1959 Carl Mann – Mona Lisa
Carl Mann was born in Tennessee in 1942. He became a fan of Country music and sang in talent shows before he was a teenager. He learned to play the piano and guitar and began singing on local radio shows. He formed a band with some of his friends, and began to pay more attention to R&B and Rockabilly music.
The Jaxon record label signed Carl to a contract and he recorded his first single, Gonna Rock ‘N’ Roll Tonight in 1957.
Carl recorded several more songs for Jaxon Records, but none of them were released. Carl found a manager in Bill “Fluke” Holland, the drummer for Carl Perkins. Bill arranged for him to sign a three-year contract with Sun Records in 1959.
Nat King Cole recorded Mona Lisa in 1950, a song arranged by Nelson Riddle for the soundtrack of the film Captain Carey, U.S.A. His version of the record topped the charts and went on to win an Oscar for best original song and they later added the recording to The Grammy Hall of Fame.
One of the demos Carl recorded at Sun Records was a rockabilly version of Nat King Cole’s 1950 hit, Mona Lisa. Sam Phillips wasn’t initially interested in releasing the recording as a single. Conway Twitty heard the demo and recorded and released his own version of Carl’s recording on an album and an EP (but not as a single).
When Conway’s version began to get airplay, Sun Records quickly released Carl’s version. Carl’s single peaked at #25 on the Hot 100 in 1959.
His single sold over a million copies. Singer/guitarist Brian Setzer (frontman of the Stray Cats) recorded a cover of Carl’s version of the song on an 2005 album that was a tribute to Rockabilly hits from Sun Records.
Carl only charted on the Hot 100 one more time. Nat King Cole reached #3 with his recording of Pretend in 1953. Saxophone player Tab Smith recorded an instrumental version of the song that reached #89 in 1957. Carl’s rockabilly single peaked at #57 on the Hot 100 in 1959.
Carl could not find an audience in the sixties. He was drafted into the military in 1964. He recorded a new single when he got out, but when that failed, he retired from music and went to work for his family’s logging business.
Carl came out of retirement and began recording Country music in 1974, but again could not find an audience. In 1977, Carl began recording and touring in Europe. He continued to tour in the US and Europe through the eighties before again returning to work in the family business.
A few more recordings and public appearances came in 2005, and Carl even appeared in Las Vegas a few times after that.
Carl died in the last month of 2020.
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