Sanford Clark's 1956 Hit - 'The Fool'

Discussion in 'Music Corner' started by chip-hp, Dec 8, 2003.

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  1. chip-hp

    chip-hp Cool Cat Thread Starter

    Location:
    Dallas, TX
    Sanford Clark’s ‘The Fool’ from 1956 has always been one of my favorites … supposedly it was one of Elvis’ favorites also … the following is from Rob Finnis’ 1996 liner notes for Ace’s ‘Dot Rock ‘N’ Roll’ CD (CDCHD 592) interspersed with portions of Rich Kienzle’s [RK] 1985 liner notes from Bear Family’s [BF] ‘Sanford Clark – The Fool’ CD (BCD 15549).

    ‘In 1956, Phoenix, Arizona was a neatly delineated town hemmed in by groves of date and citrus trees. Many of the downtown sidewalks were covered with wooden roofs. As record producer Lee Hazelwood described it, “[Phoenix] looked like a cowboy town. It was mainly cowboys and we were trying to get something going locally that you could compare with the stuff they were doing in California or maybe the Louisiana Hayride, only we had to do it on a smaller scale because we had less people to work with and no big names except for the ones who came through town.

    [Born in Manford, Oklahoma in 1929, Hazelwood moved around Texas and Arkansas during his youth because his father was an oil wildcatter. He met his wife, Naomi, while in high school in Port Neches, TX. While on duty in the Korean War, he served as a disc jockey for the military AFRS radio in Japan and Korea. After his discharge, he DJ’d at a country station, KCKY, in Coolidge, AZ where he met Duane Eddy … but that is a whole other thread. He moved on to country station KRUX in Phoenix in 1955. By 1956, he was spinning discs at a new radio station, KTYL, in Mesa. There he played music that people were beginning to call “rock and roll”, with a large portion of his audience being students at nearby Arizona State College.]

    “It was a strange time,” Hazelwood explained, “we had cut two singles [in Oct. ‘55] by Jimmy Spellman for Viv Records; Decca or Columbia covered one of them which didn’t help. Then I wrote a country song – at least I meant it to be a country song – called ‘The Fool’ [the song is credited to Naomi Ford, his wife, to avoid the problem of him playing it on the radio] and I asked Al Casey if he knew anyone who could record it and he suggested this tall, good looking kid who thought he could sing, Sanford Clark.”

    Clark, a lifelong friend of Casey’s, was stationed at an air force base in Phoenix and when off duty, occasionally sang in clubs in a deep faltering tenor. Casey got him on the Arizona Hayride and introduced him to Hazelwood. In May [March - BF] 1956, they went into a local studio called Ramsey’s to cut ‘The Fool’. [‘Ramsey’s tiny, primitive studio bore an unintentional resemblance to the legendary Sun studio of Memphis. Only 6 by 12 feet, it was a homebuilt facility used for demo sessions. In 1957 Ramsey opened Audio Recorders nearby and created an echo sound as unique as Sun’s famous slapback by installing a large metal grain tank for an echo chamber.’ - RK]

    “It was just used to cut commercials,” Hazelwood remembered. When we cut ‘The Fool’ there, it had a four-pot board. It took a day to do the track. Connie Conway played “drums” with one brush that we found in the studio and a Campbell’s tomato soup box over a drum stool – that was the afterbeat on ‘The Fool’ [Clark recalled, ‘For the drum beat, we found a little piece of split bamboo, that was layin’ out in the street and beat it on the guitar case. That was our drumbeat. We just couldn’t get the sound off the drums so we hit the hardshell guitar case, Casey agrees, but insists Conway used a drumstick on the case.’ – RK] The lead guitar [a Gretsch Country Club – RK] was Al Casey [Corky Casey, his wife, played acoustic rhythm guitar - BF] and Jimmy Wilcox played bull fiddle. I meant it to be a country song, then Al Casey came up with a riff out of an R&B record that he liked to play [‘Al freely admits he first heard that lick played by Hubert Sumlin on Howlin' Wolf's classic record ‘Smokestack Lightning'. The key . of course, was different, and he choked the strings on the high note. Al’s Fender Pro amp was malfunctioning and buzzing too loud to be usable, so he instead used a Califone record player/PA system with a 12” speaker Ramsey used for calling square dances.’ - RK ] and put it against this country song. I only owned half of the record because I didn’t have enough money to pay for the studio. It took a day to do the track but nearly three weeks, on and off, to get Sanford’s voice on it. It wasn’t his fault, it was just me trying to get a sound on it ‘cause we didn’t have echo chambers so we tried all kinds of combinations of 7 ½ and 15 ips tape echo on little machines, stretching them and plugging them into each other ‘til we got something like I wanted it. I didn’t know what I wanted but I had loads of time to do it ‘cause it was only $8 an hour. Everybody went crazy when they heard the sound, people used to come in and listen to it.

    “We put ‘The Fool’ out [in May] on a little label called MCI [1003] which I owned a part of with Jimmy and Connie and (studio owner) Floyd Ramsey, and sent out our usual two or three hundred records to all the distributors and stations in the South. And we waited for our orders because on a Jimmy Spellman record, we sell 30-40,000. I told everyone we had a country record, but distributors didn’t order it at all. Then about six weeks later, after we’d forgotten all about the record, some strange man called me from Cleveland, Ohio and said, “You got a hit’. And I said, ‘Do they play country music in Cleveland?’ He said, ‘No it’s a pop hit’. That was Bill Randle who was the biggest record-breaking disc jockey in the States – there was no Dick Clark then [American Bandstand went national on August 5, 1957] – and I thanked him very much. He got it to Dot Records and it just took off from there. Then some idiot from New York [probably Jerry Blaine, the owner of Jubilee Records and Cosnat Distributors] called me up and said if I didn’t give him the record he was gonna’ cover it. I said, “I’ve just sold it to Dot, now screw off.’ We never did get into New York City with ‘The Fool’ because he had New York City sold out with the Gallahads’ cover version [on Jubilee 5252] which knocked us out of about 200,000 records [I assume that Hazelwood/Ford still got the royalties from writing the song] , while Sanford got up to 800,000.’

    Dot [Records] had achieved close to major label status with its own distribution network in the space office years. In the summer of 1956 [Randy] Wood [the founder of Dot Records] shifted his base of operations to Hollywood [from Gallatin, TN] and was open for business just as the orders for ‘The Fool’ were coming in. ‘We arrived on July 12th in the afternoon,’ recalled Wood. ‘The next morning my whole force of 13 people moved into our desks and the first day of business we did 225,000 in record sales. Pat Boone’s ‘I Almost Lost My Mind’ hit the following week so that was the big one at the time, but ‘The Fool’ was breaking.’

    ‘The Fool’ created a precedent for Dot and the industry in general and led to the purchase of other masters from smaller labels and independent producers, including such hits as Sonny Knight’s ‘Confidential’, Jim Lowe’s ‘Green Door’ and Nervous Norvus’ ‘Transfusion’. “

    Sanford Clark’s version of ‘The Fool’ (Dot 15481) debuted on The Billboard Top 100 on July 28th, spent 21 weeks on the chart and reached #7 on September 22nd … The Gallahads’ version debuted on August 18th, spent 9 weeks on the chart and reached #62 on September 15th. I had never heard of the Gallahads version until I read the liner notes … last Saturday I bought a copy at an estate sale … it tried to copy the production of Clark’s version but doesn’t make it for me.
     
  2. billh

    billh Forum Resident

    Location:
    Orange County, CA
    I've always liked the guitar on that song. Thanks for posting that.
     
  3. Bob Lovely

    Bob Lovely Super Gort Staff

    Chip,

    Thanks for posting a classic track as I was too busy yesterday to type one up! Over the years, 'The Fool' has grown on me. Not quite Country and not quite Rock n' Roll, this track was a true hybrid. I have read this story as well and 'The Fool' is another example of a great vintage record made on an extremely low budget. The sound of this track on the Ace comp. is quite nice. As Bill has expressed, the guitar licks are catchy and definitely the 'hook' on this track.

    Bob:)
     
  4. chip-hp

    chip-hp Cool Cat Thread Starter

    Location:
    Dallas, TX
    My pleasure, Bob :) ... Boppin' Bob Jones mastered the Bear Family CD ... it is not clear who mastered the Ace CD, but "Post Production" was by David Young at Sound Mastering, Ltd. ... both sound very good to me ...
     
  5. Bob Lovely

    Bob Lovely Super Gort Staff

    Chip,

    On 'Golden Age, Vol. # 8' 'The Fool' was mastered by Duncan Cowell.

    Bob:)
     
  6. indy mike

    indy mike Forum Pest

    Boppin' Bob's got the throb!!!
     
  7. Lon

    Lon Forum Resident

    Location:
    Tracy, CA
    I love that song!! I think I have it on Rockabilly Essentials on Hip-O Records.
     
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