DEAR JERRY: I have followed your discussions for years (in the Chicago Sun-Times) but here is an interesting trivia question I don't believe you have ever been asked.
Who would you say is the first rock artist to have a hit album that contains two discs instead of the far more common single disc album package?
I was involved with a group recently when this subject came up and the one we thought of is “Freak Out,” by Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention.
“Freak Out” came out in early 1967, which means it predates both “Wheels of Fire,” by Cream, and the Beatles self-titled white album both of which are double LPs made in '68.
Peter Cowen, Chicago
DEAR PETER: This is a great question and, as you suspected, one we have never before tackled.
Before the mid-'60s, rock artists simply didn't make double albums, a format seemingly reserved for the big name non-rock pop stars.
Harry Belafonte, for example, had two double LP sets in one year, each offering a different live concert: “Belafonte at Carnegie Hall” and “Belafonte Returns to Carnegie Hall.”
Between 1961 and '65, Judy Garland had three double albums: “Judy at Carnegie Hall;” “The Best of Judy Garland” and “Live at the London Palladium.” With the lengthy shows given at venues like Carnegie Hall, it required two vinyl discs to contain a complete concert.
Since the early '60s rock acts were not usually found on the Carnegie Hall stage, a single disc not only held the material usually 10 or 12 tracks but was a much better fit for the typical teenager's budget.
There is no reference source for your question, so it's just a matter of what information oozes forth from the caverns of my memory.
The earliest two-disc package by a rock artist that comes to mind is “The Beatles vs. the Four Seasons (The International Battle of the Century).” This Vee-Jay set, with one LP by each group in a double-pocket cover, meets the criteria you set forth. It came out in October 1964, well before “Freak Out.”
One month later (November 1964), Capitol issued a documentary “The Beatles Story,” another double album package.
Two years after these Beatles LPs, but about six months before “Freak Out,” Columbia released a double album by Bob Dylan titled “Blonde on Blonde.” This would then be the first double album of original music.
I have heard that Chicago blues singer Little Johnny Christian was with a gospel group early in his career.
Please tell me which group and when Johnny sang with them?
Elaine McDonald, Paducah, Ky.
DEAR ELAINE: From 1957 to '61, Little Johnny Christian sang with the Highway QCs, the same quartet that claimed Johnnie Taylor's services for awhile.
DEAR JERRY: Many years ago, there was a violinist who was best known for “The Hot Canary.” He appeared at the time on many prime time TV shows.
Please, if you remember, tell me his name.
Howard Horne, Tucson, Ariz.
DEAR HOWARD: Chances are good you are referring to Florian Zabach.
It is he who had the hit recording of “The Hot Canary,” which made the Top 15 in 1951. Zabach also hosted his own TV show in the mid-'50s, further matching him with the description you give.
“The Hot Canary” is as much fun for a violinist to play as “Orange Blossom Special” is for a fiddler.
IZ ZAT SO? Though “Wheels of Fire,” by Cream, does not wear the crown as first rock double album, the band does leave with a lovely parting gift an equally significant decoration.
In August of 1968, “Wheels of Fire” became the first two-disc rock album to reach No. 1.