The Hawks were one of the earliest groups to come out of New Orleans (the biggest, of course, was the Spiders). Put together by bandleader Dave Bartholomew, they were the melding of a soloist and a gospel group.
In 1952, Dave Bartholomew was an a&r man, bandleader, and talent scout for Imperial Records in New Orleans. He'd already brought Fats Domino to the attention of Imperial's owner, Lew Chudd, and he was trying for the gold again.
This time, he'd discovered another large singer, Allen "Fat Man" (or "Fats") Matthews, when he was performing at the Tiajuana Club in the Big Easy. Bartholomew was so impressed with Matthews (and his ability to sound like Clyde McPhatter) that he hired him as his band singer.
Meanwhile, in August 1952, Imperial Records released the only gospel record to ever appear on the label. It was by a group called the New Orleans Humming Four: "Twelve Gates To The City"/"I'm Satisfied." In a way, it was fitting: the Humming Four had been in existence for exactly 20 years and this was their only record.
The Humming Four had been started by Albert Veal in 1932 (when he was in high school); Buddy Morris was another of the original four. Twenty years later, by the time of their only recording session, the personnel were Albert Veal (tenor), John "Buddy" Morris (baritone), Dudley Royal (tenor), Joe Gaines (tenor), and Frank Rushing (bass). (In spite of the fact that they had become a quintet in 1936, they still called themselves the Humming Four.)
Bartholomew, who helped get the Humming Four's recordings released on Imperial approached the group with an offer: the age of the vocal group was flowering and he wanted them to switch over to the more lucrative field of R&B. They thought it over and agreed to give it a try.
As an experiment, Bartholomew paired Allen Matthews (his band singer) with the Humming Four (although the Imperial files show that Joe Gaines was not on this session). In November 1952, they recorded four sides for Imperial (at Cosimo Matassa's studios in New Orleans, of course): "Later Baby," "When Boy Meets Girl," "I Can't Go On," and "Down The Line." The first two tunes were released, as by "Fat Man Matthews & the 4 Kittens," in December. "When Boy Meets Girl" was written by Bartholomew to showcase Matthews' ability to sound like Clyde McPhatter. The melody line is very close to that of the Dominoes' "I Am With You."
The 4 Kittens record was reviewed on January 24 (they liked "Later Baby"), along with Fats Domino's "Nobody Loves Me," Illinois Jacquet's "The Cool Rage," the Mello-Moods' "Call On Me," and the Red Caps' "Do I, Do I, I Do."
Nothing much happened with the record and the two acts drifted apart. Allen Matthews had a solo release (a re-recording of "Down The Line," backed with "You Know It") on Imperial in March 1953 and another one on their Bayou subsidiary ("I'm Thankful"/"Goin' Down") later that year. The Humming Four went back to gospel. Not too long after this, Frank Rushing left, to be replaced by Willie Thrower, a bass who'd also been singing since the Thirties (although more in the popular field). A 1953 photo shows Veal, Morris, Royal, Gaines, and Thrower. However, at some point after the photo was taken, Dudley Royal dropped out, leaving the Humming Four as a real quartet for the first time since 1936.
But Bartholomew decided to give it another try. He reunited Allen Matthews with the Humming Four for a December 1953 session that turned out "It Ain't That Way" (led by Allen Matthews), "Joe The Grinder" (led by Willie Thrower), "Candy Girl" (Joe Gaines), and "I-Yi" (Joe again). However, gone was the wimpy-sounding "Four Kittens"; now they were the more virile "Hawks." The only known picture of the Hawks is actually a composite of Allen Matthews and that 1953 Humming Four photo with Dudley Royal (who was never a member of the Hawks).
By this time, Albert Veal and Buddy Morris were in their mid-30s. Joe Gaines might have been around the same age. Willie Thrower looks considerably older than that. When I interviewed Allen Matthews (who was 22 in 1953), he remembered the others as being "in their 50s and 60s." It probably seemed that way to him.
Imperial kicked off the Hawks' career with the release of the raunchy "Joe The Grinder," backed with "Candy Girl" in February 1954. Both side were rated "good" on February 27, along with Fats Domino's "You Done Me Wrong," Percy Mayfield's "Loose Lips," the Royals' "Work With Me Annie," the Moonglows' "Secret Love," the Robins' "I Made A Vow," the 5 C's' "Tell Me," and the Crystals' "My Love."
On April 13, the Hawks recorded "Why Oh Why" (led by Willie), "Good News" (Allen), "She's All Right" (Joe), and "He's The Fat Man" (Allen).
Later in April, Imperial issued "Good News" and "She's All Right." They were reviewed (both sides "good") on May 22, along with the Strangers' "Blue Flowers," Chuck Willis' "I Feel So Bad," the Rivileers' "Forever," the El Rays' "Darling I Know," and the Bards' "I'm A Wine Drinker."
June 1954 was a busy month for the Hawks. First, there was a session on June 6, during which they backed up Dave Collins on "Bluesy Me" and "Don't Break-a My Heart." On their own, they recorded (on June 14) "Give It Up" (Joe Gaines and Allen Matthews; it's cute and probably my favorite Hawks song), "Nobody But You" (Joe), "All Women Are The Same" (Allen), and "That's What You Are" (Joe). Lastly, Imperial released "I-Yi"/"It Ain't That Way" in June.
That disc was reviewed on July 3 (once again, both sides were "good"). Other reviews that week were for the Spiders' "I'm Slippin' In," the Thrillers' "Please Talk To Me," and Leonard Lee's "Tryin' To Fool Me."
When Dave Collins' "Bluesy Me" and "Don't Break-a My Heart" were released, in July, the Hawks had magically become the "Scrubs," but the record doesn't seem to have been reviewed.
All this time, the Hawks (other than Allen Matthews) were still appearing as the Humming Four. But that pretty much came to an end one day when they were booked as both groups on a show. As soon as the church-going part of the audience realized that the Humming Four wasn't fully doing the Lord's work anymore, they had trouble finding venues in which to sing gospel.
While the Hawks found plenty of work locally, that's all they did. There was a tour in the works, but it fell through when they initially agreed to and then reneged on substituting for the Spiders in San Diego.
In August, Imperial issued "Give It Up," backed with "Nobody But You." These were reviewed on September 18 (both "good"), along with Spiders' "The Real Thing," the Chords' "Bless You," the Heralds' "Eternal Love," the Dreamers' "At Last," the Diablos' "The Wind," the Du Droppers' "Boot 'Em Up," and the Native Boys' "Native Girl."
October 1954 saw the release of "That's What You Are," coupled with "All Women Are The Same." This one doesn't seem to have been reviewed.
The Hawks' last sessions for Imperial all took place in November 1954. On the fourth, they recorded four tunes led by Allen Matthews: "It's Too Late Now," "School Girl," "These Blues," and "I Want My Loving Now." On the twenty-first, they provided the uncredited backup for Joan Scott on "My Wedding Day"/"Mighty Long Road." Finally, about a week later, they recorded "Can't See For Lookin'," which was led by Dave Bartholomew.
January 1955 saw the release of the Joan Scott sides. "My Wedding Day" was rated "good" on January 8, along with the Checkers' "Can't Find My Sadie," Ray Charles' "I've Got A Woman," Ruth Brown's "Bye Bye Young Men," the Crystals' "God Only Knows." And Bobby Mitchell's "Nothing Sweet As You."
The Hawks' "It's Too Late Now"/"Can't See For Lookin'" were also released in January, and reviewed on February 12. Up to now, all the Hawks sides had been rated "good." Both sides of this one, however, were ranked "poor." Other reviews that week were for Frankie Ervin's "Johnny Ace's Last Letter," the Hide-A-Ways' "Cherie," Johnny Oliver's "Lemonade Baby," and the Quails' "Love Of My Life."
Nothing much happened for many months, until "Why Oh Why"/"These Blues" was released on Imperial's brand-new Post subsidiary in September 1955. After the humiliation of their last review, both sides were once again rated "good," on October 1. Other reviews were for Otis William's "Tell Me Now," Arthur Lee Maye & Crowns' "Please Don't Leave Me," and the Kidds' "You Broke My Heart." However, the record didn't sell and Imperial didn't renew the Hawks' contract.
At this point, Allen Matthews parted company with the Hawks. He saw the Hawks going nowhere in particular, and he was still the band singer for Dave Bartholomew (a position he held until the 1970s). His place was taken by tenor Lee Cannon.
Then, the Hawks had a single session for Modern. The result, released in June 1956, was the aptly named "It's All Over." It's flip was the grammatically-incorrect "Ever Since You Been Gone." Both were led by Lee Cannon and both were rated "excellent" on June 9, along with the Youngsters' "Shattered Dreams," Billy Bland's "Chicken Hop," the 5 Keys' "My Pigeon's Gone," the Hawks' "It's All Over," the Cadillacs' "Woe Is Me," Fatso & the Flairs' "Be Cool My Heart," the Leaders' "Can't Help Lovin' That Girl Of Mine," the 4 Fellows' "Darling You," the Juniors' "I Promise," Jimmy Ricks & Rickateers' "The Unbeliever," the 5 Satins "I Remember (In The Still Of The Night)," the Chorals' "In My Dream," and the Chestnuts' "Love Is True." In spite of the great review, the record didn't break out.
There was one final project waiting for the Hawks, and it was an interesting one. There was a local character named Sid Noel, a DJ on WSMB. His last name was "Rideau," and he would become vaguely famous in the 60s as a character called "Morgus The Magnificent," the host of a TV program ("House Of Schlock") that showed old horror movies. Morgus was in the same vein [pun intended] as Vampira, Zacherly, and Elvira. In February 1956, he'd been part of the 5 Stars on Atco, along with four other New Orleans disk jockeys: Marshall Pearce, Jim Brown, Roy Roberts, and Scott Muni.
Noel decided to do a cover of Buchanan And Goodman's "Flying Saucer" (which had been released in July 1956). However instead of the break-ins being clips from records, the Hawks (as the "Outer Spacemen") were recruited to sing the various snippets. The result, which was less than spectacular, was released on Aladdin, in August. It doesn't seem to have been reviewed.
And that was pretty much it. The Hawks staggered on for another year or so, but never achieved anything more than local fame. They were, on average, much older than most of the other groups around, and that may have caused acceptance problems with their audience. Whereas the Spiders, and many other New Orleans acts, had national chart hits, the Hawks saw nary a one.
Discography courtesy of Ferdie Gonzalez. Special thanks to Neil Pellegrinn.
5200 Twelve Gates To The City (AV)/So Satisfied (JG/DR) - 8/52
5211 When Boy Meets Girl (AM)/Later Baby (AM) - 12/52
UNRELEASED 4 KITTENS
I Can't Go On (AM)
Down The Line (AM)
IMPERIAL (as "Fats Matthews")
5235 Down The Line/You Know It - 3/53
BAYOU (subsidiary of Imperial; as "Fat Man Matthews")
016 I'm Thankful/Goin' Down - 53
5266 Joe The Grinder (WT)/Candy Girl (JG) - 2/54
5281 She's All Right (JG)/Good News (AM) - 4/54
5292 I-Yi (JG)/It Ain't That Way (AM) - 6/54
5294 Bluesy Me (DC)/Don't Break-a My Heart (DC) - 7/54
5306 Give It Up (JG/AM)/Nobody But You (JG) - 8/54
5317 That's What You Are (JG)/All Women Are The Same (AM) - 10/54
5328 My Wedding Day (JS)/Mighty Long Road (JS) - 1/55
5332 It's Too Late Now (AM)/Can't See For Lookin' (DB) - 1/55
POST (subsidiary of Imperial)
2004 Why Oh Why (WT)/These Blues (AM) - 9/55
He's The Fat Man (AM)
School Girl (JG)
I Want My Loving Now (AM)
990 It's All Over (LC)/Ever Since You Been Gone (LC) - 6/56
3331 Flying Saucer, Part 1 (SN/ALL)/Flying Saucer, Part 2 (SN/ALL) - 8/56
AM = Allen Matthews; JG = Joe Gaines; AV = Albert Veal; DR = Dudley Royal;
WT = Willie Thrower; DC = backup to Dave Collins; JS = backup to Joan Scott;
DB = Dave Bartholomew; LC = Lee Cannon; SN = Sid Noel