Wednesday, April 03, 2013

Meet Me At Midnight Mary

When I was 13 years old, Mom decided it was time for me to learn how to dance. The lessons were for ballroom dancing. 

As I recall I learned the Foxtrot, the Cha-cha and the Waltz, although I can’t for the life of me remember any of those steps. The guys and girls in this class had to dress up and be polite. At the break the guys got punch and cookies for the last girl with whom we danced.

It seems that I usually wound up with this cute little chubby redhead.  I don’t know if she had a crush on me or I had a crush on her, but as I recall we always paired up with each other to dance.

The instructor played the song Meet Me at Midnight Mary every week and we did a fast Foxtrot to the music. I loved the song, the lyrics and the arrangement. It had everything a 1960’s song should ever have.

Here was a story about a poor boy that secretly married a girl, got a job working on the railroad and later found out her Daddy was his boss.

When I listen to it I think of that chubby little redhead girl and wonder whatever became of her.

The song was written by a fellow named Artie Wayne. He was working as a song writer in New York City. He also was dating some Iranian girls. One of the girls was the daughter of a deposed Iranian General. 

I don’t know how much is remembered about the days when the Shah of Iran was exiled to the United States, so as a quick reminder in the early 1960’s Iran was governed by a king which was called The Shah. There was a theocratic uprising in Iran and the Shah, his family and members of his government sought refuge in the United States. They brought with them a fortune in Iranian assets, thus they were hated by the religious rulers and the people that overtook the government as well as the general population of Iran.

The United States government housed the Shah and his entourage and assigned them a protection detail.

Artie Wayne
All this to say that Artie Wayne was head over heels in love with the daughter of an Iranian general and this was forbidden. Both Artie and the girl were excited about the danger of their secret romance. The only way they could meet was to see each other secretly.

What can a songwriter do, but write a song about this forbidden tryst?

Artie’s friend was a fellow songwriter named Ben Raleigh.  Raleigh had scored a recent hit with the sappy song “Tell Laura I Love Her.”  In true songwriter fashion, Artie Wayne decided to write a better song.  He eventually teamed with Raleigh to write Midnight Mary.

The song was taken to a local studio and the guys were given an advance to produce a demo. They shopped the demo around for a year with no luck until they learned that a new artist named Jerry Cole had signed with Capitol Records and recorded their tune.  Neither Wayne nor Raleigh liked Cole’s version and thought they could do a much better version.

Joey Powers
Artie Wayne had befriended a singer/songwriter named Joey Powers. Powers had been under contract with RCA and had just been released when Wayne asked him to help make a demo that was good enough for air play.

Wayne scraped together $500 for studio time and hired arranger Al Gorgoni and Charlie Macey to play guitars. Drummer Buddy Saltzman played drums and Jeannie Thomas sang all the background parts. Joey Powers sang the vocal.

Once again the song was shopped around. A local song plugger named Jerry Landis (the pseudonym Paul Simon was using) turned the song down but suggested taking the song to Larry Uttal at AMY Records (which is now Arista). Uttal liked the song and agreed to market it and an agreement to refund production costs and give a small percentage to the writers was approved. 

Larry Uttal (seated)
Upon listening to the recording, Uttal asked that the bass be turned up. Wayne let him know they did not have money to hire a bass player for the demo..  Larry Uttal gave Artie Wayne $15 and told him to go hire a bass player. Wayne knew a bass player that owed him a favor and asked Russ Savakis to come to the session and lay down a bass part.

With a few months Artie Wayne was taking publicity pictures for an album when he was handed a gold record by Uttal who told him, this doesn’t mean the song sold a million records.

On November 22, 1963 the Joey Powers album was to be recorded featuring the song Meet Me at Midnight Mary. Artie had met with Joey in Ohio to set up the arrangements.

That night Al Gorgoni was finishing up arrangements. Jeannie Thomas was working on background parts along with a new singer, Lettie Hamblet. The guitarists for the session were Paul Simon and Roger McGuinn, who played 12 string acoustic. The session was to start in 30 minutes.

The only musician who was not there was Joey Powers. His flight was delayed.  Artie picked up Powers from the airport. When they walked into the studio, everyone was crying. President Kennedy had been assassinated.

The album was eventually recorded and went on to be a big hit…in England

The song was covered by over 250 artists. Artie Wayne is semi retired these days. 

Ben Raleigh passed away in 1997 and left a legacy of hit songs behind. Besides “Laura”, he wrote Wonderful Wonderful, She’s a Fool, Love is a Hurtin’ Thing, Laughing on the Outside (Crying on the Inside) and composed the theme music for the cartoon Scooby Doo. 

Joey Powers was born in 1939 and is still alive. According to newpaper reports, he became a Christian and sent his kids to Oral Roberts University

Larry Uttal died at age 71 in New York City. He had worked with many famous artists.

Jeannie Thomas  is actually singer Jean Thomas. She was the lead singer of the Rag Dolls, the Calendar Girls, the Powder Puffs, Angie and the Chicklettes and other girl groups of the '60's and went on to have a very successful career as a background singer and is anonymously heard on many, many recordings.

Funny thing, Meet Me at Midnight Mary inspired two "answer" songs.

One was called Midnight Joey by Lorna Dune.

The other was a number one hit by Johnny Mathis called "What Would My Mary Say?"  Those who are old enough will recall Mathis  had a hit with Wonderful, Wonderful written by Ben Raleigh.

Version One


Version Two - Alternate version



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