Born Wendell Bruce McMeans, 28 November 1940, Jacksonville, Texas
Bruce Channel knows all too well that he is remembered as a one-hit wonder. Flashing a healthy sense of humour, he would often introduce "Hey! Baby" at concerts with the wisecrack "And now, I'd like to do a medley of my hit".
Bruce was born in Jacksonville, Texas, but spent most of his youth in the nearby town of Grapevine, where his parents worked in a tomato-packing warehouse. Music was a popular hobby in the family. Bruce's father played the harmonica and his two brothers played guitar. A cousin showed him how to form a few guitar chords. By the age of 15 Channel had his own country band, which played youth centers, local bars, barns and even the legendary Louisiana Hayride radio show for six months in 1958. His first record was "Run Romance Run" on the Teen Ager label from Fort Worth (1959), followed by two singles on King in 1960. Low-key releases, typical of the soft-rock style of that period. Channel wrote "Hey! Baby" around 1959, with a woman he knew, Margaret Cobb. He had been performing the song in the clubs for two years before he finally taped a demo of the tune, which he sent to a retired major in the Air Force, Bill Smith, an independent record producer and owner of the LeCam label in Fort Worth. Major Bill invited Channel to his studio to rerecord the song. He didn't like the guitar intro on the demo of "Hey! Baby" and asked Delbert McClinton to play harmonica on the track. It took 15 minutes to record three takes. Ronnie Dawson played drums on the session.
Smith issued "Hey! Baby" on LeCam 953 in November 1961. Before the end of the year the master was purchased by Mercury Records, who reissued the record on their Smash subsidiary (Smash 1731). It entered the Billboard charts on January 27, 1962, hit the top spot on March 10 and stayed there for three weeks. In the UK it was # 2 for six weeks, being kept from the top by the most successful British single of that year, "Wonderful Land" by the Shadows (# 1 for 8 weeks).
Channel was unable to repeat the success of "Hey! Baby". His next two Smash singles, "Number One Man" and "Come On Baby", stalled at # 52 and # 98 respectively. The follow-ups echoed the riffs of "Hey Baby" too closely. In 1964, "Going Back To Louisiana" (on LeCam) was a minor hit (# 89), as was "Mr. Bus Driver" on Mala in 1967 (# 90). Bruce returned to the British charts in 1968 with "Keep On" (# 12). Both "Mr. Bus Driver" and "Keep On" were produced by Dale Hawkins. There were several successful remakes of "Hey! Baby" : by Jose Feliciano (# 71, 1969), Ringo Starr (# 74, 1977) and Ann Murray (# 7 country, 1982). The song gained new popularity after Channel's original version was included in the movie "Dirty Dancing" in 1987.
On the strength of "Hey! Baby", Bruce toured England in June 1962, with Delbert McClinton in support. Brian Epstein booked Channel to top a NEMS Enterprises promotion at the Tower Ballroom in New Brighton (close to Liverpool) on June 21, and placed the Beatles a prestigious second on the bill. The group had already signed with Parlophone, but had not yet recorded for the label. Backstage McClinton and John Lennon spent about fifteen minutes in conversation. John was impressed with McClinton's harmonica style and asked Delbert to show him how to play the harmonica introduction to "Hey! Baby". In September, the Beatles recorded "Love Me Do", with a harmonica solo inspired by "Hey! Baby". In fact, McClinton's influence can be easily detected in Lennon's harmonica playing on many early Beatles tracks from 1962-64.
After a temporary withdrawal from the music business, Bruce relocated to Nashville in 1978 and began writing songs for the country market. His successes as a songwriter include several country number ones : "Party Time" by T.G. Sheppard (1981), "Don't Worry 'Bout Me" by Janie Fricke (1982) and "As Long As I'm Rockin' With You" by John Conlee (1984). All three BMI Award winning songs. Bruce also received an award from BMI for two million radio plays of "Hey! Baby".
In 1995 Channel recorded an album for the Memphis-based Icehouse label, with Delbert McClinton reprising his role on harmonica on most of the tracks. In 2002 Bruce teamed up with Larry Henley (ex-Newbeats) for a CD called "Original Copy, Vol. 1". He is now semi-retired, still living in Nashville.
More info : - Official website : http://www.brucechannel.com/index.htm - http://www.rockabillyhall.com/BruceChannel1.html - http://www.rocky-52.net/chanteursc/channel_bruce.htm (With discography, albeit incomplete.)
Acknowledgements : Fred Bronson, Wayne Jancik, Richie Unterberger (All Music Guide).
CD : The most complete overview is "Hey! Baby : The Ultimate Collection Of Bruce Channel" (Marginal MAR 64, 2005, Belgium, 31 tracks), but the Marginal label is no longer in business. Collectables issued a 14-track CD (three guesses what the album title is) in 1995, still in print.
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