DEAR JERRY: In the most recent episode of the History Channel's "Pawn Stars," a man came in with a Jubilee 78 rpm by the Five Sharps. He claimed it was the world's rarest doo-wop record.
He was asking $25,000, but dropped the price significantly hoping to making a deal.
Regardless, the pawn shop's top offer was around $1,000 to $1,500, and there was no sale.
The only title mentioned was "Stormy Weather," which interests me because I have that record by the Five Sharps, but as a 45 rpm. On the reverse is "Mammy Jammy."
Since 45s are usually preferred to fragile 78s, is mine valued closer to $1,000, or $25,000?
Elliot Ashcroft, Redding, Calif.
DEAR ELLIOTT: As one involved in several different areas of collectibles, I shudder when I hear something described as the world's rarest, because that is almost never true.
Even with irrefutable proof there is only one in existence, it is still no rarer than any other item in that category with only one known.
In the world of collectible records, there are many "one-of-ones," but this isn't one of them.
There are either five or six "Stormy Weather" 78s (one may have been sold more than once) that have been offered since 1977.
None of the known copies are close to near-mint, and one even has a hairline crack across the entire playing surface. Regardless, confirmed sales of these copies range from $3,866 (1977) to $19,000 (2003).
Issued in December 1952, the Five Sharps' "Stormy Weather" is backed with "Sleepy Cowboy," that by most accounts is the better of the two sides (Jubilee 5104).
"By arrangement with Jubilee Records," one of those 78s was used as a master by the Bim Bam Boom Record Company in 1972, resulting in an authorized reissue on 45s of "Stormy Weather" and "Sleepy Cowboy" (BBM-103).
This disc, made specifically for collectors, was pressed on standard black vinyl ($8 to $12), and of bright red vinyl ($15 to $25).
However, all of the sought-after 1952 Jubilee issues are 78s, thus making that 45 you have something very different.
Your "Stormy Weather," coupled with "Mammy Jammy" (Jubilee 5478), is a mid-1964 release. It is by a completely different
group of Five Sharps, and is a $20 to $30 item.
If it is in like new condition, a dealer or pawn shop might offer you $10 to $15 for it.
Now on to the next TV-inspired topic:
DEAR JERRY: The only recording of "Sixteen Tons" I've ever known is by Tennessee Ernie Ford.
That's why I was surprised to hear someone other than him singing it over the opening of "The Caretaker," the last episode of "The Blacklist."
This fellow is also a bass singer, but that's all I know.
Can you look into this for me?
Jill Portnoy, Geary, Okla.
DEAR JILL: It could be said I looked and listened into it for you.
On record labels, this waxing of "Sixteen Tons" is credited to the Platters but it is essentially a solo by Platters' bass man, Herb Reed.
This track was merely a filler on the 1960 budget label album, "The Platters Encores!" (Mercury-Wing MGW-12112). Mercury never released "Sixteen Tons" as a single in America, though they did in Sweden and Italy.
Based on what I know about how and why music is chosen for use in films and television, this is an inconceivable selection the song itself and the version picked.
Several other popular stars recorded Merle Travis' tune about working in a coal mine, but none are forever linked to it as Ford.
"Sixteen Tons" is Tennessee Ernie's million-selling signature song, and a No. 1 pop and country hit.
But more than that, for the week of December 17, 1955, "Sixteen Tons" was No. 1 on all six of the following Billboard charts, a previously unheard of feat:
1. The Top 100
2. Nation's Top Tunes
3. Best (Pop) Sellers in Stores
4. Best (C&W) Sellers in Stores
5. Most Played in Juke Boxes
6. Most Played by Disk Jockeys
But wait, there's more! "Sixteen Tons" also ruled the roosts coast-to-coast among Territorial Best Sellers (Based on Reports from Top Dealers in Each Market).
Of the 22 markets surveyed, 21 had Ford's "Sixteen Tons" at No. 1. The exception being Pittsburgh, where Dean Martin's
"Memories Are Made of This" topped their chart, and "Sixteen Tons" was No. 2.
For the record, Ernie claimed the top spot the following week in Pittsburgh.
IZ ZAT SO? By getting regional weekly sales reports from selected areas, Billboard's Territorial Best Sellers provided the industry with a snapshot of what was hot in these heavily populated areas:
Atlanta; Boston; Buffalo; Chicago; Cincinnati; Cleveland; Dallas-Fort Worth; Denver; Detroit; Kansas City; Los Angeles; Minneapolis-St. Paul; New Orleans; New York; Philadelphia; Pittsburgh; St. Louis; San Francisco; Seattle; and Toronto.