(Some) Boomers Remember Dino, Desi and Billy

Mister Boomer was listening to an oldies show last week when his ears were hit with a real blast from the past: a song by Dino, Desi and Billy. Mister B had pretty much blocked them from his memory. Sure, he did remember hearing the band’s name, and knew a little about who they were, but that was all. So he was surprised to discover a few tidbits about their time in the boomer-era spotlight. See if you remember:

Dino was Dean Paul Martin, the son of Dean Martin. He was elementary school friends with Billy Hinsche, the son of a real estate investor who owned a casino in the Philippines, where Billy was born. The two friends were in their early teens when they formed an acoustic guitar duo to cover songs by Chad & Jeremy and similar groups. When they decided to add a drummer and go electric, they heard that the brother of a classmate, Luci Arnaz, played drums. Desi Arnaz, son of Lucy and Desi, became their drummer, and Dino, Desi and Billy was formed in 1964.

The boys practiced at Lucille Ball’s house and began playing birthday parties and small events. When the band moved their practices to Dean’s house, his mother Jeanette would listen. She thought the boys were pretty good, so she called Frank Sinatra and asked him to come and hear them play. Old Blue Eyes did just that. He heard the boys play couple of songs and asked if they were interested in cutting a record. Sinatra had a major interest in Reprise Records at the time, and signed them. The boys were all under the age of 15.

Mr. Sinatra promptly told them they would not be playing their own instruments on their first record. To make a long story short, their initial single failed miserably. For their follow up single in 1965, Sinatra and company hired the Wrecking Crew to play the instruments, the super group of studio musicians who played on dozens of records in the 1960s. Then Lee Hazelwood was hired to produce the record, and Red West and Joey Cooper were enlisted to write a song. The result was, I’m a Fool, their first big hit, reaching the number 17 spot in the Top 100.

After four albums, six of their songs reached the Top 100. As time went on, they played their own instruments. The band split in 1970.

Dean Jr. went on to marry actress Olivia Hussey in 1971. She had become known for her portrayal of Juliet in Franco Zeffirelli’s Romeo and Juliet in 1968. They divorced in 1978, having one son. In 1982, Dino married Olympic skating champ Dorothy Hamill. The marriage lasted two years. As an active member of the California Air National Guard, Dean Martin Jr. was killed in a plane crash in 1987.

Desi Jr., like Dino, appeared in TV shows and movies during and after their stint in the band. From an early age, he was known as a ladies’ man, adopting the womanizing and drinking of his father. He became a father himself at age 15 through his relationship with model Susan Callahan-Howe. Mixing drugs and alcohol, as so many child performers did, landed him in rehab at the age of 25. After a one-year marriage to Linda Purl in 1979, he married Amy Laura Bargiel in 1987. Laura died of cancer in 2015. Currently, he owns the Boulder City Theater in Boulder City, Nevada.

Of the three, only Billy Hinsche continued on in the music industry. He had been writing songs all along, and when his sister Annie married Carl Wilson of The Beach Boys, he found a musical collaborator. Billy toured with The Beach Boys in the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s. He also had touring stints and studio recordings with Carl Wilson, Paul Revere & the Raiders, Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs and others. He co-wrote Lady Love with Brian Wilson, Away with Dennis Wilson and Let’s Build a World with Carl Wilson. Billy is also credited as a backup singer, appearing on many recordings, including Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me by Elton John, Joan Jett’s Good Music and Hat Trick by America, among others.

Who knew? Not Mister Boomer. How about you, boomers? Do you have fond memories of listening to Dino, Desi and Billy?

Boomers Dug That Classical Music, Man

It’s no secret that throughout the centuries, musical genres borrowed and expanded upon each other. It was, and is, no different in rock & roll. In boomer-era rock, classical references could be as simple as assigning a title and featuring the style of a classical instrument, like Classical Gas, the 1968 hit by Mason Williams, or be as complex as incorporating whole sections of classical compositions within a modern interpretation. Some boomers did not know that there were songs of the 1950s and ’60s that had their origins in music that was, in some cases, hundreds of years old. Rock & roll had its detractors right from the start. So some people think that by adding a dash of classical — “real music” — rock & roll might gain a measure of acceptability. Mister Boomer thinks that in the feel-good Boomer Generation, it was more likely a case of, “if the tune fits, record it.” Here are a few songs that either “borrowed” classical melodies or were inspired by them. Some you may recall, and some you may not have known had classical origins:

A Lover’s Concerto – The Toys (1965)
The catchy melody to this hit by the Toys was actually known in its day to be a faithful interpretation of Minuet in G Major, by Johann Sebastian Bach. Yet we now know that Bach himself had borrowed the melody from Christian Petzold, who wrote it as Minuet in G Minor in 1725.

Catch A Falling Star – Perry Como (1957)
The song was a big hit — and also Perry Como’s last hit — but the music originated in Johannes Brahms’ Academic Festival Overture (1880).

Pop Art Goes Mozart – The Tornados (1966)
The English band that brought us the classic Telstar instrumental in 1962 recorded this classical rock interpretation of a Mozart tune a few years later.

Bumble Boogie – B. Bumble & the Stingers (1961)
Based on Flight of the Bumble Bee by Rimsky-Korsakov (1899-1900), this rock/boogie woogie piano version reached number 21 on the Top 100. The band followed up on this classical amalgam with Nut Rocker a year later. This time, the song was inspired by Tchaikovsky’s 1892 Nutcracker ballet. Emerson, Lake & Palmer released a version of Nut Rocker in 1970.

Switched-on Bach – Walter Carlos (1968)
Walter Carlos was in the process of becoming Wendy Carlos when he began working with Bob Moog, the inventor of the Moog Synthesizer. Mr. Moog’s invention wasn’t exactly selling well, in no small part because it was not considered a valid musical instrument, and was extremely expensive. Walter Carlos had been experimenting with electronic music, and since he could not afford a Moog, struck a deal with Bob Moog. Carlos recorded classical music to showcase the instrument’s capabilities, and after a number of sample songs were released, Moog gave Carlos an instrument. In 1968, the result of Carlos’ experiments was Switched-on Bach, which, ironically, became the largest selling classical album up to that point. On the pop charts, it reached the number 10 spot.

Wendy went on to compose the soundtracks for A Clockwork Orange (1971), The Shining (1980) and Tron (1982).

The 1970s was a particularly good decade for the influence of classical music in rock, most notably with the growing popularity of progressive rock bands like King Crimson, the Moody Blues, Procul Harem and Emerson, Lake & Palmer.

American Tune – Paul Simon (1973)
On his third solo album after splitting with Art Garfunkel, Paul Simon took inspiration from Johann Sebastian Bach’s St. Matthew Passion (1727). Bach’s version was in turn inspired by the German hymn, O Sacred Head, Now Wounded, which itself came from an earlier secular song by Hans Leo Hassler.

Could It Be Magic – Barry Manilow (1973)
Manilow released the song three times, first before he became famous in a group called the Featherbed. In the 1973 version, Manilow begins his version by playing Frederic Chopin’s Prelude in C Minor on the piano, which itself becomes the prelude to his lyrics (co-written with Adrienne Anderson) that makes use of the Chopin melody to complete the song.

Pictures At An Exhibition – Emerson, Lake & Palmer (1974)
It was Keith Emerson who pitched the idea of the trio arranging and recording Modest Mussorsky’s Pictures At An Exhibition (1874). It reached number 10 on the U.S. charts that year, but was not originally supposed to be released as a rock album at all. Fearing a lack of rock radio airplay, Atlantic Records wanted to release the record, which had been recorded from a live performance, on their classical label, Nonesuch. The band, in turn, feared it would disappear in the classical realm and shelved the project until the success of their second album, Tarkus, gave the record company enough confidence to sell it as a rock interpretation.

In 1976, the band released Works Volume 1, a double album, that contained several classical cover-interpretations. There were two each by Prokofiev and Bach, and an impressive version of Aaron Copland’s, Fanfare for the Common Man. Copland himself gave the band permission to release it. As a single, it topped out at number 12 on U.S. charts.

Of course, there were many, many more. How about you, boomers? Did you like a little classical mixed in with your rock?