Recently, my brother-in-law, Barry--a Windsor, Ontario resident since 1966--and I were talking about rock-and-roll musicians. I mentioned Jack Scott. To which he answered, “Who’s Jack Scott?”
So, I hummed a few bars of Goodbye Baby, and The Way I Walk. Barry nodded, curiously. I also said he did Burning Bridges and What in the World’s Come Over You. And, of course, I mentioned that Scott was born and raised in the Windsor-Detroit area. Barry knew the songs but hadn’t really attributed them to Scott. Barry’s reaction seems to be very common over the years with so many rock-and-roll enthusiasts such as us when the name Jack Scott is mentioned. In short, Scott has never really received the recognition that he deserves, which brings me to that very subject.
Jack Scott was the first rock-and-roll artist to come out of the Motor City. Before Del Shannon, before Motown and the Supremes and the others. While so many artists in the Golden Age of rock-and-roll were “one hit wonders” with their second and third songs not anywhere on par to their first, Scott put out song after song with no two alike. He did rockabilly, ballads, country, gospel, and good ol’ rock. He had the range. He could sound smooth and he could sound tough, as he did in The Way I Walk, my personal favorite.
He could also write, and well. From June 1958 to November 1961, he recorded 19 single releases on US charts. No other musicians, outside of the Beatles, Elvis, Fats Domino and Connie Francis, had as many in any similar length of time. Of those 19, Scott wrote them all except for the ballad Burning Bridges. He had hits on regular Hit Parade, as well as R-and-B and country charts. Twice he reached #3 on the US Hit Parade. Without a doubt, Jack Scott is the most underrated musician of the early rock-and-roll era, as well as an unsung hero in the Windsor-Detroit area.
Scott was born Giovanni Scafone Jr on 24 January 1936 in Windsor, Ontario--the oldest of seven--to an Italian family whose father gave him a guitar and taught him to play at the age of eight. At ten, his family moved across the border to the Detroit suburb of Hazel Park. At an early age, Scott loved country music, especially Hank Williams, and listened on the radio to the then-popular “Grand Ol’ Opry” and the “Louisiana Hay Ride.”
In 1952, Jack Ihrie, a country music DJ on WEXL in Ferndale, Michigan, caught Scott--known then as John Scafone--and his sister, Linda, singing at a Hazel Park high school concert. Ihrie arranged to have Scott perform on radio. He also advised him to change his name. Now as Jack Scott, he began to make a few dollars here and there playing at country music concerts, where he met stars such as Carl Smith and Marty Robbins.
At 18, Scott formed his own country band called the Southern Drifters and played at local dancehalls. By now times were changing. As Elvis Presley and Chuck Berry came on the scene, the young crowds started to ask for rock tunes. Scott and the other band members inserted this new craze into the act.
In early 1957, the band cut two recordings at United Sound in Detroit, both original Scott compositions, You Can Bet Your Bottom Dollar and Baby She’s Gone. That same year, Scott signed on as a solo act with Joe Carlton at ABC-Paramount Records once Carlton had heard the tapes. With ABC-Paramount, Baby She’s Gone and another, Two-Timin’ Woman were local hits, but didn’t go national.
Carlton soon started his own recording company, Carlton Records. Seeing great potential in Scott, Carlton signed him to a contract. It was not until Scott recorded My True Love and the flipside, Leroy, that his career took off. For the two recordings a Windsor vocal group, The Chantones, had backed him up for the first time. The partnership continued with Scott’s records for the next four years, over 150 songs in all, including those on a gospel album. By comparison, Scott and The Chantones was the Detroit equivalent of Elvis Presley and The Jordanaires.
Leroy began as the A-side when it debuted on 9 June 1958, becoming popular enough for Scott to appear on American Bandstand to perform it. A short time later, DJs started to play the B-side, the ballad My True Love, which soared even faster and farther up the charts. In the summer of 1958, My True Love peaked at #3 on the national Hot 100, while Leroy was right behind at #11. Both reached #5 on the R-and-B charts. The record stayed in the Top 40 for 15 weeks and sold over a million copies, netting Scott his first gold disc.
Using the same two-sided strategy, Scott’s next single for Carlton in 1958 was a ballad called With Your Love, with the fast-paced Geraldine the B-side. With Your Love was the higher hit, reaching number #28. At the end of the year, Scott was mailed his induction notice into the United States Army. Before he left to serve, he wrote and recorded his excellent single, the classic Goodbye Baby, which was his way of saying goodbye to his girlfriend, with Save My Soul on the B-side. The songs reached #8 and #73 respectively on the Hot 100, making them the third straight two-sided hit for Scott.
Scott reported for duty at Fort Knox, Kentucky in January 1959, but was given an honorable discharge on medical grounds a few months later, due to an ulcer condition he had since his teen years. Returning to Detroit in June, he picked up where he left off with another biggie--The Way I Walk, a #35 tune that summer.
His popularity only increasing, Scott appeared on American Bandstand eight times over the next year, and also toured with Dick Clark’s Caravan of Stars, along with Duane Eddy, Jan & Dean, Frankie Avalon, the Coasters and others. Scott made one more hit--There Comes a Time at #71--with Carlton, then was bought out by the Top Rank label. Scott’s first song with the new label was the popular ballad What in The World’s Come Over You which soared to #5 on the Hot 100 national charts in 1960. Also that year, he came out with Burning Bridges, the biggest hit in his entire career, a #3 tune. The B-side was Oh Little One which made it to #35.
Jack’s last Top 40 tune was It Only Happened Yesterday, accompanied by Cool Water on the B-side. Two more recordings, Patsy and Is There Something on Your Mind hit the Top 100, then Scott’s contract was purchased by Capitol Records, where he recorded a number of songs, three of them barely making the charts. When his Capitol contract expired, Scott turned to country with RCA Victor, but with no real recording success. His last tune to make the Top 100 was a country one, You’re Just Gettin’ Better, which made it to #92 in 1974 on the Dot label.
Jack Scott is a member of the Rockabilly Hall of Fame, the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame, and the Michigan Rock and Roll Legends. But he is not in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
What’s keeping him out of the last one?
This August 2014, I was fortunate enough to meet Roy Lesperance in Windsor, Ontario, thanks to my sister-in-law, Shauna, who knows him quite well and had worked for him for a number of years at the Canadian National Institute for the Blind in Windsor. Lesperance sang bass with The Chantones, the four-man group who were a huge part of Scott’s success by backing up him on all his big singles except for Burning Bridges. They were billed as “Jack Scott and the Fabulous Chantones.”
“Jack wrote a lot of his own lyrics,” Roy said to me and Shauna, over breakfast. “He’d come to the studio and sing a song through by himself, then he’d ask for our comments and we’d join in, improvising as we’d go. Then we’d record. By the way, the Chantones made $112.50 an hour recording, split among the four of us. That was good money in those days. Jack was very easy to work with and always respected our impute. In fact, the first time we heard Jack sing The Way I Walk, he said after that he only had a couple verses for it. So, I came up with one more verse. He liked it and we used it.”
“It’s too bad. We never got our real big break, like some other groups such as The Four Lads did. You know,” Roy continued, “Jack could have been an even bigger star and us along with him. But he was a homebody. He didn’t like to travel, which musicians usually had to do to promote their records. He liked to be around his family and friends.”
After, the three of us went back to Roy’s apartment where he showed us some photos and mementos from his singing career. He then whipped out his guitar, and I got a chance to hum a few bars of The Way I Walk, including a bass part with him. I did my best to get my voice as low as his. We actually harmonized quite nicely, I thought.
A year away from 80, Roy performs still, volunteering at retirement homes in the Windsor area approximately 100 times a year. He still keeps in touch with the other three Chantones and sees Jack Scott occasionally.