Ohio legislators named "Hang on Sloopy" as the state's Official Rock Song, and as far as I can tell, Ohio seems to be the only state officially rocking out!
Official as it is, there is still plenty of mystery about the history of this seemingly simple song.
Who wrote the song? Did Sloopy actually exist? Can you imagine if the song actually became a hit for the Dave Clark Five, rather than a struggling band of teenagers from the Fort Recovery area near the Ohio/Indiana border?
There are so many questions, and no official answers for a lot of them.
Russell made his name as a Brill Building songwriter and record producer during the 1960s. Songs bearing his name as a songwriter include "Twist and Shout", "Piece of My Heart" and "Hang on Sloopy".
Wes Farrell also amassed an impressive record of songwriting and producing credits throughout the 1960s and 1970s. Songs bearing his name as a songwriter include "Boys" (a hit for the Shirelles covered by the Beatles), "Come a Little Bit Closer" and a bunch of songs for a little 1970s group called The Partridge Family that included "C'mon, Get Happy", and, of course, "Hang on Sloopy".
Charles J. Givens had a band as a young man in Illinois and claimed he bought the song's rights. This story seems unlikely given Given's subsequent track record of losing his recording business in an uninsured fire, becoming a multi-millionaire as a financial advisor and becoming the target of numerous lawsuits as a result of that advice.
Then there is also the un-sourced story that an anonymous St. Louis teenager wrote the song about a fictitious girl.
But did Sloopy actually exist?
A story circulated around Columbus, Ohio about a waitress/singer who used Sloopy as a stage name.
Several sources say that Sloopy was actually singer Dorothy Sloop of Steubenville, Ohio, who used "Sloopy" as a stage name.
The Steubenville Sloop was a pianist known primarily for performing in mostly all-female jazz bands in the New Orleans area from the 1930s through the 1950s.
Ruland says his great aunt was born in 1913 and learned to play piano from her father, who honed his skill by playing piano to accompany silent movies in the theaters. Ruland repeats the legend about how Bert Russell saw Dottie Sloop play in New Orleans once and wrote the song about her. Russell was born in New York in 1929, so I imagine the story is barely possible, but I tend to take it, and Ruland's speculation about the origin of the phrase "Hang on Sloopy" with a very large grain of salt.
The Strangeloves began performing "Hang on Sloopy" in concert as they toured with the Dave Clark Five. They wanted to record it when they got word that the DC5 wanted to record the same song with a similar arrangement. The Strangeloves, who in reality were three New York producers, weren't yet ready to record a follow up single to "Candy" and figured that a DC5 version of "Sloopy" overshadow any version they could do.
The Strangeloves recruited a band called Rick and the Raiders to record the song. The Raiders were a band based in Union City, Indiana fronted by teenager Rick Zehringer from just over the state line in Fort Recovery, Ohio.
The song went to the top of the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart on October 2, 1965, staying there a week before the Beatles' "Yesterday" knocked it from that perch.
The McCoys became very popular throughout the Midwest and opened for the Rolling Stones during that group's 1966 U.S. tour. They recorded "Fever" and a cover of the Richie Valens tune "Let's Go" as follow ups to "Hang on Sloopy" without much chart success.
Rick Zehringer, who was just 17 when he hit the charts with the McCoys, took Rick Derringer as a stage name after the logo from the Bang record company that released their one hit.
The McCoys ended up trying to adopt a more progressive rock sound as the 60s came to a close without much success, however they spent some time performing as the house band at a popular New York nightclub called the Scene. It was there that Derringer met and played with Johnny Winter, which started a run of success for him as a solo artist and working with numerous big acts over the years. He continues to record and perform today nearly 50 years after that first McCoys hit.
Meanwhile, "Hang on Sloopy" became a hit with Ohio's athletic teams over the years, starting when a member of the Ohio State University marching band convinced the band's director to let them perform the song at a football game. The student band member, John Tagenhorst, arranged the song for the band as the McCoys' song still rode the top of the charts.
The song made its sports debut at a game on October 9, 1965 to a huge crowd reaction. The marching band continued playing "Hang on Sloopy" at every Buckeye home game, and it's now a tradition to play the song before the start of each home game's fourth quarter.
The OSU band included the song on a CD it issued and you'll find it as a free audio download or as a ring tone at the OSU Web site.
The Cleveland Indians, Cleveland Browns and Cleveland Cavaliers are among other Ohio athletic teams also adopting the song as an anthem.
During the 1980s, Joe Dirck, a columnist for the Columbus Citizen-Journal, read a story about an effort to make "Louie, Louie" the official rock song of the State of Washington.
That effort was more of a jest, but Dirck wasn't kidding when he advanced the idea that "Hang on Sloopy" should become Ohio's official State Rock Song. He knew of the song, he knew of its sporting success, and he knew about Derringer's Ohio background.
He thought the idea made perfect sense, and the Ohio State Legislature agreed with him!
"Hang on Sloopy" became the state's Official Rock Song with the passage of a House Concurrent Resolution on November 20, 1985.
The resolution reads, in part:
"WHEREAS "Hang on Sloopy" is of particular relevance to members of the Baby Boom Generation, who were once dismissed as a bunch of long-haired, crazy kids, but who now are old enough and vote in sufficient number to be taken quite seriously; and..."
"WHEREAS, Adoption of this resolution will not take long, cost the state anything, or affect life in this state to any appreciable degree, and if we in the legislature just go ahead and pass the darn thing, we can get on with more important stuff..."
I can't make this stuff up!
You can read the entire text of the resolution on the Ohio Historical Society's Ohio History Central site.
And what of the campaign to give the song "Louie, Louie" similar status in Washington State? It seems that Ohio may have the better official sense of humor as "Louie, Louie" only retains the title as Washington's "unofficial" rock song!
© Dominique King 2014 All rights reserved