Born John S. Marascalco, 27 March 1931, Grenada, Mississippi
Songwriter, producer, publisher, label owner.
John Marascalco has enjoyed great success as a songwriter, especially with the songs he wrote or co-wrote for Little Richard : “Rip It Up”, “Ready Teddy”, “Good Golly Miss Molly”, “She’s Got It”, “Heeby-Jeebies”, “Send Me Some Lovin’” and “Groovy Little Suzy”.
Born in Grenada, Mississippi, Marascalco was the youngest of nine children. His father owned a shoe store, a grocery store and a clothing store. After dropping out of three different colleges in three years, he landed a job as a copywriter at radio station WNAG in Grenada. John started writing songs in 1955, purely as a recreational exercise. His first composition was “Rip It Up”. He drove 35 miles to Charleston to see Elvis Presley perform there in April 1955 and offer him the song. Elvis liked it and told him to play it to Sam Phillips in Memphis, but Sam passed on account of it being “too country”. Marascalco found this very strange, as he didn’t like country music and didn’t write in that style. Elvis did of course get to record “Rip It Up” later when he was signed to RCA.
When Marascalco heard Little Richard’s “Long Tall Sally”, it knocked him out and he was determined to write a song for Little Richard. The result was “Ready Teddy”, the second song to flow from his pen. John had never been out of Mississippi, but he had a buddy who was stationed at a Naval base in California and together they drove all the way to Specialty Records in Los Angeles. They checked into a motel for a week and then set about finding the address of Specialty Records. There Marascalco told the lady at the desk about his long drive and asked to see Little Richard’s producer. Bumps Blackwell was interested in new material that might suit Little Richard. Marascalco didn’t have a demo, so he sang the song for Bumps, who loved it and asked if John had anything else. Right there and then John began to belt out “Rip It Up”. Blackwell really started to take notice and suggested that Marascalco make a few changes to both songs. A few days later, Blackwell said “Man, we’re gonna put these out back to back, it’s gonna be a smash”. And that’s exactly what happened : “Rip It Up”/“Ready Teddy” became Little Richard’s third Specialty single, released in June 1956. “Rip It Up” went to # 1 R&B (# 17 pop), “Ready Teddy” was a # 8 R&B hit (# 44 pop). Both songs are now true R&R standards ; Elvis Presley, Bill Haley, Buddy Holly and Gene Vincent are among the artists who have recorded both sides.
Chronologically speaking, the first John Marascalco composition to appear on record was “Rock ’n’ Roll Dance” by Lloyd Price, which Specialty issued a month before “Rip It Up”. Another classic Specialty release from John’s pen was “(Every Time I Hear) That Mellow Saxophone” by Roy Montrell (released in September 1956), which became better known when the Stray Cats included the song on their first album in 1981.
In September 1956, Marascalco wrote a new set of lyrics for Little Richard’s composition “I Got It” (unreleased at the time), changing it to “She’s Got It” for the film “The Girl Can’t Help It”. “Good Golly Miss Molly” was co-wrtten with Bumps Blackwell. Recorded in October 1956, this masterpiece was held back until December 1957, by which time Little Richard had given up rock and roll for religion. Marascalco was particularly adept at completing or rewriting songs started by other composers who got stuck. Examples are “Send Me Lovin’” (started by Leo Price, Lloyd’s brother), “Goodnight My Love” (George Motola, first recorded by Jesse Belvin) and “Bertha Lou” (Johnny Burnette). In the case of the latter it is possible that Burnette wrote the whole song and that Marascalco simply bought it from him (as Johnny’s son Rocky Burnette has claimed). John himself told Stuart Colman that they wrote the song together and that Burnette sold him his share. “Bertha Lou” was a modest hit for Clint Miller (# 79, 1958). For the detailed story behind the song see http://www.rockabilly.nl/references/messages/bertha_lou.htm
Marascalco was determined to have control over his copyrights, so in the autumn of 1957 he formed his own publishing company, Robin Hood Music. Soon thereafter he started his first record label, the short-lived Cee-Jam Records, followed later by Bourbon Street, JC, Lola, Tang, T-Bird, Princess, Ruby-Doo and Sabrina. In 1959 he co-wrote “Be My Guest” with Fats Domino, another classic. Around the same time Marascalco’s name appeared on a single, not as a writer or as a producer, but as an arranger. The track in question was the instrumental “O Sole Mio Rock” by Rene Hall’s band. Another instrumental with which John was involved (as a writer) is “Knocked Out”, one of the stand-out tracks on the LP “In the Mood” by the Ernie Fields Orchestra (1960). Later, Marascalco would also play a role in the development of instrumental surf music, as a producer.
From the late 1950s onward, Marascalco would form several partnerships with other song- writers, with Tommy Boyce, with Scotty Turner and in 1964 with Harry Nilsson, who was still completely unknown then. Nilsson recorded the first version of “Groovy Little Suzy” (soon to be recorded by Little Richard for Vee-Jay), under the name Bo-Pete.
Acknowledgements : This biography leans heavily on Stuart Colman’s article “The Killer Quillers : John Marascalco” in Now Dig This, issue 362, page 13-16 (May 2013).
More info (in German) : https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Marascalco
Dik, June 2017
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