My True Story : The Jive Five©2008JCMarion


The streets of the borough of Brooklyn, New York, was the starting point for the group known as The Jive Five. The story of the group itself is a story of lead singer Eugene Pitt and the struggle to make him a household name, a daunting task for a young man from the projects. It began in the schoolyard of P.S. 54 where the thoughts of a try at vocalizing took hold tempered by the idea that there were so many factors that might prevent him from achieving his dreams. But give it a go he did and soon was vocalizing with an assortment of vocalists from the neighborhood. They went by a number of names such as The Ziptones, Top Notes, Genies, and Akrons, but nothing ever materialized to point the boys toward a successful effort in the business. Finally Pitt felt that the time was at hand to get serious about this music thing. His latest group consisted of tenors Jerome Hannah and Billy Prophet, baritone Richard Harris, bass Norman Johnson, and Pitt singing lead. Now it was time for a name to give the group some street recognition. Through a process of elimination the name The Jive Five stuck and so they were on their way.

Through word of mouth in the neighborhood, the guys were put in touch with producer and music arranger Joe Rene who worked with the independent label Beltone Records. By now it was 1961 and the vocal group sound was on its last vestiges of popularity as the sound was beginning to go off in a number of new directions - Southern based soul, straight dance music (Twist, Fly, Watusi, etc), Motown, and California cars and surfing. Beltone was just beginning a push to become a player in the record business and one of its first releases was "Tossin And Turnin" by Bobby Lewis which would become the biggest selling record of 1961. To help Beltone in its status as a newcomer to the business, the label worked out a deal for national distribution with King Records of Cincinnati which had been a major R & B outlet for many years. Soon after the Lewis record was released Pitt and his group had their first recording session. The songs were a Pitt original called "My True Story", and another tune called "When I Was Single" and they were soon released on Beltone # 1006. The results were immediate. "Story" went out and hit like the proverbial ton of bricks. The story which was a kind of teenaged soap opera about Sue and Earl (and Lorraine) struck a chord that carried the song out over the airwaves across America. Everybody loved the song and were taken by the line about "names have been changed" which gave the lyrics an interesting twist away from the usual "I love you so, I'll never let you go" The reaction to the record made "My True Story" the record of the summer of 1961.

In such a short time the group was a hitmaker and they were in great demand for club and theater appearances and television also came calling. The record was a more than three month seller on the charts and was a solid hit through the late summer and early fall of the year selling well into the top ten. Beltone with Lewis and The Jive Five both in the top ten (Lewis at number one for two months) was riding high with their initial success. Late in the year the group was set for a follow up record, and flush with the great sales of its first effort the songs recorded were "Peoploe From Another World" and "Never, Never" which was released on Beltone # 1014. This time the magic was missing and the record did not do so well but the Jive Five was still living off the success of their debut recording. The Five went out again in early nineteen sixty two with a dance tune called "Hully Gully Callin' Time" with "No Not Again" as the flip side. Once more acceptance for their recorded efforts was not forthcoming and the group now was questioning themselves on their musical direction. Later on in the year the group was set to try again. Before they entered the studio however there were some personnel changes within the quintet. Andre Coles, Casey Spencer, and Beatrice Best replaced Hannah, Prophet, and Harris.

The songs on their newest record for Beltone on # 2024 were "I'm Beggin You Please" and "What Time Is It?". Immediately "Time" caught the attention of radio programmers and listeners alike. It was a moody and atmospheric song with interesting chord changes and superlative vocal work by Pitt on lead and the backup vocals. It cracked the national charts in mid September and stayed for a month and a half, and did well in the Northeast giving the group a second hit record. Unfortunately for the group that was the last good seller they would have for Beltone. Further efforts for the label were unsuccessful - "She's My Girl" / "Every Day Is Like A Year" on # 2027, "These Golden Rings" / "Do You Hear Wedding Bells?" on # 2029, "Johnny Never Knew" / "Lily Marlene" on # 2030, and a re-release of "She's My Girl" with "Rain" on # 2034. Next the group tried with a small untested label called Sketch and had two recordings there - "United" and "Prove Every Word That You Say" on Sketch # 219 and a re-release of "Prove Every Word That You Say" with "You Think You're So Smart" this time, which was also released on # 219.

In late 1964 The Jive Five now found themselves with a chance with United Artists Records, a far cry from Sketch. UA went with the first Sketch release with "United" and "Prove What You Say" on #936. Then in 1965 seemingly with a fresh start the group with Spencer, Harris, and Best, and listed as The Jive Five Featuring Eugene Pitt, recorded "I'm A Happy Man" and "Kiss Kiss Kiss" on # 853. The change was just what the group needed as "Happy Man" took off in mid summer and made a ten week stay on the national hit charts and breaking into the top thirty best sellers. That was the last chart hit for the group but they had a number of further releases for United Artists through nineteen sixty six. "A Bench In The Park" / "Please Come On Back To Me" on # 936, then with a new numbering system "Main Street" and "Going Wild" on # 50004, "In My Neighborhood" and "Then Came Heartbreak" on # 50033, "Ha Ha" and "You're A Puzzle" on # 50069, and "You Promised Me Great Things" and "You" on # 50170.

In later years the remnants of the group recorded for the Musicor, Decca, and Avco-Embassy labels without further success and the group made a number of rock reunion appearances through the years. The Jive Five have their place in history as a mainstay in the last years of the so called doo wop era and were one of the last of the true vocal groups in the traditional R & B style to be successful and had some wonderful recordings to be enjoyed by listeners for many years to come.

The sound of the group is preserved on cd recordings. The strange set of circumstances prevent "I'm A Happy Man" from being included on any of the greatest hits packages except on the wide ranging "Complete United Artists Recordings" for Capitol from the mid nineties with twenty one tracks. The best greatest hits releases seems to be from Empire in 2006 with twenty tracks of the Beltone songs and others.

ed note - There is some disagreement as to whether Eugene Pitt was a member of The Genies when they had their hit record of "Who's That Knocking" for Shad in 1958, so that was not included in the biographical information.

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