Heart And Soul - The Story of The Cleftones©2000JCMarion


The Cleftones emerged from Jamaica High School in Queens, New York according to legend, via a political campaign for positions on the student council of the school. The singing politicos decided to stay together as budding entertainers after the elections were held (a successful one we are told) and were known as The Clefs. The members were Herb Cox, Berman Patterson, and Warren Corbin. Soon there was a unification of sorts with another local group and Charlie James and Buzzy McClain were added. The new quintet was now called The Silvertones and decided to give their budding talent a shot a neighborhood venues such as Hillcrest Jewish Center, Lost Battalion Hall, the Fresh Meadows Community Center, and the Jamaica YMCA. There was also some friendly competition mostly at Baisley Park with the likes of early versions of The Heartbeats, Cellos, and some of The Rivileers. Soon the vocalists changed their name to The Cleftones and the stage was set for some musical history.

A high school acquaintance of the group David Rollnick became the manager of the group and started making the rounds of the area R & B record labels, mostly without any success or encouragement. In the late fall of 1955 the boys hit pay dirt as George Goldner the head of Tico and Rama Records liked what he heard and set up the very first session for the Cleftones. Goldner announced the signing of the group in the trade press on November 19th. After some differences of opinion between the group and Goldner as to certain aspects of the written contract (certainly regarding royalty statements and copyright protection) the session was set. Jimmy Wright and his combo were the backup musicians as the Cleftones entered Mastertone Recording Studios in New York City that late November day. The 'A' side was to be an uptempo rocker written by group member Berman Patterson called "You Baby You". The jump tune (without a bridge) was totally infectious leading off with Herbie Cox and Berman Patterson on an a capella dual intro lead. The dual lead continues as the ferocious rocking beat takes over with hot guitar (possibly Kenny Burrell) behind the vocals until the "oh yes" leads into a scorching sax break by Wright. The torrid dance tune was released not on Rama as originally planned but on the new Goldner Gee label (either for the 'G' in Goldner or "Gee" his big Rama hit by The Crows, or both) on Gee #1000.

The recording of "You Baby You" moved out and made its mark almost at once. It was selling big on the East coast and also in Detroit. The flip side of the record was a forgettable ballad called "I Was Dreaming". Following up on the record's success in the motor city, the group is booked to play their first big out of town show at Detroit's Fox Theater in a big R & B show presented by Mickey Schorr called Rock 'n Rollerama and The Cleftones shared the bill with Bobby Charles, The Three Chuckles, Della Reese, The Cadillacs, Four Tunes, The Royal Jokers, and others. The show broke the all time house record and was a huge success. Also in the Midwest, the record is a top five seller in both Cincinnati and Columbus Ohio. On the strength of this initial outing interest was high to see if the 'sophomore jinx' would hit this group. The answer was not long in forthcoming.

In March of 1956 the second record by The Cleftones was released on Gee #1011 - "Little Girl Of Mine" and "You're Driving Me Mad". The 'A' side, the mid tempo rocker "Girl" took off running and never looked back. During the spring of that most prolific doo wop year of 1956, the song was practically a teenage national anthem. The secret of its appeal is the fact that it was able to breach barriers that few true R & B groups were able to do up to that time. Radio stations that would die before they would program The Moonglows, Penguins, or Spaniels, readily joined the Doo Wop Nation when it came to this record. For the ultimate proof of the effect of this record on the national face of young America, give a listen to the live version with Alan Freed from the summer of 1956. The crowd sings along on the scat background to Herbie Cox's lead vocal and all but drowns out the group, the band, and each other on the dit-dit-dit chorus on the bridge. The Cox written song sold well over a million and a half copies and was a national smash.

During early April Alan Freed's "Easter Jubilee of Stars" show at the Brooklyn Paramount created a frenzy of major proportions in the Big Apple. It had one of the greatest lineups ever presented in the minds of vocal group fans. The Cleftones shared the stage with their Gee label mates Frankie Lymon & The Teenagers and Valentines, plus The Platters, Willows, Flamingos, and Royaltones with Ruth McFadden. Also on the bill were The Rover Boys, Jodimars (ex Bill Haley's Comets), and historical footnotes Cindy and Lindy and Dori Anne Gray. With the Gee label contingent Jimmy Wright joined the band with Sam the Man Taylor and Big Al Sears. Quite a show, and a good experience for the red hot Cleftones. The boys next headed for troubled waters on a show booked into the State Theater in Hartford, Connecticut.The music was in trouble because of disorderly conduct at a recent Alan Freed show and all eyes would be on the state capitol for the Larry Dixon (of WJKO-Springfield, Mass) revue. Starring will be The Cleftones, Moonglows, Teen Queens, Willows, Schoolboys, Solitaires, Sugar & Spice, Dean Barlowe, and the Buddy Griffin band with Claudia Swann.

In June the Apollo Theater in New York hosts a bill made up mostly of talent from the Gee label. Along with The Cleftones, are Frankie Lymon & The Teenagers, Valentines, Pretenders, and Mabel King. The two non-Gee stars are Clyde MacPhatter and Sil Austin. Right about this time Gee Records released #1016 by The Cleftones - "Can't We Be Sweethearts" and "Neki- Hokey" both written by Herb Cox and Berman Patterson. "Sweethearts" takes off immediately and is an instant national hit. Warren Corbin's framing bass work and the dual lead of Cox and Patterson on the bridge, and Patterson's wordless intro and ending are featured. Listeners are surprised by the flip side this time for two reasons. First it is not a ballad but another jump tune, and it sounds much more professionally done than the two previous flips. This time Berman Patterson takes the solo lead, Warren Corbin reprises his "yeah" accents from"Little Girl Of Mine" and there is a great wordless rideout by Patterson.

Riding the wave of their popularity, the group appears at a show in July at Carr's Beach Ampitheater in Annapolis, Maryland, to a sellout crowd of eight thousand while an overflow massive throng of more than seventy five thousand shut down the entire area and blocked all roads for more than five miles in every direction (this was thirteen years before Woodstock!).The bill along with The Cleftones included Carl Perkins, Al Hibbler, Cathy Carr, Frankie Lymon & The Teenagers, Chuck Berry, Shirley & Lee, Bobby Charles, Della Reese, The Spaniels, and Illinois Jacquet and his band. Quite a lineup put together by radio dj Bill Cook and other area djs from Baltimore and D.C. Later in the month the group appears with many of the same acts at Maple Leaf gardens in Toronto, the first time out of the U.S.A. for the group. Gee Records claims a quarter of a million in sales in the first two weeks for "Sweethearts".

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