FRANKIE BRENT (By Tony Wilkinson, with acknowledgement to Klaus Kettner)
Born Adolph Frank Gambino, Jr., 1934, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Died 26 August 2002, New Orleans, Louisiana
Frankie Brent may not be a name that springs instantly to mind but he has one heck of a rock 'n' roll pedigree. He was featured extensively in the fifties movie 'Rock Around The Clock' and was part of the act that recorded such rockin' 'Giddy Up A Ding Dong', 'Hound Dog' and 'Teach You To Rock'. This is to say he was one of the hot rockin' Bellboys behind Freddie Bell prior to embarking on his own career.
In 1934 Frankie was born Adolph Frank Gambino Jr. in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, a musical city that brought us many famous artists such as The Four Aces, Fabian, Eddie Fisher, Frankie Avalon, Bobby Rydell, Charlie Gracie an d Bill Haley's Comets to name but a few. In the Italian American neighbourhood, in which he was raised, music was everywhere and so it became his first love. Frankie started to sing and learnt how to play the guitar and bass. He played in local school bands and it soon became apparent that he was destined for a career in show business. An offer came in 1951 as local musician Freddie Bell was putting a band together. Thus Freddie Bell & The Bellboys came into existence.
The group's first recording session was done for Bernie Lowe's Teen Label in 1955 with Bernie also playing piano on the four songs recorded. Lowe later sold his interest in the label and went on to run other labels such as Parkway, Cameo and Wyncote, for which Frankie Brent later recorded some solo sides. In 1953, Big Mama Thornton had the number one Rhythm & Blues hit with 'Hound Dog' that was covered in various musical styles by several other artists. Lowe sensed potential in the tune for the white market and accordingly asked Freddie Bell to re-write some of the lyrics sufficiently to change the meaning of the song from a risqué blues into a novelty item that then could be played on white radio stations. The 'cleaned up' version became a localised hit, which coupled with the group's showmanship, helped the outfit secure a twenty-two tour throughout the Midwest and then a booking from Jack Entratter - president of the Sands Hotel in Las Vegas. With the Las Vegas, and subsequently Reno audiences, they found people who adored their shows. When Elvis Presley played the New Frontier in Las Vegas, Freddie Bell and The Bellboys were the hot act in town and so Elvis stopped by to catch their show. Elvis not only enjoyed their show but also loved their reworking of 'Hound Dog' and asked Freddie if he had any objections to him recording his own version. This was alright with Bell and the rest is history with Presley securing one of his biggest hits heavily utilising the Bellboys arrangement.
On completion of this Las Vegas season, Freddie Bell and The Bellboys returned to Philly to visit with their families, undertake some local bookings and prepare for their next Vegas stint. On the last mentioned, the outfit gained the attention of Bob Shad, the A&R man executive at Mercury Records. The band had previously sent Shad a copy of their Teen label record and after catching their show, Bob signed them to a five singles and one album deal. The Treniers had given Freddie Bell the nickname 'Ding Dong' which he later passed on to his son. Bell used this to write his signature song 'Giddy Up A Ding Dong' that was simply titled 'Ding Dong' on the original release on Wing, a subsidiary of Mercury. They arranged the publishing of their song with Jimmy Myers who was known as being the co-writer of 'Rock Around The Clock'. Whilst the band have apparently said that they failed to receive publishing royalties from 'Ding Dong', Meyers was instrumental in introducing the group to Sam Katzman who has come to Las Vegas searching for talent to appear in his new movie project 'Rock Around The Clock'. Apart from Freddie Bell and The Bellboys, the other musical headliners in 'Rock Around The Clock' film were Bill Haley & His Comets, The Platters, Tony Martinez and Alan Freed. Sam Katzman clearly had an affinity for The Bellboys and consequently gave them a part in his 1956 movie 'Rumble On The Docks' and later in 1964, after Frankie Brent had left the band, in the film 'Get Yourself A College Girl'.
But back to the movie 'Rock around The Clock, The Bellboys and Frankie Brent showed an innocent world how rock and roll with their exciting performance of 'Teach You To Rock' and 'Giddy Up A Ding Dong. These performances for the film were shot live in a Los Angeles studio and then subsequently re-recorded for record release. As the movie became a international success, it helped The Bellboys obtain bookings all over the world. They appeared in Paris (Olympia) France, Manila, Singapore, Hong Kong, South America and Australia often with the likes of Bill Haley & His Comets, The Platters, Joe Turner and LaVerne Baker. On the 'Ampol Radio Show', that was broadcast on Friday, 11th January 1957 in Australia, Frankie Brent and Freddie Bell along with the rest of the boys were featured performing the Treniers song "Go Go Go'. After an Australian tour, Bill Haley & His Comets went on to England for one of the first visits to the UK by an American Rock 'n' Roll star, only Charlie Gracie has preceded them. As this was a huge success, The Bellboys followed Haley to Great Britain in May 1957 and toured all over the country along with one time rocker Tommy Steele. The last mentioned had recorded their song 'Giddy Up A Ding Dong' on his 'Stage Show' album. The tour was also successful earning them $5,500 a week and paved the way for many other rock 'n' roll singers to visit.
Upon returning to the USA, The Bellboys based themselves in Las Vegas but continued to be an in demand hot act touring extensively along with the likes of The Tyrones, Jimmy Cavello, The Jodimars and The Goofers. It seems strange to recall that the outfit failed to secure any chart placings in America with their recordings but the opposite was the case elsewhere. For example, 'Giddy Up A Ding Dong' made the top four in the UK hit parade. This was no doubt spurred on by lurid press reports such as that when the movie 'Rock around The Clock' played Southend-on-Sea. A group of people had come out of the cinema after seeing the film and boarded a bus to take them home. They started to sing 'Giddy Up A Ding Dong' and every time they got to 'Ding Dong' one of them pressed the bell on the bus with the result that it stopped. This continued for quite a while and eventually the police were called to eject the culprits. Whilst this seems tame today, back then this was headlining news.
During the aforementioned UK tour, Frankie Brent got in touch with executives from Pye- Nixa Records who offered him a record deal in his own right. Allegedly, there are stories that the record company people told him that he was too good as a singer to be just in the shadow of Freddie Bell. However, it must also be said that Freddie Bell and Frankie Brent remained friends until the sad passing of the latter. Whatever, Frankie went to the London studios of Pye-Nixa and cut four sides in an attempt to cash in on his popularity as a Bellboy. Seemingly the songs were released only as 78´s and failed to achieve commercial success. It did not help that Brent failed to stay in Europe to promote the discs but returned to the USA. On the recordings, the Berry Stott Group backed him on vocals and Tony Osborne Music orchestra that included Bert Weedon, then one of Great Britain's leading guitar players. The French company Vogue Records also licensed the tunes for release as the single 'Rockin´ Shoes/Be My Girl' (45-PV 15022) and also on an EP. 'Rockin´ Shoes' was a cover of a song of a record by the UK´s King Brothers whilst 'Be My Girl" was Brent's version of the Jim Dale smash hit.
Frankie Brent went back to his family in Philadelphia and played local club dates. In addition, he negotiated a record contract with RCA´s subsidiary label VIK Records from New York and cut two of his best rockers 'Cold As Ice/Playing The Field' for the label early in 1958. The disc was reviewed in the March 24th 1958 issue of Billboard and lead to extensive show engagements with both teen and night-club audiences on the east coast. Despite his best efforts and his solid experiences learnt during his time as a Bellboy, he failed to become a household name. The next record outing was with the tiny Calvert label that released his 'Lovers Lane/No Rock & Rollin' Here'. The tracks failed to chart upon initial issue in 1958 but the two sides were subsequently picked up by Strand Records (#25014) in 1960 for re-issue, but again without commercial success. By this time, Brent had developed into a more or less full time nightclub performer and the audiences at such venues did not buy too many records. Still Brent and his band were making a good living. Frankie later met the song writing trio Karr, Goldstein and Norton who offered him a record deal with the New York based branch of Palette Records for whom he recorded several of their compositions.
After two releases for Palette, the company did not renew Frankie's contract and so he then renewed his acquaintance with Bernie Lowe and signed with his Cameo label in 1960. This union produced three singles but despite being very creditable discs, they were not chart successes. He further developed his stage appearances by going on tour under the name of The Frankie Brent Revue which featured Little Linda Lou, a 5'0" tall lady with a big voice. Their show became a good draw on the East coast and secured Brent a record deal with Epic Records in 1963. The result was the single 'Rip It Up' backed with an up-tempo workout on the standard "Summertime". Initial copies of the disc had a unique picture sleeve.
Frankie had played dates in Now Orleans and this lead to an offer of a long-term residency performing in the French quarter of the Crescent City. He liked the town and it's friendly inhabitants sufficiently to decide to put down roots there. In the late sixties and during the seventies, he built up a reputation as a must see entertainer and became one of the big draws of the New Orleans region. One magazine tabbed him "Metairie´s own Al Martino and Don Rickles rolled into one". He also was voted to be the "King" in the Mardi Gras parade, which is one of the biggest honours in The Big Easy. There is a picture of Frankie in his full regalia adorning the cover of one of the two albums that he cut for the local Cutty label. Both of these LPs were recorded in New Orleans and were basically 'road' albums to sell at his stage performances and were representative of his nightclub style. When asked why both of the albums bore the same catalogue number, he simply replied that he guessed they goofed after one of their many parties.
Come the late eighties, Frankie was still running his own "Frankie Brent's" Club in the French Quarter and featured all kinds of entertainment from differing styles of music through to male dancers. In addition, he performed in various other clubs such as 'The Famous Doors' singing, playing a trombone and working in comedy routines. His old friend Freddie Bell also played the aforementioned New Orleans club on several occasions. After a long illness, Frankie Brent passed away aged 68 on 26th August 2002 in his hometown New Orleans following a heart attack.
Hydra BCK 27122 - Frankie Brent - 'Put On Your Rockin' Shoes'. Just released.
The foregoing was based on the liner notes for this CD.
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