Don’t you just love songs with introductory verses, like they used to write in the glory days of Tin Pan Alley? (Not to mention those penned by Carole King in the early ‘60s). Lenny Welch’s gorgeous recording of Since I Fell For You – a torch standard first recorded in 1942 by the Buddy Johnson Orchestra – was one of the smash hits of late 1963 and one of the classiest records of its time. Those who are more familiar with the original – with its unforgettable vocal by the bandleader’s sister, Ella – might take half a minute or so to recognise the song from Welch’s version, which features an opening verse invariably omitted by others who recorded it (including, curiously, Buddy and Ella Johnson themselves).
Lenny Welch had great pipes, sounding at times like a cross between Clyde McPhatter and the Platters’ Tony Williams. He was born in Asbury Park, New Jersey, where he spent his teenage years in thrall of vocal groups like the Crows, the Chords and the Clovers. He joined Cadence Records in 1959 and got off to a great start with a lovely pop/R&B version of Eddy Arnold’s country ballad, You Don't Know Me, which reached Billboard’s Top 50.
1962 was a particularly stellar year for the singer, during which he released three wonderful singles: It’s Not That Easy, an early example of uptown proto-soul, just like the great beat ballads Chuck Jackson used to record; Congratulations Baby, a throwback to his days as a doo-wop devotee; and A Taste Of Honey, which was apparently the first ever vocal version of this classic song, and the one which the Beatles heard, loved and covered on their debut album (with an identical arrangement, to boot).
But the competition was tough at Cadence – what with clean-cut chartmakers like the Chordettes, Andy Williams, the Everly Brothers, Johnny Tillotson and Eddie Hodges all vying for promotion – and none of these records charted. Stuck for ideas, label-owner, Archie Bleyer, asked Welch if he had a pet number he’d like to record. He chose Since I Fell For You, which he knew from the 1954 rendition by the Harptones, his favourite group. It reached the Top 5 and became his career song.
But how differently that career might have turned out if his fourth Cadence 45 had taken off. Archie Bleyer was usually very hands-on at his artist’s sessions, but in 1961 he handed over the reigns to former Tito Puente sideman, Roger King Mozian, for the “Chubby goes Latino” double-header, Changa Rock / Boogie Cha Cha. It was a hit … in Puerto Rica. Welch cut some other uptempo numbers too, like Three Handed Woman (a Louis Jordan oldie), Roy Hamilton’s You Can Have Her and the Elvis-esque Mama, Don't You Hit That Boy – all very convincingly.
This CD features every master cut by Lenny Welch for Cadence. File him alongside other great crossover balladeers such as Gene McDaniels and Adam Wade. With any luck compiler Tony Rounce is also cooking up a collection of his mid-‘60s work for Kapp Records. In the meantime, bring back songs with introductory verses!
BY MICK PATRICK