“Sunny, thank you for the sunshine bouquet” Bobby Hebb sings in one of his masterpieces. And it would be easy to tell the world what a tremendous human being he was to me personally and to other people lucky enough to know him, but the music is what he was all about and for this first essay after his passing, let’s praise the work of this incredibly gifted rock and roll star.
When The Beatles performed in 1966 it was Bobby Hebb who toured with them along with members of The Ronettes (without Ronnie Spector), Barry Tashian and The Remains and The Cyrkle. Though “Red Rubber Ball” and “Turn Down Day” were hits in the summer of ’66 as well, all due respect to that wonderful group, when Bobby Hebb performed “Sunny” on the stage, the audience response on the tape I’ve heard is as spectacular as when the Beatles themselves played. The perfectionist tha Bobby is, much of his music remains unreleased, only three albums on the market – one in 1966, one in 1970 and one recorded in Germany in 2003 the week the Iraq war began; it was released on Tuition Records in 2005 and distributed in America by Allegro.
In this strange world where the arbiters of taste sometimes decide that weaker songs and less talented artists get a larger platform, the world is a lesser place for not having magnificent melodies like Gamble & Huff’s “You Want To Change Me” or Bobby Hebb’s “Dreamy” or the British smash from the combined pens of producer Jerry Ross and arranger Joe Renzetti, “Love Love Love”, or the unoffical sequel to “Sunny”, a Jerry Ross/Kenny Gamble number entitled “Love Me”, these exquisite pop confections should have been as dominant on the American charts as they are in the land of Northern Soul, that strange genre filled with music aficionados from the north of England who absorb American soul/pop music with a passion that has spawned its own cult of appreciation. Indeed, “Love Love Love” took years to launch from the Sunny album, landing in the U.K. Top 40 circa 1972 after first appearing in 1966 when Sunny took America – and the world – by storm.
Though Sunny is the song the majority of people know him for, his co-write with actor Sandy Baron of the hit “A Natural Man” won a Grammy for Lou Rawls Sadly, all three of these important entertainment figures have passed on in the new millennium. Baron, who appeared in the film Broadway Danny Rose, passed on January 21, 2001. Baron’s passing had a profound effect on Bobby who flew out to attend the services nine and a half years ago. Lou Rawls died on January 6, 2006 and now Bobby Hebb is in rock and roll heaven, August 3, 2010.
I spoke with Bobby on the phone a couple of days after his July 26th birthday last week. He couldn’t come to the phone on his birthday, he wasn’t feeling well. But he made a point of speaking with me on the 28th or so…it was the only conversation we had where he didn’t have the energy to say too much…I am so thankful we got to talk one more time.
Herman’s Hermit Peter Noone wrote “Bobby Hebb……. the world of music is a better place because of you” while his first webmaster who created BobbyHebb.com, Marc Lemay, penned “I remember him playing that beaten down piano that made it’s home in the (TV) studio. Despite the fact that it was long past it’s prime, Bobby made those keys dance. Between that and the conversation I got to sit in on, it’s a cherished memory I will never forget.” His biographer, Joseph Tortelli, said it with one word, that Bobby was a “gentleman.”
Producer James Rasmussen, who worked on the Love Games album with Bobby wrote “My heart my soul my body are in deep pain” on hearing of his passing”. Jerry Ross, who produced the hit version of “Sunny” said “His music touched so many lives. Every minute of every day, on the radio, in the super markets, in the malls, in the clubs, on the elevator, they are playing “Sunny”. My life changed the day I met Bobby Hebb.”
Bobby had that kind of magic.
Bobby Hebb performing Little Willie Brown’s “Cut It Out, You’re Always Running Your Mouth”