Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Rip Chords -- "Hey Little Cobra" (1964)

Hey, little Cobra
Don't you know
You're gonna shut 'em down!

Check out the labels on this post -- Doris Day, Charles Manson, Cape Cod, the Rogues . . . is it possible for one post to do justice to all those topics?

You don't really doubt 2 or 3 lines -- do you?

Let's start with Doris Day -- who was born Doris Mary Ann Kappelhoff.  She married jazz trombonist Al Jorden in 1941, when she was not quite 17, and gave birth to her only child -- a son named Terry -- in 1942, when she was not quite 18.  The marriage lasted only two years.  (Jorden, who was allegedly physically abusive to Day during their marriage, wanted her to have an abortion.  He committed suicide in 1967.)  She married another jazz musician in 1946, and that marriage lasted only about three years.

Young Doris was a hottie
Day married a third time in 1951.  Husband #3 was film producer Martin Melcher, who adopted her son.  Virtually all of the movies he produced -- which included Pillow Talk, Please Don't Eat the Daisies, and With Six You Get Eggroll -- his wife.  (Did you know that Day was offered the role of Mrs. Robinson in The Graduate, but turned it down?)

When Melcher died in 1968, Day discovered that he and his business partner (attorney Jerome Rosenthal) had squandered all her money.  She sued Rosenthal, and five years later -- after a 99-day trial (67 witnesses testified) -- she was awarded a $23 million judgment, which at the time was the largest civil judgment ever awarded by a California court.  Between 1969 and 1979, Rosenthal filed over two dozen lawsuits against Day and others who were involved in the case, all of which he eventually lost.  He was disbarred in 1988.  

Day tried matrimony one more time.  From 1976 until 1981, she was married to Barry Comden, a maitre d' at one of her favorite restaurants.  Day was a well-known lover of dogs, and Comden -- who was about a decade younger -- wooed her by giving her a bag of meat scraps and bones to take home to her pets each time she dined at his restaurant.

Doris Day is 88 years old.  In 2011, she released her first album of all-new material in over 40 years, which made it to #9 on the UK album charts.  She is the oldest woman ever to have a top ten album in the UK.

That's all very interesting, but her life was no more dramatic than the life of her son, the late Terry Melcher.

Doris Day with her son Terry
Melcher was 21 when he partnered with Bruce Johnston and formed a surf-rock duo called Bruce & Terry.   Melcher and Johnston became producers with Columbia Records shortly thereafter, and in 1964 joined forces with the Rip Chords -- Phil Stewart and Ernie Bringas.  

The Rip Chords needed help because Bringas, who was studying to become a minister, was told by his church that he had to choose between the ministry and rock 'n' roll.   A few months later, the church hierarchy changed its mind, and Bringas rejoined the Rip Chords.  During his absence, the group recorded its biggest hit, "Hey Little Cobra."

1964 was a big year for car songs -- "Dead Man's Curve" by Jan and Dean, "Fun, Fun, Fun" by the Beach Boys, "G.T.O" by Ronnie and the Daytonas, and "Hey Little Cobra" by the Rip Chords -- which I recently heard on the satellite radio of a $9.75-a-day rental car -- were all released that year.

I was 12 years old that summer, and one of my favorite things to do was go to the grocery store with my mother, where I would make a beeline to the magazine rack and browse through all the hot rod magazines without spending any money.  (A few years later I would be browsing through a very different kind of magazine.)

The Cobra was a car that car nuts drooled over.  Former racing driver and car designer Carroll Shelby made a deal to import a small British two-seat sports car and then dropped a 289-cubic inch Ford V8 into it.  By today's standards, that would be a very large engine for a four-door sedan, much less a two-seater.

A couple of years later, Shelby stuffed a 427-cubic inch V8 into the Cobra.  (That's an engine displacement of 7.0 liters using metric measurements.  By contrast, the Honda Accord and Toyota Camry -- both of which weigh quite a bit more than the Cobra did -- come with either a 2.4-liter four or a 3.5-liter V6.)

The Shelby Cobra
Shelby designed the Cobra to beat Corvettes, and it did just that when it won a famous road race in early 1963 at Riverside (California) International Raceway, besting not only Corvettes but also Jaguars, Porsches, and Maseratis.  

The last verse of "Hey Little Cobra" closes with these lyrics: "Stingrays and Jags were left so far behind/I took my Cobra out of gear and let it coast to the line."  I seriously doubt that the Cobra driver had such a big lead that he shifted into neutral and coasted to the finish line, but it makes for a good song ending.

After "Hey Little Cobra," Bruce Johnston joined the Beach Boys in 1965, replacing Glen Campbell.  The first song the group recorded with Johnston was "California Girls" -- not a bad first effort.  Johnston wrote a number of songs for the Beach Boys and others.  His biggest success was the Barry Manilow #1 hit, "I Write the Songs," which won Johnston a Grammy.

Melcher continued to work for Columbia Records -- he produced albums by the Byrds, Paul Revere and the Raiders, the Mamas and the Papas, Wayne Newton, and many others.

Chuck Manson
In 1968, Dennis Wilson of the Beach Boys introduced his buddy, aspiring singer/songwriter Charles Manson, to Melcher.  Melcher met Manson at his Los Angeles home -- previous residents of the house included Cary Grant and Henry Fonda -- and later gave Manson an audition, but decided not to sign him to a record deal.  Not long after that, Melcher and his girlfriend, actress Candice Bergen, subleased their house to Rosemary's Baby director Roman Polanski and his girlfriend, actress Sharon Tate.

Bergen and Melcher
Not long after that, Manson and his merry band of psychopaths returned to Melcher's former home and butchered the pregnant Sharon Tate and four others.  Some believe that Manson showed up at the house intending to kill Melcher in revenge for the record producer's rejection of his music, but it turns out that Manson knew that Melcher had moved out.  However, one Manson family member said that the point of the attack was to send a message to Melcher.

Melcher was seriously freaked out by this -- who wouldn't be? -- and spent quite a bit of money on bodyguards and shrinks over the next few years.  He continued to produce records and recorded a couple of solo albums.  He also co-wrote the Beach Boys hit single, "Kokomo."  Melcher died of melanoma in 2004.

Melcher's eponymous solo album
I don't know about you, but after reading about Doris Day and Terry Melcher's lives, I'm frankly just as happy not to be a world-famous movie star or pop musician.  Thanks, but no thanks.

Now we've come to the really important part of this post.

Terry Melcher and Bruce Johnston recorded not only as Bruce & Terry, but also as . . . (drum roll, please) . . . the Rogues!  One of the singles they recorded under the Rogues name was a cover of Buddy Holly's "Everyday":

And Johnston and Melcher weren't the only group that called themselves the Rogues back in the day.  One random comment I found on the internet claims that there were 13 different bands who recorded under that name in the United States in the 1960s and 1970s.  Another guy says there were a hundred.

I found evidence of at least one other group called the Rogues.  Here's their 1965 recording of a song called "Wanted: Dead or Alive":

By the way, that song is a dead ringer for the Leaves' contemporaneous recording of "Hey Joe" (which was later covered by the Byrds, Jimi Hendrix, Arthur Lee and Love, Deep Purple, and many others):

This superfluity of bands called the Rogues creates a bit of a dilemma for me and my old friends, who called our 8th-grade band the Rogues as well.  We are working out the details of our reunion tour, and what I've learned about all the johnny-come-latelies who also called themselves the Rogues is very disturbing.  You can bet that the members of one or more of those bands will find some shyster lawyer to bring a lawsuit alleging that we stole their name in hopes of getting their hands on all the Benjamins we're going to be raking in.

The only prudent course of action is to change our name.  We need something that is distinctive enough to avoid being confused with the other groups, but isn't so different that our old fans won't know who we are.

I suggest "Gary and the Rogues."  (Do I hear a motion?  A second?  Any objections?  Hearing none, the motion carries -- it's unanimous!)

Here's a final note.  I may have figured out how we came up with the name for our band.  There was a television show called "The Rogues" that aired on NBC in 1964-65.  It starred David Niven, Charles Boyer, and Gig Young as three Robin Hood-ish con men (think Cary Grant in It Takes a Thief) who would trick wealthy ne'er-do-wells out of their ill-gotten gains and return them to their rightful owners.  (The villains they bilked included Walter Matthau and Telly Savalas.)  I have a feeling that one of more of us was a big fan of the show and aspired to the level of sophistication and savor faire that Niven, Boyer, and Young brought to that show.

Note the car phone Gig Young is using in the show's opening credit sequence:

Aieeee!  I just remembered that this post was supposed to feature the third of my recent Cape Cod bike rides.  I guess that stuff will have to wait for another day.

Here's "Hey Little Cobra":

Here's a link you can use to buy the song from Amazon:

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