Wednesday 25 October 2017

Instrumental Rock 'n' Roll: JOHNNNY & THE HURRICANES


Expanded Album Review of: 
(Smith & Co SCCD 2429, October 2010) 

There used to be a magazine called ‘Beat Instrumental’ which would have loved this two-CD plus one-DVD package. Its glossy black-&-white pages specialised in that wave of vocal-free groups who’s tuneful danceable novelty 45rpm’s scored highly in the international charts through the late fifties up to around the brink of the Beat Boom. Duane Eddy, the Shadows, Sandy Nelson, the Ventures, B Bumble & The Stingers, and – of course, sax-led five-piece Johnny & The Hurricanes. The irritatingly catchy “Rocking Goose” was blasted above the opposition by a squawking riff accidentally produced by leader Johnny Paris (born Poscik) when rinsing his tenor sax-reed in the washroom, blowing into it produced a comical gimmicky mutant rasp instantly seized upon to punctuate the precise 1:50-minute single. It became one of seven UK Top 40 hits issued, and hoarded here, on the black-&-silver London label.

From Toledo, Ohio, the group got together at Rossford Catholic High School with the intention of playing back-up to local vocalists. As the Orbits, they became a big club draw in the Midwest region, and amiably agreed to help out singer Fred Kelley when he scored a Detroit audition with ‘Talent Artists Inc’. Kelley failed the audition, but the group were signed by hawkish Detroit A&R entrepreneur Harry Balk who leased them to newly-formed Warwick records in their own right. The details of the contract would hurt for decades, ensuring the group saw little remuneration for their hits.

The first – the frantic dance-disc “Crossfire” in April 1959, was recorded in Detroit movie theatre ‘Carmen Towers’ to get the desired reverb effect. The second, a rocked-up version of old Cowboy song ‘Red River Valley’ retitled “Red River Rock” was the first to front their prominent pop-pop piping Hammond-organ style enlivened with bursts of rough sax. It also became their first cross-over to the Euro market. Once the formula was devised, it was open to endless variation. Interchangeably smart-suited with slicked-back quiffs, their line-up was fluid from the start, with Royaltones’ drummer Bill ‘Little Bo’ Savitch replacing Don Staczek, who in turn had replaced original drummer Tony Kaye. Nevertheless, the group up-switched to New York’s Big Top label, recording in their Bellsound Studios, where organ-player Paul Tesluk also helped out by adding his distinctive sound to fellow Big Top label-mate Del Shannon on the hits “Runaway” and “Hats Off To Larry”. The group also backed Del on tour, and shared his manager, Irving Micahnik. All the while, their live music, and ‘B’-sides, took on a harder edge, not that it mattered. Hits continued, with the attention-grabbing Sergeant-Major’s shout opening “Reveille Rock” – ‘alright you guys, rise and shine!’ then ‘Wake Up!’ With Johnny & The Hurricanes playing up a storm, who could sleep? There are stinging guitars driving “Sandstorm” ripped up by greasy coarse-edged sax, through to the lumpy rhythms of “Old Smokie” in July 1961, by which time Paris was the only constant figure, using the group-name as a convenient trademark.

‘Record Mirror’ proclaimed the highly-marketable “Rocking Goose” ‘the last of the true rock hits’. Perhaps, for instrumental-freaks, they were right. Paris knew his stuff. He’d started out imitating Charlie Parker and Sonny Rollins, before the example of Bill Haley’s honking saxist Rudy Pompilli redirected his talents into the new ‘Rock thing’. After Johnny & The Hurricanes were dropped by the majors, he formed his own label – Atila, to market more of the group’s music. He toured, including sharing a Hamburg bill with the Beatles, taking different Hurricanes line-ups well into the 1970’s.

At their peak, singles were the predominant Pop currency, with cash-in albums hastily thrown together and sometimes – whisper it soft, with tracks produced by session musicians when the group itself was touring. Some – including Del Shannon, claim that the band got a first hear of their latest record by tuning into their Volkswagen tour-bus radio, and then had to learn it. In subsequent interviews Paris always denied this. No, there were guest players drawn in to help out, but the essential Hurricanes’ ‘meaty stuff’ was always there. Well, maybe. But there were other scams. Their jaunty hit “Beatnik Fly” was revamped from an 1846 minstrel song ‘Jimmy Cracked Corn’, a traditional ‘public domain’ property for which management duo Micahnik & Balk claimed writer credits (as Tom King & Ira Mack). Check out the back-catalogue, and the tight-fisted duo repeatedly rebranded out-of-copyright tunes as a conniving strategy to siphon away yet more lucrative royalties. There again, it was the dawn of Rock, there wasn’t an extensive repertoire of original material to draw on. And Blues and Folk continually reinvents its past in new guises, if with greater credibility. And ultimately… does it Rock? Yes, it Rocks! Even so, while the hits still carry an undeniable supercharge, it’s debatable whether anyone but the most ardent reader of ‘Beat Instrumental’ would really want quite such a comprehensive anthology of their back-catalogue.


Johnny ‘Paris’ Poscik (sax), Paul Tesluk (accordian, then organ), Dave Yorko (lead guitar), Lionel ‘Butch’ Mattice (bass), Tony Kaye (drums). Later members include Lynn Bruce (drums, replacing Savich)

April 1959 – ‘Crossfire’ c/w ‘Lazy’ (US Warwick 502) Billboard no.23

July 1959 – ‘Red River Rock’ c/w ‘Buckeye’ (US Warwick 509) US no.5 – (UK London HL8948) no.17 10th October 1959. With new drummer Don Staczek

October 1959 – ‘Reveille Rock’ c/w ‘Time Bomb’ (US Warwick 513) US no.25 (London HL9017) UK no.13 26th Dec 1959. With third drummer Little Bo Savich

February 1960 – ‘Beatnik Fly’ c/w ‘Sandstorm’ (US Warwick 520) US no.15 (London HLI9072) UK no.15 13th March 1960. ‘Beatnik Fly’ based on tune also known as ‘Blue Tail Fly’

May 1960 – ‘Down Yonder’ c/w ‘Sheba’, reviving ‘Way Down Yonder In New Orleans’, their first for US Big Top label (London HLX9134) US no.48. UK no.12 5th June 1960

September 1960 – ‘Rocking Goose’ c/w ‘Revival’ (London HLX9190) US no.60 (‘Revival’, based on ‘When The Saints Go Marching In’, was also US no.97). UK no.18 14th October 1960 (reissued as HL10199 c/w ‘Beatnik Fly’)

December 1960 – ‘You Are My Sunshine’ (Big Top 3056) US no.91

December 1960 – ‘Stormville’ LP (London HAI 2269) UK LP chart no.18, with ‘Milk Shake’, ‘Cyclone’, ‘Hungry Eye’

March 1961 – ‘Ja-Da’ c/w ‘Mr Lonely’ (London HLX9289) US no.86. UK no.17 24th February 1961

April 1961 – ‘Big Sound Of Johnny & The Hurricanes’ LP (London HAK 2322) UK LP chart no.14, with ‘Mr Irving’

June 1961 – ‘Old Smokie’ c/w ‘High Voltage’ (London HLX9378) UK no.12 28th June 1961 ‘High Voltage’ is a re-working of ‘Stack-O-Lee’

‘Farewell Farewell’ c/w ‘Traffic Jam’ (London 9491) reviving ‘Now Is The Hour’

‘Salvation’ c/w ‘Miserlou’ (London 9536) a rocked-up version of folk-hymn ‘Bringing In The Sheaves’

‘Minnesota Fats’ c/w ‘Come On Train’ (London HL9617) titled after Paul Newman’s movie pool playing hero of ‘The Hustle’

‘Whatever Happened To Baby Jane’ c/w ‘Greens And Beans’ (London HL9660) movie theme

‘Money Honey’ c/w ‘That’s All’ (UK Stateside SS347)

‘Rene’ c/w ‘Saga Of The Beatles’ (Atila 211)

‘I Love You’ c/w ‘Judy’s Moody’ (Atila 214)

‘Wisdom’s Fifth Take’ c/w ‘Because I Love Her’ (Atila)

Johnny & The Hurricanes Live At The Star Club’ (Atila ALP 1030) with I Should’ve Known Better, High Heel Sneakers, Do You Love Me, Red River Rock, You Can’t Do That, Love Nest, You Really Got Me, Jambalaya, Beatnik Fly, Money, Time Is On My Side, Down Yonder, Satin Doll

‘San Antonio Rose’ (Germany only, Heliodor label)

1967 ‘The Psychedelic Worm’

The Best Of Johnny & The Hurricanes’ (London TAB 32) with Crossfire, Red River Rock, Lazy, Buckeye, Walkin’, Reveille Rock, Time Bomb, Sandstorm, Beatnik Fly, Down Yonder, Sheba, Rocking Goose, Revival, You Are My Sunshine, Ja-Da, Traffic Jam, Old Smokie, High Voltage

August 1976 ‘Soda Pop Jive’ (DJM) compilation EP includes ‘Red River Rock’ and ‘Reveille Rock’, plus the Dixie-Cups and the Shangri-Las

Johnny &The Hurricanes: the Collection’ (Castle CD-CCSCD 182) with Red River Rock, Down Yonder, The Hurricane, High Voltage, Rene, Walking, Rocking Goose, Hot Fudge, Ja-Da, Reveille Rock, Honky Tonk, Rock-Cha, Beatnik Fly, Sheba, Crossfire, She’s Gone, Thunderbolt, Bean Bag, Buckete, Cut Out, Old Smokie, Rockin’t, You Are My Sunshine, Catnip

1981 ‘The Jets’ (EMI EMC 3356) authentic UK Rock ‘n’ Roll trio assisted on this album by Blockheads Mickey Gallagher & Davey Payne, plus Johnny Paris

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I have uploaded a lot of former Johnny and the Hurricanes photos and links at this blog site.