Heart And Soul - The Story of The Cleftones part two
In late August Alan Freed set up the lineup for his Second Anniversary Show at the Brooklyn Paramount. The Cleftones will once again be headlined, along with Frankie Lymon & The Teenagers, Harptones, Penguins, two R & B legends Joe Turner and Fats Domino, Jean Chapel, Mabel King, Jimmy Cavello & The Houserockers, and the Alan Freed band with a killer sax lineup of Sam Taylor, Big Al Sears, Freddie Mitchell, and Jimmy Wright. The success of the two jump tune release led Gee Records to do it again with the October release of #1025 - "String Around My Heart" and "Happy Memories". Although the record takes off quickly in the Northeast, it is apparent that this one will not approach the sales figures for the previous three releases by the group. "String" features a lead by Cox and superior work on session guitar, and is a snappy jump tune. The flip side is the one lesser known tune by The Cleftones that has remained close to my heart all of these years. For some unknown reason this side became the theme song at a beach I hung out at during the following summer (1957), and whenever I hear or think of the song it brings back pleasant memories of that summer of my youth, especially the tag line "that wonderful night last June" on the vocal by Berman Patterson. I have always loved the extroadinary fade out on this line when halfway through, the instruments stop and the fade continues a capella - a great touch !
After four good to great uptempo hits for Goldner's Gee label, The Cleftones entered the year of 1957 with thoughts of perhaps changing the sound of their music just a bit. The next Gee release #1031 featured a mid tempo rocker but this time with a softer edge. It was called "Why You Do Me Like You Do" and again was written by Berman Patterson. Herb Cox did the lead singing with Patterson picking up the vocal on the bridge. This newer type of sound did not click with record buyers in any great numbers however, and the flip side "I Like Your Style Of Making Love" was very much like the 'A' side and also did not get much attention. Later in the year The Cleftones for the first time sang a ballad and promoted it as the 'A' side of a Gee Records release. This was "See You Next Year", and remains one of the "lost"ballads of the fifties. Why this tune did not sell in big numbers is one of the mysteries of the time. It had the more modern sounding style of the ballad groups by that time (mid 1957) and was contemporary in its lyric. The vocals by Cox and Berman - two part harmony on the main choruses and trading lines on the bridge - were superb, and the harmonies were fine and Corbin's bass was the perfect"bottom", but it just didn't go over with the public. The flip side "Ten Pairs Of Shoes" was forgettable as was the followup on Gee #1041 - "Hey Babe"/ "What Did I Do That Was Wrong" . The rapid fire "Babe" was a takeoff on an army marching cadence call and seemed foreign being handled by The Cleftones.
By now the magic had gone and the group was struggling. Bookings were few and far between, and ones that came their way were for openers doing a couple of old tunes being used as scene setters for the big name acts. There was one last Gee release in this period on #1048 pairing "Lover Boy" and "Beginners At Love". The jump side "Lover Boy" again showed the pop sound that had taken over in rock 'n roll by that time in 1958. Gone was the heavy accented two/four backbeat that was the heart of R & B. Also absent was the typical blasting sax break by Jimmy Wright as that too was deemed "dated". The Cox written "Lover Boy" was a fine rock tune except for the fact that the group sounded like a shell of their former selves behind the Cox vocal, with Corbin's bass totally absent and as if there were only two backup singers. By now George Goldner had moved in new directions with his Gone and End labels and concentrated on The Chantels and the new Flamingos. The big Gee act, The Teenagers were gone and soon the Cleftones were out of the picture as far as Goldner was concerned. But not for long as they were quickly signed to Hugo and Luigi's Roulette Records by Henry Glover, longtime A & R man for many labels especially Federal / King.
During the summer of 1958 the Cleftones recorded Roulette #4094 - "She's So Fine" / "Trudy". This record which I found at a record store in Naples, Italy (while in the military) is another that has always had me puzzled. "Trudy" is an exceptional ballad sung beautifully by Berman Patterson and has all the ingredients for a monster pop hit. It didn't happen. The flip "She's So Fine" will remind many of "Little Girl Of Mine" but taken at a faster tempo. Readily apparent on both sides is the superior recording technique and sound of Roulette compared to Gee and their shoestring sessions. The bottom line was, well the bottom line. The record did not sell and neither did the next Roulette release #4161 "Cuzzin' Casanova" and "Mish Mash Baby". Roulette gave the group one more shot in late 1960 with #4302 - "She's Gone" and the very interestingly titled "Shadows On The Very Last Row" but that was another failure. The fortunes of the group had sunk to a new low as record sales and personal appearances evaporated. Anticipating the end Buzzy McClain and vocal stalwart Berman Patterson left, while former Rivileer (and teenage rival from years before) Gene Pearson joined up for a short time. This seemed like the end of the line for The Cleftones. But in the words of TV announcer Lee Corso - "Not so fast my friend !"
Henry Glover and George Treadwell (manager of the Ben E. King new Drifters) got together with the remnants of The Cleftones (with added member Patricia Spann) and forged a new identity for the group to go with their revamped sound. The George Goldner labels had been taken over by Roulette and so there were the Cleftones back on the Gee label. Once again a vocal group had come back from popular exile by the process of re-inventing themselves. In the spring of 1961 Gee #1064 was released. It was a new version of a standard from big band days originally done by Bea Wain with the Larry Clinton Orchestra called "Heart And Soul". As the group waited to see how the public would respond (the Flamingos on Goldner's End label made a second career out of redoing standards) they crossed their collective fingers. The answer was not long in coming. The sound had reached a receptive ear concerning the public and it looked as though the Cleftones had lived to sing another song. The loping tempo, fine lead by Herb Cox, together harmony by the group with the female voice giving them a new edge,and Warren Corbin adding the bass interlude on the bridge, all added up to a winner. For the first time in five long years The Cleftones were back on top, as the recording broke into the top twenty national pop charts and top ten R & B listings. It was a heady feeling for the group who for so long couldn't seem to buy a hit.
The Cleftones decided not to rush out a follow up immediately,preferring to let the record ride.It did quite well selling in the neighborhood of 350,000 copies for Gee/Roulette. Member Gene Pearson probably had a bit of deja vu as the next release was "For Sentimental Reasons", a big hit for Gene and his group The Rivileers on Baton six years before. The Cleftones version was out on Gee #1067 and was released around Labor Day of 1961. It had a respectable showing, not as big as the previous side had, but it gave the Cleftones added recognition as a survivor of the 50s doo wop years. Once again the song is done at a medium tempo and Cox does lead vocals with nice tight harmony by the rest of the group. The record sold well enough to again enter the national pop charts and so the Cleftones seemed to have found a new formula for success. At this time a song recorded by the group was being prepped for release by Roulette. It was called "Vacation In The Mountains" (the flip was"Leave My Woman Alone"), but because of the hit status of the first two new Gee releases it was put out on Rama (the final pressing on that label) as by Herb Cox and not The Cleftones,to avoid confusion by the public. The record got lost in the shuffle and today has great value as a collector's item.
The Cleftones now had a number of releases for Gee pairing pop standards. In 1962 there was #1074 - "Earth Angel" / "Blues In The Night"; #1077 - "Again" (which reportedly has Sherman Garnes of The Teenagers on bass)/ "Do You?"; #1079 - "Lover Come Back To Me" / "There She Goes"; and #1080 - "How Deep Is The Ocean?" / "Some Kinda Blue". There were also two albums of mostly standards released on the Gee label - #705 - "Heart And Soul" which featured Pat Spann on lead for "Heavenly Father" and the Schoolboys "Please Say You Want Me". Gee LP #707 was titled "For Sentimental Reasons" which included "Vacation In The Mountains" this time as by the entire group. There was one last single in late 1963 on Ware #6001 - "He's Forgotten You" and"Right From The Git Go" which the public forgot about immediately. This time the end was for real and The Cleftones became another memory of the great era of the R & B vocal groups.
In 1970 The Cleftones reformed for a revival show in New York City. All of the original members appeared with the exception of Buzzy McClain who was replaced by Gene Pearson. After that time they did sporadic appearances at various revival concerts in the Northeast and were always greeted warmly by the crowds. By the start of the decade of the nineties, there still was a Cleftones group performing. In 1990 Herb Cox, Tony Gaines, Nicky Saunders, and Charlie James recorded an original release on Classic Artists which featured "You Lost The Game Of Love" and "My Angel Lover". The sound endures still as on the recent PBS television special Fifty Years of Doo Wop featured Herb and a revamped group singing a lively version of "Heart And Soul". The Cleftones have been a part of the music scene in this country for more than forty five years and have provided such enjoyment and pleasure in their performances that they will never be forgotten. This is perhaps the ultimate tribute to this group, and to think it started with a high school student council election !
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