Not one, but two Pastels groups graced the 50s. One (on Argo) had hits, one (on United) didn't. One spawned a lead singer who went on to have a hit of his own; the other didn't. Still, both stories are worthy of being told.
The lesser-known of the two R&B groups that shared the name "Pastels" was the first to use it. Unfortunately, this Chicago group only left us with a single record: "Put Your Arms Around Me."
Around 1954, Fred Buckley formed the original Pastels from neighborhood friends: Fred Buckley (lead), Vernon Thomas (first tenor), Trey Clark (second tenor), Charles McKnight (baritone), and Pettis Williams (bass). They didn't last all that long, with Thomas, Clark, and Williams leaving within months.
But Fred Buckley and Charles McKnight weren't going to give up that easily. Fred recruited Norman Palm (first tenor, whom he had met in the National Guard), Robert Randolph (second tenor), and Charles Williams (Pettis Williams' brother; bass).
The Pastels were adept at imitating the styles of other popular groups, as well as creating their own. Their repertoire spanned R&B, blues and pop tunes; these included "Moonlight In Vermont" and "September Song." Norman Palm recalled that the Pastels rehearsed an R&B version of "Over The Rainbow" long before the Moroccos did theirs.
Around September 1955, Leona Lee, a teacher at Corpus Christi High School, was auditioning several groups at a Chicago recreation center when she heard the Pastels and offered to take over their management. She was responsible for bringing them to Leonard Allen's United Records, a Chicago-based independent label, which had previously scored with "Mary Jo," a huge smash for the Four Blazes in 1952.
At the Pastels' first session, on October 19, 1955, they recorded "Bye Bye" and "Goodbye," which United, for whatever reasons, chose not to release.
They returned to the studio on November 23 to record two more songs. A tune entitled "Boom De De Boom" had been brought in from New York for Vee-Jay's El Dorados to record, but since they were out of town at the time, it was given to United and the Pastels ended up recording it first (the El Dorados finally waxed it, but that wasn't until January 1958). (This really makes little sense. If the El Dorados weren't around, it seems to me that Vee Jay had enough groups around to find someone to record it.) The other song was a ballad called "If You Put Your Arms Around Me."
The record was released in December, and "Boom De De Boom" was the side that initially got the airplay (on WHFC). But then listeners wrote in to request the flip be played, too. Thus, "If You Put Your Arms Around Me" became popular as well (and was reissued a few weeks later with the slimmed-down title "Put Your Arms Around Me.")
The disc was reviewed on January 7, 1956, along with the Platters' "Tell The World" and the Mints' "Busy Body Rock."
The record's main value to the group was that it helped them get gigs. The Pastels appeared at Barbara's Playhouse, in Gary, Indiana, as well as a number of establishments in Chicago: the Club DeLisa, the Cotton Club, the Park City Bowl, the Casino, and the Trianon. At Park City, on 63rd Street and South Parkway, the Pastels did a show with the Clovers and the Drifters. There was also Barbara's Playhouse (in nearby Gary, Indiana), where they appeared with the Dells and the Spaniels.
Although most of their work came from a grueling schedule of one-night stands, the Pastels worked full-time as singers.
When the time came to draw up a new contract with United, label owner Leonard Allen introduced the Pastels to Julius Collins. "He [Allen] talked to everyone and said he wanted Collins to be the new lead," said Palm. "We grumbled and we griped. Fred Buckley said he would not be a barrier to the future success of the group and voluntarily stepped aside and took himself out of the group." (Note that Charles McKnight claimed that it was Leona Lee who brought in Collins.) At around the same time, bass Charles Williams left, to be replaced by Jerry Mills.
Strangely, considering that, by all accounts, Collins' voice was far superior to Buckley's, United didn't seem to be in any hurry to record the Pastels again, After a while, with nothing happening, Collins drifted away, and the group got Claude McCrae as their new lead.
As it turned out, the Pastels never recorded again. Leona Lee's husband didn't like the idea of his wife being in the company of five other men, and he had her retire from the managing game. Since Allen had been dealing with the Pastels through Lee, her exit ended the group's recording career. (Actually, this really doesn't say much about the dedication of the Pastels; they could have easily gone back to Allen themselves or tried to get another manager.)
With all the upheavals and disappointments, the group continued on for about two more years. According to Norman Palm, some of the members of the group got inflated ideas of their own importance, and ensuing arguments brought about the Pastels' demise around 1958.
Robert Randolph and Normal Palm performed for a while as the Randolph Brothers, but nothing ever came of it.
At this point, Norman joined the Fabulous Cry-stals, who recorded "Ringa-Ringa-Doo-Twist" and "Left Front Row" for Delano around 1961. He recalls the other members as having been: Lara Rodriguez, lead; Eddie Cherry, second tenor; Louis Young, bass; and a baritone remembered only as Herbert.
Claude McCrae, the Pastels' final lead singer, eventually ended up with the Dukays and Charles McKnight became a gospel singer. Starting in the 70s, Norman Palm joined with Pirkle Lee Moses in the restructured El Dorados (bet they fought over who would lead "Boom De De Boom"), and remained with them through the 90s. Fred Buckley passed away in July 2002.
196 Put Your Arms Around Me/Boom De De Boom - 12/55
Patty (demo tape)
My Little Girl (demo tape)
Narsarssuak, Greenland is cold. If you happen to find yourself there, anything you can do to take your mind off the cold helps. Four young men in the Air Force decided to sing together and wound up with a hit record.
DiFosco (Dee) Ervin (lead), Richard Travis (first tenor), Tony Thomas (second tenor) and Jimmy Willingham (baritone; brother of Gus Willingham, one of the original members of the Cadillacs) called themselves the Pastels and performed in Air Force talent shows beginning in 1954. Things got warmer when they were all transferred to Washington, D.C., where they sang at local USOs and airmen's clubs. When they participated in Tops In Blue (a yearly talent show held by the Air Force) at Mitchell Air Force Base in 1957, they decided to find a company to record them.
In July 1957, they auditioned for Malcolm Newkirk of Central Records, who sent out a press release that they'd been signed to a seven-year contract. For whatever reason, nothing ever came of this.
Then they tried Hull Records, auditioning for Bea Caslon. The song they sang was a number that Dee had written: "Been So Long." Bea liked them and made a few changes to the tunes; bandleader Teacho Wiltshire was brought in to do the arrangements. The Pastels were on their way. The other tune they worked was called "My One And Only Dream."
"Been So Long" and "My One And Only Dream" were released in November 1957, on Hull's Mascot subsidiary. The record was reviewed on December 2, 1957, along with Fats Domino's "The Big Beat," Sam Cooke's "For Sentimental Reasons," the Dominoes' "My Proudest Possession," Chuck Willis' "Betty And Dupree," the Chantels' "Maybe," the Falcons' "Now That It's Over," the Cadets' "Ring Chimes," the Cadillacs' "Buzz-Buzz-Buzz," Andre Williams' "The Greasy Chicken," and the Enchanters' "Mambo Santa Mambo."
Just as the record was hitting the charts, the guys started being discharged from the Air Force (Dee was the last to get out, in February of 1958).
When "Been So Long" showed signs of taking off, Hull leased it to Chess Records. "Been So Long" was reissued, on Chess' Argo subsidiary, in December 1957. (All of the Pastels' subsequent records would come out on Argo, but all recording was done for Hull.)
The Argo re-release was reviewed on January 13, 1958 (with "Been So Long" getting a better rating than before - it helped to have a big company behind you). Other reviews that week went to Clyde McPhatter's "No Love Like Her Love," the Penguins' "Be My Lovin' Baby," the 5 Royales' "Dedicated To The One I Love," the Orbits' "Mr. Hard Luck," and the Rajahs' "Shifting Sands." On February 17, "Been So Long," was listed as a Tip in New York and Chicago.
On the strength of "Been So Long" (which eventually reached #4 on the R&B charts and #24 on Pop), the Pastels did extensive touring, appearing throughout the south - Louisiana, Florida, Mississippi and North Carolina. In Florida they worked a week at one spot and then didn't get paid (an all-too-common occurrence). They drove 400 miles to an engagement in Kansas, only to have it cancelled by a tornado warning.
In early March 1958, they appeared on a Georgie Woods' Show at Philadelphia's Uptown Theater, along with the Chantels, Donnie Elbert, Chuck Berry, Little Joe & the Thrillers, the Heartbeats, the Hollywood Flames, the Strollers, the 3 Playmates, Ted Taylor, and the Doc Bagby Orchestra.
On March 14, the Pastels began a week at the Apollo Theater, along with Bill Doggett, Little Willie John, the Deltones, and Lee Diamond & the Upsetters.
Then they found themselves part of an Alan Freed tour, called the "Big Beat Show." This extravaganza ran from March 18 through May 10, and also featured Jerry Lee Lewis, Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly & the Crickets, Frankie Lymon, the Diamonds, Billy and Lillie, the Chantels, Dickie Doo & the Don't's, Jo-Ann Campbell, Larry Williams, Screamin' Jay Hawkins, and the Sam Taylor Band. The show kicked off as the "Easter Jubilee" at the Brooklyn Paramount. Then it was off to Hartford, Philadelphia, Syracuse, Buffalo, Troy, Grand Rapids, Cleveland, Canton, Columbus, Windsor (Ontario), London (Ontario), Toledo, Flint, Cincinnati, St. Louis, Tulsa, Oklahoma City, Wichita, Kansas City, Omaha, Minneapolis, Chicago, and Fort Wayne.
The Pastels' second record was "You Don't Love Me Anymore," backed with "Let's Go To The Rock & Roll Ball," released in April 1958. It was reviewed on May 12, along with the Chantels' "I Love You So," the Belvederes' "Let's Get Married," the 4 Palms' "Jeanie, Joanie, Shirley, Toni," the Guytones' "Baby I Don't Care," and the 5 Masks' "Polly Molly."
On August 23, the Pastels appeared at the Charlotte (North Carolina) Coliseum. Emceed by Zeke Manners, Jerry Lee Lewis headlined, along with Bill Haley & the Comets, Lavern Baker, Bobby Freeman, Lee Allen, the Gladiolas, and Dave "Baby" Cortez.
When "You Don't Love Me Anymore" didn't make any waves, their third Argo release, "So Far Away" (backed with "Don't Knock") became an attempt to recapture the sound of "Been So Long." It was released in October 1958 and reviewed on October 20. Other reviews that week went to the Valiants' "Frieda, Frieda," Richard Berry's "Besame Mucho," and Jimmy Jones & the Pretenders' "Blue & Lonely."
Although "So Far Away" never became a hit, it was listed as a Tip in Newark on November 17 and, on the strength of it, the Pastels were booked into the Apollo again. Their week began on October 31, 1958, and this time they shared the boards with Larry Williams, Ed Townsend, the Teenchords, John Bubbles, and the Hines Kids. Frank Schiffman, Apollo Theater owner, recorded his impression of their performance: "Not very exciting. Just a run-of-the-mill group"
Finally, in early 1959, the Pastels disbanded. A lack of work, no record company interest, and the members wanting to return to their homes in different parts of the country served to break up the group.
Dee Ervin, being from New York, stuck it out and recorded on his own for a succession of labels. It finally paid off in 1963 when, as "Big Dee Irwin," he hit it big with the old 1944 Bing Crosby tune, "Swinging On A Star" (with Little Eva in the background). This resulted in a nine-month tour of England, where he met the Beatles and the Rolling Stones and saw the direction that R&R music was to take for the remainder of the 60s.
Dee recorded throughout the 60s and was also a songwriter who composed for Ray Charles, Arthur Prysock, Little Esther, Isaac Hayes, Sonny Stitt and Bobby Womack. In 1976, as "DiFosco," he even had a disco release on the Roxbury label: "Face To Face." DiFosco "Dee" Ervin died of heart failure on August 27, 1995.
MASCOT (SUBSIDIARY OF HULL)
123 Been So Long/My One And Only Dream - 11/57
ARGO (SUBSIDIARY OF CHESS)
5287 Been So Long/My One And Only Dream - 12/57
5297 You Don't Love Me Anymore/Let's Go To The Rock & Roll Ball - 4/58
5314 So Far Away/Don't Knock - 10/58
How Can I Thank You
I Wish I Had A Money Tree
Oh Me Oh My
HULL (DEE ERWIN)
729 I Can't Help It (I'm Falling In Love)/Rubin Rubin - 59
738 Let's Try Again/'Tis Farewell - 60
BLISS (DEE ERWIN)
1003 Someday You'll Understand Why/Anytime - 61
DIMENSION (BIG DEE IRWIN; * = with Little Eva)
1001 Everybody's Got A Dance But Me/And Heaven Was Here - 62
1010 Swinging On A Star */Another Night With The Boys - 63
1015 Happy Being Fat */Soul Waltzin' - 63
1018 Skeeter/You're My Inspiration - 63
1021 The Christmas Song */I Wish You A Merry Christmas * - 63
1028 Heigh Ho */I Want So Much To Know You - 64
20th CENTURY FOX (BIG DEE IRWIN)
418 - Donkey Walk/Someday You'll Understand Why - 63
ROULETTE (DEE ERWIN)
4596 Discotheque/The Sun's Gonna Shine Tomorrow - 65
ROTATE (BIG DEE IRWIN)
851 I Wanna Stay Right Here With You/You Satisfy My Needs - 65
853 Follow My Heart/Stop Heart - 65
FAIRMOUNT (BIG DEE IRWIN)
1005 Sweet Young Thing Like You/You Really Are Together - 66
ASTRA (DEE IRWIN)
1024 I Can't Help It/My One And Only Dream [the Pastels track] - 66
PHIL-LA (BIG DEE IRWIN)
303 Better To Have Loved And Lost/Linda - 67
POLYDOR (BIG DEE IRWIN AND SUZIE [Maria Pereboom])
??? Ain't That Loving You Baby/I Can't Get Over You - 68
IMPERIAL (DEE IRWIN)
66295 I Only Get This Feeling/Wrong Direction - 68
66320 I Can't Stand The Pain/My Hope To Die Girl - 68
IMPERIAL (BIG DEE IRWIN AND MAMIE GALORE)
66334 By The Time I Get To Phoenix/I Say A Little Prayer - 10/68
66359 Day Tripper / I Didn't Wanna Do It, But I Did - 69
66420 Ain't No Way / Cherish - 69
2 Sunshine Love/You Saved Me From Destruction - 71
SIGNPOST (DEE ERVIN)
70009 Darling, Please Take Me Back (Stereo)/Darling, Please Take Me Back (Mono) - 72
ROXBURY (DEE ERVIN)
2020 You Broke My Face/Face To Face - 76 (as DiFOSCO)
2027 You Broke My Face/ Face To Face - ca. 5/76 (as DEE ERVIN)
2033 The I Love You Song/I Can't Get You Off My Mind - 76 (as DEE ERVIN)
20th CENTURY FOX (DEE ERWIN)
2382 The I Love You Song/Ship Of Love - 78