#136 & 137 – Sunny by Bobby Hebb
Here’s a cool story. It’s also one I don’t think is shared by too many people. In fact, I’ll go out on a limb and say no one has ever had the exact same experience, though there might be some journalists or music fans that can say something similar.
But not like this…
First of all, I can say Bobby Hebb was cool. He was also a nice guy. How do I know? Because I talked with him – not only once, but twice. And I have that bragging right only because he was nice. I’m sure there are some other artists that wouldn’t have been the same.
Bobby Hebb is best known for his number one hit Sunny, that topped the charts in August 1966. I didn’t need to do any research to give you that fact because I’ve known it since… well, August 1966. But his story includes much more than just one song.
He had been in showbiz all his life, starting as a child dancer in Nashville at the age of three. How do I know that? Well… I had to research. But I also learned he played multiple instruments, performed at the Grand Ole Opry, sang backup for Bo Diddley and replaced the original Mickey in Mickey and Sylvia, the duo famous for the 1957 number one song, Love Is Strange. Through a mutual connection, I’ve also learned he would write a song every day for most of his life.
That’s quite a feat considering some of us have a hard time just getting out of bed every day.
Sunny scored on this Dream Song list twice – August 29 and September 23. Both times have been marked as recent memories, which is no surprise since it’s usually around mid-August every year when the song finds its way back onto my digital playlist.
There is a reason for that – which gets me back to telling my cool story.
I saw Bobby Hebb perform once. That would be cool enough. But to kick the coolness up a notch, I had the opportunity to talk with him about the concert – forty years later. And to raise that experience into the freezing coolness stratosphere – I talked with him about it twice.
The Classic Rocker is the author of The Beatles At Shea Stadium and The Beatles In Cleveland
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In August 1966, Hebb was on the brightest concert stage in the world with the country’s number one hit song. But instead of being the headliner, he was an opening act for a band that hadn’t had a number one hit in two months and was winding down their career as a touring act.
In case you’re not a boomer or a pop music historian with immediate recognition of the significance of that month in that year, the act he was touring with was The Beatles.
I also didn’t need any research to know that, because I attended their concert in Cleveland on August 14th and watched Hebb, along with The Remains, The Cyrkle and The Ronettes set the stage for The Fab Four. And though we were there for the Beatles, I’ve always remembered Hebb’s performance. Especially when he did Sunny, and the crowd sang along. After all, it was the number one song at the time, and everyone seemed to know it.
So, can this story get any cooler? Well, it took forty years for that to happen, but it was worth the wait.
After talking about… actually, bragging about being at this show for decades, I decided to write a book called The Beatles In Cleveland. Besides including my memories, I put the word out on the internet to interview anyone personally involved with the tour or the Beatles. I started hearing from people and one connection would lead to another, and that would lead to another and eventually, I heard from Bobby’s manager. This was around 2006 and if you do the math, that makes it forty years since we had shared the same air in a large stadium near downtown Cleveland.
His manager said Bobby was available for an interview – if I was interested.
Are you kidding me? We set it up and I counted the days until our phone conversation.
When we finally talked, Bobby seemed more than happy to share his memories of the Beatles tour and anything he could recall about the Cleveland concert. He also remembered the bus ride following two shows in Detroit the evening before. While traveling along the Ohio Turnpike on the way to Cleveland, they stopped at a service plaza. That moment was very vague for him – and basically, he only remembered stopping and getting out of the bus to stretch his legs.
It wasn’t until later in my research I learned this rest stop happened in my hometown of Vermilion, Ohio. If my cousin, best friend and myself (we went to the concert together the next night) would’ve had advance notice, we could have jumped on our bikes for an annoying (on our part anyway) meet and greet in the parking lot where the Beatles smoked cigarettes and ate ice cream bars.
I’m thankful Bobby’s interview is in the book. The only problem is that it’s not the one I had planned. After a casual, informative, and fun conversation, I thanked him, and we hung up. Then I experienced every journalist and writer’s nightmare when it comes to doing important interviews.
I had forgotten to turn on my audio recorder. Yeah, it was panic time, which makes it seem this story is not as cool as promised. However, it’s about to get cooler.
I put my nerves and mental embarrassment aside and redialed his number. When Bobby answered I explained my dilemma, apologized if I was being a pain in the you-know-what and asked if he had any other plans. In other words, could we do it all again with the audio recorder turned on?
And this is once again when he proved he was a nice guy – and very cool. Saying it was not a problem, he waited for me to hit “record” and once again took me back to the 1966 tour with the Beatles, the Cleveland concert, and his memory of a bus stop in my hometown.
On a sad note, Bobby Hebb is not with us anymore, passing away only four years later in 2010. But he’s still with us whenever you hear a new version of Sunny (there are many) or played on a classic pop-rock radio station (and there are also many of those). That’s the beauty of music, and this one carries with it the fab memories of a nice guy who was also very cool, and the excitement we were all feeling in August 1966.
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Wish there was a video of Bobby Hebb performing Sunny in 1966 – but a great song is a great song…
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Dave Schwensen is The Classic Rocker and author of The Beatles At Shea Stadium and The Beatles In Cleveland. Visit Dave’s author page on Amazon.com.
For information about author presentations for both books – including rare concert films – visit BeatlesProgram.com
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