MILAN by Martin Winfree INTRODUCTION Most garage rock fans know Milan by the four singles that he released as “The Leather Boy” in 1967 (effectively, there are only three – the “Jersey Thursday” single is extremely rare, and it has yet to be comped). I am probably like most people in having been introduced to Milan’s music on the Pebbles, Volume 11 LP, and I still consider it my favorite among the dozens of Pebbles albums in my collection. I think I became a fan of Milan on the first spin. When I got the Pebbles, Volume 10 CD, which also included several Milan songs, the liner notes gave a hint of the breadth of his career but, intriguingly, still nothing about his identity. My very first article in Wikipedia was on The Head Shop, and I can still remember the thrill I felt when I ran across a copy of the LP at a record convention in Hillsborough, NC and saw Milan’s name on the album cover as the producer. There were already well over one million articles in the English Wikipedia alone, but there were several major garage rock and psychedelic rock artists that were not included, and I set out to do something about it. For instance, there was only a paragraph on the American band the Outsiders, and there was nothing at all on Mouse and the Traps. It wasn’t long before I tried to tackle writing up a Wikipedia article on this enigmatic figure in
garage rock. I have started more than 100 of them now, but this one was the most difficult. I started by scouring the Internet for any mention of Milan. Though I didn’t find any real blogs (there are two or three now), I saw several bulletin boards and discussion groups about him, most of which have since vanished from the Web. I quickly ran across the names “Milan Radenkovich”, “Milan Radenkowich”, and “Rick Rodell”. But mostly the information available was connected to simply “Milan”. The Head Shop had been reissued on CD by then, so I also found out that the real name of the other mysterious figure on that album, Maxim was Max Ellen. In all, I found something like 40 or 50 tidbits about the man, even though a lot of them were contradictory, if not guesswork. Going by a single name is definitely a 1960’s thing, but it makes Internet searches triply difficult. The big city in Italy and the Mercury car are just the beginning of what comes up. A Google search on the single word “Milan” now brings up an astounding 88,300,000 web pages.
Additionally, I came across an ad for a copy of Milan’s album I Am What I Am for what I considered a very reasonable price of $22 – well under what the 45s often go for. Even though the orchestral pop music was not at all like “On the Go” or “Shadows”, I found myself playing his album again and again – I have probably listened to it 3 or 4 dozen times at least. One of the problems with most albums from the first half of the 1960’s is that they are usually filled with the same old songs that everyone else was recording at the time. In this case though, Milan – or actually “M. Rodell” – was the songwriter on all 12 songs. Oddly, in all of the information I had collected by then, I had hardly heard about an album at all. One or two of the sources mentioned that there was allegedly an LP that might have been made by the same man who did all of those great garage rock singles. Once I got a copy of the album though, there was no question that this was the same man who was on the cover of the singles issued in the name The Leather Boy. Even more surprising, none of these sources mentioned anything about his having died. In fact, on one of the bulletin boards, someone asked what Milan was doing these days; and there was a response from another who claimed to have heard from him “just last month”. I knew I didn’t have everything right about Milan by a long shot, but I still pieced together an article in Wikipedia by December 2006. I felt pretty good about it and thought that at least Milan’s discography was probably right – I even imagined that I might have been the first person to put that whole list together in one place – even though I was missing a lot of details about his life.
I also knew that there had to be many more records for other artists that Milan had had something to do with; I dare say that is still the case today. Greg Shaw has written that Milan’s name “shows up as writer/producer on a big pile of records, from the early 60s right thru the end of the decade”; and I have hardly found anything that looks like that yet. I kept an eye on the article to see who out there might know something more, and I also got an e‐mail once in a while about Milan. As an example, I had missed a couple of singles in the discography – as someone from France (!) pointed out in the “Talk” section for the article in Wikipedia – but I believe I have them all now. I didn’t get a reply to an e‐mail that I sent to that person either. Then, in December 2008, someone with a user name “Klaushoehn” (from Germany perhaps?) attached a cryptic note about Milan to the article, and then immediately deleted it. Fortunately, Wikipedia saves absolutely everything, so I was able to retrieve it: Milan (real name Milan Radenkovic) was born in 1944. During the making of the Head Shop album, he was diagnosed with brain cancer. He probably died in the seventies. He was the son of folk singer/guitar player Rascha Rodell. Now I was getting somewhere! Besides having the first indication from anyone that Milan had died many years ago, I had another name to look up: that of his father Rascha Rodell. Also, to my surprise, there was another Radenkovic right there in Wikipedia; and there was a longer article on this Petar Radenkovic in the German Wikipedia that gave more details about his father Rascha Rodell, so he was clearly Milan’s
older brother. Petar had been a goalie of some renown with the Munich soccer team in the 1960’s; I couldn’t get an e‐mail address, but I did send a letter to him asking about Milan to see if he could help me out. As usual, I heard nothing back. The release of a long‐awaited compendium of Milan’s work in 2009 – a 19‐track vinyl‐only compilation album called Hell Bent for Leather – has finally brought his music to a wide audience. It is available for purchase on dozens of websites and probably numerous record stores as well. Most delightfully though, in October 2009 I made contact with Milan’s younger sister Darinka (Dara) and brother‐in‐law Ricky, who are now living in Florida (where Milan grew up). She uses the name Rodell as well. Together with their oldest son Derrick, they have both been trying to get the word out about Milan’s great talent for years, through Facebook and other ways. I am dedicating this article on Milan to my friends Dara and Ricky, without whom I would never have gotten the whole story. EARLY LIFE AND FAMILY Milan is a remarkable man from a remarkable family. By most accounts, Milan was known in the recording industry as Rick Rodell, and several sources give this as his "real name". In actuality, on December 15, 1941, he was born in Belgrade, Yugoslavia as Milan Radenković, as the son of Mila Radenković and her husband Radaslav Radenković. His name has been anglicized as Milan Radenkovich (and sometimes Milan Radenkowich), though the surname is rarely if ever shown on records attributed to him. He adopted his father’s stage
name and changed his name to Richard Rodell (nicknamed Rick and Dicky) while he was still in high school in Miami Beach, Florida.
Milan showed his athletic prowess by pitching for a minor league team affiliated with the Chicago White Sox while he was still a teenager. Shortly afterwards, Milan headed for New York City, where he was based for his entire career, moving easily among the big shots in most of the major record companies for nearly a decade, when the Brill Building was the hub of America’s music industry. Milan’s father Radaslav Radenković, the son of the police chief of Belgrade, Yugoslavia, first began traveling to America to perform during World War II, where he used the name “Ray Rodell” and performed often for the American troops. By the late 1940’s, he was beginning to use the name “Rasha Rodell”. He received favorable notices in 1948 in Billboard for an appearance at New York’s Penthouse Nightclub. In the 1950’s, as Ray Rodell, he had a regular show on NBC radio. After he and his family settled in Miami Beach, Rasha performed as a popular folksinger, guitarist and bandleader who worked for tips, using the name Rasha Rodell (sometimes Rascha Rodell, presumably on his European
dates). Newspapers of the day describe him as a “strolling guitarist and romantic baritone” who was often accompanied by an accordion and a piano; and he headed a six‐piece band in Palm Beach for a time. He could sing in 11 languages and was also an accomplished painter who had regular showings in area art galleries. By the early 1970’s, he had relocated to California, where he owned a beer bar and café called The Inn Between in Hemet; a wedding there of two people who met at the bar made news across the nation in 1971. Rasha struggled over the years to achieve success, and though the music business was even harder then than it is today, he was a well known performer who was often written up in the local society and show‐biz columns in Miami Beach and Palm Beach newspapers. As one indication of his presence in south Florida, an on‐line article that was posted in 2002 on the website for Breaking Travel News (originally published in the magazine Spa) gave a remembrance of the heyday of the Eden Roc Hotel in Miami Beach; only one other performer (Maxie Fransko) was mentioned in describing the Mona Lisa Room, where Rasha was a fixture for some five years. Milan’s first public musical performance was with his father at the Fontainebleau Hotel in Miami Beach.
MILAN AND THE TWIST
Petar (Radi) Radenkovic, Milan’s older brother was raised in Europe by his grandparents after Milan’s family moved to America. He was a very talented goalie who was a member of the Yugoslavian soccer team that won the silver medal at the 1956 Winter Olympics. Radi was one of the first four immigrant players in the top soccer league in Germany, Bundesliga, where he played for the Munich soccer team that won the German Cup in 1964 and the league title in 1966. He is credited with the unequalled feat of never allowing more than one goal in any game throughout his career. He was enormously popular in Germany during the 1960’s and scored a Top 5 hit on the German singles chart with “Bin i Radi, Bin i König” (“I am Radi, I am King”). He is also the author of two books and owns a hotel in Munich called (naturally) the Hotel König. Radi, who is 75, now lives in a small town near Munich.
Among the many recording artists in the 1960s who went by only one name, at least for a time – Donovan, Melanie, Jennifer, Keith, Oliver, Sonny and Cher, Simon and Garfunkel, Jan and Dean, etc. – Milan was one of the first, beginning with his earliest single in 1962 when he tried to cash in on the enduring popularity of the twist: a dance that anyone can do but that no one can do particularly well (it will probably never be featured on Dancing with the Stars). “Santa’s Doin’ the Twist” was the first of many Milan songs with a dropped “g” and was evidently a one‐off for the Migon label: There wasn’t really a catalogue number, just the date of release with “A” and “B”. As Rick Rodell, Milan was also shown as the songwriter for both sides of the single; in fact, among all his recordings, his only cover was evidently of the Donovan song “Jersey Thursday”. In the early 1960’s, this or that dance became a fad seemingly on a monthly basis, so it is easy to forget how long the twist craze lasted. The original version of “The Twist” by Hank Ballard and the Midnighters dates from 1959, and
Chubby Checker took the song to the top of the charts in 1960 and again in 1962. When Billboard Magazine marked the 50th Anniversary of the launch of the Hot 100 chart in August 1958 – after Elvis and a lot of the other early rockers had already scored many of their biggest hits – “The Twist” was placed at #1 on the “All‐Time Hot 100 Top Songs”. Additionally, “The Peppermint Twist” (Part 1) by Joey Dee and the Starliters – the house band at New York City’s Peppermint Lounge, the epicenter for the phenomenon (there was a Peppermint Lounge in Miami Beach also) – was the #1 single for three weeks in January 1962. One of the Starliters, Eddie Brigati would later be a founding member of the (Young) Rascals. Many of the biggest musical acts of the time also had hit songs about the twist in this period: Bo Diddley, Sam Cooke, Bill Haley & His Comets, the Marvelettes, Gary “U. S.” Bonds, and the Dovells, among many others. As if that weren’t enough, as one of their early singles, the Beatles released “Twist and Shout”, which had been a #17 hit for the Isley Brothers in 1962. This became the most successful cover song for the Fab Four when it reached #2 on the charts on April 2, 1964, during the week when the Beatles had the Top Five songs on the Billboard Hot 100 at the same time. This was the seventh Top 10 twist song stretching over a five‐year period. Nor was that even the end of the story. Incredibly, “Twist and Shout” almost reached the Top 20 in 1986, when it was featured in a memorable scene in the film Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, and also in Rodney Dangerfield’s hit movie Back to School in the same year. In 1988, Chubby Checker recorded “the Twist” again, this time accompanied by The Fat Boys; this
version of the song made the Top 40 here, and it also topped the German singles charts and was #2 in the U. K. A NEAR HIT IN 1963 Milan’s second single, “Innocence” was released in early 1963 on End Records; by this time, the label had been acquired from its founder George Goldner by Roulette Records, which was controlled by the notorious recording industry mogul Morris Levy. Though it did not make the charts, Milan evidently made an impression on Levy with this recording.
Lou Christie had just released his second single on Roulette, “Two Faces Have I”; and it would prove to be a bigger hit than his debut single “The Gypsy Cried”. At Levy’s insistence, and during the middle of a tour, Christie went into the studio and recorded Milan’s song “How Many Teardrops” on May 16, 1963, with George Goldner and Nick Censi as producers. The new single moved quickly up the charts but, due to Christie’s induction into the U. S. Army, stalled at #41 on the Cash Box charts on June 22, 1963 and as high as #46 on the Billboard Hot 100 (in July 1963). In October 1963, the song reached #8 on the charts in the nation of Israel.
Lou Christie would revive his career many months later in a very different musical landscape; in a testament to his strength as a performer, his biggest hit of all, “Lightnin’ Strikes” became #1 during the height of the British Invasion (on February 19, 1966). Milan and Lou Christie – real name: Lugee Sacco – actually have more in common than just this single. When his first single “The Gypsy Cried” was released on the tiny C&C label, the artist was shown as “Lou Christie” without his knowledge or permission. He has been quoted as saying: "I was pissed off about it for 20 years. I wanted to keep my name and be a one‐ named performer, just 'Lugee'." Additionally, Lou Christie wrote most of his hit songs, along with his songwriting partner Twyla Herbert (and that is quite a story in itself). As such, he is one of the first singer‐songwriters in popular music, a fact that John Lennon has remarked on, among others. He was also not afraid to take chances with his music; the melody for his controversial hit “Rhapsody in the Rain” (1966) was inspired by Tchaikovsky’s “Romeo and Juliet”. “How Many Teardrops” is the earliest song that is included on Hell Bent for Leather. (A foreign‐ language schedule of artists who made the charts in Australia, together with highly detailed discographies, listed a second Lou Christie single written by Milan, “Guitars and Bongos”; but this is another song that was co‐written by Christie and Twyla Herbert).
Beatles imitators were quite common as Beatlemania took hold in 1964 – not that there is any shortage of them now, though the more polite term “tribute band” is used these days. The record is unclear, but one last project for Morris Levy might have been Milan’s serving as the producer on one of the singles released on Roulette by the American Beetles; he is also the songwriter for one of the songs, “You Did it to Me”. There are some indications that Milan had further involvement with the band, but I have not found any evidence of it to date. On one of the blogs that I uncovered, someone said they had spoken with a member of the American Beetles, and he never recalled meeting Milan. The story is that the band’s manager like Milan’s demo of the song and had them record it. While assuming the total Beatles sound and clothes and hair, the American Beetles were actually a fine garage rock band from West Palm Beach, Florida – Milan’s neck of the woods, as it happens. The band formed as the Ardells in 1959; despite the numerous name changes – they were also known as the R‐Dells and released a single as The Tones – they stayed together with the same lineup through 1967. The band released nine or ten singles in 1964 and 1965 as the American Beetles for Roulette and also for Bob Yorey’s labels. In
1966, they began recording as the Razor’s Edge and made the Top 100 in 1967 with “Let’s Call it a Day Girl”; the song was later covered by Bobby Vee. I AM WHAT I AM When Milan released his LP in 1964, he moved to a different record label, 20th Century Fox Records. Though one of the most recognizable brands in the world, their record company was pretty minor league and was probably created mainly to release their movie soundtracks. The label’s biggest success came with the release in 1958 of one of the first recordings of “Little Drummer Boy” by the Harry Simeon Chorale; after being reissued and renamed several times, the accompanying LP would go on to become the largest selling Christmas album of all time. I Am What I Am is something of a time capsule: an album that might have been recorded by somebody like Bobby Vinton, Paul Anka or Bobby Rydell, but having the advantage in the 2010’s of being composed of unfamiliar songs that are definitely of the period, which have not been played to death for 50 years on oldies radio stations. Add the something extra that comes from a man singing his own songs and not someone else’s, and the result is an unexpected treat from a bygone era. Just one of the songs from the album, “Runnin’ Wild” is included on Hell Bent for Leather; and if that track grabs you at all, let me assure you that the LP is well worth tracking down. The album was produced by Budd Granoff, and he also wrote the liner notes. Granoff had a storied career in show business, beginning as a Broadway press agent representing the likes of Frank Sinatra, Jimmy Durante and Doris Day. Following his marriage to Kitty Kallen, one of
the most popular singers on the 1950’s, his activity in the music industry was mainly related to managing her career. Budd Garnoff is best known though for his work with Chuck Barris in creating legendary game shows like The Gong Show and The Newlywed Game, not to mention the first television syndication company to distribute these shows to independent TV stations for prime‐time audiences. Along the way, he put on what has been described as the very first telethon, a marathon 1951 television broadcast to raise money for a cardiac hospital that also happened to showcase two of his clients at the time, Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis. Lewis of course would become the most visible presence in the telethon world over the ensuing six decades. The liner notes give some details about Milan and describe him as “a darkly handsome, six foot, 160 lb. twenty year old" (he actually turned 22 in late 1963); they continue: "Milan is popular music . . . he lives it, loves it and understands it and refuses to allow the tendency to copy whatever happens to be in the top ten at the present time to influence his work." I included that last quote in the Wikipedia article mainly because I thought it was a great quote. As I have been thinking it over while preparing this more complete article, I have come to realize that, strictly speaking, it is not really accurate in describing Milan, at least not his career as a whole. Like anyone else in show business, Milan was interested in getting good material out there that was in keeping with the times; and there is certainly nothing wrong with that.
More to the point, I have been mulling over just what Budd Granoff might have meant by “whatever happens to be in the top ten at the present time." On February 1, 1964, the Beatles had their first #1 hit song in America, “I Want to Hold Your Hand”; and the Beatles and the other English bands in their wake dominated the charts for years to come. To these ears though, despite the numerous musical styles and personas that Milan undertook over the years, the British Invasion left scarcely any mark at all on his recordings. Though the record company released two singles and presumably made the usual efforts at promoting the album, the record‐buying public passed it by. Had the album been released just one year earlier, when Lou Christie nearly took one of Milan’s songs to the Top 40, it might have been a different story. CHANGES IN THE WORLD OF MILAN From the descriptions given above, it is clear that few if any of Milan’s recordings up to this point would fall into the category of “ugly things”; in fact, much of his music is quite beautiful (not that there is anything wrong with that).
In 1965 and 1966, Milan issued three more singles, this time in the name of the World of Milan. These songs represent a transition toward the garage rock sound for which he is best known, and away from Milan’s first love: the melodic American pop music that probably represented in his mind an updated continuation of the music that his father sang over the course of his career. Milan was willing to issue an album full of this kind of music in 1964, right in the teeth of the storm from Britain that swept nearly all of the American musicians from the charts, so it was probably only with the greatest reluctance that he allowed himself to move on. Additionally, there is a glaring gap in the admittedly incomplete discography that documents Milan’s efforts as a songwriter, producer and arranger for other musicians, which might be as long as three full years from the release of the American Beetles single in 1964. No one else seemed to be willing to join Milan in his pursuit of what was already viewed as hopelessly old‐fashioned pop music, and that could have been what clinched the decision for him. One track from each of the first two World of Milan singles are included on Hell Bent for Leather: “Luva Luva” – Milan really loved double word song titles – and “Follow the Sun”.
I’M A LEATHER BOY
In any case, once he got his garage rock legs, Milan hit it out of the park. As described in a 2005 post by Brian Marshall on the It’s Great Shakes website: Milan hits it off by yelling "Ready! [Get] Set! Go!", followed by a pounding drumbeat that charges at you with the force of a buffalo stampede! Then, twangy guitar and crazy organ come in with a one‐two punch, as Milan sings: One track mind My baby's got a one track mind My baby's got a one track mind She'll never stop until she finds L‐O‐V‐E, Love! L‐O‐V‐E, Love! Oh Yeah! Oh Yeah! Both sides of the third World of Milan single, “One Track Mind” and “Shades of Blue” book‐ end Side 1 of Hell Bent for Leather.
Milan really hit his stride with his next endeavors: the four superb Leather Boy singles that were released in quick succession in 1967. Three are in the name of The Leather Boy – and both of the MGM singles had picture sleeves – and they were preceded by another single in the name of Milan (the Leather Boy), just in case anyone missed the connection.
These songs celebrated motorcycles and the joys of leather at a time when Harley‐Davidson was practically in receivership. In “I’m a Leather Boy” and “[Leather Boy] On the Go”, Milan added the sounds of real motorcycles in the background (almost continuously in the case of the latter song) – even Steppenwolf didn’t go that far when they emerged the following year (though they were used as the intro to “Born to Be Wild” on the soundtrack of Easy Rider). Milan was also looking out for his listener’s inner life, with “You Gotta Have Soul” and “Soulin’”. MGM played up the motorcycle connection in a big way by having the Leather Boy ride from city to city on his motorcycle – a 1960 Harley – during the promotion of the records. The above photograph shows Milan posing with MGM record company executives – with the lot of them mounted on motorcycles – in front of a dealership that appears to be in Canada. Milan often took the stage on a motorcycle at concert and television appearances, a stunt that was unheard of before and hasn’t occurred very often since.
It looked as though Milan’s efforts in the recording industry were beginning to pay off. The Leather Boy made several appearances on television, such as the Dick Shaw Show, and in musical venues, such as the Ambassador Theatre in Washington, D.C. (see above poster).
All four of the songs mentioned above are included on the 2009 compilation album. Also
included is my favorite Milan song of all, the dreamy psychedelic masterpiece “Shadows”, which was the flip side of “I’m a Leather Boy”.
and women’s music pioneer Cris Williamson. Max Ellen’s credits now fill three pages on the allmusic website; however, none in the list are dated earlier than 1970, so Milan might have helped him establish his musical career.
What is apparently the last of Milan’s singles, a cover of “Jersey Thursday” (on yet another label, Parkway) is impossibly rare. However, the other Leather Boy singles sell on a regular basis at auction on eBay and other locations. The website popsike.com reports that the “I’m a Leather Boy” single sold four times in 2009 and once already in 2010 for anywhere from $28 to $90; the “On the Go” 45 sold twice in 2009 for £20 and $34; and “You Gotta Have Soul” brought $25 in 2009. THE HEAD SHOP In 1967, Milan became good friends with another professional musician named Max Ellen after they met in the laundry room of his apartment building. He had come to America from Hamburg, Germany on the last boat of refugees to arrive before Pearl Harbor – barely two weeks before Milan’s birth – and was an excellent violinist who backed the Who’s Who in jazz: Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, Mel Torme, and Tony Bennett, along with many pop and rock musicians like Ray Charles, B. B. King, Stevie Nicks, Lenny Kravitz, Whitney Houston,
Despite disparate musical backgrounds, Max and Milan decided to try to work together on a new type of music: moving the nascent style of psychedelic rock to a new level of proficiency and bringing in musical influences from both jazz and classical music – as the CD’s liner notes put it: “The Beatles meet the modern classics, such as Schönberg and Mahler.” Using a band that had been known variously as The Aladdins and The Household Sponge, and with a working title of The Underground Tunnel, the result was an fascinating experiment showing where psychedelic rock music could go, called The Head Shop. The band started off with Danny Prosseda and Drew Sbordone singing on street corners in Brooklyn in the early 1960s. Later members were Joe Siano as the vocalist and also on sax, Geoff Wright on organ, and Billy Hayes on drums. As The Household Sponge, the band
released a single "Scars" b/w "Second Best" on Murbo (#M‐1017); the August 15, 1967 edition of Billboard listed “Second Best” in its Spotlight section as a song that was expected to make the Hot 100. After Milan heard the band, he brought in Jesse Luca to handle the drumming, and he used his extensive contacts in the recording industry to line up free studio time at Capitol Records so that he and Max Ellen – now given the sobriquet “Maxim” – could leisurely work with the band on refining the concept and laying down the tracks. Joe Siano’s vocals are among the best on any psychedelic album of the 1960’s, and the complex arrangements include many sounds and instruments that are unrecognizable. The outstanding song on the album is Milan’s “I Feel Love Comin’ On”, featuring jazz fusion guitarist Larry Coryell. This was reportedly Coryell’s first time in the recording studio, and most of his solo was improvised while Milan praised him. Milan also assisted him in getting his debut album out on Vanguard in the same year as the Head Shop album. The other original songs, such as “Listen with a Third Ear” – shown as “Listen with the Third Ear” on the CD reissue – and “Heaven Here We Come” are also album highlights. Two of the three covers are of extremely familiar Beatles songs, “Yesterday” – performed similar to the version of “Help!” that was recorded by Vanilla Fudge a few years earlier – and a propulsive rendering of “Revolution”. “Yesterday” was combined with an original song called “Where Have All the People Gone” into “Opera in Year 4000”, seeming to address the state of the music industry at that point in time: Even if everyone in the world went missing, the
then‐omnipresent Beatles standard would still be around. Richie Unterberger has called their other cover, of Bobby Hebb’s “Sunny” the “so‐ called ‘bad acid’ version” of this song. (A track called “Ace of Folk” is sometimes listed with songs by the Head Shop on Internet sites, but this song is by a relatively new band that is usually called Headshoppe or Headshop). According to Geoff Wright, Milan told him that the opening sounds on “Heaven Here We Come” were from satellites. Milan provided the screams near the beginning of the album and, with Danny Prosseda, the “ohs” on “Where Have All the People Gone”. Milan was responsible for the design for the album cover; it features multi‐colored cubes arranged in a 17 x 17 grid, with the 9 central cubes removed and replaced with a picture of a shrunken head. He must have had a different kind of “head shop” in mind from the ones where incense and rolling papers are sold! Some of the cubes are numbered and lettered also, and the shapes sort of flatten out toward the edges. Apparently the swirling colors are not supposed to form a particular shape, but they are a lot of fun to study, comparing the upper and lower quadrants with one another. The album was ultimately released in the summer of 1969 through a friend of Milan who was an A&R manager at Epic. After his friend left the company, the record company didn’t seem to know how to promote the album, and the band began to drift apart. Shortly after the release of The Head Shop, Max Ellen and fellow violinist Irving Spice combined in August 1969 to form a new company called All Spice Productions. Their first project was a band called Giant; What’s in This Life for Me –
apparently by this band and described as a “funk jazz rock LP” – came out on Mercury in 1970. Additionally, All Spice Productions were behind the release of an album called The Hunchback of Notre Dame (Bells Were My Friends) by Alexander Rabbit (also known as The Alexander Rabbit). This album was praised for its diversity and the strength of its original material, although the sound was trending away from psychedelia and toward progressive rock. At a later time, when a single by this band was released on A&M – “Malagueña” b/w “I Didn’t Even Thank Her” (#1101) – the production credits were for Irving Spice only at Spice Productions, so the partnership might have already run its course. MILAN AS A GARAGE ROCK MECHANIC Beginning in 1967, Milan became one of the go‐ to guys for garage rock bands seeking songwriting and production assistance in the recording studio. He oversaw the releases of a host of singles by bands like The Unclaimed, The Licorice Schtik, The Downtown Collection, and The Doughboys. His eclectic tastes showed in his work with an obscure girl group The Chanters and a bubblegum pop band called Ice Cream. Tracks by all of these groups except The Doughboys appear on Side 2 of Hell Bent for Leather, where Milan’s work with other performers is featured. The two Licorice Schtik songs are also included as bonus tracks on the CD reissue of The Head Shop (see above).
As with many of the singles where Milan appears as songwriter, producer or arranger, there are questions as to whether the band was just one more disguise, like the Leather Boy; and I have seen some Internet sources mention that about The Unclaimed. However, a blog post about the neo‐psychedelic band also called The Unclaimed (which formed in 1979) mentions that the founder of this band, Sheldon Shelley Ganz had heard from Peter Case (Plimsouls, Nerves) that a good friend of his named Gurf Morlix had been in a band called The Unclaimed back in the 1960’s. Morlix was from Buffalo, NY and, soon after this record was made, became captivated by Hank Williams and moved into country music. He worked with alt‐ country star Lucinda Williams for many years before launching a successful solo career. In 2009, Gurf Morlix was awarded Instrumentalist of the Year at the 8th annual Americana Music Association Honors and Awards Show. Artie Kornfeld, the producer of this record is a genuine music industry heavyweight. Kornfeld was a talented songwriter who is credited with having written more Cash Box Top 100 songs
than anyone else. He was appointed the vice president for rock and roll at Capitol Records while in his early 20s. Artie Kornfeld is best known as the music promoter among the four men who organized the original Woodstock festival.
Not to be confused with a group of clarinetists called Licorice Schtick (though that is rather unlikely), the Licorice Schtik released a single on Dot: “The Kissin’ Game” b/w “Flowers Flowers”. Milan did all of the honors on this disk: He wrote and arranged both songs and also produced the session. Since this band was being promoted by Milan in the same time period that the Head Shop album was being put together, both tracks are also included on the CD reissue of that album.
The Doughboys were from Plainsfield, New Jersey and grew out of a band started in 1964 by Mike Caruso (bass), Richie Heyman (drums), and Wally Kirchofer (guitar), called the Ascots. After the addition of Mike Farina (guitar) and Myke Scavone (lead vocals) from a rival band called the Apollos, the band changed its name to the Doughboys. After winning a Battle of the Bands contest in 1966, they got a recording contract with Bell Records and released two singles. Milan’s song “Candy Candy” was the “B” side of the second single “Everybody Knows My Name” (Bell #878). In the summer of 1968, the Doughboys became the house band for the legendary Café Wha? in Greenwich Village. After the band broke up, Myke Scavone formed Ram Jam, and the band had a major hit in 1977 with Leadbelly’s “Black Betty”. The Doughboys reformed in 2000 and has been going strong ever since, releasing two albums.
Square” was included on Look What I Found, Volume 42.
A mystery girl group, Milan arranged both sides of the single and wrote “Bongo Bongo”. Several years ago, an extensive series collecting vintage singles called Look What I Found had included each side of this single, on Volume 12 and Volume 21.
I know very little about this band; I can’t even find anything much on Strobe Records. Again, Milan produced both sides of the single and wrote “Sunshine”, which was included as a bonus track on the CD reissue of The Head Shop. A copy of the other side, “Washington
This obscure bubblegum pop band recorded a song by Milan about chewing gum (go figure) in about 1968. A blog post says that the band was from Cleveland and answers “no” to several inquiries claiming (again) that this was really Milan singing. For this record, Milan was working with Peter Schekeryk Productions; Schekeryk would shortly meet and marry Melanie (Safka) and manage her career. Milan and Melanie became good friends, probably through this connection; she became perhaps the best of the hippies recording in the 1960s. The song was included on Volume 49 of the Lost Jukebox series (now up to over 100 CDs). MILAN’S PASSING Reports vary as to the cause of Milan’s death in 1971; some sources mention brain cancer, and others a brain tumor. Often the sources say that this occurred while The Head Shop album was being put together. The best information I have found though is that Milan had a bad accident on his beloved motorcycle in 1970 that gave him brain damage. Milan’s condition deteriorated over the coming months until his
untimely death on March 1, 1971, several months shy of his 30th birthday. OTHER SONGS WRITTEN BY MILAN The database set up by BMI lists a total of 54 songs written by Milan; the same list comes up in the name Rick Rodell. Most have already been mentioned – though the titles do not always match exactly – but there are several songs that I have been unable to attach to a recording. At least one, “Levaysme Amor d Aquesto Terra” seems to be by a different Milan. The others – probably dating from the early part of his career, though this is only a guess – are “Billy”, “Daughter of Uncle Sam”, “Falling Stars”, He’s My Bobo”, “I’m Your Little Boy”, “It’s My First Date”, “Julianna”, “Melancolie”, “Miracle”, “Penny”, “Ruby Begonia”, “Snake Dance”, “St. Mary’s”, “You All I Want Is You”, and copyrighted arrangements of two songs in the public domain, “Greensleeves” and “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands”. However, many of Milan’s songs do not appear on this list. Just 7 of the 12 songs on the album I Am What I Am are on the BMI list, and neither of the songs on Milan’s first single appear. For the Head Shop, the two songs that Milan co‐ wrote with Max Ellen (under the name Maxim), “Prophecy” and “Listen with a Third Ear” are on the list, as is the title song “Head Shop”, but not “I Feel Love Comin’ On” , “Infinity” or “Heaven Here We Come”. COMPILATION ALBUM APPEARANCES Greg Shaw was the first to reissue Milan’s songs on compilation albums, when his 1983 release Pebbles, Volume 11 included three of the Leather Boy songs: “I’m a Leather Boy”,
“Shadows”, and “You Gotta Have Soul”. When the Pebbles series was reissued on CD, Pebbles, Volume 10 was the album that collected Milan tracks; “I’m a Leather Boy” and “On the Go” appear on this album, while the former track also was included on the earlier Pebbles, Volume 3 CD that was licensed to ESD. Finally, “Shadows” appears on both of the Pebbles box sets, Pebbles Box (LPs) and Trash Box (CDs). Not including the songs on Hell Bent for Leather, the “Searchin’ for Shakes” database lists another 10 appearances of Leather Boy songs plus “One Track Mind” on compilation albums. In addition, “On the Go” has appeared on one of the albums in the Wavy Gravy series. (A reference in a Youtube video of “On the Go” to Songs the Oblivians Taught Us is apparently not a real album – see below). HELL BENT FOR LEATHER
The 2009 compilation album Hell Bent for Leather collects the lion’s share of the songs mentioned in this article and ostensibly came out on a new French label called LS (which evidently stands for Licorice Schtik). Side A –
the “Leather Boy Side” – are songs that Milan himself released; while Side B – the “Flower Child Side” – are by other artists where Milan was the songwriter, producer, arranger or some combination of the three (“Head Shop” was co‐ written with Max Ellen). The album is evidently a bootleg and is certainly anonymous; the credits on the album include artwork by Shady Cadillac and layout by Leather Lotion. It has received glowing reviews from all quarters, though everyone seems to hate the front cover, which shows a boy on a motorcycle with the label for “One Track Mind” superimposed onto the headlight. My own opinion is that it looks a lot better on the LP album cover than in the little pictures on a computer screen. Someone put up a blog post claiming that he had gotten a tattoo from the cover artist. COVER VERSIONS OF MILAN’S SONGS Though Milan’s profile in the music work has been climbing steadily for the past 25 years, modern bands have been slow to cover his songs. However, the Oblivians, a Memphis‐ based garage‐punk outfit that was active from 1993 to 1997 included “Motorcycle Leather Boy” – a loose adaptation of “On the Go” – as the opening track on Rock ‘n Roll Holiday: Live in Atlanta. The album documenting this 1994 live show – prior to the release of their debut album in 1995 – was released in a tiny edition of just 300 LPs in 1996, but it was reissued on CD in 2003. A reunion performance by the band in 2009 in Detroit featured this song and is posted on Youtube. Also, Larry Coryell is still recording and touring and recently passed through Florida. His son Murial Coryell is also a musician, and Milan’s
brother‐in‐law spoke with him recently when he was playing a gig in Texas. He said that his father wants to perform “I Feel Love Comin’ On” in his concerts but cannot due to copyright and trademark problems. YOUTUBE VIDEOS Sixties songs have proliferated like weeds on video outlets like Youtube over the past several years. In a recent search, I counted four Milan songs: “One Track Mind”, “On the Go”, “I’m a Leather Boy”, and “Shadows”; no videos are attached to any of these songs. However, that is not the case for the Head Shop songs that are available on‐line: “Head Shop”, “Heaven Here We Come”, “Listen with the Third Ear”, and “I Feel Love Comin’ On”. There are two videos for “Flowers Flowers” by the Licorice Schtik, one with vintage video and the other with a sort of light show. Ice Cream’s “Chewin’ Gum Kid” has an audio‐only post; and there are many recordings of “How Many Teardrops” available, as well as the “B” side of that single “You and I (Have a Right to Cry)”. Though I saw several songs by the American Beetles, the Unclaimed, and the Doughboys, none seemed to involve the songs that Milan was associated with. END OF THE MYSTIQUE? Now that more details about his life and recordings have come out, does that mean that there are no other surprises about Milan under wraps? My answer would be no; I have actually been told several other fascinating aspects of his life and career that I have been unable to verify to date: Milan was reportedly trained as an attorney – his father Rasha Rodell was also a lawyer – and helped write the copyright law for
musicians and their works. This would be ironic if true, since Milan and his heirs have not yet collected the royalties on this records. Milan clandestinely assisted the Beatles in writing one of their songs, “I’ll Follow the Sun”. I would be inclined to think that the source confused this song with “Follow the Sun” by the World of Milan, or that they might have meant the American Beetles, except that some details came with this claim: Paul McCartney said in an interview sometime that “NY Blot” helped the Beatles write a few of their songs; in actuality, NY Blot was Milan. Milan was involved in some way with recording a song by the Grateful Dead. This could make Milan unique in the world if he worked with this band as well as the Beatles.
EPILOGUE The career of this prolific and highly versatile recording industry professional was cut short by his untimely death at age 29. Milan leaves behind a legacy of astonishingly diverse recordings, and there is little doubt that he would have been able to navigate the musical trends over the past several decades just as readily. If measured by the numbers alone, Milan could be judged a failure. None of his own records ever made any of the charts; and the best he could do with songs that he wrote, arranged and produced for others was to almost crack the Top 40 once.
Yet there is more to the world of music than having a hit record. Consider Deon Jackson, who hit #11 in 1966 with a delightful R&B song called “Love Makes the World Go ‘Round”. He had two follow‐up singles that also made the charts and played numerous dates in and around Chicago during the remainder of the 1960s, but he ultimately had to take a job at an area high school. The #1 song on the Billboard Hot 100 during the week that “How Many Teardrops” made #41 on Cash Box was the Japanese‐language hit “Sukiyaki”. A copy of the Capitol 45 of this song was available for sale on eBay in May 2010; with four days to go before the auction would close, the disk had received one bid for 49¢. The fact is, Milan had the goods, and those who worked with him knew it, so he was able to get up to bat again and again. Milan recorded more than 30 songs during his career and probably assisted in one way or another with that many songs for other musicians. A dozen or more major record companies had Milan’s name on their releases at one time or another, and the same is true of several other smaller labels. Milan’s stature in the music industry by the end of the decade was such that the recording sessions for The Head Shop could be described as “leisurely” and as using “free studio time”. Hopefully Hell Bent for Leather can mark the beginning of a greater appreciation for this mysterious figure in the garage rock universe, even though it is 40 years overdue. There are undoubtedly other records that can be unearthed that have Milan’s fingerprints on them, and these can be added to the discography that follows.
DISCOGRAPHY Singles (As a Recording Artist) Milan with His Orchestra: "Santa's Doin' the Twist" b/w "Swing a Little Longer"; Migon (#1962) – 1962 Milan: "Innocence" b/w "Winter Time"; End (#1123) – 1963 Milan: “I Am What I Am" b/w "Over and Over Again"; 20th Century Fox (#487) – 1964 Milan: "Runnin' Wild" b/w "Angel's Lullaby"; 20th Century Fox (#552) – 1964 The World of Milan: "Cry, Lonely Boy" b/w "Luva‐Luva"; ABC‐Paramount (#10718) – 1965 The World of Milan: "Follow the Sun" b/w "I'm Cryin' in the Rain"; Brunswick (#55292) – 1966 The World of Milan: "One Track Mind" b/w "Shades of Blue"; Brunswick (#55298) – 1966 Milan (The Leather Boy): "You Gotta Have Soul" b/w "My Prayer"; Flower (#100) – 1967 The Leather Boy: "I'm a Leather Boy" b/w "Shadows"; MGM (#K‐13724) – April 1967 The Leather Boy: "On the Go" b/w "Soulin'"; MGM (#K‐13790) – August 1967 The Leather Boy: "Jersey Thursday" b/w "Black Friday"; Parkway (#125) – 1967 Album (As a Recording Artist) Milan: I Am What I Am; 20th Century Fox (#TFM 3149/#TFS 4149) – 1964 Singles (As a Songwriter, Producer and/or Arranger) Lou Christie: "How Many Teardrops" b/w "You and I (Have a Right to Cry)"; Roulette (#R‐4504) – 1963 The American Beetles: "Don't Be Unkind" b/w "You Did It To Me"; Roulette (#4550) – 1964 The Chanters: "Bongo Bongo" b/w "Free as a Bird"; MGM (#K13750) – 1967 The Doughboys: "Everybody Knows My Name" b/w "Candy Candy"; Bell (#878) – 1967 The Unclaimed: "Memories of Green Eyes" b/w "Jingle Jangle"; Philips (#30430) – 1967 Ice Cream: "The Chewin' Gum Kid" b/w "Epitaph to Marie"; Capitol (#P‐2321) – 1968 The Licorice Schtik: "The Kissin' Game" b/w "Flowers Flowers"; Dot (#17131) – 1968 The Downtown Collection: "Washington Square" b/w "Sunshine"; Strobe (#351) – 1968 Album (As a Songwriter, Producer and/or Arranger) The Head Shop: The Head Shop; Epic (#BN 26476) – 1969 Retrospective Album Milan the Leather Boy: Hell Bent for Leather; LS (#LS‐001LP) – 2009 (vinyl only)
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