Tuesday, May 09, 2017

THE CONTESSAS - A world-wide WEBB Discovery

    If you check pages 140-142 of Jimmy Webb’s memoir, “The Cake and the Rain,” you’ll learn that back in 1965, the ambitious wunderkid from Oklahoma “was damned proud” of producing his white version of The Supremes. “I hoped Motown might want to sign them,” he writes. Fronted by curvy Suzanne Weir, the group included Webb’s own muse Susan Horton, as well as Alyce Wheaton and Sharon Johnston.
      Webb was a struggling songwriter at the time, and didn’t have the money to launch his group He managed to get a friend of his to fork over $3,500 to start “E Records.” The name was a tribute to “E” Street in San Bernardino. Webb hired the best studio musicians possible, wrote charts, and then bravely assembled everyone so he could produce/direct the session, beginning with a less-than-confident mutter of “What do I do?” Fortunately, the musicians were impressed by his charts, and didn’t think The Contessas were amateurs.
    Legendary drummer Hal Blaine said after the session “You need to stick with this.” It was a much-needed vote of confidence.
       Supporting their indie-label debut, The Contessas  dutifully flirted with local radio disc jockeys, made public appearances, and amazingly, managed to get on Shivaree, a distant cousin (in ratings) to Shindig and Hullabaloo. Still, sales weren’t that brisk for “This Time Last Summer” b/w “Keep On Keeping’ On.”
    Webb was “keepin’ on” despite several setbacks. His mother had suddenly died from a brain tumor, and his preacher father left California to go back to finding a parish in the Mid-West. Webb made a gutsy decision to stay behind, and his father took out a battered wallet, handed his kid a few twenty dollar bills, and apologized that it was all he could spare. Webb made the most of it, finally moving from shaky relationship with Jobete, the division of Motown that had hired him as a staff songwriter, to his big break when producer Johnny Rivers (yes, of “Secret Agent Man” fame) chose  “Up Up and Away” as a single for The Fifth Dimension. 
    Do you suppose The Contessas single would’ve taken off if they were called The Cuntessas? The song could’ve been re-written as “This Is Where You Came In.” With a lovely picture disc showing where.
    I digress. Very much an item of its time, you’ll find these girls to be pleasant xerox copies of Jackie DeShannon or Dusty Springfield.  “Keep On Keeping On,” a phrase that is now associated with Bob Dylan, even has the typical “hey hey hey” that Dusty used with white soul effectiveness.  
    The Contessas broke up fairly quickly, but Webb continued to find a muse in Susan Horton, and says he wrote many of his hits with her on his mind. He did get to fulfill his dream of producing a white version of The Supremes by producing a pale version of The Supremes. By the time he got the assignment to produce and arrange a new album for the group, Diana Ross had departed. Just how good or bad the album is, I have no idea. Look, I can’t get around to listening to every damn album out there. Sometimes it’s hard enough finding time for an obscure single. If you have the time, take a listen to….


THIS IS THERE I CAME IN    Instant download or listen on line. No Zinfart egocentric passwords. No malware or spyware anywhere.

KEEP ON KEEPING ON    Instant download or listen on line.  

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