KIP TYLER (By Tony Wilkinson, with acknowledgement to Klaus Kettner)
Born Elwood Westerton Smith, 31 May 1929, Chicago, Illinois
To become a true rock 'n' roll singer back in the fifties meant that almost everyone hated you - parents, the church, the establishment and the old time musicians. But this did not bother a cool cat like Kip Tyler, as long as the kids loved him and his music. He often joined his band on stage dressed in black leather and on a motorbike. Unfortunately he simply refuses to talk about his rock 'n' roll days, perhaps due to the fact that many of his band members subsequently became successful in the music business. But let there be no doubt - he was an important leader, and part, of the fifties Californian rockabilly and rock 'n' roll history.
Tyler was the singer of "The Sleepwalkers" who were Union High School's toughest rock 'n' roll band. Guys from this outfit later combined forces with the best musicians from rival Fairfax High School to form an early version of the Kip Tyler & The Flips. Besides the usual shows at high school dances and parties, the group's wild rockabilly sound and stage performances soon made them the most popular band at the legendary shows at the El Monte Legion Stadium. Indeed, they virtually became the house band as they often provided the backing for other artists appearing at the venue. In early 1957, Kip caught the attention of arranger Joe Gershenson who hired his services for a project connected with the 1956 movie "Rock Pretty Baby", a film that was an accredited success with teenagers. Actor John Saxon, who played the character of fictional rock 'n' roll bandleader Jimmy Daley, was unable to handle the vocals and so the producers had hired in various other singers to handle the task. What one actually sees in the movie is John Saxon miming to pre-recorded tracks. To cash in on the success of the Jimmy Daley character created by the film, Decca Records was seeking a good rock 'n' roll vocalist to attach to the name that had become well known by the aforementioned movie. So whilst Kip Tyler did not actually appear in either "Rock Pretty Baby" or the accompanying soundtrack, he had his first released recordings under the name of Jimmy Daley on two follow up singles from Decca. The label at least gave the vocal credit on the record to Kip.
The first Decca record "Red Lips And Green Eyes" had more a Bill Haley sound, complete with a clever arrangement, than Kip's usual rockabilly style. One probable possible reason for this was that Milt Gabler, who was Bill Haley's producer at the time, was also in charge of the Tyler sessions. Indeed Gabler even provided one of his own compositions, written with Sam Price, for the session. Two of the other songs recorded at the time, "Hole In The Wall" and the self-composed "Bongo Rock" were more appropriate to the normal wilder Tyler style. The last mentioned title was a perfect fit for Tyler as the bongos was his favourite instrument to play. The first Decca single was not too successful and so the second disc was promoted to the pop market with pink DJ copies as well as green DJ copies for the country market. None of this promotion helped to get this disc on to the charts but Decca managed to get Kip Tyler into the deal when the film "Summer Love", the sequel to the "Rock Pretty Baby", was filmed in late 1957. In the film, John Saxon again played the part of Jimmy Daley but this time it was Kip Tyler's voice that was heard singing the movie's title track along with Molly Bee who undertook most of the other vocal appearances in the film and on the soundtrackA rare soundtrack L.P. along with three E.P.s were issued to promote the movie but, despite all this attention, "Summer Love" was not as commercially successful as "Rock Pretty Baby". As a result, the character Jimmy Daley was 'retired'.
Disc jockey Art Laboe was the organizer of the El Monte Legion Stadium shows and he had realised the potential of Kip Tyler and The Flips. Accordingly he signed the act to his newly created Starla label. The group under their own name had the second release on the short-lived label with " Let's Monkey Around/Vagabond Mama" in either August or September 1957. Also in September Kip Tyler & The Flips joined Earl McDaniel's big Rock 'n' Roll Show at the United Artist Theatre as the white group on the bill appearing alongside the likes of LaVerne Baker, Richard Berry, The Pharaohs, Young Jessie, The Hawkeyes, Frankie Lymon & The Teenagers and The Eddie Beal All Star Band.
Joe Gershenson, who had arranged the deal with Decca may have also served as manger for the group. Whatever, he got them a contract with the fledgling Challenge label in late 1957 and also, later, became a singer for that label. The first demo session was held in late 1957 and resulted in three recordings that were not issued at the time. Two of these, "Wail Man Wail" and " Nothing But Tough" are great rockabilly songs. Shortly afterwards, on 2nd December, Kip Tyler returned to the recording studio and, utilising hired in musicians, laid down the two self composed rockers " She Got Eyes" and "Shadow Street". The last mentioned has a rumba rhythm along with a heavy vocal giving out with a voodoo type message. These two sides were issued on Challenge and when reviewed in Billboard, the disc was described as 'good talent and material'. "She Got Eyes" can be described as rumba rockabilly resplendent with huffing and puffing vocal sounds. This disc gained local success but failed to break out nationally.
This time with the rest of the guys from his backing band, Kip went back to the studio on 28th March 1958 and cut another two more songs. In what was probably his best rock 'n' roll recording session, Kip laid down the Bo Diddleyish "Jungle Hop" and the great driving rockabilly tune "Ooh Yeah Baby" complete with one heck of an instrumental break. Whilst again achieving good reviews in the musical press upon release on Challenge, sales were poor. His group, The Flips, at that time consisted of Mike Bermani on drums, Steve Douglas Kreisman on saxophone, Lawrence "Larry" Knechtel on piano and Mike Deasy on guitar and sometimes Kim Fowley as a hanger on or roadie. The aforementioned session marked the end of this line-up as Mike Bermani, Larry Knechtel and Steve Douglas left Kip to join Duane Eddy for his road and recording band The Rebels in April.
Kip and Mike Deasy hired Dave Shostal, Bruce Johnston and drummer Sandy Nelson, who had already worked with the band on an occasional basis as replacements Flips. James M. "Jimmy" Troxel in turn subsequently replaced Nelson before the Jimmy started to drum for Duane Eddy in November 1958. This new line-up signed a contract with Leona Rupe's Ebb Label and went into the studio late 1958 and laid down "Rumble Rock/She's My Witch" on which they were assisted by Jim Horn, saxophone player with Duane Eddy's Rebels. The next, and final, session for Ebb Records was in January 1959 and this brought "Oh Linda" and "Hali-Lou" to the listening public. It was one of the final releases on Ebb before the label closed its doors.
On 15th July 1959, Kip's old friend Art Laboe took drummer Sander L. "Sandy" Nelson to Hollywood to produce a session for him. Laboe had been approached at the aforementioned January session with a demo of an instrumental that he had he liked and so he arranged to have it recorded. At this Nelson session, also in attendance was Bruce Johnston on piano, Ritchie Podolor on guitar and Eddie Cochran's bass player Connie "Guybo" Smith joined the group. The result was Sandy's first hit "Teen Beat" when released on Laboe's Original Sound Records. Whilst times got hectic for Sandy, he still played on a lot of recording sessions for the likes of Sonny Knight, Marvin & Johnny, Gene Vincent ('Crazy Times' L.P.). He was the drummer on The Teddy Bears smash hit "To Know Him Is To Love Him" which included a young Phil Spector on the vocals. Phil Spector's sister Shirley interestingly managed Kip Tyler and The Flips in their early days. But she is not the girls voice on "Ooh Yeah Baby" as has been previously suggested. It was around this time that Bruce Johnston left Kip and formed the surf duo Bruce & Terry. The last mentioned was Terry Melcher, son of Doris Day. Guitar player Mike Deasy left The Flips to join The Kelly Four who were the touring band of Eddie Cochran.
Kip Tyler formed another new group and signed a deal with the Los Angeles based Imperial Records with the help of his old drummer Sandy Nelson - who had already joined the label after leaving Art Laboe who had only signed him to a publishing contract and not as a recording artist. In 1960, Tyler recorded four songs for the label but only two "Rocket Round The Universe/The Goblin Trot" were issued. These were commercially still born.
Despite his meagre success as a recording artist, Kip was in demand for personal appearances in the Los Angeles area and around the West Coast in which he constantly captured the audience with his dynamic live performance. He also succeeded in obtaining a weekly television show in the early sixties. There are rumours that Tyler in 1962 recorded the single "Drum Twist 1 & 2" (Torchlight #501) under the name of Kipper & The Exciters but we have been unable to conclusively prove this. Similarly, it remains to be established the "Target Twist/Stompin" released under the name of Kippster was Kip Tyler.
In 1964 Kip linked up with B.W. Garcin who, along with a number of partners, had founded the new record label Gyro Disc Hollywood. Tyler was provided with the opportunity to record for the label as well as producing other talents. His initial release was the tasty rocking instrumental "On The Flip Side". Whilst, as with many other Gyro Disc releases, it had an over-abundance of echo, it was very much a rock 'n' roll record when compared with many other releases in what was the heyday of the 'British Invasion'. The plug side was the self composed "That Bell Of Freedom" which had bags of promotion provided by the record company. They had an advertisement campaign with different layouts every week to push the record. One of the gimmicks was that the money for the song, about 'freedom for all of us', would be donated to the Radio Free Europe Fund. Whilst the record made some noise, sadly it has to be concluded from its limited commercial impact that the money so given to the fund had to be somewhat miniscule.
One of the all time classics from 1964 was the Bossa Nova song "The Girl From Ipanema" which reached the top 5 on July 18th as performed by Stan Getz and Astrud Gilberto. The song also became internationally popular. With their promotion for "Radio Free Europe", the people at Gyro Disc attempted to get a version by Kip, now billed with a new "swinger" image, into the door in order to cash in elsewhere, especially in Europe. But as the record failed in the US, although they managed to get Kip on at least twenty networked television shows and on a promotional tour, in the end they did not bother with Europe. For jukeboxes, a stereo version of Kip's interpretation of the song was made available.
For his next record, Kip recorded the updated rocker "Toledo" backed with "Eternity (A Surfers Lament)". The latter was in the bag of the then popular death songs and contains overtones of Jody Reynolds's 'Endless Sleep' and Wayne Cochran's "Last Kiss". The record was released with a full colour picture sleeve that shows a handsome Kip Tyler complete with a surfboard. Times had changed as so did Kip - from black leather suites to beachwear. It was planned that Kip would produce the sessions for at least five other artists on the Gyro Disc. Tyler's final disc on Gyro was released in 1965 "The King Of Love/Snowlight" which, like his previous recordings, had little or no commercial impact. Seemingly Kip had become disillusioned by this lack of success, especially as many of his former band members had made the big time. Whilst he remained a local star, he entered into other forms of business.
This is where we leave our story, apart from clarifying that the Kip Tyler who was 'rocking & rolling' as a porn movie actor in the nineties is not the same guy who gave us magical musical moments.
Hydra BCK 27121 - 'Ooh Yeah Baby...!!' Just released..
It is from the liner notes of this CD that the foregoing has been drawn.
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