Chicago Remembered : The Gems ©1999JCMarion


The Gems were formed in Chicago in 1952. The original members were Ray Pettis on lead, Bob Robinson and David Taylor on tenor, Wilson James baritone, and the bass was Rip Reed. They secured a recording date with the newly formed Drexel Record company in Chicago in May of 1954. The label was founded by Paul King of that city, and Les Caldwell who was a formerly in regional sales for the King Record Company of Cincinnati. The first release for the label was The Gems recording of "Let's Talk About The Weather" and "Deed I Do" on #901. The very next record issued by the label featured The Gems on the old pop and R & B standard ballad "Since I Fell For You" on Drexel #902. The lead singer for this release was Dorothy Logan, who sang solo on the flip side. The "Weather" side for the Gems on #901 did well for the group in the Midwest, especially in the Chicago and Gary, Indiana areas for the home town guys.

Early in 1955 The Gems recorded "Kitty From New York City" and "I Thought You'd Care" on Drexel #903. This side seemed to get lost in the rapid rise of the new sound in American music that was taking place at that time. The group on their next outing went back to a tried and true R & B standard, "Old Man River" and this was backed with "You're Tired Of Love" on #904. Once again a solid measure of success seemed to elude the group, but they were back with another Drexel release on #909 which paired "One Woman Man" and "The Darkest Night". There was some airplay and sales on this latest release but once again it was mostly confined to the Chicago area which was a common occurrence with small independent labels with poor distribution networks. There was one final recording by the group which came out in mid 1957 on Drexel #915 - "Monkey Face Baby" and "Till The Day I Die" which was a mostly unnoticed postscript for the Gems.

The memory of The Gems has been kept alive by the fans of the sound of the R & B vocal groups, and this is why the music survives after all these years. The talent and the style of all those voices from that time in the past endures today and we remember the the songs of The Gems.

Tony Allen : The Nite Owl Remembered©1999 JCMarion


In the fall of 1955 from out of nowhere came the strange and haunting sound of a song entitled "Nite Owl". The bluesy ballad tune was embellished by the hoots of an owl as the singer professed his love for one who stays away from him and goes out on the town alone. The harmony of the backing singers was strong and mood setting but the lead vocal was something to behold. Emotional and heartfelt, the vocal technique featured some of the most amazing syllable bending ever heard on record. Taking a mono-syllable word such as 'door', and reinventing it into a four or five syllable extension was incredibly inventive and unique . I have always said that other than Johnny Ray in his prime, no one else even comes close to Tony Allen. Whenever I meet anyone who is not familiar with this music I make them listen closely to this tune to get all the incredibly complex nuances of the vocal in this seemingly simple music.

Specialty #560 was certainly a landmark recording for the vocal group style. It caught the ear of every new listener that fall and really gave all the budding lead singers something to shoot for. The record first started to break out in New Orleans in November of 1955, and then the next month spread like wild fire to the Northeast and New York. Tony and the group appeared on the Johnny Otis television show in Los Angeles in late December. Soon after the new year began, the group was no more and Tony Allen as a solo began doing personal appearances on the West coast. Soon he was signed to do a number of one nighters on the coast with Percy Mayfield and Harmonica Slim. It now appeared that Allen was now concentrating his talent as a solo R & B artist and not a vocal group act. In February Specialty #570 was released. The songs were "Check Yourself Baby" recorded as a solo by Allen, and the flip side "Especially" was sung with an uncredited vocal group (most likely the Champs).

The second Specialty release sunk without a trace and soon Tony Allen had a new record out on a new label. This label was called Ultra Records and was an offshoot of the Aladdin label owned by the Messner brothers. Allen recorded "It Hurts Me So" for the label and it showed up in sporadic playlist charts such as one in Norfolk, Virginia which placed it in that area's top ten hit records. Tony also recorded a song called "Strange Talk" for Imperial #5523 in 1958 that didn't sell. Nothing much was heard from Tony Allen after that, but in 1960 he showed up on Kent #364 with a group called The Wonders and songs were "Be My Love" and "Dreaming".

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