The Cap-Tans & Harmon Bethea : A Long & Winding Road ©1999JCMarion
The group known as The Cap-Tans came about when a fledgling vocal group from Washington D.C. called The Buddies met up with a gospel singer by the name of Harmon Bethea. He had been singing with a group called The Progressive Four Voices which was formed at the Washington College of Music in 1947. Bethea decided to join the group consisting of Floyd Bennett, Al Slaughter, Lester Fontaine, and Sherman Buckner. The new group adopted the name The Cap-Tans and recorded for a small local label called (appropriately enough) D.C. Records in early 1950. There were two releases by the group on this label - "You'll Always Be My Sweetheart" and "Coo Coo Jug Jug" on #8054. The second two sider was leased to Dot Records.
In late April of 1950 The Cap-Tans newest record was out on the Philadelphia based Gotham Records, and was released on #233 - "Never Be Lonely" and "My, My, Ain't She Pretty". By September the group was now recording for Randy Woods' Dot Records from suburban Nashville, Tennessee. "I'm So Crazy For Love" and "Crazy About My Honey Dip" was released on Dot #1009 that month after being originally released locally on the D.C. label.. The 'A' side does well for the label with sales averaging close to fifteen thousand per week during the weeks following its release, as the smooth ballad with its obvious references to the style of the Ink Spots finds favor with listeners. At year's end, Dot issues a follow up record by the group recorded with the Griffin Brothers Orchestra on #1018 - "With All My Love" and the humorously named "Chief Turn The Hose On Me". In late summer a second release by the group appeared on the Gotham label - "Yes" and "Waiting At The Station" on #268. By the fall of 1951, The Cap-Tans had been signed by Decca Records as the major tried to become a presence in the growing field of R & B music. The group was slated to record on the Coral Records subsidiary where Decca hoped to make its mark in this musical field. The first outing for the new label hit the streets in December of that year on release #65071 - "Asking" and "Who Can I Turn To ?".
April of 1953 finds The Cap-Tans back on the Dot label as they prepare for a week long stay at The Blue Mirror Club in Washington, D.C. After this appearance the group is off for a series of one nighters through the South and parts of the Midwest.Although the group never had any great impact on the national R & B or pop charts, they had gotten some recognition from "I'm So Crazy" which remained their showcase tune which was the subject of a cover version by The Ravens. By the end of the year the group had called it a day with Bethea going back to his first love, gospel music which he performed during the mid fifties in a group called the Gospel Octaves. However this was not the end of the story of The Cap-Tans.
Four years later a new vocal group emerged called now The L'Cap-Tans with, once again, Harmon Bethea at the helm. In 1958 Hollywood Records released "Call A Doctor" and "The Bells Ring Out" on #1092. It is interesting to note that "Call A Doctor" is a slight re-working of their tune "Chief Turn The Hose On Me" and was recorded in this new version by The Crows five years earlier for Rama. By the late fifties into the early sixties, a number of records by this new group were released. Most served only to be curiosity items when tracing the history of the group. "Say Yes" / "Homework" was out on a reconstituted D.C. #0416 and Savoy #1567; "I'm Afraid" and "Tight Skirts" on the pre Motown Anna label #1122; "Rockin' In The Jungle" and "Annie Penguin" on Hawkeye #0430 (as by Wailin' Bethea & The Cap-Tans); and two releases on the Sabu label - "Whenever I Look At You" on #103, and "You Better Mind" on #501. These unsuccessful recordings would seem to be the end of the line for The Cap-Tans. But NO !!!
By the late 60s the remnants of the group headed by Bethea, coalesced into a group called Masked Man & The Agents and recorded for the Dynamo label. The second release for the group was the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. It was "One Eye Open" on Dynamo #125, and here it was - a huge national hit on both the R & B and pop charts. After all those years of scuffling, getting ripped off on royalties and writer's credits, and all the other well documented travails of the hard times of the R & B performers of the 50s. It was a hit record as well deserved as any that may come along. The follow up also did well. It was called "My Wife, My Dog, My Cat" for Dynamo #131, and with those two charted hits, the long road for Harmon Bethea and the memories of The Cap-Tans paid off at last. He would enjoy the limelight for a few years and look back at a life in the heart of making musical history.
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