Back in the day there were only two stations in Chicago that played what they used to call rock and roll, WLS and WCFL. They divided the town just as the Cubs and the White Sox did. You listened to one or the other. I started out as a WLS fanatic and switched over about the time Dick Orkin and Jim Runyon brought Chicken Man to WCFL.
My original favorite had a great advertising gimmick called the WLS Silver Dollar Survey. (You can find a great website about the survey here.) Handed out in record stores, the survey gave the top 40 tunes each week along with promotions for the station’s dee-jays. Every now and then I go back and take a look.
There’s something about a song, you know. Songs come and go, providing a few weeks of entertainment and toe-tapping and, in the old days, a frenzy to get down to the E. J. Korvettes in order to snap up the latest piece of vinyl. But there is also the value of a song ten or twenty or forty years later. Events set to the music of one’s life in some ways keep a better record of the past than a journal can.
Way back in 1961, just beginning my second decade, the Silver Dollar Survey had Walk Right Back by the Everly Brothers as its number one pick. Great song sung by two top-notch vocalists, the exquisite harmony strung together in a helix of DNA that the two brothers shared.
The song was written by a guy named Sonny Curtis, who is a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and who is perhaps best known for his hit I Fought the Law.
Who can turn the world on with her smile? Who can take a nothing day and suddenly make it all seem worthwhile? Sonny Curtis could. He not only wrote that song; he sang it on the opening sequence of The Mary Tyler Moore Show.
|Sunny Curtis (Google Images)|
Curtis was an original member of the Crickets, the band that stood behind Buddy Holly, the members of which contributed so much to the success of the legend that it’s hard to tell where the genius of Buddy Holly leaves off and the musicianship of the Crickets begins.
When the band dissolved, Curtis went on to play with his mates, Jerry Allison and Joe B. Mauldin, as they backed up the Everly Brothers until Curtis was inducted into the United States Army in 1960. It was at Fort Ord in California that his keen eye for a good guitar lick and catchy lyrics also served him as a marksman.
As he related in a 2014 interview with the Nashville Songwriters’ Association’s Bret Herbison, out of 250 men in his company he was one of six who received “Expert Marksman” status, an achievement that earned him a three-day pass which he decided to use for a trip to Los Angeles to visit Jerry Allison, his old band mate.
There he played for Allison Come Right Back, which he had put together on a Sunday afternoon at the barracks, playing on “old, beat-up Sears Roebuck kind of guitar.” He had that first lick in his head when he was inducted, simple and memorable, adding an F# and an Ab on the E string to a basic A chord.
As luck would have it, Phil and Don Everly were also in Los Angeles, learning how to be movie stars at Warner Brothers. Allison and Curtis dropped in on Don Everly, and Allison prompted his friend to “Sing that song to Don.” Upon hearing it, Everly went straight to the phone, asked his brother to come over, and before the afternoon was out the harmony had been arranged for the song.
Sometimes even a great lick needs a little bit of luck and a serendipitous ability to be in the right place at the right time. A few days one way or the other, and the magic might never have happened.
Soon after the meeting in Los Angeles Curtis was transferred to Fort Gordon, Georgia, and from there he shipped out to France. On the day he landed in France the song was released.
There was only one verse for the song that Curtis had worked up there at Fort Ord. The Everly Brothers didn’t see that as a problem – they just sang the existing verse twice. Clearly, the music buying public didn’t mind the repetition.
Repetition is what the song got in Chicago as in four weeks it moved from Number 28 on the survey to the top spot on March 25 where it lasted just one week before the Marcels interpretation of Blue Moon knocked it into second place.