#627: Bumble Bee by The Searchers
The Searchers formed in Liverpool in 1959, after a skiffle band by its founders took the name. They were the a backing band for Johnny Sandon, a rockabilly singer who was an early contributor to the Merseybeat. They took their name from the 1956 John Wayne film, The Searchers. (The film starred Wayne cast as Civil War veteran, Ethan Allen, who searches for his abducted niece for five years to discover she has become one of the wives of a Comanche chief, and wishes to remain with her Comanche husband, Scar). The founders of the Searchers were John McNally and Mike Pender. Pender was born in Liverpool in 1941 with the birth name Michael John Prendergast. John McNally was also born in Liverpool that year. It was Western film buff, Pender, who dragged McNally to see The Searchers. Inspired by the film, Pender convinced McNally the film title was a good name for their new skiffle band. Johnny Sandon left The Searchers in 1961 to form the Remo Four. Tony Jackson, from Liverpool (born 1940) became The Searchers lead singer by 1962.
There were several lineup changes and Chris Curtis (born Christopher Crummey in Greater Manchester in 1941) became the bands new drummer in 1961. Curtis chose to let go of his surname, Crummey, as there were potential downsides to headlines in the press. In 1962, The Searchers played at the Star Club in Hamburg, Germany, for 128 nights. Each evening included three one-hour performances. During their time in Hamburg they met Fats Domino who had a strong musical impact on John McNally. Late that year the Searchers signed with Pye Records.
1963 was the start of their string of hits, first in the UK, and then as part of the British Invasion. They made the Top 50 on C-FUN in Vancouver in December ’63 with “Sugar And Spice”, a song that peaked at #2 in the UK. Although their debut single, “Sweets For My Sweet”, charted to #1 in the UK for two weeks in August ’63, the song didn’t chart in Vancouver. “Needles And Pins”, a cover of the Jackie DeShannon hit, climbed to #16 in Vancouver in March 1964 and #13 on the Billboard Hot 100. Interestingly, the B-side, “Ain’t That Just Like Me”, climbed to #5 in Vancouver in May ’64, while failing to chart on the Billboard Hot 100. In June ’64, The Searchers “Don’t Throw Your Love Away” climbed to #16 in Vancouver and the Billboard Hot 100. “Some Day We’re Gonna Love Again” made the Top 40 on CKLG in September ’64. And in November ’64, The Searchers charted “When You Walk In The Room” to #12 in Vancouver on C-FUN. With “Love Potion #9” climbing to #3 on the Billboard Hot 100 in the winter of 1964-65, and to #3 in Vancouver on CKLG (#4 on C-FUN), The Searchers managed to chart seven singles onto the pop charts in Vancouver within a calendar year. Meanwhile, in 1964, Tony Jackson had left the group and was replaced by Frank Allen as front man.
In 1965, The Searchers continued with their string of hits in Vancouver and elsewhere. In March ’65, they took “What Have They Done To The Rain”, a folk song by Malvina Reynolds, to #6 in Vancouver. Their next single, “Bumble Bee”, was their fourth Top Ten hit in Vancouver, contrasting with the group having only succeeded in charting one single into the Billboard Hot 100’s Top Ten.
“Bumble Bee” is a song first recorded in 1960 by American R&B singer LaVern Baker. She also co-wrote the song. Born in Chicago in 1929, when she first took to the stage she was originally billed in 1949 as Little Miss Sharecropper. During the mid-to-late ’50’s, Baker previously had success with crossover hits from R&B to the pop charts with “Tweedlee Dee”, “Jim Dandy”, and “I Cried A Tear”. The latter was her biggest seller, climbing to #2 on the R&B charts and #2 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1959. The song featured King Curtis on saxophone. She charted 17 songs into the Billboard R&B chart Top 20 between 1955 and 1962. She was featured in the early Rock ‘n Roll film Rock, Rock, Rock and Mr. Rock & Roll. For over two decades LaVern Baker held the position as entertainment director at the Marine Corps Staff NCO club at the U.S. Naval Base Subic Bay in The Philippines. In 1988 she returned to the USA and performed at Madison Square Gardens for the 40th Anniversary of Atlantic Records. In 1990, she debuted on Broadway performing in the musical, Black And Blue. Baker became the second female solo artist inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall of Fame after Aretha Franklin. And Rolling Stone named LaVern Baker’s “Jim Dandy” as one of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time in their December 2004 issue.
“Bumble Bee” is a song offering a simile of a person who has been in a relationship with someone who hurts them like “an evil bumble bee.” In this case the sting comes from “lyin'” and “hurting my heart” repeatedly. The person who’s been getting stung is done with being treated like a clown. The inference in the song is that the lying has to do with having an affair on the side. Consequently, the stung person in the couple has been crying “night after night.” The fairytale they had imagined was coming true has been dashed by the repeated sting of their romantic partners hurtful behavior. The person on the receiving end of the stings has had enough and has said “baby it’s the end” of our relationship. It’s tragic, since the person doing all the stinging was receiving “love…sweet as honey.”
In the 1944 the Mills Brothers #1 hit, “You Always Hurt The One You Love,” included these lines: “”You always hurt the one you love, the one you should not hurt at all/You always take the sweetest rose, and crush it till the petals fall/You always break the kindest heart, with a hasty word you can’t recall/So if I broke your heart last night, it’s because I love you most of all.” Must love involve being hurt by the ones who say they love us the most? In a family it is inevitable that when we live with parents and siblings, we will do things (or fail to do things) that are off-putting for those nearest and dearest. Often, the hurts caused are not done intentionally. However, the fragile bond has to be re-established again and again and the hurts absorbed in order to make a fresh start. But, what about people who intentionally are hurtful? Who sting us like “an evil bumble bee?”
Steven Stosney writes about hurt in romantic relationships and observes: “No matter how much we argue with loved ones about their criticisms and put-downs, we are likely to believe them, at least unconsciously. We might not agree with the particular flaw pointed out, but on some deep level, we’ll perceive a defect that must be defended. Some part of us buys into the “blemishes” reflected in the mirror of love, even when we know intellectually that our loved one is distorting who we are. This hidden pressure explains why successful and powerful people are just as vulnerable as anyone else to the many forms of betrayal in their love relationships.” Stosney advises that when there is pain, it needs to be a signal to the couple to heal and not punish one another. However, there can be an adrenaline rush from betraying a partner. Stosney urges: “If you feel betrayed, healing and growth begins with the realization that you are not damaged, but your relationship is. You must heal first and, if you so choose, attempt repair later.” Depending on the degree of betrayal, the couple may need time apart to heal and then renegotiate the relationship, if they both believe it is worth saving.
After “Bumble Bee”, The Searchers failed to match their earlier successes. Although “Goodbye My Lover Goodbye” climbed to #4 in the UK, it stalled at #21 in Vancouver and #52 on the Billboard Hot 100. The P.F. Sloan lyric, “Take Me For What I’m Worth”, made the Top 20 in the UK, but stalled at #26 in Vancouver and #76 on the Billboard Hot 100. While The Searchers would release another twenty singles between 1966 and 1982, they were met with commercial failure on both sides of the Atlantic, failing to crack the UK Top 50 after 1966.
In 1966, The Searchers went on tour with The Rolling Stones to Australia, Hong Kong and The Philippines. After the tour, Chris Curtis left the group and went on to form Deep Purple. The Searchers experienced some lineup changes as they played the cabaret circuit in the 70’s. But it was Mike Pender’s decision to leave the group in 1985 that really rocked the boat. Pender went on to front Mike Pender and The Searchers. This was confusing as The Searchers also continued to perform. But they replaced Pender with Spencer James to fill Pender’s shoes. In 1989, The Searchers opened in front of 75,000 fans at Wembley Stadium for two nights in a row, marking 40 years in show business for Cliff Richard.
Into the 90’s, The Searchers performed in Canada, Kenya, Thailand, Hong Kong, Singapore. They also entertained the troops in Bosnia, Belize, Northern Ireland, the Falkland Islands. In 1998, the group shared billing on a tour of the UK with Bobby Bee Helen Shapiro and the Swinging Blue Jeans. In 1999, Frank Allen published his book Travelling Man – On the Road with The Searchers. Allen published another book in 2009 titled The Searchers And Me.
In the 21st Century, The Searchers have been on tour packages with Gerry & the Pacemakers, Peter Sarstedt, the Swinging Blue Jeans, PJ Proby, Wayne Fontana, the Dakotas, Barry Ryan, John Walker (of the Walker Brothers), Chip Hawes (lead singer with The Tremeloes) and Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick & Tich. Over the past few decades The Searchers have been on tour in Bahrain, Spain, Denmark, Germany, Sweden, Denmark, The Philippines, New Zealand, Australia, and multiple times across the UK, Canada and America.
In 2003, Tony Jackson died at the age of 63 after many years living with diabetes, heart disease and heavy alcohol consumption. After playing drummer on Deep Purple’s “Hush”, in 1968, Chris Curtis left the music industry to work with Inland Revenue, the UK’s tax department from 1969 to 1987. After years of failing health, he died in 2005 at the age of 63.
Both John McNally and Frank Allen remain with The Searchers, with McNally a member now for 60 years and Allen for 55 years. They and the final iteration of the band – with Spencer James and Scott Ottaway – will perform sixty concerts between January 4 and March 31, 2019. Spencer James will again be the featured on lead vocals. This tour is billed on their website as The Searchers Farewell Tour. After March 31, 2019, the band will retire.
March 6, 2019
John Ford – Director, The Searchers, Warner Brothers, 1956.
“The Searchers Story – The 60s and 70s – Peaks and Troughs,” Searchers.co.uk.
Jon Pareles, “LaVern Baker Is Dead at 67; A Rhythm-and-Blues Veteran,” New York Times, March 12, 1997.
“Still Acting Nonchalant with The Searcher – the John McNally Interview,” Writewayattuk.com, Manchester, UK, June 2, 2017.
Steven Stosney, “Why We Hurt the Ones We Love, and Let Them Hurt Us,” Psychology Today, August 18, 2014.
The Searchers Official Concert Dates Page, Searchers.co.uk.
“C-FUNTASTIC FIFTY,” CFUN 1410 AM, Vancouver, BC, April 17, 1965.
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