The Great R & B
Robert & Johnny - The twosome of R & J were a guitar led Rythm & Blues duo from New York, Robert Carr and Johnny Mitchell. They are still remembered today on the strength of the everlasting popularity of their biggest hit "We Belong Together". However they had many more satisfying tunes which they recorded from 1956 to 1959 for Hy Weiss' Old Town label. Their first hit record was the wonderful ballad "I Believe In You" b/w "Train To Paradise". They set their standard style in using strong two part harmony with some great backup guitar played by Robert. The second strong ballad hit for Old Town was called "You're Mine" which is often confused with their later tune 'We Belong Together" because of its lead off words (You're Mine). I have always preferred the dramatic "You're Mine" with its great intro and coda on guitar which perfectly frames the body of the song. It is a shame that this recording is seldom ever played on radio shows that follow an "oldies" format. In March of 1957 "Baby Come Home" and "Don't Do It" were released on Old Town #1038. "Gosh Oh Gee" and "Your Kisses" were the next record for Old Town during the year. "We Belong Together" followed for the duo and this was their consumate recording. It was the one that broke through into the pop charts and was a well played recording on mainstream radio in the late 1950s. The slightly up-tempo "Just Walking in the Rain" (the flip side for #1047) has led a curious life, appearing as the B side from time to time on re-issues of Robert & Johnny's recordings and showing up in compilation albums and CDs. In June of 1958 Old Town re-released "I Believe In You" this time coupled with "Marry Me" on #1052 which had some success on the West Coast. After four solid hit records, the remainder of the output of the duo in the late 50s was rather sporadic. These included "I'm Truly Truly Yours" and "Eternity With You" on #1058, "Give Me The Key To Your Heart" and "Truly In Love" on #1065 "Dream Girl" and "Oh My Love" on #1078, and "Hear My Heartbeat" and "Togetherness" all on the Old Town label. This great New York duo then faded into our memory until they were reunited for an oldies revival concert in New York in 1970 and showed that they still had the old magic.
The Teen Queens - they were a sister duo from California, that produced another recording that can be considered a defining moment in the history of American popular music in the nineteen fifties. The Queens were Rose and Betty Collins the sisters of Aaron Collins of the Jacks/Cadets who also recorded for the Modern label. Their very first release for the label was "Eddie My Love" which was an immediate national hit. This was probably the first rhythm and blues recording that was performed by female performers that really registered with a wide spectrum of teenage America. At that time the major record buyers in the country of the 45 single that had become the standard format at the time, were teenage girls. That this record attracted large numbers of White teenagers was not lost on the record producers and major labels which led to a major re-structuring of the marketplace. Any attempt at covering the original (by the Fontaine Sisters on Dot and the Chordettes on Cadence) was a dismal failure. The listeners were being educated by late 1955 and early 1956-they had been burned too many times in the past. The tune had a long and memorable run at the time and for all the intervening years has become a must on the playlists of oldies stations. The following recordings by the duo did not fare nearly as well, and time has left the Teen Queens to be included in that dreaded list called the one-hit wonders. For the record however, the immediate follow up was "Baby Mine" / "So All Alone" which did not do much as did the next Modern release "Until The Day I Die" / "Billy Boy" The next outing for the label fared better but was nowhere near the success of 'Eddie'. It was "Red Top" / "Love Sweet Love". There was one last attempt at a return to glory by the Queens - "There Is Nothing On My Mind" (Antler) in 1959 that was an answer record to "There Is Something On Your Mind" a tremendous R & B hit for Big Jay McNeely (with Little Sonny Warner). But this too failed to ignite a great deal of action, and the Teen Queens faded into history as a memory of a great moment in the mid-fifties.
Gene & Eunice - Another duo based on the west coast, they became famous for their recording of "Kokomo" for the Combo label in late 1954. This was one of those early sides that got airplay on mainstream radio and made the majors jump up and take notice. It wasn't long before that paragon of American pop-Perry Como-had his own version out for RCA and the tune was being performed by Snooky Lanson on "Your Hit Parade" on national television. An interesting sidelight of this record was a legal tangle that had the duo record the tune over again for an Aladdin label release. Both the Combo and Aladdin versions sold well. After the long run of "Kokomo", Gene & Eunice went to the ballad format with "This Is My Story" and surprised everybody with a solid hit. Instead of capitalizing on the style of an established hit and trying for a duplication in a like manner, the duo went with something new and made it work. This dramatic ballad recorded for Aladdin was almost as big a hit as was "Kokomo". By this time Gene & Eunice were a number one draw on the personal appearance circuit and were in great demand. The quest for an uptempo tune to vary their sucess led to the release of "Flim Flam"/"Can We Forget It". There were high hopes for the fortunes of the A side (Flim Flam), but the record did not sell very well. Subsequent releases for Aladdin followed suit - "I Gotta Go Home", "I'm So In Love With You"/"Lets Forget", and "The Vow" also failed to find a market in the rapidly expanding field of rock & roll. In June of 1957 "Strange World" on Aladdin #3374 showed surprising sales in Los Angeles. "Don't Treat Me This Way" and "Doodle Doo Doo" on #3376 was not a success. 1958's "The Angels Gave You To Me" and "I Mean Love" on #3414 also did not sell. Most people had written off Gene & Eunice by the late 1950s as another of the early R & B acts that had been swept aside by the growth of rockabilly and the teen idols fed by Elvis, American Bandstand, and the popularity of Ricky Nelson on the Ozzie & Harriet TV show. But to most everyone's surprise Gene & Eunice bounced back with an off the wall hit in 1959 called "Poco Loco" recorded for the small independent Case label (#1001). The flip side was a throwback song called "Go On Kokomo". Case #1002 was recorded at year's end with "Ah Ah" and "You Think I'm Not Thinking". It failed but the success of "Poco Loco" provided the duo with one more shot at hit status and acceptance as a viable act.
Johnny & Joe - The female half of the duo-Johnnie Richardson-was the daughter of Zell Sanders a well known entrepeneur in the early fifties among R & B record producers. She had a collaborative association with neighbor Rex Garvin, a pianist, writer, and arranger. They were both very much involved with The Hearts the Baton label girl group that recorded some of the strongest sides ever made in the mid-fifties. Rex had championed newcomer Joe Rivers as a vocal stylist, and tried out some new tunes. As the story goes, Zell thought there was an element missing in the music, and that element would be provided by daughter Johnnie. And so a new rock and roll duo was born. Recording for Zell Sanders small independent label J & S, the duo recorded "I'll Be Spinning" / "Feel Allright". The rhythmic ballad side "Spinning", was an immediate hit in New York. Soon the excellence of this disc began to spread across the country with increased radio play, and Chess records in Chicago picked up the distribution from J & S. The tune was selling big time and this resulted in a cover version by The Cadets on the west coast. A second strong ballad was released called "It Was There" on J & S #1659 which followed in the footsteps of their first release. Again the original J & S release was picked up by Chess with the B side "There Goes My Heart". After two strong recordings the duo was looking to go over the top. They did just that in a big way. "Over The Mountain (Across The Sea)" on J & S #1664 was the perfect vehicle to top the charts. A dramatic opening, standard R & B ballad form with great vocal performances, and a spoken word fadeout makes for one of the true classics ever recorded during the nineteen fifties. The most interesting part of this record is that it is performed by a trio-if you listen you will hear a second voice singing harmony with Joe Rivers while Johnnie sings wordless counter-melody throughout the song. That third voice belongs to the previously mentioned and wonderfully talented Rex Garvin.The J & S original was quickly picked up by Chess once again, and it exploded all over the U.S. Dick Clark got on the record on his nationally televised American Bandstand, and it hit the pop charts and stayed there for an incredible four months. As happens so often, the high point of the accomplishments by this duo could not be sustained. They came up with fine sounding songs, but the records just did not click with the listeners. "I Was So Lonely" and "If You Tell Me You're Mine" on Chess #1677, In early 1958 they were on Gone Records with "Who Do You Love" and "Trust In Me" on #5024, "Warm Soft, and Lovely" and "False Love Has Got To Go" on J & S #1641,"Why Did She Go", and "Why Oh Why?" on Chess #1693 "Across The Sea" for Chess, and "I Adore You" for ABC-Paramount did very little to further the appeal of Johnnie & Joe. In 1958 the duo also formed their own record label called Dice Records. In the spring of 1959 they recorded "Red Sails In The Sunset" and "Where Did She Go?" for J & S on #1701. Their biggest success in these years however, was a re-release of "Over The Mountain" in 1960. Further releases for a variety of labels went nowhere and the time of Johnnie & Joe was now over. The first three sides for J & S live on as a testament to the talent and excellence of this great duo. It is rather a shame that most of the public is aware only of "Over The Mountain".
Others - On the R & B scene in the mid fifties there were various other duos that produced some memorable music. Most of these did not have anywhere near the success of the ones that have been covered here. However I feel they should be mentioned. There was Scott & Oakes an inter-racial duo who recorded "Tick Tock" for Atlantic subsidiary Cat in 1955, Charles & Carl with "My Lucky Star" / "One More Chance" for Red Robin, Buddy (Griffin) & Claudia (Swan) with the original "I Wanna Hug Ya, Kiss Ya, Squeeze Ya" for Chess, Joan & Joy who had a big hit and Dr. Jive favorite called "You're My Prescription" for Hull, Don & Dewey in the late 50s with the influential tunes "Big Boy Pete" and "Farmer John" for Specialty, and finally the duo that didnt make it - Sugar & Spice. They were Junior Ryder who was part of the Johnny Otis aggregation, and Blondine Taylor one of the Queens who backed up Shirley Gunter on "You're Mine" and "Oop Shoop". They were paired by Buck Ram and signed to Mercury. They recorded "Hey Joe" on Mercury # 70788, "There Were No Angels" and "Don't Be A Bunny" (a plea for good conduct at rock 'n roll shows) on Mercury's subsidiary label Wing (# 90081) and finally "Strawberry Shortcake" and "First Last And Always" for Mercury on #71034. The pair had the look, the sound, and the talent to be huge but it just didn't happen for them and that remains one of the big mysteries of the nineteen fifties.
go to next page . . . . .
back to title page . . . . .