In reviewing one of Bobby Scott's albums for Stereo Review—I think it was "For Sentimental Reasons"—I mentioned how he had done much work for Mercury Records during the period when Quincy Jones was the label's Musical Director and how he had thus become a victim of a form of credit theft. Artistic credit, that is.
The magazine received several cards and letters suggesting that I was a bitter man who made this up. Quincy was a cool dude and his talent was the envy of many, one writer maintained. The fact is that I was right, Quincy was indeed riding into the spotlight on the tails of more talented people. I recall when he returned from Paris with his big band, in 1960, Bill Grauer was shocked to hear that the band would be appearing at Basin Street East in New York and that nobody was throwing a press party. This was wrong, he said, so he threw one for Quincy—never mind that the band had nothing to do with Riverside Records.
Anyway, one of Quincy's band members was Melba Liston, a wonderful player and arranger who never received the recognition her talent deserved. I got to know her when she began writing and recording for Riverside. We were having a drink one night and, when our glasses needed a refill, Melba told me that she had written some of the band's charts, but that Quincy took the credit. I knew that he was a pedestrian trumpet player, I had heard that myself in 1953, when he came to Copenhagen with Lionel Hampton, but I had more recently heard his writing ability praised. Now I began to wonder and I heard many more such stories after Quincy went with Mercury Records.
Of course, most of us know that this sort of thing went on for years—and probably still does, although to a lesser degree. Does anybody think that Irving Mills wrote all those Ellington tunes? Of course not, but he was a slick promoter, so Duke at least got something out of the arrangement, as it were. Then there was Milt Gabler, who was responsible for countless memorable sessions on Decca and his own Commodore label. I noticed his name creeping into the credit brackets on some reissues in the 1970s. There were worse offenders, such as the highly respected Lomaxes—Alan and his son, John—notorious for claiming undue credit. In the introduction to his 1936 book, "Negro Folk Songs as Sung by Lead Belly" (Macmillan), Huddie Ledbetter's wife, Martha, would surely not have had to take a lowly chambermaid's job in a hotel if Leadbelly had been paid his royalties.
In the Thirties, Lil Armstrong wrote a song called Just for a Thrill. She recorded it for Decca in 1936 and the popular Ink Spots picked it up in 1939. Then it more or less lay dormant until 1960 when Ray Charles included it on his best-selling album, "The Genius of Ray Charles." Within a few months, that song was all over TV and available in a variety of renditions on several albums. Imagine Lil's surprise when the mailman brought her a $500 royalty check. Lil was no fool, so she caught the first thing smoking and showed up at the music publisher's office in New York. There, her questions generated a lot of hemming and hawing, she told me. There was still some "tabulating" going on, they said, but Lil wan't buying that—she also had another question: who was this Don Raye who shared her composer credit? They hemmed and hawed some more before explaining that Mr. Raye had written some additional lyrics, which entitled him to half of the composer royalties. The fact was that nobody sang any lyrics to that song except the ones Lil wrote and recorded in the Thirties. So, Lil wasn't buying that story, either. "I think they thought I was this old lady in Chicago and I'd be happy to get five hundred dollars," she told me, chuckling. "Well, you know me, I left that office with a much bigger check, and there is more to come."
Getting back to Bobby Scott. He was a man of many talents, who came into the limelight in 1956, when he gave the ABC Paramount label its first chart hit, a song called Chain Gang. He was still a teenager then, albeit barely, and the song—a Tennessee Ernie Ford-like tale—was perfect for the day's hit parade, but Bobby had only hiccuped. He had worked on the road with Louis Prima and other jazz artists since he was 15, and his taste in music was, to say the least, eclectic. He wrote the hits, A Taste of Honey and He's Not Heavy, He's My Brother, as well as other tunes you might be familiar with if you are in mid-life. Suffice it to say that Bobby Scott's musical talent knew no boundaries, so he was handy to have around as Quincy elbowed his way to fame.
So there I was, unafraid to tell it like it was and working for editors at Stereo Review who never tried to water down what I had to say. They were not perturbed by the complaints my review received from Quincy's fans, and there was no protest from the man himself—of course not. There was, however, a wonderful letter from Bobby Scott in which he acknowledges the veracity of my "bitter" statement. Here it is:
|To enlarge image of letter, please click on it.|
With the letter came a small box of tapes containing a wonderful collection of his music, at the time unreleased—jazz, chamber music, an intriguing idiomatic blend. I hope some of it has been made available in the past twenty years. I called Bobby and we decided to get together for that bread breaking at summer's end. Sadly, it never came to pass. He passed away six months later, a 53 year old victim of lung cancer. I wonder how many people know what a loss that was.