David Marks- The Forgotten Beach Boy

The Beach Boys say goodbye to David Marks, 1963…

David Marks: Lost Beach Boy

Playing rhythm guitar is a noble but unglamorous job. But even for such an unheralded job, David Marks, one of rock’n’roll’s greatest rhythm guitarists, has been given an unfair pass by history. David Marks, the rhythm guitar player in the Beach Boys from 1961-3 has always fascinated me since he was basically written out of history. The Beach Boys always kept tight control over their image and legacy (in fact, the best book on the Beach Boys– David Leaf’s The Beach Boys and The California Myth has been out of print almost since it’s first printing, and it’s author hired by the Beach Boys, probably to shut him up). The official Beach Boys party line is the Marks replaced Al Jardine for a few months when Jardine returned to school, in reality Marks was in the group for nearly three years, joining the band shortly after their first single–Surfin’ for the tiny Candix (later X) label, joining in time to play on Surfin’ U.S.A. ,he was on all their early tours and first four LP’s, his last session was Be True To Your School b/w In My Room.
David Marks, whose family moved from Pennsylvania to Hawthorne, California was the across the street neighbor of the Wilson family, he learned to play guitar along side Carl Wilson (taking lessons together from the same instructor) and ran with Dennis from the time he was eight years old.

Marks too has a book— The Lost Beach Boy (David Marks with Jon Stebbins, Virgin Books, 2007), an incredible read and probably the best bird’s eye view of the early Beach Boys we shall ever see. Marks’ tale is often riveting, more often hilarious– where else can you read of the Beach Boys’ first trip to the whorehouse? Or their first experience with the clap? The stories of Dennis’ Wilson’s wild and woolly ways are alone worth the cover price. Already nuts, and when rock stardom kicked in at age 17 Dennis went totally bonkers (as drummers will do), but I don’t think we’ll get a closer or more honest look at the young Dennis Wilson than the one Marks paints.

The Lost Beach Boy is quite candid, from page 92 a letter from the road Marks never mailed:
Dear Mom and Dad,
I’m having a fucking great time on the road! We’re drinking lots of whiskey and screwing whores in every town. My dick is oozing green pus but don’t worry, we’re all getting penicillin shots soon. I can’t wait to tell you about the rest of the things we’ve done. See you in a week!
Love, David
The first part of the book which deals with his years as a Beach Boy and what happens when you take a bunch of teenagers and give ’em a hit record (they go ape shit) is the most interesting. Marks quit the band in 1963, at the peak of their fame, after a fight with Murray Wilson, who had been trying to force him out of the band all along . Of course Murray comes off as the bad guy, he’s virtually impossible to defend, but Murray Wilson is also a lot of fun to read about, as any Beach Boys fan knows. You just can’t have too many ‘crazy Murray’ stories for me. Brian come off as the hardest to pin down, and Marks was in such awe of his talent he never really gets close to him. Carl comes off like a nice, fat, kid, Mike Love an unexpected decent guy, and Marks himself caught in a dream he didn’t quite understand. He left the Beach Boys convinced he could pull it off solo– in fact he made some pretty good sides doing biz as David Marks and the Marksmen, including a couple of killer surf instrumentals– Sheriff of Noddingham (a dope reference?) and Travelin’ are excellent surf instrumental sides, and I love the snot nose rocker Crusin’. I also like his version of Chris Montez’ Let’s Dance, and the goofy, Beach Boys-esque (ish?)– Kustom Kar Show. For perversity’s sake I thought I’d throw in this one as I can’t imagine anyone really thought a Food Fair would be the next big craze after Surfin’, which it wasn’t but didn’t stop Marks from releasing it as a single. As good as these sides were, David Marks was simply not in the same league as Brian Wilson (who was?), and the idea that he could compete with his ex-band mates does show a hint of unreality. The fact that his first single (Cruisin’ b/w Kustom Kar Show) was released just as the Beatles began their usurpation of American pop music didn’t help matters at all.
Upon leaving the Beach Boys, David Marks was simply written out of their history. Al Jardine? He was only gone for a couple of months according to the new official party line. Just had to finish his schooling! In truth Jardine had only been in the group for a couple of months, and was gone for nearly three years. You will not find the truth in any official account of the Beach Boys story, come to think of it, even the non-official versions have given Marks’ the short shrift.
After David Marks and the Marksmen broke up, Marks formed the psychedelic group Moon, whom some folks love (me, not so much), a short stint in A Band With No Name (funded by Casey Kasem) and eventually went back to music school at Berklee in Boston. Of couse, he spent a lost decade in an alcohol and drug induced haze emerging with the dreaded Hep C, and finally rejoining the Beach Boys occasionally, starting in the early 90’s and into the Wilson-less years, where only he, Mike Love and Bruce Johnston (who still has never become a full fledged voting member of the band, after forty five years in the group) where the only Beach Boys on a stage full of people. Even Al Jardine was eventually booted out in the mid-nineties, and one would assume Mike Love was desperate for some “authentic” Beach Boys to fill out the stage.
Marks and Carl Wilson might’ve been goofy teenagers but they were a great and highly under rated guitar team, as the first four Beach Boys LP’s prove, and Marks’ story is a must read for any hardcore Beach Boys fan. It might be the only believable account of their earliest days. From terrorizing their Hawthorne neighbors (with Dennis as the natural born leader of the gang) to morphing into a great rock’n’roll band under Brian’s tutelage, this book is the best inside account yet written. The second part of the book of course deals with Marks’ hard landing back into the world, no longer a teenage star, in fact practially unknown, and involved in an ugly battle with Murray Wilson who used his considerable power to sabatoge Marks’ career whenever possible. This too is interesting reading, if a somewhat familar sounding story. Oddly enough, in these wilderness years, Mike Love again comes to Marks’ rescue, more than once!
Yes, playing rhythm guitar is indeed a noble occupation. A great rhythm guitar player should leave well enough along, too many rhythm guitar players have destroyed themselves attempting to show the world they can do more than “just play rhythm”–
David Crosby (great in the Byrds, worthless in every other way) and Brian Jones both come to mind, you can add David Marks to that list.

The Yardbirds

For your, well actually, my viewing pleasure I present Yardbirds footage that either I’ve never seen before (from European TV) or haven’t seen since I was a tyke. I got bored today and put Yardbirds into the YouTube search box and sure enough there’s some new stuff since I last checked about a year ago. I love the Yardbirds and assume most of you do too. So much has been written about the Yardbirds over the years that I have little to add, except that I still listen to them constantly.

It’s been a longstanding love affair, after buying the 45 of Heart Full Of Soul b/w Steeled Blues (I didn’t really like their first U.S. hit For Your Love), I managed to acquire their first two LP’s– For Your Love and Having A Raving Up With The Yardbirds in 1966, having traded a copy of Beatles ’65 with a neighbor. I still think I got the best of the deal. I was seven years old and I can distinctly remember being aware of how the sound of the guitar was changing– from the Kinks’ “You Really Got Me” to the Stones’ “The Last Time” and then the first side of Having A Rave-Up (in my opinion the peak of Jeff Beck’s style), the guitar was becoming a rather ominous sounding instrument (of course I was unaware at that time of earlier purveyors of guitar noise like Link Wray and Johnny Guitar Watson). I eventually bought every single second of music the Yardbirds have ever recorded and still get excited when anything new surfaces, especially from the Beck period (Aug. ’65– Oct. ’66).
Louise (bottom) is the only footage I’ve ever seen with Clapton on guitar (my least favorite of the three). There’s an interesting version of My Gal Sloopy and I Wish You Would that I’ve never seen, unfortunately the embedding has been disabled so I can’t run it here, but you can catch it here, it looks like Jim McCarty himself provided the footage. The CD re-issues of For Your Love, Having A Rave-Up and Over Under Sideways Down, along with non-LP’ singles, bonus tracks and outtakes are essential.

Gillian’s Found Photo #21

Not exactly a found photo this week, more like a donated pic we just love. The photographer is the famed Kate Simon, and the subject is the spawn of U.K. glam rock

Alvin Stardust, about whom I know almost nothing and don’t think I’ve ever heard, except for when he was Shane Fenton and make a record called I’m A Moody Guy which wasn’t half bad, still isn’t. Anyway, there’s something truly off about this little duffer. I wonder what he’s doing these days?

Johnnie Ray- The Little White Queer That Cried

Johnnie Ray in a rather peculiar publicity photo.

Detail from 10 Inch LP That Doesn’t Quite Fit In My Scanner

Early TV Appearence

Johnnie Ray and Fats Domino– What Did They Have In Common?

He was not the first white man to attempt to sound black, nor was he the first man to sing like a woman. Johnnie Ray (b. John Alvin Ray, 1927 in Dallas, Oregon) was, however, the first white man to sing like a black woman and top the charts. As far as pop stars go, he was a strange creature, an abomination of sorts. And his story is worth retelling one more time.
The first real excitement that found our hero was a savage game of blanket toss that left Ray deaf at the age of nine. Until a hearing aid was fitted to his concha, his teachers considered him retarded.
In this manner he passed through high school, a young man of little promise. Upon reaching his majority, Ray headed for Hollywood– following in the footsteps of so many worthless others– he would be in pictures and show the folks back home that he was no spazz.
Hollywood, however, had little use for the challenged young man and Ray soon abandoned his hopes for the silver screen and set his sights on a career in music. No mean trick for a deaf kid. No matter how loud he turned up his hearing aid, he could not hear the bass player, which made singing in time a great struggle. He did, however, play a little piano– and inspired by the tortured instrument that was Billie Holiday’s voice and R&B crooners like Ivory Joe Hunter, Little Jimmy Scott and Dinah Washington — he forged his own style. By 1951, after being run out of clubs everywhere for being too weird, Ray found an appreciative audience in Detroit at the Flame Show Bar, the best sepia room in town (Jackie Wilson and Lavern Baker were both discovered there, the latter doing biz as “Little Miss Sharecropper”). Johnnie Ray played piano and crooned ballads between sets by Maurice King’s Wolverines (King would go on to a job at Motown, teaching young acts how to shave their armpits and to not belch in public).
It was at the Flame that Danny Kessler, president of Okeh Records, Columbia’s newly reactivated R&B wing, discovered Ray, inking him to a record deal and recording him with King’s band. Johnnie Ray’s first disc, a spare, bluesy, original titled Whiskey and Gin was released in August, 1951 on the purple and gold Okeh label. Billboard’s astute reviewer called Ray’s voice “a cross between Kay Star and Jimmy Scott”. When Whiskey and Gin sold well in R&B markets and with teenage girls, Columbia’s prexy Mitch Miller took interest and signed himself on as Ray’s producer. His first matter of biz was to match Ray with the song Cry.
Cry had gone nowhere when it was originally recorded by Ruth Casey for the obscure Cadillac label. Ray took the song and working out a head arrangement with studio musicians and the vocal group the Four Lads– rewrote it into an emotion filled plea. Stretching syllables ridiculously, his voice reached into a choking upper register that bordered on a whine. It was either moving or pathetic, depending on your stand, but with Cry, Johnnie Ray had stuck paydirt.
Cry went to #1 on both the pop and R&B charts where it stayed for eleven weeks in the fall of 1951. There was something in the sound of Ray’s whimper that roused women to seismic enthusiasm. This unlikely pop idol– gangly, effete and adorned with a clumsy hearing aid was met at the airport in Cleveland by 5,000 screaming girls who tore the clothes from his limbs. The successor to Sinatra, and the precursor to Elvis had arrived. He started wearing cheap suits rather than lose the good ones to the paws of howling teenage girls.
Although the flipside of Cry, an original tune called The Little White Cloud That Cried also climbed the charts to peak at #2, Ray’s freakishness soon ignited a controversy that overshadowed his music. Ava Gardner was said to be obsessed with Ray, leading to a punch in the snout from pseudo-tough guy Frank Sinatra. As a gay man he was subjected to many degrading exposes, such as can be found in early 50’s issues of the vile and fascinating Confidential magazine which ran feature stories like “Is It True What They Say About Johnnie Ray?”, “Why Johnnie Ray Likes To Go In Drag” and “When Johnnie Ray Was Noel Coward’s House Guest”. There was an “incident” in a public toilet, one critic claimed the hearing aid was a gimmick. The hoopla hurt Ray, yet through it all he remained childlike and amazed, almost innocent, often self deprecating: “I never considered myself a singer. I classify myself as a song stylist, a performer, an actor…you’re either pro-Johnnie Ray or you hate my guts”. He was kicked upstairs to Okeh’s parent label Columbia, alongside Sinatra and Tony Bennett and the hits kept coming– Please Mr. Sun, Walking My Baby Home, R&B tunes like Clyde McPhatter’s Such A Night, Joe Turner’s Flip Flop and Fly, and the Prisonaires’ Just Walkin’ In The Rain. Also in his catalog are some oddball items with a distinct pre-rock’n’roll feel– Oooh! Aaah! Oh! and the bluesy I Want To Be Loved should be singled out.
During these gravy years, Johnnie Ray made many TV and movie appearances, worked the best clubs and concert halls, hid from nosy reporters (often in Spain) and eventually the success waned, helped along by the ugly rumors and the bad publicity.
One of his most loyal audiences was found in England, where he appeared many times at the London, Palladium, even recording a live (ten inch) LP there, a record which gives us an idea of the hysteria created both by Ray onstage and by the Ray-worshipping audience. From that LP I present his rousing set opener Please Don’t Talk About Me When I’m Gone, the overboard Glad Rag Doll, a hysterical reading of Such A Night and the big finale of Little White Cloud That Cried/I’m Gonna Walk and Talk With My Lord. Listen to that crowd!
Soon Elvis arrived and eclipsed even the controversy, and Johnnie Ray returned to the bars and lounges, making a comfortable living crying all over his piano. They still came, the little girls, now old and fat, wearing stretch pants and girdles. They came and they cried along with Johnnie Ray. Through the psychedelic 60’s, the leisure suit 70’s and the greed worshipping 80’s, they still came out– Johnnie’s fans never let him down. They filled the rooms, put bread on the table and wine in the jug. It was the jug that did him in. On February 24, 1990, Johnnie Ray’s liver packed it in, and the little white queer cried no more.

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