Ask “Mr. Music”
Jerry Osborne


DEAR JERRY: About 20 years ago, you wrote some liner notes for a doo-wop CD I bought. Partly because of your commentary about the significance and influence of Dion and the Belmonts, I became a fan of their music.

The last 45 of Dion's I got is “Queen of '59,” and that was in the mid-'70s. I haven't heard of anything by him since.

Hopefully he is still singing.
—Richard K. Hara, Federal Way, Wash.

DEAR RICHARD: Dion has made numerous records since that 1976 tuneful tribute to the “Queen of '59.” Only one of them, “And the Night Stood Still” (1989), became a hit, and just barely at that. Still, Dion continues to make good music.

Earlier this year, he holed up in a Florida studio and recorded a collection of his personal blues favorites. The result, now available on an Orchard CD, is titled “Bronx in Blue.”

Among the tracks Dion chose for this project are Robert Johnson's “Crossroads” and “Terraplane Blues;” Howlin' Wolf's “How Many More Years;” Hank Williams' soulful “Honky Tonk Blues;” and Jimmy Reed's “Bright Lights, Big City.”

Interestingly, this Jimmy Reed classic entered the Top 60 (October 23, 1961) the same week Dion's “Runaround Sue” first reached No. 1.

Besides 13 Blues classics, Dion adds to this collection a newly-written original: “If You Wanna Rock & Roll.”

As to how this doo-wopin' 1950s and '60s star from the Bronx plunged deep into southern Blues, Dion explains:

“Some people think I grew up on Rock and Roll. But that's not so. That's because when I was a kid, there was no Rock and Roll.

“In the early '50s, late at night I'd tune into some southern radio station that somehow reached New York, and I'd listen to the Blues.

“I was also a Hank Williams junkie. For me, putting Country and Blues together — that's what I call Rock and Roll.

“The music on “Bronx in Blue” is the undercurrent of every song I did: “Runaround Sue,” “The Wanderer,” etc. Even the the foot stomping on “Ruby Baby” I got from John Lee Hooker's “Walkin' Boogie.”

“Though I've been carrying these Blues and Country gems around in my head for the last 50 years, I actually recorded this album in just two days.

“No tricks. No musicians. No vocal overdubs. Just me and my trusty 000C cutaway black Martin, my baby 0021, and the Hurty Gurty man on some percussion.

“Surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses in spirit — the early fathers of the Blues — cheering us on with their blessing, we rock.”

DEAR JERRY: I remember a '70s group called Climax, and I have tried to find information on them, such as their members.

I only know the title of one of their songs, “Precious and Few,” but I am sure I heard another hit by them back then.

When I try searching for Climax, all I get is links about the Climax Blues Band. Are the two really the same group?
—Tom Cole, Merced, Calif.

DEAR TOM: Climax is a California band that features Sonny Geraci, formerly of the Outsiders (i.e., “Time Won't Let Me”).

Rounding out this outfit are Virgil Weber, Walter Nims, Robert Neilson, and Steve York.

The original 1972 hit single of “Precious and Few” has “Park Preserve” as the flip (Rocky Road 30055). Their follow up, and only other hit, is “Life and Breath,” which has as its B-side, “If It Feels Good, Do It” (Rocky Road 30061).

Your mystery tune is probably “Life and Breath.”

A completely different group, the Climax Blues Band hails from England. They did have records in the US during some of the same years as Climax, which probably adds to the confusion.

DEAR JERRY: In the late 1950s or early '60s an uptempo recording of Nat King Cole's “Mona Lisa” became a hit.

Other than being a rocker, I don't have any information about it. Do you?
—Jon Zielsdorf, Wausau, Wisc.

DEAR JON: Yes sir, this “Mona Lisa” is probably by Carl Mann (Phillips International 3539), though it could be the one by Conway Twitty. Both made the Top 30 in the summer of '59.

Rocking through the Nat King Cole songbook apparently agreed with Carl Mann. As his follow-up to “Mona Lisa,” Mann chose to rework Nat Cole's “Pretend” (Phillips International 3546) in a nearly identical fashion as he did with “Mona Lisa.”

IZ ZAT SO? For 1950, here are the five Academy Award nominees for Best Song in a film:

“Be My Love,” from “The Toast of New Orleans”; “Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo,” from “Cinderella”; “Mule Train,” from “Singing Guns”; “Wilhelmina,” from “Wabash Avenue”; and “Mona Lisa,” from “Captain Carey, U.S.A.”

When the envelope was ceremoniously opened, the Oscar belonged to Ray Evans and Jay Livingston for their beautiful “Mona Lisa.”

Especially noteworthy is that “Mona Lisa” then became the first Oscar-winning tune from a film other than a musical. “Captain Carey, U.S.A.,” starring Alan Ladd, is a World War 2 drama — one not nearly as memorable as “Mona Lisa.”

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