Baby Sittin' Boogie

Before fate stepped in, as it always does, Reese Francis Clifford III had every intention of being a singer in the mold of Elvis Presley, the obvious rock and roll role model of the 1950s. The inevitable twist of fortune determined whether he had a chance at being in a league with, say, hitmakers like Eddie Cochran or Bobby Vee, or would wind up in a less advantageous position. His second label, Columbia, tried anything they thought might sell records, a guessing game when it came to rock singer types the company heads had little feel for, though if their artists happened to hit it big despite this drawback, well, all the better. As a result, "Baby Sittin' Boogie," with its oh-so-cute or (depending on your perspective) unbearably obnoxious baby sounds, became be the only song Buzz Clifford would be known for among the general population.

Prior to changing his professional name, the Berwyn, Illinois native lived with his family in the New Jersey cities of Montclair and Mountain Lakes, a short distance west of New York City. A few years later the guitar-playing teenager won an amateur singing contest at the Morris County Fair, just up the road from Montclair in Parsippany. In 1957, the 15-year-old recorded his first single for Bow, a small New York label; "14 Karet Fool" ("karat" misspelled on the label), a light, uptempo teen rocker, was followed a few months later by a hotter rockabilly tune, "Pididdle (The Car With One Light)." Two years passed before he was picked up by Columbia Records, his first effort for the major label a teen ballad, "Hello, Mr. Moonlight," backed by the haunting, partly-spoken south seas romance "Blue Lagoon." Both sides of the summer '60 single featured Columbia session regulars The Ray Conniff Singers. With only brief airplay in New Jersey, the record failed to reach the national charts.

A precarious position: if the next single didn't catch on, Buzz would likely be headed back through the Holland Tunnel with little more than a few bucks and a bad taste in his mouth. "Driftwood" (a product of hot songwriters Winfield Scott and Lincoln Chase) offered perhaps his best vocal performance while further pigeonholing him as a teen ballad singer. It was a non-issue, though, as the label chose to promote the other side, "Baby Sittin' Boogie," a novelty tune by Johnny Parker with random 'goo-goo...da-da' recordings of Parker's baby boy ('...probably the hippest of the diaper set!') sprinkled throughout. Stations began spinning the hot request track (listeners love the silly stuff!) over the 1960 holiday season; by February '61 it was blowing up from coast to coast and became a national top ten hit in March.

Clifford embarked on an extensive road tour and appeared on many network TV series performing what eventually became a "cute baby" burden. Columbia started promoting the gimmicky follow-up, "Three Little Fishes," at about the same time. Saxie Dowell's "Three Little Fishies (Itty Bitty Poo)" had been a hit in 1939 for Kay Kyser's orchestra with vocalists Ginny Simms, Harry Babbitt, Sully Mason and Ish Kabibble; Clifford's rock and roll remake (minus the "i" in "fishies") featured backing vocals by N.Y.'s Shep and the Limelites (an R&B group on the verge of scoring their own major hit, "Daddy's Home"). "Fishes" stalled almost immediately, but James "Shep" Sheppard and his group continued backing Clifford on subsequent recordings for Columbia.

The next single, "I'll Never Forget," featured a new trick: Buzz overdubbed the lead and all the backing doo wop-style vocals. His singing during this time became more mature and confident, though there were no more hits. After "Moving Day" in the fall of '61 and "Magic Circle" in early '62, Columbia released him from his contract. He signed with Roulette and, with encouragement from label boss George Goldner, recorded his own material and exercised more control over studio production. "No One Loves Me Like You Do" came across with a cool vibe that should have received more attention.

Buzz toured the U.K. in the fall of '62, helping generate a fan base impressed by his post-"Baby" material. His only other Roulette disc, "My Girl," preceded a stint in the National Guard. Resuming his music career after three years, he made one single for RCA Victor and leaned in a folk-rock direction for another on Capitol, then focused more on his songwriting, supplying Ohio band The Music Explosion with a song for their fifth single, "What You Want (Baby I Want You)" in early 1968. Then in the fall of 1969, New Yorker Keith Barbour hit the top 40 with Clifford's lyrical commentary on old age and wartime loss, "Echo Park." Two singles for Dot in 1970 marked Buzz Clifford's end, for a time, as a recording artist. He later performed in Los Angeles-area clubs with David Marks of the early Beach Boys and more recently rocked the blues in the new millennium with the album Norse Horse, recorded in Denmark, his babysitting days by that time a distant memory.

- Michael Jack Kirby


Baby Sittin' Boogie