Monday, August 09, 2010
BOBBY HEBB : SUNSET FOR THE "SUNNY" SINGER
Bobby Hebb was a one-hit wonder, and like so many of these guys, after making a splash, he spent a few years floating around aimlessly before sinking to the bottom, dismissed as merely a "fluke." There was a 35 year drought (1970-2005) where the Hebb-cat wasn't on black vinyl at all, with only the "Sunny" side up and available on compilations. "Sunny" was also his ticket to various memorabilia shows and oldies festivals where all he had to do was sing his hit and hope the fee covered a little more than just the travel expenses and hotel.
Every obit on Bobby Hebb steals the basics from the same sources, so you probably know his parents were blind, he and his Nashville-born brother Harold formed a tap-dancing act, and that when they went their separate ways, Bobby turned up in Roy Acuff's band while his brother joined The Prisonaires…made up of other jail birds. Harold did get out of prison and into a real group, The Marigolds, but was never far from danger. And so it was, that in 1963, (coincidentally a day after the JFK assassination, and also Boris Karloff's birthday), he ended up knifed to death, but not before firing a fatal shot into the guy who'd mortally wounded him.
Bobby had begun his recording career by then, replacing Mickey Baker (in "Mickey and Sylvia" of "Love is Strange" fame). As "Bobby and Sylvia," they recorded what is now regarded as a cult item, the cringeworthy "You Broke My Heart and I Broke Your Jaw," which has the same cheery feel as Dave Clark 5's "I Like it Like That." This was the era of the Spector-produced Crystals tune"He hit me, and it felt like a kiss," music by Carole King, lyrics by Gerry Goffin. Even so, the soulful duo are alarmingly garrulous as they swap barbs and seem to suggest that in the ghetto, violence is no big deal. Back then, Bobby's song was a mere Hebbaroid on the giant butt of indie R&B singles. Now the single on Bill Grauer's Battle label, can fetch some decent bucks on eBay. Grauer did a lot better back then with full-sized jazz albums via his main company, Riverside.
In 1966, Hebb's melding of R&B, Nashville and pop, yielded a smash hit with "Sunny." Though it was covered by every annoying finger-snapping singer hitting the TV variety shows of the day, he managed to lay down the definitive version. He just couldn't lay down another hit single to cement his identity with the music-loving public. "A Satisfied Mind" was modestly successful in 1966, and a Hebb-penned song "A Natural Man" was a hit for Lou Rawls in 1971, a year after Hebb's album career sputtered to a seeming end with "Love Games" on Epic. In 2005, the indie label Tuition offered a new album which was aimed mostly at Hebb's following in Japan, where he often toured. He's still best loved for "Sunny," which is, even if you want to dismiss it as mawkish pop, quite an achievement as a piece that melds various music styles together, and in it's major and minor key chorus and verse, captures notes of both blues pessimism and pop optimism.
You get a half-dozen Heb-caps here, five cuts from the tail end of his prime in 1970 (This Bird Has Flown, I've Learned to Love, Grin and Bear It, I'll Be Anything and Good Morning World) and a halfway decent copy of the obscure "You Broke My Heart and I Broke Your Jaw."
Help Yourself to Hebb tracks