Onus Records’ alt-country subsidiary Ca-Ho-Nus has thus far issued recordings by Carol Pacey and the Honey Shakers, The Extended Play and Mills End but as of yet has not ventured into vintage country sounds. This week we reach far back into the 60s, when boot scooting was a way off notion in the future and country music was shedding its fiddles but found itself flush with strings nonetheless.
This set the stage for a Phoenician named Cole Summers and his composition about love lost over cried tonic drinks called “Scranton.”
When Glen Campbell rocketed to the top of the charts in the late 60s with a series of Jimmy Webb compositions about American cities, from “By the Time I Get to Phoenix” to “Wichita Lineman” to “Galveston,” it made sense for country singers looking to crossover to the pop field to find a city to wallow about in song. Cole Summers put pen to paper and in twenty minutes wrote about Scranton, Pennsylvania and the strange hold it had over his then-girlfriend. Because of the opening line “When night closes in on this palace of gin,” the business savvy Summers was able to coordinate a promotional marketing tie-in with Gordon’s Gin. Such cross-promotion is commonplace with rappers today but it was unheard of in 1969, unless you want to count astronauts and Tang. Suddenly, Summers was contracted to drink Gordon’s at every personal appearance. It was an obligation the singer was only to happy to comply with.
“Scranton” gave Summers his first pop hit–it went to number 52 in Cashbox’s country charts, but only 92 in the stingy Billboard listings. The Arizonan-born singer, prone to exaggeration, still claims to this day it went to number one, but we only have evidence of it being listed as such on singles charts handed out at appliance stores that sold 45s. No matter. Summers, performing in Tucson one fateful night, celebrated like it was number one by filling the bathtub in his Marin County hotel suite with slices of rum cake ordered up from room service. This on top of the congratulatory case of Gordon’s Gin his tour sponsors had sent him.
“I stacked the caketure in the tub two feet high and rolled around in it naked just to see how it felt,” confessed Summers in his unpublished 2003 autobiography Let Me Loose, Mama: The Cole Summers Story.
“The massive room service bill for the rum cake was easily dwarfed by the amount of legal fees and courtroom fines I had to pay for driving around under the influence of alcohol and confectioneries I incurred later that night. I hadn’t figured that the rum would purse through my pores and put me over the legal limit. Made me kind of loopy. It’s a mistake a lot of novices make.”
The drunk and disorderly charges soon wrecked what career momentum Summers had but he continued to have several middling chart records, including “What Are You In For” (later covered by Maricopa Beef Exporters) and “I’m Running Out of Bended Knees.”