Jul 5, 2017

The Mysterious Helen Carr, Fang's Wife At Bon Soir, Xavier & Abbe Cha-Cha-Cha, Plus A Missing Left Eye Secret Song!


She only recorded two albums. She may or may not have died in a car accident. Her year of birth is up for grabs. Who is Helen Carr?

It's a mystery, or at least a mystery in terms of digging up information about her on the Internet. She was born in Utah in 1924, or perhaps 1922, and once her career took off, she fronted for a number of big bands, including Stan Kenton and Charlie Barnett. Her voice is breathy and distinctive, and while some liken her to Billie Holiday, I think a sharp-toned Blossom Dearie is a much closer match if we're going for comparisons.

Yet why compare? She has her own sound, one that never quite comes at you directly, but sneaks up on you sideways and around corners. Her first - or was it her second? - LP, 1955's "Down In The Depths Of The 90th Floor" is also noteworthy because her set, including "Tulip or Turnip" and "I Don't Want To Cry Anymore" haven't all been done to death. Everything about it feels fresh.


Adding to the mystery of Helen is the fact that she never reveals her face on her LP covers, including 1955's (or 1956's?) "Why Do I Love You" - a Cheerfully Heavenly Helen Exclusive! - which features two models (I'm assuming) making out on the beach. This version's been remastered, yet what makes it truly stand out, again, are the off-the-beaten-track song selections and Helen's gorgeous vocals, which can turn hot or cool on a dime.

Helen died in 1960, either in a car accident or due to breast cancer, leaving behind her husband, pianist/arranger Donn Trenner (who's still kinkin' at age 90). They even wrote a song together, "Memory Of The Rain," which is featured on "90th Floor." Treasure these two LPs, because that's all there is.*

(*Actually, that's not true. See below.)


In the comment section of this post, Michael, who's a better music detective than I am, correctly points out that Helen has two tracks on the 1957 LP "Max Bennett Plays." Now we have more Helen tracks to listen to, plus a terrific jazz album to boot. Hooray! Thanks, Michael.


But wait, there's more. Though I never intended this post to be a constantly revised all-Helen collection (I thought her two LPs were all there was) (shows what I know), it's turning out to be, this time thanks to commenter Max80, who helpfully pointed out that she has a track, "Say It Isn't So," on Charles Mingus' "West Coast Recordings." Helen + Mingus. What's not to love? Thanks, Max80!
Meanwhile: "I serve Corn Flakes on the rocks!" Who else but Fang's Wife would have said that?


The Mother Of Modern Female Comics (uncharacteristically glammed out above) had to look like a kook back in the day - with wild outfits and even wilder, proto-punk hair - in order to be accepted by audiences, since no "normal lady" would dare be a raucous stand-up comic. In fact, at the time she started, there wasn't a single female comic on the circuit. Her mentor Bob Hope called her look "a Warhol mobile of spare parts picked up along the freeway."


Her 1959 comic LP, "Wet Toe In A Hot Socket" - a Killer Diller Cheerful Exclusive! - was her very first and it's a delightful giggle-fest, as you'd expect, and with an audience that sounds positively soused (their laughter sputters and dribbles from their mouths). Recorded at the teensy Bon Soir nightclub in Greenwich Village, Phyllis shared her dressing room with a certain buttery-voiced singer:


Yes, it's true, a then unknown Barbra Streisand was her opening act. In other words, it was a pre-Stonewall, gay gentleman's double-bill dream show.


Time to shake it, don't you think? And who better to shake it than Miss Abbe Lane. 


Abbe's on the first track of this fabulous Xavier Cugat LP, "The Brand New Cha Cha Cha" - a Cheerfully Cha-Cha Exclusivo! for you and yours - with songs like "Tremendo Cha Cha Cha" and "Oyeme Mama!" and "The Chi-Chi Cha Cha Cha" and more. First released as a four-track EP in 1956, it was restored in 2009, and with scads of new Cugat Cha Cha Cha tracks from the same period added on. Resistance is futile.


As you surely know, The Secret Song File was once crowned Miss Sausage Queen USA. Get your mind out of the gutter, it wasn't for that reason (yes it was). 


At any rate, her time as the Sausage Queen got her to thinking about how sausage is made, about body parts (just go with this), and how a certain late-80s/early-90s girl group singer had a moniker which made note of her left eye. And voila, she further noticed that this girl group has released a terrific new CD, minus the left eye singer, of course. She died years ago, dont'cha know, but not before taking care of her abusive ex-boyfriend. Girl definitely knew how to bring on the drama. 

Sometimes people overdo things, don't you think?

Get all dramastique in the comments, if you like!

24 comments:

tony said...

Found Carr's cd at a local library years ago, then purchased it on line. Wished she had recorded more. Thanks for the post for others to discover.

The Cheerful Earfull! said...

I've looked for more of her - singles, one-offs, radio transcriptions, etc. - but those two LPs really are it. I wish she recorded more, too. :(

L'apprenti-poète said...

Wow...thanks....Helen Carr is great!!!!!!

The Cheerful Earfull! said...

You're welcome L'apprenti! Enjoy!

Michael said...

Helen Carr also sings on two tracks on the 1957 album "Max Bennett Plays". The songs are "Do You Know Why" and "They Say".

The Cheerful Earfull! said...

Thank you, Michael! I'll make note of that above.

Anonymous said...

The Cugat album is already down. Darn!

The Cheerful Earfull! said...

Geez, that was fast. Should be ok now.

max80 said...

Helen may not have appeared on the front covers of her albums, but her second album, "Why Do I Love You", has a photo of her seated on the floor on the back cover.

Also, I was wondering, what bonus tracks are on that version of "Why Do I Love You"?

The Cheerful Earfull! said...

You're right, there's no bonus tracks amongst the 12. I meant to say that it's been remastered, and I've corrected that above. Thanks for pointing that out!

max80 said...

No problem! There's a photo of the back cover of "Why Do I Love You" at:

http://ohtaroh.web.fc2.com/image_01/FEMALE_VOCAL_H/HELEN_CARR_why_do_i_love_you/Resized_700/HELEN_CARR_why_do_i_love_you_02.jpg

max80 said...

Besides the two songs on "Max Bennett Plays" Helen also sings "Say It Isn't So" with Charles Mingus. It's on the CD "Charles 'Baron' Mingus – West Coast 1945-49", released in 2007 and also "Charles Mingus - The Baron's Art Of Bass - Vol. 1", released in 2013.

It was originally released in 1949 on 10" Vinyl (The B Side was Boppin 'n Boston) There's some info about the record at: https://musicbrainz.org/release/aee5e5e4-f2b2-4389-b4ab-956295c760a3/disc/1#disc1

The Cheerful Earfull! said...

Thanks, Max80, I'll try and find one of them!

max80 said...

It looks like there may be still another Helen Carr recording out there:

According to Dr. Chilledair at:
http://people-vs-drchilledair.blogspot.com/2007/02/helen-carr.html

Helen has two songs on the 1958 King Curtis Atco single Ific/You Made Me Love You; however, "Ific" is an instrumental, so she's not on that. "You Made Me Love You" can be heard on YouTube at:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wnIQlWkoZCE

But it's hard to tell if Helen is singing on that. If she is, she blends in very well with the Cumming Sisters.

The Atlantic Records Discography: 1958 at:
http://www.jazzdisco.org/atlantic-records/discography-1958/
has the following credits for that single (Atco 6124, also LP 33-103):
King Curtis Sextet
King Curtis (tenor sax) Herman Foster (piano) Al Casey, Wally Richardson (guitar) Jimmy Lewis (bass) Belton Evans (drums)

There's no mention of who's singing.

Following that are the credits for 2 songs with Helen and the Cumming Sisters which were never released - "Right Kind Of Love" and "Are You Ready Freddy":
Helen Carr With King Curtis' Orchestra
King Curtis (tenor sax) Herman Foster (piano) Al Casey, Wally Richardson (guitar) Jimmy Lewis (bass) Belton Evans (drums) Helen Carr (vocals) The Cumming Sisters (vocal group)
NYC, July 1, 1958

Those same credits are on
https://enciclopediadeljazz.wordpress.com/2015/02/26/curson-ted/

for the Ific/You Made Me Love You single. The Enciclopedia Del Jazz listing includes some other songs as well, but that may not be right. They may be confusing "Are you ready Teddy" with the unreleased "Are You Ready Freddy".

"You Made Me Love You" is on a couple of King Curtis compilations:
The 3 CD "The Complete Atco Singles" (from Real Gone Music):
https://www.amazon.com/Complete-Atco-Singles-King-Curtis/dp/B0167AL848

and the 3 CD "King Curtis: Wail Man Wail - The best of King Curtis 1952-1961"(from Fantastic Voyage):
https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B008CE8N6E?tag=shtv.uk-21

Helen and The Cumming Sisters are included in the credits for the Wail Man Wail CD at:
http://www.artistdirect.com/nad/store/artist/album/0,,10230534,00.html

The Cheerful Earfull! said...

Thanks again, Max80!!
What a treasure trove of info!

max80 said...

I just found out there's a video clip of Helen performing "My Old Flame" with Charlie Barnet. It's on the DVD "The Big Bands, Vol. 2: The Snader Telescriptions"

There's some information about it at:
http://www.weirdwildrealm.com/f-charlie-barnet.html

max80 said...

"Ridin'High" from the Steve Hoffman Music Forums at:

http://forums.stevehoffman.tv/threads/obscure-neglected-female-singers-of-jazz-standards-1930s-to-1960s.588217/page-37

has found yet another Helen Carr recording:

Helen Carr and ensemble sing "Gilly Gilly Wish Wash" with Chuck Foster and his orchestra on a 78 from 1947. I don't know if it's on any CDs.

I just bought a copy of the 78 on Ebay.

The Cheerful Earfull! said...

I will never say that I've completely researched something again. Ever! ;)
On the other hand, maybe this is Helen's sly way of making sure we find everything.

max80 said...

I found two more Helen Carr recordings -- a single on MGM, from 1957:
Love Is A Serious Business/It's Beautiful [MGM 12578]

I found out about it in the November 2, 1957 issue of Cash Box at:
https://archive.org/stream/cashbox19unse_5/cashbox19unse_5_djvu.txt

VOLUME XIX — NUMBER 7

NOVEMBER 2, 1957

Helen Carr, a veteran vocalist in
music circles who sang with Stan
Kenton and Charlie Barnett, cut “Love
Is A Serious Business” and “It’s
Beautiful”. Release date for both
records is slated for Nov. 15th

you can see the 45 here:
https://www.valueyourmusic.com/items/311729241334-helen-carr-mgm-promotional-photo-negative-4-records-down-in-the-depths

I just bought a copy of it. That's a total of 28 Helen Carr songs (counting the video clip).

The Cheerful Earfull! said...

Fantastic! I dub thee our Helen Carr Expert Supreme!

max80 said...

I've found three more Helen Carr recordings:
There are two songs on CD from her time with Stan Kenton (which was one month in 1952):
"Everything Happens To Me" is on the CD "Stan's Singers"
"Don't Worry 'Bout Me" is on "Stan's Singers Volume 2"

They were performed on the Bob Snyder show on June 22, 1952:
http://allthingskenton.com/table_of_contents/radio_broadcasts/bob_snyder_show_2/

She also sings "No Baby, No" on the album "Chuck Foster: One More Time: The Big Bands", from the US Jazz re-issue label Blue Heaven Records (BH3-304) (Series 3 volume 4)

(Also, it seems there was another singer who used the name "Helen Carr". There's some information about her at: http://bbdb.us/c6.html under Hal Curtis Orchestra. The article says "Curtis led a predominantly "territory" band that traveled the Midwest. It is not presently known if they ever recorded." Helen's daughter says she sang with Hal Curtis from the mid-1940's to the mid-1950's)

So that's a total of 31 Helen Carr songs (or 30--I'm not sure yet if she's on "You Made Me Love You", with Cumming Sisters)

The Cheerful Earfull! said...

The "Stan's Singers" CD sounds like a winner - and not just for Helen!

max80 said...

Found another Helen Carr title:
In the June 7, 1952 issue of Billboard , on page 37, there's mention of a recording of "Sittin' 'Neath The Willow Tree", which she sings with Paul Nero and his Orchestra. A copy of it sold on ebay a few years ago. There's a photo of it at:
http://rootsvinylguide.com/ebay_items/paul-nero-orchestra-sittin-neath-the-willow-tree-rhythm-records-1002-vg

Hopefully there are more copies out there somewhere.

Also, she definitely doesn't sing on "You Made Me Love You": Steve Hoffman music forums member Ridin'High/Ivan Santiago has found that the label on the single reads: "instrumental with vocal trio"--which is the Cumming Sisters-no Helen. The two websites that credit her are wrong. Her only two recordings with King Curtis and the Cummming Sisters are the two that have never been released (What's Atlantic waiting for anyway?).

Now--are you ready for this?
On the Steve Hoffman music forums, Ridin'High/Ivan Santiago has begun a huge posting of bio-discographical details about Helen.

Member Eric Carlson has also found lots of information, including, among other things, her maiden name-Huber.

You can read everything they've posted so far starting at:
http://forums.stevehoffman.tv/threads/obscure-neglected-female-singers-of-jazz-standards-1930s-to-1960s.588217/page-38






The Cheerful Earfull! said...

Fantastic resource on the music forum! Thanks, Max80!!