DEAR JERRY: I have seen questions in some of your past columns about Rusty York and the 1959 hit “Sugaree.”
Well, let me confirm that Rusty that's me is very much alive. And it is my pleasure to share the “Sugaree” story:
One night in 1959, while performing at the Old Hickory Café, in Cincinnati, I sang “Mystery Train,” one of Elvis Presley's early hits. I shook my legs and played guitar like Elvis. The crowd went wild, and I got more response than I ever got singing country songs.
My manager, Pat Nelson, saw me there and suggested we do a rock and roll record. Before this night, he thought I only did bluegrass and country songs.
We agreed to record a guitar instrumental in the style of Duane Eddy. It was to be the old “She'll Be Coming 'Round the Mountain.”
We did this instrumental in three takes.
As an afterthought, we chose “Sugaree” as the B-side.
While recording it, my nose accidentally touched the microphone and I got the biggest electrical shock I had ever experienced, and I really screamed. The band kept playing not knowing that I was almost electrocuted! I backed away from the mike to regain my composure.
After the band stopped playing, I asked the recording engineer how to keep from being shocked again.
“Don't touch your nose to the mike,” he said, caustically.
Then I heard Pat Nelson's voice from the control room saying, “Rusty, leave that scream in there! Put it in right before the sax break.”
We intentionally added the scream on the next take, but I made sure that I stayed a few inches away from that scary microphone.
Right after “Sugaree,” my band and I did two songs backing Sharon Myers, then about 15 years old and recording as Jackie Shannon, but later to become famous as Jackie DeShannon.
She sang “Trouble” and “Lies,” and her record (P.J. 101) and mine (P.J. 100) came out at the same time (P.J. standing for Pat [Nelson] and Jackie.)
Earlier that year, Jackie and I made a record together. She is featured on one side with “Just Another Lie,” and I do the flip, which is “Cajun Blues.”
This single came out twice that year first on Fraternity, and then Dot.
Meanwhile, after the P.J. original, “Sugaree” got picked up by Note, then by Chess (1959). It is the Chess single (1730) that made the national charts, including the Cash Box R&B Top 30.
King Records then rushed one of their top groups, Hank Ballard and the Midnighters, into the studio to make a cover version of “Sugaree.”
For awhile, theirs and mine were neck and neck for air play. Hank Ballard was a known artist but mine had the advantage of being the original. Plus, I performed for free for a lot of radio stations around the country and they owed me.
It also didn't hurt that Dick Clark's American Bandstand TV show played my record nearly every day on network television, though he once announced my song as being by RUDY York. Well, at least he was playing the song. It was a real thrill to tune in each day and watch the kids dancing to “Sugaree.”
Soon they asked me to appear on the Dick Clark Saturday Night Beechnut Show.
The sheer joy of being on a show like this started my adrenalin flowing. The crowd went wild over “Sugaree,” as they had for the other artists on the bill.
Here they are along with the songs performed: The Browns (“The Three Bells”); Jack Scott (“The Way I Walk” and “My Own True Love”); Johnny and the Hurricanes (“Red River Rock”); and Tommy Edwards (“I Look at Heaven”).
When the theater closed, everyone on the show left through a side door and onto the street. What I saw out there made me want to run back into the building. There were about two dozen policemen, linking their arms together, to protect us from hundreds of kids waiting to see us. They were screaming and pushing and it was all the police could do to restrain them.
They meant no harm, but we could have been trampled in the rush if the human cordon hadn't protected us. Fortunately, we all survived that night.
I appreciate the opportunity to share the “Sugaree” story with you and your readers.
Rusty York, Redington Shores, Fla.
DEAR RUSTY: We are very grateful to you for sending the “Sugaree” saga, as only you could. Be assured you and I will remain in contact.
DEAR JERRY: I rarely recall an impersonation recording becoming a hit, but one I do recall is haunting me.
The singers do very good impressions of several of the pop groups, but the line that sticks with me is when they do “Mr. Blue, I'm freezing” based on the hit by the Fleetwoods.
Denise Woods, Lancaster, Pa.
DEAR DENISE: You are thinking of the Four Preps, and those who saw their concerts know that humor and impressions were an important part of their shows.
They had two hits of the type you describe: “More Money for You and Me” and “The Big Draft,” both recorded at North Hollywood High School, but during separate concerts.
The one you recall is “More Money for You and Me,” a Top 20 hit in 1961, and features excellent imitations of: The Fleetwoods (“Mr. Blue”); Hollywood Argyles (“Alley Oop”); Four Freshmen (“In This Whole Wide World”), Kingston Trio (“A Worried Man” and “Tom Dooley”); and Dion and the Belmonts (“A Teenager in Love”).
Their follow-up hit is “The Big Draft,” which spoofs these acts: The Platters (“I'll Never Smile Again”); Four Aces (“Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing”), Dick & Dee Dee (“The Mountain's High”), Marcels (“Heartaches”), Highwaymen (“Michael”), and Dion (“Runaround Sue”).
Just for you, they might have included “Denise” (Randy and the Rainbows) in the routine, but it didn't come out until '63.
IZ ZAT SO? As expected, the first issue of “Sugaree” (P.J. 100) is the rarest and most valuable. With only a few thousand in existence, this single is now in the $100 to $200 range. Even the second issue (Note 10021) can command $50 to $75. The hit single (Chess 1730), which of course sold very well, goes for $20 to $30.