BARRY LEVINE: Rockers play musical chairs


The Ames Brothers (Special photo)

EDITOR’S NOTE: This the first of a two-part series. Part 2 will appear on March 30.

Remember when we were kids and we played a game called musical chairs either in gym class or at parties?

During the past 60 years, rock ‘n’ rollers have played musical chairs, switching groups or going from a group to solo act.

Here are some of the rockers who played musical chairs primarily during the 1950s.

The Ames Brothers were arguably the nation’s most popular group from the late 1940s until the beginning of the modern rock ‘n’ roll era in 1955. The Massachusetts quartet first hit the charts in 1949 with “You, You, You are the One.” Then in 1950, they had with two huge hits – “Rag Mop” and “Music! Music! Music.” The Ames Brothers continued to produce Top 10 hits during the 1950s with “The Naughty Lady of Shady Lane” in 1954, “It only hurts for a Little While” in 1956, and “Tammy” and “Melody D’Amour” in 1957. The group, which disbanded in 1963, had 49 chart hits.

Ed Ames, the youngest of the four brothers, left the group in 1960. After appearing in several Broadway shows, he moved to TV, co-starring in “Daniel Boone” with Fess Parker from 1964 to 1968. He had four hits during the mid-1960s with “Try to Remember,” ”My Cup Runneth Over,” “Who Will Answer?” and “When the Snow is on the Roses.”

Earl “”Speedo” Carroll helped form and then served as lead singer of The Cadillacs, a renowned Doo-Wop group during the 1950s. The Cadillacs, who were one of the first groups to use choreographed moves during their performances, scored with “Gloria” in 1954, “Speedo” in 1956 and “Peek-A-Boo” in 1959.

Carroll left the group in 1958 and, in 1960, joined the Coasters, rock ‘n’ roll’s comedy group, replacing Cornell Gunter, the lead singer.

The Champs had one of the biggest hits in 1958 when the instrumental “Tequila” rode the top of the charts for five weeks. That was the Los Angeles based group’s only Top 25 hit. Nine months later, Jimmy Seals and Dash Crofts joined the group and remained with the Champs until 1965 when they formed the singing duo Seals and Crofts.

Seals & Crofts produced five Top 20 hits — “Summer Breeze” in 1972, “Hummingbird” and “Diamond Girl” in 1973, “I’ll Play for You” in 1975, “Get Closer” in 1976 and “You’re the Love” in 1978.

The Flamingoes, a Chicago based sextet, was one of the premier Doo-Wop groups of the 1950s and early 1960s. The group scored with “I’ll Be Home” in 1956, “Lovers Never Say Goodbye” in 1958, “I Only Have Eyes for You” in 1959 and the Sam Cooke penned song “Nobody Loves Me Like You Do” in 1960.

Two of the Flamingoes defected by taking different routes. Nate Nelson, an original member of the Flamingoes, left in 1965 to join the Platters. Tommy Hunt joined the group in 1956 as a replacement for Zeke Carey, an original Flamingo who was inducted into the military. Because of philosophical differences, Hunt left the Flamingoes in 1960 and worked as a solo performer. He released 16 singles, none of which reached the Top 40.

The Tarriers, a New York folk group, had two Top 10 hits in 1956, “Cindy, Oh Cindy” and “The Banana Boat Song.” Those were the trio’s only Top 40 hits.

Alan Arkin left the group in 1957 to concentrate on an acting career. Arkin, who won an Oscar in 2008 for “Little Miss Sunshine,” starred in a plethora of major films including “The Russians are Coming,” “Catch-22” and “Glengarry Glen Ross.” Erik Darling, another original Tarrier, joined the Weavers, the premier folk group of all time, in 1958, replacing Pete Seeger. Despite being a Weaver, he continued to perform with the Tarriers until November 1959. He left the Weavers in 1962 and formed the Rooftop Singers, a folk group. The Rooftop Singers first hit, “Walk Right In” in 1963, was No. 1 for two weeks.

Billy Ward & His Dominoes were one of the more successful R&B groups of the early- to mid-1950s. A native of Savannah and trained at the famed Julliard School of Music, Ward formed the group in 1949 and they had two of their biggest hits with “Sixty Minute Man” in 1951 and “Have Mercy Baby” in 1952. They also had a pair of Top 20 hits in 1957 — “Star Dust” and the Hoagy Carmichael classic “Deep Purple.”

Two of the group’s lead singers, Clyde McPhatter and Jackie Wilson, left to have Hall of Fame careers. One of the most imitated R&B singers of the 1950s, McPhatter formed the Drifters in 1953 and he remained with them until his release from the military when he went solo, recording such big hits as “Treasure of Love” in 1956, “A Lover’s Question” in 1958, “Lovey Dovey” in 1959 and “Lover Please” in 1962. Wilson departed the Dominoes in 1957 and went solo, producing six Top 10 hits — “Lonely Teardrops” in 1958, “Night” and “Alone at Last” in 1960, “My Empty Arms” and “Baby Workout” in 1963 and “Higher and Higher” in 1967.

Barry Levine writes entertainment stories for The Albany Herald. He can be reached at dot0001@yahoo.com.