Our blogeration today concerns just one tune, which is fairly well known among record folks as Chicken by the Spark Plugs. It was re-issued a few year back on Norton (with the Condas' The Bird as the b-side, a tune that had never been released until the aforementioned Norton 45, it came to me via a listener to my old WFMU radio show who sent me a cassette of his dad's band which consisted of two songs the Condas recorded and made a few acetates of). Chicken was also covered by the Cramps I believe. The problem is there is no record called The Chicken by the Spark Plugs, at least that I know of. It was never issued on 45, only on the above pictured LP on the budget Sutton label, and according to the label, the tune is called Painless Thoughts, although none of the tunes on the disc's label appear to match up to their titles. There are ten songs on the album, most of which are fairly dreary ballads or mid tempo pop rockers that sound like Troy Shondell on a bad day. Then there's the tune in question-- Chicken aka The Chicken aka Painless Thoughts, a fervent Freddie Cannon style rocker with a blaring saxophone section and a rabid guitar solo that sounds like it could be the ill fated Kenny Paulson, star of Cannon's Tallahassie Lassie and one time Dale Hawkins sideman. So who were the Spark Plugs and where were they from? Was The Chicken ever issued on a 45? And what of Sutton Records? Sutton never listed an address on their label but it seems like most of their releases where pressed in the sixties, other LP's on the label I've seen are easy listening drek (the Hi-Los, Francis Bey Orchestra, Victor Herbert) or jazz, some of it featuring fairly well known performers such as Lionel Hampton At The Vibes, Duke Ellington meets Leonard Feather, Django Reinhardt and his Guitar, which seem to contain material leased from other labels. A good one to keep an eye out for is Harry "The Hepster" Gibson's-- Rockin' Rhythm LP which has some of his best stuff on it. I've only seen two other rock'n'roll albums on the label-- The Sentinals- Vegas Au-Go Go, which is a live, fairly mild garage thing if I remember correctly, and the Surf Teens- Surf Mania, which I've never heard. My guess is that Sutton was owned by a either a company that pressed records; a la Golden Crest whose story is told in John Broven's wondrous new book Record Makers and Breakers: Voices Of The Independent Rock'n'Roll Pioneers (University Of Illinois Press, 2009) or a one stop distributor.
Where did Sutton lease the Spark Plugs masters from? The cover photo shows a distinctly pre-Beatles looking quartet in matching velvet collar suits and huge pompadours. And what of the non-matchng song titles? One is called He's My Blue Guy, hard to believe these greaseballs would be singing about a guy? The lyrics to the tune that matches up to the track listed concern a girl with Lonely Eyes which is probably the real title. The one that's listed as Rap A Way seems to be a tune called Sugar Doll, something of a Buddy Knox style pop rockabilly. The tantalizingly titled Spark Plugs is an instrumental that's actually pretty rockin', easily the second best tune on the LP, it features a pounding piano player and honking sax solo. The label has no songwriting or publishing credits listed, nor does the cover. There had to be at least five members of the band: piano/sax/guitar/bass/drums (although Chicken seems to have at least two saxophones), yet the cover photo shows only four Spark Plugs. There are a lot of questions about this group, this record, and this label. Does anyone out there have any of the answers?
James "The Hound" Marshall is a former WFMU deejay (1985-97), music writer and bar owner (Lakeside Lounge NYC, Circle Bar, New Orleans). He has contributed articles to dozens of mags and newspapers including the Village Voice, NY Times, LA Weekly, Spin, Penthouse Forum, New York Rocker, Newark Star-Ledger, East Village Eye, High Times (columnist for ten years), Kicks, and worse.
He also wrote liner notes to CD re-issues by Larry Williams and Johnny Guitar Watson, Ray Price, Eric Ambel, Challenge Records,The Okeh R&B Box, and others as well as compiling three volumes of the early rock'n'roll compilations Jook Block Busters (Valmor). At age 17 he edited two issues of the punk fanzine New Order (1977) He was born in Paterson, N.J. and raised mostly in Broward County, Florida, moving to New York City at age 18 in 1977 and has resided there ever since except for 1998-2002 when he split his time between New York and New Orleans. He has been acclaimed in print in the New York Times, Village Voice, Time Out New York, New York Magazine,The Manhattan Catalogue, and other publications you wouldn't be caught dead reading.