Another of the great Vee-Jay groups was the Kool Gents. Not as prolific as the El Dorados, the Dells, or the Spaniels, they still managed to turn out an impressive body of music for us to enjoy. What's more, they ended up giving us Dee Clark.
The Kool Gents began life as the Golden Tones, in 1951, at Marshall High School in Chicago. The original members were Cicero Blake (lead), James Harper (first tenor/baritone), Howard McClain (second tenor), Teddy Long (second tenor/baritone), and John Carter (bass; obviously not the high tenor of the Dells). They admired, and sang the songs of, the 5 Royales, the Clovers, and the Highway Q.C.s.
By 1953, however, Blake, Harper, and McClain were out and had been replaced by Delecta "Dee" Clark (lead tenor), John McCall (lead tenor), and Doug Brown (second tenor).
Dee Clark was the neighborhood hero, having been a part of the Hambone Kids (along with Sammy McGrier and Ronnie Strong). In 1952, when Dee was 13, they released "Hambone," on Okeh, backed up by the Red Saunders Orchestra (with the additional voice of Dolores Hawkins). "Hambone" featured a "juba" beat, which is probably more familiar to you as the beat in "Bo Diddley."
Dee spent a lot of time at station WGES, where he met a DJ named Herb Kent (who styled himself "The Kool Gent"). One day Dee brought the Golden Tones in for an audition hoping that Kent would manage them (or at least allow them to call themselves the "Kool Gents"). Kent turned down managing them for lack of time, but said it would be all right if they used his name. (Not a bad move on the part of the Golden Tones. Especially given the odd spelling, fans would naturally assume that they were managed, or at least backed by, the popular jock.) [Aside from the Kool Gents, Herb Kent also gave us "feznecky," a word that he probably made up and used on the air (as in "she's a cute feznecky with a mellow fern"). The word must have been big in Chicago: There was a 1964 instrumental called "Feznecky" by J.C. Davis on Chess and a 1965 Dukays' tune called "Mellow Fezneckey," on Jerry-O.]
Kent did take time out of his busy schedule to get them an audition with the complete management staff of Vee-Jay. They sang for Vivian Carter (the "Vee"), her husband, Jimmy Bracken (the "Jay"), and her brother, Calvin Carter (the a&r man). The result? A contract for the Kool Gents.
They went home to practice and finally, on November 3, 1955, returned to record four songs at Universal Recording Studios: "Do Ya Do" (led by Teddy Long), and three tunes fronted by John McCall: "Crazy Over You," "You Know," and "This Is The Night."
However, Vee-Jay was in no hurry to release anything by the guys. It wasn't until February 1956 that the first Kool Gents record was released: "This Is The Night"/"Do Ya Do."
With a record out, their appearances should have gotten better, but, without a manager, their dates were booked by Vee-Jay's promotion department. Almost all of their gigs were in the Chicago area (including Gary, Indiana). They appeared as part of a "Jam With Sam" dance (held by WGES DJ Sam Evans) on April 7, at the Madison Rink. Others on the bill were Ray Charles, the Moroccos, the Daps, the Diablos, Lou Mac, and Eddie Johnson's Orchestra. In June, they were part of the Bluesorama show at the Trianon, hosted by WGES' Richard Stamz. This time they shared the stage with Ray Charles, Eddie Boyd, the 5 Chances, and Muddy Waters.
"This Is The Night" was finally reviewed on June 23 (both sides receiving "good" ratings). Other reviews that week went to the Cleftones' "Can't We Be Sweethearts," the Teen Queens' "Billy Boy," Shirley & Lee's "Let The Good Times Roll," the Heartbeats' "People Are Talking," the Orioles' "Happy Till The Letter," the Empires' "Don't Touch My Gal," the Bop-Chords' "Castle In The Sky," the Robins' "Merry-Go-Rock," and the Rip-Chords' "Let's Do The Razzle Dazzle."
In July of 1956, the Kool Gents recorded four more songs: "I Just Can't Help Myself" (John McCall and Dee Clark), the almost unbelievably beautiful "When I Call On You" (Dee Clark), "I'm Gonna Be Glad" (John McCall), and "Just Like A Fool" (Dee Clark). That same month, Vee-Jay issued "I Just Can't Help Myself"/"You Know," but they weren't reviewed.
1956 was an election year, and Vee-Jay put together "The Convention" for the Kool Gents. They probably were inspired by the Democratic National Convention being held in Chicago that year. The record takes you to the floor of the convention of the "Association For The Preservation Of Rock And Roll," which nominates "Ellnis Presney" to run for president. The record not only has the Kool Gents, but also the voices of anyone who was handy that day, including a&r man Calvin Carter and general manager Ewart Abner.
Recorded on August 21 (four days after the Democratic convention ended), "The Convention" was the only song done by the group that day. It was rushed out in the last week of that month. For the flip, they used an old master by Big Jay McNeely, "Jay's Rock." In keeping with the election year theme, they decided to scrap the "Kool Gents" and call the group the "Delegates." Ewart Abner gave the usual spiel: "We figured to follow the Democratic convention in Chi and hit the West Coast during the Republican conclave. We're pressing and shipping as fast as we can, 'cuz this will be a smash." I'm not sure how he figured his dates. The Republican convention was already under way in San Francisco when the song was recorded (it ran from the 20th to the 23rd). While both conventions would have been fresh in everyone's mind, it seems far-fetched that the record could have been pressed and shipped fast enough to take advantage of the San Francisco hoopla.
The trades tended to agree with Abner, giving "The Convention" an "excellent" rating on September 15. (Remember that trade paper reviews weren't for the general public; they were meant to get distributors to order a record based on the reviewer's assessment of how well it would rake in money.) Actually, everyone loved it except the public. Other reviews that week were for Clyde McPhatter's "Thirty Days," the Platters' "You'll Never, Never Know," the Dells' "Oh What A Nite," the Six Teens' "Send Me Flowers," the Barons' "Don't Walk Out," and the Chestnuts' "Forever I Vow."
In November, the Kool Gents were part of a Thanksgiving dance at the Trianon. Hosted by McKie Fitzhugh and Big Bill Hill (both DJs on WOPA), the rest of the cast included the Magnificents, the Calvaes, the Clouds, Otis Rush, and the orchestras of Willie Dixon and Al Smith. On December 24, they appeared at the Regal Theater along with Muddy Waters and Al Smith; the MC of this charity function for needy kids was DJ Sam Evans.
The Kool Gents had their third and last session on February 19, 1957. The four tracks they recorded were: "Mother's Son" (Dee Clark), "Gloria" (Dee Clark), "June" (John McCall), and "Kangaroo Hop" (Dee Clark).
Why did they record "Mother's Son"? This song had originally been done by the De Bonairs, on the Ping label, back in November 1956. Since that time, Vee-Jay had acquired Ping, and decided to have the Kool Gents cut a version of the song.
"Mother's Son" and "I'm Gonna Be Glad" were released in April 1957. For whatever reason, Vee-Jay decided to retain the Delegates name. However, the group only appeared as the Kool Gents, not as the Delegates.
The almost-demise of the Kool Gents came when Ewart Abner decided that Dee Clark would make a fine soloist (turns out he was right). He talked Clark into it, but neglected to tell the rest of the group. Next thing they knew, "Gloria" and "Kangaroo Hop" had been issued, on Vee-Jay's Falcon subsidiary in May, but the only name on the label was Dee Clark's. In a way, it was a good thing: "Kangaroo Hop" was rated "fair" and "Gloria" received a "poor" rating. It's probably better not to have your name associated with songs like that. Other records reviewed on June 17 were: the Del Vikings' "Cool Shake," the Del Vikings' "Whispering Bells," the Pearls' "Ice Cream Baby," the Moonglows' "Please Send Me Someone To Love," Huey Smith & the Clowns' "Rockin' Pneumonia And The Boogie Woogie Flu," and th e Strollers' "Baby Eyes."
[Dee Clark went on to have a string of hits on Vee-Jay: "Nobody But You," "Just Keep It Up," "Hey Little Girl," "How About That," "Your Friends," and, of course, "Raindrops."]
The Kool Gents were mad. Very mad. But a lot of things were coming together at once. It seems that friction had developed between Pirkle Lee Moses (lead of the El Dorados) and the rest of his group. This led to Jewel Jones, Louis Bradley and James Maddox leaving Pirkle Lee behind.
So we've got a lead singer without a group and a group without a lead singer. Everybody see what's coming here? Vee-Jay, quite logically, stuck them together, telling them that, since the El Dorados were a more popular group than the Kool Gents, they'd now be getting better bookings and earning more money. Pirkle Lee Moses thus joined forces with John McCall, Douglas Brown, Teddy Long, and John Carter to form the new El Dorados.
On November 6, 1957, they recorded four songs that the Kool Gents had been practicing: "Oh What A Girl," "Lights Are Low," "Why Must I" (led by John McCall), and "Always My Love" (also John). On January 11, 1958, there were another three: "Boom Diddie Boom," "3 Reasons Why," and "Lord Knows I Tried."
"3 Reasons Why" and "Boom Diddie Boom" were paired for a January 1958 release, but nothing much happened with them.
In February, the new El Dorados appeared at the Apollo Theater, with John Lee Hooker, Frankie Lymon, the Rays, the Playmates, the Hollywood Flames, and Jimmy Reed. After this, they (and Hooker) were off to the Royal in Baltimore and then on to St. Louis.
The last El Dorados Vee-Jay release was issued in December 1958: "Lights Are Low," coupled with "Oh What A Girl." Once again, there was no sales action. After this, Vee-Jay dropped them and the group fell apart.
Meanwhile, Ewart Abner was proved correct as Dee Clark's solo career took off. He had hits on Abner/Vee-Jay with "Nobody But You" (1958), "Just Keep It Up" (1959), "Hey Little Girl" (with its juba beat; 1959), "How About That" (1960), "Your Friends" (backed by the Dells; 1961), and "Raindrops" (1961).
John Carter tried to keep things going by forming a second Kool Gents group. John McCall was still there as lead; the others were Danny "Blinky" Edwards (first tenor) and Eugene Huff (tenor/baritone). They had no recordings, but stayed together until around 1965.
The El Dorados name was dormant for a decade, until, in 1969, two different groups emerged. Pirkle Lee Moses joined two former members of the Moroccos: Melvin Morrow (tenor) and George Prayer (bass; aka "George Kemp"). They churned out "In Over My Head" and "You Make My Heart Sing," released on the Torrid label in July 1970.
The second group was started by John Carter. The other members were Lee Toussaint (lead), Spencer Goulsby (first tenor), Eugene Huff (baritone), and Willie Williams (guitar). This aggregation had two records issued on the Paula label in the early 70s.
Later on, Pirkle Lee Moses and John Carter combined their groups (to make it somewhat less confusing for El Dorados' fans, no doubt) for a while. But by 1979, Pirkle Lee was gone and John Carter's group then consisted of Eugene Huff, Spencer Goulsby, Robert Goulsby (lead), and William Goulsby (second tenor).
Pirkle Lee Moses got another group together in 1987 to record a couple of sides: "Ease The Pain" and "Remember Sherrie." These were released, as by the "Fabulous Eldorados" (one word), on the Delano label. The other members were Norman Palm (tenor; of the Pastels on United), Larry Johnson (tenor; of the Moroccos), Eugene Huff (baritone), and original El Dorado Richard Nickens (baritone/bass).
The Kool Gents were capable of turning out some wonderful music. It's a shame that Vee-Jay didn't work as hard to promote them as it did to separate Dee Clark from them.
Special thanks to Mike Sweeney and Frank Pellicone. Discography courtesy of Ferdie Gonzalez.
173 This Is The Night (JM)/Do Ya Do (TL) - 2/56
207 You Know (JM)/I Just Can't Help Myself (JM/DC) - 7/56
UNRELEASED KOOL GENTS
Crazy Over You (JM)
When I Call On You (DC)
[Dee Clark re-recorded this song for the flip of "Nobody But You"]
Just Like A Fool (DC)
[This appeared on Dee Clark's You're Lookin' Good, Vee-Jay LP-1019 - 1960]
212 The Convention (all)/[Jay's Rock - Big Jay McNeely] - 8/56
243 Mother's Son (DC)/I'm Gonna Be Glad (JM) - 4/57
FALCON (subsidiary of Vee-Jay) - only credits Dee Clark
1002 Gloria (DC)/Kangaroo Hop (DC) - 5/57
263 3 Reasons Why (PLM)/Boom Diddle Boom (PLM) - 1/58
302 Lights Are Low (PLM)/Oh What A Girl (PLM) - 12/58
UNRELEASED El DORADOS (second group)
Always My Love (JM)
Why Must I (JM)
Lord Knows I Tried (PLM)
100 In Over My Head(PLM)/You Make My Heart Sing(PLM) - 7/70
367 Since You Came Into My Life (LT)/Looking In From The Outside (LT) - 71
369 Loose Booty, Part 1 (LT)/Part 2 - 72
DELANO (Fabulous Eldorados)
1089 Ease The Pain (PLM)/Remember Sherrie (PLM) - 5/87
JM = John McCall; DC = Dee Clark; TL = Teddy Long; PLM = Pirkle Lee Moses; LT = Lee Toussaint