THE ULTIMATE VOCAL GROUP SCENE
All Star DooWop Weekend Volume V11
Hauppage High School, Long Island, New York
25th and 26th April 2009
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 melting pot of Manhattan. The hall is large and capable of seating of around 1600 people – indeed it was announced from that stage that over 3,000 people would pass through the doors at this festival. The sight lines are excellent as are the acoustics. Imagine the prom night from a Hollywood movie and you have got the scene.
This was a third time for myself at the event and on the journey over from England, I wondered if this festival could match up to the previous editions. No problem, it was easily up to the previous standards. What I got was a marvelous weekend of music with over thirty acts appearing. They ranged, with a couple of exceptions, from excellent to downright brilliant. The majority of the acts were limited to two or three numbers and this made for fast moving shows. Again, mention must be of the various outfits that the groups wore. All were immaculately turned out many in colourful suits, indeed Terry Johnson’s Flamingos were downright dazzling – as was their talent. Atmospheric is an ideal way to describe the overall happenings and, musically, it was superb.
Saturday, 25th April 2009.
The proceedings were opened up by M.C.’s Bobby Jay and Cool Bobby B, who shared the compereing duties throughout the weekend, and who introduced the house band and back up vocalists, Pure Gold from Pittsburg. This collection of musicians and singers were to back up the vast majority of the artists. Very quickly, the festival kicked of with a performance from the five strong Solitaires. Two slow smooth ballads, ‘Our Wedding Day’ and ‘The Angels Sang’ and the up-tempo calling card ‘Walking Along’ and then they were gone. Great start and this was compounded by The Tune Weavers, two femme singers and two male singers. Their smooth harmonies were oh so evident on ‘Come Back To Me’ and ‘Ol’ Man River’ whilst ‘Happy Happy Birthday Baby’ was pure doo wop heaven. They were followed by Jimmy Clanton who was dressed in his customary fifties style plaid jacket. Whilst he still possess a great voice and knew how to work the stage performing ‘Go Johnny Go’, ‘Just A Dream’ and the (forgettable) ‘Venues In Blue Jeans’, it was the same three songs as previous appearances. Another solo singer then took centre stage and this was Jimmy Charles whom I had previously (incorrectly) imagined as a white teen beat singer. After opening up with ‘The Age For Love’, we were treated to ‘Hop Scotch Polka’ which Jimmy advised was only the third time that he had sang the song on stage. He is an excellent performer and a first rate vocalist, closing out his all to brief set with the classic ‘Million To One’. Certainly, a must see again act.
The show then progressed with Lenny Dell & The Demensions. Lenny is the original lead singer of this class act and there was justifiable applause when the group appeared on stage. Opening up with ‘Zing Went The Strings Of My Heart’, followed by ‘My Foolish Heart’, the audience reaction reached tumultuous levels when the line-up sang, beautifully, their big hit version ‘Over The Rainbow. Next on were two vocal groups, namely The Paragons and The Jesters, presumably to recreate the famous 1959 album ‘The Paragons Meet The Jesters’ complete with its street gang cover and vocal duels inspired by doo-wop's street corner singing battles and live show group competitions. This was one of the first rock and roll compilation albums and the most commercially successful doo wop compilation. On stage first one group came out front whilst the other pranced fancy dance steps behind them. Upon conclusion of the song, the group out front retired backwards whilst the other group came to the front. This was spell binding stuff and the stage was full of wonderful movement. The vocals were spot on but I have to single out the nailed to perfection treatment of ‘Florence’.
Regular performer at this event is young Kid Kyle and for this show he launched into a first rate ‘Little Bitty Pretty One’ backed up by three vocalists. Kid’s voice has broken to reveal that he is now an even better singer. This was amply demonstrated on an acapella version of ‘Come Back My Love’. Thankfully he is still a master of stage movements and it must only be a matter of time before he breaks through to the big time, such is his commanding stage presence. He closed out with a superlative ‘So Young’. Another regular at this event is Frankie Ford but he regaled us with the same three numbers (‘Roberta’, ‘Gone’ and Sea Cruise’) interspersed with the same jokes. Frankie, I know, is capable of so much more. Then came the slick, polished and professional Earl Lewis & The Channels, complete with their own backing band (including the weirdest upright electric bass that I have seen). . A real joy, both to the ears and the eyes, this is an act of the highest quality and I nearly leapt out of my seat in excitement when they went into ‘The Closer You Are’. The vocalists of Pure Gold then had their own spot that included okay versions of ‘Sh’ Boom’ and ‘You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling’. They in turn were supplanted by the highly visual The Edsels who launched into ‘Rockin’ Robin’ complete with fast moving routines. Wonderful stuff which was followed by a haunting ‘Hey There Lonely Girl’ before they went into their ticket to ride, namely ‘Rama Lama Ding Dong’. A very very fine act but I would have preferred more of their own material.
On both nights, prior to the shows commencing and 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.
The next act on was The Impalas, lead by Joe ‘Speedo’ Frazier, and they too set off with a couple of covers in ‘Shake Rattle And Roll’ followed by ‘On The Outside Looking In’. Vocally and movement wise, they all there and half back again. However, with ‘Sorry (I Ran All The Way Home)’, the audience reaction went into the stratosphere. This was the stuff of doo wop dreams. Another regular act is The Teenagers but with original member Jimmy Merchant back in the line-up along with Herman Santiago this time around. Lead vocals were handled by Timothy Wilson and their routines on ‘Goody Goody’, ‘I Promise To Remember’ and ‘Why Do Fools Fall In Love’ were up there with the best. The line-up of The Chantelles, featuring Noemi (Ami) Ortiz on lead vocals, then took centre stage and boy they were good. Why this act has never secured enough votes to get into The Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall Of Fame is one of life’s mysteries. They are good, no make that mesmerizing. Their haunting harmonies and vocals are breath taking on ‘He’s Gone’, ‘The Plea’’ ‘Look At My Eyes and especially on their calling card song ‘Maybe’. The show by now was over-running but this had no impact on the ensuing acts for the night as each progressively had more time on stage (thankfully). The three piece Cadillacs, lead by Earl ‘Speedo’ Carroll, hit their stage complete with their well choreographed act. This was high stage craft as they came out with ‘Peek-A-Boo’, ‘Zoom’’, ‘Gloria’ and an extended ‘Speedo ’which they milked much to the satisfaction of the audience.
Then came the act that probably had the longest spot of the whole weekend, namely Charlie Thomas’ Drifters. They are in the mould of the post Clyde McPhatter line up of the group who have now been in existence for in excess of fifty years and this evidenced by their choice of numbers such as ‘On Broadway’, ‘There Goes My Baby’ and’ Save The Last Dance For Me’ in the seven song selection. They too were very polished and smooth, an enjoyable set. Close out act for this night was a personal favourite. Kenny Vance & The Planotones who were sparking electricity all over the place. The act was packed full of image but the group have talent in abundance to support this. Wonderful harmonies , magnificent stage presence and their own great lead guitarist made for a spell binding set that contained five songs including ‘In The Still Of The Night’, ‘Angel Baby’, ‘My Darling Lorraine’ and ‘Lookin’ For an Echo’. This outfit is unique and is the ‘bees knees’ of current vocal groups. . As a final conclusion, and it was now well past midnight, the whole ensemble took the stage to sign ‘Good Night Sweetheart Goodnight ‘. I retired to my hotel room, a very fluffy bunny.
Sunday, 26th April 2009.
Gathering again at Hauppauge High School, but this time in mid-afternoon as opposed to early evening, it was hot but inside the music was about to make things even hotter. After a brief set by the vocalists of Pure Gold, a reformed four guy line-up of the Devotions then appeared. It was a shaky start with ‘For Sentimental Reasons’ but they nailed ‘Rip Van Winkle in no uncertain manner. They were then followed by The Fidelities, who back in 2006, on my first visit to this festival, had been the surprise highlight. If anything, they were better this time around and the vocal blending on ‘Captain Of My Ship’, and ‘Stardust’ was sublime. Up next was a spell binding performance from Johnny & Joe. On stage was the original Joe (Joe Rivers) but Johnny is unfortunately no longer with us, her place being taken by Barbara Harris who had previously been the lead singer of The Toys. What a great stage routine and spot on vocalizing as the duo performed ‘Kingdom Of Love’ and, of course, ‘Over The Mountain And Across The Sea’. I only hope that I shall be fortunate to catch a performance by them again.
If that had not been enough, this was followed by another musical treat. Billed as the Super Girl Group, the line-up comprised Lillian Walker of The Exciters, Margaret Ross of The Cookies, Louise (Harris) Murray of The Jaynetts and, I believe, Mary Aiese from Reparta & The Delrons. Each lady took it in turn to sing a song made famous by the group that they had been with whilst the other ladies sang back-up vocals. Clearly the ladies had gone to a lot of trouble with their stage show as it was fast moving, well sung and contained routines to die for. Lillian sang ‘Do Wah Diddy’, Louise regaled us with ‘Don’t Say Nothing Bad About My Baby’ whilst Mary treated us to ‘When A Teenager Cries’ and Louise took the lead on ‘Sally Go Around The Roses’. Another must see act.
It is sad to report that Stan Cisco & The Del Satins vocally did not quite make the grade. However, they bought on to stage their own sax player who could have come (and may well have done) out of the movie ‘Twist Around The Clock’ He was marvelous, really blowing ‘n’ honking away and crouching up and down on ‘The Wanderer’, ‘Everybody’s Got A Home But Me’ and ‘Teardrops Follow Me’. They were followed by The Continentals who many of the aficionados in attendance regarded As the purest doo wop group of the weekender. Certainly their harmonies were absolutely perfect on such as ‘I’ll Never Meant To Let You Go’ and ‘Dear Lord’. Back to white vocal groups, it was time for New York’s finest, The Mystics, complete with original lead singer Phil Cracolici and three other fine vocalists. They started off with ‘Zing Went The Strings Of My Heart and followed with ‘Darling, I Know Now’. Boy, this group were nailing it to perfection, one could not fault the vocals and the stage craft. On with ‘White Cliffs Of Dover and then they closed out with their passport to fame, ‘Hushabye’. An interesting story about this song was related by Phil. Apparently ‘Teenager In Love’ was written by Doc Pomus and Mort Schuman for the Mystics but ended up being given to Dion & The Belmonts. As recompense, the writers composed ‘Hushabye’ for the guys.
Entering from the back of the auditorium and singing away was The Classics, lead by Emil Stucchio. Clearly a local area favourite, Emil’s powerful voice was heard on tunes such as ‘Hold Me, Thrill Me’ and ‘I’M Hurt’. As a variance, the lovely femme member of the group took the lead on ‘Til’ prior to handing the microphone back to Emil for their claim to fame. ‘Til Then’. All in all, good stuff, albeit a trifle square. Taking centre stage after them was Jimmy Beaumont & The Skyliners who remain a class act. They featured three of their biggies, ‘Pennies From Heaven’, ‘This I Swear’ and the haunting ‘Since I Don’t Have You’. The last mentioned sounds as fresh today as it did way back when. Then came one big surprise, namely The Rob Roys featuring (I believe) original lead singer Norman Fox. Their harmonies were sublime and their stage routine stupendous as they featured a mix of covers such as ‘Blue Moon’ and originals like ‘Dream Girl and (of course) ‘Tell Me Why’ in a four song set. They were the business and are way up there on my must see again list.
The current version of the classic vocal group Terry Johnson’s Flamingos were next up and the smooth harmonies were evident on a fairly extended set which featured the multi-racial group on real smoochers such as ‘When I Fall In Love’, the classic ‘Golden Teardrops’ and ‘But Not For Me’. A very welcome ‘Jump Children’ from the movie ‘Go Johnny Go’ was a real bonus. Their routines were on so tight and exhilarating and their matching glittering band outfits were ‘put on your sunglasses’ material as they served up ‘Kiss From Your Lips’, ‘Lovers Never Say Goodbye’, Besame Mucho’, ‘I’ll Be Home’ and their calling card to music eternity ‘I Only Have Eyes For You’. Phew, that had been spell binding. They were followed by the self contained Larry Chance & The Earls who clearly had a strong regional fan base in attendance. They served up good music liberally dashed with humour, and were a most enjoyable act as we heard ‘I’ll Never Fall In Love’, Remember Then’ (sung acapella) and ‘I Believe’.
Then it was onto another appreciated surprise with The Heartbeats containing two original Heartbeats and two original Limelights in the six strong line up. Never in a million years did I think that I would see The Heartbeats sing ‘I Found A Job’ (their answer to ‘Get A Job’) live on stage but here they were opening up their set with the song. I was nearly beside myself. They were tremendous as they carried on with ‘Down On My Knees and ‘Crazy For You’ before concluding with their all time great ‘A 1000 Miles Away’ which the lead singer sung with absolute perfection. Do I want to see them again, yes sir, even from 3500 miles away.
Next up were The Harptones featuring original lead Willie Winfield along with their long time pianist/arranger Raoul Cita. Now, this is the second occasion that I have seen this act. The first time, they failed to move me and sadly I was left with the same impression this time around. I was probably in the minority with this view but I can do without a version of Diana Ross’s ‘Ain’t No Mountain High Enough’. Their act also featured ‘Sunday Kind Of Love’, The Shrine Of St. Cecilia’ and ‘Life Is But A Dream’. However, I was back in vocal group heaven with The Tokens featuring Jay Sigel on lead vocals and whose marvelous vocals replicates their recordings perfectly. This was clearly evident on ‘Tonight I Fell Ion Love’, ‘Portrait Of My Love’ and ‘ The Lion Sleeps Tonight’. But wait, that is not all as also in the line-up is Jay Traynor, the original lead vocalist for Jay And The Americans. He sung ‘She Cried’ with perfection, tingling moments.
The penultimate act was Robin Luke making only his third or fourth appearance since his retirement from the music industry in 1964. Since then he has had, and continues to have, a successful academic career in Missouri. However, there was no sign of stage rust as he confidently launched into ‘Peggy Sue’ and followed this with ‘Everlovin’, - he had the original of this song and passed it over to Ricky Nelson – and a great interpretation of ‘You Can’t Stop Me From Dreaming’. All through this set, he demonstrated that he still possesses a great singing voice, has that magical stage presence and is a first rate rhythm guitarist. He closed out with his number that has become a rock ‘n’ roll standard, namely Susie ‘Darlin’. A first rate performance and yet another name on my ‘must see again’ list. The concluding act was, again, Kenny Vance & The Planotones who once more leaked excitement. A minor gripe is that, apart from a commanding ‘Cara Mia’ from the days when Kenny was with Jay & The Americans, ‘ Earth Angel’ and a duet on ‘Let It Be Me’ with his son, the set list contained the same songs from the previous night. A little more variation would have gone a long way. But hey, they are one heck of a great act and a fitting finale. Once again, the whole ensemble then came on stage for ‘Good Night Sweetheart’ and then, sadly it was all over.
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 for the event next April and it is recommended that one either keeps a watching eye on the web site www.larentr.com or calls telephone number (631) 587 3565 or writes to LAR Enterprises Inc., PO Box 340, West Islip, NY 11795 for further details. You will not be disappointed…
© Tony Wilkinson