On the 'tube

Sweet Pea, Tommy Roe, and The Beatles

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One variety of internet rabbit-hole is the Einstein-Rosen ütoob Bridge, where you go in one place and, through fluctuations in the quantum fuzz of your own fancies of the moment, come out in some seemingly random place you never would have predicted on the basis of your entry point.

It's like buying a ticket to an unspecified destination - by asking the ticket agent where you can go for the bills and loose change you happen to have.

(It's also a little like ordering food at Taco Bell's drive-thru after midnight. You can specify particular menu items at the talkbox, but that specification is only partially predictive of what you find in the bag after you leave the window. You may as well have said "I have five bucks, give me whatever you have.")

But I digress.

This journey starts, as so many do, at the crossroads of procrastination and boredom, where I have a list of things to do but try to put them off with the woildwideweb.

Anything interesting on the GDP? Well, not so much at the moment.

I'll check my feed on Reverb, see if anything on my might-like-one-under-the-right-circumstances list has appeared. Well no, just what was there a few minutes ago.

So how about Reverb News articles? Anything new? Oh boy, a new one! https://reverb.com/news/gal...

Well, that was stupid. Someone at Reverb must really be procrastinating. Any previous articles I haven't read?

Ah! The Samplers Behind 90s Jungle and Drums-and-Bass. There's something I know next to nothing about. I'm not even really that interested...but I bet it's better than working on taxes.

Therein findeth mention of breakbeats, which I know from previous wormholes are sampled drum breaks (duh), taken from their original context and used (in original form or manipulated) in constructed/sequenced music genres. The Amen break and the Sweet Pea break are mentioned. I click on this scholarly video paean to the Amen break. (Wherein, oddly, the guy who first lifted it from the recording of the song it first appeared in - to put it on an album of breakbeats for DJs to use - gets more credit than the drummer who originally played it.)

OK, I think I remember knowing that - and being bemused by how unspecial the original break seems.

But it does remind me of the drum breaks in "Sweet Pea," which I remember as being fatter and groovier than "Amen"'s. I just didn't know it had been sampled enough to be famous (for being sampled). Maybe I should refresh my memory.

Here I should say that "Sweet Pea" remains a guilty pleasure of mine. Many of Tommy Roe's other songs as well ("Hooray for Hazel," frinstance) - but "Sweet Pea" is my favorite. It came out in the spring of my 6th-grade year (along with a slew of other great music) and I liked it. I just liked it. At that age, I don't think most of us make judgments about sophistication, authenticity, or cool.

But even later when I was infected by maladies associated with those qualities, I still liked "Sweet Pea." It was not quite the poster child for bubblegum toxicity (that would have been "Yummy Yummy Yummy"), and I don't recall that it came up by name in discussions with newly hip-n-cool peers as an object of derision.

But certainly by even late 1967, one just knew that "Sweet Pea" was a flavor of bubblegum, and thus beneath not only contempt, but discussion. Don't even bring it up.

I didn't. And it's not like it's such a favorite song that I felt the need to keep it ever near my turntable. But at some point after it had become a certified oldie, as much an object of nostalgia as appreciation, when I heard it again, I did appreciate it. And in a whole new way, not only for its maddeningly infectious melody but its consummate popcraft: the jewel-like precision of the arrangement, the unaffected propulsive energy of its groove, and the perfection of not only the performance, but the recording.

Not to mention the way the lyrics lay into the rhythm of the verses, how perfectly and naturally they sing, how skillfully the (yes, clichéd and trite) inevitable storyline is plotted and told. The details included, and (as important) the details left out. As all will know who've tried, it's hard to make something so short tell such an archetypal story, so naturally and easily. It really is brilliant writing which doesn't call attention to itself, but gets out of its own way. It's hard to make things easy. There's a kind of brilliance in it.

Like a handful of other pop hits I could enumerate, it hits on every cylinder: great song (in its genre), great arrangement and performance, great recording.

So I left the context of the Reverb article on a genre of music I'm afraid I'll never care about (Im sorry I just can't be a fan of cut-n-paste sequenced music production) to listen to "Sweet Pea" one more time.

Which is how I found this:

ridiculously evocative and charming artifact of time and place. I hardly know what to say about the film itself, except that it's well worth watching.

What I noticed about the song this time 'round is how perfectly loose and free the rhythm is, and how tightly the band executes it. The wheezing calliope combo organ intro/repeating hook is both immediately recognizable and superbly economical - 8 or 9 notes, depending on how you articulate and count the repeated note that ties the two phrases together. Bass and drums may as well be one instrument - and the fluid precision and unabashed funk of the electric guitar would seem out of place in "bubblegum" - if it wasn't so perfectly placed, and so unobtrusively/hiding-in-plain-sight integral to the feel of the song.

OK, but I knew the record was great. I wondered how it fared live - how well a band could deliver that arrangement. Alas, I didn't find anything contemporary, just a video from a small club performance in maybe the 80s or 90s, Mr Roe appearing and sounding just as you'd expect based on his 60s appearance: a thorough pro, just doing his best, without pretense and with full understanding of his audience, his time, and his place in it. The band does a perfectly competent job.

But of course it's not magic like the record - which, with the benefit of historical perspective, has LA Wrecking Crew all over it. That casual command, the insouciance, the loose yet utterly precise energy, the economy of it: great musicians, working fast, having a blast and finding virtues to enhance in whatever song they're given.

Cursory research says indeed the song was recorded in LA, with Ben Benay and Mike Deasy on guitar, Jerry Scheff on bass, Jim Troxel and Toxie French on drums, and Butch Parker and Mike Henderson on keyboards.

One thing leads to another. Aside from liking the radio hits, I knew nothing about Tommy Roe. I'm a fan of the songs, but not a fanatic fan, there weren't a lot of them, and in any case Roe didn't persist into the post-Pepper album era, when I started really obsessing.

But it's nice to fill in the blanks, find the stories behind one's youthful interests. So I read his wikipedia bio, and he seems like a perfectly honorable and genuine guy: happy for his hits, grateful for his life in music, still writing songs, devoted to his one wife and extended family. Doesn't seem to have spun out or squandered much along the way. I'm glad.

Aaaaand...I found this long interview/conversation with Tommy, from his home in 2014. (You must persevere through the ütoob interviewer's interminable self-promotion and long-winded intro.) The conversation digs into Tommy's personal connection with the Beatles from 1963 and 1964 - from the time they were just breaking through being The Biggest Ever In The World Anytime.

Also good background behind the hits, and his conscientious approach to the craft of songwriting. You'll be surprised what band he mentions as a favorite.

Very interesting stuff.

Seems like a nice guy.


And as a bonus (just a link that the Tube suggests when you're hoeing Tommy rows), here's the Association being clever on The Smothers Brothers - then mic-drop killing the complex, wordy arrangement of "Along Comes Mary."

OK, taxes.

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Sweet Pea was his best song, in Summer 1966, with that bad ass drum intro. Beatles had already recorded Revolver by this time.

He did open for them 2/64 here in DC. They knew each other a bit from Hamburg era.

Roe, with songs like Shelia had sort of been going for a Son of Buddy Holly thing. And George sang Shelia at the Star Club. So there was a connection.

Some say that Famous George pix wit the Jet and white piggyback Tremolux in background was from Star Club.

Everyone knows about the Binson Echorec .. but the Star Club had a complete Binson PA system... I say how cool is that

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Everybody was cut at Fame in Muscle Shoals, where he was also a session musician. Also, his band The Roemans were really good, & had a little success on their own. I saw them a bunch of times.

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Great cuts, BZ. The Roemen rock for sure. I know it was common practice, and the results speak for themselves - but I wonder how TR felt about having to record with the studio cats instead of his band.

I don't know what he had to do with the arrangement, but "I Think I Love You" has a forward-leaning guitar structure for the time. Crunch up the incessant hammered 8ths, drive the accent guitar harder, and it could be late-70s/80s power pop.

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I think there there quite a few instances where producers insisted on studio dudes instead of the road band. I think Hal Blaine was drums on this. Killer / crazed reverb on the drum intro and great snare sound.

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good stuff guys...always liked the tommy roe 45's as a kid...sheila is one of the best buddy holly (style) songs ever written!!...dizzy and jam up jelly tight i liked too...

fame..muscle shoals!!! makes sense!! great info bz

like the acoustic 12 on the folk singer!!!

tommy roe and bobby fuller 4ever!

cheers

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I don't understand your comments about session players. I didn't say anything about that. Tommy Roe WAS a session player at Fame when he cut Everybody.

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"Sweet Pea" and "Dizzy", at least, were recorded with the LA Wrecking Crew, not Tommy's band. (I say "at least," because those are songs I can relatively quickly find documentation for. Given the consistency of overall sound and approach on Roe's string of 1966-69 hits, I suspect that the other singles were also Wrecking Crew.)

I was previously unaware of the identity of his regular band - or that he had one.

You didn't say anything about session players. I did. I know it was common practice in the era for bands to be buttressed (or replaced) on singles by session guys, and that the bands themselves had to come to terms with the situation. But their attitudes and responses to it had to differ. As the Roemen were clearly a competent, tight, energetic band (not always the case), I just wondered how it went down with them.

Idle curiosity.


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