Isaak Band’s Pilgrimage to Sun Records – New Sun Tribute LP

Isaak Band’s Pilgrimage to Sun Records Results in  New Sun Tribute LP

 Lib at Large: Isaak drummer Kenney Dale Johnson’s day in the Sun

By Paul Liberatore
Marin Independent Journal
Posted: 10/14/2011 08:20:00 AM PDT

Kenney Dale Johnson, the drummer for Chris Isaak’s band, with his drum set in his San Rafael home on Wednesday, April 22, 2009. Isaak’s band will be headlining at Sonoma Jazz Plus on May 24th. (IJ photo/Jeff Vendsel) Jeff Vendsel

KENNEY DALE JOHNSON, longtime drummer for Chris Isaak, called the other day all excited about the new album the band recorded at Sun Studio in Memphis, Tenn., one of the birthplaces of rock ‘n’ roll.

“That was the most fun I’ve ever had making a record,” said the San Rafael resident. “I looked around as we were playing and thought, Oh, my God, I can’t believe I’m here. We had a ball.”

That’s what impresses me about Kenney. He’s been with Isaak for more than 25 years, and in other rock bands before that, but he hasn’t become jaded. Far from it.

He and his buddy Isaak are self-described “music geeks.” They grew up (Kenney in Texas, Isaak in Stockton) listening to early
Chris Isaak Sheryl Louis
rock records by Elvis and Carl Perkins and Jerry Lee Lewis and the other future classics that were recorded by Sam Phillips at Sun.

“We were both influenced by those records,” Kenney said in his personable Lone Star drawl. “All those great songs were made right there in that little room.”

Aptly titled “Beyond the Sun,” the album was released this week on Vanguard, the band’s new label. The concept arose while they were on tour a year ago. Passing through the South, they made a pilgrimage to Sun, one of rock’s holy shrines, and were invited to jam using the studio’s instruments.

“We had no intention of recording there when we went, but after we jammed all night, Chris goes, ‘Why don’t we make a record of Sun cover songs?'”
Kenney recalled. When no one could think of any reason whey they shouldn’t, they forged ahead.

“Half the battle was figuring out which ones we were going to do.”
They ended up recording 36 tunes in 11 days, selecting a dozen for the album, a mixture of the familiar and the obscure, including Presley’s “Can’t Help Falling in Love,” Jerry Lee’s “Great Balls of Fire,” Carl Perkins’ little-known rave-up “Dixie Fried” and a delightful rarity called “Miss Pearl” by a cat named Johnny Wages, whom Isaak discovered one night on YouTube.

“You can really hear the room in some

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‘Dick’ and Dee Dee Shine in Rare Oldies Concert Appearance as does JohnnyTillotson

Dick and Dee Dee circa 2011

MODESTO, CA 6-11-11

I’ve seen just about everybody who’s anybody still performing on the ‘oldies circuit,’ if you will. However, I had not seen Dick and Dee Dee.  When I read that they wouldl be  performing in the area  I became real curious, especially since Dick passed away  in 2003.



Sat night June 11 was was American Grafitti Day in Modesto, CA, home of the George Lucas 1973 movie classic depicting an early time, 1962. (Hard to believe it’s another40 years since then, as noted by John Milner-  the hot rodder in the yellow car, from the moie- madefor an interesting MC of this show. ‘I was in my 20s then and now I’m in my 60s.It was like being with family, people we grew up with andwith which we could relate.

The show was relective of what we’re seeing in oldies shows today. As there are feweroriginal acts, we had two tribute groups and two originals. A Supremes group opened the show, trying their best to copy the originals . ‘I’m Diana,’ purred  thelead, resplendent in curls much like Ross’ look in later years. The act was say the least for this listener.



Tillotson today with admirer

After what seemed like too long a segment, Milner finally came out and announced the nextact, Johnny Tillotson. I’ve seen Tillotson several times and he performs welland is good with the crowd. He only had one big rock and roll hit in the day, ‘Poetryin Motion,’ but what a hit. The audience chimed in from the opening preface ‘ When ISee My Baby. What Do I See?…Poetry in Motion’ and then takes off with its infectiousbeat and sound. The song is a early 609s pop rock classic the audience ate up.The earlier songs were all pretty good too but didnt have the same audience appeal. Tillotson was one of many artists who had a number of ‘cross-over’ counntry-pophits in the 60s, including ‘Send Me The Pillow.’ recorded by Dean Martin and othersand ‘It Keeps Right On a Hurtin,’ recorded by 112 other artsits including Elvis, according to Johnny. Tillotson could have been big on the country circuit if hewasn’t. (Will have to check out the old country charts; bet these scored high.


After intermission, Dick and Dee Dee ran out on stage, breaking into ‘Thou ShaltNot Steal. There was waif-like Dee Dee and a gray-haired Dick,   looking a l ittle too young too be originals, but they sounded just like the record. ‘Dick’ even had the falsetto part down to a tee. Maybe this WAS the ghost of Dick St. John, who passed in a roofing accident in 2003 when he fell off a ladder. Dee Dee let us believe it was the real Mccoy until she told about   Roy Orbison stopping by their dressing room  in 1961 on tour,  and how  Orbison gave  St. John his Beatle boots after Orbison had been admiring them (and before the Beatles wore them).Then, in tribute to ‘one of my favorites,’  the duo did a cover of the great orbison ballad, ‘Crying,’ which was wel suited too their voices, ala the Orbison- kd lang version from 1987.




Dick and Dee Dee in the day, circa mid-60s

Later research showed the current ‘Dick’ to be Mark Dunn, an actor/artist and NOT current ‘partner’ of Dee Dee. (OUR ERROR, having previously said that they were life partners. Our apologies to Dee Dee, her real husband and Dick . They live in Pacific Palasades near Los Angeleswith three children. Dee Dee has recently  written her memoir, Vinyl Highway,about a shy 18-year-old being thrown into the spotlight after her first songwent to #2 in 1961, meeting Orbison and the big names, trouble touring and such.Looks like an interesting read , available at their website, it looks as though there’s very little touring, so it was good to finally catch this one, spirited act.

Unfortunately, the sound at the newish Gallo Center for the Arts was not what it should be for a state-of-the -art facility, but I’ve heard worse, too.All in all the two original acts, Tillotson and Dick and Dee Dee were worth the price of admission and, because of the few acts on the bill, we got to see them perform some songs they don’t normally do such as ‘Crying.’ The final act, another tribute group, which  covered  the Temptations, was weak, only slightly better the the faux Supremes who opened the show, althoughthe audience, much less picky than this reviewer, seemed to like them (someprobably didn’t realize therre were no originals in the group.
The backing band was the same for all performers with lead guitar, bass, drumsand keyboard. They are the same ones who’ve backed most of the oldies shows at Gallo in recent years and do a very adequate job, in my opinion.
It was good to get out and hear some oldies, the first such show I’ve seen this year. Now, with summer here, there should be a few more coming through townand we’ll certainly keep you up to date – and would also love to hear your reviews of such shows in your area.


Vinyl Highway: Singing as Dick and Dee Dee

It was  a fun ‘throw-back evening, as it usually is in Modesto, concert or not.  Modesto is where Lucas grew up and  the sleepy town int he middle of nowhere was AND IS STILL very much lilke it was in the fifties, WITH  still-active drive-ins, old movie houses, cruisin’ McHenry Ave and lots of friendly people…even a tiki bar or two thrown in…Minnies

More Oldies Concerts and tiki bars





BUSTER KEATON ‘7 CHANCES’ Silent Film, Philly Cheesesteak, Top Tiki Bar

SILENT FILM with Live organ accompaniment – who would have known this could be so enjoyable seeing a movie without dialogue. Sorry if I may sounda bit naive but…New experience for me… what a great program. Hand it to Ohlone College in Fremont, CA , no doubt assisted by the Niles film program

‘ 7 Chances’ starring Buster Keaton was the last of their yearly performing arts series. I missed the opening organ performance by Jerry Nagano and lecture by Keaton historian keynote speaker David Keihu but found Ohlone, after a long drive, just in time for the second have move, sans payment ( no longer were they collecting money at the time)

7 Chances is a cute little movie, most of which takes place in one day, showcasing Keaton’s awkward ways and difficulties in coping, but ends happily..

Movie begins with the shy, awkward Keaton trying to propose to his girlfriend in front of her mother’s home, where she lives. It’s spring and Keaton is pictured with her and her little puppy in front garden and white picket fence, perhaps too shy to even enter the house or front gate. Apparently, Keaton can’t get out the words ‘ I love you,’ and nothing comes of the proposal.

Cut to Fall, 3 months later, where we see Keaton and girlfriend once again in similar pose, in front of white fence, only her dog has grown significantly. Same setting , same outcome. No go.

Cut to Winter, now there’s snow on the ground with the dog almost full grown now. Still, Keaton is having difficulty getting his message out. Perhaps it’s time to give up.

Then one day , years later, Keaton’s father passes and he receives a beneficiary note telling him he will receive 7 million dollars if he marries by age 27 – only after Keaton spends much time with his friend, trying to avoid what they thought was a summons server. When the server finally avoids the law and pastes the ltetter on the window in front of them where they are dining, Keaton is thrilled – and barely catches up with the server who has just been captured by the police. Keaton and friend tell the cops to let him go so they can deal with the letter.

Problem is Keaton’s 27th birthday is this same day ! He has literally hours, until midnite to get married. We see Keaton and friend struggle mightily to come up with a name of a woman to marry. There’s really only the long-time girlfriend, so Keaton hires a horseman to deliver the message to the girlfriend. She successfully gets the note and meets Keaton late that night. Keaton bumbles his latest proposal, telling her that he must marry ‘someone’ this day so he can inherit a lot of money. Obviously the girlfriend gets offended by the ‘someone’ comment and starts to leave/

But, finally, only minutes before the midnite deadline, things come together and the two hastily hire a judge and marry! Lucky Seven – seven chances with the same woman and finally -success! All this with majestic live organ accompaniment by Jerry Nagaon in the campus cozy Jackson Theater.

PHILLY EXPRESS – Stopped by my advertiser in Alameda prior to the movie and had a great Philly Dog dinner ! Great dogs and cheesteaks made on genuine Amoroso rolls from Philadelphia! Click above coupon to enclarge and print!

FOBIDDEN ISLAND TIKI BAR, Alameda, CA – While in Alameda had to stop by what many consider the No. 1 tiki bar in the world. Had a ‘sidewinder itch’ replete with backscratcher ($11) before moving on to great Keaton film, as above, making it three nites in a row of Top Tiki Bars.. only San Joses Bamboo Hut must be visited an, perhaps a revisit to the great, not-to-be-forgotten Tonga Room, SF and Trader Vic’s, Emeryville, CA.