Ask “Mr. Music”
Jerry Osborne


DEAR JERRY: My question can only be answered by someone who is a living encyclopedia of music history — someone much like yourself.

Which recording artist is the most frequently mentioned by other artists in their songs? For example, in “Never Been to Spain” Three Dog Night mentions the Beatles: “Well I never been to England, but I kind of like the Beatles.”

And in “Ball of Confusion,” by the Temptations, they sing: “The Beatles' new record is a gas.” My limited knowledge tells me it would be the Beatles, though there no information like this in any book I've found.
—Bob Cole

DEAR BOB: In nearly 12 years and 600 weekly columns, you are the first to raise this interesting question.

You are right that no published reference to such a topic exists. It is likely the best you can do is solicit the opinion of someone who is a living encyclopedia of music history, someone with an E.M.H. degree.

And this E.M.H. is quite certain Elvis Presley has been mentioned far more than anyone else — be they performer, celebrity, politician, or otherwise notable.

Since he hit the big time in 1956, over 1,000 Presley tributes and novelties have been released worldwide - nearly 200 of which came out before the arrival of the Beatles.

Amazingly, there has been no year since '56 when at least one such disc that mentions or honors him did not appear.

Now if you were to vary your question slightly to ask which recording artist most often mentions their own name in their songs, the runaway leader in the self-possessed category is Jerry Lee Lewis.

DEAR JERRY: LeAnn Rimes recently released her version of “Unchained Melody,” obviously copying the style of the Righteous Brothers.

This got me to thinking about what I think was the original version. It came out in early 1956 or thereabouts by Al Hibbler, a blind African-American singer. I don't know if Hibbler ever had an album or not.

What's the history on Al Hibbler? Was that his only recording? I have never heard of another. Is he still living?
—Bruce (

DEAR BRUCE: Rather than offer an embarrassingly brief Al Hibbler history here, let me refer you to the recently issued CD, “The Best of Al Hibbler” (Varese Sarabande VSD-5930). The insert booklet accompanying this disc tells Al Hibbler's fascinating story quite well.

As for “Unchained Melody,” Hibbler's vocal and Les Baxter's instrumental version both made their chart debut the week of April 9, 1955. Two weeks later they were joined by Roy Hamilton's cover, and by mid-May all three were nested in the Top 10.

Hibbler had several follow-up hits, though only three have become pop classics: “He,” also remade by the Righteous Brothers (1966), “11th Hour Melody” and “After the Lights Go Down Low.”

Not counting reissues, Al had at least a dozen albums in the '50s and '60s.

Now a spry 83, Hibbler is very much among the living.

DEAR JERRY: I was pleasantly surprised to see Dick Curless make your column. From 1972 to '75, I was the Officer-in-Charge of Navy Recruiting in Northern New England. Dick volunteered to help us, working very hard with my recruiters at shopping centers, malls and numerous summer fairs throughout the Maine. He never asked for pay, though we did manage to buy him a lunch or dinner sometimes.

He made a positive difference for us during a very difficult time, mainly the Vietnam war. At that time he had a radio show broadcasting from Bangor, Maine. I'm now retired from the Navy and living in Florida, where I read your column religiously.
—Beirne Keefer, Clearwater, Fla.

DEAR BEIRNE: Thank you for sharing a story that otherwise may have never been shared with the masses. Many celebrities donate their time and resources, neither asking nor wanting a public acknowledgment.

IZ ZAT SO? After Johnny Ace's Christmas day 1954 death, from a self-inflicted gunshot to the head, Decca recruited Al Hibbler in hopes he would sound like Ace. When told this is what they had in mind for him, he told them to “take their contract and shove it.” Fortunately they gave in and let Al sing in his natural, more-pop-than-blues style.

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