GENE & EUNICE
The NATIVE BOYS
JEWEL AKENS & THE GEMS
Photos by Ray Regalado
|Eddie Davis with The Penguins|
It was a dark and stormy night, but that didn't stop Los Angeles doo-wop fans (along with some fly-ins from the United Kingdom, Canada, Connecticut and the American Midwest) from attending DWS Show #35 at the Petroleum Club in Long Beach, starring The Penguins, Gene & Eunice, The Native Boys and Jewel Akens & The Gems.
That Saturday night, February 10, may have earned its own place in Los Angeles' R&B history. It was the first time in a dozen years that Gene & Eunice have performed, the first time in over 40 years that the two lead singers of The Native Boys have gotten together, and the first time in who knows how many years that The Penguins (adding one of their old bass singers to the lineup to make themselves a quartet) sang nearly all of their old Dootone and Mercury cuts.
Let's start with the headliners, The Penguins, even though we usually save the headliners for last. Often billed as the Fabulous Penguins, they were, in a word, fabulous that night. The regular three--lead vocalist Cleve Duncan (voice of "Earth Angel"), second lead Walter Salisbury and Glen Madison--were accompanied by bass vocalist Randy Jones, who originally joined The Penguins back in 1956 after the departure of Bruce Tate, just before The Penguins went to Mercury Records. Randy is one of those all-purpose guys who sang with half a dozen groups and can legitimately sing as an "original" in all of them (he's currently with The Jacks/Cadets, who have been signed to headline our next show on May 5). With his booming voice added to the mix, The Penguins sounded big and full. Note to Cleve Duncan: Keep the quartet.
Randy Jones greets The Blossoms (Gloria, Jackie and Fanita) backstage at Show #35. Penguins lead vocalist Cleve Duncan (third from left), bass Randy Jones (second from left), and tenors Glen Madison and Walter Salisbury (right) goof around backstage at Show #35. Randy Jones sang lead on several Penguins' songs.
Doo-wop purists have criticized The Penguins for years for lapsing into an "oldies" act and not singing their lesser-known songs, but those fogies (the purists) certainly had nothing to grouse about on this rainy night. First show: "Ookey Ook," "Love Will Make Your Mind Go Wild," "Hey Señorita," "Lover or Fool," "My Troubles Are Now at an End," "Memories of El Monte/Earth Angel" and, as an encore, the group's one outside song, The Impressions' "It's All Right." Second show: "Don't Do It," "Will You Be Mine," "Devil That I See," "You're an Angel," "Be Mine or Be a Fool," and then the El Monte medley and the "It's All Right" encore again. Cleve was in good voice, as was Salisbury, who wowed the audience on "My Troubles Are Now at an End."
Another surprise was Gene & Eunice, who were second on the four-act bill. The original Gene (Gene Forrest) is not in good health and decided not even to attend the show as a guest, but Eunice Levy Rust Frost more than made up for his absence with her sparkling personality and delivery. Her partner, who first joined her on a couple of 1980s oldies shows, was Junior Ryder, himself an early '50s veteran of the Johnny Otis orchestra and a former member of the 1955-56 Mercury Records duet, Sugar & Spice. These two veteran troupers brought style and grace to the stage and maintained a casual air as they recreated that old conversational Gene & Eunice sound on such songs as "Ko Ko Mo" (which they saved as their encore on the second show), "Poco Loco," "This Is My Story" (also saved for the second show), "Ah Ah Ah Ah," "I Mean Love," "Have You Changed Your Mind" and "You Think I'm Not Thinking."
|Gene & Eunice||Jewel Akens|
The opening act was Jewel Akens with a great trio of singers behind him--Isaac Hurley, Rene Beard (formerly of The Jayhawks of "Stranded in the Jungle" fame), and Al Martin. Jewel presented a mix of Sam Cooke, Johnny Taylor and Jesse Belvin tunes. From Cooke's songbook he performed "Havin' a Party," "Just For You" and "Touch the Hem of His Garment" (from Cooke's Soul Stirrers period), along with Taylor's "Stand By Me, Father," which sounded like a Sam Cooke record when it first came out on Cooke's SAR label 40 years ago. From his Jesse Belvin bag, Jewel ably pulled out "One Little Blessing" and "Heartless," which RCA never got around to releasing until 1974, but which has since become a big favorite among Belvinites. To please his own fans, Jewel also sang his 1965 pop hit, "Birds and the Bees" (as his opener for the second show, to get the song out of the way) and the fantastic "Pleading For You Love," which he originally recorded with The Four Dots on Freedom Records in 1958. Though Jewel and the guys started off a little shaky in the first set, they quickly got on track and delivered a powerful show.
|The Native Boys|
For aficonados of obscure doo-wop, the main event was the third act, The Native Boys, featuring the group's original two lead singers, Fred Romain and Vince Weaver, backed up by three Calvanes: Jimmy Corbitt, Fred Willis and Herman Pruitt. The Native Boys' 1950s output on Modern and Combo was small, but they had more than enough material for their two sets of four songs each. "Strange Love," their closest thing to a hit, appeared in both shows, but otherwise they performed their songs only once: "Be My Girl" (a great uptemp number that was recorded by Fred Romain sans Native Boys for Ebb Records in 1957), "I've Got a Feeling," "Cherrlyn," "Native Girl" (the group's first single, on Modern), "Valley of Lovers" and "Oh Let Me Dream."
The Boomers (guitarist Dave Morales, keyboardist/music director Jimi Seville, saxophonist Dave Kadison, bassist/leader Louie Martinez, and drummer Robert Zapata from Cannibal & The Headhunters, assisted by guitarist Arthur Wright during The Penguins' sets) were in great form. Emcee was Steve Propes.
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