DEAR JERRY: I've read every one of your columns since 1999, but something you wrote in January 2000, about the Platters, really piqued my curiosity.
You stated: “That such an incredibly gifted lead vocalist like Tony Williams could not manage even one hit single or LP on his own is beyond belief.”
What are some of the solo recordings Tony Williams made? Are they still available?
Charley Schnellbacher, Seattle, Wash.
DEAR CHARLEY: Two singles really stand out, both in the same league as Tony's great ballads with the Platters.
One is “When You Return,” a 1957 single (Mercury 71158) that likely would have been more popular had it not have come out in the midst of two Tony Williams and the Platters hits: “My Dream” and “Only Because.” Dee jays may have felt Tony to be sufficiently represented on their play lists.
The other is Tony's first single after he left the Platters, in 1961: “Sleepless Nights” (Reprise 20019). This beautiful song spotlights Tony's enchanting tenor along with a Roy Orbison-like build-up.
Mercury did try another solo Williams single, but they chose two early 20th Century standards “Charmaine” backed with “Peg O' My Heart” that didn't click with record buyers.
After “Sleepless Nights,” literally perhaps, Tony turned out five more singles for Reprise and then three for Philips. None sold well.
Williams also recorded three albums, one for each of those three labels: 1959: “A Girl Is a Girl” (Mercury 20454); 1961: “Tony Williams Sings His Greatest Hits” (Reprise 6006); and 1962: “The Magic Touch of Tony” (Philips 200051).
The title of the Reprise LP is somewhat misleading, as the six “hits” are lame '61 versions of 1950s hits by the Platters. The other tracks are Reprise originals, one of which is the aforementioned “Sleepless Nights.”
DEAR JERRY: You are the most likely one to prove my memory isn't corrupt.
I know it is as unlikely a duet as you'll ever find but I swear I once saw Chuck Berry and Trini Lopez singing together on TV.
While I don't remember the song, or even the year, I clearly recall seeing them in a live concert of some sort.
Did I dream this, or did it really happen?
Shirley Glickman, Chicago.
DEAR SHIRLEY: At least with regard to this improbable duet, your memory is corruption free.
On May 4, 1965, Trini Lopez was the guest host on TV's “Hullabaloo.” Besides introducing the other acts, Lopez sang five songs, one of which is the duet you recall with Chuck Berry. They rocked their way through Chuck Berry's “Memphis,” a smash hit just one year earlier for Johnny Rivers.
On his own, Chuck Berry sings “Johnny B. Goode, complete with the duck walk.
The other stars on that hour of “Hullabaloo” are: Freddie and the Dreamers, Sir Douglas Quintet, 4 Seasons, Martha and the Vandellas, Vikki Carr, Travellers Three, and Herman's Hermits.
In 1995, MPI Home Video issued a boxed, four-volume set of “Hullabaloo” programs (MP-7050). Volume 4 features the May 4, 1965 show.
IZ ZAT SO? When “The Great Pretender” reached No. 1 on the nation's Pop chart (February 1956), it marked the first time in the Rock era a black group topped that chart. In fact, it hadn't been done since 1952 when the Mills Brothers did so with “The Glow-Worm.”
Following “The Great Pretender,” three more Tony Williams and the Platters singles became No 1 in the '50s: “My Prayer;” “Twilight Time:” and “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes.”
Between 1954 and 1960, only Elvis Presley (12) and Pat Boone (6) had more No. 1 hits than the Platters.
In a 1989 interview, published in DISCoveries Magazine just three years before he died, Tony explained how his legendary “uh-ho” gimmick came about:
While recording “Only You (And You Alone),” Tony stumbled on one of the lines and, conscious of his mistake, simply said “uh-oh.”
Realizing the potential of this little utterance, Tony intentionally added it to many of his ballads, most notably “Only You (And You Alone);” “The Great Pretender;” “The Magic Touch;” and “Heaven on Earth.”
You may recall how in Buchanan and Goodman's “The Flying Saucer” they even refer to “The Great Pretender” as being titled “Uh-Oh!”