As I’ve written about on this archive/blog in the past, I met Pop Artist Tom Wesselmann in the early 1950’s when, as draftees, we served together in the same unit at an army base in the deep South. Tom, who passed away in 2004, grew up in Cincinnati, Ohio, and I grew up in Brooklyn, New York, but we hit it off immediately when we discovered our mutual interests in humor, gag cartooning and “classic” country music. This story concerns country music.
Here’s some background information, so that you’ll be able to follow what I’m writing about. First of all, Tom’s hometown, Cincinnati, is right across the Ohio River from Covington, Kentucky, where there was a very popular and powerful radio station, WCKY (CKY = Covington, Kentucky). WCKY served up country music to a good portion of the U.S.A. — I could even pick it up at night in Brooklyn. The station is still on the air, but with a completely different format. So Tom grew up very well-versed in the country music genre, much more than I was. But I found country music fun to listen to, was anxious to learn, and Tom taught me well.
By “classic” country music, by the way, I’m talking about the King, Hank Williams (not his son, Hank Williams, Jr.) and other legendary performers such as Webb Pierce, Hank Snow, Kitty Wells, Lefty Frizzell, Johnny Cash, Ray Price, Hank Thompson, Faron Young and Marty Robbins, to name just a few.
In those days, country music was going through a phase of “sequel” songs. Example: Hank Thompson came out with an extremely popular song called “The Wild Side of Life”, in which he lamented that “I didn’t know God made honky tonk angels”. Before long, Kitty Wells recorded “It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels”, which went viral, as we would say today. That megahit was the main reason why Kitty Wells eventually became known as “The Queen of Country Music”. Another example: A hit song by Jean Shepard and Ferlin Huskey, “A Dear John Letter”, created the sequel “Dear Joan” (sung by Jack Cardwell) and still further, another sequel, “Forgive Me John” (sung by Shepard and Huskey again). So the country music scene at that time was being flooded with sequels.
One more bit of background material before I get to my story: At that particular time, all the Hollywood studios were fighting off the juggernaut of Television — and they were hanging in there by re-releasing their old hit movies. Not re-making them, just re-releasing them. So a first-run movie in those days could easily have been an “M-G-M re-release” or a “Paramount re-release”, and so forth.
That’s about it for background information.
In the early 1950’s, country music star Ray Price came out with a wildly popular song called “Release Me”. It was a classic that was all over the radio stations. It was also a crossover hit that has lasted to this day. You can still hear many versions of it today. Tom and I enjoyed making fun of it. I particularly loved the ingenuity of the rhymes in the song. Here are some of the lyrics:
“Please release me, let me go.
I don’t love you any more.
To live together is a sin.
Release me and let me love again.
I have found a new love, dear–
and I’ll always want her near.
Her lips are warm while yours are cold.
Release me, darling, let me go.”
(Well, at least “near” and “dear” rhymed)
But I digress. At some point Tom got a furlough approved and took off for a week. When he returned and wanted to know what was new, I excitedly told him that the radio stations were all playing a sequel to “Release Me”, and that it was called, naturally, “Re-Release Me”. I told him that in the sequel the man and woman had gotten together again . . . but it didn’t work out . . . again . . . and now the guy wanted out . . . again. I said that I had heard the sequel so often on the radio that I already knew some of the words. And I sang a verse to him (I was well-prepared — I had written my phony verse during the week and had it memorized).
It went like this (to the tune of “Release Me”):
“Re-release me just once more —
Like you did that time before.
To stay together isn’t right.
Re-release me and set me free tonight.”
Tom’s reaction was incredulity at first. Then he listened attentively to my lyrics, laughed appreciatively, nodded his head and said, “Yep, that sounds just stupid enough.”
He had bought it! The whole shebang! It was only the next day, when he wondered why he wasn’t hearing the song being played on the radio, that I confessed.
You can read more about Tom Wesselmann and me, and also about his brief career as a gag cartoonist, by checking out my previous postings about him. I’ve done a few over the years and you’ll find them all under the category of “Eli’s Corner”.