Ask “Mr. Music”
Jerry Osborne


DEAR JERRY: You wrote recently about Elton John's Marilyn Monroe-turned-Princess Diana tribute, “Candle in the Wind” being such a monster all-time best seller.

Lady Di was not an entertainer, however, and we have a friendly debate about which pop star tribute sold more — “Three Stars,” by Tommy Dee, or “The King Is Gone,” by Ronnie McDowell.

Please settle this musical matter for us.
—Jan & Joe Messina, Hermosa Beach, Calif.

DEAR JAN & JOE: “Three Stars” — a 1959 tribute to Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and the Big Bopper — and Ronnie McDowell's 1977 Elvis tribute, “The King Is Gone” fared equally as well on the Pop charts. Both made the Top 15, and both remained charted for exactly 12 weeks.

McDowell's single also got a big boost from the C&W market, and did nearly as well on their charts. It is also an RIAA Gold Record Award winner.

Whichever of you picked “The King Is Gone” is the winner.

Another reader, Linda Williams, writes asking the name of the artist on “Three Stars.”

Well, Linda, the narrative is by Tommy Dee, and the singing is by Carol Kay and the Teen-Aires. Now that we have a tribute theme going:

DEAR JERRY: I have been told by some folks that you might be able to solve our musical mystery.

A song that Merle Haggard wrote is about a friend of his by the name of Leonard. In it, he sings about the fellow's real name being Tommy.

We are hoping that you can tell us who Tommy is, since we have been wondering about this for far too long.
—Ricardo J. Baca

DEAR RICARDO: Actually, it's the other way around.

The “Leonard” to whom Merle Haggard sings a tribute, is Leonard Sipes — a popular country singer who performed and recorded using the stage name, Tommy Collins.

Based in Bakersfield, Collins was instrumental in the professional development of both Merle Haggard and Buck Owens. For awhile, Owens played lead guitar in Tommy's band.

Collins charted more than a dozen country hits, including the Top 10 hits “You Better Not Do That; Whatcha Gonna Do Now; Untied; It Tickles;” and the advisory “If You Can't Bite, Don't Growl.”

Leonard “Tommy Collins” Sipes died March 14th 2000.

DEAR JERRY: I am having a very difficult time locating a hit song by Jackie Wilson. The title is “St. Teresa of the Roses,” and it came out, I believe, in 1956.

Much to my surprise, I have had no luck whatsoever finding this track. It is my hope that you will be able to help me.
—Carla Margillo, West Haven, Conn.

DEAR CARLA: Here is everything you could possibly want to know about — note the odd spelling of the name — “St. Therese of the Roses” (Decca 29933).

You are correct about it being a (Top 15) hit in 1956, and the singer is indeed Jackie Wilson. However, Wilson had not left his lead vocalist gig with Billy Ward and His Dominoes, thus this release is credited only to the group.

Jackie's first solo hit, “Reet Petite,” came along in the fall of '57, a little over a year after “St. Therese of the Roses.”

My copy of this track is on the boxed, three-disc, 72-track set “Jackie Wilson — Mr. Excitement” (Rhino R2-70775).

IZ ZAT SO? Tom Donaldson, a San Bernardino, California dee jay at the time, wrote “Three Stars” just hours after receiving news of the February 3, 1959 plane crash.

Two days later, Eddie Cochran recorded the tribute tune, but Liberty decided not to release it — at least not until including it on a 1972 anthology album.

So Tommy Donaldson became Tommy Dee. He then recorded his own song (Crest 1057), which became the label's first national hit.

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