About this Blog

"In the future everybody will be world-famous for 15 minutes." So said the bleached-out, late lamented artist Andy Warhol. Having lived and worked in New York City, Warhol came to fully grasp the hold celebrity has on us. In this very famous sentence, he meant to point out that in a culture fixated on fame, many people will suddenly flash brightly onto the public screen, then--poof--will just as quickly disappear from public view--like shooting stars. Other individuals derive their celebrity from one stellar accomplishment (one hit song, one iconic role, etc.) that they never again match.

This blog is devoted to the one part of our celebrity culture that no one has written much about: temporary/one-shot celebrities.

The pace of modern life has quickened, and now we hear people speaking of someone's 15 seconds of fame. These "celebrities with a lower-case c" who will appear in this blog sometimes come to us from the world of entertainment, sometimes from the world of news. All are fascinating.

The need of our communications media for a continual stream of new material assures that we will have no end of colorful people who go quickly, where celebrity is concerned, from zero to hero (or villain) and back to zero. Now you see 'em, now you don't. What a crazy world, eh?

Temporary celebrities coming from the world of entertainment include one-hit recording artists; TV and movie icons who, although they might have had a great many accomplishments in their career, are remembered for one big role; standouts of reality TV; sports figures remembered for one remarkable accomplishment; and people whose celebrity came from one big role in a commercial or print ad.

News-based temporary celebrities come in many forms: mass/serial killers, other murderers of special note, sex-crime offenders, disgraced figures of government/military/business/media/religion, spies/traitors, hoaxers, femmes/hommes fatale, heroes, whistle blowers, inventors/innovators, and victims.

Celebrity Blogsburg will consider each category in turn.

Friday, January 30, 2009

One-hit wonder Tiffany Darwish

California girl Tiffany Renee Darwish was only 10 when she began singing country & western music. She was on television's Star Search when she was 14 and cut her first album at age 16. In that same year, her song I Think We're Alone Now was a No. 1 hit, and she performed on the Johnny Carson Show.

Success brought toubles with it, however. She feuded with her mother, apparently ran away from home, and even had to endure what celebrities dread most: a stalker. Since that time, she has appeared on many a TV show, has toured the country and played Las Vegas, but has yet to match her big 1987 hit.

The singer, who performs under the single name Tiffany, has hit the headlines a number of times, as when she bought Chuck Norris' house, which she later sold, and when, in the 1990s, she posed nude for Playboy. She now makes her primary home in England.

One-hit wonder Alicia Bridges

Small-town North Carolina girl Alicia Bridges rose from hosting a show in Shelby, NC, to write and record a big disco hit in 1978: I Love the Nightlife. The lyrics, which repeatedly affirmed that the singer "wanted to boogie," reached #5 in the U.S. and was also very popular in many other countries.

Bridges has sung other kinds of music, such as blues and rock, and has worked as a music producer and disc jockey. The strong and proud looking Bridges came out as a lesbian in one of her later songs and has owned her own recording company. The '90s movie Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, featured a remake of I Love the Nightlife.

One-hit wonder Gene Chandler

Gene Chandler, born Eugene Dixon, had a happy change of fortune as well as a change of outfit in 1962 thanks to his audacious hit song Duke of Earl. Who wouldn't like to be royalty? ( I myself have always wanted to be a Russian grandduke, but so far that hasn't worked out for me.) Chicago-born Chandler was singing with a group called the Dukays when he got the chance to record Duke of Earl, which rapidly sold a million copies and moved to No.1 on the charts.

After his big success, Chandler began performing dressed in a cape and top hat and sporting a cane and a monocle as he performed around the nation. During the 1970s, disc jockey Wolfman Jack toured with a number of performers from the 1960s and '50s, including Chandler. Duke of Earl was featured in the movie Hairspray (1988). Chandler has written, arranged and produced music since those days. He has owned his own label, Bamboo Records, and has been an executive for Chi-Sound Records. He still makes occasional singing appearances--dressed as the Duke, of course.

One-hit wonder Billy Ray Cyrus

Line-dance enthusiasts everywhere rejoiced at the sound of Billy Ray Cyrus' 1992 hit Achy Breaky Heart, which propelled this Kentucky-born country singer into the national spotlight. Billy Ray had played college baseball and hoped for a pro career, but he abandoned that dream to try his luck with music.

Post 1992, his recordings have failed to live up to his initial hit. In 2001, he played the role of Dr. Clint Cassidy on a short-lived TV show called Doc.

An unfortunate side effect of his brief popularity as a singer was that he popularized the dreadlful mullet haircut (business in the front, party in the back).

Of late, he mainly can be seen around the fringes of his daughter Miley Cyrus' phenomenal success as a cute, perky girl star. Billy Ray recently drew criticism for trying to look "hot" in photos for which he posed with daughter Miley.

One-hit wonder Bruce Channel

Bruce Channel, whose last name is pronounced like the perfume and fashion house, is a Texas-born rock and roller who caught the wave of celebrity in 1961 with a song he wrote as well as recorded, Hey! Baby. (Where, one wonders, would rock or blues music be today if deprived of the word "baby"?) This No.1 hit was recorded with the aid of a fine harmonica accompaniment by Delbert McClinton.

Channel and McClinton met the English rock group The Beatles before the young
Brits became known in America, and John Lennon reportedly asked if they could help him learn to play harmonica. Channel never repeated his success as a singer and instead has concentrated mainly on song writing for other performers. He lives in Nashville.

One-hit wonder Jeanine Deckers

Really, really unusual among recording successes was that of Belgian nun Jeanne-Paule Marie Deckers while she was cloistered in a Dominican convent in Belgium. Her surprise international hit, in 1963, was the song Dominique. She became known in Europe as Soeur Sourire, which translates as Sister Smile, or the Smiling Sister. In the U.S., she was billed as The Singing Nun, and in her convent, she was known as Sister Luc Gabriel.

Many older Americans (like this one) recall her 1964 television appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show, and others know of her from the 1966 Debbie Reynolds movie about her, The Singing Nun. Her unlikely rise to celebrity is said to have been the inspiration for Sally Field's TV show The Flying Nun.

Although Deckers donated much of what she earned to her convent, she left the order and performed as Luc Dominique, became a social activist with special interests in birth control and autism, and found herself in tax trouble for what she had considered charitable contributions from her big hit song's profits. She and her companion, Anna Pecher, died in 1985 in a double suicide.

One-hit wonder Thomas Dolby

Thomas Dolby, whose birth name is Thomas Robertson, is a high-tech Brit whose techno hit was She Blinded Me With Science, big in the U.S. in 2002. The stage name Dolby was borrowed from Dolby Labs, a company that sued unsuccessfully to prevent him from using the name. The song's title came from the seemingly limitless supply of Brit figures of speech, this one meaning to confuse people with complexity.

Although Dolby still performs occasionally, his main business has been in the production of cell phone ring tones as well as films and video games.

One-hit wonder Carl Douglas

Kung Fu Fighting was the disco number that was Jamaica-born singer Carl Douglas' one biggie. It was a No.1 hit in the United Sates in 1974 was was also popular in Britain and elsewhere. The reggae-style song, written by Douglas himself, won a Grammy and inspired a minor dance craze. The inspiration for the song came from Douglas' own interest in martial arts, and he often dressed in a martial arts outfit when performing the number.

For the most part, Douglas had left singing and for a while, operated a music production firm in Germany, then returned to Los Angeles to work in ads and films, mainly documentaries.

One-hit wonder Meri Wilson Edgemon

The double entendre was the stock-in-trade of singer Meri Wilson, whose married name was Edgemon. Her singular hit was the novelty song Telephone Man, from 1976. This funny, suggestive song's lyrics tell the story of how more than just a telephone was installed at the singer's apartment by a randy telephone man. Mari's voice, with its built-in leer, was, as the Three Bears once said, "just right" for relating this dalliance. Even the silly refrain, "Singin' do lolly, lolly, shicky bum, shicky bum" somehow worked.

Edgemon, who held both a bachelor's and master's degree in music and played guitar, cello piano and flute, worked nightclubs, recorded commercial jingles and was a choral director in addition to her recording of novelty songs. Two of her last numbers were a modernized version of Telephone Man, Internet Man, and another little number about a cross dresser titled My Valentine's Funny. The audicious Edgemon died tragically in 2002 at age 53 in an automobile wreck during a Georgia ice storm.

One-hit wonder Richard Fairbrass

English performer Richard Fairbrass sings lead in the group oddly known as Right Said Fred. Fred is his brother, who also is part of this pop music trio. Their one big hit was their 1991 recording I'm Too Sexy. The bald, muscular, bisexual Richard and brother Fred, also bald, were physically attacked in 2007 at a gay rights rally in Moscow. I'm Too Sexy was a hit that had a built-in sense of humor and that inspired many parodies, including a bumper sticker for older men that read, "I'm too sexy for my hair...That's why it isn't there."

Thursday, January 29, 2009

One-hit wonder Danny Flores

It is a rare person indeed who is remembered for a single word appearing in a popular song. Such a man, however, was Danny Flores, a Latino saxophone player whose voice uttered the word Tequila in the 1957 instrumental hit of that same name. The record, which had a beat congenial to shag dancing, hit No.1 and won a Grammy.

Flores, who sometimes performed as Chuck Rio, was born in California to parents who had come there from Mexico. His early music was a blend of counry rock and Latino. When Tequila was recorded, Flores had been working a duo act, Danny and Dave, with fellow musician Dave Burgess. Their one big hit, recorded as The Champs, was backed by money from cowboy star and savvy investor Gene Autry.

The Champs eventually split up, and Flores put his lusty sax style to work with other groups. Tequila has been used in a variety of TV commercials and in the 1985 film Pee Wee's Big Adventure, which extended the song's reach to a new generation of listeners. Torres died in 2006 at age 77 from pneumonia.

One-hit wonder Bobbie Gentry

Having one of those voices that is perfectly suited to country music, pretty Roberta Lee Streeter of Chickasaw County, Mississippi, found sudden celebrity in 1967 under her stage name, Bobbie Gentry. The new last name, Gentry, was taken from the 1952 film Ruby Gentry, featuring Charleton Heston and Jennifer Jones, and the song that made her immediately famous was Ode to Billy Joe. Gentry, who had done some acting and dancing prior to her big hit, wrote this song, which in its original form was far too long for radio play. Having to shorten it, she succeeded in making what really happened in the song mysterious, and the object of much public speculation.

The song centered around something that happened at theTallahatchie Bridge on a sleepy, dusty Delta day. The way she constructed the song's lyrics was clever and original, alternating a dinnertime conversation at a young girl's family farm with mysterious events up on Choctaw Ridge and on the bridge, from which something reportedly had been thrown into the water. In the end, Billy Joe McAllister committed suicide by jumping from the same bridge, and the girl who is relating the action in the lyrics took to passing her days picking wildflowers on the ridge and dropping them into the river from the bridge.

Bobbie Gentry never repeated her initial success, worrked for a while for Armed Forces Radio, and then moved to California, apparently out of the music business.

One-hit wonder Thurston Harris

A name known to many a teenager in the 1950s was Thurston Harris. This African-American sisnger was born in Indianapolis and in the early 1950s, moved to Los Angeles and joined The Lamplighters. The group changed its name once or twice, then disbanded (no pun intended), and Harris went solo, recording a song written by Bobby Day, Little Bitty Pretty One, a big dance hit in 1957.

His 1958 recording of Do What You Did moved onto the charts but didn't do nearly as well as his big hit of the previous year, possibly due to DJ discomfort about playing such a suggestive song on the air.

The rest of Harris' life was difficult, including drug use, and a heart attack claimed him in 1990.

One-hit wonder Terry Jacks

A song that had a comforting, repetitive circularity to it was Seasons in the Sun, recorded in 1973 by Canadian singer Terry Jacks. Born in Winnipeg, Jacks played rhythm guitar and sang lead for The Chessmen, a group out of Vancouver. Thereafter, he married singer Susan Pesklevits, also a Canadian, did a duo act with her, then added two more members to become The Poppy Family. The couple went their separate ways in 1973, and Jacks, who also had been producing music, failed at getting The Beach Boys to record Seasons in the Sun and instead did it himself in his wistful, youthful voice, which somehow fit the song perfectly.

This song, which has been recorded by many other performers since then, would become his great success. The song was written by Belgian poet Jacques Brel, was translated into English by Rod McKuen, and was likely first recorded in English by The Kingston Trio's Bob Shane. It told of the farewell thoughts of a man who was dying. Brel wrote it for a friend who actually was dying of a form of cancer, the disease that also claimed Brel not so long thereafter, in 1978.

Later Jacks began working less in music and became an environmentalist fairly well known to Canadians. He lives in British Columbia at this writing.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

One-hit wonder Ernie K-Doe

A rock song beloved by those of us who were teenagers in the 1950s and early '60s is Mother-In-Law, a chart topper in 1961. Born in New Orleans as Ernest Kador, this Baptist minister's son, like many young black performers of that era, started as a gospel singer, then edged into rock and blues music. He sang with a group called The Blue Diamonds before adopting the stage name Ernie K-Doe. His one great hit appeared in 1961, accompanied by deep-voiced Benny Spellman performing this song written by Allen Toussaint, who later became quite famous.

K-Doe had a New Orleans radio show for a while in the 1980s, and in 1994, he opened a club, the Mother-In-Law Lounge, in that city. He took his energeic act to clubs and theaters in other cities, liked playing drums as well as singing, and sometimes took the stage wearing a cape and/or a crown. He died in 2001 and was given a proper sendoff in the form of a jazz funeral-- as only New Orleans can do it.

One-hit wonder Tiny Tim

Surely Tiny Tim, born Herbert Butros Khaury, was the strangest entetainer ever to come down the pike. He was a good-sized man, over six feet and well-fed looking, yet gangling, geekish and given to odd, girlish mannerisms. He usually sang in a high, trembling falsetto, although his actual range was that of a baritone, and he accompanied himself by strumming a ukulele. His hair was long and apparently unkempt. His one big hit was Tiptoe Through the Tulips, which was an oldie like many of the numbers he used in his act. His singing harkened back to the days of Vaudeville and Rudy Valee.

Tiny was a walking font of knowledge about America's musical past, although he also sang more recent songs such as Your Cheatin' Heart or Are You Lonesome Tonight (It took guts to follow Elvis on that one).

Much of America got to know him on the Johnny Carson Show, and a record audience watched (and probably made wisecracks) when Tiny married "Miss Vicki," Victoria Budinger, who was a tender 17 compared to Tiny's 36 at that time, 1969--on the Carson Show. The couple divorced in 1971 having had a daugher, Tulip. His career floundered, he married again (to "Miss Jan"--his habit was to call everyone Miss this or Mr. that-- worked for a time with a circus and again divorced in 1995, soon thereafter marrying for a third time, this time around to "Miss Sue." In 1996, during a Minneapolis performance of Tiptoe Through the Tulips, he collapsed and died of a heart attack. There have been many entertainers who were diffrent and might be said to have danced to a different tune. Tiny Tim danced to a whole different orchestra.

One-hit wonder Rick Lewis

Get a Job, a poor man's lament set to rock music, was written by Richard "Rick" Lewis during his time in the U.S. Army in Korea. Lewis was wounded in action and in 1954 returned to the States. He had done some gospel singing on Armed Forces Radio and continued this type work in Philadelpia with a group having the unlikely name The Gospel Tornadoes. Changing the group's name to The Silhouettes, the group cut a non-religious rock record. The side they thought would do well was the forgettable "I Am Lonely." To their surprise, the flip side, Get A Job, caught on big in 1957 and sold something like 2 million copies. It captured with both humor and poignancy the plight of many a poor black man in a discriminatory America--failing to find even temporary work and having to return home to his wife rejected and embarrassed to "hear that woman's mouth, preachin' and cryin,' tell me I was lyin' about a job that I never could find." Lewis sang the number with the group, although Bill Horton did the lead.

The Silhouettes kept singing into the early 1990s and were mainly considered a doo-wop group. Lewis outlived the rest of the original Silhouettes but died in 2005 of multiple organ failure.

One-hit wonder Laurie London

While a mere 14-year-old boy, Laurie London, from London, England, had a really unusual hit in 1958: an upbeat rendition of an old religious number, He's Got the Whole World in His Hands--one of those sing-along songs that people just can't resist.

Young Laurie did a bit more recording, mainly for the German market, but never again did he come even close to the success he had with Whole World.

Later in life, he owned and ran a hotel in Sussex, England, then still later went to work in the clothing business in London.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

One-hit wonder Robin Luke

Talk about no-frills production for a song that made it to No.5 on the charts in 1958. Susie Darlin' was sung by 16-year-old Robin Luke of Los Angeles, backed by a guitar, a ukulele and in lieu of a drum, a box and an lp album cover plus two pens hit with a stick. Luke wrote the song at the beach, using the name of his little sister, Susie, so as not to mess himself up with the girls he had been flirting with at the time.

Later recordings failed to catch on, but Luke, though he was a temporary teenage hearthrob, also liked school and went on to earn two undergraduate degrees, two master's degrees and a doctorate. He became a marketing professor, teaching at Old Dominion, Southwest Missouri State and the University of the Virgin Islands.

One-hit wonder C.W. McCall

"C.W. McCall" was a sort of stage name used by Omaha advertising director William Dale Fries, who had created this character as an advertising device. The original C.W. McCall was the character name of a truck driver for a bread company. The radio ads that featured him were so popular, even winning a Clio award, that Fries used the name again when he recorded two albums of country music. The second album, Black Bear Road (1975), contained the song Convoy, which became a sort of truckers' anthem and hit No. 1 in 1976 on both the country and pop charts. Fries' voice was perfect for the song, on which he is a trucker whose CB "handle" is Rubber Duck. At that time, citizens' band radio was a pop culture craze in the United States. In the song, Rubber Duck is part of a 85-truck convoy that defies the "smokies" and the tollbooths as he talks CB jargon with his fellow trucker Pig Pen.

In 1978, Kris Kristofferson starred in a Sam Peckinpah movie, also titled Convoy. Fries gave up music after his one big hit and later became mayor of Ouray, Colorado.

One-hit wonder Van McCoy

Of the 700 or so songs written by Van McCoy of Washington, D.C., the one great hit was the 1975 disco dance song The Hustle. People liked it so well that specialized versions of the dance sprang up: the Latin Hustle, the L.A. Hustle, the New York Hustle, etc.

McCoy's earliest performances were as lead singer for a quartet called The Starlighers, who recorded a dance tune called The Birdland at some time in the 1950s. Before and after his big hit, McCoy wrote and arranged music for many other performers, such as Nancy Wilson, Aretha Franklin, Gladys Knight and the Pips, Tom Jones, Nat King Cole, and The Shirelles. He made appearances on The Johnny Carson Show and the Mike Douglas Show and, prior to his untimely death of heart failure in 1979 at age 39, he had started his own orchestra, Soul City Symphony.

One-hit wonder Vaughn Meader

A really different kind of one-hit recording wonder was New Englander Vaughn Meader, whose 1962 comedy album The First Family was a breathtaking success, selling more than 7 million copies--that is, until the assassination of the record's "target," President John F. Kennedy.

Meader began his entertainment career singing and playing piano, then tried his hand at standup comedy. Born in Maine, he had roughly the same accent as that of the patrician John Kennedy, and even looked a bit like the president. From gigs in Greenwich Village in New York, he landed a spot on Arthur Godfrey's Talent Scouts on television. He began impersonating the president's accent, which already had so fascinated the rest of America. With Naomi Brossart doing a wonderfully breathy imitation of Jacqueline Kennedy, Meader did his cleverly written album, which was an immediate hit. Meader quickly came out with a second album, The First Family Volume Two. His sudden success just as quickly vanished, however, when record stores removed the albums from their shelves as a gesture of respect after the assassination of Kennedy in Dallas. Suddenly , imitations of JFK, however well done, were out.

Meader did some more singing, mostly in Maine, and joined impressionist Rich Little in a parody of President Ronald Reagan, The First Family Rides Again. Meader died of pulminary disease in 2004 at age 68.

One-hit wonder Sinead O'Connor

Despite the enormous amount of media attention paid to Irish singer and songsmith Sinead O'Connor of Dublin, her one really big hit song was a ballad about heartbreak written by Prince, Nothing Compares 2 U., big in 1990. Having had a difficult childhood, reprtedly including domestic abuse plus Catholic reform school, it is little wonder that Sinead has been an angry rebel as an adult.

Her first musical group called itself Ton Ton Macoute, named for the zombies of Haitian lore. Shaved bald and performing with a rebellious stare, she performed solo and with other singers and among other things, alienaed Roman Catholics by her harsh words and lyrics critical of pedophile priests. In America, her opposition to the U.S. invasion of Iraq especially alienated conservatives. Despite having had four children, she came out in 2000 as a lesbian. In 2003, she asked that her fans no longer view her as a celebrity, saying that what she really wanted was privacy. Two years later, she decided that celebrity wasn't really all that bad and began a musical comeback.

Monday, January 26, 2009

One-hit wonder Billy Paul

Philadelphia singer Billy Paul (born Paul Williams) belted out a great hit in 1972: Me and Mrs. Jones. His adoption of a stage name was done so as not to be confused with another Paul Williams, who sang lead for The Temptations. Paul's start in music got a boost from a well-placed neighbor: Bill Cosby. Paul (and Cosby) studied at Temple University, and Paul attended both West Philadelphia Music School and Granoff School of Music. His racy hit sold 2 million copies, but he never managed to repeat that success. Paul won a half-million dollar legal judgement from the production company that handled his big hit, which was a blend of jazz, pop and R&B Philadelphia style. Since that time, he has been known mainly as a jazz singer.

One-hit wonder Carl Perkins

Blue Suede Shoes is intimately connected with Elvis Presley, but it was first recorded by Carl Perkins, who grew up on a tenant farm in Tennessee and whose first guitar was made from a cigar box and a broomstick. Perkins wrote Blue Suede Shoes and recorded it on the Sun Records label in 1956. It quickly moved to No.1 on the country music chart. Soon after cuting the record, he was badly injured in a car accident. During Perkins' recovery, Elvis did his own version of the song--competition that was too much for Perkins to overcome. It was Perkins' only big hit, although he also wrote Honey Don't and Dixie Fried. He played guitar behind Paul McCartney and Stevie Wonder for their hit Ebony and Ivory and performed with Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny
Cash and other luminaries.

Perkins had trouble with alcohol but managed to kick the habit. He died at 65 in 1998 following a series of strokes.

One-hit wonder Phil Phillips

Sea of Love was the one big hit record for Lake Charles, LA, performer Phil Phillips, whose birth name was John Phillip Baptiste. It made No.2 on the pop chart and No.1 on the R&B chart in 1959. Phillips began as a gospel singer, later performing with a group called The Twilights. Having failed to replicate his Sea of Love success, he became a DJ. This well liked song was recorded later by other groups, but Phillips' version was used in the Al Pacino movie Sea of Love (1989).

Friday, January 23, 2009

One-hit wonder Bobby Pickett

No. 1 on the charts just prior to Halloween 1962 was the song Monster Mash, sung in his best "Bois Karloff does Frankenstein's Monster voice" by Bobby Pickett, known as "the Guy Lombardo of Halloween" inasmuch as this spooky single gets dug up every year at about the same time. And for years, Pickett liked to quip at concerts that he would now "perform a medley of my hit." The record was produced by the colorful Gary S. Paxton, who earlier had performed in the recording of another one-hit record, Alley Oop, performed by The Hollywood Argyles in 1960. Boris Karloff himself is said to have liked Monster Mash, which came complete with a creaking door and strange lab noises. Picket never managed to repeat his success and died of leukemia in 2007 at age 69.

One-hit wonder Jiles Perry Richardson

To the intense delight of those of us who were teenagers in the 1950s, out of nowhere came the deep intonations of someone called The Big Bopper, half saying, half singing, "Helllll-ooooooooh, baby......you know what I like!!" The song, which moved near the top of the charts in 1957, was Chantilly Lace, and it came complete with a pretty face, and a pony tail hangin' down, etc. The 240-pound Bopper was a DJ in Beaumont, Texas, who had decided to grab a piece of the rock and roll pie for himself.

Richardson's first success as a song writer had been with Running Bear, recorded by Johnny Preston, accompanied by the faux-Indian chanting of Richardson himself. Thus emboldened, he himself performed his next novelty song, which became his one big hit. More than likely he would have succeeded again with a new novelty number, but his life was cut short on February 2, 1959, in the plane crash that also killed Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and their pilot. Singer Waylon Jennings was scheduled to be on the plane, but The Bopper, who was not feeling well, took his place at the last minute. The crash was commemorated in the 1970s by Don McLean, who wrote and performed the song American Pie. Today, his son, billed as The Big Bopper Jr., carries on the family tradition via CD.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

One-hit wonder Jeannie C. Riley

Small-town Texas gal Jeannie C. Riley is unusual in that she was a country singer who made a single foray into the pop market and ended up with a No. 1 hit: Harper Valley P.T.A., a song writen by Tom T. Hall before he became famous. Maybe she had seen her share of small-town mean spiritedness where she grew up in Anson, TX, or perhaps she was upset that she was being pressured into doing a pop song and that Plantation Records wanted her to adopt the cheesey stage name Rhonda Renae. Whatever it was, her sassy voice was just right for this song about class differences in the small-town setting. The song really resonated.

Her later records couldn't match the success of Harper Valley P.T.A., nor did the gospel music she recorded after being "born again."

One-hit wnder Minnie Riperton

Remembered for her incredible vocal range--more than five octaves--that seemed to reach into the stratosphere, Minnie Riperton had a No.1 single in 1975: "Lovin' You." Riperton had planned to put her unusual voice to work in opera and studied at the Lincoln Center in her native Chicago, but instead she began a pop/soul/rhythm & blues career, singing lead for a group of girls billed as The Gems. She did backup work for Muddy Waters, Bo Diddley and other performers and did some recording under an alias, Andrea Davis. In 1970, she recorded her first album, Come to My Garden, which attracted positive attention.

Riperton appeared on a number of TV shows, including The Mike Douglas Show and The Merv Griffin Show but died of cancer in 1979 when she was only 31. Her daughter, Maya Rudolph, has been a member of the Saturday Night Live cast.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

One-hit wonder Barry Sadler

A really unusual recording artist was Barry Sadler, whose great claim to fame was his 1966 Vietnam-era hit Ballad of the Green Berets. The song was No. 1 for more than a month, and its popularity was extended via a movie having the same title and starring John Wayne.

High school dropout Sadler enlisted in the Air Force and later joined the Army, serving as a Staff Sergeant in Vietnam, where he was wounded near Pleiku. He recorded a few more songs, but none captured the public's imagination. Sadler wrote war-connected novels and later began a series of "Casca" books set in early Christianity and featuring a fictitious mercenary. Sadler was shot in mysterious circumstances in Guatemala City. Some reports indicate robbery as the motive, others claim he was involved in training the Nicaraguan Contras.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

One-hit wonder Frankie Smith

Philadelphia's Frankie Smith is known for his contributions to funk, soulful R&B and rap. He has performed alongside Rick James, Smokey Robinson, Kool and the Gang and other musical entertainers and has appeared in a few movies, most notably "Beloved" and "Snake Eyes." But his big moment in celebrity's sun was his 1981 hit single Double Dutch Bus, which inserts "iz" or "izzle" into other words, somehow enhancing the charm of this party/dance song. The record sold around 4 million copies, and the song appeared later in the Disney movie College Road Trip.

One-hit wonder Jud Strunk

Clean-cut looking Jud (Justin Roderick) Strunk, whose adopted state was Maine, scored a big hit in 1973 with his sentimental ballad "A Daisy a Day," about enduring love. Strunk lived on a working farm near Eustis, Maine. He was a TV regular on Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In and also made appearances on The Tonight Show, Bewitched, Hee Haw and The Merv Griffith Show. With his Coplin Kitchen Band, featuring Glen Campbell on guitar, he recorded the album A Semi-Reformed Tequila Crazed Gypsy Looks Back.

In 1970 Strunk ran for a seat in the Maine state senate, losing by a narrow margin. A pilot, he experienced a heart attack in 1981 while taking off from a Maine airport and died at age 45 when the plane crashed.

One-hit wonder Billy Swan

The 1974 hit "I Can Help" was rockabilly singer/song writer/instrumentalist Billy Swan's lasting claim to fame. Before his big success--sales of around 5 million records--Swan had written for other recording artists, was a manager for country singer Mel Tillis, and had played bass guitar behind Kris Krisofferson. He also has played drums and electric piano. Swan's song "Lover Please" was recorded by early rock and roller Clyde McPhatter in 1962. In 1974, Swan joined the ranks of entertainers who give their children unusual names when he christened his first daughter Planet Swan.

One-hit wonder Joan Weber

Older readers will likely remember the 1955 No. 1 hit "Let Me Go Lover." Its 18-year-old singer was Joan Weber of Paulsboro, NJ. Weber gave birth to a baby girl not long after this song's success and did not continue her singing career. Sadly, she died in 1981 at age 45 in a mental facility. "Let Me Go Lover" appeared at the tail end of the saccharine, oh-so-white, goodie-two-shoes style of music that dominated radio and recording prior to the full, lusty emergence of rock and roll.

One-hit wonder Vanilla Ice

Vanilla Ice is the stage name of often troubled entertainer Robert Matthew Van Winkle, whose one big hit song was "Ice Ice Baby." Vanilla Ice has been one of those singers whose work has depended more on his looks and attitude than on his actual singing ability. Even so, his cool, knowing expression and good features helped propel this 1990 song about a Miami gunfight to success on the charts. VanWinkle came by his stage name early on when he was trying to break into show biz by breakdancing and rapping.

A year after his big hit song, a biography full of misinformation appeared. He continued to perform funky rap, appeared on reality TV shows, attempted suicide and was twice arrested for assaulting his wife. All in all, not the smoothest career progression.

Monday, January 19, 2009

One-hit wonder Tony Joe White

"Swamp rocker" Tony Joe White scored big in 1969 with his song "Polk Salad Annie," which he wrote and recorded. Born and bred on a Louisiana cotton farm, the soulful elecric guitar player/singer has written and recorded plenty of songs, but none that resonated like "Annie." He also wrote, but didn't record, the Brook Benton hit "Rainy Night in Geogia."

One-hit wonder Sheb Wooley

The late Sheb Wooley had small roles in around 60 movies, such as "Giant" and "High Noon," but his lasting claim to fame was a novelty song that delighted teens in 1958, when it appeared. "The Purple People Eater" sold 3 million 45 rpm singles and was a No.1 hit. Wooley wrote an enormous nember of songs and appeared on a number of TV shows, including "Rawhide," which suited his talents inasmuch as he was an Oklahoma-born cowboy who had done rodeo riding. He stirred up some pretty good dust with his country songs during his career, but his high point was the happily nonsensical "People Eater." He died in 2003 at age 82.