Pat Boone and Randy Wood: The Pioneer Life
July 6, 2011 § 1 Comment
This 1956 album was released in England, but I found it a couple of months ago in the dollar bin at Amoeba. I was rather stunned, I have to say, at its near-pristine condition (well, at least as far as the front and the record itself, which looks unplayed; the rear has some tape on what I believe is called a flipback sleeve). Two things struck me about it, apart from how youthful (he was a student at Columbia at the time) ol’ Pat looks.
For one, the liner notes mention the the record being “Recorded by DOT, Hollywood,” and describe the the label’s Randy Wood as “the genial Tennessee record titan who has rocked the music business with his uncanny ability to pick hits and transform unknowns into top recording stars.” Wood was an important figure in the development of popular music in the 1950s, and actually died just a few months ago, at the age of 94, from complications from a fall at his home. He indeed seemed to have a knack (Boone described it as a “radar sense”) for finding talent, or certainly for matching up singers and songs. Starting in 1944 with an appliance store that also stocked records in Gallatin, Tennessee, he gradually turned the space into just a record store, then started a very successful mail order record business and eventually invested in a radio station that he would use at night (when it was off the air) for recording sessions. His first release was actually a recording by an employee of the store, Johnny Maddox, whom early blues legend W.C. Handy called “the white boy with colored fingers.” (Dot Records was in fact to become known for its covers by white performers of rhythm-and-blues songs written by black artists such as Fats Domino and Little Richard…a practice both derided by some as “white colonialism” and praised by others for the fact that it vastly expanded the audience for the songs; in any case that is probably a topic for another time.)
It was interesting to read, though, that Wood employed what I suppose you could call an early version of the focus group, inviting, as his New York Times obituary relates, “teenagers to his store for parties, letting them play records and drink free sodas. And what song do you like, son?” However he did it, it worked. From Wood’s L.A. Times obituary: “At recording sessions, Wood would show up with three or four songs for Boone to record. ‘Most of them were pretty simple,’ Boone said. ‘Three hours later, we were through and at least one of the records would be a million-seller.'”
By the end of its run the label had released more than 1,000 albums. Beyond that, though, Wood was known for being fair-minded and was well-liked by his artists, something not all of the pioneers of the record business – to put it mildly – could say. As Lawrence Welk’s son Larry (with whom Wood ran a label after Dot) said, “He certainly was one of the most ethical people I’ve ever met. He really cared about people and seeing them succeed.” Boone even called him “my angel.” Wood was also married for a quite impressive 69 years.
The other thing that jumped out at me while taking in the sleeve was the claim near the end of the liner notes that “Pat is the great, great grandson of the legendary American pioneer, Daniel Boone.” Wow – I for one had never had that potential connection occur to me. Randy Wood was described by Larry Welk as “a true pioneer in the music business,” but does Pat Boone also have pioneer blood running through his veins? The answer seems to be that it is inconclusive, and that while he is probably not a direct descendant, he may well be a cousin of sorts of Daniel Boone.
From a genealogy website I came across that discusses the topic:
“Pat Boone is NOT a direct descendant of Daniel and Rebecca (Bryan) Boone. However, he may be a relative of Daniel Boone through an earlier Boone ancestor – the records for the correct Boone line don’t go back far enough.”
Apparently the researcher, Randy Seaver, found that “the databases in the Rootsweb WorldConnect that purport to trace Pat Boone’s ancestry back to Daniel Boone are very likely wrong.” Many of the comments left on his site seem to agree, though not all of them. In any event, as one of them says, “I’m sure Pat Boone was told while growing up that he was related. How many of us have heard stories about an ancestor by a Grandparent or other family member only to find during research that the family lore is incorrect?” Another notes that “It doesn’t seem to me that Daniel Boone was an ANCESTOR of Pat Boone. However, they probably are cousins. Most of the Kentucky Boones are related, but not necessarily closely related. I am in the same situation. I discovered Daniel Boone to be a cousin. I already knew he wasn’t an ancestor, as my ancestors never left North Carolina, although Boone is one of my ancestral surnames. I never expected him to be, and no one told me he was, but he popped up.”
So there you have it. Or, as Pat Boone might say (as one of the songs on the album is titled), Gee Whittakers.
I thought I would end this by posting a video I came across by another Dot Records artist at the time, Gale Storm, who released a version of “I Hear You Knocking” and performed this absolutely wild rendition of it on the Oh Susanna TV show, in I believe 1956. I love that guy knocking in time in the back, behind the scrim. Say what you want about Dot Records’ versions of songs like these (this one was originally recorded by Smiley Lewis, though it was Storm’s version later the same year that popularized it), but this performance is really something for its time.
Well, my talk about ending this entry was premature. I need to add one more rendition of “I Hear You Knocking,” one I just found and a rollicking carpet ride that has instantly become my favorite version.