Al Hazan is Al Anthony! HEAR
I was in San Francisco in early 1962, promoting my new recording of "Force of Love" and, at the same time performing a concert for the KPIX disc jockeys as "B. Bumble" of B. Bumble and the Stingers; a concert I was asked to do personally by the KPIX station manager. Since I loved the city and was promoting my new record there anyway, I gladly accepted.
At the concert that night, the auditorium was filled with excited fans anxious to hear Top 40 music performers, especially any recording artist. From back stage, I could hear hooting and hollering. Only a few months had passed since I recorded "Nut Rocker" and I was realizing what a hit it had become.
Anyway, just before I was to go on, someone told me I was wanted on the phone. I couldn't imagine who'd be calling; the caller turned out to be Mike Turner, the promotion man John Miller hired to promote "Force of Love."
Mike told me "Force of Love" was going to be played on the most popular Top 40 station in San Francisco. It was probably not coincidence that station was KPIX, since I was doing the B. Bumble concert for them that night. That's how it worked - I did them a favor and they did one for me.
Mike explained KPIX had a contest introducing some of the newly released records that week. Listeners got to phone in and vote for their favorite. The winning record was to be played once every hour for the following week.
Mike said "Force of Love" had the most votes and had won the contest for best new release.
This was great news and I began to feel even more pumped up than before. Here I was, about to go on stage with a house band, paid two hundred dollars to perform a live concert for a record that was already a hit. And on the same night, my first vocal recording was picked to be played once an hour on the top radio station in San Francisco. It was one of the great moments of my career. Believe me, I wore a particularly wide smile as I proceeded out onto the stage and over to the piano.
How "Force of Love" came to be recorded begins with my first record, "The Dance of Love" by the Bell Sisters. John Miller and Lee Hazelwood were the original publishers of that song, they had discovered me when I appeared on the T.V. show "Search For a Song" at the age of sixteen. Although Lee Hazelwood went on to become a successful producer, it was John Miller who became more involved with my career at this time.
After I decided to call myself "Al Anthony" and record "Force of Love", I knew I would have to find someone to finance the venture. Intuitively, I thought of Mr. Miller, who had long since left the music business and become very successful making electrical parts for the Government. My intuition turned out to be correct.
I found John Miller's phone number through Information and called him at home in Westminster, California. After a one hour drive, I arrived and we shared what we'd been up to. I told him of my success with my music and he told me how he'd become a millionaire making electrical parts for the U.S. Government.
After awhile, John invited me to sit at his baby grand piano and play the songs I wanted to record. Luckily, he liked my songs and seemed excited about getting back into the music business.
He sat at his roll top desk, took out a pen and checkbook, and casually wrote me a check for $2,000. "Set up the session" were the four words I remember hearing before I left his house.
A couple weeks later, on a cool March evening around 7 o'clock, John and I met with engineer Stan Ross, at Gold Star Studio. This first session was to record the basic rhythm tracks for the two songs. The rhythm track of a record usually consists of the drums, piano, bass, and guitar. Like the foundation of a house, it's meant to be built upon, usually with a lead vocal or instrumental.
On this session, I used drummer Sandy Nelson, who had a big hit the previous year with "Teen Beat." Although I later produced a drum record with Hal Blaine titled "Beat," Sandy's record is the only drum instrumental I know that became a hit.
Besides Sandy on drums, I played piano and hired Ray Pullman on guitar. Unfortunately, I don't remember the name of the gentleman who played bass, but I recall he was a well-known jazz musician. Perhaps it was Ray Brown. The session went smoothly and we felt it was a good beginning.
With the rhythm tracks down, I needed a professional arranger to write the charts for the violins and background voices. A fellow producer said H.B. Barnum was very good, so I contacted him. Although nice about it, H.B. was too busy to take on work and suggested I use his music copyist. I knew what a music copyist was because I hired them to make lead sheets for my songs.
In this case, H.B. Barnum recommended a nice, unassuming fellow named Jack Nitzsche. Jack was short, had a thin build, and wore thick glasses. He was quiet but had a suppressed energy, like the rumblings deep in the earth before a volcanic eruption. He also had an appealing manner that marked him as someone special.
I liked Jack right away and he seemed enthusiastic about the material I wanted to record. After he played some of his arrangement ideas on the piano, I was convinced he was the right guy for the job. I immediately hired him.
Since I had recorded the rhythm tracks, Jack had only to write the arrangements for the violins and background voices. I gave him an acetate copy of the rhythm tracks to work from and told him to let me know when he finished.
A few days later, Jack phoned to let me know he was ready. I told him I would book Studio A at Gold Star for an evening session. I also asked him to call the violinists and background singers for the session, since I had no idea how to get in touch with them.
After recording the violins and the four background singers, the final session ended with me singing the lead vocal. When the session was over, we all hung around listening to the finished recording and discussing the events of the evening. I turned the master tapes over to John Miller, because my part of the job was finished, and around 11 that night, John and I said our goodbyes to Stan and Jack and left the studio.
I didn't hear from John until he called me two weeks later and told me the records were pressed. He released my songs on his own label, which he called Downbeat Records. It was fine with me, I was just glad to have my first record as a producer-vocalist released for sale.
"Force of Love" was a mild success in the summer of 1962, doing especially well in the San Francisco Bay Area, but not well enough nationally to inspire a follow up. I'm happy to say, however, my first vocal recording is still available on compilation CDs, and is still selling. In any event, the memories of the recording sessions and the personal appearances I made are worth far more than any royalties I might ever receive.
What's also interesting to me is how my reaction to these songs has changed. At the time, 'Is It a Sin' HEAR was just the backside to something that sounded more current, but now it sounds pretty nice to me. Of course, I must have also liked it then to choose it for the b-side.