For the past few years, Joe Nardone has been keeping the music of the late 1950s and early 1960s alive by bringing the original stars of doo wop to the F.M. Kirby Center for the Performing Arts.
Tomorrow’s show will be a little different as it will incorporate the sounds of the season for the first-ever “Christmas Doo Wop Spectacular.”
The holiday-themed concert will include returning favorites Kenny Vance & The Planotones, The Flamingos, Charlie Thomas’ Drifters, The Paramounts and Larry Chance & The Earls.
Vance was one of the founding members of Jay & The Americans, which had 10 Top 40 hits between 1962 and 1970, including “She Cried” (No. 5, 1962) with original lead singer Jay Traynor, and “Come a Little Bit Closer” (No. 3, 1964), “Cara, Mia” (No. 4, 1965) and “This Magic Moment” (No. 6, 1968), all with Jay Black singing lead. After The Americans broke up, Vance became a music director for movies and TV shows and put together his new group, which has been delighting audiences with its signature tune “Looking For An Echo” and its re-creations of doo wop standards, including the music of Jay & The Americans.
The Flamingos were a popular group out of Chicago best remembered for their classic arrangement of the standard “I Only Have Eyes For You,” which reached No. 11 in 1959 and has gone on to both the Grammy Hall of Fame and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The group charted 10 other songs in the Hot 100 between 1959 and 1970 and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2001.
The Paramounts, with lead singer Milton Delgado, recorded the single “Trying” backed with “Girlfriend” in 1959, just before the payola scandal broke out causing many records, including the one by The Paramounts, to be pulled from the radio airwaves. The group never recovered from the scandal and soon went its separate ways. Fifty years later, Delgado put a new group of Paramounts together for a comeback concert and released the “Then & Now” album on Debra Records out of Scranton.
Out of the more than 60 men who have officially been members of The Drifters since 1953, only six were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1988. Charlie Thomas is one of them.
The group was first put together to showcase lead singer Clyde McPhatter in 1953 and released only two hits in 1954, “Honey Love” and its version of Irving Berlin’s “White Christmas” (plus non-charting classics “Money Honey” and “Such a Night”), before McPhatter went solo. The original group soldiered on until 1958 when they were all fired by their manager and replaced by a group originally known as The Five Crowns, which included tenor singer Thomas and lead singer Ben E. King.
Hits for the “new” Drifters included “There Goes My Baby” (a No. 2 smash in 1959), “Dance With Me” (No. 15, 1959), “This Magic Moment” (No. 16, 1960) and “Save The Last Dance For Me” (No. 1 for 3 weeks in 1960). After King left for a solo career, the group also charted with “Please Stay” (No. 14, 1961), “Sweets For My Sweet” (with Thomas on lead vocals, No. 16 in 1962), “Up On The Roof” (No. 5, 1962), “On Broadway” (No. 9, 1963) and “Under The Boardwalk” (No. 4, 1964) with new lead singers Rudy Lewis and Johnny Moore.
Thomas left the “official” group in 1967 but never stopped singing.
“I’m 77 years old, so I don’t keep track of how many shows a year I do,” he said. “But I have had the good fortune to sing with some beautiful singers and fine gentlemen over the years, all in an effort to keep rock-‘n’-roll alive.”
In addition to all of The Drifters’ biggest hits, Thomas said, tomorrow’s show will include the group’s versions of “White Christmas” and “The Bells of St. Mary’s.”
“The Drifters speak for themselves,” he said. “We don’t have to do other people’s songs.”
The Earls were discovered on a street corner in New York City in the late 1950s, and its first record, a cover version of the Harptones’ “Life is But a Dream,” was released in 1961.
“Our lead singer at the time, Eddie Harder, sang it like the Harptones, a ballad,” Chance said. “Our producer wanted something more up-tempo and wanted someone else to try singing it, so he pointed at me. I became the lead singer right there in the studio.”
The following year, the group hooked up with producer Stan Vincent and recorded “Remember Then,” a No. 24 chart hit that has gone on to be the theme song of many doo-wop radio shows, including the one Norm N. Night currently does from the studios at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
“It thrills me that the song has lived on and has been used in that way,” Chance said, noting the group has a Christmas CD called “I Love Christmas” and an original song of the same name.
Chance said he closes every show with “I Believe,” dedicating it to original group member Larry Palombo, who died in a skydiving accident while serving in the 82nd Airborne in 1959, and all other veterans and fallen heroes.
Chance, who was featured on Don Imus’ morning show for 10 years and always brings a good dose of comedy to his act, also said his concerts have been extra special to him since he fought a winning battle against throat cancer.
“I have had more joy over the past 12 years than you can imagine,” he said. “I didn’t know if I was ever going to be able to talk again, let alone sing, but I received a gift from God.
“I cherish each moment I go out on the stage.”