Thursday, June 30, 2016

JINGLE JANGLE: A Birminghamburger Whodunnit

Nashville
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.


    
    

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