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Top Of The Pops?

And now for the final installment on Big Daddy’s “Adventures in England”…
Just as we were preparing to head back to the US from our first tour of the UK in February of 1985, Our record label there (Making Waves) hinted that we might need to return very shortly to appear on “Top of the Pops.”
For those of you not familiar with this BBC-TV show, “Top of the Pops” was THE music show in the UK. Starting in 1964, with the explosive British Invasion on the worldwide music scene, this show had the power to make or break a musical act with a single appearance. Everyone from The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix, The Bee Gees, Stevie Wonder and countless other acts were on “Top of the Pops.” We knew that if we were invited to appear, it could easily make our then top 20 hit into a top 10 smash.
The decision about the featured musical acts – and they was always to perform live – was made just a day or so in advance of the show, which meant we would need to be back in the UK.  Confident in our inside track to that golden TV opportunity, and also sought by Making Waves for an MTV-type promotional video shoot in London (for “Dancing In The Dark”), after a week back home in sunny Southern California, we were off again “across the pond.”
We flew back in an early March that offered no snow on the ground, and were welcomed, once again, three to a room, in our same old Hampstead flat.  With the many friends made in our previous trip and our favorite neighborhood hang between shows and interviews, the restaurant “Farquaharsens,” we felt quite at home.
Then, the sky fell with crushing disappointment.  Right on the excited heals of being selected to perform on “Top of the Pops,” just like that, we were bumped in favor of another band.  A major bummer to say the least! However, we re-focused our efforts in preparing for the promotional video of “Dancing In The Dark,” which included several planning meetings with the crew.
It was one very long day in Harlesden, a community of London.  Filming took place in and around the nightclub “The Mean Fiddler,” starting around 5 or 6 am with make-up and wardrobe.  The producers had hired a cast of snooty actresses (see photo from the shoot in upper left) dressed up in 1950’s garb and a fleet of iconic American 50’s cars.  That same evening, we were back to perform at the “The Mean Fiddler,” as we had in our first tour, to end the shoot with the filming of our live show – to a sold-out audience.
Many of us, myself included, were very apprehensive about the video (as is customary, video budgets are an advance to be repaid out of royalties from record sales).  Our suspicions were based on many factors, including the background and experience of the video team, which consisted mainly of producing educational films, not music videos.  The project’s story line was also very cumbersome, trying somehow to integrate detailed visual elements with the lyrics of the Bruce Springsteen penned song.
After the full day’s shoot, there we were, dog-tired, trying to muster up energy for the evening’s show. Fortunately, as often happens, the rush of the set up and sound check grabbed us, and we were off!  As with all of our live shows in the UK, the evening was christened with the royal arrival of the “King,” Dave Taylor, yelling at his girlfriend: “Tina hurry up already…over here!”  As usual, she was pushing his acoustic piano through the nightclub and lifting it up on the stage — all by herself!!  Dave would then take half a bottle of baby powder and sprinkle it over the piano keys so he could execute his amazing Jerry Lee Lewis sweeps just right.
The show went well and we were on our third encore when the film crew’s director yelled out: “We need a few more pick-ups on “Dancing In The Dark.”  With the excitement of the audience already peaked, we were required to perform the song’s ending sequence over and over again for the video, thereby, succeeding in killing most of the audience’s excitement by the time we left the stage.
We continued to do radio and print interviews and then about three days later we saw the fruits of our labors, a rough cut of the video…and it was HORRIBLE!  The look, the story, the staging everything was just awful.  It was a bitter double pill to swallow after being bumped from “Top of the Pops.”
A few weeks later our fears about the “Dancing In The Dark” video were confirmed when it was critiqued on BBC-TV by Kevin Godley and Lol Creme from the band 10cc.  They were also very well respected video producers who had directed projects with The Police and Peter Gabriel.  Their critique on our video was short and not so sweet, with a summation that “the video looks like it was directed by Stevie Wonder.”…Well, enough said.
-So there you have it, the three-part story on the Big Daddy tours of the UK in 1985.  Lest you think it ended on a sour note, in retrospect, we will always have the great moments, memories and a top 20 national hit.  Looking back, I’ll take that anytime!   …Lightnin’ Bob

Jammin' With Duane Eddy

“Bubba”  (Tom Lee)  with a few notes about a wonderful experience…
I remember my first introduction to Duane Eddy as an  8 year old  kid, living in Detroit.  I was sick,  home from school listening to my big brother’s records in bed .   I  heard  Rick Nelson’s “Hello, Mary Lou”,  Jimmy Jones  “Handy Man”,  and  Duane Eddy’s  “Rebel Rouser”, and had to listen to them over & over again.   I knew nothing about production, and couldn’t begin to imagine how on earth they came up with that sound… but something wonderful was there to love, and it stuck with me.   A  few years later I had a Gibson LG-1 with a pick up, & a Gibson Falcon amp with reverb & tremolo.  The lights went on, and “Rebel Rouser”  was  the  first instrumental I learned.
Moving the hands of the Rock Clock forward 20 some years put me in Lake Tahoe, performing as a member of  Big Daddy at Ceasar’s Palace.  The fact  that Duane Eddy had come to hear us was such an honor, and we were all just floored.    After the show, Duane told us he liked the show, and that lifted us up to Cloud 9.
Duane & Deed , his lovely wife, graciously invited me to their home the next day, and I was given a  tour of one of the coolest houses I’d ever been in.  As I recall, there must have been about 20 guitars stored in their cases, and I believe a few on stands.  What blew me away is when Duane handed me a guitar & asked me to play something.   Talk about being  on the spot!   Good Lord, what does a mediocre guitarist play in the presence of one who wrote music history?
We played “Rebel Rouser”, which was a kick!  I decided to play a nicely arranged original song of mine called “Fool”.   Duane picked up a guitar and played the most beautiful counter part on the first listen… perfectly.
Guitarists of this caliper play from their soul, and notes flow spontaneously.   The second time around something completely different comes out…just as beautiful.
What stands out in my memory of Duane Eddy the most is his genuine, warm, friendly manner.   He is “Classic” … just like his music.
Album Photo By The Late Tom Bert

The Land Down Under

In 1987, Big Daddy traveled to Sydney, Australia. The month was January, which put us right in the middle of summertime half way across the world. We left a cold and rainy Los Angeles and landed in a warm and sunny land very far away. How fantastic! We were to stay there for two months and perform 6 nights a week at a very popular theatre called Kinsellas, right in the heart of the Kings Cross. Before we left Los Angeles, we recorded a demo of Colin Hay’s hit song “The Land Down Under”. We arranged it to the old Drifters record “Under The Boardwalk”. We took the demo with us just in case we could get some radio play and maybe even get a record execs ear to have a listen. The six nights a week got our show very tight and we were gradually building a following. Making new friends was easy as the people I found to be very real and very hospitable. They took us for boat rides and dinner parties on our one day off a week. Tom (Bubba) took the initiative one day and played our demo record “The Land Down Under” for the president of Virgin Records in Sydney. How he got that meeting…I’m still amazed. Anyways, he loved it and wanted to release it. We were with Rhino Records at the time, so we had to work out a deal with them to release the record under the Virgin label. Being a demo, we had to wait till we traveled back to America to make the master. But that was great news and man the trip really was shaping up! Thanks, Bubba!

Down to our last week and the idea of going back to the States was making me a little sad. Being there so long, all the crew at Kinsella’s Theatre and making all those new friends, it was a very sad goodbye. I loved the pace of life there, it was like being back in the 1950’s. And you know how much I like the 50’s. When we left I was positive we would be back there within the year and support our new record, but that never happened. When we finally released the record, it was in the middle of their centennial celebration and there must have been a million songs being played with the land down under theme and ours was just another song. Bad timing I guess. I don’t know if I’ll ever get back there, but I know there will always be a little kangaroo in me forever.
-Donny D

Gone But Not Forgotten

Sunburst Recording, Established 1983 – Closed 2014. Homebase for Big Daddy and many others. Over the years Sunburst’s clients included Vince Gill, Albert Lee, Steve Allen, David Hildalgo, Freddie Cannon, Lou Christie, Mickey Dolenz, Richie Havens, Darlene Love, Firesign Theater, Lily Tomlin, George Carlin, Adam Sandler… and the list goes on… Thirty years of recording music, spoken word, and even an exorcism… or so they say. Bob Wayne – owner, director, engineer, and Lame’ clad member of Big Daddy – opened Sunburst some thirty years ago serving the needs of the Southern California music community for all that time. All of Big Daddy’s albums were recorded there. Ironically, our first album “What Really Happened To The Band Of ’59” was the first album to be recorded at Sunburst and our most recent “Smashing Songs Of Stage & Screen” was the last… Bookends to one of the great success stories in this business of music.
Now, though the doors to the studio may be locked, and the signs taken down, Sunburst Recording continues as Bob still produces and engineers projects at other facilities, and continues both private and University archiving projects, and, of course, continues as always… as Lame’ clad “Lightnin’ Bob” of Big Daddy.
Check out Sunburst Recording at www.sunburstrecording.com

- Marty “the K”

Big Daddy Meets Duane Eddy

Lightnin’ Bob here with a Big Daddy “Blast From The Past”…
The year was 1986 and we were in the heyday of our “casino touring years.” The current stint was at Caesars Tahoe (now known as The Montbleu Resort) in Lake Tahoe California. We got word that on this particular night, Duane Eddy, one of our major musical influences might be in the audience to see our show!
The band was very excited about this and we made sure that our Duane Eddy inspired version of “Star Wars” (from “What Really Happened To The Band Of ’59”) would be in that nights set list. What an honor to play for the man who revolutionized the sound of 50’s electric guitar with such incredible recordings as “Rebel Rouser,” “Forty Miles Of Bad Road” and “Because They’re Young” amongst many other classics.
Just before we went on stage, we got official word that Duane was seated in the showroom and that it was OK to announce to the audience that he was there.  Duane must have liked what he heard as, after our show, he made it a point of visiting us backstage. We discussed music and his long career as one of the founding fathers of the electric guitar. What an amazing night for us …the photo above, taken that night, appeared in The Duane Eddy Circle international fan club magazine shortly thereafter.
The next day, Duane invited Big Daddy’s Tom Bubba Lee (who had made the initial contact with Duane) to visit him at his Lake Tahoe home.  Tom chronicles the visit in next week’s blog…“Jammin’ With Duane Eddy”

Big Daddy Hits The Top 20 In England!

“How ‘bout a beer mates?”, yelled Dave Taylor, our UK piano man.  We were on the way back to London from a TV appearance in Birmingham in February of 1985.  The show was Pebble Mill at One, the second stop on the tour (after Whistle Test).   True to its name, the live afternoon variety program — similar to the old Mike Douglas or Merv Griffin Show(s) here in the states — aired live at 1 pm.
That morning, we picked Dave up on our way to the Pebble Mill show.  He was wearing an extra large trench coat over his jacket, which seemed quite peculiar.  The coat didn’t make sense until much later that day.
Our two-song set went well: “I Write the Songs,” & “Bette Davis Eyes” and then we were off to the green room lounge to relax before the long ride back to London.  This is when Dave and his trench coat went into action.  Quietly walking up to a well-stocked refrigerator, he started removing beers and stashing them in his coat.
Heading home in the touring van, Dave started to remove the beers and offer them around.  However, most of us, dog tired from the days’ performance, politely declined; a few made their way around.  Dave then started talking about his “hobby”…drinking!  “Lots ‘o guys like sports or chasing women or gambling….I like to drink, that’s my hobby…drinking” he said.  With one beer after another dispensed from his trench coat’s various pockets, Dave proved his point.  By the time we got back to London that evening, he must have consumed a dozen or so beers, seemingly without much trouble. Ahh…life on the road!
As the tour progressed, “Dancing In The Dark” was released as a single…well, actually it was a four-song, 7” vinyl EP, but “Dancing…” was the cut getting almost all of the airplay, eventually climbing up the British national charts and onto the top twenty in March of 1985. Busy every day, we became experts at riding the Underground, or “The Tube” as the locals called it, a subway system, which seemed to go anywhere and everywhere in London. Guest appearances on additional TV shows also included The Kenny Everett Show and Sky Channel-UK, which were both filmed in London, and Razzmatazz in Newcastle….where that great beer comes from!
We also performed live at a number of clubs in and around London and had a very successful live remote recording from Dingwalls aired by Capital-FM, one of London’s most popular radio stations. The rest of the time, we were busy riding “The Tube” to and from radio and print interviews with some of the largest media companies in the UK, such as BBC Radio and Melody Maker magazine.  In the near future, we will post some of these articles on bigdaddy59.com and also upload audio from portions of the radio programs that we were interviewed on.
During our limited free time, we sampled the local culture and pubs (lots of great Indian food, which is about the only decent thing to eat in England except for maybe fish & chips and, of course, chocolate), and did some sightseeing – Gary Hoffman and I crossed the English Channel in a hovercraft to visit Paris for a few days. One evening, Marty and I spent time with Monty Python’s Graham Chapman, who was represented by an attorney that we knew at the time.  Graham had an amazing home directly across the street from London’s premiere park, The Hamstead Heath, where we were invited over for…yes, you guessed it…Tea! To say that Graham was quiet was a major understatement.  We tried to make conversation but he just sat there quietly resulting in two hours of awkwardness.  Amazing, he told the attorney (Gary Stambler) that he had a great time with us!
The UK saw Big Daddy twice in 1985.  The group returned in March for a shorter visit, in hopes of a performance opportunity on the granddaddy of all UK-TV music shows …Top of The Pops.  More on that and the making of the “Dancing In The Dark” music video in the next (and last) installment of our UK tour adventures.

Big Daddy Hits The Road In The UK...Part 1

Our first album “What Really Happened To The Band Of ’59” had already peaked here in the US when we got word from Rhino in 1984 that a small record label in England – “Making Waves” – was interested in releasing the album in the UK.
We had experienced a few false alarms about foreign releases of the LP in the past, but this offer appeared to be different.  Making Waves, a new label run by well known English Blues guitarist Barry Martin from the Kursaal Flyers, was willing to fly us over to promote the album with national TV appearances, radio interviews and live shows including the legendary Dingwalls in Central London. The record would also be distributed by EMI in the UK.  Arrangements were made and in early 1985, we were off on what would turn out to be an amazing adventure.
Flying into Gatwick International in February, 1985 on the heels of a major snowstorm and seeing London covered in two feet of snow was quite a wonderful sight – that was until we arrived at our flat in the Hamstead area of North London.  There we were, in the middle of the night after a ten hour plane ride, having to cart all of our heavy band gear up two flights of stairs with the first flight being outdoors and completely covered in a thick sheet of slippery ice and snow!
Early the next morning we were off to the Nomis Rehearsal Studios to meet with two session musicians that had been selected by the UK label to augment the band on tour.  (We could only take six of our eight members to England due to cost constraints and labor laws at the time.)  After one very long rehearsal with saxophonist Nick Pentelow (later with B.B. King, Elton John and Bill Wyman’s Rhythm Kings) and piano man Dave Taylor (a well known Boogie Woogie & Rockabilly recording artist in England and Finland), we were ready for a live BBC-TV performance that very night.
The first program we appeared on was “(Old Grey) Whistle Test” on February 12th.  We were following some pretty famous acts that had performed on that show over the years including John Lennon, Billy Joel and Bob Marley.
The show’s producer at the time, Trevor Dan, had us scheduled to perform two songs live and wanted to make a last minute change.  The first single on Making Waves was “I Write The Songs” but was bumped in favor of “Dancing In The Dark”, a bonus cut (from the UK cassette release of the album), that we had recorded for our then unreleased second Rhino album “Meanwhile Back In The States”.
Trevor had legendary “ears” and felt strongly that our version of the Bruce Springsteen penned “Dancing In The Dark” had hit potential and wanted it on the show along with our Little Richard inspired “Ebony & Ivory”.  He was “spot on” as the next installment of this journey will attest to.
   In a future installment…”Dancing In The Dark” hits the national charts in the UK!

At My Place, Home Base For Big Daddy (1983 - 1994)

Having finished the first Big Daddy album in late 1982, and looking for a home base nightclub in the Los Angeles area, a fairly new spot came to mind in Santa Monica… At My Place.
I had been there a few times since it opened in 1981 and was intrigued by its unique format: featured musical acts with opening comedians.  Billy (Vera) & The Beaters were tearing up a storm on weekends to sold-out audiences; once I saw their show, I immediately knew why.
Billy was a great performer and was backed by an amazing horn band with four saxophones!  The closest thing I could compare it to was seeing Fats Domino in Las Vegas…”Fats” also traveled with a large – all saxophone – horn section.
Seeing The Beaters, as they were called by locals, at the club with its great sound system & stage lighting, and comfortable seating arrangement, was very exciting. The club was also set up strictly as a showroom – NO DANCE FLOOR – which played well with our vision of an ideal performance space for Big Daddy.
One day in early 1983, I stopped by At My Place in the late afternoon during that evening’s sound check.  Closed to the public at that hour, I snuck in through the back door…there was club booker and manager Matt Kramer, who I had heard about from his days promoting shows at The Troubadour in Hollywood and The Fox Venice Theatre.  He was sitting at his computer checking the schedule. I don’t think that I had ever seen a home computer in action before then!  The combination dressing room / booking office was hardly fancy, but going through the doors from there to the stage was exciting, as the showroom was so nicely laid out in terms of patron sight lines and comfort.  At the time, I had no way of knowing that we would go through those doors about 100 times on our way to the stage over the next ten years.
Matt asked who I was there to see and I quickly said, “who ever books the shows here…is that you?”  Being new to promoting the band, I fumbled into a sales pitch about Big Daddy and our soon-to-be released album on Rhino Records.  Matt, who by that time had heard it all before, asked the one question that every local booker asks and that most bands fear: “How many people do you think that you can bring in here during a weeknight?”  (Weekends were off limits as they were reserved for the bigger names of the day such as Vonda Shepard later a regular on Ally McBeal, Carl Anderson, who played Judas Iscariot in the Broadway and film versions of Jesus Christ Superstar, the then up and coming “Smooth Jazz” sax man Richard Elliott and of course, Billy (Vera) & The Beaters.)
Naturally, the next question of a club’s booker is “how much of a cover charge do you think that your crowd would pay to see you?”  Well, we had just started out with our 50’s Mash-Up concept and had only done a few gigs at one local bar in Playa Del Rey (Stern’s On The Hill) where there was no cover to get in!
It was clear that the next step in our career was to get lots of family & friends who were ready, willing and able to pay a cover charge to see us perform.  Testing the waters by talking to a number of them, we calculated that we could probably get at least 75 people in the club (which held about 185) with a cover charge of around $8.00.  This was a hopeful estimate and we were by no means confident that we could really pull it off, but having an eight-piece band really helped spread the word.
Matt was not overly impressed with our numbers.  He said that he might give us one shot at some time in the future but made no guarantees. So we waited and waited. As the album was released in early 1983 and started making some noise in the local press, we got copies of the articles over to Matt.  Our persistence paid off; finally Matt was willing to give us a shot! It was clear from my phone conversations with him that if we did not exceed our 75 person draw, we’d likely never get another chance to play there again.
So now the real work began!  We got on the phone with family and friends and started compiling a mailing list to send out postcards reminding people of our upcoming show.  At My Place did not sell tickets in advance for weekday shows, at that time, so we had to hope that enough interest in the show would get an audience there that night…It was a huge gamble that we would not know the result of until the very night of the show!
Needless to say, we were thrilled when over 100 loyal supporters showed up.  As momentum grew from there to a once-a-month Wednesday night spot,  Big Daddy became a regular fixture at the club and we could not have been happier being able to hone our craft and develop our show on the At My Place stage in front of our loyal fans.
It was an amazing experience to give mini-concerts right there in our own backyard (as most of us lived very close to the club).  Almost all of our shows sold out.  We would be greeted with an ovation every time we hit the stage and multiple encores became the norm.
Over the years, we had some very famous visitors at our shows including legendary singer/songwriter Hank Ballard (who wrote “The Twist” and had a number of other great top ten R & B hits in the 1950’s).  Hank sat in on a few numbers (see accompanying photo below from that evening in 1988).  Performing with a Rock & Roll Hall of Famer was a true honor!
There were also some great opening comedians for our shows, including Robert Wuhl (Good Morning Vietnam, Bull Durham), Michael Winslow (Sgt. Larvelle “Motor Mouth” Jones in all seven “Police Academy” movies) and Writer/Director/Comedian Robert Townsend.  Our old pal David Gee, who could do an uncanny impersonation of Jack Nicholson, would often stick around after his opening routine and introduce us in character as “Jack.”
Founding member Marty Kaniger even got married during one of our shows there in July of 1991 and the minister for the ceremonies was none other than club booker Matt Kramer.  Marty and his bride Vicki along with the entire wedding party were the featured act during a “special” second set of the evening.
But like all good things, this one came to an end when Matt left in 1992 along with his vision and passion for the club.  The room reopened shortly thereafter as Nightwinds, a predominately Jazz club.  We played there a few times (see our live version of “Baby Got Back” from 1993/ finally released on “Cruisin’ Through The Rhino Years” in 2014) but Nightwinds closed after only about a year.
The room was then remodeled and opened as American Pie, splitting up the space into a large bar and small stage for occasional music.  Unfortunately, the place was never the same and Big Daddy, along with all of the other regular acts that called this club home, did not like the new set-up.  What had made the club great had “left the building” and we all chose to take our audiences elsewhere.  Still the memories remain of what had once been an amazing place to perform.
Lightnin’ Bob, July of 2014