Having some trouble lately deciding which of my thousands of records – remember them, before CDs? – to listen to, I’ve started pulling albums at random off the shelves, then working my way down the alphabet. Which means that one day last week I listened to, in order: Free, the Freedom Sounds (led by trombonist Wayne Henderson), Fresh Air (the group’s self-titled record from 1973, not the radio show), Dean Friedman, and Kinky Friedman, stopping for the afternoon before I got to Donnie Fritts and Lefty Frizzell.
Two days later (starting one to the right of Nick Drake) I got Dreams, Les Dudek, The Dudes, Dave Dudley, and Urszula Dudziak. A few days ago I pulled out the soundtrack for To Sir With Love (between Peter Tosh and Tower of Power) and got sidetracked without going any further. It’s a pretty quick listen – three of the tracks are the same title song sung by Lulu, three other musical excerpts are less than a minute long, and four more less than two minutes each. And yes, it’s pretty sappy, but I had much less trouble being sappy in 1967. (I also liked the movie back then.)
Track #4, Off and Running, turned out to be an actual song by The Mindbenders, a group I usually enjoyed, even though I don’t seem to have any of their records. Which made me think, as one often does these days about 60s rock musicians, “Whatever happened to Wayne Fontana? Is he even still alive?”
After a little investigating (thanks mostly to the Wikipedia), I discovered these 10 interesting things:
1) Lulu’s title song, co-written by her manager’s husband, not only was a smash hit, but turned out to be the #1 single on the Billboard Hot 100 for the entire year. It was #1 for more than a month, following The Letter by the Box Tops and preceding Incense and Peppermints, by the Strawberry Alarm Clock. (I would go put on the latter album right now, except – if you can believe this – I’ve actually listened to it recently.)
2) To Sir With Love, remarkably, is the only record in history that hit #1 in the U.S. while never making the charts at all in England.
3) Wayne Fontana (real name Glyn Geoffrey Ellis) is still alive, age 68 these days. He picked his stage name, some say, in homage to Elvis Presley’s long-time drummer D. J. Fontana.
4) Together Elvis and D.J. made over 450 (!) recordings, including Hound Dog, All Shook Up, Love Me Tender, Heartbreak Hotel, and Jailhouse Rock.
5) Others say Fontana picked his name from his record company – coincidently, the label that released the To Sir With Love soundtrack. It started in the 1950s in Europe as a subsidiary of the Dutch record label Philips, and in the early 1960s became a subsidiary of Mercury Records in the U.S. (A Fontana history.)
6) The Mindbenders (great name, by the way) picked their name because of a 1964 brainwashing movie I’d never heard of before.
7) By the time To Sir With Love was recorded, Wayne Fontana wasn’t even in The Mindbenders any more. Two years earlier, deciding to go solo, he’d left the band he created as his backing group.
8) In 2005, when Fontana (the man, not the label) was trying to fight off bankruptcy, and bailiffs came to his house, he set one of their cars on fire, with a bailiff seated inside it.
9) Summonsed to court on subsequent charges, Fontana came “dressed as Lady Justice, complete with a sword, scales, crown, cape and dark glasses, and claiming ‘justice is blind.’”
10) Wayne/Glyn later moved to Spain but, upon coming back to Manchester to perform at an oldies show in March 2011, was led off in handcuffs by the police before going onstage, because of failure to appear in court concerning an unpaid speeding ticket. It later was determined that the reason Fontana hadn’t paid the ticket was because no one ever had issued it to him, and his record (no, not that kind of record) was cleared.
(The only thing that could make that last story better is if the police, asked for comment, said, “Um, um, um, um, um, um.”)