Tuesday, April 19, 2005

John Fred and His Playboy Band

John Fred died last week.
If you remember him at all, it's for his 60's Beatle-esque "Judy In Disguise (With Glasses), a #1 hit in 1967.
Long before I associated the name John Fred with that hit, however, I knew him only as the bandleader of John Fred and his Playboy Band, of whom I owned the 45 of "Hey Hey Bunny/No Letter Today."
This record is one of a handful that I have owned since before the dawn of my conscious memory. Several singles by The Four Seasons ("Dawn/No Surfin Today", "Let's Hang On/On Broadway Tonight" and "Dody/Beggin") also fall into that category. My Mom at this point was past her teen record-buying stage (Dad never had the money to have a record-buying stage). Since I had shown an interest (OK, obsession) from almost birth in records/music, I can only surmise that somewhere along the line they went to the store and bought for me a handful of 45s to replace the (probably now ridiculously valuable) old 78 albums that I can just barely remember owning and breaking. Above this post there's a picture of me, barely of walking age, clinging to a record player and dropping the tone arm on some early favorite.

Fast forward several years, to Westarea Elementary School in Fayetteville , NC where I spent the fourth grade in Mr. McCloud's class. Mr. McCloud was a tall African-American gentleman with a big afro (it was the 70's), a kind teaching style, and most memorably, at least one pair of ridiculously purple polyester pants. Every Friday he allowed us to bring in records (you know, kids, those black round things) to play during rest time (ah, I miss rest time). This was 1971/72, so we got to listen to a lot of Donny Osmond, Tony Orlando & Dawn, etc. I kept showing up with my little stack of well-worn singles, but the little clique of pre-teen prima donnas wouldn't let me near the record player.

I don't recall exactly how it happened (probably through Mr. McCloud's intervention) but one day out of the blue the keepers of the record player deigned to allow me to play a song. Quickly shuffling through my little stack of records I selected "Hey Hey Bunny", walked it up to the front of the class, handed it to the head tastemaker, and indicated which side needed to be played. Now, remember that this was fourth grade in the 70's - a simpler time. The classroom titters and blushing that followed her announcement of the artist John Fred and his PLAYBOY Band could probably only be matched now by full nudity and/or an announcement of possible bestiality. The fact that the title was "Hey Hey Bunny" (Playboy bunny, get it?) only added to the shock of the little Osmondites. Never-the-less, Mr. McCloud had spoken, so the disc got played - 2:20 of glorious blue-eyed soul, all pounding drums, blaring horns, Hammond organ, cowbell (more cowbell!) and some way-out syncopated bass playing that in retrospect might have been the single most influential record I ever owned (I didn't pick up the bass until 8 years later, but it lurked in my subconscious). The record faded, the needle was lifted, and...silence. Absolute, dead silence. Blank stares. I walked back to my seat to the quickly-cued-up strains of "I'm Leaving It All Up To You." I'd like to think Mr. McCloud was thinking to himself something along the lines of "not so unfunky for a little white kid" but that may just be wishful thinking.

John Fred died last week. Here's my salute: "Hey Hey Bunny."

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Blogger Or This, Even said...

Ah, the turntable. Though my musical tastes were not nearly as cool at as early an age as yours, I remember 4th grade Friday's as musical album merry-go-round as well. My 45 of choice was Undercover Angel (which will now endlessly loop through my head for the next few hours). I spent many hours spinning that 45 on my totally tricked out Mickey Mouse turntable (Mickey's arm was the arm and his gleaming white glove covered the needle). Looking back, the incongruity of that song on a Disney device seems to have been one of those signs that I "wasn't quite right" but everybody missed it. Probably because they were still listening to Jim Reeves and Roger Miller on 8 tracks. Nearly 30 years later, I'd be happpy to have Mickey Mouse and Alan O'Day back. Thanks for the memories--RIP John Fred.

7:18 PM  
Blogger johnny hornsby said...

I was in that class. Buddy Munoz. Where is taryn johnston

2:37 AM  
Blogger johnny hornsby said...

I was in that class. Buddy Munoz. Where is taryn johnston

2:38 AM  

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