Jan Mink Mystery Solved!
From time to time I get emails or posts from band members or producers (or their friends and family members). Almost always the emails are warm, full of surprise that their good music is being remembered and written about. Usually bits of a song or record's story are filled in or a history of a band is given. Hell, Troy Shondell sent me a thank you note and a CD! Some day I'll post a bunch of the messages. Today I will post one I got in response to the Jan Mink 45 I wrote about below. This came from Norman Bergen, one of the producers of that terrific single:
What a nice surprise to find your comments about the Jan Mink recording on your blog, in a recent web search.I can answer the mysteries surrounding that recording.
First of all, I made quite a few records in the 60s and 70s, and honestly had forgotten about that one until it turned up on ebay a couple of years ago. Of course I bought it and listened. Actually, Come On In was the a-side but I just listened to both because of your comments.
Shelly (Sheldon) Coburn and I are both from Brooklyn New York and wrote songs together in the 60s. Shelly has since passed away and I don't think he had ever been to L.A. This was his first production and I think he only did one other. Jan Mink was a female singer-sax player who was in the Broadway production of "Cabaret" at the time we recorded her, which I believe was in the summer of 1966. Shelly idolized Phil Spector, as we all did at the time. He was the first producer who let the world know that record producing was an art form in itself, a creative art like a film director. Spector was first to use studio technology in a way that could not be duplicated on stage. This record was Shelly's concept and he saw me as his Jack Nitsche, Spector's arranger. We recorded in Manhattan. I played some keyboards on it, probably piano and organ, and vibes. Shelly sang those backup parts, maybe with Jan doubling. On the other side, she is playing the sax parts. I think that might have been the demo that got Shelly's attention, or maybe we recorded it; probably one take if we did. I have no idea what became of her, and doubt that she had any success in the recording field.
You are right on about Verve. We were well aware of it being a jazz label, and we went with them knowing that and questioning the choice. Of course, it was always great to hear enthusiasm from a record label, especially one with such a classy image.Check out my website - WWW.NORMANBERGEN.COM Yes, that record is mentioned on my discography page.
Brian Protheroe Pinball 45 (Chrysalis, 1974)
For a genre that had a relatively short fertile period (1971 - 75), glam rock has a wealth of good songs. The ones we know tend to be the hits and/or are by artists who had careers that went beyond glam (Roxy Music, Bowie, Slade, T Rex - to name four). While Euros got exposed to a healthy dose of glam on the radio and TV (and thus know more of the music's wealth), Americans were not so lucky. Instead of glam, the dominant early 70s music genre was California Cocaine/singer-songwriter/country rock. Commercial heavy metal and blues rock also had a footprint in the States. While Bowie and Alice Cooper got play, to Middle, Suburban, and Working Class America glam rock was Fag Rock. Much was made of Bowie's professed bisexuality and anyone who grew up in the Seventies know at least one variation of the Glam Star Gross Out Contest story (one version: Alice Cooper and David Bowie had a gross out contest. Cooper took a shit on stage and rolled in it. Bowie drank a quart of cum and had to have his stomach pumped. Bowie won). Though Alice Cooper was indeed a star in America, glam didn't really have an American, monster-sized success until KISS came about and they didn't reach their highest high until after glam peaked (and one could argue that KISS were more of a bubblegum heavy metal band than glam, but that is an argument to be waged by those on the web and bored at work). In that landscape many glam artists escaped American notice. And if the musician in question tended toward the mellower side of glam, even the Euros passed them over. One of my favorite favorite examples is David Werner, whose Whizz Kid is a widely unrecognized classic. Another one is Brian Protheroe's Pinball.
Released in 1974, Pinball was a very minor hit (number 22 for a week) in the UK. It had no chart action in the US. It is the title cut of an album also called Pinball, which like the non-hit single tends toward the quiet, introspective side of glam. Protheroe did two more albums and they stiffed harder than his debut. One of the reasons for Protheroe's lack of success is that he was at heart an actor and would rather spend his time on stage doing Shakespeare, Chekhov, and Pinter than playing the ol' sing song. Thus Pinball, as his other records, was made between acting gigs. Protheroe's last big theatrical splash? He played Saruman in The Lord of The Rings.
Silent Partner Radio Activity EP (Silent Partner, 1981)
Here's a little gem of a record. Had I picked this up a decade ago chances are it would still be in a box or sold off, but my ears are much more in tune with this kind of Big Star-ish pop. Laid back but still full of good hooks and nice melodies, Athens, Georgia's Silent Partner seems to have wanted to go commercial, but either didn't figure out quite how or really didn't have it in them. Either way that is fine because it means that this EP edges up to MOR slick but never quite jumps.
On this EP, Silent Partner were two guys, Kemp Jones and Don Porterfield. I read of one prior release, a 1979 LP, which contains a list of other members. From what I could gather, they played a lot in the Athens new wave/alternative scene and picked up a nice following. They seemed to be quite biting toward music trends, especially the commercial success of new wave (listen to the second verse of Radio Activity). I am not sure if this was a reaction to the rise of the B-52s and, perhaps, Pylon, or a jab at others. Maybe a reader with Athens connections can find out.
Jon Thomas Hard Head Pt 1 & 2 45 (Mercury, 1957)
Here is an absolute stunner of a single: Jon Thomas's Head Head. My info on Thomas is sketchy. He played a Hammond B3 organ, I know that. He might or might not have been from St Louis. Is he the same Jon Thomas who sang the soul classic Heartbreat (It's Hurtin' Me), a 1960 song made into a hit by the unfathomably great singer Little Willie John? I don't know.
This I know: Hard Head is a killer! And if you don't believe these words, one note of the unknown saxophonist should set you right. The fucker is a honker, a screamer and as smooth as can be. One more thing: The label has the song divided into two parts and I've identified them correctly. However, listen to them and it becomes pretty apparent that the order should be reversed. Still, listen to them as God or Mercury Records intended and if you wanna screw around with the order of things later, by all means do.
Hard Head Pt 1
Hard Head Pt 2
Still Trusting Jesus
Sam Saltar Still Trusting Jesus LP (Glory, 197? )
If you are a regular visitor to this and other blogs that feature odd private pressings, I am sure you have figured out that the world of Christian music is rich with vinyl wonders. Like most genres, the further away you get from the mainstream, business-oriented songsters and closer to DIY artists, the more creative the music tends to be. There is also the greater chance that you get to stumble upon something unique, something special.
Say hello to Sam Saltar. A professional trombonist from the age 16, Saltar played with big bands lead by Stan Kenton, Ralph Marterie, Ted Weems and others. He also had gigs backing Judy Garland, Liberace, Tony Bennett, Lucille Ball, and many other stars. Then one day he got sick of the "fast track" and dedicated his life to spreading the Good Lord's word via the trombone.
At first listen, Saltar's music isn't strange. It is slow and dreamy, but you've might have heard similar sounds in movie soundtracks of the 1950s or tagged on a light jazz album. Lurking just below the surface there is literally something that makes this record one of a kind. Because Saltar is a horn player and the name artist on this record, his trombone dominates the mix. However this is a religious record and I am sure the producer or Saltar felt an obligation to have vocals on it. Rather than give the vocalists a spot high up in the recording, the vox are buried. They aren't buried enough for one not to hear them on first listen, but they are far enough down in the mix that it creates an atmosphere that combined with the slow tempo and the long, sad notes of the horn is ghost like. The more times I listen to these songs the more fascinated I am by them (though, I should note, that I am sucker for recordings that sound like all the people playing on them are dead, or, rather, have died).
Saltar was living in Garland, Texas at the time of this recording and, from what I have gathered, he is still alive and well preaching the Gospel in the Dallas area. There is no date on this record, but by the style of Sam's dress, I'd guess early Seventies.
Short Stack o' Wax
Here's a rundown of a short stack of 45s that I picked up recently:
Wayfarers One Red Rose b/w Daytime Window 45 (Wheeling)
Obscure sunshine pop. One Red Rose is passable. Daytime Window is some wimpy combo of Free Design, Byrds, and The Clique. Is it as good as all that? No, but it has the sound of a grower.
The Monarchs Look Homeward Angel b/w What Made You Change Your Mind 45 (Sound Stage 7)
Slow tempo, timpani drums, and layered vocals puts Look Homeward Angel into the haunted pop category. And then there is What Made You... a solid early R&B number with equal parts white doowop and Black gospel influence.
The Impacts Now That You're Down b/w Don't Walk Away 45 (Associated Artists)
Now That You... is a fantastic garage pop song with a nearly strange sounding chorus and a very cool bridge. It is almost too good to be a hit. Don't Walk Away is a trad rock & roll ballad ala Dion or Del Shannon, though much more stripped down. Great falsetto vocal part. A winner of a 45!
Tony Bruno Helaina b/w Small Town, Bring Down 45 (Buddah)
A double A side of schmaltz. There is some kind of Jerry Butler meets Tom Jones thing going on here, but without the class of either. Still, this is very listenable.
Bruce Ruffin Mad About You 45 (Bell)
Bell bubblegum though this one sounds like the 1910 Fruitgum Company playing rocksteady. That description makes it sound worse that it actually is. Play this a few times and you will get hooked.
George Wilder Partly Cloudy Pt I & II 45 (Wilmax)
Instro & vocal versions of a very nice lounge steamer. Lush backing vocals, good instrumentation, and a crooner with a mean vibrato. Very much something from a different time.
Baskin & Copperfield I Never See the Sun b/w Stranger on the Ground 45 (London)
Sixties pop. I Never See... is an orchestrated Beatles rip off, which sounds like it could be given a really nice treatment by The Polyphonic Spree. Stranger... is one of the more unusual sunshine pop songs I've heard. Not in a weird unusual but a what-the-hell? Why? Think Up with People + HR Puffnstuf + an irish jig.
Alan Nicholls Goin Down 45 (Avco Embassy)
I am pretty ignorant about Hippie musicals so I don't know if this is THE version of this song from the Broadway show Hair; however it is good. The riffs here are a great combo of Motown soul, proto metal, and Raspberries style power pop, topped with gospel powered backing vocals. This is pretty groovy and I mean that sincerely.
The Sound Idea Linda T. b/w The Last House on Cherry Lane 45 (Coral)
And here is one from the world of pop "sophistication." Sometimes that works but for Linda T. it stinks. However, The Last House... is a winner! Sitar & James Bond theme cruise through Sixties pop and into a killer of a noise/wall of sound outro! Excellent!
Taedo Record Co. STLK-7111
"Taedo Record Co. STLK-7111" LP (Taedo, 1970)
DId I buy this because of the record cover and nothing else? Damn right! Did I know anything about this record before I bought it, other than I had no idea what the hell it was? I plead ignorance! With more guts than brains, I marched this up to the clerk behind the thrift store cash register and said, "Ring me up! I am feeling dangerous today!"
Really, though, look at the cover for a second: Would you not pick this up if you saw it? The young man on the chair is hugging three saxophones and two of them are huge. The guy with the guitar not only has a cool Fender but those specs, that 'do, and the 'stache are total bait. Then there is the pink back drop and the odd colors. I might not be able to read what the words on the cover say, but I don't need a weatherman to tell me that it says "BUY ME NOW!"
Now, I would have been a happy man had this record not lived up to the front cover and all the odds in the world told me that it was not going to come close. Luckily, I am not only a Man of Action but I am a gambler. I don't care if the odds are 5,000 to 3 that a record is gonna blow, if the package is pretty and the price is right, I ain't gonna hold them, I ain't gonna fold them, I ain't gonna walk away, and I sure as fuck ain't gonna run. I'm gonna slap my dollar right down there on the table and walk the hell out of the thrift store and know that I've won and that before fate deals the final hand in the form of needle dropping into the groove.
When I marched Taedo Record Co.'s STLK-7111 into the house, I didn't even take off my coat before I dropped needle. I slapped 7111 on the turntable and let it spin away. I certainly was not disappointed. In fact, I was fucking thrilled. Through the speakers came the haunting sounds of noir instrumentals, one of my favorite styles of pop music. Cool horns, very exacting strings, smooth vibes, and a great twangy guitar, all done exactly how this stuff needs to be done - with enough space to make the songs sound like they were meant only for you and production that is dark without being oppressive.
That this comes from South Korea might seem like a curiosity at first. But expose yourself to enough Asian pop of the Sixties and early Seventies and you know that the noir sound was pretty strong, especially in Japan, where the great singing duo The Peanuts brought Asian noir pop to its highest highs. I am not sure why the fascination, why, of all American pop sounds noir had a bigger impact than rockabilly or bubblegum or glam, but it did. Perhaps being the Twentieth Century's main war zone (Sino-Russian War, WWII, Korean War, Chinese Revolution, Vietnam...) made the area prime of noir's cynical (yet romantic) sound. Maybe the structure lends itself to different Asian folk melodies, some of which you hear in STLK-7111. I really don't know, but I have picked up that this is a style of the time and place in which this record was made.
As I do not read Korean, I have no idea what the proper name of this LP is. Nor do I know who the two men on the cover are. I also do not know the song titles. I have run searches for the matrix number and the record label but have failed to find any useful information.
Such a Beautiful Thing
The Prodigal Sons Such a Beautiful Thing b/w Little Girl from Puerto Rico 45 (Zeus, 196?)
Here is a wonderfully strange record - strange in that there are so many quirks to it and questions that it brings up. Such a Beautiful Thing suggests the production work of sunshine pop icon Gary Zekley as well as The Free Design.; but there is nary a connection to either entity. Little Girl from Puerto Rico is confusing. Rather than having a salsa beat, which is what a little girl from PR would be dancing to in the 1960s, it is Sixties pop as if it was scored by Morricone while he was scoring Leone westerns. Sometimes ignorance is bliss!
The record label, Zeus Records is supposed to be a subsidiary of something called United Technique, but I can't find any info on it or UT. The name of the songwriter, Robert A. Maro, draws a blank (well, google comes up with a sex offender in his twenties. Not the same guy, for sure). The publishing company is out of business. There are no markings to indicate where or when it was pressed. The Prodigal Sons is another mystery.
Oh, No! No! No!
Jan Mink Oh, No! No! No! b/w Come On In 45 (Verve, 1966)
You slap a 45 on and you get a nice, raw, R&B dance floor creeper (with a cool flubbed sax solo!) and the first thought is "Score!" Then you flip the record over and the drums hit just right, the vocals slink in and a bass throbs and it is heaven, pure heaven. Oh! No! No! No! is a great song and, yes, you need to listen to it, but I guarantee you that you will play Come On In over and over and over. Come On In has everything: Great vocals, fantastic production, a killer groove, and a nice dark sound.
So who is responsible? The producer and arranger are Shelly Coburn and Norman Bergen. Both worked in the LA music industry, either as producers or songwriters, though neither of them had a hand in writing the songs on this record. The credit to both songs goes to Jan Mink. All my searching for info on Ms Mink comes up blank. She is a mystery lady. I assume that had she had a hit with either of these songs her name would be at least mentioned in some rundown of girl groups or lady soul singers, but there is nothing. That these were not hits is not surprising. Verve tended not to know what the hell to do with their pop artists. If one of them had a hit, it was more by chance than anything else. Unfortunately, that isn't the case here.
Now there is one possibility and that is that Jan Mink is a pseudonym, a cover name for an artist signed to a different label. There could be dozens of records by "Jan Mink"; however if there is someone will have to give it up.
I Can't Turn It Off
The Pheifer Ashman Kickbush I Can't Turn It Off b/w Games 45 (Nico, 196??)
I am sure that there is some expert on 60s pop out there that knows the details about this record, but it ain't me. What I could dig up is that Nico Records was a label owned by a couple of Hollywood types, Nick & Boris Vanoff. They put out a handful of records, two of which were by The Pheifer Ashman Kickbush. I don't know who Pheifer Ashman is but there is a Jack Ashman involved with this record (credited as arranger). Jack Walker was the producer, but no one named Pheifer is credited on the label. Nor do I have any idea what a "kickbush" is other than a good suggestion.
I am guessing that the band is a studio creation, made to cash in on the popularity of 60 or sunshine pop. The Kickbush is a good band and this single is everything that you want from 60s pop. Punchy, well produced, good songs...
No digging for this one as it was handed to me by Mike Trouchon in a fit of delusion -- his not mine.
The Ben Ali Oriental Band Dance Band Group Dancing with... LP (Ben Ali Oriental Dance Band, 196?)
Listen to enough music and chances are you've heard a hundred versions of Duke Ellington's Caravan. I know I have. From sitting in assemblies in high school to Sun Ra's Astro Caravan, I've heard plenty. My favorite take on the classic is by the Ben Ali Oriental Band Dance Band Group out of Chico, California. First assembled in 1950 as The Chico Shrine Club Oriental Band, these Shriners quickly made a name for themselves, playing parades, community events, and fraternal functions.
"Wait....did you just say Shriners? You mean the guys who ride around in miniature cars and fezzes on their heads?" Yup, not only the same cats but they have one hell of a band. They play Caravan with a nice sense of urgency, the funkiness of their band giving the song an almost Raymond Scott sound. Thus there is a kind of old timey otherworldliness that is Alice in Wonderland psychedelic.
The other songs on Dancing with... are okay. They do a semi-exotica medley that, like most of the other songs, devolves into near frat level humor. The playing is good, but the tongue is too far in cheek. As you'll hear, not so with Caravan.
I am not sure when this was exactly made, but I am guessing early 1960s. I found it at a thrift store for a buck. Quite a deal, I'd say.