45 Friday: LENNY O’HENRY – Mr. Moonlight

45-Friday_4

 

By ‘Bob The Record Guy’ Paxon

 

Last week we talked about Danny Cannon in his one-off identity as L. B. Wilson, recording in 1963 for Bob Crewe’s Vivid label. Today we’ll cover his equally short stay with the big-time Smash Records label. It lasted for just one release, but it’s a great record!

Danny came to Smash having already been renamed ‘Lenny O’Henry’ by Crewe, and having made two singles for the powerhouse ABC-Paramount label . There was still some confusion though, because the first copies of Smash 8200 – the promotional copies – called him ‘Lenny O. Henry’.

Crewe got Lenny signed to Smash at the same time he was recording him under another name for his own Vivid label. As we said previously the reasons for that aren’t clear. But it made for two nice releases for Danny in 1963.

His Vivid single “Don’t” had a pronounced Latin aspect to the Soul sound. But his Smash “Mr. Moonlight” has a more subtle Latin sound, mainly in the rhythm. It’s the same kind of Latin influence that Atlantic was using so successfully on records by The Drifters (“Up On The Roof”, “Under The Boardwalk”), Ben E. King and others. “Mr. Moonlight” takes it to another level though, building to a crescendo worthy of Roy Orbison.

There was another famous “Mr. Moonlight” but it has no relation. Or almost no relation. Performed by Dr. Feelgood & The Interns, it had been written by the band’s guitarist Roy Lee Johnson earlier but recorded by them for Okeh in 1962. Dr. Feelgood & The Interns have their own great story. Dr. Feelgood was previously known as Piano Red (though really named William Lee Perryman), under which name he’d been playing and recording Blues on piano since the 1930s. The Dr. Feelgood identity was his attempt to get back into music, this time in R&B, after having left the musician life for Radio DJ work.

Did the Feelgood track influence the Lenny O’Henry track of one year later? Well, it has a Latin rhythm (maybe it’s supposed to be a Calypso rhythm). Some of the lyrical ideas are similar. But I guess it’s likely two random songs that personify ‘moonlight’ are going to have similarities regardless.

Incidentally, most people know Dr. Feelgood’s “Mr. Moonlight” from it’s John Lennon-sung cover by The Beatles.

 

Danny, er, Lenny’s record is a Big Production number with lots going on. It starts out sparsely. Instruments are slowly added. Backing vocals come in – the first part is done by The Four Seasons. Then after the violins become more pronounced, female studio singers are added. Leading to a big finish and some great lead vocal moves.

“Mr. Moonlight” was first written by Danny, who cut a demo of it and brought it to Crewe who took it, made some changes and brought it back to Danny. He found it hard to sing since the words didn’t fit the meter so well anymore, but in the end it was Bob’s call and that was how it got cut. This is why the writing credit is to Cannon/Crewe. A cynical person might wonder if Crewe made the changes only to take credit, but he doesn’t seem to have been that type of person. He already had successful songs solely written by himself, with much a more extensive and lucrative catalog to follow.

In any case Danny regretted the changes and felt the song would have been better as he’d written it, and could have been a big hit. It did do moderately well. But it took the Europeans to really pick up on it, and as the Popcorn scene developed on the Continent, the song became more and more popular through the Seventies and into the Eighties.

Popcorn is a kind of Soul/ R&B music that has it’s own cult following in Europe. The more uptempo Northern Soul music found its biggest home in England, but the epicenter of the Popcorn Soul music scene is Belgium. In fact, it’s often called Belgium Popcorn. The records tend to be older (early 60s) than the Motown-inspired later 60s tracks popular in the Northern scene, and many have just this type of Latin rhythm. “Mr. Moonlight” is an almost perfect example of Popcorn and it’s considered a classic in that scene.

After this lone Smash release Danny found himself signed to the main exponent of this type of sound, Atlantic Records. Well, Atlantic subsidiary Atco Records. But that is another story,

 

 

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