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Monday, March 9, 2015

O-H-I-O -- So You Think You Know "Sloopy"?

OK, Buckeyes, so we all know "Hang On Sloopy" is the official The Ohio State University rock song. But, I bet you don't know much more about the tune except for the "O-H-I-O" gestures and the "letter chant" we fanatics love to add to the battle cry.

OK, Ohio, it's time for a more thorough investigation of the history of the song and writer Bert Burns. And, what a storied history it is for rock music enthusiasts everywhere.

The Official Ohio Rock Song

"Hang On Sloopy" was adopted as the official state rock song by House Concurrent Resolution 16 on November 20, 1985. Though the song is attributed to a Bert "Russell" in the resolution, the real composer was Bert Berns. Russell was a pseudonym, or pen name, that Berns wrote under sometimes.

For the sake of history, here is the actual resolution:


WHEREAS, The members of the 116th General Assembly of Ohio wish to recognize the rock song "Hang On Sloopy" as the official rock song of the great State of Ohio; and

WHEREAS, In 1965, an Ohio-based rock group known as the McCoys reached the top of the national record charts with "Hang On Sloopy," composed by Bert Russell and Wes Farrell, and that same year, John Tagenhorst, then an arranger for the Ohio State University Marching Band, created the band's now-famous arrangement of "Sloopy," first performed at the Ohio State-Illinois football game on October 9, 1965; and

WHEREAS, Rock music has become an integral part of American culture, having attained a degree of acceptance no one would have thought possible twenty years ago; and

WHEREAS, Adoption of "Hang On Sloopy" as the official rock song of Ohio is in no way intended to supplant "Beautiful Ohio" as the official state song, but would serve as a companion piece to that old chestnut; and

WHEREAS, If fans of jazz, country-and-western, classical, Hawaiian and polka music think those styles also should be recognized by the state, then by golly, they can push their own resolution just like we're doing; and

WHEREAS, "Hang On Sloopy" is of particular relevance to members of the Baby Boom Generation, who were once dismissed as a bunch of long-haired, crazy kids, but who now are old enough and vote in sufficient numbers to be taken quite seriously; and

WHEREAS, Adoption of this resolution will not take too long, cost the state anything, or affect the quality of life in this state to any appreciable degree, and if we in the legislature just go ahead and pass the darn thing, we can get on with more important stuff; and

WHEREAS, Sloopy lives in a very bad part of town, and everybody, yeah, tries to put my Sloopy down; and

WHEREAS, Sloopy, I don't care what your daddy do, 'cause you know, Sloopy girl, I'm in love with you; therefore be it

Resolved, That we, the members of the 116th General Assembly of Ohio, in adopting this Resolution, name "Hang On Sloopy" as the official rock song of the State of Ohio; and be it further

Resolved, That the Legislative Clerk of the House of Representatives transmit duly authenticated copies of this Resolution to the news media of Ohio.

The Writer -- Bert Berns (November 8, 1929 – December 30, 1967)

Born into a Jewish family in the Bronx that hoped he might become a classical pianist, Bert Berns suffered rheumatic fever as a teenager, an early death sentence in those pre-open heart surgery days. He dropped out of school and lived aimlessly for many years. He had always nursed show business ambitions and tried his hand at songwriting without success.  

He, instead developed a love of Latin music that took him to Cuba, where he claimed to have run guns for Fidel Castro’s rebels. 

Berns didn't stay in Cuba. A late starter in the music business at age 30, he returned to the U.S. and took his first job in the music business, $50 a week as a song plugger for Robert Mellin Music. His first hit was “A Little Bit of Soap” by the Jarmels in 1961.

Then, within a year, Berns earned a Top Ten hit with “Tell Him” by The Exciters; produced the hit version of his song “Twist and Shout” with the Isley Brothers after 19 year-old Phil Spector and Jerry Wexler took the hapless first crack at the song with a group called the Top Notes on Atlantic; landed the original A-side to the Gene Pitney single, “If I Didn’t Have a Dime,” on the other side of what turned out to be Burt Bacharach’s first hit, “Only Love Can Break a Heart”; and launched a string of hits by soul legend Solomon Burke that would help keep Atlantic Records in business.

"In 1963, he joined Atlantic as staff producer, replacing Leiber and Stoller as keeper of Atlantic franchise acts such as The Drifters and Ben E. King. He also started his own label, Keetch Records, with singles by The Mustangs and Linda Laurie. He also wrote and produced the Top Ten hit 'Cry Baby' for Garnet Mimms and the Enchanters with collaborator Jerry Ragovoy.

"After The Beatles had made 'Twist and Shout' a worldwide hit that year, Berns also went to England to produce acts for Decca Records (U.K.). He returned the following year to supervise the sessions for Irish rock group "Them" (Van Morrison) that produced the No. 2 U.K. hit, 'Here Comes the Night,' a Berns song he also produced with vocalist Lulu on the same British trip. He returned in 1965 to produce more tracks with Them.

"In London, Berns recorded with a stable of artists at Decca. And every time he went to the U.K., he used a kid named Jimmy Page as a session player. He ultimately introduced Page to the heads of Atlantic records and they signed his group to the label. That group was Led Zeppelin.

"Berns was the first American producer to make records in England. He even connected with The Rolling Stones. They recorded Berns’ song, ”Everybody Needs Somebody to Love” (the late, great Solomon Burke's hit song).

"Berns established his own label, Bang Records, in partnership with the owners of Atlantic Records – the label name is an acronym of their first names; Bert, Ahmet, Neshui and Gerald – and quickly earned a No. 1 hit with 'Hang On Sloopy' by the McCoys, a song he wrote and first produced with a rhythm and blues vocal group called the Vibrations. Neil Diamond made his first hits -- 'Cherry, Cherry' and 'Solitary Man' -- for Berns, who also supervised the first solo recordings by Van Morrison, including 'Brown Eyed Girl.'" It was also Berns who produced The Drifters’ colossal hit “Under the Boardwalk” Barbara Mason's hit "Baby I'm Yours" for Atlantic."

(Larry Rohter. "Many-Hit Wonder, Out of Obscurity: Bert Berns, Songwriter and Producer, Remembered." The New York Times July 16, 2014)

Even in his mid-1960s heyday, Bert Berns was barely known beyond the obsessives who studied songwriters’ and producers’ credits on 45 r.p.m. records and LP album jackets.

At the time Berns was active, hyphenated songwriting teams, usually with the responsibility for lyrics and music clearly divided, dominated a scene centered on the Brill Building: Bacharach-David, Barry-Greenwich, Goffin-King, Leiber-Stoller, Mann-Weil. Berns was different. He either wrote alone (“Here Comes the Night,” “Tell Him,” “Cry to Me”) or with a revolving cast of collaborators that included Jerry Ragovoy, Phil Medley, Wes Farrell, Jerry Wexler and the soul singer Solomon Burke.

From 1960 to 1967, Berns had a unbelievable 51 chart toppers. “He did the trifecta, which no one else did,” explains his eldest child, Brett Berns. “He was the songwriter of standards, the consummate record producer. He could maneuver in the business world and have a successful record label. And he was a great talent scout who discovered so many icons and legends of rock and roll, rhythm and blues and soul music.”

Larry Rohter, culture reporter for The New York Times, writes ...

"The tone of Berns’s compositions, many of which he wrote on a battered acoustic guitar, was atypical, too. Burt Bacharach and Hal David created a cosmopolitan sound with complex harmonies, and Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller offered acute social observations with a humorous streak. But Berns’s trademark was the dark, angst-ridden tale of love unrequited or gone wrong, often with the words 'cry' or 'heart' in the title: Within months of Berns’s death, Janis Joplin had hits with both 'Piece of My Heart' and 'Cry Baby.'”

(Larry Rohter. "Many-Hit Wonder, Out of Obscurity: Bert Berns, Songwriter and Producer, Remembered." The New York Times July 16, 2014)

But even with all the hits, after Berns died in 1967 at the age of 38 of a heart attack, he drifted into obscurity. Though the songs he wrote and produced, like “Twist and Shout” and “Hang On Sloopy,” proved to have durability, growing in stature and popularity as the years passed, Berns’s own reputation receded even further.

And to this day, you won’t find him in the Songwriters Hall of Fame or the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. “Why is he so obscure? Because he died young. He didn’t have a press agent to get him that lifetime achievement award and he left behind bad bones with powerful record company people,” says son Brett Berns. “The people who could have honored him, decided to bury him further. Time covered him up.”

And then, something truly odd happened. Now, Bert Berns is being honored as he well should be. The Berns recognition can be said to have begun as early as 2008, when Ace Records, a British label, released the first of two CDs chronicling his abbreviated but hit-filled career, "Twist and Shout" and "Mr. Success." A third installment features rarities recorded by the Shirelles, Wilson Pickett, Mr. Morrison and one of Berns’s main inspirations, the Cuban singer-guitarist Arsenio Rodríguez.

In addition, a new biography, Joel Selvin’s Here Comes the Night: The Dark Soul of Bert Berns and the Dirty Business of Rhythm & Blues (2014) praises him as “one of the great originals of the golden age of rhythm and blues,” an argument repeated in a documentary film about his life that is in the works, tentatively called “Bang! The Bert Berns Story.”

His children Brett and Cassie Berns have placed their dad and his epic and brilliant musical repertoire front and center in the new bio-musical Piece of My Heart: The Bert Berns Story. And, the new musical then opened Off Broadway at the Pershing Square Signature Center.

(Jeryl Brunner. "Who Wrote the Beatles Hit “Twist and Shout”? The Amazing Story
of Bert Berns." Parade Magazine. August 29, 2014)

The Legend of Inspiration

Legend has it that the name "Sloopy" most likely came from Dorothy Sloop, who was a Jazz singer from Steubenville, Ohio. She performed in the New Orleans area using the name "Sloopy" primarily from the 1930s through the 1950s.

As the story goes, Dorothy either struck up a conversation about her name with young men at Dixie’s Bar of Music in New Orleans or, during a difficult moment there onstage, was cheered from the crowd with a kindly “Hang on, Sloopy!” The gap is part of the allure.

But, Sloopy didn't grow up "in the bad part of town" as the song goes. A 1930 Steubenville newspaper story called young Dorothy the “merriest entertainer, the queen of quip and an all-around favorite.”

Contrary to the song’s depiction, “She didn’t live on the wrong side of the tracks,” said her Westerville, Ohio, nephew Fred Ruland, 72. “Steubenville was a pretty nice place at the time.”

After a year at Ohio University in Athens, Dorothy Sloop decamped to New York, where she played piano for a fiery foursome, the Southland Rhythm Girls. Yes, OSU fans, The Ohio University.

The women landed gigs in cities such as Miami and Houston. They performed in the Manhattan apartment of William Randolph Hearst. They danced, dined out and acquired fine clothes.

Then, it seems, Sloopy let her hair down.

She moved to New Orleans, hometown of Southland leader Yvonne “Dixie” Fasnacht and her namesake bar. “Business in the club was simply rarin’ to go!” Sloop said in a typed autobiography kept by her sister, Margaret. “Those were the halcyon days.”

Not until many years later, while working for a children’s TV program in Lubbock, Texas, did Sloop hear about success of he song Hang On Sloopy. The discovery warranted just a mention in her brief memoir.

Kevin Joy of The Columbus Dispatch writes ...

"She married Joe Boudreaux, a Navy diver from Houma, La., and returned to Steubenville to finish college. They divorced amid grief over three miscarriages, although they did conceive a daughter, Jane Heflick, whose surname Sloop changed to reflect her grandmother’s maiden name.

Sloop, who never remarried, earned a master’s degree and taught special education for three decades in St. Petersburg, Fla. She sang and played the piano to calm difficult students, niece Dorothy Ruland Lupton said.

Well into her 70s, a still-fiery Sloop performed by night."

(Kevin Joy. "Mystery surrounds Steubenville native who inspired 'Hang On Sloopy.'"
The Columbus Dispatch. September 26, 2013)

She didn’t seek royalties or appear at any Ohio State functions, although her daughter said friends would send press clippings.

“That really pleased her,” said Heflick, who lives in Biloxi, Miss.

Sloop retired to Florida and became a teacher. She died in Pass Christian, Mississippi at age 84.

“I knew nothing about her,” said Chicago composer John Tatgenhorst, who in 1965 heard the tune at the Ohio State Fair and, soon after, charted the original (and unchanged) Sloopy sheet music used by the Ohio State University marching band.

Paul Droste, director of the OSU marching band from 1970 to ’83, first joined the staff in 1966, a year after Hang On Sloopy was added to the repertoire. He never heard a word from Sloop during those years, he said.

Yet the song quickly caught on. Beginning with its debut by the band on October 1965 -- during a home game against the University of Illinois, with a performance that almost didn’t happen because then-director Charles Spohn opposed the rock ’n’ roll track -- crowds were enamored.

The song became a modern-day Buckeyes tradition by the end of that season.“They wanted 'Sloopy,'” said Tatgenhorst, 75. “They asked for 'Sloopy.'”

Attempts were made in the 1980s to reduce the band’s "Sloopy" frequency, but they failed.

Heflick, who lost her mother’s memorabilia in Hurricane Katrina, hangs onto the memories.
“People always raved about her,” she said. “Mom would have been really pleased to have seen where it went.”

“It’s always been an interesting story in the family,” said her great-nephew Brett Ruland, the 41-year-old owner of the Downtown shop Spoonful Records — who, like many others, grew up thinking the lyrics pertained to the cartoon dog Snoopy.

("How Well Do You Know 'Sloopy'?" Wayback Machine. Boomer Magazine. June 15, 2008)
The Song "Hang On Sloopy"

"Hang On Sloopy" was written by Bert Berns. Wes Farrell also got credit for co-writing the tune. This song was released on Bang Records, which had a Derringer gun for a logo. That's what gave Rick Zehringer the idea for his new name -- Rick Derringer, the famed guitarist of the McCoys.

Solomon Burke told Mojo magazine on August 2008 that Bert Berns originally wrote an earlier version of this for him. However the soul legend turned it down.

The song was originally recorded by the R&B group The Vibrations as "My Girl Sloopy" in 1964, reaching #26 on the US charts.

The McCoys began as the Rick Z Combo (named after lead guitarist Rick Zehringer, who later became Rick Derringer) in Union City, Indiana. They developed a following playing at Forest Park Plaza in Dayton, Ohio.

They later became Rick And The Raiders, a group led by guitarist and lead singer Derringer. In 1965, Rick And The Raiders played a Dayton, Ohio concert as the backup band for The Strangeloves, who were a group of producers who wrote the song "I Want Candy" and made up a group for it.

In a strange and brilliant marketing move, The Strangeloves claimed they were from Australia and said they were shepherds who got rich by crossbreeding sheep. The Strangeloves - Bob Feldman, Jerry Goldstein and Richard Gottehrer - arranged a recording session with Rick And The Raiders, who had changed their name to The McCoys (after a Ventures song), and had them record a version of "My Girl Sloopy" as "Hang On Sloopy."

The Strangeloves planned to record this song as the follow-up to their hit "I Want Candy," and began performing it on their tour. Another group on that tour, The Dave Clark Five, hear them doing the song and acquired a taste for "Sloopy," realizing it could be a big hit.

Dave Clark taped The Strangeloves performing the song and planned to record it with his group when they got back to England. The Strangeloves were in a tough spot because "Candy" was still climbing the charts, and they didn't want to release another single until it was on its way down.

Lucky for The Strangeloves, group member Bob Feldman was afraid to fly, and on their drive back to New York, they stopped in Ohio and played the gig in Dayton where they met Rick And The Raiders, which was led by the 16-year-old Zehringer.

The Strangeloves convinced the Raiders' parents to let them take the boys to New York (with Zehringer's parents along for the ride), where they sang over the already-recorded tracks.

Said Derringer:

"They gave us a small record player and a copy of the musical track and told us exactly what they wanted us to sing. We went out into the park for a few days, practiced singing it, and put the vocal on. They jumped up and down in the control room and yelled, 'Number One!' And a few weeks later, it was."

Most of the group joined Johnny Winter's backup band in the early '70s, and in 1973 Rick Derringer joined the Edgar Winter group as lead guitarist and vocalist, after which he had a successful hard rock solo career.

Jazz pianist Ramsey Lewis won the 1973 Grammy Award for Best R&B Instrumental Performance for his cover of "Hang on Sloopy." The song has been recorded by more than 100 performers, including the Yardbirds, Don Ho and German punk band Die Toten Hosen.

(Song Facts. "Hang On Sloopy"

"Hang On Sloopy" Lyrics

Hang on sloopy, sloopy hang on
Hang on sloopy, sloopy hang on

Sloopy lives in a very bad part of town
and everybody yeah, tries to put my sloopy down
Sloopy I don't care, what your daddy do
Cuz you know sloopy, girl, I'm in love with you

and so I sing out

Hang on sloopy, sloopy hang on
Hang on sloopy, sloopy hang on

Sloopy wears a red dress, yeah
As old as the hills
but when sloopy wears that red dress, yeah
you know it gives me the chills

Sloopy when I see you walking,
walking down the street
I say don't worry sloopy, girl
You belong to me

and so I sing out

Hang on sloopy, sloopy hang on
Hang on sloopy, sloopy hang on
(yeah) (yeah) (yeah) (yeah) Let's give it to 'em (Guitar solo)

Sloopy let your hair down, girl
Let it hang down on me
Sloopy let your hair down, girl
Let it hang down on me, yeah

come on sloopy (come on, come on)
oh come on sloopy (come on, come on)
oh come on sloopy (come on, come on)
oh come on sloopy (come on, come on)

well it feels so good (come on, come on)
you know it feels so good (come on, come on)
well shake it, shake it, shake it sloopy (come on, come on)
shake it, shake it, shake it yeah (come on, come on) (Scream)

hang on sloopy, sloopy hang on
(yeah) (yeah) (yeah) (yeah)
hang on sloopy, sloopy hang on
(yeah) (yeah) (yeah) (yeah)
hang on sloopy, sloopy hang on

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