In 1959, the first Oldies but Goodies album featuring primarily Doo Wop groups from the early years is released. The Payola hearing’s (witch hunt) destroy R&B’s biggest booster, Alan Freed. In 1960 Motown releases it’s first singles, the Music for Black America has begun and in 1964 the British Invasion starts.
This is the 4th part in our 4-Part coverage of Doo Wop…
- The Tokens
- The Earls
- The Marcels
- The Regents/a>
- The Randy and The Rainbows
- The Jive Five
- The Halos
- The Velvets
Jay Siegel and all of the Tokens, PBS Special, The Lion Sleeps Tonight
Tonight I fell in Love
Tonight I Fell in Love/Warwick/61 The Tokens – Tonight I Fell In Love
The Lion Sleeps Tonight/RCA/61
The Tokens – The Lion Sleeps Tonight
The original version of the group was formed in 1955 at Brooklyn’s Lincoln High School. Featuring Neil Sedaka, Hank Medress, Eddie Rabkin, and Cynthia Zolitin, the group was known as the Linc-Tones.
After Rabkin was replaced by Jay Siegel in 1956, the Linc-Tones recorded their first single. Two years later, Sedaka and Zolitin left the band; Sedaka would go on to make a name for himself as a popular solo artist, and singer-songwriter, during the 1960’s and 1970’s.
By 1960, the classic group line-up was in place, containing Siegel, Medress and Margo brothers, Mitch and Phil. The group renamed itself The Tokens.
In early 1961, The Tokens released a single for Warwick Records entitled “Tonight I Fell In Love,” which went to #15 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and spurred them to an appearance on American Bandstand. This proved to be a prelude to the unleashing of their signature song for RCA, “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” (which had earlier been recorded by South African artist Solomon Linda, as well as U.S. folk group The Weavers). Jay Siegel’s characteristic lead vocals helped the song rise all the way to #1, where it remained for three weeks.
Members: Larry Chance – Lead Robert Del Din – First tenor Eddie Harder – Second Tenor Larry Palumbo – Baritone/died 1961 Johnny Ray – Bass
Larry Chance formed the group in the Bronx in the late fifties. After finding some work they decided to call themselves the Earls. They decided to record a song the Harptones did called “Life Is But A Dream“. They took two musicians and $45 and recorded the song. The song was sold on Rome records and shortly after they recorded “Lookin’ for my Baby“. In November of 62 they recorded “Remember Then” for Old Town records which would be their biggest hit. Their baritone, Larry Palumbo was killed in a parachute accident with the paratroopers in 61, when his chute did not open.
This Pittsburgh ensemble deserved a much better fate than being known primarily for a novelty-tinged cover of “Blue Moon.” Baritone vocalist Richard F. Knauss teamed with Fred Johnson, Gene J. Bricker, Ron Mundy, and lead vocalist Cornelius Harp, an integrated ensemble. They named themselves after Johnson’s hairstyle, the marcel. The group did a string of covers as demo tapes that were sent to Colpix. The label’s A&R director had them cut several oldies at RCA’s New York studios in 1961, one of them being “Blue Moon.” They used the bass intro arrangement from The Cadillacs’ “Zoom” and the results were a huge hit. It eventually topped both the pop and R&B charts, and also was an international smash. The group eventually appeared in the film “Twist Around the Clock” with Dion and Chubby Checker. They eventually recorded an 18-cut LP for Colpix. Alan Johnson and Walt Maddox later replaced Knauss And Gene Bricker, making them an all-Black unit. The group did score another Top Ten pop single with “Heartaches,” another cover of a pre-rock single. This peaked at number seven pop and number 19 R&B in 1961. They continued recording on Kyra, Queen Bee, St. Clair Rocky, and Monogram with varying lineups, but never again equaled their past success. ~ Ron Wynn, All-Music Guide.
Barbara Ann/61 Guy Villari (lead), Sal Cuomo (first tenor), Ernie Maresca (baritone), and Chuck Fassert (second tenor) formed in the Bronx, NY, in 1958 as the Montereys. Signing with Seville Records, they cut two Maresca songs that went unreleased, and soon Donnie Jacobucci replaced a disappointed Maresca. They recorded their demonstration records at the Regents Sound Studios, prompting a name change to the Regents, but their first release didn’t happen until 1961, three years after they started.”Barbara Ann” was recorded in 1958, but more than 50 recording companies said “No,” causing them to disband before 1959 rolled around. Jacobucci’s younger brother Eddie revived the Regents by accident. His group, the Consorts, lacked original songs for an audition so they cut a version of “Barbara Ann” from an old demo Eddie found around the house. When the owner of Cousins Records heard the song, he decided to put it out, not by the Consorts, but by the Regents. With Eddie replacing Guy, the original group reunited, and Cousins released “Barbara Ann” in March of 1961. The stuttering doo wop became a number one record in New York; the demand was overwhelming and Cousins leased it to Roulette/Gee for worldwide distribution and saw it soared to # 13 pop and number seven R&B. The song was recorded by the Beach Boys in 1965 and rose to # 4 on the Billboard Chart.
Randy and the Rainbows:
Randy & the Rainbows formed in the Queens section of New York City in 1962. The group included two pairs of siblings, brothers Sal Zero and Mike Zero and brothers Frank Safuto and Dominick “Randy” Safuto. Ken Arcipowski rounded out the quintet. The group evolved from the Dialtones, which in 1959 included the Safutos, Rosalie Calindo, and Eddie Scalla, the Safutos’ cousin. After recording during the early ’60s for Goldisc, the Safutos hooked up with Arcipowski and the Zeros in 1962 to become Randy & the Rainbows. Backed by the production team that also handled the Tokens, the group put out “Denise” in 1963.As Randy & the Rainbows, the group never again repeated the success they found with “Denise.” They changed names several times and continued to perform at different times as Madison Street, Triangle, and Them and Us. Over the years, the group has shared the stage with such artists as the Spinners, Little Anthony & the Imperials, Tony Orlando, Blood, Sweat & Tears, Freddie Roman, Jay Black, and Pat Cooper. They have also toured with the Beach Boys, Dionne Warwick, and the Four Seasons.
The Jive Five:
My true Story/61 Formed in Brooklyn, NY, the group originally consisted of Eugene Pitt (lead), Jerome Hanna (tenor), Richard Harris (tenor), Billy Prophet (baritone), and Norman Johnson (bass). The Jive Five’s first hit, “My True Story,” was their biggest, peaking at # 1 on the R&B charts and# 3 on the pop charts in the summer of 1961. None of the band’s subsequent singles — including the minor R&B hit, 1962’s “These Golden Rings” — were as popular, but the group managed to keep performing and recording. Under the direction of Eugene Pitt and Norman Johnson, the Jive Five refashioned themselves as a soul band in 1964, forming a new lineup with Casey Spencer (tenor), Webster Harris (tenor), and Beatrice Best (baritone). This new incarnation of the band signed to United Artists Records. The group only had one hit on UA, 1965’s “I’m a Happy Man.”
The group formed with members Al Cleveland, J.R. Bailey, Harold Johnson, and Arthur Crier (bass). Phil Johnson replaced J.R. Bailey shortly after the recording of “Nag”. (Bailey later joined The Cadillacs).
The group got its start as session musicians, backing up vocalists recorded by producer Morty Craft. Their first single, “L-O-V-E“, was released in 1960 under the name The Craftys. Their second release, “Nag“, became a hit, reaching #25 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1961.
Further singles were not successful, but the group continued as a studio ensemble, appearing on the Phil Spector-produced tunes “Pretty Little Angel Eyes” by Curtis Lee and “Every Breath I Take” by Gene Pitney, as well as Barry Mann’s Who Put the Bomp.
A group from Odessa Texas, who, with an 8th grade English teacher as lead, had a huge hit in 1961.
(Featuring Virgil Johnson)
- Virgil Johnson
- Will Solomon
- Mark Prince
- Clarence Rigsby (1947–1978, died in a car accident)
- Bob Thursby
Video: history of Virgil Johnson and the Velvets
Virgil Johnson was born in Cameron, the seat of Milan County in east central Texas. The family relocated to Lubbock, and Johnson graduated from the historically black Dunbar High School, an institution known for its outstanding academics and reputation within the community.
Later he would be principal of his alma mater and obtained a graduate degree from Texas Tech University in Lubbock. He was teaching eighth-grade English at Blackshear Junior High School in Odessa, the seat of Ector County, in 1959, when he recruited four of his students to form a singing group. They were Mark Prince (bass), Clarence Rigsby (tenor), Robert Thursby (first tenor), and William Solomon (baritone). The quintet performed at school dances, with then 24-year-old Johnson as lead tenor singer.
In 1960, the singers impressed the native Texan Roy Orbison, who heard them while he was visiting Odessa. Orbison recommended the five to Fred Foster, the owner of Monument Records in Nashville, Tennessee, who had produced Orbison’s hit “Only the Lonely“. Foster originated the name “The Velvets Featuring Virgil Johnson” to distinguish the five from an earlier group called simply “The Velvets”.
The group recorded “That Lucky Old Sun“/”Time And Again” and “Tonight (Could Be The Night)“/”Spring Fever“. Orbison wrote the two B-sides, but “Tonight” was the work of Johnson. Their accompaniment came from Boots Randolph and Floyd Cramer.
After the success of “Tonight“, the group’s next release was “Lana“/”Laugh“, both written by Orbison and Joe Melson. Johnson said that it had been a mistake to produce the two songs together. “Laugh” stalled at No. 90, but “Lana” (thereafter recorded by Orbison himself) was No. 1 in Japan. Until 1966, Monument continued to record nine singles by the Velvets.
Johnson said that the group had no further hits and did not tour the country because the music market was divided into white and black segments in the early 1960s. The Velvets were black but sounded white and were popular with whites but not their fellow African Americans, who preferred explicit R&B sounds.
West Texas had few blacks in residence at the time, and the quintet did not have overt black-sounding dialect. Johnson explained the dichotomy this way: “You got to realize, in the early sixties there were two music markets in the U.S. You had a black market, and you had a white market. We were extremely popular with whites, but we were never extremely popular with blacks. We were black and we didn’t sound like it. People didn’t know we were a black group. We couldn’t tour, and that really hurt us.”
Johnson resumed teaching. He retired from his job as principal of Lubbock’s historically black Dunbar High School (1985–1993) and as principal of Dunbar-Struggs Middle School (1968–1984). In 1993, Dunbar became Magnet Junior High School Science Academy. In Lubbock, Johnson was a deejay on Radio KSEL before he switched to KDAV after his retirement from education. Clarence Rigsby, meanwhile, died in a car crash in 1978.
In 1994, Johnson was inducted into the Buddy Holly West Texas Walk of Fame, renamed in 2006 as the West Texas Hall of Fame, located at Seventh Street and Avenue Q in Lubbock.
Over the weekend of March 15, 2008, Johnson and another KDAV deejay, Bud Andrews, were featured on Bob Phillips‘ Texas Country Reporter syndicated television program
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Doo Wop or R&B will continue to be revived. It is now played on Satellite Radio, because the “Huge” generation that was there when it started, now demand to hear it again.
It may live for a long time to come; it has already survived over 50 years.