At this point, it is difficult to say when the well will run dry. Every month, it seems, I come across another Eden Ahbez record, lead-sheet, or reel-to-reel tape that nearly slipped through the cracks of time.
“Song of the Stranger,” by Kuldip Singh, is the latest though doubtful the last.
It was released as the A-side to a single on Valor Records that came out October 20, 1958.
Ahbez had co-written “Song of the Stranger” with a pair of songwriters—Paul Byrne and William Allord—and sent the lead-sheet in to the Library of Congress for a copyright sometime in 1958. (It was stamped on September 12th that year.)
The single itself features one Kuldip Singh as the lead artist/singer. Orchestration is “conducted by Jerry Wiggins.” That’s how it is written on the single itself.
There was, however, an ad in Billboard magazine at the time that labels the conductor as “Gerald Wiggins,” a name better known to jazz aficionados for his piano and organ work, both as a sideman (with Teddy Edwards, Louis Armstrong, Benny Carter) and as a solo artist.
Gerald Wiggins’ Wiggin’ with the Wig (Dig Records) is, in fact, one of the most-coveted beatnik exploitation albums of the period. He also backed two of Ahbez’s previous collaborators: Nat “King” Cole and Eartha Kitt.
I have not been able to find further copyrights for either Paul Byrne or William Allord (also spelled “Allard” on the sheet music). Their relationship to Ahbez and the music business in Hollywood remains a mystery at this point.
But the big question is: who was Kuldip Singh? And how did he come to sing Eden Ahbez’s tune in 1958?
From what I can gather, Kuldip Rae Singh launched his entertainment career in 1956 after appearing on Groucho Marx’s TV quiz show You Bet Your Life. And, while clearly outmaneuvered by Marx in the wit category, Singh shows promise for his looks, singing, and, well, audacity.
At one point, the young man tells the venerated Marx Brother of his escape from an arranged marriage in Kashmir and his affections for Indian, Spanish, and American women. The bashful contestant standing next to Singh (a young Cali girl) just blushes.
Groucho eventually sets Singh loose to croon a version of the Guys and Dolls number “A Woman in Love,” which makes his co-contestant blush even more.
“It turns out that Singh was a lousy quiz show contestant,” wrote Manan Desai in an article posted to the South Asian American Digital Archive. “But none of that seemed to matter, since he had seized the opportunity to make his singing debut for a national audience.”
Following the show, Singh was reportedly flooded by fan letters and offered multiple deals to appear again on television, in films, and to record with major labels such as RCA-Victor. A profile on Singh appeared in Life magazine, much as it had with Eden Ahbez a decade prior, following the ascent of “Nature Boy” on national radio.
Singh’s first singles on RCA were done under the musical direction of Henri Rene, who had previously arranged Ahbez’s “Hey Jacque” for Eartha Kitt in 1954, cementing further connection between the new teen idol and the seasoned nature boy.
By the end of 1956, however, Singh was in the news again.
Just weeks out from his Grouch Marx performance, Singh faced imminent deportation, as the INS had discovered his U.S. visa was as a student, not a performer. (He’d apparently dropped out of UCLA Medical School without reporting it.)
Singh quickly departed for Mexico, where he took up residence until he could work out a U.S. visitor’s visa, whereafter, he toured the crooner circuit, hitting nightclubs in San Bernardino, Las Vegas, and Miami.
Eventually, Singh joined a short-lived variety program, The Ray Anthony Show, which also had a touring show that featured, among other talents, Annita Ray. Both Annita Ray and Ray Anthony, in fact, recorded Eden Ahbez tunes in the 1950s too. (Ray recorded “Elvis Presley Blues” b/w “Frankie’s Song” in 1957 and Anthony recorded Ahbez’s “Palm Springs” in 1959.)
Kuldip Singh’s recording of “Song of the Stranger” came in the midst of all this. If it fell through the cracks, however, there may’ve been a logical reasoning.
For one, it is lyrically not one of Ahbez’s best tunes. Essentially, the Nature Boy that we encountered on the road in Ahbez’s classic tune of 1948 has been replaced here by a kind of Nature Man, who wanders around telling passers-by about his lost love. Gone are the “fools and kings” and the hopeful final stanza imploring love for one and all. In its place are a series of anti-teenage sentiments about separation and love’s cruel reality.
“Stranger”‘s message is made all the more incongruent by Gerald Wiggins’ boilerplate teenage production and Kuldip Singh’s earnest and dramatic vocals, done in the multi-octave style of hitmaker Jackie Wilson.
If this sounds like a recipe for a sleeper hit, or even a cult artifact of the era, it falls far short.
Kuldip’s earnestness on “Stranger” is over-the-top and very nearly unlistenable, whilst Wiggins’ employment of the marimba is too understated in the mix to really set the production apart from any other R&B ballad of its day. In the end, it’s not difficult to see why the record flopped. (I’ve yet to find another copy besides the promo one seen above.)
As for Singh, his American career stalled quickly too. By the early 1960s, the singer disappeared from the newspaper trail only to reappear in Spain, where he’d achieve better success.
A series of 7” singles on the Hispavox label show Singh wearing a turban and recording under his first name only. He also replaces the crooner ballads with more textured work, including several singles that mix ’60s pop, bossa-nova, flamenco, and Indian influences.
What Singh may have most shared in common with Ahbez was an elusive background.
Early U.S. articles set his birthplace in Kashmir, which Singh himself often corroborated. Later interviews and articles, however, suggest he may have been born in Trinidad, or San Juan, Puerto Rico, or even Brooklyn, NY!!
A Singh recording of the James Bond Goldfinger theme, on a Spanish record label from the mid-’60s, came with a brief liner note that claimed, once more, his birthplace as Kashmir, Pakistan (India). For now, that is confirmation enough.
Whether or not Singh ever recorded again with Eden Ahbez, or if the two even met in person, remains unknown at this time too. Given Ahbez’s penchant for being present at sessions for his own compositions, I would bet he attended the recording date for “Stranger.” The two men also shared quite a few connections in the music business. Still, until there is hard evidence, we just don’t know.
Final note: Ahbez DID record another song about Singh’s homeland. Titled “India,” he recorded it under his own name in 1951. And, while “India” remains unreleased to this day, it may offer hope to those wishing the late nature boy had done something more Eastern and exotic in his collaboration with Singh.