restricted access Jack Scott: Detroit’s Unsung Rock ’n’ Roll Pioneer
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122 ı ntense. Sincere. Energetic. A little dangerous. That’s the image of Jack Scott, the first rock ’n’ roll star to be popularly identified with the city of Detroit. Scott, born Giovanni Dominico Scafone Jr. on January 24, 1936, grew up a Hank Williams acolyte but later infused the Detroit rock ’n’ roll attitude into his shows and records. He was a dominant force on the radio and on pop music charts from 1958 through 1961, placing nineteen songs in the Billboard magazine Hot 100. Unlike many rock ’n’roll and pop music stars of his era, Jack Scott wrote the vast majority of his own hit songs. Scott was born in Windsor, Ontario, and lived there until he was ten. His father then moved the large Scafone family to the blue-collar Detroit suburb of Hazel Park,and it was there that young John (as he was then known) honed his singing and guitar skills. He loved classic hillbilly music and formed his own country band as a teenager, performing top tunes of the day. It was a disc jockey on WEXL radio, Jack Ihrie,who—after watching the young singer perform at his high school—suggested that he change his stage name to the easier-to-pronounce (and less ethnic-sounding) Jack Scott. Scott was like many up-and-coming young musicians in the mid-’50s—he was profoundly affected by the sound and charisma of Elvis Presley. Although Hank Williams remained his idol, Scott embraced rock ’n’ roll after Presley’s explosion onto the music scene in 1956. Scott—who had been putting on his own shows at Bill’s Barn near Utica— began to include current up-tempo rock numbers into his performances, along with country songs. He also started to write his own compositions. Jack Scott performances at another local venue, the Dance Ranch, became very popular with Detroitarea teens. By that time, Scott’s band included his cousin Dominic Scafone on drums, Stan Getz (a local boy, not the famous jazz saxophonist) on string bass, and Dave Rohelier on lead guitar. Rohelier’s searing guitar licks are prominent on Scott’s first two singles, recorded during 1957 at United Sound Systems, then considered the best studio in Detroit. Scott’s first manager was Carl Thom, owner of the Harmony House record store (later to become a well-known local chain) in Hazel Park, and Thom was successful in placing two original songs cut at United Sound with the ABC-Paramount label. The first single was “Baby She’s Gone,” backed with “You Can Bet Your Bottom Dollar.” The latter was a country love song; the former was a pounding rocker. “I wrote ‘Baby She’s Gone’ very quickly,” says Scott. “I would get inspired and the lyrics would just come.” The band worked out the arrangement on the spot in the studio, and Scott’s vocal delivery on “Baby She’s Gone” was obviously influenced by Elvis. “I was riding in my car, listening to the radio,” Scott remembers, “and Mickey Shorr, the disc Jack Scott Detroit’s Unsung Rock ’n’ Roll Pioneer S. R. Boland 123 S. R. Boland jockey, came on and announced a new song by Jack Scott. He played my record three times in a row!” Understandably, Scott was thrilled. “Baby She’s Gone” was a very good regional seller but failed to make an impact nationally. Scott went back into the studio, but the follow-up record, “Two-Timin’ Woman”/“I Need Your Love” wrote a similar story later in ’57. Due to reshuffling at ABCParamount , Scott found himself without a record label, but he returned to the United Sound studio in early spring 1958 to lay down two more tracks. Now it was ace picker Al Allen on lead guitar instead of Rohelier (who was unavailable for the session), and teenager George Katsakis of the Royaltones(soontohitpaydirtwiththeinstrumental “Poor Boy”) was added on honking tenor sax. The final touch was the addition of the Canadian vocal group, the Chantones, on background harmonies. Scott wanted a backup group comparable to Presley’s Jordanaires—and the Chantones, although they had a less polished style, filled the bill. The Chantones’ bass singer, Roy Lesperance, gave Scott’s recordings a bottom-heavy vocal sound similar to that on R&B or gospel group records. In the session, Scott paired a storming rock ’n’ roll song, “Greaseball”—about a friend who always seemed to land in jail—with “My True Love,” a heartfelt ballad with a recitation...


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