Much has been written about the Del Vikings over the years. Some of it has probably even been accurate. Unfortunately, the problems the group had were such that it's incredibly difficult to sort the whole thing out. Sadly, no two discographies seem to agree on very much.
However, the Del Vikings gave us two monster hits and they therefore deserve something to be written about them. I originally did this piece for a Polygram CD's liner notes in 1996 and thought I'd resurrect it and try to update it. It's unusual in that I didn't interview anyone in order to write it.
In addition to my own research, I extensively used Carl E. Janusek's wonderful Del (L) Vikings: Setting The Record Straight, which appeared in issues 42 and 43 of Bob Belniak's Echoes Of The Past in 1997-8.
At the end of my discography is a reconstruction, by Thomas Holzhacker, of a Del Vikings' Fee Bee discography. There was a lot of inconsistency in Fee Bee release numbering; it's quite messy.
Whether you spell it Del Vikings, Dell Vikings, Del-Vikings, or Dell-Vikings, what you get is great Rock 'N Roll music and a confusing story. Let's try to sort it out.
As with the Cuff Links, the Del Vikings story begins with the Air Force, this time in Pittsburgh. (Interestingly, Alfred Gaitwood, who would start the Cuff Links after being transferred to California, was at the same base during this time.) In 1955, four airmen assigned to the Pittsburgh Air Force base started singing together. This quartet, called the 4 Deuces, consisted of Corinthian "Kripp" Johnson (first tenor), Samuel Patterson (first tenor), Don Jackson (baritone), and Clarence Quick (bass).
They practiced and practiced and it paid off: in the Spring, they took first place in the 1955 local Pittsburgh competition of the Air Force's annual Tops In Blue talent contest. That sent them up the ladder and they won first place in the Northeast regionals. Then it was off to Bermuda for the finals, where they came in second. Since the winners appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show on July 21, 1955, the finals probably occurred in early July. Note that there was another Air Force group called the 4 Deuces, consisting of Ernest Arevalo, Duane Elmore, William Moss, and someone whose name you may be familiar with: Eugene Strider (of the Striders). This group had been winners in 1954 and were part of the Tops In Blue tour in 1955.
In November 1955, second tenor/baritone David Lerchey, who was new to the Air Force, found himself assigned to the Pittsburgh Air Force base, where he shared a room with Clarence Quick. When Clarence found out that Dave could sing, he became the fifth member of the 4 Deuces (there had been a second tenor named Bernard Robertson for a while, but he didn't last long). Since Dave was white, the 4 Deuces became one of the few integrated groups around. When it seemed like the five-member lineup was going to be permanent, the group's name had to be changed. The new name they decided on was the "Del Vikings."
There was actually a sixth member of the Del Vikings: while they had a backup band for their appearances on base, Joe Lopes was added to the group as their guitarist.
In 1956, Samuel Patterson started developing problems with his voice and was replaced by baritone Norman Wright, a newly-transferred aircraft mechanic. The Del Vikings were now Corinthian "Kripp" Johnson (first tenor), David Lerchey (second tenor/baritone), Norman Wright (baritone), Don Jackson (baritone), Clarence Quick (bass), and Joe Lopes (guitar).
An appearance at a local high school brought them to the attention of Barry Kaye, a DJ on WJAS, and he ended up managing them. DJs kept themselves in the public eye (or ear, actually) by throwing record hops, and Kaye had the Del Vikings appear at many of these (for example, one at the Midland Youth Center on October 27, 1956).
In October 1956, Kaye had them record several songs in his basement (backed only by guitar and drums), which he then tried to shop around to record companies (that showed no interest whatever). The songs were: "Hey Senorita," "Somewhere Over The Rainbow," "Come Go With Me," "Heaven And Paradise" (which they sang as "Heaven In Paradise"). "True Love," "Yours," "I'll Remember (In The Still Of The Night)," "White Cliffs Of Dover," and "There I Go." These are remarkably well done for home recordings and certainly showcase the group's talent, although Barry Kaye sounds awkward announcing them. The songs are a mixture of standards, R&B hits, and original tunes ("True Love" [the future "How Can I Find True Love"], "There I Go," and the first attempt at "Come Go With Me"). According to Barry, another tune recorded was the first shot at "Whispering Bells." (Originally a ballad, the driving beat that made it to recordings was arranged by Joe Lopes.)
When the demos didn't excite any interest, Kaye hooked them up with Joe Averbach, a record distributor and owner of the local Fee Bee records (named after the "freebies" that he, as a distributor, would receive from record companies). The group auditioned for him in the basement of his house. As Howard Averbach (Joe's nephew) relates the story: "It was not a big house and the space in the basement was cramped. To accommodate all, the drummer set up in, and played from, the bathroom!" Averbach was impressed and booked a formal session for them in December 1956 at a studio in Pittsburgh's Penn-Sheraton Hotel. Once again, they brought their own band.
By this time, the Air Force had sent Don Jackson to Germany (or, according to Norman Wright, he was discharged from the service, which makes more sense in light of subsequent events); he was replaced by a medic from Long Island, New York: second tenor Donald "Gus" Backus (who was white). Now, the Del Vikings were Kripp Johnson (tenor), Gus Backus (tenor), Norman Wright (tenor), David Lerchey (baritone), Clarence Quick (bass), and Joe Lopes (guitar).
The first real appearance by the group was as part of Barry Kaye's "Rock 'N Roll Spectacular," held in December 1956, at the Leona Theater (Homestead, Pennsylvania); this was before "Come Go With Me" was released. They shared the stage with Bo Diddley, the Heartbeats, the Cadillacs, the Charms, the El Venos, Dakota Staton, Johnnie & Joe, the Johnny Burnette Trio, Chuck Willis, and the Roy Gaines Band.
Their first release (in January 1957) was "Come Go With Me," backed with "How Can I Find True Love" (fronted by Kripp Johnson). When it started to take off locally (naturally pushed on Barry Kaye's show), the master was sold to Dot Records and issued by them later that same month (this would be a repeated pattern). By the time it had left the charts, it had reached #2 (R&B) and #4 (Pop). There were four additional members on this session, all musicians (and also Air Force personnel): Joe Lopes was on guitar and George Upshaw blew the sax; there was also a drummer named Peoples, and a bassist.
QUESTION: Who sang lead on "Come Go With Me"? Was it Norman Wright or Gus Backus? Each side has its passionate adherents. My ears aren't reliable enough to make any judgment, but...
1. On July 24, 2022, I got the following email from Daniel Dellisse that read as follows:
Greetings from Belgium and congrats on your many articles about 40s and 50s R&B. About the Del Vikings, you say several people have written to you that the lead on "Come Go With Me" was Gus Backus. Since I'm a journalist busy writing a book about the heyday of rock 'n' roll, I happen to know Tony Wright, son of Norman and a musician himself. Yesterday I asked him about Gus vs Norman singing lead on "Come Go With Me" and his answer is clear: "Yes they do sound alike" but "no, that's our dad singing lead on 'Come Go With Me'".
2. Then, a few days later, I got this from Thomas Holzhacker:
I talked to Gus Backus in 2009 and asked him. From his answer and his cagey behavior I made my own picture.
When somebody brought up that subject again, I decided to ask his son Jeffrey Backus. Guess what... In February this year he even posted his comment to a discussion on 45cat, quote:
"Very interesting conversation! I am Jeffrey Backus, the son of Gus. Ever since I was tiny, I knew that my dad was the one singing on the successful version."
So what's the answer? As far as I'm concerned, I've ceased to care. There's only one way to decide this: let Tony Wright and Jeffrey Backus fight to the death. The winner gets to claim his father sang lead. As Shakespeare said: "A plague o' both your houses".
"Come Go With Me" produced the requisite cover recordings. There was a decent job by the Federals on Deluxe (although compared to the relaxed style of the Del Vikings it sounds a bit forced) and a Pop version by Sunny Gale on Decca (sounding somewhat silly).
At their next session, in February 1957, Averbach had them back up Country & Western singer Joey Biscoe (actually "Bisko") on a tune he'd written: "What Made Maggie Run." On Fee Bee, the side was only credited to the "Dell Vikings & Joey Biscoe". The flip, "When I Come Home," was led by Kripp Johnson. Another side on which Joey Biscoe led was "Little Billy Boy." A fairly crude attempt at "Down In Bermuda" was also recorded that day. When the time came to make a deal with Dot Records again, "Little Billy Boy" was the tune that ended up as the flip of "What Made Maggie Run" (or "What Made Margie Run," as one ad had it). The Dot recordings, however, were credited to the "Del Vikings - lead vocalist Joey Biscoe." Both the Fee Bee and Dot discs were issued in April 1957, but neither pairing saw any national chart action.
Once the record was issued, they were part of another Kaye show, this time at Pittsburgh's Syria Mosque Theater in February 1957. It featured Frankie Lymon & the Teenagers (probably the hottest R&B act in the country), the Drifters, Mickey & Sylvia, the Turbans, Dakota Staton, the El Dorados, the Three Friends, and the Red Prysock Orchestra. However, according to the Indiana Gazette (Indiana, Pennsylvania), it was "Frankie Kyman" and his Teenagers, "Mickie & Sylvia", and the "Elderados".
Then, with "Come Go With Me" zooming up the charts, the Del Vikings hooked up with Alan Freed, becoming guests on his first TV Special (on Saturday evening, March 4), along with the Clovers, Screamin' Jay Hawkins, Guy Mitchell, June Valli, and Sal Mineo. I've read that they were part of Alan Freed's Easter show in April 1957, but they don't appear in the show's program.
At their next session (held in Cleveland, Ohio, at a better studio than the Penn-Sheraton had), Kripp Johnson led both "Whispering Bells" and "Don't Be A Fool." Averbach wasn't happy with the takes and had them re-record both songs at an even bigger Chicago studio (ultimately overdubbing Ben Smith's saxophone over "Whispering Bells"). The tunes were released in May 1957 on both Fee Bee and Dot (mangling Kripp's name to "Krips" on both labels) and "Whispering Bells" became the Del Vikings second big smash, although not as big as "Come Go With Me": it rose to #5 (R&B) and #9 (Pop).
However, before the record could be released, legal tragedy struck. The Del Vikings' management had changed from Barry Kaye to Alan Strauss, who was the legal counsel for the Air Force base. He negotiated a deal with Mercury Records that only included those members who were underage when they signed with Averbach (and could thus repudiate the Fee Bee contract and leave for Mercury). This included everyone except Kripp Johnson. Therefore, Norman Wright (baritone), David Lerchey (second tenor), Gus Backus (second tenor), Clarence Quick (bass), and Joe Lopes (guitar) became the Del Vikings on Mercury. The new fifth singer was Clarence Quick's cousin, tenor William Blakely, who wasn't in the Air Force. The group's signing to Mercury was announced in the May 20, 1957 issue of Billboard (by which time, of course, they'd already held their first session). They'd been signed to a "long-term" contract (which turned out to be two years).
Their first Mercury release, issued in May 1957, was "Cool Shake"/"Jitterbug Mary," both led by Gus Backus. Thus, to totally confuse DJs and customers, you could buy "Whispering Bells" on Fee Bee, "Whispering Bells" on Dot, or "Cool Shake" on Mercury. "Cool Shake" also began to climb the charts, eventually stopping at #9 (R&B) and #12 (Pop).
The Mercury group soon received leave from the Air Force to film their segment for the upcoming movie, "The Big Beat," as well as to make some appearances on the West Coast and to record some more tracks. They sang "Can't Wait" (led by William Blakely) in the film. Although they would record the title song, it was Fats Domino's version that played as the opening credits rolled.
In June 1957, Dot released an EP called Come Go With Us. It had "Come Go With Me," "Don't Be A Fool," "Whispering Bells," and "What Made Maggie Run." Then, in July, Luniverse (owned by Bill Buchanan, Dickie Goodman, and George Goldner) released Come Go With The Del Vikings, an LP containing most of the original demo tapes recorded for Barry Kaye back in 1956 (which Luniverse overdubbed with more musicians). Of all the original titles, only "There I Go" and "Whispering Bells" weren't included. ("Somewhere Over The Rainbow" and "Hey Senorita" were also issued as a single in the same month.) Kaye had met Goodman during the chart run of "Come Go With Me" and convinced him to release the tapes on Luniverse; this may have had something to do with Kaye not being the group's manager anymore. (Note that in October 1993, Collectables released an LP with nine of the original demo tapes without the overdubbed musicians. It was called Dell Vikings: 1956 Audition Tapes. Missing from the collection was "Whispering Bells.")
In the summer of 1957, after being with the group for only about six months, Gus Backus was reassigned to an Air Force base in Wiesbaden, Germany. When he was discharged, he decided to remain in Germany and had a successful musical career there. Instead of bringing in a new member, the group took guitarist Joe Lopes and promoted him to a second tenor and baritone.
Meanwhile, back at Fee Bee: only tenor Kripp Johnson was left (since he alone had been of legal age when he'd signed with Averbach). He had recently been discharged from the Air Force and was joined by former Viking baritone Donald Jackson. To continue recording for Fee Bee, they added three new non-Air Force members: Chuck Jackson (tenor; future solo star with "I Don't Want To Cry" and "Any Day Now"), Arthur Budd (second tenor), and Edward Everette (baritone and bass). There were now two competing Del Vikings groups. While the Mercury group had more of the "Come Go With Me" voices, the Fee Bee/Dot group was no longer associated with the Air Force, and was thus freer to tour. (Speaking years later, both Kripp Johnson and Norman Wright said that there was no animosity over this; it was just a bad situation that was completely out of their control. Kripp said that he would have gone to Mercury with the rest of the group had he been able.) This Fee Bee group got a lot of work in the Pittsburgh area. In fact, I can find more appearance ads for them than for the Mercury group.
In August 1957, the new Fee Bee group churned out "I'm Spinning" and "You Say You Love Me" (although the label only credited "The Del Viking, Kripp Johnson"). When Dot came into the picture, the pairing was: "I'm Spinning" by "Kripp Johnson," backed with the older "When I Come Home" by "Kripp Johnson and the Dell-Vikings" (which was, of course, by the original group).
Mercury's August entry into the fray was "Come Along With Me" (led by Norman Wright)/"What'cha Gotta Lose" (fronted by Gus Backus). It was hoped that "Come Along With Me" would re-create the magic of "Come Go With Me." It didn't.
Also in August (a banner month for Del Vikings fans, provided they could keep all this straight), Mercury issued an LP: They Sing...They Swing - Del Vikings. This contained a dozen songs that they'd been working on since the split: "Come Along With Me," "Summertime," "Yours," "Heart And Soul," "A Sunday Kind Of Love," "Somewhere Over The Rainbow," "Is It Any Wonder," "My Foolish Heart," "(There'll Be Bluebirds Over) The White Cliffs Of Dover," "Down In Bermuda," "I'm Sitting On Top Of The World," and "Now Is The Hour."
In September, the Mercury Del Vikings were part of Alan Freed's "Third Anniversary" Labor Day show at the Brooklyn Paramount, along with Little Richard, Jo Ann Campbell, Buddy Holly & the Crickets, the Cleftones, the Moonglows, the 5 Keys, the Diamonds, Mickey & Sylvia, Larry Williams, and Ocie Smith. (Norman Wright couldn't make the first performance, since his unit was on alert at the time.)
Shortly thereafter, the entire group was transferred to an Air Force base in upstate New York. This was a good deal for them, because Norman Wright, David Lerchey, Clarence Quick, and Joe Lopes now got more freedom to perform. (William Blakely was still there too, but he wasn't in the Air Force.) On Sunday, September 1, they appeared, in uniform, on the Ed Sullivan Show, singing "Jitterbug Mary." (However, since the show featured servicemen, Billy Blakely wasn't allowed to appear and had to watch from the wings.) A couple of weeks later (on the 16th), the Del Vikings (I'm not sure which group) sang "Whispering Bells" on American Bandstand. They were back on the show on October 11.
Sorry, but this won't get any easier. In September, Mercury released their own versions of "When I Come Home" (led by Norman Wright) and "I'm Spinning" (led by William Blakely). I know that I was blissfully unaware of all this back in 1957, but I'm sure many, many fans were totally confused. This craziness was known in the industry, however. The December 16th issue of Billboard mentioned the Casuals on Back Beat and the Casuals on Dot, wondering if this was the same type of mess as the Del Vikings.
Obviously, something had to be done. The ensuing legal battle saw Mercury prevail over Fee Bee/Dot for the use of the "Del Vikings" name on record. The decision was handed down in mid-October 1957. It looks like it would take effect when the group's Fee Bee contract expired on December 1. The Fee Bee group kind of called itself the "Versatiles" from then on.
In early November, the Del Vikings (Kripp's bunch) were part of the "Fantabulous Rock & Roll Show Of 1957," booked by Shaw Artists. This extravaganza (which kicked off on November 4 from Fayetteville, North Carolina) starred Mickey & Sylvia, the Velours, Ray Charles, Larry Williams, Joe Turner, Bo Diddley, the Moonglows, Roy Brown, Annie Laurie, Nappy Brown, and Tiny Topsy. In all, this tour lasted 90 days. I'm not sure of the billing, however, since they were probably enjoined from using the "Del Vikings" name after December 1 (since acts came and went from the tour, they may have just left). To further confuse fans, one of the advertised songs in the tour was "Cool Shake".
Also in November, Dot released "Willette"/"Woke Up This Morning" by "Kripp Johnson & Chuck Jackson" (thereby avoiding the problem of a group name altogether). Chuck led the former side; Kripp the latter. Just to be different, Fee Bee paired them as by "The Dell Viking Kripp Johnson and Charles Jackson" (on "Willette"; on the flip, it was "and Chuck Jackson". In 1959, the same pairing would be issued by Fee Bee as by the Del Vikings.) Mercury's November entry was "Your Book Of Life" (led by Clarence Quick), coupled with "Snowbound" (led by Norman Wright). They would sing "Snowbound" on Patti Page's TV show the following January. (Conveniently, Patti was also a Mercury artist.)
In December, Mercury released another LP, The Swinging, Singing Del Vikings Record Session. It contained "The Big Beat," "Oh Tonight," "That's Why (I Love You So)," "What You Have Done To Me," "The Voodoo Man," "Oh I Love You," "Oh Baby (I Need Your Kisses)," "Friendly Moon," "A Meeting Of The Eyes," "There I Go (Falling In Love Again)," "Nobody's Kisses But Yours," and "String Along." "That's Why (I Love You So)" would become a big hit for Jackie Wilson in 1959; "Oh Baby (I Need Your Kisses)" was the Spaniels' "I Need Your Kisses."
January 1958 saw Mercury issue "The Voodoo Man" (led by Clarence Quick) and "Can't Wait" (led by William Blakely). The latter song is the one they'd sung in the movie "The Big Beat," due to be released the following month. It was hoped that their appearance in the film would shoot the song to the top of the charts; it didn't. In February, they made a few appearances in Detroit to publicize the release of the film.
The following month, Checker Records released "Speedillac"/"Half Moon" by Sonny Day (future member of Bill Haley's Comets) backed up by the Versatiles (that is, Kripp Johnson's Del Vikings). April saw the Versatiles as part of the "Top Ten Revue Of 1958" at Pittsburgh's Syria Mosque. They shared the stage with Bill Haley & the Comets, Lee Andrews & the Hearts, the Bobbettes, the Heartbeats, the Shirelles, Ivory Joe Hunter, and many others.
The Versatiles also backed up a high tenor named Jerry Sheely on "Love Only Me" and "It's All Over." Released on Averbach's Star label, probably sometime in 1958, the record was never reviewed, but "Love Only Me" was a really well-done side. According to Fred Bohn, of The Attic record store in Pittsburgh, Sheely (whose real name seems to have been Gerald Shealey) was blind and possibly passed away soon after the record was released. Thanks to Matthew Murray, we learn that he died in July 1959. (Matthew also directed me to an October 10, 1953 article in the Pittsburgh Courier that said this: "Blind, sixteen-year-old Gerald Shealey was held as the leader of a teen-aged gang and is being questioned in connection with recent beatings of Pittsburgh district residents. Three persons were seriously beaten and hospitalized by mobsters and Shealey and six members of his gang were arrested and questioned." Go figure.)
To make things even more confusing, Kripp Johnson was on the last couple of Mercury Del Vikings sessions, held in July 1958 (he's lead on "You Cheated" and "How Could You"). However, he hadn't re-joined the group; his Fee Bee contract had expired in December 1957 and he'd soon join Mercury as a soloist. (He had two nice records for Mercury: "One Last Time"/"Everlasting" in May 1959 and "I Still Forgive"/"A Door That Is Open" in July. However, he got lost in the shuffle once Brook Benton started hitting it big.)
May 1958 saw a strange record on Fee Bee: "Down By The Stream"/"Margeritte." "Down By The Stream" has local singer Frank Joseph plus two members of his group (the Embers), and Clarence Quick as bass. "Margeritte" was actually by Frank and the Embers, but Kripp Johnson and Don Jackson's voices were overdubbed onto the result. When Fee Bee released it, "Down By The Stream" was credited to the Del Vikings; "Margeritte" was credited to "Frankie Joe & the Embers."
Mercury released the cover of the Shields' cover of the Slades' "You Cheated" (led by Kripp Johnson) and "Pretty Little Things Called Girls" (fronted by Norman Wright) in July 1958.
And the fans went wild. This ran in the August 14, 1958 edition of the Evening Standard (Uniontown, Pennsylvania). I thought it best to leave out the names:
Last year I started a fan club for the Del Vikings. I was the president. The other officers were xxx, vice president; xxx, secretary; and xxx, treasurer.
While school was open, we had meetings twice a month. We do not have meetings in the summer.
This summer we had a fan club party. We had ice cream, cookies, pop, potato chips, and candy.
With backing like this, it's no wonder the Del Vikings have been remembered down through the decades.
The final Mercury record was "How Could You" (led by Kripp Johnson), backed with the Norman Wright-led "Flat Tire," released in October of that year. However, like all their other Mercury sides since "Cool Shake," this one went nowhere and that was the end of the Del Vikings-Mercury association (their contract wouldn't expire until May 1959, but they did no further recording).
There were some half dozen unreleased Mercury tunes that I know about, some of which would find their way onto bootleg records. The known titles are: "You Are Invited" (led by Kripp Johnson), "Heaven On Earth" (Kripp Johnson), "Can't You See" (Norman Wright and Clarence Quick), "Gates Of Paradise" (William Blakely), "No Hu Hu" (Gus Backus), and "The Bells" (Norman Wright?). Clarence Quick's bass riff on "The Bells" is very similar to that in "Zoom, Zoom, Zoom" by the Collegians, which had been released about six months before the Del Vikings session.
After this, Clarence Quick, who was the first of the Mercury group to be discharged from the Air Force, became the bass of the Eastmen, who were: Harold Allen (first tenor), Watsie Lumbard (first tenor), Jethro Worthy (second tenor/baritone), and Russell Worthy (second tenor/baritone). They recorded the pretty "Lover Come Home" (led by Harold Allen and Watsie Lumbard) for Mercury. Released in March 1959, it's flip was "Bye Bye My Baby" (led by Harold Allen). The group's second record, "Passion"/"Hum-Dibby-Do-Wah," was released on Glow in 1960, but with only Allen and Lumbard of the original personnel present.
In 1959, with the Mercury group extinct, Joe Averbach re-released some old masters as the "Del Vikings." The first was "What Made Maggie Run" (led by Joey Briscoe)/"Down By The Stream" (Frank Joseph). Then came "Willette" (Chuck Jackson)/"Woke Up This Morning" (Kripp Johnson). He also released a couple of records by the "Versatiles" on his Petite label in 1959 (all leads were by Chuck Jackson: "Willete"/"A Little Man Cried" (by "The Versatiles, featuring Charles Jackson," although "A Little Man Cried" is actually an excellent Chuck Jackson solo effort) and "Willete"/"Cold Feet" (as "Kripp Johnson's Versatiles, featuring Charles Jackson"). Another Chuck Jackson-led side, "Watching The Moon," was scheduled for Petite 503, but it was never released (the flip would have probably been "Cold Feet"). "Watching The Moon" came out on Bim Bam Boom Records in 1973 as by "Chuck Jackson & Dell-Vikings." Averbach may have released these at this time because Chuck Jackson had just signed, as a soloist, with Clock Records.
Dot got into the act too, reissuing "Come Go With Me" (Norman Wright)/"How Can I Find True Love" (Kripp Johnson) in May 1960.
When Joe Lopes was discharged from the Air Force in early 1959, he was free to tour, but there basically was no Del Vikings any more. When David Lerchey got out in May, he picked up and went to California. Norman Wright was the last to get out, in May 1960, After that, Norman Wright, William Blakely, Clarence Quick, and tenor Frank Ayres (who had been in the second incarnation of the Eastmen) would occasionally appear as the Del Vikings in the 60s.
But Joe Averbach also had a new Del Vikings group, consisting of Kripp Johnson (tenor), Billy Woodruff (tenor), Willie "Sweet Meat" Glenn (tenor), Roalf E. "Ritzy" Lee (second tenor and baritone; Kripp's next-door neighbor), Horace Douglas "Doug" White (bass), and Clarence Quick (bass). Here's what Ritzy remembered:
During the time of the Del Vikings beginnings, Billy Woodruff, Doug White, Willie Glenn, Grover McBride, Carl Frye, and I were singing together as "The Five Treys." [Yes, there were six of them.] When Kripp did his single recording and was promoting it, Clarence Quick asked him and me to do a gig with the group in Trois Rivieres, Quebec. That two weeks together [in mid-1959] with the four of us (Clarence, Norman, Kripp, and me) was so good, Clarence asked us to stay a part of the group. (Dave Lerchey had gone to California by then.) That was the beginning of my career with the Del Vikings. When Norman left to join the New York Port Authority, we brought Billy Woodruff, Willie Glenn, and Doug White into the group.
This group recorded a couple of sides for Columbia's Alpine subsidiary in October 1960: "The Sun" (led by Doug White and Billy Woodruff) and "Pistol Packin' Mama" (led by Willie Glenn and Ritzy Lee). (There are only five in the photo that appears on the record sleeve because Clarence was sick the day of the photo shoot.) After this record, Billy Woodruff left and moved to California.
In the March 27, 1961 issue of Billboard, there was a press release that the Del Vikings had just been signed to the Prince label, a subsidiary of Criterion Records (itself a part of Capitol). However, someone at ABC-Paramount read that press release, decided that the Del Vikings would be an asset, and made a deal with Criterion. Thus, instead of appearing on Prince, they had releases on ABC-Paramount, but, as Ritzy Lee explained, Criterion produced all the sides.
Their first platter on ABC-Paramount, in April 1961, was "I'll Never Stop Crying" (led by Kripp Johnson) and "Bring Back Your Heart" (led by Willie Glenn). In spite of excellent reviews, the disc never really took off, although they got to sing it on American Bandstand on April 19. They were back with Dick Clark on the 27th, but I don't know what they sang.
Around May 1961, Atco released "Baby I Want To Marry You". This was a Chuck Jackson-led tune from Fee Bee that would later be re-released as "I Want To Marry You". The flip, the old Johnny Ace song "Never Let Me Go", had Chuck backed by a female trio. Presumably this was issued to take advantage of Chuck's current hit, "I Don't Want To Cry". Both sides only had Chuck's name on the label.
In June 1961, probably in response to the burgeoning "oldies craze," Dot reissued "Come Go With Me" and "Whispering Bells" as a single record. The pairing would be issued again in November 1963.
The next ABC-Paramount offering, in September, was "I Hear Bells (Wedding Bells)" (Kripp Johnson), backed with "Don't Get Slick On Me" (Ritzy Lee). Again, the disc got great reviews; again, it did nothing. In November, ABC-Paramount released "Kiss Me" (Ritzy Lee)/"Face The Music" (Willie Glenn). Same reviews, same story.
But ABC-Paramount wasn't giving up yet. February 1962 saw the release of "The Big Silence" (Willie Glenn)/"One More River To Cross" (Kripp Johnson). "The Big Silence" got big ratings and was a big flop. In June, ABC issued "Confession Of Love" (Willie Glenn)/"Kilimanjaro" (Kripp Johnson). Once again, the trades liked a song ("Kilimanjaro"); once again, the public rejected it.
ABC-Paramount put out "An Angel Up In Heaven" (Kripp Johnson), backed with the interesting Hawaiian-sounding "The Fishing Chant (Te Manu Pukarua)" (all) in December 1962. Their final ABC offering was "Sorcerer's Apprentice"/"Too Many Miles" in March 1963, with Kripp Johnson leading both sides. However, by then their two-year contract was up and, with not a hit in all that time, they were dropped.
Now we have to deal with Buddy Carle & the Del Vikings. Back in 1956, Buddy Carle (real name Carl William Hirce) had the very first release on Fee Bee: "Tender Words" (before the label even had the cute bee logo). In April 1958, this kinda "teen idol" had a record on Fee Bee #223 called "Understand." It had a very understated and not terribly interesting group that wasn't credited on the label. (The flip, "Talk About Love" doesn't have a group.) At that point, remember, the Del Vikings' contract with Fee Bee had expired. However, as was noted above with the Frank Joseph sides, Averbach still utilized various members for background purposes. Was the group behind Carle really the Del Vikings? I doubt it, although some of them might have been present.
The reason I bring this up is that in early 1961 Averbach re-released "Understand" on his Starr label. This time it was credited to "Buddy Carle & the Del Vikings." (The flip was "Tender Words," Carle's solo effort that kickstarted Fee Bee back in 1956.) Not that it was all that good, but "Understand" (by "Buddy Carle & the Del Vikings") was reissued again in August 1962 on Ee-Dee. The flip was now "It's Too Late," by "Mary Kaye & the Del Vikings." (Was this Pittsburgh thrush the leader of the Mary Kaye Trio, the Las Vegas lounge singers who were in the movie "Bop Girl Goes Calypso" or just someone with the same name? I really don't know, but the song, with the same nondescript group as the flip, sounds like it was recorded in the 50s also.) Ee-Dee was probably another Averbach label, because the paring also came out on Fee Bee with the same number. Amazingly, "Understand" was reissued a fourth time, in December 1962 (on Star with only one "r"). This time, the flip was a Buddy Carle solo called "Lackadaisical."
Mercury got into the reissue game also, pairing "A Sunday Kind Of Love" with "Come Along With Me" in May 1963. Then there was the 1963 Del Vikings And The Sonnets LP from Crown. For some reason, they got hold of four of the 1956 demo tapes ("Come Go With Me," "True Love," "Hey Senorita," and "There I Go") and included them on an LP with some songs by the Sounds, the Meadowlarks, and Curley Williams (but no one called the Sonnets).
More reissues were forthcoming from Fee Bee too. In 1963, they put out "Willette" again, this time paired with the Chuck Jackson-led "I Want To Marry You" (which had found its way to Atco a couple of years previously). In 1964, there was another pairing of "Come Go With Me" and "Whispering Bells" to match what Dot had recently issued. That same year, "What Made Maggie Run" saw the light of day again, coupled with the previously-unreleased "Uh Uh Baby," led by Gus Backus. Finally, there was the old "True Love" (that is, "How Can I Find True Love") paired with "Baby, Let Me Be" (which was "Uh Uh Baby," retitled). Averbach was cleaning out his closet.
More significantly, Kripp's group (Kripp Johnson, Willie Glenn, Ritzy Lee, Doug White, and Clarence Quick) released a couple of new recordings on Gateway in July 1964: a really nice version of "We Three" (led by Kripp Johnson), backed with "I've Got To Know" (led by Ritzy Lee). After this record, Clarence Quick became too sick to tour and Willie Glenn also left the group (Willie had gambled away his earnings from a tour and his wife made him quit).
For whatever reason, Dot released a Del Vikings LP, called Come Go With Me, in 1966. It had "Come Go With Me," "I Want To Marry You," "What Made Maggie Run," "Billy Boy," "Don't Be A Fool," "Willette," "Whispering Bells," "Down By The Stream," "Down In Bermuda," "How Can I Find True Love," "When I Come Home," and the previously-unreleased "Girl, Girl" (led by Chuck Jackson).
Also in 1966, there was another Fee Bee release: "Maggie"/"Down In Bermuda." "Maggie" is, of course, "What Made Maggie Run."
On June 6, 1966, the Del Vikings appeared at the Flamingo Room in Hazleton, Pennsylvania. The ad said that they'd just completed six weeks with the Dick Clark Show.
More soberly, there was a youth gang in Chicago named the Del Vikings, some of whom were implicated in the shooting of a rival gang member in January 1966. In July, another Del Viking was charged with murder in the shooting of two rivals.
Two cuts appeared on a 1967 Relic LP called The Best Of Acappella - Volume 7: "How Do You Like It" and "Milk Shake Mama". These were demos that Eddie Gries obtained from Ernie Kaschauer of Pittsburgh's Red Fox Records. While they can't be accurately dated, they go back to the early days of the group.
In 1969, there was a Del Vikings release on California's Jo Jo label: "My Body Your Shadow", backed with "Keep On Walkin'". This is what Ritzy Lee told Todd Baptista: "Those songs were recorded here in California, and it was me on lead, Kripp Johnson, Terry Young, Billy Woodruff, Mona Lisa Young, John Byas, and Monty Sherrel. The man who owned Jo Jo Records was Jay Colonna who promoted "Come Go With Me" and brokered the deal with Randy Wood of Dot Records."
But the revival years were coming. In 1970, DJs Alan Fredericks and Jocko hosted "The Original Rock 'N' Roll" show at the New York Academy Of Music on 14th Street in Manhattan. The Del Vikings (Kripp Johnson, Norman Wright, William Blakely, and Clarence Quick) were present, as well as the Dubs, the Harptones, the Bobbettes, the Cleftones, the Orioles, the Monotones, the Cadillacs, the Passions, the Skyliners, Danny & the Juniors, the Mystics, and Don & Juan. The show was such a success that it launched a whole series of them. (However, as far as I know, this was the only one featuring the Del Vikings.)
And the group slogged on. In 1972, Kripp Johnson left, to be replaced by tenor Frank Ayres (from the Eastmen). That year, they recorded a new version of "Come Go With Me" for Scepter Records, led by Norman Wright. It was updated with some scat singing, but is really pretty good, considering what remakes are usually like. The flip side is called "When You're Asleep", but Ritzy Lee told researcher Todd Baptista that it isn't by the Del Vikings at all. Scepter just threw a master by a different group on the back and credited it to the Del Vikings.
Also in 1972, Bim Bam Boom Records released "Cold Feet"/"I Want To Marry You" by "Chuck Jackson & the Dell-Vikings." The following year saw two more releases on that label: "Watching The Moon"/"You Say You Love Me" (by "Chuck Jackson & the Dell-Vikings," even though "You Say You Love Me" was led by Kripp Johnson), and "I'm Spinning"/"Girl, Girl," by the "Dell-Vikings."
In 1973, Kripp reunited with some of the Alpine group in a group consisting of Kripp, Clarence Quick, Billy Woodruff, Ritzy Lee, and Terry Young (who sang background vocals and played the keyboards). They appeared on the Midnight Special TV show on April 27, 1973, singing "Come Go With Me." It was hosted by Jerry Lee Lewis and also featured Bobby Day, Lloyd Price, the Penguins, Chubby Checker, Little Anthony, Freddy Cannon, and the Shirelles. I'm not sure who was there first, but Doug White was on some shows of the period, not Terry Young.
At this point, multiple Del Vikings groups arose and toured on the Oldies Circuit. Since there were constant personnel changes, I won't even bother to try to make sense of it all. The only subsequent groups that I'll mention are the two put together by Joe Averbach, since they had releases on Fee Bee.
The first of these had Cleveland "Butch" Martin (tenor), Earl Thompson (tenor), Robert Thompson (second tenor), and Clarence Quick (bass). They had a 1976 release called "Finger Poppin' Woman" (led by Cleveland Martin), backed with "Tell Me, Tell Me" (fronted by Robert Thompson).
In 1977, Averbach released "Hollywood And Vine"/"Welfare Blues." The group on this was Chuck Corby (lead on both sides), Kripp Johnson (tenor), Norman Wright (baritone), and Clarence Quick (bass).
In 2019, most of the originals are gone: Kripp Johnson, Dave Lerchey, Clarence Quick, Norman Wright, Billy Blakely, and Gus Backus are all deceased, as is Joe Averbach (March 28, 1913 to Dec 12, 1999). Chuck Jackson is still alive and, as far as I know, still performing. Joe Lopes is also still with us.
In April 2018, Ritzy Lee, Doug White, Terry Young, Joe Lopes, and a new kid, Jason Powell, performed at an "alumni reunion" show in Massachusetts presented by Todd Baptista. Billy Woodruff was supposed to be part of it, but was too ill to attend. Ritzy Lee passed away on June 27, 2020.
And that's about as far as I'll go with the Del Vikings. They brought us some great music and some unbelievable confusion. I don't know about you, but I choose to remember the great music.
Special thanks to Ritzy Lee, Victor Pearlin, Tony Tisovec, Fred Bohn, Lou Sylvani, Todd Baptista, Bob Friedman, and Phil Beauchamp.
205 Come Go With Me/How Can I Find True Love (KJ) - 12/56
15538 Come Go With Me/How Can I Find True Love (KJ) - 1/57
210 What Made Maggie Run (JB)/When I Come Home (KJ) - 4/57
210 What Made Maggie Run (JB)/Uh Uh Baby (GB) - 4/57
15571 What Made Maggie Run (JB)/Little Billy Boy (JB) - 4/57
214 Whispering Bells (KJ)/Don't Be A Fool (KJ) - 5/57
15592 Whispering Bells (KJ)/Don't Be A Fool (KJ) - 5/57
Krips [sic] Johnson & Del Vikings
71132 Cool Shake (GB)/Jitterbug Mary (GB) - 5/57
DEP-1058 Come Go With Us - 6/57
Come Go With Me
Don't Be A Fool (KJ)
Whispering Bells (KJ)
What Made Maggie Run (JB)
106 Somewhere Over The Rainbow (NW)/Hey, Senorita (NW) - 7/57
LP-1000 The Del Vikings - 7/57
Hey Senorita (NW)
Somewhere Over The Rainbow (NW)
Come Go With Me
Heaven And Paradise
True Love (KJ)
I'll Remember (In The Still Of The Night)
White Cliffs Of Dover
Note that in October 1993, Collectables released an LP (COL-5001) with all nine of the original
demo tapes without the overdubbed musicians. It was called Dell Vikings: 1956 Audition Tapes.
218 I'm Spinning (KJ)/You Say You Love Me (KJ) - 8/57
by "The Del Viking Kripp Johnson"; (the whole group is present)
15636 When I Come Home (KJ)/[I'm Spinning - Kripp Johnson] - 8/57
Kripp Johnson & the Dell-Vikings
71180 Come Along With Me (NW)/What'cha Gotta Lose (GB) - 8/57
MG 20314 They Sing...They Swing - Del Vikings - 8/57
Come Along With Me (NW)
Heart And Soul (GB)
A Sunday Kind Of Love (NW)
Somewhere Over The Rainbow (NW)
Is It Any Wonder (GB)
My Foolish Heart
(There'll Be Bluebirds Over) The White Cliffs Of Dover (CQ)
Down In Bermuda (NW)
I'm Sitting On Top Of The World
Now Is The Hour (GB)
71198 When I Come Home (NW)/I'm Spinning (WB) - 9/57
71241 Your Book Of Life (CQ)/Snowbound (NW) - 11/57
15673 Willette (CJ)/Woke Up This Morning (KJ) - 11/57
by "Kripp Johnson & Chuck Jackson"
Also released on Fee Bee 221, as by "The Dell Viking Kripp Johnson and Charles Jackson" on "Willette",
and by "The Dell Viking Kripp Johnson and Chuck Jackson" on the flip
MG-20353 The Swinging, Singing Del Vikings Record Session - 12/57
The Big Beat (GB)
Oh Tonight (NW/DL)
That's Why (I Love You So)
What You Have Done To Me
The Voodoo Man (CQ)
Oh I Love You (WB)
Oh Baby (I Need Your Kisses)
A Meeting Of The Eyes
There I Go (Falling In Love Again)
Nobody's Kisses But Yours
71266 The Voodoo Man (CQ)/Can't Wait (WB) - 1/58
224 Down By The Stream (FJ)/[Margeritte (FJ) - Frankie Joe & Embers] - 5/58
71345 You Cheated (KJ)/Pretty Little Things Called Girls (NW) - 7/58
71390 How Could You (KJ)/Flat Tire (NW) - 10/58
You Are Invited (KJ)
Heaven On Earth (KJ)
Can't You See (NW/CQ)
Gates Of Paradise (WB)
No Hu Hu (GB)
The Bells (NW?)
210 What Made Maggie Run (JB)/Down By The Stream (FJ) - 59
221 Willette (CJ)/Woke Up This Morning (KJ) - 59
A re-release, but this time by "The Del Vikings"
16092 Come Go With Me/How Can I Find True Love (KJ) - 5/60
507 Understand (BC)/[Tender Words - Buddy Carle] - ca. 2/61
Buddy Carle & Del Vikings - "Understand" had originally been released in April 1958 on Fee Bee 223 with no group credited.
66 The Sun (DW/BW)/Pistol Packin' Mama (RL/WG) - 10/60
10208 I'll Never Stop Crying (KJ)/Bring Back Your Heart (WG) - 4/61
ATCO (Fee Bee master; only credits Chuck Jackson)
6197 Baby I Want To Marry You (CJ)/[Never Let Me Go - Chuck Jackson with a female trio] - ca 5/61
16236 Come Go With Me/Whispering Bells (KJ) - 6/61
10248 I Hear Bells (Wedding Bells) (KJ)/Don't Get Slick On Me (RL) - 9/61
10278 Kiss Me (RL)/Face The Music (WG) - 11/61
10304 The Big Silence (WG)/One More River To Cross (KJ) - 2/62
10341 Confession Of Love (WG)/Kilimanjaro (KJ) - 6/62
3501 Understand (BC) - Buddy Carle & Del Vikings/It's Too Late (MK) - Mary Kaye & Del Vikings - 8/62
Also on Fee Bee 3501
[no number] Understand (BC)/[Lackadaisical - Buddy Carle] - 12/62
Buddy Carle & Del Vikings
10385 An Angel Up In Heaven (KJ)/The Fishing Chant (Te Manu Pukarua) (ALL) - 12/62
10425 Sorcerer's Apprentice (KJ)/Too Many Miles (KJ) - 3/63
902 True Love (KJ)/Baby, Let Me Be (GB) - probably early 1963
(902 was released as by the "Original Dell-Vikings"
"True Love" is "How Can I Find True Love"; "Baby Let Me Be" is "Uh Uh Baby")
CLP 5368 Del Vikings And The Sonnets - 63
Includes four of the 1956 demo songs:
Come Go With Me
True Love (KJ)
There I Go
30112 A Sunday Kind Of Love (NW)/Come Along With Me (NW) - 5/63
133 Come Go With Me/Whispering Bells (KJ) - 11/63
FB-205 Come Go With Me/Whispering Bells (KJ) - 64
210 What Made Maggie Run (JB)/Uh Uh Baby (GB) - 64
743 We Three (KJ)/I've Got To Know (RL) - 7/64
DLP-3695 Come Go With Me - 66
Come Go With Me
I Want To Marry You (CJ)
What Made Maggie Run (JB)
Billy Boy (JB)
Don't Be A Fool (KJ)
Whispering Bells (KJ)
Down By The Stream (FJ)
Down In Bermuda
How Can I Find True Love (KJ)
When I Come Home (KJ)
Girl, Girl (CJ)
FB-206 Maggie (JB)/Down In Bermuda - 66
LP 109 The Best Of Acappella - Volume 7 - 67
How Do You Like It
Milk Shake Mama
JO JO (a Hollywood label)
107/108 My Body Your Shadow/Keep On Walkin' - 69
SCE-12367 Come Go With Me/[When You're Asleep - not the Del Vikings; see text] - 12/72
BIM BAM BOOM
111 Cold Feet (CJ)/I Want To Marry You (CJ) - 72
"Chuck Jackson & the Dell-Vikings"
113 Watching The Moon (CJ)/You Say You Love Me (KJ) - 73
"Chuck Jackson & the Dell-Vikings"
115 I'm Spinning (KJ)/Girl, Girl (CJ) - 73
227 Finger Poppin' Woman (CM)/Tell Me, Tell Me (RT) - 76
173 Hollywood And Vine (CC)/Welfare Blues (CC) - 6/77
BC = Buddy Carle; BW = Billy Woodruff; CC = Chuck Corby; CJ = Chuck Jackson; CM = Cleveland "Butch" Martin; CQ = Clarence Quick;
DL = Dave Lerchey; DW = Doug White; FJ = Frank Joseph; GB = Gus Backus; JB = Joey Biscoe; KJ = Kripp Johnson; MK = Mary Kaye;
NW = Norman Wright; RL = Ritzy Lee; RT = Robert Thompson; WB = William Blakely; WG = Willie Glenn
The Fee Bee/Dot group after Mercury won the lawsuit over the name. Star and Petite were Averbach labels.
CHECKER (Sonny Day & Versatiles)
886 Speedillac/Half Moon - 2/58
STAR (Jerry Sheely & Versatiles)
220 Love Only Me/It's All Over - ca. 58
PETITE (all leads by Chuck Jackson)
502 Willete/A Little Man Cried (this side is a Chuck Jackson solo, even though it says "Versatiles") - 59
The Versatiles, featuring Charles Jackson
502 Willete/Cold Feet - 59
Kripp Johnson's Versatiles, featuring Charles Jackson
The following side was scheduled for Petite 503, but it was never released (the flip would have probably been "Cold Feet"). "Watching The Moon" came out on Bim Bam Boom in 1973 as by "Chuck Jackson & Dell-Vikings."
Watching The Moon
1957 (orange label with bee - thin lines)
205 How Can I Find True Love/Come Go With Me
210 What Made Maggie Run/When I Come Home
210 What Made Maggie Run/Uh Uh Baby
214 Whispering Bells/Don't Be A Fool
218 I'm Spinning/You Say You Love Me
221 Willette/Woke Up This Morning (orange label without bee)
1958 (orange label without bee)
224 Down By The Stream/Margeritte
1959 (orange label with bee - thick/thin lines)
205 Come Go With Me/How Can I Find True Love
210 What Made Maggie Run/Down By The Stream
218 I'm Spinning/You Say You Love Me
221 Willette /I Want To Marry You
1961 (red label without bee - thick/thin lines
205 Come Go With Me/Whispering Bells
1962 (red label/gold font with bee - thick/thin lines)
902 True Love/Baby, Let Me Be
1964 (red label no bee)
205 Come Go With Me/Whispering Bells
206 Maggie/Down In Bermuda