BUNNY PAUL (By Tony Wilkinson and Klaus Kettner)
Born 21 May 1924, Detroit, Michigan
Overall there is regrettably not too much data on the files about Bunny Paul, which is somewhat unusual as she recorded for a considerable quantity of labels over an fifteen-year period, some of them being giants in the music business. Between 1948 and 1963 she laid down in excess of almost fifty titles in a wide-ranging selection of styles. Rockabilly collectors will best remember her for some great rockin' songs like "History" or "Sweet Talk" whilst Rhythm & Blues fans will know her from some early recordings cut with the Harptones. She also laid down some tasty pop recordings and concluded her recording career at the early Motown outfit Gordy Records. The one connecting and consistent thread in all this is the unique and talented vocal styling of Bunny Paul.
Bunny Paul was born in Detroit, Michigan on May 21st, 1924. Her family originated in Germany but her grandfather emigrated to the USA at the turn of the century. Bunny soon showed an interest in music and started singing at age 4. Indeed at the age of 12 she was performing on the stage, singing hit songs of the day with local bands. When Bunny was around the age of 16, her brother married the sister of Jimmy Hoffa's wife and as a result she and her sister used to occasionally baby-sit Jimmy Hoffa Jnr.
Jimmy Hoffa Snr. is an intriguing character whose story in American trade union matters is legendary. He was born in 1913 in the town of Brazil, Indiana and rose through the ranks of the powerful Teamsters Union to become its leader. There were allegations of his involvement with Organised Crime and this lead to a struggle with the then USA Attorney General Bobby Kennedy who eventually succeeded in jailing Hoffa. President Nixon subsequently released him from prison and the last time Hoffa was seen in public was on 30th July 1975 leaving a restaurant in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. Rumours regarding his disappearance abounded, one being that the Mob had disposed of him although the FBI subsequently declared in 2001 that he might have just quietly slipped out of the spotlight for a secluded life. There have been two films made about the Hoffa story, one was the 1983 television movie 'Blood Feud' and the other was the 1992 major Hollywood film 'Hoffa' starring Jack Nicholson in the starring role and which was produced and directed by Danny DeVito.
However we digress from the subject of this piece, namely the delectable Bunny Paul.
She had her first sole public live appearance in the early 40´s at the "Peoria Room" in Peoria, Illinois. During the war Bunny was working at Cadillac Motors in the mail department where she registered bonds and blue prints. Bunny recalled: "I received a phone call from someone who was told I sang and was looking for a job as a singer. He told me to sing a few bars on the phone, which I did. Then he said, if you look as good as you sound, you've got a job". That was no problem with her 5´6", 124 weights, blond hair and grey green eyes. The singing engagement was at the Hillcrest Hotel in Toledo, Ohio with the Leo Sunny Trio.
During the 1940´s she sang with various bands such as Johnny Dicicco Trio, Al Nalli Trio, Baron Bill Kohler & Nova Notes, Bob Hawkins Trio, Manny Lopez Quintet and Nicky Buss plus she appeared as a solo act at the "Chicago Ye Olde Cellar". She soon came to the attention of famous local bandleader Don Pablo, known as Detroit's Lawrence Welk, and in 1946 he offered her the job of becoming the lead vocalist with his orchestra. She took the opportunity, and instead of a few weeks as intended, she stayed for 2 years with the band. In 1948 she recorded her first record together with Don Pablo´s Orchestra for the local VARGO label "Sentimental Rhapsody/ Mickey".
Bunny remembers: "Doing two shows a night with Don Pablo was an education. I learned how to promote myself in a song. We had all kinds of supporting acts like skaters, acrobats, hula dancers, magicians, mimes and bird acts. Paul Gilbert was our stand out MC who later made a movie with Tony Curtis, Gloria DeHaven and Gene Nelson ('So This Is Paris'). He sang danced etc. After he left we had Jackie Kanin who later purchased the "Rat Fink" room in New York. Our audience were steady customers and you could feel the love they imparted. One lady insisted on telling everyone I was her daughter. I´ll never forget growing up at that time. It was unforgettable".
Come 1950 she had her own show on WWJ-TV called 'Fifer Time' which was sponsored by the popular local Pfeiffer´s Brewery. On this she had featured guests such as The Gaylords, Dick Noel, Don Cornell, Merv Griffin and Johnny Johnston. The last mentioned later gained fame with his leading role in the movie "Rock Around The Clock" starring alongside Bill Haley & His Comets. Bunny also did a bunch of commercials including ones for for Chevy Impala, Buick ('Wouldn´t You Rather Have A Buick') and made the MacDonalds first commercial in Detroit ('Drive In With The Golden Arches'). Her public performances were generally either vaudeville shows or nightclub appearances.
Approximately two years later, DJ Robin Seymour took a liking to the eager young personable singer and it was reported in November 1952 that she and her manager, husband Saul, had secured a recording contract with Larry Newton and his Derby label It is possible that this was confused with her contract with Dot Records that saw, in 1953, the release of the self-penned "Never Let Me Go" and "Magic Guitar". The latter title hit the top spot in the Detroit area and so her recording career was off to a good start. The record was also issued on the London label in the UK (HL 8008) and in Germany (20002). The last mentioned was the third release on the then new label launched in May 1954. For these titles, the George Annis Orchestra backed her. George Annis was one of the original member of the Gaylords who had been discovered by Bunny`s husband, Saul Star Rapaport. Annis was too busy a person for the band and they let him go to do his own thing. It is not clear whether George gained her a contract the same year with Essex Records or whether Essex acquired previously recorded masters, but what is certain that on her first release on Essex (#344) - 'You'll Never Leave My Side/New Love' - Annis and his orchestra again accompanied her.
A couple of years earlier a young Bill Haley had moved from Michigan to the Philadelphia area and, after some hillbilly recordings for various labels, pacted with Dave Millers and his Essex Records. Dave Miller had an open ear for new sounds and was trying to make some "different" records with Bill Haley & The Saddlemen (soon to be changed to The Comets). Already having a male group in Haley & The Comets, it was a natural progression for Miller to have a female counterpart and he selected Bunny Paul for this role.
Her first record for the label, the aforementioned 'New Love', was commercially still born but Dave believed in the talent of Bunny Paul. Miller showed his ear for a good tune and demonstrated this understanding by having Bunny cut the Johnnie Ray/The Drifters song "Such A Night" (Essex 352). The song was arranged on Friday, Bunny recorded it on Saturday and within twenty-four hours of the sides being recorded, Miller had copies pressed at his own Palda Plant and was shipping out 35.000 copies by midnight Sunday. The disc succeeded in getting banned on some radio stations, along with the recordings by The Drifters and Ray. A Detroit magazine reported in their March 13th issue that 'Ed McKenzie, a disk jockey on WXYZ, had banned all three versions of the hit ditty 'Such A Night' from the airwaves. The ban was brought about as the result of a reported flood of letters from mothers, teachers and business-men voicing their objections to offering such allegedly 'suggestive trash' to teen-agers. McKenzie then barred the song but was forced to admit on the following Wednesday that 'teen-agers were still clamouring for it daily'. Bunny's interpretation of the tune became her best selling record. Cashbox had her placed as "Sleeper Of The Week" on March 6. Next to this in the paper was a review of young (11 year old) Frankie Avalon´s debut record as a trumpet player on "X" Records. Many other artists, such as Elvis Presley, Cab Calloway, Vince Everett and the Mambo King Perez Prado, also cut the tune. Despite these negative responses, or perhaps because of them, the record did well sales-wise for Bunny.
At this time, Dick Clark interviewed Bunny and, on that very same day she appeared on American Bandstand that was hosted at the time by Bob Horn (who was of course subsequently replaced by the aforementioned Clark). Things kept moving along nicely for the young lady and she was voted third "Most Promising New Female Vocalist Of 1954" out placing singers like Peggy King, Jay P.Morgan, Vicky Young, Jill Corey. It had worked once, so Miller and Co. tried it again with the next record by Bunny Paul. 'Lovey Dovey' (Essex 359) was a cover of the disc by the Clovers that had already become popular in the Rhythm & Blues market place. Ella Mae Morse also recorded the song, on April 13, 1954, for Capitol. Whilst the trade papers gave Bunny's disc a high potential hit rating, and she in fact achieved local commercial success, it failed to break out beyond the region.
'Strike whilst it's hot' is an old saying in the music business and Miller next had Bunny covering the mid 1954 Drifters hit 'Honey Love' (Essex 364), which rivalled the interpretation by Capitol's Vicky Young, another talented female singer moving in the same direction musically as Miss Paul. However this time Dave Miller wanted the 'Real McCoy' and so arranged with a business friend, Monte Bruce from Bruce Records, to have his vocal group The Harptones loaned to Essex for the recording session with Bunny. At this time this was absolutely unheard of. Crikey, this was a ground breaking move, a white girl singer being accompanied on a record by a black vocal group who were under contract to another label! This move gained Dave Miller a lot of coverage in the music trade press that also reported that 'the disc, 'Honey Love' by Bunny Paul, is getting a lot of action after being released in May 1954'. When she recorded "Honey Love", Miller thought the record was too long to gain valuable air-time and so he instructed his recording engineer to speed it up a bit so that disc jockeys would play it. When I asked about Bunny Paul, Hartones lead singer Willie Winfield remembered the young restless girl from way back and that the Harptones never were paid for the recording session, apparently held at Decca's New York Pythian Temple studio. Now doesn't that sound a familiar story? Bunny herself never complained to her record companies regarding her royalties situation as she thought, and still thinks, that it is an honour for her to be recorded plus the fact that the record labels were spending a lot of money to get her established. For her it was a big help to be able to promote herself as a recording artist as this enhanced her appearance monies for live shows. She was and remains at peace with the record business.
'Honey Love´ from that New York session, 'Whatcha Gonna Do', and the previously recorded "Lovey Dovey" were included on a various artists album put out on Dave Miller's subsidiary Somerset label (#1300) in March 1958. The LP, "Rock & Roll Dance Party", became a popular album because of its cute artwork and that it was one of the first albums to include early Bill Haley tracks. An interesting point is that it was Bunny's cut of the Bill Haley composition 'Watcha Gonna Do' that was featured on the album and not the recording of the song by Haley. Other artists on this collectable album, which was also released in Canada on the Reo label, were The Dinning Sisters, Ken Carson, The Swingers, The Escorts, The Aristocrats and The House Rockers. Whilst Bunny Paul did not have close contact with Bill Haley, only occasionally bumping into him when working the same clubs, she recalls him as being a pleasant man who was nice to her. Seemingly, for someone who was in the entertainment business, she was rather shy to socialise with other acts. Bunny recalls the time that Dave Miller invited her and hubbie Saul Rapaport out to his house for dinner: " He failed confirm it with his wife. So when he drove us to his home it was a shock for his wife when we arrived. She showed me the refrigerator how empty it was. So we ended up having corn flakes for dinner. We couldn´t leave because he had driven us there". Miller also requested Bunny to go over to England to record some songs but she refused. This is despite the fact that her husband, and manager, always liked the way Dave handled her business.
Dave Miller had other problems to solve. He had lost Bill Haley in 1954 to Decca Records where he soon became the driving force of the new Rock & Roll movement. Ever the businessman, Miller re-released Haley's Essex recordings on several of his subsidiary labels to cash in on the growing popularity of Bill and The Comets. However, the question of royalty payments came to the fore. Whilst there was often an advance at the time of recording, there were allegedly few payments thereafter for record sales. For many artists such as Bunny Paul, it was too expensive and probably uneconomical to take legal action against Miller. But when Haley became successful, and therefore a force to be reckoned with, his manager Jimmy Myers (who was a business rival of Dave Miller from way back) persuaded Haley to take legal action against Miller for payment of back royalties. Miller filed for bankruptcy before the hearing came to court. However he then founded new labels such as Somerset and Transworld on which he resumed selling the Haley Essex material. And the legal process started all over again. Miller then re-located to Canada along with his companies before finally moving to Germany. In this last mentioned country, Miller productions became one of the most powerful record plants and labels (Europa and Somerset).
Dave heard rumours that Bunny was possible going to secure a contract with Capitol Records and so he told her that he would sue her if she failed to fulfil her contract by recording the remaining six songs she was signed up for. Bunny did not have a problem with that and so Miller picked the songs for the last session. Monte Kelly, who worked a lot for Dave Miller, made up the arrangements for the recordings but was too drunk to make the session. As a replacement, Miller arranged for Don Costa to step in at real short notice. There was no time for rehearsing and the quality of the output was not what anybody was seeking to achieve. Bunny remembers it as the worst day of her life. Dave insisted her recording "Dam Poo Dey", which he claimed was a big hit in France. From this session, Miller released, in 1954, two more singles on his Essex label. These both represented a change in direction musically by veering away from music for the teens into that style more suited for the nightclub circuit. Done in a cha cha treatment 'You Came A long Way From St. Louis/You Are Always In My Heart' (Essex 371) and 'Brown Jug/Dam-Poo-Dey' (Essex 385) were commercial flops. The other two sides laid down at this recording date were not issued.
All this had left Bunny Paul without a record company or recording contract. Capitol signed her, on the basis of the reputation of her talent and the previous reasonably healthy sales, with the intention of Bunny becoming the label's replacement for Kay Starr who had left for RCA Victor Records. Here she of course became a label-mate to Ella Mae Morse and Vicky Young. It is debatable if this was a shrewd career move as she would be in competition with artists of the same style and who were longer established. However Capitol was a major label and so she took the gamble and signed one year contract as a vocalist with the company on January 3rd, 1955.
The first record for the new label was the issue of a cover version of the Linda Hayes charter 'Please Have Mercy' in March 1955. Cashbox magazine wrote: 'Bunny Paul, a tremendous performer both on wax and in person, and an artist with loads of potential, debuts on the Capitol label with a tremendous new piece of material that could establish her as a top female vocalist. It´s a driving rhythm and blues item titled "Please Have Mercy". A powerhouse of an arrangement with Bunny singing right from the toes. One of the best things she´s done to date." This was followed by a further four releases in the same year. It cannot be said that Capitol did not try to establish Bunny as a chart act but sales on all five singles were only moderate. In November 1955, the disc "Song Of The Dreamer/For The Very First Time" was released in the UK but unfortunately the result was the same as in the USA. All the recordings were well-produced pieces but against the upcoming Rock 'n' Roll maelstrom, they sounded misplaced. To this very day Bunny Paul feels that her Capitol recordings are her best work, with her personal favourite being her interpretation of Irving Berlins 'For The Very First Time'.
Bunny saw the signs of the time and when Capitol failed to renew her contract, she gave it a try with the Dash label out of her hometown Detroit in March 1956. This set up was operated by Frank York and whilst one side of this release (Dash 777), the slow teen oriented number 'Teen-Age Heart', was somewhat of a throw back to her previous Capitol releases the other side, 'Baby Sitters Blues' saw her firmly back on the rock 'n' roll train. 'Teen Age Heart' was a cover of the earlier original recording by Faye Adams on Herald Record, and later in 1956 by Eileen Barton on Coral Records. Possibly due to the inability of Dash to adequately promote the release, it stiffed from a commercial perspective. However, it did lead to another one-off record deal. This time it was with Point Records, a subsidiary of the RKO Unique Record Company which itself was connected to the movie company RKO Pictures. It was here she laid down her most sought after disc, namely 'History/Sweet Talk' (Point 5). The previous release on Point was also a rockin' song by none other than Jo Ann Campbell. Bunny had composed all three of the rockers from these last two releases. This demonstrates that she had a firm grasp on the teen market whereas the majority of her 'pop' recordings were of compositions by other writers.
Whilst record sales may have been disappointing, Bunny was an in demand live act, being equally adept at night club performances for the more mature audiences (which earned good money) and playing rock 'n' roll shows for demanding teens. As a result, she and her husband toured throughout the United States of America and Canada. Bunny did not carry her own band and instead relied on the house band to accompany her. From Christmas Day 1956, and continuing through to New Year's Eve, she played the Fox Theatre in Detroit, Michigan with a heavily exploited ten act rock 'n' roll show. Other artists on the bill included Ivory Joe Hunter, Della Reese, The Royal Jokers, Bo Diddley, The Nightcaps and The Chuckles. The last mentioned included the talented Teddy Randazzo and they were promoting the all time classic movie "The Girl Can´t Help It" which was shown in intermissions between stage shows. The song 'Cinnamon Sinner' by The Chuckles was included in the movie and so naturally it was featured in their live performances.
Before the end of 1956, there was another rocking record issued by Bunny. This was 'That's Love/The Gypsy' on the small Dynamic label (#201) but this too failed to set the cash registers ringing. With the advent of 1957, she regained the opportunity to sign with a major label. This time it was with Brunswick Records, a subsidiary of the giant Decca label. The first session was arranged by a friend and she showed her gratitude by recording his composition, the rockin' 'Buzz Me' which was backed by the latin tinged 'Poor Joe' (Brunswick #55003). The second release for the label was 'Beedle-Lump-Bump/The One You Love' (Brunswick #55022) but neither record made the charts. Also on Brunswick around the same time was Bunny's label mate at Capitol, Vicki Young. Sadly her releases suffered the same ignominy as those of Bunny's.
In the fall of 1958, she pacted with Morris Levy´s New York based Roulette Records, where her husband worked, and Bunny's first release here was 'Love Birds/We Wanted To Marry' (Roulette 4101). It then took Roulette the best part of a year to issue the follow up, a re-recording of 'Such A Night' coupled with 'A Million Miles From Nowhere' (Roulette 4186). In September 1959, advertisements from the company were promoting the disc as a 'rendition that has a certain unexplainable hit sound". Roulette was also titling her as the "Bunny With A Honey Of A Hit!!" The record sold well, but not as good as the previous version on Essex a couple of years earlier. There were no more releases on Roulette.
There is also confusion caused by two other discs being released by a Bunny Paul in this era. One was the issue towards the end of 1959 on the small Finch label with 'I'm Always A Brother/There's A Small Hotel' (#1005/1006). The company was based in the Jamaica area of New York. The other was 'Foolish Me/This Old Town' on Murco Records. Neither was our lady and in fact the last mentioned was a gentleman, the disc in question being a medium piano rocker. In addition, there was the release on the Hollywood based Crest label, 'After School/My Football Hero' (#103), by an artist named Bonnie Paul. Again this is not our Bunny. However it has been established that the writer of both sides of this Crest release was Ray Stanley who was connected to Jerry Capehart and his protégé Eddie Cochran who also recorded for the label. The artist on Crest may be the same Bonnie Paul who did a short stint in the 1953 movie from 20th Century Fox titled 'Vicki'. Also appearing in this film was a young Ron Hargrave who later composed songs recorded by the Ferriday Fireball, Jerry Lee Lewis.
There then came a series of tragedies in Bunny's life. Her twins were sadly still born and in 1960 she developed a brain tumour, which left her partially paralysed with the result that she was unable to move, write, talk or even eat properly. It was a particularly devastating period for a lady who had up to then enjoyed a vibrant life. However in 1963, she was persuaded to attempt some further recordings. Despite not feeling to well, she summoned up the strength to resume her career. This was when Berry Gordy signed her for his Gordy Records, part of the Tamla Motown group of labels. Bunny's two songs for the label, 'I'm Hooked' and 'We're Only Young Once' (Gordy 7017), still maintained a rockin' feel and included Martha Reeves (of subsequent Vandellas fame). The release climbed up some radio play lists but before it could really go places, it was overtaken by the British invasion spearheaded by The Beatles. The record was also released that summer in Australia on the W&G Label (#1651). Interestingly the producer of the session was Clarence Paul but who was not related to Bunny. She came up with the melody for 'We're Only Young Once' whilst Clarence provided the lyrics. The same Clarence Paul recorded spiritual music in the 1950´s for Hanover and Roulette Records. His real surname was Pauling but he changed this to avoid any possible confusion with his composing brother Lowman Pauling. Back home in Detroit Charles took a young singer/musician under his wing by the name of Steveland Morris, which he changed to Stevie Wonder and placed him with Berry Gordy.
After the Gordy release, Bunny's career came to a halt. Her health did not permit live stage work and she felt uncomfortable in the studio. In 1964 her husband departed, as he felt unable to accommodate the pressures of sharing his life with a disabled wife. Subsequently they made an attempt at ending the estrangement and reunited but sadly both had changed and the reunion only lasted two weeks. Bunny and Saul Rapaport never got divorced and stayed in a friendly contact until May 2002 when he sadly passed away. Since the sixties, Bunny has gotten on with managing her own life. It is pleasing to report that there has been no reoccurrence of the brain tumour and, that at 78 years young, she is enjoying reasonable health. For over 14 years she has worked for the local 'Senior Centre' helping elderly people.
Bunny enjoys thinking about her music days and was "pleasantly shocked" when she heard that there are people out there who still appreciate her talent and music. From time to time she still writes songs and has not given up the idea of another hit, ' even if it's sung by another artist'. Her compositions have been recorded by Helen O'Connell, Gaylords, Eileen Barton and Trudy Richards amongst others. Bunny recollects: " I cannot complain about my career. I had a fan club and I couldn´t walk down the street without being recognized and most of my records made the Top 10 in the Detroit area. I had a great time, but I wouldn´t want to re-live it".
Whilst Bunny Paul may be considered by some to have been just a footnote in the history of Rock 'n' Roll music, she most certainly recorded a bunch of great sounding discs that justifiably makes her outstanding in the ranks of recording girls of the fifties.
Hydra BCK 27117 - Such A Rock And Roll Night - 2003
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