THE LANE BROTHERS
By Klaus Kettner with Tony Wilkinson
When the Rockabilly Revival hit in the late seventies, one of the tunes to be rediscovered was the essential 'Boppin' In A Sack' by The Lane Brothers. This quickly appeared on various compilations, some of dubious origins and others that are totally legitimate. The real surname for the brothers is Loconto and they came from a musical family. Their cousin, Jerry Gray, arranged scores for Artie Shaw and it is Jerry's arrangement of 'Begin The Beguine' that was a massive hit for Shaw. Gray also wrote the classic big band titles 'String Of Pearls' and 'Pennsylvania 6-5000' for the Glenn Miller Orchestra. Some pedigree, that's for sure. Accordingly, it comes as no surprise that three of the ten children were destined for a career in the entertainment industry. Of the three Loconto brothers that evolved into the Lane Brothers, Pete was the oldest, being born on 13th October, 1924 and was followed by Frank on 26th March 1931 with the third brother, Art, arriving on this earth in 1933. All were born and raised in the city of Cambridge, Massachusetts. Frank recalls that it was a city of mixed cultures and music and the brothers grew up listening to the music of the big bands and Frank Sinatra plus country and western music. Being from a Roman Catholic home, they served as altar and choir boys. Throughout their show business career, they always found a way to attend Mass on Sundays.
Frank started writing songs as a young boy and he and Pete formed a group that performed at local school and private functions. (At the time, Art was too young to travel around although eventually he did join Frank and Pete). This training ground led to bookings in the Boston nightspots such as the Mohawk Ranch in the late forties and, in 1950, they opened and named the Hillbilly Ranch that in later years was one of the favourite hangouts of American president George W. Bush, whilst he attended Harvard Business School. During these early days Pete and Frank added Tex Logan as the fiddle player of the band. The brothers met Tex in 1948 while he was attending MIT in Cambridge. He was a high calibre country/bluegrass fiddle player and taught the boys a lot about western swing and bluegrass music, Logan went on to compose the Christmas standard 'Christmas Times 'A Coming'. He also became a Doctor of Electrical Engineering and worked for many years at the Bell Laboratories in New Jersey. By this time, brother Art was a part of the group, and for a time they were known as the Lane Brothers and Logan on their many appearances on The Hayloft Jamboree broadcast from radio station WCOP in Boston.
A first hiatus came in 1952/53 when Frank was drafted into the army and was dispatched to serve in the Korean conflict. Art was the next to be drafted and was sent to Germany where he played in a musical group. It was during these days that eldest brother Pete secured a recording contract with Imperial Records. The first record in 1953 was 'One Two Three Skid Doo/ John's Reply (Imperial #8206) that also saw release in Canada on Quality Records. Also listed in the catalogue is a follow up on Imperial 'Where Do I Go/Kisses Turn To Tears' (#8297). As 1954 drew to a close, the three brothers were reunited and resumed performing.
Their national and international status had its beginnings under the management of the Catskill resort entrepreneur Paul Grossinger of the world famous Grossinger Hotel, New York State. Playing nightclubs is significantly different to performing at school dances as the audiences at the former came to be entertained as opposed to being there solely for the purpose of pumping out dance music. Accordingly, the night club performers had to develop effective stage routines. That said, the groups at school dances had to appeal to the teen audiences in order to achieve repeat bookings. By learning their trade, the Lane Brothers became very adept at adjusting their performances and this aided their longevity over four decades in the music business. At their rock 'n' roll shows Frank would play rhythm guitar, Pete was on lead guitar whilst Art plucked the bass strings. For night club performances or big concerts, they had a band director and would usually draft in the services of the resident house band. Thanks to the efforts of their business manager Paul Grossinger, they secured a contract with RCA Records, New York at the end of 1956. The deal was arranged through RCA´s A&R chief Joe Carlton, who later launched his own successful Carlton label.
As their first project for RCA, Joe Carlton asked: 'Do you boys want to record a hit' and handed them a demo of the song 'Marianne' by Terry Gilkyson and The Easy Riders that came out on US Columbia Records. They seized the opportunity and recorded the song along with 'Sogno d'Oro'. When released, the record charted and reached position 64 in the Billboard charts of March 1957. 'Marianne" may well have done better but was hampered by other versions of the song. Apart from the original by Gilkyson that reached position 4 on the charts, there were covers by The Hilltoppers (chart position 3), Phil Gordon and Burl Ives (number 84 on the hit parade). Nevertheless, its popularity secured an international release for The Lane Brothers in countries such as Germany (RCA #47-6810).
At this point in their career, the brothers were in their late twenties and early thirties. This was compatible with being a nightclub act and recording material like 'Marianne'. Whilst at first sight they may have seemed to 'too long in the tooth' and suffering from the same problem that afflicted Bill Haley & His Comets when compared with all the new teenage raves that were surfacing everywhere, they elected to become a hot rock 'n' roll act. With the years of live performing, it was relatively simple for them to cover lounge music, pop, rock 'n' roll and rockabilly. Frank recalls: Actually, we had been doing Country and Rockabilly in the night clubs of New England and Canada prior to the RCA contract, as well as ballads and other songs in three part harmony. So we presented a musical variety in our shows. We would do pop standards with the house band and then pick up our instruments and go into the rock stuff of Bill Haley and others of the day, and bring the house down. Remember, this was all new to the audiences, so they loved it. The house band members in the night clubs turned a deaf ear to the rock music. they did not like it, especially because they considered it all hillbilly as it was played on guitars without sheet music. The thing that saved us with these musicians is that we were excellent singers and could stand up with the best of the singers of the day. We lived through the changing era of music and since we knew both styles, we were able to survive".
Their second RCA single, released on 10th June 1957, was a revival of Lee Bond's 'Uh-Uh Honey'. Perry Como's A&R man Hugo Winterhalter directed this session and employed quality jazz musicians who were reasonably effective in capturing the rockabilly feel of the song. Frank again: Hugo was out of his element and I remember (arranger) Sy Oliver saying that 'you guys are much better than your material'. This goes to show that as late as 1957, the establishment of session musicians was still failing to come to terms with the rock 'n' roll avalanche. The flip side, the tasty rockin' tune 'Ding Dong Danglin' obtained good reviews but the disc failed to chart. The majority of the material recorded on RCA , especially that at the New York sessions, was chosen by A&R men working for Joe Carlton. One was the orchestra leader Joe Reisman and another was a guy with the somewhat unique name of Chick Crumpacker. RCA had a whole slew of hit parade stars on its roster at the time such as Elvis Presley, Perry Como, Harry Belafonte and The Ames Brothers. Accordingly, such acts had the first choice of new songs presented by music publishers.
The next move by Joe Carlton was to release, near the end of 1957, an E.P. by The Lane Brothers called "Rockin´ The Pops" (RCA EPA #4175) that included their treatments of the Everly Brothers "Wake Up Little Susie', Gene Vincent's Lotta Lovin' and Andy Williams ' Lips Of Wine'. The other song was 'There's Only You'. A list of 25 other RCA EPs on the backcover shows that they had only two rock´n´roll bands honoured by an Extended Play record in those days - Elvis and The Lane Brothers. Their next single, 'Don't Tempt Me Baby/A Lover's Heart' was released on 6th December 1957 and received heavy promotion from RCA that included sending out special promo records complete with covers that contained short clips from their new wave acts including The Lane Brothers, Bob Jaxon (see Hydra CD BCK 27135), Janis Martin (see Hydra CD BCK 27100), Lawton Williams and the De Castro Sisters. The topside of The Lane Brothers was a good rocker but it again failed to gain the chart placing that they were seeking.
But this was to change with the next release, the rock 'n' roll classic 'Boppin´ In A Sack'. This was one of several songs that homed in of the current fashion craze for sack dresses. French fashion designer Hubert Givenchy designed a Paris collection in 1957 centered around a style of dress christened called the sack and this started the trend for straighter shift dresses that did not go in at the waist. From this came the fitted darted sheath dress and this in turn developed into the loose straight short shift dress. By 1958, the style was really catching the public's imagination and the design was picked up by Mary Quant who modified it to her design. Various refinements on this early sack dress picked up by Courrèges led Quant to go one step further and design the mini shift dress that was to dominate sixties fashion. However, we get ahead of ourselves. Back in 1958, other somewhat derogatory sack dress songs included Gerry Granahan's 'No Chemise Please', 'Sack Dress' by The Beavers on Capitol and 'Pretty Woman With A Sack Dress' by Whistling Alexander Moore on the 77 Records label.
The Lane Brothers were sent to Nashville in March 1958 to record 'Boppin' In A Sack'. Frank again: RCA had studios in Nashville headed up by Steve Sholes, assisted by Chet Atkins. They were primarily doing country artists, but they were also producing Elvis, so we asked Joe Carlton to send us to Nashville so that we could have Chet Atkins produce us. We had known Chet from our early country days. Chet produced us in the famous Studio B where Elvis cut so many hits and most of the session players on our session also played on Elvis´ hits. The whole concept of recording in Nashville was different from New York. Nashville musicians used a number system to write their charts as opposed to the musical notations of written music. The synergy of four or five A Team musicians in Nashville created a new sound and they came up with arrangements in just few minutes of wood-shedding the song in the studio and jotting down numbers. 'Boppin' In A Sack" is a prime example of the Nashville system of recording.
For the flip to the Lane Brothers disc, issued on 14th April 1958, the song 'Somebody Sweet' was selected. This song had first appeared on Colonial Records (#722) by Johnny Dee and The Blue Notes. This was a pseudonym for the song's composer John D Loudermilk who wrote many rockin' standards such as 'Sittin' In The Balcony' and 'Tobacco Road'. The Lane Brothers record of 'Boppin' In A Sack' reached position 53 in the American charts in the 17th May 1958 issue of Cashbox magazine. It also went into the Canadian charts at the same time and peaked at placing 44 whilst in Melbourne, Australia, it scaled up to number 80 on the local hit parade at the end of 1958. However, unless you were an Elvis Presley, record sales were not the prime source of income for artists in those days and so they had to go out on tours to make a living, although a chart record did enhance the earning power. Frank recalls: We did both night clubs and teen places. We were one of the few recording acts of the day that actually had a night club show and so we were usually booked six month in advance in all the major clubs in the various cities both in the USA and Canada. Each city had it´s own 'Bandstand' style television show, so we would appear on TV in the cities that we played in. Then we did do a number of shows that would be sponsored by various rock stations and put on in both indoor and outdoor arenas in their towns. I remember shows in Albany, New York (WPTR) where we appeared with other artists such as The Everly Brothers, Connie Francis, Jack Scott, Frankie Avalon and maybe ten more artists. Another city I remember was New Orleans, where we shared the bill with Bobby Darin, Chuck Berry and a variety of other acts.. We did not do any of the package shows at that time, but did "Boppin´ In A Sack" on Dick Clark's 'American Bandstand' on 1st May 1958 which gave us and the record some national exposure. We also had appearances on NBC TV shows such as 'The Tonight Show' and other variety network shows on NBC (which was connected to RCA at that time).
Whilst in Nashville, the guys were house guests of Boudleaux and Felice Bryant who lived in the outskirts of that city at in Hendersonville. Accordingly, they felt honour bound to select one of their compositions for the next RCA release. This resulted the picking of the song 'Little Brother' at the session on 21st March 1958. For the other side of the single, the song 'So Satisfied' was taken up. This record was released on 21st July 1958 but was commer- cially still born. However, a cover version was recorded in Germany by (their answer to Elvis) Ted Herold and released on Polydor Records in January 1959 under the title of 'Dein Kleiner Bruder'. As a result of the lack of chart success for 'Little Brother', RCA Records failed to renew their contract with The Lane Brothers.
Back in New York, the three brothers hung out with other musicians, especially Bobby Darin. Frank remembers: He liked my songwriting, and helped myself with some of the lyrics on the chorus but did not want to share in the songwriting credits. Bobby also helped with lyrics on a few other of my songs. He said to me, 'Anyone can finish a song'. I never forgot that saying. He was a great guy and died much too soon. Through the assistance of Darin, The Lane Brothers pacted with Leader Records, a subsidiary of the newly launched Kapp Records. The results were the sides 'Mimi' and the Frank Lane composition 'Two Dozen And A Half' (# 804). . The recordings were made in New York and utilised part of the Count Basie Orchestra for the trumpet section. Although again not successful, the record was released in Great Britain on London American Records (#9150) in June 1960.
The brothers retained their popularity with night club audiences and kept up a steady stream of television appearances including guesting on: The Tonight Show, The Jackie Gleason Show, The Mike Douglas Show, a Bob Hope Special as well as Dick Clark's American Bandstand. They were a regular act on cruise ships of the Royal Viking Lines cruise ships upon which they would go out for a month or so at a time. As such, they have toured all over the USA and Canada plus Europe: Frank commented: In the early sixties, we were booked for four weeks in Germany, Italy and France through the Gisela Gunther Agency of Frankfurt. This turned into a six month stay. We did very well with our excellent live show and featured different styles of music, which appealed to the majority of our audiences. We performed primarely for the US Installarions, although we did perform in a couple of civilian clubs in Berlin and Naples. We did very little if at all, promoting our recordings during our time in Europe. In 1964, they relocated to Florida with appearances at conventions, supper clubs, on cruise liners, and performing for retirees on the Condo Circuit There was a near miss at meeting up with Elvis Presley. Let Frank tell the story: I think it was in Spring 1965 and we were driving from some performances in the Southwest and came through Memphis. It was around noon and we decided to go visit Elvis at Graceland. We had never met but in January 1955 when he was still relatively unknown, and prior to 'Heartbreak Hotel', he had appeared at a theatre in Miami and after his show, he came by the Vanity Fair club where we were appearing. He stood in the rear of the club and watched us for about fifteen minutes, according to the hostess, Dorothy, who had recognized Elvis. At that time, we were doing a lively rock-a-billy set with our two guitars and the bass and having a ball. Somewhere in our archives, in an article in the Miami Sun, the writer said: 'What does this Elvis Presley have that the Lane Brothers don't have three times as much. Little did he or we know about the King's future. Now to get back to the Graceland story..
A few of the people around Elvis in Nashville had told us that he would like us, as he loved harmony singing, etc. We were also good friends with one of the Jordanaires, Gordon Stoker and he had also told us that we were Elvis' type of guys. That also prompted us to want to meet him in person one day. When we got to Graceland, there were hundreds of girls outside the gates hollering, Elvis, Elvis, it was a riot. We introduced ourselves to one of the security people and he walked back up to the house. Shortly thereafter, coming down the winding driveway, we recognized Elvis's Dad, Vernon Presley. He greeted us at the gate and invited us to come in. As he opened the gates (they had the music notes on them) Mr. Presley was a little disturbed. He said during the night, someone had rammed their car into the gates and they had to be repaired, again, as this was not the first time. We started walking back up towards the house and he said, 'Elvis will be happy to meet you boys..he'll be up in a while...you see he can't go out any longer during the day, because of the kids out here at the gates all day, so he rents the movie theatre down the street and he and his pals watch movies all night and come back here at dawn'. He invited us inside and offered us a cold drink. We talked for almost an hour on everything from Elvis to Chet Atkins and Jackie Gleason, who had given Elvis his first national television exposure. Jackie was now a neighbour of ours at the Miami Country Club. Around 2pm, The King was still upstairs in bed, so we left without actually shaking hands.. We had an a ppointment to meet Chet in Nashville and it was a few hours drive. And as fate had it, the opportunity to visit Elvis never presented itself again. In 1969 the were again house guests for a few weeks at the house of Boudleaux and Felice Bryant in Hendersonville Lake and next to the home of Johnny Cash and June Carter. Boudleaux had started his own Tambourine label which was distributed through Monument Records owned by Fred Foster. They recorded under the name of Luconto Boys, a derivitive of their family name, and laid down four tracks. After performing for a couple of years as the Luconto Boys, they reverted back to the original Lane Brothers name.
In 1981 they went back into the studio in Nashville to re-record their hit 'Marianne' plus some other songs such as '"Believe In America' and 'Shoe Top Clover'. On these sides, produced by Grammy winning Walter Haynes, the guys were backed by members of the illustrious Nashville A Team. 'Marianne/Shoe Top Clover' were issued on the FXL label (#0026). FXL stood for Frank Xavier Loconto (Lane). Whilst the disc had had national distribution, no chart action ensued. Frank and his wife Phyllis opened the successful Sunrise Recording Studio in Florida, recording and producing many artists, including some songs for his friend Senator Bob Graham. Another side recorded at this studio was 'Heart To Heart', a song written by Frank at the time the presidential candidate Senator Gary Hart was caught in a compromising situation with model Donna Rice. This was coupled with another Frank X (Lane) Loconto composition 'Crying Over You'.
Throughout the eighties, Frank wrote a number of gospel songs and produced some Christian recordings. In 1984, he appeared in the film 'Beyond Desire'. The Lane Brothers also appeared in the film 'The Godmothers', a comedy spoof of the original 'Godfather'. Frank produced an album of Irish songs by U.S. House Of Representatives Speaker Tip O´Neill. Frank currently hosts a daily public policy show, Countyline, on local cable television throughout South Florida
Sadly, Pete, the eldest brother passed away in 1998. In 2003, Frank focused on an old idea which was the collating of several prayers together as a 'Singing Rosary' which he recorded and released on CD (go to www.singingrosary.com for further details). Frank: This was successful with various churches and a copy was sent to Pope John Paul II. As an old rock 'n' roller, the next logical step was to record the follow up, 'Rock 'n' Rosary'. As this is being written, the recordings have been completed and the artwork is in progress.
That is the Lane Brothers story as at May 2008, a long career in music.
The Lane Brothers - 'Boppin' In A Sack' - Hydra Records (released May 2008)
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