THE RECORDINGS -
There are two sets of recordings that may be quite difficult to find owing to the fact that they are of dubious origin (meaning that they are probably somewhat unauthorized), but the importance of these sets is unique.
The first of these is entitled Alan Freed - Live On Stage ! These records consist of a sound recording of the Alan Freed radio programs recorded for the CBS network in the summer of 1956 which originally was to feature the Count Basie orchestra (which I can still recall made my father incredulous !). Basie quickly departed replaced by the Alan Freed big band with all the usual names-Sam "the Man" Taylor, "Big" Al Sears, Mickey Baker, "Panama" Francis, Haywood Henry, and others. There were many guest stars each week and they performed in front of a raucous (to put it mildly) audience. There are supposedly 7 volumes of this set in existence and I have the first 4. I have looked in vain for the other three for the last ten years or so. I can only say that these are the single most valuable resource that I have ever heard in demonstrating the "way it was" in the heyday of this music. It is all here-the groups in their element, the screaming crowd, and the charging band behind them. There are many instances of the magical point, that split second that I call "white light/white heat" when the group hits a jump stop at the end of a chorus and the sax break begins with an elongated blast. At that instant there is a roar from the crowd and an incredible musical rush hits you. There is no equivalent sound in today's music, nor has there been in the last thirty five years or so.
Concentrating on the vocal groups featured in this set, there are many great memories here-The Valentines Lily Maybell and Woo Woo Train with an inventive sax break from Taylor that compares favorably with Jimmy Wright's studio take; a gut-wrenching version of Your Promise To Be Mine by the Drifters, The Cleftones Cant We Be Sweethearts and Little Girl of Mine (with a singing chorus of what sounds like five thousand girls on the "dit-dit-dit" bridge) The Flamingos sending female hearts shrieking with The Vow and A Kiss From Your Lips; and some groups that were not heard live very often in those years such as The Jacks, Flairs, and Four Fellows. I was never a big fan of the Platters despite their huge success worldwide, but on the live take of The Magic Touch, there is a sense of utter perfection from the harmony, the crowd response, and the lovely backing from Sam Taylor and the band that to me never appeared on the studio takes for Mercury.
However the stars of the set are
The Teenagers. Their first appearance came when they were riding the
crest of Why Do Fools Fall In Love. The performance of this tune is
impeccable and taken at a slightly slower tempo than the record. The
sax break is infectious and the group really swings. This is followed
by a very rare live rendition of the ballad side Please Be Mine with
a dramatic Frankie and mellow Sherman leading the way. The uneven
ending shows that the boys were not truly polished yet. Their second
appearance features the single greatest take of the entire set-a
rocking rendition of I Promise To Remember. I have always felt that
this was their best uptempo tune and it shows in this performance. It
begins with a single key setting piano chord right out of the Beatles
Day In The Life school. This massive chord leads into Sherman's
speaker rattling "hooly bop-a cow" opening that is priceless. The
take is again somewhat slower in tempo than the record and is better
balanced. I have always thought that the backup vocals were under
miked on all the Gee sides (except for Out In The Cold Again), but
here they are in place. Especially on the ensemble vocal on the
second bridge, you can really pick up Herman, Jimmy, and Joe.
The second of these recorded documents takes place in 1970 and this is the time of the first true vocal group revival period. These two volumes were recorded at the NY Academy of Music, an historic theater on 14th Street in Manhattan (that has gone through many name changes in the last 30 years). Doo Wop Live ! 1 & 2 features a variety of groups returning to the stage after 15 years or so from their past glory. Some standout performances are delivered by The Harptones, Students, Charts, Kodoks, and Orioles. Robert and Johnny, The Channels, and even The Eternals are fun to listen to. The standouts from an audience reaction are surprisingly The ShangriLas and Fleetwoods ! From my memories of these shows, the group that got the biggest reaction that I can recall was The Passions whose "Just To Be With You" on this set is as good as the studio recording. My favorite take is "Story Untold" by the Nutmegs which leads to my biggest disappointment because you can hear the opening "fog horn" for "Ship Of Love" in the fadeout, but that tune is not included. The vinyl set of these shows were issued on both the DejaVu and Kape labels. They capture a time more than 25 years ago in which appreciation for the once dominant sound of the city was being celebrated and it was recent enough for many of the original singers to have one more go'round from center stage.
Having been there, the most enduring moment I have is a show in which Danny & The Juniors were the opening act, and a few bars into "Sometimes When I'm All Alone", a big fight broke out in the second row over tickets and seats, etc. I thought to myself this was really deja vu ! Danny stopped the song and personally mediated the dispute to a standing "O", and the the performance resumed. Ya hadda be there !
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