B. BUMBLE AND THE STINGERS
B. Bumble and the Stingers were an instrumental ensemble from the early 1960s, who specialized in rocking up classical melodies. A lot of incorrect information has been published about the group ever since they appeared on the music scene, much of which was the result of deliberate mystification. Let's try to set the record straight.
In his (auto)biography, "Backbeat", drummer Earl Palmer writes: "Me and Rene Hall and Plas Johnson always talked about how we could make some money and not leave the studio. One day I said, 'Let's do a rock version of In the Mood'" (page 116). That version of "In the Mood" (credited to the Ernie Fields Orchestra) became a million seller and the beginning of a long string of instrumental rock 'n' roll recordings in which Hall, Palmer and Johnson (and their production company, Record Masters) were involved. The three friends (all black, all originally from Louisiana and all extremely professional session men, who could not hit a wrong note) could not make themselves available for any kind of promotion of these records (let alone touring), owing to their studio commitments. If an instrumental group had a successful record (like the Pets, the Routers, the Marketts and Billy Joe and the Checkmates), a touring group would be put together and sent on the road, consisting of musicians who had not played on the original records. Usually it was Rene Hall who would teach them the arrangements.
It was also Hall who came up with the idea for B. Bumble and the Singers. At the suggestion of Kim Fowley he went to see an old acquaintance, pianist Jack Fina, who had done a hopped-up arrangement of Rimsky-Korsakov's "Flight of the Bumble Bee" in 1946, scoring a # 7 hit in the process, though the label credit for "Bumble Boogie" (RCA Victor 20-1829) went to Freddy Martin and his Orchestra, Fina's regular employer. This record was also used in the 1948 Walt Disney animated film "Melody Time". Hall asked Fina to stop by Gold Star studios in L.A. and bring along his old arrangement, which was then shown to Ernie Freeman, who'd been booked to play piano on the session. Producer Kim Fowley decided to record Freeman on two piano tracks, one using a Grand for the rhythm part, whilst the other featured a doctored upright, complete with thumb tacks attached to the hammers. Earl Palmer played drums, Red Callender bass and Tommy Tedesco was brought in on guitar. A tighter rhythm section I have yet to hear.
Credited to B. Bumble and the Stingers and released on Rendezvous Records, "Bumble Boogie" went to # 21 on the Billboard charts in June 1961. It became obvious that an act would have to be created to handle promotion and public appearances and three young men from Ada, Oklahoma, who happened to be "in town" (L.A., that is), were recruited for this purpose.
The follow-up, "Boogie Woogie"/"Near You", employed the same session men, this time with Ernie Freeman's 'tack' piano double tracked. However, this time there weren't so many takers and the single slid into the Hot 100 for just one week at # 89. After the next single, "Caravan"/"Bee Hive" flopped, Rendezvous seemed to lose interest in B. Bumble and the Stingers. Therefore, Kim Fowley took his next project to a rival company. He had secured the copyright to an arrangement of Tchaikovsky's "March of the Wooden Soldiers" from the ever popular Nutcracker Suite and took this to local entrepreneur/pianist H.B. Barnum, who recorded it under the name Jack B. Nimble and the Quicks on the small Del Rio label. When Rod Pierce of Rendezvous Records heard this, he convinced Fowley that his label could do a much better job of the Tchaikovsky idea than Del Rio. An entirely new recording was swiftly arranged with the usual team intact, but on the day of the recording, Ernie Freeman didn't show due to a heavy bout of partying the night before. Rene Hall remembered a character called Al Hazan who could play piano pretty good and he was rushed into the studio. Hazan hardly got time to learn the arrangement and while he was still trying to practice the piece with the other musicians, Rod Pierce decided to record the first take. Hazan, not at all satisfied with his own performance, wanted to do a second take, but Pierce said he liked it just fine the way it was. Released as "Nut Rocker" in February 1962, the record went to # 23 in the US and all the way to # 1 in the U.K. Del Rio struck a deal with Randy Wood of Dot Records and re-released what they were now calling "The Original Nut Rocker" by Jack B. Nimble and the Quicks.
Such was "Nut Rocker"'s popularity in Britain that a touring version of B. Bumble, now led by R.C. Gamble, was flown over in October 1962, just in time to promote the follow-up, "Apple Knocker", which, like "Piltdown Rides Again" two years earlier, was based on Rossini's William Tell Overture. There was no chart action on either side of the Atlantic this time. "Dawn Cracker" was another classical piece, adapted from "Morning" from the Peer Gynt Suite by Grieg. A few more singles on Rendezvous followed, but by mid-1963 it was all over. Rene Hall was now too busy working with Sam Cooke, the Routers and the Marketts to remain involved, Ernie Freeman was handling everything that Reprise could put his way, Kim Fowley had simply got bored and Rendezvous was about to go out of business.
The first three singles (Bumble Boogie, Boogie Woogie and Nut Rocker) are by far the best, with that fantastic rhythm section and superb piano playing. I don't know who played piano on the later recordings (post-Nutrocker), but it doesn't sound like Freeman to my ears. It is alleged that Lou Josie (of "Vacation's Over" fame) played guitar in the touring group for some time. "Nut Rocker" was reissued in the UK in 1972 and again it made the Top 20.
For Al Hazan's memories of the Nut Rocker session see:
The Complete Al Hazan Story:
CD: B. Bumble and the Stingers, Nut Rocker (Ace 577, released 1995). 24 tracks, some previously unissued. Liner notes by Stuart Colman, from whom I have borrowed a sentence here and there.
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