78: “The Moondog” b/w “Poon-Tang!” by The Treniers. Okeh 6937. Recorded in 1953.

Image courtesy of The Rodgers & Hammerstein Archive of Recorded Sound.

Image courtesy of The Rodgers & Hammerstein Archive of Recorded Sound.

Well. First of all, according to the lyrics, there is nothing dirty going on here AT ALL. See, Poon is a hug. Tang is a kiss. Put ‘em together and what do ya get? Poon-Tang!

Folks have been singing about poon-tang since the beginning of recorded sound. Nothing dirty about it.

Also: it’s a hoot. Drummer Henry Green brings a solid swing to the steady rock and roll backbeat, the vocal interplay is on point, and the saxophone squeals like it’s having the orgasm of its life. Even if the salacious novelty wasn’t there, the song would stand solidly on its own two feet. 

On the other side we have “The Moondog.” Rock and Roll’s first champion, disc jockey Alan Freed, called himself “King of the Moondogs” and one wonders whether he picked that name because of this song or if the Treniers were paying tribute to him. Accounts go both ways, so it’s hard to say for sure.

Born in Mobile, Alabama in 1919, identical twins Claude and Cliff Trenier dropped out of Alabama State at the age of 20 to pursue success in Montgomery’s happening musical scene. There they met up with saxophonist Don Hill and pianist Gene Gilbeaux, and first The Trenier Twins and the Gene Gilbeaux Orchestra, then The Trenier Twins, and finally The Treniers were born. By then, some cousins and younger brother Milt had joined the group on backing vocals, making it even more of a family matter.

By taking what they had learned from such great Jump Blues showmen as Louis Jordan and Amos Milburn, The Treniers perfected a live act that swung hard and popped visually, with the whole band moving in sync to the tune, only to have the twins break out in crazy dance moves that sometimes looked like an early version of breakdancing; other times it just looked like a bunch of dudes letting the music take control, in the best possible way.

By 1954, it was clear that they were a good match for television, so they debuted on “The Colgate Comedy Hour with Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis.”  The result, as you can see, was fantastic. And who knew Jerry Lewis could play drums? And well, at that? Actually, that was common knowledge back in the ’50’s. To this child of the 70’s, though, it’s kind of revelatory to see a typecast goofball play an instrument so well. Because the show was live, everyone had to ad lib for the last three minutes in order to fill time. Supposedly, Jerry’s faint at the end was genuine.

Here’s a great version of “Rockin is our Bizness,” from the 1956 film “The Girl Can’t Help It.”

Between Elvis joining the Army and Little Richard getting religion, Rock and Roll was in dire straits by the end of the fifties. The Treniers adapted by taking their act to Vegas, where they kept on playing for decades. Being not just Rhythm and Blues and not just Rock and Roll, but rather a mix of both, clearly helped them in the long run.

Cliff and Claude have passed on, but apparently Milt Trenier is not only alive but still performs regularly in Chicago. Whether Milt is still on the hunt for hugs and kisses is nobody’s business but his own.

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