Over on the "Remember Covington The Way It Was" Facebook page, Tom Gray shared some information about the songwriter who created the perennial favorite song "Rockin Robin." He was Leon Rene, and he was born in Covington on February 6, 1902.
"I remember the classic rock and roll song "Rockin Robin" from the year 1958. Several years ago I discovered the writer was born in and grew up in Covington," Gray wrote.
The song was first released in June of 1958, when Leon was 56 years old. Rockin' Robin was first recorded by Bobby Day, and went to to be released in a variety of versions by a variety of singers.
"Rockin' Robin" was originally released as "Rock-In Robin" on the Class Records label as a 45 single. Leon Rene wrote it under the pseudonym Jimmie Thomas. It was Bobby Day's biggest hit single, becoming a number two hit on the Billboard Hot 100 and spent one week at the top of the charts (number one hit) in R&B sales.
According to Wikipedia, Michael Jackson recorded his own version of the song in 1972, which achieved even greater success.
While Leon Rene's biggest hit single was Rockin' Robin, he is also known for his song "When the Swallows Come Back to Capistrano". The song, written as a tribute to the annual springtime return of the cliff swallows to Mission San Juan Capistrano in Southern California, spent several weeks at the top of Your Hit Parade charts during its initial release in 1940.
Wikipedia quotes the lyrics as:
When the swallows come back to Capistrano
That's the day you promised to come back to me
When you whispered, "Farewell," in Capistrano
'twas the day the swallows flew out to sea
— excerpt from "When the Swallows Come Back to Capistrano" by Leon René
"That song has been recorded by such musicians as The Ink Spots, Fred Waring, Guy Lombardo, and Glenn Miller.
A glassed-off room in the Mission San Juan Capistrano was designated in René's honor and displays the upright piano on which he composed the tune, the reception desk from his office and several copies of the song's sheet music and other pieces of furniture, all donated by René's family.
"René's other works included "When It's Sleepy Time Down South" (with Clarence Muse and brother Otis René), "Gloria", and such Pop staples as "I Sold My Heart to the Junkman", and "Boogie Woogie Santa Claus".
René began his own record label, Exclusive Records, in 1945, and the song "Gloria" was first recorded and released on that label in 1946 as a pop tune by the Buddy Baker Sextet, featuring Duke Ellington's former vocalist Bob Hayward. It was next recorded by Johnny Moore's Three Blazers, with the vocal by Charles Brown, also on Exclusive, and released in April 1947.
The first version of "Gloria" to reach the national charts (#17) was by The Mills Brothers, recorded on September 22, 1948. "Gloria" became well known as a Doo Wop standard.
CLICK HERE to listen to "Gloria" on YouTube
"With over 30 groups performing it, "Gloria" is one of the most covered songs in doo-wop music history. Leon René set up Class Records in 1951, with his son, Rafael "Googie" René and Preston Love.
"Boogie Woogie Santa Claus"
"Boogie Woogie Santa Claus" was written by René and recorded with Mabel Scott in late 1947 for Supreme Records. It placed within the top 15 of Billboard's Race Records chart. Patti Page covered the song in 1950 to little attention, but its B-side, "Tennessee Waltz", became a #1 hit in the United States and is one of her best-known works.
Rene's list of songs is impressive.
"When the Swallows Come Back to Capistrano"
"When It's Sleepy Time Down South" (with Clarence Muse and brother Otis René)
"I Sold My Heart to the Junkman"
"Boogie Woogie Santa Claus"
"I Lost My Sugar In Salt Lake City"
"Sweet Lucy Brown"
"That's My Home"
"Beyond The Stars"
"Someone's Rocking My Dreamboat"
"Near To You" (Recorded by The Basin Street Boys)
"If Money Grew On Trees"
His music has been used in a large number of movies, on television shows, and even those "Got Talent" performance programs.
Over on the AllMusic.Com website, Greg Prato writes this about Leon:
"Although often overlooked, songwriter Leon René was an important figure in R n' B/early rock n' roll, as he helped shape the West Coast R n' B sound during the '50s. René (along with his brother, Leon) was the head of one of the earliest Black independent labels on America's West Coast, Exclusive and Excelsior Records. The label later changed its name to Class Records during the late '50s (and welcomed aboard another owner, Preston Love)."
Songwriter and Record Label Producer Leon Rene
Tom Gray said that his friend Rick Coleman, in his research for his forthcoming book, noted that during his early twenties Leon relocated to the Los Angeles area where he co-wrote the song that became the signature song of Louis Armstrong, "When It's Sleepy Time Down South."
"Sleepy Time Down South" was a 1931 jazz song written by Clarence Muse, Leon René and Otis René. Armstrong recorded it almost a hundred times during his career. "The song is now considered a jazz standard, and it has been recorded by a plethora of artists."
Coleman's Detailed Research and Book
Rick Coleman, the local rock and roll historian who in 2006 wrote an in-depth biography of Fats Domino, has for over a decade extensively researched the Rene family history while working on a book about the beginnings and history of music in New Orleans. Coleman has lived in Covington for over 50 years.
Coleman's book on Fats Domino entitled "Blue Monday" won a ASCAP award, and he went to the Lincoln Center in New York City to receive his award. At the ceremony, he was recognized for his book right before 92-year-old Les Paul received an award, and Coleman was thrilled to get to meet him.
"I’ve written about New Orleans music for 40 years in Wavelength, Offbeat, Billboard, Rolling Stone, Goldmine, etc.," Coleman stated, and he was the keynote speaker at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s 2011 Tribute to Fats Domino and Dave Bartholomew.
"Also, I co-produced and was seen in the PBS (Channel 12) American Masters documentary on Fats Domino in 2016, the year before Fats died," he said.
Meanwhile, Rockin' Robin Lives Again (And Again)
Versions of Rockin' Robin were put out by Eddie Silver in October of 1958, Cliff Richard in December of 1958, Leon McAuliff in 1961, Dodie Stevens in 1961, Carroll Brothers in March of 1962, Clyde McPhatter in May of 1962, Dee Dee Sharp in April of 1963, The Hollies in January of 1964, and the Rivieras in April 1964.
The different versions continued to roll out over the years by more than 76 singers, plus several instrumental versions were recorded and released. Overseas, there were several adaptations of the song recorded in other languages, including Czech, Danish, Finnish, German, Norwegian, Serbian and Swedish.
Due to some copyright issues, the song is now in the public domain.
René died in Los Angeles, California, at the age of 80, on May 30, 1982.
The Revealing Interview
I found a typed interview with Leon on the internet, a PDF file with no reference on who wrote it, when it was published or who published it. When I do find out I will add it to this blog article.
The interview was conducted around 50 years ago, sometimes in the 1970's, and it offers some interesting information, hopefully accurate. I include it below:
Article found on the internet:
BACK TO THE 50's WITH LEON RENE
Leon Rene and Otis Rene of New Orleans, Louisiana were mavericks in the recording business. They were enterprising and aggressive at a time when the business was in the grip of a small group of Majors who guarded the process of record-making as an Oriental mystery.
Otis, the elder brother by four years, was born in New Orleans in 1898; Leon was born in Covington, Louisiana in 1902. Both were university-trained. Otis graduated from Wilberforce University in 1921 and received a B.S. in pharmacy at University of Illinois, 1924. He immediately moved to Los Angeles and worked for his uncle (Albert Baumann) for two years and thereafter operated his own pharmacy.
Leon went to several universities: Xavier in New Orleans, Southern in Baton Rouge, and Wilberforce in Ohio. He spent the summer months working for his father (a brick contractor) and when his parents moved to Los Angeles in 1922, he became a bricklayer by day and studied music at night; played piano for private parties and then formed his own orchestra. It was at this time he began to realize his real potential as a composer.
Otis died in the late '60s. Leon still lives-in Los Angeles, (He died in 1982) in the West Los Angeles area in a well-appointed home, surrounded by spreading carob trees and a well-manicured lawn. He carries his 70 years-plus very well and is still active in the music publishing business.
On the upper floor of his home is a spacious office, which we approached through his private bedroom. The mahogany walls, plush rug and acoustic tile ceiling makes an excellent setting for a kidney-shaped desk inlaid with leather, and a gilt-trimmed Mason and Hamlin grand piano. This design makes it possible to work late hours without disturbing his wife, lrma.
Above a flagstone fireplace in frames of black cork, were a few of his "hit" songs, "Rockin' Robin," "When The Swallows Come Back To Capistrano," Sleepy time Down South" (Louie Satchmo Armstrong's theme song), "Someone's Rockin' My Dreamboat," "I Lost My Sugar in Salt Lake City," and many others.
His Struggle With T.B,
"Dusty Road," he says, pointing to a song of which he authored the lyrics while in Olive View T.B. Sanatorium and completed the music when he was released. It portrayed the story of his life in the struggle against T. B., which had recently claimed the life of his brother, Melbourne.
"Otis (co-writer) and I played it for Jack Robbins, who was then the Mr. Music of Tin Pan Alley. He liked it and gave us a writer's contract. One day he called us to come to the Biltmore Hotel and play the song for a new singer, named Nelson Eddy.
When Nelson Eddy arrived, Jack handed him the song and, without any accompaniment, he began singing "Dusty Road," and the vibrations of that big baritone voice shook the entire room. Jack placed the song in a picture produced by M.G.M., titled, "Let Freedom Ring," starring Nelson Eddy.
The song became the theme and overture of the picture, and he recorded it on Victor (red seal) records.
"I Lost My Sugar in Salt Lake City" was a song I wrote with Johnny Lange. Irving Mills got it into the Bill Robinson - Lena Horne 20th Century Fox picture "Stormy Weather" Mae Johnson sang it in the picture and Johnny Mercer had the best-selling record on Capitol Records; that was in the first year or so (1942) of Capitol's existence.
"That same year we had a song in the film "Juke Girl," titled "Someone's Rocking My Dreamboat" (Leon & Otis Rene and Emerson Scott), published by Advanced Music Corp." "I first recorded it with a group called "The Four Tones." Johnny Porter, lead singer of the group, later got T.B. as a result of singing the high notes in the song and later died.
"Al Jarvis, who originated the Make Believe Ballroom on radio, kicked off the Four Tones record and eventually every swing band of the 40's recorded it, including Benny Goodman and Artie Shaw; the best-selling record was recorded by the Ink Spots on Decca."
Sleepytime Down South
"When It's Sleepytime Down South" goes way back to 1931; Otis and I wrote it for a stage play in Hollywood titled "Under A Virginia Moon." Clarence Muse (co-writer) had a small part in the play. The author of the play (daughter of movie actor George Faucett) did not want the song in the show; however, the show flopped but the song became a standard."
"When Louis Armstrong was playing the Cotton Club in Los Angeles, we went to hear him. We told him we were from New Orleans and invited him to a creole gumbo dinner, Louie's favorite dish, and Mama was an expert gumbo cook. He accepted and brought Les Hite, bandleader at the club, and Lionel Hampton along.
The dinner was at my Mother's and Father's home in Pasadena. During the dinner Louie asked Mama for a second helping of gumbo, and as Mama was serving him, he suddenly let out one of those scat riffs of his, "Bop-Bip-Ti-Doo-Dat," etc. This was the beginning of scat singing and, believe me, it completely shocked everybody at the table because this was the first time we ever heard a "mouth riff." My Mother almost dropped the gumbo in his lap. You see, the radio was on, and Guy Lombardo's band was playing a number and Satchmo couldn't resist filling in a spot the Lombardo band left open.
After dinner we played "Sleepytime" for him and he promised to record it on Victor Records, which he did, and it became a great standard — and his theme song for the rest of his life."
"In an interview on TV just before Louie passed, a commentator asked him to name the favorite song of all his recordings, and he said, "When It's Sleepytime Down South" — because when I play that song my whole show begins."
When The Swallows Come Back To Capistrano
When we came to the title page of "When The Swallows Come Back To Capistrano," Leon went to his desk and handed me a small 7-inch record in a four-colored sleeve, depicting the swallows returning to the old Mission of San Juan Capistrano, and under his picture the legend read: Leon Rene plays, sings, and tells a most unusual story that inspired him to write the song.
As he was putting the record on his player, he handed me a slip of paper: it was an order for several hundred copies of the record from the Mission at San Juan Capistrano. "They sell it down there in the Souvenir Shop all year round to the tourists who visit the Mission," he said.
As we listened to the record, a mission bell was ringing in the background as he proceeded with the story, how he was waiting for his breakfast on the morning of March 19, 1939, when he heard the radio announcer tell about the swallows that were expected to return any moment to the Mission (as they did each year on March 19, according to legend). Apparently, Mrs. Rene was a bit late in preparing his breakfast.
Leon had just recovered from a long sojourn in a T.B. sanitarium and, on doctor's orders, slept in the garage, converted into a small studio, away from the rest of the family. The waiting made him impatient, and he said to his wife, "Maybe by the time the Swallows Come Back To Capistrano I'll get my breakfast."
After he said it, he thought, "Hey! That's a great title for a song," and took off for the studio. He composed the opening strain in a matter of minutes and rushed back in the house to play it for Irma. She liked it so well that she cooked him a wonderful breakfast of ham and egg, french toast and the works. That inspired him to finish the song that same day.
When it was completed he got his friend, Ceelle Burke, a very fine singer who fronted his own orchestra, to record it. Then he submitted the song to M. Witmark and Son, a New York music publisher. They accepted it and sent a check for $500.00 advance royalty. On the same day Leon received the check Irma confessed it was the last day of her Novena to Our Sorrowful Mother. She had been praying for his health and the success of his song, "When The Swallows Come Back To Capistrano."
The record finished with Leon singing the song to the accompaniment of The Four Senores and orchestra. Many artists recorded it, but the Ink Spots produced the best-selling disk in 1940 that sent the ballad to the top of the Lucky Strike Hit Parade. Leon received an award from the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) as the outstanding song of the year. "Swallows" sold over 3,000,000 records to date.
My California Maid
"And here's the first song that I received any money from, titled, "My California Maid" (Ben Ellison and Otis Rene — co-writers). There was an Exposition at the Shrine Auditorium featuring California-made products back in 1925-26. They offered a $500.00 prize for a song written to the title of "My California Maid," and out of 6,000 contestants we won. Imagine our excitement when we came to the packed auditorium and heard Brick English's 30-piece orchestra playing our song. We were awarded the $500.00 prize, and that was about all we ever got from the song, but it did get us started as songwriters."
"Not often does a writer get a break on the flip side of a "smash hit," but I did with a song I wrote, titled, "Boogie Woogie Santa Claus." You've probably never heard of it, but it just happened to be coupled with one of the biggest hit records of all times. It was released on Mercury Records about 1950 or 1951, around Christmas time.
Boogie Woogie Santa Claus
Mercury was set to go with "Boogie Woogie Santa Claus" and completely ignored the flip side, written and introduced several years before by Redd Stewart and Pee Wee King. There were other records by The Short Brothers, Decca, and Erskine Hawkins, Coral, but neither the live performances or previous records did very much for this song, but when Patti Page recorded it, it became one of the greatest records of all time.
"I refer, of course, to Tennessee Waltz. This was the song on which "Boogie Woogie Santa Claus" got a "free ride," — and what a ride. After Christmas Mercury re-coupled the record, but by then I had already earned more royalties than the writers of Tennessee Waltz due to the fact that I was not only writer of the words and music, but also the publisher of "Boogie Woogie Santa Claus."
"Otis and I got into the record business because we found it difficult to get the big record companies to record our material. And when the depression came, the Majors cut off most of their Negro talent except the big names. You just couldn't sell a colored artist to any of the Majors — and Decca had all it could handle, although we cut a few sides with Cleo Brown, like "When," with mild success.
Nat "King" Cole
"I was actually the first to put Nat "King" Cole on wax. It happened when his trio played on 8th Street at a place called the 331 Club. Nat also worked at the Swannee Club as intermission pianist.
Oscar Moore (guitar) and Wesley Prince (bass) began jamming with him and started the Trio. They tried New York in the early 40's and played 52nd Street, at Kelly's Stable, but they came back to Los Angeles, where they got a much better reception — especially at the 331 Club.
Jack Gutshall, a jukebox operator, asked me to A&R his new label called Amour Records. He needed new R&B artists for his juke boxes, so I started scouting for new talent.
"I recorded Nat at the old Melrose Studio (used by Decca). In those days they were still cutting masters on wax cylinders (unused masters were scrapped and used again). When the session was completed I played the masters for Jack: "Black Spider," "River St. Marie," "I Like To Riff," and "Sunny Side of the Street." He liked the 'hoe numbers, but turned down "Sweet Lorraine," which became one of Nat's biggest "hits."
These were the first sides that Nat "King" Cole ever recorded. After making these sides, Nat went to Decca, where he recorded "Slow Down" and some blues songs. By this time I had started my own label, "Exclusive Records," and signed Joe Biggins and his Honeydrippers and Johnny Moore's 3 Blazers; they became the top R&B artists in the 1940's.
"In 1944 my brother Otis recorded Nat Cole on a tune he wrote, titled, "I'm Lost," on his own Excelsior label. Johnny Otis, Jimmy Rushin (using the Basic Band as background), and `Big' Jay McNeely were some of his artists. "Harlem Nocturne" was one of Johnny Otis's big standards.
"The following year, Capitol signed Nat, and that was the beginning of a great singing career. Until then he was mostly a jazz pianist and lead singer in his trio. Jazz lost a tremendous talent, but he became a "giant" in popular music.
Capitol Records Launched
"When Glenn Wallich, who owned "Music City," one of the largest music stores in Hollywood, asked me, "Where do you get your records pressed?" He was thinking then about starting Capitol Records. He was aware of our progress with R&B records and wanted to know how we got started in the record business. I told him the key was to get Al Jarvis to play his records on the air.
I had an "in" with Jarvis because Johnny Mercer and I wrote his theme song, "Your Make-Believe Ballroom" for his Make-Believe Ballroom radio show. I recorded his theme with a 20-piece band arranged by one of Glen Miller's arrangers and featured The Modernaires with Joe Stafford; Billy Mays and Buddy Cole also were on the session.
We told him how tough it was to get pressings and suggested he buy a plant and establish his own label. He did, and named it Capitol Records, and became president for many years.
Glen Wallich had foresight and formed a partnership with the great songwriter, Johnny Mercer and his friend, Buddy DeSylva, millionaire songwriter, producer and publisher. They began picking up all the "pop" talent on the West Coast bypassed by the Majors, like Freddie Slack and Ella Mae Morse, who recorded one of the first Capitol hits: "Cow-Cow Boogie," and was followed by such outstanding artists as Jo Stafford, The Modernaires, Margaret Whiting, Nat "King" Cole, Tennessee Ernie Ford, Johnny Mercer, and many others.
Exclusive Records soon became the nation's No. I independent R&B record company. Our first session included two Smash Hits — "The Honeydripper" and "I've Got A Right To Cry," both written and recorded by Joe Liggins, who also backed Herb Jeffries on the same session, "I Left A Good Deal In Mobile."
Herb had a lot of friends at the session, and when he finished singing "Mobile," they left, after listening to a few bars of "The Honeydripper," but when I played the dubs for Jack Gutshall (the distributor), Jack picked "The Honeydripper" as the "Hit" record of the session, and before long "The Honeydripper" put Exclusive Records solidly in the recording business as the nation's No. 1 independent record company.
"Jarvis wouldn't play Joe Liggins' record on the "Make-Believe Ballroom" because it was R&B, and he played mostly "Pop" artists, but we knew we had a "Smash." One day the owner of a restaurant called and demanded that Jack take "The Honeydripper" out of his juke box. It seemed that the waitresses were reacting too strongly to the infectious beat of "The Honeydripper" and were hopping all over the place, playing, the record over and over.
We had great difficulty getting pressings at that time because Allied Records was the only independent pressing plant in Los Angeles, and each customer was limited to only 200 records a week.
Building A Pressing Plant
"They had a good thing going, as the only independent pressing plant on the West Coast. Nobody was allowed to enter the plant, because they did not want anyone to know the secret of pressing records; the majors were the same. Otis and I broke through that wall of secrecy by contacting Jimmy Beard, who worked in the maintenance department of Allied, and Jimmy made us an offer to build a record press for $1000. We agreed and formed a partnership with Gutshall and hired Jimmy to work at night and weekends to complete the first press for RGR pressing plant.
The press needed stock, so we went hunting all over town for discarded records, at stores that had old disks stocked in back rooms that they wanted to get rid of. We paid them 1 cent each. In those days there were few R&B record stores. R&B records were sold in furniture stores, drug stores, make-shift store fronts, shoe-shine stands — anywhere — to meet the demand for R&B records.
As sales increased so did the demand for old records, to 2 cents per record until the supply was exhausted. All the old records were brought to our "one press" plant in Culver City, where we reheated them on a steam table, the centers were cut out and the stock rolled into a ball and put into the press where the finished record was completed.
Allied fired Jim when they found out that he was setting up presses for us. Since we used old records of different colors, the finished record looked like a rainbow, but it didn't matter if you had a "hit" like "The Honeydripper" or "I'm Lost."
Before long several backyard plants sprung up and we had to furnish them with old records to use for stock.
Because of the demand for "The Honeydripper" in the middle East, Pullman porters would take records to Chicago from Los Angeles and bootleg them at $10.00 a disk.
In Chicago, Harry Rife had a record shop on the South side next door to the Regal Theater, and R&B fans would line up for blocks to purchase "The Honeydripper" by Joe Ligns and His Honeydrippers and "I'm Lost" by Nat "King" Cole. Exclusive Records and Excelsior Records had now established a foothold as pioneers in the independent record business.
The Demand Grows, The Majors Get Worried
The great demand for R&B artists grew and soon Aladdin got started, then the Biharis launched Modern Records. Before long the Majors began worrying about the independent labels cutting in on their business. They tried to compete with us but it was too late — we had a head start and the format for making R&B Records.
We built our own rolling mills and matrix plants to strengthen our position. We also established an Independent Record Manufacturers Association. I was elected President and Jack Gutshall was Vice President. It worried the Majors for a short while but our higher retail price and lack of unity among the Independent Record labels soon defeated us.
Victor was selling Pop and R&B records for 75 cents (our price was $1.05). To compete with Victor I set up my own distributing company in New York and Los Angeles, and shipped directly to the distributor. I wouldn't deal with anyone without a bank reference. All orders were shipped sight draft bill of lading through the Bank of America, who backed me to the amount of 5500.000. Seventy five percent of each order was credited to my account upon shipment and the remaining 25% paid when picked up by the distributor.
Distribution Goes International
We subleased masters to other companies in England, Europe and South America. The English kids grew up on our records, which gave them a head start. In the '60s, The Beatles, Rolling Stones, Dave Clark Five, etc. They learned from our records and imitated them. The Dave Clark Five recorded Bobby Day's "Over and Over" and it became the No. 1 best-selling record in America in 1965.
When Little Richard went abroad, he was idolized by The Beatles and all the groups. They knew his records better than our kids here, except the Black kids who admired him as they now do James Brown today.
"Well, after a time, the Majors decided, "If you can't lick 'em, join 'em." So Columbia and Victor Records finally opened the doors of their plants to all Independent Record Manufacturers; that never would have happened if we hadn't broken through their veil of secrecy.
Then Comes The 45's
We had things going our way until Victor introduced the 7-inch vinyl 45-rpm record, which revolutionized the record business and made the breakable 10-inch 78-rpm record obsolete overnight. It helped all the record companies very much because shipping the heavy 10-inch records by air was too costly.
Competition with the Majors, however, forced the independent labels to use the 7-inch 45-rpm records, and thereby reduced the price of R&B records from $1.05 to 75, retail. This forced many independent labels out of business.
My two publishing companies Leon Rene Publications and Recordo Music Publishers, by this time had built up an extensive Catalogue of Standards, of which my son Rafael "Googie" Rene is Professional Manager.
In 1957, I came back with Class Records and started with an instrumental ("Wham Bam") written and recorded by my son Googie Rene. I first offered it to several record companies, but they all turned it down, so I decided to put it out on Class Records.
In those days R&B disk jockeys still had a free hand in choosing their material; that was before Top 40 Listings took over. We were able to get the help of a number of platter spinners like Hunter Hancock, Lonnie Johnson, and Huggy Boy to break a record in Los Angeles, and our distributors worked with disk jockeys in their territories, the same as we did, to break a record nationally.
"Then along came a very talented young man named Robert Byrd." Googie discovered him and we recorded him on Class Records under the name of "Bobby Day." His first hit was the original version of his own composition, "Little Bitty Pretty One," published by Recordo.
Before Bobby came to us he had a group called The Satellites, who made some records for John Dolphin. John owned a record store on Vernon near Central Avenue. "Little Bitty Pretty One" was on the flip side of my song, "When The Swallows Come Back To Capistrano," which we thought was the hit side, but before long the disk jockeys turned it over and "Little Bitty Pretty One" broke through.
No sooner was Bobby's disk on the market when Thurston Harris covered us on Aladdin Records. When I say covered, I mean copied — note for note. Dick Clark went on the Harris record and we were in trouble. I wanted Bobby to go on the road and get into theaters like the Apollo in New York and the Regal in Chicago. But he was making $100 a week and refused to quit his job.
Bobby Day's record was on the Billboard and Cash Box Charts 6 weeks before the Thurston Harris record was released, but somehow Dick Clark aired the Harris record on his network show, and we were dead. Aladdin sold 700,000 of Thurston Harris and we sold about 180,000 of Bobby Day, but if you say "Little Bitty Pretty One," Bobby Day's record on "Class" was by far the best.
Rockin' Robin Arrives
"When I asked Bobby to write another song to follow "Little Bitty Pretty One," he came up with "Over and Over," which I coupled with "Rockin' Robin."
"Here's another story song . . . A mockingbird kept waking my wife every morning, and she asked me to chase him away from her window so that she could get some sleep. I told her I couldn't unless I threw a rock at him (imagine the writer of "When The Swallows Come Back To Capistrano" getting caught throwing rocks at a bird) but the next night the bird flew into a tree outside my window and woke me up, and about 2 a.m. every morning thereafter.
He was making so many riffs that I called him a Rockin' Mockin' Bird, but finally changed it to "Rockin' Robin." That was a good title, so I wrote a cute little song about him. I thought so little of the song that I decided not to put my name on it; instead, I gave it to my wife, Irma, and she put my mother-in-law's name down as the writer — Jimme Thomas.
"And, would you believe it? "Rockin' Robin" has received 2 BMI Awards — 1958 and 1973 — and awarded a plaque by 16 and Spec Magazine (8 million teen-age subscribers) as the "Hit Song" of 1972. "Rockin' Robin" is a two-time No. 1 best-seller in Billboard and Cash Box, and one of the biggest songs in our catalogue.
"When Bobby Day's record came out on Class Records in 1958 backed with "Over and Over" (a 2-sided hit), Thurston Harris covered "Over and Over," but he just couldn't duplicate "Rockin' Robin," so his record flopped."
"We had a sensational arrangement on Bobby Day's great vocal of "Rockin' Robin," but 14 years later, January 1972, it became a No. 1 "Hit" all over again on Motown Records with Michael Jackson of the Jackson Five.
Motown had a billboard sign on the Sunset Strip advertising "Rockin' Robin" as "hit song" of the album ("Got To Be There"), but it was the "Rockin' Robin" single that the kids went for, and Michael Jackson was their idol. Over 50 recordings have been made of the song and there is no doubt that "Rockin' Robin" will go down in musical history as one of. the all-time great standards.
K-tel also broke the ice and released the Bobby Day version of "Rockin' Robin" in a gigantic mail-order package titled, "25 Rock Revival Greats." So did Columbia, Roulette and many other record companies swing back to the '50s.
The success of "Rockin' Robin" started a new trend, and I believe it was the key song that led to revival of the "Songs of the '50s" and previous years.
A 1932 Record that featured Otis Rene singing
That was the end of the 1970's interview. What a great life Leon Rene experienced and his contributions to the record industry, both through his music and his record label achievements, will be long remembered.