The Sophomores had one of the more unusual sounds of the 50s. Neither wholly R&B nor wholly Pop, they were one of the smoothest groups to come out of Boston.
The Sophomores hailed from the Roxbury section, where they harmonized on the front steps of houses along Bower Street. Forming in mid-1954, the group was comprised of Major "Eddie" Brooks (tenor, lead on all songs), Al Chambers (tenor), Donald Clements (baritone), and Daniel Hood (bass). It looks like they were in existence for over six months without a name.
In March 1955, they brought pianist Larry Hinkson into the group and things began to happen. Hinkson had formerly been pianist for another Roxbury group, the Love Notes (of "Surrender Your Heart" fame) back in 1953. This is what Ed Anderson, of the Love Notes, had to say about him:
Larry was a local guy who thought of himself as something of a songwriter. He wrote outlandish songs. He came around bringing some songs for us to hear. We committed ourselves to do some of his songs, just to sing them. At that time, we had a guy playing guitar named Jimmy Williams. Hinkson got the idea that no one else could play the pieces like he could, so we said, "OK, we'll hire you on as a piano player for us." Now, he wasn't any better as a piano player than he was as a songwriter. We hung on to him, but he was just a pain in the neck. This guy was looking out for his own interests.
(One of the compositions that Hinkson got the Love Notes to record was "Star Of Love." Cut in January of 1954 and not released until a 1995 CD, it's an unremarkable song. Amazingly, Hinkson somehow got Roy Hamilton to record the tune in 1954. It got a good review in the trades, but the flip side, "Hurt," became the hit.)
Because "Star Of Love" was out there being recorded, when Hinkson suggested that the guys call themselves the "5 Stars Of Love" They went along with it. Now, they had a name.
The group practiced almost ceaselessly: four to five hours a day, seven days a week. They had to: they had around 185 songs in their repertoire. Much of their material consisted of hits of the day, especially Drifters and 5 Keys songs. Considering that most of their subsequent recordings were in a Pop vein, they usually sang R&B at clubs (and really wanted to be R&B singers).
They played many local clubs, and it was at one of these, the Show Bar, that Al Chambers walked off the stage and quit show business (at least they think he did; none of them ever saw him again). Actually, the story is much more complicated than that, but you'll have to read Dan Hood's autobiography, "The Sophomores, and me," to find out how. A replacement tenor was found in Don Clements' brother, Roland "Rolly" Clements, who had sung with the Dappers on Peacock. (The Dappers had evolved from a local group called the Rivieras, with which another Clements brother, Abraham, had also sung.)
Sometime in 1955, Hinkson parted company with the group, which then picked up Jack Richards as a manager. Without Hinkson, they ceased to be the "5 Stars Of Love" and now became the "Sophomores," a name suggested by Richards. School being such a big part of a youngster's life, it makes sense that school themes would come to permeate vocal group names over the years: the 4 Freshmen, Danny & the Juniors, Jimmy Castor & the Juniors, the Seniors, the Schoolboys, the Collegians, the Students, the 4 Students, the 4 Preps. The Sophomores fit neatly into this category (even if none of them was actually in school).
[Note that Larry Hinkson eventually ended up as a street person calling himself "The Reverend Larry Love."]
Jack Richards was involved with a local WVDA DJ named Joe Smith (for whom the Valentines recorded a theme song in May of 1956), and out of the collaboration came "Cool Cool Baby." They interested Chuck Darwin, an A&R man for Sidney Siegel's Dawn label (a subsidiary of Seeco), and he had the Sophomores come to New York to record at the Capitol Recording Studios. (Darwin had once been the road manager for the Ravens and Eddie "Cleanhead" Vinson. He was also mentioned, in a press release, as being one of the managers of the Royal Jokers, although they didn't remember him.)
"Cool Cool Baby" and its flip, "Every Night About This Time," were released in April 1956, and were hits in the Boston area. Darwin himself went on a 3-week promotional tour with the record (read: "bribe DJs to play it"). It was reviewed the week of May 12, 1956, along with Joe Turner's "Corrine, Corrina," the Turbans' "I'm Nobody's," the Flamingos' "A Kiss From Your Lips," the Penguins' "Dealer Of Dreams," the Inspirations' "Raindrops," Day, Dawn & Dusk's "Anytime," and the Dreamers' "Lips Were Made For Kissing." At the same time, Clyde McPhatter's "Treasure Of Love" and Little Willie John's "Fever" were pick hits of the week.
Note that Dawn was one of those companies that assigned master numbers to records at pressing time. This means that it's impossible to document which songs were recorded at which sessions (although it seems that the Sophomores generally recorded just two songs at a time).
In June, as a result of the Sophomores recording of "Every Night About This Time," Mercury put out a cover by the Diamonds. Decca even dusted off the Ink Spots' version, which had originally been released in 1942.
Sometime that summer, the Sophomores appeared on Philadelphia's Bandstand, singing these songs. Dick Clark had just taken over from Bob Horn and it wasn't "American Bandstand" yet, just a local Philly TV program.
In August, Dawn issued their second release, "I Get A Thrill," backed with "Linda." "I Get A Thrill" was written by Margo Lopez (who would soon become Margo Sylvia, of the Tune Weavers). "Linda" was another "oldie," having been written by Jack Lawrence in 1947 (he'd written "If I Didn't Care" for the Ink Spots in 1939). "Linda" was composed for his lawyer's daughter, Linda Eastman, who grew up to marry Paul McCartney. According to Dan Hood, Lee Eastman, that very lawyer, knew the management of Dawn and asked them to find a group to record it. Both sides were arranged and conducted by Ray Ellis, who had also done the 4 Lads' "Standing On The Corner" and Clyde McPhatter's "Treasure Of Love." Margo had also tried to get the Sophomores to record "Happy, Happy Birthday Baby," but Chuck Darwin didn't like it. Soon after, Margo's group, the Tune Weavers, released the song for a nationwide hit.
"Linda" was reviewed the week of September 8, 1956, along with Chuck Berry's "Brown-Eyed Handsome Man," the Turbans' "It Was A Night Like This," the Monarchs' "Pretty Little Girl," the Pearls' "Let's You And I Go Steady," the Harptones' "Three Wishes," the Neons' "Angel Face," and Big Al Sears & his Orchestra's "Great Googa Mooga."
Most of the Sophomores' material was picked by Dawn's Chuck Darwin, and considering that Dawn was basically a jazz label, this partially helps to explain why the Sophomores didn't get to record much in the way of R&B. Another reason was the huge success of Fats Domino's "real" oldie, "My Blue Heaven," which he followed up with "When My Dreamboat Comes Home" and "Blueberry Hill." Pretty soon, there was an explosion of songs that originally dated from the 20s, 30s and 40s.
The next Dawn pairing, in November 1956, was "I Left My Sugar Standing In The Rain," backed with "Ocean Blue (Mountain Green)." "I Left My Sugar Standing In The Rain" was a pretty ballad, and the closest the Sophomores came to a classic R&B sound. "Sugar" had been written by Irving Kahal and Sammy Fain back in 1927, when it had been recorded by the likes of Esther Walker, the Goofus Five, and the Rhythm Boys (led by Bing Crosby).
The record was reviewed the week of December 1, 1956, the same week as Clyde McPhatter's "Without Love," Chuck Berry's "You Can't Catch Me," the Moroccos' "Bang Goes My Heart," the Youngsters' "Dreamy Eyes," and the Counts' "Sweet Names."
The Sophomores continued to do local gigs: record hops with DJ Dave Maynard (WORL, Boston), shopping mall openings, a March of Dimes show in January 1957, and appearances at the Show Bar, the HiHat and Wally's Paradise.
February 1957 saw the next Dawn release: "Is There Someone For Me," coupled with "Everybody Loves Me." They were reviewed the week of March 16, 1957, along with Chuck Berry's "School Day," Bobby Marchan's "Chickee Wah-Wah," the Heartbeats' "I Won't Be The Fool Anymore," Muddy Waters' "I Got My Mojo Working" (for the uninformed, a "mojo" is a magic charm, this truly isn't a dirty record), the Continentals' "Picture Of Love," Jimmy Jones & the Pretenders' "Close Your Eyes," the Chestnuts' "Who Knows Better Than I," the Dominoes' "Rock, Plymouth, Rock," the 5 Satins' "Oh Happy Day," and the Mellows' "Moon Of Silver."
Nothing happened with that one either, and Dawn released the next Sophomores record in April 1957: "I Just Can't Keep The Tears From Tumbling Down," backed with "If I Should Lose Your Love." It was reviewed the week of May 13, along with the Clovers' "So Young," the Willows' "The First Taste Of Love," the Rays' "My Steady Girl," the Spaniels' "I.O.U.," the Lovenotes' "United," the Flairs' "Swing Pretty Mama," the Diablos' "Can't We Talk This Over," and "Danny's Blues" by the Ebbtones. Also released was Volume 2 of "Rock 'n' Roll Dance Party," an Alan Freed Orchestra LP.
In September, Dawn announced Rock And Roll Spectacular a new $2.98 LP. It featured the Sophomores, the Treniers, the Royal Jokers, and Lincoln Chase. Arrangements were by Ray Ellis, Maurice King (leader of the Wolverines Orchestra), and Howard Biggs (former arranger for the Ravens). The Sophomores were represented by four songs: "Cool Cool Baby," "I Get A Thrill," "I Just Can't Keep The Tears From Tumbling Down," and "Everybody Loves Me."
Sometime in mid-1957, Rolly Clements was drafted. The Sophomores replaced him with Johnny Mack, who was on the last session that the guys had with Dawn. This produced "Checkers" and "Each Time I Hold You," which Dawn didn't release at the time.
In late 1957, the Sophomores left Dawn and recorded one record for the Chord label in New York. The sides, "Charades" and "What Can I Do" were recorded on November 10, 1957 and released the same month. Strangely, only 19 days after it was recorded, Chord sold the masters to Epic (a Columbia subsidiary), which released it in December. Remember that the Sophomores had recorded "Linda" in 1956, and that "Linda" had been written by Jack Lawrence for the daughter of his lawyer, Lee Eastman? Well, guess who was the owner of Chord Records? None other than Lee Eastman himself, Since Eastman was friendly with the Dawn management, presumably there was some behind-the-scenes manipulation that resulted in the Sophomores recording for Chord. In spite of this, the guys never met Eastman.
The Epic release of "Charades" was reviewed the week of December 16, 1957, along with the Turbans' "Congratulations," the Escorts' "Misty Eyes," the Rays' "Second Fiddle," the Mello Kings' "Baby Tell Me," the Dominoes' "When The Saints Go Marchin' In," the Wanderers' "Thinking Of You," and La Fets and Kitty's "Christmas Letter." In spite of getting national exposure on American Bandstand (on January 21, 1958, along with Johnny Cash), the record went nowhere. This would be the Sophomores last recording.
Dawn may (or may not) have released a Sophomores LP in January 1958. The Sophomores was listed in the Schwann catalog as being Dawn 1128. At least some copies of the Dawn sleeve exist, but they all contain a record with a Seeco label. Even more confusing, the January 6, 1958 issue of Billboard mentions in its "Long Play Albums" column, that there's a Dawn LP called The Sophomores, but gives its number as DLP 2001. The only thing known for sure is that the album was issued on Seeco (#451) in November 1959. The LP contained all ten sides of their first five records.
In May of 1958, Dawn pulled one more record out of the vaults, when they issued "Checkers" and "Each Time I Hold You." Once again, there wasn't much promotion. It was reviewed the week of June 16, 1958, along with the Danleers' "One Summer Night," Fats Domino's "Little Mary," Bo Diddley's "Hush Your Mouth," the Kodoks' "Oh Gee, Oh Gosh," Robert & Johnny's "I Believe In You," the Clovers' "The Gossip Wheel," the Preludes' "Vanishing Angel," Tony Allan's "Call My Name," the Raindrops' "Dim Those Lights," and the Nite Caps' "Jelly Bean."
Nothing was happening, and the guys needed money to survive. This meant that the Sophomores gave up singing full time and got real jobs. After being with the Sophomores for only about six months, Johnny Mack left. Although they were somewhat discouraged at their lack of fame and fortune, the Sophomores continued on as a trio, but only singing at house parties, picnics, and barbecues. They figured that when Rolly came out of the service, he'd re-join them and they'd give it another push. But when Rolly was discharged, he announced that he wasn't returning to the Sophomores. Disheartened, they stayed together a while longer; probably until after the Cuban Missile Crisis in late 1962.
On March 25, 2006, at Boston's Symphony Hall, the Sophomores received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Doo-Wopp Hall Of Fame Of America. With the Jive Five's Eugene Pitt in the lead (Eddie Brooks had passed away, from heart and kidney failure, on March 3, 2001), Dan, Don, and Rolly sang "Every Night About This Time." At the time, Don was 73, Dan was 72, and Rolly, the baby, was 68.
DAWN (subsidiary of SEECO)
216 Cool Cool Baby/Every Night About This Time - 4/56
218 I Get A Thrill/Linda - 8/56
223 I Left My Sugar Standing In The Rain/Ocean Blue (Mountain Green) - 11/56
225 Is There Someone For Me/Everybody Loves Me - 2/57
228 I Just Can't Keep The Tears From Tumbling Down/If I Should Lose Your Love - 4/57
1302 Charades/What Can I Do - 11/57
9259 Charades/What Can I Do - 12/57
237 Checkers/Each Time I Hold You - 5/58
CELP-451 The Sophomores - 11/59
If I Should Lose Your Love
Cool, Cool Baby
Is There Someone For Me
Everybody Loves Me
Every Nite About This Time
Ocean Blue (Mountain Green)
I Get A Thrill
I Just Can't Keep The Tears From Tumbling Down
I Left My Sugar Standing In The Rain
NOTE: An album cover exists for DAWN 1128 (with the same title and tracks as the SEECO release).
However, the record inside has a SEECO label. This LP is listed in the Schwann catalog. In addition, the
January 6, 1958 edition of Billboard has a Long Play Albums column that lists this record as DLP 2001.