The recording date of “the Fool” is uncertain, but we can be sure that it took place in Phoenix, Arizona in late 1955 or early 1956. The singer is Sanford Clark, then 20 years of age, who was back in Phoenix, the city he grew up in, on a short leave from the military. The guitarist is Al Casey, a friend of Clark, then 19 years of age. The record producer, songwriter and sound engineer is Lee Hazelwood, a 27 year old Arizona D.J. It is evident from the sound of “The Fool” that Hazelwood had been listening to the records produced by Sam Phillips at Sun Records in Memphis, and by Bill Putnam for Chess and Checker Records in Chicago.

The record was released on Hazelwood’s tiny MCI label and sent to selected radio stations out west. It was largely overlooked and did not sell. However, Randy Wood, the founder, producer and president of Dot records, heard the record somewhere in early 1956, liked it, and entered into a contract with Hazelwood to release it on Dot. By this time Clark had returned to active duty in the military, stationed in San Diego.

Dot released the record in June of 1956. Randy Wood had a hitmaking track record and good connections with radio people across the USA. D.J.s started to play the record. Clark had no clue that the tune had become a hit until he heard himself singing on a San Diego radio station. “The Fool” entered the Billboard top 40 chart on August 11, 1956, spent 15 weeks on the chart, and peaked at position #7.

After “The Fool”, Hazelwood was not able to replicate for Clark the success he had with this record, but he became a very successful hitmaking songwriter and producer for others, including Duane Eddy, Frank Sinatra, Nancy Sinatra and many others. Al Casey became a first call session guitarist in Los Angeles.

This record influenced future Rock & Roll vocalists like Ricky Nelson and Johnny Rivers. Al Casey’s repeating guitar riff heard on this recording was taken from Howlin’ Wolf’s riff on “Smokestack Lightning”. Casey smoothed it out, laid it back, and made it fit into the boogie shuffle rhythm heard on the record. It is easy to hear that Hazelwood has the echo and reverb turned all the way up throughout the recording. The echo percussion comes from Hazelwood beating on a hard shell guitar case on 2 and 4 with a drumstick.
Rock on!

The Fool – Sanford Clark – Dot 15481 (1956)

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