May 22 – What Was That Number Again?

The world’s most famous phone number became that on this day in 1982 – one hit wonders Tommy Tutone hit “867-5309/Jenny” rang up as #4 in the U.S.

The San Francisco area rockers included members of Clover (a band which morphed into Huey Lewis and the News) and is still going, forty or so years after they began. They actually recorded a new album in 2019, some 21 years after their previous one. According to Alex Call, the writer, “was just trying to write a four-chord rock song.” He explains “I actually came up with ‘Jenny’ and the telephone number and the music…just sitting in my backyard.” Despite rumors, the song wasn’t autobiographical. “There was no Jenny,” he says, adding that when guitarist Jim Keller dropped by, he suggested that the girl’s number should be up on a bathroom wall “we wrote the verses in 15 or 20 minutes.”

The song was from their second album, and although signed to Columbia and scraping onto the American charts a year earlier with a song called “Angel Say No”, no one had high expectations for Tommy Tutone 2. “It didn’t have a lot of promotion,” Call remembers. “It was just one of those songs that got a lot of requests…it was on the charts for 40 weeks.” It earned them a gold single and also rose to #2 in Canada, but they never found the winning number again, failing to have any major hits since.

It wasn’t necessarily a hit for those with the number- people with it (including the daughter of Buffalo’s police chief) were routinely inundated with callers looking for “Jenny” by the hundreds and often ended up changing the number. It also probably frustrated a lot of romeos who were trying to get girls numbers in later years. “A lot of women have told me they use the number as a brush-off…which I think is really great.” So, remember guys, if you see a hot girl who doesn’t seem to swoon at you and you ask for their number…if she writes “867-5309” on your hand, you’re probably never going to see them again. (Perhaps a little like Tommy Tutone itself!)

May 18 – Sailors Weren’t The Only Ones Who Loved Brandy

If you’re a One Hit Wonder that is still widely remembered after five decades, that one hit must’ve done something right. Which it surely did in the case of Looking Glass. Their smash “Brandy (You’re A Fine Girl)” came out as a single – * – 50 years ago today in 1972. We’ll get to that asterisk in a bit.

Looking Glass was a four man rock band (and yes, by and large they were rock & roll even though this hit had them dubbed “New Jersey’s Beach Boys” by some) formed at the tail end of the ’60s at Rutgers University. It was largely led by Elliot Lurie, the lead guitarist and singer, with him and bassist Piet Sweval more or less splitting the songwriting duties. Lurie got the gold star for writing “Brandy.”

The song is of course, a sprightly and elegant early example of what would go on to be considered “yacht rock”, marked as much by Larry Gonsky’s keyboards and horns brought in by Larry Fallon (who says he was the producer of the record although he wasn’t credited as such) as they do to the guitars and bass. It tells of that fine waitress Brandy, whose name was very close to Lurie’s high school girlfriend’s, Randi. Brandy worked at a bar in a port, making all the sailors swoon, but she rejected all their advances because her heart went with a mysterious one who loved her but loved sailing the seas more, leaving her with nothing more than a locket to remember him by.

It was one of the eight tracks on their self-titled debut. They were signed to Epic Records by Clive Davis who saw them playing in a club, and they recorded it near Columbia/Epic’s offices in New York after a session with Steve Cropper (of Otis Redding records fame) in Memphis didn’t pan out well. They put out the first single from it at the beginning of ’72…technically that was “Don’t It Make You Feel Good”, a song written by Sweval. Apparently it didn’t make people feel good; it was widely ignored all over. Here’s where that earlier asterisk comes in. “Don’t It…” didn’t pan out. However, some clever DJ/manager at Washington DC’s most popular station at the time, WPGC, flipped the single over and gave a listen to the b-side : “Brandy.”

He liked it and decided to play it regularly for a few days. “The switchboard lit up like a Christmas tree” each time the station spun it, he recalls. Soon a few other northeastern stations got word of it and played it too. By the time Epic Records took note and started rushing out copies of the single with the “A” and “B” sides reversed, “Brandy” had already hit #1 in D.C. based solely on requests to the pop stations. In late summer, it hit the #1 spot nationally, displacing Gilbert O’Sullivan’s “Alone Again Naturally” for a week (it was sandwiched between runs on top for that song.) As allmusic note, it was “one of those timeless and very special #1s that come from out of the blue”. Sadly for Looking Glass, they also point out “nothing (else by the band) comes close to the heights of ‘Brandy.’”

Indeed that was true. “Brandy” hit #1 in Canada as well as the U.S., got them a gold single and was the 12th biggest hit of a year chockfull of smash singles. But they’d only squeak into the top 40 once more, with the largely forgettable and forgotten “Jimmy Loves Mary Ann” before breaking up in 1974. Since then, Lurie’s gotten together a new version of Looking Glass to play some oldies festivals and Yacht Rock shows and has a decent career as an entertainment manager in Hollywood. Sweval, sadly died of AIDS in 1992 after being a moderately-popular session musician through the disco era.

As for “Brandy”, it’s retained its popularity every bit as much as the whisky Brandy used to serve the sailors. That’s in no small part due to being used in a plethora of movies and TV shows including A Night at the Roxbury, Charlie’s Angels (each member or their estates, received $30 000 for its use in that), Blackkklansman, the Wire and King of Queens. The Red Hot Chili Peppers at times play it in their shows and Kiss apparently were inspired to write “Hard Luck Woman” by it, with their hard luck woman apparently being that fine barmaid Brandy. Conversely, it inspired Barry Manilow to change a song name. His smash “Mandy” was written and first recorded by Scott English as “Brandy”, but he changed the name because he was worried people would automatically assume it was the Looking Glass song if he kept that name.

One final measure of its popularity : in 1971, Brandy was the 353rd most popular name given to baby girls in the U.S. By 1973, just after the single was a hit, Brandy was the 82nd most popular. Probably more than Billie Jean can say!

May 12 – Good Thing Kris Didn’t Give Him A Toaster

In Nashville? Making a record? Maybe you should give Billy Swan a call – he can help…even if he is 80 today! Happy birthday to the multi-talented musician forever remembered for his 1974 hit “I Can Help.” Turns out there’s more to him than just that one song which was credited as the one most played in jukeboxes in 1975.

Billy was born in Missouri and showed early musical talent. As a child he loved country music, but as a teen he was drawn to the emerging sound of rock – Elvis particularly.

He made his way down the Mississippi to Memphis, then Nashville, doing odd jobs and writing songs along the way. He may or may not have worked as a security guard at Graceland for a spell (various accounts seem adamant that he was one , while others are equally adamant that he wasn’t), and was a roadie for Mel Tillis (for whom he wrote several songs). In 1962 he wrote a song called “Lover Please,” which was a top 10 hit for Clyde McPhatter. And soon he fell in as a popular session player Nashville, something he was good at since he learned piano, guitar and drums as a kid and could play bass…and probably virtually any other instrument too. Around the end of the decade, he got a chance to produce a few records, the first he attempted was Tony Joe White’s hit “Polk Salad Annie.”

Around the same time, he became friends with Kris Kristofferson, and joined his backing band, primarily as the bassist. When he got married, Kris and Rita Coolidge gave Swan an organ as a wedding gift. Which he soon put to good use, creating his own first single on it after Kristofferson helped him get signed to the same label he was on, Monument Records.

The whole thing just came out of the air, including the words,” Swan would later say about “I Can Help.” He went to the studio, and with three backing guitars (two acoustic and one electric), a bass and drums, they recorded it live in just two takes. That, maybe 15 minutes work ended up giving him a #1 song in the U.S., France, Australia, Germany and several other countries. In Canada it got to #2, and #6 over in the UK. The country-ish tune topped country music charts everywhere and it really struck a chord in Norway, where it stayed on their charts for 37 weeks and is still ranked among the top 10 sellers ever. Later on, artists ranging from his teen idol Elvis Presley to Ringo Starr would cover it.

However, it turned out to be a bit of “beginner’s luck” for Swan. Although he kept recording for years, he never again had a mainstream hit song and although he had a few minor country hits he never became a prominent solo star. Nonetheless, he kept working with Kristofferson’s band for years, and stayed busy as a session musician, as well as working with Randy Meisner now and then in a band called Black Tie. But he has a long portfolio to look back on, and some big fans within the business including usually bitter critic Robert Christgau. He wrote about Swan “a guy who doesn’t sing very well…made more good albums than Three Dog Night” citing how “his well-meaning optimism and insecure persona mesh perfectly.” High praise, given the source.

Swan’s wife of three decades, Marlu, passed away over a decade back but their daughter Sierra is a singer in a band called Dollshead. No word on whether she’s called dad for help.

May 10 – Jay And The Spirit Of Classic Rock?

Happy 75th birthday to a so-called “one hit wonder” who might have had a finger in one of the biggest rock hits of all-time. But that wasn’t his one hit. Which frustrated some people more than it did American Jay Ferguson…not to be confused with Canadian Jay Ferguson of the band Sloan.

Ferguson grew up in Burbank, California, in a family which loved music. His parents put him in piano lessons by age 12, but at the time, his love was country and bluegrass. At 16, he joined a bluegrass band, the Oak Hill Stump Straddlers, playing banjo with his older brother. He began giving piano lessons himself as a part-time job. However, it seems like his musical tastes changed rapidly when he heard the Beatles and he was determined to be a rock star.

He and his friend Randy California joined a new band called Spirit, Jay being the lead singer and a percussionist, California the lead guitarist and primary songwriter. They were described by allmusic as “an ambitious…psychedelic band that fused hard rock to jazz, blues, Country and folk.” Which might sound a wee bit like a big British band that emerged a few years after them. But we’ll get to that a bit later.

By 1971, he’d grown tired of the band and likely of its relative lack of success and he and the bassist quit to form a new group, Jo Jo Gunne. They didn’t pan out that well either, so in the mid-’70s he went solo, signing with Asylum Records. He had the good fortune of hooking up with producer Bill Szymczyk, who’d worked extensively with the J.Geils Band and Joe Walsh at that point, and went on to bigger and better doing The Eagles Hotel California. Bill produced a couple of Jay’s records, including his second album, 1977’s Thunder Island. He brought along Walsh to play guitar for Ferguson. The earworm-waiting-to-happen title track was a top 10 hit in North America, his only really significant hit single (though he did scratch into the U.S. top 40 one more time with “Shakedown Cruise” in 1979.

Although he put out six solo albums, bigtime superstardom eluded him and sometime in the ’80s, he decided to go to work in Hollywood, making music for movies and TV. He did well at that, making several movie scores (largely for horror movies) and famously creating the theme song for the show The Office. He even had a bit role in the show, being in Kevin’s band. More recently he’s put together the music for the show NCIS-L.A.

So what were we saying about that huge rock hit he was a wee bit involved with? Well, there’s a good chance you haven’t really heard of Spirit, the band he was in, or much of their music. But they were in the news a lot this past decade, because someone, probably Randy California, noticed that “Stairway to Heaven” opened quite a bit like their earlier song “Taurus.” Lawsuits were filed, and it was tied up in court for about seven years. Rumors suggest California’s estate (he passed away years before it hit the courts) were asking for not only his name to go on the Zeppelin records as a songwriter but for about $40M in writing royalties for the all-time rock classic. Zep won, lost an appeal and finally prevailed again in a third hearing, so it would seem legally “Stairway” is all Zeppelin. But this doesn’t diminish an obvious similarity in guitar work and the fact that Spirit had opened for Led Zeppelin early in the supergroup’s career, making it probable that Jimmy Page and Robert Plant had heard “Taurus,” something they denied.

Ferguson, not being a songwriter on “Taurus” never said a great deal about it but has noted Robert Plant had asked for a “meet and greet” with Spirit (long before Led Zeppelin IV) and that at the time he was “flattered” the superstar would want to meet them. As for the song, he said “Taurus” “it was a palette cleanser. It was beautiful. It was a different style of music than anything else we played.” Which in the end is probably the right “Spirit” to look at the piece.

April 12 – Forgotten Gems : B-Movie

People are still talking about the Academy Awards from earlier this spring it seems…the best actor was a hit or something? Anyway, the film which won the Best Movie was Coda…critically acclaimed obviously, but not a blockbuster commercially. Looking at it that way, one might be inclined to call it a “B-movie”…which brings us to this month’s Forgotten Gem – 1980‘s “Nowhere Girl” by B-movie.

B-movie were a little bit like Coda – critically well-received but not a box office smash. They formed as a quartet in Nottingham, England in 1979. Steve Hovington was their leader, the main songwriter, singer and bassist. While they did have conventional guitars and drums, their sound was often built around the synthesizers and other keyboards work of Rick Holliday who co-wrote the near hit and they looked largely to Ultravox and New Order for inspiration.

A plea to a lonely, self-isolated girl from a prospective suitor, “Nowhere Girl” offered lyrics like “all functional and neat, Nowhere Girl, in self-imposed exile, Nowhere Girl, a martyr-like denial” which, coupled with clean, sterile synth rhythms, as allmusic put it “became an enduring tale of teen alienation” years before Kurt Cobain caught a whiff of the idea. They put it out as a 12” single on the tiny indie Dead Good Records label, and then re-released it in 1982 when they signed to the slightly larger Deram company off-shot Some Bizzarre. That time around it rose to a modest #67 in their homeland and did make the top 20 in Sweden. It had modest success on some college stations in the U.S., and was especially popular at Toronto’s alt rock station, CFNY. There it finished up ’82 as the 44th top record of the year…and was said to be the most difficult record for the station to keep. Apparently DJs and other staff liked it so much and found it so difficult to locate in local record stores, it kept being “borrowed” from the station library, much to the chagrin of on-air staff who wanted to play it.

Sire Records signed them in 1985, and they put out a full album, Forever Running, for which they re-recorded the song in a slightly more upbeat fashion (which allmusic contend “needless to say is far inferior to the original”) as well as their other minor hit, “Remembrance Day”, but it went…nowhere. Sire dropped them and they disbanded, deciding that maybe they were a “nowhere band.” However, a funny thing happened along the way to obscurity – “Nowhere Girl” suddenly began being remembered by people who seemingly liked it but didn’t buy it first time around. It got issued on more and more ’80s compilation albums and now is “and ’80s classic.”

They kept busy, but didn’t get their names up in bright lights. For instance, guitarist Paul Statham went on to work with Jim Kerr of Simple Minds and Peter Murphy at times; Hovington’s put out a few solo albums (the most recent only a couple of months back, Audience with Myself) and has become an expert sommelier, not only having his own brand of wine but teaching classes in wine appreciation. He now describes himself as “wine maker, author and erstwhile pop star.” But B-movie, like some of those great ’50s 3D films, never quite goes away. They reformed at times in the last decade to tour, and recorded a new album in 2016… which, in case you’re wondering does indeed have yet another version of “Nowhere Girl.” For a “nowhere” girl, she sure does pop up in a lot of places!

April 1 – Much Of Adam’s Talent Was Hidden Under Fountains

Today we remember a “one hit wonder” who was well on his way to becoming a rare EGOT Winner – that’s Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony, an accomplishment only about 20 people, like Barbra Streisand and Cher, have ever pulled off. But perhaps Adam Schlesinger might have too had he lived longer – he was already halfway there and had nominations for all four categories. The guy from Fountains of Wayne died two years ago today, one of the first high-profile deaths from Covid.

Although most music fans only knew Schlesinger from the early-2000s alt rock group Fountains of Wayne, if they knew him at all, there was a lot more to his multi-faceted career than that. He was a producer, songwriter and a major player in creating music for movies and TV.

Adam grew up in a musical but fairly strict Jewish family near New York City. Although he learned to play a wide range of instruments, including guitar, piano and drums, he went to college and got a philosophy degree. Around that time he formed a band called Ivy, which didn’t achieve a great deal of recognition, then Fountains of Wayne. They took their name from a lawn ornament store they saw in New Jersey. That band started with just him and school friend Chris Collingwood, but after they put out a demo and got signed to Atlantic Records, they added Pixies drummer Brian Young and a second guitarist, Jody Ponder; Schlesinger typically played bass and keyboards and was the lead vocalist as well as producer and writer, sometimes sharing those jobs with Collingwood. Allmusic describe them as “one of America’s strongest power pop acts” putting out “British-influenced pop songs, lo-fi production and wry lyrics.” Be that as it may, their first two albums did next to nothing and Atlantic dropped them around the millennium. Their third album, 2003’s Welcome Interstate Managers, on the new and small S-Curve label would have likely met the same fate were it not for one song…and the fact that Sports Illustrated swimsuit model Rachel Hunter was, well let’s be honest, pretty good-looking. The song was the Cars-like  “Stacy’s Mom”, a fun ditty about a teenage lad being rather, umm, attracted to his buddy’s mother. Ms. Hunter got the role of Stacy’s mom in the video which helped the song take off. It hit #21 at home and was all over alt rock radio that year, and earned them both a gold single and a Grammy nomination in the pop category. Brits liked it even more, with it going platinum there and peaking at #11. The Fountains kept going for another decade but never had anything resembling that level of success again and broke up in 2013.

But Schlesinger’s never been one to do nothing, with or without a band. In the pop or rock field, he was friends with James Iha of Smashing Pumpkins (who helped out on Welcome Interstate Managers) and formed a short-lived band with him called Tinted Windows. An interesting lineup it had, those two plus former Cheap Trick drummer Bun E. Carlos and one of the Hanson brothers! He’s written songs for artists ranging from the Monkees in their reunion phase to Bowling For Soup, and Katy Perry covered one of his songs (“Hackensack”). In the studio, he produced records for the Monkees, Verve Pipe, Fastball and others. But his greatest success, and it would seem, career love, was making music for screens and stages.

Schlesinger got into movie work in the ’90s and carried on with that for most of the rest of his life, creating music for films including Shallow Hal, Because of Winn Dixie (he and Iha did one song themselves from that, “Splish Splash”), Ice Age and most significantly, the Tom Hanks movie That Thing That You Do. He wrote and produced the title track for that one, being nominated for an Academy Award as a result.

He wrote for the Stage as well, co-writing the music for the Broadway musical Cry Baby (which got him Tony nominations) and was in the middle of writing a musical adaptation of the old TV sitcom The Nanny when he passed away. His Broadway connections got him the opportunity to create music for the 65th and 66th Tony Awards, and ironically that won him an Emmy Awards for Outstanding Music both years. Besides those he did music for TV shows as varied as Sesame Street to Stephen King’s Kingdom Hospital. He eventually won a Grammy for doing the music and subsequent album for a Stephen Colbert TV special.

Schlesinger was divorced but left behind two daughters when he passed away at just 52 years of age, after spending a week on a ventilator only weeks after Covid first showed up in North America. There was an outpouring of love and grief upon his death, as much from the acting community as the music one. Hugh Grant called him “a bona fide genius and a lovely person,” while Fran Drescher noted how he’d been working on a stage adaptation of her old TV show and said she was “devastated. My prayers are for you.” Stephen Colbert remembered Adam as “a great and patient and talented artist with whom it was my good luck to work.” Meanwhile, Jon Bon Jovi noted “you’re never just a kid from somewhere when you’re a kid from New Jersey. The music world lost a good one.” As did the movie, theater and TV ones … and apparently the rest of it as well.

February 24 – Fastball Was ‘The Way’ To A Hit

Being declared a “One Hit Wonder” is often seen as rather an insult, but when you think about it, not so. How many of use even have one shot at putting out a piece of music that will live on for decades and perhaps appeal to others even after we’re gone? Put in that light, a “One Hit Wonder” is a pretty decent thing! Today we remember one such song and band – Fastball‘s “The Way” was released this day in 1998.

By that time the trio had been around for three years, put together in Austin by bagel-baker Tony Scalzo. They had a solid following in Texas’ Music City, but their first album , Make Your Mama Proud didn’t necessarily make London Records (a Disney division which has put out releases for Miley Cyrus, Selena Gomez, Los Lobos and even Queen) that proud. It sold, liberally, about 6500 copies. So expectations for the follow-up, All the Pain Money Can Buy weren’t necessarily that high. One song changed all that.

The Way” is one of the most hummable, memorable alt rock tunes of the decade and had one of the last great MTV videos, back when they still played music there. The song was inspired by something considerably less upbeat. The Texans read about an older couple from nearby who’d disappeared from a festival and eventually were found dead in Arkansas. Scalzo said he “romanticized” the event and “I pictured them taking off to have fun like when they first met.” Perhaps they did that, we don’t really know. We do know almost everyone liked “The Way” and it got Fastball a gold single, topping the Billboard alternative charts for seven straight weeks that spring. It also went to #1 in Canada, where it was the fourth top single of the year, and was a top 20 down under in Australia. It propelled All the Pain Money Can Buy to over a million in sales.

Alas, the stardom didn’t shine on them long. A follow-up single off the album, “Out of My Head” did moderately well for them on alternative radio, but after that it was all downhill commercially.  The follow-up album in 2000 barely cracked the weekly top 100 and sold less than one tenth as many copies. Scalzo and his friends are undeterred though; they’re still together and put out their latest album, The Help Machine in 2019. Miles Zuniga of the band says “you can’t write down what we do in a sentence,” but all music take a shot at it: “hyper-melodic power-pop with an Elvis Costello lilt.” Sounds like “The Way” to make memorable music!

February 9 – Jones Song Was A Sign Of The Times

The world was changing quickly with the fall of the Berlin Wall and the dissolvement of the USSR. Perhaps nothing summed that era up better than Jesus Jones “Right Here, Right Now”, which hit #1 on the Billboard modern rock chart on this day in 1991.

They’d signed to Food Records a couple of years prior; that label was notable mostly for being the home base of Blur for years. According to the band’s leader, singer/guitarist Mike Edwards, Jesus Jones got its name when he was on holiday in Spain and found that he was surrounded by lots of guys called “Jesus” who seemed to think all English people were named “Jones”. The Brits , along with EMF and Pop Will Eat Itself, were one of the movement of bands that incorporated more “techno” and “house” sounds into a new wave sound and their second album Doubt (from which this song came) found a receptive audience, hitting #1 at home and #25 in the U.S. and ended up platinum in both the States and Canada. The song itself hit #2 in the U.S. (it was ranked as the #3 song of the whole year by L.A. Superstation KROQ) but only #31 at home. There, “International Bright Young Things” was the biggie off the album.

Edwards says that he got the idea for the song while they were playing in Romania very shortly after the Soviet-backed Communist government had been thrown out and that musically, it was more than a nod to Prince’s “Sign O’ the Times” which he had sampled in the song. Producer Martyn Phillips removed those samples, probably a wise move since Jesus Jones, while still going, never produced a lot more hit records, so they probably are happy enough not to have to share royalties.

February 7 – Johns Song Was Aspirational To Groovy ’70s Van Fans

Oh those happy-go-lucky 1970s; days of one night stands, vans with far out murals and easy-listening rock and all those other good things that preceded Reaganism, AIDS and Generation X. Today we look at a guy who put the three together iconicly in 1975 Sammy Johns. Johns was born 76 years ago today, in North Carolina.

Not a whole lot is on record about Sammy, but we know he learned to play guitar as soon as he was given one at nine years of age, and he was in a band in high school. He moved to Atlanta in his early 20s and got a record contract with a small label, GRC. Although the label was a minor one, they brought in some fine help to make his first record, the self-titled debut album. L.A.’s Larry Knetchel, one of the key members of the Wrecking Crew in its latter days, co-produced the album and played bass and guitars on it; Jim Gordon from Derek and the Dominoes drummed.

The album was pure early-’70s. “That was the era of hippies,” Johns recalls, “free love and all that. I was sort of a hippie – a conservative hippie.” Some of his song titles suggest just as much – Sammy Johns included tracks called “Way Out, Jesus” and “Early Morning Love.” However, it got lost in the shuffle of other soundalike soft rock albums for the first year or more after it hit the shelves. Then suddenly, somehow, the dusty single from it “Chevy Van” began to take off. It zipped up the charts to #5 in the States in early 1975, and eventually sold better than three million copies. He was awarded a gold single for it, seemingly the only one GRC Records ever received.

The song had a distinctive guitar sound with wah-wah pedal played by Knetchel who used the same tool to great effect on Bread’s “Guitar Man” a year or two before. “Chevy Van” was pretty much every young guy’s fantasy back then; a guy with a cool van picks up a sexy hitchhiker who then seduces him in the back of his ride before walking off down the street in a town he doesn’t plan to ever return to. Rhino Records (who included the song on a ’70s compilation album years later) point out that the line “let’s get some sleep and dream of rock’n’roll” “must have seemed ridiculous even to the most blissed-out hippie spreading good vibes, good Columbian and VD across America.” Ridiculous perhaps, but a fantasy to many and an irresistible hit record. For the record, Johns said the song was a product of his imagination. “It never happened,” he explained to Classic Bands, “I thought it might be a neat idea. I never was that lucky.”

Maybe not in fast love, but lucky he was on the record shelves. The multi-million seller made him a fair bit of cash and had GM calling. “Chevrolet did want to do a commercial, but some kind of problem did crop up with the record company,” he says. Nonetheless, the song – and custom vans themselves – were popular enough that it inspired a 1977 movie, The Van which Johns did much of the soundtrack for. The movie would be forgettable if not for one thing – it was one of the first starring roles for Danny Devito.

As luck would have it, GRC Records went bankrupt not long after and before they could get Sammy’s next album done. Thus it essentially consigned him to the category of “one hit wonder”, something he takes in stride. “I’m just thankful for that one,” he said pointing out that he really was a bit more than that. He wrote songs for a number of country artists in the ’80s, including Conway Twitty, Waylon Jennings and John Conlee who took his song “Common Man” to #1 on country charts. “That’s given me a lot of gratification. That’s what I really wanted to be – a writer,” he said not long before he passed away at age 66 in 2013.

January 14 – The Texan New Bohemian And The New York Old One

Someone who probably loves Saturday Night Live more than today’s birthday boy, Dave Grohl (who has appeared at least ten times with different bands, including seven with his Foo Fighters) is Edie Brickell. The Texan singer/songwriter was on the show in late 1988 with her band New Bohemians, a performance that gave exposure to their signature tune “What I Am”, which hit the charts on this day in 1989. It ended up going to #7 in the U.S. and #1 in Canada. Brickell describes the folksy tune as a “smart alec’s way out of a deep discussion.” The SNL appearance was also where she met future-husband Paul Simon. She and Paul play the tape of the show and tells her kids “that’s where we first laid eyes on each other.”

That was the first major label single for the New Bohemians, a folk-oriented group she had joined a few years prior while still in high school. It pushed their debut album, Shooting Rubberbands At The Stars to double-platinum status, but the momentum quickly dropped. It was their only real commercial success to date (they are rumored to have a new album ready very soon) and soon VH1 had the single listed as the 23rd best “one hit wonder” of the decade. Soon after, she went solo, after taking a leaf from her husband’s playbook. That is, dipping her toes into acting. She had a small role as a folk singer in the movie Born on the Fourth of July in 1990, with her cover of Bob Dylan’s “A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall” being used in the film.

Lately she’s been singing with SNL alumni Steve Martin and his banjo-plucking band Steep Canyon Rangers, a serious band which also has master-guitarist Waddy Wachtel who’s worked with everyone from Jackson Browne to Bryan Ferry to Linda Ronstadt to Warren Zevon, with whom he co-wrote “Werewolves of London.” She and Simon have collaborated on music occasionally, as you might imagine, such as their 2014 single “Like to Get To Know You.”