My interest in music began at a very early age, influenced by absolutely nothing – i.e. there was no music in the home, my parents weren’t interested and, as I subsequently discovered, I had no voice with which to sing and no talent to play an instrument. Nevertheless, I got my dad’s secretary to type out the words of Guy Mitchell’s ‘Singing the Blues’ (1957) so I could ‘sing’ along. I was 9 years old.
So began a love affair with popular music over the next 66 years, still ongoing. In 1959 I bought my first single, even though I did not have anything to play it on. When I got it, I dashed down to a friend’s place and asked if I could play it on his parents’ Dansette. It was Dave Brubeck’s ‘Take Five’.
My parents kindly bought an Elizabethan radiogram in 1961, and I was off. I bought a couple of singles, Aretha Franklin’s ‘Rock-a-bye your baby with a Dixie Melody’ being the one I remember most but, to be honest, I was much more focused on the album market. So, in !962, I bought my first two vinyl albums at the same time, Phil Spector’s ‘A Christmas Gift for You’ and Timi Yuro’s ‘Soul!’
A couple of others followed when funds allowed (Dion’s ‘Runaround Sue’ and Brook Benton’s ‘Songs I Love to Sing’, because it had ‘Fools Rush In’ on it).
And then The Greatest Record Show of 1963 tour was announced, with Brook Benton, Dion, and Timi Yuro, plus Lesley Gore and Trini Lopez promoting their recent huge hits ‘It’s My Party’ and’ If I had a Hammer’. If you are old enough you will possibly remember the format for multi-artist tours in the early 60s. They played the Odeon Cinema circuit (or sometimes Granada), with a British orchestra for the most part providing the instrumental backing , played in the orchestra pit in front of the stage (when the Beatles and Stones started touring, it was of course a little different although an orchestra was provided, for example, for the Ronettes in 1964 when they supported the Stones). My visit was to the Odeon in Lewisham, South London.
So we had an orchestral start with the Ken Thorne Orchestra playing a few instrumentals, then on came Timi Yuro (and by now I had her first three albums). She was (and still is) for me the most dynamic and soulful female singer of any period in pop music and I have virtually all her recorded music. In the States, in the early 60s, she was very successful but she made no impression in the UK at all, except for being The Kray Brothers’ favourite singer (what taste they had!) and she played at their East End club on several occasions. She suffered from poor management and often a poor selection of material to sing but to me this made no difference. She was sensational, but sadly died from throat cancer in 2004, some years after the illness had curtailed her singing career. So I was a 16 year old in seventh heaven for her short performance (no artist on these multi tours had much time to shine). The highlight for me was her performance of ‘Make the World Go Away’, a Hank Cochran country song that she turned into a blistering soul tour de force.
And then Dion, probably my musical hero for the variety of his collected works (doo-wop, pop, rock, folk, blues, gospel, and blues albums in his recorded output) and his longevity (I can only think of two other artists who have been recording albums in eight separate decades (Chris Hillman, another hero of mine, and Cliff Richard, who shouldn’t count). I had two of his albums at the time of the concert and he used his six song spot to profile his latest album with ‘Runaround’ Sue and ‘Ruby Baby’ the highlights. Then there was a tea break!
Lesley Gore was something of a revelation, especially as she had just turned 17. She had a very strong voice which wasn’t so apparent on her big hit ‘It’s My Party’ but when she sang the feminist-themed ‘You Don’t Own Me’, it was something special. A great song, covered by several artists. Lesley Gore had a few hits in the early/mid 60s but her star diminished and she gradually became a songwriter. She died of lung cancer in 2015.
Trini Lopez was touring on the back of his huge hit ‘If I Had a Hammer’. The highlight of his performance was a successful version of the Mexican folk song ‘La Bamba’, though his version did not match Richie Valens’ from 1959. Lopez had a few hits in 60s but chart success never matched ‘If I Had a Hammer’, but largely on the back of that he made appearances and toured during the rest of the century. He died of COVID complications in 2020
Brook Benton was a smooth r’n’b and pop singer, who was very successful as a songwriter in the Fifties and subsequently an even more successful career as an interpreter of a variety of pop styles. His first big hit was ‘It’s Just a Matter of Time’ in 1959 and by the time of the concert he had clocked up more than a dozen singles Stateside, including hits such as the curiosity ‘The Boll Weevil Song’ (mostly spoken), which sadly he played at the concert. But he also played my favourite of his songs ‘Fools Rush In’, which the Ken Thorne Orchestra made a creditable job of reproducing the backing that was a highlight of the single. Brook Benton gave up making albums towards the end of the Seventies and apparently turned back to his gospel roots. Interestingly Bob Marley was taken with many of Benton’s songs and recorded them before going down the reggae route. Brook Benton died of complications from spinal meningitis in 1988.
So there it was, my first gig, and the start of many over the years. Sure, it was nowhere near the best but to get to see five artists, each with a certain appeal to these ears, was special in those formative years.
I love a bit of nostalgia. I always thought Brook Benton had one of the best voices, better than Sinatra or Nat King Cole, but maybe did too many novelty songs. My favourite of his, outside Rainy Night In Georgia, was A House Is Not A Home. He didn’t get enough recognition.