Gary James' Interview With Dick St. John Of
Dick And Dee Dee
Dick St. John made up one half of the popular singing duo Dick And Dee Dee. Dick And Dee Dee began their recording career on Liberty Records in the summer of 1961. Dick wrote "The Mountain's High" in April and by August it was number one in the nation. This kicked off a recording career that lasted well into the British Invasion"and included 14 chart records. More hit records followed with Liberty, and in 1963 they signed with Warner Brothers where they continued to release a succession of chart-toppers including "Young and In Love", "Turn Around", and "Thou Shalt Not Steal". Their success took them around the world performing in concerts, clubs, and television. Career highlights include a recording session with The Rolling Stones. In 1993, Dick and Dee Dee wrote The Rock and Roll Cookbook, which included favorite recipes from a wide array of recording artists. Proceeds from the book went to benefit The National Music Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to American music and the people who bring it to us.
We spoke in-depth with Dick St. John about the career of Dick And Dee Dee and Rock 'n' Roll.
Q - With all of the cookbooks on the market, how did you know a Rock 'n' Roll cookbook and later a Country cookbook would appeal to people?
A - Well, because how many Rock 'n' Roll cookbooks or how many Country cookbooks are there really? Certainly Country music is bigger than it's ever been and Rock 'n' Roll fans are not only here but all over the planet. So we thought it would be a natural. There's never been a book that's had 106 all-time famous Country music artists. We're talking about the Country music artists. We're talking about the Country Music cookbook right now. Everyone from Roy Rogers and Dale Evans to Gene Autrey to Trisha Yearwood to Clint Black and Lisa Hartman to Vince Gill. So, it was a real broad ranging book to the same with the Rock 'n' Roll cookbook. I mean, we had everyone from Ray Charles and The Crew Cuts and The Marvelettes to Nirvana and Soul Asylum to Iggy Pop. It also covered a tremendous width and depth. That's why we felt it would be something that would appeal to a lot of fans.
Q - And the response to the books has been very good?
A - Absolutely. Yes.
Q - Was it hard to get these people in your cookbooks to respond with their favorite recipes?
A - Well, most of the people in the Rock 'n' Roll Cookbook, Sandy and I, Sandy is Dee Dee when we do Dick And Dee Dee shows and gigs, and she's been Dee Dee since the end of '68, beginning of 69, so it was her idea in the first place, to do a Rock 'n' Roll cookbook. We do these shows every once in awhile, usually in the Summer, sometimes in the Winter too though, you know, where you touch base with artists you haven't seen in a longtime or you have seen and every once in awhile, you do a show. It was an idea. Let's start collecting recipes. So, we started many years ago collecting recipes. We had all kinds of recipes. We actually had many that were left out of the book. It was the publisher's idea to introduce us to Pamela Des Barres, who is a wonderful person and we've became very good friends with Pamela. Pamela brought some of the more contemporary artists like Pearl Jam, the B-52s, people that she knew. So it also covers a very wide range of people. Pamela used to be in a group of her own called The GTOS. She brought Alice Cooper, people that she had known for a long time.
Q - Is there any doubt in your mind whatsoever that these are indeed the personal recipes of the stars?
A - No. Not a doubt at all.
Q - These people didn't turn to their publicists and say, "Give Dick one of your recipes."
A - Well see, the thing that was really nice if you read the introduction in the book, it's by Dick Clark, and Dick is the President of the National Music Foundation and of course the Chairman of The Board, and so since the proceeds from the Rock 'n' Roll cookbook went completely to the National Music Foundation, I've known Dick for years and years and he was very kind. Dick Clark's right hand man over there, I don't know if he's still there, Larry Cline, gave me numbers to everyone. As I said, I had collected most of these recipes over years of time. I know it was Cher's own recipe. I talked with Cher. I talked with James Brown. I talked with Frankie Ford. Pamela knows Peter Frampton very well. Jan and Dean of course, we went to the same high school. Jan and Dean both have their own recipe in the book. The Kingsmen, Dick Peterson. I know The Kingsmen, Little Eva, Johnny Tillotson. I mean, I can go on and on and on. I have personal home numbers of most of these people. We've been friends over the years. They were all their favorite recipe. A lot of them don't necessarily cook. Certainly Stevie Wonder doesn't cook, but, that's Stevie's recipe, definitely, for cookies. That was one that was harder to get because he kept giving me a recipe, then taking it back. He's given me another one, and then take it back. They're all the real thing. There was no need to fool anyone.
Q - I've read that you and Sandy were friends from grammar school, and another account says you were friends from junior high school. Which account is right?
A - Sandy and I met when we were both just starting City College. 1960.
Q - Dee Dee's name is Sandy. Who came up with Dee Dee?
A - The original girl I sang with, Mary Sperling, Dick and Mary, Dee Dee was Don Ralke's wife, Dietre. Don is our arranger, producer. They called his wife Dita, but the nickname is Dee Dee. They wanted something catchy. We didn't even choose the name. That's just what appeared on the record when it came out. (Laughs). Hey, who is this? It's Dick and Dee Dee. Sounds better than Dick and Mary. And, it did.
Q - In the Encyclopedia of Rock and Roll by Brown and Friedrich, they state, "Like so many of the early Rock artists, the Dick and Dee Dee team was a freak that was never supposed to happen".
A - See, that kind of stuff is insulting. I mean, who are they? How many records did they have on the charts? How many songs of theirs did they write that were played on the radio? How are they to say, "Oh, if you're a freak act, you can have a record deal on a major label?" It's b.s. It's ridiculous. It's ludicrous. It was just as hard then to get a record deal as it is today, and maybe even harder in some aspects. They didn't have hit albums. You only had hit 45s. There was a lot of money to be made in a hit 45 record that got into the Top Ten in the nation and was played all across the country. We made a record, "The Mountain's High" and it was released on a small label in San Francisco called Lama Records, and it was an instant smash hit. It went to Number One. There were several record companies that wanted to distribute the master nationally. I was 19 at the time. I was a teenager. But, I do know what was going down. Of course now, I know even more of the details. But the people that were producing the product, Wilders Brothers and Don Ralke, chose Liberty Records. Liberty Records was a very hot label. It still is. But, it wasn't in the '60s. Things change. It's owned by E.M.I. At that time "The Mountain's High" was a big hit, Bobby Vee was a big star; he was on Liberty. Troy Shondell had a record at that time called "This Time" and it was a big hit on Liberty. Gary Lewis And The Playboys were on Liberty. And so I just take offense when someone says, like many acts of that area, it was a complete freak, fluke that they ever had a hit. Some record companies said we'll pick up this master. We'll pay you X amount of thousand of dollars because we want to hop on this fluke, freak trip. I mean, it doesn't make sense. It's insulting. I don't think there's any artist who wouldn't think well, what an insulting thing for some nobody who sits down and writes a book about their opinions of records. This is the record that should be in the Hall of Fame. This was accepted by 3 million. This one was a freak. This one is a fluke. I mean it's ludicrous.
Q - Brown and Friedrich went on to describe how Don Ralke brought you into the studio to record "I Want Someone".
A - It's all wrong.
Q - "It needed a female voice and so Dick gave Dee Dee a call." Is that really how you two came together?
A - It's just so funny that someone made up a story like that. It's all wrong. If someone would research the song on the backside of "The Mountain's High" they would see it's written by Dick St. John and Mary Spearling. That's Dee Dee. She wrote "I Want Someone". I wasn't singing a song that needed a girl's voice on it. I wrote "The Mountain's High" and she had written this song "I Want Someone" which I said, "It's good. Let me work on it. I'll make it better." I did make it better. We thought that was the A-side of the record actually. "The Mountain's High" was the A-side. Don Ralke was a very talented arranger. Some of Don's earliest hits were things like "Kookie, Kookie Lend Me Your Comb" and Connie Stevens' "Sixteen Reasons". Did all of the 77 Sunset Strip stuff, "The Birds And The Bees" by Jewel Akens. I think he had about 90 chart records. Mary was not brought into the studio. That was something we had practiced here in my house. I had a little tape recorder that belonged to my Dad, who, bless his soul, had passed away about three weeks before the first record "The Mountain's High" was ever released, I had the tape recorder and I would record us singing while I played the piano and then we would sing back to the tape, and realized this is a harmony, this is a sound. I didn't think it was a freak oddity or anything like that. I thought it really was a sound. (Laughs). And it obviously was, I went into a little studio in Hollywood that cost about $15 an hour back then and we rehearsed it. I just said give me lots of echo. I'm going to play the piano and we're gonna sing when I'm doing it and then we're gonna come back and overdub the voices. It sounded very much like the record. The drum beat wasn't there and of course there was no bass or guitar. It was a very simple track. It was Don Ralke I played it for, and he said let's do it. Both of these things sound like hits. See, people wouldn't invest money in anything that they thought was a total fluke. It doesn't matter if it was $50 or $5,000.
Q - Who even knows what a fluke is?
A - No one knows what a hit is. No one knows.
Q - And no one knows how the public will respond.
A - And the timing of the record. There have been many hit records that have been released that have not made it, then been re-released and made it. It's so much the timing and the promotion man who's going to be promoting the record. In those days it was the 45. Get that 45 on the air. It was a lot of competition. If you even remember all of the investigations about payola, because there was a lot of money to be made. I'm sure payola still goes on. Somewhere.
Q - Is it true you got the idea to write "The Mountain's High" because of a sketch you looked at of a mountain?
A - Well, see that was another story that came off of a bio at one time that Liberty Records put out, because someone in the publicity department needed a story on Kick And Dee Dee. I was an art major in school. So what they had heard about me and Dee Dee, and of course when the first pictures were taken, we were students. I'm a student. I'm a art major. Oh, Dick was painting a picture about a mountain. That's how that happened. It's easier than asking me, you know. It was so weird. People write stuff. But you're asking me, but a lot of people haven't.
Q - Did you ever meet people like Elvis, Roy Orbison, or Buddy Holly?
A - I met Elvis one time. Sandy, my wife, met Elvis many, many times and went to Elvis's house and knew Elvis very well. I didn't know Buddy Holly. He had already died. I did three different shows with Roy Orbison. He was a wonderful, wonderful person. I still have a flyer that shows Roy Orbison, Johnny Burnette, and Dick And Dee Dee. It was like maybe the fourth show we ever did, but I thought it was very exciting.
Q - You went on these Dick Clark Rock 'n' Roll Caravan tours, didn't you?
A - Of course. Everyone at that time that was on the charts did it, because that's the only way people ever got on the Dick Clark Caravan Shows. It was at a time in the record industry when the William Morris Agency or whatever the agencies were at the time, we were with William Morris, they would book the acts right off of the charts. Of course Dick only wanted the Top 15 acts. So, that's why his shows would change and he'd always have who you'd be hearing on the radio that summer.
Q - You toured the world with Dick Clark?
A - Oh no, that was just the States.
Q - You toured by bus?
A - By bus. Caravans of buses.
Q - What was it like? Who did you go on tour with?
A - Well, let's see, a big show would be Gene Pitney, Johnny Tillotson, The Crystals, The Dovells, Paul And Paula, Dick And Dee Dee, Lou Christine. Maybe a guy named Kirby St. Romaine, Barbara Lewis. That was one big tour.
Q - Was a lot of time spent traveling on the buses?
A - Of course. You had to sleep on the buses most of the time. Sometimes the dates were 700 hundred miles in between.
Q - That's kind of ridiculous isn't it?
A - Not really because they had the bus driver and there were like three buses and a big equipment bus. The bus drivers would sleep while we were there doing the shows. They just kept it going. They were very professional. But, it was rough you know. When you're a kid and you do it, it's not that hard. To do something like that now, well no one would do it now. You would never book the Top 15 acts in the nation and put them on a bus. With the way the music is on the radios right now, you might have a gang shooting
Q - You had a recording session with The Rolling Stones.
A - In England, in '64.
Q - How did that come about?
A - We were the opening act for The Rolling Stones in Los Angels, Long Beach and San Francisco when they came to California the very first time in 1964. In 1964, music was really being totally influenced by England. It was very powerful. All the acts were happening that were from England at the time if you look back on the charts. We had been on a TV show called Shindig! before, which was very successful here in the United States. We were semi-regulars on Shindig!. When the Stones were coming to America it was worked out through William Morris that we were an opening act. Everybody wanted to see The Rolling Stones. They'd never been here. But it was fun, and we met The Stones. December ('64) was when we went to London to record. Andrew Oldham was their producer at the time. He liked Dick And Dee Dee and said, The Stones were not the phenomenon they are now, okay? They were The Rolling Stones. They were a band. Rock 'n' Roll band that had had a lot of hits at the time, maybe three or four, but nothing like thirty-four. Mick and Keith had written three songs and they thought we would sound good on them, and they would play the music. So we said sure. Warner Brothers Records worked it out.
Q - What do you remember about Brian Jones?
A - Well, when I knew Brian Jones he was very young and very happy. I didn't know Brian through the heavy drug times of his life, 1964. We just laughed and had a good time. When Brian would come here to L.A. they (The Stones) would stay at the Ambassador which is not even there anymore. We'd call, and it was so different. They'd say "Come and take us to some clubs." So we'd go to Gazzari's, Whisky A Go Go, and those kind of things. Mostly Gazzari's.
Q - No one would flock around you?
A - Oh yeah, a few people would. It was different. Brian did say to me once when we were in England; we were there for two weeks, he said, "Hey, want to have some fun? Watch this school bus coming on the corner." Mind you, he said school bus. I said okay. It's Brian and me on the corner and he goes on the school bus and says "Hey, hi!" And they all started screaming and yelling. Then he started to run. He said, "C'mon let's run." So then we started running. The bus emptied, and all the kids were chasing us. I was just following.