Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Dante's Divine Harmony

 You've probably never heard of Ron Dante, but you've almost certainly heard him.

Ron Dante managed to have two songs in the top forty at the same time, neither of which had his name on them. The first was "Sugar, Sugar" by the Archies; the second was "Tracy" by the Cuff Links. "Sugar, Sugar" was number one in the US for four weeks in September and October 1969; "Tracy" rose to number nine in the US in October 1969.

So what does this have to do with Ron Dante? Well, he pretty much is the Archies and the Cuff Links, at least vocally; Dante sang all the male vocal parts in the Archies recordings (and in some cases even did falsetto voices for some of the supposed female vocal lines, such as the female lead on the hit song "Jingle Jangle," although Toni Wine joined Dante to perform the female vocals on the aforementioned "Sugar, Sugar." Wine later went on to write "Candida and "Knock Three Times" for Tony Orlando.), and Dante did all the lead and harmony vocals for the first Cuff Links album, Tracy. Pretty amazing pop stuff--energetic, bouncy, build on strong harmonies (and in the case of the Cuff Links, some great counterpoint vocals as well)--I particularly loved the Cuff Links album, and still consider it one of my ten favorite albums.

A week or so ago, as I was replaying the Cuff Links album, I began thinking that I'd like to hear more Ron Dante stuff--and the I realized that I could do just that if I'd just track down copies of the albums The Archies, Everything's Archie, Jingle Jangle, and Sunshine. I already had The Archie's Greatest Hits, but I hadn't even thought about the fact that those other albums had other Ron Dante recordings on them that I hadn't heard (unless I had heard bits and pieces of them on the old Archies cartoon show).

Tracking them down wasn't that hard. I found all of them at very good prices, and ironically all four albums arrived today! (Unfortunately, the USPS thought less of Everything's Archie than the others, and they expressed their opinion by bending the box until the album cracked, so I'll have to find another copy of that one.)

While the songs are less polished than the Cuff Links stuff, they're still a lot of fun. I've listened to the other three, and have enjoyed the mix of familiar hits and less familiar songs. I've also been amused that songs like "Waldo P. Emerson Jones," which could have been a great Monkees song, made it onto an Archies album; it's far from typical Archies fare, with its wry pop-cultural references. Songs like "Sugar and Spice" also show a bit of the tight vocal production that typified Dante's work on the Cuff Links album.

And just this evening I learned that there's another album, Ron Dante (Brings You Up), that was recorded after the Cuff Links album; I've ordered it and hope to give it a listen sometime next week. (And yes, I know that there's also a second Cuff Links album, but it turns out that Dante didn't own the rights to the name, and after a falling out with Paul Vance and Lee Pockriss, who did own those rights, Dante was replaced by Rupert Holmes for most of the songs on the second album). I'll let you know what I think of that one once it shows up... but I think I'm already inclined to enjoy it, based on how much fun I've had listening to these other albums.

Fifty Years Ago This Week in West Rome - 1/21/13 to 1/28/13

A surprise announcement destined to please West Rome shoppers (and West Rome High School students looking for a convenient place to spend time and money after school): The Rome City Commission announced that a $1.7 million shopping center had been proposed for West Rome-- a center that would be opened directly across the street from West Rome High School and would house several national retailers as well as some local stores. The shopping center developer had already acquired some of the necessary land, but he hoped to buy some land owned by the city to fully develop the shopping center. Surprisingly, the board of education opposed the plan, stating that they had hoped to keep the land available for a possible West Rome Junior High School if needed; either way, they opposed major retail development near the high school. (Of course, we know that the board of education's request was ultimately denied and Gala Shopping Center was indeed developed, with Big K occupying the anchor position in the center. And the board of education also lost out on the whole "keep retail away from our schools" concept, since a Kmart eventually opened just across the parking lot from East Rome High School.)

The Georgia Highway Department announced that they were ready to begin the log-awaited widening of Shorter Avenue and Alabama Road from Burnett Ferry Road  to Georgia Route 20. This would expand the road from two to four lanes for the entire 2.7 mile stretch; at the same time, the city was hopeful that they could work with the state to repave Shorter Avenue from the underpass to Burnett Ferry Road.

The cold winter kept an icy grip on Rome, with temperatures falling to five degrees below zero in the early morning hours of Thursday, January 24th. It was the coldest temperature recorded in Rome since a seven degrees below zero temperature measured way back in January 1899. The weather was so cold that traffic lights froze in downtown Rome, rendering them non-functional, and water pipes froze in homes and businesses across Rome and Floyd County.

Three teenagers were arrested on Sunday, January 27th, for breaking into West Rome High School and stealing change from ten vending machines. A fourth teenager was held as an accessory. The burglars had nothing against the Chieftains; it turned out they had also broken into East Rome High School and ransacked the vending machines there as well.

West Rome played Lafayette on Friday, January 25th. Alas, Lafayette's boys defeated the Chieftains 67-48, but the girls won handily with a 49-33 victory.

Sears unveiled its new bargain-priced 23" Silvertone console television for only $179 and its 14,800 BTU window air conditioner for $199. Of course, with temperatures below zero, there weren't too many Romans looking for air conditioners that week…

A&P had hickory smoked hams for 33¢ a pound; 21-ounce frozen pizzas for 10¢ each; and 10 pounds of potatoes for 39¢. Big Apple offered ground beef for 39¢ a pound, a one-pound bag of Maxwell House coffee for 39¢, and sliced bacon for 45¢ a pound. Couch's had stew beef for 29¢ a pound, Saltine Crackers for 31¢ a package, and the ever-popular Libby's Potted Meat for 10¢ a can. Piggly Wiggly offered whole fryers for 25¢ a pound; large eggs for 49¢ a dozen; and a two-pound carton of Kraft American Cheese for 59¢.

If you wanted to catch a movie, you had a choice of Gypsy (with Rosalind Russell & Natalie Wood) at the DeSoto, Escape from East Berlin at the First Avenue, and a double feature of Son of Robin Hood and the Diary of Ann Frank at the West Rome Drive-In. (And doesn't that sound like one of the strangest double-features in drive-in history?) On Saturday, January 26th, the DeSoto offered a family-friendly double feature: The Tunnel of Love with Doris Day and Bachelor in Paradise with Bob Hope and Lana Turner. (We're so accustomed nowadays to movies lasting for several weeks that we forget how it was in the days when a town the size of Rome only had two indoor theater screens: double features were more common, and movies often ran for just a few days before another film took their place on the schedule.)

Finallly, some new music moved into the  top of the Billboard charts for this week in 1963 as "Walk Right In" by the Rooftop Singers took first place. Other Top 10 songs included "Hey Paula" by Paul and Paula (#2); "Go Away Little Girl" by Steve Lawrence (#3); "Tell Him" by the Exciters (#4); "The Night Has a Thousand Eyes" by Bobby Vee (#5); "My Dad" by Paul Petersen (#6); "Two Lovers" by Mary Wells (#7); "Telstar" by the Tornadoes (#8); "It's Up to You" by Rick Nelson (#9); and "Limbo Rock" by Chubby Checker (#10).

Fifty Years Ago This Week in West Rome - 1/14/63 to 1/20/63

1963 continued its cold trend with a 12 degree low on Monday, January 14th; temperatures remained below freezing through Wednesday afternoon, January 16th. (Many of us who grew up in this time came to think of the colder weather of the 1960s and early 1970s as Georgia's norm, which is one reason that we don't remember summers being as hot as they are not--because they weren't!)

If the cold was too much, you could always make a trip to Penney's for their January clearance sale, where their entire stock of winter jackets was ons ale for $5.88 per jacket regardless of former price. And according to their ad, Penney's was open "all day every Wednesday!" (We sometimes forget that many businesses in Rome closed for a half-day on Wednesdays back then.)

Rome's growth continued as official results indicated that Rome saw a 7% increase in store sales in 1962, which put Rome ahead of all Georgia cities other than Atlanta in business growth. No wonder so many new businesses wanted to open Rome locations in the 1960s!

Meanwhile, the US set records with a proposed $99 billion budget with a $10.3 billion deficit, the largest budget in US history. And just think--if today's US budget was the same proportionate level adjusted for inflation, we'd be looking at about a $750 billion federal budget with about $75 billion in deficit spending!

New Georgia governor Carl Sanders proposed a new junior college for Rome as well as an expansion of Coosa Valley Vocational Technical School (which hd just opened its doors in September 1962). As we know, Floyd Junior College opened less than a decade later, eventually becoming Georgia Highlands College with multiple northwest Georgia campuses.

Alas, Rockmart's Yellow Jackets proved too formidable for West Rome as both the boys and girls basketball teams lost on Friday, January 18th. Rockmart's girls team won 55-29, while the boys won 55-44.  The next night was better for the Chieftains, though, as West Rome took revenge on Model for their early season loss with two victories on Saturday, January 19th. The girls won 55-37 and the boys won 47-33. Linda LIppincott and Wesley Jenkins Lippincott were spotlighted for their respective 35 point and 25 point contributions to the Chieftain victories.

West Rome's wrestlers won their third season victory by defeating the East Rome Gladiators; Mike Murphy, Jimmy Cowart, and Larry Lippencott all pinned their opponents in the match.

Joan Tillery was West Rome's only winner in the Leithauser Studio of Art competition's teenage category.

Rome City Police Captain Nelson Camp announced plans to issue tickets for motorists who avoided stopping at red lights by cutting through business parking lots--and is it any surprise to anyone that the Shorter Avenue corridor was cited as a problem area.

Belk-Rhodes made a strong push to get Romans to try their relatively new line of Corning Ware (the product was introduced in limited markets in 1958, but it didn't begin its national push until the early 1960s) with their "Corning Ware Get Acquainted" program; they encouraged their customers to try Corning Ware ("made of PyroCeram Space Age Ceramic") for 10 days; if they weren't satisfied, Belk-Rhodes would buy it back at full price.

In 1963, one of the most affordable sources of new gas ranges was Atlanta Gas Light Company (this was before deregulation of the natural gas industry, when Atlanta Gas Light was our only gas choice, prices were more affordable, and service was a priority). A bring new Magic Chef gas range was available for only $209.00, or $10 down and $7.90 a month with no interest chages.

Piggly Wiggly had bacon for 43¢ a pound; Blue Plate apple jelly for a quarter per 16-ounce jar; and Heinz Tomato soup for 9¢ per can. Kroger was offering 2 large boxes of Tide detergent for 49¢; Campbell's Tomato soup for 10¢ a can;and large eggs for 49¢ a dozen (which seems pretty high; when you adjust for inflation, that would be more than $3.50 today!). Couch's had country sausage for 49¢ a pound; stew beef for 29¢ a pound; and vine ripened tomatoes for 19¢ a pound (and back then, they really were relatively fresh off the vines, and they really were ripe!).

Jim Walter Homes advertised their new pre-fab home plans for 1963, including the 3-bedroom "Hollywood" for $3790, built on your lot, with prices of less than $38 per month for 13 years.

Rome's movie choices for the first half of the week included Barabbas at the First Avenue; Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? at the West Rome Drive-In; and Billy Budd at the DeSoto. Billy Budd stayed around for the weekend, while the First Avenue brought in Jumbo with Doris Day and the West Rome Drive-In offered a double feature of In Love and War followed by Blue Denim..

January's top ten songs included "Go Away Little Girl" by Steve Lawrence (#1); "Telstar" by the Tornadoes (#2); "Hotel Happiness" by Brook Benton (#3); "Tell Him" by The Exciters (#4); "The Night Has a Thousand Eyes" by Bobby Vee (#5); "Limbo Rock" by Chubby Checker (#6); "Two Lovers" by Mary Wells (#7); "My Dad" by Paul Petersen (#8); "Pepino the Italian Mouse" by Lou Monte (#9); and "Hey Paula" by Paul & Paula (#10). Meanwhile, across the ocean, the Beatles' first single, "Please Please Me," was climbing up the charts in the UK (although it would be the end of the year before West Romans would hear much about the Fab Four).

(Sorry that I forgot to post this over the weekend--and thanks to those of you who wrote to me today to let me know you were waiting to see it!)

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Fifty Years Ago This Week - 1/7/63 to 1/13/63

Fifty years ago this week, James Meredith told the world that he wouldn't register for another semester at th University of Mississippi unless steps were taken to end the harassment that made his college life difficult. As we know now, Meredith's courageous determination to study at Ole Miss paved the way for blacks to benefit from an educational system that had until this time been largely closed to them.

A new year, a new Congress, but the same political disputes: in January of 1963, a group of senators called for tighter curbs on filibusters, the President's proposed tax cuts were criticized because they weren't accompanied by spending cuts, labor disputes threatened to close American docks, the government struggled to agree on a ($99 billion) budget… Everything old really is new again, apparently!

Rome's growth took a setback when Eastern Airlines announced that it had filed an FAA request to suspend its air service to Rome, less than a month after the Rome Chamber of Commerce had announced that it hoped to bring more air service into Rome.

Rome officially approved the mid-block crosswalks on Broad Street in spite of opposition from Police Chief Ted Peacock. Both local businessmen and residents were very enthusiastic in their support for the crosswalks--and as we know, they proved to be both popular and safe, and have remained a downtown feature ever since.

Floyd Hospital made public its plans to add a psychiatric hospital unit to the growing medical facility. Hard to believe, but until this time, psychiatric patients were held in the county jail because there was no hospital space in Rome authorized to house them!

In January 1963, first class postal rates increased by 25%, jumping from 4¢ to 5¢.

If you wanted to escape your troubles with a good movie, you could catch Jerry Lewis's It's Only Money at the DeSoto, the classic Oklahoma at the First Avenue, or The Music Man at the West Rome Drive-In (apparently Rome was in a very musical mood!). First Avenue brought in Barabbas for the weekend, the DeSoto added both The Honeymoon Machine and The Horizontal Lieutenant in alternating screenings, and the West Rome Drive-in screened the double-feature of Say One For Me and Ten North Frederick. (And yes, the West Rome Drive-In was open for business every week of the year, even in the chill of winter!)

Piggly Wiggly offered a number of items as part of their dime sale, including Libby potted meat, Bush's Mexican Beans, Aunt Jemima Grits, or cans of assorted vegetables. Sirloin steak could be had for 89¢ a pound. A&P was running their Bean-O-Rama sale, with canned beans for 13¢ to 20¢ a can. Big Apple was advertising their 5¢ margarine, 37¢ per pound picnic ham, and 19¢ fatback (how come no one runs specials on fatback nowadays?).

The Top Ten Songs for this week in 1963 included "Go Away Little Girl" by Steve Lawrence (#1), "Telstar" by the Tornadoes (#2), "Limbo Rock" by Chubby Checker (#3), "Hotel Happiness" by Brook Benton (#4), "Pepino the Italian Mouse" by Lou Monte (#5), "Tell Him" by the Exciters (#6), "The Night Has a Thousand Eyes" by Bobby Vee (#7), "Zip-A-Dee Doo-Dah" by Bob B. Soxx and the Blue Jeans (#8), "Two Lovers" by Mary Wells (#9), and "My Dad" by Paul Petersen (#10). (Remember Paul Petersen, the son from The Donna Reed Show? He did indeed have a top ten song as well!)

A couple of thousand miles away from West Rome, the Beatles released their first single, "Please Please Me," in the UK, while an unknown named Charlie Watts was joining a local band known as the Rolling Stones.  Neither group ever paid a visit to West Rome, but all Chieftains would soon know who they were...

Saturday, January 05, 2013

Some Heavy Listening

Today's mail brought my copy of the 180g vinyl LP reissue of Iron Butterfly's first album, Heavy. While it's actually my third-favorite Iron Butterfly album, following the brilliant Ball and the energetic In-a-Gadda-da-Vida, it still has a lot going for it. Doug Ingle is primarily responsible for the album's most appealing qualities: a bold, rhythm-driven sound overlaid by an ethereal, evocative organ tone and a resonant, deep vocal that defines Iron Butterfly as far as I'm concerned.

So why isn't this one my favorite? Well, it has some lead vocals by Darryl DeLoach, whose thin, lackluster style doesn't blend with the Iron Butterfly sound. It also lacks the haunting guitar playing of Erik Brann, Nevertheless, some of the album's tracks, including "Possession," "So-Lo," and "Iron Butterfly Theme," are prime examples of the sound that typified Iron Butterfly later on.

The new vinyl reissue is superlative--timbrous, wide-ranging, and rich in sound, with a very low surface noise level and clean, quiet vinyl.

It also features one of the finest examples of early psychedelic-rock album cover art--a plus that can only be appreciated on the vinyl LP, since the CD is too small to allow one to fully appreciate the art.

Alas, Iron Butterfly in its prime--Lee Dorman, Ron Bushy, Erik Brann, and Doug Ingle--only lasted for two more albums, In-a-Gadda-da-Vida and Ball. After that, Brann and Dorman left, Ingle replaced his signature organ sound for a more generic approach, and the musical style that defined the group gave way to a more standard rock sound. But Heavy is a great portent of wonderful things to come, and it includes a few cuts that are just as memorable today as they were when I bought my first copy of this album back in 1969.

(I already have a 180g reissue of In-a-Gadda-da-Vida; now let's hope that someone decides to reissue the superlative Ball in the same audiophile format! Better still, Rhino or some other label devoted to quality 1960s reissues should assemble a box set that includes outtakes, B-sides, etc.)

An Annual Quest

Since I've been working on these weekly 50 Years Ago This Week in West Rome features for the West Rome newsletter and for these pages, I decided it would be most helpful if I could actually track down copies of the West Rome Watanyah (the school yearbook) for the years I'm chronicling--that way, I could take scans of some photos from the book to accompany the news coverage. Alas, some yearbooks are proving quite difficult to find. If anyone out there has a lead on copies of West Rome yearbooks for 1962, 1964, 1965, and 1966, I'd appreciate it if you'd let me know the source and the price.  I've tracked down 1961 and 1963, and have 1967-71 already--and I figure it'll be several more years before I need volumes later than that (although I'd certainly pick them up if the price was right... may as well get 'em now!).

I'd also be interested in 1959 and 1960 yearbooks, although that's just to satisfy my completist nature. I will say, though, that I've had a couple of emails from people asking me to do highlights from those years, since my 50 Years Ago feature began with the fall of 1962, so they could come in handy for that, at least!

I've tried Dogwood Books in Rome, my source for some other bits of Rome history, but they don't currently have any of those volumes in stock.

Just leave a post here if you have a lead on one of the missing volumes!

Friday, January 04, 2013

Fifty Years Ago This Week in West Rome - 12/30/62 to 1/6/63

Rome and Northwest Georgia continued in "growth mode" as 1963 began, which was the reason that the Rome News-Tribune launched a redesign of the paper that would last for years: the addition of a "second front page" on page 3, focused entirely on local news. This "local front page" approach would become a mainstay of the Rome News-Tribune--and for many readers, it was the "front page" they turned to first.

(And on a personal level, January 1963 saw the debut of a weekly sports column by my father, Don Biggers, which featured sports commentary, predictions, interviews, and more. Dad's first pick? West Rome over Cedartown… which proved to be right on the money!)

Coosa Valley Tech announced the addition of four new courses of study beginning in January 1963: appliance repair, electrical technology, electronic technology, and machine shop. With the early 1960s seeing a boom market for electronics and appliances, trained technicians were in short supply.

International tensions continued to dominate the news: the end of 1963 saw a new dispute between China and the Soviet Union, with Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev warning the US to stay out of the matter.

Meanwhile, the war in Vietnam was escalating, with three American soldiers killed when the Viet Cong shot down an American helicopter 50 miles outside of Saigon. Alas, the war was destined to get much more bloody in years to come…

And doomsday fears are apparently timeless: in Pelham, South Carolina, Church of God members ended the year in the basement of their church, barricaded behind sandbags, plywood, and barred doors, convinced that the end of the world was coming as 1962 wrapped up. (Not sure how being locked into a room with a few boxes of food and some jugs of water was going to enable them to survive if the planet was coming to an end.)  Imagine they felt  a little foolish come January 1st, 1963...

1963 saw a new Internal Revenue Service requirement that had lots of taxpayers grumbling: for the first time, businessmen were required to keep an expense record diary for their expense accounts. Believe it or not, until 1962 any businessman could simply list an expense and deduct it with no further record required!

Rome author Calder Willingham released his new novel Eternal Fire at the end of 1962; many are unaware that this award-winning novelist and screenwriter hailed from Rome. His new novel dealt with life in a middle-class Southern town in the 1930s (wonder if Rome was the model?).

Kroger kicked off '63 with stew beef or pork chops or chuck steak or trout fillets or pork shoulder roasts for 63¢ a pound.

Couch's Grocery went even lower, offering pork chops, chuck steak, or shoulder roasts for 59¢ a pound, stew beef for 30¢ a pound, bacon for 55¢ a pound, and chicken breasts for 49¢ a pound. Oscar Mayer bologna could be had for 29¢ for a one-pound package--which probably explained why we ate a lot of bologna when I was a kid!

Piggly Wiggly had whole chickens for 25¢ a pound, sweet potatoes for 10¢ a pound, and fresh hot barbecue pork sandwiches for 20¢ each. Whole barbecue chickens were available in the deli for 39¢ each.

Sears was pushing their all-new frost-free 13.6 cubic foot Coldspot refrigerator, bargain priced at $249.99. (By today's standards, a 13.6 cubic foot refrigerator would almost be a mini-fridge, wouldn't it?)

If only tires were this inexpensive today: Firestone was offering regular or winter tires for $12.50 each, with free installation and a lifetime road hazard warranty.

West Side Story continued its run at the First Avenue Theater, while the DeSoto brought in Period of Adjustment and the West Rome Drive-in was showing The Notorious Landlady.

Meanwhile, one of Hollywood's greats breathed his last on January 2nd, succumbing to cancer with his wife June Allyson by his side.

The Top Ten songs for the first week of 1963 included "Telstar" by the Tornadoes (#1), "Limbo Rock" by Chubby Checker (#2), "Bobby's Girl" by Marcie Blane (#3), "Go Away Little Girl" by Steve Lawrence (#4), "Big Girls Don't Cry" by the Four Seasons (#5), "Return to Sender" by Elvis Presley (#6), "You Are My Sunshine" by Ray Charles (#7), "Release Me" by Esther Phillips (#8), Zip-A-Dee Doo-Dah" by Bob B. Soxx & the Blue Jeans (#9), and "Hotel Happiness" by Brook Benton (#10).

And if you were as hooked on comic books as I was, then you may remember December 1963's biggest need release: a quirky title by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko called Amazing Spider-Man launched its first issue in late 1963, with the character destined to become Marvel's best-known superhero in short order. I bought my copy of that book at Candler's Drugstore, along with a 5¢ strawberry ice cream cone that promptly dripped onto my new Spider-Man comic, leaving a pinkish stain that always reminded me of that memorable trip to Candler's!