Friday, April 06, 2012

Vinyl Obscurities - the RCA label

Continuing my occasional series on Vinyl Obscurities, I am focusing this time on the UK RCA label. This follows a chat in the pub the other day with John Spencely about the merits, and otherwise, of this major, but in my view somewhat unimaginative, record label. It's most famous of course for records by Elvis, Sam Cooke, Neil Sedaka, Don Gibson, Duane Eddy and the Isley Brothers among others, but I'm not featuring those artists (with one exception - I couldn't leave Sam out). I am instead looking at RCA obscurities - the 'pointless' answers that most people wouldn't know. I'm including YouTube links so you can judge for yourselves. So here goes:
1. Sammy Salvo - Oh Julie/ Say Yeah. Released 1958 on RCA 1032. Mint value - £30.
Oh Julie was overshadowed by the original version by the Crescendos in the US but it's not bad. Better though is the B side Say Yeah - a cover of the Wayne Handy record which would set you back £200 if you were lucky enough to find the London 45.
2. Ronald and Ruby - Lollipop/ Fickle Baby. Released 1958 on RCA 1053 Mint value - £30.
Interracial duo Ronald and Ruby (Ronald Gumm (or Lee Morris - sources vary) and Beverly Ross) did the original version of this but it was The Chordettes and, in the UK, The Mudlarks, who had the bigger hits. It's a song that keeps turning up - in TV ads and movies. Beverly, who co-wrote the song with Julius Dixson, went on to write many other songs including Candy Man (Roy Orbison) and Judy's Turn To Cry (Lesley Gore).
3. Jesse Belvin - Guess Who/ Funny. Released in 1959 on RCA 1119. Mint value - £15.
Jesse Belvin could have been bigger even than Sam Cooke had he not died in rather suspicious circumstances in a car crash in February, 1960 in Hope, Arkansas, immediately after the state's first multi racial show, which also featured Sam Cooke, Jackie Wilson and Marv Johnson. Indeed, RCA viewed Sam as Jesse's replacement. Like Sam, he had earlier recorded for Specialty, having had an R and B hit with Marvin Phillips on Dream Girl. He wrote the Penguins hit Earth Angel and had a hit of his own on Modern with Goodnight My Love. He was also one of The Shields (along with Johnny Guitar Watson) who had a hit with You Cheated. A great loss to soul music.
4. Johnny Restivo - I Like Girls/ Dear Someone. Released in 1959 on RCA 1159. Mint value - £20.
Johnny Restivo is best known for The Shape I'm In, which he recorded aged just 15 (with Paul Simon on guitar). This was the New York born singer's rather tame follow up single, after which he failed to have any more hits but toured the world for many years.
5. Mary Petti - Hey! Lawdy Lawdy/ Gee, but it hurts. Released in 1961 on RCA 1239. Mint value - £50.
This is the record that got John and I discussing RCA and it's a great double sided cracker. The A side is a Brenda Lee style rocker while the B side is a sensational soulful ballad. No one seems to know much about Mary, although John found a photo of her which he put on Facebook.
6. Jimmy Elledge - Funny How Time Slips Away/ Swanee River Rocket. Released in 1961 on RCA 1274. Mint value - £15.
Jimmy Elledge and Joe Hinton both recorded excellent versions of this Willie Nelson song with Jimmy's version selling over a million copies. Nashville born Jimmy was discovered by Chet Atkins and went on to record for the Hickory label in the 60s. While touring the bars of Metairie, near New Orleans, in the early 90s some fellow Woodies and I discovered that Jimmy was playing piano and singing in a neighbourhood bar. He showed that he still had a sweet, smooth voice. A gig to remember.
7. The Lafayettes - Life's Too Short/ Nobody But You. Released in 1962 on RCA 1299. Mint value - £10.
I guess you would call this great single an early example of garage punk. Certainly it has a fantastic feel to it and it's surprising that this Baltimore band didn't have more success. After this one they recorded the equally good Caravan of Lonely Men, before fading from the scene. Life's Too Short was featured in the 1987 film of Hairspray.
8. Pat Hervey - Tears of Misery/ Brother Can You Spare a Dime. Released in 1963 on RCA 1332. Mint value - £7.
I don't know much about Pat Hervey except that she came from Toronto and recorded a few singles in the early 60s. This double tracked effort is quite an attractive 'girl group' number.
9. Gale Garnett - I'll cry alone/ Where do you go to go away. Released in 1965 on RCA 1451. Mint Value - £60.
Why is this record apparently worth so much? I really have no idea, as it's a fairly standard mid tempo number sung in a deep voice. Gale - a New Zealander who settled in Canada - had an earlier hit with We'll Sing in the Sunshine and went on to enjoy a successful acting career, most recently in My Big Fat Greek Wedding in 2002.
10. Sam Cooke - Sugar Dumpling/ Bridge of Tears. Released in 1965 on RCA 1476. Mint value - £40.
I just had to include a Sam Cooke number in this RCA round up and this posthumous release is the most collectable of all his many RCA UK 45s. Just a great little number.


At 8:59 pm , Blogger Nick said...

John Spencely said: Great top 10 of RCA 45's. Couple in there I didn't know - the Pat Hervey is a great track in particular. Always liked the Sammy Salvo version of 'Say Yeah' better than the Wayne Handy original - probably that nice fat Hank Garland guitar sound on the break that makes the difference. Never seen a copy of the Ronald and Ruby - though have it on one of Ace's Golden age series - must be pretty rare. the Lafayettes 45 still sounds great; the follow up is pretty cool too, as you say. I will try and get few photos of some of my interesting 45's and upload onto Facebook. Not sure the best way to take a photo of them....any advice?

At 7:35 pm , Blogger john marriott said...

The Gale Garnett 45 is still a really popular Northern spin having moved out of the Popcorn scene a few years ago. Still wanted on both scenes hence the price.
There are a lotta old one off type soul/r&b things on UK/US RCA that are interesting - do you have the African Beavers one on UK - that's really good?

At 9:54 pm , Blogger Nick said...

Thanks for the info about the Gale Garnett single. I wondered if there was a Northern connection. I'm not familiar with the Popcorn scene I'm afraid - apart from eating it at the movies! I don't have the African Beavers 45 but I will keep an eye open for it.

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