At long last! A 78rpm single, written by Eden Ahbez, which has eluded me for more than twenty years, has finally materialized!!
It is titled “Gravy Train” b/w “Two Shades of Blue” and is by Nature Boy and His Orchestra, on Mercury Records. The single was announced in Billboard magazine on March 31, 1951 and was likely released just before or just after that announcement.
Nature Boy and His Orchestra cut a 78/single prior to “Gravy Train,” in 1950, titled “California” b/w “End of Desire.” That one is much more easily come by and features the guest vocalist Bobby Please, a rockabilly singer of several other cool fifties singles.
“Gravy Train” also boasts Bobby Please as lead vocalist, which he reprises for the B-side, “Two Shades of Blue.” Both sides are co-written by Eden Ahbez and Don Reed, the latter a name that pops up elsewhere in the Ahbez canon. From my research, in fact, I’ve found that the two men worked together on quite a few recordings.
The next one, after “Gravy Train”/”Two Shades of Blue,” is the 1954 Ahbez tune “Wine, Women, and Gold,” of which three different singles were released in 1954-55. The one that features Don Reed (on vocals) is by a group called “The Carsons,” of which Reed was one member. This is where things get confusing. (Or perhaps interesting, depending on your love of mystery.)
Reed, who is listed on the “Wine, Women, and Gold” single as “Don Carson,” adopts the Carson surname for a later single: 1958’s “Yes Master!” b/w “Jungle Bungalow” (Bertram International Records). Both sides of the latter are written by Ahbez and performed by Don Carson and the Casuals.
The year prior—1957—Reed re-recorded “Two Shades of Blue,” which was originally the B-side of our aforementioned Mercury 78/single. The Mercury version is a kind of swing/jump-blues throwaway; the 1957 version on Encino Records, however, is more indicative of the nascent rock ‘n’ roll sound, replete with a steaming horn solo and tighter production.
The question naturally arises as to who this Don Reed/Don Carson character actually was? And how did he come to collaborate with Eden Ahbez?
The latter is the more difficult question, given that Ahbez is no longer alive to answer it, or tell us how they met. Neither is Reed/Carson, whom I’ve now surmised was actually named Peter Sterling Radcliffe (1930-2007), a Hollywood songwriter best known for Barry White’s 1974 hit single “The First, the Last, My Everything.” (More Radcliffe song credits can be found here.)
Radcliffe also released records under the names Sterling Reed and Don Sterling—the latter a re-release (in 1958) of the Encino version of “Two Shades.”
If that isn’t confusing enough, Ahbez and Reed/Carson/Radcliffe released another single together, in 1961, of Ahbez’s “Nature Boy,” backed by a new co-write, titled “The Lonely King of Rock ‘N Roll.” The single came out on two different labels: Gardena Records and A&R Records.
The version of “Nature Boy” features an unknown singer named “Lorelei” on the Gardena release and “The Voice of Love” on the A&R one. Both nom de plumes are a perfect fit, as she sounds like a mermaid singing from the deep depths of Neptune’s Kingdom.
In terms of “The Lonely King,” it is an ode to the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll, Elvis Presley, and was re-recorded by Radcliffe solo in 1977, following’s Presley’s early death. In the latter version Radcliffe has removed Ahbez from the co-writer credits altogether.
In terms of “Gravy Train,” the newly-discovered single (and focus of this blog-post), it features the same snaky rhythm used by Ahbez in other such novelty tunes as “Mongoose” (on the Eden’s Island album) and “Wild Boy,” his rollicking single of 1959, performed by Mort Wise and his Wisemen.
Lyrically, “Gravy Train” uses the metaphor of hopping freight-trains as suggestive of a new beginning for one’s life. “All aboard for the gravy train, gravy train, gravy train/Where the truth will never find you/Gonna leave the past behind you.”
It’s a strangely autobiographical lyric, true to Ahbez himself, who left two pasts behind him by that time: that of his birth-name, George A. Aberle, and that of his adopted name, George McGrew. He not only took the moniker “eden ahbez” in the early 1940s, but also reinvented himself as a kind of postwar holy man in Hollywood. In that way, “Gravy Train” is something of a second anthem, post-“Nature Boy.”
And now we know it actually exists!
13 thoughts on “UPDATE: Rare Ahbez 78/Single from 1951 Found”
Brian, if anyone could find this stuff it’s gotta be you! Man alive, you do not give up. I know you have a documentary in production. Is it titled?
“As the Wind: The Enchanted Life of Eden Ahbez.” And thanks, YB, for the vote of confidence. No, I’ll never give up.
I never knew who wrote Nature Boy. I always thought it ws Nat King Cole. Eden was an amazing guy. Way ahead of his time and he certainly deserves to haave a documentary done of his life. Thanks for keeping this material alive. We are drowning in a sea of musical mediocrity and idol worshipping, of mostly undeserving, no talent performers.
i have one of these in my hand right now – anyone interested in it?
long shop but @ EL, do you still have it for sale??
Hello Brian, I came across your post of finding this record and wow, that is amazing! I am Bobby Please’s grand daughter. I never knew him, didnt know anything about him til very recenetly…didnt know Bobby Please was his alias either! I cannot find a recording of this anywhere. I would absolutely love to hear my grandfathers voice! Is there any way you can contact me privately and maybe record it? Thank you!
A pleasure to meet you Amy. We love Bobby Please ‘round these parts! Can you play an MP3 if I were to send it to you?
It’s so wild to find out my grandpa was a rockabilly artist.
Have you ever seen what he looks like?
Never. Would love to know.
Well I am on a mission to find a picture of my grandpa and maybe find out what ever happened to him. If I do, I’ll let you know!
May I ask where you are from?
Please do. I live in Brooklyn (NYC).
Hello Brian, I just stumbled across your incredible research. I was just trying to find out who the female Yma Sumac style vocalist is on the Nature Boy recording. Any further info on her real name and what other recordings she may have done? I met Yma in San Francisco (she was amazing) and although this vocalist is superb, I can tell it isn’t her for sure. I know there were others at the time who had “the gift”. Any insight? Thank you so much, killer site!
Thanks Kris! I wish I knew as well who the vocalist on the 1961 “Nature Boy” was. It’s a total mystery. Have been working with the Local 47 Musicians Union in L.A. to find the session log; but they have had no luck so far however.