Admit it! If you danced in the mid-50s, you considered "When You
Dance" to be one of your anthems. It was feel-good music, in an age
when dancing was the thing. "You may do a rumba or a tango/ Mambo,
calypso, or the strand"; that's what the kids wanted to hear, and
that's what the Turbans gave them.
The Turbans, one of Philadelphia's premier groups, formed in 1953 in the area around Bainbridge and South Street in Downtown Philadelphia. They were kids who hung out together and had gone to the same schools (although by the time of their formation, they had all graduated). The original members were: Al Banks (lead tenor), Matthew Platt (second tenor), Charlie Williams (baritone), and Andrew "Chet" Jones (bass).
Hearing of Herman Gillespie, who rehearsed groups (and, importantly, only lived a few blocks away), they sought him out. He not only rehearsed them, but became their first manager (although the only appearances they made in those days were at recreation halls). They admired the usual groups: the Clovers, 5 Keys, Dominoes, Ravens, Drifters, Flamingos, Moonglows, and Spaniels. They practiced all the hits by those groups, and spirituals too. (Since Charlie's father-in-law was a member of a spiritual group, he taught them how to do harmonies.)
Al Banks said: "We didn't have a name for the group in the beginning, so our manager suggested that we wear caps [Chet says "tams"]. We didn't like the idea too much, and one of the fellows [Charlie] said: 'Before I put a cap on, I'd rather wear a turban!' And that's what we did, calling ourselves the Turbans." Chet says that they bought cotton gabardine cloth and cut it into the turbans. At the beginning, everyone had two "stones" on his turban, but as time went on, a couple of them got lost. That's why, in the Herald photos, some have two stones and some have one.
Around Christmas of 1954, they sang their rendition of the Drifters' "White Christmas" at a talent show. Said Al: "We won first prize and just continued on singing from there." Al was one of those tenors who could do a very creditable imitation of Clyde McPhatter.
In the late Spring of 1955, they cut a demo in Philadelphia and Herman Gillespie brought it to Al Silver and Jack Angel at Herald Records in New York. Liking what he heard, Silver offered the Turbans a contract; in July, Silver announced the group's signing. While they were now on their way, they parted company with Gillespie, picking up Allen Best as their manager (he worked for Shaw Artists Corporation, under whose "direction" they now were).
In July 1955, the Turbans had their first Herald session, at which they cut four tunes, all led by Al Banks: "Sister Sookey," "I'll Always Watch Over You," "Let Me Show You (Around My Heart)," and "When You Dance." That same month Herald released their first record, pairing "Let Me Show You (Around My Heart)" with "When You Dance." (There was a blurb in the trades that their first record would be "Tomorrow"; either Herald had the wrong group in mind, or there's a master that's never surfaced.) "Let Me Show You (Around My Heart)" was deliberately done in a Clyde McPhatter style. Said Al: "I had admired Clyde. At that time his voice was the biggest thing in R&B, so being a young group we patterned ourselves after different singers. When this song was presented to us, this was the way our manager wanted us to do it. He said, 'Put a little Clyde into it.' That was a good song."
[Note that in the accompanying photo, Charlie Williams and Matthew Platt have dark turbans, while Al Banks and Andrew Jones have white ones. Unless they were colored in for some reason in the photo, it isn't a trick of the light. In all other photos, all of the turbans are white.]
"Let Me Show You (Around My Heart)" was the "A" side and was the one that was initially pushed by Herald. It became a regional hit in Atlanta, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Detroit, Boston, and New Orleans. However, along the way, DJs started flipping it over to play the Latin-beat "When You Dance" (which had been written by Chet). Soon "Dance" started to break in New York, Philadelphia, D.C., and Baltimore. Finally, in November, it hit the national charts (strangely, it charted in Pop first, followed about two weeks later in R&B). The wait was worth it: "When You Dance" reached #3 on R&B, remaining on the charts for about two months. Even more surprising, it not only hit the Pop chart first, but stayed on it for about five months (while it only rose to #33, this still has to be counted as a significant hit).
In December 1955, with one hit still on the charts, Herald released the Turbans' next record: "Sister Sookey"/"I'll Always Watch Over You." The ads for "Sister Sookey" couldn't get it straight, however: one said "Sister Sooki," another had "Sister Snooky," and a third spelled it "Sooky." Regardless of the spelling, "Sister Sookey" was another Latin-beat rocker, which was a big hit in several local markets, although it never made it to the national charts. "I'll Always Watch Over You" was Al's best attempt at a Clyde McPhatter style.
With a national hit, the Turbans took off to see the nation. On December 9, they were booked into the Apollo Theater, with the Diablos, Eddie Bonnemere, the Mambo Jets, and Harold King. (Sadly, the write-up called them the "Turbanes" and Apollo's own ad had it as "Turbins.") Said Al: "Everybody had built up the Apollo before we worked there. We did favorably." They also played Buffalo, Pittsburgh, and Chubby's in North Collingswood, New Jersey. They ended up doing the full Chittlin' Circuit, except for Chicago's Regal. Says Chet, "They kept cancelling us."
Then it was off on a whirlwind tour. In late January they joined Irvin Feld's "Super Attractions Tour," with Bill Haley and the Comets, the Platters, Lavern Baker, Shirley & Lee, Red Prysock, the Drifters, Joe Turner, the 5 Keys, Bo Diddley, and Roy Hamilton. The tour kicked off in Pittsburgh on January 27. Then it was on to Richmond (28), Birmingham (29), Chattanooga (30), Charlotte (31), Columbia (February 1), Raleigh (2), Winston-Salem (3), Norfolk (4), and finally Washington, D.C. (5).
Touring, while mostly boring, had its moments. Said Al: "We were on a tour once and got into an accident and the bus turned over. Shirley [of Shirley & Lee] got hurt. It taught me how important rest was after a show. It was a ten-day tour. Luckily, the bus driver ran into the side of a mountain, instead of over the edge."
Although the Turbans never played the West Coast, it seems that they did anyway: "Later on, people said they'd seen the Turbans in Los Angeles, so there must have been a group of impostor Turbans on the Coast." Actually, Al was wrong here. If anything, the Philly group was the "impostors," because the West Coast Turbans had recorded (for John Dolphin's Money Records) months before their East Coast namesakes. The California group ended up changing their name to the Sharptones and recording for the Post label (a subsidiary of Imperial). However, since the Sharptones' session was done in September 1955, it's not clear whether the name change had anything to do with "When You Dance" (which probably wasn't a local hit in L.A. yet).
In March 1956, they did a tour with Roy Gaines, Guitar Slim, Margie Day, and Lloyd Lambert. Then it was on to the Circle Theater (Cleveland), along with the Sweethearts and Dakota Staton. Shaw Artists also booked them into the Orchid Room (Kansas City, Missouri).
In early 1956, the Turbans had their second Herald session, at which six songs were recorded: "B-I-N-G-O," "I'm Nobody's," "It Was A Night Like This," "My Girl Has Gone," "Say Girl," and "All Of My Love." Once again, Al did all the leads.
Herald released their third record in April: "I'm Nobody's"/"B I N G O." The former is a pretty ballad (on which Al isn't singing as high as usual), the flip is a novelty up-tempo rocker. Once again, however, the record failed to chart.
They then became part of the "Rhythm And Blues Show Of 1956," which was put together by Clovers' manager, Lou Krefetz. It starred the Clovers (surprise, surprise), Fats Domino, Ruth Brown, Little Richard, Little Willie John, the Cadillacs, the Sweethearts, Joe Medlin, Al Jackson and His Fat Men, and the Choker Campbell Orchestra. The show opened on April 1 in Richmond; the next night found them in Charlotte. Then it swung through the East Coast on its way to Toronto (10). From there it wound its way through the Midwest, Texas, and the Southeast (including New Orleans on the 22nd and Nashville on the 24th), finally closing on May 6 in Birmingham.
While the personnel of the group remained constant during this period, if a fill-in singer should happen to be needed, Chet's brother Donald Jones (a baritone) was used.
July found them touring the Midwest with Sonny Boy Williamson's orchestra. August saw Herald release their fourth record: "It Was A Nite Like This"/"All Of My Love." "It Was A Nite Like This" was another of their Latin-beat tunes, and "All Of My Love," the ballad side, had Al singing in his high register. Regardless, they didn't chart either.
The Tubrans appeared at the Apollo Theater the week of October 5, 1956. Others on the bill were the Corals, the Debutantes, the Lecuona Cuban Band, the Duke Of Iron, the Mambo Aces, Jellyroll & Zuzu, the Gentlemen Of Rhythm, and the Cuban Boys. On October 21, they played the Circle Theater in Cleveland, with Don Rello, the Quails, and Ralph Wilson's orchestra.
As 1957 dawned, the Turbans were running out of work. Their records, for whatever reasons, weren't charting and there's just so long you can milk a single hit.
But they were back in the studio in early 1957, with another four Al Banks-led tunes: "Lonely" (never released, but reminiscent of "I'm Nobody's"), "Bye And Bye," "Valley Of Love," and "Miss Thing" (a routine up-tempo song that was also unreleased).
In January, Herald gave it another go, releasing "Valley Of Love"/"Bye And Bye." "Valley Of Love" had chimes, and "Bye And Bye" was a routine up-tempo; its fate was the same as their last four disks.
Later in 1957, the Turbans did their last Herald session. Once again, with Al in the lead, they did four tunes: "Congratulations," "Sockee Soo," "Farewell To Arms," and "The Wadda-Do." "Farewell to Arms" was one of their best; a ballad that really showed off Al Banks' ability to effortlessly slip in and out of falsetto. For whatever reason, Herald declined to release it. "Sockee Soo," on the other hand, deserved to be unreleased. It was a stereotyped story of "Old Sockee Soo, the Chinaman," who was learning to dance to "Lock and Loll" music. (For some reason, when this was released by Relic Records, the title was spelled "Zaki-Sue.")
Their last Herald record was issued in November 1957: "Congratulations"/"The Wadda-Do." With "The Wadda-Do," they returned to a Latin beat; it sold well in several localities, but again wasn't a national hit.
I suppose it was all for the best, as their Herald contract was up (probably a 1-year contract, with a 1-year extension, that expired in July 1957) and the group was disintegrating anyway. Al said "After Herald, I left the group for about a year and a half, working with Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes. After that I was doing solo work, working with a five-piece band in Philadelphia. We just did dances, cabarets and things like that." Considering subsequent events, however, I think that Al was confusing exactly when he did these things.
Al probably re-joined the group in late January 1958, when they played the Apollo as part of a Dr. Jive show. Also on the bill was Joe Turner, the 5 Satins, Lee Allen, Tiny Topsy, Robert & Johnny, and the Wanderers. But then they were dormant again for a while.
In late 1958 there was a single Turbans release on Red Top (owned by Irv Nahan, Doc Bagby, and Melvin "Red Top" Schwartz). Matthew Platt and Charlie Williams had departed for good, to be replaced by Earl Worsham and John "Pancho" Christian, who had known Al Banks and the Turbans from the days of street corner group duels. Earl and John met Al Banks again at a Georgie Woods show at Philly's Uptown Theater; he recruited them on the spot to join him and Chet in a reconstructed Turbans. Thus, the Red Top group was Al Banks (lead), Earl Worsham (first and second tenor), John Christian (baritone and second tenor), and Chet Jones (bass).
The Red Top record was "I Promise You"/"Curfew Time." Again, both sides were led by Al Banks. When there was no action, the Turbans did no further recording for almost two years. Chet left the group for a while, and they continued on as a trio.
[Both Earl Worsham and John Christian had sung with the Quadrells, who had recorded for Bobby Robinson's Whirlin' Disc label. The members were: James Oscar "Cisco" Williams (bass/baritone/tenor), Earl Worsham (first and second tenor), John "Pancho" Christian (baritone/second tenor), and Reggie "Tootie" Price (bass). The name "Quadrells" was, according to Earl, "just made up; it had no meaning." Like most other groups, they sang around the neighborhood "we stood on the corner and sang to the girls." Since the record didn't take off, they never returned to Robinson (who remembered that they were from Philadelphia, but never saw them again). About a year later, with Earl being replaced by bass Rufus Hunter (who had been with the Magnificents) and the addition of second tenor Tony Lewis, the Quadrells made one more record. It was released on Parkway's Cameo subsidiary, as by the Cameos. The lead on all sides is James Oscar Williams.
At the same time, Earl Worsham, John Christian, and James Oscar Williams, joined by Roosevelt Simmons (from the Sensations) and Kent Peeler (from the Dreamers on Grand), recorded as the Universals for George Goldner's Mark-X label. After this release, Earl left to do some gospel work, thinking that the group wasn't going anywhere; he wasn't on the Universals' Cora-Lee sides in 1958. Also in 1958, John Christian, James Oscar Williams, Tony Lewis, Rufus Hunter, and Kent Peeler joined Thurston Harris as "the Masters" on "Purple Stew" (Rufus is doing lead on this song, not Thurston Harris). The Universals remained a mixed bag of singers throughout their career, with the members of the Quadrells floating in and out. Earl would re-join them for their final effort on the Ascot label (a subsidiary of United Artists). The group on this one was: Roosevelt Simmons, Reggie "Tootie" Price, Kent Peeler, Earl Worsham, and John "Pancho" Christian. The songs, including the old Buccaneers' tune "Dear Ruth," were recorded in August 1962, although not released until February 1963.]
Then the Turbans tried Morris Levy's Roulette Records in mid-1960. With Chet's return, it's the same personnel as on Red Top. They did a cover of the Paradons' "Diamonds And Pearls," backed with "Bad Man." Once again, Al is doing both leads. "Diamonds And Pearls" (a competent version of a song I never particularly cared for) was played a bit in New York, but it was the Paradons' version that was the hit.
In January 1961, their second (and final) Roulette release was "Three Friends" (written by Bert Bacharach and Hal David), backed with "I'm Not Your Fool Anymore." "I'm Not Your Fool Anymore" has an odd sound, difficult to categorize; it just sort of wanders around without having a tune you can latch on to. There was, once again, no chart action, but the Spring 1960 inclusion of "When You Dance" on the second volume of Art Laboe's "Oldies But Goodies" album series created enough of a demand for Herald to re-release the original in February 1961. Not a big hit the second time around, it still managed to struggle to #114 on the Pop charts.
The next stop for the Turbans was Bernie Lowe and Karl Mann's Parkway Records. By this time, Chet Jones, one of the mainstays of the group, had departed for good. The group was now: Al Banks, Earl Worsham, John Christian, and newly-added bass, Reggie "Tootie" Price (remember, he was with Earl and John in the Quadrells). At Parkway, they did an updated version of "When You Dance," released in March 1961 to compete with the original Herald version. The flip, "Golden Rings" marked the first Turbans song on which Al Banks didn't sing lead. The song was written by Earl Worsham, and management liked the way he sang it. Earl makes a good lead, but the final version of the song is over-violined and under-grouped.
By mid-1961, the Turbans had become a quintet. Gone was Reggie "Tootie" Price, replaced by James Oscar "Cisco" Williams, (the bass/baritone/tenor who'd also been with Earl and John in the Quadrells; note that at this point all four of the Quadrells had been in the Turbans). The fifth member was tenor William "Sonny" Gordon, who had been the lead of the Angels on Grand back in 1954.
In a June 5, 1961 trade paper article (one of those that are too complex for me to figure out completely), it said that acts under contract to Sheldon Music (owned by Aaron "Goldie" Goldmark and Moe Gale) were being taken over by Imperial Records, since Imperial had purchased Sheldon (it specifically named the Turbans). Since Sheldon Music was a publishing company, it could be that the Turbans had actually signed with Gale Records and, before they could record, were shunted over to Imperial.
Their first Imperial release was "Six Questions" (led by Al), backed with "The Lament Of Silver Gulch" (fronted by Al and Earl). "Six Questions" was a typical "50s-group-trying-to-make-it-in-the-60s" sound (they even threw in a girls' chorus). There was, as usual by now, no chart action.
In February of 1962, the Turbans appeared at a Hal Jackson Oldies Show at the Apollo Theater. They shared the stage with the Clovers, the Cadillacs, the Hollywood Flames, the Imperials, Charlie & Ray, the Charts, the Kodaks, Tiny Topsy, and the Reuben Phillips Orchestra.
March saw the second Imperial release, "This Is My Story"/"Clicky Clicky Clack," both featuring Al. "This Is My Story" is a much stronger group side than "Six Questions" had been, with Cisco Williams doing a strong bass line. The final Turbans' record appeared in May: "I Wonder"/"The Damage Is Done"; both sides were led by Sonny Gordon. Again, it's an early 60s sound, but Sonny sounds good in the lead. There was an unreleased Imperial tune called "Donna Kimberley," which had been written by Al for his daughter.
The final Turbans' record appeared in May: "I Wonder"/"The Damage Is Done." Both sides were led by Sonny Gordon. Again, it's an early 60s sound, but Sonny sounds good in the lead. There was an unreleased Imperial tune called "Donna Kimberley" (see the discography for the unreleased sides), which was written by Al for his daughter.
After Imperial, the Turbans broke up for good (although various combinations of them would come together for one-shot shows). Earl went off to Billy Byrd's Ink Spots; Al was with Charlie Thomas' Drifters in the early 70s. Al and Earl were making plans to get the Turbans back together in 1977, but unfortunately Al died before that could happen. Earl sang with a Coasters group based in Boca Raton and passed away on June 20, 2007. John Christian also passed away a few years ago.
So what happened to the Turbans? Al Banks had constantly broken up and re-formed them, but there were no national hits after their first record. It's tougher than it sounds to have a hit record; it's even tougher than that to get that second record up there on the charts. The Turbans did have several local hits (which is more than you can say for most groups) and they left us the legacy of "When You Dance."
Special thanks to Charlie Horner and Mitch Rosalsky. Ads are from various editions of "First Pressings," courtesy of Galen Gart.
458 When You Dance (AB)/Let Me Show You (Around My Heart) (AB) - 7/55
469 Sister Sookey (AB)/I'll Always Watch Over You (AB) - 12/55
478 I'm Nobody's (AB)/B-I-N-G-O (AB) - 4/56
486 It Was A Nite Like This (AB)/All Of My Love (AB) - 8/56
495 Valley Of Love (AB)/Bye And Bye (AB) - 1/57
510 Congratulations (AB)/The Wadda-Do (AB) - 11/57
My Girl Has Gone (AB)
Say Girl (AB)
Sockee Soo (AB)
Farewell To Arms (AB)
Miss Thing (AB)
115 I Promise You Love (AB)/Curfew Time (AB) - late 1958
4281 Diamonds And Pearls (AB)/Bad Man (AB) - 7/60
4326 Three Friends (AB)/I'm Not Your Fool Anymore (AB) - 1/61
All She Wants To Do Is Dance (AB)
458 When You Dance (AB)/Let Me Show You (Around My Heart) (AB) - 2/61
820 Golden Rings (EW)/When You Dance (AB) - 3/61
5807 Six Questions (AB)/The Lament Of Silver Gulch (AB/EW) - 12/61
5828 This Is My Story (AB)/Clicky Clicky Clack (AB) - 3/62
5847 I Wonder (SG)/The Damage Is Done (SG) - 5/62
Gettin' Into Somethin (AB)
Sister Sookey's Back (AB)
Donna Kimberley (AB)
Hey Now! (AB)
It's All Over (SG)
Do You Feel Like I Feel (AB)
AB = Al Banks; EW = Earl Worsham; SG = Sonny Gordon
103 Come To Me/What Can The Matter Be - 12/56
CAMEO (as the Cameos)
123 Merry Christmas/New Year's Eve - 11/57
7004 Again/Teenage Love - 9/57
501 He's So Right/The Picture - 1958
2124 Dear Ruth/Gotta Little Girl - 2/63
NOTE: Universals records on Kerwood, Festival, and Shepard are by different groups.
3440 Purple Stew (lead: Rufus Hunter)/I Hear A Rhapsody (Thurston Harris, with no group) - 10/58