THE SHAGGY DOG ROCKS ON - THE MICKEY LEE LANE STORY (By Tony Wilkinson)
Born Mickey Lee Schreiber, 2 February 1941, Rochester, New York
Here in the UK in 1964, the musical scene was desperate as British beat groups swept all before them. True there were exceptions, like the Jerry Lee Lewis triumphant comeback and sweet Gene Vincent treading the boards at the local dance halls but, in order to get near the opposite sex to practice a bit of bum clutching dirty dancing, one had to wear 12" bottom drain pipe trousers, a bumfreezer Italian style jacket, winkle picker shoes and sport a mop top style haircut. All this was practised to the music of pimply faced two chord guitar players who took real music and watered down the real thing until it tasted like tea. However in 1964 the British Stateside label released "Shaggy Dog" by Mickey Lee Lane. Here was a record that restored one's faith in the magic of rock 'n' roll with its frenzied chanting to "Come on pretty baby, shake it like crazy" and quickly became a club favourite amongst mods and rockers alike. A bit fast for dirty dancing perhaps but who cared. This was followed in 1965 by the even more maniacal "Hey Sah-Lo- Ney" with its pounding beat and raucous spot-on vocals, ecstasy. But then seemingly it became quiet until five years ago when "Shaggy Dog" was re-discovered and started to fill the dance floors all over again. However as our story will reveal Mickey never stopped rockin'.
Mickey grew up in Rochester, New York, in the early 1950's as part of a family with considerable musical pedigree. Dad was no mean singer and his mum was proficient on the piano. Sister Shonnie was a talented dancer and singer and younger brothers Bernie and Zal were to later make their mark in the music 'biz. Whilst at school, our hero was joining in on all of the musical pursuits and was quite taken with the music of Tommy Dorsey and Glen Miller, especially the tune "In The Mood" by the latter which he practised on the piano at home. His father in 1954 purchased one of the first commercially available tape recorders, namely a Webcor, and Mickey was soon in his natural element making up radio shows with sister Shonnie. He would record the solo sections from records and substitute his own lyrics. At the same time he was composing songs and submitting the results to New York publishers. Once on entering a competition sponsored by Brunswick Records, he won the prize of a box of records. His dad had his hair cut at Paul's Barber Shop on East Avenue, Rochester and Paul was also responsible for servicing the local jukeboxes. He would give Mickey's dad piles of records to take home for junior: "I had a terrific collection of 78's and 45's. Anything that rocked was played until the grooves wore out." Formulative stuff indeed for what was to come.
The family moved to New York in the summer of 1956 and come the end of that year, he had his first band - The Skyrockers. "It was terrible, I was terrible. My sister Shonnie was the lead vocalist - sort of Jo Ann Campbell type singer. Me on sax -squeaks and honks - trying to emulate Sam (The Man) Taylor and Big Al Sears from the Alan Freed Rock 'n' Roll Big Band. "Zip" by Red Prysock and Mr. Haley's (my #1 hero) "Rudy's Rock" were my sax fantasies, though I never got out of my horn what came into my ears. Oh well." Other members of the band were Irv Haber on string bass, who had to be persuaded to put down his classical bow and adopt boogie basics, and Richie Flannegan on guitar. However the group kept changing and Mickey recalls that they never finished a complete song, but they tried hard to play blues or bop.
Around the same time, Mickey would cut out of school early to attend the Alan Freed Dance Party TV show, becoming a semi-regular for a while. "For me, that was the place to be. Alan Freed was the King of Rock 'n'Roll. At weekends, Freed did record hops -and Shonnie went with me to many of them - where we were a really hot dance team and won trophies. Alan was really into the music, the kids and his career. He was a big man, looked handsome and tan (pancake makeup?) and sometimes had a hint of scotch odour -but was the coolest you could find. I also used to make trips to WINS -his radio station - to hang out with the DJ's and watch/listen to them broadcast. Alan got so big that soon Paul Sherman had to sub for him on the air whilst Freed was doing hops and his famous Paramount and Brooklyn Fox shows."
In late 1957, Lane made his first attempts at recording. He pawned his saxophone to finance a session at the Audiosonic Recording Studio in the Brill Building. His mother found out and paid off the ticket to get it back. This process was repeated several times as demos were laid down. He also met up with many of the great songwriters who inhabited the building such as Jack Hammer, Claude DeMetrius, David Clowney (aka Dave Baby Cortez), Bert Russell and Doug Morris. Sadly this was a story of near success as Elvis nearly recorded his song "Never Never Never" and he, with sister Shonnie, almost succeeded in getting Connie Francis to cut one of their tunes ("Double Barrel Carburator") as the follow up to "Stupid Cupid". In the summer of 1958, Mickey met up with Ersel Hickey who, apart from becoming a good friend, introduced him to Kay Twomey who in turn took Mickey and Shonnie over to Warner Brothers. The duo were signed to a contract, two sides were recorded but nothing was released. Seemingly the distance between New York and the West Coast based movie empire, to whom records were in many ways only a side-line, proved to be an insurmountable problem. Around the same time, Lane was booked into a Brooklyn club called "Tippys" under the name of Johnny Rushe. The main act was The Fireflies who hit big with "You Were Mine" in 1959. "I was a bit rough but had developed my stage routine... doing unexpected things. I was playing hot piano and midway through a tune, I would splash water on my face and scream "Man, I'm Hot'~ This went well 'til one night I mistakenly splashed the drummers kit and he walked off stage in the middle of the number. Being new to the club (which was located in a bad area) I did other stuff as well, like greasing the piano keys with Vaseline to make the up and down slides on the keys less painful. It was great for me but the next act would find a greasy keyboard and the pianist would yell at me saying '~..what the XXXJ!"
Shortly after the abortive Warner Brothers deal, Mickey and Shonnie were signed to Brunswick Records as Mickey & Shonnie -The Bright And Early Kids and the disc "Toasted Love" / "Daddy's Little Baby" was released. The duo toured to promote the release including a week of record hops in Boston, Massachusetts which climaxed in a Musical Association event in which they played alongside Jo Ann Campbell, Jimmy Clanton, Kathy Linden, The Kalin Twins and Della Reese. The pair worked their Alan Freed dance routine into their act. They also returned to Rochester with their show and their family to headline at the 1958 New Year's Eve gala ball plus make appearances on the local TV dance party. Returning to Long Island, Mickey hung out with local musicians as well as making strenuous efforts, along with his friend Jack Bimburg -who later had a hit record with "Betty Lou" under the name Jack Eden - at improving his act to bring it up to a standard equivalent to that of Jerry Lee. He then linked up with Ray Ceroni and Carl Bonura of the Bell Notes who were scoring heavily with "I've Had It" and had subsequent follow-ups such as "Old Spanish Town", "Betty Dear" and "Shortnin' Bread" in the 1959/1960 period. He joined the Bell Notes as piano player and toured with them on the college circuit of the East coast along with Link Wray and Bobby Comstock. By all accounts there were some real wild times. Mickey recalls one gig at a top Ivy League college in upper New York State:
"Some of the girls decided to take their blouses off... some more. Guys were hopping up on the stage and mooning over the crowd Occasionally a girl would come up and "flash" the band. There was one or two inches of beer all over the place - flowing from pressurised kegs - all over the concrete floor and even on the stage. It was slippery all over and everyone was sloshing around in beer. We had to be careful not to get electrocuted from all this stuff as our connection boxes were getting wet."
Mickey, Shonnie and Ray Ceroni also formed a trio by the name of "Two Guys And A Gal" and cut several really nice songs. In July 1959, Mickey was requested by Warner Brothers Records to do a project on spec. for the label. Choosing his own sidemen, he went to the Bell Sound Studios in New York City and laid down the original track for "Rock The Bop". Lane played piano and present at the session were guitarists Mickey Baker (of Mickey & Sylvia) and Kenny Burrell with Panama Francis on drums. The song was meant as a tribute to Bill Haley but did not see release until late 1996 on RollerCoaster Records. "The session went smoothly but when we got the tapes back over thirty years later. I discovered the engineer had busy hands on the board, shifting stereos and moving the levels up and down on some of the instruments. The guitars were pinning the meters in spots. I spent considerable time in late spring of 1995 harnessing the mess on what I always believed to be a killer track. I think we did it well."
Mickey met up with Alan Freed again at a 1960 recording session by Bill Haley for George Goldner's Gone/End set up of labels. "Teddy Troob (son of Warren Troob) and I wrote a song for Bill called ''My Kind Of Woman". I was asked to do the demo for Bill, for which I put together a special band. Both Alan and Bill thought the song was good enough for the B side of "Spanish Twist". I personally thought we had the A side, but the released copy says differently. At the session Rudy Pompilli was late and so Warren, Alan and Bill approached me. Alan said ''Hey Kid, you wanna play the sax solo?'. Me: "Uh...uh. Oh .. sax ain't here." Then Rudy showed, and I went "Phew". They're all gone now but the song and the rockin' go on."
1960 was a busy year for Lane, as he had his first solo release on Laurie Records with the tasty rockin' "Nightcap"/"Dum Dee Dee Dum". Ray Ceroni played guitar on the sessions. The record, whilst played by Murray The K over the New York airwaves, was unfortunately not a commercial success. Mickey also still continued to peddle his songs on Broadway and discovered the Dick Charles Recording Services studio who happened to be looking for an apprentice engineer. This interested Lane, especiallyas it was a good studio with a warm sound. Suffice to say, he got the job and learnt this side of the business. Whilst there, he met up with Pete Antrell who was with The Chants and who were looking for a bass player. Mickey, still with the Bell Notes, also joined The Chants as their bassist and continued his work at the studio in the daytime hours. "The Chants were a mixed black/white group. Bobby Butts was our saxman and was a happy black dude who played his butt off. Mike the lead singer was white but sang black -kind of like Dion but with a bigger range. John Linde (Mickey's one time manager and co-writer on some of the Swan sides) was the drummer and the guitarist was Pete Antell. The group had a good stage act and basically performed Coasters style tunes and other cover versions of hit tunes of the time. We played many a gig together at The Club Grotto in Hempstead, Long Island. This was our homebase. The club closed long ago...too many fights inside and out. A great group, a bit of Long Island history."
The Chants backed up Randy And the Rainbows ("Denise") and the Isley Brothers ("Respectable" & "Twist And Shout") plus went on to record for several labels in their own right, including MGM, Verve and Tru Eko in 1961, U.W.R. in 1962 and Cameo in 1963 & 1964. Interestingly enough, one of their biggest records was a cover of the Isley's "Respectable". If this was not enough, 1960 also saw Mickey form his second band The Lan-Turns named after the Brooklyn club "The China Lantern". This outfit gained steady work at the Cinderella Club, GreenwichVillageand had one of the first girl rock 'n'roll drummers by the name of Ginger. Wayne Kent was on bass and Lane played guitar. Apart trom the foregoing, the early sixties had Lane in demand as a session musician and engineer plus playing at black tie gigs in the society field with the Lester Lanin Orchestra - as his first rock 'n' roller soloist. "I was Lester's "Top Rocker"and "Twister"- leading his big band for those rock sets and performing the most popular rock tunes of the day."
He was present at functions performing for Robert Kennedy in 1962 and at the White House in 1964. The last mentioned was after the release of "Shaggy Dog", where Mickey gave a young Caroline Kennedy a copy of the record and wonders if she still has it amongst her possessions.
Come 1963, Mickey commenced to write songs with his brother Bernie: "I had already written quite a bit with Shonnie , even my mom, and now Bernie was emerging. We liked to write songs that were slightly off beat and different. He would come into the city. One night Bernie and I decided to write a nutty song in the "Surfin' Bird" vein. We cruised around the New York Parkways at 1.00 a.m. with Bernie and I adding lyrics. We were laughing our brains out at what we were coming up with. By the time we got back home (maybe 3.00 am) "Shaggy Dog" had been written." The need to record "Shaggy Dog" had come about as Pete Antell and John Linde (of The Chants) had formed a production company called Survey Music and were interested in Mickey's recording of "00-00" which Lane had earlier evolved and recorded at the Dick Charles Studio but they needed a B-side. Mickey quickly cut "Shaggy Dog" at the same studio:
"In laying dawn the vocals on "Shaggy Dog", I threw in the falsetto parts along with my "Tutti Frutti" ad lib to crack up the engineer at the session, Art Polhemus. Art loved it and said "let's keep it" and so we did. The vocal booth in studio A was originally the isolation booth that had been used on the top TV show "$64,000 Question". It was totally soundproof and it made you a touch nutty to be in there wearing headphones... in the middle of a dark studio with your posse doing all sorts of things to crack you up. Since I was half-way there already I decided to keep on going. Art had shut down the lights to spice the mood and said "Okay Mickey...go get it...to the moon". We blasted off. For the making of the tambourine track basic to "Shaggy Dog" (subsequently also used on "The Zoo), my dear girl friend of the time (Cindy) held down a bass drum in place for three minutes whilst I pedalled in the beat, keeping the tempo constant, and played a tambourine." Mickey, with the aid of Cindy, played every instrument on the track and the back up vocals were again Mickey assisted by brother Bernie. Antell and Linde flipped out of their minds when they heard "Shaggy Dog". Whilst the couple had been in Philadephia looking to place masters, they had met up with Bernie Binnick of Swan Records. Binnick was instantly interested in "Shaggy Dog" and released the cut, after editing down the length, in the spring of 1964 with "00-00" as the flip. (The original full length version of "Shaggy Dog" has now been issued by UK RollerCoaster Records after Zal Lane painstakingly reconstructed the song as it was meant to be heard). The record first broke in Dallas, Texas during the summer and by October it was Top 40. Subsequently it became an international hit. "In the course of touring to promote and work "Shaggy Dog" and my other Swan releases, I was thrilled to work with a multitude of very talented acts including Swan label mates Link Wray and Bobby Comstock and others such as Roy Orbison, The Larks, The Coasters, The Detergents, Vito and The Salutations, Johnny Cymbal, Jerry Keller, Ersel Hickey, Randy & The Rainbaws and a whole heap of others. I do hope that some (most) of these folks remember working with me, and I think they may. Like my stuff or not, I'm not easy to forget."
Valuable exposure for the Swan releases was also gained by appearances on Dick Clark's "American Band Stand" TV show, with Clark and his producer Tony Mammarella being friends of the label owner and also owning a piece of the action at Swan Records at one time. "The day I appeared on "Bandstand" (which was now based in Los Angeles), there were five or so other "Bandstand" shows being taped as well. There we all were, a bevy of artists waiting to perform our material : myself, Arthur Prysock, Freddy Cannon, Neil Sedaka and others,... it was one big festive rockin' party backstage. We all did our numbers via lip sync. Dick Clark was so taken by my unusal shades and I was asked to perform "00-00" as well as "Shaggy Dog"."
The follow up was "(They're All In) The Senior Class"/"The Zoo". For the latter title, Mickey played around a lot, technically altering and changing the tape speed. He also had a series of amps wired into each other: "I had a nice Gibson Explorer amp we used on "The Zoo". We overloaded it too much and blew the cone in the speaker, which caused it to short out sputter and buzz intermittently. Towards the end of "The Zoo", you can hear "that" sound of the amp breaking up. It was a cool way to end the record."
The lead guitar was a twelve string Danelectro, called a BellZookie, played by Don Thomas with Mickey playing all other instruments. To say that the record drives along and emits excitement in the best manner of the fifties is an understatement. The next release on Swan was "Little Girl (I Was Wrong)"/"When You're In Love (That's How You'll Know)" was just starting to garner some action when Binnick issued letters to radio stations requesting that they did not play the single as it was withdrawn to be to be re-mixed and re-issued. This was done two releases later with the A and B sides reversed but the screw-up had effectively killed off the record commercially. This also must have hampered the sales impact of the classic "Hey Sah- Lo-Ney"/"Of Yesterday" which is one heck of a wild record, it truly captures the real spirit of rock 'n' roll. But Stateside Records in England sensed the commercial potential of the waxing and released the record. It has since deservedly earned the status of a cult classic. The final release on Swan by Mickey was "The Only Thing To Do (Is To Say Goodbye)"/"She Don't Want To" but Swan was struggling and so the release did not get the push by the label that it needed. "During those Swan years, 1964 to 1967, I worked like crazy, doing record hops, tours, society work and doing a lot of studio recording. We were promoting the Swan releases and making new records. Some of the hottest tracks were never completed To our surprise, we discovered these tapes intact with great sounding fidelity. We're planning on finishing these songs off and hopefully some will make an upcoming CD. Needless to say, it's complicated working with 1/2 four track and 1 inch 8 track tapes today. Between myself, and brothers Bemie and Zal, though we've got most of the equipment we need -swapping back and forth - to enable us to get this done."
>From about 1966 to 1970 Lane worked as a recording engineer. Firstly at Studio 76 in the building at 1650 Broadway. Bernie and Mickey laid down some recordings, mainly on a Saturday night when Mickey was not gigging but as yet these tracks, known as the "76 Sessions" have not been released. Maybe one day soon.... After Studio 76, Lane went on to become the head engineer for Kama Sutra's Studio A. Whilst there he carried on with his own projects, one of which was his version of the classic rock 'n' roll song "Tutti Frutti". Bobby Gregg was on drums and the Philadelphia group The Car-Mels sang back-up vocals. This was picked up for release by Mala Records and the musical trade press classified it as a pick of the week. Chas. White, the authorised biographer of Little Richard, rates this interpretation as the most exciting after Little Dick's own version - it is that good. Not too many people were making great rock'n'roll records in 1967 but Mickey was. However the disc failed to chart: "At that time, the Box Tops had come out with their follow-up to "The Letter" and Mala set my release aside, promoting the other record instead. At least this was the official story that I was told. I always wondered if the real story might have been that Kama Sutra -where I was working- had orchestrated squashing the record because, if "Tutti" had happened, this artist would have left them to promote the record. This was how usual record company politics was played at the time. In any event, it was a real disappointment. We knew that "Tutti" had it in the grooves - but it was neglected and nobody worked it! The testimony lies in the grooves, you just can't fake it. It was definitely in those grooves."
However Lane carried on regardless with his writing and recording. He cut a lot of tracks, in the late sixties and early seventies.at the demo studio of Peer Publishing in the Brill Building, some of which Mickey classifies as "real gems".
Come the early seventies, Mickey had formed the Mickey Lane Orchestra which included his younger brother Zal on either guitar or bass. In conjunction with this, he carried on producing other artists and teaching acts how to work in the studio plus carrying playing gigs with the aforementioned Lester Lanin and other society orchestras. Approaching the end of the eighties decade, and introducing modern technology, Mickey formed his own one man band. He also set up his own recording studio for himself and for outside clients. In it, he has managed to merge and use his "old" analogue equipment with state of the art digital equipment, often improvising ways to make the systems work together. As Mickey says: "I've got to be careful though -to make sure I am in control of this technology -and not let it control me."
Mickey is still very active today, producing, writing and performing. Regarding the possibility of an overseas visit, Mickey advises that there has been talk of a visit to the UK and Europe to strut his stuff. "This I would love to do - to show my personal thanks to those fans in Europe and the UK who have kept my music alive and flowing. Those fans mean a lot to me and I appreciate their interest and support. THANK YOU."
Since Mickey made those comments, he has appeared at Hemsby but unfortunately due to a variety of circumstances, it was not a great success. Still, he remains happily living in New York and making plans for new recordings.
(c) Tony Wilkinson June 2005
Recommended Listening: Roller Coaster RCCD 3014 - Mickey Lee Lane, Rockin' On ... and Beyond. (This contains virtually all of Lane's recordings except the Brunswick and Laurie sides.)
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