Johnny Paris onstage at the Star Club, 1962.
Johnny & the Hurricanes, Hamburg, Germany, '64
Star Club bill 1962- Johnny & the Hurricanes headline over the Beatles and four other acts.
Johnny & the Hurricanes pose with some guy in a suit and glasses.
The snazzy suits they bought after Red River Rock became a hit.
Johnny & the Hurricanes at the beginning of the road that led eventually to the Star Club.
Johnny & the Hurricanes when they were hit makers.
The Star-Club, Hamburg, Germany, 1962.
Johnny & the Hurricanes were perhaps the prototypical American instrumental rock'n'roll band of the early 60's. Formed in Toledo, Ohio, originally called the Orbits, tenor sax player and leader Johnny Paris (born John Pocsick, in Walbridge, Ohio, Aug. 29, 1940, died May 6, 2006), recruited some high school pals-- Paul Tesluk- organ, David Yorko- guitar, Butch Mattice- bass and Bill "Little Bo"Savich on drums. After a few months of gigging locally in Ohio, they recorded the instrumental Crossfire for the local Twirl label and in the summer of '59 it peaked at #23 on Billboard's pop charts, kicking off a string of moderate size hits--often rocked up versions of standards like Red River Rock (a version of Red River Valley), Beatnik Fly (Bluetail Fly), Reville Rock (Reville), on both sides of the pond. After its initial pressing on Twirl, Crossfire was re-issued on the Warwick label where the Hurricanes stayed for the remainder of 1960, then signed with Big Top, the label formed by the folks who administered the publishing for all of Elvis' hits. The group's managers managed to glom the songwriting and publishing credits for their original tunes, so their main source of income was live appearances and over the next twenty years, Paris kept a version of Johnny & the Hurricanes on the road where they toured the world non-stop. One of their biggest claims to fame was the popularization of the portable Farfisa organ which is predominant on nearly all their early sides. My favorite of their early dics is the quasi-exotica of Sheba (the flipside of Down Yonder, their b-sides were almost always superior to their a-sides), which Philadelphia DJ Jerry "The Geator With The Heater" Blavant, used as his theme music. As rock'n'roll waned in the States, in the early 60's, replaced by goofy guys in sweaters named Bobby, and they were soon replaced by shaggy haired Limeys named Mick and Ian, Johnny & the Hurricanes headed for Europe to find work and soon found a receptive audience at the Star Club in Hamburg, Germany, the now legendary rock'n'roll venue located Hamburg's red light district (Reperbahn) where on their first appearance late 1961, Johnny & the Hurricanes headlined a bill where they were supported by the Beatles, King Size Taylor and the Dominoes, Tony Sheridan's All Stars, and the Strangers. One of these shows (New Year's Eve 1961/2)was recorded, but not released until it inexplicably showed up as an I Tunes download this year. Live At The Starclub, Vol. 1, is an excellent album, with high energy, live versions of originals like Red River Rock and Buckeye, alongside a fairly typical 1962 set list, heavy on the rockers-- Mashed Potatoes, Forty Days, The Kid, Paris Jam, Ja-Da and twist numbers. The sheer excitement of the Star-Club, whose audience was filled with drunken American GI's, off duty whores and a handful of "excis" (short for existentialist, this group of bohemian teenagers dressed in black gathered around the Beatles, giving the Beatles their distinctive forward combed hair do's in the process) gives the entire album a great ambiance. Johnny & the Hurricanes Live At The Star-Club (which for convenience sake we shall call Volume 2, although the original platter makes no reference to its chronological predecessor), recorded in April of '64 (the Beatles were by now headlining Shea Stadium) was issued by Star-Club records that same year, and soon became a highly sought after rarity, although it was briefly re-issued in 1980, it remains on of the best live rock'n'roll albums of all time and a wonderful document of a specific time and place in rock'n'roll history that is often overlooked (or if examined at all, simply tied into early Beatles history). Johnny & the Hurricanes experienced over 300 personal changes in their lifespan, and exactly who was left in the band in April '64 besides Johnny Paris is something of a mystery since the album has no credits, but like their guitar oriented competitors the Ventures, Johnny & the Hurricanes were trying to keep up with the times, as we can easily see by their setlist on Live At The Starclub (Vol. 2). Opening with a Beatles number-- I Should've Known Better (worst track on the record), they rock into High Heeled Sneakers, Do You Love Me, Red River Rock, another Beatles tune-- You Can't Do That, ending their first set with the vamp Love Nest. The second side opens with a charmingly crude rendition of You Really Got Me, a wailing take on Jambalaya (the best track here),
Beatnik Fly, Money, Time Is On My Side, finishing off with Down Yonder with a few bars of Ellington's Satin Doll thrown in. Okay, so it's not Jerry Lee Lewis- Live At The Star Club, (few things in life are), but it captures much of the same type of Preludin and alcohol fueled mania that made that album arguably the greatest live rock'n'roll record of all time. Johnny & the Hurricanes, while a great instrumental band, were not such a great vocal group, although their amateurish attempts to harmonize are charming, but they knew how to stomp it out, all night long, and both volumes of Star Club recordings highlight that aspect of their sound at its best. The Star Club label (which also published a great magazine called Star Club News), put out all types of rock'n'roll and r&b records, mostly studio recording, much of it leased from other labels, including some material exclusive to them like the Liverbirds, the Rattles, Jerry Williams and the Violents, both on LP and 45 rpm. The only live recordings from the Star Club they issued were the Jerry Lee Lewis classic (see here for Lost and Found, Joe Bonomo's book on the subject), and the Johnny and the Hurricanes material (if anyone sees Vol. 1 in any type of vinyl form let me know, paying for downloads is like paying for air in my mind). There may have been some live compilation LP's, but I've never heard them. There are few great live documents from rock'n'roll's earliest days, and while Bo Diddley, Ray Charles, James Brown, Slim Harpo, the aforementioned Jerry Lee Lewis, all made great live albums, they were the exception, not the rule. Which makes Johnny & the Hurricanes Live At The Star Club all the more special. While charging .99 cents for Horst Fasche's half minute introduction may be kind of sleazy, I guess the download of Vol. 1 is still worth purchasing (although I was tempted to wait for it to show up in some form I could hold in my hands), and Vol. 2 is well worth searching for (I found my copy at the Waterlooplein flea market in Amsterdam in 1992, five gilders). Those interested in the Star Club, and the Hamburg rock'n'roll scene in general should be advised to seek out a copy of Alan Clayson's: Hamburg*The Cradle Of British Rock (Sanctuary Music Library, UK, 1997), as overlooked a classic as the Johnny & the Hurricanes two live LP's discussed above.
By the time Johnny Paris passed away in 2006 music was a sideline, he spent his final years selling antiques and vending machines. He was in the process of writing his autobiography (where is that manuscript today?) and did the occasional European festival show during the summer.