Baby It's You : The Spaniels ©2000JCMarion
During the fall months of 1952, every now and then the sound of harmony would be heard wafting through the halls of Roosevelt High School in Gary, Indiana. The producers of these sounds were bass singer Gerald Gregory, baritone Opal Courtney, and tenor voices Ernest Warren and Will Jackson. Feeling that they needed more of a centerpoint, a dramatic lead singer, they found who they were looking for in another Roosevelt High student by the name of James Hudson. James who was known to one and all as "Pookie", became just such a centerpoint of the new quintet who originally called themselves The Hudsonaires. The guys in the group also discovered another fact about Hudson. Not only could he vocalize, but he was a pretty decent talent as a composer of songs. This was considered a plus by all because now they could showcase their talent with original music, rather than recycle someone else's tunes.
The fledgling vocal group was now called The Spaniels, and they came in contact with James and Vivian Carter Bracken. Vivian had a successful radio program featuring R & B music on station WGRY in Gary. Together the Brackens had run Vivian's Record Shop and had begun their own record label to be called Vee-Jay (for Vivian and James) and The Spaniels are the very first artists signed to the new company. Soon the initial release, Vee-Jay #101 is out. "Baby It's You"/ "Bounce" are the two tunes for the group recorded in early May backed up by the Red Saunders Trio and the impact in the local area is felt immediately. The R & B record buying public seems to like the sound of the new young group and it looks like Vee-Jay Records is off to a flying start. As the record sells, it is apparent that Vee-Jay needs help in the distribution area, many times the death knell for aspiring talent on small local labels. Chance Records of Chicago come to the aid of the quintet and Chance #1141 is the label for the Spaniels first effort. Chicago and Detroit are two areas where the record is a hot seller. By early September "Baby It's You" makes it into the national R & B charts top ten. Art Sheridan of Chance claims The Spaniels record is the biggest seller for that label.
After a great run with their initial record, The Spaniels second for Vee-Jay is released in mid October of 1953. Vee-Jay #103 couples a strong ballad side "The Bells Ring Out" and the 'B' side jump tune "House Cleaning". Again the group had good public support in their home base of Chicago-Gary-Detroit. Most again favored Hudson's unique style on the ballad side. In March of 1954 The Spaniels were on the threshold of eternal popularity as the release of Vee-Jay #107 was available to the public.This was "Goodnight Sweetheart Goodnight" / "You Don't Move Me" recorded with the Al Pitts combo. The record's ballad side gets raves in the trade press (both pop music and R & B which is rare for the time), and a defining move in the story of the record happens in April when Vee-Jay Records gets a national distribution deal on the strength of initial sales in the Midwest. This enables The Spaniels version of the Pookie Hudson tune to be readily available from coast to coast. By May the record is big in the Northeast and places like Cincinnati, Nashville, and Richmond. "Goodnight Sweetheart Goodnight" by The Spaniels is now on Vee-Jay #108 (a different national designation?) and it gets that sure fire mark of success for an R & B tune - the pop music cover. There are lots of them including the huge million seller by The McGuire Sisters for Coral Records, and Sunny Gale ("Wheel Of Fortune") on RCA Victor which also sold well. In June The Spaniels play the Apollo Theater in New York with Arnett Cobb. With the group enjoying crossover sales in the pop market (among young White buyers, a harbinger of things to come) they sign on for a big R & B road show which also features The Counts, Drifters, King Pleasure, Roy Hamilton, Faye Adams, Lavern Baker, Rusty Bryant, and the Erskine Hawkins band.
Another nod to the wave of the future occurs when the show hits Cleveland in August and is hosted by Moondog Freed as he announces his move to New York City. The traveling show hits New York over Labor Day weekend and plays the Brooklyn Paramount Theater for an important date there. With the phenomenal success of "Goodnight Sweetheart Goodnight", a followup record was held back by Vee-Jay until late in the year. In October #111 is issued - "Play It Cool" and "Let's Make Up". An interesting feature of "Play It Cool" is its use of many cigarette brand names in the lyric content, and in the delivery in a quasi-narrative style as almost a historic forerunner of the rap style of song presentation. The record pales in sales to the previous outing by the group, but that should have not come as a surprise. "Let's Make Up" does show good numbers in Philadelphia and D.C. however.
The Spaniels kick off 1955 by starring at a big R & B show in Chicago's Trianon Ballroom with Roy Hamilton, Jimmy Reed, Big Maybell, The Counts, Flamingos, and Lavern Baker. The group now tours the Midwest in March and April for dates at Kansas City's Orchid Room, and the Masonic Hall in St. Louis. Vee-Jay #131 is released at this time pairing "Doo-Wah" and "Don't 'Cha Go". The 'A' side "Doo-Wah" is a departure for the Spaniels (and most R & B vocal groups) in the tune as a lilting song with a slight Caribbean feel to it. The Midwestern fans make the new record a hit in their area, and the group tours with Vee-Jay stable mate Jimmy Reed for a month across the heartland. In July The Spaniels hit the road again with an all Vee-Jay label show with The Eldorados, Billy Boy Arnold, and Tommy Dean. In August Vee Jay releases #154 originally called "Painted Picture" and then retitled "You Painted Pictures" b/w "Hey Sister Lizzie". Cash Box magazine picks the record as the pick hit of the week.
In September of 1955 The Spaniels appear in the Dr. Jive show at the Apollo Theater with Joe Turner, Bo Diddley, Charlie & Ray, Dolores Ware, The Five Keys, Hearts, and Buddy & Claudia. Barney Roth, a Gary, Indiana grocery store owner is the writer of "You Painted Pictures" for the hometown Spaniels, and the record makes the top fifteen national R & B charts. At the end of 1955 various personnel changes hit the group as Courtney and Warren left replaced by James Cochrane. The group now a foursome continued on with #178 - "False Love" / "Do You Really?" and #189 - "Dear Heart" and "Why Won't You Dance?". Neither record was much of a success but the Spaniels keep at it on the road in the year 1956. They play Kansas City again with Jimmy Reed, then to Milwaukee's Colonial Theater,and then a long stay back at Chicago's Trianon Ballroom with The Vee-Jay Show with The Eldorados, Jimmy Reed, Joe Buckner, and Tommy Dean. The new records may not be selling but the Vee-Jay Cavalcade is big box office on the West coast especially in Seattle.
The Spaniels now are set for their first true rock 'n roll show starting out July 1, and playing Ontario, Canada, the Midwest, and Texas. Headlining the show is rockabilly star Carl Perkins. Also on the bill are The Teenagers, Cleftones, Al Hibbler, Bobby Charles, Shirley & Lee, Chuck Berry, and the Illinois Jacquet band. In late July the vocal group plays the famous date at Carr's Beach in Annapolis, Maryland, that draws an overflow crowd of 75,000 and paralyzes the entire area. The show heads up to Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto and is m.c.'d by George "The Hound" Lorenz of Buffalo's WKBW. By now lead singer Pookie Hudson had also left the group and the new lead singer was Carl Range. They record # 202 "Baby Come Along With Me" and an interesting version of "Since I Fell For You" (a hit for The Harptones two years earlier). The Spaniels end the year with Pookie Hudson back as lead singer and main composer, and his return pays dividends immediately. Vee-Jay #229 is released in December - "You Gave Me Peace Of Mind" / "Please Don't Tease". 1956 ends with The Spaniels playing a home town venue of sorts, Chicago suburb Waukegan is the site for the group along with The Eldorados, and Kool Gents.
The year of 1957 sees a rebirth by the group as "Peace Of Mind" is a great seller among R & B vocal group fans with its gospel feel and dramatic stylings(much like "Your Precious Love" by The Impressions). Now The Spaniels have regained their place in the front lines of the practitioners of the vocal group sound, and they parlay this success into renewed interest in personal appearances. A few months later in 1957 Vee-Jay #246 presents the group with "Everyone's Laughing" and a tune called "I.O.U." The guys have hit pay dirt again. "Laughing" is a solid national hit in the pop field (a first for the group) as they buck the trend among young listeners who seem to be favoring the teen idol / rockabilly performers. After a solid year in 1957, The Spaniels now hit the wall as the sound of the R & B vocal groups, so dominant just a year or two ago, starts to fade.
The last release of 1957 by The Spaniels was #257 - "I Need Your Kisses" and "You're Gonna Cry" and the initial offering in 1958 - "I Lost You" / "Crazee Babee" do little in sales and airplay, but the next record #278 from the late spring of 1958 does much better : "Tina"and "Great Googley Moo" is a moderate R & B seller in the Midwest. In late August The Spaniels do a unique uptempo version of "Stormy Weather" on #290 with "Here Is Why I Love You" on the flip side. The jump styled version of "Stormy Weather" would become part of just about every a capella group's song list (much like the Cadillacs ballad "Gloria").
By 1959 the lineup of The Spaniels was original members Pookie Hudson, Gerald Gregory, and Ernest Warren, along with Andy MacGruder and Bill Carey. They had a series of unsuccessful releases on Vee-Jay for the next year. #301 contained their very first hit "Baby It's You" and "Heart And Soul"; "Trees" and "I Like It Like That" were on #310; Vee-Jay#328 was "These Three Words" and "100 Years From Today" on #328; "People Will Say We're In Love" and a remake of "The Bells Ring Out"on #342; and the last Spaniels record on Vee-Jay #350 - "I Know" / "Bus Fare Home". The group received some satisfaction when "I Know" got into the national top 25 R & B charts. Gerald Gregory had gone but the group soldiered on now known as Pookie Hudson & The Spaniels. Neptune #124 was released in the summer of 1961 - "For Sentimental Reasons" and "Meek Man" ("For Sentimental Reasons" and "I Know" also appeared on Trip #103). The next spring they did a one shot for Philadelphia's Parkway label on #839 - "John Brown" and "Turn Out The Lights". The last song was kind of prophetic, as The Spaniels were absent from the scene for almost a decade. Pookie did two releases with The Imperials for Lloyd Price's Double L label - #711 : "I Know I Know" / "Jealous Heart", and #720 : "For Sentimental Reasons"/ "Miracles".
By 1970 there were sporadic recordings by the group that seemed to have been left behind by the changes in popular music. Pookie started his own short lived record label in the late sixties and recorded with some of the members of The Imperials and there were three releases in 1970 - North American #001 : "Fairy Tales"/ "Jealous Heart" (which also appeared on Calla #172 and actually charted in the national R & B lists); North American #002 : "Stand In Line"/ "The Lonely Man"; and North American #3114: "Money Blues"/ "Come Back To These Arms". By late 1970 The Spaniels were reformed with a new lineup that consisted of Pookie Hudson on lead, tenors Charles Douglas and Alvin Wheeler, Al Lloyd on baritone, and Peter Simmons on bass. They recorded a remake of "Goodnight Sweetheart Goodnight" for Buddah #153 b/w "Maybe". This is the lineup that appears live on the Kama Sutra LP of the rock revival show at the Forum of Madison Square Garden in New York. There surfaced two other recordings under The Spaniels name in late 1970-early 1971 : "A Lovely Way To Spend An Evening" and "Red Sails In The Sunset" on Lost Nite #307 and "Little Joe" / "The Posse" for Owl #328. One last release came forth in 1974 as The Spaniels returned home, so to speak. It was a 45 rpm EP for Gary, Indiana's Canterbury label. The EP #101 contained an updated soul music inspired "Peace Of Mind" and "She Sang To Me" and the old standard "Danny Boy".
So for more than two decades The Spaniels produced a long and varied catalog of recorded music spanning the golden days of R & B, the birth of rock 'n roll, weathered the British invasion and the psychedelic era. Through all of this they remained true to their musical vision. There are two CDs of the sides for Vee-Jay in print, and an interesting CD called The Spaniels Fortieth Anniversary 1953-1993. (For me, I still have my treasured original vinyl LP of "Goodnight Sweetheart Goodnight" on Vee-Jay). James "Pookie" Hudson remains one of the greatest lead singers and Gerald Gregory will be remembered as the possessor of the signature sound of the bass voice as the foundation of voices in harmony. For the class and superior talent of the vocal group style, about The Spaniels we can truthfully say - Baby It's You !
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