Sunday, June 22, 2008

Kokomo - What's in a Name?

Kokomo was the pseudonym for classically trained pianist Jimmy Wisner (b.8.12.31 Philadelphia). The graduate of Temple University had formed a jazz trio in 1959 backing Mel Torme amongst others. He had the idea to ‘rock the classics’ not original, but as often happened with these records it was a one off idea that worked. He played the melody of Greig’s Piano Concerto and he did it in A minor, hence the singles name, Asia Minor. Unable to get a release through an established label, big or small, Wisner decided to start his own - Future Records. It became a local hit and soon got a national release through London subsidiary label, Felstead. It made No.8 in America in spring 1961 and No.35 in Britain. Wisner had adopted the Kokomo name to protect his jazz reputation, and at the time of the singles release he never gave an interview or had a picture published. There were four more singles during ’61 and the start of ‘62 but none even got close to making the charts; in Britain the only other single he released was his fourth US release.

Wisner did not return to jazz, he stayed in mainstream pop, arranging and producing. Amongst the records he worked on were Len Barry’s 1-2-3, The Cowsills, The Rain The Park and Other things, as well as several by one of the quintessential harmony groups of the ‘60’s, Spanky and Our Gang. Wisner also co-wrote the Searchers last UK No.1, Don’t Throw Your Love Away and worked with Streisand, Al Kooper, Iggy Pop and played the organ on Freddy Cannon's Palisades Park

Kokomo was not an original name. In February 1936 Kokomo Arnold accompanied Peetie Wheatstraw on record for the first time, but it was far from Kokomo’s first session. He first recorded back in 1930 on the same day as Sleepy John Estes. This first recording, by the then 29 years old Georgia native was released as Gitfiddle Jim, Kokomo was known, at this time, by his given name, James Arnold.

Arnold was a left handed slide guitarist, who was living in Chicago and working as a bootlegger, did not cut another record for four years when he cut 'Old Original Kokomo Blues' from which he took his nickname; Robert Johnson later reworked the song as 'Sweet Home Chicago'. Arnold himself had based the song on, Kokomo Blues, a 1928 recording by that other bootlegging guitarist Scrapper Blackwell. On the flip side was Milk Cow Blues, which would also be reworked by others, including Bob Wills and Elvis Presley.

Kokomo, as well as being a place was a popular brand of 1920s coffee, has had an interesting and a diverse place in the annals of pop music. Besides Jimmy Wisner in 1975 there was a band named Kokomo, containing two of Joe Cocker’s Grease Band in the line-up, they had fleeting success on the rock circuit. Then in 1988, 24 years after their first U.S. No.1, the Beach Boys had their last U.S. No.1. From the Tom Cruise movie ‘Cocktail’ Kokomo was written by Mike Love from the Beach Boys, John Phillips from the Mamas and Papas, and Scott McKenzie who had a huge hit with San Francisco (Be sure to wear some flowers in your hair). Terry Melcher, who produced Taj Mahal’s first band, The Rising Sons in the 60s, co-wrote and produced Kokomo.

“The Robins a black doo-wop group in LA, cut ‘Smokey Joe’s CafĂ©’ written by Lieber & Stoller. It influenced me a heck of a lot when I went to write Kokomo

Mike love

13 comments:

Richard Evans said...

Richard, I remember the English pub-rock band Kokomo very well. The lovely Jody Linscott played with them for many years. She's played for Pete Townshend on several albums and was on the 1982 Who tour with them. Rise & Shine had a jolly good album cover too.

Beach Boy's' 'Kokomo' - one of Mike Love's finest creations.

Richard Havers said...

Rich, Kokomo metamorphosed out of Arrival. I loved their single Friends.

r morris said...

Kokomo is also a city in Indiana. I never quite figured out why the Beach Boys sang about a city in Indiana. It doesn't even have a beach, as far as I know. Certainly no surfing.

Richard Evans said...

Ah yes," . . . we too have friends by the river"

Richard, have you ever heard Terry Reid's version of that? Really great track in which halfway through he seques into Dylan's 'Highway 61' Hmm, I'm going to dig it out and play it right now!

Richard Havers said...

Rich, I have heard that but probably not in twenty five years....good as I remember it.

bigrab said...

Kokomo also features in the Robbie Robertson song Somewhere Down The Crazy River.

Richard Evans said...

Richard, I dug out my Terry Reid album and then realised that it was Reid who actually wrote 'Friends'.

A great singer/guitarist who will always be remembered as having turned down the offer by Jimmy Page to be the singer in Led Zeppelin, and also turned down the offer to be the singer in Deep Purple.

Richard Havers said...

Rab, welcome to trivia corner...I just love that kind of stuff!

Rich, as always a veritable mine of....

Check out Terry's song '4th of July' it's from the 80s and a belter.

Richard Havers said...

Make that the fifth of July!!

Dick Madeley said...

Richard, you've broken me. I'm adding you to my blogroll.

I confess that I've watched and waited for months to see if you'd consider adding me to your list but I can see that I fail to pass the Havers' test.

I am pleased to say that your blog passes the Madeley test and is not listed.

Richard Havers said...

Dick, you too, Dick Havers

Richard Evans said...

Dick, me too, Dick Evans

Dr. Raj said...

Dick, me too, Dick Raj.