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Hang On Sloopy
No one knows for sure just how the song Hang On Sloopy originated. It’s rumored the song was inspired by Dorothy Sloop Heflick, a New Orleans jazz pianist of the ‘30s and ‘40s. Dorothy, nicknamed “Sloop,” joined the all-female quartet, Southland Rhythm Girls, who appeared along the East Coast from NYC to Miami before she settled in New Orleans and launched a solo career. Bert Berns (pen name was Bert Russell), credited as co-writer of the song with Wes Farrell, both liked the nickname and used it for their song, My Girl Sloopy. (1)
“Berns told me that he lived for awhile in Cuba,” Rick Derringer, lead singer of The McCoys told interviewer Karen Kernan, “Sloopy was the nickname for girls in Cuba. Guys would say, ‘Sloopy, how ya doin?’ He took that (the phrase) and wrote a song titled, My Girl Sloopy.”
“About 25 or 30 years later,” Derringer continued, “someone sent me an article from a St. Louis newspaper about a very successful local businessman. When asked about his success, the businessman stated that he paid ‘due diligence’ to any business deal. He learned a life-lesson when he was a high school kid and wrote a song that some outside businessmen bought from him for a few thousand dollars. That was a lot of money in those days. His song went on to become a hit worldwide that sold millions. It was Hang On Sloopy. The businessman stated ‘he lost a lot of money on that deal.’” (2)
Though the provenance is questionable, this much isn’t. The Vibrations recorded My Girl Sloopy for Atlantic Records in 1964. Debuting on March 28, 1964, their version peaked on the Hot 100 at #26 on May 16. (3) In April of 1965, James Henry & The Olympics gathered some local interest in the Pacific Northwest with their version.
Photo courtesy of Marv Goldberg.
The song had some play on another front. The Strangeloves, a group consisting of songwriters/producers Bob Feldman, Jerry Goldstein and Richard Gottehrer, billed themselves as Niles, Giles and Miles, three brothers with different fathers/same mother who were independently wealthy Australian sheep farmers. (4) The group, named after the movie Dr. Strangelove, recorded I Want Candy, a song with a Bo Diddley-type beat that played during the summer of 1965 and reached #11 on the Billboard chart. (3)
Bert Berns, who along with Ahmet Ertegün, Nesuhi Ertegün and Jerry Wexler, formed Bang Records, the label name an acronym of Bert, Ahmet, Nesuhi and Gerald. Berns was looking for a group that looked and played like the Beatles and enlisted the Strangeloves, whose hit song was the first release on Bang to find such a group while on tour.
The faux-Aussie band hit the road playing Dick Clark tours and assorted one-nighters, usually booked with a British band on tour in the states. At the end of a tour booked with The Dave Clark Five, the DC5 taped one of the Strangeloves concert staples, My Girl Sloopy with plans to record it note for note as their new single upon their return to England.
The Strangeloves didn’t want to release Sloopy, their next planned single while Candy was still hot on the charts. But they didn’t want to lose their sure-fire hit to the Brits.
Photo courtesy of Getty Images.
The following night on their way back to New York City, the Strangeloves did a show in Dayton, Ohio. Their back up band was Rick and the Raiders, a local teenage group featuring a 16-year old Rick Derringer on guitar. “We signed them immediately after the show,” recalls Feldman. “Along with their parents, we drove to New York and overdubbed them on a backup track we cut for ourselves on Sloopy. We played the acetate from the session for Bert Berns, who wanted the song for his label, Bang Records.” (4)
In order to avoid confusion with Paul Revere & The Raiders, the band’s name returned to The McCoys, a name the band used earlier. The name was said to have been the title of a Ventures song. The title of the song My Girl Sloopy was changed to Hang On Sloopy.
Derringer remembers the story quite well. "Coincidentally, the day that we were going to play as their (the Strangeloves) backup band in Dayton, Ohio, we went out and bought Beatle suits," Derringer told Living Legends Music. "We all had our little Beatle haircuts, we had our Beatle suits on. They hadn’t found the band that looked like the Beatles yet. And we went out there and they said, 'One of the songs we’re gonna play is My Girl Sloopy and we all went, 'Whoa, we love that song.'"
"So we played the heck out of it, because we knew it and loved it. So, it was the last show on their tour and they hadn’t found that band yet. They brought us backstage and they said, 'Would you like to come to New York tomorrow and record My Girl Sloopy?'"
Derringer continued, "So we hitched a U-Haul trailer on the back of our car and the next day, followed the Strangeloves to New York City. We went in the studio the next week and recorded what was soon to be known as Hang On Sloopy. (When the recording was finished) the engineers jumped up and down in the control room and yelled 'Number one! Number one!' and within a few weeks it was." (5)
With the single of Hang On Sloopy released, the Strangeloves and McCoys set out on tour together with the McCoys as opening act. Bob Feldman recalls what happened next. “The McCoys accompanied us while we did our show. By the time the tour was finished, Hang On Sloopy had surpassed I Want Candy in both sales and position on the charts.” (4)
Photo courtesy of Mercury Records.
The Strangeloves hit the Hot 100 just four more times while the McCoys placed nine songs on the chart, Sloopy being their only #1 hit. (3) One would think by this time the song would fade into rock and roll oblivion.
Incredibly, the song sprung yet another life. In 1985, Hang On Sloopy was named the official rock song of the state of Ohio. It’s the only state to declare an official rock song. According to the House Concurrent Resolution No. 16,
WHEREAS, The members of the 116th General Assembly of Ohio wish to recognize the rock song Hang On Sloopy as the official rock song of the great State of Ohio; and
WHEREAS, In 1965, an Ohio-based rock group known as the McCoys reached the top of the national record charts with Hang On Sloopy, composed by Bert Russell and Wes Farrell, and that same year, John Tagenhorst, then an arranger for the Ohio State University Marching Band, created the band's now-famous arrangement of Sloopy, first performed at the Ohio State-Illinois football game on October 9, 1965; and
WHEREAS, Rock music has become an integral part of American culture, having attained a degree of acceptance no one would have thought possible twenty years ago; and
WHEREAS, Adoption of Hang On Sloopy as the official rock song of Ohio is in no way intended to supplant Beautiful Ohio as the official state song, but would serve as a companion piece to that old chestnut; and
WHEREAS, If fans of jazz, country-and-western, classical, Hawaiian and polka music think those styles also should be recognized by the state, then by golly, they can push their own resolution just like we're doing; and
WHEREAS, Hang On Sloopy is of particular relevance to members of the Baby Boom Generation, who were once dismissed as a bunch of long-haired, crazy kids, but who now are old enough and vote in sufficient numbers to be taken quite seriously; and
WHEREAS, Adoption of this resolution will not take too long, cost the state anything, or affect the quality of life in this state to any appreciable degree, and if we in the legislature just go ahead and pass the darn thing, we can get on with more important stuff; and
WHEREAS, Sloopy lives in a very bad part of town, and everybody, yeah, tries to put my Sloopy down; and
WHEREAS, Sloopy, I don't care what your daddy do, 'cause you know, Sloopy girl, I'm in love with you; therefore be it Resolved, That we, the members of the 116th General Assembly of Ohio, in adopting this Resolution, name Hang On Sloopy as the official rock song of the State of Ohio; and be it further Resolved, That the Legislative Clerk of the House of Representatives transmit duly authenticated copies of this Resolution to the news media of Ohio. (6)
The Vibrations were the first to release My Girl Sloopy.
The Strangeloves played their rendition mostly in concert.
The McCoys sing Hang On Sloopy on Shindig on September 16, 1965.
The Ohio State Marching Band performs Sloopy at halftime.
1) Kutner, John, Hang On Sloopy – The McCoys, May 24, 2015. Link
2) Kernan, Karen, Rick Derringer Talks About…, YouTube video posted April 26, 2012.
3) Whitburn, Joel, Billboard Top Pop Singles 1955-2002, Page 744
4) Feldman, Bob, Gottehrer, Richard, The Music Of Feldman, Goldstein and Gotteherer. CD liner notes.
5) Living Legends Music, Rick Derringer Interview (1of 9) - The Early Years, YouTube video. Link.
6) Ohio History Central, Ohio's State Rock Song - Hang On Sloopy, Link.
Photo courtesy of Sony Music.
© 2017 Jerry Reuss