Apollo Records : The Vocal Groups©2002JCMarion


Apollo Records was started in New York City in 1945 by Ike and Bess Berman, along with Hy Siegel and Sam Schneider, but it was known from the start that Bess was the power behind the label. Until they realized the strength and financial rewards from the R & B field in the early fifties, the label was a true melting pot in American musical traditions. From country styles (Oklahoma Roundup Gang, Johnny & Jack, Tennessee Mountain Boys, and The Crossroads Gang), to jazz (Rabon Tarrant, Jack McVea, The Three Riffs, and The Four Blues), to post war gospel (Dixie Hummingbirds, Prof. Alex Bradford, Rev. B.C. Campbell, Southern Harmonairs, and of course their primary star Mahalia Jackson), to Hispanic tunes and of all things, Yiddish comedy producing hits by The Barton Brothers ("Joe & Paul" and "Cockeyed Jenny). By 1949 the label was almost exclusively an R & B outpost with such artists as Jack Dupree, Sunnyland Slim, Bea Booze, and Piney Brown. But change was in the wind.

By 1950, Apollo Records had very little output from vocal groups except for a little remembered group called The Vagabonds who sang in an Inkspots derived pop style. Now the label had two vocal groups that were emerging out of the Southern Black gospel field to try their hand at straight forward R & B. To make the comparison even closer, they were both from North Carolina. The Royal Sons had been around for a few years and now they were in New York to begin recording secular music as The Five Royales. The other group had their roots in the nineteen thirties as The Selah Jubilee Singers, and were now to be re-christened (by Bess Berman) as The Larks to compete with The Orioles and Ravens in the era of the "bird groups". Both groups had much success in the early fifties with The Five Royales having huge hits in their "bad boy" uptempo songs with somewhat risque lyrics. With Lowman Pauling on lead vocal and guitar, "Baby Don't Do It", "Help Me Somebody", "Laundromat Blues" and "I Do" were all national R & B hits. The Larks with Eugene Mumford usually on lead, concentrated on ballad sides for the most part. "When I Leave These Prison Walls", "My Reverie", "Eyesight To The Blind", "My Little Sidecar" and "I Don't Believe In Tomorrow" were all national chart hits.

By mid nineteen fifty four, The original Larks had disbanded and The Five Royales were about to make an ill advised switch to King Records. For the next year Five Royales tunes that were on the shelf were released from time to time, but the successes seemed to have passed Apollo by. That summer a group known as The Crystals changed their name to The Opals and joined Apollo. "Ooh But She Did" and "My Heart's Desire" was released on #462. At the same time a forgotten group called The Romeos recorded "I Beg You Please" and "Love Me" on #461. But that fall Apollo#464 was a hit pushed by Moondog Freed on his new radio show over New York's WINS radio station. The song was "Something To Remember You By" by a group called The Gentlemen, and was a mid tempo rocker much in the style of The Midnighters. The tune was memorable for the byplay at the end of the bridge when the bass voice intones "I'm in the mood for love" while the falsetto answers with an "Uh oh" which adds to the risque tone in the lyrics. Not much is known about the group, but they tried a follow up record of "Don't Leave Me Baby" and "Baby Don't Go" on #470 which tanked and not much was heard from The Gentlemen after that.

In early 1955, Apollo Records again found a worthy vocal group from North Carolina. This time it was The Casanovas and a truly great ballad song called "That's All". Again with extensive airplay from Alan Freed the record sold well on the East Coast. Apollo #471 was followed by the group on #474 with the mysteriously named song "Hush-A-Mecca" (b/w "It's Been A Long Time"). This time there was very little interest as and this happened to other Casanovas sides for the label such as "Please Be My Love" and "Let The Tears Fall" on #$477 and "Sleepy Head Mama" and "My Baby's Love" on #483. Also in 1955 Apollo hoped for big things for Miriam Grate & The Dovers with "My Angel" on #472, but after a nice start it faded as did The Dovers. However Apollo forged ahead as the popularity of Alan Freed's radio show and his in person get togethers showed the big popularity of vocal groups.

During the summer of 1955 Apollo signed a slew of R & B vocal groups. One was a group of army buddies that were stationed in Germany and called themselves The Berliners. Now they went through a name change to The Sparks of Rhythm and featured a unique lead singer named Jimmy Jones. "Don't Love You Anymore" / "Women, Women, Women" on #479. That went nowhere but the next release by the group, the ballad "Hurry Home" and the uptempo "Stars Are In The Sky" on #481 was a nice hit for the group and led to great success as a solo performer by Jimmy Jones in the future ("Handy Man" and "Good Timing"). The Keynotes initial release for Apollo "Zenda" and "Suddenly" on #478 was a dud, but the second one was a charm. "I Don't Know" on #48 took off as a New York favorite in the fall of the year. That was followed by another tune that did well "Really Wish You Were Here" on #493. The Keynotes hit again with "Now I Know" on #498, but the next two - "In The Evening" on #503 and "One Little Kiss" on #513 went nowhere and that ended The Keynotes run for the label.

In 1957, the group sound on Apollo followed the trail blazed by Frankie Lymon & The Teenagers the year before as the music became the almost exclusive province of teenage America. In quick succession during the Spring and Summer of the year, The Cellos "Rang Tang Ding Dong (The Japanese Sandman)" on #510, The Delroys "Bermuda Shorts" on #514, and one of the great under rated tunes ever "The Fires Burn No More" by The Chesters on #521 all hit big for the label especially in the East. Apollo was riding high but the glory would not last long. The Cellos tried with "The Juicy Crocodile" on #515 with limited success, but "The BeBop Mouse" on #516 and "What's The Matter For You" on #524 in early 1958 all failed. The Delroys disappeared and The Chesters (Duponts) were soon to become world famous as Little Anthony & The Imperials, but for Gone / End Records. At this time also The Clairmonts recorded "Why Keep Me Dreaming" / Angel of Romance" on #517. In late 1957 The Casanovas returned with "For You And You Alone" on #519 and "You Are My Queen" on #523 without success. The final vocal group record for the historic label was #541 in early 1959 was "Handy Man" by The Sparks of Rhythm which made a small ripple. Of course lead singer Jimmy Jones remade the tune as a solo on the Cub label in 1960.

After 13 years the Apollo Records label ended its existence in the late 1950s but certainly left its mark on the history of American music. The history of vocal groups on Apollo was spotty at best after its heyday in the early fifties, but it had enough successes to keep its finger on the pulse of the country, musically speaking.

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