Thursday, June 30, 2016

JINGLE JANGLE: A Birminghamburger Whodunnit

June, 2016

Victoria Hallman

     Not every mystery needs solving. Especially when all the players are either dead or too old to care. And anyway, who would remember a twelve-second jingle for a mom-and-pop hamburger stand in Homewood, Alabama?
     Me! I remember, and so does every other kid who grew up in Alabama in the 1960s. Of course, back then none of us suspected anything mysterious about our favorite burgers. How could there be? Cousin Cliff Holman advertised them on his Popeye show, and everybody knew Cousin Cliff was a good guy. He'd even been nice enough to introduce me to my first record producer, the one I blogged about in March. In fact, that blog post is how I came to uncover the mystery. Readers' interest in Heart Recording Company and producer Kenneth Shackelford, inspired me to call Kenneth and renew acquaintance.
     Oh, how sweet to hear his voice after all these years, and what a welcome surprise when Kenneth's wife Anita and their son Ray gathered around the phone to join our reunion. Anita was in on everything that happened at Heart Records and Ray is a multi-instrumentalist who carries on the family musical tradition as song leader and pastor at GraceLife Ministries, so the four of us got off to a rocking start, reminiscing about the A-list of Birmingham's early-60s music scene who recorded at Heart, like Bob Cain, longtime entertainer-owner of the Canebreak Supper Club; Larry Parker of Larry and the Loafers, whose "Panama City Blues" was on the Heart label; and a young hairdresser called Wynette Byrd, who moonlighted as female vocalist on WBRC's Country Boy Eddie Show before moving to Nashville and becoming Tammy Wynette.
     So we're laughing, swapping stories, when suddenly Ray says, "Hey, Vicki, do you remember Tom Pollard, one of Dad's partners at Heart? Did you know the two of them wrote the Jack's Hamburgers jingle?" Anita chimes in, "They wrote it sitting at that table right over there."
     "Wow, mailbox money," I say.
     But no, according to Ray they never got any money that he knew of.
     "What about the copyright?" I wonder.
     But as I said in the beginning, it's been too long, nobody remembers; and you can bet I won't be the one to go searching through ancient archives.
     Still, that night in bed with my laptop, I figure it can't hurt to google Jack's Hamburgers. I mean, this jingle was part of the soundtrack of my childhood, and doesn't my history with Cousin Cliff  connect me to the mystery? Sort of?
      My research is made easier by the fact that Jack's Hamburgers celebrated their 50th anniversary in 2010 with an updated version of the jingle, which received a lot of press. And guess what. Matt and Mark Kimbrell, two of the musicians who played on the new version, say their dad wrote the jingle. They know this because he told them he did. Exactly as Ray Shackelford's dad told him he wrote it. Coincidentally, I knew both dads. I say knew because Matt and Mark's father, Henry, died awhile back (as did Matt Kimbrell in 2010), but I did know Henry Kimbrell in the 1970s when I was a young singer on the nightclub scene in Birmingham and he was leading the Henry Kimbrell Orchestra, so I certainly wouldn't doubt that he wrote the Jack's jingle. Nor would I doubt that Kenneth Shackelford and Tom Pollard wrote it. It's entirely possible they all wrote it. According to the Jack's anniversary news coverage, Ed Boutwell, founder of Boutwell Studios in Birmingham, was "at the helm" of the original recording session, which makes perfect sense, because Ed was producing a lot of jingles back in 1960-61, as I well remember, having been allowed to skip a couple of schooldays in second grade, to go to Birmingham and sing two of them; one for Coca-Cola, recorded at Heart Studio; the other for Mother's Best Flour, recorded at Boutwell Studio's first location, which was in the basement of the Boutwell home. Hm, seems I have more of a connection to this mystery than I originally thought; I was practically on the scene when it occurred, and it just so happens that Ed Boutwell was the engineer on my first record, which was cut at Heart Studio in 1960, so there's another clue, because it proves he was working with Kenneth Shackelford when the Jack's jingle premiered. I must say though, it also stands to reason that Henry Kimbrell played on the jingle session, because Birmingham musicians have always been a tight-knit group, and Henry was very much a part of it.
      No, I won't go digging up bones; I've solved this to my satisfaction. Keep in mind that back in 1960 nobody dreamed Jack's one hamburger stand would someday mushroom to seventy-six franchises, and you can be sure that on the day they cut the jingle none of the guys in the studio thought they were creating musical history. They were just putting beer money in their pockets, cranking out a little ditty for a local shake shack, exactly the kind of session that can become a group effort, even to the point of tweaking the melody and lyrics of the song. I'd never go so far as to say it actually happened that way, but if I were Agatha Christie, that's how I'd write it.
     One more thing before I go. Everybody sing along:
     Jack's Hamburgers for fifteen cents,
     Are so good, good, good,
     You'll go back, back, back,
     To Jack, Jack, Jack's,
     For more, more, more.


Monday, April 25, 2016


Victoria Hallman

April 2016

     Back in 1975, a couple of brothers making fourteen dollars a night setting up chairs at a Birmingham supper club would never have dreamed they'd end up working with music legends like the Temptations, even if such a thing had crossed their minds, which it didn't. Until it happened.
     Years later, when it was right before my eyes, I still found it hard to believe. There I was, standing in the wings, grooving to the Temptations songs, and wasn't that my old friend Tommy Finley playing trumpet in the horn section, and earlier in the evening, didn't I hear Little Richard's manager asking Tommy's brother Donny for permission to take his famous client backstage? 

Donny Finley with the Temptations Review featuring Dennis Edwards
     It all started when the Temptations Review featuring Dennis Edwards found themselves in need of a tour manager. Dennis Edwards, Grammy-winning lead singer for the Temptations from 1968 to 1989, is from Fairfield, Alabama, hometown of the Finley twins, whose buddy John Taylor played trumpet with the Temptations Review. So when John heard Donny Finley was retiring from Bell South, he knew he'd found the tour
manager Dennis Edwards needed. If you're wondering how Donny's work history with the phone company translated to job experience for a tour manager, the fact is it didn't. No, the Finleys' story is one of following your bliss, and Tommy and Donny's  bliss was music.

Tommy Finley with the Temptations Review featuring Dennis Edwards
     Which was how I met them. That club where they were moonlighting for fourteen dollars a night back in 1975 was the Bachelors' Sho-boat on Morris Avenue and I was the female vocalist with the Bachelors. As Tommy Finley tells it, one night he was having a beer at the Sho-boat, when Bill Robinson, the club's manager, asked him if he'd take fourteen dollars to lend a hand setting up chairs.
     Tommy says, "I figured if I was going to be there every night anyway, I might as well make some money."

The Bachelors featuring Vicki Hallman c.1972 (l-r) Bobby Daye, Al Rocco, Ray Rachels, Vicki, Vince Ceravolo
  Pretty soon, brother Donny was running the spotlight, and the twins had become an indispensable part of the Sho-boat crew, doing everything from collecting cover charge to shepherding me safely to and from work. But the Sho-boat wasn't the only nightclub the Finleys frequented. The two brothers spent equal time at the Canebreak and following local favorites like the Tikis from showroom to showroom, until they were as well-known on the Birmingham night-scene as the musicians they followed. Those were the "Glory Days" Springsteen sang about, but sometimes glory days don't pass you by, sometimes they become a glory road, and old friends go along for the ride.
     Like when the Finley twins invited me to Memphis for An Evening of Soul, Celebrating Peabo Bryson's 60th Birthday, presented by David Gest. Not familiar with David Gest? Well neither was I, but let me tell you, the man knew how to throw a party, which isn't surprising since he produced Michael Jackson: 30th Anniversary Celebration: The Solo Years, said to be the highest-rated
Victoria Hallman and Percy Sledge at rehearsal for An Evening of Soul
television special in history, and if An Evening of Soul had been televised, it would have ranked right up there. I can't possibly list all the legends who appeared that night, so I'll just name a few of the Alabamians: Eddie Floyd (Montgomery); Candi Staton (Hanceville); Percy Sledge (Leighton); and of course, Dennis Edwards (Fairfield) and David Sea (Birmingham) of the Temptations Review.
     Needless to say I felt plenty comfortable, not only because I was with homefolks, but because I was warmly welcomed by everyone, including the host, David Gest, to whom Tommy Finley introduced me, adding, "Victoria used to be on Hee Haw."
     "Hee Haw?" Mr. Gest exclaimed, "I love Hee Haw! I even have Hee Haw overalls."
     Now if that didn't make me feel right at home, I don't know what would, because Hee Haw overalls were made by Liberty Trouser Company in Birmingham, and I'm betting that's an Alabama-Nashville connection you never made, even though it was right there on your TV screen every week for twenty-five years.
                                           RIP David Gest, May 11, 1953-April 12, 2016.
David Gest at An Evening of Soul

Sunday, March 20, 2016

From the Heart of Alabama to Hee Haw

Nashville, January 2016

From the Heart of Alabama to Hee Haw

I was only six years old and too small to reach the boom mic that towered over me in the barn-sized studio of Heart Recording Company. But in those days, when egg cartons tacked to the walls served as sound proofing for music captured by reel-to-reel tape, and splicing that tape was accomplished with the same kind of tools used to create the cardboard box it came in, record producers thought in terms of whatever worked.

So while I stood there in a converted second-story warehouse above Birmingham’s Blood Bank, gazing up at the monster of a microphone hanging over my head, producer Kenneth Shackleford was dragging Coca-Cola crates out of a storage room and stacking them into a platform for me to stand on. As I said, whatever worked. And sure enough that l song I cut standing on Coke crates, a Christmas tear-jerker called “Send My Daddy Home,” got me a contract with Briar Records, a Nashville indie label whose roster included Hoyt Axton, Mother Maybelle Carter,  Pee Wee King, Jimmy Riddle and Floyd Cramer.

Ever heard of a God-wink? Well, maybe just an interesting coincidence, but twenty years later I once again found myself part of a group that included two of those names on Briar's list, when I began a ten-year stint in a dual role on Hee Haw as female vocalist with Buck Owens’ Buckaroos and also as “Miss Honeydew” of the Hee Haw Honeys.
During that time, my former Briar label-mates Jimmy Riddle and Floyd Cramer were also part of the Hee Haw gang, Jimmy as one half of Riddle and Phelps, the duo who performed the hambone routine on the show, and Floyd as pianist with Hee Haw’s Million Dollar Band. (Note Birmingham's Henry Strzelecki on bass in video.) 

So God-wink or not, I do wonder about the odds of me winding up working with Jimmy and Floyd again after all those years, and our earlier association surely foreshadowed my long career in the company of country music legends. Then again, I was working with legends in Birmingham before Briar Records and Nashville ever entered my picture. So while I'm name-dropping, I might mention that back in those days when I was too little to reach the microphone, Bobby Goldsboro was one of the "house" musicians at Heart Recording Studio,  and it wasn’t long before Bobby made his own Alabama-Nashville connection with chart-toppers “Little Things" (Early video above, worth getting past the ad to watch.), “See the Funny Little Clown,” “Watching Scotty Grow,” “Autumn of My Life,” “With Pen in Hand,” “Honey” . . .
Bobby Goldsboro Lttle Things Music Video
     Oh, yes, every month here at “The Alabama-Nashville Connection” we’ll be talking about – and with – legendary musicians, but we’ll also include the music-makers behind the legends, the ones like Kenneth Shackleford who would do whatever it took to see his artists reach the top, even if he had to build a tower out of Coke crates to get it done.