Ian Whitcomb is a highly respected performer, composer, and music historian. You can find all of his CD's, DVD's, Books, and Songbooks by clicking here.

 
You can find Ian's main website at
ianwhitcomb.com
 

Letter from Lotusland

July 2015

I promised further adventures in Nashville so here they are. At the same time as our Vienna epic we produced a country talking song I’d written expressly for a rich-voiced disc jockey called Corky Mayberry who held a slot at an L.A. station.

       Casting back to an incident in the late 1960s I fashioned a cautionary tale….

       I had been alone in the family flat since my mother was in Scotland on a golfing holiday. The front doorbell rang and I answered to a bunch of American hippies. The John the Baptist-haired leader said he was a friend of a friend of mine, a New York rock journalist I knew only slightly. I let them in, for a quick visit, all ten of them, and they quickly cased the flat, rustling up dinner through cans of our food and making themselves at home. Guitars were strummed to protest songs and the piano was ravished. I sat bemused.

       I was fearful ‘round midnight lest they might decide to strip the joint but I remained polite, shutting myself in my room and leaving them to doss down on the drawing room floor. There was much hilarity in the bathroom when they discovered the art deco fixtures, especially the bidet. But it was a calm night and next morning they greeted me with pancakes. As they took their leave (without any of the family silver spoons) their leader led them in the tribal motto: “You’re a friend of a friend and thanks for delivering us from evil!’  

       In my song, Corky is a Texan in Hollywood who has failed to make it in movies and is reduced to working in the tropical fish business. The hippies arrive and complications follow. Finally his brother, an ex-marine, arrives and takes in the mess, punching the leader and calling up the family clan who race in from factory, field and farm. They proceed to “mash those hippies into fine ground round” Brother Bill, as he straightens Corky’s tie, states the song’s moral: “hospitality and good manners are all very well but it’s family first each and every motherf**ing time!”

The Nashville cats cut a zingy track for “A Friend of a Friend of Mine” and Corky managed to get his tongue around the words. Certain local executives were not amused by the suggestion that southerners could be dangerous crackers. One, who had played bass for the late Hank Williams, said, “Do you recall the kiwi bird who went round in concentric circles chasing his tail till he disappeared up his rear end?”  To complete his point he gave us the finger and exited the studio. No matter for, despite a full-page ad in “Billboard”, the record went nowhere. However, it was released in England where Tim Rice, of “Jesus Christ Superstar” fame, took a liking to it. “Wish I was allowed to write like that”.

       Next year, 1974, Andy involved me with a vital and vivacious girl singer called Kenni Huskey. What with a beehive hairstyle, tall and clinging kinky boots, and a low-rider Mexican boyfriend, Miss Huskey appeared to be quintessentially California Country. She also had a deep-fried authentic rural southern voice. Hedging our bets, Andy and I decided to try Kenni with one stone country song and one old pop standard. “A Fallen Star” was achieved in one live take, with the players strumming fervently — inspired by the adorable Kenni in her boots; “Tears” (written in 1932) rolled along, powered by the bass of Bob Moore, who hadn’t been so galvanized since his days recording with Patsy Cline. Everyone wore cowboy hats and I was allowed to join in on my 10-string ukulele. “You just love sitting out there with the pickers, don’t you!” said Andy. Bill Justis would have agreed but he was asleep with his head on the recording deck.

       Releases — but still no hits. Next year we tried again with Kenni. Bearing in mind her Mexican boyfriend, I wrote a song about a girl who dates a boy called Antonio Garcia and causes a   storm in her small-minded Texas hometown: “Pancho”. We had a marimba and mariachi trumpets and a chorus of school kids yelling  “Pancho”. It was also very sweet and melodious. And, remembering Bob Wills, I knocked out a salute called “Gimme That Western Swing”—about a gal who comes home to find her parents prancing around to a western swing record and finds she prefers this to Elton John. We cut it live in one take with me on piano and the great Johnny Gimble fiddling away righteously. Kenni really got snuggled into the good time spirit. Andy just shrugged at my madness. I was realizing a dream.

       Unfortunately “Pancho” met with resistance at the west coast HQ of Warner Bros. It was seen as slightly racist and labeled “trash”. Eventually it was released as a B-side.

        Several years later Andy asked me to join him on one last attempt to climb onto the country chart. I was to be arranger for Howdy Glenn, the famous singing fireman. He also happened to be black, but not a dyed-in-the-wool R&B fan. Andy had chosen a Billy Sherrill song, a bouncy old-timey number which I adorned with a raggy reed section and a throaty organ. Elvis’ drummer and guitarist pushed along the rhythm while I merrily rode the organ. We recorded in the classic Capitol tower, home of Beach Boys, and where in 1965 I’d touched up “You Turn Me On”. We crossed our fingers and prayed to our particular gods.

       “You Mean All The World To Me” reached the top 20 in 1978 and then fizzled away. Howdy went back to great service as fireman; Andy, as a vice-president, returned to England where he discovered a hit Norwegian boy band for the label. And I wrote more books, hosted radio shows, and continued my long march backwards into a glorious Alley. I was proud of my country excursion and the label donated the tracks to my archives. I guess they just couldn’t find a suitable place for them. 

 

The photo, taken in Nashville, shows [L to R] Andy Wickham, Kenni Huskey, and Ian. In front, looking glum, is arranger/conductor Bill Justis.

                    

Ian Whitcomb is a highly respected performer, composer, and music historian. You can find all of his CD's, DVD's, Books, and Songbooks by clicking here.

 
You can find Ian's main website at
ianwhitcomb.com