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Click below for the transcript.
Today, we’re going to look at a record that, like the record we looked at in the main podcast this week, has connections to Kim Fowley and to the Beach Boys, who covered it just as they did “Moon Dawg”. But we’re going to look at it as a way to say goodbye to Gaynel Hodge, who has appeared in so many of our previous episodes.
Hodge played piano on “Alley Oop”, which we’ve done a bonus podcast on before, and which is also very briefly discussed in this week’s main episode, and while I was writing that, I heard from a Twitter follower that he had died. We’ve already covered all the records we’re going to look at in which he had a major involvement, so today we’re going to look at another one on which he was just a session musician. This one is actually from 1962, when we’re still in 1960 in the main podcast, but it’s not jumping so far ahead that it’s unreasonable, and I wanted to tip my hat to him with the last record he played on which I was planning on discussing — if you remember the Patreon episode on “Little Bitty Pretty One”, I said we’d be looking at Thurston Harris’ backing group when we got to 1962. So today, let’s look at “Papa Oom Mow Mow” by the Rivingtons:
[Excerpt: The Rivingtons, “Papa Oom Mow Mow”]
The history of the Rivingtons is a convoluted one, as the story of so many vocal groups is. They started out as a group called the Lamplighters, who were formed by Willie Ray Rockwell, who had been an original member of the Hollywood Flames. The first lineup of the Lamplighters also included Leon Hughes, who left before they started recording, to *join* the Hollywood Flames (Hughes of course later went on to join the Coasters). Hughes was replaced by Thurston Harris, and they made their first recordings for Federal records, with Ralph Bass and Johnny Otis. “Be-Bop Wino”, their second single and the most impressive of these early recordings, was by a lineup of Rockwell, Harris, Al Frazier, and Matt Nelson:
[Excerpt: The Lamplighters, “Be Bop Wino”]
They also recorded backing Jimmie Witherspoon:
[Excerpt: Jimmie Witherspoon and the Lamplighters, “Sad Life”]
Various changes happened in the lineup, as people fell out with each other, got jailed for non-payment of child support, or just generally became too difficult to work with. For a while, the group became made up of Al Frazier, Carl White, Sonny Harris, and Matthew Nelson, and were recording, still for Federal, as the Tenderfoots:
[Excerpt: The Tenderfoots, “Kissing Bug”]
After four unsuccessful singles, Thurston Harris rejoined the group, and they became the Lamplighters again, recording a few more singles, starting with “Don’t Make it So Good”:
[Excerpt: The Lamplighters, “Don’t Make It So Good”]
Then they decided to fire Harris again, as he was extremely unreliable. They took on a new singer, Rocky Wilson — the lineup now was Al Frazier, Carl White, Sonny Harris, and Rocky Wilson. This lineup’s first recording was backing, of all people, Paul Anka, on his first ever recording, a session paid for by Anka’s father:
[Excerpt: Paul Anka, “I Confess”]
Lester Sill renamed the group The Sharps, and they started making records under that name, like “Six Months, Three Weeks, Two Days, One Hour”:
[Excerpt: The Sharps, “Six Months, Three Weeks, Two Days, One Hour”]
They also backed their old bandmate Thurston Harris on his big hit “Little Bitty Pretty One”:
Lester Sill started getting them backing vocal jobs — it’s them on “Rebel Rouser” by Duane Eddy:
[Excerpt: Duane Eddy, “Rebel Rouser”]
They briefly renamed themselves the Crenshaws, and released a record of the old standard “Moonlight in Vermont”, this was a Kim Fowley production, and their first work with him:
[Excerpt: The Crenshaws, “Moonlight in Vermont”]
They then renamed themselves the Rivingtons — still with a lineup of Frazier, White, Harris, and Wilson, and Kim Fowley got them to start recording novelty songs, with the normal group of people that Fowley used on novelty records, like Gary Paxton and Gaynel Hodge. Their first record, “Papa Oom Mow Mow”, made the top fifty on the charts:
[Excerpt: The Rivingtons, “Papa Oom Mow Mow”]
There followed a variety of records with similar backing vocals, of which my favourite is the Coasters-flavoured “Kickapoo Joy Juice”:
[Excerpt: The Rivingtons, “Kickapoo Joy Juice”]
But the only one to have any success at all was “The Bird’s the Word”, which went to number fifty-two on the charts, and was their only R&B hit, making number twenty-seven on the R&B charts:
[Excerpt: The Rivingtons, “The Bird’s The Word”]
Shortly after that, their songs moved from the world of LA R&B groups into the world of surf music, through, of all people, a white group from Minnesota. The Trashmen put together a medley of the Rivingtons’ two biggest hits, and called it “Surfin’ Bird”. Their record originally credited their drummer as the songwriter, but a few lawyers letters later the Rivingtons got the credit they deserved, as “Surfin’ Bird” made number four in 1963:
[Excerpt: The Trashmen, “Surfin’ Bird”]
That brought the Rivingtons’ original recordings back to mind, for those surf groups like the Beach Boys who had also been influenced by the LA R&B vocal group scene, and “Papa Oom Mow Mow” entered the Beach Boys’ regular setlist, and featured on their album Beach Boys Concert, which was the Beach Boys’ first number one album, as well as the first number one live album by anyone:
[Excerpt: The Beach Boys, “Papa Oom Mow Mow”]
The Beach Boys loved the song, and it was also included on their Beach Boys Party! album, as well as on numerous live recordings that have been released on archive sets. To this day, the current touring Beach Boys perform part of the song during their extended performances of “Barbara Ann”.
The Rivingtons continued to tour for many decades in various lineups. Unfortunately, they remained so obscure that I can’t find much more about them after Carl White died towards the end of the seventies, though the other three continued at least into the nineties. There are no compilation CDs of their music in print, and you can only find their hits incongruously placed on various-artists surf albums. It’s a shame, as their best recordings are as good as any doo wop out there.
The Rivingtons intersected with so many of the great musicians of the period — Johnny Otis, the Hollywood Flames, Duane Eddy — that it’s really a shame their work is never placed in that context. But at least their hits *are* remembered, and there are very few records that can be more likely to bring pure joy to listeners.
And Gaynel Hodge, the piano player on their biggest record, will be remembered too.