Session Notes

The Pity Miss Kitty Session

  • Date: Wednesday, July 16, 1958
  • Location: Atlantic Studio, 234 West 56th Street, Manhattan,
    New York City
  • Songs recorded: Pity Miss Kitty (Woody Harris), Lost
    Love (Darin/Don Kirshner), Keep A Walkin' (Neil Sedaka, Howard Greenfield), I Want You With Me (Woody Harris).
  • Producer: Ahmet Ertegun
  • Engineer: Tom Dowd
  • Personnel: Bobby Darin, vocals, piano; Al Caiola, guitar; Sal Salvador, guitar; Wendell Marshall, bass; King Curtis, tenor sax; Panama Francis, drums.

An imaginary time machine takes us back 45 years in time, to July 16, 1958. Things were now really happening for Bobby. "Splish Splash" was firmly nestled at number four in both the Billboard and the Cash Box charts and had yet to reach its peak position (# 3). "Early In The Morning"/"Now We're One" had been legally reissued on Atco 6121 just two days earlier. Under normal circumstances Ahmet Ertegun and Jerry Wexler would have preferred to wait with the release of a new Bobby Darin single until "Splish Splash" had run its course, but the rush release of Buddy Holly's covers of both "Early In The Morning" and "Now We're One" on July 5 changed all this. Atlantic could not let those Decca people run off with the hit version, of course. By crediting the single to "Bobby Darin and the Rinky Dinks" instead of simply to Bobby Darin, Atlantic tried to indicate that this was not the follow-up to "Splish Splash", but something in a category of its own. Naturally the Rinky-Dinks were a non-existent group, just like the Ding Dongs had been.

This session was Bobby's first Atlantic recording date after the "Splish Splash" session of April 10 and the second Darin session to be produced by Ahmet Ertegun. Bobby simply oozes confidence on all tracks, something that was not yet quite so apparent on the early Atco recordings that were produced by Herb Abramson. Bobby really blossomed under Ertegun. Unlike Herb Abramson, Ahmet recognized Bobby's unique talent, encouraged him to play piano on his own recordings and arrange them as well (it is not unlikely that some of or maybe all the four tracks from this session were arranged by Bobby himself) and generally gave him more freedom to record whatever he wanted than Abramson had done. As a result, Bobby felt much more at ease in the studio and it shows in his performance.

With "Queen Of The Hop" and "Mighty Mighty Man" still in the can, there was no immediate need to come up with a new single. "Queen Of The Hop", from the Splish Splash session, still needed a B-side, but "You Never Called" or "All The Way Home", both from the January session, could also have served this purpose. These two tracks did not find a place on Bobby's first LP, the release of which was now imminent (September). Unlike Bobby's second album, "That's All", the first LP was not recorded as an album, but it was a compilation of Bobby's first four Atco singles, complemented by four unissued tracks from the Herb Abramson-produced sessions. In the fifties it was quite customary to compile LP's that way.

With "Splish Splash" doing so well, it was only natural that Bobby would record more hard-driving rock 'n' roll material. "Pity Miss Kitty" is one of Bobby's best rockers. The song came from the pen of Woody Harris, who had co-written "Queen Of The Hop" with Bobby. Even though "Queen" had not yet been released and there was no way of knowing that it would be another Top 10 hit, Harris felt that its formula (a lyric full of references to current hits) was worth repeating. There are references to the following songs in "Pity Miss Kitty": Johnny B. Goode (Chuck Berry) Zorro (The Chordettes) Kewpie Doll (Perry Como) Return To Me (Dean Martin) Wear My Ring Around Your Neck (Elvis Presley) Looking Back (Nat 'King' Cole) For Your Precious Love (Jerry Butler and the Impressions) Skinny Minnie (Bill Haley) Jennie Lee (Jan and Arnie) Endless Sleep (Jody Reynolds) Oh Lonesome Me (Don Gibson) All these songs were still in the Billboard Top 100 when "Pity Miss Kitty" was recorded. The lyrics can be found here. I doubt if Woody Harris realized that "New Shoes" and "Down The Aisle" were also song titles (but not hits).

New York's greatest rock 'n' roll saxophonist, King Curtis, makes his first (but not his last) appearance on a Darin session here. He was also contracted to Atco at this time, as a solo artist. The instrumental break on "Pity Miss Kitty" is pure rock 'n' roll delight. Curtis blows a wild solo while Bobby is thumping away on the 88 keys.

The only slow song from this session is "Lost Love", for which Bobby changes to his "sweet" voice. Very basic, with minimal accompaniment, but it gets to your heart very quickly. The tune has a slight calypso feel and I can easily imagine Harry Belafonte singing this song. It was chosen as the B-side of "Queen Of The Hop" and released towards the end of September. The lyrics are here. "Lost Love" marks the end of the songwriting collaboration between Bobby and Don Kirshner, which had started in early 1956, resulting in some twenty compositions. The Darin-Kirshner 1961 hit "Wait A Minute" by the Coasters had already been recorded on December 4, 1957. Instead of writing songs himself, Don Kirshner now hired others to write songs for him. In May he had started his own publishing company, Aldon Music, in partnership with Al Nevins. Among the first writers signed by Aldon were Neil Sedaka and Howard Greenfield. They were virtually unknown when Bobby recorded their song "Keep A Walkin'". Sedaka's first hit as a singer ("The Diary") was still five months away and as songwriters they had not yet scored any hits either. However, their luck was about to change. Connie Francis had already recorded their "Stupid Cupid" and this would enter the charts at the end of July.

"Keep A Walkin'" is not among their best work. Sedaka's melody is lively enough, but Greenfield's lyrics are just a set of cliches. Still, Bobby seems to be having the time of his life. The Great American Songbook or second-rate rock 'n' roll material, Bobby sings it all with the same total commitment. His enthusiasm and more fine sax work by the ever-reliable King Curtis save the record. Clocking in at one minute and fifty seconds, it is on the short side, but "Mighty Mighty Man" (1:42) and "Pretty Betty" (1:43) are even shorter. In late 1962, when Bobby had already left Atco for Capitol, "Keep A Walkin'" was released as the B-side of "I Found A New Baby" (Atco 6244). "I Want You With Me" is of a different order. Where "Keep A Walkin'" is typically white rock 'n' roll, "I Want You With Me" has much more of an R&B feel. The template for this Woody Harris composition must have been, consciously or not, "Hang Up My Rock And Roll Shoes" by Chuck Willis (who died on the day "Splish Splash" was recorded). Same type of intro, same chord changes. "Hang Up.." had also been recorded for Atlantic, in February, partly with the same musicians (Curtis, Caiola), and was still in the Top 30 on July 16. "I Want You With Me" was strong enough to be a single, but like "Pity Miss Kitty" and "Keep-A Walkin'" it was shelved for over two years, until it came out on the LP "For Teenagers Only" in September 1960. Among those who bought the album was one Elvis Presley, who liked "I Want You With Me" well enough to record it himself, on March 12, 1961, in Nashville, for the LP "Something For Everybody". The lyrics can be found here.

So there you have the harvest of this session: one slow B-side and three rockers that stayed in the can for two years. When I first heard "Pity Miss Kitty" and "I Want You With Me" in 1961, I found it strange that Bobby would go back to this kind of material after "Mack the Knife", "Beyond the Sea" and "Clementine". Little did I know then that the songs had been recorded years before. The fact that the song titles on "Pity Miss Kitty" were all from 1958 should have given me a clue, but I was just 16 then and didn't have the knowledge that I have now. "Pity Miss Kitty", "Keep A Walkin'" and "I Want You With Me" are available (in crystal clear sound quality) on the 1997 Ring of Stars CD, "Rare, Rockin' and Unreleased". A less satisfying alternative is the German bootleg "Splish Splash" (Backbiter 61040, 20 tracks, released in 1994), which is a reissue of the Spanish LP "Rock 'n' Roll Con Bobby Darin" from 1978 (Belter 50.526).

-- Dik de Heer

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