Russell Arms and "Is There a Heaven" HEAR
It was the Fall of 1956, and about three weeks after I was introduced to Herb Newman and Lou Bedell, co-owners of Era Records, that a gentleman named Russell Arms recorded "Is There a Heaven" on their label. He was a well-known artist with a wonderful voice who was starring as one of the singers, along with Gisele McKenzie and Snooky Lanson, on a popular television program called "Your Hit Parade." Era had first submitted "Is There a Heaven" to Tennesee Ernie Ford who chose not to record it because he felt the title implied there wasn't a heaven. This was at a time when he was pretty hot, record-wise.
I was fortunate to have my song arranged beautifully by a talented producer for Era named Buddy Bregman. Mr. Bregman also arranged the number one hit in the country at the time, titled "The Wayward Wind" and performed by Gogi Grant. Although I never met Buddy, I was happy to discover his arrangement for my song had an ethereal feel to it similar to Miss Grant's hit recording.
"Is There a Heaven" was released when Peter Potter, a popular Hollywood disc jockey, was hosting a new television show called "Juke Box Jury." The premise of the show was Mr. Potter would preview newly-released recordings and a celebrity panel would discuss the record and offer their opinion on whether it would be a "Hit" or a "Miss." Luckily, Russell Arm's record of my song was selected to be judged on the show.
On the night of the live TV broadcast, the celebrities were kind enough to vote "Is There a Heaven" a unanimous "Hit." Once I heard the results of the voting on my T.V. set, I got excited and drove my car down to Television City from where the show was being broadcast. Fortunately, this was only about eight blocks from my parent's house, where I was living. Explaining the situation to an understanding security guard outside, I got inside the studio through the rear entrance and found my way backstage.
Once the show ended, I cautiously walked over to the celebrity panel and introduced myself as the songwriter of "Is There a Heaven." I asked each celebrity if they would autograph the little circle-shaped voting ballots. They were very cordial to me and, while congratulating me about my song, signed the backs of their ballots.
I still have those autographed ballots pasted in the scrapbook I kept back then. It was a night I'll never forget; the celebrities I met who autographed their ballots were Liberace, Zsa Zsa Gabor and Cathy Crosby. What a treasure of memories those ballots represent for me today.
The first time I heard "Is There a Heaven" played on the radio was a few weeks after the T.V. broadcast. I imagine all songwriters must remember that moment when they hear their song played over the radio for the first time, as it is truly an unforgettable experience. At least it felt that way for me.
It was a damp and drizzly day and I had just parked my car near Selma Avenue and Cahuenga Boulevard in Hollywood. I was walking with my umbrella, on my way to an appointment to play a new song for Fred Stryker of Fairway Music. I happened to be taking a short cut, crossing through a Mobile gas station at the street corner, when I heard a small radio playing near where the mechanics were working.
In those days, gas stations were much less formal and mechanics often played their radios with the volume up as they worked. I wasn't paying too much attention to the music until suddenly the moment was filled with the familiar sound of a vocal chorus and violins coming from the radio. It took me a second of wondering why the music seemed so familiar before I realized it was the introduction to my own song emanating over the airwaves.
I stopped in my tracks, caught in an experience so surreal that I felt lost in a fantasy as the song played. This was a dream come true for me and it occurred to me perhaps hundreds of thousands of people were listening to my song at that moment. It was a very personal and inspirational time for me and I vowed to work even harder to become more successful as I continued to my appointment.
[MORE ABOUT BUDDY BREGMAN]