Hello there! This is another entry in our blog series Tim’s Cover Story Goes to the Movies. In these posts, we review a rock and roll tune that features prominently in a film.
This week’s entry is Since I Don’t Have You. This is a great doo-wop song from 1958. The song was featured in George Lucas’ terrific movie about the early 60s, American Graffiti. We will also review covers of that song by Ronnie Milsap and the Brian Setzer Orchestra.
The Skyliners and Since I Don’t Have You:
Like several other doo-wop groups, The Skyliners originally formed in Pittsburgh. They featured lead singer Jimmy Beaumont. Also in this quintet were soprano Janet Vogel, tenor Wally Lester, baritone Joe Verscharen and bass Jackie Taylor.
Below is a photo of The Skyliners circa 1959.Embed from Getty Images
The tune Since I Don’t Have You was co-written by all of the Skyliners, plus Joseph Rock and Lennie Martin. It appeared on the group’s self-titled album released in 1958. The song describes a man who is desolate because his love has left him.
The singer narrates a list of the positive feelings that have now deserted him. And he notes that he has suffered from depression ever since he has been alone.
I don’t have plans and schemes
And I don’t have hopes and dreams
I don’t have anything
Since I don’t have you.
I don’t have fond desires
And I don’t have happy hours
I don’t have anything
Since I don’t have you.
I don’t have happiness and I guess
I never will again
When you walked out on me
In walked ol’ misery
And he’s been here since then.
Since I Don’t Have You was a solid hit for The Skyliners. Released in late 1958, the song made it to #12 on the Billboard Hot 100 charts and #7 on the Cash Box Top 100.
The song was notable for Jimmy Beaumont’s impressive lead vocals and the harmonies from the rest of the group. The song is particularly moving at the end, when Beaumont repeats the word “You” thirteen times, paired with Janet Vogel’s soaring soprano vocals.
Here are The Skyliners in a live performance of Since I Don’t Have You from a concert in 1974.
Isn’t this a wonderful song? It is refreshing to see that Beaumont can reprise the vocals from the record in a live performance.
Over the years, Since I Don’t Have You has become a classic oldie that was featured in a number of movies and TV shows that deal with the 50s. In addition to American Graffiti, which we will review below, the song has appeared in films such as The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai, American Hot Wax and Lethal Weapon 2, and TV shows like Happy Days.
After their one big hit, The Skyliners managed to land a couple more songs in the Top 40. However, the group then experienced harder times and the original lineup disbanded in 1963.
The Skyliners then re-formed with some replacements, but were never again able to score a hit record. Jimmy Beaumont signed a solo contract with Bert Berns’ Bang Records in 1965. He released a few singles for Bang, but failed to produce a big hit.
Later on, Beaumont would sing lead with a revamped version of the Skyliners. That group had success appearing in “oldies” shows where they would reprise their one blockbuster hit. Beaumont died in Oct. 2017 at age 76.
The film American Graffiti:
American Graffiti is a blockbuster film about a group of teen-agers in California in the year 1962. It is remarkable for a number of reasons. Below left is the movie poster for American Graffiti.
George Lucas co-wrote and directed the film. American Graffiti was intended to take place in Lucas’ hometown of Modesto, California. However, Lucas decided that Modesto had changed too much for him to film there; eventually, most of the film was shot in Petaluma. Various other locales were used, in particular Mel’s Drive-In Restaurant in San Francisco, a place where the waitresses serve the orders on roller-skates to the patrons in their cars.
The plot of American Graffiti revolves around four recent high-school graduates: straight arrow Steve Bolander (Ron Howard) with his high-school-cheerleader sweetheart Laurie (Cindy Williams); the brainy and cynical loner Curt Henderson (Richard Dreyfuss); naive nerd Terry “the Toad” Fields (Charles Martin Smith); and hot-rodder John Milner (Paul LeMat).
The film follows all four of them during the last day of summer vacation in 1962. Remarkably, three of the four main male characters (Curt, Terry the Toad, and John) represent a different facet of Lucas’ own experiences in high school. Here is a capsule summary of the plot of American Graffiti.
Steve, Cindy and Curt attend a “sock hop” on their last night before Steve and Curt are scheduled to leave for college on the East Coast. Steve lends Toad his 1958 Chevy Impala until he returns from college. Steve and Curt discuss their future plans. Although Steve is determined to go directly to college, Curt is seriously considering either dropping college altogether or taking time off before enrolling.
Curt spots a mysterious blonde in a ’56 T-Bird and attempts unsuccessfully to follow her. Eventually he drives out to the local radio station, in an attempt to persuade legendary DJ Wolfman Jack to broadcast a message to the blonde.
The only employee at the station tells Curt that no one there has ever seen Wolfman Jack, whose shows are taped elsewhere and mailed to the station. But he promises to forward Curt’s message to the DJ. As Curt leaves the station the employee begins broadcasting, and Curt realizes he has been talking to The Wolfman all along.
Eventually, the blonde phones Curt and proposes to see him the following evening. This will not happen, as Curt has decided to leave the next morning for college.
Toad cruises the main strip in Modesto in Steve’s Impala; somewhat to his surprise, he manages to pick up a sassy girl named Debbie (Candy Clark). John is also cruising in his 1932 Ford Deuce Coupe hot rod. He is accosted by new arrival Bob Falfa (Harrison Ford) who is driving a ’55 Chevy One-Fifty Coupe. Falfa challenges Milner to a drag race.
The two cars, accompanied by several local youth, head out to Paradise Road for the drag race. In the meantime, Laurie and Steve have quarreled because of Steve’s suggestion that the two of them date other people while he is away, in order to “strengthen their relationship.”
Alienated from Steve, Laurie joins Bob in his car for the drag race. Initially, Bob is leading John, but his car blows a tire and swerves into a ditch. Bob and Laurie manage to jump out just before his car bursts into flames.
Steve has been watching the race, and rushes over to join Laurie. He assures Laurie that he will remain with her in Modesto, even though it means abandoning his plan to attend college in the East.
At the end of the film, Curt’s plane takes off headed for the East Coast. As he looks out the plane window, he sees the T-Bird of the mysterious blonde driving along the highway next to the airport.
Here is a video clip of the song Since I Don’t Have You, one of the 50s and 60s tunes that appears in American Graffiti. Audio of the song is accompanied by clips from the movie; these video clips more or less summarize the entire plot.
Instead of having a soundtrack, George Lucas built American Graffiti around a collection of 50s and 60s pop songs. Various episodes in the movie were actually constructed around specific tunes. The only earlier film to be structured around a set of rock songs was the 1969 Easy Rider.
Because Lucas was on a tight budget, he offered every music publisher an identical fee for the right to use their songs, reportedly around $2,000. Every publisher except RCA accepted Lucas’ offer, which meant that Lucas could not use any of Elvis’ songs in his film.
American Graffiti was a loving re-creation of teen-age culture in the early 60s. The music played a major role in the film, and helped to spread the national reputation of West Coast DJ Wolfman Jack. Also, the 50s cars and the depiction of hot-rod culture resonated with movie viewers.
American Graffiti spurred a 50s-revival boom. Ron Howard essentially reprised his role in this movie in the hit TV show Happy Days, that was set in the late 50s. And a couple of years later, two characters from Happy Days (including Cindy Williams, who played Ron Howard’s girlfriend in American Graffiti) spun off their own sitcom, Laverne and Shirley.
Somewhat surprisingly, Lucas had a great deal of difficulty pitching American Graffiti to a major studio. He was rejected by several studios before Universal Pictures finally agreed to bankroll the project. Even then, Lucas might have failed without the support of his friend Francis Ford Coppola, who provided some financial backing and whose clout in the film industry helped convince the nervous Universal brass to back the effort.
Despite approving the project, Universal insisted on a low budget for the movie. After paying for rights to the music and collecting the classic cars, Lucas had relatively little money left for the cast, so he assembled an ensemble group of young actors.
Ron Howard took the part of Steve because he was eager to branch out from his child-star role as Opie in The Andy Griffith Show. Richard Dreyfuss was hired after a long search for an actor to play Curt. The remaining cast members were also relatively unknown at the time.
Initially, Universal decided that they would only release American Graffiti on videotape. However, test screenings of the film received rave reviews; so the studio agreed to show the movie in theaters.
Well, American Graffiti turned out to be a smash hit, one of the most profitable investments of all time. From an initial budget of $770,000, the film eventually grossed over $200 million. American Graffiti was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture, and the movie’s soundtrack double album was also a best-seller.
A terrific spin-off from American Graffiti was that it established George Lucas as a director, and provided him with a pile of cash. Lucas plowed that money into his pet project, a space opera that likely would never have gotten off the ground but for the success of American Graffiti.
Lucas’ space-opera concept? It eventually turned into a film that you might have heard of – Star Wars!
Ronnie Milsap and Since I Don’t Have You:
Ronnie Milsap is a country singer who was born in North Carolina in 1943. After he became blind due to a congenital defect, his mother abandoned him. For a few years he was raised by his grandparents, after which time he was enrolled in a school for the blind in North Carolina.
There, Ronnie’s teachers noticed his aptitude for music. Although his main interest was in gospel and R&B, he was given a classical music education and eventually mastered several instruments.
Below is a photo of Ronnie Milsap from about 1970.Embed from Getty Images
In high school, Ronnie formed a rock ‘n roll band with some of his classmates. He had good taste – the band featured covers of Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, Ray Charles and Little Richard!
A promising student, Milsap entered Young Harris College on a full scholarship with the aim of becoming a lawyer. However, in 1964 he turned down a scholarship to law school in order to pursue a musical career.
Milsap signed a record contract with Scepter Records in New York. For a while he was a session musician for R&B artists like Ray Charles, Stevie Wonder and James Brown. However, his soul music solo career never really took off.
At that time, Milsap’s biggest opportunity was his recording of the Ashford & Simpson song Let’s Go Get Stoned. Alas, Ronnie’s version of the song was not commercially successful — but Ray Charles’ cover sold over a million records.
In 1972 Milsap met Charlie Pride, who convinced Ronnie to switch to country music and relocate to Nashville. Milsap was picked up by Pride’s manager Jack Johnston, and after that his career just took off.
Milsap became a major country star. During the period 1973-1978, he scored over a dozen #1 country hits. Much like his country counterpart Glen Campbell, Milsap showed his versatility by charting on both pop and Adult Contemporary playlists as well as country.
Here is Ronnie Milsap singing Since I Don’t Have You.
This is typical Ronnie Milsap fare. His bright clear vocals seem rather effortless, but he shows significant range in his singing, with even a few falsetto notes thrown in. The video includes three backup singers dressed up in period attire with ball gowns. It certainly re-creates the feeling of a high school prom round about 1960.
This is a music video so it is not really a live performance. The video clips appear to be taken from a film; I can’t tell whether this is from a movie, or simply a music video. Perhaps Milsap’s performance was included in a movie, but if so I have been unable to find the title.
In the 1980s, Ronnie Milsap released a number of ballads that scored significantly higher on the Adult Contemporary charts than on country playlists. However, he has remained a popular figure in country music.
Over the years, Milsap charted 40 #1 country records, which puts him third all time behind only George Strait and Conway Twitty. In 2014, Milsap was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame. In addition, Ronnie was one of the featured performers in the CMT show The 40 Greatest Men of Country Music.
So we salute Mr. Milsap: “Good on you, Ronnie!”
The Brian Setzer Orchestra and Since I Don’t Have You:
Brian Setzer is a musician who has spent much of his career resurrecting older musical styles. Setzer was born in 1959 in Massapequa, New York, a suburb of Oyster Bay on Long Island.
In 1979 Setzer joined up with two other musicians from Massepequa, bassist Lee Rocker and drummer Slim Jim Phantom, to form The Stray Cats. That group was inspired by 50s rockabilly music, and soon gained a local following on the East Coast.
Below is a photo of Brian Setzer from his Stray Cats days. Although he was playing rockabilly tunes, his appearance was significantly more ‘punk’ than ’50s rocker.’Embed from Getty Images
Then in 1980, the Stray Cats heard rumors of a rockabilly revival in Britain, and they moved to London. There they met Dave Edmund, who was himself a big 50s music fan.
Edmund produced the Stray Cats’ first self-titled album in 1981. That album had two UK hits, Stray Cat Strut and Rock This Town. The Stray Cats developed a strong UK fan base that included members of iconic groups such as the Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin and The Who.
The band’s second album was a commercial disappointment. However, in 1982 EMI America assembled the best songs from both records and released an album, Built For Speed, in the U.S. That album was a smash success, eventually reaching #2 on the Billboard album charts.
The Stray Cats were quite a breath of fresh air. Brian Setzer’s guitar wizardry was applied to 50s-style songs, with Lee Rocker chiming in on double bass and Slim Jim Phantom bopping away on drums.
Unfortunately, personality clashes caused The Stray Cats to break up in 1984. At that time, Setzer combined a solo career with collaborations with other artists, while Rocker and Phantom joined up with former David Bowie guitarist Earl Slick.
Then in the 1990s, Setzer turned to another old musical style. He assembled a 17-piece orchestra that played swing music. In 1998 the Brian Setzer Orchestra released an album The Dirty Boogie. Their cover of the Louis Prima song Jump, Jive an’ Wail won the Grammy Award for Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals, while their cover of the Santo & Johnny song Sleep Walk won the Grammy for Best Pop Instrumental Performance.
Here is the Brian Setzer Orchestra in a live performance of Since I Don’t Have You. This took place at a Hard Rock Café.
Isn’t this just wonderful? Brian Setzer has a terrific voice that he uses to great effect in this song. The arrangement is classic jazz swing featuring Setzer’s big-band orchestra.
Setzer sublimates his impressive guitar-hero chops in this large ensemble. However, shortly after the 3-minute mark, he unleashes a virtuoso little run that shows off his prodigious talent. I really enjoy this piece.
By the way, Brian Setzer has a world-class collection of vintage guitars. He particularly favors hollow-body guitars, and at the moment seems to be playing exclusively on Gretsch guitars.
Brian Setzer has made an impressive career by taking old-fashioned musical idioms such as rockabilly and swing, and updating them. A consummate musician, Setzer combines his smooth and versatile vocal abilities with his mastery of the electric guitar. Setzer is a performer who I would travel a long way to see. Keep it up, Brian!