For all the yap about this so-called "rap music" being a form of modern folk art or whatever, let's face it, it all sounds pretty much like "Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall", doesn't it? As for it being "new", come on, let's get serious. There is nothing new in the world of pop culture and certainly not somebody speaking in rhyme to rhythm. One could argue that the rhythmic verse of, say, Homer could qualify him as the Original Rapper (of course, earning Hercules the much-coveted status of O.G.). Getting to the point, for all the anti-social posturing affected by Ices Cube, Tea, etc., I feel they somehow lack the mystery and esoteric allure of one who worked the same side of the street long before them, the one they called Nervous Norvus.
Born Jimmy Drake in Oakwood, California in 1912, Nervous Norvus' early years are lost to history. However, we do know he got his start in the music business by opening a demo recording service in the garage of his home. His name surfaces in several 78 rpm discs in the 40s- "Gambling Fury"on the Claudia label appears to be the earliest. There were some "song poem"recordings from this era, much of it sentimental dreck, such as "You are My Inspiration"(Blue Moon) and "The Orphan's Christmas Song"(As Is), but there were occasional glimpses of the coming greatness heard in numbers like, "The Lean Green Vegetable Fiend (From Other Side Of the Moon)"issued on the Valez label. In 1955, Jimmy Drake, then working as a truck driver, recorded as a member of the Four Jokers, a Four Freshman-styled pop group with a corny, barbershop quartet sound. The sound of the Four Jokers might not have been much to write home about, but the topside of their only 45 (on Diamond) was something quite special indeed.
"Transfusion," a Jimmy Drake original, is so profoundly tasteless that it transcends all possible concepts of "good"and "bad"taste. Because of the beauty and subtlety of the craftsmanship, "Transfusion" could never be considered "camp"or shrugged off by the professionally smug as "atrocious."This timeless work of greatness concerns various hapless victims of car accidents, each accident described in rhyming couplets and followed by a sick punch line concerning the end result - a blood transfusion. One inspired line which goes - "My red-corp-suckles are in mass confusion" - will forever be etched into my cranium. The disc went nowhere, but Drake knew he had written a song like no other, a hit even, so he ditched the Four Jokers, re-recorded the tune in his garage and sent the tape to Hollywood DJ Red Blanchard. Instead of the corny crooning of the Four Jokers, the second recording of "Transfusion" featured Drake speaking the lyrics in the slyest of dead-pans-a delivery that went along with his new moniker: Nervous Norvus.
Blanchard arranged for a contract with Dot Records and soon "Transfusion" was chart-bound, reaching #8 on the Billboard pop charts in 1956. On the flipside was "Dig", a jive-talking orgy of verbiage on which Norvus laid out his philosophy of life as an ultra-hepster (i.e., "D-I-G means you know the score/so dig, dig, dig, and dig some more.") Nervous Norvus had arrived.
The follow-up Dot single, entitled "Ape Call", an ode to the sexual practices of prehistoric man and beasts: "Adam was the first man in the land/a big malaroonie daddy with an iron hand...." As we stop and, er, dig this tale of Mesozoic lust from the vantage point of forty years, we must stop and admire his effortless rhyme, perfect meter, subtle rhythm, and the clever way Nervous Norvus could turn a phrase inside out.
Consider the couplet used to describe a horny winged reptile, "Pterodactyl was a flying fool/just a breeze-flapping daddy from the old school" at which he breaks into his own song, stopping the music dead, "I just thought I'd break in here and tell you what a pterodactyl was/it was sort of a stork-looking bat with sharp teeth that flew around looking for... "Then, repeating the original phrase, the music picks up where it left off and Norvus adds, "But a mama dactyl could sure make him drool." For these achievements, we must both revere and honor the long-dead carcass of Jimmy Drake a.k.a Nervous Norvus. "Ape Call", issued on both 45 and 78 rpm, reached #24 in July of 1956. Commercially our hero had peaked, but artistically he was hotter than a two-dollar pistol, for his next and final Dot release came his finest achievement yet - "The Fang."
In "The Fang", Norvus adapts the persona of a hipster from Mars who heads to earth in search of pussy - "I'm feeling just like a new-born colt/I'm gonna hit these chicks like a Martian jolt/cuz I'm a red-hot daddy with a thousand volts/I'm the Fang."
On the flip was a bizarre dance tune called "Bullfrog Hop"which prominently featured the word "Zorch." Despite such lofty achievements, the Nervous One must have had to content himself with the warm feeling inside that comes from creating a rock 'n roll masterpiece, one that would never be equaled, for the fickle public was sick of Nervous Norvus' shtick and "The Fang" flopped. Dot dropped Nervous Norvus and put it's energy into promoting Pat Boone.
Nervous Norvus carried on, cutting tunes for small labels into the Sixties. Peculiar ditties like "Does a Chinese Chicken have a Pigtail" (Big Ben) and his best post - Dot disc, "Stone Age Woo", a follow-up to "Ape Call" that appeared on the ass side of "I Like Girls" on the Embee label. Eventually his name disappears from record labels forever and in 1978 he made the desperate career move (worked for Elvis) of dropping dead, to no avail.
In 1985, Britain's Big Beat label issued a six-song EP of Nervous Norvus's three Dot singles (I don't know if it's still available). The Four Jokers original recording of "Transfusion" can be found on Chrome, Smoke & Fire (Blast First), a two record set of hot-rod tunes compiled by noted artist Robt. Williams.
The legendary Seattle street performer and medicine show singer Baby Gramps once told me he had a reel of unreleased Norvus material. I have not heard it, but the sheet music for "Transfusion" includes the words and music to one unreleased Drake original - "The Noon Baboon (to Rangoon)."
Some fellas have a way with words, but none quite like the late Jimmy Drake a.k.a. Nervous Norvous - the only true poet in the history of rock 'n' roll.
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