One of the most unlikely of pop stars was Shelley Fabares, who parlayed her role on The Donna Reed Show into a #1 record!
Shelley had been acting since she was 3 and made her first television appearance at age 10. Four years later she was tapped to play Mary Stone, Donna Reed’s daughter on the long-running sitcom. Producers of the show noticed the success Ricky Nelson of The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet was having on the record charts. What they didn’t notice was that Ricky had genuine musical talent, with a big band leader for a father and a singer for mother.
Ms. Fabares and her TV-sibling, Paul Petersen, were quickly rushed into a recording studio. Petersen went enthusiastically, even continuing to record for Motown (!) after The Donna Reed Show ended. Shelley was much more reluctant. She felt she couldn’t sing, but the show’s producers gave her a choice: record or be replaced as Donna’s daughter. So, Shelley recorded.
The initial result was a #1 record in 1962 that surprised everyone – “Johnny Angel.” The success led to Shelley releasing an album, “Shelley!” that also sold well. Later the same year, she released a second album, “The Things We Did Last Summer,” which included two more songs that had chart success: “Johnny Loves me” and the title track for the LP.
Just one year later, Shelley left the show in search of other acting opportunities. She co-starred in not one, but 3 Elvis Presley movies (Girl Happy, Spinout and Clambake) and one Beach Party knock-off, Ride the Wild Surf.
She is also known for playing Craig Nelson’s girlfriend/wife on the long-running Coach. She has been married to Mike Farrell (M*A*S*H) since 1984.
While she never returned to the recording studio, “Johnny Angel” has become one of the best-remembered songs from that era and her albums are still available on CD and digital download.
In 1952, 19-year old Lloyd Price was just another poor kid in New Orleans who dreamed of making it big. His mother owned a sandwich shop where Lloyd liked to hang out and play the piano. He had been working up a little song that combined a phrase one of the DJs at the local R&B radio station used (“Lawdy, Miss Clawdy”). He had recently broken up with his girlfriend, so that went into the lyrics as well.
He was playing his little song in the restaurant one day when one of the customers came up and asked if he’d like to record the song. The man was local band leader Dave Bartholomew. It seemed L.A. record label owner, Artie Rupp, was in the Crescent City looking for local talent to add to his label, Specialty Records.
Lloyd, of course, jumped at the chance and met Bartholomew and Rupp at a local recording studio a few days later. There was only one problem. Price had only composed one verse for the song. Told he’d have to do better, he composed a second verse on the spot. Then, he was asked what song he might have for the record’s B-side. Price had nothing. So, he and the musicians improvised a song they eventually called “Mailman Blues.”
Lloyd never even heard a playback of his songs that day. Instead, a few weeks later, he was helping father replace a septic tank at the family home when he first heard his record being played by the same local DJ who had originated the Lawdy Miss Clawdy phrase!
The song rocketed to #1 on the R&B charts and is cited as one of the first black songs that crossed over to a white audience and helped launch rock ‘n’ roll. Price went on to a long successful career that included multiple Top 10 hits including “Stagger Lee,” “Personality” and many more.
One other interesting note. The day that Price recorded “Lawdy Miss Clawdy,” the session piano player was another local musician who had already had a taste of national success – a young New Orleans singer/songwriter named Fats Domino.