Priceless : The Hurricanes©2004JCMarion


The Hurricanes began their long and winding road in the field of Rhythm & Blues music on the streets of Brooklyn's Bedford-Stuyvesant section in 1951. It was here that Sam Fickling, Fred Williams, Vernon Britton, and Jerry Halfhide got together and tried out their impression of The Orioles who at the time were the role model for just about every inner city vocal group. The group used a number of names starting out, among them were the Tempo Toppers and The Tune Toppers. Fred Williams had an uncle with some show business experience in clubs and theaters around the Black entertainment circuit (such as the TOBA unit) and he agreed to become their manager. By this time a fifth voice was added to the group named Henry Austin. Soon the group had their first shot at a record deal with the Orioles own label, Jerry Blaine's Jubilee Records. The group now using a shortened version of their name The Toppers, recorded their first (and last) release for the label in late 1953. The Jubilee record, # 4817, paired "You're Laughing Cause I'm Crying" and "Baby Let Me Bang Your Box". This record did not sell much or get any appreciable amount of airplay, but because of the (supposed) suggestive raunch of the "Baby" side, it did gain a bit of notoriety and became a footnote to the history of the music in the "Sixty Minute Man", "Annie", and "It Ain't The Meat It's The Motion" category.

After the failure of the Jubilee release, the group did some reorganizing as they searched for a new direction and a new label. The personnel for the group now consisted of original members Williams, Britton, and Austin and new members James Brown and Gabriel Gill. In the spring of 1955 the group was given a chance with King Records in Cincinnati, Ohio. The group was given a new name by the label so now they became The Hurricanes. In late July of the year the group had their first effort for King with the songs "Poor Little Dancing Girl" and the pop novelty "Pistol Packing Mama" on Jubilee # 4817. On lead for both songs was Henry Austin. Although "Girl" was a pretty ballad that has been a favorite for years, but at the time did not do much for the group. Right after the first of the year in 1956 King released "Maybe It's All For The Best" and another pop music evergreen "Yours" on # 4867. The loping mid tempo version of "Yours" got decent airplay in the New York area, but sales were not forthcoming. King quickly pulled the plug on the record and in March released "Tell Me Baby" and "Raining In My Heart" on # 4898.

In early May, King Records tried again with the group on a cover of The Cleftones "Little Girl Of Mine" and a cover of The Drifters "Your Promise To Be Mine" (called "Your Promise To Me") on # 4926. In July King released "You May Not Know" and the well done tune "Dear Mother" on # 4947. During the summer, The Hurricanes appeared in an all Black musical motion picture called "Rockin' The Blues". This picture was produced by Fritz Pollard, the first Black All American football player (at Brown University) who in the nineteen fifties was in the music business as a manager of a young Leslie Uggams and The Solitaires among others. The seventy minute low budget film had its premier in October at the Apollo Theater in Harlem. Also in the film was announcer Hal Jackson, The Wanderers, Harptones, Miller Sisters, Connie Carroll, and the band of Teacho Wiltshire. With the film, the live acts on stage were The Wheels, Marie Knight, and Sugar & Spice. The Hurricanes performed the songs "You May Not Know" and "Army Days" in the film. During the summer King Records released two tunes by singer Jerry Dorn backed up by The Hurricanes - "Wishing Well" and "Sentimental Heaven" on # 4932.

In early 1957 the group had their latest King release "Fallen Angel" and "I'll Always Be In Love With You" on King # 5018. "Always" again got decent airplay in New York but was not a good seller. The song was the finest up tempo tune the group ever did and the lead vocal by Henry Austin was outstanding. The jump up to falsetto on the last vocal chorus adds so much to the performance and the group's version of the song is one of the great lost classics of the fifties. In April of 1957 there was one last release by The Hurricanes for King. "Now That I Need You" (the group's version of a Mellomoods recording) and "Priceless" on # 5042. The group now moved on to a little known independent label called Skyline Records. The group recorded "Once In A Lifetime" and "I Dare You Baby" on # 500. Within a month, a new version of the record was released with "Once In A Lifetime" with a new flip side - "What Is There Left For Me?" on # 551. Although the entire group performs on the record, it is credited on the label only to Henry "Alston" (Austin).

By May of 1959, The Hurricanes had hooked up with a new record label run by Bill Lasley called Memo Records, and had conveniently changed their name to The Memos. "I'm Going Home" and "My Most Precious Possession" are released on Memo # 500. The label reports good reaction to the record in some Southern states. In October The Memos appear at a big anniversary show for Newark, New Jersey radio personality George Hudson at the Mosque Theater. That month "My Type Of Girl" and "The Biddy Leg" are released on Memo # 34891. This record went nowhere and the group never recorded again. They went out on a short tour, but soon called it quits, and so the it was the end of the line for the quintet mostly known as The Hurricanes. They never dented the charts or had a big devoted following, but they were a competent group of vocalists responsible for some memorable tunes from the fifties. Their sound lives on in an Italian originated CD on Dipper that contains 28 tracks that includes the King sides, their backup work, songs as The Memos, and two great live cuts. "Poor Little Dancing Girl", "Dear Mother", and the two jump tunes - "Yours" and especially "I'll Always Be In Love With You". A fine remembrance of an often overlooked vocal group, adds to the musical history of the decade of the nineteen fifties.

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