CHERRY PICKING - THE CARL CHERRY STORY
By Tony Wilkinson with Mike Semrad
Very recently, I was contacted by Mac Bouvrie of Mac Records, Belgium asking whether I could shed any light on the rumour that Carl Cherry, of the rockin' classic 'The Itch' from Omaha, Nebraska fame, played the Cavern in Liverpool in 2007. This came from a web posting by two American visitors, Rob and Bot, of their visit to Liverpool. After asking around, Spencer Leigh, who is the authority on Liverpool music matters, came up with the suggestion that in probability the artist would have been Carl Chase who had played Hank Williams in 'The Show He Never Gave' both in London and Liverpool .
Currently, this Carl is reviving the Hank Williams role for a concert at the Philharmonic Hall, Liverpool, in April 2009. Spencer also suggested that, as an alternative, it could have been Ches Cherry who runs a skiffle group and presents evenings of the music along with Hughie Jones from The Spinners. Accordingly, it appears that this mystery 2007 appearance was not by the rocker from Nebraska. But the jury is still out..
This intrigued me as I realised that I knew zilch about the history of this record or, indeed, Carl Cherry. By luck, Mike 'Pinky' Semrad from the group Smoke Ring, and who is a recognised authority on the Nebraska music scene (both past and present) also contacted me and the following is a brief overview of the real Carl Cherry.
Cherry was active in the music scene in Omaha, Nebraska in the late fifties with his band The Cherry Flips. In order to have a record to promote at shows and, perhaps, gain that elusive shot at stardom, Cherry and his band signed a deal with Tene Records. This was a label based on the second floor of Hospe's Music Store in Omaha and was run by Jan Pusch, who also acted as the engineer on the one track recording. The result was the 1959 release of 'Baby Doll/The Itch' (Tene KB 1023), a rock 'n' roll masterpiece, but seemingly the only release on the label. Aurally, it appears that the guys were attempting to capture the magic sound that Sam Phillips had masterminded down in Memphis.
With legally blind lead guitarist Tommy Shea (aka Tommy Sheibler), Vince Emmanuel on drums and Ron Tuccitto on bass, Cherry laid down the two sides. 'Baby Doll' was the listed top side and is a mid-tempo rockin' ditty that would have been popular at the shows the group gave, possibly for the audience to practice a bit of dirty dancing. But it is the flip side on which Cherry's reputation as a rock 'n' roll hero rests. 'The Itch' is a fast paced rocker with biting guitar work and real pounding drums. With Cherry's vocals perfectly in tune to the raucous backing, the release deservedly gained cult status in Europe when re-issued on Dee-Jay Jamboree (#108) at the height of the rockabilly revival in the seventies/ eighties.
Back to 1959, Carl Cherry and The Cherry Flips were often found playing around Eastern Nebraska and gained a tour invitation after opening for Gene Vincent in Omaha. They subsequently went on the road touring both Nebraska and South Dakota with Gene Vincent and The Blue Caps, Jimmy Bowen (possibly Buddy Knox also) and Eddie Cochran (on some dates). In the autumn of 1959, the band toured Florida with Eddie Cochran only. Ron Tuccitto (then aged 15) had left high school to go on the road with Cherry, along with Tommy Shea. Vince Emmanuel chose to remain in Omaha to form his legendary band - The Premiers. Indeed, he barely knew Cherry when he played on 'The Itch' and had only played a few local shows with him. Accordingly, Cherry hired in a replacement drummer along with a piano player for the tour. Ron Tuccitto later commented that Eddie Cochran was not easy to get along with.
Whilst in Florida, Cochran fired Carl Cherry and The Cherry Flips and left them stranded with no money. The group survived for a couple of days by stealing oranges from the Florida orange groves. Tuccitto had local girlfriend and was 'with her on the beach' when along came the police. Remember, Ron was only 15 at the time. Cherry, who was well into his twenties, attempted to use an affidavit that Tuccitto's parents had given to take care of Ron as a minor whilst on the road. However, it was to no avail and the Florida police called Ron's parent back in Omaha to send him the bus fare home. This they did and one stipulation was that he re-entered high school to complete his education. That was the end of Ron's career as a Cherry Flip.
Ron had no idea as to how the rest of the band struggled back to Omaha but make it back they did. Sadly, it is not clear as to whether this was the end of the band or if they carried on for a bit. It is known that Carl Cherry was a barber in Council Bluffs, Iowa (just across the Missouri River from Omaha) and Tuccitto has been quoted as saying that Cherry was always elusive and 'into things'. Carl was married with a couple of children and flitted in and out of Omaha, his offspring hardly knowing him. Fast forward to the eighties and it is thought that Carl may have been caught up in something criminal. Certainly, it appears that he testified in a case and, as a result, was provided with Federal Witness Protection. This afforded Carl with a new identity, name change and the like. Seemingly, Cherry did make return visits to Omaha in the mid eighties but did not stay. It is also believed that, on one such visit, Cherry returned to the recording studio and cut a couple of songs in a rockabilly styling under an assumed name. This was possibly released but in minimal quantities and is the subject of much on-going investigation. There the trail runs cold, apart from that possible appearance at the Cavern, Liverpool, in 2007.
A lot of what we have been able to establish about Carl Cherry and The Cherry Flips came from Ron Tuccitto who was in the band MOB (lovingly standing for Moderately Old Bastards) with Mike Semrad. Unfortunately, in 1998, there was a serious road accident that cost Ron his life. Thankfully, both Tommy Shea and Vince Emmanuel are still with us. It is also worth noting that Emmanuel, sometime after leaving Cherry, formed Vince and The Premiers which was the first integrated R&B band in Omaha and Kansas City. Several members of this outfit subsequently went on to achieve fame with other bands and artists. These include Herbie Rich and Stemsy Hunter (both with The Electric Flag, Buddy Miles Express and Buddy Miles' solo record), LaMar McDaniels (with Bill Doggett), Bobby Jones (with The Hollywood Argyles and Joe Cocker) and Hank Redd (with Stevie Wonder, Little Willie John, Charles Brown, The Coasters, James Brown, B.B. King and Patty LaBelle).
STOP PRESS: Spencer Leigh has now been able to identify the guy appearing on stage at the Cavern in 2007. It was Karl Terry, a guy who has been on the Liverpool music scene since the fifties. Regrettably therefore, there is no fairy tale ending to this piece but, hopefully, Carl Cherry may resurface.
Tony Wilkinson with Mike Semrad, June 2009
P.S. by Dik : "The Itch" is available on "Rock 'n' Roll Riot" (Buffalo Bop CD 55004). The lyrics are here : http://www.rockabilly.nl/lyrics2/i0143.htm
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