Sanford Clark

TrackSingle / Album
The FoolDot 45-15481
Usta Be My BabyDot 45-15516
A CheatDot 45-15516
Don't CryUnissued / Son Of A Gun CD
The Glory Of LoveDot 45-15556
The Man Who Made An Angel CryDot 45-15646
Modern RomanceDot 45-15738
Still As The NightJamie 1107
New Kind Of FoolJamie 1129
She Taught MeWarner Bros 5473

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Sanford Clark photo

Sanford Clark

 

SANFORD CLARK: ANATOMY OF A ONE HIT WONDER #22

Contributor: Dave Stephens

Artists who flickered briefly then often disappeared. One Hit Wonders, the media called them. Part of the fascination of fifties and sixties music.

Lee Hazlewood is a name that should be known to pop pickers if only for those duets with Nancy Sinatra, often on his own songs. What is less well known is how Lee got his start in song writing.

In March 1956 he was working at radio station KRUX in Phoenix, Arizona as a disc jockey and was almost down to his last dime. He’d already been slogging away at creating songs and had been recording artists for a label he’d started, VIV Records, but to absolutely no result other than a negative one on his bank balance. He’d been working on a new song he called The Fool but needed a suitable singer for it. Guitarist Al Casey who’d been working with Lee suggested a school pal of his named Sanford Clark. Sanford who was born in Tulsa, Oklahoma in October 1935, had moved with his family to Phoenix at the age of nine. After high school he’d joined the US Air Force in the South Pacific and during that time formed a band which won a talent competition in Hawaii. In March ’56 he was back in Phoenix.

The session was held at Floyd Ramsey’s Recording Studio on 7th Street and Weldon. Al Casey had put together a riff based on the famous one in Howlin’ Wolf’s Smokestack Lightning and his wife Corky took the rhythm guitar part. In order to cut the record (due to him being out of cash), Lee made a deal with the label MCI (Music Counselors Inc.) which operated out of premises immediately adjacent to Ramsey’s. The deal was that he would cut an MCI published song, Lonesome For A Letter, to appear on the flipside of The Fool. Which he/they did. It’s sad to say though that while Casey and the rest of the support team put up a fine rockabilly platform for Sanford to sing from, our budding hero unfortunately doesn’t deliver his best vocal performance, possibly due to a combination of lack of experience or nerves plus hurry-on-producer Lee’s part to get this track in the can. Don’t get me wrong, the record isn’t terrible compared with that vast mass of rockabilly tracks out there, but that quavering in Sanford’s voice could have been ironed out if they’d spent time on further takes. Contrast that with the attention given to the A-side. According to the Phoenix New Times article (see Footnotes) it took: “… several days and dozens of takes and false starts before Hazlewood finally had what he wanted. He wasn’t paying for the studio time, so he could afford to work with Clark to get his latest composition fully realized”.

As a digression I’d note that while Clark is often sloppily labelled as a rockabilly artist, very few of his records are really in that genre. Lonesome For A Letter is one of the rare exceptions.

According to the Phoenix New Times, 500 records were pressed and mailed to radio stations and record distributors. Within weeks, The Fool started to make waves, initially locally and then beyond. The Praguefrank discography on Sanford has an intriguing report from an unnamed source in reference to it. The heading is “THE FOOL”:

“Early volume on this disk has been of a kind to cause dealers and operators to sit up and take notice. This is particularly true in the Middle West and South. Cleveland, Minneapolis, Cincinnati, Milwaukee, Detroit, St. Louis, Durham, Atlanta were some of the cities canvassed that indicated an exceptionally good take-off. Flip is “Lonesome For A Letter.””

The volume of demand was such that MCI couldn’t cope and sold their masters to Dot Records, a label that had started out in Tennessee and then moved to Hollywood. Dot had already gained some fame/notoriety by having their artist Pat Boone cover rock‘n’roll records from black artists. The Fool went on to make #7 in the US Pop Chart and also hit the top twenty in both the R&B and the Country Chart. It did nothing in the UK.

That spread of Pop, R&B and Country sales gives some idea of the difficulty in pigeonholing the record. It wasn’t blues even if it did have that riff, it wasn’t country, it wasn’t rockabilly though it’s often labelled as such, and it wasn’t teen pop, a category that was starting to emerge as a softer alternative to rock and roll. Call it rock if you like but that’s something of a catch all label. I’m more inclined to go for the discrete and rather small category of “Lee Hazlewood Mood Music” into which several of Sanford’s later records slotted as indeed did records from Lee himself once his own career as a performing artist got underway. There was also no convenient comparison point for the Clark voice. It’s easy now to come up with the name Ricky Nelson but that man’s recording career didn’t get going till almost a year later by which time Sanford had had 3 or 4 further record releases depending on quite how you count them. Nor was Sanford some form of vocal chameleon; that same voice flowed through the releases and although there was some indebtedness, only rarely did you hear really clear influences from other artists.

The Clark story is brief and uncomplicated. He stayed at Dot for a couple of years where Lee Hazlewood took a role as producer. However, Lee moved to Jamie Records in 1957 in order to produce and promote guitar man Duane Eddy, who had been part of the same informal circle in Phoenix with Casey and Hazlewood. Along with more experienced music man Lester Sill, Lee had taken over Duane’s management. Sanford followed Lee to Jamie in part, we are told, because Randy Wood, founder of Dot, was attempting to turn him into another Pat Boone. Unfortunately for Sanford none of his releases became hits regardless of their quality. From ’61 onwards there was a stuttering flow of records across several labels, with some pointing him in more of a country direction, but with continued lack of success. During this timeframe, or 1966 to be precise, a remake of The Fool was cut with Waylon Jennings taking the Al Casey guitar part. It was released on the Ramco label owned by Floyd Ramsey of Phoenix, so the story had effectively come full circle. In the seventies he left music, moving into construction and apparently gambling – he’s a skilled blackjack player according to the Rockabilly Hall of Fame. He didn’t entirely give up music though. In 1985 he made an album for his own label, Desert Sun Records, along with old friends Casey and Hazlewood, and in the early noughties made several live performances, some with Al Casey, in venues including the Nashville Ryman and the Hemsby Rock And Roll Weekender in the UK.

To the music, and if The Fool had been the only single from Sanford Clark, then he would still have been remembered in musical history books. Given that his other records seem to have left next to zero trace on record buyers then there’s little reason to change that last statement. However, I’m pleased to say that the other records hold up well even if none have the immediate impact of The Fool.

Mood music appeared again as early as record #2 from Sanford. A Cheat was brooding and accusatory but also quiet. Minimalist both in melody (or lack of) and accompaniment – two guitars doing twiddly things, one in the low and the other in the high register plus the mere hint of softly brushed drums. Not obvious hit parade material but it was a flip so Lee was probably more inclined to experiment.

Her kiss like honey
So warm and sweet
Her heart deceived me
She was a cheat

Still As The Night was marginally heavier and in minor key to really rub in the gloom. There’s debate as to who was on lead guitar. It could either have been Al Casey (who appeared on most of Sanford’s early singles) or Duane Eddy. The authorities state that it’s Al but others, including self, are inclined to the view it’s Duane on the booming solo.

The Man Who Made An Angel Cry was another in the mood series with Al on throbbing guitar. It was in the third person this time with the personae turned around in that he was the guy who did her wrong, “He walks alone all the time/You wonder what’s on his mind”. Lee being the writer though, he couldn’t resist a switch to first person for the finale. As would become clearer later in the man’s own records, Lee was a fan of one J. Cash and there are faint hints of the great man here, both in the title and the boom chikka boom from Al in the middle eight.

Run Boy Run and Son Of A Gun were more explicit nods in the Cash direction with the latter adorned with strings à la mythical movie theme. For me though these miss out slightly in that they’re crying out for the more sonorous tones of JC himself.

The diet of moody introspection was leavened with rockers which were probably seen by producer Hazlewood as more likely hit parade material. Usta Be My Baby which appeared on the A-side of A Cheat was the first of these and it was steps ahead of Lonesome For A Letter in approach, dropping entirely the marginally updated hillbilly style (as in Carl Perkins for example) and aiming for something that might almost be called post-modern rockabilly. Instead of aping Scotty Moore, Al Casey is his own man entirely having found an edgy little riff that he’s not going to let go of; Sanford himself is exuding confidence and the faint Presleyisms of “Lonesome” are nowhere to be found; Hazlewood is happy to add vocal embellishment in line with the Presley/Jordanaires RCA approach though he doesn’t overdo it and lose the still largely minimalist styling. Deserves to be in the Ten for the title alone.

Another of the Clark/Hazlewood rockers appeals to me in spite of, or maybe because of, questions I have about its provenance. This is Sanford’s Modern Romance and this is Jeannie, Jeannie, Jeannie from Eddie Cochran. They’re by no means identical but there does seem to be quite a strong linkage in both rhythm section and in Sanford’s own vocal which sounds distinctly more enthusiastic than usual. I wouldn’t say he’s quite aping Cochran but there’s at least a bit of Holly in there. According to Praguefrank, the Cochran track was recorded in January 1958 in L.A. and the Clark track was recorded in March ’58 in Phoenix. However, Jeannie, Jeannie, Jeannie didn’t see release until after Cochran’s death in 1960. So one wonders, if one or more of Hazlewood, Clark or Casey heard the song Jeannie, Jeannie, Jeannie prior to March ’58, how did this happen? Did Cochran feature it in his live show? Was Casey on the Cochran session (he did have strong links with Southern California and in later years worked in L.A. as a session musician)? Was there a demo disc of the song being touted around by its authors (it wasn’t written by Cochran)? It remains a mystery.

Another mystery is a song called The Girl On Death Row which, according to Praguefrank, was recorded by Sanford at a session held in February 1960 in Phoenix but didn’t see release; it’s also mentioned in the RCS discography but with a bracketed “need info” comment. What is known is that in August of that year The Girl On Death Row was released by Lee Hazlewood with the fuller credit reading “Duane Eddy And His Orchestra Lee Hazlewood Vocal”. The UK (London) credit differed; they had it as Lee Hazlewood with Duane Eddy and his Orchestra. What is intriguing about the cuts is that they sound remarkably similar apart from the (presumably overdubbed) strings which appeared on the take that has the Hazlewood/Eddy names. This is the cut that purports to be from Sanford and, yes, that’s Duane there minus strings, but is that voice Sanford’s or Lee’s? It sounds very like other Clark tracks but doesn’t sound overly dissimilar to the Hazlewood version. Did Lee remove the Clark vocal track and overdub with his own but strongly follow the Clark approach.? Or, was the original from Hazlewood all along? Given also the darkness of the theme – the lass is on death row for a crime she didn’t commit – did Lee feel that this was too heavy to be associated with the clean cut image of young Sanford? Regardless of any of that theorising, listened to together like this there is a strong similarity in their vocal style if indeed they actually are different recordings.

There were quite a few Hazlewood/Clark cuts which didn’t see single release but have found their way onto album in more recent years. One such is Don’t Cry (not to be confused with Don’t Care, another unreleased effort) which is a simply gorgeous teen ballad and quite why it was passed over we’ll never know. Maybe Lee thought the genre was beneath him though he did release later efforts in this vein from Sanford. The genre is often looked down upon but certain records like Ricky Nelson’s Poor Little Fool and Ritchie Valens’ Donna manage to justify its existence (or perhaps transcend the archetype). Don’t Cry is almost up there with that pair and, if dates on unreleased tracks can be believed, preceded both in terms of recording date.

Another teen-ish ballad (by which I’m implying it had a little more complexity in structure and a near Bert Berns approach to arrangement which I always go for), She Taught Me did see release but only as a flipside. It came after Sanford had moved from Jamie though he stuck with Lee as producer and songwriter through three records on three labels. Warner Brothers, on which this this one can be found (in 1964), was one of them, and the A-side, Just Bluesin’ wasn’t bad either.

I’m dropping back to the Jamie years for my last couple. The remarkably brief New Kind Of Fool had that jogalong semi-country atmosphere that was present in several very late fifties and early sixties Nelson tracks, though it predated some of them, so quite who influenced who is anything but easy to determine.

Quite what spurred Lee on to record Sanford on The Glory Of Love, I just don’t know. The song was written by Billy Hill and was recorded in 1936 by Benny Goodman (with vocal refrain from Helen Ward) which resulted in a #1 hit. My preference though would be for the version by early doo wop outfit the Five Keys in 1951. There’s also a version on YT from Big Bill Broonzy which I’m partial to (love the picture too). All that was by way of intro to the 1957 version by Sanford which didn’t seem to draw explicitly from any of those tracks …

… but it does make a pleasing closing track which manages to draw on several stylings of the fifties to create an attractive whole that’s strongly evocative of its era.

Sanford Clark wasn’t a major artist – and haven’t I said something like that before in a Toppermost – but he had a distinctive voice and with Lee Hazlewood and his creative mind behind him he made some mighty fine records.

Gather round me buddies
Hold your glasses high
And drink to a fool, a crazy fool
Who told his baby goodbye

 

FOOTNOTES

1. I’m indebted in particular to the article which appeared in the Phoenix New Times on 9th February 2015 written by the unofficial Arizona music historian, John “Johnny D” Dixon, headed “The Fool” Sanford Clark, 1956”. In addition, for reference I used the relevant discographies/ sessionographies from Rockin’ Country Style (RCS) and Praguefrank plus 45cat as usual.

2. There seems to be some divergence on which radio station Lee Hazlewood was working for in Phoenix when he got involved with Sanford Clark. John Dixon in the Phoenix New Times has it as KTYL but the biography on the Lee Hazlewood site states that Lee started out at station KCKY in Coolidge, Arizona and then moved to station KRUX in Phoenix where he was the first DJ in town to play Elvis! That also fits with a report on Phoenix radio stations which notes that “KRUX was a legendary Rock & Roll station in the valley from 1957 to 1975.”

3. 45cat lists two records on VIV prior to March 1956 though there could have been more. The first of the pair is of particular interest since the songs on both sides were written by Hazlewood under his pseudonym, Naomi Ford (his wife’s name which was used since a DJ at the time wasn’t allowed to play records on which he/she had an interest). The artist was Jimmy Spellman with his Sunset Riders listed as “Stars of the Arizona Hayride Series”. The A-side was Give Me Some Of Yours (And I’ll Give You Some Of Mine) and it’s on YouTube. A later record from Jimmy Spellman on VIV saw him switching from country to rockabilly with (She Wants A) Lover Man and Naomi Ford once again listed as composer. Reportedly, Al Casey was on guitar. As an aside I would note that Hazlewood had picked up the country habit of using brackets in song titles at an early age though they weren’t present on the Clark songs.

4. Al Casey deserves a few words. Not only was he the man who took the lead guitar role on so many Sanford Clark records he also switched to bass guitar and supported his friend Duane Eddy for many years. At the same time we’ve been assured from those in the know that he was fully capable of playing those same licks with identical tonal delivery as Duane. Al also performed the lead guitar role for another one hit wonder Jody Reynolds on his Endless Sleep and was a member for several years of the L.A. “Wrecking Crew” team of session musicians. He also featured on a number of records in his own name.

5. Although I didn’t get round to mentioning them in the main text, several tracks were cut – with some released – covering material from black musicians though they didn’t always draw on the more obvious chart contenders. Louis Jordan’s Aint Nobody Here But Us Chickens was an early one which didn’t get the OK for release, perhaps not surprisingly. Johnny Ace’s Pledging My Love and Elmore James’ It Hurts Me Too did see release though. While there was something of a rite of passage thing about the former for American singers (and it was a good version) the latter was entirely unexpected. Given the release date – April ’61 – I wonder if this was a Hazlewood riposte to the presence of a slow blues, Reconsider Baby, on the 1960 release of the LP Elvis Is Back. Both records also happen to share a splendidly sleazy sounding sax. I have to add, though, regardless of how I feel about the Clark track, I’m not exactly pleased to see the names Hazlewood and Sill appear in the writing credits.

6. For one reason or another, several sides recorded by Sanford received no mention in the main text. The first of those was the flipside of Modern Romance, a number entitled Travelin’ Man, about which I can make several statements. First, that it isn’t the same song that was later recorded by Ricky Nelson. Second, that it wasn’t a Hazlewood number; the credits are “Lefors/Summers”. And thirdly, that it’s straightforward teen pop but one of the better examples of a genre that has some critics proverbially ‘holding their nose’.

7. My next side of interest is 1965’s It’s Nothing To Me on Ramco Records. The song was written by Leon Payne, a country singer and songwriter from Texas. Leon was blind in one eye at birth and lost sight in the other in early childhood. He wrote several country standards including I Love You Because. On certain tracks including It’s Nothing To Me he used the pseudonym, Pat Patterson. The first recording of the song came in 1957 from a very obscure gentleman called Loy Clingman; the producer was one Lee Hazlewood. Over the years the number attracted the attention of a variety of performers including Johnny Winter, Jim Reeves and the Coasters. Among these versions was one from an associate of Lee, a gent called Buddy Long. His version was produced by “Sill & Hazelwood” (sic) according to an image of the single. Lee’s own version of the song eventually appeared in 2006 on Cake And Death, the final album before his death.

But there’s even more to the story. A version of the number appeared on a compilation called God Less America: Country Music For All Ye Sinners & Sufferers from someone called Harry Johnson and it was included in the Blessed Bob’s Theme Time Radio Hour Episode 87 (on the theme of “Nothing”). “Harry Johnson” was in fact Sanford Clark and it’s presumed that the pseudonym was there since there was no intention to pay royalties for usage of the number. Whether Bob was aware is not known.

8. Also in ’65, Sanford had a record out, this time with a song written by Lee (who also produced the record), entitled Houston and apparently the record was on the verge of making some serious sales when it was covered by Dean Martin. You can guess the rest, the Martin version did very nicely thank you.

9. There are now several compilation CDs on the market covering Sanford’s key years. Bear Family have two Sanford Clark albums, The Fool and Shades, covering his career in broadly chronological order. The second set starts in 1960 (roughly) and then moves on to his mainly country recordings. More recently (2015), the Jasmine label has issued a set entitled Son Of A Gun – Anthology 1956-1962 which covers almost all the tracks I’ve discussed in this feature. As I write, I can add that the MP3 version of this album is available at an attractive rate.

 

Sanford Clark photo 2

Sanford Clark with Duane Eddy

 

Sanford Clark photo 3

Sanford Clark with Carl Perkins

 

Rockabilly Hall of Fame: Sanford Clark

Sanford Clark & Lee Hazlewood on video – induction into the Arizona Music & Entertainment Hall of Fame

Sanford Clark biography (iTunes)

 

Sanford Clark poster

 

ONE HIT WONDERS ON TOPPERMOST
#1 Jody Reynolds, #2 James Ray, #3 Richie Barrett, #4 Mickey & Sylvia, #5 Scott McKenzie, #6 Blue, #7 Chris Kenner, #8 Dawn Penn, #9 Shep and the Limelites, #10 The Poni-Tails, #11 The La’s, #12 Thomas Wayne, #13 Don Gardner & Dee Dee Ford, #14 Carl Mann, #15 Duncan Browne, #16 Harold Dorman, #17 Ned Miller, #18 Gary Shearston, #19 The Fendermen, #20 Jimmy Radcliffe, #21 Joe Dolce, #22 Sanford Clark

Dave Stephens is the author of two books on popular music. His first, “RocknRoll”, is described by one reviewer as “probably the most useful single source of information on 50s & 60s music I’ve come across”. Dave followed this up with “London Rocks” in 2016, an analysis of the early years of the London (American) record label in the UK. You can follow him on Twitter @DangerousDaveXX

Read the Toppermosts of some of the other artists mentioned in this post:
Johnny Ace, Johnny Cash, Eddie Cochran, Duane Eddy, Buddy Holly, Howlin’ Wolf, Waylon Jennings, Rick Nelson, Elvis Presley

TopperPost #754

1 Comment

  1. Andrew Shields
    Dec 1, 2018

    Dave, thanks for introducing me to an artist – who I have to admit – I knew very little about before reading this. What a great record ‘The Fool’ is. Thanks again.

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