Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Tuesday's Twosome # 16

April 9, 1966: Billboard announces the release of a certain Tune-Tone LP (about which more in a second). Several months later, in the October 22 issue of the same year, the Billboard announcement is repeated (for whatever reasons) and the said LP was awarded a mediocre 3-star rating; the album was categorised as »popular«. After that, we hear nothing more of the said LP.

Tune-Tone LP # 121 (04/1966)
The artists featured on the said LP are Bonnie & Clem, prominently billed on the cover as »The Aero-Dynamic Singers«. I really have not the faintest idea what this was supposed to mean, and if you search for »Aero-Dynamic Singers« using the various net ressources at our disposal you'll get a mere 0 results. However, the singers are familiar enough, maybe even household names to some aficionados: Bonnie Davis and Clem (Clement) Moorman, wife and husband at this stage of their career (they divorced only several years after in the early 70's).
Bonnie Davis (this being her stage name; for the law she was Gertrude Melba Smith) was born in New Orleans and grew up in Alabama. She met pianist Clem(ent) Moorman in or around 1942 when both worked in Newark. Clem was playing at the local Piccadilly Club, forming the house band, i.e. a trio made up of himself (piano), Al Henderson (bass), and Ernie Ransome (guitar). They soon became the Piccadilly Pipers, Al Henderson was replaced by Henry Padgette, and that's how they finally encountered Bonnie Davis. Bonnie on the other hand was around Newark as a singer with saxophonist Teddy Hill's band and in 1942, when the Piccadilly Pipers were looking for a female singer, all teamed up together. Early on, they also recorded as the »Bunny Banks Trio«. Their first sessions with Savoy produced a #1 R&B hit (»Don't Stop Now«), and their follow-up records during the 1940's were likewise more or less successful. But it was only in 1949 that the group appeared officially, for the first time, as »Bonnie Davis And Clem«. -- Well, this is just a digest of a much longer and more interesting story which was researched in detail by Marv Goldberg (read it here: »The Piccadilly Pipers«). Equally informative proved a long entry at Google Answers, read it here. There, reference is also made to the study of Barbara J. Kukla: Swing City: Newark Nightlife, 1925-50, Philadelphia 1991 (I haven't checked this reference).

The Piccadilly Pipers (feat. Bonnie Davis)
The Piccadilly Pipers (feat. Bonnie Davis) recorded into the mid-50's, after which Bonnie went to Decca (the group was by then already under contract with Coral, a Decca subsidiary) and started a solo career (of sorts; Clem of the Pipers was playing piano at all her sessions). This didn't lead anywhere, and soon The Piccadilly Pipers were back in business, with changed personnel. They continued to record until the end of the 50's before they finally disbanded. Bonnie & Clem went ahead as a duo, touring supper clubs and lounges, thus sharing the fate which the merciless 1960s had in store for many late-40's/early 50's artists who had lost, it appears, touch with the younger audience, were by now lacking overall success and in any case were regarded by many as relicts of the past; musicallywise they usually offered, or were forced to offer, the somewhat outdated tunes popular in the cocktail lounge circuit which still appealed to an elderly, white middle-class public.

Publicity shots of Bonnie Davis, from the 1950's
Their Tune-Tone LP, released only in 1966 (according to Billboard; Marv Goldberg mentions the earlier date of 1964), was hopelessly outdated when it was released (at least if measuring it at what was current on the charts of the time). In fact, even the portraits of Bonnie & Clem on the cover probably date to the 1950s, as becomes apparent if comparing Bonnie's photo with some of her former publicity shots. Weirdly, the back cover of the album has no complete song list but features, among other things, two short career sketches of Bonnie and Clem and a list of places »both have appeared as a duo«. All texts on the back cover focus heavily on their TV and concert appearances and downplay their former history as »The Piccadilly Pipers«; probably the LP was meant to be sold after their stints in the various clubs. The disc labels yield the following song list:
  • A1   No Man Is An Island
  • A2   Basin Street
  • A3   The Heart Of A Fool
  • A4   You're Nobody Till Somebody Loves You
  • A5   Madeira
  • A6   All I Want Is You
  • B1   Just A Little Lovin'
  • B2   Exodus
  • B3   Capucciana
  • B4   Moonlight In Vermont
  • B5   When I Lost You
  • B6   It's Alright With Me
Several of these songs were recorded, I presume, in the years before 1966, but I cannot give any dates. »You're Nobody Till Somebody Loves You«, for example, was recorded by Bonnie & Clem in 1959 for the first time. Moreover, Clem appears as a duet partner of Bonnie in only about five songs; the rest are Bonnie solos (with Clem on the piano). The two duets which, to my mind, stand out from the rest are »All I Want Is You« and »Just A Little Lovin'«. The first tune is an original Davis-Moorman composition, exhibiting much witty playfulness and even some features of a typical novelty song; the second tune, classically romantic, is much different in mood and performance as you will easily notice ... so in between these songs we can capture the wide range of musical styles Bonnie & Clem could cover with much charm and skill:

Bonnie & Clem: »All I Want Is You« / »Just A Little Lovin'« from the Tune-Tone LP # 121 (1966):

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Anyhow, there are still two things to consider here, one biographical and the other musical.
    The biographical bit: It may not be remembered generally that Gertrude Melba Smith (aka Bonnie Davis) is the mother of known singer Melba Moore. However, the surrounding details are somewhat unclear: Both Bonnie and Clem said later that they fell in love the moment they met in Newark, that is, in 1942 at the latest. Melba was born in 1945 while Bonnie was married still to Teddy Hill (the bandleader of her for- mer engagement), and Melba was nine when Bonnie remarried Clem Moorman. So was she married before to Clem, divorced him sometime before 1945 and remarried him in c.1954? Or maybe the mention of a remarriage is a mistake and Bonnie actually married Clem for the first time in c.1954, although they had been in love for a considerable time before. Melba, in any case, later acknowledged to have been much influenced by her stepfather Clem and even took her stage name »Moore« from Clem's family name »Moorman« (while »Melba« refers, obviously, to her mother). In the July 1970 issue of Ebony (p. 31), we read the following about Melba Moore:
As a child growing up in New York and Newark, she was "turned on" to show biz by her parents, both of whom performed with a group called the Piccadilly Pipers. "I met a lot of people through them," Melba relates, "for they have a great facility for making friends wherever they go. My initial impulse was to get into nightclubs singing and playing the piano, since that's what they do, and I thought I could get started in that most easily. My brothers, my sister and I were all musically inclined and we enjoyed taking lessons. At one time I was really heavy into jazz piano."

   The musical bit: There is one song on this LP, another duet, entitled »Capucciana« (which Bonnie & Clem consistently pronounce »Capuccina«). It obviously is meant to be a funny pun on cappuccino and is partly sung in Italian, one of the myriad of pseudo-Italian songs popular in the early 1960's and impossibly kitschy for my personal taste (but well-suited to a supper club audience which presumably had often its fair share of nostalgic Italo-Americans). Now, there is no such song, really, as »Capucciana«,and the song is little more than an adaption of Nicola Arigliano's hit single »Permettete, Signorina« from 1960. The Italian parts run, in case it is of interest:

          Permettete signorina
          Vi dispiace se vi chiedo di ballar
          Non c'e' bimba piu' carina
          Che mi possa questa sera far sognar   ... ... ...
          O mia bella signorina
          Baciami ancor
          Dammi dammi un bacio
          Un lungo bacio
          E ciao ciao ciao amor!

Bonnie & Clem: »Capucciana« from the Tune-Tone LP # 121 (1966):

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