Philly Favorites : The Turbans©2000JCMarion


The Turbans became a Philadelphia legend for being in the right place, at the right time, with the right sound. Their place in the history of R & B vocal group music is much greater than the recorded history of the group, certainly owing to the fact of the timelessness of their two best known songs. The original members of the Turbans were Al Banks - lead singer, Matthew Platt - tenor, Charles Williams - baritone, and Chet Jones on bass. After getting their act together and working on their harmonies, group manager Herman Gillespie made contact with Al Silver the head of Herald Records in New York, one of the premier Eastern independent R & B labels. Soon in mid 1955 a recording session was set up and an uptempo tune written by Jones called "When You Dance" was to be coupled with a tune called "Let Me Show You (Around My Heart)" with the latter song to be the featured side.


After a few weeks out and on the radio, it is apparent that even though "Let Me Show You" is a favorite in their hometown of Philadelphia, it is the uptempo multi-rhythmed "When You Dance" that has captured the ear of the record buying public. The release for Herald on #458 starts to get national airplay and by November breaks out into the pop music market. The unique combination of a rumba styled Latin rhythm on the vocals and straight ahead 4/4 R & B behind the sax break catches the ear on radio in 1955. Al Banks lead ranging from baritone to swooping falsetto in front of superb three part harmony, and the bass tag line at the end of each verse is a "can't miss" vocal group formula for Herald. In December "When You Dance" is on the most played lists in major cities including Atlanta, Boston, and Detroit. In the motor city, The Turbans appear in a sold out show in early December with Detroit radio personalities Robin Seymour and Mickey Schorr.


In January of 1956 The Turbans sign on for a big R & B package tour that also includes Bill Haley, LaVern Baker, Shirley & Lee, The Platters, Drifters, Five Keys, Joe Turner, Bo Diddley, Roy Hamilton, and Red Prysock & his band. The tour will start in Pittsburgh and cover the Southeastern states. In February Herald releases the followup to "When You Dance" on #469. It is "Sister Sooky" and "I'll Watch Over You". The Turbans do some dates in the Midwest with Guitar Slim, including a week at Kansas City's Orchid Room. "Sooky" gets airplay and sales in the Eastern half of the country, as listeners are intrigued by the multi-rhythmed format used on "When You Dance", and the tag line of "she's gone to Egypt". The exceptional backup vocals of the group behind Al Bank's lead is outstanding. In March the group plays the Circle Theater in Cleveland with Dakota Staton and Paul "Hucklebuck" Williams.


In April The Turbans join up with another big touring R & B show, this one titled "The Big R & B Show of 1956". Featured performers with the group are Fats Domino, Ruth Brown, Little Richard, Al Jackson, The Cadillacs, Sweethearts, Little Willie John, and Choker Campbell & his band. The show will tour for six weeks and include the Southeast, Texas, parts of the Midwest, and Toronto, Canada. After the tour finishes up Herald releases a new side from The Turbans on #478 - "I'm Nobody's" and "B-I-N-G-O". In July the group hits the road again this time with Sonny Boy Williamson throughout the Midwest. Herald pushes the ballad side of the newest release "I'm Nobody's" hoping for a breakout in the pop market but so far they have been unsuccessful. In September Herald tries again with #486 - "It Was A Night Like This" and "All My Love". In October The Turbans pay a return visit to the Circle Theater in Cleveland.
In 1957 the year sees the last two recordings for Herald Records by the group. Early in the year Herald #495 features "Valley of Love" and "Bye And Bye". It does not do well and the group has to rely on in person appearances with name recognition from their first two hits for the label. There was a long delay in their next and last recording for Herald, which was released late in the year. It was a classic ballad called "Congratulations", and was backed with a throw away jump tune called "The Wadda-Do" on #510. The ballad side initially did well but then kind of got lost among the great number of records that were released at the time. In later years the ballad side has become one of the most performed tunes by a capella groups and other vocal groups keeping the sound of the music alive. In early 1958 however the label was pushing the jump side in trade publications. Into the early spring, "Congratulations" seems to be making strides in overcoming the flip side as the hit for The Turbans.


By late April the record had run out of steam and so had the relationship between Herald Records and the group. The Turbans recorded sporadically in the next few years, none of the releases did much of anything to improve their fortunes. There was one side for Red Top - #115 which featured "I Promise You Love" and "Curfew Time"; two releases for Roulette - #4281 - "Diamonds And Pearls" / "Bad Man" and #4326 - "I'm Not Your Fool Anymore" and "Three Friends". This was followed by one outing on Parkway on #820 - a remake of "When You Dance" and "Golden Rings". Three forgettable recordings for Imperial in the early 60s ended the recording career of The Turbans. In later years Al Banks spent some time with the post Ben E. King Drifters. There was one last memorable turn for The Turbans. It came in 1970 in a doo wop reunion concert at New York's Academy of Music, and a live recording exists of Al Banks and the group offering up "When You Dance" and "Congratulations" one last time. The ballad side shows the group still had the means to deliver the goods. And deliver they did for a time in the mid fifties. The quartet from Philadelphia certainly did not have the number of hits or the longevity of many others, but the style and the sound were there and they are never to be forgotten.


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