The Five Chances©2006JCMarion


One of the pioneer Rhythm & Blues vocal groups in the wake of the breakthrough by The Orioles was a group from Chicago who were known originally as The El Travadors. They formed during the year of 1950 and the members of the group were Howard Pittman, Reggie Smith, Harold Jones, and the Austell brothers Darnell and John. They began singing together in high school and tried their hand at neighborhood appearances and local talent shows and amateur nights. It was one of these shows held at Chicago's famous night spot, the Crown Propeller, that they made contact with some people with the knowledge of the music scene that could help them. Before long they had a chance to audition for Chance Records, then a top independent label in Chicago. The top talent and A & R man at the label Ewart Abner (who in later years would be a key factor in the success of Vee-Jay and his own Abner labels) liked what he heard and almost immediately changed the name of the group from the El Travadors to blend with the label and so The Five Chances were born.

In August of 1954 Chance Records released "Nagasaki" and "I May Be Small" on # 1137 by the group. This ended up being a short relationship between the group and the label, as president Art Sheridan soon folded the Chance label, and so The Five Chances had to look elsewhere in their search for success. In early 1955 The Five Chances were signed up with Blue Lake Records, a subsidiary of Al Benson's Parrot Records on Cottage Grove in Chicago. At this time John Jones had replaced John Austell in the group. Blue Lake released "All I Want" and "Shake-A-Link" with Darnell Austell on lead. Except for a brief flurry of airplay in their native Chicago, the record did not receive much in the way of sales nationally. Once again the Five Chances were looking for another record label, and they went once again to a Chicago independent, this time the States label. "Gloria" and "Sugar Lips" were released in May of 1956 on States # 156. The group tried to get the word out about their effort with appearances like the one they did in June of the year at Chicago's Trianon Ballroom called "Blues-O-Rama" that also starred Ray Charles, Muddy Waters, The Kool Gents, and others.

Unfortunately it was more of the same for the group. By the following year they found themselves on still another label. This time it was the Federal label based in Cincinnati, Ohio, and the group was going through a number of personnel changes. In July of 1957 Federal released "My Days Are Blue" and "Tell Me Why" on # 12303. In September the group appears at a big R & B midnight show at the Senate Theater presented by Sam Evans. Also on the bill are Jimmy Reed, Slim Harpo, Sonny Boy Williamson, and others. The Five Chances also appear at a R & B show in Joliet, Illinois Coliseum with Magic Sam, Billy "The Kid" Emerson, and others. By the end of the year the Five Chances had all but called it a day as a recording entity. Harold Jones and Howard Pittman continued on in the music industry for a number of years, and today The Five Chances are a fleeting memory to a small number of R & B vocal group fanatics. For most of the nineteen fifties they were part of the scene centered in Chicago which gave us so many classic vocal groups. The Chances never got to know that rarified air of national success, but to be remembered is to be a part of the history of the music.

The music of The Five Chances is rarely heard today, and is available on certain compilation cds specific to the Chicago independent labels.

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