Now who would have thought that in 1961, two black guitar players from California, could write and record an instrumental Car Song. The success of this record had a lot to do with Ron Barrett.
1. Stick Shift/ Sue 745/ October 1961/ #25
2. The Duals Blues/LP
During the first half of the sixties, car songs, or hot rod music if you like, were largely a Southern California phenomenon. They were a by-product of the region’s active hot rod scene. Apart from the subject matter, there was not much difference between hot rod music and surf music, both being aimed at more or less the same audiences. Some groups, most notably the Beach Boys and Jan and Dean, recorded both kinds. Hot rod songs were essentially surf songs that happened to be about cars.
There were also instrumental car songs. The first record to chart in this genre was “Stick Shift” by the Duals. Henry Bellinger (lead guitar) and Johnny Lageman (rhythm guitar) lived on the same street in Los Angeles and were both 19 years old in 1961 when they set out to make a record. They approached H.B. Barnum, but he was too busy with other projects and didn’t have much faith in the songs they had written. Barnum introduced the boys to his friend Ron Barrett, who had just started his own record label, Star Revue.
Born in 1937, Ron Barrett was the older brother of Fanita Barrett (later Fanita James) of the Dreamers, Blossoms and Bob B. Soxx and the Bluejeans. Ron had been a member of the Meadowlarks (Don Julian’s group) and the Dootones, among others. More info on him (in 5 parts) at http://www.spectropop.com/RonBarrett/index.htm
Barrett liked the fresh, clean simple sound of the Duals. After much rehearsing, two songs were recorded, “Stick Shift” and “Cruising”, the first one being the intended A-side. Barrett felt that the song needed something extra and he asked the engineer if he had a library of sound effects. This happened to be the case and Ron listened to car sound after car sound until he found what he was looking for.
I think it’s fair to say that the sound effects were the real selling point of “Stick Shift”. The spluttering engine at the beginning, the screeching tires, the squad-car pullover at the end : without them this would have been a pretty ordinary guitar instro. “Stick Shift” was originally released on Star Revue 1031, but soon became too big for Barrett’s small label to handle. A deal was struck with Sue Records from New York City. They bought the master for national distribution and rereleased “Stick Shift” on Sue 745. The record peaked at # 25 in Billboard in the autumn of 1961.
Ron Barrett , Star Revue and the Duals never received any money from Sue Records. After a long legal battle, and with the assistance of Barrett’s son, Ron Jr., the first paycheck (from EMI) finally arrived in 2004. More details at http://www.starrevue.com/TheDualsSaga.htm Henry Bellinger was deceased by then.
Although Ron Barrett was a colleague of H.B. Barnum and Richard Berry, Phil Spector and Jack Nitzsche, Bobby Darin and Sonny Bono, sadly, he is rather less well-known. If he had spent as much time promoting his own name as he did to creating music it could have been a different story.
If you have a love of music from rock’s ‘Golden Age’ then lurking in your collection are records in which he had an uncredited hand. As vocalist, musician, producer, writer or record label founder he was an active participant in the Meadowlarks’ “Heaven And Paradise“, the Duals’ “Stick Shift” and Merry Clayton’s “It’s In His Kiss“; three records that admirably display his credentials and diversity of talent.