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Go Slow: The Life Of Julie London

Michael Owen By

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The following is an excerpt is from "Chapter 12: For the Night People" of Go Slow: The Life of Julie London by Michael Owen (Chicago Review Press, 2017). All Rights Reserved.

In 1965, after three years of largely recording pop tunes under Liberty Records' hit-making producer Snuff Garrett, Julie London was eager to return to the types of songs—and the style of singing—which had brought her fame and success a decade earlier with her debut album, Julie Is Her Name, and its stand-out track, "Cry Me a River."

The marketing budget for Julie London's records had been on the decline for years, but label executives were aware that they still needed a diverse collection of artists to fill a broad catalog of musical styles. She was a safe, reasonably inexpensive bet, and she continued to turn out product that brought in a steady, if unspectacular, rate of return. The arrangement also had advantages for her; singers of higher reputation than Julie had been axed from the rosters of large record companies like Capitol and Columbia in recent years, so it was more likely that she could fly under the radar and ride out the turbulence roiling the music business if she remained with a lesser label like Liberty.

Fortunately, there was still a profitable niche for jazz recordings in the mid-1960s—at least for those with a good melody. (Vince Guaraldi's "Cast Your Fate to the Wind" and Ramsey Lewis's "The In-Crowd" were both hits.) Dick Bock's Pacific Jazz / World Pacific label had successfully mined the sounds of West Coast jazz for more than a decade with many solid recordings by the likes of Gerry Mulligan and Chet Baker, bandleader Gerald Wilson, and the Mastersounds. In the spring of 1965, Bock sold his master tapes and the Pacific Jazz studios in Los Angeles to Liberty Records and joined the label as a vice president and general manager.

Dick Bock's arrival at Liberty had an immediate impact on Julie London's career. When Snuff Garrett resigned to go into independent production, Bock became the conduit through which the singer returned to more familiar, comfortable sonic settings. The decision to record the types of songs she wanted to record—and less of the material picked by A&R men looking for hits—gave Julie the opportunity to create a series of albums over the next three years that were produced by adults for adults. The two discs she made with Bock—the big-band bash Feeling Good and the cool, nocturnal Cole Porter tribute All Through the Night—became the templates for an unlikely resurgence in what had become a moribund recording career.

Feeling Good, which paired Julie with the explosive sound of Gerald Wilson's big band, was released—somewhat ironically—as tensions ran high in August 1965 following the devastating riots in the black Los Angeles neighborhood of Watts. It was her most energetic studio work in years. A raucous rendition of Herbie Hancock's funky "Watermelon Man" and the title track, from the Anthony Newley and Leslie Bricusse Broadway hit The Roar of the Greasepaint—the Smell of the Crowd (a UK hit in 1964 that was about to open on Broadway), signaled her confident attitude. The driving "My Kind of Town" was personalized with lyrical references—likely penned by Bobby Troup—to Chicago's Loop, O'Hare Airport, Rush Street, and "the stadium at fight time," the last a reference to Julie and Bobby's having attended the September 25, 1962, heavyweight boxing championship fight at Comiskey Park between Sonny Liston and Floyd Patterson. Her more intimate style was brilliantly represented by the obscure "I Bruise Easily," while Julie's teenage daughter Stacy was the catalyst for a recording of "Summertime" that turned the classic Gershwin lullaby into a suggestive come-on.*

* The version of "Summertime" Stacy suggested may have been the recording by the British band the Zombies, which had been released in early 1965.

One notable reason for the success of Feeling Good was the welcome inclusion of two new songs by Bobby Troup, whose name had been conspicuously absent from all but one of his wife's records during the Snuff Garrett years. Troup's lack of musical output during the early 1960s was mirrored by many other songwriters of his and earlier generations who had been left in the commercial dust when, rather than rely on outside writers, Bob Dylan and the musical teams of Lennon and McCartney and Jagger and Richards opted to write and record material that reflected the thoughts and opinions of their own generation.

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