DOO WOP SOCIETY SHOW #44 IN PERFECT HARMONY -
AND WHERE THE HECK WERE YOU?
By Kate Karp
Well, left coast harmony lovers, if you missed it, blame yourself.
The Petroleum Club at the Doo Wop Society’s 44th show on June 5 was almost 1/3 empty - a pessimist’s view, but it’s difficult to feel otherwise in a time when so many of the artists we’ve cherished have died. The audience is aging, too, and the fraction of younger people who are truly into the music is small.
"The fight probably had a lot to do with it," DWS President Phyllis Bardone said, referring to the Oscar de la Hoya vs. Felix Sturm match in Las Vegas. Vice President Manuel Jimenez suggested that rising gasoline prices might have contributed as well.
Organizations for harmony lovers came into being through the support of fans, and they cannot go on without that same support.
The DWS is putting every effort into staying viable. Every resource, financial and otherwise, is extended to bring group harmony to this virtual doo-wop desert. If it’s true that several acts in past shows cannot be considered doo-wop, and as a reviewer - I’ve done my share of thumping - there is generally at least one per show that is. Ronnie I of United in Group Harmony has recently voiced several complaints about a diminishing audience at his shows and once spoke of putting in a couple of non-doo wop acts to bring in some revenue.
When asked what it would take to boost the listening audience, DWS member Mark Jaroslaw said: "Maybe we can get Britney Spears to do a doo wop record."
At show #44, the headline act was definitely doo-wop. Cornerstone is comprised of men of a certain age who know the difference between do wah diddy diddy and doom lang. The unfamiliar group name may have decided some of the audience against coming, but a click of a mouse could have pulled up this group’s street credentials. For those who don’t have Internet capabilities - what can I say - You’re living in the past. The snail-mail Echo, maintained just for you, would have told you that Cornerstone’s artists all came off the street corners back in the late 1950s when people were singing on them.
So, on what corner were you hanging out on June 5 - or were you home watching the fight on TV?
You missed a good show. The setup was great. The club looked beautiful, and Jimenez outdid himself with the preshow audiotape. As the audience listened to the Mascots’ "Story of my Heart" and the Decoys’ "Tomorrow," new board members Daniel Diaz, Diana Guerra and Freda Sinclair of La Coriha Records introduced themselves to audience members and scrambled to get everyone seated.
Harry and the Hi-Tones returned as the show’s house band. The band members (guitar/lead Harry Orlove, bass player Paul Marshall, drummer Stanley Mitchell and saxophonist Lance Richman sitting in for Michael Rose who was having eye surgery) are all professional musicians. They got the non-doo wop material out of the way immediately with an energetic and skillful countrified rendition of Arthur Alexander’s "You’d Better Move On."
Longtime DWS members undoubtedly recognized the members of Kul Ayd when they took the stage. Kul Ayd’s members are Tracy Bunn, Andy Nemcheck and two singers who performed at many DWS shows, including the maiden production on April 2, 1989, at Salvatore’s Restaurant in Anaheim, California. Cary Silva sang in several acappella groups prior to this show and has a beautiful sexy lead. Tony Rogers was West Coast’s tenor back then and has a portrait of himself somewhere that is aging.
"We’re not a doo wop group," Rogers said. "We’re a harmony group, so we do a lot of those oldies."
Kul Ayd indeed sings impeccably tight harmony, with or without the Hi-Tones’ appropriately subdued backup. But what they sing comes off as a "Greatest Hits of the Fifties." Their sets included signature song "What’s Your Name," "Daddy’s Home" with Silva’s beautiful lead, and "Come Go with Me," accompanied by Bunn’s outstanding bass and the expected hand-clapping from the audience.
The group was in perfect form, with a Boyz II Men smoothness (although the guys hit the "II Men" stage a few years ago.) What needs to happen is for someone to lock them into the room with one of Jimenez’ preshow tapes and not let them out until they’ve at least learned "Blueberry Sweet" and "Goodbye to Love."
"It’s been a long time since we heard voices like these," Bardone said in her introduction to Cornerstone. She wasn’t just talking about the five months between shows. Cornerstone is an authentic composite group hailing from the East Coast tri-state metro-harmony area, which includes Philadelphia, New York and parts of New Jersey. The members have sung with Rick and the Masters (tenor Bill Diamond), the Chessmen of Relic Records (Ted Ziffer, who says that he was a founding member) and Neighbor’s Complaint (lead Harry Barlo), a latter-day acappella revival group that was popular at shows and was relatively commercially successful. Tenor Pat Yocolano and Al Loughead, bass, rounded out the group.
"We’re a ballad group, so we hope you don’t throw tomatoes," Barlo said when the group came onstage.
Actually, the show was a nice mix of ballad and up-tempo. It was also obvious that they could sing masterfully in black and white, and that no one was going to use their hands for anything but clapping.
The two sets had a large number of highlights and few glitches. The repertoire balanced hits with lesser-known recordings by known groups. Harry’s soaring falsetto enriched the Gazelles’ "Honest I Do." The Tymes’ "So in Love" was given less of a pop sounds by the addition of a good intro and perfect blow harmony. The Fidelities’ "The Things That I Love" had a long vocal reach and brought on a standing ovation.
The Cornerstones knew how to sing their own style. This was evident in their rendition of "Tonight (Could be the Night)." They gave it an Italian-boy treatment and not an annoying imitation of inimitable Velvets lead Virgil Johnson.
If a vocal group is an authentic, the artists can pull the soul from the body when singing acappella. There were a lot of spirits floating around the tables when they filled a request for "Lost Love," which they performed unrehearsed.
Every revival group sings "Gloria," but it’s usually the one by the Cadillacs. The Cornerstones did the one by the Chariots and soared with it.
The only weak number was their version of the Crests’ "Step by Step," but that was mostly because the band didn’t have a wooden block to start up the song. Usually, when the main hook to a song is missing, the rest of it will fall short. Their version of the pre-1959 Drifters’ "No Sweet Lovin’" was excellent.
And they ended with "Goodnight Sweetheart," of course, but came across as Pookie Hudson and not Bowser.
If you closed your eyes at this show, you would have thought you were listening to a mint vinyl disc. Too bad if you didn’t make it, but you’ll have another chance in a few months. Keep yourselves posted, and put your body where your heart is.
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