1961 Kokomo – Asia Minor
Jimmy Wisner grew up in Philadelphia and embarked on a career as a musician playing piano in a jazz group. He started in the late fifties, The Jimmy Wisner Trio. In addition to playing backup music for other musicians who travelled through the area, he also recorded a few jazz albums.
In 1961, he decided to record a rock and roll version of Grieg’s Piano Concerto in A Minor. When asked what key to play in, he replied “Asia Minor,” which led to the title of the recording. He had purchased a piano for $50 and put shellac on the hammers to give it a distinctive sound.
Ten different record labels turned down the song, so Jimmy finally had to release the record on his own small record label, Future Records. Fearing the recording might alienate his jazz fans, Jimmy released the record using the fake group name of Kokomo.
The instrumental did fairly well in the US, where it reached #8 on the Hot 100 in 1961.
He unfortunately ran into a problem in the UK. The BBC, which controlled the radio broadcasts, banned any record that seemed to parody classical music. Denied any airplay, his single only reached #35 on the UK chart.
Further efforts to fuse classical and modern music failed to produce any further hits, so Jimmy turned to producing and composing music for films and television. He also wrote Don’t Throw Your Love Away, a single that took the Searchers to #1 in the UK and #16 in the US.
He later produced and/or arranged music for a varied list of artists that included Tony Bennett, the Cowsills, Tommy James, Randy & the Rainbows, Al Kooper, Neil Sedaka, Spanky and Our Gang, and many, many more.
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