The Bill Doggett Centennial Begins Now!

Podcasts are great and all, but nothing compares to the magic & excitement of live radio!

A recent exchange with WPFW radio’s Andrea Bray – at Andrea’s Fine Hats in DC just over the line from Silver Spring – unexpectedly resulted in an invitation to join her on the air this past Saturday to celebrate the musical legacy of Bill Doggett, whose career spans the more traditional blues, jazz, and swing eras into the new R&B and funk ushered in by his King Records labelmate, James Brown.  Bill Doggett’s spirit turns 100 years today, and Doggett’s nephew, Bill Doggett II, joined us on the “The Andrea Bray Show from the west coast to inform WPFW listeners how an improvisation started by Bill Doggett’s bandmates in a Lima, Ohio hotel room became “the most important and first R&B instrumental of the early rock & roll era to cross over” into the pop market.  “Honky Tonk” would show remarkable staying power as it entered the Billboard Top 100 chart on August 18, 1956 and – according to those fine folks at Ace UK – “stayed in the national pop listings for 29 weeks, peaking at #2 (naturally it went to #1 R&B).”  Keeping it from the top spot, unfortunately, was that dastardly Elvis double A-side “Hound Dog” b/w “Don’t Be Cruel”!

#1 in zero to 180’s book

Bill DoggettWhat great and glorious fun it was to chat up Ms. Andrea about King Records history, as we played “Honky Tonk,” examined the Bill Doggett legacy, and then followed the song with its funky ‘re-boot’ from 1969 (produced by James Brown) on which Doggett is backed by The J.B.’s – “Honky Tonk Popcorn“:

 “Honky Tonk Popcorn”     Bill Doggett     1969

Doggett II would point out that Nathan was initially opposed to releasing “Part 2” – a jukebox favorite, interestingly.  According to the liner notes in Ace UK compilation, Honky Tonk!  The King & Federal R&B Instrumentals:  “The late Jim Wilson (King’s branch manager in Detroit) insisted, however, that [King A&R director, Henry] Glover must take credit for convincing Syd Nathan to release the record in two parts.”  According to Greg Evans, in the June 1986 issue of Cincinnati Magazine, “[Doggett’s] biggest hit, the song his audiences still request, remains ‘Honky Tonk, Part 2.'”

Live radio is an improvisational dance, and the joint really got jumping when another former Cincinnati boy – a caller named Benjamin who grew up around the corner from King – phoned in and regaled listeners with stories of Cadillacs pulling up to the King studios, famous sightings (Ruth Brown, Johnny Ace, Hank Ballard, Tiny Bradshaw, JB, of course) and most of all, stealing items from the “pink ashcan” – rejected/warped King vinyl that played like new after attaching a silver dollar with a rubber band to the turntable’s tonearm!

Honky Tonk compilation CDGreg Evans would write his Cincinnati Magazine piece while Doggett was still performing (even though, as he playfully observed, “baby, that organ gets heavier every year”) and include numerous quotes from the Hammond master himself about the “tremendous operation” of Syd Nathan, who – according to Shad O’Shea (or ‘O’Shay’) “was the one single man who can be credited with bringing black music to the masses.”  Doggett, for example, would note that “When I recorded for King, you could do a session at 2 in the afternoon, finish by 5 or 6, and have the records on a truck to the distributors by 8 the next morning.  It was a complete, total operation.”

Zero to 180 with DC community fixture & national treasure, ms. Andrea Bray

Soulsteady Kid on The Andrea Bray Show

Also worth emphasizing that Doggett’s relationship with James Brown in the 1960s was not strictly a one-way affair, as Geoff Brown would write in his biography of James Brown:

“Not surprisingly, after the success with ‘Mashed Potatoes’ in the guise of Nat Kendrick and the Swans, [King Records label owner, Syd] Nathan relaxed his views about recording the band on instrumental releases.  ‘Hold It’, credited as James Brown Presents His Band, was the first, and a riff from the Bill Doggett hit would form the link he used to segue between songs in the breathless, non-stop Revue that seared across the States as he forged his reputation as The King of the One-Nighters.”

Bill Doggett - Honky Tonk Popcorn LPSays UK’s Ace Records, who put out a compilation in 2012 bearing the same title as the 1969 funk track:

“The most obvious manifestation of [Doggett keeping pace with contemporary music trends] was his collaboration with James Brown and his JBs, who were incredibly tight on the top-side of the super-rhythmic ‘Honky Tonk Popcorn’.  The popcorn was Brown’s dance rhythm of the year:  he had made #1 R&B with ‘Mother Popcorn’, #2 with ‘Let A Man Come In And Do The Popcorn’.  The B-side of the single was Doggett’s funk update of ‘Honky Tonk’, which worked even better than Brown’s own 1972 remake.

King then gathered up a bunch of recent Doggett recordings to make the “Honky Tonk Popcorn” album.  It was marketed as a James Brown production but, other than the two single sides, it contained no cuts produced by Brown.  Instead it featured a fascinating mix of grooves that evoke smoky clubs and juke joints. ‘Mad’ and a scorching version of Edwin Starr’s ‘Twenty Five Miles’ were released as singles.”

Hip hop fans might be intrigued to know that Pete Rock would sample the “Honky Tonk Popcorn” – JB’s scream, specifically – for 2004 “One MC One DJ.

Bill Doggett II invites you to join the Bill Doggett Centennial celebration at his new website, where you can hear his uncle’s music, absorb some history, and sign the Guest Book:

www.billdoggettcentennial.com

Andrea's Fine Hats - DC

Best-Sellers vs. Worst-Sellers

As I was finalizing my recent Bill Doggett piece, I was trying to confirm the “four million” sales figure that is so often attributed (Wikipedia) to his 1956 smash hit, “Honky Tonk” – an extraordinary number for an instrumental, especially in the mid-50s.  Ultimately, I was  impelled to wield the search phrase “best-selling instrumental single” to confirm that number — and see what other truths I might unearth along the way.

Second item in the search results:  Wikipedia’s entry for “Star Wars Theme/Cantina Band” that claims this #1 Billboard hit (for two weeks – on the pop chart for a total of nine) is the “biggest-selling instrumental single in the history of recorded music.”  Yes, yes, but how many copies sold?  “Only” two million!  Guinness World Records affirms this achievement.  Sadly, this means that either (1) Guinness is somehow unaware of “Honky Tonk” selling four million copies, or (2) “Honky Tonk” sold fewer copies than is previously thought.

Million-seller “Honky Tonk”:  Only question is how many?

Bill Doggett Honky Tonk LPWorth pointing out that even though “Honky Tonk” would ‘only’ peak at #2, the song would nevertheless spend over half the year (29 weeks vs. 9 for “Star Wars” theme) on the Billboard Hot 100 Chart.  Take that, George Lucas.

Since Zero to 180 is more interested in profiling under-recognized artists and songs, I decided to shift my search efforts to see what might be of interest within the realm of “worst-selling” record-holders.  Lo and behold, I would quickly discover an amusing news item from this past August that unmasks a music industry model that just might be a bit creaky and unsustainable:  Worst-Selling #1 Album in Sales-Tracking History!

Disney Channel’s Descendents television series – as a result of Billboard altering their formula for identifying a #1 album to allow “on-demand streaming and digital track sales” – hit the top spot … with just 30,000 (!) “pure” album sales as reports Rolling Stone [the exact same link, by the way, as from Zero to 180’s recent Led Zep piece].

One of Decca’s worst sellers

Alan Freeman 4545 Clunker of Note:  Zero to 180 would like to thank 45Cat’s YankeeDisc for pointing out that Alan LeslieFluffFreeman, MBE and 40-year British disc jockey/radio personality, would enjoy the distinction of having recorded one of Decca’s Worst-Ever Sellers (“and is now, predictably, a rarity and collector’s item“):

“Madison Time”      Alan Freeman     1962

Did you know:   Bill Doggett’s biggest seller would enjoy a resurgence in the Billboard Hot 100 Chart in February and March of 1961 for reasons unknown to the government?  As it turns out, this was a more contemporary ‘re-boot’ by King that included vocals.

A Ha Moment:  By the way, I think I just now determined the source of the “4 million” figure, thanks to UK reissue label of note, Ace Records, in the liner notes to their compilation, Honky Tonk!  The King & Federal R&B Instrumentals:

“Still, ‘Honky Tonk’ did enough to earn a gold disc for a million sales (a total of 4 million was mentioned by [King’s Detroit branch manager] Jim Wilson, but who knows).”

Boom!  Bap!   15th Musical Fight!

Bill Doggett’s “Soft”: Enduring

Bill Doggett and his Hammond organ, in 1957, would breathe (via flute) fresh life into Tiny Bradshaw‘s “Soft” from 1952 – both versions released on King.  Even though Doggett’s “Soft” would ‘only’ peak at #51, Billboard’s “Hot 100 Chart History” indicates this song to have spent 14 weeks on the chart – impressive staying power for an instrumental:

“Soft”     Bill Doggett     1957

Billboard would report “Soft” as an ‘R&B territorial best seller’ (1) in Detroit in its October 14, 1957 edition and (2) Cincinnati in its December 21, 1957 edition.  “Soft” would also be included in Billboard’s ‘Top 100 Sides – Store Recorded Sales’ for the week ending October 26, as well as December 7, 1957.

                     US 45 on King                          UK 45 on “Beatle” label Parlophone

Bill Doggett US 45Bill Doggett UK 45

The song would endure into the 1970s.  However, King Records would do a curious thing.  On the one hand, King would reissue “Soft” as a single in 1971 – though as a B-side (!) – while just the year prior, the song had been deemed fit to serve as the title track of a Bill Doggett LP compilation.  What gives?  Perhaps the 1971 single was an attempt to give record buyers a “double A-side” release with two solid tracks and no filler, so perhaps I should lighten up a little.

                   1971 King LP — “Soft” as title track        1970 King 45 — “Soft” as B-side

Bill Doggett LP (1970)Bill Doggett 45 reissue (1971)

It’s the Bill Doggett Centennial!

Bill Doggett, who recorded an instrumental in 1956 (“Honky Tonk”) that sold over 1 million copies — a ridiculous number, especially for King Records.  2016, therefore, means that “Honky Tonk” turns 60 (which is the new 40, anyway), and the artist who recorded it was (curiously enough) 40 years old at the time, as Bill Doggett was born exactly one hundred years ago.  I have to confess:  I didn’t figure this out on my own.  This information would come directly from Bill Doggett II, nephew and namesake, who recently reached out to Zero to 180 in response to the precarious future of the original King Records historic site in Cincinnati:

“King Records and its building are to Cincinnati Music History what Capitol Records and its building are to Los Angeles and West Coast r&b and jazz.  Preserving the building and turning it in to a restored TOURIST Destination will bring Tax revenue dollars and TOURISM.  Think BIG….not small.  THIS YEAR is The BILL DOGGETT CENTENNIAL 1916-2016 and THE 60TH Anniversary of the landmark KING Gold Record: HONKY TONK Parts 1/2.”

Honky Tonk”:  Promotional video from Bill Doggett Productions

Latest Report on Efforts to Save the King Records Historic Site

What Will It Take to Save King RecordsCincinnati Magazine – January 6, 2016