Thursday, June 17, 2010

Two Singers Pass On

Jimmy Dean

Jimmy Dean, the singer best known for the song "Big Bad John" and well known for his brand of sausages, passed on Sunday, June 13, 2010. He was 81 years old.

Jimmy Dean was born on August 10, 1928 in Plainview, Texas. Music ran in his family. It was his mother who taught him his first chord on the piano. His father taught to play the accordion and harmonica. His love of music was further developed by the Seth Ward Baptist Church outside of Plainview.

In his teens Mr. Dean dropped out of school and enlisted in the United States Air Force. It was while he was stationed at Bolling Air Force Base in Washington D.C. that he started as a professional musician, playing an accordion in a tavern. It was after Jimmy Dean left the Air Force in 1948 that he formed his band The Texas Wildcats. The band developed a strong local following in the Washington D.C. area, which led to Mr. Dean becoming the host the radio show "Town and Country" on WARL in Washington,  D.C. It was in 1953 that he had his first hit with the song "Bumming Around." Unfortunately, his record labels Four Star and Mercury did little to promote Mr. Dean, and he would not have another hit for several years. From 1957 to 1958 Mr. Dean hosted an early morning, daily  variety show, entitled The Jimmy Dean Show, on CBS.

Even with the exposure on television, Jimmy Dean had little in the way of hits in the late Fifties. His highest ranking single during the period was "Little Sandy Sleightfoot," which went to 32 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1957. The drought was broken in 1961 when his single "Big Bad John" went to #1 on the Billboard Hot 100, the Billboard Adult Contemporary, and the Billboard Country charts. Jimmy Dean would follow "Big Bad John" with more hits, including "Dear Ivan," "To a Sleeping Beauty," "PT-109," "The First Thing Ev'ry Morning (And The Last Thing Ev'ry Night)," and "Sweet Misery."

As an artist who was considered country, but who regularly hit the pop charts in the early to mid Sixties, it was natural that Jimmy Dean would receive his own weekly variety show on television. The Jimmy Dean Show debuted on ABC on September 19, 1963. Among the series' regulars was Rowlf the Dog, from The Muppets (he was the first Muppet with a spot on a weekly TV series). The Jimmy Dean Show ran until 1966. From 1967 to 1970 Jimmy Dean appeared as Josh Clements, Daniel Boone's sidekick, on the series Daniel Boone.

It was in 1969 that Jimmy Dean and his brother Don founded the Jimmy Dean Sausage Company. For years Jimmy Dean appeared in folksy, humorous adverts on television promoting his sausages. The brand proved very successful. In 1984 the company was sold to consolidated foods (now known as the Sara Lee Corporation). Mr .Dean would play a role in the company he founded for the next twenty years, including appearances in its commercials.

In 1971 Jimmy Dean appeared in the James Bond movie Diamonds are Forever as Willard Whyte, a reclusive billionaire and casino owner. He would also appear on the TV shows Fantasy Island, J. J. Starbuck, and Murder She Wrote, and in the 1990 movie Big Bad John, based on his hit song.

I cannot say I was a huge fan of Jimmy Dean's songs, although I love "Big Bad John" and like many of his other songs. He is one of those few artists (Johnny Cash is another) always labelled "country" who probably should not have been. Indeed, many of his songs were also hits on the pop charts, something most "country" artists never achieve. I rather suspect there are many out there who would willingly listen to a Jimmy Dean song, but would never listen to, say, George Jones or Tammy Wynette. Of course, in addition to the many singles and albums he released over the years, Mr. Dean also had a few acting credits. As an actor Mr. Dean never strayed to far from folksy, good natured persona, which perhaps made him convincing in the folksy, good natured roles he played. Sadly, despite a long career in music, for many Jimmy Dean may have been best known for his sausages. I suppose this is understandable. Mr. Dean's sausages were among the best on the market. I know that I always enjoyed them. At any rate, in retrospect, Jimmy Dean was a renaissance man: musician, actor, and the maker of some of the best sausages around.

Crispian St. Peters

Crispian St. Peters, the English singer best known for the 1966 hit "The Pied Piper," passed on 8 June, 2010 at the age of 71.

Crispian St. Peters was born Robin Peter Smith in Swanley, Kent on 5 April, 1939. Coming from a musical family, he started writing songs when he was only 11. He left school when he was 15, with cinema projectionist being one of many jobs he would hold before he was 21. He gave his first live performance as one of Th Hot Travellers in 1956.  He played in various bands during his National Service in the British Army.

It was while he was in the Army that he formed a duo called The Two Tones. After he was demobilised in 1956, The Two Tones toured northern England. Soon wearying of touring, he returned to Swanley and found employment in a metal works. He also formed a band called Peemix. It was while he was singing with Beat Formula Three that Robin Peter Smith was discovered by EMI publicist David Nicholson, who later became his manager. As part of Peter and The Wolves, Mr. Smith made his first recording in 1964. It was David Nicholson who persuaded Robin Peter Smith to go solo. He groomed him for stardom, gave him a new nom de guerre (Crispian St. Peters) , and outfitted him entirely in black.

Crispian St. Peters signed with Decca in 1965. Unfortunately, his first two singles ("No No No" and "At This Moment") performed poorly on the charts. It was with the song "You Were On My Mind," a cover of the 1964 Ian and Sylvia song that Mr. St. Peters had his first hit. The song went to the top ten on the British singles charts. Afterwards he toured both Great Britain and Germany. It would be Mr. St. Peters' fourth single which would become the song with which he would forever be identified. The song went to #5 on the British charts, #4 and on the American Billboard singles chart, and #1 on the Australian singles chart.

Unfortunately, Crispian St. Peters would be his own undoing. He told a teen magazine that he was better than Elvis Presley, sexier than Dave Berry, more exciting than Tom Jones, and proclaimed he was a better songwriter than John Lennon and Paul McCartney. Indeed, he also said "... The Beatles are past it." The music press pounced on Mr. St. Peters for his comments, with The New Musical Express calling him, "...the Cassius Clay of Pop." Although he would later explain his comments were meant as tongue in cheek, the damage was done. Perhaps as  result, his follow up to "The Pied  Piper," a cover of Phil Ochs' "Changes," barely cracked the top 50 in the UK and stalled beneath the top 40 in the United States.

In 1967 Cripisan St. Peters released the album Follow Me. In 1970 he released the EP Almost Persuaded. He was then dropped by Decca. It was in 1970 that Mr. St. Peters was signed to Square Records, releasing the album Simply later that year. Simply was a sharp contrast to his earlier work, being composed primarily of country songs. Although no longer the superstar he had been in 1966, Crispian St. Peters released three more albums. Several compilations of his work were also released.

Although his career in the spotlight was brief, there can be little doubt that Crispian St. Peters was quite talented as a singer. To this day his version of  "The Pied Piper" remains one of the best remembered songs from the Sixties. His versions of "You Were on My Mind" and "Changes" are also quite good. Had he not made his rather inopportune comments in 1966, it seems quite possible he might have had a very successful career. Regardless, it is his version of "The Pied Piper" which is remembered and still played today.

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