WAS I IN HEAVEN?
All Star DooWop Weekend Volume 1V
Hauppage High School, Long Island, New York
11th and 12th November 2006
Picture the scene… It was the auditorium of the Hauppage High School which is located in the rural centre portion of Long Island, some forty odd miles away from the seeming cauldron that is Manhattan. The hall is large and capable of seating in excess of 2,000 people. The sight lines are excellent as are the acoustics. It was all somewhat akin to the prom night scene form the movie ‘Grease’.
The editor of UK Rock and myself had traveled over from the UK to catch the fourth edition of the All Star Weekend. This was a first time for myself for such an event and I did not know quite what to expect. What I got was a marvelous weekend of music with over thirty acts appearing. They ranged, with two exceptions, from excellent to downright brilliant. Nearly all of the acts were limited to two or three numbers that made for a fast moving show. A special mention must be made of the various outfits that the groups wore. Virtually all were immaculately turned out in colorful suits. All in all, I guess that this was similar to the great rock ‘n’ roll shows stage by Alan Freed or Murray the K, etc. We met up with some old friends such as John Broven, recently retired from Ace Records, and made quite a few new ones. Crikey, even the young barman at the hotel where we were staying was knowledgeable about many of the acts and this style of rock ‘n’ roll music.
Saturday, 11th November 2006.
The proceedings were opened up by the M.C., Bobby Jay who is also a member of the Teenagers and the festival was quickly underway with the appearance of the self contained group Pure Gold’. This is a Pittsburg based outfit that has been going for 28 years. Very professional, very tight complete with great harmonies as they as they launched into ’10 Commandments Of Love’, ‘Let It Please Be You’ and Sh-Boom’. They were followed by Jimmy Clanton who was dressed in a plaid jacket that was pure fifties style. He still has a great voice and knew how to work the stage whilst performing ‘Go Johnny Go’, ‘Just A Dream’ and the (slightly forgettable) ‘Venues In Blue Jeans’. Next on was Clive Douglas & The Penguins and they rocked it up with ‘Oogy Oo’ before settling into the beautiful vocal group sounds of ‘Memories Of El Monte’ (a personal favourite) and their classic ‘Earth Angel’. Kid Kyle came on next. He is a young white guy aged around twelve years old. He had three more senior guys providing the harmonies as he proceeded to knock ‘em dead with such as ‘Oh What A Night’ and ‘Please say You Love Me’. This guy is straight out for the Frankie Lymon mould and has a class stage act.
The fabulously smooth voice of Lenny Welch entranced me with ‘You Don’t Know Me’, the hormone raising ‘Since I Fell For You’ and ‘Ebb Tide’. This gentleman is a pure professional and with his voice could have got away with singing the local telephone directory. The next group, The Classics, made their entrance from the back of the hall singing ‘Hold Me, Thrill Me’ and then climbed on the stage to sing ‘Let’s Hang On’ and their biggie ‘Til Then’ before closing out with the big voice ballad ‘Cara Mia Mine’. Now came one of the two disappointments in the shape of The Tymes. Dressed in seventies style outfits this as disco set that included ‘Love Train’. Not only was their dress sense out of keeping with what else was going on this weekend, so too was their musical style. I say nothing more. However all was redeemed by The Cleftones, a truly polished group whose act was full of visuals as they sang ‘Heart And Soul’, ‘Sentimental Reasons’, This Little Girl Of Mine’ and ‘Can’t We Be Sweethearts’. These were a great selection of varying tempos that they served up with full justice. Next up was the legendary Fred Parris and The Satins. Fred advised that one of the three Satins with him was from the original line-up and they proceeded to amaze as they sang ‘The Jones Girl’ and then rocked it up nicely with ‘The Hucklebuck’ before slowing it down again with ‘To The Aisle’. That marvelous lead voice still had it all as he sang a tasty doo wop medley before closing out with ‘In The Still Of The Night’. Memories, oh sweet memories.
Dave Somerville, the original lead singer with The Diamonds, then launched into ‘The Stroll’ followed by ‘Silhouettes’ and ‘Oh Boy’ before climaxing with ‘Little Darlin’. Towards the end of the number, there came one of those magical moments as Maurice Williams came on to stage and sang the last verse with Somerville. Maurice of course had the original version of this song when he fronted The Gladiolas. Exit Dave but Maurice stayed, joined by two of his Zodiacs group, and proceeded to thrill the audience with ‘May I’ and the oh so wonderful ‘Stay’.
During the interval, several of the acts appearing had set up stalls in the main corridor for the purpose of signing autographs, chatting with the fans and selling photographs and CDs. All were most approachable and this served to enhance the already great buzz and air of friendliness that existed.
Back on stage, a late replacement for The Dubs and Del-Vikings were The Willows whose haunting harmonies were sadly limited to ‘Let’s Fall In Love’ and ‘Church Bells May Ring.’. They were followed by another last minute substitute act in the form of The Fidelities. Talking to some of the doo wop enthusiasts later, for them, this was the icing on the cake as they were not aware that the group was still in existence. The vocal blending on ‘Captain Of My Ship’ and ‘The Plea’ was sublime, a must see again act. They were followed by a true legend, Gene Chandler. Opening up with ‘Rockin’ Robin’ it was then onto ‘Daddy’s Home’. A little surprising choice of numbers bearing in mind the wealth and depth of Genes’ own catalogue but all was redeemed as he briefly disappeared and then returned at the back of the hall dressed in cape and black top hat, complete with a walking cane, chanting the introduction to ‘Duke Of Earl’. This alone was worth the trip across the Atlantic.
But the same can be said of the next act, The Chantels whose haunting harmonies and stage craft were haunting on ‘He’s Gone’, ‘The Plea’’ ‘Look At My Eyes and ‘Maybe’. On the last mentioned, the hairs on the back of my neck were tingling, this was breath taking stuff. The sheer brilliance of the evening continued with The Teenagers (but no Lewis Lymon) as they sang, and danced with entertaining routines, ‘Goody Goody’, ‘Promise To Remember’, ‘Am I Fooling Myself’ and, of course ‘Why Do Fools Fall In Love’. On the last mentioned, Kid Kyle returned to the stage and sang the lead vocal in true Frankie Lymon style.
The final act for this day was The Cadillacs featuring the wonderful Earl Carrol on lead vocals. Their all too brief set contained a mixture of top up-tempo tunes such as ‘Peek a Boo’ and ‘Speedo’ along with the haunting ballad ‘Gloria’ along with another favourite ‘Zoom’. Phew, seventeen acts and all, with one exception, had been top notch. As we made our way back to our hotel and charged our glasses for a nightcap or two, we reflected on what a great night off music it had truly been.
Sunday, 12th November 2006.
Before I go any further, credit must be given to the first rate backing band that provided the musical support to all of the acts, apart from Pure Gold. They were a hard working outfit who held it all together in no uncertain manner. Opening up for this day were The Excellents, a four piece white Italiano outfit who were one of the surprise hits of the whole event for this reviewer. ‘Baby, You’re Great’ and ‘Capistrano’ were wonderful whilst ‘Coney Island Baby’ was mesmerizing. Hopefully, I shall be able to catch another show by them sometime in the future. They were followed by Joe C. Jones who was lead singer of The Pentagons. Naturally, his set included his ticket to music immortality, namely ‘To Be Loved’. Two delectable ladies who are known as The Murmaids then served up ‘My Guy’ along with ‘Popsicles and Icicles'. Pure fluff okay but still very enjoyable.
Then it was time for one of my all time vocal groups – The Olympics who I feel have been consistently under-rated over the years. The great voice of lead singer Walter Ward has a lovely harsh edge and this was put to wonderful good use on ‘Big Boy Pete’, Hully Gully’ and ‘Western Movies’. Walter stood there, aided by a walking stick, and sang his heart out whilst the rest of The Olympics whirled and twirled. Sadly, in mid December, Walter passed on and therefore this was one of his final stage appearances. I am only too grateful to have been there and witnessed magical musical moments. From one classic vocal group to another in the form of The Jacks/Cadets immaculately turned out. Surprisingly they opened up with ‘Church Bells May Ring’ but then followed on with ‘Why Don’t You Write Me’ and the teen anthem ‘Stranded In The Jungle’. This was yet another compelling performance from true professionals. As that was not enough, the next act, The Elgins, produced some of the purist harmonies and beautiful singing of the whole weekend. They also advised that they had also recorded under the name of The Baghdadis and I was in seventh heaven when they sang ‘Bring Back Those Doo wops’. They were followed by The Fleetwoods, an act I have always had a soft spot for. From this performance by the three original members, I can easily understand why. Their singing and harmony was spot on as was their stage presence and with ‘Come Softly To Me’, ‘Tragedy’ and ‘Mr. Blue’, they demonstrated why they were one of the top acts of the late fifties and well into the sixties.
Solo act Johnny Tillotson then took the stage for, when compared to the other acts, a lengthy performance with a whole heap of medlies and full versions of songs that he has recorded. All I want to say is that this was a weak performance. However when the nine vocalists that constitute the Brooklyn Reunion started singing, my spirits immediately rose again. This group contains members of The Mystics, The Passions and The Classics in the aggregation. We were treated, and I mean treated, to songs from the repertoires of each of these outfits such as ‘White Cliffs Of Dover’, ‘This Is My Love’, ‘P.S. I Love You’, ‘Just To Be With You’ and ‘Till Then’. Whilst these guys sang oh so passionately, there was a back drop projection of the three groups in their youth resplendent with quaffs. Sadly the passing years have reduced these to somewhat sparse straggles (or no straggles at all).
After the interval, one of the most famous vocal groups ever took the stage in the form of The Jordanaires. Their harmonies on the spirituals ‘Peace In The Valley and ‘Swing Down Sweet Chariot’ were spell binding. For their close out piece, Kid Kyle took the stage and sang ‘Love Me Tender’ backed up by these guys. A great experience but equal, or indeed better was to come in the shape of The Nelsons, Ricky Nelson’s twin sons Matthew and Gunnar. Opening up with aceppella treatments of ‘Poor Little Fool’ and ‘Just Once More’, they built up their performance and took the audience along with them. The backing band joined in as they commenced ‘Hello Mary Lou’ followed by two more of their dad’s hits ‘Garden party’ and ‘Travellin’ Man’. These guys are good, no make that great. Their old man’s musical genes certainly run through their vocal talents and they are top contenders in their own right. As they were announcing their final number, the Jordanaires returned to the stage and the whole ensemble launched into a real rockin’ treatment of ‘Believe What You Say’. This was one of those musical memories that I shall cherish for my remaining days and drew the loudest audience response of the whole weekend – deservedly so.
The swing from vocal group harmony to rock ‘n’ roll was further accentuated by The Crickets actually billed as Buddy Holly’s Crickets I suppose to differentiate then from Dean Barlow’s Crickets). However one glance at the stage revealed Sonny Curtis, Jerry Allison and Joe B Maudlin. The selection of numbers veered more towards the ballad side of their recordings with ‘More Than I Can Say’, ‘Everyday’ and Sonny’s solo effort ‘Love Is All Around’, the theme to the Mary Tyler Moore television show. But the guys did rock too with ‘Oh Boy’, Peggy Sue’ and ‘That’ll Be The Day’. A most surprising inclusion was ‘Claudette’ very tastily performed. I cannot recall the band having performed this song live previously. But back to out and out doo wop groups next with The Legends whose soaring harmonies were clearly evident on ‘Cara Mia Mine’. The changes in vocal styling proceeded with the appearance of the New Orleans dynamo Frankie Ford. This was a very different set to those h performs in Europe with risqué clowning between songs. Frankie opening up with ‘Roberta' and then followed with long close to the knuckle humorous monolog Similar took place between powerful renditions of ‘Gone’ and ‘Sea Cruise’. Thee crowd really warmed to Frankie, apparently he is a regular at each of these events.
Current versions of classic vocal groups then took the stage. First up was Terry Jackson’ Flamingos whose smooth harmonies on ‘A Kiss From Your Lips’, ‘Lovers Never Say Goodbye’, ‘No One’ and ‘I Only Have Eyes For You’ were first rate as was their stage presence. They were followed by Charlie Thomas & The Drifters who performed later Drifters songs such as ‘Under The Boardwalk’. Maybe I had reached saturation point but sadly, for some reason, this group only made a limited impact on yours truly. They were not bad but somehow lacked that vital spark. The opposite was the case with the concluding act, Kenny Vance & The Planotones who were leaking electricity all over the stage. The act was packed full of image but the group had talent in abundance to support this. Wonderful harmonies , magnificent stage presence and their own great lead guitarist mad for a spell binding set that on reflection only contained three songs, ‘Oh, What A Night’, ‘Angel Baby’ and ‘Lookin’ For an Echo’. One can only hope and pray that an enterprising promoter will one day soon bring the outfit over to Europe, they are simply the vocal group business.
That was it; I was left exhausted and thrilled by the event that had unfolded before me. Totally recommended to anyone who enjoys good music performed well and who has rock ‘n’ roll blood coursing through their veins. I hope to get back real soon, possibly to the next gathering which is scheduled to take place at the same venue on 28/29 April 2007. Of the 32 acts so far announced, 22 are different to those who took the stage a in November 2006. Contact telephone number (631) 587 3565 or write to LAR Enterprises Inc., PO Box 340, West Islip, NY 11795 for further details.
© Tony Wilkinson