Who Wander. Dion by this time was a major star, touring worldwide and also making an appearance in Columbia Pictures’ 1961 film, Twist Around the Clock
At the end of 1962, Dion had changed his recording label, moving to Columbia Records. His first single there was a 1956 song, “Ruby Baby,” originally written by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, one of those teams of songwriters from New York’s fabled Brill Building music center. The Leiber/Stoller song was first recorded by The Drifters in 1956 who had a No. 10 R&B hit with it. But “Ruby Baby” also became a big hit for Dion, reaching No. 2 in 1963 for three weeks, and remaining in the Top 40 for 11 weeks.
Dion's "Ruby Baby" album of 1963 also hit No. 20 on the albums chart.
At Columbia, Dion also had Top Ten hits with “Donna the Prima Donna” – which was recorded in Italian as well – and “Drip Drop,” another earlier Drifters hit. Both of the remakes by Dion rose to No. 6 in late 1963.
Music Player “Ruby Baby”-1963
The subject matter of Dion’s hit songs in the 1960-1963 period, was, by some accounts, type-casting him, as Richie Unterberger of AllMusic.com, observed – “as either the jilted, misunderstood youngster or the macho lover, capable of handling anything that came his way…”
Dion’s other Columbia releases in the period were less successful as changing tastes in music had arrived with the Beatles and other British groups, bringing a period of commercial decline for the doo-wop and street rockers of the early 1960s. Dion also had recurring problems with heroin. In 1966, there was an attempt to reunite Dion and the Belmonts, but the reunion did not work out as their joint album, Together Again, was unsuccessful.
Cover of 1980s album issued in Germany by Ace Records featuring “Abraham, Martin & John” by Dion.
Abe, Martin & John
In 1968, Dion had what he would later describe as a powerful religious experience. After getting clean from heroin addiction once again, he approached Laurie Records for a new contract. They agreed on condition that he record a new song written by Dick Holler.
The year 1968 was a tumultuous period of political and social upheaval in the U.S., made stark by the assassination of civil rights leader Martin Luther King in April 1968, followed by a second assassination of Democratic U.S. Senator and presidential hopeful, Robert “Bobby” Kennedy in June 1968.
Music Player “Abraham, Martin & John”
Commemorating these tragedies, songwriter Dick Holler was moved to write the song “Abraham, Martin & John,” which became a tribute to the memory of four assassinated Americans, all icons of social change – Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Jr., John F. Kennedy and Robert F. Kennedy.
“Abraham, Martin & John” Dick Holler / Songwriter
Has anybody here seen my old friend Abraham?
Can you tell me where he’s gone?
He freed a lot of people,
But it seems the good they die young.
You know, I just looked around and he’s gone.
Anybody here seen my old friend John?
Can you tell me where he’s gone?
He freed a lot of people,
But it seems the good they die young.
I just looked around and he’s gone.
Anybody here seen my old friend Martin?
Can you tell me where he’s gone?
He freed a lot of people,
But it seems the good they die young.
I just looked ’round and he’s gone.
Didn’t you love the things that they stood for?
Didn’t they try to find some good for you and me?
And we’ll be free
Some day soon, and it’s a-gonna be one day …
Anybody here seen my old friend Bobby?
Can you tell me where he’s gone?
I thought I saw him walkin’ up over the hill,
With Abraham, Martin and John.
Each of the first three verses of the song features, respectively, Lincoln, King and JFK, with the fourth and final verse describing “Bobby” walking “over the hill” with the other three.
“Abraham, Martin and John” was a major American hit single for Dion in late 1968, reaching No. 4 on the U.S. singles chart, remaining in the Top 40 for 12 weeks, and selling more than a million copies.
The song became a folk-pop standard known worldwide. In Canada, it topped the charts, reaching No.1 there in late November 1968. Some years later, in 2001, the song would be ranked No. 248 on the Recording Industry Association of America’s “Songs of the Century” list.
The success of “Abraham, Martin and John” also resuscitated Dion’s career, leading to appearances on TV shows such as The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour to perform the song. Some years later, reflecting on the reaction he received from fans regarding this song, he noted: “I must have gotten 4,000 letters at the time, which was odd because I never got letters from college students before. If I had an e-mail address, I probably would have gotten a million.”
In the early 1970s, Dion shifted his musical style somewhat, focusing on more mature, contemplative and folk-rock type material. But Dion’s period with folk music ran its course within a few years.
Over the years, Dion DiMucci has changed his style, and experimented with new genres.
In 1972 he reunited with The Belmonts and they did a live reunion show at Madison Square Garden in early June that year, releasing an album from that concert. A year later, in 1973, Dion and the Belmonts performed once again at a sold out concert at the Nassau Coliseum on Long Island. This was followed in 1975 by the album Born To Be With You, produced by Phil Spector, which initially did poorly, but later found praise among some artists, including Pete Townshend of The Who. In 1978 Dion released another album drawing on his earlier successes, titled Return of the Wanderer, which did not do well.
Beginning around December 1979 Dion began recording contemporary Christian music, releasing five albums on the Dayspring label reflecting his born-again Christian convictions. A few singles in this period also did well on Christian radio, and he won the Dove Christian music award for one of his albums, I Put Away My Idols, which was also Grammy nominated for best male Gospel performance.
Dion’s “Bronx Blues” of 1991 includes 20 songs recorded with Columbia Records in the 1960s – half “Dion” style and half blues.
By the late 1980s, Dion returned to rock ‘n roll with a series of sold out concerts in June 1987 at Radio City Music Hall in New York. The following year, he published a book with writer Davin Seay titled The Wanderer: Dion’s Story, and in 1989 he was elected to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. That year he also released the album Yo Frankie, and after hearing him perform in a 1989 concert, New York Times writer Stephen Holden was reminded that Dion was:
“…an innovator who took the black street-corner styles of the late 1950’s and, in songs like ‘’The Wanderer,’ fashioned a white urban blue-collar style of rock-and-roll that influenced not only [Lou] Reed but also Billy Joel and to a lesser extent Bruce Springsteen. Even though the lyrics of hits like ‘The Wanderer,’ ‘Runaround Sue’ and ’Ruby Baby’ seem quaint today, the songs helped define blunt, streetwise machismo that has long since become a classic rock music attitude.”
Dion DiMucci in more recent years.
In the 1990s, Dion appeared on a few occasions at concerts or for limited club dates. In July 1997, he headlined at Tramps club in the Chelsea section of New York for a rare small club performance – his first New York club date as a headliner in more than 35 years. That show, which sold out to stranding-room capacity, brought out old Dion fans in the New York region, where the doo-wop memory runs deep. One such fan who came out to Tramps was Harvey Weinstein, then a 42-year-old Social Security clerk from Coney Island. “When I was growing up,” he told New York Times reporter Rick Lyman, “there would be guys singing outside the shops and on the street corners. You’d hear the music on the trains. I don’t go to concerts all that often, but when I saw Dion was playing a club in Manhattan, I had to come.”
Bobby Jay, a black disk jockey who still played Dion and The Belmonts music on WCBS-FM, also spoke to Times reporter Rick Lyman in July 1997. Dion and The Belmonts, he said, “had that indescribable element that set them apart, that street attitude.” The teen idols of the late 1950s and early 1960s, he said, “were so clean-cut, almost nonregional.” But Dion, he explained, was different: “he had a New York swagger, a New York walk, a New York way of talking, that New York style that no one else had.” To this day, Dion still has a loyal New York following.
Dion DiMucci on the cover of a 2011 book he wrote with author Mike Aquilina.
Through the 2000’s, Dion continued making music, earning a second look from critics who earlier dismissed him as a teen idol. In early 2001, Dion: King of the New York Streets was released, a three-disc, 6o-track boxed set that included a 50-page booklet with comments by Dion and other muscians, plus an essay by music critic Dave Marsh.
Other Dion albums during the decade included: Déj Nu in 2000, Under the Influence in 2005, Bronx in Blue in 2006, Son of Skip James in 2007, Heroes: Giants of Early Guitar Rock in 2008. In 2011, Tank Full of Blues was released, with Dion producing and playing the guitars on the recording and writing or co-writing most of the songs. He also published a book in 2011, The Wanderer Talks Truth, a biographical and spiritual memoir written with Mike Aquilina.
Also in 2011, Dion began working with playwright/ director Charles Messina on a proposed stage play with the title, “The Wanderer — the Life and Music of Dion.” The play will cover the years 1957 through the late 1960s and feature more than 20 songs from that era as well as new music. It will weave the songs through a plot centered on Dion’s life from that period – a time that brought him his greatest success and his biggest tragedies.
New York Times reporter David Gonzalez described the play as “sort of a deeper version of Jersey Boys, the musical about Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons.” Discussing the play and playwright with Times reporter David Gonzalez in December 2012, Dion explained: “You know, I always saw my story as a young ‘Sopranos’ with great music and a Rocky Graziano ‘Somebody-Up-There-Likes-Me’ ending. It’s a story of redemption. A rock and roll redemption story!”
Cover of 1988 book Dion wrote with Davin Seay, “The Wanderer: Dion’s Story.”
Indeed, Dion took his lumps over the years, sank into drug and alcohol abuse, but he did redeem himself – with help from his wife Susan and others. Dion has traced his troubled times back to his early teen years. There was a rocky home life, mean streets gang involvement, and drugs. Then, all of a sudden, came fame and fortune. “One minute we were four mooks on the street,” he recounts of his Dion-and-The-Belmonts rise in his 1988 book, The Wanderer, “the next, everyone wanted to get close to us… You never wanted it to stop, and the only way to keep it going, it seemed to us, was to smile, sing and try to sort it all out later.”
Eventually, Dion confronted some truths about himself. “There was never a word of praise in my house… A lot of demeaning talk and criticism,” he would later explain. “I never felt good about myself – and the success didn’t change things.” But by the mid-1960s, he was living large in the fast lane. In 1962, Columbia Records had signed him to a $500,000 five year contract. “I made $2 million by the age of 22 . . . had 10 Top Ten records… was at the height of my profession,” Dion recounted in one interview. “I had all the bases covered… Fame, fortune and romance. I had even married my childhood sweetheart. But I was empty. I was looking out the penthouse window and saying, ‘What the hell is wrong?’ What I finally discovered was that I had others’ esteem, but I didn’t have self-esteem.”
Dion DiMucci visiting his old New York neighborhood in 2012. Photo, Librado Romero / New York Times.
Dion’s 1960s stage swagger was part pretense and part compensation, which he wrote about (with Bill Tuohy) years later in a song titled “King of the New York Streets.” One verse in that tune goes: “Well, I was wise in my own eyes/I awoke one day and I realized/You know this attitude comes from cocaine lies.” He would later add in one interview: “That song represents a chaotic kind of self-serving illusion about oneself, a guy who is full of himself and really can’t see past his nose.” Another verse in the same song goes: “Schools gave me nothing needed / To my throne, I proceeded / Every warning went unheeded / Yeah, king of the New York streets.”
In the late 1960s, Dion took control of his life. He moved to Boca Raton, Florida with his wife Susan to get away from the New York streets that helped form his heroin habit. He and his wife Susan have three daughters and a grandchild. In the late 1990s, Dion also returned to Catholicism and through the church has worked with prison inmates and others going through addiction recovery.
2006: Dion DiMucci in his music room at home in Florida, where a huge portrait he painted of 1930s bluesman Robert Johnson hangs on the wall behind him.
But for Dion, it’s still the music that keeps him going. And over the years, of course, the praise and respect he has received from fellow musicians and music critics has been no small matter either. Los Angeles Times pop music critic Robert Hilburn wrote in January 2001: “Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry and Buddy Holly were superstars of rock’s first wave, but none of them expressed the innocence and desire of adolescence any more soulfully than Dion DiMucci.” Bruce Springsteen once called him “the bridge between Frank Sinatra and rock ‘n roll.” And songwriter Jerry Lieber has stated that Dion was “the best white blues singer he had ever heard.” Dion, meanwhile, continues to record and explore new music. No doubt there is more to come. Stay tuned.
Article Citation: Jack Doyle, “Dion DiMucci, 1950s-2012,” PopHistoryDig.com, January 11, 2013.
Sources, Links & Additional Information
1950s: Dion DiMucci with the two of The Belmonts behind him.
1959 album: “Presenting Dion and The Belmonts.”
1959: Dion & The Belmonts with Dick Clark of the "American Bandstand" television show.
Dion DiMucci in his “teen idol” years, on the cover of “Teen Screen” magazine, June 1962.
Dion DiMucci on the road, waiting for a train.
“Dion and The Belmonts/Dion Dimucci,” in Holly George-Warren and Patricia Roman- owski (eds), The Rolling Stone Encyclo- pedia of Rock & Roll, New York: Rolling Stone Press, 3rd Edition, 2001, pp. 264-265.
Bob Hyde and Walter DeVenne, “I Wonder Why, Dion & The Belmonts” and The Doo Wop Box, Booklet & Liner Notes (used in PBS promotions), Rhino Records, 1993, p. 57.
The Flamingos of the late 1950s shown on the cover of a 1997 CD featuring a compilation of 18 of their songs.
“I Only Have Eyes For You” is the name of a song that was made popular in the spring and summer of 1959 by a group called the Flamingos. The song was actually written for a film in the 1930s, and it became popular on the music charts at that time. However, the Flamingos’ 1959 version gave the song a whole new dimension. Set in the “doo-wop” style of its day, their “deep-echo” version proved to have broad national appeal, rising on both the rhythm & blues (R&B) and pop charts.
Today, the Flamingos’ “I Only Have Eyes For You” continues to resonate with many listeners, young and old. Music historians of the 1950s regard the song as a classic. For some, the song offers a “take-you-away” musical immersion, and for a few, a near-hypnotic, otherworldly experience. Listen to this Flamingos’ song on the music player at right and judge for yourself.
Music Player “I Only Have Eyes For You”
1959 – The Flamingos
The Flamingos were formed from a group of friends and relatives on Chicago’s southside in the early 1950s. They began recording in 1953, and became a group with a long list of recordings, working with a number of record labels, including Chance, Parrot, Chess/Checker, Decca, End, and others. And although they never had a No. 1 hit on the pop charts — coming close several times — they are regarded as one of the classic “doo wop” groups of their day, noted for their exceptional harmonies and unique sound. By the time “I Only Have Eyes for You” hit the streets in April/May 1959, the group was comprised of six members: founding “cousins” Jake and Zeke Carey, Terry Johnson, Paul Wilson, Tommy Hunt, and Nate Nelson. In 1958, the group had been recording with the Chess/Checker label in Chicago, but after relocating to New York City, they soon hooked up with a record producer there named George Goldner who helped the group score with some of their biggest hits in the late 1950s and early 1960s.
Sample recording from Flamingos’ earlier years with Chance Records, 1953.
Goldner was considered one of the biggest record hustlers of his day, also among the biggest producers of what would be called “doo wop” records. Goldner was not a rock ‘n roll fan, per se, but had Latin and jazz musical influences in his past. He had worked with Tico, a label that specialized in Latin artists, during the late 1940s. He had also worked with some early rock ‘n roll artists, as well, and had an ear for pop hits.
Much of Goldner’s success had come with producing and releasing singles. But he was also among those who liked to market “packages” of songs, or LPs, as albums were called in those days. In late 1956, he had released one of the first doo-wop albums, Teenagers, on the Gee record label. And by 1959, working with other artists, he had released a 12-track album by The Chantels, and another by Little Anthony & The Imperials. These two groups would later become successful and well known in their own right. The Flamingos, meanwhile, had come to Goldner after an unsatisfying period with their then-current record label, Decca, which they had joined in1957.
Geo. Goldner, the producer who helped The Flamingos.
In late 1958, it was Goldner’s idea to have the Flamingos record an album of old standards, but do it in “doo wop” style. Some believe Goldner was influenced by what had been done earlier with groups such as the Orioles and Ravens; groups that had successfully produced cover versions of older songs in a more popular style. Terry Johnson, one of the Flamingos’ lead singers, recalled the group’s experience with Goldner in an interview some years later with Marv Goldberg :
“…George Goldner wanted us to go in another direction than regular R&B. He wanted us to do standards like the Platters, who were doing songs like ‘Smoke Gets in Your Eyes.’ I was open to the idea, because I wasn’t raised on R&B; my parents listened to Patti Page, the Mills Brothers, the Ink Spots and Bing Crosby. When George said he wanted me to change the structure of the songs and give them a nice flavor, I was excited because it was such a good challenge for me.”
The Flamingos’ 1958 hit with End Records, ‘Lovers Never Say Goodbye’.
Goldner, in fact, took Richard Barrett to a music store and bought up the sheet music to every old song he could find, turning them over to Terry Johnson to arrange new songs for the Flamingos. One of the first songs the Flamingos did with Goldner that hit the pop charts was “Lovers Never Say Goodbye”, written by Terry Johnson, who shared the lead on the song with Paul Wilson. On the B-side was “That Love Is You”, with Nate Nelson in the lead. “Lovers Never Say Goodbye” reached No. 25 on the R&B charts and No. 52 on the pop countdown.
1958-59 magazine ad for Flamingos’ music by End Records, with lower corner box thanking radio DJs for playing their hit, ‘Lovers Never Say Goodbye.’
But by October 1958, with some money to spend on instrumentation and a good echo chamber available for recording, Goldner brought The Flamingos in for another studio session to record what would become the album, Flamingo Serenade. Terry Johnson and Paul Wilson were recorded as lead singers on three of the 12 songs selected for the album. Nate Nelson was in the lead for some of the album’s songs as well, including most notably, “I Only Have Eyes for You.”
As the album and its songs went in production for the next few months, the Flamingos did some performing in New York. Meanwhile, one of the Flamingos earlier record labels, Checker, seeing that the group was capable of turning out hits, decided to put out a single with two earlier-recorded but unreleased songs in January 1959. Checker would also issue a Flamingos LP the following month. But by this date, sales of their new single with Goldner — “Lovers Never Say Goodbye” — was already having considerable success. In January alone, it helped push Goldner’s labels to the one-million level in total sales. February was even better. More success was about to come with the forthcoming album, Flamingo Seranade.
Poster from 1959 film in which The Flamingos appeared.
In mid-January 1959, meanwhile, The Flamingos booked into New York’s Apollo theater where they had played a number of times before. Other notable performers appearing at the Apollo at that time included: Jerry Butler, the Crests, Little Anthony and the Imperials, the Quin-Tones, Wade Flemons, Doc Bagby, and Clay Tyson. In February, the Flamingos were filmed in a New York studio singing and dancing to a lively version of another of their songs, “Jump, Children.” This song, along with the Flamingos’ dance routine, would appear in a movie with disc jockey Alan Freed — a movie titled, Go Johnny Go! This was the second Alan Freed movie the Flamingos had appeared in, the first being Rock, Rock, Rock of December 1956, which also included stars such as Chuck Berry and Connie Francis. The Flamingos at this point, had also become well known for their stage show and choreography. Later groups that used choreography in their acts, such as The Temptations of the 1960s, would cite the Flamingos as a major influence.The film Go Johnny Go! would appear in theaters through mid-1959. The Flamingos’ debut album, mean- while, Flamingo Serenade, was released in April 1959 on Goldner’s End record label.
The Flamingos’ 1959 album of old standards, ‘Flamingo Serenade,’ also included their big hit, ‘I Only Have Eyes For You.’
Flamingo Serenade also helped with the release of singles. The first song released from this album was “Love Walked In,” issued ahead of the album, in March 1959. This single, however, failed to chart. But the next song they tried as a single, “I Only Have Eyes For You,” with Nate Nelson singing the lead, hit pay dirt. The song became a big hit. It first received notice in Philadelphia, and soon spread through the Northeast. Later that summer, the Flamingos would do a ten-day stretch of live performances at Philadelphia’s Uptown Theater. “I Only Have Eyes for You” peaked at No. 11 on the Billboard pop chart in June 1959, and rose to No.3 on the R&B chart. With its shimmering “doo-bop sh-bops” in the echo chamber, and Nate Nelson’s clear, distinctive lead, the record became a classic, and remains one of the most popular oldies of all time. It is also said to have been The Flamingos’ favorite recording, regarded as one of those moments in the studio when everything came together for a superb production.
'I Only Have Eyes For You,' 45rpm.
For George Goldner, the Flamingos proved to be among his most successful groups. They had at least eight singles on the End label that reached the pop charts, including a Top 30 hit in 1960, “Nobody Loves Me Like You Do.” They also turned out three full albums on the End label in addition to Flamingo Serenade, including: Flamingo Favorites (1960), Requestfully Yours (1960), and The Sound of the Flamingos (1962).
“I Only Have Eyes For You,” however, remains the classic hit single.In November 2004, Rolling Stone magazine ranked the Flamingos’ version of the song at No #157 on their “500 Greatest Songs” list. The Flamingos’ version was also used on the soundtrack for the 1973 film, American Graffiti.
Fans Love It
To this day, the “Flamingos sound” has a very loyal following. And some who hear The Flamingos’1959 version of “I Only Have Eyes for You” come away with a lasting impression, as did one fan named “Larry,” who wrote about his experience with this Flamingos’ song on the blog, Funky16 Corners:
“I Only Have Eyes
My love must be a kind of blind love
I can’t see anyone but you.
Are the stars out tonight?
I don’t know if it’s cloudy or bright
I only have eyes for you, dear.
The moon maybe high
but I can’t see a thing in the sky,
‘Cause I only have eyes for you.
I don’t know if we’re in a garden,
or on a crowded avenue.
You are here, and so am I
Maybe millions of people go by,
but they all disappear from view.
And I only have eyes for you.
“…I can’t be one hundred percent certain of the first time I ever heard ‘I Only Have Eyes For You’ by the Flamingos, but I’m guessing it was when I saw American Graffiti in 1973. I was only eleven years old, but as soon as this song came on the soundtrack it was instantly drilled deep into the pleasure centers of my brain. As I got older, and started to understand something of how records were made, my deep respect for the astounding level of craft involved in the making of ‘I Only Have Eyes For You’ has grown every time I hear it.
“There’s something special about the spare instrumentation — pretty much just piano, drums and guitar — contrasted with a rich, velvety blanket of human voices, all of it arranged to perfection… that simply blows my mind.
“I’ve always had a love for what might be (if only in my own mind) considered “night time” records that sound as if they were recorded in the wee small hours specifically for use in that same time period, whether for lovers or those engaged in solitary meditation, and ‘I Only Have Eyes For You’ is the ne plus ultra of that very specific subgenre…
“…It’s almost the musical equivalent of a meditative exercise, where you just close your eyes, allow yourself to be enveloped by the music …and just kind of feel it. Whether the Flamingos intended it or not, this record is possessed of a kind of otherworldly magic….”
Cover of sheet music featuring ‘I Only Have Eyes for You’ from the 1934 Warner Brothers film, ‘Dames’.
Song Origin & Covers
The Flamingos, of course, were not the first group to record “I Only Have Eyes For You.” The song, in fact, was written in 1934 for the film Dames starring Dick Powell and Ruby Keeler. It was composed by Harry Warren and lyricist Al Dubin. The song plays throughout the film’s soundtrack and is featured in two scenes. Powell first sings it to Ruby Keeler on the Staten Island ferry, expressing bedazzlement; and that he “only has eyes” for her. The second time the song appears, Powell is riding the subway and sees Keeler’s face everywhere he looks. The dream sequence that follows in the film features a elaborate dance scene by famed Hollywood choreographer and co-director Busby Berkeley. The dancers in scene at one point all wear Ruby Keeler masks.
In 1934, the song also charted in three versions — at No. 2 with Ben Selvin and His Orchestra, Howard Phillips vocal; No. 4 with Eddy Duchin and His Orchestra, Lew Sher- wood vocal; and No. 20 with Jane Froman. And for years thereafter, the song would be covered by a number of other artists. Billy Eckstine recorded the song on National Records in 1949. Peggy Lee also did it in 1950. In May 1952, the Swallows out of Baltimore, Maryland did an R&B version on King Records, somewhat slower than the Flamingos’ version. The Swallows’ recording is still available today and can be sampled online. Other R&B artists also did versions of the song as well. But R&B tunes generally suffered during segregation, and only began to be heard on some pop radio stations in the mid-1950s.
Art Garfunkel’s 1975 version of ‘I Only Have Eyes For You’ hit No. 1 in the U.K. and on the U.S. Adult Contemporary chart.
In 1962, Frank Sinatra recorded his version of “I Only Have Eyes For You,” accompanied by Count Basie’s orchestra. In 1966, the song became a Billboard Hot 100 hit when it was released as a single by The Lettermen from their album A New Song for Young Love. Jerry Butler covered the song in 1972. Art Garfunkel, formerly of Simon & Garfunkel, had a No.1 single with the song in the U.K. for two weeks in October 1975. It was the first time Garfunkel had a hit there as a solo artist. Garfunkel’s version, also on his 1975 Breakaway album, reached No. 18 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 and No. 1 on the adult contemporary chart. He also performed the song on the second episode of Saturday Night Live.
In 1976, Johnny Mathis named an album after the song. It was also featured in the 1980-81 Broadway revival of the Tony award-winning musical 42nd Street. In 1990, the Count Basie Orchestra recorded it with George Benson. And since then, still others have made cover versions, including: Mercury Rev in 1998, Martina Topley-Bird, Jamie Cullum, and Mark Eitzel of American Music Club in 2002. But the 1959 version of the song has remained popular, and has also found its way into other venues.
1973 film, ‘American Graffiti’ used the Flamingos’ song, among others from the 1950s & ’60s.
Film & TV
The Flamingos’ version of “I Only Have Eyes For You” has been used in a number of films, including: American Graffiti (1973), The Right Stuff (1983), One Good Cop/One Man’s Justice (1991), My Girl (1991), Heart and Souls (1993), A Bronx Tale (1993), Milk Money (1994), Past Tense (1994-TV), Four Dogs Playing Poker (2000), Cherish (2002), and Something’s Gotta Give (2003). On television, too, The Flamingos’ version has also been used, as in one 1998 episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer andalso in The Sopranos series during 1999.
This Flamingos’ song has also been used to give expression to experimental and artistic film making. In 2002, the Perth, Australia International Film Festival, “Revelation,” filed this mention of a short, seven-minute film by Tom Jarmusch and Fabienne Gaultier (USA/France) that used the Flamingos’ “I Only Have Eyes For You” in its production:
“Jarmusch and Gaultier collaborate to (re)produce their multiple screen installation work for cinema viewing and an excellent work it is. Using multiple film and video formats including 16mm, domestic video and a toy video camera, they have produced a hypnotic work with a wonderful tactile nature. Structured around the Flamingos tune “I Only Have Eyes For You,” it is a strangely poetic and layered experimental work which literally compels the audience to watch. Described as a “triple screen city symphony” its lyrical quality is alluring and wonderfully hypnotic.”
However, not all uses of Flamingos’ “I Only Have Eyes For You” have been approved or authorized by the group or their estates.
In 1997, Pepsi-Cola used the Flamingos’ 1959 version of “I Only Have Eyes For You” in a television commercial that ran nationwide for about six months. In 2003, two surviving members of The Flamingos, Terry Johnson and Tommy Hunt, and the estates of the deceased members, brought a lawsuit against Pepsi for the alleged wrongful action. They were represented by San Francisco entertainment lawyer Steven Ames Brown.
A collective bargaining agreement made with the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists requires advertisers to get permission for commercial use of music, and to pay fees to the music publishers, the record labels, and the artists. In 2006, a judge ordered Pepsi and its advertising company to pay $250,000 to The Flamingos for using their song in a TV ad without their permission. “In our case, they didn’t even ask,” said San Francisco attorney Brown, in a later interview with Associated Press.
In 2006, a judge ordered PepsiCo Inc. and its advertising company to pay $250,000 to the The Flamingos for using “I Only Have Eyes For You” without their permission. According to Brown, it wasn’t the first time that Pepsi neglected to pay a recording artist for a song. He charged that Pepsi failed to pay black performers for their songs before. “Pepsi routinely pays the Caucasian performers who appear on camera but refuses to pay the African-American singers whose voices are used in the soundtrack unless they sue,” Brown said. Brown had successfully sued Pepsi on a previous occasion on behalf of singer Doris Troy, whose 1963 hit “Just One Look” was used in another popular Pepsi commercial with supermodel Cindy Crawford that featured two young boys.
A spokesman for Pepsi said the failure to pay The Flamingos directly was an oversight and that Pepsi didn’t realize the song was subject to the collective bargaining agreement. “We have a long history and strong track record of supporting diversity in our advertising,”said Dave DeCecco of the Purchase, New York-based PepsiCo Inc.
A 1997 CD of Flamingos’ songs on Chess Records, issued as part of the Chess 50th Anniversary Collection.
Today, the Flamingos’ music has survived most of its original members. In fact, the group began to split apart in the early 1960s, with some members then going solo or to other groups. Around that time, Nate Nelson went to the Platters and Tommy Hunt became a minor soul star. Nelson later died of a heart attack in 1984 at the age of 52. Terry Johnson formed The Modern Flamingos for a time then went to Motown through a friend, Smokey Robinson, to help produce records there. Jake and Zeke Carey continued to lead one version of the Flamingos into the late 1990s. There were also other Flamingos configurations that continued thereafter. These various groups, offshoots, and later revivals are discussed elsewhere in more detail as indicated in “sources” below. However, in 2001 the original Flamingos were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, winning praise for their vocal quality. The Hall singled out “I Only Have Eyes For You,” calling it the group’s signature song, and “one of the most sublime and enduring vocal-group recordings of all time.” The Hall also noted one of the group’s earlier songs — their third single, “Golden Teardrops,” released in 1953 — which some have hailed as “perfect-sounding” and also “a legendary masterpiece.” The Flamingos recorded well over 100 songs between 1953 and 1964, plus additional unreleased material. For a full history on the group and a listing of their discography see, for example, the profile at Marv Goldberg’s R&B Notebooks, as well as other sources noted below.
Robert Pruter, “The Flamingos: The Chicago Years,” Goldmine (magazine) April 6, 1990, pp. 28-30. (Goldmine.com is also a music and music memorabilia website featuring articles on recording stars of the past and present, listing all known releases. Goldmine, the bi-weekly print magazine, also distributes a weekly e-newsletter, and broadcasts streaming radio.)
In 1958, with the unlikely song lyric, “splish, splash, I was taking a bath,” a 22 year-old singer from New York named Bobby Darin, launched a singing career and a No.1 hit record. That career lasted a short 15 years, ending in Darin’s premature death at the age of 37. But for a time, Bobby Darin set the entertainment world on fire, reaping fame, fortune and also a share of criticism. He rose quickly on the pop music charts with his million-selling rock ‘n roll songs, then became a successful Las Vegas headliner and nightclub entertainer. Hollywood came next with acting, singing, film-score writing, and a movie-star wife. Yet along the way, Bobby Darin pushed hard and made brash claims, grating against many he met; but he also impressed with genuine talent. He knew he would have a short life, so he grabbed what he could. But he also found time for politics and social protest. Darin was swept up by the promise of Robert F. Kennedy’s presidential bid in 1968. He jumped into that campaign big, and like others, fell hard when Kennedy was assassinated. Life for Darin, too, ran out much too soon. He died on the operating table in 1973 with a failing heart. Today, his legacy is the music he left behind, but also a unique lifetime lived amid talent and peril.
Record sleeve for 1959 single, 'Dream Lover', which became a million seller.
Bobby Darin was born Walden Robert Cassotto in May 1936. He was raised in a mixed neighborhood of mostly Italian and Irish immigrants in New York’s South Bronx along East 135th Street. As a child, he fought rheumatic fever which damaged his heart and plagued him throughout his life. Doctors told his family — which he overheard — that it would be a miracle if he lived past his teens. As a kid growing up, he was often ill. “My earliest recollections were of being in bed, stiff, hurting,” he recalled. “I used to read or do coloring books. I couldn’t do what everybody else was doing.” Still, he made his way, graduated from the Bronx High School of Science. At 17, he enrolled at Hunter College as a theater major, landed a lead role in one play, but left Hunter after one year. He then became a demo writer and singer at the famed music bee hive that was the Brill Building in 1950s New York. By 1957, Darin recorded a song or two, but to no great notice. He then had a one-year contract with Atco Records that was about to expire. In December of that year, he appeared on Dick Clark’s American Bandstandperforming “Don’t Call My Name.” But in 1958 he struck gold somewhat by chance.
Screen shot from "American Bandstand" TV show with Dick Clark, left, and guest Bobby Darin, possibly late 1950s.
One of Darin’s friends and supporters at the time was Murray Kaufman — known as “Murray ‘the K’,” a popular New York radio disc jockey. Kaufman’s mother, Jean, who had been a piano player in vaudeville, suggested a line for a song to Darin and her son one afternoon: “Splish, splash, take a bath,” she offered off the cuff. Darin didn’t think much of it at the time, but later he started playing with it at the piano, more lyrics came and he took a finished tune (with co-author credit to Jean Kaufman) over to his record label, Atco. Although there was some division at Atco over whether the tune would work, they went with it. It was recorded in April 1958. They titled it “Splish, Splash.” Although certainly not one of the most cerebral works of the time, its quirkiness caught on. It was released in June1958 and soon became a No.1 pop hit. It sold a million copies. Two more singles quickly followed. “Queen of the Hop” was released in early 1959 and rose to No.9 on the charts. It sold another million copies.
Music Player “Dream Lover”-1959
Then in March 1959 came “Dream Lover,” a catchy tune built on a Latin calypso rhythm. It rose to No.2 on the national pop charts. “Dream Lover” became his third million seller. Darin was now at the apex of his “teen idol” phase. In May 1959, he sang “Dream Lover” on the Ed Sullivan Show. But even though he was riding high on the pop charts, Darin had something else in mind. In fact, he had already used some of the money made from his first hits to record an album of standards entitled That’s All. Released in March 1959, that album included the song “Mack the Knife,” which was also later released as a single.
Mack The Knife
Originally, “The Ballad of Mack the Knife” (composed by Kurt Weill with lyrics by Bertolt Brecht) was written for a1928 German stage drama, known in English as The Threepenny Opera, a story about a rogue and criminal named Macheath. That story opens with a singer comparing Macheath with a shark, telling tales of his dark deeds — robberies, murders, arson and rape. An English translation of the play and the song were later made in 1954, running off Broadway and elsewhere.The single “Mack the Knife” sold more than 2 million copies by 1961. Before Darin made his recording of the song, Louis Armstrong had made the first American version in 1956. Darin had gone to a theater in Greenwich Village to see a revival of The Threepenny Opera where he heard “Mack The Knife” in the show. When Darin first proposed making his own version of the song, some of his advisors and friends thought it a bad idea. Dick Clark, then popular host of the American Bandstand TV show, had become a friend of Darin’s. Clark advised Darin not to record the song because of the perception that, having come from an opera, it wouldn’t appeal to the rock and roll audience. Others agreed. Yet Darin, then 23, liked the song’s offbeat jazzy tempo. The song’s structure allowed for versatility and interpretation, and for Darin, it became a good vehicle for his talents. He recorded it in New York in December 1958. Ahmet Ertegun of Atlantic Records recalled, “We knew as we were cutting it. We were jumping up and down. After the first take, I said, ‘You’ve got it! That’s it!'” It was released as a single in August 1959. By October 5th,1959, “Mack the Knife” rose to No.1 on the national Billboard chart and remained in that position for 9 weeks.
Bobby Darin's "Mack The Knife" song featured on the cover of a later "stereo" album collection.
“Mack the Knife” became one of Darin’s signature songs. It would win him a Record-of-the-Year Grammy award for 1959. More than 40 years later, Rolling Stone would rank his version of the song No.251 on its “500 Greatest Songs of All Time.” Frank Sinatra, who also recorded the song, as did others including Ella Fitzgerald, would later call Darin’s “Mack The Knife” the “definitive” version, a very high compliment.
But for Darin in 1958-59, “Mack the Knife” — along with the album That’s All — proved a very deft business move, signaling a turn in style toward more adult audiences and a broader fan base. Darin became the first young singer to bridge the singles and album gap between teenage and adult buyers, selling to both. By March 1961, he had made six albums that sold more than 1.5 million copies. The single “Mack the Knife” by that time — which had stayed in the Top 40 for 22 weeks — had sold more than 2 million copies. Another successful single in 1960, “Beyond the Sea”, a jazzed-up version of the French hit song “La Mer” by Charles Trenet, rose to No. 3 on the music charts, and also signaled his move into new musical territory.
Las Vegas & Beyond
August 1962 - Darin has top billing at the Flamingo in Vegas. (photo - Don Fasulo)
In June 1959, Darin’s manager had secured him an opening with George Burns at the Las Vegas Sahara Club. Burns, by then a famous comedian of radio and TV fame with wife Gracie Allen, hired Darin sight unseen impressed with what he had heard of Darin’s singing. Soon, a father-son type relationship developed between Burns and Darin. The young singer, meanwhile, rose quickly on the nightclub circuit in Vegas and elsewhere through 1960 and 1961. At the young age of 23, Darin was performing at The Flamingo, The Sands, and The Hilton in Las Vegas; the Cloisters in Los Angeles and the Copacabana in New York. At the Cloisters in Hollywood, also known as the Macambo, he broke the old attendance record every night for twenty-one consecutive nights. Among his admirers in L.A. was famed columnist Walter Winchell, who followed him to Washington, D.C. for a week where he played the Casino Royal and then to New York’s Copacabana. At the “Copa” the press had been laying for Darin after he made statements that he wanted to “become a legend” by the time he was 25 and be “bigger than Sinatra.” But when he opened at the Copacabana in early June 1960, he broke all attendance records. Wrote Walter Winchell on June 7, 1960: “Darin, 24, opened a sensational engagement at the famed nightclub last Thursday night and has been playing to capacity throngs since. It was his first New York engagement after making show-business history on the West Coast.” They were lining up around the block at the Copa to buy tickets to see Bobby Darin.
Film & Sandra Dee
Bobby Darin Top 40 Hits: 1958-1967
1958 Splish, Splash – #1
1958 Early in…Morning – #24
1958 Queen of the Hop – #9
1959 Plain Jane – #38
1959 Dream Lover – #2
1959 Mack the Knife – #1
1960 Beyond the Sea – #6
1960 Clementine – #21
1960 …Bill Bailey – #19
1960 Artificial Flowers – #20
1961 Lazy River – #14
1961 Nature Boy – #40
1961 …Beautiful Baby – #5
1961 Irresistible You – #15
1961 Multiplication – #30
1962 What’d I Say – #24
1962 Things – #3
1962 If a Man Answers – #32
1963 …Reason I’m Living – #3
1963 18 Yellow Roses – #10
1966 If I Were a Carpenter – #8
1967 Lovin You – #32
____________________ U.S. Billboard, Top 40 chart.
In 1960, Darin had also begun appearing in film – a first role in Pepe, in which he also sang. He was also cast to play a role in the film comedy-romance Come September and was in Italy preparing for scenes to be shot there. It was in Italy where Darin would met his future wife, Sandra Dee, one of Hollywood’s up and coming stars, then17-18 years old. She was cast to play opposite Darin in the film. Dee remembers first seeing Darin standing on shore as she was arriving in a boat that was docking nearby. “Will you marry me?,” he called out to her. “Not today,” she replied. Darin continued to ask her again and again, every day. By the time the couple returned to the U.S. after their filming, they announced their engagement and were married on December 1st, 1960. Darin was then also riding high with a string of hit songs, including “Beyond the Sea,” “Clementine,” “Won’t You Come Home Bill Bailey” and “Artificial Flowers”– all in 1960.
Meanwhile, the film Come September was released in August 1961 and had good box office results. Rock Hudson and Gina Lollobrigida were its top stars along with Dee and Darin in his first movie. Other movie roles for Darin followed. In State Fair, a 1962 dramatic musical with Pat Boone, Ann-Margret, Pamela Tiffin, Tom Ewell, and veteran actress Alice Faye, Darin played an ambitious TV reporter who becomes involved with a farm girl played by Tiffin. This film, however, was not successful, although its soundtrack was a best seller. Darin, meanwhile, pushed for more film roles and had also set up his own independent film company, Sandar Productions, to elevate his career. “I want to do drama, light comedy, the whole range,” he said in 1962, adding, “And some day I want an Academy Award.”
Brash & Aggressive
Bobby Darin's version of "If I Were a Carpenter" hit No.8 in 1966.
Darin’s brash and aggressive manner, according to some, was related to fears about his health. “My feeling is that he knew he wasn’t going to live long,” explained long-time friend and secretary Harriet Wasser, “[I]t was more important to him to make his statement as an artist than a diplomat.” Known to have alienated the likes of Perry Como while the two prepared for a TV special, and not always accommodating to admiring fans, Darin assured a Saturday Evening Post reporter that he wasn’t like Pat Boone. “I’ll write no book like Twixt Twelve and Twenty,” he explained, referring to a clean-living best-seller that Boone had then written for teenagers. “I’m here to entertain them. Their morals and their deportment are someone else’s concern. It’s not my business to tell them to go to church or not, to wear a tie or not. . .”
Darin in Film 1960-1973
Acting/Singing/Songwriting 1960 Pepe
1961 Come September
1962 Too Late Blues
1962 State Fair
1962 Hell Is for Heroes
1962 Pressure Point
1962 If a Man Answers
1963 Captain Newman, M.D.
1965 That Funny Feeling
1967 Gunfight in Abilene
1968 Cop Out
1969 The Happy Ending
1973 Run, Stranger, Run
Songs or Score only 1960 Tall Story
1964 The Lively Set
1965 That Darn Cat
Director/Producer 1970 The Vendors (never released)
In Hollywood, meanwhile, Darin appeared in four other 1962 films: his first dramatic role in John Cassavetes’ film Too Late Blues; a war drama, Hell Is for Heroes with Steve McQueen, James Coburn, and Fess Parker; Pressure Point, a drama with Sidney Poitier that earned Darin a Golden Globe Award for Most Promising Male Newcomer; and If a Man Answers, a romantic comedy with his wife Sandra Dee in which he also wrote and sang the movie’s love theme over the credits. In the 1963 film, Captain Newman, M.D., with Gregory Peck, Angie Dickinson, and Larry Storch, Darin received an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor. In 1964, he wrote the score for The Lively Set, and sang the opening theme for the 1965 Disney movie That Darn Cat. He starred again with his wife Sandra Dee in the 1965 film That Funny Feeling, also writing and singing the movie’s theme. Four other films followed in the 1967-1973 period in which he performed or wrote music. A 1970 film, The Vendors, which Darin wrote, directed and produced with actors Richard Bakalayan, Gary Wood, Dick Lord and Mariette Hartley, was never released. All in all, Darin played in 13 films, composed two full movie scores, and five title songs. He also starred in Kraft Music Hall’s television production of Give My Regards to Broadway. Through the 1960s, he also appeared on a number of television shows, among them, The Judy Garland Show (1963) and The Andy Williams Show (1964).
Darin’s musical and nightclub career also continued through his film-making years. But by the mid-1960s, he once again changed musical styles, this time moving into folk-rock. In 1966 he had success with a version of Tim Hardin’s song, “If I Were a Carpenter.” He also wrote a song for Hardin — “A Simple Song of Freedom”– which became a hit for Hardin. And Darin’s version of “Carpenter” also became a Top Ten hit in 1966.
By the late 1960s, however, life’s road for Bobby Darin became quite bumpy. In 1967, he divorced Sandra Dee. The following year, he discovered his supposed mother was actually his grandmother and his presumed sister really his mother — a revelation that rocked Darin and remained troubling to him for the rest of his life. Darin also became actively involved in the 1968 presidential candidacy of Robert Kennedy and believed in Kennedy’s platform. Darin participated in the 1965 civil rights march from Selma to Mont- gomery, Alabama. Darin had been attracted to social justice issues in the 1960s, and was an early supporter of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Darin participated in the 1965 civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama. As a performer, too, Darin helped black artists get on stage in the early 1960s, as he had done in the face of some management resistance at the Copacabana, insisting that Nipsey Russell be his opening act. Later, he would also have Richard Pryor and Flip Wilson as opening acts before they became well known. In Kennedy’s campaign, Darin made appearances on behalf of the candidate and also worked to help Kennedy in the primaries. Kennedy’s assassination in June 1968 had a deep effect on Darin. For a time, he dropped out, quit working, sold some of his possessions, and moved to a mobile home at Big Sur, California. In late August 1968, he sold his music publishing company, T.M. Music, to Commonwealth United Corp. for $1 million. He was also then planning to start his own record label, Direction Records, and began focusing on folk and protest music.
“Simple Song Of Freedom” (B. Darin, 1969)
Come and sing a simple song of freedom
Sing it like you’ve never sung before
Let it fill the air
Tell the people everywhere
We, the people here, don’t want a war
Hey there, mister black man can you hear me?
I don’t want your diamonds or your game
I just want to be someone known to you as me
And I will bet my life you want the same
So come and sing a simple song of freedom… [chorus]
Seven hundred million are ya list’nin’?
Most of what you read is made of lies
But speaking one to one, ain’t it everybody’s sun
To wake to in the mornin’ when we rise?
So come and sing a simple song of freedom… [chorus]
Brother Solzhenitsyn are you busy?
If not, won’t you drop this friend a line?
Tell me if the man who is plowin’ up your land
has got the war machine upon his mind
Come and sing a simple song of freedom… [chorus]
Now, no doubt some folks enjoy doin’ battle
Like presidents, and ministers and kings
So, let’s all build them shelves
Where they can fight among themselves
Leave the people be who like to sing
Come and sing a simple song of freedom… [chorus]. . .
. . .We, the people here, don’t want a war.
In late October 1968, he debuted a new protest song, “Long Line Rider,” at the Cocoanut Grove, changing his dress in mid-show from tuxedo to denim jacket. Two months later, in January 1969, he appeared at New York’s Copacabana with a four-piece rock band performing “Long Line Rider.” A few weeks later, he walked off the TV set of the Jackie Gleason Show after he was prohibited from singing “Long Line Rider.” In 1969, Darin also wrote the song, “A Simple Song of Freedom,”a soft, guitar-based protest song which Tim Hardin recorded for a hit that year. Through 1969, Darin continued making club and TV appearances in his new style. In Las Vegas at the Sahara club in December 1969, when asked to perform “Mack the Knife,” a classic in his former nightclub routine, he refused. By 1970, Darin was protesting the Vietnam War, and in May 1970 he took out newspaper ads denouncing the U.S. invasion of Cambodia. Around that same time, he also addressed an anti-war demonstration of mostly University of Southern California students at City Hall in Los Angeles, urging a “phone-in for peace” campaign aimed at the White House.
In early summer 1970, Darin appears to have returned to his old standards, at least partially, putting “Mack the Knife” back into his repertoire at the Landmark nightclub in Las Vegas. He still wore the denims, however, also doing renditions of songs by the rock group Blood, Sweat & Tears such as, “And When I Die” and “Spinning Wheel,” and also Fred Neil’s “Everybody’s Talkin’.” He traveled to London that June and performed there and on return to the states, co-hosted The Mike Douglas Show on TV in July 1970.
Las Vegas: 1970s
In Las Vegas during the early 1970s, Darrin had also become a friend of Jay Tell, who published The Las Vegas Free Press. According to Tell, Darin became a silent partner in the newspaper, which published a range of anti-war and anti-Nixon stories, among others. Darin also considered politics around this time, according to Tell. “I took him to Gov. Grant Sawyer and Supreme Court Justice John Mowbray, long-time Tell family friends, to explore his political viability,” said Tell. “Few knew it, but Bobby was also an authentic genius, a Mensa member, with an IQ of 137, in the top 2 percent.” - Jay Tell “They thought he could possibly be elected mayor, senator or governor.” But nothing appears to have gone beyond the meetings. Tell thought a great deal of Darin, impressed with his sharp mind and interest in world affairs: “Few knew it, but Bobby was also an authentic genius, a Mensa member, with an IQ of 137, in the top 2 percent.” Sandra Dee, although a biased party, called him the brightest person she’d ever known. Musically, Darin could do just about anything having to do with song and dance, and he also played a variety of musical instruments including piano, guitar, vibes, harmonica and drums. He had a great stage presence, a knack for comedy sketches and ad libs, and good natural timing. According to Jay Tell, Darin was also a great impressionist, and could mimic a range of celebrities and movie stars, inlcuding James Cagney, Clark Gable, Tony Bennett, Ray Charles, Jimmy Stewart, Marlon Brando and Cary Grant, among others.
Bobby Darin performing with Motown singing artists, The Supremes, on a 1967 TV show.
By early 1971, with a string of successful nightclub outings behind him, Darin was making something of a national comeback, and he recorded his Desert Inn nightclub act for a possible live album. During the latter part of this 1970-71 Vegas period, he was making a salary of about $40,000-a-week. But in 1971, his heart problem and shortness of breath worsened and he was rushed by ambulance to open-heart surgery where he received plastic heart valves. Six months following that surgery, Darin returned to performing. On September 1st, 1971, he opened at Harrah’s night club in Reno, Nevada. He also appeared in TV’s Ironsides series in early October that year, and on The Flip Wilson Show in January 1972, where he sang “Mack the Knife” and “Simple Song of Freedom.” In late February 1972, New York Times reporter Don Heckman made this observation in review of a Darin performance at the Copacabana:
. . . Elusive though his style may be — folksy-humble at some points, Vegas-flashy at others –Darin is still a first-class performer. He sang, played the guitar, drums and piano, tied things together with a virtually nonstop and often with witty patter, and managed to pull a lackadaisical first-night audience out of its lethargy.
Still, Darin belongs to another era, despite his eager efforts to keep up-to-date with songs like Tim Hardin’s “If I Were a Carpenter” and his own “Sing A Simple Song of Freedom.” He is clearly most comfortable with the Frank Sinatra-Dean Martin style that was the essence of his first musical incarnation. . . .
Throughout 1972 , Darin did more Vegas performing and television, including his own show — The Bobby Darin Amusement Company — which ran on NBC for seven-weeks that summer. He also performed a concert in New York’s Central Park in July. “It’s a one-time shot, this life, and you don’t get any second chances.” – Bobby Darin A month later, his first Motown label record album, Bobby Darin, came out, and NBC announced in November that his TV show would return in January 1973. Although The Bobby Darin Show did debut on NBC in late January 1973, by April, after the last of the show had aired, NBC cancelled it. In late June 1973, Darin married Andrea Joy Yeager in California. In July, he began performing at the Las Vegas Hilton, logging what would be his last concerts in August 1973. By then, his weak heart made performing increasingly difficult, resorting to oxygen between acts on some occasions. On December 11th, he entered the Cedars of Lebanon hospital in Los Angeles to repair the artificial heart valves he received in 1971. He died on the operating table December 20th after eight hours of surgery; doctors were unable to repair the heart valves.
20 Years Later
"Dream Lovers," the 1994 book on the lives of Bobby Darin and Sandra Dee, by their by son, Dodd Darin.
Renewed popular interest in Bobby Darin began to surface in the early 1990s, near the 20th anniversary of his death. Darin’s music also came into a bit of revival as record companies repackaged some of his hits. In 1992, after a two-CD set, called The Best of Bobby Darin was released, Jay Cocks of Time magazine wrote that Darin’s music was worth revisiting: “Tunes like ‘Clementine’ and ‘Skylark,’ even a chestnut like ‘Bill Bailey’,” he wrote, “can still make your speakers jump.” The new CDs, said Cocks, “prove that his pop singing, had it not been eclipsed by the advent of the Beatles and the passing of Tin Pan Alley, could have become world-class.” Darin, he said, “was born a little out of time…”
Further interest in Darin continued in 1994, with the release of the book Dream Lovers, written by Dodd Darin, the son of Bobby and Sandra Dee. The book was a highly personal account by Dodd of his parents’ lives, their marriage, and his own life growing up in their household. It was not a pretty picture, probing both the insecurities of his father and the anorexia, alcoholism and childhood abuse of his mother. Dodd was described by one reviewer as “an injured bystander on the scene of a broken celebrity marriage.” Dodd had help writing the story with writer Maxine Paetro.
Use of His Music
Over the years, Bobby Darin’s songs and song-writing have shown up in a wide range of films and television shows, and also various TV ads. “Splish Splash,” appears in the soundtrack for the 1998 movie, You’ve Got Mail and also in an episode of the TV series, Happy Days, among others. “Dream Lover” was used in the 1991 film Hot Shots! starring Charlie Sheen. “Beyond The Sea” has been used in films such as Apollo 13, Goodfellas, Black Rain, A Life Less Ordinary, and the Austin Powers film, Goldmember. It has also been used in television series such as The X-Files and American Dreams. “Beyond the Sea” is also found in one scene of the 1998 HBO miniseries, From the Earth to the Moon. In 2005, it was used in a Carnival Cruise Lines TV ad. Other Darin tunes have also been used in TV ads, such as those for Kodak and Oral B products. In 1989, however, Darin’s estate sued McDonald’s over a burger ad that imitated his “Mack the Knife” song, a case that was eventually settled.
In Hollywood, meanwhile, there had been long-standing interest dating to the 1980s, in putting Darin’s life on the big screen. But since that time, there had also been considerable legal squabbling among film makers and screenwriters over the making of a Darin film. While the fighting continued, PBS broadcast the well-received documentary, Bobby Darin: Beyond the Song, in December 1998.
Back in Hollywood, actor Kevin Spacey, who had keen interest in Darin’s life, surfaced as the front-runner in making a Darin biographical film. With funding from Lions Gate Films and a German production company, QI Quality International, the film Beyond the Sea was released in 2004. Spacey — who plays Darin in the film, singing all of Darin’s songs — also produced and directed the film. It opened late December 2004 and to wider release in early 2005, but did not do well at the box office, generating about $6 million domestically and another $2 million overseas. It cost an estimated $24 million to make. The DVD version was released in June 2005.
Spacey later explained on the DVD commentary that his biggest hope was that the film would reintroduce Bobby Darin’s music to a whole new generation of fans, which it appears to have done, as sales of Darin’s music shot up over 150 percent shortly after the film’s release.
DVD cover for the 2004 Kevin Spacey film on Bobby Darin, "Beyond The Sea."
Bobby Darin Today
Bobby Darin today has a continuing following and fan base, with several websites devoted to the details of his career. In May 2007, resulting in part from fans’ donations, Darin received a star on the Las Vegas Walk of Stars. In his short life, Bobby Darin managed to leave a considerable mark on the world of music, and to a lesser extent, that of film as well. At the start of his career, he was, according to some observers, the most musically talented of all the early 1960s’ teen idols. And he was versatile; unbounded by the convention of his day, scoring hit songs in a variety of genres — pop, jazz, folk, and even country & western. He also helped advance the use of music-as-social-statement, contributing to 1960s’ protests with his folk-rock creations. A generous performer by many accounts, Bobby Darin helped others get their start, and sometimes gave them material to use in their careers. In film, he had a modestly successful acting career, appearing in 13 films while contributing songs and scores to a number of others. On the Las Vegas entertainment scene, he had an impact, in his own way, as important as other 1960s’ headliners. Regarded as one of the era’s most gifted nightclub entertainers and jazz vocalists, he was also a talented arranger and interpreter of other artists’ material. Bobby Darin made the most of his time while alive, as he himself once put it: “It’s a one-time shot, this life, and you don’t get any second chances.” For other stories on the history of music and artist biography, see the Annals of Music page. Thanks for visiting — and please consider supporting this website. Thank you. — Jack Doyle
Elvis Presley in the mid-1950s, before he became a fully-known national rock ’n roll star, was constantly on the road. During 1955 and 1956, Elvis and his band performed widely, especially in the south, making numerous personal appearances, from high schools to county fairs. His 1955 itinerary, reprinted below, reveals an unyielding schedule of nearly daily performances. Elvis and his band were a hard-working, ever-on-the-move group of performers. Still, at the time, Presley was essentially a regional phenomenon, known primarily in the south. Elvis would not appear on national television until January 1956 — first on The Dorsey Brothers Stage Show, and later in September 1956, on the Ed Sullivan Show. Although he would have great success with RCA Records in 1956, it was his August 1955 release of “I Forgot To Remember To Forget” with Sun Studios of Memphis, Tennessee that first made Elvis a nationally-known country music star. That single, which also had “Mystery Train” on its B side, rose to No. 1 on the Country & Western charts in February 1956.
A young Elvis Presley performing, early 1950s.
Elvis Presley’s first No. 1 pop hit on the Billboard charts, “Heartbreak Hotel,” came on May 3rd, 1956. A month earlier he had performed the song on The Milton Berle Show on national TV with an estimated 25 percent of the U.S. population watching. By then he had moved to RCA Records.
Yet in 1955, before the first crush of national fame, Elvis and his band were on the road constantly, also doing radio shows and some regional television, such as Louisiana Hayride. His 1955 schedule was truly grueling, and 1956 was similar, plus more recording sessions. The torrid pace did take a toll. On February 23rd, 1956, after a performance in Jacksonville, Florida, Presley collapsed from exhaustion and was rushed to a hospital. He was 21 years old.
What follows below is the 1955 day-by-day performance itinerary of Elvis Presley and his band as they traveled across the U.S.A., with location and venue listed in most cases. The series of “record sleeves” shown in the right-hand column are all bootleg editions — i.e., composites made by fans in later years using the RCA and Sun logos with Elvis photos from the 1950s. They are used here only as photographic illustrations to accompany the issue date of the 1955 Elvis songs indicated.
January-1955 Jan 1: Eagles Hall, Houston, TX
Jan 4: Odessa High School, Odessa, TX
Jan 5: City Auditorium, San Angelo, TX
Jan 6: Fair Park Coliseum, Lubbock, TX
Jan 7: Midland High School, Midland, TX
Jan 8: Louisiana Hayride, Shreveport, LA
Jan 11: High School, New Boston, TX
Jan 12: Civic Auditorium, Clarksdale, MS
Jan 13: Catholic Club, Helena, AR
Jan 14: Futrell High School, Marianna, AR
Jan 17: N.E. Miss Com. Colg., Booneville, MS
Jan 18: Alcorn Co. Courthse Hall, Corinth, MS
Jan 19: Sheffield Com. Center, Sheffield, AL
Jan 20: Leachville High School, Leachville, AL
Jan 21: National Guard Armory, Sikeston, MO
Jan 22: Louisiana Hayride, Shreveport, LA
Jan 24: Humble Oil Rec. Hall, Hawkins, TX
Jan 25: Mayfair Bldg. Fairgrounds, Tyler, TX
Jan 26: Rural Electric Admin. Bldg, Gilmer, TX
Jan 27: Reo Palm Isle Club, Longview, TX
Jan 28: Gaston High School, Joinerville, TX February-1955 Feb 4: Golden Cadillac Club, New Orleans, LA
Feb 5: Louisiana Hayride, Shreveport, LA
Feb 6: Ellis Auditorium, Memphis, TN
Feb 7: Ripley High School, Ripley, MS
Feb 10: Alpine High School, Alpine, TX
Feb 11: Carlsbad Sports Arena, Carlsbad, NM
Feb 12: American Legion Hall, Carlsbad, NM
Feb 13: Fair Park Coliseum, Lubbock, TX
Feb 13: Cotton Club, Lubbock, TX
Feb 14: No. Junior H. S., Roswell, NM
Feb 15: Fair Park Auditorium, Abilene, TX
Feb 16: Odessa Senior H.S., Odessa, TX
Feb 17: City Auditorium, San Angelo, TX
Feb 18: W. Monroe H.S., West Monroe, LA
Feb 19: Louisiana Hayride, Shreveport, LA
Feb 20: Robinson Aud., Little Rock, AR
Feb 21: City Hall, Camden, AR
Feb 22: City Hall, Hope, AR
Feb 23: Pine Bluff H.S., Pine Bluff, AR
Feb 24: So. Side Elem. School, Bastrop, LA
Feb 25: Municipal Aud., Texarkana, AR
Feb 26: Circle Theatre, Cleveland, OH March-1955 March 2: Newport Armory, Newport, AR
March 2: Porky’s Rooftop Club, Newport, AR
March 4: DeKalb High School, DeKalb, TX
March 5: Louisiana Hayride, Shreveport, LA
March 7: City Auditorium, Paris, TN
March 8: Catholic Club, Helena, AR
March 9: Poplar Bluff Armory, Poplar Bluff, MO
March 10: Civic Auditorium, Clarksdale, MS
March 11: J. Thompson Arena, Alexandria, LA
March 12: Louisiana Hayride, Shreveport, LA
Mar 19: G. Rolle White Colsm., College Sta., TX
March 19: Eagles Hall, Houston, TX
March 20: Magnolia Gardens, Houston, TX
March 20: Cook’s Hoedown Club, Houston, TX
March 21: Parkin High School, Parkin, AR
March 25: Dermott High School, Dermott, AR
March 26: Louisiana Hayride, Shreveport, LA
March 28: Big Creek H.S., Big Creek, MS
March 29: Tocopola H.S., Tocopola, MS
March 30: High School, El Dorado, AR
March 31: Reo Palm Isle Club, Longview, TX April-1955 April 1: Ector County Aud., Odessa, TX
April 2: Municipal Auditorium, Houston, TX
April 7: Corinth Co. Courthouse, Corinth, MS
April 8: B&B Club, Glober, MO
April 9: Louisiana Hayride, Shreveport, LA
April 10: Magnolia Gardens, Houston, TX
April 10: Cook’s Hoedown Club, Houston, TX
April 13: Breckenridge H.S., Breckenridge, TX
April 14: Owl Park, Gainesville, TX
April 15: Stamford High School, Stamford, TX
April 15: Roundup Hall, Stamford, TX
April 16: Sportatorium, Dallas, TX
April 16: Roundup Club, Dallas, TX
April 19: Louisiana Hayride, Shreveport, LA
April 20: American Legion Hut, Grenada, MS
April 22: Arkansas Mun. Stadium, Texarkana, AR
April 23: Heart O’ Texas Coliseum, Waco, TX
April 24: Magnolia Gardens, Houston, TX
April 24: Cook’s Hoedown Club, Houston, TX
April 25: M-B Corral Club, Wichita Falls, TX
April 25: Texas High School, Seymour, TX
April 26: City Auditorium, Big Spring, TX
April 27: American Legion Hall, Hobbs, NM
April 29: Cotton Club, Lubbock, TX
April 30: High School, Gladewater, TX May-1955 May 1: Municipal Aud., New Orleans, LA
May 2: Baton Rouge H.S., Baton Rouge, LA
May 4: Ladd Stadium, Mobile, AL
May 5: Ladd Stadium, Mobile, AL
May 7: Peabody Aud., Daytona Beach, FL
May 8: Ft. Homer Hesterly Armory, Tampa, FL
May 9: City Auditorium, Fort Myers, FL
May 10: Southeastern Pavilion, Ocala, FL
May 11: Municipal Auditorium, Orlando, FL
May 12: GatorBowl Bseball Pk., Jacksonville, FL
May 13: GatorBowl Bseball Pk., Jacksonville, FL
May 14: Shrine Auditorium, New Bern, NC
May 15: Norfolk City Auditorium, Norfolk, VA
May 16: Mosque Theater, Richmond, VA
May 17: City Auditorium, Asheville, NC
May 18: American Legion Aud., Roanoke, VA
May 19: Memorial Auditorium, Raleigh, NC
May 20: KOCA Radio, Kilgore, TX
May 21: Louisiana Hayride, Shreveport, LA
May 22: Magnolia Gardens, Houston, TX
May 22: Cook’s Hoedown Club, Houston, TX
May 25: American Legion Hall, Meridian, MS
May 26: Meridian Jun. College, Meridian, MS
May 28: Sportatorium, Dallas, TX
May 29: North Side Colsm., Fort Worth, TX
May 29: Sportatorium, Dallas, TX
May 31: High School, Midland, TX June-1955 June 1: Guymon High School, Guymon, OK
June 3: J. Connelley Pontiac, Lubbock, TX
June 3: Fair Park Coliseum, Lubbock, TX
June 4: Louisiana Hayride, Shreveport, LA
June 5: Hope Fair Park, Hope, AR
June 8: Municipal Auditorium, Sweetwater, TX
June 10: Am. Legion Hall, Breckenridge, TX
June 11: Louisiana Hayride, Shreveport, LA
June 14: Bruce High School, Bruce, MS
June 15: Belden High School, Belden, MS
June 17: Roundup Hall, Stamford, TX
June 18: Sportatorium, Dallas, TX
June 19: Magnolia Gardens, Houston, TX
June 19: Cook’s Hoedown Club, Houston, TX
June 20: City Auditorium, Beaumont, TX
June 21: City Auditorium, Beaumont, TX
June 23: McMahon Mem. Aud., Lawton, OK
June 23: Southern Club, Lawton, OK
June 24: Altus, OK
June 25: Louisiana Hayride, Shreveport, LA
June 26: Slavonian Lodge Aud., Biloxi, MS
June 27: Keesler AFB, Biloxi, MS
June 28: Keesler AFB, Biloxi, MS
June 29: C. Gordon’s Radio Ranch, Mobile, AL
June 30: C. Gordon’s Radio Ranch, Mobile, AL July-1955 July 1: Casino Club, Plaquemines, LA
July 2: Louisiana Hayride, Shreveport, LA
July 3: Hoedown Club, Corpus Christi, TX
July 4: City Recreation Hall, Stephenville, TX
July 4: Hodges Park, DeLeon, TX
July 4: Soldiers & Sailors Hall, Brownwood, TX
July 20: Cape Arena, Cape Girardeau, MO
July 21: Silver Moon Club, Newport, AR
July 25: City Auditorium, Fort Myers, FL
July 26: Municipal Auditorium, Orlando, FL
July 27: Municipal Auditorium, Orlando, FL
July 28: Gator Stadium Park, Jacksonville, FL
July 29: Gator Stadium Park, Jacksonville, FL
July 30: Peabody Aud., Daytona Beach, FL
July 31: Ft. Homer Hesterly Armory, Tampa, FL August-1955 August 1: Tupelo Fairgrounds, Tupelo, MS
August 2: Sheffield Center, Muscle Shoals, AL
August 3: Robinson Auditorium, Little Rock, AR
August 4: Municipal Auditorium, Camden, AR
August 5: Overton Park Shell, Memphis, TN
August 6: Louisiana Hayride, Shreveport, LA
August 7: Magnolia Gardens, Houston, TX
August 7: Cook’s Hoedown Club, Houston, TX
August 8: Mayfair Building, Tyler, TX
August 9: Rodeo Arena, Henderson, TX
August 10: Bear Stadium, Gladewater, TX
August 11: Reo Palm Isle Club, Longview, TX
August 12: Driller Park, Kilgore, TX
August 13: Louisiana Hayride, Shreveport, LA
August 20: Louisiana Hayride, Shreveport, LA
August 22: Spudder Park, Wichita Falls, TX
August 23: Saddle Club, Bryan, TX
August 24: Davy Crockett H.S., Conroe, TX
August 25: Sportcenter, Austin, TX
August 26: Gonzales Baseball Pk., Gonzales, TX
August 27: Louisiana Hayride, Shreveport, LA September-1955 Sept 1: Pontchartrain Bch, New Orleans, LA
Sept 2: Arkansas Mun. Stad., Texarkana, AR
Sept 3: Sportatorium, Dallas, TX
Sept 3: Roundup Club, Dallas, TX
Sept 5: St. Francis Co. Fair, Forrest City, AR
Sept 6: Bono High School, Bono, AR
Sept 7: Nat’l Guard Armory, Sikeston, AR
Sept 8: Municipal Aud., Clarksdale, MS
Sept 9: McComb H.S., McComb, MS
Sept 10: Louisiana Hayride, Shreveport, LA
Sept 11: Municipal Aud., Norfolk, VA
Sept 12: Municipal Aud., Norfolk, VA
Sept 13: Shrine Auditorium, New Bern, NC
Sept 14: Fleming Stadium, Wilson, NC
Sept 15: Am. Legion Aud., Roanoke, VA
Sept 16: City Auditorium, Asheville, NC
Sept 17: Thomasville H.S., Thomasville, NC
Sept 18: WRVA Theater, Richmond, VA
Sept 19: WRVA Theater, Richmond, VA
Sept 20: Danville Fairgrounds, Danville, VA
Sept 21: Memorial Auditorium, Raleigh, NC
Sept 22: Civic Auditorium, Kingsport, TN
Sept 24: Louisiana Hayride, Shreveport, LA
Sept 26: Gilmer Junior H.S., Gilmer, TX
Sept 28: B&B Club, Gobler, MO October-1955 Oct 1: Louisiana Hayride, Shreveport, LA
Oct 3: G. Rolle White Colsm., College Sta., TX
Oct 4: Boys Club, Paris, TX
Oct 5: City Auditorium, Greenville, TX
Oct 6: S.W. Texas St Univ., San Marcos, TX
Oct 6: Skyline Club, Austin, TX
Oct 8: City Auditorium, Houston, TX
Oct 10: Soldiers-Sailors Hall, Brownwood, TX
Oct 11: Fair Park Auditorium, Abilene, TX
Oct 12: Midland High School, Midland, TX
Oct 13: Municipal Auditorium, Amarillo, TX
Oct 14: Odessa High School, Odessa, TX
Oct 11: Fair Park Auditorium, Lubbock, TX
Oct 15: Cotton Club, Lubbock, TX
Oct 16: Mun. Aud., Oklahoma City, OK
Oct 17: Memorial Aud., El Dorado, AR
Oct 19: Circle Theatre, Cleveland, OH
Oct 20: Brooklyn H.S., Cleveland, OH
Oct 20: St. Michaels’ Hall, Cleveland, OH
Oct 21: Missouri Theatre, St. Louis, MO
Oct 22: Missouri Theatre, St. Louis, MO
Oct 23: Missouri Theatre, St. Louis, MO
Oct 24: Silver Moon Club, Newport, AR
Oct 25: Houston Armory, Houston, MS
Oct 26: Greater Gulf States Fair, Prichard, AL
Oct 28: C.Gordon’s Radio Ranch, Mobile, AL
Oct 29: Louisiana Hayride, Shreveport, LA November-1955 November 5: Louisiana Hayride, Shreveport, LA
November 6: Community House, Biloxi, MS
November 7: Keesler AFB, Biloxi, MS
November 8: Keesler AFB, Biloxi, MS
November 12: Carthage Milling Co., Carthage, TX
November 12: Louisiana Hayride, Shreveport, LA
November 13: Ellis Auditorium, Memphis, TN
November 14: Forrest City H. S., Forrest City, AR
November 15: Community Center, Sheffield, AL
November 16: City Auditorium, Camden, AR
November 17: Municipal Aud., Texarkana, AR
November 18: Reo Palm Isle Club, Longview, TX
November 19: Gladewater H.S., Gladewater, TX
November 25: W. Wilson Jun.H.S., P. Arthur, TX
November 26: Louisiana Hayride, Shreveport, LA
November 29: Mosque Theater, Richmond, VA December-1955 December 2: Atlanta Sports Arena, Atlanta, GA
December 3: State Coliseum, Montgomery, AL
December 4: Lyric Theater, Indianapolis, IN
December 5: Lyric Theater, Indianapolis, IN
December 6: Lyric Theater, Indianapolis, IN
December 7: Lyric Theater, Indianapolis, IN
December 8: Rialto Theater, Louisville, KY
December 9: Swifton High School, Swifton, AR
December 9: B&I Club, Swifton, AR
December 10: Louisiana Hayride, Shreveport, LA
December 12: Nat’l Guard Armory, Amory, MS
December 17: Louisiana Hayride, Shreveport, LA
December 19: Ellis Auditorium, Memphis, TN
December 31: Louisiana Hayride, Shreveport, LA
Elvis songs released by Sun Records, January 1955, in 78 and 45 rpm versions. Record sleeve is a bootleg edition.
Promoter “Colonel” Tom Parker first takes notice of Presley’s name after Texarkana DJ “Uncle Dudley” reports on the crowd frenzy at Elvis’ January 11, 1955 show.
Elvis songs released by Sun Records, April 1955, in 78 and 45 rpm versions. Record sleeve is a bootleg edition.
On March 23rd, 1955, Elvis and his band auditioned for Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts show in New York but were rejected.
Elvis songs released by Sun Records, August 1955, in 78 and 45 rpm versions. Record sleeve is a bootleg edition.
At the Jacksonville, Florida show on May 13, 1955, Elvis tells the girls in the 14,000-plus crowd that he’ll “see [them] backstage,” causing a riot. The incident convinces Colonel Parker about Elvis’ popularity.
Elvis during concert at Tampa, FL's Ft. Homer Hesterly Armory on July 31, 1955 (photo believed to be that of W. Red Robertson).
Elvis songs released by RCA Records, Dec 1955, in 78 and 45 rpm versions. Record sleeve is a bootleg edition.
By late summer 1955, Colonel Parker had taken control of Presley’s career. On Nov. 21st he negotiated a deal with RCA to acquire Elvis’ Sun Studios contract for $35,000 (roughly $275,000 in 2007).
Elvis songs released by RCA Records, Dec 1955, in 78 and 45 rpm versions. Record sleeve is a bootleg edition.
On November 10th, 1955, in his Nashville hotel room, songwriter Mae Axton plays Elvis a demo of a song she’d co-written called “Heartbreak Hotel.”
Elvis songs released by RCA Records, Dec 1955, in 78 and 45 rpm versions. Record sleeve is a bootleg edition.
Elvis songs released by RCA Records, Dec 1955, in 78 and 45 rpm versions. Record sleeve is a bootleg edition.
Elvis songs released by RCA Records, Dec 1955, in 78 and 45 rpm versions. Record sleeve is a bootleg edition.
Elvis performing before capacity crowd at the Mississippi-Alabama Fairgrounds, Tupelo, MS, September 26, 1956.
Jack Doyle, “Elvis on the Road, 1955-1956,” PopHistoryDig.com, March 31, 2008.
Sources, Links & Additional Information
A 45 rpm single of Elvis Presley’s August 1955 Sun Studios recording of 'I Forgot To Remember To Forget,' the song that first made Elvis a nationally-known country music star, prior to his popular rock ’n roll fame.
Sun Records' 1955 45rpm recording of Elvis Presley's "Mystery Train."
Hank Bordowitz, Turning Points in Rock and Roll, Citadel Press,2004.
Peter Guralnick, “Elvis Presley,” in Anthony De Curtis and James Henke (eds), The Rolling Stone Illustrated History of Rock & Roll, Random House, New York, 1992, pp. 21-36.