Ask “Mr. Music”
Jerry Osborne


DEAR JERRY: I read your recent column that included a question about Larry Verne, and his hit, “Mr. Custer,” and another one where you wrote about my recording of “Johnny Willow.”

You may already know by now that Larry Verne is very much alive. Fortunately, so am I.

Larry is retired and living in Canyon Country, in Calif.

Also mentioned in the column are the two gentlemen who co-wrote “Mr. Custer” with me: Al DeLory and Joe Van Winkle.

Al is now in Nashville and doing well; however, Joe passed away several years ago.

As for the rapid fire lyrics in “Johnny Willow,” what can I say? The lyrics just seem to flow.

To the listener, it may seem a bit awesome, but the pulsating rhythm track seems to carry the vocal.

The real plaudits should be given to Joe Van Winkle, who was the mainstay of the lyrical content. He had a way of putting words and phrases together that was truly artful.

Many of the gang from the old Hollywood (Vine Street) music scene are still in contact, including the Gold Star Recording Studio guys: Larry Levine, Stan Ross, Dave Gold, Hal Blaine, and Earl Palmer.

Next time you're in town, you are welcome to join us.

Soon I will be releasing a CD of my songs, including “Johnny Willow” and “The Battle of Gettysburg.”

Another CD will be the music of Dobie Gray, who I also produced. Some of those tracks have not previously been released.

I'll be in touch soon. Have a Happy New Year!
—Fred Darian, Studio City, Calif.

DEAR FRED: It is very nice to hear from you, and I do look forward to your upcoming CDs. My 45 of “Johnny Willow,” has the wear and tear commensurate with how often I have played it over the years. It will be great to hear a clean, crisp copy.

Thanks for the invitation. I'd love to do lunch and reminisce with that crowd. Hal Blaine must be the drummer on at least a thousand records.

Your New Year's greeting is a most appropriate way to wrap up 2003, as well as our 17th year in syndication. Same to ya!

UPDATE (DECEMBER 2007): Four years to the month have passed, and it is a pleasure to say that Fred's long-awaited CD has arrived.

Tited “Fred Darian's American Songbook” (Cordak 1802), it does include “Johnny Willow” and “The Battle of Gettysburg” among its 14 tracks.

For more information about Fred Darian, as well as to order this fine CD, visit

DEAR JERRY: Who sang the bass voice parts on Johnny Cymbal's “Mr. Bass Man”?
—Gary Teresi

DEAR GARY: Your question of just one dozen words may be the shortest one I have ever received. That's real economy of conversation.

Cast as the bass man in “Mr. Bass Man” is Ron Bright, a bona fide bass singer in his own right.

When the Valentines formed in 1954, Bright sang bass for them. Among their best known releases are “Tonight, Kathleen; Lily Maebelle; Woo-Woo Train;” and “Nature's Creation.”

After six years as a Valentine, Bright moved on to join Earl “Speedo” Carroll in Speedo and the Cadillacs.

In late 1962, Ron found himself in the studio backing Johnny Cymbal, adding his “bomp-bomp-bomps” to tunes like “Mr. Bass Man” and “Marshmallow.”

These two tunes, along with a previously unissued take of “Mr. Bass Man,” are currently available on the Taragon 12-track CD, “The Best of Johnny Cymbal.”

IZ ZAT SO? One would be justified in thinking that Johnny Cymbal is just a stage name, not much different than Johnny Thunder, or Johnny Holiday. No so.

Further fueling that thinking is that Johnny Cymbal also recorded using his brother's name, Derek (“Cinnamon”), as well as under names like Eye-Full Tower, Milk, Taurus, and Cymbal & Clinger.

One report we received says at birth Johnny had a hard-to-pronounce Polish name, that he legally changed to Cymbal. Another says his real name has always been Johnny Cymbal.

BMI officially identifies him as Johnny Hendry Cymbal, born in Scotland, raised in Ontario, Canada, and later Cleveland.

A prolific songwriter, Johnny penned over 200 songs in his short life. Among them is the BMI Award Winner, “Mary in the Morning,” popularized by stars like Al Martino (1967) and Elvis Presley (1970).

Johnny died of an apparent heart attack on March 16, 1993, in Nashville. He was just 48.

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