African-American History Month - “We talked about…”
With a thousand songs to his credit and 200 million - and counting - records sold, this artist should be a household name. He started composing songs while working as a pants presser for a cleaner, then started performing those songs in his hometown clubs. Somewhere along the way to rock ‘n roll immortality he decided to focus on songwriting. On that journey, by contract he had to share writing credit with a young singer and take on a more Anglo-sounding pen name. Oddly enough he never met that singer. He wrote a song for Little Willie John which became a hit for another singer (with some added lyrics) just months later. One of his songs got solo treatment by James Taylor. Another became a minor hit for some New Jersey boys. But his blockbusters, truly groundbreaking, earth-shattering, hip-shaking, watch-out-world-here-we-come masterpieces were recorded by Memphis artists in Memphis, specifically of course, at Sun Studio. That young singer heard the writer’s demos and loved them-one of them fit his style and stage presence. He learned and recorded them quickly-the first sold over 3 million copies. A wild piano player came to Memphis and made it huge. One of the writer’s songs became part of early rock pyrotechnics - and sold over 5 million records - the other was his last top ten charting rock hit.
The man never worked or lived in Memphis. He worked from his hometown of Brooklyn until moving to Nashville later in life. He worked with three decades of singers and songwriters, including the late Pat DiNizio and the Smithereens. He was paralyzed by a stroke in 1991 and he died in 2002. On this day, we remember the man who co-wrote “Fever” for Little Willie John (and of course Peggy Lee) under white-sounding pseudonym John Davenport, penned “Handy Man” for Jimmy Jones (later by James Taylor), gave turning point song “The Apple of My Eye” to the Four Lovers/Four Seasons as a consolation prize for being told to pull another song from them for a young truck driver from Tupelo. Today we celebrate the birth date of the African-American responsible for four of the greatest of the great Memphis hits - Elvis Presley’s “Don’t Be Cruel and “All Shook Up” (for which he was obligated by contract to share writing credit with Elvis) - and Jerry Lee Lewis’ piano-flaming “Great Balls of Fire” and his last Memphis hit, “Breathless”.
Born on this day in 1931 in Brooklyn New York - Otis Blackwell!
You know all these classics. Here’s a great remake of a song originally written for Jerry Lee Lewis by huge Memphis - and Otis Blackwell - fan Dave Edmunds, recorded by him in 1977.