Bruce Channel was born Bruce McMeans in 1940 in Jacksonville, Texas. Music was a hobby in the McMeans house and Bruce soon learned to play the harmonica and eventually, the guitar. His family moved around a lot, following the work, so to speak. They stopped in Dallas for a while and then moved to Grapevine, in East Texas. When he got a new guitar, his father suggested that they go try out for the Louisiana Hayride, a radio show that originated in Shreveport, Louisiana. The people at the Hayride liked Bruce and he stayed there, singing with them for six months.
It was at the Hayride that he met Delbert McClinton who could really play the harmonica. McClinton went on to become a very big name in country music, even though he only had two Top 40 hits. Bruce had collaborated with a woman named Margaret Cobb to write the song “Hey! Baby” and approached a record producer, Bill Smith, in Fort Worth, Texas about recording it. Smith was known as Major Smith and he didn’t like the guitar into that Bruce had recorded on the demo and wondered if it wouldn’t be better with a harmonica. So, they brought in Delbert McClinton to do the harmonica work on the song and, as you know if you listen to the song, that harmonica makes all the difference.
At some point before the record was pressed Bruce changed his professional name to Bruce Channel (pronounced “she-nell” like the perfume, not channel, like the television channel.) Major Bill took the record to a disc jockey convention in Nashville and found a guy who really liked it. Thinking, they might have a hit, they pressed and distributed the record on the LeCam label. However, LeCam was not equipped to handle a big nationwide hit, so distribution went from there to Mercury Records, under the Smash label.
The song was released and hit the top of the charts. It entered the pop chart on February 2, 1962 and spent two weeks at number one. It also reached number two in England. Bruce Channel had a few Hot 100 records over the next couple years, but he never hit the Top 40 again, let alone number one. He is a true “one-hit wonder.”
A story that is told is about a time shortly after “Hey! Baby” became a hit when Bruce was in England on tour, promoting the record. He found himself in a dressing room with four lads who were scheduled to go on right after him. These guys were John, Paul, George and Ringo and the Beatles were not the household name they would later become. John listened to the harmonica intro to “Hey! Baby” and really liked it. He would use that harmonica sound in the intro to “Love Me Do.” So, “Love Me Do” has a harmonica solo that was inspired by “Hey! Baby.” Some people call this story a myth, but I’m inclined to believe it.