Tuesday, May 17, 2011

LaVerne Baker

LaVern Baker's Jim Dandy Album Cover

All you have to do is say that name.  LaVerne Baker....bam...memory takes me immediately to a dance floor in a long since burned down Country Club. Invited guests, in their preteen Sunday best, dancing feverishly to her  45 rpm, "Jim Dandy to the Rescue".

Advance a couple of years to the same little Country Club. We find a local teenage rockabilly cover band (The Joker's) doing a dance favorite. Yup, it's "Jim Dandy" once again. Funny how much difference two years can make in a kids life. Previously, the hectic pace of LaVerne's song delighted little baseball players roped into "slow" dancing with moonie eyed little girls. Jim Dandy meant we could break loose the choke holds and dance with all that pent up energy, far, far apart.

Two years later we can't get the words out. Stuttering and stammering rubbing sweaty little palms, we try to asking that same little girl if she would even consider dancing.

LaVerne Baker

Normally, I try to bring a bit of childhood or teenage history perspective to these articles. I use the first memories that surface. I don't want to read or know any data. I want to give the reader that kid's impression from long ago. 

After jotting down that first impulse I try read everything online. Most of the time it's just for my own enjoyment and curiosity. This time was different. I don't understand her story so I will relate it from what I could gather online. Then I'll ask for reader input. Here goes:

The Beautiful Miss LaVerne Baker

I have included more information links in this article than usual. The reason I did was because I was looking for answers about her life's story. I didn't find them. There are deep mysteries in her story. 

After 20 or so hits spanning almost twenty years LaVerne went on a USO Tour in the late sixties. She went with the tour through Viet Nam as well as other South East Asia locations. During this tour she came down with pneumonia and eventually a collapsed lung. The Tour put her into a hospital and left her as they went on with the rest of the travel schedule. Once cured, she found herself in a foreign country with no money, transportation, friends or communication ability. She literally hitched and hiked across a couple of Southeast Asian countries trying to find her way home. 

LaVern Baker

Somehow, alone, she finally found her way to a marine base in the Philippines. By this time she had relapsed and had to go back into the hospital there. 

She was a big act at the time. She was married to popular comedian Slappy White. She had royalty and tour money coming in. She had an agent and you would think commitments. Yet, once she got out of the Marine hospital in the Philippines she dropped completely out of sight. Or so the story goes. Apparently, she stayed on at the Marine Base for the next twenty two years serving as the entertainment director for a base night club.

WHAT ????  This story just does not make sense. In an online story she seemed to accuse Slappy White of having her declared dead and stealing her royalties. But that does not explain why she didn't call her manager or record label for the money to fly home and go on with her career. I don't get it.

Eventually, twenty two years later in 1988, she decides to come back and does a huge celebratory show at Madison Square Gardens. One story says it was a welcome back thing for her and the other says it was to participate in a record label anniversary gig.

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By 1994 she had diabetes so bad both legs were removed. She was inducted into the rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1991. In 1989 she was awarded Pioneer status with the Rhythm and Blues Foundation. (in it's very first year) Her hit Jim Dandy was named one of the top 500 songs in the shaping of rock and roll. Rolling Stone Magazine listed it as number 343 in all time Rock and Roll songs.

LaVern Baker

LeVerne Baker died in 1997. And here is the last mystery. Friends had to throw a benefit to drum up enough money to buy her a headstone. But even that didn't happen until 2008, almost ten years after she was buried.

There is too much left out of her story. I normally don't include a lot of information about the artist. Usually, I just give you the links and let you read about them yourselves. But this lady's story is so up and down paradoxical I had to throw it out there in hopes someone might fill in the blanks for me.

A great singer...a great memory....a great mystery.


Too many questions for my old head. 


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