This R&B group originally formed in 1962 as “The Caps,” with Samuel George as the lead vocalist and drummer, Ralph Julius Jones as the newest vocalists and writer, Don Storball (birth name: Don Norman) on backup vocals and guitar, and Richard Mitchell (birth name: Richard McDougall) on backup vocals and keyboard.
After playing predominantly small gigs, they were discovered by former Ann Arbor radio DJ Ollie McLaughlin after performing at a local dance headlined by Barbara Lewis.
After signing with the Karen record label, owned by McLaughlin, the group went on to record and release their first single in 1963, “Dog and Cat/The Kick“. The record displayed the upbeat energy of their later work, however the juvenile nature and lyrics of the song couldn’t find a substantial audience. In light of the disappointing performance of their debut single, the group dissolved and pursued other ventures.
The mid-1960s saw many dance crazes; one of the most popular ones was a dance called “the jerk.” It consisted of holding the arms out in different positions and making thrusting motions with the hips. Though controversial for lewdness at the time, a particularly sexual version of the dance had become popular in Detroit clubs, called the “pimp jerk”.
Ralph Julius Jones married Alice, the cousin of Motown Records founder and producer Berry Gordy. Ralph helped raise Alice’s son, who was named Berry after his famous uncle. Seeking to capitalize on the popularity of the dance, and dance songs in general, Storball and Jones wrote a song about the pimp jerk, renaming it “Cool Jerk” in order to prevent possible banning by radio stations.
Realizing that the song was a hit, the group re-formed and contacted McLaughlin in order to secure studio time to record the song.
The song was recorded at Golden World Studios in Detroit on March 14, 1966 with the legendary Motown house band The Funk Brothers. Though the song was meant to include a horn accompaniment, the contracted musicians failed to show up for the recording session and their parts were omitted from the track.
“Cool Jerk” was released on July 2, 1966 and was a smash hit, reaching as high as #7 on the Billboard Hot 100 and #2 on the Billboard R&B charts.
Attempting to exploit the success of their hit single, the Capitols released two albums in 1966, “Dance the Cool Jerk” and “We Got a Thing“, both featuring mostly covers of popular Motown and soul songs.
Both albums were somewhat of a commercial and critical failure, though “Dance the Cool Jerk” did spend one week in the Billboard Top 200 Albums at #95 in July 1966.
The group released eight additional singles after “Cool Jerk“, only two of which made the Billboard charts, getting no higher than #65, relegating the group to a One-Hit Wonder.
In late 1969, the group broke up for the final time.
Storball went on to a career in the Higland Park, MI Police Department, and still lives in Detroit. Ralph Julius Jones died January 21, 2007 of lung cancer. Richard McDougall died on February 19, 1984 of unknown causes. Samuel George died March 17, 1982 after he was fatally stabbed in a domestic dispute.
Though the group had a fairly short career and limited commercial success, their hit “Cool Jerk” has stood the test of time. It has been used in Cool Whip commercials (lyrics changed from “cool jerk” to “cool whip”) and for many movie soundtracks, including More American Graffiti (1979), Night and the City (1992), Home Alone 2: Lost in New York (1992), and Calendar Girl (1993).
Additionally, “Cool Jerk” has made many best-of lists, including “100 Greatest Rock Bass Performances” (#70) and “VH1‘s 100 Greatest Dance Songs” (#48).
The song is still played in heavy rotation on Oldies and Soul stations across the world.