BY BRUCE SPIZER
The story you’re about to read is true. No names were changed to protect anyone.
My name is Spizer. I carry a card. It says I’m a Beatles author/historian. I write and publish books on the Beatles and sometimes freelance for magazines and internet sites. This was one of those times.
I got a call on a Friday from a Peter Lindbald. He’s the new associate editor at “Goldmine” magazine. Seems they needed an article about a group a lot of their readers were interested in–The Smithereens. I told him I wasn’t from New Jersey and suggested that he assign the article to someone else. My beat was the Beatles.
Peter said that they could use a write up on the group, also know as the Fab Four, but didn’t want the same old stuff you read in other magazines. He added, “I want something new.”
I told him that album came out in August, 1964, and that it was already covered in my book “The Beatles’ Story on Capitol Records.”
He said, “No, I mean something rare.”
“Like the Rarities album?” I asked.
“No. Mark Wallgren already covered that in an article appearing in December 9, 1994, issue of “Goldmine.” I want you to write about something that has perplexed Beatles fans and collectors for decades.”
So I asked, “What do you have in mind?”
He then asked that immortal question, “Remember The Titans?”
“Yeah,” I said. “That was the group that had six songs on an MGM album titled ‘The Beatles With Tony Sheridan And Their Guests.’ It came out in early February, 1964, during the height of Beatlemania. An exploitation album to cash in on the popularity of the Beatles, it had only four songs with any Beatles involvement, and they were recorded in Hamburg, Germany, back in 1961. Three of the tracks had lead vocals by Tony Sheridan; the other was an instrumental called ‘Cry For A Shadow.’ Although ‘Billboard’ charted the album at 68 and ‘Cash Box’ at 43, ‘Record World’ didn’t chart it at all.”
Peter was unimpressed. “Every Beatles expert knows that. But I want to know who were The Titans?”
I told him all I knew. “The liner notes on the MGM album call them the ‘rocking, socking’ Titans, who are described as ‘a group musically related to their English cousins [The Beatles].’”
Peter remained unimpressed. “Yeah. We can read, too. Our writers looked into it, but it seems that The Beatles didn’t have any cousins. Only people who claimed to be related to them, trying to cash in on their fame. You know the type. We thought we had a lead when a film came out a few years ago called ‘Remember The Titans,’ but it was about a high school football team. And then there was the NFL team in Tennessee, but they were to young to have been in the group. The Greek mythology angle didn’t pan out either. It was ancient history at best, most likely false idolatry. Tim Nealy checked with ‘Beatlefan,’ ‘Beatlology,’ ‘Penthouse.’ None of them had a clue.”
I took the bait. “So you want me to solve the mystery of who The Titans were and why they were on a Beatles album?”
“Yes. And you have to do it within our budget.”
I knew it wouldn’t be easy. But this was a subject that had frustrated Beatles and Talmudic scholars for what seemed like centuries. Sure it was a challenge, but I was up for it.
The first thing I did was check to see if the Titans had released an album on their own. I checked an MGM discography and found a Titans album titled “Today’s Teen Beat.” I looked for it on the internet and found one available for sale at $10. I immediately ordered the LP, hoping that there would be liner notes telling me all about the band. I also expected there to be a picture of the group. Knowing there was nothing further I could do until the album arrived, I took the weekend off and listened to my Smithereens CDs.
The album arrived at my office the following Tuesday afternoon. Had I been writing an article on the Moody Blues, it would have been an omen. But this was to be an epic of historic proportions on the Titans. When I pulled the LP out of the package, my heart sank. The only picture on the front album cover was that of the MGM lion. And the back cover had neither liner notes nor a picture. The only clue was a production credit to Danny Davis.
This Danny Davis fellow was my only lead. Maybe he’d be willing to talk if he wasn’t sworn to secrecy. But first I had to find him.
An internet search revealed that “Danny Davis” was an alias. His real name was George Nowlan. This guy had a rap sheet dating back to the thirties. Although he came from a good family and was educated at the New England Conservatory of Music, he fell in with a fast crowd at the age of 15, hooking up with some ringleader named Gene Krupa. During his stint with Krupa, he was used as one of the trumpet boys. He then got involved with other leaders such as Bob Crosby and Freddy Martin, as well as hit-men like the Blue Barron and Sammy the Kaye.
But Nowlan grew restless and decided to sing. He became part of the MGM syndicate, taken under the wing of a Harry Meseron, who advised him to change his name because it was too hard to pronounce. Meseron told Nowlan he “looked like a Danny.” Davis was picked as his last name because it was a big family name in the South.
By 1958, he was out of the singing racket, moving up to staff producer for the MGM syndicate. He arranged hits on Connie Francis, Conway Twitty and David Rose. In 1962, the vice squad investigated him for producing “The Stripper” for Rose, but no charges were brought when the song ended up on a commercial for Noxema Shaving Cream (“Take it off, take it off, take it all off”).
In 1965, he began working as top assistant to a notorious axe-man, Chet Atkins, before forming his own gang, Danny Davis & the Nashville Brass, in 1968. Although they never made the FBI’s “Ten Most Wanted List” or cracked the Top Ten of the “Billboard Top LP’s” chart, they were heavily into the numbers racket, charting ten albums between 1969 and 1980. According to the “Billboard Hot Country Singles” chart, Davis and his gang were involved in nine hits in the Nashville area from 1970 through 1987. For two of these hits, he brought in Willie Nelson, who had made a name for himself as an outlaw countryman and by engaging in a running battle with the boys from Internal Revenue.
This Davis was no Southern governor spreading sunshine, but maybe he had mellowed a bit. But was he willing to talk about his past? Was he even alive?
As fate would have it, I was scheduled to fly to Nashville the next day to appear as a speaker at a Beatles convention. I figured if Danny Boy was still active, he’d involved with the Union. They always were. My Nashville contact had a Union directory and gave me his number.
I quickly dialed the number, hoping that he would tell me the secrets of the Titans. Maybe it would be some sort of Deep Throat thing. “I’ll give you their names when they’re dead.” But, then again, maybe he would think it was time to come clean. After all, the statue of limitations had expired.
When he picked up the phone, I got right to the point. “Mr. Nowland, I’m a Beatles author/historian on an assignment for a great metropolitan newspaper, fighting for truth, justice and the American way. I need to know the truth about the Titans. I’ll be flying to Nashville tomorrow. Can we meet?”
Nowland said he could help me, but I’d have to do it his way. He didn’t want me to come by the studio. He didn’t want to be seen talking to the press. I suggested we meet in the control booth of an auditorium at TPAC. He knew the place and said he’d be there tomorrow at noon.
On the flight to Nashville the next morning, I was so excited I didn’t eat my peanuts. I was about to meet Danny Davis, the man who held the answers to the Titans mystery.
Shortly after noon, Davis walked into the control room. He looked younger than I imagined. He had thin brown hair, with only a touch of gray. He was also slim. This Davis was no Nashville fat cat.
I immediately presented him with the evidence–first the Beatles LP with the six Titans songs and then the smoking gun, the Titans album with his name as producer. I asked him if he was willing to talk about it. After all, it was a long time ago.
Davis agreed it was now time for the truth. The Titans were not a hip young rock ’n’ roll band. In fact, they were not a band at all. Davis confessed that he had put the group together to pull a con. The MGM syndicate wanted him to prey on youngsters craving for the big beat sound. So Davis assembled a gang of elite New York session musicians.
His top recruit was axe-man Billy Mure, a/k/a The Supersonic Guitar Man. Mure had been associated with the RCA Victor gang in the fifties, releasing “Supersonic Guitars in Hi-Fi” (RCA 1536), “Fireworks” (RCA 1694) and “Supersonics In Flight” (RCA 1869). He was know for multi-tracking guitar parts and producing a mix of jazz and exotica. He defected over to the MGM syndicate and was responsible for “Supersonic Guitars” (MGM 3780).
Davis also brought in Dick Hickson of the New York Philharmonic family on bass trombone, Don Lomond on drums and, for the intimidation factor, Milt “The Judge” Hinton on bass. He was proud of his gang, calling them “one take musicians,” meaning they got it right the first time, keeping studio costs to a minimum. He also admitted he had come up with the name and played trumpet, just like he had done for Krupa years earlier.
The Titans album was called “Today’s Teen Beat” (MGM E/SE 3992) and contained hits of the day such as “Last Night,” “Who Put The Bomp” and “Bristol Stomp.” The year was 1961. The liner notes proclaimed, “Try this LP on your turntable. It’s endsville!” But while the disc may have been endsville, it did not chart.
The MGM syndicate did not give up on its plans to exploit record buyers. This time they told Davis to go after adults. His targets were easy marks. The aging cocktail guzzler who wanted to show how hip and cool he was by embracing the latest dance crazes. The stay-at-home wife who wanted her kids to see how hip she was as she twisted the night away.
The album was called “Let’s Do The Twist For Adults” (MGM E/SE 3997) by Danny Davis and the Titans. It included twist-style arrangements of standards still under copyright such “The Darktown Strutters’ Ball” and “Johnson Rag,” plus tunes in the public domain: “The Man On The Flying Trapeze” was called “Flying Twist;” “Comin’ Thru The Rye” was called “Rye Twist;” “In The Good Old Summertime” was called “Summertime Twist;” and “Auld Lang Syne” was named “Happy New Year Twist.” Guitarist Billy Mure arranged the tracks and got an additional piece of the action by collecting songwriter royalties on the public domain selections. It was quite a scheme, but the public wasn’t buying.
In early 1964, Beatlemania hit America. The Capitol family of Hollywood, California, had dumped a fortune pushing the group on the youth of America. They ruthlessly aimed the music and long hair of the Beatles at vulnerable kids, showing total disregard for how the British invaders would corrupt this country’s youngsters. They were not alone. The Vee-Jay gang, which operated out of Chicago and was establishing a base in Los Angeles, was working to introduce the Beatles to America. In Philadelphia, the Swan syndicate also jumped in. These operations had no shame, putting profits ahead of the mental health of the country.
Not surprisingly, MGM wanted a piece of this Beatles action. MGM had a contract with a German mob, Deutsche Grammophon (“DG”), under which they would distribute German product in the States. This included the DG and Polydor labels. At an early January, 1964, meeting with Polydor’s New York representatives, MGM was presented with a copy of a German EP featuring four songs by Tony Sheridan & the Beatles, namely “My Bonnie,” “The Saints,” “Why” and “Cry For A Shadow.” Sheridan sang lead on the first three songs and the fourth was an instrumental written by George Harrison and John Lennon. Looking to exploit the Beatles name and fool the youth of America, MGM entered into a five-year contract giving them the exclusive rights to distribute the four songs in America. At the time the agreement was reached, they were the only four Beatles Hamburg recordings that had been released. Because DG switched its allegiance to the Atlantic/Atco family a few months later, MGM did not obtain the rights to the other four Tony Sheridan/Beatles recordings.
MGM wanted to penetrate both the singles market and the album market. They planned on unleashing a 45 featuring “My Bonnie” and “The Saints” (MGM K13213), but didn’t have enough Beatles songs for an LP. They quickly acquired the rights from DG for two more Tony Sheridan tracks (with no Beatles involvement) that appeared on a German single, “You Are My Sunshine” and “Swanee River.” But that left them six songs short of the dozen needed for an album.
Once again, MGM turned to Danny Davis. There wasn’t time for him to reassemble the Titans to pull off the job, so he took six songs off “Let’s Do The Twist For Adults.” To complete the con, he renamed the songs to get rid of the twist reference and add the emphasis on “beat,” as in Beatles. “Flying Twist” became “Flying Beat.” “Rye Twist” was renamed “Rye Beat.” “Summertime Twist” was christened “Summertime Beat.” And “Happy New Year Twist” became “Happy New Year Beat.” And that’s how the Titans ended up on a Beatles album.
I reminded Davis that when released on February 3, 1964, “The Beatles With Tony Sheridan And Their Guests” (MGM E/SE 4215), sold well enough to chart in both “Billboard” and “Cash Box.” We both found it odd that all 12 songs on the album were recorded and/or released in 1961. I had to admit that while the mixture of Beatles/Tony Sheridan recordings with twisting standards by the Titans sounds hokey on paper, playing the record straight through does provide an interesting and somewhat entertaining listening experience.
Davis, now 81, remains active in the Nashville music scene. As for Milton “The Judge” Hinton, he died in December, 2000, in Queens, New York, at the age of 90. Some jazz experts believe he played on more records than anyone else. Billy Mure formed his own production company and had success with Marcie Blane’s “Bobby’s Girl.” He relocated to Florida and, at age 94, plays the clubs on a regular basis with a female vocalist and occasionally fronts exotica bands. Meanwhile, a stereo copy of the Beatles/Titans LP “The Beatles With Tony Sheridan And Their Guests” is valued at $700 in near mint condition. And, at long last, we can remember the Titans.