Nervous Norvus

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For other persons named Jim Drake, see singer Jim Drake

Nervous Norvus was the performing name of Jimmy Drake (March 24, 1912 – July 24, 1968). He was born in Memphis, Tennessee, and lived for a few years in Ripley, Tennessee, near the Arkansas border. Because of his chronic asthma condition, his family moved to California when he was seven, eventually settling in the Oakwood district of Los Angeles. When he was 29 he moved to Oakland, California, where he would live for the rest of his life.[1]

His novelty song "Transfusion" was a Top 20 hit in 1956, reaching #13 on Billboard's Hot 100 Chart.[2] [3] A second song, "Ape Call," released later that year, also charted and peaked at #28.[4][5]

The lyrics in "Transfusion" concern a careless driver who (cheerfully) receives blood transfusions after each accident. Graphic sounds of a car crash are included after each verse. Each stanza concludes with the refrain "Never never never gonna speed again" followed by lines such as "Slip the blood to me, Bud" or "Pour the crimson in me, Jimson." The song was banned on many radio stations in the 1950s.[5] The song was later played on the radio by DJ Barry Hansen, which reportedly led to Hansen's eventual nickname of Dr. Demento. The car crash sound effect from this song, dubbed from the Standard Sound Effects Library, can be heard on "Dead Man's Curve" by Jan and Dean and "Leader of the Pack" by the Shangri-Las, and is currently available on the "Classic TV Sound Effects Library" from Sound Ideas.

The song received a review from an unlikely source—personal-injury lawyer Melvin Belli—in his 1956 book Ready for the Plaintiff!, in which he says: "The ghoulish lyrics hiccup hysterically" but "wind up with a gem of jive-y wisdom that is strictly in the groove: 'Oh, barnyard drivers are found in two classes / Line-crowding hogs and speeding jackasses / So remember to slow down today!'"[6] There was irony too, as Drake was employed as a truck driver, prior to and after his recording fame.[5]

Nervous Norvus was over 40 by the time he had his two hit singles in 1956. His records were made with input from radio personality Red Blanchard, to whom he was sending demos in the hope of finding an artist to record them. Blanchard had been an influence, particularly with the "jive" language employed in the lyrics.

After his brief time of glory, which amounted to less than six months, he concentrated on his demo service, providing music for other people's songs. He would charge around seven dollars to make these demos, some of which led to publishing contracts for the songwriters.

Contrary to popular belief, Drake was never a member of the Four Jokers, who also recorded "Transfusion" (with a group harmony vocal sound) on the Diamond record label in 1956. He was very shy and even turned down a chance to perform "Transfusion" on The Ed Sullivan Show. After a final single on Dot Records ("The Fang" b/w "Bullfrog Hop"), the artist had his contract dropped. He only recorded sporadically thereafter for a series of independent labels like Embee ("Stoneage Woo" b/w "I Like Girls") and Big Ben in 1960, and made one more single for Neale records in 1964. Nervous Norvus died at Alameda County hospital in 1968 of cirrhosis of the liver, aged 56. A CD including hits and rare tracks, Stone Age Woo, was released by Norton Records in 2004. "Transfusion" also appears on Kenny Everett's The World's Worst Record Show (K-Tel label, 1978) as well as on Looney Tunes (Also K-Tel, 1976).


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