Wednesday, April 27, 2005
Nancy Drew Lives!
Those who've read my web site page about singer Bill Black might be interested in knowing that this recording will be released in Japan in September. A surprise to me because I didn't really fight very hard for it. Ya never know...
What I DID fight for, however, was to try and understand how a singer---Bill Black---touted by big band poobah George T. Simon as being the next Sinatra could more or less disappear from sight after 1950, essentially never to professionally resurface again.
Nothing that I could come up with was sufficient to explain it: alcoholism, tax and/or draft evasion, sex, drugs. . .? It just didn't add up. At a certain point, I even thought that it might have something to do with a (literal) black "passing" for white. But Bill was so smart he could most likely have navigated those shoals.
After two years of searching, yesterday morning, almost on the point of giving up, I was finally able to make contact with and interview a close friend of Bill's (aka Clay). Soon, I should be able to solve the mystery of the recording. Who plays on it, etc.
The most illuminating (AND SHOCKING) thing he told me explains beyond question why Bill disappears from the "scene" after 1950. In retrospect, I should have guessed. If it had been a snake it would bit me. What Bill's friend said even explains why he "washed up" on the shores of Manhattan a decade later with a new name, Clay Mundey.
"He was attacked by the Mob," Bill's friend said. "He was left on a Los Angeles freeway. And some doctor out in Palm Springs had him stay in his house for about a year. He recuperated. That knocked the stuffing out of him and he changed his name to Clay Mundey at that time because he wanted to get out from under the radar of the Mob. It happened right at the wrong time. Right when the music was changing where it took an extra push for anybody that wanted to make it in the business. You had to have the desire, to have it in your belly, and Clay lost it. He was an exciting guy, one-of-a-kind.
"Did he tell you about his Hollywood days?: Natalie Wood, James Dean and Rock Hudson. He was real good friends with Rock Hudson. They always used to hang out in Palm Springs. Dennis Hopper. He lived in this building and Clay [Bill] was coming down the stairs once and Dennis was coming up the steps, and there was this “Bill Black! Bill Black!” They obviously knew each other. My mouth dropped open. He [Clay] knew Elizabeth Taylor, too."
What befell Bill was very common in the U.S. music industry at one time; especially, immediately after the big bands were breaking up. It happened to nearly every pop singer cut loose from the "protection" the bands afforded. Most chose to cooperate with the Mob, but if you didn't the results could be very very bad...as in Bill's case. The artist would be coerced into signing with an agent who was "in bed with" the mob. The agent would then take a VERY LARGE part of the artist's earnings and pass it on to Vinnie and da boys. It was standard. Few complained.
This aspect of the music business formed a significant part of singer Alan Dale's book, The Spider and the Marionettes. Very much the same thing that happened to Bill also befell at least one other singer, a now very well known vocalist from the same era who was also beat up by the mob for not cooperating. Still known today, apparently, unlike stubborn-by-nature Bill Black, the singer finally accepted the offer he couldn't refuse.
Posted by Bill Reed at 9:20 AM