EDDIE DANIELS: THE SECRET HISTORY OF HOLLYWOOD ROCK ‘N’ ROLL PART TWO
As anyone in the wild world of rock ‘n’ roll should know by now, Eddie Daniels will be performing his legendary Ebb, Starla and Silver sides for the first time in over fifty years at the upcoming Ponderosa Stomp. In anticipation of this musical miracle, I was fortunate enough to talk with Daniels about his career as a Hollywood rock ‘n’ roll singer, song writer and session musician. What follows is the second installment of the two part post Eddie Daniels: The Secret History of Hollywood Rock ‘n’ Roll.
Having waxed two scorching singles for Lee Rupe’s Specialty off-shoot Ebb Records, Daniels hooked up with his old friend disc jockey Art Laboe, who had just started Starla Records, for yet another double-sided killer. Interestingly, all three of these records were cut in the time span of less than a year.
“I recorded two songs for Art Laboe,” remembers Daniels, “one was called ‘Hug Me Kiss Me Baby’ and the other one was called ‘Hurry Baby.’ On guitar was Jerry Cole, ’cause Art and Jerry Cole was real tight coming up. Jerry took over the ‘Tequila’ band, the Champs, when their leader died. I really don’t remember where that record was recorded but I think it was done at Gold Star, just like my Ebb records, with Earl Palmer on drums. It seems like that’s where I recorded all of my sessions. From there I was Chuck Higgins’ keyboard player. Chuck had signed a lot of contracts with (Musicians’ Union) Local 47 and he couldn’t go overseas so he gave me the group and we went to Hawaii. We were supposed to stay for six weeks. The guy liked us so much — I don’t know why because they didn’t have electric piano at that time; I had to put a microphone in the upright piano I played over there — I was working seven nights a week and they kept us over there for a year and two months. And that’s how I lost contact with Art Laboe, because he kept calling me and writing me, saying ‘When you coming back? I want to record you again. I’m playin’ your record.’ He gave me about five hundred copies and I sold ‘em all over there. I was doing shows on Saturdays for a guy named Tom Moffatt, he was like a Dick Clark over there and I used to do Saturdays during the day for the kids. Man, I was working seven nights a week and I was the only one in the group who sung, and I was singing twenty-five songs a night, seven nights a week. I was doing top forty then. That’s where I learned to sing like everybody, Little Richard, Fats Domino.
“I recorded in ’57 for Ebb and Starla, then I went over there at the beginning of ’58, right before it turned into a state, ’cause I was over there when it turned into a state. I played Hickam Field, I played Pearl Harbor, I played all the bases. I got so homesick that I left the band over there and they brought Gaynel Hodge over there to take my place ’cause he sung and played keyboard also. So I had him to come over and take my place. I had to come back home, man, I was homesick.”
Back in Los Angeles, Daniels embarked on yet another fascinating side of the Hollywood rock ‘n’ roll business, when he wound up as a song writer at Crest and Silver Records alongside old friends Glen Campbell and Jerry Cole as well as new acquaintances like Eddie Cochran, Frank Gorshin and John Ashley. In fact, one of the few Hollywood hipsters that Daniels never crossed paths with was Kip Tyler, of “She’s My Witch” and “Rumble Rock” fame. Strange, as Tyler recorded for both Ebb and Starla as well. But he knew practically everybody else.
“I was walkin’ the streets a lot with Johnny Rivers,” he remembers. “Me and Johnny Rivers were looking for a recording company to record some of our material. And then I got a job working five days a week at 9109 Sunset Boulevard which was Sylvester Cross, it was American Music publishing company who also published ‘Sixteen Tons’ by Tennessee Ernie Ford. Frankie Laine’s brother owned a car lot selling cars and he’d come in; they had me in a room with nothing but me, pencil and paper and a piano. I’d be writing four or five songs a week and they were paying me three hundred dollars a week to just do that.”
It was here that he wrote what has become one of his most celebrated songs, “Little Lou,” which Eddie Cochran quickly recorded. “Frank Gorshin and John Ashley both recorded it too,” says Daniels. Ashley’s version, released on Silver subsidiary Capehart Records, featured an impressive honking sax and blasting guitar. Although Daniels never recorded it himself back then, he plans to soon, basing his rendition on Ashley’s.
When not busy waxing rock ‘n’ roll records, Gorshin and Ashley were starring in teenage exploitation flicks such as Dragstrip Riot and Dragstrip Girl, paving the way to Gorshin’s most famous role, that of the Riddler in the Batman television series. Ashley, meanwhile, had a storied career as an actor, with parts in all kinds of cool movies from Hot Rod Gang and High School Caesar to Hud. He went on to play roles in nearly every beach movie ever shot during the ’60s, from Beach Party to Beach Blanket Bingo to How to Stuff a Wild Bikini. “And John starred in a really good television series called Straightaway,” says Daniels about the early ’60s ABC series centered around drag racing.
The cast of characters at the American Music office gives a pretty accurate idea of what the L.A. scene was like in the days of early rock ‘n’ roll. Few people remember Gorshin and Ashley today for their records, but back in the 50s they were trying as hard to make it in music as they were in movies and television, as Daniels affirms. “They were rock ‘n’ rollers, that’s how I met ‘em, ’cause they were rock ‘n’ rollers. You had to do everything in those days, man.”
Not only did he run across a lot of old and new acquaintances at American Music, but at Gold Star Studios as well. He met Eddie Cochran at both places. “We all went to record in the studio and during the break time we’d all eat or drink or smoke a cigarette or whatever and we just did some talking together. That was one of the main key spots at that time because there was about three or four studios built in the whole building, so you’d run across a whole lot of other artists that came in and out.”
Another ever-present figure at both places was Daniels’ old session guitarist Glen Campbell, who would soon score on Crest with “Turn Around, Look at Me.” “Glen was a great guitar player but not only that, he had a hell of a range in singin.’ His range was out of sight. I couldn’t believe what I heard when I heard him sing on a session. He was awesome, man. I said, ‘How come you don’t record yourself?’ He said, Well, I’m thinkin’ about it, I’m thinkin’ about it.’ Then Capitol got him and he went all the way.”
It was at American Music that he met Jerry Capehart, who was already managing Cochran, Gorshin and Ashley. “Sylvester Cross was an older person,” Daniels explains. “I guess in those days he had to be close to being in his 70s. If I remember him right he dressed like my grandfather; wore a belt and suspenders. Glad just to be living. He was the type of person that just loved to go fishing. That’s why he had Jerry Capehart working for him as a front man. Capehart wanted to manage me. He said, ‘We’ll record you but let’s write some music and see if we can get some airplay out there for you. And that’s how he stole a lot of my stuff.”
Indeed, Capehart managed to insert his name as co-writer on many things that Daniels wrote at American Music — including “Little Lou” — a situation that Eddie is working to remedy today. He did make sure that Daniels was recorded, though, when he teamed him with Jewel Akens as Jewel and Eddie. With Eddie Cochran on guitar, Akens and Daniels released a series of Everly Brothers-styled singles on Silver Records of which the most successful was the Daniels composition “Opportunity.” Confusion has always reigned over these records, especially since Cochran’s “Strollin’ Guitar” wound up as the flip side of “Opportunity.” Under contract to Liberty, Cochran was surreptitiously cutting records for Silver under the name the Kelly Four and many people just assumed that the Eddie of Jewel and Eddie was Eddie Cochran, not Eddie Daniels.
It’s yet another reason that Daniels has remained in the shadows for so long. But even if you haven’t heard Eddie Daniels’ records, you’ve heard Eddie Daniels, so wide and varied was the musical swath he cut during the late ’50s and early ’60 not only at imprints like Crest and Silver, but at legendary West Coast concerns like Imperial and Class as well.
“You know, Dick Dale and the Del-Tones recorded one of my songs, ‘Hot Rod Racer,’ on Capitol. The flip side of ‘The Birds and the Bees’ by Jewel Akens, I wrote that. It was supposed to be the A-side but a nine-year-old boy wrote ‘The Birds and the Bees’ and so they flipped it over and I didn’t get a chance to make that a hit. I played keyboard with Ernie Freeman on ‘Raunchy,’ then I went to Hawaii and it came out while I was over there. I was with Bobby Day on ‘Rockin’ Robin,’ I played keyboard on that. ‘Pretty Girls Everywhere’ by Eugene Church, I was on keyboard. In my day, the way I played keyboard, a lot of artists wanted me to play keyboard on their sessions ’cause I played that good old rock ‘n’ roll keyboard. I was listening to a lot of Jerry Lee Lewis’s stuff back then, man, he’s fantastic. That boy is fantastic.”
“I was with Bob and Earl for a while, I was on most of their sessions: ‘Harlem Shuffle,’ ‘Deep Down Inside,’ ‘Your Time and My Time,’ ‘Puppet On a String;’ I traveled with them a lot. I helped Bobby Relf with the intro to ‘Harlem Shuffle.’ He didn’t know how to start the song so I said, ‘Well why don’t you just go (sings the famous, dramatic horn introduction). And that’s how it started. Bob and Earl were being managed by the same people who managed the Olympics; Effie Smith and John Criner. And then they had a son named Fred. Fred used to take the money before they could get it to Bob and Earl and go to the racetrack. You know, they recorded some good songs for Barry White and what happened was Barry took some of Bobby’s tunes and rearranged ‘em and changed ‘em a little bit and put ‘em out on himself and that kind of took the drive out of it for Earl; Earl just retired from show business. That was cold. And see, I knew Barry White when he was living on 55th off of Vermont between Vermont and Hoover with the little snotty nosed kids, raggedy as hell, and to get a chance like he had, he misused a lot of artists through their writing; he put his name on a lot of things that it didn’t belong on. You got to be right. It’s already rough as it is.”
Having been taken advantage of by both Bumps Blackwell and Jerry Capehart, Daniels concentrated on touring as a vocalist and keyboard player with Bob and Earl during the ’60s. Then, in 1972 he hooked up with the Platters’ original female vocalist Zola Taylor, forming a lifelong kinship with her that lasted until her death in 1986. Prior to that, when she was too ill to perform, Daniels had been inspired to carry on her legacy with the Amazing Platters, with whom he’s toured Europe 22 times. In all those years, however, he’s never performed any of his Ebb, Starla or Silver sides.
“I haven’t done these songs past 1960,” he says. “And I’m doing them all in the same key except one. I stopped smoking and drinking 24 years ago and I’m staying out of the weather. I haven’t been to New Orleans since I went to a Mardi Gras about fifteen or sixteen years ago, believe it or not I was traveling with Leon Hughes and the Coasters, I was singing bass with him for a road tour for about three weeks. I was Charlie Brown! But let’s put it like this: I’m so glad that God kept me alive long enough so somebody can appreciate what I’ve done.” And so are we, Eddie. –Michael Hurtt