Born 1931, Los Angeles, California Died 12 February 1999, Hyrum, Utah

The musical career of Miss Toni Fisher (as she was always billed) did not take off until 1959, when she was twenty-eight. In 1949 she played a small, uncredited part in the musical "Make Believe Ballroom", a film starring Nat King Cole, Frankie Laine, Kay Starr, Jimmy Dorsey and Gene Krupa (all in cameo roles), among others. In the early fifties she married composer / arranger /producer Wayne Shanklin (1916-1970), who would write most of her material, including her two hits. Shanklin wrote three Top 10 hits in the 1950s: "Jezebel" (Frankie Laine, 1951), "Chanson d'Amour" (Art and Dotty Todd, 1958) and "Primrose Lane" (Jerry Wallace, 1959). A fourth one would follow just before the decade ended.

In 1959 Wayne Shanklin started his own label, Signet Records, in Hollywood. He had written a song called "The Big Hurt" that he thought would be a perfect musical vehicle for his wife, who had been on the nightclub scene in Los Angeles as a vocalist for some five years. Shanklin produced the record at Gold Star Studios in Hollywood, with Larry Levine as the engineer. Levine claims that he accidentally invented a new technique during this session that has been described as "phasing", "flange phasing", "electronic phasing" and "flanging" **. Shanklin complained that Fisher's vocal was too low in the mix. As it was too late to change the levels - it was cut in mono - Levine made two identical tapes of the mono master and transferred them simultaneously onto a third recorder while fiddling with the frequencies in a bid to lift the vocal. Because the two tracks were not perfectly synched, an accidental phasing effect was created, which gave the song a swirling, eerie sound (described elsewhere on the web as "the wind blowing through an aluminium Christmas tree").

"The Big Hurt" went all the way to # 3 on the Billboard pop charts (also # 16 R&B) in the last week of 1959. This gave Toni the chance to appear on the shows of Dick Clark and Ed Sullivan. In the UK, the record was released on Top Rank JAR 261 and was # 30 for one week in February 1960. There were British cover versions by Maureen Evans on Oriole and Joan Small on Parlophone. Later, "The Big Hurt" would be recorded by Del Shannon (1966, # 94 in Billboard), Wes Montgomery (1966), Sandy Posey (1967), Scott Walker (1967), The Lettermen (1971), Timi Yuro (197?), Nick Cave (1997) and Frank Black and the Catholics (1998). The follow-up, a remake of Irving Berlin's "How Deep Is the Ocean", was not nearly as successful, peaking at # 93. A third Signet single followed later in 1960, "Everlasting Love", written by Wayne Shanklin and Allan Sherman (yes, the same guy who later recorded "Hello Mudduh, Hello Fadduh"). This is not the same song as the Robert Knight / Love Affair / Carl Carlton / Narvel Felts / Gloria Estefan hit, nor as the Barbara Pittman song, nor as the 1978 Andy Gibb hit.

Shanklin released a Signet LP by his wife (naturally called "The Big Hurt") towards the end of 1960, but it didn't do much. After a short stay at Columbia, Toni signed with Big Top Records in New York. Her first record for this label was "West Of the Wall" (written by Wayne Shanklin), inspired by the Berlin wall, built in August 1961. It has been hailed as an expression of hope and ode to love and freedom at a time when the Cold War was at its most grim. "West Of the Wall" peaked at # 37 in the spring of 1962. It was Toni's second release in the UK (London HLX 9564), but did not chart there. A second Big Top single, "Music From the House Next Door", went nowhere, as did four subsequent releases on Smash. In 1964 she was resigned to Signet for three further singles. Her last recordings were made for Capitol in 1967. She spent the rest of the sixties doing club dates and retired from the music scene after the death of her husband in 1970. Toni Fisher died of a heart attack in 1999 at the age of 67.

** According to Wikipedia, flanging is one specific type of phasing. "Itchycoo Park" by the Small Faces (1967) is mentioned as an early example of flanging.

- Rob Finnis, Liner notes for "The Golden Age of American Rock n Roll, Vol. 1" (Ace 289), for the description of the phasing effect.

CD : Toni Fisher, The Big Hurt (Harkit Records). 30 tracks. Released in 2006. Liner notes by Wayne Shanklin's son, Michael.

"The Big Hurt" on YouTube (no moving images) :


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