By ‘Bob The Record Guy’ Paxon
This is a follow-up to Elmer Ploetz’ article on Wade Curtiss & The Rhythm Rockers from two weeks ago, when he filled in for me (and did a great job!). I want to echo his comment that the Ted Russell/ Wade Curtiss story deserves to be made into a Hollywood movie. I can only add that I wish that John Belushi was available to play the part of the great man! Failing that, some kind of documentary needs to be made to tell this story that touches on so many cool things, from Rock’n’Roll to the early days of professional wrestling.
When Norton Records issued their fantastic CD (and the five vinyl singles that followed) they referred to the artist as Wade Curtiss & The Rhythm Rockers. But the original records all came out as by Ted Russell. And HIS Rhythm Rockers. Or Dixie Dee / Ted Russell and his Rhythm Rockers. And their first was simply as The Rhythm Rockers. Ted (whose real name was actually Duane Theodore DeSanto) didn’t start using the Wade Curtiss appellation until he began his pro wrestling career in the mid-1970s.
Ted broke the Rhythm Rockers in 1961 to head for Nashville. Most likely he was interested in country music, and also in song-writing and promotion. It’s known that he pitched songs to Eddy Arnold – and most likely Elvis Presley. He eventually recorded some of his oddball country tunes, and at least one crazed fuzz/garage track (1969’s “Electric’s Theme”, as The Electric Experience). He also hung out with people like Link Wray and Hasil Adkins, and created under-the-radar record companies to reissue his own works (sometimes retitled) and those of others, for reasons unclear.
The full extent of his activities in Nashville are unknown, though a picture exists of him holding a Fender bass in his stubbed arms, wearing a gold suit and a gold pompadour. He appears to be playing a lounge of some sort.
There was a consistency to his life and career, in that he stayed true to the R&R spirit, gravitating to the “for-real” people and the crazies. Among his pursuits was the reactivation of the original 1950s Rockabilly label Aaron Records with the goal of releasing a record by fellow-traveler Adkins. To the that end he got Hasil into a real studio for the first time in his life, but the project fell apart. Hasil believes something was going on with Ted – someone was after him – or at least Ted though so.
Ted was always looking for a big break, but willing to work an angle in the meantime. Nashville is a place where big breaks can happen in the music business – but it’s also the capital of the shady side of the biz (for example, the “song-poem” industry). So it’s unsurprising that 1968 found him working the somewhat shady side, leading a fake-Trashmen band, playing gigs under that name (the real Trasmen having broken up long before). He rerecorded their hit “Surfin’ Bird” for reasons unclear. My guess is that investment money was involved, and ultimately disappointed investors.
In keeping with his personality, the crazed “Surfin’ Bird” wasn’t bizarre enough, so he took it even further with a rewrite he called “Puddy Cat” and it’s our track of the day. Listen to it – be amazed! – and the YOU tell ME where he was going with this. Potential hit single? I don’t think so.
About five years later, he left the music world for the pro wrestling world. His story there deserves it’s own telling which I won’t do here, but suffice to say: he made a splash, he worked the fringes, and his work there was similarly crazed, and perfect.
When I hear “Puddy Cat”, I think of a wrestler’s personality, which seems to have always been in the back of his mind (R&R and Wrestling being his two obsessions). It sounds a lot like the zany growling Rock’n’wrestling records made by The Crusher and a few others in the late 1960s. In the 1980s this type of thing became common, with crossover musical efforts by the Captain Lou Albano, Fred Blassie, the WWF album and many others. But as always, Ted Russell was a man ahead of his time.