Monthly Archives: November 2007

Surf exotica

If it was the instrumental that kept rock ‘n’ roll simmering in the murky years between its ‘50s inception and arrival of the British Invasion in 1963, then surf music would be the instrumental’s final, most colorful efflorescence.

Excited by classy, guitar-based instrumental hits like the Ventures’ “Walk, Don’t Run”, Duane Eddy’s “Movin’ and Groovin’,” Jorgen Ingmann’s “Apache” and the Fireballs’ “Bulldog,” American teenagers everywhere – Southern California included – began forming their own hard-driving instrumental combos in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s. Some regions would develop their own subtle variations of instrumental rock ‘n’ roll – none, however, as distinct as the Pacific Coast’s. The booming reverberation, the propulsive thrust, the “moody” minor keys and the vibrato guitar accents of early regional hits like the Gamblers’ “Moon Dawg!” (1960), the Revels’ “Church Key” (1960), and the Belairs’ “Mr. Moto” (1961) were the stylistic elements which captured Southern Californian youth’s vision, if not experience, of their own sun-and-surf predilections. Just a year later, numbers like Dick Dale’s “Let’s Go Trippin’” and the Tornadoes’ “Bustin’ Surfboards” embodied surf music in all of its formalized glory, a new aesthetic forged from ringing Fender guitars, sunshine and arcane surfer references. Surf music was like some tanned, grinning evolution of the whole instrumental genre. Peculiarly adapted to beaches and teen clubs, it came crawling from the primordial Pacific waters to capture America’s Kennedy-era consciousness.

Surf music, though clearly something new, nonetheless shared certain characteristics with an unlikely older cousin: exotica. The overlap is especially apparent with a cocktail jazz combo like Martin Denny’s or Arthur Lyman’s. Before vocal harmonies began dominating surf music, both styles were obviously instrumental, and both styles’ adherents occasionally dipped into the same bag of exotic standards like “The Breeze and I,” “Miserlou,” “Quiet Village” and “Istanbul.”

The most significant shared characteristic, though, is that both surf and exotica music sought to summon sensation through sheer atmospherics. The surf groups, with their staccato guitar runs and crashing drums, preoccupied themselves with the dizzying rush of the wild surf. Exotica’s proponents knew that the real action was back on shore, casually dressed and safely settled around the kalua pig at Luau Village, but there would be plenty of moments when surf music crossed, even if inadvertently, into exotica’s tropical waters. Read on.

1. The Blazers, Bangalore (Acree)
The Blazers were a brief-lived Fullerton, California surf group. Their “Bangalore” was the second of two excellent instrumental surf 45s, their first, 1963’s “Beaver Patrol,” was banned, according to legend, from local radio airplay due to its title’s innuendo. Both of the Blazers’ 45s would be released in 1963 on Acree Records, a tiny label formed by Vern Acree, Sr., a professional country and western guitarist and the father of the Blazers’ lead guitarist.

The Blazers’ two singles were recorded at the legendary Downey Records, a small studio located in the back of a record store in Downey, California. Part recording studio, part record store, part record label, Downey Records was the sort of sympathetic, independent operation at the foundation of any thriving regional rock ‘n’ roll scene.

On “Bangalore,” the Blazers themselves – lead guitarist Vern Acree, Jr., rhythm guitarists Steve Morris and Wayne Bouchard, saxophonist Larry Robins, drummer Chris Holguin and bassist John Morris – voyage to the east, completely on their own fabricated terms, and pay homage to Dick Dale’s influential “Miserlou,” surf music’s best-known exotica anthem.

In 1962, surf music was thriving, but it was still largely a phenomenon particular to Southern California. The young Beach Boys would have their first local hit, “Surfin’,” that year. Same for the Marketts’ “Surfer’s Stomp” and Tornadoes’ “Bustin’ Surfboards,” early recordings that directly referenced the lifestyle in their titles. Fender’s all-important standalone reverb unit for its electric guitars had just been introduced. By 1963, however, even the record industry’s major labels, for all of their erratic beneficence, sensed something was afoot, and so did a national consciousness taken with the fantasy of sun, fun and the opposite sex that surf music offered. Providence would smile and a national spotlight would shine, however briefly, upon groups like the Surfaris (“Wipe Out”) and the Chantays (“Pipeline”).

Such would not be the fortune of the Blazers, alas, nor the vast majority of their surf-inclined brethren. They’d play the same high school dances and armory hall teen shows for the next year or two until high school graduation or the British Invasion rendered the whole genre obsolete.

2. The Surfmen, Paradise Cove (Titan)
Composed of Ray Hunt (lead guitar), Nick Drury (rhythm guitar), Armon Frank (sax), Randall Anglin (bass) and Tim Fitzpatrick (drums), the Surfmen were integral to the Southern California instrumental surf music phenomenon from its very inception. The Surfmen grew out of the Expressos, a young group from the Orange County suburbs who issued one 45, “Teenage Express” – with its flipside “Wondering,” an early version of “Paradise Cove” – on the local Trans-American label in 1960. Changing their name, the Surfmen would record and release a handful of 45s on Titan Records before finally metamorphosing, late in 1962, into the Lively Ones, one of surf music’s finest combos.

“Paradise Cove” and its flipside “Ghost Hop” would be the first of the Surfmen’s three 45s, all recorded in 1962. While not quite the deadly thoroughbreds that the Lively Ones were, the Surfmen’s atmospherics and echoing guitar sound captured the spirit, if not the sound, of the nascent surf instrumental.

Paradise Cove is a real place, actually, a formerly popular surfing spot near Malibu. Like Tahiti, Tehran, Thailand or any subject matter popular in exotica music’s geography, the song’s locale is invested with fanciful measures of mystery and intrigue. The real Paradise Cove was a place you went to surf. The song “Paradise Cove” – one of a number of solitary meditations like the Beach Boys’ “The Lonely Sea,” the Essex’s “Pray for Surf” or the Sandals’ “Theme From the Endless Summer” – was nothing you’d want to paddle across. Mostly it was a place for sunset communion and prayers to Poseidon for perfectly cylindrical waves. Dense, savory musical atmosphere was the mission here. Not reality.

3. The Pharos, Pintor (Del-Fi)
Aspiring jazz-musician-turned-entrepreneur Bob Keane formed, after some initial tribulations in Los Angeles’s independent record industry, his Del-Fi Records label in 1957. Ritchie Valen’s Latin-tinged rock ‘n’ roll put Keane’s fledgling label decisively on the map with hits like “Donna” and “La Bamba.” While Del-Fi’s succeeding years served post-War California with a fascinating body of teen rock and pop, exotica, Latin jazz and instrumental novelties, by 1963 – the genre’s apotheosis year – surf music would be the label’s bread and butter, sleek, reverb-heavy productions its specialty. To scan the Del-Fi Records album discography is to scan some of surf’s archetypal instrumental groups: the Lively Ones, the Sentinals, the Impacts, Dave Myers and the Surftones.   Perusing the label’s 45 discography gets more obscure, if not interesting.

There seem to have existed different configurations of the Pharos during their brief existence, but, at the time of this recording (May ’63), they consisted of largely of young Hispanic and Filipino musicians – Cesar Aliviado (lead guitar), Emilio Martinez (rhythm guitar) , Greg Tangonan (drums), Bill Bontempo (piano) and Phil Pastrano (sax) – from the La Puente and Hacienda Heights neighborhoods of greater Los Angeles.

Jim Irvin, who is credited for “Pintor,” and who played bass on the track, was actually one Dave Aerni, a local guitarist, bassist, promoter and label operator often associated with the Pal Studios, the Cucamonga studio where much interesting pre-Beatles rock ‘n’ roll was recorded.  Aerni also coordinated recording sessions for local groups, licensing them in turn to local labels for release.  Both “Pintor” and its flipside “Rhythm Surfer” would be made under the watch of Aerni, who, several months later, would also produce the Rhythm Surfers, a revamped configuration of the Pharos, for the also-great 45, “502 (Like Getting Pinched On a 502).”

“Pintor” is loosely based on the melody of “Angelitos Negros,” a popular Latin-American ballad of the ‘40s.  It is a terrific representative one of surf music’s more endearing legacies, an ephemeral streak, inspired by Latin melodies, running through everything from Astronauts’ “Baja” and the Sentinals’ “Latin’ia” to Trashmen’s “Malaguena” and Dick Dale’s “Spanish Kiss.”

Posted in Exotica/Space-Age, Instrumentals/Surf | 11 Comments

West Coast boogaloo, part two

(Ed. Note: More this week on West Coast versions of the quintessential ‘60s Spanish Harlem musical phenomenon, the boogaloo, that fusion of black R&B; aesthetic with Latin rhythms and orchestration. Broadly speaking, the boogaloo’s West Coast cousins tended to be a lot jazzier and more relaxed, a Pacific balm to El Barrio’s Nuyorian grit.

The first post on California boogaloo can be found here. Other Office Naps posts about West Coast Latin music can be found here and here, with, finally, an introductory post about the boogaloo here.)

1. Ricardo Luna and The Latin Jazz Quintet, Strolling the Cha Cha (Blue-Rubi)
The chugging Afro-Latin rhythms, the R&B; sensibilities, the dancefloor mojo: don’t let the title’s “cha cha” reference throw you, this is pure boogaloo. This is pure boogaloo with, of course, that infusion of jazziness so prevalent among the West Coast Latin groups. More time is given over to instrumental solos, more time to general breeziness. Even that rarest of exotic Pacific birds, the jazz flute, gets some precious seconds here.

This, I believe, is Ricardo Luna of los Hermanos Luna, an obscure and jazzy Los Angeles-based Latin combo that pianist Ricardo led with his brother. Along with a few 45s on Revolvo Records, the brothers Luna issued one LP (Bailando a lo Latino) on Discos Corona Records in the ‘60s.

The vocal chorus of “Strolling the Cha Cha” refers obliquely to the Diamonds’ “The Stroll.” No one knew that a cha cha could be strolled until this 45. As “Strolling the Cha Cha” probably sold in exclusive – that is to say, negligible – quantity, no one would really think much of that possibility after this 45, either.

“Strolling the Cha Cha” was likely recorded around 1967.

2. Harold Johnson Sextet, Sorry ‘Bout That – Part I (HME)
Probably the best known of this week’s artists – which really isn’t saying that much – the Harold Johnson Sextet was a young Los Angeles combo that existed for three albums of hip, late ‘60s instrumental soul jazz and Latin modes. Harold Johnson, a pianist who grew up playing in his father’s church, first formed his sextet in the mid-‘60s; the Sextet’s first record, this selection, would be released while Johnson was still a senior at Los Angeles’s Washington High School in 1967. Succeeding full-length releases would feature an ever-shifting roster, always revolving, however, around Harold Johnson.

By the early ‘70s the popular vogue for modish combo jazz had basically dissolved, and so had the Harold Johnson Sextet. A series of unsubstantiated connections suggests that this is the same Harold Johnson who later played keyboards on, among other mainstream R&B; sessions, numerous Motown recordings during the label’s ‘70s Los Angeles years. These connections suggest, too, that this is the same Harold Johnson who has recently played organ behind expatriate black gospel diva Liz McComb.

Lo, from a primordial soup of emails, inference and unsubstantiated speculation an Office Naps post is born.

3. Harold Johnson Sextet, Sorry ‘Bout That – Part II (HME)
Addressing the boogaloo fad, the Harold Johnson Sextet’s “Sorry ‘Bout That” is a revealing demonstration, West Coast-style, of the whole phenomenon. “Sorry ‘Bout That” is an understated instrumental, more Latin jazz than torrid El Barrio fare, more polyglot stew of jazz musicians and Latin percussionists than Puerto Rican anthem. It doesn’t so much invite one to dance as it invites one to have a seat, relax.

Run by local record impresario Harry Mitchell, HME Records was a tiny label that was home to a few interesting Latin-ish releases, including Reggie Andrews and the Fellowship’s Mystic Beauty and Harold Johnson’s first full-length, House on Elm Street.

The musicians of “Sorry ‘Bout That” (a song which only appeared on 45) probably reflect, in some form, the personnel of House on Elm Street: David Crawford (flute), Billy Jackson (conga), Jimmy Nash (bass), Mike Shaw (tenor sax), Alfred Patterson (alto sax), Eddie Synigal (alto sax), Ronald Rutledge (drums) and Harold Johnson (piano).

4. Tony Done’s Hollywood Quintet, Micaela (Vance)
Recorded around 1967, Tony Done’s “Micaela” is a spare reading of a minor Latin hit for New York City bandleader Pete Rodriguez.

The mysterious Tony Done’s Hollywood Quintet’s repertoire, if this EP is any indication, was based in guaguanco, bolero, mambo, son montuno and boogaloo – styles familiar to any late ‘60s working New York Latin combo, styles which would have made his combo both anomaly and perfect fit in Hollywood’s after-hours club playgrounds.

“Micaela” is not only the most obscure of three obscure selections this week, it’s also the most representative of Spanish Harlem-born boogaloo. What else can one say, though? The legacy of Tony Done’s Hollywood Quintet leaves us with precious little save a four-song EP and that familiar sense of Office Naps mystery.

Posted in Jazz Obscura, Latin | 6 Comments

Ed Bland

Ed Bland is an American composer, musical arranger and producer with a considerable catalog of contemporary classical compositions – “Art Music,” as Bland would note – to his name. Bland is, at least among a coterie of vintage soul fans, also identified with his recordings of the ‘60s and ‘70s, singular R&B; and jazz arrangements so distinct that they unwittingly dominate the music at times. You’ll know what I’m talking about by the end of this post.

Ed Bland was born in 1926 and grew up in Chicago’s South Side, studying as a young saxophonist and clarinetist at the University of Chicago and the American Conservatory of Music after World War Two. Composition studies behind him, infatuated by philosophy and West African drumming, he immersed himself in avant-garde musical theory as well as the intellectual life of post-War Chicago trying, all the while, to get his songs and compositions published. In 1959, he co-produced the experimental film Cry of Jazz, an exposition of race and jazz (with rare early footage of Sun Ra), before moving with his family to New York City in the early ‘60s.

In New York City, Bland found work as a freelance producer, composer and arranger on the strength of his jazz and conservatory pedigree. Ed Bland’s musical objective was to “create a raw, colorful, funky, soulful sound combined with complex linear patterns,” according to his own abstract musical philosophy. Therewith he would spend much of the next two decades in the record industry, eventually becoming a producer and A&R; head at Vanguard Records from 1974 to 1978.

Settling in Los Angeles in 1984, where he continues to live and work, Bland wrote music for motion pictures, TV and occasional record productions, composing the scores for A Raisin In the Sun and The House of Dies Drear and orchestrating A Soldier’s Story. Bland still actively composes, his recent score for 34th St. NYC and albums of compositions like Urban Classical: The Music of Ed Bland (Cambria) and Dancing Through the Walls (Delos), though with no obvious connection to his days as an R&B; innovator, evincing an idiosyncratic vision at work.

Looking over his discography, one gets the feeling that Ed Bland is one of these gifted American musical minds who successfully navigated the straits of the record industry but who was rarely granted the latitude to fulfill their vision – especially on the industry’s commercial terms. There’s something of a maverick quality to Bland, a musical individualist if not eccentric, which perhaps explains why his handiwork never found a more consistent niche in an industry that rarely rewards such qualities. Helloooo, Office Naps.

1. The Pazant Brothers, Skunk Juice (RCA Victor)
Brothers Eddie (saxophone) and Alvin Pazant (trumpet) were raised in a musical family in Beaufort, South Carolina, though it was in New York City with Lionel Hampton where Eddie’s professional career first took root in the late ‘50s and also where, a few years later, both Eddie and Alvin met Ed Bland, then a freelance arranger with Hampton. Forming their own group in 1964, their sporadic records as the Pazant Brothers would alternate throughout the ‘60s and ‘70s with supporting gigs in Hampton’s band and Pucho & the Latin Soul Brothers (among other notables).

Theirs, mostly, is a long discography of jazz, R&B;, soul and rock session work, but with the Pazant Brothers’ handful of late ‘60s 45s – as well as their 1975 LP Loose and Juicy – something different is clearly happening. One senses that in the Pazant Brothers Bland had found his ideal protégés, musicians who were both sympathetic to his unorthodox vision and had the chops to realize it. Tellingly, the ‘70s recordings the Pazant Brothers issued without Bland’s involvement – and there are a handful of such 45s – suffer as merely decent instrumental funk.

There are identifiable solos, riffs and verses in Bland’s charts, it’s just they’re never conventional. By his standards, 1969’s “Skunk Juice,” with its wildly kinetic expressions of melody, is still quite exceptional, though. Whole honking flocks of geese, whole brass bands, are swallowed and spat back out, all in march tempo. Hope is renewed for tuba players everywhere.

The Pazant Brothers play today as leaders of the Cotton Club All-Stars.

2. James Moody, If You Grin (You’re In) (Sceptor)
An important and accomplished post-War bop composer, saxophonist and flautist, James Moody was born in 1925 in Georgia, grew up in New Jersey, and, like many other second-generation beboppers, found himself in army bands overseas during World War Two. His return to the states included – again, like many of his generation – a formative apprenticeship in the pioneering bop orchestra of trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie. Though much of his post-War time was spent abroad in Europe’s more jazz-sympathetic cities, Moody established a higher profile with some leader dates in the late ‘40s, recording “Moody’s Mood for Love,” (based on Jimmy McHugh’s “I’m In the Mood for Love”) in Sweden, a significant hit in 1949 and an even bigger hit in 1952 with singer King Pleasure’s vocalese reading.

Moody also spent an increasing part of his days in his cups, a struggle later recounted on 1958’s Last Train From Overbrook. The five decades since have seen Moody leading small groups of his own, and, with the exception of a few funkier sessions and some years spent as a backing musician in Las Vegas in the ‘70s, he’s rarely veered from sterling, straightahead bop. Though well regarded amongst other musicians and devotees, Moody’s consistent, prolific output has perhaps been overlooked by casual jazz fans only interested the latest Blue Note reissues.

“If You Grin (You’re In)” was taken from Moody’s 1964 LP Running the Gamut and was recorded with a group including Patti Bown (piano), Albert Heath (drums), Reggie Workman (bass) and Thad Jones (trumpet). Though it is an early recorded date for him, the arrangements and wild horn play are unmistakably Ed Bland. There’s no logic anywhere that says a single, unwavering organ chord should sound so funky, but it does, and gloriously so, and I suppose that is why, finally, Ed Bland was the arranger here and not you or I.

Ed Bland also produced Moody’s ’76 album Timeless Aura. James Moody himself is still very much active.

3. Lionel Hampton and his Inner Circle of Jazz, Greasy Greens (Glad-Hamp)
Jazz’s best-known vibraphonist. Born in Kentucky in 1909 and attracted to music – drums, originally – from an early age, Hampton played a few early ‘30s Chicago vibraphone dates, some of jazz’s earliest, before being discovered in Los Angeles by clarinetist Benny Goodman. Famous swing dates with both Goodman and with his own all-star groups ensued, and though he played piano and drums capably, it was Hampton’s spellbinding, consummately swinging work on vibraphone which made him a star during the swing era. After World War Two, Hampton continued leading his own big bands and absorbing popular tastes. Sometimes his groups reflected bebop, just as often they sounded like R&B;, but Hampton remained popular with audiences as one of jazz’s elder statesmen until his death in 2002.

Hampton’s own Glad-Hamp Records was a label that was home to many of his ‘60s albums. It was label that, in between endless iterations of warhorses like “Flying Home,” one can find some interesting selections. Take this, for instance, a number commissioned for Ed Bland by Hampton in 1967. “Greasy Greens,” thumpingly funky, sounds unlike anything Hampton, or anybody else, had ever done – not counting other Ed Bland productions, of course. Hampton would later make other funk-tinged records in the early ‘70s for Brunswick Records, but nothing so bracing.

Credit Hampton for making this record, and for making “Greasy Greens” something of a concert staple. The musicians on this first version include Wallace Davenport (trumpet), Ed Pazant (alto sax), Dave Young (tenor sax), John Spruill (piano), Billy Mackel (guitar), Skinny Burgan (bass), Ronnie Kole (drums) and Hampton on vibraphone.

4. Phil Upchurch, Muscle Soul (Milestone)
Chicago’s Phil Upchurch has long enjoyed a fairly high profile, which has as much to do with his infectious, funky R&B; instrumental hit, 1961’s “You Can’t Sit Down,” as it does with his professional musical career.

Upchurch never quite recaptured the spotlight of “You Can’t Sit Down.” Nor did he have to: beginning with late ‘50s blues and R&B; sessions for Vee-Jay Records and, later, soul and jazz for Chess Records in the ‘60s, Upchurch has been a wildly successful studio guitarist (and bassist), his name showing up everywhere over the decades – on Donny Hathaway albums, on Staple Singers albums, on Cat Stevens albums, on Chaka Khan albums for that matter. Upchurch also has his own extensive recorded history as a leader, and while his late ‘60s soul jazz releases like The Way I Feel have some psychedelic rock moments, mostly his solo releases mirrored the straight ahead pop, blues, soul, jazz and R&B; of his studio work.

“Muscle Soul” is more straightforward than this week’s other arrangements. If, that is, straightforward can be said to consist of five things going on where in Bland’s case there’d normally be ten: it’s still a jolt of crashing freneticism. This selection originally appeared on what is Upchurch’s first and probably strongest jazz-oriented LP, 1967’s Feeling Blue, with Ed Bland providing arrangements. The album also includes Al Williams (piano), Chuck Rainey (bass), Bernard Purdie (drums), Warren Smith (congas), Wallace Davenport (trumpet) and John Gilmore, Pat Patrick and Eddie Pazant (saxophones).

Now based in Los Angeles, Phil Upchurch is as active as ever.

Posted in Jazz Obscura, Soul | 13 Comments

Vocal group exotica

A post-War vocal harmony group like the Flamingos could summon angels with a haunting ballad like “I Only Have Eyes For You.” So why not, with a bit of tweaking, conjure the reverie of the faraway jungle isles as well? And so it would be, the Billy Wards reaching for the vaporous high notes of “Pagan Love Song” or the Platters crooning “Harbor Lights.” Vocal group exotica essentially was easy-listening and instrumental exotica transposed to a more human scale, its yearning for mysterious, faraway continents transposed to yearning for that unattainable love – the next block over, across the sea, it didn’t matter.

The effect was similar, but the music was somewhat different. Groups who’d first harmonized together in the theaters, nightclubs, school hallways, churches and street corners of post-War America necessarily availed themselves of simpler mechanisms than the dark swells of Les Baxter’s orchestra or Martin Denny’s shimmering vibraphone tones. Here the otherworldly atmospherics were accomplished with soaring, ethereal harmonies and layers of crude studio echo.

Here there were lyrics, too – vocal groups were after all entertainers, not just purveyors of mood music and jungle tone poems. From the Cleftones (“Red Sails in the Sunset”) and the Avalons (“Ebb Tide”) to the Four Jokers (“Beyond the Reef”) and the Cardinals (“Misirlou”), always the theme was love, and always the love was lost, departed or unrequited. If instrumental exotica records obviated travel for the armchair fantasist, then vocal groups obviated exotica’s very instrumentation, their spectral falsettos jungle passion enough for any lovelorn soul by his turntable.

1. The Charades, Flamingo (Skylark)
The Charades’ brief history was intertwined with that of Billy Storm, a longtime Los Angeles vocalist noted for a solo hit, 1959’s teen ballad “I’ve Come of Age,” as well as for his earlier involvement with the Valiants, an R&B; group who’d scored with 1957′s “This Is the Night.” It was Storm who co-produced and sang lead on this 1964 version of Edmund Anderson and Theodore Grouya’s enduring “Flamingo.” This would be the most memorable of several obscure Charades singles recorded between Storm’s ongoing commitments as a solo singer and as a member of local groups the Nuggets and the Electras.

This is music for Valium eaters, a hypnotic, slower-than-sunset reading of “Flamingo.” That’s not the distant surf you hear, that’s the gurgling sound of you, fallen asleep to Love Boat reruns.

Billy Storm continued recording into the early ‘70s, always with somewhat marginal success. His later endeavors would include the gospel-pop supergroup the Brothers and Sisters of Los Angeles (with their 1969 album Dylan’s Gospel), as well as the psychedelized soul group Africa (with 1968’s Music From ‘Lil Brown’).

2. The Passions, Jungle Drums (Audicon)
The Passions were like Dion and the Belmonts, Vito & the Salutations, the Mystics or any number of other New York City-area harmonizers, the very model of the white street-corner vocal group. From Brooklyn’s Bensonhurst neighborhood, one of vocal groupdom’s fertile crescents, the guys first formed as the Sinceres, coalescing shortly thereafter with the revamped line-up of Jimmy Gallagher (lead), Tony Armato (first tenor), Albee Gallone (second tenor) and Vinnie Acierno (baritone) and a new name, the Passions.

The group scored a minor hit with their first record “Just to Be With You” on A&R; veteran Sol Winkler’s Audicon label in 1959, but the returns would mostly be diminishing from that point onwards. This 1960 version of Ernesto Lecuona’s exotica warhorse “Jungle Drums” was the b-side of their third Audicon single. Its a-side, an iteration of the oft-covered Leon Rene vocal number “Gloria,” seems especially well-regarded among doo-wop fans. Personally speaking, however, I find “Jungle Drums” the Passions’ most compelling recording. I know what you’re thinking, and I agree: most white doo-wop is pretty corny, but the Four Seasons never had these booming blasts of slide guitar.

After five 45 releases on Audicon, the Passions went on to record for a number of labels, including Diamond, Jubilee, Octavia and ABC, all in a similar style, all without much luck. The Passions finally called it quits in 1963.

3. The 4 Most, The Breeze and I (Relic)
An obscure New Jersey group, the 4 Most’s members Bobby Moore (lead), Ronald Mikes (tenor), Charlie Chambers (baritone) and Bobby Frazier (bass) first formed in Newark in the late ‘50s. They rehearsed, they hustled, they found a sympathetic manager, they played a few high-profile gigs at the Apollo Theatre and elsewhere, they built a local following. And they released single 45 record on a tiny local record label, too: the group’s version of yet another Lecuona chestnut, “Andalucia” (later known as “The Breeze and I,” with 1941 English lyrics by songwriter Al Stillman). Issued on local record impresario Joe Flis’s Milo label, “The Breeze and I” would be a resounding flop when released in 1960. It would also be the 4 Most’s only release – at least initially. Their story no more remarkable than any of the era’s other vocal groups, the 4 Most dissolved the next year.

Oddly, though, “The Breeze and I” (and its flipside “I Love You”) would be released again, on a separate occasion, just three years later. Its second issue in 1963 on Relic Records – an early collector label devoted to vocal group reissues – netted significant local recognition. Enough recognition, in fact, that Bobby Moore, who had recorded in intervening years with the Fiestas as well as under the name Little Bobby Moore, reconvened the 4 Most in 1964. A few more 45s by the group would be recorded and scattered though the mid-‘60s. Again, it was all to be without much success. Bobby Moore sang with Duke Anderson’s big band in the ‘60s, remaining more or less inactive since.

But back to this selection. In a theme common to exotica lyrics, some third party – a flamingo, the jungle drums, the breeze – assumes the role of messenger among separated lovers. And, in a theme common to doo-wop, the lyrics of “The Breeze and I” are subsumed by its vocal pyrotechnics, the lead tenor personally taking the role of “the Breeze.” This is the baritone’s eternal lament. Why does the romantic lead always go to the tenor? Why do the tenors always get to play the part of the breeze? Fuck you tenors
!

Posted in Exotica/Space-Age, R&B/Vocal Groups | 5 Comments