Image via WikipediaBy Lee Jensen
For seven years starting in 1960, Bert Berns was one of rock's most prolific writers and producers, responsible for classics like "Under The Boardwalk," "Brown Eyed Girl," "Piece Of My Heart," and "Twist and Shout."
Often using the pseudonym Bert Russell, Berns and Wes Farrell wrote and produced "My Girl Sloopy," a rhythm and blues hit for the Vibrations. It would take a new group, a new title and a year before the song would reach number one on the pop charts.
But who is Sloopy? Some say the song's inspiration was Dorothy "Dottie" Sloop, a New Orleans jazz pianist who performed from the 1930s to the 1950s as "Sloopy."
Brett Ruland, a relative of Sloop's, cites local legend and theorizes that Berns was inspired to write the song at a performance by the pianist. Sloop was a popular New Orleans musician who played at Dixie's Bar of Music on Bourbon Street in the 1950s. It's Ruland's theory that one night Bert Berns was in the audience.
"She was playing piano and something was wrong with the sound system and customers were getting rowdy and she was getting frustrated," Ruland said. "People were not paying attention, and he (Berns) saw that she was getting distressed, and one of the regulars yelled out, 'Hang on Sloopy!'"
Enter the Vibrations, a South Central Los Angeles group that recorded a few R&B hits in the 1950s and 60s. One of their best, "My Girl Sloopy," was produced by Berns for Atlantic Records in 1964. The song was a favorite of garage bands, including Rick and the Raiders from Union City, Indiana. Lead singer and guitarist Rick was Rick Zehringer, who would become Rick Derringer. As Paul Revere and the Raiders were becoming popular, the band would rename itself the McCoys.
Derringer's band appeared with many successful groups who toured the Midwest, including a gig in 1965 with the Strangeloves: Bob Feldman, Jerry Goldstein, and Richard Gottehrer, three record producers from Brooklyn who rode the British Invasion wave by pretending to be singing Australian sheepherders. The Strangeloves scored a surprise hit in 1965 with "I Want Candy." The trio called themselves the Strange Brothers, Miles, Niles, and Giles, and went on tour.
While on the road, the Strangeloves hoped to discover a new group with the Mersey look to record "My Girl Sloopy" for their label: Bert Berns' Bang Records. Their substitute backup group in Dayton, Ohio was the McCoys.
Big R&B fans, the McCoys knew "My Girl Sloopy" well; it had been part of their repertoire. At the end of the tour, the McCoys were invited to come to New York City to record what would become "Hang On Sloopy."
The McCoys were brought to a studio where they first recorded the music track. The Strangeloves, who produced the record, came up with an idea that yielded the explosive vocals of "Hang On Sloopy." Instead of immediately recording the vocals, the group was given a portable record player and an acetate copy of the music track. The group was told to rehearse the vocals for a week... which they did, in a New York City park.
"So the following week when we went into the studio, we nailed that sucker," recalled Derringer. "The engineers jumped up and down in the control room and yelled 'Number One! Number One!' and within a few weeks it was."
Lee Jensen, author of Rockaeology, unearths the secrets behind the writing, production and recording of the great hits of rock, soul, doo-wop, the British Invasion and Rhythm & Blues. Get the stories behind the songs at Rockaeology.com http://rockaeology.com/
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