Ask "Mr. Music"
Jerry Osborne

In syndication since 1986, and now in our 30th year — Over 3,000 questions answered
Most recent column here — 18 years of archived ones are linked below


FOR THE WEEK OF FEBRUARY 1, 2016

DEAR JERRY: Your piece on "Hill Billy Heaven" reminded me of two other oldies with a similar theme.

One came out not long after the Buddy Holly plane disaster. It is a narrative about "the new stars in heaven."

The other is "Rock and Roll Heaven," by the Righteous Brothers.

Who are the dead artists mentioned in these two tunes?
—Cissy Davidson, Evansville, Ind.

DEAR CISSY: About two years after the February 1959 Three Stars tragedy, Bob Eubanks, the all-night dee jay on KRLA (King Radio Los Angeles), recorded "Heaven of the Stars" (Tracy 6101).

Eubanks, with vocal backing by the Highbrows, describes a dream in which he meets the Three Stars, plus five more decedents, in this order:

Jimmy (James) Dean
Ritchie Valens
The Big Bopper
Buddy Holly
Johnny Horton
Jesse Belvin
Eddie Cochran
Hank Williams

Unlike "Hill Billy Heaven," with the familiar names of living stars expected to enter the pearly gates in the "next hundred years or so" revealed, Bob identifies no one specifically, but provides this generic account regarding future guests:

"Then Jimmy pointed to a special section marked reserved. The empty thrones were already engraved with the names of our stars of today."

Obviously, KRLA played "Heaven of the Stars," but it also warranted this four-star review in Billboard (July 3, 1961):

"Eubanks narrates a morbid tale about meeting a group of late performers in heaven. He chats with Jimmy Dean (the movie actor, not the singer), Johnny Horton, Big Bopper, Robert (sic) Holly, Jessie Belvin, Hank Williams, etc., and is shown unoccupied chairs marked with the names of living performers destined to die."

Robert Holly? Go figure.

Now on to the Righteous Brothers:

In the original 1974 "Rock and Roll Heaven," the dearly departed are referred to only by first name, but clues are given to help identify them, and to sort out identical sounding names — such as three different Jims:

Jimi (Hendrix)
Janis (Joplin)
Otis (Redding)
Jim (Morrison)
Jimmy (Croce)
Bobby (Darin)

In 1981, the Righteous Brothers reunited on American Bandstand's 30th Anniversary Special, singing an updated version of "Rock and Roll Heaven." Here they retain only the first two stars from the original version, while adding Keith Moon, drummer for the Who, and extended tributes to Elvis and John Lennon. Only Lennon is identified by both names:

Jimi (Hendrix)
Janis (Joplin)
Keith (Moon)
Elvis (Presley)
John Lennon

Alan O'Day had a banner year in 1974. Along with "Rock and Roll Heaven," he also wrote "Angie Baby" for Helen Reddy, and "Train of Thought" for Cher.

Then in 1977 he penned one for himself: the No. 1, million-selling "Undercover Angel."

On one of my recent radio shows, we debuted an interview with O'Day, recorded at his home in Tennessee, about seven months before cancer claimed his life on May 17, 2013. He was just 72.

Thought you'd like to hear his thoughts on "Rock and Roll Heaven":

"I wrote that song with Johnny Stevenson, who has since left us. I think he's in rock and roll heaven.

"He had that just as a title, but he didn't have the idea of it being about artists who had passed away.

"Then one of the managers at Warner Bros. put me in touch with Johnny, and I wrote some verses about deceased artists, beginning with ones from my era. When the people producing the Righteous Brothers heard it, they wanted more recent dead people. So they helped write part of the song.

"It was actually a committee-written song, but I was right in there doing my part.

"Being such a fan of the Righteous Brothers, what I loved was that our song brought them back to the charts, after about seven years without a hit. The record did very well, reaching No. 3. It made me so happy to be connected with them.

"Sometime later we went to a Righteous Brothers concert, and their big finale number was 'Rock and Roll Heaven.'

"Of course I was thrilled!"

IZ ZAT SO? In July 1961, when "Heaven of the Stars" by Bob Eubanks was on the KRLA playlist, so was "Black Land Farmer," by Wink Martindale.

At the time, Eubanks was KRLA's midnight to 6 a.m. dee jay, and Wink "Wink Awake" Martindale followed him in the 6 a.m. to 9 a.m. slot.

On April 15, 1962, Wink left KRLA to take a position at Dot Records, and his replacement was of course, Bob Eubanks.

Offhand, I can't think of another occasion where a station played two completely different songs, by two of their consecutively scheduled jocks.

As if that's not quirky enough, both men went on to host popular game shows on TV — Bob Eubanks with "The Newlywed Game," and eight more, and Wink Martindale on "Tic Tac Dough," and another 16 game shows.

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