Wednesday, August 5, 2020

An Interview with Jack Blanchard - Part One

Jack Blanchard: I was working in factories and I wanted to get out of there really, really bad. There were a bunch of guys from the factory who got together and sang every Wednesday or Thursday night. I would play the rhythm guitar with them, but they really couldn't sing. Only one of them could sing, so he and I broke off and formed a group called the Dawn Breakers.

We went through four or five sets of people until we finally found the ones who ended up on the record. I wrote original songs and arranged all the music and harmony. I'd sing it to the guys and they were pretty quick in picking it up. We went down to a little place in Buffalo called the Hal Studio. They recorded directly to disc. There was no tape then, at least not there. If you made a mistake on these old time sessions, you had to throw it away and they'd have to put a whole new disc on. 

I played the piano and sang harmony. We had a band from Niagara Falls back us up. So we got our acetate disc and we shopped it around to the record distributors in Buffalo. We finally made a connection with a Buffalo deejay. His show was called Hernando's Hideaway, but his name was actually something else. He had some connections at Decca Records and their subsidiary Coral.

We got on Coral with a song I wrote called "Boy with the Be-Bop Glasses." The other side was a Four Aces style number called "Things I Love," which I did an arrangement for. We put it out and it was a local hit. 

We got bookings not only all over Buffalo, but in Pennsylvania and up in Canada. It never went national or got on Billboard, but we were big stars locally. We got lots of gigs out of it - and then it died out. I escaped from Buffalo and went to Miami.

I got to Miami and started playing a club called the King of Hearts. It was where Sam and Dave got their start, the guys who did "Soul Man." I was playing organ, piano, and left-hand bass. I was still thinking about making records. It was a gangster-owned place. A Mob-owned place. They had a little record label called Mida. The guy who owned the place was named Johnny so I wrote a song called "Johnny was the King of Hearts." It was tailor-made to try to get him to pay for a recording session. A session was around $150 in those days and I was working six nights a week for $70 total.

We went down to a studio owned by a guy named Frank Linale. He was the manager of a famous comedy team called the Vagabonds. His wife and child were murdered shortly before we recorded there and I could see it in his eyes. It was hard for him to concentrate. We made the record and it wasn't too good, but at least we were on a record. One side was rock n' roll and the other side was a ballad. It got a little local play, but went nowhere.

Then I got a call from somebody with the state government who was doing a film about the Everglades called Million Acre Playground. They wanted someone to write the music. It was something I had never done before, timing music to the scenes, but I bluffed my way into it. And I got my name in the credits at the end.

I bought a little place on the V.A. Loan in Carol City, Florida and had an office in the back. Singers started coming to me to produce records for them. Most of them were country singers. I made a deal where they'd pay my way to Nashville and have to record at least two of my songs if I produced them.

I started producing at a place called Starday Records in Nashville. It was a major label. I have quite a few songs on Starday, although I never sang on any of them. They were all done for different artists. That got me started and I bummed around Music Row for quite some time until Misty and I finally started singing together. 

Kliph Nesteroff: Eventually you two married and became famous as Jack and Misty and I want to talk about that, but first I want to learn more about the King of Hearts Club in Miami. You once said that it had thirteen different bouncers.

Jack Blanchard: (laughs) Yeah, it did! And a few of them were really crazy. They were waiting to see blood. They were dangerous. I think everybody is dead now so they can't kill me. On the weekends the guy that ran the place would send these bouncers out robbing places! A friend of mine, Bob McCoy, used to sit in there and play cards with them. He wasn't one of the bouncers - but he got mixed up with them - and he got killed.

They had tried to rob a high school! I hated to see him get killed. I mean, why would anyone try rob a high school? When I finally left that club, that's when I started working with Misty.

We picked up a guitar player and we worked some good and bad places. But it's funny, for the first year that we performed together, Misty and I never even thought of doing duets. But all the connections I made in Nashville while doing stuff for Starday helped us when we finally started recording together.

There was a guy named Dick Gillespie. He said he won an Emmy for producing the Colgate Comedy Hour. He owned a country station south of Miami and he was a funny guy. I talked to him one night when he was having dinner at this club we were playing.

Gillespie said, "You have nothing to sell. Nobody wants to walk across the street just to see two singers. What you have to do is go home and work out a whole new style. Dress differently. Change your whole appearance. Make it something that will attract attention, but don't try it out here where everyone knows you because nobody will buy it." So we went to Key West to play a lounge down there. It was just Misty and me. She was playing organ and I was just playing the drums.

We had a song called "Bethlehem Steel." Two guys came into the club. One was an air force captain and the other was a sergeant in the army. They came in and sat down and ended up signing us to a four-song contract in Nashville with the condition they would manage us if anything came of it. So we went to Nashville and cut "Bethlehem Steel" and three other songs. The song got play and everyone got excited. A label picked us up called Wayside, which led to us being picked up by Mercury Records...

"Bethlehem Steel" died out from lack of promotion, but we put out another record called "Big Black Bird" with a sort of haunting melody and it caught on. It got heavy play and Mercury Records wanted to pick it up. Wayside made a deal with them, but they didn't trust them. They were just a small company and weren't very hip. When they sent the master to Mercury, they left a big blank space in the middle so that they wouldn't steal it. But this meant the record couldn't come out when it was needed. Mercury wanted it in a hurry when it was hot. By the time Wayside sent them a proper master, it was too late. All the airplay on it had dropped. But as a result we were now on Mercury Records.

                    Continue to Part Two


Mayf Nutter said...

This was like a wonderful movie of overcoming seemingly incomparable situations to become joyfully successful, using only their God Given Talents to claim the VICTORY that they so obviously deserved.
Mayf Nutter

Emile said...

20 years ago I wrote Jack for a CD and he sent it with a nice signed note from him and Misty. They are special people and some of their music is stuck in my mind forever.