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The Way of the Crowd: The Dan Folger Story - by E. Mark Windle.

1960s blue eyed soul nashville northern soul songwriter soul Store news

“There were three of us, eighteen months apart” says Brenda Kippa, sister of Dan Folger. “My first brother was born in 1941, then came Dan (b. 1943 d. 2006) and finally me. We lived in La Honda, a suburb of San Francisco. We were comfortable financially and lived in a lovely home. However, there was great trouble in the marriage between our parents, and finally my mother called her father who came to California and brought us all (except my father) back to Texas. My mother couldn't find work, so she initially left us with her parents and found work as a waitress in Midland, about 150 miles west of Abilene. Soon, she was able to bring us to Midland, where we all stayed until we left the nest. Money was tight. Within that first year, our father left San Francisco and moved to Midland in hopes of getting us all together again. He bought a grocery store and a nice home in a good neighbourhood, and our mother was able to stop working. She had a sister who played piano, and she lived with us from time to time. We had an upright piano, which Dan learned to play all by himself. His talent for music became apparent early; he would be asked to play at a social club where we went with our parents, and played harmonica on the radio. Neither our father nor our older brother showed any real interest in Dan's music; however mother was proud of him and I was quite obsessed about it ... I was always his biggest fan. There was never a period of struggle or doubt for him. One day he was just my special and adored brother, and the next, he was practicing in the living room with Joe Melson and Roy Orbison. Roy was already quite famous by then. Dan refused to let me bring any of my girlfriends over and he tried to keep me away too. I was already a big fan of Roy Orbison and, well, Joe Melson must’ve been the sexiest person I’d ever seen; his perfectly done hair, movie star clothes and Cadillac convertible. It was a thrilling time. Soon Joe and Roy left for Nashville, and within a short time, they encouraged Dan to come, too.”

Dan Folger was seventeen years old when he first left Midland for Nashville. The original intention was just to go along for the ride. He and a friend toyed with the idea of singing in Nashville on the way, but returned to home within a few weeks. Dan was determined to make some way in the music business however, and returned in early 1962. Dan was invited to join The Gators a Nashville outfit which played local clubs and down the east coast. Gators member Paul Jensen had a brother called Kris who had a hit with had the teen ballad “Torture” which was proving successful for the Hickory label.

Dan’s first label signing was likely a result of this connection, as well as his friendship with a young Roy Orbison and Joe Melson. Melson introduced him to Wesley Rose. Dan was offered a staff song-writing contract and a management contract with Acuff-Rose at Hickory. Over a four year period Dan released a series of his own teen pop and ballad songs, recorded at Columbia studios. As a staff writer, Dan provided material for other Hickory artists including The Newbeats, Barbara Mills (the sister of Newbeats singer Larry Henley), and Gail Wynters. The recordings of these white artists may be firmly set within the pop-soul category, however they did at least represent an acknowledgement by Hickory, essentially a country label, of the burgeoning soul explosion. Indeed a number of recordings were popular on the early northern soul scene. Barbara Mills’ “Try” (Hickory 45-1392), Gail Wynters’ “You’ve Got The Power” (Hickory 45-1461) and her “You Don’t Have To Be In Love” (Hickory 45-P-1478) are all evidence of Dan’s song-writing talent nodding toward the sophisticated soul sound he was later to immerse himself in. “You Don’t Have To Be In Love” is also reported to have been recorded by Barbara Mills but not released. “I remember Dan talking about her”, says Brenda. “At the time she recorded Dan’s “Try” the thinking around Hickory was that she was going to be the next Sue Thompson for the label.

With his Hickory contract expired by the late 1960s, Dan was looking for a new label. “The Way Of The Crowd” (Elf 90.004) was a significant departure musically from his earlier Hickory 45s. The song was recorded in July 1967, produced by Bobby Russell and Buzz Cason with sound engineer Brent Maher. “Mickey Newberry introduced Dan to my partner Bobby Russell” says Buzz. “We loved the song and co-produced it at Fred Foster’s Studio in downtown Nashville. I can't recall the musicians on the session but Bergen White arranged the strings. Dan was a soft spoken gentleman and easy to work with.”

The song is an emotional blue eyed uptown soul beat ballad; a heavily orchestrated piece of epic proportions. Arranger Bergen White (b. 1939) has had an extremely long and distinguished career in the music industry, partly as a recording artist, but also as a go-to Nashville arranger for rich, orchestrated pop and ballad recordings. His earlier career was associated with arranging hundreds of recordings, including soul songs such as Margie Hendrix “Don’t Destroy Me”, The Valentines’ “Breakaway”, Joe Simon’s “When” and “A Whole Lot Of Lovin’” and the Johnny Bragg oldie “They’re Talking About Me”. White’s family settled in Nashville where he met friends and musicians Bobby Russell and Buzz Cason. Through the sixties White was a vocalist and writer for Bill Beasley’s Hit label, and then a member of a couple of popular Nashville groups, the Escorts and the Daytonas. Bergen remembers:

“I first met Bobby Russell, the producer of the Elf release, at elementary school” says Bergen. “We went to the same church, high school and college, singing together all along. Bobby is the one who got me into the music business. I taught at a school for two years after college, when Bobby asked me to sing harmony for some Beatles sound-a-likes. He was also the one who introduced me to Buzz Cason. I have worked with Bobby, Buzz and Brent Maher on projects ever since. In 1967 (around the time of “The Way Of The Crowd”), things were really opening up for me. I had already ended my gigs with Charlie McCoy and the Escorts, and Ronny and the Daytonas as I was getting so busy as an arranger. I was already cutting some solo artist stuff with Wayne Moss’ help that wound up in my “For Women Only” LP release.”

Bergen White in 2015, arranger of “The Way Of The Crowd” (photograph courtesy of Bergen White).

Bergen White in 2015. Arranger of The Way of the Crowd.

 

Demonstration copies and a small run of issues were pressed of “Way Of The Crowd”, but despite the quality of the production, unfocussed marketing resulted in the song vanished quickly. A group version of “Way Of The Crowd” did also appear on The Tymes’ “People” LP (Columbia CS-9778) approximately one year later. Dan continued to write songs for about a year and a half, both from his apartment and at a house he rented with Mickey Newbury. He even entered a brief marriage, although life took a darker turn as he started a dependency on drugs and alcohol. As his sister Brenda Kippa reports, Dan’s personal life and career was blown apart.

Author collection.

 

He continued to play with other rock bands through the 1970s, but continued to struggle with alcoholism. If there was a constant as a young adult and throughout Dan’s life, it was religion. He became a member of a Christian outreach ministry and remained actively involved in the Church for the last twenty years of his life, as preacher, singer and musician, playing guitar and keyboards. Reissue specialists Bear Family Records in Germany produced a couple of LPs: “Rockin’ Rollin’ High School, Volume 1 (and 2)” (Bear Family BFX15064, BFX15065) both of which carried old Hickory material including Dan’s pop recordings. “Way Of The Crowd” can be found on Kent’s “Northern Soul’s Classiest Rarities” compilation (Kent CDKEND 192). Dan Folger passed away in Bentonville, Arkansas in March 2006.

 

Copyright E. Mark Windle 2017, 2018. Modified chapter excerpt from "House of Broken Hearts" by E. Mark Windle. Available to order in the new book section.



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