Sunday, June 7, 2009
Rock-A-Teens: Who's Afraid of a Reissue LP?
Especially when it’s a reissue of what some have called the last great R’n’R record of the 50’s, Woo-Hoo by the Rock-A-Teens, on the Roulette label, recorded in November 1959. My copy's an 80’s re-ish, in stereo, bagged from the inner reaches of the “Rockabilly” bin at Looney Tunes Records, in Boston. Why it still sat there collecting dust beats me.
Maybe everyone’s still too sick of the title track, after the 5678’s version played incessantly in that Vonage commercial and the Kill Bill soundtrack. But the Rock-A-Teens’ original version remains an enduring monument to teenage R’n’R slop. Some personal favorites from their full-lengther are “Woo-Hoo,” “Doggone It Baby,” their cover of Gene Vincent’s “Dance to the Bop,” “Twangy,” “Lotta Boppin,” and “Oh My Nerves.”
The full story of this Richmond, VA combo, formed by Boo Walke and Vic Mizelle in ’56, and their recording of "Woo-Hoo"⎯one of the great accidents in R’n’R history⎯along with a great interview with Mizelle, can be found in Kicks Magazine #7, still available from the Norton Records catalog. Sorta pointless to paraphrase it here.
What I'd like to note is the Rock-A-Teens connection, as another act on the Roulette roster, to notorious music biz gangster Morris “Moishe” Levy. Add the R-A-T’s to the list of those who got their song-writing credits hijacked by Levy, and never reaped a dime of "Woo-Hoo" publishing action, despite the song peaking at the #16 position on the Billboard charts in 1959. But Levy wasn’t the first to fleece the R-A-T’s. That dubious distinction goes to George McGraw, owner of the Mart label, who originally released the song. McGraw followed the Levy blueprint by forcing his name onto the songwriting credits, and then leased the song to Levy's Roulette, who continued the bilkage on a grander scale. Learn more about Levy and his equally heavy partner George "Pay-to-Play" Goldner in Josh Alan Friedman’s Tell the Truth Until they Bleed (Backbeat Books, 2008).
Much as I love Looney Tunes Records⎯I mean, where else can you still hear Monoman Jeff Connolly give hell to Drop-Kick Murphy clones who stray haplessly into the store?⎯ and In Your Ear, Boston's other great store, I woulda preferred to find my copy of Woo-Hoo in a Strawberries record store instead. Morris Levy once owned the Strawberries chain as part of his aim to put a lock on every level of the music biz, even retail. A few stores still remain in the Northeast. In a twist of R’n’R Babylon weirdness, Levy sold the chain a year before his own 1990 death, to the tune of $40 billion, to west coast conglomerate Live Entertainment. Broker for the deal? Jose Menendez, famous victim of patricide. Although at the time authorities considered a gangland connection to Menendez’s death, a jury ruled that he was murdered by his own two sons Erik and Lyle, the notorious Menendez Brothers!