I was playing this last week, as you do when the season comes around, and out of curiosity happened to look it and Bobby Hebb up. I'd never thought of it as any more than a sweet soul/pop song, the kind of thing that crops up on 60s summer compilations (that's where I have it): I had no idea it had such dark origins or was rooted in any kind of tragedy.
Turns out that like another lovely 60s pop song, The Beach Boys 'Warmth Of The Sun', it was written in the dark aftermath of President JFK's assassination on November 22nd 1963; worse still for Bobby Hebb personally, in the shadow of his brother's death in a knife fight outside a Nashville nightclub, just a day later on November 23rd.
Hal Hebb had been something of a mentor to his kid brother, and a singer himself with doo-woppers The Marigolds, who had a Top Ten U.S R&B hit in 1955 with “Rollin’ Stone” (Hal sings tenor).
Bobby told the story of how he came to write 'Sunny' in a TV interview with US TV host Joe Viglione in August 1995...
“I find it more psychological the way I was thinking…it’s your disposition…you need a lift, an up, that’s all. Sometimes everyone needs an up. So “Sunny”, to me, is that disposition, you need a Sunny disposition to get away from whatever, just as I said before, “amuse me”, “make me forget what I just saw man”, “I don’t wanna know, I know I have to know, but I don’t know how to deal with it right now. I will deal with it, I’m not running away from this. I just need a break.
So this was the idea behind “Sunny” – (it) was (to) give me a brighter idea so that my emotions will not be as disturbed as they are. I need a calmer feeling so that I can balance myself and adjust and then continue forward, onward.”
Bobby died in 2010 - on August 3rd. So it turns out I was playing his song and reading about all this just a few days after the anniversary of his passing...
Bobby Hebb - 'Sunny' (1966)