All Star DooWop Weekend
'Hauppage High School, Long Island, New York State
19th and 20th November 2011
The auditorium of the Hauppage High School, located in the rural centre portion of Long Island, some forty odd miles away from the seething and exciting metropolis that is Manhattan, had been refurbished It remains capable of seating around 1600 people, all of whom enjoyed excellent acoustics and sight lines.. Imagine the school hall scene in the movie 'Grease' - well, here it is in real life. There will be in excess of thirty acts appearing during the course of the two day festival which is compered by Bobby Jay (previously with the Laddins and Teenagers) with an air of authority aided by Cool Bobby B (who thankfully this time around left his bloody bell behind). The majorities of the acts were from the immediate tri-state area and ranged, with a couple of exceptions, from excellent to downright brilliant. Most appearances were limited to two or three numbers and this made for fast moving shows. Atmospheric is an ideal way to describe the overall happenings and, musically, it was superb.
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.
Saturday, 19th November 2011
The proceedings opened up with the sad announcements that Earl Speedo Carroll had been taken into hospital after suffering a stroke and that Miller Edwards of The Shephards was also unwell. Accordingly neither act would be making their scheduled appearance. Naturally, we wish to express our best wishes for a speedy recovery to both gentlemen. Musically, the proceedings got under way with the smooth acapella harmonies of Classic Souls but it was quickly into accompanied vocal groups. It fell once again to The Excellents, lead by John Kuse, to get us off the mark with the excellent harmonies and choreography of 'Here I Am Broken Hearted' and 'Coney Island Baby'. Many of the groups appearing had a projected back drop of them in their hit making days, wonderful comparisons. Off they went to be quickly replaced by The Fireflies (lead by Paul Giacalone), dressed in matching yellow jackets and white trousers, who were one of the unexpected hits of this festival. 'You Were Mine', plus the follow up 'Can't Say Goodbye', were performed wondrously whilst 'Cara Mia' was most acceptable. Off they trooped to be superseded by The Edsels, dressed from head to shoes in matching orange. They were bright, bubbly and bouncy with 'Lama Ding Dong' (to give the song its original title) and which came complete with a dance routine. They also showed the considerable depth of their talent with great harmonies on 'What Brought Us Together'.
Then came two solo acts. The first was Jimmy Charles whose voice sounded clear and wonderful on 'A Million To One' and its flip, the rarely performed 'Hop Scotch Polka', plus the follow up 'The Age Of Love'. Again, like his previous appearance, a first rate show. Then a new talent to myself, namely Dennis Dority Jr., stepped on stage. This guy's voice just blew me away - his high impassioned voice on his three songs, 'Then You Can Tell Me Goodbye', 'Love Me' and 'Peace of Mind' was, for myself, vocal perfection. I just hope that I get the opportunity to see him on stage again, a real unexpected joy to watch and listen to.
It was the turn of The 3 Friends featuring Joey Villa then to present their wares. Joey had also been a lead singer of The Royal Teens and thus we were treated to both 'Believe Me' and 'Short Shorts' in an intended humorous manner but which, in all honesty, left me cold. Joey announced that he had been the lead singer on both of the foregoing. With regard to 'Short Shorts', this may be a case of history being rewritten as I have, for a long time, understood that when the Royal Teens laid down this monster hit at the Bellsound Studios, 1650 Broadway, New York City in 1957, it was drummer Tommy Austin providing the whistle, Billy Dalton mimicking this on guitar, and saxophonist Billy Crandal declaring 'Man dig those crazy chicks.' With Bob Gaudio pounding the keyboards, it was left to Diana Lee and another femme singer to respond with the answer lines from the aforementioned guys on the recording. Whatever, Joey still possessed that magic on the concluding song 'Blanche' from his days in The 3 Friends. Any disappointment felt over the last act was very quickly dispelled as Norman Fox & The Rob Roys launched into 'Dance Girl Dance'. Slick spot on vocals and coordinated moves resulted in a jaw dropping show which proceeded with 'Dream Girl' and their calling card of 'Tell Me Why'.
Brooklyn group The Passions, who carried their own band, continued the general high standard already set. This was almost perfect white vocal group vocalising as they performed 'This Night Was Made For Love, 'I Only Want You', a marvelous rendition of 'Gloria' and a truly sublime 'Just To be With You' with all the high notes being hit. Closing out the first half were Jarmels, lead by Tyrone Thomas but still including original Jarmel Ray Smith in the line up. Their music I have always felt was where vocal group harmonies melted into soul music. For this show, they too carried their own four piece band. Dressed in green suits and whist shoes, they also presented a well choreographed show and the vocals were all there and back again on 'The Way You Look Tonight', 'Never Let Me Go' and, of course' 'A Little Bit Of Soap'. Just think, we were only a quarter of the way through the weekend and what an array of talent we had already witnessed.
Opening the second half were The Capris, five strong and lead by original member Frank Reina. Launching into 'Great Balls of Fire' was a disaster as the group could not handle the song. However, all was recovered with 'Morse Code Of Love, a song originating in 1982 and not the from the golden age of doo wop - and then they deservedly received a standing ovation for 'There's A Moon Out Tonight. Magical moments. Next up were The Aquatones line-up included original member Dave Goddard whose self-effacing comments between numbers were welcome. Whilst the original lady lead singer is sadly no longer with us, the current replacement has the voice of an angel and handled the vocals on 'You're Driving Me Crazy', 'So Fine' and the classic 'You' with consummate ease and gaining another standing ovation.
Then there was a surprise but welcome addition to the bill. Bobby Lewis, who I believe is now 86 years old took to the stage. He has lost his sight but this did not prevent him delivering a tasty 'Back In The USA' plus 'One Track Mind' and 'Tossing And Turnin', albeit that this number would have benefited from a vocal chorus. Despite his disabilities, Bobby really hammered away at the songs and went into some of his earlier routines. A great entertainer and a great guy. He was followed by Jimmy Clanton who has been included in the line up of every one of these shows that I have been to. Trouble with this is that he has always only sung the same three songs, 'Go Jimmy Go', 'Just A Dream' and 'Venus In Blue Jeans' - accordingly, his show was predictable and somewhat boring.
It was back to the vocal groups with the next act, namely The Willows, featuring original lead singer Tony Middleton. Their act included too much clowning around but the vocals were spot on and 'Let's Fall In Love', 'First Taste of Love' and the classic 'Church Bells May Ring' came across strident and clear. I was aware that The Mello-Kings, lead by Jerry Scholl, had reformed for the evening. They came on, sang 'Tonight, Tonight' wonderfully and then left the stage. Great performance from the guys - but only for one number...? Then came long serving vocal outfit The Harptones. Without doubt, they were popular with the audience but, for myself, they left me cold. Not sure what it was, maybe the inclusion of one Tamla Motown number which to me was way out of place, or maybe it was the smooth vocals on 'The Masquerade is Over' and 'Life Is But A Dream' which were harmonious but lacked that spark.
Another classic group followed. This time is was The Wrens lead by Bobby Mansfield. The harmonies were just perfect on 'Love Is Something Made For Two' a recording first made back in 1955. This was followed by 'C'est La Vie' before their all too short set closed out with one of their calling cards, the perfect delivery of 'Come Back My Love'. From one of the all time great groups, we went to another. Closing out the show for the day, it was the turn of The Heartbeats to take the stage. Consisting of Ron Bassett, Walter Crum, Randy Reid, Wally Roker and Vernon Sievers, it was straight into their answer song (to the Silhouettes) of 'I Found a Job', a great rockin' work out that came complete with a floor sweeping routine (similar to that from the Cadillacs in the movie 'Go Johnny Go'). During the next song, 'Crazy' For You' the bass singer's trousers fell down, much to his embarrassment but which had no impact on the spell binding vocal deliveries that were further demonstrated on 'Will You Be Mine', '500 Miles To Go' and 'A Thousand Miles Away. They had been the perfect group to close out the music for that day, I retired back to my hotel a tired but very fluffy bunny.
Sunday, 20th November 2011.
Gathering again at Hauppauge High School, but this time in mid-afternoon as opposed to early evening,, the music again commenced with an acapella set but this time from The Tribunes. They were followed by one of the all time great vocal groups - The Tuneweavers whose line up included original members Charlotte Davis Ross and John Sylvia. Two ladies dressed in red and two gentlemen with red jackets and white trousers, I could not help but think of John Dillinger as they applied their killer vocal deliveries on 'Come Back To Me', Ol' Man River' and Happy Happy Birthday Baby'. This great start was further enhanced by The Continentals who delivered their more bluesy 'Fine Fine Frame', 'Dear Lord' and 'The Way You Used to Be' with precision harmonies. The original bass singer, Fred Johnson of The Marcels then took centre stage and, accompanied by a young vocalist, performed 'Goodbye To Love' and 'Blue Moon' bass notes perfect. Also seemingly note perfect were The Fidelities with both sides of their biggish single, 'Captain Of My Ship' and 'These Are The Things I Love'. New York's Solitaries and gave out with spell binding deliveries on 'Remember My Heart' and 'The Angels Sang' before rockin' away very nicely on 'Walking Along'. All in all, this had been a good and balanced performance. They were followed by Chuck Weldon who sang lead for the Paradons on 'Diamonds And Pearls'. He repeated this song and, boy, was it magical. However, it was a bit disappointing that this was the only song on the day from Chuck - clearly he was a guy who was capable of giving oh so much more.
Up to now, most of the acts had been sartorial with their stage outfits - albeit a bit on the conservative side. This was about to change with Terry Johnson's Flamingos on stage. This is a group of hot vocalists lead by Terry with the lead being shared amongst the group members. Theirs is such an important place in vocal group history that for shows such as these, they were given a six song slot. Mainly on the smooth ballad side, the performances included 'Lovers Never Say Goodbye' , 'A Kiss From Your Lips, 'I'll Be Home', 'Til' and the absolute classic 'I Only Have Eyes For You' were stunning and rightly gained a standing ovation. The vocal blending and stage movements were of the highest quality. This ended Sunday's first half.
The final portion of the festival was opened by Randy (Safuto) and The Rainbows - another one of those wonderful New York white vocal groups. They quickly established their doo wop credentials with an excellent take on the Elegants Little Star' followed by 'The Diary' which was originally by Neil Sedaka but gained vocal group fame with the treatment give by Little Anthony & The Imperials. To close out their all together much too brief slot, it was of course their key to the doo wop door, 'Denise'. This had been a first rate show, good choreography and great vocals.
Jimmy Stephens was the next to tread the boards. He was, of course, the lead singer for The Safaris and he demonstrated that he still has a great set of vocal tubes and really knows his stage craft. Jimmy started with a slightly incongruous 'Teenager In Love' in view of the mature audience followed by 'In The Still Of The Night' and closing out with 'Image Of A Girl'. In many ways, the music of The Safaris can be categorised as Teen Beat and the same can be said for Tom Duffy who had been lead singer for The Echoes. Tom had been described by others as diffident but I quite took to his laid back slightly withdrawn style - although somebody needs to be hauled up before the judge for permitting two consecutive acts to perform 'Teenager In Love' (compounded by the fact that it was not a name record for either outfit). Tom also performed, along with a new set of Echoes, 'Gee Oh Gee' and, of course, the melodic teen anthem 'Baby Blue'.
The Sunday show always have lady singers or groups. The choice, this time around, were The Angels lead by Linda Jansen. Again, a more than competent group whose selection of two up tempo and two slow ballads included 'A Moment To Go', 'My Boyfriend's Back' and Til'. The ladies knew how to use the stage to their advantage. However, the performance rating went up many notches with the sparkling show from Harold Winley's Clovers. The vocals were spot on and the stage routines were delightfully coordinated as we were treated to great readings of 'Lovey Dovey', 'Blue Velvet', Devil Or Angel' and a wonderful 'Love Potion No. 9'. I certainly could have done with a longer spot from this great group whose raunchy deliveries were fine examples of the R&B side of vocal groups.
Dressed in white jackets and black trousers, it was now time for another classic vocal group in the form of Eugene Pitt and The Jive 5. The spot on vocals and brilliant choreography were evident from the opening bars of the relatively obscure 'Johnny Never Knew' through 'What Time Is It' on to 'I'm A Happy Man' and concluding with the legendary 'My True Story'. This was oh so professional and Eugene was in powerful voice mode, truly spell binding. The members of Jive Five put on a great show in their own right. This had been the stuff that legends are made of - it had been that good.
But the equal was to happen with the next act who was billed as The Teenagers. Their line up appears to have settled down in recent times and it includes originals Herman Santiago and Jimmy Merchant with lead vocals being handled by Timothy Wilson. This was the line up that opened with 'Goody Goody', I Promise To Remember', 'I Share Each Moment With You' and 'Wedding Bells'. The last mentioned was a hit for Timothy Wilson when he fronted Tiny Tim and The Hits. Then on stage to join the guys came Lewis Lymon and the Teenagers were further supplemented by Bobby Jay. Lewis had been with the Teenagers previously but had gone on a visit to Las Vegas in late 2003 and had never returned - until now. When this ensemble launched into 'Honey Honey', it was as if lightning had struck the stage as the show turned from great into electrifying. Lewis was dancing backwards and forwards across the stage whilst the rest of the guys were undertaking fancy coordinated dance routines. More of the same followed with 'Please tell The Angels' and 'I'm So Happy' before the act closed out with, of course, 'Why Do Fools Fall In Love'. This had been one of those times that you had to be there to experience the magic as no words can adequately describe it.
This lead to the final act of the festival and, by tradition, this spot is taken by Kenny Vance & The Planotones. This act was, as usual, superb but is in danger of simply repeating what they have done previously. For sure, it worked on this occasion but, for example, I and a considerable portion of the audience knew just when the Planotone walk was going to happen, etc. Kenny opened with 'Come Go With Me' which segued into 'Hey Baby' before continuing somewhat predictably with 'What A Night'. After delivering a spell binding treatment of 'Those Oldies But Goodies', it was onto a section devoted to Jay And The Americans which Kenny had been a member. Kenny delivered a breath taking 'She Cried' and proceeded with equally as good versions of 'Come A Little Bit Closer' and 'Cara Mia'. The group then sang 'You'll Never Walk Alone' as a tribute to the late Johnny Maestro, after which Kenny was joined on stage by his son and the pair duetted on 'Let It Be Me'. After stepping back and letting guitarist John Gale lose on 'Sleep Walk', Kenny bought the proceedings to a close with 'Angel Baby' and (naturally) his own doo wop anthem 'Looking For An Echo'.
As we filed out into the night, we reflected what a magnificent two days of music it had been. But word has come through that it will happen again next year, on 3rd and 4th November 2012 to be precise. 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.