Sports broadcaster Matt Vasgersian, when he was doing play-by-play for the Milwaukee Brewers, used to do what he called “Seven Degrees of Separation from Kevin Bacon.”
That would consist of detailing how anyone and anything in the world could be connected to the Footloose star in seven steps. It was a stretch at times, but he’d get there, and was an entertaining way to fill those down times in the game — much more so than Harry Carey spelling the players’ names backwards, anyway.
But I digress … I didn’t know it was an actual thing until after I decided it would be fun, what with the connections you can find in The Music, to do Seven Degrees with rock and roll and popular music.
At which point I Googled it, and Prof. Wiki informed me that it’s actually six degrees of separation, and was first proposed by one Frigyes Karinthy in 1929. It went pop culture via a 1990 play written by John Guare, and I guess Vasgersian took it from there.
But seven’s a lucky number, so I’m going with the extra step, as we follow the connections from one musician to another. First, from Supersession creator and Bob Dylan electrifier Al Kooper (happy belated 74th birthday, Alan Peter Kuperschmidt!) to Lettermen founder Tony Butala; then, from R&B, rock and roll and soul tycoon/tyrant Ike Turner to C&W yodeling cowboy (and sometime/somewhere pop star) Slim Whitman.
• Al Kooper played guitar on the Royal Teens’ No. 3 hit “Short Shorts.
Bob Gaudio, who wrote “Short Shorts” and was a founding member of the Teens, became a member of Frankie Valli’s original group, the Four Lovers.
One of Gaudio and Valli’s bandmates in the Four Lovers, later renamed the Four Seasons, was Tommy DeVito.
Tommy DeVito, after leaving the Four Seasons, doing time in prison and eventually rebuilding his life, took in an aspiring actor, Joe Pesci. Pesci had known DeVitto and Valli since he was a teenager, and had introduced them to Gaudio.
Joe Pesci, who would go on to co-star in several Martin Scorsese films, was an actor as a child and at age 10 appeared on the same late-1950s TV variety show as pop star-to-be Connie Francis.
Connie Francis had had a string of commercially-unsuccessful singles before she was hired to provide the vocals for Tuesday Weld’s singing scenes in the 1956 movie Rock, Rock, Rock.
Tuesday Weld, a pre-teen model who had made her motion picture debut at age 12, four years later guest starred on the TV detective show 77 Sunset Strip, with Edd Byrnes and Efrem Zimbalist Jr.
Edd Byrnes, who played the jive-talking parking valet in 77, had a No. 4 hit in 1959, “Kookie, Kookie — Lend Me Your Comb,” a duet with Connie Stevens.
Connie Stevens, a movie and TV actress and pop singer who had a No. 3 in her own right, was a member of a group called the Fourmost, which also included a musician named Tony Butala.
Tony Butala was a founding member of the Lettermen, the vocal pop trio formed in 1959 that produced two Top 10 hits and 11 gold records.
• Izear Luster "Ike" Turner Jr., was one of the founding fathers of rock and roll, dictatorial leader of the Ike and Tina Turner Revue and ex-husband of Tina Turner. His first band, the Kings of Rhythm, recorded what many consider to be the first rock record, “Rocket 88.”
Jackie Brentson was the saxophone player for Turner’s band, but got credit for “Rocket 88,” as Jackie Brentson and the Delta Cats. Although it is thought that Ike Turner actually wrote the song.
Jackie Brentson played sax in the later in the 1950s for Lowell Fulson, a blues guitarist of African-American and Native American ancestry. Fulson’s 1940s band included future jazz sax great Stanley Turrentine and a singer and piano player named Ray Charles Robinson.
Ray Charles, after dropping his last name, went on to become “The Genius” of rhythm and blues and soul, and one of the early influences on rock and roll. He became best friends with conductor, arranger and composer Quincy Jones.
Quincy Jones, who also was a music industry executive and worked in motion pictures and television, was the record producer for three of Michael Jackson’s albums, including Thriller, which is still the biggest-selling LP of all time.
Michael Jackson, the “King of Pop,” sold a lot more records than the 66 million copies of Thriller, and made some of the iconic music videos, but despite his overwhelming pop-culture presence, never made it in film. But Thriller did feature an actor, one Vincent Leonard Price, who did a voice-over on the title cut.
Vincent Price, best known for his roles in horror films, early in his career had success in audio — in radio drama, that is. Late in his career, one of his last roles was in Edward Scissorhands, sharing film credit with one Sir Thomas John Woodward.
Sir Thomas, the Welshman known professionally as Tom Jones, was a pop singer who sold more than 100 million records and had dozens of Top 40 hits. But he also had some success in films and TV, including a role in another Tim Robbins’ film, Mars Attacks, the soundtrack of which included Jones’ first big hit, “It’s Not Unusual.”
The Mars Attacks soundtrack also included “Indian Love Call,” the title song of a 1924 Broadway musical written in part by Oscar Hammerstein, which was also the signature song for movie stars Nelson Eddy and Jeanette MacDonald. But the Burton movie finale is the Slim Whitman version, which was a Top 10 hit on the 1952 pop chart for the yodeling cowboy singer, and helped make him a pop star. More so in the U.K. than in the U.S., though.
That was so much fun (and I hope my readers thought so, too) that I’ll probably do it again in the future.