WFMU Ichiban, Rock and Soul with Debbie D

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Johnny "Big Hand" Bartlett For Gary Usher Month

Gary Usher Month???  Seems a rather insignificant amount of time to dedicate to a man that I've based my whole life on.  But maybe I'm a bit eccentric in this regard.  However, we agree that the man should be honored, and that's boss.

You're reading this so you're probably smarter than the average ho-dad and know all about the teen tycoon of traction.  But let me tell you my perspective.

When I started buyin' records at the tender age of ten--this was 1975--finding early Beach Boys records for a quarter at garage sales was a lead-pipe cinch.  And what I noticed is that the name Gary Usher appeared on the writing credits of all my favorite tunes.  Fast forward five years when I got into other surf and hot rod music and I kept noticing those magical words that appeared all over the place, thusly (G. Usher-R. Christian).  Whether it was the Hondells, The Kickstands, The Super Stocks, The Revells, etc., there was that uncommon denominator that makes all those records so special.  And when you throw the name Richie Podolor into the mix your motorcycle-jargoned brain starts doin' wheelies right outta your skull.

So clearly, Gary U. and Roger C. must have gotten together and said, hey, we can make some ginchy music for today's youth.  And they did.  And how.

But of all those aforementioned studio masterpieces, The Hondells are standouts.  And they almost appear to be a real band.  Matching sweaters?  Check.  Matching motorcycles?  Check.  Matching pompadours?  Check.  Sure, you could say that Gary Usher knew his audience and wrote accordingly.  But I think it's a bit deeper than that.  I think he was writing from experience (he met Brian Wilson at the drag strip cuz he was a bona fide motor head).  His undeniable talent for songwriting, storytelling and musical production (after all, he was like Phil Spector, but better) made for one great platter after another.  The Hondells were the perfect vehicle (pardon the pun) for him.

They released 2 perfect LPs and countless 45s (some of the later ones are well worth avoiding).  One 45 worth noting is their cover of Jody Reynold's Endless Sleep.  Wow, they took a depressing dirge about a teenage girl drowning and made it into an up-tempo toe tapper.  BRILLIANT!

Another great Hondells 45 is My Buddy b/w You're Gonna Ride With Me.  Sure, both those songs are on their eponymously titled second LP.  You see it was Ichiban's very own Debbie D that gave me my copy of the picture sleeve, replete with hole in the center of the sleeve courtesy of some thrift store peg, no doubt (see figure 1).  This gift ensured her a lifetime membership to the Hillsdale Records Free 45 Club (an elite subset of humanity in which, not coincidentally, Greg G is also a cardholder).

I could go on, but really the best thing for you to do is scour the record bins for anything that says (G. Usher-R. Christian).  Because all the waxing poetic in the world can't compare with 10 seconds of Honda Holiday. (mp3)

Figure 1

Editor's Note:  I also got Harvey Scales' Loveitis b/w Get Down in that same thrift score!
Johnny Bartlett and I have been pen pals since the early '90s, when I wrote to the Phantom Surfers Fan Club!

1 Comment:

buriedinvinyl said...

I remember reading Johnny's story in one of those Incredibly Strange Music books. I enjoyed it and agree with him on many of his viewpoints. Gary Usher was king of the hot rod music scene and certainly deserved more credit than the media ever gave him. If I was a DJ at that time and introducing one of the records he made, I would have mentioned his name before the artist printed on the label. "Here's a new hot 45 from the king of hot rod music, Gary Usher"!