DEAR JERRY: In a box of miscellaneous records I found at a flea market is an unusual 78.
All it has for a title is “CNA,” and that's it. No subtitle. No explanation. No clue. And I can't play 78s.
Under “CNA” is “Robert Lee McCoy, Blues Singer with Piano, Guitar, and Harmonica.” The number (Bluebird 7440) makes it a 1930s issue.
The label on the other side is badly torn, and cannot be read.
My searching indicates CNA is mostly used for a Certified Nursing Assistant, an unlikely topic for a blues song.
Do you agree?
Clark Warwick (via e-mail)
DEAR CLARK: Wholeheartedly, but it won't require the FBI or CIA to decode CNA.
Too bad you can't play 78 rpms, because listening to “CNA” would convince you it has nothing to do with health care workers.
Here are three lines that clearly identify what is an initialism for a legendary railroad:
My baby caught the Illinois Central, [and] changed over to the CNA Now she's gone, down that CNA railroad line You know that CNA will never be my friend
“CNA” is indeed by Robert Lee McCoy; however, this record is what is known as a split single, one with a totally different artist on each side.
The split single format has been around at least since 1900, and, like having a hole in the middle, is still in use by record companies today.
Just a few months ago, Rhino Records produced a single with “Respect” on both sides. Side One plays the original by Otis Redding, and Side Two has Aretha Franklin's famous version.
If the other label on your Bluebird disc were not damaged, you would know the flip is “Want to Woogie Some More,” by Washboard Sam (nee Robert Brown).
Though released in 1938, playable copies, with undamaged labels on both sides, can often be found in online auctions, usually selling in the $100 range.
At the time of this recording, the Canadian National Railway Company, founded in 1918, was most often referred to as CNR, but CNA was also used. Since 1960, their abbreviation has been shortened to just CN.
The line is very much alive today, primarily hauling freight instead of passengers, and running coast (B.C.) to coast (N.S.) in Canada, and from the Northwest Territories to the Gulf of Mexico.
Listen to it here!
DEAR JERRY: I have a music loving friend who specializes in collecting obscure original versions of songs that later became big hits.
He just asked me if there is an earlier version of “Patches,” one preceding Dickey Lee's 1962 hit.
I checked my “BMI Pop Hits (1940-1966)” book, and they show 1962 as the year Larry Kolber and Barry Mann wrote “Patches.” So, it would have still been that same year even if someone else did record it first.
I told him I would look into it further, which means asking you for help.
Sid Smotherman, Scottsbluff, Neb.
DEAR SID: Apparently one of the lesser-known originals, Jimmy Isle released “Patches,” backed with “Put Your Arms Around Me Honey” (Everest 19383), 52 years ago this month. That is about two years before Dickey Lee's Top 10 smash appropriately on Smash (S-1758).
In their Pop Record Reviews for the week of October 10, 1960, Billboard gave Jimmy Isle's “Patches” a three-star rating, meaning “Good Sales Potential,” adding:
“Patches is a gal from Shantytown. It's a sad, melancholy tune, handled for okay results by Isle against nice guitar and chorus support.”
As for the “BMI Pop Hits” book, it lists BMI member's songs according to when they became “Pop Hits,” regardless of year written.
There is no connection to the Kolber-Mann song, but another “Patches,” written by R. Dunbar and N. Johnson, provided hits for Clarence Carter (1970), Ray Griff (1970), and Jerry Reed (1981).
IZ ZAT SO? Jimmy Isle's “Patches” is what drew me to the Billboard Record Reviews, but that same week (Oct. 10, 1960) “Sheila,” by Tommy Roe and the Satins (Judd 1022), also got three-stars and some positive comments:
“Roe has a good rockabilly quality, somewhat reminiscent of Buddy Holly. He handles this dedication to a chick well and has the support of a girl vocal group. Good sound.”
Still, neither “Sheila” nor “Patches” clicked in 1960.
Nearly two years later (Sept. 1962), “Sheila” and “Patches” spent three weeks together in the Billboard Top 10.
This “Sheila” was a newly-recorded version by Tommy Roe (ABC-Paramount 10329) and this “Patches” is by Dickey Lee. “Sheila” peaked at No. 1 while “Patches” stalled at No. 6.