White 'cover records' ripped off great Black R&B sounds

Richard Carter | 10/12/2012, 4:17 p.m.
"You can wag your tail, but you ain't no friend of mine..."-Willie Mae "Big Mama"...
Colony Records was my place for original Black R&B

In addition to the Spaniels, a big financial loser was the Moonglows, whose silky smooth "Sincerely" was also jobbed by the McGuire Sisters. Like the Chordettes, the McGuires were discovered on "Arthur Godfrey's Talent Scouts" TV show-offering America a fresh-faced, white female group ala the famed Andrews Sisters of the 1940s.

Another egregious cover was Presley's 1956 rip-off of 1953's "Hound Dog," by Willie Mae "Big Mama" Thornton. And if you've never heard the original-complete with down-and-dirty howls-you don't know what you're missing.

Others include the Shirelles "Lollipop" and Teen Queens' "Eddie My Love" (Chordettes); the Chords' "Sh-Boom" (Crew Cuts); Big Joe Turner's "Shake, Rattle and Roll" (Bill Haley and the Comets); Fats Domino's "I'm Walkin'" (Ricky Nelson); "La Vern Baker's "Tweedlee Dee" and Etta James' "Roll With Me Henry" (Georgia Gibbs), and Willie Mabon's "I Don't Know" (Buddy Morrow band with Frankie Lester vocal).

An obscure cover record victim was Richard Berry, whose "Louie Louie" (1956) was copied by the Wailers and Paul Revere and the Raiders. In 1978, John Belushi and friends moaned it in "National Lampoon's Animal House"-making it a classic for whites.

Ironically, one of the most successful cover records was by a Black artist, Chubby Checker, whose early '60s version of "The Twist" was done by a Black group-Hank Ballard and the Midnighters. Regardless, the real original belongs to the Spaniels, whose Vee-Jay recording of "The Twist" was never released because it was deemed too sexy!

The record label with the most cover artists was Dot, run by white Randy Wood, whose Nashville-based "Randy's Record Shop" was a radio staple for Black listeners in the Midwest in the '50s. Boone, Storm and the Hilltoppers, who covered the Coasters' "Searchin'" and Fontane Sisters (the Charms' "Hearts of Stone," were its big names.

Of all the white cover artists, Boone-with his squeaky-clean persona-is the most notorious. His stultifying rip-offs included Little Richard's "Long Tall Sally"; the Charms' "Two Hearts, Two Kisses"; Domino's "Ain't That a Shame"; the "El Dorados' "At My Front Door"; and the Flamingos' "I'll Be Home." But whoever said life is fair?