Tuesday, 12 June 2012

DICK JENSEN - AN ENTERTAINER WITHOUT A HIT RECORD (PART 1, 1942-1972)


Dick Jensen captured during a live performance in 1970, location unknown [from my own collection]

Here's a biography and other relevant information about the sadly missed Hawaiian singer, dancer, actor and performer Dick "The Giant" Jensen that I compiled gathering together and comparing different Internet sources (all listed at the bottom of this post) and other material at my disposal.

This first part of my work-in-progress covers the period 1942-1972, the second part (1972-2006) is still being compiled and will be posted in the next months.

If you have any useful information about Dick Jensen - especially corrections and improvements to this biography - please get in touch with me at stereocandies [at] hotmail [dot] com or leave a comment in the box below, thank you!

[last update: 12.06.2014]


Dick Jensen was a live musical performer of the Rhythm and Blues, Soul, and Gospel genres; a native Hawaiian athletic song stylist and a prime mover of nightclub shows inspired by Little Richard, whose "white hot soul" electrified audiences with his belting voice and imposing physical performances. His signature on-stage style incorporated strenuous dance moves similar to those of Jackie Wilson; he was noted for his glide - a proto-Moonwalk - well before Michael Jackson made it fashionable.

He was born as Richard Hiram Jensen on 9 April 1942 (...or 16, or 19 according to different sources...) in Kalihi, a neighborhood community of Honolulu, on the island of Oahu. Son of a fuel depot fireman, he was of Hawaiian, French, Danish, English and Irish ancestry.

Jensen first became interested in music through the numerous luaus his family would attend. When the family was back from the barbecue, his mother would often play the guitar and Dick, along with his five brothers and sisters, would sing, and play along on the ukulele, or a nearby spoon and ladle, or whatever might be handy. His first experience on stage was in the fourth grade when he put together a group for a teacher's show.


Dick Jensen as Lance Curtis, circa 1959

Dick continued to sing through his formative years and began to gain a local reputation. While he was at Honolulu's Farrington High School, he entered a local talent contest, winning first place, and adopted the stage name of Lance Curtis at the suggestion of Tom Moffatt and Earl Finch, both active as promoters in the local Hawaii scene; the name was choosen for its illusory Hollywoodian qualities.

The award gained Jensen a spot on one of Hawaii's major television shows and led to his first single recording Bye Bye Baby / Lover's Paradise published by Teen Records in 1959.

Sympathy / Leahi, another single credited to Lance Curtis & The Uniques, was released on the same label the following year; "Leahi" is the first Hawaiian song ever recorded with a rock beat.

Acccording to Alan Cassaro, during those days Dick Jensen was involved in the production of his first single:

"I actually made my first record in Hawaii during my senior year in high school ("Hickory Dickory Dock") for the Mahalo label. My performing name was "Lane Cassaro". Mahalo set up a recording date, with Dick Jensen and Tom Moffatt co-producing the session. Dick Jensen stayed in the studio and directed the band, while Tom Moffatt was in the control room engineering and mixing the live performance of the song."


The Uniques, exact date unknown, probably taken in 1959-1960 [original image here]

In 1960 Jensen graduated from Farrington and forgot his music momentarily, as he began to pursue a career in athletics. After winning Hawaii's "Athlete of the Year" award, he accepted a swimming scholarship to the University of Washington. While at the Seattle campus he began to get together a group during spare time.

In the meantime, The Uniques released two instrumental singles: (Ghost) Riders in the Sky / Taboo on Amber Records, and Renegade / Malaguena on United Southern Artists, Inc. in the U.S.A. and Strand Records in Australia; both of them were released in 1961, it is unclear if they were recorded before Jensen's departure or not.

When Jensen returned to Hawaii in 1963, he re-estabilished his career ambition as a singer. At the time he appeared in shows at the now-defunct Civic Auditorium on King Street, fronting dance bands during a lively period in the Honolulu entertainment scene; more into rock now, he also began to perform on the Waikiki Strip. His reputation grew, enough so that some enterprising publicist named him the Islands "King of Swing".

During the same year he appeared on two singles: Swamped / Waikiki Rumble on Amber Records as part of The Swamp Men (a name probably inspired by Da Swamp club in Waikiki mentioned a few paragraph below), and Doin' the Tamure / Surfin' In Hawaii on Tom Moffatt's Mahalo Records; the latter was a split single offering Jensen's Doin' the Tamure on side A and Moffatt's Surfin' In Hawaii on the flip side.

On Swamped / Waikiki Rumble, Jensen gets the writing credits on the labels. Due to his involvement in the making of this record - which doesn't include any vocals, except some shouting on Side A - there is a chance that the two instrumental singles released by The Uniques in 1961 featured him on guitar.


Handbill for a show in Waikiki, 1963 [original image here]

Also known to close friends as "Slugger" – a boxer who punches hard – Jensen earned the sobriquet "The Giant" because of his tall stature (6 feet 2 inches = 188 cm), but he had a talent to match that nickname. His vocal stylings came deep from his Hawaiian soul, as he danced around the stage. Some have compared seeing his physicality on stage to watching the seemingly effortless glide of a professional ice skater.

It seems that Jensen also spent 1964 and at least part of 1965 in Hawaii, here's how Don Griese / Saxman – a member of his accompanying band – remember those days:

"I gigged with Dick at "Da Swamp" (...now MacDonalds in Waikiki...) in 1964 and 1965. What great memories: Dick riding a motorcycle into the club setting up his skit as "Teen Idol", the slow-motion fight choreographed on the fly during the song "Big Boy Pete". He was a smooth MC with cool bassman Ray Hosino feeding him straight lines. And Dick could sure take care of any hecklers! What fun sitting on the beach in the daytime with Dick and Don Ho trading gags! I miss them both."

Jensen returned to the continental U.S. sometimes in 1965; later during that year he recorded his first single - in a series of three - for Loma Records. Active during the 1964-1968 period, Loma was a Los Angeles based subsidiary of Warner Brothers for Soul, Blues, Rhythm & Blues, etc. Attempting to cash in on the success of labels like Motown and Stax, it focused on releasing 45 RPM records aimed at the younger generations.

These releases were credited to Dick Jensen and The Imports, here's a list with pertinent catalogue numbers and release dates:

- Tom Dooley / Since I Fell For You (Loma 2021, November 1965)
- Back In Circulation / Uncle John's Good Time Band (Loma 2029, February 1966)
- Mr. Pitiful / You Don't Love Me Anymore (Loma 2055, August 1966)

An anonymous source recalls the days when Jensen used to perform with The Imports:

"I remember Dick Jensen from back in 1966, when he repeatedly starred at the Haunted House dance club in Hollywood with his tour band billed as "Dick Jensen and The Imports". My girl and I returned to see Dick Jensen and his band many time during the first half of 1966. Watching Dick perform in his inimetable style with all the cool moves and incredibly energetic dancing, coupled with his smooth singing voice that vibrated to the hot licks from his band, made me aware that once one watched and listened to Dick performing, one could never forget him. The drummer with the Imports (Ray?) was also a super talented, handsome, and magnetic guy, quieter than the effervescent Dick of course, but who wasn't? Some years later I caught Dick appearing on Johnnie Carson's Tonight Show, and he very definitely "still had it". The gals all loved him, and we guys liked him because he epitomized the essence of suavity, talent, and "cool". He was a truly nice guy, and that aspect of Dick was instantly evident. Dick had more charm than any entertainer I've ever known, and I've known a lot of them."

Tom Moffatt - the former impresario who had known Jensen throughout his career and brought The Rolling Stones to Hawaii (Honolulu International Center, 28.07.1966, closing date of their "1966 American Tour") choose Jensen as the opening act for them here:

"He was the best dancer to ever come out of Hawaii. He was doing the moonwalk before Michael Jackson was doing it. Of all the performers that I've experienced in Hawaii, if you had to get a performer to appear before an audience that knew nothing about Hawaii, knew nothing about Hawaiian entertainment, I would have picked Dick Jensen."

After his singles for Loma, Dick Jensen didn't have any release for about three years. Althought this lack of output, it was during this period that he became an international performer. His first major club date was the Flamingo in Las Vegas, Nevada, in 1967; by 1968 he had signed with Don Costa Productions and began performing at the El Quid in Mexico City with The Dick Jensen Show which included The Imports and Cathy Carlson.

At this point he often divided his career between the Islands and Vegas, where he would appear at several hotels and casinos over the course of his career, including the Landmark. During his tenure in Vegas, he befriended a panoply of stars, including Sammy Davis Jr., Don Rickles, The Smothers Brothers, Dionne Warwick, Jerry Lewis, Tony Bennett, Lena Horne and Joey Bishop.

His riveting, furious performance style was part Tom Jones, part Engelbert Humperdinck, with dance accenting his booming vocals. One of his signatures pieces was the rock classic "Vehicle" by The Ides of March, usually used to open his show. Jensen was also known for a clever monologue involving Lone Ranger and sidekick Tonto, complete with sound effects.

Girl Don't Come / Groove With What You've Got, another 7" single, was released sometimes in 1969. This was Jensen's first and only single on Mercury Records; both tracks were arranged and conducted by Don Costa.


Advertisement for the "I'm Good For You / Jealous Feeling" single - From a 1969 issue of Billboard magazine [from my own collection]

After being briefly put under contract by Metromedia, a company that signed but never recorded him, for Dick it was about time to debut with his first album on Probe Records - a subsidiary of ABC Records - aptly entitled "White Hot Soul".

A few weeks before the LP came to light, I'm Good For You / Jealous Feeling were released as a single to give people a sneak peak of what was coming next. This single was also released later, in early 1970, in France with a nice picture cover.

The liner notes of "White Hot Soul", released in December 1969, were written in a firm and highly optimistic way, here's an excerpt:

"The most absolute, super-charged stone-sex-symbol to hit today's music scene is Probe's audio-visual dynamite new artist Dick Jensen. Jensen's in-person shows have brought super-raves which compare him only to Tom Jones. The latter, the reviews claim, would come off second best if they both appeared on the same night club floor together! This fantastically talented artist, whose moving, dancing wriggling excitement (read: Sex Appeal) is equalled only by his throbbing voice, now explodes with his first record on the music scene. He's been called an "American Tom Jones." It won't be long before he turns the tables, and Tom Jones becomes the "British Dick Jensen"! Check him out!"

Well, unfortunately for him, Dick never turned the table and despite his own great qualities Tom Jones has had a much longer and successful career, and is still active today... Anyway, Jensen didn't mind being compared to Humperdinck - a good friend - and to Jones:

"I have no problem with that, the bottom line was that I was already doing it, and both Engelbert and Tom opened the door into mainstream America, in the Las Vegases, the hotels across the country that never played Rock and Roll before. But now they realized this had some kind of a niche out there."

...and according to another statement of Jensen himself, it seems that his female fans would use the same method as those of Jones to express their approval: "I've already gone through 100 pairs of pants!"


"White Hot Soul" cover picture, 1969

By early 1970 Jensen had already appeared at the Century Plaza in New York - in his debut of that city, at the Diplomat in Hollywood, the Caribe Hilton hotel in San Juan, Puerto Rico, and the Copacabana, once again in New York, where he would be an almost stable presence until 1973.

During the early 70s Jensen was featured on most of the important network variety shows, including the Ed Sullivan, Merv Griffin, Mike Douglas, David Frost shows and other talkathons; he also made a half-dozen appearances on the Tonight show.

In the video below, taken from the Ed Sullivan Show, Jensen performs his medley of Try a Little Tenderness / Expressway To Your Heart / I Heard It Through the Grapevine / Yesterday as featured on the "White Hot Soul" LP.



One more single, featuring the new tracks Real Good Woman / Bird You Must Fly, was released on Probe Records in 1970 with a cool picture cover.

A second album - to be recorded again under the wise production of Don Costa - was planned and a few Billboard short articles mention the work-in-progress, but for unknown reasons this project was never completed.

From July to November 1971 Jensen was busy at the Landmark Hotel in Las Vegas, with "Aloha Hawaii", a show that featured him as the main act along with a cast of 40 actors and dancers involved in reconstructing historical and mythological episodes associated with and/or evoked by the exotic Hawaiian Islands.

His potential as a national mainstream recording artist resulted in a contract with Philadelphia International, one of the top Soul music labels of the early 1970s.

Jensen thus became part of an entertainment roster that included the O'Jays, Billy Paul, The Three Degrees, The Intruders and Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes: he was one of the few Hawaiian entertainers of any genre to be signed by a national record label during the second half of the 20th century...

[to be continued]


Most of the information presented in this post was sourced from the following web pages:

- http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dick_Jensen
- http://the.honoluluadvertiser.com/article/2006/Jun/22/il/FP606220304.html
- http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=2038446243461040539
- http://archives.starbulletin.com/2006/06/22/news/story02.html
- http://www.oahuislandnews.com/May05/Home.htm
- http://crudcrud.blogspot.it/2005/08/giant-of-hawaii.html [comments section]
- http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0421404/
- http://www.discogs.com/artist/Dick+Jensen
- http://magicnotes.blogspot.it/2010/12/dick-jensen-dick-jensen-phil-intl-1973.html
- http://www.hawaiithreads.com/showthread.php?t=9092
- http://www.45cat.com/45_search.php?sq=dick+jensen&sm=se
- http://whitedoowopcollector.blogspot.it/2011/07/from-hawaiilance-curtis-uniques.html
- http://www.pacifichawaiian.com/titles/HawaiisRock&RollThe50s.htm
- http://www.garagehangover.com/?q=taxonomy/term/443/9
- http://www.lomarecords.com/
- http://www.pbshawaii.org/ourproductions/longstory_transcripts/LSS%20420%20Transcript%20-%20Tom%20Moffatt%20Lifetime.pdf
- http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/LaneCassaro
- http://www.60sgaragebands.com/alancassaro.html

Additional information was sourced from:

- "White Hot Soul" vinyl LP liner notes;
- Chicago Sun-Times, 26 February 1970;
- various issues of Billboard Magazine published in the late 60s / early 70s;
- various issues of New York Magazine published in the late 60s / early 70s;
- official biography included on this Philadelphia International promotional release;
- "The Illustrated Discography of Surf Music, 1961-1965" by John Blair.
- "The Showman of the Pacific - 50 Years of Radio and Rock Stars" by Tom Moffatt and Jerry Hopkins;
- "Hawaii a Go-Go: The 50's-80's Rock, Pop & Contemporary Hawaiian Singles/45 Record Discography" by Tom Tourville.

Special thanks to Les Ross for sharing his memories about Dick Jensen and suggesting the title of this post and to Kevin Zulueta and Carol M. for their help.

I'm trying to compile a Dick Jensen exhaustive discography, my work-in-progress is available here.

I'm also trying to build a collection of Dick Jensen pictures and memorabilia, my work-in-progress is available here.

All my posts dedicated to Dick Jensen on this blog are available here.


If you have any useful information about Dick Jensen - especially corrections and improvements to this biography - please get in touch with me at stereocandies [at] hotmail [dot] com or leave a comment in the box below, thank you!

2 comments:

  1. I saw Jensen at Da Swamp in 1964, he asked me to dance on stage asking "show us how you dance in Canada", the music was Louie Louie - Jensen was super that night, a total performer.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi, thanks for sharing your memories about Dick Jensen! If there's anything else that you may want to add about his performance I would be delighted to hear about it, THANKS again!

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