Goin’ back – early days
By John Firminger
Continuing our monthly visit to the cinema, when I went to see this month’s selection, ‘Disc Jockey Jamboree’ (its UK title) from 1957, I discovered it was on with ‘The Green-Eyed Blonde’ which had an ‘A’ certificate, which meant I couldn’t get in unaccompanied by an adult.
Keen to see the film, I did what all kids did back then, asked a stranger if he could “take one in please”, Wow!, the implications of that happening today don’t bare thinking about, but back in 1957, things were a lot safer.
Eventually inside the cinema, I quickly found a seat on my own to watch the film of my choice; an American rock’n’roll movie, it featured a varied selection of musical performers as well as a bunch of discjockeys, as per the film’s title.
Three of the film’s stars had previously been given an airing on the weekly Jack Payne TV show ‘Off The Record’ – Buddy Knox, Charlie Gracie and Jerry Lee Lewis. Performing Great Balls Of Fire, I thought he was quite unbelievable, almost terrestrial-like, with his long blonde hair, while the stuffy rock’n’roll hating Mr Payne probably gave ol’ Jerry Lee a typical panning.
With my appetite whetted with Jerry Lee’s appearance, I had to see the film and its other rock’n’roll stars.
‘Jamboree’ was directed by Roy Lockwood with the great songwriter Otis Blackwell acting as musical director. Like most rock’n’roll films, the plot was pretty flakey, about a boy and girl duo Peter Porter and Honey Wynn played by Paul Carr and Freda Holloway who become overnight sensations as a romantic singing duo. Unfortunately their managers fall out and try to turn them into solo performers.
Flitting around the USA, from one location to another, more than 20 different famous American DJs are featured, including Dick Clark and Jokko Henderson (wearing space-helmet-like head-gear!). Each introduce the various performers who are seen lip-synching to their records, such as Carl Perkins (who I wasn’t aware of at the time) jumpin’ around in a snazzy pair of black and white brogues (as opposed to blue suede). Singing his rockabilly opus Glad All Over , he was accompanied by his two brothers Jay and Clayton, with future Johnny Cash drummer, W S ‘Fluke’ Holland.
With a guitar nearly as big as himself, diminutive rocker Charlie Gracie performs Cool Baby while some cool male choreographers slink around him. Tex-mex rocker Buddy Knox gives out with his gimmicky Hawaiian rocker Hula Love, while his musical cohort Jimmy Bowen serves up Cross Over.
Still the film’s highlight, Jerry Lee is joined by drummer Russ Smith and bass-player J W Brown and look great, with some atmospheric lighting effects. The version of Great Balls Of Fire they mime to is actually an alternate take.
The friendly round face of great Fats Domino and his band keep the music rockin’ with Wait and See. Brother of Frankie Lyman, Lewis is joined by his doo-wop group The Teen-Chords chanting Your Last Chance. Squeaky-clean teen-idol Frankie Avalon is seen with Teacher’s Pet and girl singer Jodie Sands sings Sayonara.
Equally less rockin’ fair are Count Basie with Joe Williams and vocal group, The Four Coins performing A Broken Promise. Connie Francis is heard but not seen as she over-dubs her vocals for Freda Holloway. English DJ and ex-bandleader Jack Jackson is also seen introducing Slim Whitman supposedly performing on stage at the London Palladium, but is actually in America and sings a yodelling version of Unchain My Heart.
Although not all the music was consistently rockin’, the film provided English teenagers with a great opportunity to see some of the names they’d only seen in photos or read about.
The ‘big picture’, “Green Eyed Blonde’, was all about a bunch of teenage inmates in a tough girl’s reformatory and obviously the reason for the ‘A’ certificate. However, still reelin’ & rockin’ from all the sights and sounds in ‘Jamboree’, for this 12-year-old, all the female goings-on were an anti-climax (?!). I couldn’t make head nor tail of it so after about 20 minutes, I left the cinema and with my head still full of rock’n’roll and ‘glad all over’, I made my way home.