James Sheppard - solo and Shep & The Limelights©2006JCMarion


In early 1960 The Heartbeats were beset by internal problems dividing James Sheppard and the rest of the group, and they soon called it a career after close to seven years as one of the top vocal groups on the R & B scene. The rest of the group never recorded again, but Sheppard went out and tried his hand as a solo performer and was soon signed to the Apt label most noted for the Staten Island based group The Elegants and their recordings of "Little Star" and "Little Boy Blue". The one Apt release was issued on # 25039 with the songs "Two Loving Hearts" and "Too Young To Wed" which was listed on the label as by Shane Sheppard and also as by Shane Shepp. The record went nowhere and James soon looked to get back into the familiar confines of a vocal group setting. Later in 1960 Rama # 216 was re-released and "A Thousand Miles Away" once again received some popularity and some airplay. At about the same time Apt Records released # 25046 with the tunes "One Week From Today" and "I'm So Lonely" which also had a negligible history on the music scene. Late in 1960 and into early 1961 Sheppard got together with two acquaintances, Clarence Bassett and Charles Baskerville who were former members of the group The Videos famous for the big jump hit "Trickle Trickle".

When the trio was ready they named themselves Shep & The Limelights and re-connected with Bea Kaslin and Hull records. The result was the release of Hull # 740 with the songs "Daddy's Home" and "This I Know". This time Sheppard hit paydirt with a sequel to his masterful song "A Thousand Miles Away". The record became a huge seller and the new group had one of the last big hits of the Doo Wop Era in 1961. "Daddy's Home" was a big hit record throughout the country and a top seller in the pop field. James Sheppard was back on top, but this time staying on top was difficult. There were many changes in the music field in the early sixties - the beginnings of soul music, Motown, Stax-Volt, car and surf music from California, and something was brewing in England. "Ready For Your Love" and "You'll Be Sorry" on # 742 followed by "Oh What A Feeling" and "Three Steps From The Altar" on # 747 did not do anything to keep the group in the public eye, but they had one more shot at the big time. In early 1962 "Our Anniversary" and "Who Told The Sandman" was released by Hull on # 748. "Anniversary" was a good seller and got into the top ten R & B sellers in the country. However that was the last go-round for James Sheppard in the spotlight although the Limelights continued to record for Hull.

"What Did Daddy Do?" and the then contemporary "Teach Me How To Twist" on # 751, and "Everything Is Going To Be Alright" and "Gee Baby, What About You?" on # 753, were released during the rest of 1962. The following year Shep & The Limelights followed with "The Monkey" / "Remember Baby" on # 756, "Stick By Me" / "It's All Over Now" on # 757, "Steal Away" / "For You My Love" on # 759, and "Why Won't You Believe Me?" / "Easy To Remember" on # 761, none of which did much to bolster the recording history of the group. In 1964 "I'm All Alone" and "Why Did You Fall For Me?" on # 767 was the lone record released for Hull. 1965 had two last records by the group - "Party For Two" and "You Better Believe" on # 770, and "I'm Hurting Inside" and "In Case I Forget" on # 772 were the final notes by Shep & The Limelights. The group then disbanded and the next few years saw the face of music change. In late 1969 the group got together for an important oldies show produced by Richard Nader. Because of the uncertainty of how the music would be received by the public, the show was held at the smaller Forum in Madison Square Garden rather than the twenty thousand seat main arena. The show was a solid success and led to many subsequent shows in much larger venues. Shep & The Limelights were part of the lineup which ws mc'ed by famed New York dj Scott Muni. Luckily much of the show was recorded and released by the Buddah-Kama Sutra labels. In person and recognized on the recording, James Sheppard sounded troubled and had difficulty hitting some notes but was still well received. Tragically a short time later, James Sheppard was found murdered along a stretch of highway in his native Queens, New York.

This was the sad end for one of the truly unique voices of the years of the vocal group sound that captivated so much of America. He was not the most polished or spell binding of the various lead singers that we were so taken with during those years, but he had the sound of truth and honesty in his vocals on the songs that he often wrote himself. He was a singular talent of whom we were lucky enough to enjoy during the days of our youth all those years ago.

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