Sunday, August 09, 2015

Roy Bennett joins Sid Tepper RED ROSES FOR AN OLD SONGWRITER

How many bouquets of red roses did the funeral home get for Roy Bennett?

In one of those interesting coincidences, the songwriting team of Tepper & Bennett died within months of each other. The lyrical half, Sid Tepper, passed on in April, and now it's Roy Bennett (August 12, 1918 – July 2, 2015) who didn't quite make it to his birthday this month.

They were hacks in the nicest sense of the word.

If hacks sit in an office and hack out songs on demand, and don't wait for inspiration, then they were hacks. Need a novelty Christmas song? These two Jews could toss you, "I'm Gettin' Nuttin' For Christmas."

Need 30 or so songs for those bad Elvis Presley movies? You weren't expecting Leiber & Stoller to do it, were you? Not when the recipe involved soft ballads. You might recall that Presley had a fondness for gooping up old folk songs ("Love Me Tender" for example). So it's no surprise, as Bennett recalled, that sometimes he just borrowed melodies to turn into "Puppet on a String," "I Love Only One Girl," and "Five Sleepyheads. "

The hit-makers were also hacky enough to try and create a fairly sound-alike sequel to their 1948 sentimental smasheroo, "Red Roses for A Blue Lady." In that one, the singer urges, "Mr. Florist take my order please," hoping that a dozen roses will cheer up his sweetie. In 1950 the guys were peddling "Thanks, Mister Florist" (and both Vaughn Monroe and the not-so-swingin' Four Lads took a crack at it). The happy ending:

"You told me the roses would win my blue lady.
I thought you'd like to know it turned out fine.
So Thanks Mister Florist for the red red roses
That made the blue lady mine. All mine. That made the lady mine all mine.

Not exactly the best lyric in the world, or the best music. But back in the late 40's and through the 50's and 60's, you'd see the credit Tepper-Bennett on tons of vinyl, including a forgotten-but-big hit at the time, "Suzy Snowflake" (1951, Rosemary Clooney). If they wrote the sentimental "silly love songs" of their day, they were not ashamed. They turned out "(It was just a) Simple Melody" for Patti Page, and it was indeed, poignant, simple, and melodic, and suited her lilting voice just fine.

The fine Mr. Bennett was born Israel Brodsky, and that was a strong give-away as to his ethnicity. While there were plenty of Jewish songwriters around, they either had a last name that could save them (Irving Berlin) or the last name was too odd for the average dull-witted anti-Semite to sniff over (George Gershwin, Sid Tepper). It was very common for Jews to blend in with a different name, one that would appeal to fans of a Wayne Newton, Dean Martin, Guy Lombardo or Elvis Presley.

In fact, if there was any "Jewing down" to be done, it would be done by the Gentiles. A common practice in the music biz, was for "the talent" to get screwed by clever businessmen, and with songwriters, there was the "publishing" rights. The "deal" with the Presley songs was that his management took a third. Bennett: "We thought it was unfair, of course. All the writers felt that the Colonel and Elvis were making money hand over fist on our songs and that it was smalltime of them to take advantage of us. The prevailing attitude, however, was that it was better to earn 2/3 of something than 100% of nothing. I always felt that this was the Colonel's idea, not Elvis's."

The team custom-wrote songs for specific scenes in the Presley films, from ballads ("All That I Am," "Island of Love" to novelty numbers ("Song of the Shrimp," "Fort Lauderdale Chamber of Commerce.") They also penned the only Presley song nominated for an Oscar, "It's a Wonderful World" (which was in "Roustabout").

The team never met Presley. They were busy knockin' out the songs in an office in the famous Brill Building. For Presley, they sent in about 60 demos, and had a sensational batting average in having over 30 appear in his films. The guys didn't try to "sell" The Colonel and Presley by hiring demo singers who could sound like Elvis. The singers simply performed the songs as written, allowing Elvis to intuit which ones he could improve via his distinctive style.

From "Kiss of Fire" (which Bennett adapted from an old tango tune) to "Naughty Lady of Shady Lane" (yet another novelty hit), Tepper-Bennett turned out over 300 songs in their career, which ended with Tepper's sudden heart attack and retirement in 1970. It's sort of romantic, or just plain odd, that the partners would die within four months of each other, but it's doubtful Bennett wanted it that way. He was still married to his wife Ruth (they wed in 1948) and they had twin sons, Neil and Keith. The team could write a song about anything, even twins. The Stargazers recorded the song "Twenty Tiny Fingers" about them.

And below, "novelty" and sentiment combine, as we hear Homer & Jethro's fractured version of a Tepper-Bennett classic.

Sid Tepper and Roy Bennett's RED ROSES FOR A BLUE LADY via Homer and Jethro

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