Birds Of A Feather : Part 2 -The Swallows©©1999JCMarion


The Swallows were, like their neighborhood influences The Vibranaires, from Baltimore, Maryland, and began their vocal harmonies soon after the end of World War II. They originally called themselves The Oakateers, but by 1949 were called The Swallows. The chosen name was as the story goes, in deference to their mentors who now called themselves The Orioles. After a number of local gigs in the Baltimore area, they came to the attention of King Records of Cincinnati and soon a recording session was arranged for the young singers. The group consisted of Eddie Rich, Fred Johnson, Junior Denby, Norris Mack, and Earl Hurley.

The first recording for the label was released in the spring of 1951 on King #4458. It paired "Will You Still Be Mine" and "Dearest". By July the record was a big seller in the bay area of San Francisco and Oakland. The popularity of the new group led to their first tour in which they were on the bill with the Count Basie Orchestra and vocalist Earl Williams, and hit a number of one nighters in the Eastern half of the country.About this time King #4466 was out pairing "Since You've Been Away" and "Wishing For You". By the end of the year the third release on King hit the streets - #4051 which paired "Eternally" and the ribald jump tune "It Ain't The Meat (It's The Motion)". The jump side was a big seller in the South especially in Georgia and the Carolinas.

In March of 1952 The Swallows played an early fifties dream bill on stage at the Earle Theater in Philadelphia with Johnny Ray (imagine the scene for that twosome !). The following month the group is well received at the Howard Theater in Washington D.C. on a show with the Sonny Thompson Combo and vocalist Lula Reed. King #4515 "Tell Me Why" / "Roll Pretty Baby" was released shortly after New Year's day and somehow got lost in the shuffle. The next King record which came out in April was #4525 was "You Left Me" and "Beside You" with Junior Denby taking over lead singing chores from Rich. Soon after the release of their new record, The Swallows play for two weeks in Atlantic City, New Jersey and get ready for their first extensive tour of the South.

In May King releases the group's take on the fine pop standard "I Only Have Eyes For You" which predates the Flamingos version by six years (as an added bit of circumstance, The Flamingos were originally known as The Swallows until they discovered the King group had first dibs on the name !). The flip side on this record was "You Walked In". In August of 1952 The Swallows do a number of shows with Cleveland dj Alan "Moondog" Freed, along with Edna McGriff and the Buddy Lucas band. The shows do huge business in Lorraine, Akron, and Youngstown with SRO crowds. In mid September the group prepares for a seven week tour of the South where they remain popular. The touring show also features Wini Brown, H-Bomb Ferguson, Lil' Miss Sharecropper (LaVern Baker) and the Todd Rhodes Orchestra. While on this tour King puts out #4579 - "Where Do I Go From Here" and "Please Baby Please". The Swallows close a very successful year on the West Coast doing shows with R & B showstopper Amos Milburn.

In early 1953 King #4612 is released - "Our Love Is Dying" / "Laugh". While traveling between appearances in Pennsylvania in February, the group is involved in an auto accident near Lancaster. They are fine physically but while waiting for needed auto repairs the group makes news locally by giving an impromptu concert at a nearby convalescent home. That spring King releases the mystically named "Bicycle Tillie" and "Nobody's Loving Me". "Pleading Blues" and the fine ballad "Trust Me" is next on King #4656 in late summer, and by the end of the year, the end is in sight for the group on King Records. The last release for the label is #4676 - "I'll Be Waiting" and "It Feels So Good".

By the end of 1953 the Swallows in their original form disbanded after five years together and two years of recording for King. A revamped group gets together with remaining members Earl Hurley and Eddie Rich, original late 40s member Irv Turner, along with Al France and Ernie Bailey. By the spring of 1954 this new group of Swallows recorded one record for Lexy "Flap" Hanford's After Hours label : #104 - "My Baby" and "Good Time Girls" which sold fairly well in the group's home town of Baltimore and in Washington, D.C. After that one release for After Hours the group disbanded for good. But - not quite.

Four years later in the rock & roll teen idol phase, here comes The Swallows again. This time it is a group that evolved from a casual get together with original members Eddie Rich and Earl Hurley and singers Calvin Collette and Buddy Bailey (not the Clovers' Bailey) and back they were with Syd Nathan's R & B empire in Cincinnati, but this time on the Federal label. Four sides were issued in 1958 by this newly reconstituted version of the group. Federal #12319 - "Angel Baby" and "Oh Lonesome Me" both obvious covers, #12328 - "We Want To Rock" and "Rock-A-Bye-Baby Rock" trying to appeal to the late 50s teens, #123229 - "Laughing Boy" / "Beside You", and #12333 - "Who Knows, Do You?" and a cover of Bobby Hendricks "Itchy Twitchy Feeling" a straight rock & roll number. This last tune actually just barely touched the national pop charts in late 1958. Mercifully (in a way) this slight success did not breed a host of warmed over covers by the group.

Soon after, the Swallows were history leaving a legacy of more than a decade of music making and two years of super stylings by an inventive and dynamic vocal group that once again, had peaked too soon and thus was missed by the majority of listeners that came to know and appreciate the Rhythm & Blues performers of the early and mid fifties. But collectors know and treasure the King sides as a part of the history of this glorious music.

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