Artists included in this post
- Jimmy Dee & The Offbeats – Henrietta / Don’t Cry No More / You’re Late Miss Kate
- Ray Campi – It Ain’t Me
- Sanford Clark – The Fool / A Cheat / Modern Romance
- Nervous Norvus – Transfusion / Ape Call
Jimmy Dee & the Offbeats
Jimmy Dee, San Antonio, Texas musician and singer hit 47 on the Billboard Top 50 early in 1958 with the song Henrietta, a rockabilly style early rock ‘n’ roll song.
He was born in May of 1944 and by 1956 had become a club attraction in lounges near San Antonio. His discography is difficult to assemble as he recorded for eleven different labels during the years spanning 1957-1965.
It is known that he was a member of the backing group for the Verve recording artist Sharon Wynter and toured with her but did not sing on any of her recordings. It is reported that he married her sister in 1967.
He worked as a studio musician in both Memphis and Nashville, Tennessee during the early sixties. He is also credited on one of Del Shannon’s tracks “Tell Her No“, 1965, on drums and back-up vocals. It is thought that he may have toured with Shannon as his drummer.
A contractual dispute with Roulette records caused his recording career to halt in early 1966. However, he re-appeared during the late sixties and the mid seventies and again in the eighties with several more records and produced one CD during the nineties.
As a Rockabilly wild man, singer/songwriter Ray Campi recorded several classic singles during the music’s prime era, and later staged a comeback that earned him a substantial cult audience over the ’70s and ’80s.
Campi was born in New York in 1934 and moved with his family to Austin, TX, at age ten. He started listening to country music, learned the guitar, and formed his first band in high school, which played on local radio stations.
It was when he heard Elvis Presley’s early Sun recordings with Scotty Moore and Bill Black, Campi knew that he was meant to play rock ‘n’ roll. Billed as “Ray Campi with John & Henry” (Johnny Maddox and Henry Hill), he cut his first rock ‘n’ roll single for the tiny TNT label (which also discovered the likes of Bill Anderson and Johnny Olenn). His shuddery, hiccupping “Caterpillar” b/w “Play It Cool” is considered a rockabilly classic today, but in 1956 it sold poorly.
Forging on, Campi augmented his original trio with a pianist and his brother Harvey on bongos. He learned rock ‘n’ roll songs by Little Richard and Chuck Berry and began playing high school dances.
Proficient in the new rockabilly style, his band backed such local artists as Gus Brown, the Slades, and Joyce Webb on recording sessions.
Renamed “Ray Campi and the Finger Snappers”, they recorded the bluesy bopper “It Ain’t Me” b/w “Give That Love To Me” for Dot in 1957.
1. It Ain’t Me (-1) [MW 9889] Dot 45-15617 (Black Label) / 1957
- Ray Campi and the Snappers Dallas, Texas 7/57 (vocals/guitar);
- Johnny Maddox (lead guitar);
- Henry Hill (bass);
- Doc Shyrock (finger snapping);
- Bobby Reed (piano);
- Harvey Campi (bongos); 2 rhythm guitars overdubbed (-1).
The single led to an appearance on Dick Clark’s American Bandstand, which Campi recalls ruefully.
“When I got on Dick Clark’s show I had my guitar—a big, gold Gibson, and they said, ‘Oh no, you can’t play your guitar. The union won’t allow it.'”
Campi substituted finger-snapping for the movements he usually did with his guitar. Yet his first foray into big time television proved somewhat disillusioning.
‘The first thing [American Bandstand] did was say, ‘Here’s a check. Sign that you got paid.’ It was three hundred dollars or something, and I signed it. They told me ahead of time, ‘You’re not going to make any money for this.’ So, it wasn’t like they were crooking me. It was just the idea that you weren’t getting paid because you had to sign the check and hand it back to Dick’s manager. Everybody did.”
Campi went on to record for Domino (“Screamin’ Mimi“) and Dot (“The Ballad of Donna & Peggy Sue“), and moved to Los Angeles in 1959, where he signed with Colpix and recorded “Hear What I Wanna Hear.”
During the early ’60s, Campi lived in New York and spent two and a half years as a staff writer at Aaron Schroeder’s publishing firm, but was never allowed to record any of the songs he’d written.
He returned to Austin in 1967 and recorded “Civil Disobedience” for the Sonobeat label, but nothing came of it, and he settled in Los Angeles and became a junior-high school teacher.
Around 1973, Campi hooked up with Ronny Weiser’s revivalist Rollin’ Rock label and started making new recordings in the classic, high-energy rockabilly style. A steady stream of albums followed into the ’80s, which also brought a couple of sets for Rounder, 1980’s Rockin’ at the Ritz and 1986’s Gone, Gone, Gone!.
Campi continued to record into the new millennium, releasing occasional albums on his own label.
Sanford Clark found fleeting fame with his rendition of the Lee Hazlewood song “The Fool.” With a vocal style that blended elements of Johnny Cash with Ricky Nelson, Clark released the song in 1956, and it eventually peaked in the Top Ten of the pop charts and in the Top 15 of the country charts — his first and only hit.
1. The Fool/ Dot 15481/ June 1956/ #7
Clark was born in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and raised in Phoenix, Arizona. A guitar player from childhood, he was influenced by both early rock & roll music and by country music.
He got his start in the early ’50s playing in Phoenix clubs. While stationed in the South Pacific during his stint in the Air Force, he formed a band and won a talent contest in Hawaii.
Eventually, the Air Force stationed Clark back in Phoenix, where he met his old friend Al Casey, who introduced him to Lee Hazlewood, who was still working as a local deejay and hadn’t yet made his mark as a songwriter.
Soon afterward, Clark recorded “The Fool” with Casey on guitar. The song was released on MCI and went nowhere until a Philadelphia deejay heard it and took the song to Dot Records’ Randy Wood, who liked it and had Hazlewood license the song to his label. Afterward, Clark and Casey began a promotional tour opening for such stars as Ray Price and Roy Orbison.
In 1957, Clark returned to the studio to record another Hazlewood song, “A Cheat.” It only became a minor hit.
2. A Cheat /Dot 11516/ November 1956/ #76
At this time, Clark was having trouble with Wood who wanted him to become a virtual clone of Dot‘s most popular artist, Pat Boone. The label sent Clark to Hollywood to continue recording, but many of the songs were not released until much later. Those that were released did little or nothing on the charts.
3. Modern Romance/ Dot 15738/ April 1958/
Nervous Norvus was performing under the name of Jimmy Drake (1912 in the Oakwood district of Los Angeles, California – July 24, 1968). His novelty song “Transfusion” was a major hit in 1956, as was a second song, “Ape Call,” released later that year.
The lyrics in his song called “Transfusion” concern a careless driver who (cheerfully) receives blood transfusions after each accident. Graphic sounds of a car crash are included after each verse. Each stanza concludes with the refrain “Never never never gonna speed again” followed by lines such as “Slip the blood to me, Bud” or “Pour the crimson in me, Jimson.”
1. Transfusion (Novelty song)/ Dot 15470/ June 1956/ #8
The song was banned on many radio stations of the ’50s. The song was later played on the radio by DJ Barry Hansen, which reportedly led to Hansen’s eventual nickname of Dr. Demento. A car crash sound effect from this song can be heard on “Dead Man’s Curve” by Jan and Dean.
The song received a review from an unlikely source — personal-injury lawyer Melvin Belli — in his 1956 book Ready for the Plaintiff!, in which he says: “The ghoulish lyrics hiccup hysterically” but “wind up with a gem of jive-y wisdom that is strictly in the groove: ‘Oh, barnyard drivers are found in two classes / Line-crowding hogs and speeding jackasses / So remember to slow down today!'” There was irony too, as Drake was employed as a truck driver, prior to his recording fame arising.
2. Ape Call (Novelty song)/ Dot 15485/ August 1956/ # 24
Nervous Norvus was born before World War II started, and was over 40 by the time he had his two hit singles in 1956. His records were made with input from radio personality Red Blanchard, to whom he was sending demos in the hope of finding an artist to record them. Blanchard had been an influence, particularly with the “jive” language employed in the lyrics.
After his brief time of glory, which amounted to less than six months, he concentrated on his demo service, providing music for other people’s songs. He would charge around seven dollars to make these demos, some of which led to publishing contracts for the songwriters.
Contrary to popular belief, Drake was never a member of The Four Jokers, who also recorded “Transfusion” (with a group harmony vocal sound) on the Diamond record label in 1956. He was very shy and even turned down a chance to perform “Transfusion” on the Ed Sullivan Show.
After a final single on the Dot record label (“The Fang” b/w “Bullfrog Hop“), the artist had his contract dropped. He only recorded sporadically thereafter for a series of independent labels like Embee (“Stoneage Woo” b/w “I Like Girls“) and Big Ben, up to 1960. Nervous Norvus died in 1968 of cirrhosis of the liver, aged 56.