In 1970, Specialty records released a compilation of Don and Dewey tracks, called They’re Rockin’ ‘Til Midnight, Rollin’ ‘Til Dawn! That’s five apostrophes in one album title. And an exclamation mark! So, let’s talk about Don and Dewey. After all, they wrote one of the most perfect rock n roll songs ever, if you’re asking me, anyway. At least when the Rigtheous Brothers weren’t polishing it up and making it sound so … white.
Don “Sugarcane” Harris and Dewey Terry released several 45s in the 50s, but they never had a hit. Still, you probably know several of their songs, as other artists went on to make them famous. Why did this happen? Maybe they were better songwriters than performers … except both went on to be performing musicians with other famous artists. You could blame the producers, but Art Rupe and Bumps Blackwell were on the job, and they launched Little Richard into super stardom, so that doesn’t jibe. But in 1959, Don and Dewey, at the tender ages of 21 and 22, hit the road for Rush Records, then largely faded away (though Don rebranded himself as Sugarcane Harris in the 70s and played electric violin for Zappa, Beefhart and a few others and Dewey became a decently known guitar player).
But before the split from Specialty, they gifted the world with more great rock songs, including Farmer John, a song that launched a whole career for The Premiers, who brilliantly turned the song into a party and gave it some well-appreciated energy — not that the original was lackluster.
Of course, we are talking about the 1950s and early 60s here. White artists covering (read: stealing) songs from black artists and making them “marketable” wasn’t only happening to Don and Dewey. Just ask Little Richard about having to watch Pat fucking Boone sell umpteen copies of his watered down version of Tutti Frutti.
One of the most well-known songs young Don and Dewey recorded was a doo-wop ballad called Leavin’ It All Up to You. Dewey wrote it for his ex-wife, to whom he was married for a whopping thirty days. (Hey, we’ve all been there.) It didn’t become a hit until it was later recorded by two white kids, and then an even bigger hit when it was later recorded by two Mormon kids. I only hope Don and Dewey got to see massive payouts after the song became so huge, but it doesn’t seem too likely, does it.
I’m glad that we have this compilation. I’m glad that Don and Dewey gave us their songs, because I don’t really want to picture a world without them in it. I’m glad that things have changed, and hope they continue to change. And I am glad that there are other true music fans out there, historians, vinyl nerds, eager to seek out original recordings and give them the attention they deserved but never received.