This new album re-releases hard-to-find singles originally issued on 45 inch and "compact 33" vinyls, featuring the original Limeliters: Lou Gottlieb, Alex Hassilev, and Glenn Yarbrough, with a few cuts of Ernie Sheldon as well. Scroll down for a full review by Harold Wood, and how to order this album online!
1. A Dollar Down
2. When Twice The Moon Has Come And Gone
3. A Hundred Years
4. Paco Peco
5. Red Roses And White Wine
6. Milk And Honey
7. Just An Honest Mistake
9. I Had A Mule
10. The Riddle Song
11. Who Will Buy?
13. McLintock's Theme (Love In The Country)
14. The Midnight Special
15. A Casinha-Pequenina
16. No Man Is An Island
18. Seventeen Wives
Taragon Records and BMG Special Products. All Tracks courtesy of RCA Records Label. Liner notes by Colin Escott.
The Limeliters were the sharp, hip, urban face of folk music in the early Sixties. They reconfigured music old and news, and did it with humor, erudition, panache, and impecccably harmonies. AS Time magazine once remarked, "If the Kingston Trio are the undergraduates of big-time U.S. folk singing, The Limeliters are the faculty."
The Limeliters originally comprised Lou Gottlieb on bass vocals and stand-up bass, Glenn Yarbrough on tenor vocals and guitar, and Alex Hassilev on baritone vocals, guitar, and banjo. Gottlieb, born in Los Angeles on October 18, 1924,had been one of the Gateway Singers, but left after three years to work on his ph.D (the subject, incidentally, was fifteenth century cyclic massses). He was writing arrangements for the Kingston Trio and working as a coffee house act when he met Hassilev and Yarbrough. Hassilev, born in Paris to Russian emigre parents on July 11, 1932, had worked off-Broadway productions and had appeared in a horror movie by the time he met Yarbrough. Born in Milwaukee on January 12, 1930, Yarbrough had been in the Army and attended several colleges with the goal of becoming a philosophy professor when a stint at the Gate of Horn in Chicago launched him on the coffee house circuit. He and Alex met, purchased the Limelite coffee house in Aspen, Colorado, and ran into Gottlieb at the Cosmo Alley coffee house in Los Angeles. initally, Gottlieb thought Hassilev and Yarbrough could help him with some Kingston Trio demo's, but all three quickly realized that their unique chemistry held promise. They honed their act at the Limelite, then opened at the Hungry I in San Francisco. Club owner Enrico Barducci suggested the name "Limeliters."
Glenn Yarbrough had already recorded for Elektra, so the group accepted an offer from what was then a small New York indie label for their debut album. "We lost a year and some valuable material," says Hassilev. "Instead of selling half-a-million, we sold 75,000." RCA's Bob Yorke then approached them with an unbeatable proposition. RCA would pay full rate on songs that the group wrote and published instead of the more common half rate,and would put up $25,000 to send the group on a cross-country tour of distributors and retailers if they contributed an equal amount from their royalties. Hassilev concedes that the tour was a good idea, and allows that RCA has the distribution muscle that Elektra lacked. RCA's policy of drawing singles from shows and Tin Pan Alley was less astute, he believes.
The record shows that RCA didn't succeed in its goal of cracking Top 40, but succeeded instead in selling millions of albums. Many of The Limeliters' albums have been more or less continuously available since the day of issue, but the singles, grouped here for the first time, have rarely if ever been reissued. "We weren't a singles act," says Hassilev. "Maybe our stuff too uptown. Lou's background was fifteenth century music. He was a pedant through and through. His arrangements were brilliant, But Glenn and I had to democratize them. Mostly, though, we needed to do a song 'live' for a year. Then it really swung."
Producer Neely Plumb was a big band veteran who had played with Artie Shaw and Ray Noble. Although he tried to get airplay by drawing on the New York song mill, the Limeliters' biggest hit came with a folk song, Cisco Houston's "A Dollar Down." It was their first RCA single, and reached No. 60. The flip side was a German song, "When Twice the Moon Has Come and Gone" with English lyrics by Buddy Bernier, composer of "The Night Has a Thousand Eyes." The follow-up, "A Hundred Years Ago," was a creditable, straightahead shot at 1961 pop; its flip-side was Neely Plumb's "Paco Peco." Then, in choosing the title song from the new Jerry Herman musical, Milk and Honey, Plumb bet on a loser. The show died a swift death, and the theme song died with it. Yet another show tune, "Just an Honest Mistake" (from Jay Livingston and Ray Evans' aborted 1961 revival of Banjo Eye, retitled Let it Ride) headlined the fourth single. "Jonah," a gospel number rearranged by Lou Gottlieb, was on the flip-side.
The fifth RCA single was a complete departure. "I Had Mule" and "the Riddle Song" came from The Limeliters fifth RCA album, Through Children's Eyes, a marvelous, enduring collection that earned them a Grammy nomination. Then it was back to show tunes. "I thought 'Who Will Buy' (from Oliver) was appropriate for us," says Alex Hassilev, "but we just couldn't record it off the page and have it live and breathe." Neely Plumb seemed to be coming to the group's point-of-view when he let them do "Midnight Special." The song was clearly hit material. It was a Top 20 hit for both Paul Evans in 1960 and Johnny Rivers in 1965, but the Limeliters' 1963 version missed the charts. No one really knows the song's origin, but it's probably about a Southern Pacific train that left Houston nightly. It's lights shone into the Sugarland penal colony, reminding inmates of their lost freedom. Huddie "Leadbelly" Ledbetter served time at Sugarland and popularized the song. The Limeliters coupled it with their theme from John Wayne's mud-splattered western farce McLintock.
By the time th group recorded "No Man is An Island," Glenn Yarbrough had left, to be replaced by former Gateway Singer Ernie Sheldon (Lieberman), who not only wrote "No Man Is an Island," but Yarbrough's biggest hit, "Baby the Rain Must Fall," as well. Lauridno Almedida's "A Casinha Peguinina" was rendered by Sheldon into English as "Little House." "That song could still be a hit," says Alex Hassilev. "It's beautiful." The final single, "Rose," was another song that Hassilev loves. It was, he concedes, a little too sentimental for the group's detached irony, but it's a song he still holds in high regard.
Ironically, the Limeliters' greatest radio success came with a jingle. They beat out Paul Anka and many other artists with their arrangement of "Things Go Better with Coke." For three years, they were Coca-Cola's official spokesmen. "I came up with the idea of starting the jingle with a vocal vamp instead of an instrumental vamp," says Alex Hassilev, "and it was on every station in the United States."
The LImeliters disbanded in the late Sixties, regrouped occasionally, then permanently in 1981 with Red Grammer taking the place of Yarbrough/Sheldon. Grammer left in 1990 to concentrate on childrens' performances, and was replaced by Rick Dougherty. The death of Lou Gottlieb on july 11, 1996, left Alex Hassilev as the sole original member left with the group.
These recordings are the rarest in the Limeliters' canon and the most deserving of new appreciation. The last word on them belongs to one of the group's original boosters, Billboard's Lee Zhito: "In the Limeliters' hands," he wrote, "the folk ballad is no longer a museum piece. It has been removed from the musty surrounding of scholarly folklorists. Theirs is music born from the lusty feelings of happy people."
- Colin Escott
© 2000 by Taragon Records. Used by Permission.
The producers set about to re-release on compact disk every Limeliters single from RCA. Many of these tracks you've never heard on an album; even the Limeliters greatest hit (at least as far as airplay goes), "A Dollar Down," which hit #60 on the radio charts for 1961, was inexplicably never recorded on an album. It has been available in the last few years only as part of the Time-Life Treasury of Folk Music series.
From the hilarity of that signature piece of comedy to the even funnier "Seventeen Wives," this album will be greeted with wide-open arms by Limeliters fans.
There are a few songs on this album that also appeared on albums: "If I Had a Mule" and "The Riddle Song" were on Through Children's Eyes; "Funk" was on Folk Matinee; "A Casinha-Pequinina (Little House)" and "No Man is an Island" were included on their 1965 album More of Everything, and finally, "The Midnight Special" was on Fourteen 14 K Folk Songs.
Note that there are still more Limeliters' singles out there; this album only provides the RCA canon, and leaves out those published by Elektra, Warner Brother/Seven Arts, Morningstar, Stax, and West Knoll Records.
An acknowledgement to the contributions of Ernie Sheldon on this album is important. Many Limeliters fans were not that aware of Ernie, since he performed on only two Limeliters albums, and that was after Glenn Yarbrough had left the group. But Ernie should be better known as the writer of Glenn Yarbrough's biggest hit "Baby the Rain Must Fall." On this album, he performs on two great songs in this collection: "No Man is an Island" and "A Casinha-Pequinina (Little House)" He wrote "No Man is an Island" (apologies to John Donne 1573-1631) and translated Laurindo Almedida's "A Casinha-Pequinina."
A word on the final song, the East vs. West comedy song, "Seventeen Wives" is in order. It is too old-fashioned for today's hip views about love, but if you can put yourself in to 1965, you'll appreciate the song. Its subject is polygamy, and I think its the funniest song in this whole collection.
Whether you are an old Limeliters fan, or a newcomer to their brand of cultured folk music, you will enjoy this fantastic compilation of Limeliters gems!
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Last update: December 1, 2002