By ‘Bob The Record Guy’ Paxon
We talked about Ben long ago – way back in the early days of 45 Friday a couple years ago. We covered his second 45 (Patricia June / For Quite A While) and the lone single by his guitarist Ray Ethier (Slave Girl). Both of these were issued on Mercury Records in 1959.
Ben had cut enough tracks at his first session to complete his first and second single releases. The first came out earlier in 1959: You Break Me Up/ I Ain’t Givin’ Up Nothin’.
The circumstances behind the session are simple. Ben was discovered at his regular gig at DeFazio’s bar and bowling ally in Niagara Falls by a Col. Parker-type fellow, and taken to New York City he to record for Mercury Records, accompanied by his longtime guitarist Ray Ethier. It sounds like they were high-spirited boys who really cut loose in the big city and had wild times. But in the studio they were made to knuckle down and work.
I believe the producer was Clyde Otis and the arranger Belford Hendricks. By the time of their third single Hendricks was credited as such on the labels. Ben got his self-composed You Break Me Up on the A-side which was as it should be. he was a prolific composer who in later years got his songs recorded by many R&R, R&B and (especially) Country music artists.
The B-side was I Ain’t Givin’ Up Nothin’ (If I Can’t Get Something From You) – which is the actual complete title.
This came to my attention again recently when I picked up a 1962 45 by Jewel Brown, who sang with Louis Armstrong’s small group in later years but also tried her hand in the Pop/R&B market. Maybe I should say, ‘her hand was tried’ by her producer Clyde Otis. The copy I found had a one side credited to Clyde Otis/ Brook Benton/ Belford Hendricks while the I Ain’t Givin’ Up Nothin’ side carried no writer credit. It wasn’t until I played it for someone else that we realized it was the same song as Ben’s!
My inclination was to believe some record company shenanigans had taken place and Ben was being robbed of some royalties. My first research showed it had later been recorded by Clyde McPhatter, also for Mercury (1960), in a session also arranged and conducted by Belford Hendricks, carrying the credit of Otis-Benton: Clyde Otis and Brook Benton.
Furthermore it was cut in slightly later versions by Rockabilly singers Sonny Wilson (for California’s Candix label) and Jimmy “Frenchie” Dee (for two tiny Texas indie labels). Both of these carried the Otis-Benton credit.
I went back to my copy of Ben’s record and found that even on his the credit was Otis-Benton. I still believed that it was probably Ben’s song and had either had the credit stolen or he’d made a deal to give up the royalties.
But finally with a lot more research I learned it had been recorded just a few months earlier (September 1958) by Priscilla Bowman for Abner Records, backed by the Spaniels. It was the B-side of A Rockin’ Good Way, her version of the Brook Benton hit, also written by Otis-Benton. Her session was almost certainly helmed by Clyde Otis too.
It does fit Ben’s style like a glove. Ben loved Elvis (and could imitate him perfectly) though his his idol and the model for his stage presence was Little Richard, whom he saw on a package tour (probably brought here by The Hound, a friend of Ben) – and later met at Buffalo’s Zanzibar Club!
Ben’s March 1959-issued version obviously shows a strong influence from Elvis’ 1956 Don’t Be Cruel in the vocal and vocal arrangement. Musically though it has much in common with local boy Ersel Hickey’s almost simultaneous (February 1959) Bluebirds Over The Mountain. I’m guessing Ben and Ersel knew each other and likely had shared a song or two.
So I Ain’t Givin’ Up Nothin’ was never a Ben Hewitt composition at all. Was it a case of producers pushing their own song on an artist as a way to increase their royalties? It’s so perfect for Ben that maybe it was his own suggestion. Perhaps he’d already been performing it during his marathon bar band shows where he was known as a human jukebox. Ben had wide-ranging taste in music and loved Rock’n’Roll, Rockabilly, Country and R&B. It’s definitely possible he’d heard the Priscilla Bowman song already.
In any case it’s a great track by the guy who many people thought was another Elvis Presley.