Bouncing from Fizzle to Fizz
“Red Rubber Ball,” the 1960s rock hit, and Speedy Alka-Seltzer, the animated TV commercial character, have something in common: A Ridgefield man who lived in a famous playwright’s house.
Tom Dawes co-founded The Cyrkle, which sang the 1966 hit, and later wrote Speedy’s famous song: “Plop, Plop, Fizz, Fizz, Oh What A Relief It Is.”
Dawes, who lived more than 20 years in what was once the home of Nobel Prize-winning playwright Eugene O’Neill, was a talented musician and composer, much of whose career was spent writing advertising jingles, but who also wrote many rock tunes and a serious music, and who illustrated several books with his photography.
Born in 1943 Thomas Webster Dawes grew up in Albany, N.Y., learned guitar and bass, and “stole the show” at a high school talent show with his rendition of The Kingston Trio’s “Scotch and Soda,” said his sister, Robin Ducey.
The young Dawes was not only an accomplished bassist, but also an All-American diver, helping him earn a full scholarship to Lafayette College, Easton, Pa.
There he met Don Dannemann. In 1962, the two founded a four-member band called The Rhondells that performed in the Pennsylvania-New Jersey area.
After graduating in 1965, the band signed for a grueling gig at the Alibi Lounge in Atlantic City, N.J., performing 90 straight days from 9 p.m. to 4 a.m. with two matinees Saturdays and Sundays. There they were spotted by Nat Weiss, an entertainment lawyer and business partner of Brian Epstein, manager of The Beatles. A short time later, Weiss invited them to New York to record some demos.
In the meantime, while Dannemann was finishing up some service in the Coast Guard, Dawes signed on as bass guitarist with the touring band for Simon and Garfunkel, whose new hit, “Sounds of Silence,” was topping the charts. Paul Simon struck up a friendship with Dawes and offered his band three new songs, including one he had co-written, called “Red Rubber Ball.”
When Epstein, Weiss’s partner, heard The Rhondells sing “Red Rubber Ball,” he arranged a deal for the band with Columbia Records.
At Epstein’s urging, the group changed its name to The Cyrkle — allegedly John Lennon suggested the spelling — and “Red Rubber Ball,” as a single and with an album of the same name, was released early in the summer of 1966. The song wound up #2 on the Billboard top 100 list (at the same time The Beatles “Paperback Writer” was #1), and sold more than one million copies.
Adding to their sudden success, The Cyrkle was invited to open for The Beatles on the British band’s final American tour in August that year. (Band members wound up playing poker several evenings with the Fab Four.)
Later in 1966, another tune, “Turn Down Day,” reached #16 on the Top 100, but it was to be The Cyrkle’s last hit. The band released a second album, “Neon,” which critics have said contained better songs, mostly written by band members like Dawes, but it did not sell well. The Cyrkle made a soundtrack for the B movie, “The Minx,” and produced a few more singles in 1967.
“I got sort of frustrated with the whole situation,” Dawes said in a later interview. “We kept on coming out with what I thought were good singles, and very little was happening.”
Brian Epstein’s death in August 1967 may have been the final straw; The Cyrkle disbanded soon after.
Fortunately for Dawes, Nat Weiss got him a job producing the jingle for the new “Uncola” advertising campaign for 7-Up, the soft drink. The band spent only a few hours recorded the music.
“Somebody handed me a check for $10,000,” Dawes recalled. “I said, ‘Hey, maybe I want to stay in New York and do this.’”
That was the beginning of a 20-year career of writing jingles for major ad campaigns, including L’eggs hosiery (“Our L’eggs Fit Your Legs”) and American Airlines (“We’re American Airlines, Doing What We Do Best”).
After he married fellow jingle writer Virginia Redington in 1978, the two collaborated on such campaigns as McDonald’s “You, You’re the One,” Coca-Cola’s “Coke Is It,” and American Airlines’ “Something Special in the Air.” Ginny Redington was also a songwriter whose work has been recorded by Sarah Vaughan and Gladys Knight.
(Encouraged by Dawes, Dannemann also went into the jingle-writing business; he did the tunes for Continental Airlines’ “We’re Going to Move Our Tails for You” and for Swanson TV dinners, among many others.)
Dawes retired from the ad business in 1990 and focused on photography and serious songwriting. He did the photography for several of his wife’s books, such as “Victorian Jewelry: Unexplored Treasures” (1991) and “Georgian Jewellery 1714-1830” (2007).
The couple teamed up to write “Talk of the Town,” a well-reviewed 2004 musical about members of the Algonquin Round Table that ran off-Broadway for two years and then became a cabaret show at the Algonquin Hotel’s Oak Room, where the Round Table group lunched. The two spent years researching Round Table members including Dorothy Parker, Robert Benchley, Alexander Woollcott, Harpo Marx, Heywood Broun, George S. Kaufman, and Edna Ferber. “We also interviewed family members when possible,” Dawes said. “We read at least 100 books to find out everything we could that related to the Round Table. It took us time to weave together the characters, the humor, and the story line.”
In the early 1980s, Tom and Ginny Dawes bought Brook Farm, the former O’Neill homestead at 845 North Salem Road, living there for more than 20 years. In 2005 they sold the place for $3 million and moved to nearby Weston where Tom Dawes died of a stroke two years later.
Long after they disbanded, The Cyrkle — whose other two members became a surgeon and a lawyer — got together twice in the Lafayette area; in 1986, at a poverty benefit and in 1995, at their 30th college reunion.
When Dawes died, The Cyrkle’s most famous hit was frequently played on the radio in his honor.
“Usually when I hear ‘Red Rubber Ball,’ I’m happy,” Don Dannemann said at the time. “This time it was sad. I thought: Oh, my god, I can never sing it with Tom again.”
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