Soul Serenade: Bob Kuban And The In-Men, “The Cheater”

Bob Kuban and the In-MenBob Kuban and the In-Men only had one major hit. That one hit was a record called “The Cheater” which stormed up the charts in 1966. And maybe the band’s story would have ended there if it wasn’t for the compelling story that surrounds them, in particular lead singer Walter Scott, and keeps people interested to this day.

Kuban was a drummer from St. Louis. He was just out of high school when he put together his In-Men there in 1964. They were eight pieces strong and included a horn section, which was something of an anachronism given that it was the year that the British Invasion, with its emphasis on guitars, was arriving on these shores.

The British Invasion wasn’t the only thing that was going on at that time. The Vietnam War was heating up and musicians were just as susceptible to the draft as anyone else. In order to keep their deferments, members of the In-Men had to stay in college or work day jobs as teachers. That impacted the band’s ability to tour much beyond their local area.

Bob Kuban and the In-Men

They recorded “The Cheater” in St. Louis, and released it on Musicland Records in 1966. Originally the song had been written in the first person, but as Kuban told writer Rick Simmons, he was looking for something with energy, excitement, and a driving rhythm, so the narrative was changed to third person and a bridge was added.

Whatever changes they made worked very well. The record charged up the Billboard Hot 100 until it peaked at #12. It was a million-seller and gold record award-winner. The success of “The Cheater” led to nationwide touring and television appearances for the band, including a spot on American Bandstand.

“The Cheater” was also a hit overseas and a tour was planned but the United States government stepped in at that point and let Kuban know that if the band went overseas their deferments would be pulled and they would all be re-classified 1-A. Instead of touring, they returned to the studio. They were looking for a strong follow-up to “The Cheater,” but what they got was “The Teaser,” a song that Kuban himself had little use for and only managed to reach the #70 spot on the Pop chart.

The next single, a cover of the Beatles song “Drive My Car,” didn’t even do that well, only reaching #93. Still, Bob Kuban and the In-Men had placed three singles in the Top 100 in a single year, and that was promising to say the least. But the future would not turn out to be as bright as it looked, primarily because the band’s manager, Mel Friedman, was plotting, unbeknownst to Kuban, to pull lead singer Scott out of the group and push him into a solo career.

There they were, a band with three chart singles in one year, including a million-seller, and yet they were on the verge of dissolution. Eventually, Scott did leave for that solo career, a move that didn’t work out for him, or for Kuban and the band because none of them was able to reach the heights they had hit with “The Cheater.”

Flash forward almost 20 years and Bob Kuban and the In-Men, including Scott who had realized his mistake, were planning a reunion concert in 1983. Then suddenly and mysteriously, Scott disappeared. It took nearly four years to find his body at which time it emerged that Scott had been shot and thrown into a water tank. In a shocking twist of fate, given that Scott was the lead singer on “The Cheater,” the perpetrator turned out to be the then-boyfriend of Scott’s second wife. In addition to Scott, he killed his own wife and was given two life sentences for his crimes. Scott’s ex-wife was sentenced to five years for hindering the prosecution of the murders.

Kuban continues to tour around the Midwest with his band to this day. He remains bitter about the way that Friedman undermined his band when they were on the brink of big-time success. Kuban was recognized by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in their permanent exhibit of one-hit wonders.

Soul Serenade: Little Anthony & The Imperials, “I’m On The Outside (Looking In)”

Little Anthony & the ImperialsWay back in the early days of this column, in 2011 to be specific, I featured the Little Anthony & the Imperials hit “Hurt So Bad.” It seems like a long time ago now and there have been somewhere around 300 installments of this column since then, so I thought it would be a good time to feature another Little Anthony hit. This time it’s the record that launched a string of four straight Top 20 hits for the group. It was a run that made them stars.
They first got together in New York City in the 1950s. The group’s original lineup also included Clarence Collins, who founded the group, Ernest Wright, Nate Rogers and Tracey Lord. Collins had a group called the Chesters that included Rogers. It was that group that Gourdine, who had been in the DuPonts, joined. At the time Ronald Ross was in the group, but he was replaced by Ernest Wright.

End Records signed the Chesters in 1958 and changed their name to the Imperials. Their first single for the label was a smash. “Tears on My Pillow” sold over a million copies and reached #4 on the Pop chart and #2 on the R&B chart. A follow-up single, “Shimmy Shimmy Ko-Ko-Bop” did very well too, reaching #24 in 1960. But when further success proved elusive for the group, Gourdine decided to go it on his own.

Imperials came and went over the next few years and Gourdine eventually returned in 1963. At that point, the classic lineup of the group, Collins, Gourdine, Wright, and Sammy Strain, who had joined when Gourdine was pursuing his solo career, was in place. The quartet hooked up with an old friend, producer/songwriter Teddy Randazzo, signed with Don Costa Productions (DCP), and the hits began to come. The run began with “I’m on the Outside (Looking In)” which reached #15 on the Pop chart in 1964.

Little Anthony & the Imperials

Their biggest hit, “Goin’ Out of My Head” followed that same year, and reached #6. Then came “Hurt So Bad,” #10 in 1965, and “Take Me Back,” #16, also in 1965. Little Anthony & the Imperials were on top of the music world. While they never again achieved the level of chart success that had marked their four hit streak, singles like “Hurt,” “Better Use Your Head,” and “Out of Sight Out of Mind” did respectable business. During this time Little Anthony & the Imperials were fixtures on television, appearing on the Ed Sullivan Show, Shindig!, Hullabaloo, American Bandstand, Midnight Special, and the Tonight Show among other programs.

Eventually, the Imperials signed with United Artists Records and singles like “World of Darkness,” It’s Not The Same,” “If I Remember To Forget,” and “Yesterday Has Gone” appeared on the label’s Veep imprint. While most of the records made it to the charts, none had the kind of success that the group had enjoyed earlier. During this time they recorded the original version of “You Only Live Twice” for the James Bond film of the same name but the Nancy Sinatra version was the one included in the film, apparently due to the influence of her father.

In the 1970s, Little Anthony & the Imperials recorded for Janus Records (“Father, Father”), Avco Records (“La La La,” “I’m Falling in Love with You”) but had little chart success. Group members came and went. Gourdine tried the solo route again, this time with more success. Collins carried on with his own group of Imperials until he left in 1988.

The classic lineup of Collins, Wright, Strain, and Gourdine got together again for a Madison Square Garden concert in 1992. The reunion was successful enough to lead to a tour and an appearance on the 40th anniversary special for Dick Clark’s American Bandstand. There were more TV appearances in the ’90s and two new albums, one of which was their first live album. It was the first time that the lineup had recorded in 30 years.

They continued on into the new century until Strain retired in 2004. Collins finally called it a day in 2012 but he still retains the Imperials name. Gourdine continues to tour and published his autobiography, Little Anthony: My Journey, My Destiny, in 2014. As recently as 2015 Little Anthony & the Imperials were still touring with a lineup that includes Gourdine and Wright.

In 2009, Little Anthony & the Imperials were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Other honors include induction into the Vocal Group Hall of Fame in 1999, the Hit Parade Hall of Fame in 2007, and the Official Rhythm and Blues Music Hall of Fame in 2015.

Soul Serenade: Richard Berry And The Pharaohs, “Louie Louie”

Richard BerryIf Richard Berry had only done that one thing in his life it would have been more than enough. What is that one thing? Well in 1955 Mr. Berry wrote a little song called “Louie Louie” and two years later he recorded it with his group, the Pharaohs. It was released by Flip Records as a B-side to Berry’s cover of “You Are My Sunshine.” It was a hit, albeit a minor one, regionally, selling 130,000 copies.

Obviously, Berry’s song has a history that has lived on far beyond that original recording. In fact, it lives on to this day. But let’s talk about the composer before we get back to the song. Berry was born near Monroe, Louisiana but brought up from the time he was a baby in Los Angeles. He badly injured a hip as a child and was on crutches until he was six. While at a summer camp for crippled children Berry took up his first instrument, the ukulele.

At Jefferson High School, Berry harmonized in the hallways along with many other students, and that led to him recording with a number of doo-wop groups including the Penguins, the Cadets, the Chimes, the Crowns, and several others. He eventually landed in the Flairs in 1953, and sang bass on their single, “She Wants to Rock,” which was produced by none other than Lieber and Stoller, and released on Modern Records.

It wasn’t much later when Lieber and Stoller were recording the Robins and needed a bass voice for their “Riot in Cell Block #9.” They remembered Berry, and although uncredited (because he was under contract with Modern), that’s Berry singing on the ominous introduction to the hit, which was released on Spark Records. That wasn’t the last hit that Berry, uncredited, sang on. That’s him on Etta James’ first hit “Wallflower (Dance With Me, Henry).” He sang with several other groups including the Arthur Lee Maye and the Crowns, and a group called the Dreamers, who eventually became the Blossoms.

Richard Berry

By 1954, Berry was done with the Flairs. He formed his own group which he called the Pharaohs. But in between the Flairs and the Pharaohs Berry worked with a group called Rick Rillera and the Rhythm Rockers. Inspired by the Latin rhythms of their song “El Loco Cha Cha,” and not a little bit by Chuck Berry’s “Havana Moon,” Berry began work on a new song. He wrote down the lyrics, inspired by Sinatra’s “One for My Baby” according to Berry, on a piece of toilet paper before a show one night.

It took six years, and the controversy of an FBI investigation into the song’s lyrics, until “Louie Louie” became a huge hit. Alas, it wasn’t Berry’s version that struck gold, but one by a group called the Kingsmen. Worse yet, Berry had sold the copyright back in 1959 for $750 because he needed the money to pay for his wedding. So although “Louie Louie” has been recorded over 1,000 times, Berry has seen very little of the money.

“Everybody sold their songs in those days,” Berry said in 1993. “I never was bitter with the record companies. They provided a vehicle for five young black dudes to make a record.”

Berry didn’t stop writing songs however and one of them, “Have Love, Will Travel,” became a regional hit for the Sonics and has inspired a number of cover versions including one by the Black Keys in 2003.

By the mid-1980s Berry was living on welfare in his mother’s house in Los Angeles. When a company called California Cooler wanted to use “Louie Louie” in a commercial and needed Berry’s approval to do so. The company located Berry and sent a lawyer to see him. The lawyer convinced Berry that he could win back the rights to the song that he had sold so long ago. Berry went to court and the settlement made Berry, at long last, a millionaire.

Berry continued to play shows into the ’90s, even reuniting with his Pharaohs in 1996 for a benefit concert in L.A. Unfortunately his health began to decline around that time and he passed away the following year at the age of 62.

“Louie Louie” is the most recorded song in rock history. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame called it one of the 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll, and the song entered the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1999. In addition to the countless honors and widespread recognition, Richard Berry’s birthday, April 11, is now celebrated as International Louie Louie Day.

Soul Serenade: “I Can’t Get Next To You” – Which Version Gets Next To You?

The Temptations - Al Green

 

 

 

 

 

Back in April, I presented you with a poll that asked you to chose your favorite version of “Respect,” the Aretha Franklin cover, or the Otis Redding original. Aretha won that particular vote pretty handily. I thought I’d try the same thing with another song this week, asking you to choose your favorite version of “I Can’t Get Next to You” — the rhythmic, driving take by the Temptations, or the intense, slow-burning version by Al Green.

Let’s talk about the song itself first. “I Can’t Get Next to You” was written by Motown stalwarts Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong. The first version of the song was recorded by the Temptations. Dennis Edwards had replaced David Ruffin by that time, but the rest of the classic Tempts lineup was intact, with Eddie Kendricks, Paul Williams, Otis Williams, and Otis Franklin. Whitfield produced the record, and the always-able Funk Brothers provided the backing track.

The Temptations - I Cant Get Next to You

The Temptations took “I Can’t Get Next to You” to the top of the Billboard Hot 100 chart in October 1969, and it stayed there for two weeks until it was replaced by the Elvis Presley classic “Suspicious Minds.” The record also topped the R&B chart. Pieces of the Temptations recording were used on other records. The Jackson Five appropriated the bridge for their 1970 hit “ABC,” and the applause that opens “I Can’t Get Next to You” was borrowed by the Temptations themselves for their 1970 smash “Psychedelic Shack.”

There have been a number of covers of “I Can’t Get Next to You” including takes by the Osmonds, Savoy Brown, Annie Lennox, and Toto. But at least in my mind, there is little doubt that the finest of these covers was the one released by Al Green in 1970. The song provided the title of the album Al Green Gets Next to You, and the single reached #60 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and #11 on the R&B chart.

Al Green - I Can't Get Next to You

This is not a matter of which take on the song is better. They are as vastly different as the Aretha and Otis versions of “Respect.” Green replaced the muscular, up-tempo group effort of the Temptations with a dramatically slowed down, solitary, deeply felt, down-on-his-knees-begging-for-love, Hi Rhythm Section version. So it’s simply a matter of which one you prefer or maybe even which one you prefer at one particular moment.

This is that moment. Listen to the two versions below and be reminded of the greatness of each one. Then vote in the poll and make your feelings known. The comments section is open to you if you would like to comment beyond your vote.

“I Can’t Get Next To You” – Which Version is Your Favorite?

Soul Serenade: Ruby And The Romantics, “Our Day Will Come”

Ruby and the RomanticsAlright, you caught me. Yes, I played hooky last week. But after all, I was on vacation at the beautiful Jersey shore, and it was the first week I missed in more than six years, so I’ve earned a little slack, right? Besides, I’m back this week with a really cool song that was a huge hit in 1963.

Who was this Ruby of Ruby and the Romantics? She was Ruby Nash of Akron, Ohio, and while she was still studying at Central High School in Akron she began singing in groups that included her sister and three friends. And what about those Romantics? Well, some of them had been in a group called the Embers who eventually became the Supremes (no, not those Supremes), and then the Fellos.

Leroy Fann, one of the Fellos, knew Ruby from Akron, and occasionally asked her to sing with his group. Eventually, a group coalesced around Ruby that included Fann, Ronald Mosley, Ed Roberts, and George Lee. In 1961 they signed with Kapp Records out of New York and became Ruby and the Romantics at the behest of Kapp A&R man Allen Stanton.

Crooner Jack Jones was supposed to be the one to record “Our Day Will Come” but Ruby and her group liked the song, saw its potential, and pressed Kapp to let them record it. They were right of course as their recording of “Our Day Will Come” shot up the Billboard Hot 100 to #1 in 1963 and gained the same lofty position on the R&B chart.

Ruby and the Romantics

“Our Day Will Come” was written by Mort Garson and Bob Hilliard. In order for them to allow Ruby and the Romantics to record it, Stanton had to promise the songwriters that if group’s version failed to become a hit, Jack Jones would record it. With Stanton at the helm, two versions of the song were recorded, but it was the one with the bossa nova beat and Leroy Glover’s striking organ solo that was chosen for release and became a smash. Other backing musicians on the record were guitarists Vinnie Bell, Al Gorgoni, and Kenny Burrell, bass player Russ Savakus, drummer Gary Chester, and percussionist George Devens.

The follow-up single for Ruby and the Romantics, “My Summer Love,” did respectable business too, reaching the Top 20. And then they came back with the original version of “Hey There Lonely Boy” (later a smash for Eddie Holman as ‘Hey There Lonely Girl’), which worked its way up to #27 on the Pop chart. Kapp released several other singles but none of them saw much success. Ruby and the Romantics moved on to ABC Records, where three singles and an album failed to match their earlier chart successes.

Ruby and the Romantics recorded one single for A&M Records in 1969. “Hurting Each Other” was notable due to the fact that it reunited the group with Stanton. Unfortunately, the old magic failed to materialize, and it was the final single that Ruby and the Romantics recorded before breaking up in 1971.

The full-range harmonies of Ruby and the Romantics were an acknowledged influence on the Temptations, and the Carpenters gathered inspiration from the group as well, recording three of their songs. There have been over 60 cover versions of “Our Day Will Come” including takes on the song by Bobby Darrin, Frankie Valli, Dee Dee Sharp, Amy Winehouse, the Supremes (yes, those Supremes), and James Brown.

Ruby Nash returned to Akron when the group broke up and still lives there. She is the only surviving member of Ruby and the Romantics. Sadly, neither she or any of the heirs of the Romantics see any royalties from the hit records.

In 2013, Ruby and the Romantics were part of the first class of inductees into the newly established Rhythm and Blues Music Hall of Fame.

Soul Serenade: The Tams, “Be Young, Be Foolish, Be Happy”

The Tams - "Be Young, Be Foolish, Be Happy"It’s almost vacation time so I’m going to try to keep it short this week. A couple of weeks ago I recommended SiriusXM’s Carolina Shag channel. I hope you’ve been listening. Sadly, I’m told that the channel is temporary and will end on July 5. There are a group of people trying to change that, and if you love the station as much as I do you might want to sign the petition that calls for the station to be made permanent.

One group in constant rotation on Carolina Shag are the Tams. The Tams are beach music royalty who can still draw a crowd at the venues on the shores of the Carolinas. I wrote about their big hit “What Kind of Fool (Do You Think I Am)” back in 2013, and you can read that column here.

To briefly recap their story, the Tams got together in Atlanta and named themselves after the tam o’shanter caps that they wore on stage. The signed with Arlen Records and had a hit for the label with the Joe South song “Untie Me.” By 1964, they were recording for ABC-Paramount where they had that hit with “What Kind of Fool.” The single, written by Ray Whitley and recorded at FAME Studios in Muscle Shoals, reached the top of the Cashbox R&B chart and was a Top 10 hit on the Billboard Hot 100.

The Tams

The Tams’ follow-up single, “Hey Girl Don’t Bother Me,” was a moderate success, but it was their 1968 single, “Be Young, Be Foolish, Be Happy,” that became a beach music classic. The song had originally been recorded the previous year by the Sensational Epics and released on Warner Bros. Records. The Tams’ version reached #26 on the R&B chart, and #61 on the Billboard Hot 100, but sometimes a record has a life beyond its original chart life. That’s what happened to “Be Young, Be Foolish, Be Happy” as it became one of the most popular songs in the annals of Carolina beach music as well and a very popular song on the UK’s Northern Soul scene.

The Tams didn’t have another hit until 1987 when they paid tribute to the music scene that had kept them alive with a record called “There Ain’t Nothin’ Like Shaggin’,” named for the dance that is done wherever beach music is played. Unfortunately ‘shagging’ means something else entirely in the UK, and the record was banned by the BBC.

These days there are two groups of Tams out on the road. One is lead by original group member R.L. Smith, and the other by Charles Pope, the brother of Tams co-founder Joe Pope.

Soul Serenade: Billy Ward And His Dominoes, “Sixty Minute Man”

Billy Ward and His Dominoes

 

 

 

 

 

 

If you think that today’s rappers have corned the market on sexual braggadocio, think again. While the current hip-hop stars may describe their amorous adventures in explicit detail, there’s a tradition of sexual one-upmanship that goes back to the blues songs of the 1920s, and probably before that.

Some say that “Sixty Minute Man” was the first rock and roll record. While there are always going to be differing opinions on that score, what is not in doubt is that Billy Ward and His Dominoes were one of the most successful vocal groups on the R&B scene in the 1950s. Ward himself was a musical prodigy. He was born in Savannah and following a stint in the Coast Guard, where he sang in the choir, Ward studied music at the Julliard School of Music in New York City. It was an experience that was extremely rare for a black person in those days.

Ward was working as a vocal coach in New York when he met Rose Marks, who became his agent and his songwriting partner. The pair decided to form a vocal group, drawing the singers from among Ward’s students. At first, they were called the Cues, and Clyde McPhatter was chosen as the lead singer after he won a talent contest at the Apollo Theater. The other Cues were Charlie White, Joe Lamont, and Bill Brown. Ward played piano for the group and created their vocal arrangements.

The Cues made successful appearances at the Apollo, and on the Arthur Godfrey TV show. They were recommended to Ralph Bass of Federal Records, an imprint of the King label. When the label signed them, the Cues became the Dominoes. McPhatter sang lead on their first single for the label, “Do Something For Me,” which reached #6 on the R&B chart in early 1951.

Not long after that, the Dominoes released “Sixty Minute Man,” this time with bass singer Brown singing the lead vocal. Brown promised his lady 15 minutes of kissing, 15 minutes of teasing, and 15 minutes of squeezing, after which he would be “blowing his top.” Whew! Those sentiments were enough to take “Sixty Minute Man” to the top of the R&B chart, where it remained for 14 weeks and, crucially, crossed over to a spot on the Pop chart at #17. The groundbreaking blend of gospel, blues, and sex, apparently appealed to everyone, although in some quarters it was relegated to the ranks of novelty records.

Billy Ward and His Dominoes

Billy Ward and His Dominoes became bigger than contemporaries like the Five Keys and the Clovers. But Ward was a tough taskmaster and didn’t pay the Dominoes enough to make the discipline worthwhile for them. Jackie Wilson, who would replace McPhatter in 1953, said:

“Billy Ward was not an easy man to work for. He played piano and organ, could arrange, and he was a fine director and coach. He knew what he wanted, and you had to give it to him. And he was a strict disciplinarian. You better believe it! You paid a fine if you stepped out of line.”

Ward and Marks owned the Dominoes name, giving them the power to hire and fire at will. Meanwhile, McPhatter was barely making enough money to live on. “Whenever I’d get back on the block where everybody’d heard my records—half the time I couldn’t afford a Coca-Cola,” McPhatter said. Given the name of the group, many people thought that Ward was the lead singer, and sometimes he billed McPhatter as Clyde Ward so that people would think that he was Billy’s little brother.

The first two defections came in 1951 when White and Brown left to form the Checkers. They were replaced by James Van Loan and David McNeil, who had been in the Larks. Despite the lineup changes, the hits kept coming. Maybe Ward had a point. “Have Mercy” hit the top of the R&B chart in 1952 and enjoyed a 10-week stay at the top. The big departure came the following year when McPhatter decided that he had had enough and left the Dominoes to form his own group, which he called the Drifters.

That could have been a death blow for the Dominoes, but McPhatter’s replacement was Jackie Wilson, a vocal student of McPhatter’s. At around that time McNeil and Lamont left and were replaced by Milton Merle and Cliff Givens. The interchangeable parts continued to function successfully as records like “You Can’t Keep a Good Man Down” continued to find chart success, albeit not the same level of success as the McPhatter-led hits.

In 1954, the Dominoes moved first to Jubilee Records, and then to Decca. They had a nice-sized pop hit with “St. Therese of the Roses,” with Wilson singing lead. But that was about it for chart activity for the group. They soldiered on though, with more lineup changes, and when Elvis Presley saw the Dominoes in Las Vegas in 1956 he was so impressed by Wilson’s vocals on Otis Blackwell’s “Don’t Be Cruel” that he returned to Memphis and recorded it again, this time with the Million Dollar Quartet. Elvis always said that Wilson sang the song much better than he did, and he appreciated the Dominoes slower arrangement so much that he did an impersonation of it backed by Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, and Jerry Lee Lewis.

In 1957 Wilson left to begin his own legendary solo career. Enter another former-Lark, Gene Mumford. Another label change took the Dominoes to Liberty Records where they hit #13 on the Pop chart with “Star Dust.” Somehow, despite all of the changes, including the loss of two future superstars, there was still some gas in the Dominoes tank. Incidentally, “Star Dust” was one of the first multi-track recordings in rock and roll history, as well as one of the first to be mixed in true stereo. It was the Dominoes only million-seller, and their final big hit, although various Dominoes lineups continued recording and performing well into the 1960s.

Billy Ward and His Dominoes were elected to the Vocal Group Hall of Fame in 2006. They were a group that not only broke new ground musically but one that gave birth to the careers of two of the biggest stars, in McPhatter and Wilson, that soul music has ever seen.