Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Seventeen "Choice" Singers You've Probably Never Heard Before. . . #1

Before Frank Sinatra scored his early Capitol Records hit in 1955 with “Learnin’ The Blues,” a Philadelphia singer, Joe Valino (1929-1996), recorded the song in late '54 on a small local label, Gold Star. At the time, Sinatra was experiencing a degree of difficulty selling singles ("All the Way," etc notwithstanding), and when he heard Valino's recording, within three days he commissioned an arrangement by Nelson Riddle, recorded it, and the rest is essential FS history. And quicker than you can say Sam Giancana, the recording leapt to the top of the Billboard chart, thus finally solidifying Sinatra's sure-fire success with the label.

According to urban legend, Sinatra's people then delegated a bunch of the boys to travel to Philly and make an offer to Valino that he, ummm, couldn't refuse in order to lay off any further promotion of "Learnin' the Blues." It now "belonged" to Sinatra. All of which doesn't really compute. There is simply no way that this somewhat poorly-engineered "side" by a regionally-known singer on a small obscure label could compete with the power of Sinatra.

Another version of the "Learnin'" saga, one that sounds a bit more plausible, is that in early 1955, Valino himself took his single---not much more than a demo really--- to music publishers in New York with hopes of kick-starting his pop vocal career. One of the executives he met with loved the song but thought Valino sounded too much like Frank Sinatra. (Debateable). After Valino departed (and faster than you could say Carlo Gambino), the sheet music of the song was winging westward. That sounds far more plausible than the dead-horse's-head-in-crooner's-bed version. (The writer of the song was a Philadelphia housewife, Dolores Silvers, who never published another song.)

Several years before the "Learnin' the Blues" episode, Valino had already established himself as a highly regarded regional singer. The level of his musicianship can be ascertained by the level of musians he recorded and performed with, most especially the (soon-to-be going places) jazz tenor sax player, Richie Kamuca. They made several fine singles together, including "All the Things You Are" b/w "The Song is You" for the small Philadelphia label, Crosley. A few years later Kamuca would write the notes for Sinner or Saint, the lone Valino album released in the singer's lifetime: "Joe Valino is more than a singer. Joe is a musician's singer.” The sax man then proceeded to reel off several industry giants who had lavished praise on Valino, including Sarah Vaughan, Merv Griffin and Tony Bennett. He closed with the prediction that his friend was “definitely on his way to make his place and leave his indelible mark in the music world.”

Alas, Kamuca's predicition of big things for Valino never really happened. Joe did go on to record, perhaps, as many as a score of single releases, but only one, 1957's “Garden of Eden,” made a visible dent on the national records sales charts.

In 1997, the year after Joe's death, his family cobbled together a CD entitled Timeless. Some of the tracks are ones that appeared originally on Sinner or Saint, but---in some instances---with nice brass and strings overdubs. Interestingly, the version of "Learnin' the Blues" that appears there (source unknown) is taken at a faster tempo than the Gold Star version. It is also a much more solid and professionally-sounding "take" on the song. So much better, in fact, that had it been released at the the same time as Sinatra's---small label or no---it might have actually given the latter a run for his money! Who knows?

1 comment:

Buster said...

Thanks, Bill - I have a bunch of Valino singles, as well as an autographed copy of the LP, and may devote a post to him one day.