Tuesday, October 6, 2020

Dave Scherer & The Castels, Charles J. Givens and "Sloopy" (Decatur)

Who was Sloopy from "Hang on Sloopy" and what does it have to do with an obscure single released in Decatur, Illinois in 1965?  Below we will try to answer at least one of these questions by untangling decades worth of misinformation.

In early 1965, Dave Scherer and the Castels from Decatur, Illinois released their second single, "Everybody's Doin' It (The Penguin)" b/w "Sloopy Can Penguin" on Loki Records.

Members of the group were:  Dave Scherer (vocals & bass), George Hickman (guitar), Jack Trowbridge (sax), Jim Seitz (sax), Chuck Jordan (drums)  and Dee Brownson (organ).

The single was recorded and produced in Nashville by another Decatur native, Chuck Givens, who ran a studio in Music City.  Despite not being a member of the group, Givens took a writing credit on both songs of the single.  Listen to the b-side "Sloopy Can Penguin" below:

Shorty after the single's release, the Decatur Daily Review ran several articles suggesting that the single was a hit and had already sold over 200,000 copies. 
Decatur Daily Review  Feb. 14, 1965
Mar. 22, 1965
In July of 1965, Scherer and the Castels recorded and released their third and final single, "My Dog Spookie" / "Tell Me Who She Is."   Again, both songs were recorded with Givens in Nashville and again the Decatur Daily Review ran an article suggesting the song was on its way to being a big hit along with other bold claims regarding the records promotion and national distribution. These claims along with those printed about the earlier release seem to be based in pure fantasy.

That same month, the McCoys released their first single "Hang On Sloopy."  The McCoys were originally known as Rick and the Raiders from neighboring Indiana.   Rick Zehringer (who would soon change his last name to Derringer) and his band were invited to record in New York by another group, the Strangeloves, who they had opened for and played with in Ohio.   The Strangeloves it turned out were a group of New York songwriters and producers looking for a group that looked like the Beatles.  They were especially eager to release their re-working of an R&B tune called "My Girl Sloopy" for a white audience with such a group.  
As a result Derringer's lead vocals were added to the Strangeloves' already recorded backing tracks and it was released under the new band name, The McCoys. "Hang On Sloopy," as it was now called, was a number one hit by October of 1965.  

Six months after it went number one, the Decatur Daily Review ran another outrageous article suggesting that "Hang On Sloopy" was based on Scherer's "Sloopy Can Penguin."  The article even claimed that Scherer and the group would be receiving a royalty of a penny per copy on the McCoys' hit single.

Mar. 2, 1966
While it is true that “Sloopy Can Penguin” predates “Hang On Sloopy” by roughly six months, both are obviously based on “My Girl Sloopy” which was written by the New York songwriting duo of Bert Berns and Wes Farrell.  It was recorded and released in early 1964 by the R&B vocal group the Vibrations on Atlantic Records  - a full year before Scherer and the Castels.

The Vibrations even released another song in 1964 called "Sloop Dance" on Okeh Records which bears some resemblance to their earlier "My Girl Sloopy."  It too predates the Scherer single by months.

Much of the misinformation regarding the authorship of "Sloopy" and any connection it might have to Decatur and Scherer's single seems to lead back to one man and it would only get worse as the years went on. 

Charles J. Givens was born in Decatur, Illinois in 1941.   As a teenager he played in a local band known as the Quintones.  By the mid-1960's, Givens had moved to Nashville where he ran a recording studio, booking agency and record label.  During this time he recorded and produced a handful of records including the two singles by Dave Scherer and the Castels as well as other Decatur groups such as the Chosen Few and Eugene and the Fugitives:
According to Givens, the recording studio burned down in 1966 which was uninsured and left him broke.  As a result, Givens left the music business and sought his fortune elsewhere. 

Over the course of the next decade, Givens would reportedly make and lose millions of dollars at various business ventures.   By the 1980's however, Givens had become a multi-millionaire by giving motivational lectures and selling personal financial advice.  By the end of the 1980's, Givens had become a get-rich guru and a best-selling author.   He hosted a weekly radio program and was a regular on syndicated daytime talk shows and late night infomercials. 

It was also during this time that Givens began publicly claiming that he had written "Hang On Sloopy."  Sometimes he claimed to have sold the song for next to nothing or even had given it away and other times he claimed to have gotten rich off the royalties.  He would continue to tell a version of this fabrication in interviews throughout the 1980's which were printed in newspapers all over the country.  In a few articles he was even photographed on his sailboat named "Sloopy" of course.

At some point in the late 1980's, Givens' claim was challenged by a lawyer representing Wes Ferrell, one-half of the writing team behind "My Girl Sloopy."  From a Los Angeles Times article dated May 14, 1989:
Confronted with all this by Farrell's lawyer, Givens now claims he  wrote a song called "Sloopy Can Penguin" in the early 1960s that he called in a letter to Farrell's lawyer "a new dance idea that we had almost identical to Hang On Sloopy."  He blames the media for improperly crediting him with writing Farrell's song, even though publicity materials he distributed at the time said he wrote "Hang On Sloopy" and sold the rights "for peanuts."  Just about every article about him at the time also mentioned he wrote the song.
In a November 7, 1993 article in the Orlando Sentinel, when asked whether or not Givens wrote "Sloopy Can Penguin," Dave Scherer responded this way, "God love him, Chuck's my friend, but Chuck sometimes claims for himself things that other people have done."  Scherer added, "Of course, he promoted my group and produced the record, but he didn't write the song."

With Givens' claims completely refuted, it would seem that any confusion regarding the authorship of "Hang On Sloopy" would be settled.  Yet, in a strange twist of fate it is Rick Derringer that has kept Givens' lie alive.

In a 2012 interview with Karen Kernan which can be found on YouTube, Derringer innocently mentions an article published in a St. Louis newspaper that someone had sent him where a successful businessmen claimed to have written the song while in high school and sold the rights for next to nothing.  

It is obvious that this article was written about Givens sometime in the 1980's.  Derringer, not realizing that Givens claim had been disproved years earlier, seems to believe it completely.  He even conflates a few of the details and as a result, the idea that "a high school kid from St. Louis" wrote "Hang On Sloopy" persists to this day.   

At the same time, the myth that the McCoys' hit was somehow based on Dave Scherer and the Castels' b-side never went away either as this 1995 article in the Decatur Herald & Review demonstrates:

By the early 1990's, Givens' get-rich empire was starting to come apart as he became the target of multiple lawsuits and investigations.  He died from prostate cancer in 1998.

Dave Scherer passed away in 2008.   His obituary read, "Dave was well known throughout Decatur for the past 45 years for his various bands.   He wrote Sloop Quin Penguin in the early 60's which was sold to the McCoys and renamed Hang On Sloopy."  Proof that Decatur newspapers have never let the truth get in the way of a good story.

So who was Sloopy?  

In Ohio "Hang On Sloopy" is the official rock song of the state and is synonymous with many sporting events there, particularly at Ohio State University.  Therefore, many in Ohio claim the song was named after Dorothy Sloop, a New Orleans jazz pianist from the 1930s that was born in Steubenville, Ohio.  For them, it strengthens the state's connection to the song.

Rick Derringer tells a different story.  In that same 2012 interview where he lends credence to Givens' fabrication, Derringer says "(Bert) Berns told me... that he lived for awhile in Cuba.  Sloopy was a colloquialism, he put it, or a nickname for girls in Cuba.  Guys would just go, 'Sloopy how ya doin?'  He said he took that and wrote "Hang On Sloopy."

While this seems to be the most plausible explanation, we will likely never know as Bert Berns died in 1967.  One thing is for certain.  Sloopy wasn't from Decatur and she didn't dance like a penguin.

This article was originally posted on Dec. 30, 2019.   It was updated and re-posted on Oct. 6, 2020.

No comments:

Post a Comment