The Story of 'BERTHA LOU' & 'TWINKIE LEE' & 'SNACKY POO'.
(By Klaus Kettner with Tony Wilikinson)
For a change, the subject of TIMS is not a person, but a song
Bertha Lou, Bertha Lou
You wear your hair in a poodle cut
Hey-hey, Bertha Lou
You wear your hair in a poodle cut
Hey-hey, Bertha Lou
Bertha Lou, Bertha Lou, Bertha Lou.
(Transcribed from the Dorsey Burnette version. Clint Miller sings
Over the years there has been confusion about the song 'Bertha Lou'. Little
Rocky Burnette remembers: "My father Johnny Burnette sold that song to John (Marascalco). That´s just the way music business is and always has been. He gave Dad 50 $ for that song". John Marascalco (born 27th March 1931) is a white Mississippi born songwriter living in Los Angeles and hanged around SPECIALTY Records supplying songs for Little Richard and others. He is
noted for his collaborations with Robert 'Bumps' Blackwell. Together, they wrote "Good Golly, Miss Molly", originally recorded by The Valiants but made famous by Little Richard. In addition, Marascalco was involved in the composing of the rock 'n' roll classics "Ready Teddy" and 'Rip It Up". "Ready Teddy" has been recorded by such rock legends as Little Richard, Buddy Holly and Elvis Presley. Marascalco has also co-written songs with Fats Domino ("Be My Guest"), George Motola ("Goodnight, My Love"), and Scott Turner. He and Turner collaborated on songs for Harry Nilsson, such as "I Just Ain't Right" and "Building Me Up". Marascalco then went on to compose songs with Nilsson and helped finance the latter's early recording efforts. Other popular songs bearing the name of Marascalco in the composing credits include "Goodnight My Love," "Heeby Jeebies," "Send Me Some Lovin'," and "She's Got It".
The song's name, 'Bertha Lou' is said to have been taken from Dorsey´s wife Alberta whom Dorsey also referred to as "My Italian". Probably, part of the deal was that Marascalco arranged a record deal with one of the Burnettes singing that song. He went to Kenny Babcock´s tiny SURF label in November 1957 and they arranged a session at "Master Recorders" in Hollywood. Whilst preparing the session they found out, that Johnny could not do the vocals as he was still under contract to CORAL Records, so Dorsey grabbed the chance and recorded "Bertha Lou" along with "Till The Law Says Stop" (both songs can be heard on the Johnny & Dorsey Burnette CD "Rock & Roll Tonight" - HYRDRA BCK 27110). Paul Burlison, their guitar player from the Rock & Roll Trio days, remembered that he went back together with the two brothers for one session at the end of 1957 believing that it was this one. He mentioned that the songs have been cut twice, once with Johnny on vocal and one with Dorsey taking over. Though it is not clear whether it was this session, but other musicians were Odell Huff (guitar), Danny Flores (piano), H.B. Barnum (drums), and an unknown bass player, might even have been Dorsey. However, it was soon determined that Dorsey was still under contract to IMPERIAL Records and so his recording was in breach of that legal agreement. The record SURF #5019 was quickly withdrawn as a result, although a few copies are known to exist. So Babcock and Marascalco took a young singer, Johnny Faircloth and overdubbed his vocals on the recording and released it with the same record number. Johnny Faire, as he was called on the record label, also recorded under the names of Donnie Brooks, Dick Bush and Johnny Jordan. Johnny Faire was asked to sing over Dorsey's voice (on both sides) as there was no separate track for the vocal. Interviewed by Cub Koda, Donnie said: "I think you can still hear Dorsey on the record. It took forever, line by line, just hours of studio time!" Problem was that Johnny was from the West Coast while Dorsey had a southern accent. The Johnny Faire version of "Bertha Lou" SURF 5019 attracted enough attention to be released in the UK (on London HLU 8569). Johnny Faire has recently passed away but did appear at the UK Hemsby weekender a few years back and in the guise of Johnny Faire sang a stormin' version of the song. Several years later Marascalco persuaded Dorsey to record the old Louis Jordan/Little Richard song "Keep A Knockin´", which he issued on CEE-JAM Records (6), coupled with Dorsey´s version of "Bertha Lou". Again there must have been some interest in the song as they re-released it on CEE-JAM (16) with the original flip side "Till The Law Says Stop". At the time of the original release, ABC PARAMOUNT Records became interested and they chose their new artist Clint Miller to record a cover version, which did pretty well and made it to number 79 on the Billboard and number 49 on the Cashbox charts in January 1958. As Clint Miller's session was undertaken on November 20th, 1957, and the original Burnette session was also in November, Clint probably did not hear their version of the song but learned it from a demo or sheet music. The song has been covered by several other artists as you can hear on this series of CDs.
In 1965 the Mersey group Jack Bedient & The Chessmen recorded a song called "Double Whammy". This seemed like a pretty good fit; there is a lot of Merseybeat energy and group vocalizing. With its rhythm, and bluesy edge, it sounds closest to "Money" or some of the Beatles songs. But such an assumption is incorrect.. Kevin Woods, the guitarist for the band at the time, has kindly supplied the actual genesis: Jack Bedient wrote the song with Chessman Bill Britt (in the studio, on the day they recorded it, like all the best rock'n'roll songs) and wanted a driving guitar intro for it. What Kevin came up with was basically (or perhaps exactly) the riff from Johnny Faire's "Bertha Lou." And it really is the same. "Bertha Lou" later was recorded by artists such as Robert Gordon, Colin Winski and the Astro Zombies. A few years ago Rocky told me that John Marascalco settled an agreement with the Burnette family and gave back part of the rights to the song.
A variation of "Bertha Lou" was called "Snacky Poo". Based on Johnny´s song, John Marascalco probably had re-arranged the song and lyrics. John knew that the catchy song had some potential, and a new try with new lyrics would be the best way to use the song again. The song, now titled "Snacky Poo Parts 1 & 2" was released 1962 on the INFINITY label in which Marascalco had an interest along with Cliff Garrett. This time it was easier and they could put the new vocals over the basic instrumental track and released it under the name of Ring-A-Dings. Marascalco then sold the master to MERCURY Records where the songs have been released under the name of Del-Mars in 1963 on the black MERCURY label and was then re-released on the new red MERCURY label.
Hey, Twinkie Lee
Twinkie Lee, Twinkie Lee
Hey, hey Twinkie Lee
Listen to me baby
Hey, hey Twinkie Lee
Another variation of "Bertha Lou" was unmistakenly "Twinkie Lee". Larry Bright, a local LA singer and guitar player, knew Dorsey who helped him out in the studio on bass. When looking for a new song the two came up with a re-write of "Bertha Lou" in 1960 named "Twinkie Lee" after the cat of a DJs daughter, who Larry thought might give him a push by doing this. Problem was, that Dorsey´s writer credits got lost and only Larry Bright was credited - no John Marascalco or original writer Johnny Burnette. The song was released under the name of Pete Roberts (Rendevous Records) and also under Larry Bright (Highland Records). When Dorsey found out he sued them and won the lawsuit for the copyright. Also whilst the money now went to Dorsey, the songwriting credit was not changed and subsequent cover versions by Wayne Stevenson, Alan Clark and Gary Walker (from the Walker Borthers) still read Larry Bright.
To sum it up, one of the most covered songs written by one of the two Burnettes never really was credited to Johnny, as in need for money he sold the song to John Marascalco, but still it is a great rocking song.
©Klaus Kettner with Tony Wilkinson, April 2007
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