September 20, 2008

BLAST FROM THE PAST!

The McCoys, Part Deux!  Jerry Hilgenberg's Part 2 of the Second Installment!

Now appearing --- one night only!

The McCoys:  Part Two - Hang On Sloopy

The first installment of this article about the McCoys covered the start of the band up until the time they were discovered by the Strangeloves and left for New York to record for BANG records.

If you missed this first part, you can see it now at the “Archives” section of the site.

At this point, our guys were still calling themselves Rick and the Raiders.  But by this time Paul Revere and the Raiders [note 1] had arrived on the scene, so another name change was necessary.  The producers initially decided on “The Real McCoys” after seeing an old photo of the band with their original drum head.  Finally, FGG decided “The McCoys” was a perfect name, and planned a tour with a girl group that would be called --- you guessed it --- “The Hatfields”!  (The girl group never panned-out, probably for the best.) 

What about the genesis of “Hang On Sloopy”?  Originally called “My Girl Sloopy”, the song was co-written by Bert Berns (founder and president of Bang Records, who produced the song) and Wes Farrell.  In case you’re thinking “Hang On Sloopy” was a one-off, it happens that both Berns and Farrell were great producers and songwriters.  Berns, in particular, wrote dozens of songs, including “A Little Bit of Soap” (Jarmels, 1961), “Twist and Shout” (Isley Brothers, 1962, and later covered by The Beatles), and “Piece of My Heart” (Janis Joplin, 1968).  There is a clear musical progression in his songwritng, that was cut short by Berns’ untimely death in 1968.

In 1964, The Vibrations had an R&B hit with “My Girl Sloopy” on Atlantic Records.  The Ramsey Lewis Trio
also released a live track recorded early in 1965 (listen).  So, with a good pedigree, Berns and FGG decided that an uptempo version of “Sloopy” would score well on the Pop music charts, and put the idea into their plans.

In fact, at the time they discovered The McCoys, The Strangeloves were planning to release the
ir own version of “My Girl Sloopy” as the follow-on to “I Want Candy” and had already been performing the song on stage while on tour with the Dave Clark Five.   Near the end of the tour, Dave Clark informed the Strangeloves that he intended to go back to England and record and release the song using the Strangeloves’ arrangement!  “I Want Candy” was still selling well, and FGG knew they could never get their version out ahead of the Dave Clark Five, so they recruited The McCoys for the song.  The Strangeloves did subsequently release the song on an album, and if you listen you’ll notice that the instrumental track is exactly the same as used on the McCoys release!

Another complication for FGG was that there were other groups recording the song.  The Yardbirds put the song on an album (listen), but fortunately for the McCoys they decided not to release it as a single.  There was also a recording of “My Girl Sloopy” to be released by a Canadian group called Little Caesar and the Consuls, whose lead singer looked like the character played by Edward G Robinson in the 1931 hit movie Little Caesar.  You may not remember the band Little Caesar and the Consuls but you probably do recognize the names of their most famous early members, Robbie Robertson (The Band) and country singer and songwriter Gene MacLellan.   Click here to listen to a clip of Little Caesar’s version of Sloopy (you can hear the full performance at their website.)  With all of this competition, Bang and FGG knew it was important to get the song out first.

Commercial success came quickly.  Bang Records was a small label, but was backed by Atlantic, which translated to great marketing power.  By the first week of October, 1965, The McCoys single “Hang On Sloopy” replaced the Barry McGuire’s “Eve of Destruction” as the #1 song in the US.  At the time, Rick was 18 years old, brother Randy, still in high school, was 16.  Randy Hobbs was 18, and Ronnie Brandon, the “elder statesman” of the band, was about to turn 20.  

Here’s a link to an “original footage” Karaoke version on YouTube that’s fun to watch.  So much fun, in fact, you may want to bookmark it!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kubb6o9szZY&feature=related

 Legend has it that “Hang On Sloopy” was inspired by a jazz singer and piano player named Dorothy Sloop (1913-1998), originally from Steubenville, Ohio, who sometimes used the stage name of “Sloopy”.  She performed for many years in and around New Orleans.  While I’m not sure about the origin of the song, I can confirm that the original “Sloopy” is not the same dancer featured in the YouTube video (linked above) --- although it wouldn’t be at all surprising to find out this dancer inspired plenty of songs! 
 

Shortly after Hang on Sloopy hit the charts, the Ohio State University band began a tradition of playing the song at home football and basketball games. As a result, “Sloopy” was named the Official Rock Song of the State of Ohio in 1985:  http://www.thewritegallery.com/hangonsloopy.html.

Next: The New York City Years  (To Be Continued)

   Credits