“Hang on, Snoopy, Snoopy hang on.” At least that’s what I thought the band was singing until I bought that seminal 1965 single by The McCoys, and realized that Snoopy was actually Sloopy. But who the heck was THAT? Obviously not a beagle who sat on a doghouse wearing a WWI flying helmet.
Legend has it that Dorothy Sloop, nicknamed Sloopy, was the song’s inspiration. A native of Steubenville, Ohio, she was a jazz musician who played piano with numerous female bands from the 1930s through the ’50s. In 1957, she and jazz vocalist and clarinetist Yvonne “Dixie” Fasnacht released an album called “Dixie and Sloopy,” and performed regularly at Dixie’s Bar of Music on Bourbon Street in New Orleans.
It’s rumored that the now-deceased composers of “Hang on Sloopy,” Wes Farrell and Bert Russell Berns, may have frequented Dixie’s club, and took notice of the woman with the funny nickname. But details regarding the song’s title are a mystery to this day. It seems that no one really knows if the two men ever actually met the pianist.
“Hang on Sloopy,” which hit the #1 spot on the Billboard charts on this date in 1965, was originally recorded by The Vibrations in 1964. But it was the version released by the Ohio-based Rick and the Raiders — renamed The McCoys to avoid confusion with Paul Revere and The Raiders — that became one of rock’s most enduring singles. The song features lead vocals by 16-year-old band leader Rick Zehringer, thereafter known as Rick Derringer, who would go on to a long career as a singer, guitarist and producer.
“Hang on Sloopy” quickly became a jukebox favorite at the CharBar near the main entrance to Ohio State University in Columbus. Soon, the OSU marching band began playing the song during football games. The crowd loved it, and it quickly became the band’s anthem. To this day, it’s played before the start of the fourth quarter of every O.S.U. Buckeye game.
It’s since become the official song of Major League Baseball’s Cleveland Indians, AND the official rock song of the State of Ohio. (All states have songs – usually ballads, waltzes, and folk songs – but Ohio is the only one to have an official rock song (“Louie Louie” is the unofficial rock song of Washington state!)
Sloopy is also played during the Cleveland Cavaliers’ home-court basketball games, and at the end of the 3rd quarter of most Cleveland Browns home football games.
So, what became of Dorothy Sloop? She didn’t learn of her connection to the hit song until years later when she was working for a children’s TV program in Lubbock, Texas. Although her daughter Jane Heflick said Dorothy was very pleased to serve as the song’s inspiration, she never sought royalties and only briefly mentioned the record in her personal memoir. Following her jazz career, she earned a master’s degree and taught special education for three decades in St. Petersburg, FL, passing on at age 84.
Now, what’s the origin of The Beach Boys’ “Sloop John B”? That’s a topic for another discussion.
Here are The McCoys with their only #1 hit. Feel free to sing along.
© Dana Spiardi, Sept 2, 2014