Friday, 4 May 2007

Billy Batson - New York, NY/Bring Me Ya Low Down Feelin's


Billy Batson - New York, NY/Bring Me Ya Low Down Feelin's (Decca 32035. 1966)

Billy kindly got in touch and shared some info on the Decca and 45, and also an insight into the workings of the recording industry in late 60s America.

Why they didn't promote the record or offer me a "real" recording contract, I'll never understand. Especially since the guys that backed me on the session thought the record was fucking hot and said so. I attribute that mostly to their great playing ability. The piano player's name was Artie. I don't remember his last name. But this guy was so fuckin' fabulous! You listen to how he played on the so-called B-side of the record; "Bring Me Ya Low Down Feelin's", and I swear, Artie was a mother fuckin' kookin' dude. He set that piano on fire...literally. They could have left me out of the whole side and just turned him up in the mix and as far as I'm concerned, they would have had a hit. I just loved this guy. I'm ashamed of myself that I don't even know his last name. But that's the way it was. You just showed up, the Producer passed out some charts; charts which I couldn't read, they turned on the mikes and said "Take One". And that was it.

Both those tunes are "one take" tunes. There wasn't any rehearsal or any formal introductions. It just all happened like some Tsunami rolled over the studio. "Take One", "New York, N.Y." "Take Two", "Bring Me Ya Low Down Feelin's". And that was it. Done. "Thanks everybody", said the Producer. And that was that. Everybody packed up their gear and left me standing there in the middle of this studio wondering what the fuck had just happened. I don't even recall hearing a playback of the songs. I didn't even get a review and I seriously doubt that the record was ever even released.



Later, about a week later, The Producer took me up north somewhere to a local TV show (kind a like "Band Stand") and had me "lip-sink" as one side of the record played and a group of New York teenagers wiggled their asses to the one camera that bounced back and forth from me to the wiggling asses. Well, you can imagine whose wiggling ass got the most camera attention, since I wasn't wiggling my ass at all, but merely trying to tolerate what I considered a totally humiliating experience. Not only had I never appeared on TV before, but I had never "lip-sung" either. Of course, The Producer didn't prepare me for what was to come at all. I naively thought I was going to get to perform live, perform my music live. But the joke was on me. The situation was so absurd that I do recall having the extreme urge to start hitting everyone within reach over the head with my guitar and ripping the clothes off the nearest girls next to me. Now, that, I thought, would make for some real "show business".


I often wondered if this was my undisclosed secret "debut" for the "powers that be"...the ones who decide whether to promote a record of not. The ones who decide whether they've got a "talent" that they can exploit and profit from or whether they have got a "dog" on their hands who's not worth the cost of a leash, little-lone a night at the pound. I mean, it makes perfect since. They can watch me from a far "perform" without actually getting their hands dirty by having to meet me and have even a few words with me. They can "observe" their latest potential "find" from the protection of their living rooms or board rooms without having to have any kind of contact with me whatsoever. I pictured these "guys" sitting around in their suits, bellying up to some fancy hand carved wooden table, cigar in one hand and a whiskey in the other, most definitely paying more attention to "miss wiggle ass" than to this 21 year old long haired "hippie" kid" in his ridiculous train engineers cap and Elvis like sideburns, playing a twelve string acoustic guitar that couldn't possibly be heard over the fuzz tone Stratocaster that blared through their TV screen and what for them, I'm sure, they could only consider as "noise", but “good noise”. You know; the kind of noise that the kids spent money on.

I honestly doubt that they gave me a serious look at all. I mean, after all, they had their "big time job", their suits and their butch haircuts. And chicks were wiggling their asses for them. They didn't need me. The sad thing was, at the time, I thought I needed them.



Now my Producer, Jerry Keller, was really a pretty nice guy. I've got to thank him for the group of musicians he put together for the gig...short and strange as it was. And I think he tried as best he could to not miss lead me and "let me down easy". He didn't make me any promises. And he didn't fill my head full of any super-star bullshit. Actually, his only genuine moment with me was when he told me that; "I didn't need the hat". He delivered that “heartfelt comment” to me during a quick stop before the show over French fries and chocolate shakes. I couldn’t help but think that that was all this guy had to say to me about the music business, that I didn’t need the hat”? I learned pretty quickly that most people in “show business” were pretty fuckin’ stingy with what they knew and were never very inclined to help anyone rise above themselves.

He had a party after the "recording session" at his home in New York City for me and all the guys who played on the record. But at one point he got pissed at me cause I wasn't behaving "cool". You know, I was acting like the kid I was and the way I was brought up with manners and courtesy. Apparently, these things weren't very "hip" to him and he admonished me for being so fucking "grateful". Too many “thank you and pleases” to fit his idea of a studio party mix. I don't remember his exact words or mine, but I do remember him putting me down for acting so fucking "humble"; like I was putting on some sort of fake “aw shucks” kind of Country Boy Act. What he didn't understand was that I had never had the opportunity to play with such great musicians before and that I was genuinely impressed by the experience. I think he thought I was "hipper" than I was. And that my gratitude was some kind of "phony act". Anyway, I remember him pointing out to me just how good looking and stacked his wife was, and indeed she was! Apparently he had met her in the town he grew up in and following his “one hit pony” claim to stardom; a little ditty called “Here Comes Summer”, he captured her fantasy of being married to a “Rock Star” and managed to Shanghais her away. She could have done a lot better if you ask me. But it was really none of my business. I’m only sorry that I didn’t get a chance to fuck her too.


In the end, the attitude was, well here, we've made a record for you. Now you can take this 45 around and show people what you can do and see if you can get a "deal" with someone else. Of course, since they owned the production rights to the "single" and half the writing credits (that was the standard sell out you had to make in those days...for all I know, it's worse today), who the hell was I going to "make a deal with" for a song that I didn't even own. I didn't even own my own record. And most record company people of the time were a bunch of butch haircut corporate "jack-offs" that had no clue as to what was happening in the music business..."The Times They Were A Changing". These Bozos classified me as "a folk singer" and I don't think they thought much of my ability to write or create a song. And for the most part, they hated my voice. I was used to singing like the old Blues Masters that I had learned how to play from by listening to their records over and over and over again. In the process of learning their guitar chords and licks, I had picked up, inadvertently, their vocal styles and musical phrasing and the aged sound of their voices too. None of the people I auditioned for liked my voice and wanted me to sing like the blue eyed, blond haired kid, that I was so, some of my earliest records sound more like I'm a "parakeet" than a blues singer.

They all thought Psychedelic was the new "happening thing", even though none of them had a fucking clue what the Psychedelic Experience was all about. I think they imagined that I was "really out of step" with what was "happening". Everybody turned me down. There was one gay guy at Columbia who offered me the "world". Of course, there was a price to pay for that "world". At the same time my record was "released", I had been offered a contract with The Old Globe Shakespeare Theater in San Diego. You see, I actually came to New York to become an actor, but that's another story. I turned The Old Globe down cause I wanted to be available to promote my record in New York. Again, the joke was on me. Maybe one of the first of a thousand mistakes I made "along the way". One guy at Capital suggested that I dress like Sunny Bono and team up with a "groovy" chick. He thought that if I could get a "hit record", then I could get my own TV show, just like Sonny. When I turned him down on that proposition, he offered me $500 for 50 songs, not a recording deal but just as a publishing deal. You see, he had a duo under contract to him and Capital who were recording a few of my songs. So, he guessed that in my "condition", he could probably get a bunch of my songs really dirt cheap and have them available for his duo under contract. And he wasn't too far off the mark, either.

Now, believe it or not, Sonny and Cher, through The Kresky Brothers, who had seen me perform at Doug Weston's Troubadour, wanted to sign me with Sonny Bono at the same time. They were offering me the "world". One of the brothers walked me over to a window on the top floor of the Playboy Penthouse on Sunset Boulevard where they had their offices and pointed out three different Ferrari's that were parked in the lot below. I distinctly remember him saying; "stick with us kid and you'll be driving one of those one day".

Now, I was so broke at the time; no car, no apartment, no guitar strings, a girlfriend with a 6 year old child to take care of, I had nothin'. You would have thought that I would have jumped at the deal that The Kresky Brothers were offering me. But here's the truth. I thought Sonny and Cher were fucking lame. I thought they were just a couple of "pretenders", a couple of "posers" and weren't "hip" at all. And I didn't want my career to be associated with people I didn't respect. You gotta remember what they looked like back then; Sonny with his Napoleon haircut and jackrabbit moth eaten vest and Cher with her Cleopatra hair due and her three inch black eye lashes and plus, I imagined that they were associated with "organized crime". Now, there really was no reason for me to think that other than the fact that I was young, naive and paranoid from smoking too much reefer. Also, I thought "I Got You Babe" was a really "rank" song. Now, looking back at it so many years later, I have to admire Sonny's producing abilities. I mean, however "trite" the message of that song was, the sound, the production of it was fantastic. Today I hear it with completely different ears. Adding that piccolo or whatever it was to the track, was brilliant. It made that song. And it stuck in your head like chewing gum in your hair.

Now again, you would have thought that in spite of my miss giving’s and paranoia with The Kresky Brothers and Sonny and Cher, that I would have taken the "sure deal" that they offered me; The Ferrari in the parking lot. But No!

I took the deal that Capital Records (excuse me, that their publishing company) had offered me. Can you imagine? I sold 50% of the rights to 50 of my songs to Capital for $10 a piece. Now that, my friend, is "Show Business".

For me it was all a learning experience and I'm not embarrassed or ashamed of any of it. We all do what we do that we think is the best thing to do at the time. Everybody fails. That’s what life is about…failure and loss and illusions.


Billy would later front Holy Moses, who recorded for RCA.

7 comments:

transoniq said...

Man, this one really swings! Sounds like Brill Building with the strings and the obviously pro production, but that fuzz and the killer harp work could be straight outa the Texas hinterlands. A great "hybrid" record that weds two very different styles, and (surprisingly) works really really well. Cool.

leegee said...

I believe this guy is from the band "Holy Moses" (RCA 1971) based in Woodstock N.Y. who did a blend of hard and country rock..I saw them a few times back in '69-'71..he kind of disappeared after that. The CD was recently released as an import..great stuff...

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Cody said...

My name is Billy Batson. This was my first record, released when I was 21. It's true that later I became the Leader, Lead Singer, Keyboardist and author of songs for the Woodstock Rock & Roll Band, "Holy Moses". I'm still around and still writing songs and performing. If you'd like to get in touch with me, please email me at: BillyBatsonMusic@gmail.com

Thanks for posting this RP!

EXPO67 said...

What an excelent insight into your early days as a musician/recording artist....thanks Billy.
The 'wiggling' assed teenagers at the TV Show was a real funny story.

Maybe the Artie you refer to was Artie Kornfeld who was a main player on many New York discs. His own band The Changin' Times also had moderate success.

Mars said...

Billy, that was an awesome, slightly depressing, brutally honest reminiscence. I can't say I'd have done any different were I in your shoes especially at that age and in regards to Sonny & Cher. Great song, too!

Jingle Jangle Mourning said...

Great story and great songs! I can't believe these were done in one single take. Also, that's one cool Guild 12-string in the photo.