At 78, Los Angeles musician Eddie Daniels is a rare, beauteous creature. Whether sporting a crimson silk ensemble topped with a matching turban and dangling golden earbobs, or an impeccably tailored pinstripe suit with his high school nickname “Ghetto Baby” stitched on his perfectly creased trouser cuff, the marvelously dapper Daniels is utterly unforgettable. His tragically underreported safari through Los Angeles’ 1950s rock & roll jungle produced a small but critical trove of wild records, including several studio collaborations with like-minded rocker Eddie Cochran.
While Daniels’ incendiary vocals and natural songwriting mastery drastically enhanced Hollywood’s early rock & roll scene, a string of bad record deals and the arrival of the British Invasion handed him a prescription for obscurity that he’s still striving to overcome.
A very funny, eccentric cat who regularly plays to huge audiences in the United Kingdom but only rarely performs locally, Ghetto Baby got his start in 1954 with South Central doo-wop trailblazers Vernon Green & the Medallions. That’s his atmospheric piano driving their classic sides “Buick ’59” and “The Letter.”
“I was with them for three years,” Daniels says. “Then in 1957 I signed with Ebb Records, did four songs, but I left because they weren’t paying any royalties. Next I signed with Art Laboe for two more songs on his Starla label, but they never paid no royalties, either.”
Daniels’ Ebb and Starla sides, recording at the fabled Gold Star Studios with guitar giant Jerry Cole and traps shaman Earl Palmer, were frantic, rockabilly-style ravers that chimed with an emphatic soul and drive few others have matched since.
Eddie Cochran’s affinity for the Ghetto Baby sound was as natural as it was inevitable. Unfortunately, both young musicians had made the same error — signing contracts with producer-manager Jerry Capehart, who routinely took a songwriting credit on his clients’ singles, including Cochran’s “Summertime Blues” and Glen Campbell’s first chart hit, “Turn Around, Look at Me,” with dubious levels of input.
“I signed with Jerry Capehart as songwriter at American Music — he was a cheating dog, man,” Daniels says. “That’s when Eddie Cochran recorded ‘Little Lou.’ And then Jewel [Akens] and I got together, went into the studio [and] did ‘Opportunity,’ which Eddie played guitar on. Since we were billed as Jewel & Eddie, everybody thought it was Cochran singin’, not me!”
On “Opportunity,” Cochran supplies a luminous, chugging acoustic rhythm guitar, loaded with the depth and soul that set the Oklahoman apart from most of his colleagues. And while many of Cochran’s solo releases were thunderingly corny (“Twenty-Flight Rock,” anyone?), with the Daniels-penned “Little Lou,” a Chuck Berry–esque tale of thwarted high school romance (co-credited, as usual, to Capehart), the singer achieved an elegant mixture of bittersweet ardor and starry-eyed lust that’s marvelously effective.
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Daniels remained active for years as a writer and sideman, playing on Bobby Day’s “Rockin’ Robin” and Bob & Earl’s “Harlem Shuffle,” among many others. His bread-and-butter gig today is leading R&B/doo-wop tribute unit The Amazing Platters, but the singer remains as restless and driven as he was 60 years ago, always hunting for gigs and working to get Capehart’s name off “Little Lou.”
Through it all, Daniels, whose performances today are nothing short of spectacular, has never blown his formidable cool. “I got dogged,” he says of his past misfortunes. “But that’s how you learn!”