UPDATED: 2-16-2004

DOO-WOP SOCIETY SHOW #43 (1/24/2004)

Show #43 revives group harmony revival shows

By Kate Karp

“We’re only 1½ years and 20 minutes late,” said Phyllis Bardone, Doo Wop Society president, at Show #43, held January 24 from 8:00 (actually, 8:20) to 11:30 p.m. at the Petroleum Club in Long Beach.

The DWS’ last show took place in the autumn of 2002 and featured the Capris, flown in by the club from New York. Members and fans suffering from Left Coast harmony deprivation were left to wonder if the society had played its last chord. Performing to a nearly full house, Jewel Akens, the Storytellers and the Calvanes - all of them either California natives or transplants - happily did not disappoint the eager audience, although not all of the artists stuck to a doo wop song list. Happily, the audience could hear the show - the sound system was finally free of distortion and feedback, and there were few side conversations from audience members. Moe and Vinny didn’t have to come out of the wings with piano wire.

The DWS has always hired professional house bands, but not all of them understood the importance of backing the vocal harmonies and staying in the background. Show #43’s band, Harry and the Hi-Tones (Harry Orlove, guitar/leader; Michael Rose, tenor sax; Skip Edwards, piano; James Cruce, drums; and Dave Jackson, bass), were outstanding in performance and placement. All members have played behind high-profile artists - Edwards played with Emmylou Harris and Dwight Yoakum; and Orlove, who has been a musician since he was 10, worked with singers as diverse as Leann Rimes, Big Jay McNeely, and Pearls Before Swine. They played one warm-up number, Tommy Ridgley’s “Jam Up,” and went right into the show.

Show #43’s MC is one of the most unique people involved in record collecting. Elaine Wade is a female record collector - a rare life form in this country, if not the world. Wade lives in Wassau, Wisconsin, where she’s lived all her life except for a three-year residence in Philadelphia in the early 1960s. She and her sister Karen began buying records in 1956 - the first record she bought was Jim Lowe’s “Green Door” - but it was in Philly that her obsession with group harmony began. DWS Vice President Manuel Jimenez and his wife Carmen suggested that, because Wade often comes all the way from the Midwest to support the organization and has an impressive background in collecting, she’d be perfect as an MC.

Wade’s low-key presence and delivery provided an aura of calmness during the show, which is understandable considering that she’s a retired anesthesiologist. The first act she announced, Jewel Akens and his group, the Gems created quite a contrast. The bejeweled Mr. Jewel was resplendent in a gem-encrusted vest, an enormous gold bracelet, and a chain bearing a cross that was festooned with brilliants. The cross was big enough to clobber Satan and send him to the ninth circle of Hell. Akens and his group were in excellent form and voice. They sang a tribute set to Sam Cooke, “Stagger Lee,” a bilingual version of “Sukiyaki” and, of course, his megahit “The Birds and the Bees.”

Despite Akens’ voice - a little huskier than it was a few decades ago, but still very good - and his professional delivery and arrangements, nothing that he and his group sang was doo wop. The only bauble missing from the bling bling was the recording he made with the Four Dots. “Pleading for Your Love” was a group harmony recording, and Akens said in a later interview that he didn’t have time to teach it to the group. It’s sufficiently annoying when vocal groups known for singing doo wop open shows with “Charlie Brown” and close with “Shout,” but it’s disappointing when artists perform two full sets at a doo wop show without taking time to arrange an actual harmony song they recorded.

The other two acts, however, blended right in. Latino groups are the Italians of the West Coast when it comes to singing harmony and passing the appreciation down through the generations. The Storytellers (Al Sanchez, Ruben Ochoa, John Grajeda, Nick Delgado and Sam Delgado) have been a mainstay of DWS shows. They generally sang as a quartet, with one member or another coming or going. They have re-formed as a quintet featuring all the original members, and the resultant sound is rich and even. They opened with “You Played Me a Fool,” a classic favorite, and continued with barrio harmony leads and trade-offs. Highlights included “Girl of My Dreams,” “Hey Senorita,” “Gee,” and the late Dave Antrell’s composition “Please Remember My Love,” which the group recorded a decade or so ago on Classic Records.

“Over the Mountain, Across the Sea” and “Hearts of Stone” were tight and in synch, and had the audience respectively swooning and bouncing in their seats. Sanchez’ falsetto was bell-clear, and there was enough cool in the room to freeze the beer.

“So, how do you like the new Calvanes?” asked MC Wade, and the audience response was overwhelmingly positive. When group member Bobby Adams, who has been one of the DWS’ strongest supporters, relocated with his wife to the Southeast, he recommended Kevin Carroll as his replacement. Kevin had sung in Adams’ choir at the New Philadelphia Church in Los Angeles, and worked with Fred Romain and Vince Weaver as the Native Boys in their recent UGHA appearance.

The Calvanes have lost none of their power - the vocal harmonies were morning coffee at midnight. Carroll, along with Herman Pruitt, Freddy Willis, and Jimmy Corbitt sang harmonies that could be seen and touched as well as heard. Their repertoire included “Don’t Take Your Love From Me,” “Sh’Boom,” “Crazy,” the Native Boys’ “Valley of Love,” and the hymnlike “Chapel of Love.”

Bobby, we miss hell out of you - but you don’t have to worry about your legacy.

Phyllis Bardone said that the DWS is revitalized and will produce four shows a year.

“We’re going to keep doo wop alive,” she promised. In this century, that’s a major challenge, no matter what coast you’re on - and well worth the trouble.

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