Zoom : The Story of The Cadillacs - part 2


The year of 1956 saw the group spread their influence with many personal appearances. A number of shows were done in New Jersey with The Valentines, Gloria Mann, The Wrens, and others. On Valentine's Day weekend the group appears with Screamin'Jay Hawkins, The Heartbeats, Ann Cole, Ruth McFadden, Frank Culley's Combo, Big Al Sears,the Bonnie Sisters, and appropriately enough, The Valentines at the Opera House Theater in The Bronx. The show was presented by Hal Jackson. For most of the month of March The Cadillacs will tour Virginia and the Carolinas on an interesting double bill with Ray Charles and his orchestra. "Speedo" continues to sell into the springtime and the group is all the rage throughout the country. They play the Fox Theater in Detroit as part of a show presented by Robin Seymour of WKMH in that city. Also on the bill are the Three Chuckles, Cleftones, Royal Jokers, Bobby Charles, the Four Tunes, and Harold Burrage. Back east in New Jersey for Ramon Bruce and his R & B Bandwagon Show which sells out everywhere. The Cadillacs are a must addition to the bill of the Top Ten R & B Caravan which will kick off in Richmond, Virginia in April. On the bill are Little Richard, Fats Domino, Ruth Brown, The Clovers, Little Willie John, and The Turbans. In the middle of all this activity Josie is able to release to the public # 729 - "Zoom" / "You Are".

Even as the sales of "Speedo" are just beginning to slow down across the country, the new rocker takes hold. First oddly enough in Los Angeles, and then in other regions "Zoom" looks like a winner. Although not able to duplicate the pop success of their previous side, it is The Cadillacs that are the number one vocal group attraction. "Zoom" captures the pure joy of rock 'n roll (as the previous three jump tunes by the group had) in a presentation of a song with simple basic lyrics. Some nice touches are the fade in of the background midway through the first bridge, the joyous "oh yeah" leading into the sax break most of it taken at half tempo, Drake's bass vocal on the second bridge and morphing into Earl Carroll's vocal take on the final verse, and the wordless last run through leading to the final note. It was just a great vocal performance again by the group. The flip of "You Are" is further proof of the under-appreciated ballad style shown by The Cadillacs on this wonderful tune featuring a great dramatic ending.

It was the summer of 1956 and The Cadillacs seemed on top of the R & B world. It seemed as though they couldn't miss on record and they were the most in demand vocal group with the possible exception of The Platters. It seemed inconceivable at the time but the fall was about to begin. The new Josie Records release was #798 - "Woe Is Me" and "Betty My Love". For the first time in along while the record did not catch on with the public. "Betty" was an undistinguished ballad and was seen by many as a lame answer to the Teen Queens "Eddie My Love" (which I had never thought it was meant to be) and the upside "Woe Is Me" was a slowed down medium tempo tune that seemed to drag and was missing that Cadillac exuberance. Even though the record sold in some areas (it claimed a top ten seller in Atlanta and Kansas City)it was not a national success. It was about this time that an integral part of the Cadillacs and a crowd favorite, Lavern Drake left the group and was replaced by James Bailey. In the fall Josie #805 was issued pairing "The Girl I Love" and "That's All I Need". Despite the hype of the record label in the trade press and on radio, the record went nowhere.

The "pop"-ularization of The Cadillacs continued with the November release of the group's version of the holiday classic "Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer" on Josie #807. The flip side was a bouncy throw-away called "The Shock-A-Doo". Trade ads taken out by Josie Records make sure that potential buyers know that the song is the original by Johnny Marks and that the record is a pop music version. They succeed somewhat as the record gets good airplay and sales are good nationally as proven by reaching the top fifteen on the R & B charts. Dissatisfaction over the direction of the musical fortunes of the group led to squabbling and differences of opinion. The group tried a return to their past successes with a bouncy uptempo tune called "Sugar Sugar" written by Chuck Willis. The forgettable flip was "About That Girl Named Lou". The 'A' side was a Cadillacs styled rocker and a lasting visual impression I have of the tune is Earl Carroll's performance of the tune during the Alan Freed holiday show in his adopted persona of a hip boulevardier with top hat and decorated walking stick and doing the fade out line "Sugar Sugar, Come Go Home With Me" off the stage and then re-appearing one more time, and then maybe again. It was a great musical moment that far outlasted the popularity of the record which was quite a disappointment.

By the late spring of 1957 the schism that had engulfed the Cadillacs caused the breakup of the group. In its wake were two separate lineups with the same name and recording for the same label. The two separate groups released records almost simultaneously. Josie #820 featured the group known as The Four Cadillacs (on later pressings just as The Cadillacs) with "Please Be My Girlfriend" and "Broken Heart". This group consisted of Bobby Spencer, James Bailey, Roland Martinez, and Lavern Drake. The tune "Girlfriend" was done a capella and the uptempo side was much more influential than sales would ever indicate. In the ensuing forty years or more it has become a staple of virtually every a capella singing group (as has the original version of "Gloria" by the group). Actual sales of the release were not great, and even less can be said for The Original Cadillacs ( Earl Carroll, Earl Wade, Charles Brooks, and Bobby Phillips) on Josie #821 of "Lucy" and "Hurry Home". They tried again listed as Earl Carroll & The Original Cadillacs on Josie #834 with a cover of the Hollywood Flames Ebb record of "Buzz Buzz Buzz" and the flip side of "Yea Yea Baby". This also turned out to be a forgettable side for the group. In this confused and disjointed state, the year of 1957 ended.

In early 1958 another strange Josie release saw the light of day. Listed as by Jesse Powell & The Caddys, the foursome responsible for "My Girlfriend" vocalized on a tune called "Ain't You Gonna" while the flip was an instrumental by sax man Powell called "Turnpike" on #834. By now the dual group situation was becoming troublesome. It was resolved after a number of meetings with Esther Navarro, Jesse Powell, the powers that be at Jubilee/Josie, and the result was one unified group of Cadillacs for recording and personal appearances. Wade, Brooks, and Phillips, called it a career and so the remaining five were Earl Carroll, Bobby Spencer, James Bailey, Roland Martinez, and Lavern Drake. Josie #836 was released in March of 1958 and the try for return to glory was the inspiration for the song "Speedo Is Back". Evidently the magic was not back as that tune and its flip side called "Looka Here" did not do much for the group or Josie Records. The one positive result was an increase in bookings for the group for personal appearances where they were still a top draw. The summer of 1958 saw the release of "Holy Smoke Baby" and "I Want To Know" on Josie #842. It disappeared without hardly a trace. But - the Cadillacs were about to return by the process of re-inventing themselves.

In the fall of 1958 after five years on the R & B and rock 'n roll trail the Cadillacs took stock of their future and its possibilities. They took note of the huge success of The Coasters with their humorous tales of everyday life and saw a chance for themselves to mine this very same category of fun and familiarity. The initial result was Josie #846 released in October. The 'A' side "Peek-A-Boo" was an instant hit and went big in the pop market. In broke into the top twenty five nationally and the Cadillacs had their biggest smash since "Speedo". In early 1959 they continued with "Jay Walker" on Josie #857, and "Please Mister Johnson" on #861. The Cadillacs in their "Coasters" phase had returned to popularity and their performance was captured on film in the Alan Freed motion picture called "Mr. Rock And Roll" (the same film that shows Jackie Wilson doing a "moonwalk" !). They finished out the year of 1959 with two more mostly forgotten sides for Josie - #866 : "Romeo" / "Always My Darling" and #870: "Big Dan McGoon" and "Dumbell". Soon Earl Carroll would leave and continue his musical career with the real Coasters joining long time member Carl Gardener and Cornell Gunter. He would be part of that continually touring group for more than thirty years.

Into the sixties the name of The Cadillacs continued on with various personnel and on different labels. None of the subsequent recordings were sellers of any merit but they were certainly worthy efforts by those attempting to keep the history alive. On Josie came #865 as by Speedo & The Pearls - "Naggity Nag" / "Who You Gonna Kiss"; on #876 as by Speedo & The Cadillacs - "Tell Me Today" and "It's Love"; on #883 - "The Boogie Man" / "That Is Why"; and on #915 as by The Original Cadillacs - "I'll Never Let You Go"/ "The Wayward Wanderer" released in late 1963. In 1961 there was one release on Smash #1712 - "You Are To Blame" and "What You Bet". Two recordings for Capitol as by Bobby Ray (really Bobby Spencer) & The Cadillacs - #4825 - "Groovy Groovy Love" and "White Gardenia", and #4935 - "La Bomba" and "I Saw You". In 1964 Esther Navarro was still around the Cadillacs and formed a record label for a one shot for the group. The result was Arctic #101 - "Fool" / "The Right Kind of Loving" and on some issues it is listed as by Ray Brewster & The Cadillacs. With this failed release, the wonderful decade long relationship between Navarro and The Cadillacs came to an end. It was a very special bond and in many ways it paralleled a similar team with Deborah Chessler and The Orioles that began in the late forties.

The music of the Cadillacs did not die there however. Two sides appeared on the small independent Lana label that featured a late sixties version of the group with Bobby Spencer on lead. Lana #118 was a remake of "Speedo" and #119 was a remake of the first Cadillacs song "Gloria". One last recording under the name of The Cadillacs was released, this time by a major player in the nineteen seventies on the Polydor label. It was a socially relevant "message song" called "Deep In The Heart Of The Ghetto" parts one and two, as by The Original Cadillacs on #14031. From time to time reissues of the Josie sides appear on off brand labels such as Trip and Virgo, and there were four LPs released by Jubilee. As with all of the doo wop era tunes the CD technology has been a treasure trove of re-releases and historically important sources of this music. Currently there are various collections of the Cadillacs tunes available and we are fortunate in that regard.

After seeing the Cadillacs many times in their glory days in the mid fifties, the last time I had the pleasure of witnessing their talent was at the Academy of Music in 1970. The two Earls, Bobby Spencer and James Bailey hit the stage and were joined by Lavern Drake who played piano on a couple of the ballads ! If you saw the recent PBS special called 50 Years of Doo Wop, you saw Earl Carroll still vocalizing after all these years and joined by (possibly Bobby Spencer and Leroy Binns (original Charts) as The Cadillacs. The sequence on "Gloria" was priceless with Earl Lewis, then Vito Balsamo, then Jimmy Gallagher, then Herbie Cox, then Johnny Maestro, and finally everyone deferring to Mister Earl on the lead vocal. It was great seeing Earl once again on "Speedo" and "Zoom". Zoom indeed ! The Cadillacs will never die !

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