Two new books made their way to my eyeballs and both were worth the read.
Where The Action Is! (Publish America) by Freddy “Boom Boom” Cannon and Mark Bego (with an introduction by Dick Clark) is a first-person chronicle of Cannon’s life as a pre-Beatle pop star and beyond. The title of the other book is Stalking The Red-Headed Stranger Or How To Get Your Songs Into The Hands Of The Artists Who Really Matter Through Show Business Trickery, Underhanded Skullduggery, Shrewdness, Chicanery As Well As Various Less Nefarious Methods Of Song Plugging: A Practical Handbook And Historical Portrait by Randy Poe (Hal Leonard Books).
Cannon’s the Boston kid originally inspired by Chuck Berry whose very first song, “Tallahassee Lassie,” made it to number six in 1959 and was covered by the Rolling Stones. He’s got a million stories. As part of the Murray The K package shows, he shared stages with all the ‘50s legends. He holds the record for most appearances on American Bandstand. He might’ve died in the same car crash that killed 22-year-old rockabilly legend Eddie Cochran in 1960 in London but he was late and took a different taxi to the airport. He witnessed first-hand the horrible treatment of black pop stars on tours in the segregated south (Bobby Blue Bland carried a gun). More hits followed (“Way Down Yonder In New Orleans” hit number three in 1960 and “Palisades Park” hit number three in 1962) and so did his associations with legendary music industry names like Bob Crewe (who left working with him to propel The Four Seasons to stardom) and, of course, Dick Clark (who passed on The Beatles because he thought they sounded too much like The Everly Brothers).
Originally packaged as a teen idol à la Fabian and Frankie Avalon, Freddy never really fit that mold. His music was too rockin’ and too wild. He never sang a ballad in his whole career. Most fascinating are his stories of appearing at record hops. These events had stars of the day on stage lip-synching their hit song live in front of a live crowd while their record was played. Half the time the damn record skipped and stuck and you just had to go with the flow.
His Elvis story is priceless. Apparently Presley wanted to show his boys some karate moves and used Freddy as a punching bag, ultimately throwing him down and nearly breaking his back.
His Sinatra story shows the brashness and balls of the kid with one hit as he goes up to Frank Sinatra while he’s eating to complain about the service in the restaurant Sinatra owned. Frank proved ever the gentleman, snapping his fingers and ordering the staff to serve the kid. Freddy never knew how close he came that day to a knuckle sandwich!
So many stories…and to think, the kid (now 73) is still singing and still rockin’.
Randy Poe’s book is an oftentimes hilarious account of his life as a song plugger, a guy who’s paid to get artists to record certain songs. In Poe’s case, he had the good fortune to work for Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, two of the greatest songwriters of the rock era (“Hound Dog,” “Jailhouse Rock,” “Kansas City,” “Stand By Me,” “On Broadway,” “Yakety Yak” and hundreds of others). The “plot” revolves around his bosses telling him to get a certain song to Willie Nelson and, in order to do so, he goes through a circuitous route of planes, trains, boats and automobiles traversing two countries to finally get to Willie (which he does) before getting stoned on his ass with some of Willie’s finest weed. Along the way, he spouts advice for youngsters on how to make it in the business. The portions of the book that serve as a memoir are a reminder that guts, luck, determination, a good memory, smarts and people skills still serve as the basis for most success in any industry.