as/pma logo

Not Quite Song-Poem:
Sonny and Jack, and Don Christy
AKA Poise
Sinatra Sips From Amateur Trough (1940-1942)
Bob Wills
Songs For Sale
Green Bermudas
Dock Boggs

Sonny and Jack, and Don Christy

When Sonny Bono and legendary studiomeister Jack Nitzsche are mentioned in the same breath, it is usually as co-authors of the jangle-pop masterpiece "Needles And Pins." Here, however, we take a slightly skewed view of things, and so it is that we investigate Sonny and Jack's other collaborations.

Martin Roberts, proprietor of the Jack Nitzsche website, passes along a snippet of a blindfold-test interview with The Cramps, taken from the May 2003 issue (#231) of the prestigious British music monthly The Wire, in which Lux and Ivy reveal a song-poem-like hustle the pair (Sonny and Jack, we mean, not Lux and Ivy) used to pull in the early '60s.

Poison Ivy: Jack Nitzsche was a dear friend of ours. We went to his funeral at Hollywood Forever. Phil Spector spoke, that was weird. He put himself ahead of Jack, even in a eulogy. Jack was so amazing. I had a crush on him, ever since "The Lonely Surfer" came out when I was a kid. I still think that's the most perfect recording ever made. ...

Lux Interior: He'd come over here and we'd keep playing him stuff. I'd prepare him for it, saying, "Just wait, this is really fantastic, listen to this." He'd say "Oh yeah, I wrote the charts for that one." He'd do it with every single one! "Oh, yeah, listen to this, I'm on the piano, hear it?"

Poison Ivy: He and Sonny Bono worked together a lot in the 60s, literally luring people off the street and hustling money off them by convincing them that they could have a hit record. Jack would knock out arrangements in a heartbeat and play piano. Sonny would produce. The guy would walk out with a record. It was a hustle, like the MSR label was. These people had dreams and these guys, Jack and Sonny, would make them believe that their record had to be made.

Denny Bruce, one of Nitzsche's closest friends, confirms all this:
It is true Sonny would hustle untalented people and charge them a couple of hundred dollars apiece, which he would then pocket, to make a demo. Jack really didn't do the hustling. They were kinda like the guys in The Producers who would pray these records would never catch on anywhere, because they would never want to do another one with them. Sonny would then use the money to have Jack record him, under the name Don Christy. One Thanksgiving it was just Jack and me at his place and he got out a box that held about 25 45s. I think he'd done 18 records with "Don," and we played them all. Sonny never really had his own vocal identity, so he would do something bluesy and have that Bobby "Blue" Bland growl, and then sound like someone totally different on the next one. His first wife was named Donna, and their daughter was Chrysty, hence his name. He believed every 45 Jack did with him would be a hit. When it would fail, he would go back to doing promo work, and then hustle "people from the suburbs" to get the money to record himself again.
Allyn Rosenberg, an engineer and producer who was active on the Hollywood studio scene at the time, adds a new wrinkle to the story:
Sonny and Jack did do some of the song-poem business. The name Don Shirley [sic] somehow rings a bell -- that may have been the name Sonny used. Later when I worked at Gold Star Studios (not as a studio employee, but rather as a producer for several indie labels who cut there), and both of them were involved with Phil Spector, they asked me not to mention the recordings they had made or what they had done.
Rosenberg tells us of another songwriting icon who was victimized by one of the song sharks:
All of Hollywood at the time was full of these poem-to-song operations. Liberace's brother had a large operation in a building called Crossroads of the World. It was a group of bungalows filled with con men. Jim Webb signed up with one of the fake publishers in Crossroads, and the con man ended up with the publishing rights to "Macarthur Park." I went to the guy's office once or twice to pick up tapes, but I don't remember his name. He had some gold records on the wall. He told me Webb would sleep in the office because he was homeless at the time. Webb answered one of their ads saying "let us publish your song," but he had no money. They made a demo of "Macarthur Park" anyway, and sent it around to The Association, but they turned it down. Webb had previously met Richard Harris, in a bar. He sent a copy to him after the song was turned down by a lot of people. At least, that's the story I was told.
Return to top of Not Quite page

AKA Poise

One of the occupational hazards of running a website such as this one is that many visitors somewhat lacking in reading comprehension mistake our effort at documenting the song-poem production companies for one of representing those companies, and hopefully solicit us to examine their lyrics or (misunderstanding even further) their music. The upside of such a situation is that every so often one of those solicitations is in its own right as strange, unique or downright brilliant as the best of the stuff we document. Following is the best example of this phenomenon we've seen in many a moon, a solicitation letter that is itself damn near the equivalent of a great song-poem lyric.

The only amendment we've made to the e-mail is to exchange its all-caps presentation for a less headache-inducing standard one.

Henry Campbell {AKA Poise}

Dammstrasse 21
4528 Zuchwil
Mobile No: +41 76 525 85 66
Fax: +41 32 361 20 01


A&R Departmaent
ASPMA Records/Entertainment Coy,

Dear Sir/Madam,

Introducing a young talented music maker.

I must firstly appreciate the openess affiliated with your company as reflected in your providence of access/contact, the which I am incidentally exploiting by writing this mail.

However, it is the purpose of this mail to introduce to you someone I consider a "Big!Big! Talent." Otherwise by implication, this is an invitation to experiment with this talent "for reasons of confirmation!"

It is rather interesting that, in this man is hidden what I want you to experiment with & finally unravel! He is, as one would be forced to say, a gifted writer: transforming ever single reality that matters into well-crafted songs! Call him an unexploited genius, if you wish! For his voice, I have noticed that he has worked to an extent of making himself marked out by being more real. Now style! This starts to suprise me too: he writes mostly in the direction of rap and still has a heart to create R&B. Most uniquely, his ideas of a true-musician is "not being the Bill Gates of the scene but rather being the Shakespare of the drama: creating scenes, drama and fun out of the powers of words and songs!" He is more than I had to explain to avoid unnecessary exaggerations,and glories.

Every great begining starts with a rumour. And every rumour needs verification! For no personal intention/s of gain than seeing a genius rise, I freely invite you {with a 100% guarantee}to check out your prospects with this young, creative but undiscovered talent.

You could demand if you wished for his demo or for a one-on-one accessment, evaluation and auditioning: and once again I bet; the later would but convince you the more and even make me a low-key observer for you are bound to see more than I have had to write!

I am highly optimistic that your curiousity and interest are awakened with this mail and I expect a response that would start up the whole light.

I appreciate once again the opportunity given to me and everyboby to reach you, and with that; I am saying a big thank you to all the Defjam team... till I hear from you soonest!

Yours Sincerely

Henry Campbell

Given Mr. Campbell's breathless sales pitch, we have every expectation that it's just a matter of time before the entertainment coys of the world start beating a path to Poise's door. We wish him every success.

Return to top of Not Quite page

Sinatra Sips From Amateur Trough (1940-1942)

Although Frank Sinatra has long been associated with the cream of the pop song crop, he didn't always have such exclusive access. For the embarrassing proof, check out "Life's A Trippy Thing," his square-in-hippie's-clothing duet with daughter Nancy; "Everybody's Twistin'," his singular attempt at rocknroll; or "Mama Will Bark," his consummately stupud duet with Dagmar, forced on him by producer Mitch Miller at the nadir of his career.

But then again, it's not every day that even the great Sinatra could come up with a "Summer Wind," a "One For My Baby" or an "I've Got You Under My Skin." No, there were times when he too had to do his job using inadequate tools, to try his best tackling songs not a whole lot better than those you or I could write.

It's All So New! captures a period when Sinatra, as featured vocalist with the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra, worked a steady gig on a radio program called Fame And Fortune. The show, which ran from 1940 to 1942, took its repertoire from the winners of The Tommy Dorsey Amateur Song Contests. As evidenced by this collection, the winning songs weren't terrible, but none were especially memorable, either. Almost all are mushy-gushy romantic ballads, and bear little in the way of melodic or lyrical distinction. It's apparent that Dorsey's staff filtered out the worst (e.g., best) of the submissions; thus, no single song is of the caliber of MSR Madness, but there are clunker lines here and there of the sort that'll be appreciated by song-poem fans. "You Really Fit The Bill," by Warren Hull, provides a good example:

You're all that I've looked for,
You really fill the bill
I know that I'm hooked or
I wouldn't act so sill

You're stunning, you're cunning,
You've got me all aflame
I'll woo ya, pursue ya,
I'll make you change your name

While Sinatra appears on all 20 songs on It's All So New!, and is featured on most, in big band tradition (where the bandleader, and not the singer, was the main attraction) he also shares vocals on each of them, trading stanzas with the torchy Connie Haines and with Dorsey's choral group The Pied Pipers, featuring Jo Stafford. Sinatra's vocals on It's All So New! are sturdy and respectful throughout but, predictably, none of the songs offered him anything he could really sink his choppers into.

Will Friedwald's breezy and informative liner notes explain how Dorsey, whose band was by then one of the most renowned in the country, wound up on a radio show whose entire repertoire (minus a couple of ringers, including one by Irving Berlin) was chosen from submissions by rank amateurs. His choice to go the amateur route was actually a well-considered business decision, based largely on an impending radio boycott of all ASCAP material, which would preclude from airplay the vast majority of established pop songs (and which led to the formation of BMI). The other factor which prompted Dorsey to use such untested and scarcely-promising material was "I'll Never Smile Again," his 1940 smash that had been written by Ruth Lowe, an amateur songwriter. Lightning, he hoped, might strike twice.

It didn't. No songs on the order of "I'll Never Smile Again" came of Fame And Fortune, either aesthetically or commercially. But the chance to hear the great Sinatra negotiate such pedestrian material makes for a fascinating, albeit minor, moment in the annals of amateur songwriting.

Thanks to David Gofstein for hipping us to It's All So New!

Return to top of Not Quite page

Bob Wills

AS/PMA field rep Lou Smith sends along this entry about the King of Western Swing, Bob Wills, taken from the 1997 book Lone Star Swing: One Scotsman's Odyssey In Search Of The True Meaning Of Texas Swing, by Duncan McLean. The passage is an explanation that the demands of daily live (or pseudo-live, via prerecorded "transcription" discs) radio performances led bands in the '30s and '40s to constantly forage for new material. We've underlined the relevant passage:
There was no time for daft ideas of musical purity; they had to pick up good tunes wherever they could find them, whether blues, ragtime, jazz, breakdowns, ballads, cowboy songs, waltzes, hymns. ... [Milton] Brown and [Bob] Wills, and all the other musicians, would learn material from piano rolls, from rival radio shows, from other bands's dances, from records (though not, in the early years, from recorded western swing, for such a thing didn't really exist); they would set to music lyrics or poems sent in by fans, or penned by sponsors or sponsors' offspring; they would dredge from their memories half-remembered tunes and resurrect them, or recreate them, usually claiming a copyright for themselves in the process. Sometimes they'd work up an original tune from scratch. They'd rehearse the new song -- in somebody's kitchen, on the bus, at the dance, or, briefly, in the studio -- then they'd go on the air.
Return to top of Not Quite page


This ad was found in the July 1976 issue of Hit Parader, a popular song lyrics magazine. The "P" in "Dept. 803P" probably is the company's internal reference code to Hit Parader, so they can easily tell who is responding to which of their ads.

The name "Composagraph" may have been chosen in in regard to Bernarr Macfadden's daily newspaper of the 1920s, the New York Evening Graphic, which pioneered the technique of compositing two or more photographs to create a "photo" of an event that never actually happened. This same basic technique, called "composographs" by the Graphic, is still used by today's weekly supermarket tabloids.

Return to top of Not Quite page

Songs For Sale

The amateur talent show has been an entertainment staple at least since vaudeville (and probably beyond), and was a natural for radio and television when they each began. The format is inexpensive to produce, easy to find participants for, capable of providing ironic yuks at the expense of the less-talented talent (c.f., The Gong Show), and enhances the show's prestige when genuine talent is discovered. But it's always been the performers, not the behind-the-scenes talent, who are exhibited in this sort of program.

An exception was Songs For Sale, a weekly show simulcast on the CBS radio and TV networks for two years in the early 1950s. Songs For Sale's angle was to showcase amateur songwriters, whose material was performed by professional singers and then judged by a panel of experts. Besides a $200 (yowza) cash prize, each week's winning song was to be published in sheet music form, which at the time was still a big deal. The possibility of it being recorded was also suggested.

Songs For Sale debuted on June 23, 1950, hosted by future Who Killed Teddy Bear star Jan Murray. For the second season, Murray was replaced by future wheezebag Steve Allen, himself a songwriter. The show's featured vocalists were talented unknowns, but several, including Rosemary Clooney and Tony Bennett, soon broke off to find stardom in their own right. This fact was ironic and quite curious, considering that the show was supposed to be about discovering songs and songwriters, not singers.

In fact, it soon became evident that Songs For Sale's actual intent wasn't to identify promising new songs and songwriters, but rather to exploit the quaint songwriters for their rube value. The approach was similar to the game show You Bet Your Life, where host Groucho Marx spent more time ridiculing the guests than playing the actual game. A subtle giveaway to Songs For Sale's ulterior motive is that a song would be not be presented if the songwriter was unavailable to introduce it; housebound or incarcerated tunesmiths need not apply. Another signal was that the producers initially ignored the promised prize of publication for the winning songs, until they were caught and forced to comply.

The opportunity to be made a fool of on national television didn't cause America's amateur songwriters to boycott the show -- hey, network exposure is network exposure -- but it did cause them to grumble a lot about it. It didn't much matter, though, because few people were watching or listening. CBS monkeyed with the format, replaced the host, and even jacked up the prize money, but Songs For Sale still failed to catch on. The radio version was dropped in September of 1951. The TV version hung on a bit longer, delivering its final wisecrack on June 28, 1952, whereupon it faded from the airwaves and was soon forgotten.

In her 1999 autobiography Girl Singer, Rosemary Clooney recalled some of her more colorful experiences as a cast member of Songs For Sale:

In 1950, when Tony Bennett and I were both under contract to Columbia, energetically pursuing our careers, we were in competition, even though we sometimes worked together. On a primitive radio/television simulcast called Songs For Sale, we performed amateur songs chosen for the interview value of the people who had written them. The people were funny, or interesting, or old, or young -- something that emcee Jan Murray could exploit. Some of the songs were all right, but many were downright awful. Songs would compete every week, with the champion going on to defend its title. I got stuck with one champion song -- something about a spinning wheel -- that would not be defeated. I sang that wretched tune over and over for weeks until my own head was spinning. And the show's miniscule budget kept production values down. In one shot, I touched another singer's head and my hand came away smeared with the makeup they'd used to save money on a hairpiece.

But I loved watching Tony draw. In the breaks, he'd sit down with a sketch pad and draw me, or Jan Murray, or the band. Sometimes he'd give us the sketches, always signed Benedetto. And I was pleased with the publicity the show brought -- Tony and Jan and I did some touring, and when Tony and I appeared at the Capitol Theater in Washington, D.C., The Washington Post sent a photographer, Jacqueline Bouvier.

AS/PMA field rep David Gofstein has sent along a cassette of the June 23, 1950 CBS radio broadast of Broadway Is My Beat, a hardboiled dick show starring Larry Thor as police detective Danny Clover, who covered "the gaudiest, the most violent, the lonesomest mile in the world." Broadway Is My Beat was about to move to a new night on the schedule; intact is a promo for the show that would fill its current time slot:
Next week at this time you'll hear the premiere broadcast of a new CBS show called Songs For Sale, featuring Jan Murray, Tony Bennett and Ray Bloch's Orchestra. Celebrities from the music world will meet songwriters with unpublished music on Songs For Sale, and you'll find this full of fun and tunes of all kinds.
For obsessive song-poem completists or fans of old-time radio, a CD-R or cassette copy of this show is available from private collector Jerry Haendiges. The link brings you to his Broadway Is My Beat page; search there for the "Steve Courtney" episode.

(9-30-99; revised 1-6-00; revised 2-7-00; revised 4-20-00; revised 6-12-01; revised 1-30-02)

Return to top of Not Quite page

Green Bermudas

Ellery Eskelin's recent album Green Bermudas (Eremite) is yet another massive windstorm blown forth by the tenor giant, but this one is of special pertinence to the song-poem fanatic. On Green Bermudas, Ellery and collaborator Andrea Parkins merge sounds originating from their own hands and mouths with "sampled" passages (longer and more intact than you'd expect) of four song-poem numbers, two of them by Ellery's dad, Rodd Keith.

Of the song-poem tracks worked over here, only "This" (Rodd Keith/Preview) has yet been compiled (on I Died Today). But "Mary Jane Is A Woman Of The World" and the title song, "Green Bermudas" (Rodd Keith/Preview) are both classic song-poem recordings that might otherwise have remained totally unknown.

"Mary Jane Is A Woman Of The World" is a bit of a mystery. Not only do we not know who the singer is nor what label it was released on, we're not even entirely sure of the title, as the only known "original" of the song is on an unmarked cassette given to Ellery by Rodd's Aunt Judy. Maybe someday Aunt Judy will find the record again, and we can properly identify the song. It's a pretty great tune either way.

To hear Eremite tell it, Green Bermudas is "57 cracked minutes of tenor and sampler woozery, [including] radical extensions of the 'song-poem' form pioneered by Ellery's father, the legendary Rodd Keith. One of the more resolutely 'out' recordings you are likely to hear, really." Further information and on-line ordering are available from Eremite's website. (cover art by Dalison Darrow)

Return to top of Not Quite page

Dock Boggs: Country Blues

Lou Smith's eagle eye is at it again, spotting an interesting passage in the 64-page booklet to Revenant's revelatory Dock Boggs: Country Blues CD. The album compiles a remarkable sequence of recordings the haunted singer/banjo player made in the late 1920s. Most were released on Brunswick, a major, but several others appeared on the tiny Flying Ace label. It's these latter sessions that fall into the category of Not Quite Song-Poem. We'll let Barry O'Connell's liner notes pick up the story:
The lyrics for the next four songs were all composed by W.E. Myer, a variety store owner in Richlands, Virginia. Myer started his own record company, Lonesome Ace, shortly before the Depression, which doomed it to a brief life. Myer wrote "ballets" and apparently sent them to musicians whose records he liked. Among them were Mississippi John Hurt and Emry Arthur, himself the guitarist on the four sides Dock made in response to one such mail appeal from Myer. Myer left it to the musicians to select or compose the tunes they "put with" his words, though he suggested tunes he liked. He urged Dock to use the tune to "Country Blues" for "False Hearted Lover's Blues," the only one of Myer's recommendations Dock followed. Dock chose an interesting diversity of tunes to set the ballets. The four songs were issued in 1929 as LA 21403/21404 and LA 21405/21406. Myer planned on Dock's recording more of his compositions and some of Dock's own as well. After the Chicago session when these sides were made, the two men continued to correspond until Myer's bankruptcy in late 1930 ended all possibility of partnership.
Return to top of Not Quite page

All design and uncredited content of this website ©2004 Phil Milstein