Notebook Cover

  The Jumping Jacks/Romeos

By Marv Goldberg

based on interviews with Eli Spillman
and James Little

© 2002, 2009 by Marv Goldberg

You wouldn't expect to find many Rhythm & Blues groups coming out of Winston-Salem, North Carolina. The most famous, of course was the 5 Royales (who have even had a street named after them). A couple of the members of the Casanovas also called Winston-Salem home. Another of the local groups was the Jumping Jacks (later to become the Romeos).

The Jumping Jacks were friends from the Boston section of North Winston-Salem. Organized by bass (and ukulele player) Daniel McGill, they first began singing together during World War 2 (around 1942-43). The rest of the members were: Eli Spillman (tenor), James Little (baritone), and Frank Wilson (baritone). There was a wide disparity in ages, from Eli (18) to Daniel (in his 30s). Daniel not only functioned as bass, but as the group's manager. An unofficial fifth member was Frank's brother, baritone Jesse Wilson, who filled in whenever someone couldn't make an engagement (however, there were only four voices at any given time).

Because of the antics of the group while performing the jive songs they loved, they decided on the name "Jumping Jacks." The two biggest influences on the group were the Ink Spots and the Mills Brothers.

While they mostly just got together on weekends to practice songs that Daniel had written, they also played the usual local theaters and clubs. Two of these theaters were the Lincoln and the Lafayette; the Jumping Jacks did well on their amateur shows. They also played the Bowman Gray Stadium.

Somewhere around 1951, pianist Clyde Hines (a good friend of Daniel's) joined the group. He would be with them on and off for the next couple of years.

The Jumping Jacks Finally, after having been together for about 10 years, they decided to stop just singing around the neighborhood and escalate their career. Daniel took a trip to New York and investigated record companies. Finding some interest on the part of Bess and Ike Berman, at Apollo records, Daniel then had the rest of the group come up to audition.

The sole Jumping Jacks session took place, in New York, on April 27, 1953. They recorded the pretty "Do Let That Dream Come True" (led by Eli), "Why Oh Why" (Eli), "Julocka-Jolly" (Frank), and "Long-Haired Raggedy Rascal" (Eli). Clyde Hines played piano on this session.

"Julocka Jolly," a song about liquor, was a term they made up themselves. The odd "Long-Haired Raggedy Rascal" was the story of a guy who is extremely annoyed (rightly or not) by the mere existence of someone who's probably his rival.

"Do Let That Dream Come True" and "Why Oh Why" were issued in May, 1953, as the first release on Apollo's new Lloyds subsidiary. The record was well-received in its review the week of June 20, 1953. Other records reviewed that week were: Sugar Ray Robinson's "Knock Him Down Whiskey," the Royals' "Get It," and Wynonie Harris' "The Deacon Don't Like It." The Buys of the Week were the Crickets' "I'll Cry No More" and the Flamingos' "If I Can't Have You."

The record, as would be expected, did well locally, where it was played by DJ "Daddy-O" on WAAA. At some point, the guys also did live radio shows on both WAAA and WSJS. However, Apollo failed to promote the record, and the Jumping Jacks never toured.

When the record failed to take off nationally, the guys started to look at their image. They decided that they wanted to be taken more seriously for their vocal talents, rather than their comedic antics. Therefore, sometime in early 1954, they changed their name to the Romeos. (At least this left the field open for the Jumping Jacks groups that popped up on Bruce, One-O-One, Capitol and Decca later in the 50s.) Around this time, pianist Clyde Hines left the group.

Since Daniel lived on the same street as the 5 Royales, the two groups would practice together, each trying to outdo the other.

Their only session as the Romeos took place on July 16, 1954, at which time another four songs were recorded (all led by Frank Wilson): "I Beg You Please," "Love Me," "Somebody's Been Plowing My Mule," and "Oh Baby Oh."

In August 1954, Apollo announced that it had signed the Romeos, which it characterized as "a new group." If the guys wanted to start over with a new image, that was all right with Apollo! "I Beg You Please" and "Love Me" were released the same month, this time on the Apollo label itself.

The record received mediocre reviews the week of September 18, 1954. Also reviewed that week were the Spiders' "The Real Thing," the Chords' "Bless You," the Hawks' "Give It Up," the Heralds' "Eternal Love," the Diablos' "The Wind," the Du Droppers' "Boot 'Em Up," and the Native Boys' "Native Girl."

This record, too, failed to sell. And finally, internal dissensions caught up with the Romeos. Some of the guys drifted into gospel, and the Jumping Jacks/Romeos were history.

What happened? According to James Little: "We had good harmony, but we didn't have any good gimmicks to go with the songs." All the songs they sang had been written years before by Daniel McGill and weren't up-to-date. In the era of the raunchy material being turned out by their neighbors, the 5 Royales, "the songs were too old-fashioned." It's a shame that Apollo couldn't have promoted them more, but at least we have the gem of the Jumping Jacks' career: "Do Let That Dream Come True."

Special thanks to Hattie Spillman and Pat McGill.


LLOYDS (The Jumping Jacks)
101 Do Let That Dream Come True (ES)/Why Oh Why (ES) - 5/53

            Julocka-Jolly (FW)
            Long-Haired Raggedy Rascal (ES)

APOLLO (The Romeos)
461 I Beg You Please (FW)/Love Me (FW) - 8/54

            Somebody's Been Plowing My Mule (FW)
            Oh Baby Oh (FW)

LEADS: ES = Eli Spillman; FW = Frank Wilson.

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