The Shadows made, as far as I'm concerned, the most beautiful music
ever to come out of New Haven, Connecticut. Songs like "I've Been A
Fool," "I'd Rather Be Wrong Than Blue," "Don't Blame My Dreams," and
"Stay" defined the group and their contribution to Rhythm and Blues.
The Shadows had one of the more unusual formations of any group. Raymond Reid (tenor), Sam McClure (baritone), and Jasper Edwards (bass) had been singing together, in New Haven, as the Melody Kings.
Let's start with the Jubalaires. In the spring of 1946, they had a big hit with "I Know." They were supposed to go on a big promotional tour with Andy Kirk's band in July 1946, but there was a problem. The Jubalaires appeared daily on the Arthur Godfrey Show (CBS, 11:00 - 11:30 each morning), and were billed as "the best quartet on the air East of the Pacific." Consequently, Godfrey didn't want to let them go, fearing it would "unbalance" the show. There was also the fear that the "Juba Jive Boys" would want to take six months off from the show (which, coincidentally, was just getting a new sponsor). This came as a blow to the group, since they had a chance to do a tour at the same time that they had a hit record (which made the whole thing quite lucrative).
At last (at least in time for an August 10 show at Chicago's Regal Theater), someone worked out a solution. Later member Scott King told me:
Three of the guys [that is, the Melody Kings] ... went on the road in 1946 with Andy Kirk's band, under the name of the Jubalaires. They sang as part of the Jubalaires, with another fellow [Jubalaires member Orville Brooks].
The Jubalaires were on the Arthur Godfrey Show. Part of them went on the road and part of them stayed with Arthur Godfrey on his radio show in New York [where they had been since at least 1941]. When they came back off the road, the other fellow went back to the radio Jubalaires.
When the tour ended, so, seemingly, did the prospects of the Melody Kings. Then they met Scott King:
I met the others in New York. They needed a leader and they asked me if I would come up to New Haven with them. There were just the four of us at that time. Then after a while, we got an arranger and pianist: Bobby Buster; he was from Bridgeport. Then we rehearsed and we sang a little around New Haven. We were still called the Melody Kings at the time.
At the time, Jasper was about 39, I was about 19, Bobby was about my age, Ray was in his early 30s. We played a lot of clubs around the area. We rehearsed nights and had engagements on the weekends.
As far as contemporary influences on the group: "We liked 'em all. We
liked the Ink Spots, the Delta Rhythm Boys, anyone who could sing
harmony; the Mills Brothers." They sang Pop songs like "Five Minutes
More" and "Lady Be Good."
Finally, after three years of practice, the Melody Kings went on record. Said Scott:
When we first cut the records, our manager, Ed Levy, who owned Lee [along with Herb Zebley], wanted to give us a new name. One of the songs we were doing was "You Are Closer To My Heart Than My Shadow," and he said, "There's a good name for you, the 'Shadows'." We met Levy through a fellow in New York named Charlie Newsome, who was connected with the Jubalaires. [Newsome was the Jubalaires' manager.]
Levy was actually so excited about the group that he not only managed
them, but seems to have created Lee Records to record them. The
newly-named Shadows went into the Lee studios in late 1949, and cut
eight sides (since there are no session dates available, these could
have been done in one large or two smaller sessions): "Jitterbug
Special," "I've Been A Fool," "You Are Closer To My Heart," "Coon Can
Annie," "Nobody Knows," "Beans," "I'd Rather Be Wrong Than Blue," and
"I'll Never, Never Let You Go." All were led by Scott King, except for "Jitterbug Special" and "Beans," which were fronted by Sam McClure. Note that Sam's son, Doug McClure was a member of the Pyramids (on Jay-Dee) and the Flamingos (in the 60s).
In December 1949, Lee issued the first of these (and the first Lee record): "I've Been A Fool" coupled with "Nobody Knows." Although the Ravens released "I've Been A Fool" at the same time, the Shadows were safe, as the Ravens' side was overshadowed (pun intended) by its flip "I Don't Have To Ride No More." To coincide with this release, the Shadows appeared at the Apollo Theater the week of December 16. On the same bill were trumpeter Hot Lips Page and Zorita ("The Body Beautiful").
The Shadows' version started to take off in January 1950 (eventually reaching #7 on the R&B charts), and the group was booked into the Paradise Theater (Detroit) as their first major engagement. (Joe Glaser's Associated Booking Agency did their booking.)
In February 1950, Lee issued the Shadows' second record: "I'd Rather Be Wrong Than Blue," backed with "You are Closer To My Heart." This is, to me, one of the finest double-sided records ever issued. The trades agreed, ranking both sides "excellent" the week of February 25. Other reviews that week were for Wynonie Harris' "I Like My Baby's Pudding," the Musical Notes' "I Love You More Each Day," and Ruth Brown's "Love Me, Baby." "You are Closer To My Heart" was written by Ed Snead, of the Ben Smith Quartet, who also released the song (as did the Delta Rhythm Boys); however, no one seems to have had a hit with it. Snead also wrote "I Ain't Fattenin' Frogs For Snakes," done by the Larks.
Almost at the same time (in March), the Delta Rhythm Boys issued the same two-sided record on Decca. The Deltas were managed by Paul Kapp, who also managed the Jubalaires, and therefore knew the Shadows. We'll see him again later.
It didn't take too long for the public relations flacks to start on the group's official "biography." In February it was reported that it wasn't too long since Jasper had worked on a garbage truck, Ray washed cars for a living, and both Scott and Sam were one step from welfare, having been laid off from their jobs.
The Shadows also did another session for Lee, which produced four more sides: "Don't Blame My Dreams," "I'm Crying Cause You're Laughing At Me," "It's Too Bad," and "Don't Be Late." These were all led by Scott King.
When their second release failed to chart, Levy issued their last Lee record, sometime in mid-1950. It was "Don't Blame My Dreams," backed with "I'm Crying Cause You're Laughing At Me." This one didn't take off either, and Lee Records went out of business. Levy sold all his masters, including all unreleased Shadows sides, to Bob and Morty Shad's Sittin' In With Records. Lee issued a mixed bag of records: R&B, blues, gospel and calypso, but it was a small company, with little distribution, and it couldn't handle the competition.
Said Scott: "Levy went out of business and Bobby Shad took it over. The things that came out on Shad's Sittin' In With label were actually recorded for Lee."
In October 1950, the inevitable happened. Uncle Sam stepped in and Scott King was drafted. "When I went into the army in October, 1950, the group broke up. I went overseas, and when I got out in 1952, I went back with them. I don't think they did anything while I was in the army; they were waiting for me to come back."
The first Sittin' In With came out in November 1950: "Jitterbug Special" (the first tune they'd ever recorded, with Sam McClure doing lead), coupled with "I'll Never, Never Let You Go," both recorded a year earlier. It was reviewed, very favorably, the week of December 2, along with the Orioles' "Oh Holy Night," the Drifters' "And I Shook," the 4 Barons' (actually the Larks) "Lemon Squeezer," Tiny Bradshaw's "Breaking Up The House," Johnny Otis' "Rockin' Blues," and Cecil Gant's "Cryin' To Myself." "Jitterbug Special" became a regional hit in Cincinnati.
With Scott in the army, and the group sitting around not doing anything, there was no particular reason for Shad to push their records. Thus, although there was plenty of advertising for the first Sittin' In With Release, there wouldn't be any further efforts on the part of the company. Still, a second record was issued around February 1951: "Don't Be Late"/"Beans." It was, once again, a beautiful ballad backed with a great jump tune. "Beans," one of my favorites, was led by Sam McClure. It tells the heart-wrenching story of a man who tells the judge that he deserted his wife because she gave him "Beans for my breakfast/Beans for my lunch/Beans at suppertime." The poor man had "Beans rain or shine." Was there nothing else to eat? "She had no ham, no chicken, no lamb/She gave me beans, beans, beans, boy!" A tale truly filled with pathos.
There was also a third record on Sittin' In With, issued around a year later (roughly January 1952). This was: "It's Too Bad"/"Coon Can Annie." Another one of my favorites, "Coon Can Annie" is about a gal who plays "Coon Can." Now since I know you're just dying to know what Coon Can is, I'll tell you: it's a card game; a kind of rummy. As you might have suspected, the name comes from "Conquian," a corruption of the Spanish con quien (which means "with whom?"; although what that has to do with anything is beyond me). It worked its way up from Mexico through Texas in the early 1900s. "Conquian" was corrupted to "Coon Can" (are you following all this?) and is the only rummy game still played that uses a deck having less than 52 cards (there are no 8s, 9s, or 10s in the pack). By George, isn't it amazing what you can learn from R&B articles?
Actually, "Coon Can Annie" had also been done by the Delta Rhythm Boys (released back in April 1950). In keeping with a games motif, their version was called "Fan Tan Fannie" (although it's the same song).
When Scott was discharged, the group got back together again and did a lot of rehearsing. When they were ready to record again, they secured a contract with Decca, which was trying to break into the R&B field. "We went to see Paul Kapp, and he got us to Decca. We had known him a long time 'cause he had the Jubalaires." At this time Kapp became the Shadows' manager, and they were booked by the Jolly Joyce Agency. (Kapp's brother, Dave, was later to found the successful Kapp label. A third brother, Jack, had started Decca Records in America; he had passed away in 1949.)
On June 6, 1953 they recorded a pair of songs for Decca which were released in July: "Stay" and "No Use." Also in July, Decca announced that Bobby Shad, currently with Mercury, would be named a&r man in charge of R&B. When Shad had joined Mercury (around October 1951), Mercury had acquired the Sittin' In With catalog.
The record was reviewed (again, favorably) the week of July 18, along with the Dominoes' "You Can't Keep A Good Man Down," Fats Domino's "Please Don't Leave Me," Browley Guy's "You Look Good To Me," and Todd Rhodes' "Your Mouth Got A Hole In It."
The last Shadows' session was held on October 8, 1953. They recorded four cuts: "Don't Be Bashful," "Better Than Gold," "Big Mouth Mama," and "Tell Her." Again, Scott was the lead, except for "Big Mouth Mama," which featured Sam McClure. Said Scott:
When we recorded "Big Mouth Mama," Bobby [Buster] wasn't our arranger then, it was Count Steadwell. Bobby had a musical group that he went on the road with to California. It was a temporary thing, 'cause Bobby came back with us after a while.
Bobby's instrumental group was called the Sharps, a
four-piece combo consisting of piano, saxophone, bass, and drums. The
Shadows played an engagement with them in Philadelphia.
In November, Decca released "Don't Be Bashful"/"Tell Her." It was reviewed the week of November 28, 1953, along with the Spaniels' "House Cleaning," Faye Adams' "Happiness To My Soul," Marvin And Johnny's "Baby Doll," and Varetta Dillard's "I Ain't Gonna Tell."
There was only a single release left and Decca held it until July 1954. "Better Than Gold"/"Big Mouth Mama" (which was led by Sam) was reviewed the week of July 24, along with the Orioles' "In The Chapel In The Moonlight," the 5 Royales' "Let Me Come Back Home," Wynonie Harris' "I Get A Thrill," the Vibranaires' "Doll Face," and the Hollywood Flames "Ooh-La-La."
The Shadows did a lot of traveling, playing all over Connecticut, as well as Massachusetts, New Jersey, St. Louis, New York (the Apollo, with Hot Lips Page), Philadelphia (the 421 Club, with Ivory Joe Hunter), and Detroit (the Paradise, with Charlie Ventura and Stump & Stumpy).
Finally, however, it was all over. With voices that belonged to another era, the Shadows melted away around 1958. Raymond Reid and Sam McClure sang with the New Haven branch of the Ink Spots. Eventually Ray wound up, for several years, with Charlie Fuqua's Ink Spots, which also had Larks/Dominoes bass David McNeil. (Both Reid and McNeil were with the group at the time of Fuqua's death, after which Sam McClure joined.)
A lot of groups came out of New Haven: the Scarlets, the 5 Satins, the Nutmegs, and the Starlarks, to name a few. And they were good. But the Shadows were first; the Shadows were better.
Special thanks to Galen Gart
200 I've Been A Fool/Nobody Knows - 12/49
202 I'd Rather Be Wrong Than Blue/You Are Closer To My Heart - 2/50
207 Don't Blame My Dreams/I'm Crying Cause You're Laughing At Me - mid-1950
SITTIN' IN WITH
583 Jitterbug Special/I'll Never, Never Let You Go - 11/50
590 Don't Be Late/Beans - Ca. 2/51
627 Coon Can Annie/It's Too Bad - Ca. 1/52
28765 No Use/Stay - 7/53
48307 Don't Be Bashful/Tell Her - 11/53
48322 Better Than Gold/Big Mouth Mama - 7/54