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Thus far we’ve had a handful of siblings make appearances in the roll call of rock artists, all of them sharing space within groups.

Big Jay McNeely was supported by his older brother Bob on baritone sax and while vital to his sound, he wasn’t really known to the public at large. The Five Keys had lead singer Rudy West and his brother Bernie in their ranks, but it’s doubtful record buyers knew either of their names, let alone their family ties. The Robins beat them to it with Billy and Roy Richard, but neither sang lead.

The Griffin Brothers obviously made their connection known, but since they both were primarily instrumentalists their roles were not quite as prominent, leaving it up to The Trenier twins, Milt and Claude, to serve as the poster boys for sibling rivalry.

The arrival of Linda Hayes today won’t necessarily change that, especially because she and her brother went by different names, but it will soon lead to the first time in which we have siblings who each had separate careers in rock ‘n’ roll, which shows that this brand of music was becoming a viable family business for the next generation of rockers.


So Long, Daddy
It’s never safe to assume everybody reading knows this stuff already, so for those still in the dark about the identity of this brother and sister, Linda Hayes’s real name was Bertha Williams (no wonder she changed it) and her brother was Tony Williams, who as of late 1952 is a nobody in music. In fact he hadn’t signed with a label, nor sang with a professional group, but that would change in a hurry.

After Linda hooked up with Recorded In Hollywood, who promoted her as if she was a budding star, she secured Buck Ram as her manager. A songwriter of renown from the 1940’s whose lists of credits in pop and jazz was truly impressive, he was now looking at rock ‘n’ roll as a way to remain relevant. Hayes urged her brother Tony, who wanted a career in music himself, to come to Los Angeles from the East Coast and one thing led to another and soon he’d join a group that became The Platters.

Williams, through his sister, got them signed with Buck Ram who put them through the ringer vocally and they emerged as the most professional sounding, and most popular, rock vocal group of the decade.

As for Hayes, she was soon overshadowed by her brother’s success, but she actually got off to a much better start than he did once he arrived, as her debut, Big City, a two-part record, became a hit in Los Angeles and she followed it up with the first of two national hits next year.

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Right now our job is to look at this first offering and, regardless of who her manager was, to say nothing of who her brother would go on to be, ask ourselves if she’s worth any of this fuss herself.

The answer is… yeah, she probably is.


On My Way Back Home
Though Buck Ram had nothing to do with this song whatsoever, it’s still slightly indicative of the type of classy rock ballads he’d specialize in with The Platters.

That mixture of sophistication and subversive rhythm – here a slow swaying riff – topped off by a singer with a strong voice, clear diction and more than enough soulfulness to let you know this wasn’t an aspiring pop chanteuse.

Que Martyn, who was becoming Recorded In Hollywood’s de facto bandleader after coming to the label with Little Caesar from the Bay Area, has no problem delivering the type of smooth but slightly gritty arrangement needed for Big City while letting Hayes take the spotlight.

His own tenor sax is softly answering her lines while the piano and some nice guitar licks are most prominent behind her vocals, all while the rhythm section provides a discreet beat to give her solid ground to stand on. Martyn’s sax solo in Part One is well thought out, deliberate in its pacing and languid in its delivery, going down easy like Dominican rum.

There’s no question Hayes has a good voice for this kind of thing. It’s sort of a detached break-up song, she’s more mediative than regretful over it ending and in fact you need to pay close attention just to make sure she’s the one who left him. In any event, she’s not broken up over it, though she doesn’t make it all too clear in the first half why she’s heading back home, even admitting it’s “back to the bottom” for her.

That suggests we’re going to get the answers when we flip the record over, but when she’s this unemotional leading up to it we start to wonder… just what IS this girl up to?


Meet Me At The Train
We won’t go so far as to say “Your guess is as good as mine” when it comes to figuring out Linda Hayes’ mindset as Part Two gets underway, but it’s going to take a lot of careful analysis to make heads or tails of things, as once more her stately pace means it takes too long to get our bearings.

One thing is clear and that how she’s now looking forward to hooking back up with a guy. But which guy is it? The one she just left behind who was crying in the rain at the station, or someone she’s returning to who she hasn’t seen in awhile?

It appears to be the latter, though maybe she’s keeping it just ambiguous enough to not incriminate herself if this doesn’t work out.

That would at least explain her decision to leave the Big City, but she once again refers to this move as going to back to the bottom, so how good can this other guy be, no matter how much longing is evident in her voice?

Without a clearer picture we can’t really get too invested in this romantic merry-go-round. If the first guy didn’t do anything wrong and is broken up over her leaving, as she claims, then it’s fair to say her voice sounds classier than her actions here, but we’ll leave that to relationship therapists. In any event, the song’s biggest issue is the way in which the second half doesn’t alter her delivery to make her excitement over the reconciliation with someone else a bit more obvious.

That’d have been something special to see, her putting on a sad act to let her first fella down easy, then her mounting excitement heading back home to get it on with her ex. Throw in some booting saxophones on this side and a more rapturous vocal coda and it’d have been a great record. Instead it’s merely an intriguing one.

But in spite of the song’s murky intentions, there’s still a subdued pleasantness to it all. Without a more revealing second half – or a more varied musical arrangement in one side or the other – it doesn’t justify being split into two parts, but it’s a softly reassuring sound just the same… unless of course you’re the guy she left behind.

A Family Affair
What WE know in the present that nobody knew at the time was how this singer was going to play a key role in the careers of a number of acts, record labels and behind the scenes big shots, as the catalyst in bringing one of the more impressive vocalists to the West Coast. The names being affected by the subsequent course of events include obviously The Platters, the Hodge brothers, The Penguins, Buck Ram, Federal, Dootone and Mercury Records and a host of others… few of whom actually had much, if anything, to do with Linda Hayes herself.

But far from merely playing the role of unwitting matchmaker for her talented brother, Hayes will have a fairly noteworthy career of her own and if Big City may not peg her as a surefire star, it at least provide evidence that she’s got the vocal ability to reach those heights with the right material.

Of course a lot of singers could reasonably make the same claim after one single and so for the time being her story remains an unwritten one, at least until the next release.

In today’s song if she hadn’t gotten on the train in question the story would’ve turned out different, and in real life if her brother didn’t take the train west then both of their stories would have as well.

Though today her role in history has more to do with her connections to others, at this juncture of her career she was the one with promise and you wonder if Linda Hayes ever thought things might’ve worked out better for her if she encouraged Tony to stay back in the smaller towns of New Jersey and open a car wash instead.


(Visit the Artist page of Linda Hayes for the complete archive of her records reviewed to date)