Remembering Miss Toni©2005JCMarion


Miss Toni Fisher (as she was always billed) came on the musical scene in late 1959. She was twenty eight at the time and had been on the nightclub scene as a vocalist for more than five years. In Los Angeles she began a collaborative partnership with music performer, composer, arranger, and producer Wayne Shanklin. He had written pop music top sellers "Jezebel" recorded by Frankie Laine, and would also be the composer of "Chanson d'Amour" for Art and Dotty Todd, and "Primrose Lane" for Jerry Wallace. In 1959 Shanklin had started his own record company in Los Angeles called Signet Records. He had a song that he thought would be a perfect musical vehicle for Toni Fisher called "The Big Hurt". He envisioned it as a loping mid tempo song with interesting ascending chord changes, which would distinguish itself from the ordinary songs of lost love.

As Shanklin began prepping for the recording session, there was talk about the use of a new technique in the recording studio. This was a process called flange phasing which duplicates the audio signal and then delays one of the two. As they are played together this phase shift creates a swirling, whooshing sound. This process gave the recording of "The Big Hurt" a unique and identifiable sound. It was released on Signet # 275 with "Memphis Belle" the forgettable flip side. In mid December of 1959 it started to pick up steam as a seller and by the first two months of 1960 it was a certifiable national hit record. It got as high as the number three seller in the country and was a mainstay on the top sellers charts for almost four months. The use of the phasing technique was a main reason that the song was such a memorable one to hear.

In the Seattle area early in 1960, a young would be musician listened to "The Big Hurt" and was mesmerized by the recording technique used on the record. Eighteen year old Johnny "Jimi" Hendrix knew that he was steered in the musical direction he was looking for. This was part of the sound that he was searching for, one that he would unlock in just a few short years and stand the musical world on its collective ear. And - "The Big Hurt" by Miss Toni Fisher kept on selling. In the spring of the year there was a follow up recording for the Signet label. The songs were "Blue Blue Blue" and "How Deep Is The Ocean" on # 276. Unfortunately for Shanklin and Toni Fisher, the record was not a success. There was reportedly one last effort on Signet called "Springtime of Love" and then Fisher went to Columbia Records.

Columbia released "If I Loved You" and "Love Big" on # 42066 which did not sell, and Fisher then had one record for Nashville's Smash Records label. This was "Laugh Or Cry" and "Hold Me" on # 1797 which also did not sell. By mid 1962 Fisher seemed to be running out of recording options where the byword was "what have you done for me lately?". Miss Toni Fisher was then given an opportunity to do a studio session for Big Top Records. The label founded by Jean and Julian Aberbach was well versed in the pop music world of the early sixties and had among others Sammy Turner, Del Shannon, and Johnny & The Hurricanes on its roster of artists.

In 1962 Big Top released a song by Miss Toni Fisher that would capture a moment in time that would stand in historical context. The song was "West Of The Wall" and it told of lovers separated by the infamous Berlin Wall that was erected by Communist East Germany to keep its citizens from escaping to the West. It stood as a singular indictment of East Germany's government for a quarter of a century, and the song again written by Wayne Shanklin, captures the event in all its grim glory. The performance by Miss Toni is perfect, conveying hope for the future while expressing sorrow for the present. It was a top twenty five seller and one of the most telling pop culture artifacts of that time in our (and the world's) history. "West Of The Wall" was released by Big Top on # 3097 with "What Did I Do" on the flip side. The following recording for Fisher for Big Top was the interesting "Music From The House Next Door" and "Quickly My Love" on # 3124. This time the record was not a big seller and Miss Toni Fisher drifted out of the recording limelight.

She surfaced again in 1967 for Capitol Records with "A Million Heartbeats From Now" and "Train Of Love" on # 5901. She spent the rest of the sixties doing club dates always remembered for "The Big Hurt". Over the years it has been re-released by Collectibles (with "The Wayward Wind" on the other side) and by Era (with "Ain't Gonna Kiss Ya). Miss Toni's long time collaborator Wayne Shanklin passed away in 1970 a few days after his 54th birthday. Miss Toni Fisher passed away in 1999, having experienced the destruction of the Berlin Wall which she sang about with so much hope in 1962.

For a wonderful and very complete perspective of the recording career of Miss Toni Fisher, there is a CD collection of her work available. It is called (naturally) "The Big Hurt" and is on the Harkit Entertainment label. This label is from Great Britain and has a catalog of interesting and rare musical items from the nineteen sixties. "The Big Hurt" was produced with the help of Michael Shanklin, the son of Wayne who was so much a part of the career of Miss Toni. The CD contains 26 tracks of all the known recordings done by Fisher and is a worthy musical memory of one who made a difference during the time known as Forty Miles of Bad Road.

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