Wonderful Land by the Shadows stayed at number 1 for a very impressive eight weeks, and is considered one of the most memorable songs of the era. Although Nut Rocker only managed one week at the top, and the group behind it, B Bumble and the Stingers, weren’t heard of again, their instrumental has also proven to have some staying power over the years.
B Bumble and the Stingers were the house band of session musicians at Rendezvous Records in Los Angeles. The line-up included guitarist René Hall (who had come up with the name) and drummer Earl Palmer, and they had already had US hit with a rock’n’roll version of In the Mood (credited to the Ernie Fields Orchestra) and Bumble Boogie. In early 1962 Kim Fowley secured the copyright to record an arrangement of March from Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker Suite. Fowley was a producer and singer who had secured a US number 1 in 1960 with Alley Oop (credited to the Hollywood Argyles). He took the song to local pianist HB Barnum, who recorded it as Jack B Nimble and the Quicks (dear me) for the tiny label Del Rio. However, Rod Pierce of Rendezvous Records was convinced his label could do better, and he persuaded Fowley to produce a new recording. A session was swiftly arranged, but the pianist from Bumble Boogie, Ernie Freeman, was a no-show due to a particularly intense bout of partying the night before. Luckily, Hall recalled a pianist called Al Hazan that would be up to the task. Hazan was whisked into the Rendezvous office, which had been turned into a studio. He was still rehearsing with the others when it was decided to record the first take. Hazan was not happy with his performance, but Pierce said it was fine and the song was ready to go.
Rendezvous Records were clearly keen to get this track out there, and I’d side with Pierce on this. That first take of Nut Rocker sounds great to these ears, and captures the fun, sprightly spontaneity that the label were looking for. Going on the band name and song title, I came to this with some trepidation, expecting a self-consciously zany number that would grate. I was pleased to discover that it doesn’t outstay its welcome and doesn’t go overboard with wackiness. And of course, from that first bash of keys, I realised I already knew it – Nut Rocker has been used on film and TV countless times.
Eager to capitalise on their number 1 achievement in the UK (it only reached 23 in the US), Rendezvous put together a touring group. This was often the way in the 1950s and 60s – if session musicians had a hit, a different group would look after the live shows. The new group was led by RC Gamble, who became ‘Billy Bumble’. Hazan was also on board, so clearly he can’t have been too annoyed with the label after all. The group hit the UK in October to help promote their follow-up, Apple Knocker, which was based on Rossini’s William Tell Overture. However, despite this and several other singles, they never had any further success.
By mid-1963, Hall was busy working with Sam Cooke and Fowley was keen to move on. He went on to become a cult figure in the music industry. His 1965 song The Trip was one of the first to explicitly refer to LSD, and from there he worked with Frank Zappa, helped a nervous John Lennon on stage at the Plastic Ono Band’s debut gig, and remained a presence in music until his death in 2015. Gamble retired from music in 1965 and went on to become an economic professor. He died in 2008. Nut Rocker was rereleased several times, and a cover, known as Nutrocker, was released by prog rock giants Emerson, Lake and Palmer in 1972.
Written by: Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky & Kim Fowley
Producer: Kim Fowley
Weeks at number 1: 1 (17-23 May)
Scottish presenter Craig Ferguson – 17 May
Journalist Alan Johnston – 17 May