B. Bumble and "Nutrocker" HEAR
One rainy morning in the fall of 1962, Rod Pierce, who ran Rendezvous Records, called me and asked if I would come to his office and play piano on a recording session they were doing at noon. There was nothing unusual about the phone call since I had done business with Rod having sold him the first record I ever produced just three months before.
When I agreed to do the date that day, I assumed he just wanted me to play piano background as one of the musicians on the session. However, what was unknown to me at the time was apparently Ernie Freeman, the musician who played lead piano on "Bumble Boogie", the original hit record for B. Bumble and the Stingers, was not going to play the follow up to his hit.
Anyhow, for whatever reason and without my knowledge, Rod Pierce apparently decided to use me as the lead performer for the follow up session. In retrospect, I assume that a friend of mine, who also did business with Rendezvous, might have recommended me to Rod, since my friend remembered me playing "Bumble Boogie" for him a while back.
It was a few months before the "Nut Rocker" session that my friend told me Rendezvous Records was looking for someone to go on tour as B. Bumble along with some other musicians to promote "Bumble Boogie". I considered the idea and, because of that, I learned to play "Bumble Boogie". However, since I was becoming very busy as a record producer and songwriter, I finally decided against the idea.
When I arrived at the Rendezvous office a little before noon, I noticed that they had turned the office into a makeshift recording studio. Rod greeted me by shaking my hand with one hand and handing me a vinyl disc of the composition he wanted me to learn with the other. The disc turned out to be a recording by H.B. Barnum who I later discovered had performed this song entitled "Nut Rocker" and was scheduled to have it released on Dot Records.
Although I felt a little confused by the whole thing at first, I don't remember asking anything further of Rod or the other musicians and simply sat down at the piano. Rod quickly carried a chair over to my side and placed a small portable record player on top of it with H.B's recording on the turntable. At that point I figured I'd better begin trying to learn the piece they all expected me to play.
First, I listened to a few bars of the demonstration record. I then memorized the small part I heard and simply repeated it on the piano. After I felt I had that much figured out, I replaced the needle onto the vinyl disc for another few bars and continued to repeat the process until the end of the recording. I only had one half hour to memorize the whole thing, which wasn't really enough time for me.
I didn't know what the hurry was, but for some reason Rod decided to record the first take while I was still trying to practice the piece with the other musicians. Because I was so rushed to learn "Nut Rocker", I was not happy at all with my performance on that first take. However, in spite of my asking Rod to let me do it over again, he said he liked it just fine the way it was.
I knew that I had made a few mistakes and could have done it better, but I couldn't change his mind. Rod later told me that the reason he recorded it so quickly was because he heard exactly the sound he wanted while I was practicing and was anxious to get it on tape.
It was only a few weeks later that I began hearing myself play "Nut Rocker" on the radio and it wasn't long before the record was on its way to selling millions. I recall one local disc jockey saying as the record ended, "I heard that B. Bumble was spreading his stinger all over town". I'm not exactly sure what he meant by that but I thought it sounded a little risqué for those days.
Soon many of my friends in and out of the music business began to refer to me as Mr. B. Bumble and other stupid nicknames like Mr. B. or Mr. Bumble. Friends would walk up to me and ask, "How's your stinger today, Al". I respectable gentleman doctor who has been my internist for over twenty years still insists on greeting me as "B. Bumble".
There are a few notable things in regard to the "Nut Rocker" recording session that I remember. For instance I recall that Rod Pierce very cleverly put flat metal thumbtacks on the piano hammers that gave the piano a special "rinky-dink" sound similar to an old time barroom upright. The kind of piano sound you might hear in a Western movie, set in the 1800's and starring John Wayne.
I also remember, while we were actually performing the recording, I needed Rene Hall, the guitarist, to signal me when to come in after his solo guitar break by nodding his head. I asked him to do this because I kept losing track of where I was while we were playing the song. Not only did Rene have to concentrate on his guitar performance, but he had to worry about keeping me on track as well. I just faked my way through the whole session but somehow it all worked out.
My final memory regarding that one-hour session was the fact that my middle finger was bleeding after sliding it hard up the ivory keyboard at the end of the song. I guess I must have scraped my finger a little too hard while trying to get the most I could out of the ending. Every time I listen to "Nutrocker", even to this day, I wince at that final moment of the record remembering the pain of my bleeding finger and the blood we had to wipe off the white ivories afterwards.
It is also remarkable to remember that the song was recorded in the Rendezvous Records office on Selma Avenue and not at a professional recording studio. Rod Pierce had simply assembled some used Ampex recording machines and microphones and, by using his waiting room for a recording booth and his private office for the studio, had cut a hit record. And what is more, if you take into account that we all agreed to accept a percentage of the record instead of being paid, it had cost practically nothing for him to produce the song.
My understanding is that "Nut Rocker" was the biggest selling record ever for B. Bumble and the Stingers and is still used at times as background for movies such as "Butcher Boy" in 1998, and "Big Momma's House" in the year 2000.
It was a pretty strange and wonderful feeling for me to be sitting in a movie theater watching "Butcher Boy" after all those years, and suddenly hearing myself playing the piano in the background. Or sitting in my den at home watching "Big Mamma's House" on television and having the same experience.
I also remember a day in the summer of 1996, when I was once again quietly sitting and watching television in my den. But this time I was watching a young woman getting ready to perform her gymnastic routine to compete for the Olympic championships in Atlanta, Georgia. I nearly fell off my couch when I suddenly heard "Nut Rocker" playing in the background as she performed her routine in free exercise. It occurred to me at the time that my piano playing was being heard all over the world by millions of people that day.
About two months after its release, "Nut Rocker" had become the number one record in England and so Rendezvous Records decided to fly me over to London to make some personal appearances. I remember staying in a part of the city called "Knightsbridge". It was my understanding that these small apartments had once been stables for the horses of wealthy Englishmen. I'm not totally sure but I think I remember having to share the apartment with Kim Fowley who was the publisher of "Nut Rocker" and was promoting himself as well as his song.
I recall doing a few television interviews while I was there, which was fun. Actually, since I had the top record in the country, some of the English people looked upon me as a "star", although I certainly didn't feel like one. Anyway, I was considered a celebrity over there much more so than in the United States.
Needless to say, this created some amenities for me such as free dinners at the finest restaurants and tickets to the current hit stage shows. It also afforded me a chance to meet some interesting people, the names of whom I have long forgotten…except for a few gentlemen I happened to be introduced to one evening.
Before I had to return to the States, I was asked by a local record distributor if I would consider doing an up and coming rock band a favor by joining them at a London restaurant for dinner. I don't remember the name of the restaurant, however, the name of the group was "The Beatles" and I had no idea who they were. This eatery was supposed to be the hot new place to go in London; or so I was told.
When I arrived, I was escorted to a private, softly lit dining room on an upper floor and was introduced to four gentlemen sitting comfortably around a dining table and well dressed with coat and tie. That was the night I spent chatting with some nice young guys named John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr and George Harrison. Although at the time it meant very little to me, it wasn't long after I returned home that the "British Invasion" began and that night became a treasured memory for me.