The inspiration hit me one night in the 1960s. I was walking back home from my, then, girlfriend’s house. It was probably around 9 or 10 … PM.
I know walking alone at night might seem strange in light (or, dark as the case may be) of 21st century crime statistics but, back then, it just wasn’t that big a deal. Sure, you were careful, but it just wasn’t all that unusual.
But, I digress …
Anyhow, so there I was, walking alone late at night and, while walking, I was hit with a song idea. I liked it and, possibly spurred on by the nocturnal vibe as I walked, I went with it. It was one of those “moments” songwriters live for. The title, words, melody and chords started appearing on the jukebox in my mind in rapid succession. As I walked I hummed, and quietly sang the lyrics over and over to fix them in my head since I had nothing to write on. Thankfully, the streets were deserted and I didn’t sing loud enough for the lyrics to have wafted through any open windows and startled any unsuspecting audience members. By the time I covered the 8 block distance and arrived home all I had to do was quickly grab a piece of paper, write down the words, and then grab my guitar to see if the chords I thought would work, would work. They did.
I really don’t recall what the inspiration for the title was. I don’t believe my girlfriend and I had any kind of argument. At this 60 year distance, that part of this story is lost in the darkness of that night. The song title was “Satan Is Her Name.”
I have no idea what the nuns at Chicago’s Our Lady Of Peace or St. Brides schools would have thought about one of their charges turning to godless rock & roll as a profession and writing a song with that title … but it does make me smile a little to think about it.
Yes, at this point in my life, godless rock & roll was my profession and, as soon as I could afford it, I got all the members of my group together and produced a demo session that included “Satan Is Her Name.” Also, at this point in time, Mercury records was a major force in the industry with offices on Chicago’s Wacker Drive. David Carroll was the label’s head of A&R (artist and repertoire) having worked on hits for The Diamonds, The Platters, Patti Page, The Crew Cuts, Sarah Vaughan and many others as well as later discovering The Smothers Brothers. He also charted on his own with many instrumental albums and a top ten hit single, “Melody Of Love.”
Most working musicians in Chicago were aware of Mercury records and David Carroll and I was no exception to that rule. After a bit of research and a few phone calls, I found myself spending, what seemed like, the better part of an entire day parked in the reception area of Mercury’s headquarters, at 35 East Wacker Drive, thumbing through copies of Billboard and Cash Box magazines, making occasional small talk with the receptionist all the while having an ongoing internal discussion with myself about the pros and cons of the situation I had placed myself in. Finally, I found myself in Mr. Carroll’s office doing my best to hide my nervousness while, hopefully, putting my best foot forward as I responded to his friendly but, understandably, business-like opening questions. He listened to all of the songs from the demo session and was particularly taken with “Satan Is Her Name.”
There is a lot more to tell about what ultimately turned into a really good professional relationship with David Carroll, including playing harmonica on one of his big band albums and him signing me to his own label after he left Mercury, but the details of those adventures will probably make their way into our second book. For the purpose of this blog, suffice it to say that he signed me to Mercury and we recorded “Satan Is Her Name.”
While the record didn’t become the hit I hoped for, for a while it looked like it would be. I was told that it was getting good “buzz” and after a station in the Miami area started playing it, it became one of their top ten requests. More importantly, word reached the Mercury promotion department that Dick Clark liked it, was playing it on the portion of American Bandstand that was only seen in the Philadelphia area, and was thinking about adding it to the show’s national telecast. Sadly, proving timing is everything, Leslie Gore, who was also on Mercury, had just released a new record that was getting a pretty hefty promotional push. I’m not sure of the specifics but, the bottom line is that, Leslie’s record got played for Bandstand’s national audience and “Satan Is Her Name” didn’t. Years later when Johnnie and I interviewed Leslie and told her the story we all agreed that things worked out the way they were supposed to because Leslie kept having hits that built the foundation for her lengthy career and I wound up getting into radio and meeting Johnnie.
So, that’s the end of the story, right? Au contraire, mon ami!
And as the European influence enters this blog post, we fast forward a few decades.
I believe it was sometime in the 90s that Johnnie or I stumbled on a website listing copies of “Satan Is Her Name” being sold for ridiculous prices to collectors both in this country and in Europe. As we followed the trail down that internet rabbit hole, along with finding more copies of my record for sale at crazy prices, we discovered a number of European vinyl and CD releases containing “Satan” and also albums with some of my other recordings on them. Before you ask, no, I didn’t get any royalties from these albums. European copyright laws have changed in a way that has made many reissues of older recordings royalty free.
Every now and then, we’d think of it and check to see if those albums were still available and, surprisingly, we’d discover that, even if they weren’t, they were being replaced by new releases. It’s not something we ever obsessed with but, whenever we’d stumble across something, it was interesting to see some of my older recordings, particularly “Satan Is Her Name,” continually available in one form or another with Europe being a prime market.
In recent years, along with reissues of my original recording, “Satan Is Her Name” has been recorded by new artists, some of whom stick fairly close to my arrangement and some who put their own twist on it and take it in a bit of a new direction. I’ve communicated with some of these artists. Honestly, I’m flattered to find that many of them are as enthusiastic about hearing from me as I am to discover their interest in one of my songs.
Let me introduce you to just a few of my new friends.
From Kassel, Germany, Marcel Bontempi is the founder of Dr. Bontempi’s Sake Oil Company, a really creative hillbilly roots music group that played Nashville and returned to Germany just before the pandemic hit. Here’s a link to their version.
I was pleasantly surprised when I found out British born Holly Golightly covered “Satan Is Her Name.” Holly reworked it as “Satan Is His Name” and changed one line that does make it more explicit. I like her take on it. Here’s a link to her version.
From Greece, The Bevels recently released a very creative interpretation.
I’ve just heard from a band from Zagreb, Croatia, B. Confidential & The Secret 4, that will be releasing their newly recorded studio version of the song on vinyl in summer 2021. Here’s a link to a video of their rehearsal.
On this side of the big pond, here’s a link to a live performance from The Silver Chords, a Los Angeles, California based psychedelic rock group.
From Detroit, record producer and DJ, Michael Earl Clark, who has worked with Kid Rock, Insane Clown Posse, George Clinton, Patti Smith and others, worked his magic on the song.
Finally, along with the reissues and new versions of “Satan Is Her Name,” several people have taken my recording and added video to it in really creative ways. I’m absolutely amazed to see that this one made by a fan in Europe using my original record and some scenes from Russ Meyer’s movie titled “Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill” is, as of this writing, approaching 2 MILLION views!!
If this missive has piqued your interest, you might try doing your own search on YouTube for Satan Is Her Name and see what you find. If you discover any new friends you think I should meet let me know.
I guess this whole lengthy journey is a good example of “What a long, strange trip it’s been,” from a late night walk that inspired a song to the released record that didn’t become a hit yet, in a strange way, did!
Y’know, the more I think about it, it’s just really nice and a bit humbling to see and hear that something I created 60 years ago still has legs and is keeping some other creative juices flowing.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to see if Johnnie wants to go for a walk.
Stay safe … and please wear a mask,
What a wonderful story. Thanks for sharing!