No Chemise, Please

Three hitmaking music acts of the late 1950s came into existence as a result of Gerry Granahan's reckless ambition. One was Gerry himself, though he was billed as Jerry Grant before settling on his given name. Another was a silly group, Dickey Doo and the Don'ts, that became a band after their first record had been made. Another group, The Fireflies, evolved in a similar way. A multitasker before the word came into widespread use, Granahan has always been one of those guys who likes to do it all. While growing up in Pittston, in northeast Pennsylvania, he taught himself to play guitar, piano, trumpet, accordion and who knows what else. Later, he was an announcer for WPTS radio (serving the greater Scranton area at AM 1540). After moving to New York in the mid-'50s, he met up-and-coming star Bobby Darin in Midtown Manhattan at Hanson's Drug Store (a hangout for lower-rung showbiz types) and the two roomed together for awhile. He also found work as a singer of demo records at Hill and Range music publishers.

In 1957, Gerry made his first record as Jerry Grant, "High School Dance," for Eldorado, a short-lived label run by Hanson's regulars Bill Buchanan and Dickie Goodman. Along with Darin (who'd already had a few disappointing releases for Decca), he was signed to Atlantic's Atco subsidiary by company co-founder Herb Abramson, their debut discs coming within a few weeks of one another that fall. "Talkin' About Love," credited to Jerry Grant and the Rockabilly Bandits, didn't quite deliver the goods, though it had a tighter, tougher sound than the pure-teen Eldorado disc. Drummer pal Dave Alldred (of Buddy Knox and Jimmy Bowen's Rhythm Orchids) penned "Click-Clack" with Gerry, who slapped together a multitracked take of the song that went top 30 in early '58 after American Bandstand host Dick Clark suggested he use the Dickey Doo and the Don'ts name to avoid contractual complications with Atlantic.

With the record's success, the first for the Swan label (Clark was a financial backer), there came a need to put a band together; subsequent singles by the five-man Dickey (later Dicky) Doo and the Don'ts (that included Gerry and Dave) presented a considerable contrast in sound to the initial effort. The nonsensical-but-rocking "Nee Nee Na Na Na Na Nu Nu" reached the top 40 in the spring of '58; its B side, the Halloweenish "Flip Top Box," and later singles "Leave Me Alone (Let Me Cry)" and "Teardrops Will Fall," took the act into early '59, though Granahan bailed after a solo hit the previous spring made him a hot property...for a minute...and major stardom seemed within his grasp.

His deal with Atlantic had ended somewhat abruptly, at which point he ditched the Jerry Grant moniker for his given name. Teen tune "Love's Young Dream" failed to make a even a minor impact for the struggling Mark label. Granahan waxed yet another pleasant ballad, "Girl of My Dreams," flipping it with the farcical "No Chemise, Please," which he'd written with producer Arnold Goland and sometimes-chemise-attired Jodi D'Amour (a glamorous "Copa Girl" at the Sands Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas). A mildly humorous criticism of the baggy "sack dress" fad of the time, Gerry hammed it up, delivering lyrics like ' she's got a shape like an egg!' and 'Well you can take back the sack, leave it hangin' on the rack and bring the sweater back!' The timing for this single on the new Sunbeam label couldn't have been better; it made the top 30 in June, at the same time Dickey's "Flip Top Box" topped out several rungs below. The anti-chemise sentiment was apparently heeded, as sack dresses fell out of favor with fashion-conscious females shortly afterwards.

Gerry Granahan

Gerry employed varying degrees of gimmickry on three subsequent Sunbeam singles and Atco released an earlier recording, "Sweet Affection," using his real name. A demo he made of "You Were Mine," a romantic ballad written by Paul Giacalone, drummer for Brooklyn-based instrumental group The Fireflys, became a hit after Ritchie Adams was recruited to do the lead vocal. Altering their name to Fireflies, the quintet started doing pop-rock vocals and the song scored on the charts in the fall of '59. Gerry continued making solo recordings in search of a second hit; there were two for Gone in the latter half of 1959 (the slower "Let the Rumors Fly" and stronger "It Hurts") and a pair of better-received 45s for Canadian American in 1960: a lively take on the standard "When Irish Eyes Are Smiling" and "You'll Never Walk Alone," previously a hit by one of Gerry's favorite singers, Roy Hamilton.

Neal Galligan, an executive at both Sunbeam and Canadian American, formed the Caprice label with Granahan and Bob "Hutch" Davie (best known for his honky tonk piano-pounding on Jim Lowe's '56 chart-topper "The Green Door"). Gerry relished the process of discovering new talent and producing hits, a goal he achieved in '61 and '62 with appealing efforts by Janie Grant ("Triangle"), The Angels ("'Til") and James Ray ("If You Gotta Make a Fool of Somebody"). He also had minor success with his own solo recording of the great movie theme "Unchained Melody," a big hit for Hamilton and others.

As a singer he hopped from label to label, using his own name and several oddball pseudonyms (Gerry Patt, Jerry Thomas, Gary Williams, Christoper Sunday...maybe more!); as a producer, he triumphed with United Artists' mid-'60s incarnation of Jay and the Americans ("Cara Mia" and more). Chip Taylor's notorious "Wild Thing" was his to lose; he produced the original version by The Wild Ones for UA in '65...good record, big failure (Britain's Troggs reaped rewards with their magnificently primitive piece o' work several months later). I've covered the highlights but haven't come close to outlining Gerry Granahan's entire career over a half-century of music-making. The method was simple: he did whatever felt right at any given time, resulting in a wild variety of great, good, bad and downright weird records. He's referred to himself as "a loose cannon." The description fits and has served him well.

- Michael Jack Kirby


No Chemise, Please