Saturday, 22 July 2017

The Cowboy Favorites LP and early single recordings

Whilst Clint’s 1963 album is already featured elsewhere on this site, I thought it would be interesting to look at it a little deeper. There have since been numerous CD releases and the album has even come full circle with a vinyl re-release in 2016. I thought it might be a good idea to also look into Clint’s 7” singles that were also released during this early period. I will also look into the different CD issues and weigh up the advantages and disadvantages of what each CD has to offer.
Clint’s music career actually predates the Cowboy Favourites LP for which he is perhaps most famously (or infamously) associated. The story begins in 1961. Clint was already an established household name, due to Rawhide which had been running on the CBS network since January 9th, 1959. It wasn’t unusual for the music industry to try and capitalise on young teen idols of the TV screen. Some young stars were already being drafted into the studios to make recordings; for example, Johnny Crawford of The Rifleman (ABC 1958 – 1963), had five Top-40 hits. There is very little known of Gothic Records, other than they were based in Hollywood,California. 
However, the idea came about largely in order to exploit Clint’s popularity on Rawhide. Clint was hardly a teen; in fact he was 31 years old at the time but still had the boyish good looks that were appealing to the girls. It is unclear how the offer or idea to record presented itself. His financial advisor at the time was Irving Leonard and it’s believed that his talent agency was Mitchell Gertz whom he had signed to in 1957. However it came about, it was presumably ‘green lighted’ by one or both of these gentleman.

Unknown Girl / For all we Know (GOX 005) was released as a 7” 45rpm by Gothic Records in August of 1961 - which suggests it was recorded during the summer break in between the filming of Rawhide. 
Unknown Girl (of my dreams) was a routine ballad written by Darlene Paul who also had a brief singing career with both Atlantic and Capital Records. For All We Know was a popular and established song published in 1934. 

The music was written by J. Fred Coots and the lyric by Sam M. Lewis. Nat "King" Cole had recorded it and used it as a B side to Nature Boy in 1952, as had Nina Simone in 1958. As a Jazz fan, it is entirely possible that Clint was influenced by one or both of these artists’ recording of the song. 

Nevertheless, Clint’s first vinyl cut failed to do very much and it has since been recorded as not reaching the chart. It did however produce a nice picture sleeve and the single cut has become something of a collector’s piece these days. It was also the only recording Clint made for Gothic Records.
Clint’s next piece of vinyl was also in the way of another 7” 45rpm, this time from GNP Crescendo Record Co. GNP was an independent record label founded in 1954 by Gene Norman and continues to operate from Hollywood, California. 
Released in February 1962, Get Yourself another Fool / For You for Me for Evermore (GNP 177X) was produced by Larry Stith, the man responsible for also producing Unknown Girl. 
Get Yourself another Fool was written by Edward W. Mitchell and previously recorded by The Charles Brown Trio in 1949. The original recording is a great bluesy, mellow Jazz number featuring Brown accompanying himself on piano with lyricist Eddie Mitchell on bass and Charles Norris on guitar. It’s a simple, uncomplicated track. Unfortunately, Clint’s version of the song is provided with an upbeat, almost ‘jaunty’ musical backing with added strings. It’s almost as if there is an obligation (on the record company’s part) to provide that old ‘cowboy trail’ rhythm and backing track, they seemingly can’t resist. 
The grey strip that obscured the Gothic Records ID
It was all about exploiting the TV show at any given opportunity. In fact, GNP Crescendo had gone one step further than Gothic Records. In an almost identical picture cover, GNP Crescendo had added the words ‘Star of Rawhide’ to both the sleeve and the record label. Curiously, I do still wonder if Gothic Records were linked with GNP Crescendo or perhaps even a subsidiary. Firstly, Larry Stith acted as producer on both singles, which suggests that both recordings came from the same sessions and secondly, there’s that sleeve? Was it already printed up as Gothic’s next release? Had Gothic Records folded in between Clint’s singles and subsequently picked up by GNP Crescendo? Strangely enough, the strongest evidence seems to appear on the reverse side of the ‘Get Yourself another Fool’ cover. As mentioned above, the reverse of both sleeves are practically identical, except for a rather mysterious dark strip which appears exactly where the words ‘Gothic Records Hollywood, California’ were printed on Clint’s first single (left). 
It seems pretty obvious that this had been designed in order to obscure that identification mark. The single’s B-side "For You, For Me, For Evermore" was a George and Ira Gershwin composition written around 1936 -1937. It was something of a strange choice which probably didn’t help do much for its sales. It has also since been recorded as failing to enter either the U.S. or Canadian charts.
Billboard News September 21st, 1963. Cameo / Parkway studios - Above, Dave Edelman who worked on Cowboy Favorites
The UK picture sleeve single on Cameo / Parkway
During 1962 Clint and GNP Crescendo had parted company. However, another label was waiting to eagerly sign him up. Cameo-Parkway Records were the parent company of Cameo Records and Parkway Records which were both major American Philadelphia-based record labels from 1956 (for Cameo) and 1958 (for Parkway) to 1967. 

In 1962-63, Cameo was running short of star acts, so the label turned to television signing up both Clint and Merv Griffin. Despite the poor history of Clint’s first two singles, Cameo-Parkway must have had a degree of faith in Clint, and there was probably good reason – Rawhide was into another season and continued to be extremely popular. 

A single was recorded (in November and December, 1962) at the Cameo Parkway Studios, Philadelphia and planned for the Christmas Holiday season.

In December 1962 Rowdy / Cowboy Wedding Song (C 240) was released on both sides of the Atlantic. Rowdy was a tailor-made little ditty, an intended theme song for Eastwood's Rawhide character. The song was written by Texan singer Jesse Lee Turner who had scored a top 20 hit on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1959 with the novelty song Little Space Girl – but failed to do little else. Cowboy Wedding Song was written by Ben Raleigh and Artie Wayne and was a rather tedious song if truth be known. What remains fascinating about this single, is that most people still believe that Rowdy was the A-side. Yet, on the U.S. version of the 45, it was in fact Cowboy Wedding Song and Rowdy was instead used as the B-side of the single.
Above: The U.S A-side, Cowboy Wedding Song and the U.K. A-side, Rowdy

So what was the confusion? This is probably attributed to the UK single. Yes, it’s a fact; Rowdy was released in the U.K. as the A-side. Moreover, the UK version of the single was also released in a rather nice picture sleeve; I have yet to discover a U.S. picture cover. The U.K. sleeve has always been the prominent image associated with this release and as such, most assume this to be the generic U.S. release. With the vivid black wording of ‘ROWDY’ scrolled across the front, the myth (and misunderstanding) is fully cemented. Regardless of how good the U.K. single looked, the one common denominator remained, neither version failed to enter the chart.
Regardless of the poor single sales, Cameo Parkway went ahead and released ‘Rawhide’s Clint Eastwood sings Cowboy Favourites’ (C-1056) in September 1963. The recording sessions took place on May 13th and 14th 1963 at Fine Recording’s Bayside, Queens Studio in New York. Twelve tracks were selected for the album.

Cowboy Favourites provided exactly what the title suggested, Clint's versions of classic cowboy-style tunes. Clint would undoubtedly be the first to admit that he was not the finest vocalist ever born on the planet, but he was hardly the worst. It was a period in time where plenty of other equally handsome young men (with a ‘limited’ vocal range) were also being pushed and promoted as popular singers. Cameo Parkway was certainly no different and keen to push their new star. Their original album liner notes stated:

The folk songs that truly represents a branch of American culture, is the western cowboy song. Ever since courageous Americans crossed the prairies, western songs have been popular. And there is no better prototype of that ‘cowboy’ than Cameo/ Parkway's recording artist, Clint Eastwood, a ‘native’ westerner and a ‘natural’ performer. ABOUT THE SONGS -- During the long watches of the dark night, as the cowboy rode around the milling herds, he sang colourful ballads and melodies. Alone with just the moon, the stars and the herd, the songs of the cowboy were often plaintiff, sad and emotionally moving. He sang of his home, his girl, his land of dreams and his hopes for tomorrow. In the Cameo recording, Clint Eastwood presents an exciting song picture of the west - as it was. He vividly describes the life of the cowboy...he sings of their dreams, their sorrows and their joys. And, he sings this unique collection of ‘Cowboy Favourites’ with an intimacy and style that marks him as a true show business ‘great.’
On this hi-fi recording, listen to his outstanding performance as he sings: "Bouquet of Roses," "Sierra Nevada," "Don't Fence Me In," and "Are You Satisfied (*co-written by Clint’s Rawhide co-star Sheb Wooley)." Other folk classics equally outstanding are: "Santa Fe Trail," "Last Roundup," "Mexicali Rose," Tumblin' Tumbleweed," and "Twilight on the Trail." Included also are "Searchin' for Somewhere," "I Love You More," and "San Antonio Rose." This album represents a collection of songs closely identified with the spirit of America. Here, then, Cameo/Parkway's talented vocalist Clint Eastwood, and America's most popular "cowboy favourites" an unsurpassed combination that spells ‘entertainment.’
German pressing of Cowboy Favorites
Over the passing decades, the album still manages to retain a certain charm, there’s a real innocence and sentimentality about it, regardless of its cheesy style. After all, it is often such flaws which make it so enjoyable. Later reviewers such as J. Allen have remarked on it as:
Eastwood's soft, somewhat laconic croon might not possess the commanding quality that was de rigueur for the era's country stars, but he never strays off-key, and his style is a kind of cross between legendary cowboy singer Roy Rogers and Dean Martin. Most of the tunes he tackles here were already well-known in hit versions by other artists -- The Sons of the Pioneers' ‘Tumbling Tumbleweeds,’ Bob Wills' ‘San Antonio Rose,’ Gene Autry's ‘Mexicali Rose,’ etc. The loping rhythms, lonesome harmonica, lazy guitar licks, and male backing-vocal choruses are all in keeping with the production conventions of the day for cowboy artists.

Netherlands LP pressing PCP206 released in 1965
Whilst I wouldn’t entirely agree that Clint ‘never strays off-key’ or that his singing style should be shared in the same breath as Dean Martin, I do agree that the production values are in keeping with convention. ‘Cowboy Favourites’ is very much a product of its time and as long as the listener remains mindful of that fact, the easier the listening experience will always be. Cameo Parkway produced a lovely album cover with a nice photo of Clint taken in full Rawhide regalia. The design (from what I’ve seen) is pretty consistent with other editions, with the exception being the German pressing (above). The album didn’t do well in terms of sales, and before long Cameo Parkway reverted back to their more traditional genres including jazz and several albums by Maynard Ferguson and Clark Terry among others. The original vinyl is still a collectable piece, it took me years to eventually track one down and add it to my own collection. However, whilst Cowboy Favourites, in general slipped further into obscurity, time eventually proved to be somewhat favourable in respect of its fate... 
LaserLight Digital was a label owned by the Delta Leisure Group and formed in the 1980s. It was a label which often picked up public-domain material. Nevertheless, it was still something of a surprise when in 2002 the company released a CD titled Clint Eastwood COUNTRY Favourites (21 981). It was really something of an eye opener and certainly unexpected. Aside from a slight change in the title’s wording, it actually contained the entire Cowboy Favourites album – on a digital CD! In addition to this, the CD also contained bonus tracks in the form of  four themes from, For a Few Dollars More, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, A Fistful of Dollars and The Man With the Harmonica (from Once upon a time in the West). Unfortunately, they were all rather weak cover versions performed by The Western Sound Orchestra? The cover was also a rather shabby affair, and wasn’t related at all (perhaps for copyright reasons) to the original album concept. Instead we had a tourist type photo of what looks like monument valley with a sidebar film strip featuring three shots of Clint (from Bronco Billy, High Plains Drifter and Pale Rider). Despite its visual flaws, it did however provide a breakthrough in terms of audio, and at last Eastwood collectors could now enjoy listening to it free of any pops or cracks. After the U.S. branch of Delta folded in 2007, LaserLight Digital eventually went into dormancy.
In 2010 the well-respected label Ace records released a new version of Cowboy Favourites (UK and Europe - CDCHM 1269) (in the U.S. - Cameo - C-1056, Collectors' Choice Music - CCM2110). With this release, it was established that the license now belonged to ABKCO, a music publisher and film production company that was founded in 1961 as Allen Klein & Company. Allen Klein was a controversial American business manager specialising in music clients such as Bobby Darin and Sam Cooke and later went on to manage The Rolling Stones and The Beatles.  
This new release also benefited from a complete audio restoration by The Magic Shop & ABKCO Studios in New York, and the results are superb. Unlike the previous LaserLight release, there were also a couple of genuinely relevant bonus tracks, consisting of Clint’s Cameo Parkway single Rowdy and Cowboy wedding song. Furthermore, the CD proudly displayed a beautiful reproduction of the original album artwork. Backed by some fine liner notes by James Ritz, it felt as if Cowboy Favourites had finally arrived with a degree of respectability and style.              
One could easily be forgiven in thinking that this is where the Cowboy Favourites story ends, but there was more to come. In 2010, U.S. label Real Gone Music continued the story. The vinyl LP was once considered a dead format, one which was only cherished by devotees, a niche society of collectors with a passion for hunting down and buying past treasures. 

However, recent times have seen some form of resurgence in the format. Real Gone Music certainly displayed a degree of confidence by re-releasing Cowboy Favourites (RGM-0040) for the first-ever time on 180 gram vinyl. 

The reissue was an identical mono representation of the original 1963 album and contained no extra tracks.
(Left: Back cover of Real Gone Music's vinyl album)
In 2014, Not Now Music based in London, England released another superb 2 CD collection titled, Clint Eastwood & Frankie Laine, The Singing Cowboys (NOT2CD534). At first glance, one might think that this is something of a cheap and cheerful copy, when in fact, it is anything but that. In terms of value for money, and its content, it is arguably the best choice currently available. The two CDs are split between Eastwood and Laine with Clint’s content taking up Disc One (45.09). If you think that the running time looks a little rich for the Cowboy Favourites album, you’d be perfectly correct in your assumption, but for all the right reasons. The wonderful thing about this collection (aside from great audio, excellent packaging and slip case cover), is the bonus material. With the exception of ‘Get yourself another fool’ all of Clint’s single material from this period is included over five bonus tracks. In respects of ‘Get yourself another fool’ it remains something of a mystery. Why include a B-side and omit the A-side? 
Perhaps it’s a simple case of the master recording being damaged or even lost? It’s a great shame the track is not included here as it would of encapsulated Clint’s entire recording history for this period. But of course, there is so much more. The Frankie Laine disc is also a full and enjoyable listen (64.51) especially for the western fan and there is a smooth sense of connectivity. The most important connection of course is the theme to Rawhide which kicks off the CD and will for evermore link both Eastwood and Laine. There’s lots of other great western film and TV hits including Champion the wonder horse (1955), Gunfight at the O.K. Coral (1957), The 3:10 to Yuma (1957) and much more. There is also Laine’s recording of 'Tumbling Tumbleweeds', so you can compare it with that of Clint’s. Although it’s stated in the CD booklet that Eastwood and Laine did not work together, that isn’t exactly true. Laine appeared as Ralph Bartlett in an episode of Rawhide (Incident on the Road to Yesterday) in 1960.  Both men became good friends, which lead to Clint writing the foreword for Laine's 2009 biography, Mr Rhythm: A Tribute to Frankie Laine. The greatest thing about this CD is that it can be picked up for less than £5.00 with free (UK) postage on Ebay, and offers incredibly good value for money.
Finally, and to (perhaps) bring the story of Clint’s Cowboy Favourites full circle, July 1st 2016 saw another release by Real Gone Music – and again, it was back to vinyl. It’s perhaps fitting that this final entry arrives in the format in which it first began its 1963 journey. Real Gone Music’s additional vinyl release could be described as something of a novelty, while to others it’s arguably a rather nice collector’s piece. Cowboy Favourites (RGM-0435) is a very limited edition (300 pressed worldwide) mono reissue in Brown Tobacco coloured vinyl. Whilst it is one that will probably only appeal to the serious record collector or indeed the equally serious Eastwood collector, the word is, it’s already becoming very scarce. In fact, Real Gone Music’s own website already has it listed as sold out.
There is something rather charming about the renewed interest surrounding Cowboy Favourites. Someone actually once described it to me as ‘ear bleedin’ warblin’, but it never fails to make me smile. However one may choose to categorise it, there’s no denying, it continues to evoke and divide opinion. Personally, I’ve always prescribed one simple piece of advice to the prospective listener: Remove your serious face, plant tongue firmly in cheek and press play...

© Darren Allison, The Clint Eastwood Archive 2017

*To avoid any confusion and due to Microsoft’s Word software, Cowboy Favorites (as the original album is titled) is referred in the main body of text as Cowboy Favourites.

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