#271: Sugar Plum by Ike Clanton
Ike Clanton was the brother of teen idol Jimmy Clanton, and was born in 1940 in Raceland, Louisiana. In September 1958, Ike Clanton was part of a band that backed then 17-year-old John Fred in Fred’s first recording studio. Fats Domino, who had just recorded “Whole Lotta Lovin'” was also in the studio backing John Fred. The setting was Cosimo Matassa’s J&M Studio in New Orleans. Nine years later in 1967, John Fred & his Playboy Band had a #1 hit with “Judy In Disguise (With Glasses)”. In 1958 Ike Clanton was in Duane Eddy’s band when they recorded “Rebel Rouser” and Eddy’s proto-surf-rock instrumental album Have ‘Twangy’ Guitar Will Travel. “Rebel Rouser” climbed to #6 on the Billboard Hot 100 and #2 in Vancouver. Ike Clanton was also part of Eddy’s band when the singles “Cannonball”, “Peter Gunn”, and “Forty Miles Of Bad Road” were recorded. The latter was a #9 hit on the Billboard Hot 100.
In the fall of 1959, Ike Clanton released his debut single “Land Of Dreams”. It made the Top 60 on WJBW in New Orleans, while the B-side “Show Me The Way” made the Top 30 in Baton Rouge, LA.
In June 1960 Ike Clanton’s single “Down The Aisle” climbed to #2 in Honolulu, #3 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, the Top 20 in Houston, Texas, and the Top 30 in Vancouver (BC). “Down The Aisle” cracked the Billboard Hot 100 and stalled at #91. The song was about a groom’s anticipation of the day he walks down the aisle with his bride. Ike’s brother Jimmy recorded the song, and it was released in 1961 while Jimmy was in the U.S. Army. Ike Clanton’s followup, “A Penny For Your Thoughts” charted in Honolulu, but nowhere else.
Ike Clanton was having little breakout success on Ace Records. His three single releases were commercial flops. Meanwhile, his brother Jimmy Clanton was in the film Go, Johnny Go! starring Chuck Berry, Ritchie Valens, Eddie Cochran, Sandy Stewart, and Jackie Wilson. And Jimmy Clanton had a second Top Ten hit with “Go, Jimmy Go” in early 1960. The single reached #2 in Vancouver and #5 on the Billboard Hot 100. Then Jimmy Clanton was drafted into the United States Army in 1961 to 1963. However, Jimmy Clanton’s record company kept releasing singles while he was in the draft, including a Top Ten hit in September ’62 titled “Venus In Blue Jeans”.
So Ike Clanton switched labels and got a new record contract with Mercury. Ike Clanton’s first single on Mercury Records in the summer of 1962 was “Sugar Plum”.
“Sugar Plum” was written by Roger Schenzel, one of only four that were ever recorded. The lyrics are pure ‘gingerbread’ of the late 50s-early 60s variety: “I’ve got a girl and
I call her Sugar Plum. Of all the girls I know she’s the only one, that makes my heart go
plum plumpedum. My little Sugar Plum.” Sugar Plum comes from “heaven” and her “kisses are sweet like chewing gum.” The guy in the song feels like he’s “in wonderland” whenever he walks and holds hands with Sugar Plum.
From the mid-50s into the early 60s there were plenty of songs with doo-wop lyrics. These were nonsense syllables meant to convey a musical mood, emotion or rhythm. “Sugar Plum” offers up “plum plumbedum” to the doo-wop lexicon. Other examples include:
- The Chords “Sh-Boom” from 1954: “Day dong da ding-dong, a-lang-da-lang-da-lang. Ah, whoa, whoa, bip, Ah bi-ba-do-da-dip, whoa.”
- The Cues “Why” from 1956: “Doot-dat, doot-dat-a-lat. Doot-dat, doot-dat-a-lat.”
- The Five Satins “In The Still Of The Nite” from 1956: “Sho-dot-in-sho-be-doe.”
- Frankie Lymon & The Teenagers “Why Do Fools Fall In Love” from 1956: “De-dom-ah-de-dom-ah-de-dom-ah-de-do-dah. Ooh-wah, ooh-wah, ooh-wah, ooh-wah, ooh-wah, ooh-wah, why do fools fall in love.”
- The Del Vikings “Come Go With Me” from 1957: “Dom-dom-dom-dom-dom-de-doo-be. Dom-dom-dom- dom-dom-dom-de-doo-be. Dom-dom-dom-dom-dom-dom-be-doo-be. Dom Woa-woa-woa-woah.”
- The Silhouettes “Get A Job” from 1958: “Sha na na na, Sha na na na na…”
- The Elegants “Little Star” from 1958: “Whoah oh, oh, oh-uh-oh, ratta ta tata too-ooh-ooh. Whoah oh, oh, oh-uh-oh, ratta ta tata too-ooh-ooh.”
- The Flamingos “I Only Have Eyes For You” from 1959: “Sha bop sha bop.”
The guy who idolizes Sugar Plum says of her “From head to toe she’s the very most.
If you ever saw her, you’d know why I boast.” In 1959 Edward “Kookie Kookie” Byrnes sang with Connie Stevens in “Kookie Kookie, Lend Me Your Comb”, that his ‘baby’ was “the utmost.” And in 1961 Bob Lee had a song with the title “You Mostest Girl”. Someone who was “the most”, or “the mostest,” or “the utmost” was someone who was stellar, superlative, outstanding in every way. As well, the guy singing about Sugar Plum is going to “take her home to meet my Mom.” So, he may have wedding bells on his mind.
“Sugar Plum” is one of a number of songs about girlfriends who male suitors liken to some sort of dessert or candy. In 1955 the Crew Cuts recorded “Gum Drop”. In 1961 the Drifters recorded “Sweets For My Sweet”. While the Chordettes sang about a heartthrob called “Lollipop” in 1958, and in 1956 R&B belter Big Maybelle sang about “Candy”. When a couple are newly in love, their sweet conversation can get syrupy. And so this inspires lyrics like “kisses are sweet like chewing gum.”
“Sugar Plum” climbed to #2 in Vancouver (BC) and Bakersfield (CA), #3 in Vancouver (WA), #5 in Cleveland and Toronto, #12 in Little Rock (AR), and #14 in Newport News (VA). As “Sugar Plum” only got notable chart action in about five states across the USA, it stalled at #95 on the Billboard Hot 100.
In the fall of ’62 “The Champ” – a song about a guy who impresses on the dance floor – failed to get any notice. And a final release on the Mercury label that winter titled “Judy’s In Love”, was produced by Buck Ram (as was “The Champ”). Perhaps Ike Clanton was hopeful that the writer of the Platters’ hits “Only You”, “The Great Pretender”, “(You’ve Got The) Magic Touch”, and “Twilight Time” might help him get a breakout hit. However, like the others, “Judy’s In Love” was a commercial flop. Meanwhile in 1962, Ike’s brother Jimmy Clanton had a third Top Ten hit in the USA with “Venus In Blue Jeans”.
After his brief career in the music industry, while Ike got work as a truck driver. In Tom Aswell’s book Louisiana Rocks!: The True Genesis of Rock and Roll, it is mentioned that Ike Clanton had a “troubled life.” This included a “nervous breakdown.” In June 2004, Ike Clanton died at the age of 64, in Jackson, Louisiana. He had spent much of his life in Baton Rouge. Services were held for him in Coffeyville, Alabama, and in Jackson, Louisiana.
Tom Aswell, Louisiana Rocks!: The True Genesis of Rock and Roll, (Pelican, 2009), pp. 147-148.
Duane Eddy, “Have ‘Twangy’ Guitar Will Travel,” Discogs.com. (Ike Clanton on bass guitar).
“C-FUNTASTIC FIFTY,” CFUN 1410 AM, Vancouver, BC, August 1962.
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