The Rip Chords

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The Rip Chords
Origin Inglewood, California, United States
Genres Pop, surf rock, hot rod music
Years active 1962–1965

The Rip Chords were an early-1960s American vocal group, originally known as the Opposites, composed of Phil Stewart and Ernie Bringas.[1] The group eventually expanded into four primary voices, adding Columbia producer Terry Melcher and co-producer Bruce Johnston (best known as a member of the Beach Boys). This group came to be associated with the hot-rod and surf genres of that day, although their first single ("Here I Stand") did not reflect those styles. They recorded for Columbia Records in Hollywood from 1962 to 1965. The group placed five singles on the Billboard Hot 100. They are best known for their number-four single: "Hey Little Cobra" - one of the best-selling hot-rod songs of all time.

Group history[edit]

Early days[edit]

Stewart and Bringas became acquainted during the mid-1950s as students at Inglewood High School (about ten miles south of Hollywood). They discovered some complementary musical talents and struck up a friendship. Encouraged by their singing compatibility, they were determined to secure a recording contract. They eventually came to the attention of Arwin Records/Daywin Music in 1962.[2]

Actress-singer Doris Day and her husband, film producer Marty Melcher, owned Arwin Records and Daywin Music. Their son, Terry Melcher, had just been hired by Columbia Records as an A&R (artist and repertoire) producer. Arwin Records vice-president Bob Crystal saw potential in Stewart and Bringas' voices, and quickly arranged for an audition at Columbia Records.[3] Following the audition, Terry Melcher signed Stewart and Bringas to a recording contract at Columbia. Their moniker, the Opposites, seemed apropos at the time because Bringas was studying for the ministry and Stewart was a private detective. But shortly before their first release, the name was changed to the Rip Chords.[4] The change was prompted by concerns that the Opposites could falsely imply a positive versus negative image of the two friends. According to Melcher, "Actually, I gave them the name and it was just a play on words. It had nothing to do with the TV show Ripcord (spelled without the h)."[4]

The Rip Chords were a vocal group. They were not a band (no musical instruments, although Stewart played limited guitar).[5] Accordingly, Stewart and Bringas needed to be backed instrumentally by studio musicians. These musicians, including guitarist Glen Campbell, drummer Hal Blaine, and bassist Ray Pohlman, and other prominent instrumentalists, were known as the Wrecking Crew.

First single[edit]

Terry Melcher produced the Rip Chords' first release, "Here I Stand", a remake of the Wade Flemons version. Recorded on December 17, 1962,[6] it peaked at No. 51 on the Billboard Hot 100 in early 1963. Stewart and Bringas were the only singers on the first release. Bringas sang the lead, the falsetto, and also joined Stewart on the background vocals.[7] Stewart and Bringas agreed that "Glen Campbell...gave the song a great lift with his lead guitar. Recent remix attempts have watered down his contribution, but on the original release, the imprint of his lead guitar is indelible."[8]

Second single[edit]

The group's second single, again produced by Melcher, was "Gone", recorded April 26, 1963.[9] Bringas sang the lead and the falsetto, with Stewart and Bringas doing layered background vocals. Bruce Johnston (a friend of Melcher) added an interjecting falsetto. Although the song penetrated the Billboard Hot 100, it did not fare as well as the previous hit, "Here I Stand",[10] but did very well in certain markets such as San Antonio, Texas, where it climbed to number two on KTSA's top 55 survey.

Bringas hiatus[edit]

Following the release of "Gone", a problem arose for the Rip Chords. Bringas had just graduated from California State University at Long Beach and was planning to do graduate work at United Theological Seminary in Dayton, Ohio, where he eventually earned his Master of Divinity degree. His educational responsibilities would not allow time for the touring aspect of a recording group.[11]

Johnston and Melcher vocals[edit]

Because of his ministerial studies, Bringas was unable to get back to Hollywood for the next recording session. This left Stewart momentarily without a singing partner. Melcher and co-producer Johnston stepped in vocally to fill the void created by Bringas' brief absence; Johnston had already sung with Stewart and Bringas on their second single "Gone". Johnston and Melcher would prove to be a significant addition as the Rip Chords prepared to record and release their third single.[12]

"Hey Little Cobra"[edit]

The Rip Chords' third single was the hit "Hey Little Cobra", vocally layered by Johnston and Melcher, recorded on October 15, 1963. Melcher sang the lead. He and Johnston did the background vocals.[13] The song peaked at No. 4 on the Billboard Hot 100 in February 1964.[14] Initially, when the "Cobra" single was released, Johnston and Melcher did not receive any credit for their vocal participation because, at that point in time, they were "ghost" singers, similar to a ghostwriter. Johnston and Melcher would remain ghost singers for the remainder of the Rip Chords' existence.

Return of Bringas[edit]

Two smiling, middle-aged men with arms around each other
Ernie Bringas (left), co-founder of the Rip Chords, with Bruce Johnston after a July 7, 2012 Beach Boys 50th-anniversary concert in Phoenix, Arizona

Following the "Hey Little Cobra" single, Bringas, having missed the previous recording session, was able to rejoin the group. However, based on the success of the ″Cobra″ single, the original Rip Chords (Stewart and Bringas) would now expand into four primary voices, adding Melcher and Johnston, who continued on as ghost singers.[15]

Recording and touring groups[edit]

Although Bringas was back in the studio to record, he remained unavailable for touring because of his educational commitment. Therefore, as a practicality, two young men (Rich Rotkin and Arnie Marcus) were brought on board to tour with Stewart as the Rip Chords until the group disbanded in 1965. Thus, Stewart, Rotkin, and Marcus became the official touring wing of the Rip Chords. However, Rotkin and Marcus were never vocally involved in any Rip Chords' recordings.[12] Columbia Records never made a distinction between the recording Rip Chords and the touring Rip Chords. On the contrary, it was only the touring Rip Chords that were promoted in all of the publicity campaigns. Their names and pictures appeared in ads, interviews, photo shots, magazines, album covers, and so forth.

Additionally, the touring ensemble was invited to appear on Dick Clark's American Bandstand and toured on Clark's 1964 Caravan of Stars (which included the Supremes and other notables). They also performed in the 1965 Hollywood film, A Swingin' Summer, with Raquel Welch.[16]

Therefore, very few of the music industry and the public at large realized that the touring Rip Chords and the recording Rip Chords—with the exception of Stewart—were not the same people.[17]

First album[edit]

The Rip Chords' first album (released in early 1964) was Hey Little Cobra and other Hot Rod Hits album, which peaked at No. 56 on the national charts. The album featured balanced contributions from Stewart, Bringas, Melcher, and Johnston.[18] Of the 11 vocals, Melcher sang lead on five, Bringas sang lead on five and Stewart sang lead on one. Instrumentals by the Wrecking Crew filled out the album. Its cover listed Stewart and Bringas as vocalists, omitting Johnston and Melcher and incorrectly including Rotkin and Marcus.[19][20]

Fourth single[edit]

The group's fourth single was "Three Window Coupe", released in April 1964 with Melcher singing lead, peaking at No. 29 on the national charts.[21] Although all four singers contributed to the recording, the Johnston-Melcher sound predominated. Bringas and Stewart acknowledge Johnston and Melcher's vocals as a major factor in the Rip Chords' music and the California Sound.[citation needed]

Second album[edit]

The Three Window Coupe album (CS 9016 or CL 2216), released three weeks after the "Three Window Coupe" single,[21] had another 11 vocals. Melcher and Bringas shared the lead on one song; of the remaining 10, Melcher sang lead on six, and Stewart and Bringas sang lead on four.[22][23] Like Hey Little Cobra and other Hot Rod Hits, its liner notes erroneously listed Rotkin and Marcus as vocalists and Johnston and Melcher's vocal involvement was not mentioned.[21] The 2006 Summer U.S.A.! The Best of the Rip Chords released by Sundazed Music clarifies all musicians involved.[24]

According to the re-released 2006 CD cover: "No group epitomized the sun-soaked California Sound better than the fabulous Rip Chords... Led by legendary producer Terry Melcher along with future Beach Boy Bruce Johnston and ace-vocalists Ernie Bringas and Phil Stewart, these long-board big-guns left an indelible mark on the surf'n strip sounds of the '60s..."[25] Moreover, for the first time, there is a picture of this foursome —Terry Melcher, Bruce Johnston, Ernie Bringas, Phil Stewart— on the inside cover of the 2006 CD booklet (accomplished by bringing four separate photographs together). All other photos in that booklet are pictures of the touring Rip Chords.[26]

Fifth and sixth singles[edit]

The Rip Chords' last significant release was the single "One Piece Topless Bathing Suit" in June 1964, with Bringas and Melcher singing lead.[27] Although it reached the national charts, it failed to generate major activity. In February 1965 a final single, "Don't Be Scared", failed to chart nationally.[28]

Breakup[edit]

Shortly after the release of "Don't Be Scared", the group disbanded after five singles on the Billboard Hot 100 and two albums reflecting the surf music of the day. Stephen J. McParland summarized, "But something as trendy and timely as the Rip Chords' sound and image also had a built-in clock, something like those little pop-up thermometers they used to implant in roasting chickens. When your time's up, you're done." [29] Melcher, Johnston, Bringas, and Stewart recorded no music as the Rip Chords after the breakup in 1965.[30]

New Rip Chords[edit]

Rotkin and Marcus, who toured with Stewart,[15][31] revived the group during the mid-1990s with additional members. The new group tours and records as the Rip Chords. In 2010, the new group released a Spectra Records CD entitled The Best of the Rip Chords ... Today (not to be confused with the 2006 Summer U.S.A. Best of the Rip Chords released by Sundazed Music). The Sundazed release features the 1960s original singing Rip Chords, the Spectra release does not.

As a result, founding member Bringas, who teaches religious studies at Glendale Community College in Arizona,[32] said that misinformation, disinformation, and confusion surround the group's identity (especially on the Internet).[33]

Unreleased material and background vocals[edit]

In 2006 Sundazed Music[34] released Summer U.S.A.! The Best of the Rip Chords with four additional songs, three previously unreleased. The three unreleased songs were "Wiameah Bay", an instrumental by the Wrecking Crew, and two Rip Chords hot-rod songs ("Sting Ray" and "XKE") which had been in Columbia's vault since 1965. The fourth song was "Red Hot Roadster", originally scheduled for release as a single but instead appearing on the soundtrack of 1965's A Swingin' Summer.[35] Apart from the soundtrack and the 2006 CD, it was released in 1996 on the Sundazed Three Window Coupe CD. Stewart and Bringas sang background vocals for Melcher's Columbia artists Frankie Laine and Eddie Hodges and on Surfin' USA by the Hot Doggers (Bruce & Terry).[36][37]

Discography[edit]

Singles[edit]

  • 1962–63: "Here I Stand" (Bringas on lead vocal) backed with "Karen" (Stewart on lead)
  • 1963: "Gone" (Bringas on lead) b/w "She Thinks I Still Care" (Bringas on lead)
  • 1963–64: "Hey Little Cobra" (Melcher on lead) b/w "The Queen" (Melcher on lead)
  • 1964: "Three Window Coupe" (Melcher on lead) b/w "Hot Rod U.S.A." (Melcher on lead)
  • 1964: "One Piece Topless Bathing Suit" (Melcher and Bringas on lead) b/w "Wah-Wahini" (Melcher on lead)
  • 1965: "Don't Be Scared" (Melcher on lead) b/w "Bunny Hill" (instrumental by The Wrecking Crew)

Albums[edit]

Hey Little Cobra and Other Hot Rod Hits:

  • "Hey Little Cobra" (Melcher on lead)
  • "Here I Stand" (Bringas on lead)
  • "The Queen" (Melcher on lead)
  • "409" (Bringas on lead)
  • "Trophy Machine" (Melcher on lead)
  • "Gone" (Bringas on lead)
  • "Little Deuce Coupe" (Melcher on lead)
  • "'40 Ford Time" (Instrumental by the Wrecking Crew)
  • "She Thinks I Still Care" (Bringas on lead)
  • "Shut Down" (Bringas on lead)
  • "Drag City" (Melcher on lead)
  • "Ding Dong" (Stewart on lead)

Three Window Coupe:

  • "Three Window Coupe" (Melcher on lead)
  • "Bonneville Bonnie" (Stewart on lead)
  • "Gas Money" (Bringas on lead)
  • "This Little Woodie" (Melcher on lead)
  • "Hot Rod U.S.A." (Melcher on lead)
  • "Old Car Made In '52" (Stewart on lead)
  • "Surfin' Craze" (Bringas on lead)
  • "Beach Girl" (Melcher on lead)
  • "My Big Gun Board" (Melcher and Bringas on lead)
  • "Surf City" (Melcher on lead)
  • "Summer U.S.A." (Melcher on lead)
  • "Big Wednesday" (instrumental by the Wrecking Crew)

Footnotes[edit]

  1. ^ Columbia Records contract with Bringas and Stewart was DM(1)62-704. The first check issued to Bringas and Stewart by Columbia Records was to The Opposites, on 9/24/62; check #22231.
  2. ^ Friends Magazine, Editor, Bruce Hilton, EUB Board of Publication, 1965, p. 6. Also see: Hey Little Cobra and other Hot Rod Hits, Sony Music Special Products, © 1996, Sundazed Music, Inc., p. 3.
  3. ^ Hollywood Reporter, December 6, 1962
  4. ^ a b Hey Little Cobra and other Hot Rod Hits, Sony Music Special Products, © 1996, Sundazed Music, Inc., p. 3.
  5. ^ Inglewood Daily News, March 22, 1963.
  6. ^ Hey Little Cobra and other Hot Rod Hits, Sony Music Special Products, © 1996, Sundazed Music, Inc., p. 3. Also: Summer U.S.A.! The Best of the Rip Chords, Sony Music Special Products, © & (p) 2006, Sundazed Music, Inc., p. 8.
  7. ^ Cash Box, 4/6/63; 4/27/63; 5/25/63.
  8. ^ Jesusgate: A History Of Concealment Unraveled, October 2012, Rainbow Ridge Publishing, page 1, ISBN 9781937907044
  9. ^ Hey Little Cobra and other Hot Rod Hits, Sony Music Special Products, © 1996 Sundazed Music, Inc., pp. 3 & 7.
  10. ^ The Best of the Rip Chords, Sony Music Special Products, © 2006, Sundazed Music, Inc., p 2.
  11. ^ Ray Black, Dayton Daily News 2/19/65
  12. ^ a b The Best of the Rip Chords, Sony Music Special Products, © & (p) 2006, Sundazed Music, Inc., pp. 1 & 2.
  13. ^ Hey Little Cobra and other Hot Rod Hits, Sony Music Special Products, © 1996, Sundazed Music, Inc., p. 4. Also see "Bruce and Terry Biography", Artist biography by Jason Ankeny on http://Allmusic.com
  14. ^ Billboard, February 8, 1964.
  15. ^ a b Summer U.S.A.! The Best of the Rip Chords, Sony Music Special Products, © & (p) 2006, Sundazed Music Inc., p. 3. Stephen J. McParland, Editor of California Music Magazine.
  16. ^ Summer U.S.A.! The Best of the Rip Chords, Sony Music Special Products, © & (p) 2006, Sundazed Music Inc., p. 3.
  17. ^ Summer U.S.A.! The Best of the Rip Chords, Sony Music Special Products, © & (p) 2006, Sundazed Music Inc., p. 3 and 4. Also see: Hey Little Cobra and other Hot Rod Hits, Sony Music Special Products, © 1996, Sundazed Music, Inc., p. 5.
  18. ^ Hey Little Cobra and other Hot Rod Hits, Sony Music Special Products, © 1996, Sundazed Music, Inc., p 5.
  19. ^ See the original Columbia issue of the 1964 Hey Little Cobra and other Hot Rod Hits album (CS 8951 or CL 2151). Note also there was a typo on the album cover; Bringas's first name was spelled, "Bernie".
  20. ^ This release clarified the vocalists Summer U.S.A.! The Best of the Rip Chords, Sony Music Special Products, © & (p) 2006, Sundazed Music Inc., on back of slipcover.
  21. ^ a b c Three Window Coupe (CS 9016 or CL 2216) Sony Music Special Products, © 1996, Sundazed Music, Inc., p. 4.
  22. ^ Both albums also featured an instrumental by The Wrecking Crew. The instrumentals served as album fillers, but they really had nothing to do with the Rip Chords per se.
  23. ^ See: www.ripchords.info
  24. ^ Published corrections of vocalists are in Summer U.S.A.! The Best of the Rip Chords, Sony Music Special Products, © & (p) 2006, Sundazed Music Inc., on the back of slipcover.
  25. ^ Summer U.S.A.! The Best of the Rip Chords, Sony Music Special Products, © & (p) 2006, Sundazed Music Inc., on back of slipcover.
  26. ^ As told to Ernie Bringas by Sundazed Music Vice President Tim Livingston in 2006 when the new CD was issued, and again in 2012 when Bringas called him to reaffirm that statement.
  27. ^ Three Window Coupe, Sony Music Special Products, © 1996, Sundazed Music, Inc., pp. 5 & 7.
  28. ^ Three Window Coupe, Sony Music Special Products, © 1996, Sundazed Music, Inc., p. 5.
  29. ^ Summer U.S.A.! The Best of the Rip Chords, Sony Music Special Products, © & (p) 2006, Sundazed Music Inc., p. 8. Stephen J. McParland, Editor of California Music Magazine.
  30. ^ Stewart and Bringas did reenter the studio in 1985. They recorded two numbers that were written by Stewart; "Boggieboard Baby" and "1963". It was a private endeavor produced by Bringas. But there was no commercial distribution of the product. However, rare 45 rpm records exist.
  31. ^ Summer U.S.A.! The Best of the Rip Chords, Sony Music Special Products, © & (p) 2006, Sundazed Music, Inc., pp. 3 & 4. Also: Hey Little Cobra and other Hot Rod Hits, Sony Music Special Products, © 1996, Sundazed Music, Inc., p. 5.
  32. ^ http://www2.gccaz.edu/
  33. ^ Ernie Bringas, Jesusgate: A History Of Concealment Unraveled, October 2012, Rainbow Ridge Publishing, page 2, ISBN 9781937907044
  34. ^ Sundazed Music, Inc. is an independent company that licenses Rip Chords' material from Columbia Records (Sony Music).
  35. ^ Summer U.S.A.! The Best of the Rip Chords, Sony Music Special Products, © & (p) 2006, Sundazed Music Inc., p. 8.
  36. ^ Doggers Album
  37. ^ Surfin' U.S.A., Sony Music Special Products, © & (p) 2006, Sundazed Music Inc., p. 3.