Who, or what, was the Phantom? From the sound of his music, one would think a pure motorbilly madman, with jug of corn whiskey in his hand, a big iron on his hip, and a steady supply of methedrine stashed somewhere. Actually, he was a country singer from Mobile, Alabama, named Jerry Lott. So how did his cult 1960 single “Love Me“come about?
“I’d worked three months on the other side of the record”, he told Derek Glenister. “Somebody said, ‘what you gonna put on the flip-side’ I hadn’t even thought about it. Someone suggested I wrote something like Elvis ’cause he was just a little on the wane and everybody was beginning to turn against rock ‘n’ roll. They said, ‘See if you spark rock ‘n’ roll a little bit’… so that’s when I put all the fire and fury I could utter into it. I was satisfied with the first take, but everybody said, ‘let’s try it one more time’. I didn’t yell on the first take, but I yelled on the second, and blew one of the controls off the wall.”
“I’m telling ya”, Lott continued, “it was wild. The drummer lost one of his sticks, the piano player screamed and knocked his stool over, the guitar player’s glasses were hanging sideways over his eyes.”
That, of course, is how classic Rock and Roll songs are made. This was actually 1958. It took two years for the song to be released, by which time Rock and Roll was in a fallow period and Rockabilly had pretty much faded from the scene. Not that such a piece of insanity as “Love Me” could have topped the charts when Gene Vincent and Bill Haley were still superstars anyway. Lott decided to take his tapes to Hollywood and shop them around to . . . Pat Boone. Yeah, the guy whose name has become shorthand for the lily-white, watered-down untergang of Rock and Roll’s first wave was instrumental in releasing this single, and the creation of Lott’s alter ego as The Phantom.
“Love Me” was later covered in the 1980’s by Rockabilly enthusiasts The Cramps and The Blue Cats.
(Hat tip to the Tuesday Night Rock and Roll Dance Party for playing this one on the Lux Interior/Cramps tribute episode a few months ago.)