Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Bluebirds over the mountain

Ersel Hickey didn't have any hits. Instead he had an interesting life.

One of eight children, Hickey was born in Brighton, New York in 1934. He grew up in a series of foster homes. When he was 15, Hickey started travelling with his older sister, a stripper named Chicky Evans. He also worked as a carny for a while. In 1951 won $500 imitating Johnnie Ray in a Columbus, Ohio talent contest. In 1951, Chicky Evans was killed in a traffic accident so Hickey moved back to New York to live with an older brother. In 1954, Hickey was inspired by Elvis and decided to become a Rock & Roll singer. He asked Phil Everly what he needed to do become a singer. Everly replied "You got to have a song".

So Hickey went home and wrote one.

At 2:30 the next morning, Hickey woke his brother up and played him "Bluebirds Over The Mountain". Hickey's brother said "It's a hit!" and gave Ersel 20 bucks to start him on the road to stardom. Or to make him shut up so he could go back to sleep.

The first stop on the road to stardom was a photographer's studio. Gene LaVerne's Studio Of The Stars. LaVerne had also taken Chicky Evan's promo shots. LaVerne took one of the great Rock & Roll pictures that day. You've seen it before even if you didn't know who it was.

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LaVerne also introduced Ersel to a manager named Mike Corda. Corda suggested that Hickey record a demo of his song which Corda then sent to Epic Records. Then Corda sent Hickey back to Buffalo. Joe Sherman at Epic Records heard the demo and liked the recording so much that he released it. He didn't think the recording could be improved upon. Sherman was right but unfortunately the record only got to 75 in the charts.

There were more records on Epic, and then on Kapp, Laurie, Apollo and other small labels. In 1968, The Beach Boys cut a great version of "Bluebirds" in 1968. The Jet Black Berries, also from Rochester, did a version too.

Ersel Hickey died in July 2004.

UPDATE: From a suggestion in the comments, here's "Second Hand News". Thanks Jim! I hear the similarity.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

If you want to hear an uncanny similarity, play "Goin' Down That Road" back to back with Fleetwood Mac's "Second Hand News" from their Rumours album. Lindsey Buckingham has long been a closet rockabilly freak, so it shouldn't be surprising, but it is.

11/6/08 5:55 PM  
Blogger KS said...

Thanks for the tip! I think I have a copy of RUMOURS around here some where. I'll post it if I still do.

11/6/08 8:23 PM  

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