#1167: Summer Souvenirs by Karl Hammel Jr.

Peak Month: September 1961
6 weeks on CFUN chart
Peak Position #13
Peak Position on Billboard Hot 100 ~ #68
CFUN Twin Pick ~ August 19, 1961

Karl Hammel, Jr. was born and raised in New Rochelle, New York. He was a contestant winner on the Original Amateur Hour hosted by Ted Mack. This CBS show was actually a half hour show, except for the 1956-57 season. The format was almost always the same. At the beginning of the show, the talent’s order of appearance was determined by spinning a wheel. As the wheel spun, the words “Round and round she goes, and where she stops nobody knows” were always intoned. Various acts: singers, musicians, jugglers, tap dancers, baton twirlers, and the like, would perform, with the audience being asked to vote for their favorites by postcard or telephone. The telephone number JUdson 6-7000 was on a banner at the bottom of the screen for viewers to call.

As the Original Amateur Hour gained markets outside New York, Mack would give the address  ~ Box 191 Radio City Station ~ where viewers could send their postcards. Mack did this after every act. Given the efficiency of the postal service, postcards were tabulated the following week and the winners were invited to appear on the next week’s show. Three-time winners were eligible for the annual championship, with the grand-prize winner receiving a $2000 scholarship. Aside from Karl Hammel Jr., other notable Original Amateur Hour winners include Gladys Knight, Ann-Margret, Pat Boone, Raul Julia, Teresa Brewer, Irene Cara, The Rock and Roll Trio (including brothers Dorsey and Johnny Burnette). The Original Amateur Hour was a template for later shows including The Gong Show and American Idol.

After winning on the Original Amateur Hour, Karl Hammel Jr. became part of a trio called Karl and the K-Men, which was absorbed into a group out of Yonkers, New York, called Kevin and the Rocking Saints. In 1960 and were joined by a fourth member who played sax.

The group was then approached by Jim Krondes, a successful song writer, who wanted to write and record an instrumental for the group, which was done in 1961. The song “Bounty Hunter” was released in the spring of 1961 and was a moderate hit. But not for Kevin and the Rockin’ Saints. Instead, it was covered by The Nomads who got onto Top 50 radio in Philadelphia, New York, San Antonio and Tucson. Still, the Rockin’ Saints went on college fraternity circuit because of the exposure it received from the record. Shortly after, Karl Hammel Jr. left the group that year to pursue a solo career. The Rockin’ Saints played into the late 60’s before they disbanded.

Karl Hammel Jr. had his first solo release in the summer of 1961 called “Summer Souvenirs.” The nostalgic song recalls a summer romance that included building castles on secluded beaches, climbing hills, picnics and rides at Playland and saying a last goodbye at a train station at summers’ end. There must have been quite a few people looking in the rearview mirror of romances past in Vancouver, as the song struck a chord.

Summer Souvenirs by Karl Hammel Jr.

The castles we built on secluded beaches,
(These are my summer souvenirs)
the hills that we climbed like mountain ewes,
(These are my summer souvenirs)
the magic of moments we spent together,
these memories are summer souvenirs.

The picture of you sitting by the fire,
(These are my summer souvenirs)
the times that I kissed away your tears,
(These are my summer souvenirs)
the picnics and rides that we took at Playland,
these memories are summer souvenirs.

The last words of love whispered at the station,
(These are my summer souvenirs)
I’ll hear them forever through the years.
(These are my summer souvenirs)
the train as it left me alone without you,
these memories are summer souvenirs.
These memories are golden souvenirs.

Hammel mentions Playland in the lyric, a regionally-famous amusement park in Rye, New York, close to New Rochelle, where both Hammel and DJ Paul Payton grew up. Since Vancouver also had a fun park at the Pacific National Exhibition called Playland, that might have been a factor in CFUN deejays decision to play list this song.

The song was co-written by Paul Evans. (tell people who Paul Evans was).
“Summer Souvenirs” went to #14 (Toronto), #16 (Boston), and #17 (Charleston, West Virgina). But it was in Vancouver the song peaked the highest in North America at #13.

Karl Hammel Jr. had a follow up single in 1961, written by Jimmy Krondes, was called “Sittin’ Alphabetic’ly.” It missed the Billboard Hot 100. Hammel Jr’s third release was “I’m Joining the Navy,” was a Top 30 hit in Springfield, Massachusetts, in December 1962. The song was a riff on the tenuousness of a young dating relationship. With “Summer Souvenirs,” the relationship lasts just for a summer, while “I’m Joining the Navy” risks putting career before relationship in the hopes that his sweetheart will keep a candle burning only for him.  His fourth and final release was in 1963 called “Drop Me A Line,” encouraging a potential girlfriend to indicate if she wants to be his.

While some online articles mention “Karl became a first-rate session drummer who has played on many sessions for Neil Young, amongst others,” this appears to not be Karl Hammel Jr. The person who played drums on several tracks on the various albums by Neil Young between 1977 and 1985: American Stars ‘n Bars, Comes A Time, Rust Never Sleeps, Everybody’s Rockin’ and Old Ways was the similarly named Karl T. Himmel. Like some of the other recording artists on this Countdown, Karl Hammel Jr. became a disappearing one-hit wonder.

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