Jack Scott

TrackSingle
Baby, She's GoneABC-Paramount 45-9818
My True LoveCarlton 462
LeroyCarlton 462
With Your LoveCarlton 483
Goodbye BabyCarlton 493
The Way I WalkCarlton 514
MidgieCarlton 514
What In The World's Come Over YouTop Rank International RA-2028
Oh, Little OneTop Rank International RA-2041
Sad StoryCapitol 4796

Jack Scott photo 1

Jack Scott

 

 

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Jack Scott playlist

 

Jack Scott and the Chantones

Jack Scott and the Chantones

 

Contributor: Dave Stephens

Rock‘n’roll ballads might well have seemed an oxymoron to me in the second half of the fifties, that’s if I’d heard the word before, which I hadn’t. I had the totally simplistic view that rock was going to replace ballads, a term that I used in a broad-brush manner to describe all popular music that had been around before the likes of Bill Haley (yes, him), Elvis Presley and particularly, Little Richard. The first guy who really registered with me as a rock balladeer – though he wasn’t strictly the first (see Footnotes) – was Jack Scott in ’58 with My True Love closely followed by Conway Twitty the same year with It’s Only Make Believe. And the fact that Scott was just as likely to drop a greasy rocker on us only enhanced his street cred.

Scott had a number of things going for him:

* A strong and distinctive voice which was particularly mellifluous in the bass register.

* An ability to write songs that was almost unparalleled in the early white rock‘n’roll era. Holly is the only other major artist to come to mind though Berry is a better comparison from the other side of the tracks. While he didn’t have Chuck’s widescreen view of American culture, his powers of observation and ability to turn a phrase often served Jack well and ensured surprises like “She’s not too keen / just a teen / sometimes works on a sewing-machine.”

* His 1956 backing group, Stan Getz and the Tom Cats – no relation to the jazz sax player – stuck with him through all the Carlton records and the first few Top Rank International ones – they left after Burning Bridges. Thus a certain rawness in delivery stayed with Jack throughout the years generally agreed to be the peak of the rock and roll era.

* The delay in switching to a major label – Capitol in Spring ’61 – gave Jack more control over his output. There was clearly empathy with Joe Carlton, founder and hands-on producer at Carlton Records, and things didn’t change all that much at Top Rank where Jack worked with A&R Man Sonny Lester. At Capitol though, according to Jack, “The producer would say, ‘Jack, this is a great song, let’s do it.’ They sort of twisted my arm.” (source: 2018 interview with Scott entitled “Jack Scott: A Struggle With Stardom”)

He was born, Giovanni Domenico Scafone Jr. in Windsor, Ontario on 24th January 1936. The family moved across the river to Hazel Park, a suburb of Detroit, Michigan, when Jack was ten. His father taught him how to play guitar and he grew up within a culture of country and hillbilly music. He formed his first band, the Southern Drifters, at the age of 18. In 1957, after recording some acetates at Universal Sound Studios in Detroit, he won a solo recording contract with ABC Paramount (after a name change to Jack Scott). A couple of singles were released – Baby She’s Gone/You Can Bet Your Bottom Dollar and Two Timin’ Woman/I Need Your Love – which sold well locally but didn’t trouble the national charts.

Which calls for a pause for a listen to both sides of that first disc. This is Baby She’s Gone:

And while you can hear faint links to the Presley version of the early Drifters’ record, Money Honey, the record still stands up very well as an excellent debut with both Jack himself and the band competing for the starring role. The latter consisted of Stan Getz on upright bass, Dave Rohiller – who gets two breaks – on particularly striking guitar and Dominic Scafone on in-your-face drums plus Jack himself on rhythm guitar. The flip, You Can Bet Your Bottom Dollar, was a loping country-ish ballad. While there were still some components missing, this twosome, both in its nature i.e. the rocker/ballad pairing, and the content which featured the minimalist approach to arrangement with rhythm guitar so much to the fore that Jack sounded almost solo for much of the ballad side.

Enter Joe Carlton. He had previously been Head of A&R for the mighty RCA. He formed Carlton Records in New York in 1957. No doubt like most label owners at the time, he would have been on the lookout for another Elvis, the man who had seemingly single-handedly shaken up the whole US recording industry. The fact that Presley had moved from tiny indie Sun to RCA might have added some poignancy to such a search for Joe.

Meanwhile, Jack and the boys, whose records had done very nicely locally but not beyond so ABC had let them go, were wanting to find a new label. They’d beefed things up a bit by adding a sax player (George Kazakas) plus a vocal group. The latter came into play because Jack felt his sound needed something extra, something akin to what the Jordanaires provided for Elvis at RCA. According to Michigan Rock and Roll Legends on Jack, “A friend gave him the phone number of a vocal group from his hometown of Windsor called the Chantones. Although the group was not as smooth and subtle as the Jordanaires, the Chantones turned out to be the missing ingredient in the recorded sound Jack was looking for.” They would go on to be an omnipresence on Jack’s records for years.

Jack and his expanded group recorded several demos which included the first appearance of My True Love plus a number with the title Greaseball which, as every true Scott fan will know, was the first iteration of Leroy. And you’re probably ahead of me with the rest: Joe Carlton got to hear those demos and signed Jack to the new label. That particular pair of tracks formed the first single release for Jack on Carlton, with one change in that Joe, who might have been ahead of his time, saw ‘greaseball’ as a distinctly non-PC term – it could have been seen as offensive to those of latin origin – and asked for a rewrite. According to Michigan Rock and Roll Legends, Jack found inspiration in the toilet at the studio loo. Apparently “Leroy was here” was scrawled on its wall.

But

“It was his ballads that marked Jack Scott’s unique contribution to rock’n’roll. They were the slowest, heaviest, gutsiest ballads ever recorded.”

That’s what the Rockabilly Hall Of Fame said about Jack’s slowies and My True Love was the first one the world heard. A simple paean to his lady, the good old doo wop progression, the Chantones chanting the title (apologies for the pun but there was a certain inevitability about it) and Jack thanking his Lord for sending him “an angel from Heaven above”. This could have been among the worst of teen ballads but somehow that very direct delivery connected with people. The writer of the Rockabilly Hall Of Fame biography went on to say, “the acoustic guitar had a presence that made it sound as though your ear was pressed close to the body of the instrument itself.” Praise be to Joe Carlton, his recording engineer, the Chantones and Stan Getz’s boys; they delivered Jack’s vision and it resonated. It had presence.

The Wiki entry on the song is even more minimalist than some of Jack’s records. Its entire text reads:

“”My True Love” is a popular song written and recorded by Jack Scott in 1958. The single was released on the Carlton label and reached number three on the Billboard Hot 100 on August 18, 1958. It became a gold record.”

The accompanying table shows the record having hit #9 in the UK, #1 in Canada and #2 in Italy (Hit Parade Italia).

Leroy was originally the A-side to My True Love and Jack had even been on American Bandstand and done the lip-synching thing but a DJ in Cincinnati decided to start playing My True Love and maybe changed Jack’s career in the process. Not that Leroy did badly; it plateaued at #11 in the Hot 100 which was still a highly creditable performance for what was effectively a debut disc. Though thematically it might have born some resemblance to Jailhouse Rock – the chorus started “Leroy’s back in jail again” – it was a fine rocker in its own right with Jack not indulging in any overt Presleyisms. What’s more he also displayed a sense of humour which, outside of the Coasters, was rarely found in fifties rock. Verse 3 ran:

Now, Leroy says man, you tried the best
Man, I’m here gonna take a rest
I’ve seen Minny, she’s got the blues
She let you wear my long pointed shoes

Once again the band and the Chantones support Jack superbly. The instrumental break is something wondrous to behold: the guitarist kicks it off, frantically hitting the high treble string pairs ‘til he’s elbowed aside by the sax player who really really wants, no, NEEDS, his share of the limelight.

There were more ballads. Of course. You wouldn’t expect either Jack or Joe to kick a seeming gift horse in the mouth. But there was sufficient variation to make them appealing and Jack sounded natural not strait-jacketed into a mode of delivery he didn’t want. With Your Love was the immediate follow-up to My True Love and while it covered the same broad theme lyrically – “cause you were meant for me” – it had a different but still minimalist chord sequence and was even slower and deeper than My True Love. It was the kind of record which caused critics to reach for words like “brooding” and “introspective”.

That record only made #28 in the US Chart but a later ballad, What In The World’s Come Over You, hit the top five (and only just missed out on the top ten in the UK). Either it was the more inventive melody line or the introduction of pathos, or even Jack looking suitably doleful as he plugged the song on telly, which was responsible for its success.

But I shouldn’t give the impression that Jack & Joe were intending to ignore the man’s fast rockers. Geraldine, which was on the flip of With Your Love, had plenty of the attack of Leroy plus an obsession from the narrator with the named lady – “the cutest girl I’ve ever seen”. I counted the mentions of Geraldine by both Jack & the Chantones and it came to 96 not including the fade. I know I’ve already used the word ‘minimalist’ a few times in this doc, mainly in association with Jack’s approach to music but I’m going for it again to describe his lyrical style on this little bopper.

Jack was actually rather keen on ladies’ names – Little Sadie, Patsy, Lucille, Baby Marie and Bella all appeared over the next few years –and the best of the bunch for me was 1959’s Midgie, an easy rolling rocker with the punchline “Midgie’s got herself another man” implying an element of blues even if of a somewhat cartoonish nature. Jack didn’t stint on the words this time. Long Tall Lee and Terrifyin’ Sam both made a showing and one verse ran:

We stood there looking into each other’s eyes
Then all at once to my surprise
We heard a little bell
She said what’s that sound?
Let’s go home baby ‘cause it’s the milkman

(Rather surprisingly Jack didn’t complete the last rhyme and make it “milkman’s round”.)

If I’ve implied that there was a yin and yang to Jack’s music, switching between very slow and sometimes tearful ballads and rockers which, in their usage of novelty lyrics and the Chantones interjections, might well have owed something to records from the Coasters beaming in from Leiber & Stoller land, that’s because I haven’t yet jotted down a representative overall view of Jack’s music in the late fifties through to the early sixties. Record #3 from his Carlton period departed totally from the approach described above. The A-side, Save My Soul, was a spiritual written by Jack (as the vast majority of his Carlton ones were) and it’s a good example of its genre with the Chantones probably reaching back to early church training. Whether there was ever any serious expectation of chart success, who knows, but it was another record that the DJs flipped resulting in another top ten entry for Jack. The song was Goodbye Baby and while that title might have implied a ballad, it wasn’t. If I had to label it, I’d call it slow to medium tempo rock which, like Geraldine, makes strong usage of lyrical repetition but this time to evoke the agony of leaving. Subtle changes in that parting line plus the late introduction of melodic variation to an otherwise largely two chord pattern help to make this record something special.

The Way I Walk was another slow to medium one, with that rhythm guitar again dominating the intro. However, the mood on this was totally different with Jack in a seriously randy mood which becomes clear both from the lyrics and his ‘commentary’ over the Chantones during their vocal break. A deliciously greasy slow rocker (which just happened to be paired with Midgie giving us a great double A-sider).

The way I walk is just the way I walk
The way I talk is just the way I talk
The way I smile is just the way I smile
Touch me baby, and I’ll go hog wild!

You kinda knew what he was getting at.

Jack’s label switches – he moved to Top Rank International in late ’59 and then, as already noted, Capitol in Spring 1961 – helped to accelerate the process of dilution, disguise and eventually disintegration which was the industry norm for rockers in the timeframe (or those that stayed alive to be more precise). His first Top Rank release coupled What In The World’s Come Over You with a decent semi-rocker in Baby Baby. However, Top Rank single #2 was something different: a slow country weepie called Burning Bridges written by a gent called Walter Scott (for whom it was his main claim to fame). The arrangement included strings, albeit discrete ones, pedal steel and a femme chorus representing a major move away from the Jack Scott sound. It sold very well but was his last single to hit the top ten – no subsequent record from Jack got higher than #38 (source: Wiki) – and it was a good record in a style that would later be termed the ‘Nashville Sound’. But it wasn’t a Jack Scott record.

However, we were in luck on the flip. Oh, Little One (which according to 45cat was originally the A-side) was penned by Jack and it was another song and performance that combined to produce a near uncategorisable whole; moody teen ballad is about the best I can come up with but that doesn’t do the record any favours. There might have been a slight element of Ricky Nelson present or perhaps even Roy Orbison though I should add that the latter’s big breakthrough with Only The Lonely was still a couple of months or so further down the track.

However, critical though I am about what initially Top Rank and then Capitol did to the Scott sound – and remember that Stan Getz and the Tom Cats disappeared back to Detroit after Burning Bridges/Oh, Little One – every now and again Jack did show that he could more than compete in the soft rock cum teen pop marketplace. His penultimate Top Rank single, Patsy, fitted that description to a tee, with strings hitting you hard from the outset, but underneath all the icing there was an almost raunchy bluesy stroll. It was the sort of thing that one Bobby Darin was hitting the charts with in the timeframe and Jack’s Patsy was easily up there with the Darin records in terms of appeal. Unfortunately for Jack though, he was no longer flavour of the month.

Better still, to these ears, was a single released just over a year into Jack’s Capitol period. The number was entitled Sad Story and we were in luck this time in that it was what was fast becoming a rare thing, a Scott composition. How best to describe it? Think of the occasional Sun single from say, Warren Smith, or the more obscure Tracy Pendarvis, which managed to blur together country, rockabilly and teen pop. Such singles rarely hit the charts but they’ve made elderly folk like myself tingle with pleasure when we’ve come across them. I wouldn’t dream of pretending that I was aware of Sad Story prior to embarking on this exercise. Like certain other British Scott fans, I turned off with Burning Bridges but what a great track to discover. Good on you Jack.

Which pretty well brings me to the end but I must report that Jack is still alive and looking and sounding well as of August this year (see below).

Another famous Detroit resident, Berry Gordy, has gone on record as saying that Jack “started it all for Detroit” and he offered him a contract at Motown in 1963. Jack turned him down stating that there was a gulf between their music. Instead he went to RCA but Chet Atkins was unsure how to market him and nothing of great note ensued.

John Peel was a big fan and, in May 1977, recorded one of his Peel Sessions with him. During the same timeframe Jack appeared at a concert in London along with Charlie Feathers, Warren Smith and Buddy Knox and, needless to say, acquitted himself well. It was recorded under the title Four Legends Of Rock ‘n’ Roll. I bought it when it came out mainly for the Feathers’ content but it was Scott who left the biggest impression.

Memories can be short. Jack Scott is the least well-remembered of any of the big fifties rockers and that word “big” is there for a reason: Jack had more hits than most of his peers and plenty of talent to match the other guys, still has in fact. Check out the clip below; it’s Part 2 of a concert filmed in Warren, Michigan this year with Jack, still a mere stripling at the age of 82. The Way I Walk is the set closer at approximately 20 minutes in.

Keep on walking that walk, Jack.

 

 

Jack Scott photo 2

Jack Scott

FOOTNOTES

1. My opening sentence is a paraphrasing of the opening to the section on Rock Ballads in “RocknRoll”. This is the complete paragraph:

“One feels in a way that the term rock ballad, or rock-a-ballad as it was sometimes known, ought to be an oxymoron since ballads were largely what was in the pop charts prior to the emergence of rock’n’roll and the two forms of music were in competition. That is partially true but what it also points out, is the apparent hunger of the record buying public for ballads, which record companies were still going to want to make money out of one way or another. The statement also tends to over simplify the rock artists themselves. There were certainly some who quite fancied themselves smouldering on ballads, and the more dramatic, the better. Presley has to be the key example. Oft quoted as wanting to sing like Dean Martin, he and/or his handlers managed to fit a country ballad “I Forgot To Remember To Forget” onto the flip side of his fifth Sun single. The number was pretty well straight country but with a stronger beat. Another song that was important in the early development of the rock ballad sound was “Trying To Get To You” also recorded while the man was at Sun but not released until the move to RCA. On this one the blues emphasis was much stronger helped considerably by some fierce guitar work from Scotty Moore.”

In the next para I state “Slow doo wop was a major influence on the rock ballad sound in general. The Platters’ “Only You” was highly influential but it was just one of the better known examples of its type.” It’s unlikely that Jack wouldn’t have heard such records in his late teens and it was as much this sort of sound as that of the Jordanaires, that he was trying to emulate on numbers like My True Love.

2. Carlton Records was founded by Joe Carlton in 1957 but only lasted until 1964 when the label went bankrupt. Artists on the label in addition to Jack included Anita Bryant and Paul Evans.

3. Top Rank International was owned by the British Rank organisation, famed more for films than records. While its head office was in London it also operated in France, Germany, Scandinavia, Japan and the US. Its short life ran from early 1959 to April 1962.

4. I have appended words on the Doo Wop Progression in at least one other Toppermost but rather than repeat them I’m offering below some of the explanation you get from Wiki who use the alternative title of ‘50s Progression.

“The ’50s progression is a chord progression and turnaround used in Western popular music. The progression, represented in Roman numeral analysis is: I–vi–IV–V. For example, in C major: C–Am–F–G. As the name implies, it was common in the 1950s and early 1960s and is particularly associated with doo wop.”

The writer goes on to say that the first song to use the progression extensively might have been Blue Moon written by Rodgers and Hart in 1934. The progression became popular with black vocal groups from the early fifties onwards due to the ease of being able to put a variety of melody lines plus harmonies and extemporisation over the basic chordal structure.

5. I have used the word rockabilly sparingly in the main text and there’s a reason for that. Jack’s debt to the genre as pioneered by Elvis Presley, Scotty & Bill with a little help perhaps from Carl Perkins was less than many of his peers. Both Holly and Vincent started out using the Presley model but moved on within a year or so. By the time of his first Carlton recording, Scott had already moved on. What differentiated his records from typical rockabilly was primarily the presence of the Chantones. I’ve already intimated that the group might not have been as smooth as the Jordanaires but smoothness wasn’t usually the first quality you’d be looking for in a rock vocal group, and their echoing and amplifying Jack’s vocal mood creation was a key differentiator on the Scott records. I hasten to add though, that I don’t have a real issue with such labelling: it’s all rock and roll (but I like it).

6. A fact that didn’t find its way into the main text: Jack was one of the earliest artists to put out a cover of Chuck Willis’s proto-soul number, What Am I Living For. It was recorded before he left Carlton i.e. prior to December 1959 but only saw release (on the Carlton subsidiary label, Guaranteed) in June 1960 after his first two Top Rank singles. He beat Ray Charles, Percy Sledge, Kitty Wells, the Everlys, the Animals, Solomon Burke and Van Morrison in terms of timing and I have a strong feeling that it was via his version that I first heard the song.

7. I stumbled over a live (audio only) version of Duane Eddy’s Rebel Rouser from Jack in 1961, complete with vocal. It seemed a suitable closer:

 

 

Jack Scott: Rockabilly Hall of Fame

Jack Scott: Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame

Jack Scott at 45cat

Jack Scott on Discogs

The Chantones on the fabulous Doo-Wop website

Jack Scott biography (Apple Music)

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:
Chuck Berry, The Coasters, Bobby Darin, Charlie Feathers, Little Richard, Carl Mann, Tracy Pendarvis, Elvis Presley, Warren Smith, Chuck Willis

TopperPost #757

3 Comments

  1. Andrew Shields
    Dec 22, 2018

    Dave, thanks for introducing me to yet another fine artist. Knew ‘The Way I Walk’ from The Cramps’ version, but had never heard the original. It is excellent and will now delve deeper into his other work. Thanks again.

  2. Alex Lifson
    Dec 22, 2018

    Great piece as always. I was a bit young for him during his heyday. However, I discovered him years later on Sunday Oldies radio shows where he was amply played, to satisfy Cancon requirements. Not one I would have taken to immediately but I can appreciate him now, in hindsight.

    • Dave Stephens
      Dec 23, 2018

      Andrew & Alex, thanks for your comments and Happy Christmas. Like several others I’ve written about, Jack is largely forgotten now but he had more than 15 minutes in the spotlight and shone brighter than a load of better known names.

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