Robert Pruter. Popular Music and Society. Volume 21, Issue 1. Spring 1997.
When Popular Music and Society came on the scene in 1971 it was paralleling a tremendous upsurge in another type of publication, the fanzine, and specifically the fanzine devoted to the history and remembrance of the vocal style of rock and roll/rhythm and blues called doowop. The doowop fanzines arose because they met a need for the fans of the music that was not being met by the mainstream press; that is, telling the story of the early days of rock and roll, relating the histories of doowop groups from that era, and surveying the collecting world surrounding the fandom for such groups. The fans of doowop were energized because they knew that the true story of rock and roll and doowop was not being told. And that story was that doowop groups constituted one of the main wellsprings for the rock androll revolution, a concept that seemed to elude most of the rock writers of the day.
What the late 1960s doowop fans had to face was a critical and cultural mainstream that was moving away from the milieu that gave rise to the original rock and roll. That milieu was largely blue collar and teen oriented, but as rock and roll evolved into rock music during the mid1960s the music previously of thought as being limited to working-class teenagers was increasingly drawing the interest of a more highly educated middle class. The infusion into the rock revolution of British invasion groups, such as the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, and the Dave Clark Five, whose members exhibited verbal wit and exuded intelligence, offered a type of rock and roll music that was fresh and exciting (a disproportionate number of British rockers came out of art schools). Also changing the whole cast of popular music was the wave of middle-class folkie performers, such as Bob Dylan and members of the Byrds, the Lovin’ Spoonful, and the Grateful Dead, who entered the rock field by electrifying their music.
Rock and roll was becoming more adult and more literate under the new rubric of “rock.” Of course the embarrassing music of the 1950s would not do. So as the middle-class kids reached college age and then adulthood, they shucked off the declasse blue-collar styles of the past to adopt a new form of rock music that was heavily influenced by folkie and fine art pretensions. In the late 1950s or early 1960s during their college years these students might have become fans of folk music or jazz, but by the mid-1960s rock and roll had become hip, and so they appropriated the new music as their own.
Joni Mitchell was at one time considered the “first lady of rock,” and her understanding of rock and roll history reflected the attitudes of the new middle-class followers of rock and roll when in 1991 she told Musician that doowop represented a “wave of superficiality [that] was followed by the more earnest sound of the folk boom, like the Weavers, Kingston Trio, Dylan” (Resnicoff 7). Mitchell’s assertion that her folkie favorites were “earnest” and that doowop was “superficial” is remarkable, to say the least. She obviously had no idea how doowop was likewise a folk form and that it was not a mere record company contrivance, but her views are shared by a large proportion of the educated middle class and people in her social element.
The new rock press was similarly a product of the educated middle class, and its interests did not normally encompass doowop. Thus when a doowop fan looked at the rock publications of the 1960s and 1970s, such as Rolling Stone, Crawdaddy, and Fusion, they were of virtually no value, because the interests of the writers and editors of those publications obviously came from a later historical era and a different cultural milieu. While they showed interest in such individual early rock and rollers as Chuck Berry, Fats Domino, Little Richard, and Jerry Lee Lewis, they saw little or no role for doowop groups of the first rock and roll generation. When these writers did look back at doowop in the earlier rock and roll era, they seemed more intent on finding the true auteurs of the group, usually in the member who composed or in the producer, than in analyzing the various vocal approaches of the groups. Also, because the vocal groups tended not to play instruments and had repertoires heavy on ballads and old pop standards, most later rock fans led by the rock critics tended to place the vocal groups outside the critical mainstream.
The one rock magazine that was an exception to this approach was Rock, a magazine published by Larry Marshak out of New York City. In 1971 its coverage on doowop concerts and record collecting was at its height, with regular features and columns on doowop. Marshak employed three rock and roll oldies columnists-Wayne Stierle, Roy Adams, and Lenny Goldberg-whose coverage was heavily slanted towards doowop groups. Another doowop writer for the magazine was Richard Horlick. But Rock was obviously an anomaly of the rock press, and in other parts of the country its heavy doowop coverage may have appeared to many readers to be nothing more than New York provincialism.
Thus alienated from the middle-class appeal of the British invasion groups, doowop fans sought to recapture the early days of rock and roll, when it was considered music for working-class youth and when vocal harmony groups were in the forefront. While lamenting the passing of that era, they sought first to revive and later to preserve interest in classic doowop in self-published amateur magazines that many now call fanzines (fan magazines). Thus, the discovery and research into doowop’s history and antecedents was only begun in the late 1960s by the followers (largely working class) of vocal harmony.
Before the late 1960s, the main publications that covered rhythm and blues and rock and roll were cheaply manufactured fan magazines of the 1950s concerned more with personalities and superficialities than with their history, influences, and styles. Thus, the original doowop researchers had to begin at square one, and because of the massive indifference of the rock mainstream they had to chart their own waters with their own publications.
Doowop Fanzines in the Rock and Roll Revival, 1969-1974 In 1971, when Popular Music and Society made its debut, the country was in the midst of a rock and roll revival, in which many performers of the 1950s were becoming the beneficiaries of an upsurge of interest in their music, by appearing in the many oldies concerts that were coming to the forefront, appearing on vinyl again, and seeing an uptick in their back catalog sales. There were also a few motion pictures that were released to exploit this interest, notably Sweet Toronto (1970), The London Rock and Roll Show (1973), and Let the Good Times Roll(1973). Doowop fanzines were also, in part, a product of the rock and roll revival.
Notable doowop fanzines of the revival era were Record Exchanger (1969-1983), R&B Magazine (1970-1971), Stormy Weather (19701976), Bim Bam Boom (1971-1974), and Big Town Review (1972). These were the first to carry detailed histories of the old vocal groups and to try to analyze what it was in each group’s sound that made their vocal harmony so appealing. The writers for these fanzines researched not only doowop but the various harmony styles that preceded it going back to the l9th century. The early research was most unsophisticated, but over the years it vastly improved as the doowop followers became better and more knowledgeable as researchers and writers.
Record Exchanger, the pioneer of doowop fanzines, was founded in 1969 in southern California by a transplanted New Jerseyite, Art Turco. From the start its focus was on the type of music that interested the East Coast fans rather than the West Coast fans. Its first issue featured the legendary deejay Alan Freed on the cover. His appearance on the cover was fraught with symbolic importance to the audience Turco was trying to reach-that is, the original fans of rock and roll who in 1955 were turned on to the music when Freed came from Cleveland to New York and swept the five boroughs of the city. On the cutting edge of that original rock and roll music were doowop groups, and in subsequent issues Record Exchanger did not disappoint with a steady diet of vocal group articles.
Record Exchanger was sometimes extremely erratic in its publication schedule, with three or four issues coming out in quick succession followed by a hiatus of a year or so. The format was solidly professional, but a little lacking in verve, and Turco tended to be a bit stingy on illustrations. Notable stories that came out were the first extensive career histories of the Clovers, Drifters, and Solitaires (all written by the New York team of Marv Goldberg and Mike Redmond and the Ravens (written by New Jerseyite Jack Sbarbori), and a three-part interview with New York record entrepreneur Bobby Robinson (conducted by Turco). The magazine ceased publication in 1983.
R&B Magazine was published in Los Angeles by record collectors Richard and Bob Hite, famed in the collecting world as amassers of old blues records, but better known in the rock world as members of the group Canned Heat. From the start of publication in 1969 under the name R&B Collector, the fanzine was heavily involved in covering blues and gospel as well as doowop, which distinguished it from the magazines founded by New Yorkers and New Jerseyites. R&B Collector heavily relied on the contributions of Barrett Hansen (who later achieved famed as Doctor Demento, deejay king of novelty records). Hansen was ensconced at the famed West Coast R&B label, Specialty, putting out reissues, and he provided much information gleaned from the files of the company. By October 1970, the magazine in a delayed issue that combined issues 4 and 5 had merged with a doowop fanzine, Quartette, published by Richard Horlick in San Francisco before folding after two issues. The merged issue to a new name, R&B Magazine. Speaking of folding, the first signs that a magazine is in danger is when it becomes slow in coming out and ostensibly “catches up” with a combined issue, something that subscribers always deplore.
The next issue of R&B Magazine was another hated combined issue, 6 and 7, and came out the same year that Popular Music and Society was born. Richard Hite promised in three different places in the magazine that it was not going under and would be around for years. Surely another ominous sign. Another issue appeared in the fall of 1971, issue 8, consisting mostly of discographies. The magazine’s last issue was in 1972.
In the summer of 1970, a Brooklyn record collector and superlative writer, Lenny Goldberg, introduced a newsprint fanzine called Stormy Weather, which was intended to be devoted to fans of doowop. Goldberg was perhaps the pioneer of doowop fanzine writing, when in the mid1960s he with Mike Miller introduced a mimeographed fanzine called Big Beat, named after the term Alan Freed and other 1950s deejays used to refer to rock and roll. Big Beat was almost entirely concentrated on research on doowop of the 1950s but its strength, at least retrospectively, was its contemporary coverage of black vocal groups of the soul era. Outside of the Motown groups, most of the music of such soul groups as the Whispers, Gifts, Commands, Metros, Superbs, and others who got so much play on black radio in the 1960s has been totally forgotten.
In 1970, however, when Goldberg introduced Stormy Weather, the East Coast was in the midst of a rock and roll revival era, which in that region of the country meant a heavy concentration on doowop groups. Thus the first issue of Stormy Weather was almost completely devoted to Q&A interviews with various group members who had attended the Rock magazine-sponsored “Original Rock & Roll Show” at the Academy of Music. The fanzine’s design was psychedelic with a surrealist cover that reflected countercultural esthetics at the time.
By the second issue, Goldberg had moved his base of operations to Oakland, California, and Stormy Weather sported a broader approach. Rock-folkie Ritchie Havens was the cover story, and other features included a story on bluesman Jimmy Dawkins, a Q&A with New York doowop deejay Gus Gossert, and a photo feature on Fortune Records (a Detroit ’50s label). In the letters column was a complaint by Chris Beachley, who owned an oldies record store in Charlotte, North Carolina, the center of “Beach Music” (rhythm and blues for white followers who frolicked on the beaches of the Carolinas). Beachley griped: “I can’t help but associate [Stormy Weather] with the hippie-underground style of publication (especially by the cover and when you print trash like what was in the column `Know the Enemy’)” (Beachley 2).
Goldberg replied, “We’re trying to make this magazine appeal to a wide range of people including long term serious record collectors as well as the drug/rock sub-culture people (freaks) who are too young to be hip to that great music we call ‘oldies’ . . . more than half the people involved with Stormy Weather, are in fact, hippies” (Goldberg, Stormy Weather [Oct./Nov. 1970] 2).
The uneasy mix of doowop and counterculture continued in subsequent issues of Stormy Weather. One of the most interesting articles was by Goldberg, on his previous experiences working at a record distributorship and the cutouts aspect of the business. By issue 5 the fanzine’s slogan was changed from “the magazine of rock & roll” to the “bay area’s rock & roll newspaper,” and amid the features on rockabilly and doowop and other oldies rock and roll coverage one saw stories on Sopwith Camel, Commander Cody, and Asleep at the Wheel. Issue 9, after a long hiatus, came out in 1975 and saw Goldberg now moved to Eugene, Oregon, with a concentration on oldies and the oldies collecting subculture.
A letter exchange in issue 9 gives some idea of what Goldberg was dealing with in the Bay Area. He and Carl Stotz had been broadcasting a rock and roll oldies show on KPFA in Berkeley, and of course their conception of rock and roll would involve a heavy playlist of doowops and rhythm and blues acts. G. Ewer in Berkeley wrote to say that what they were playing was not “solid rock and roll” and they were “polluting the airwaves” with “junk of the 1950s” and should get off the air (Ewer 14). Goldberg replied:
I’d like to know what this guy considers “solid.” This was another attempt by the Berkeley Communists to get Lenny & Carl off the air. There were constant complaints about us playing sexist records, racist records, complaints that we were apolitical. But the only station in the west (that I know of) that lets its Djs play Kid Thomas, Sonny Burgess, the Orioles, etc., has kept the show on the air, at least Carl’s still at it. Long live KPFA. (Goldberg, “Stormy Weather”  14)
The last issue of Stormy Weather appeared in 1976, with the peripatetic Goldberg now ensconced in Florence, Oregon. Much of the issue was given over to record sales lists. The issue was unillustrated and contained one of the first articles written by this writer. The article was a first-person remembrance of a soul radio station in Chicago, WVON, and some of it eventually appeared in my book Chicago Soul. In my amateurism I neglected to include my name on the top sheet of the article and so the article went uncredited. Stormy Weather was an interesting experiment, but it basically alienated both of the audiences it was trying to reach. The doowop subculture was comprised mostly of sons and daughters of blue-collar types, what later became known as “Reagan Democrats,” and the hippie subculture was comprised mostly of sons and daughters of the middle class and in tune to music that had literate lyrics, something that much of the doowop of the 1950s simply did not possess.
Into these crosscurrents of culture, making its debut in 1971 was not only Popular Music and Society but the highly esteemed doowop fanzine Bim Bam Boom. It was founded by Steve Flam, Bob Galgano, and Sal Mondrone in the Bronx, New York, and was apolitical and covered music that possessed sexist and racist lyrics. (One can imagine that the Cadets’ “Stranded in the Jungle” might be deemed racist by 1970s standards.) The fanzine came out of the borough that had given rise to a host of famous African-American groups (notably the Chords, Mellows, and Wrens) and Italian-American groups (notably Dion and the Belmonts, the Demensions, and the Earls). The first 24-page issue featured three modest features on New York groups (the Dubs, Cleftones, and Jive Five) and a bunch of columns, notably Lou Silvani’s column, “From the Square” (the first one dealt with doowop’s rarest record, the Five Sharps’ “Stormy Weather”), Tom Luciani’s column “Time Capsule” (the first one dealt with the history of his doowop radio show of the same name), and Sal Mondrone’s “Rare Sounds” column. Also included was a reprint of an Alan Freed playlist from 1956. This Freed inclusion, like the one in Record Exchanger’s debut issue was signaling to its readers what kind of rock and roll magazine they were getting. The reader knew that this magazine thus covered the original rock and roll that Freed brought to New York in 1955.
Bim Bam Boom by later fanzine standards provided a starvation meal, but by 1971 standards it was a banquet feast for doowop fans starved for information on their favorite groups and favorite era for rockand roll. With issue 5 Ralph Newman replaced Bob Galgano as one of the editors, and under his direction the fanzine became more slick and professional in appearance. It was the first and only doowop fanzine to be distributed on the newsstands in New York, a considerable achievement.
The magazine also tried to broaden its coverage beyond doowop groups, with articles on single artists and the rock and roll revival, but in the attempt made many readers unhappy, both old and new. A new reader, Wayne Jones, in issue 12, with Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers the cover story, complained about the amount of group coverage: “One thing I think you are lacking in your magazine is more articles on the real rock stars of the ‘SOs, such as Bill Haley, Buddy Holly, Bobby Darin, Paul Anka, etc.” (Jones 6). The following issue, with Ronnie Spector on the cover, veteran reader Susan Winson wrote a long and eloquent letter with a host of complaints:
What was it that made you decide to broaden your scope? In giving the publication a facelift, you have destroyed its features. I have nothing against specialization and I feel that the old collector-oriented style was better…. At the risk of sounding like a collecting elitist, I feel that Bim Bam Boom was too good to be read by people who will drop their “Music to Comb Your D.A. By” albums when the companies decide that the revival isn’t making enough cash. The magazine that once had “Rare Sounds” and other features of interest (Stierle vs. Horlick on bootlegging, for example) now caters to people who don’t know the Crows from the Crowns, and think that “Sincerely” was the first Moonglows’ record. This brings to mind an article from issue 7 called “Discollectors”-you couldn’t print it now since your support comes from so many . . . readers . . . who think Paul Anka articles are more interesting than the ones about the Castelles and Heartbreakers!” (Winson 7)
Winson’s letter appeared in the last issue of Bim Bam Boom. The fanzine failed to come out with a subsequent issue, leaving subscribers mystified as to the reason for its collapse. For years afterward Flam maintained privately that he would be coming out with a subsequent issue.
By the mid-1970s doowop collectors may have been served by fanzines, but they were being served poorly. Magazines would come and go, and subscribers took their chances. This writer recalls taking out a subscription to Big Town Review, which fizzled after only three issues in 1972. I felt burned at the time, but the subscription price in retrospect seems like a bargain-$5.00 for six issues. For in those three issueswhich averaged only $1.70 a copy-one could find a wonderfully evocative story on the Crows, who had gone done in history as recording one of the first “rock and roll” records, when their hit “Gee” crossed over onto the pop charts in 1954. Other stories of great interest were those on the Heartbeats, the Larks, and the Kodaks. Some issues were 64 pages long, so each issue presented considerable value. The magazine, headquartered in Flushing, New York, listed four editors (who were presumably co-owners)-Jeff Beckman, Hank Feigenbaum, Charles Greensberg, and Mike Rascio.
Goldmine-Doowop and Much More
In 1974, the world of doowop fanzines was revolutionized by the first record collector magazine that was put out on a professional basisthat is, consistently, and consistently on schedule. The magazine was called Goldmine, and it came out bimonthly in a tabloid newsprint format. Ironically, it was not a record collector who put the fanzine out but a film buff and a publisher of a pro wrestling magazine, Brian Bukantis. As he recalled to John Koenig on the fifth anniversary of the magazine:
At the time Goldmine began, I wasn’t interested in record collecting to any extent. A friend of mine, Russ Worthy, was collecting on a small scale at that time. We’d get together and he’d spin some really fine Fifties sounds . . . [and] we’d just have a good time listening to this incredible music! Russ realized my interests in publishing and print media in general, and he knew how fascinated I was by the whole publishing biz. He showed me the available print media for the hobby of record collecting. One magazine was from New York, the other from the West Coast. I said, “Wow, these are great!” Russ then told me, “Yeah, great, except they never come out on time . . . maybe two or three times a year . . . and they never answer your letters!” Right then and there, my mind started whirling. Any hobby you can name has [regular,] frequent publications, issued on a professional and regular basis. Why shouldn’t record collecting? Russ’s main concern was that he had sent an auction advertisement to one of the publications several months back, and had heard absolutely nothing despite repeated letters to the publisher! He explained the record auctions and how they worked. We mutually agreed that it’s sure be a novel idea if something was available on a regular basis for record collectors. Basically, that’s where Goldmine started . . . probably, if I remember correctly, to “Sunday Kind of Love” by the Harptones. (Koenig 12)
Bukantis and Worthy were listening to a doowop song as they hatched a plan for a magazine, but they envisioned a magazine that would reach all record collectors. The initial subscriber base was the doowop fans who had given support to Bim Bam Boom and the like, as Goldmine placed ads in Paul’s Record Magazine, Time Barrier Express, and other publications to generate subscribers. Bukantis also realized that a publication needed a strong advertising basis and concentrated on that aspect far more than the editorial aspect. The first four issues had no editorial content, just ads for record sales and auctions. With the fifth issue, Bukantis added some editorial content with two modest columns. Much of the editorial content was exceedingly poor in the early years of the publication. Bukantis’s attitude was to create a publication whose subscribers would first search the ads and then as an afterthought look at the editorial copy. Indeed, the editorial content was an afterthought.
Goldmine was truly a “writer’s magazine” in its early years. Anyone could send in something and it would get published. Bukantis, who was putting the publication together on his kitchen table, had no time to edit copy and no time to generate decent copy. Too many of the early stories were merely rewrites of promotion copy, and rarely did one see any original research. To see any articles based on interviews with the recording artist was unknown. This writer began writing for Goldmine in 1977 by sending small profiles on Chicago soul artists of the 1960s. Undoubtedly, few Goldmine readers were interested in obscure stories on Nolan Chance, the CODs, and the Vontastics, but Bukantis ran each monthly story of mine like clockwork. The haste in which he ran the stories was shown by the mass of typos and repeated lines in the copy. This writer was happy. I had just completed work on obtaining my master’s degree in history and was planning to write a book on the Chicago soul scene. The book eventually was published by the University of Illinois Press in 1991, but it would not have happened if I had not had a regular forum to publish my research. The pressure of coming out with an article once a month kept me moving.
Bukantis astutely realized that the value of never missing an issue and always coming out on schedule was most important in building a successful publication with a strong advertiser base. When advertisers and readers learn that they can always rely on a forum for doing business, then commerce can grow. Goldmine began with a modest schedule of coming out every two months, with the first issue a scant four pages. With issue 18 in September 1977, it became a monthly. Goldmine over the years built many successful mail-order businesses for many advertisers.
The next step in Goldmine’s growth came in 1979 when Bukantis finally handed over the editorial reins to a record collector in New York, Rick Whitesell. The new editor had a rare congenital disease, amyotonia, which keeps muscles from growing at the same pace as the rest of the body. Whitesell was wheelchair-bound and had difficulty performing many basic functions. He graduated from Marist College with two bachelor’s degrees, in history and in communicative arts, but was unable to obtain a job. His association with Goldmine began with an interview he had done on the song-humorist Tom Lehrer and which Goldmine ran in 1978. Said Whitesell, “I had seen [the magazine] since 1976, and noticed that they seemed to print virtually anything . . . so I wrote to the publisher and editor Brian Bukantis in hopes of foisting my Lehrer interview upon his unsuspecting readership” (Whitesell 13).
When Whitesell became editor he raised the editorial content of the magazine considerably, especially through his friendship with a writer on R&B from Milwaukee, Peter Grendysa. The publication became a forum for many outstanding profiles of R&B titans of the past and also a forum for the pre-doowop vocal group research that interested Grendysa and Whitesell. People with amyotonia are not destined to be long-lived, and Whitesell died in early 1981. Bukantis named a New York writer and frequent contributor to Goldmine, Jeff Tamarkin, as new editor. In 1983 Bukantis cashed in his poker hand, when he sold his brainchild to one of the leading publishers of collecting magazines, Krause Publications, in Iola, Wisconsin. At Krause, Goldmine became an even more professional publication, and began appearing semimonthly in 1984.
The magazine also grew away from its original base of doowop and early rock and roll fans. Over the years the stories have not only become better written and more sophisticated in conception, but the focus has shifted from the 1950s and 1960s to include many artists from the 1970s to today. This trend was accentuated in 1996 when Tamarkin was succeeded by Mike Metzger, whose interest in doowop was minimal. Metzger left in 1997.
Doowop Fanzines, 1974-1995
Although Bim Bam Boom bit the dust in 1974, its cudgel on the East Coast was taken up the same year by a bunch of fanzines devoted largely to doowop. One of the most interesting from a sociological (and perhaps psychological) standpoint, but hardly from a journalistic one, was a fanzine called Time Barrier Express. It was published by Bill Schwartz out of White Plains, New York, and its first issue came out in September 1974. The small, 5 1/2″ x 8 1/2″, publication was a crude and amateurish effort, filled with misspellings, typos, sentence fragments, muddy photos, and unaesthetic graphics and artwork. It had two things going for it-Schwartz consistently adhered to its 10-times-a-year schedule, and the magazine had what might today be called loads of “attitude.” In issue after issue in the commentary of Schwartz and of columnist Jack Parker Time Barrier Express avidly fought for the sound of doowop. Their rantings and ravings at record company “conglomerates” and mainstream radio about how they were supposedly suppressing the sound of doowop in favor of what the writers perceived as crap was juvenile and hilarious, and sometimes a bit paranoid-sounding.
Parker in particular reflected the feelings of many doowop fans in his complete intolerance of other music styles, as the following quote makes clear:
Then it happened, early in 1964, a defenseless United States was invaded by four huge insects from England that were too much for even “Raid,” and not even a token number of Doo-Wops made the charts anymore. The Doo-Wops were now underground. The Doo-Wop sound being put down now by the so called “in” people. (Parker, “Big Ripoff” 9)
Here’s Parker on one-time teen star Paul Anka, who got back on the charts with an antiabortion song, “Having My Baby”: Last for this month we’ll look at “Paul Ankles,” another one of those teenage dream boys of the late fifties and early sixties. This one seemed back then to have an incurable case of the hiccups or some rare tropical disease. He’s still around today minus the hiccups, the only improvement. Today he’s having babies in his records, some will love that, the birth control groups will steam and I’ll stay neutral on that controversial subject. If [the] record reaches India, their population will either double or they’ll declare war on us or both. (Parker, “Parkers Place” [May 1976], lO)
Parker defended his intolerance, saying:
At least the hard core collectors are honest with their feelings letting you know what they think where many of those into the contemporary thing will say “Everybody’s entitled to their own thing,” then in the next breath you hear, “Can’t have him in our circle because he likes those `oldies.”‘ (Parker, “Parker’s Place” [June 1975] 9)
Time Barrier Express’s favorite word was “conglomerate,” as the following from Parker demonstrates: Promotion is what makes a hit along with something else-people wanting to be in with the “in” thing and the fact that there are those narrow minded individuals who will put down anyone whose tastes are not “in.” The music industry today is controlled by three or four conglomerates and, it seems to be that almost everything that’s a hit or is played on any sizable commercial station is on one of these labels. (Parker, “Attention” 9)
Schwartz and Parker constantly called upon their readers to act as advocates for doowop, as Schwartz noted: “We must also keep writing and calling radio stations and record companies so that they don’t forget that we are out there still alive, well and we want our sounds, and that we are not a bunch of idiotic fanatics like they want to think we are” (Schwartz, “Editorial” 2). Parker in his typically scathing manner wrote: “To reach these conglomerates we must write and call. We must write to the bigwigs, the biggest wigs, the fattest, the baldest, and ones with the biggest cigars, the golf courses in their offices, let’s let them know we’re here and that we’re not going to take whatever crap they so desire to hand us” (Parker, “Attention” 15).
The pages of Time Barrier Express reveal a lot of class resentments. Parker, beating on the “conglomerates,” again whined, “The big rich conglomerates have millions of dollars to spend to keep their kind of thing going. The rich parents have thousands of dollars to spend buying their kiddies thousands of dollars of instruments and recording equipment. The rich own the radio stations. So where do we stand? Well, the rich would not be rich if it weren’t for working class slobs like us buying the stuff that they make” (Parker, “Rich” 17).
Although there’s enough in all these statements for a whole convention of shrinks, Schwartz and Parker in some weird, inverted way came close to a kernel of truth, but one ultimately eluded them. That is, American capitalism is designed to make money.
Fellow collector Stephen Bennett wrote a long sensible letter to Time Barrier Express trying to point this out:
Let me state at the outset that the record companies are involved in a business not a public service…. As group harmony enthusiasts it is important to realize that we are a minority albeit a vocal minority; but still a minority. To ask record companies to release R&B material [meaning their favorite doowop sounds] is to ask them to sustain a heavy business loss. To ask radio stations to play R&B sides is asking them to disregard the taste of a major portion of their listening audience. (Bennett 7)
Bennett went on to say how there was much that doowop fans could be thankful for-the amount of doowop music that was being made available to them on radio and on wax in the 1970s-and asked for toleration of other people’s tastes. For his pains he got anti-intellectual sarcasm from Schwartz, “Do you really dig . . . oops pardon us for not using a fancy word . . . does the appreciation of Rhythm and Blues harmony hold favorable status with you, or are you ashamed of the fact that you are an enthusiast of this music and hide in a closet to listen to it [?]” (Schwartz 8).
Should the concerns of Schwartz and Parker, because of their juvenile and exaggerated rhetoric, simply be dismissed? I think not. Over the years the mainstream press, as represented by such outlets as the New York Times and Rolling Stone, has systematically rewritten the history of rock and roll by largely excluding doowop as one of the factors in the music, particularly as it developed on the East Coast. Their views no doubt reflect their middle-class and upper-middle-class readership, but that readership is left, for example, with the false impression that blues was much more a part of early rock and roll than was doowop.
Time Barrier Express also had regular stories, of modest length, on various vocal groups. Most of the stories were poorly written; despite the hyperbolic, immature style of Parker, he was Time Barrier Express’s best writer. There were also columns devoted to discussions of favorite doowop groups, and a regular review column of various radio shows devoted to doowop. Schwartz never realized how lucky East Coast doowop fans were. Had he exhibited any awareness, he would have realized that other sections of the country could not boast a host of doowop radio shows and the existence of such fanzines as Time Barrier Express. Schwartz continued to publish Time Barrier Express to the end of 1976, when after his 20th issue he turned the magazine over to Ralph Newman, well known for his earlier association with Bim Bam Boom.
Newman took over the editorship of Time Barrier Express and essentially remade the magazine into a respectable publication that looked handsome, had high editorial standards, and provided outstanding feature articles. Newman undoubtedly brought to the fanzine some of the articles that had been sent to the now-defunct Bim Bam Boom. After three issues, he became publisher of the magazine as well. He then broadened the editorial coverage beyond doowop to cover rockabilly, soul, and 1960s rock, so that one saw articles on Carl Perkins, Sam & Dave, Major Lance, the Beach Boys, and Mitch Ryder. He still provided goodies for the doowop fans, with articles on the Sheppards, the Chips, and Stormy Weather. But the same problem that plagued Bim Bam Boom in its later years, ever greater infrequency of publication, began to plague Time Barrier Express. After seven issues under the aegis of Newman Time Barrier Express went under in 1980. Newman was never able to sustain a fanzine, nor was he ever able to adhere to a schedulebut he always put out a first-rate fanzine, with four-color covers and thick issues. Maybe his publications were too ambitious for the subscriber base.
Yesterday’s Memories, published by veteran doowop researchers Marvin Goldberg, Mike Redmond, and Marcia Vance from 1975 to 1977 in New York, was the best of the post-Bim Bam Boom magazines. The magazine was almost 100 percent devoted to coverage of vocal group histories, from the most obscure to the most famous. Some groups were so obscure (with only one record to their credit) that years later the principals of the fanzine still heard jokes about their story on the Ospreys, a group so unknown that even the bird for which they were named was unknown. Much of the interviewing was done by Marv Goldberg, who then usually gave the raw interview notes to Mike Redmond, Dave Hinckley, and Rick Whitesell to draft an article. The articles gave each group’s history in a dry factual style without placing the group in context and without stylistic analysis. And because Goldberg at that time did not tape interviews, the articles were rarely enlivened with quotes. There was an occasional analytical piece, such as the survey in issue 1 by Goldberg and Redmond of the black pop harmony sound of the 1950s.
The magazine introduced a new concept to doowop fanzine publication by advertising a modest quarterly schedule and then rigorously adhering to it. When the magazine folded after 12 issues, it shocked the collecting world by actually returning refunds to subscribers with uncompleted subscriptions.
A fanzine that resurrected the concept of the “fan” in fanzine was From Out of the Past, published by the husband and wife team of Steve and Arlene Coletti in New York from 1976 to 1977. The magazine arose out of a newsletter the couple had been putting out for a couple of years, and they decided to expand the concept into a magazine format. They had Suzanne Newman design the graphics and provide other technical help in putting together a magazine. She had done a first-class job for Bim Bam Boom and Time Barrier Express, but the Colettis could only afford a bargain-basement package. Thus, the magazine never looked like it was worth $1.00, even if the contents were first-rate. And they weren’t first-rate. The magazine’s first issue used all of its 24 pages to memorialize famed New York oldies deejay Gus Gossert, who had died in August of 1976. Most of the essays were personal messages by friends of little lasting interest. The next two issues, each only 16 pages long, provided some short features along with news items and gossip.
The tone throughout all the issues of From Out of the Past was exceedingly “in-groupy.” Each issue would be sprinkled with pictures of the Colettis socializing with group members and other fans. The fanzine, it appeared, was conceived as a forum for covering the fandom of doowop rather than doowop itself. There were few of the standard historical or review features that one could see in other doowop fanzines. Arlene Coletti’s story on the Monotones was typical. It was not strictly an overview of their career but an examination of the group as personalities in the 1970s. Regarding the lead member, Charlie Patrick, she related: “At 37 years old, he is married and the father of two children. His wife’s name is Aurelia and his son, Kyle, is 7. He also has an adorable little girl named Kendra, who is 3…. As to his hobbies, he’s very into philosophy, reading, chess, music (naturally) and athletics…. Charlie is very much a family man, and if you call him any night of the week, he’ll be home with his wife and children-they come before anything else in the world for him” (Coletti 5). Most of the columns and stories had a high ratio of first-person references, as though the person’s relationship to what he or she was discussing was as important as the subject itself.
Apparently few readers found such reportage related much to their interest in doowop, and after only four issues From Out of the Past went out of business. Ralph Newman told me the Colettis had only managed to pick up 70 subscribers before calling it quits.
Oldies dealer Roy Adams started Story Untold in New York City in 1977 and later moved the magazine to Florida as he followed the migration of many Gotham residents to the Sunshine State. The subject matter of Story Untold was mainly rhythm and blues (and early rock and roll) vocal groups, particularly those from the New York/New Jersey/ Philadelphia area. Each issue included at least two stories on oldies artists (such as the Four Fellows, Edsels, Fireflies, Roommates, and Angels), label discographies, a radio survey list, and stories on contemporary groups with the old sound. Occasionally the magazine would move beyond an artist profile and discography to present historical overview, as in issue 6, which contained Mike Jordan and Ken Berger’s essay on the beginnings of Top 40 radio. The principal negative of the fanzine was its rough physical format, especially the horrendous photo reproduction, which was often fuzzy, blotchy, and overly black. The last few issues, before its demise in 1986, were printed by photostatic process (Xeroxed) that gave better photo reproduction.
A curious little fanzine came out of Hartford, Connecticut, called Paul’s Record Magazine, was put out by Paul Bezanker from 1975 to 1978. It was especially good at providing stories on recording acts that came out of the Nutmeg State and was also especially good at providing discographies on labels. The magazine came out monthly at first, but after the first eight issues, the strain of running a one-man operation started to tell on Bezanker and then the infrequency began. The fanzine sported a handsome colored-matte cover, but inside photo reproduction was poor. Writers included some of the best in the oldies fanzine field, including Ed Engel, Marcia Vance, Bob Galgano, and Peter Grendysa. The following Paul’s Record Magazine cover stories provide some idea as to its approach and interests-the Wild Weeds (a Connecticut band), Buddy Holly, the Bel Aires (a Connecticut doowop ensemble), Del Serino and the Bowties, Jo-Ann Campbell, and Bobby Rydell. Nay Nassar had an always interesting column in which he reviewed old and obscure vocal group oldies.
But Bezanker could not sustain his publication. He began to resort to the bugbear of all subscribers, so-called “double issues.” He also switched to a bimonthly schedule, which he still found difficult to adhere to. After one particularly long spell between issues that gave rise to the usual rumors of the demise of Paul’s Record Magazine, the publisher wrote assuredly: “In reply to some of the doubters-this magazine is not on its last legs, but rather running stronger than ever!” (Bezanker 3). Paul’s Record Magazine ceased publication after its 16th issue, which was numbered 17/18. It featured Elvis on the cover.
It Will Stand was published by Chris Beachley of the Wax Museum record store in Charlotte, North Carolina, beginning in 1978. It was not strictly devoted to coverage of doowop, but rather a whole range of mostly African American music styles that appealed to fans of “beach music” in the Carolinas. Beach music is often perplexing to R&B fans outside the southeastern seaboard in that it covers rhythm and blues along a very narrow range of styles and artists-and this is the kickwith seemingly no common connection. It Will Stand covered five different varieties of R&B-1950s vintage rhythm and blues, 1960s Detroit soul, 1960s Chicago soul, 1970s disco, and white R&B cover bands. Much of the vintage R&B that got coverage was by the acts that recorded for Atlantic and for King/Federal. For example, there were stories in It Will Stand on Stick McGhee, the Drifters, Willie Tee, and the Cardinals (Atlantic acts); and on Earl Bostic, Freddy King, and the Dominoes (King/Federal acts). The common denominator of beach music is that it is mid-tempo, melodic, and bright and bouncy-and one could dance the shag to it. The shag was a slowed-down and smoothedup version of the jitterbug that beach music fans of the Carolinas devised to dance to their favorite R&B tunes.
Beach music was basically the third “b” to go along with the “beer and babes” college fraternity culture that spawned the whole beach music scene. It was this exceedingly middle-class and mainstream American scene that Chris Beachley was representing when he wrote his letter of criticism to Stormy Weather. Beach music fans tended to look upon long hair, drug use, and countercultural acting-out with such deep alienation that hippies might have come from another planet. In 1980, a bunch of supporters of the arch-conservative North Carolinian senator, Jesse Helms, invaded a rally held for the arch-liberal Massachusetts senator, Ted Kennedy, to listen to a Stevie Wonder concert. They thought they were listening to beach music, while the Kennedyites thought they were listening to a representative of a key segment of their voterbase.
Beach music developed in the late 1940s and early 1950s as a sort of Carolina version of rock and roll. Beach music fans, who are still strong in the area, do not care for slow doowops, ballads, slow blues, or southern style (or deep) soul. They would rather listen to Mary Wells than to Otis Redding. Thus, the coverage of doowop in It Will Stand had a peculiar slant unrelated to the rest of the country. Whereas fans on the northeastern seaboard opted for the ballad sides, the beach music fans opted for the jump sides. The magazine’s coverage of the Cardinals is instructive. The group was known for two big ballad hits, “Wheel of Fortune” and “The Door Is Still Open,” but beach music fans favored just one song. Beachley, who was co-author with Peter Grendysa, probably wrote the following comment: “For beach fans, the Cardinals have little to offer. It is a shame that the majority of the Cardinals’ output was ballads. They were a versatile group as shown with the beach classic, “Come Back My Love”‘ (Grendysa and Beachley 26). In the magazine’s coverage of the Penguins, whose “Earth Angel” is perhaps the most famous doowop in the history of the music, two “beach classics” are emphasized by author Tom Fields-“Ookey Ook” and “Baby, Let’s Make Some Love.” Beach music fans couldn’t care less for “Earth Angel” (Fields 14).
It Will Stand was prone, like most fanzines, to the great subscriber rip-off, the so-called “double issue,” as well as infrequent appearance. Beachley, tiring of the struggle to get the magazine out, sold it in 1985, while remaining editor. The new owners, however, could not make it work economically, and the last issue appeared in 1987.
This writer was a regular contributor to It Will Stand from 1980 until its demise, contributing a host of articles on Chicago soul music artists-most notably on the Radiants, Billy Stewart, Jerry Butler, Gene Chandler, and Major Lance. Since that time, beach music fans have lost much of their interest in 1960s soul music and have developed a preference for jump rhythm and blues of the 1950s and up-tempo blues of the present day. Like all music cultures, that of beach music is continually evolving.
Record Collector’s Monthly, published in Mendhem, New Jersey, was introduced in 1982 by Don Mennie as sort of a Goldmine style publication, primarily for collectors of original label ‘SOs rock and roll. It was published on newsprint and presented in a folded-over tabloid format. Mennie had considerable editorial experience, and from the beginning the writing was top-notch, the presentation most professional in appearance, and the reproduction of photos immaculate. The magazine at first stuck to its monthly publication schedule, but unfortunately-for reasons that mystify this writer-it did not grow. Mennie could not seem to attract ads and soon publication became more and more infrequent.
In editorial content Record Collector’s Monthy was solid. Peter Grendysa was a valued early contributor, and eventually George Moonoogian came on board with a regular R&B column. Every issue also featured a review and report by Laurie Larson on the United in Group Harmony Association (UGHA) doowop concerts. Record Collector’s Monthly became especially valued for its many features on white doowop groups by such writers as Bob Diskin and Ken Cohen, both of whom concentrated on New York groups, and by Robert Bosco, whose interest was Philadelphia groups. Also of particular interest was the work of Bob Skurzewski on the early rock and roll performers out of Buffalo and the western New York area. This writer contributed an extensive series of features on Chicago doowop groups, much of which became the basis for my book, Doowop: The Chicago Scene, which was published by the University of Illinois Press early in 1996.
Some valuable contributions to Record Collector’s Monthly came from Robert Stallworth, an African American medical doctor located in Monmouth, Illinois, who researched some of the local groups and recordings that came out of his hometown of Chicago. Stallworth was something of an anomaly in doowop research, because a peculiar facet of black popular music, whether jazz, blues, soul, or doowop, is that it has largely been left to white observers, many of them overseas, to develop magazines, draft liner notes, and write books explaining the importance and artistry of various black vernacular music forms. The output among blacks has largely been autobiographies by the performers and musicians.
After becoming increasingly erratic in putting out issues, Mennie was forced to suspend publication of Record Collector’s Monthly in the fall of 1993. He had put out 53 issues. As of 1996 he still had plans to resume publication, but it looks increasingly unlikely as each month passes.
Echoes of the Past, published out of Agawan, Massachusetts, was launched by Bob Belniak in 1987. Belniak received guidance and advice from Paul Bezanker, whose experience in putting out Paul’s Record Magazine proved invaluable. The fanzine has never been the most professional publication, with inept layout, poor photo reproduction, and typos and spelling errors, but over the years as Belniak has become more adept, the rawness of the early issues has been largely overcome. Photo reproduction, except for the covers, remain a problem, though. The Paul’s Record Magazine connection was maintained by the regular oldies review column of Nay Nassar, but the meat of every issue was one or two feature articles on doowop groups. The most frequent contributors were Carl and Nancy Janucek, from Pittsburgh, who have made it their career to document every musical act, primarily vocal groups, that has ever recorded in the Steel City. Since the suspension of publication of Record Collector’s Monthly in 1993, Echoes of the Past has benefited from the addition of George Moonoogian’s regular R&B column and on the feature articles on Philly groups by Robert Bosco. After more than 30 issues Echoes of the Past was still going strong in 1996. It cost $3.75 for a 32-page issue in 1987 and was a ripoff, but today at the same price but with more and better copy in each issue (still 32 pages), it is a bargain.
CAT Tales, launched in 1989, was published by Greg Milewski out of his home in Sterling, Virginia. He maintained a roughly bimonthly schedule through its five-year publishing history. It was even more raw than Echoes of the Past, more of a newsletter than a fanzine-and perhaps to more than one record label appeared to be a scam to obtain review copies. But it exhibited one appealing quality, tremendous heart. Milewski truly loved music of the 1950s, and although his first love was the solo rock and roll and rockabilly acts, he gave extensive coverage to the doowop groups. Most of the time the features were Q&As, but Milewski always managed to provide some new and fresh information, such as in his Q&A on Norm Fox and the Rob-Roys. Milewski, under the name of “Krazy Greg,” worked as a deejay on cable radio and cable television. The television show was an American Bandstand-style program that attracted a bevy of junior high school kids. High schoolers probably thought he was too weird and probably didn’t like the music he played.
Milewski, however, was a troubled individual and could never understand how the music he obtained so much enjoyment from could not be appreciated by others. He seemed bitter and disappointed that his personal crusade to expose the world to his favorite music was not bearing fruit as he had expected. His rantings sometimes sounded a lot like the people who put out Time Barrier Express in the 1970s. The following-liberally sprinkled with caps and exclamation marks in the style of a crank-was typical of the remarks expressed in his editorials: Hi all Rockin’ Cats lookin’ at a new century ahead while diggin’ the beat that some don’t understand. Screw ’em! CAT Tales unites all fans of the BIG BEAT who are NOT ALONE in loving the music! Don’t let MTV or trendies scare you! It ALWAYS comes back to our music! It’s hard being young in America today and understand the uninhibited joy of Little Richard screamin’ about `Long Tall Sally.’ All today’s so-called rebellious shit is just cuss words flyin’ bitchin’ and moanin’ about everything . . . or `art rock’ equatable to opera! Fuck Art . . let’s DANCE!!! Why are so MANY newer Rockabilly and Doo-Wop groups out there if nobody likes the shit! DON’T LET NON-BELIEVERS at work/school etc. tease you into goin’ along with them. DEFEND THE BEAT, don’t hide it! If the people you know don’t like it, the hell with ’em! I’m gonna keep rockin’ til I can’t rock no mo’ ! (Milewski 2)
In 1994, after Milewski put out his 25th issue in May, he committed suicide. He was only 27 years old.
In the summer of 1995, a voice from the past, Richard Horlick, put out his first fanzine since his two issues of Quartette in 1970. The fanzine was called Doo-Wop Magazine and was published out of Bear City, California. But Horlick seemed to lack any appreciation on how to launch a fanzine. It was presented as a one-off issue with no schedule promised. Instead he told his readers, while asking for subscriptions, that the success of the issue would determine if it would continue or not. Unfortunately, the 32-page issue was overpriced at $6.00, with only one original feature, on an obscure group called the Informers; the remaining features were reprints from 1950s magazines. His editorial set the tone:
This first issue of Doo-Wop Magazine is an experiment. Many years ago I published Quartette and R&B Magazine and there was an audience of discriminating record collectors that supported my efforts. Today, I’m not sure that anyone cares too much any more. There is very little vocal group harmony music being played on the radio or television and young people don’t know anything about music of any kind, much less “doo-wop” music. (Horlick 3)
He may be right; the mid-1990s does not seem a propitious time to launch a doowop magazine. The original audience for doowop-those who were turned on to the music when Alan Freed came to New York in 1955-is getting into their late SOs, and it is becoming increasingly clear that many of them have given up the hobby of record collection and are losing interest in the music. New fans for the music are few and far between.
Beyond the Doowop Fanzines
Meanwhile, the growth and success of Goldmine did not go unnoticed bv would-be competitors. There were several Goldmine-stele collector magazines that were started to directly compete against Goldmine, notably RAM, Record Spinner, and RPM. None were able to survive very long. Record Spinner lasted for precisely two issues. Finally, a publisher of price guides and former disc jockey Jerry Osborne started a competing publication that soon developed legs, the cleverly named Discoveries. Osborne worked out of Port Townsend, Washington, and had an editor in Annandale, Minnesota, Jon E. Johnson. Aside from the first few issues, it appeared that Discoveries for the most part was edited by Osborne himself in Port Washington, even though Johnson’s name remained on the masthead. The first issue came out in January 1988, as a bimonthly. By the fifth issue in October it had become a monthly.
Osborne tried to cover the entire breadth of music, even going back into the big band era, but editorial content was uneven. Osborne was stingy in paying writers, and many writers preferred to wait through Goldmine’s notorious backlog and get a decent payment than to write for Discoveries. The magazine also discredited itself by carrying on a juvenile feud with Goldmine (although the feuding was mostly one-sided on Osborne’s part).
After five solid years of publishing and 55 issues, Osborne sold Discoveries to Brian Bukantis, who had been itching to get back into publishing a record collector’s magazine after his no-compete clause had expired in 1988. Osborne had beaten him to the punch by launching Discoveries, forcing Bukantis to wait another five years. When Osborne approached Bukantis, the Michigan publisher jumped at the chance. His first issue appeared in January 1993, and four issues later he hired Wayne Jancik, a veteran rock music journalist, to be editor, working out of Chicago. Jancik brought a more consistent quality to the editorial output and provided a heavy concentration of coverage of 1950s and 1960s rock and roll and rhythm and blues acts. Each issued included at least two or three articles on doowop groups by Jay Warner, which were expanded versions of pieces that appeared in his Billboard Book of American Singing Groups (1992).
In the spring of 1994, Bukantis got an offer he could not refuse from the Landmark Publishing Group, which purchased Discoveries and placed the magazine with its Antique Traders Publications group out of Dubuque, Iowa. The new owners were inexperienced in putting out such a publication and soon hired John Koenig to serve as publisher. Koenig had many years of experience. He first worked with Bukantis in Michigan on Goldmine, and then after Bukantis sold Goldmine to Krause Publications, Koenig joined the new firm in Wisconsin to serve as advertising director. He eventually was appointed publisher but was forced out in a management shakeup. Koenig’s relationship with editor Jancik in Chicago did not last long-in the fall of 1994 Koenig removed Jancik and made himself editor as well as publisher. All editorial operations were moved to Waupaca, Wisconsin, and under Koenig’s direction, aided remarkably by his wife Anne’s design and layout work, the graphics and overall look of Discoveries improved considerably. Koenig continued Jancik’s strong 1950s-1960s emphasis and featured in each issue an article on a vocal group by longtime doowop writer Marv Goldberg. Koenig even put the doowop group the Dominoes on the cover of the October 1995 issue.
Goldmine, in the 1990s, under the direction of editor Jeff Tamarkin, was increasingly moving away from coverage of the 1950s and 1960s. The music of that era was not totally ignored, however. For example, Bobby Darin and Bobby Bland appeared on covers in 1995, but likely as not the cover that year would be on a much later act, such as Nine Inch Nails, Sonic Youth, Green Day, or Tori Amos. In the late 1980s Goldmine annually ran a doowop issue, but these were soon dropped. There were advertiser complaints over the doowop issue, not because they objected to a black group on the cover, but because by the late 1980s a doowop group was considered too obscure and remote for the buyers that the advertisers wanted to reach. Goldmine did not close its pages to doowop groups, but stories on such acts became increasingly rare as the trend in the magazine was to emphasize more recent acts.
Written research on doowop can also be found in the several membership organizations devoted to the perpetuation of doowop harmony, which have sprung up in the last decade or so. East Coast organizations include the United in Group Harmony Association (UGHA) in New Jersey and the Rhythm and Blues Rock ‘n Society, in Connecticut. UGHA is one of the most ambitious of such groups, and has sponsored monthly doowop shows for years. It even published a fine magazine for three issues, Harmony Tymes, which folded I’m told, because members attending the shows would pass by with barely a glance at the sale table where the magazine was stacked. Many East Coast fans of the music apparently were not interested in reading about it. Harmony Tymes was strong on editorial content and weak on advertising. Without the long lists of records for sale it was destined to fail.
Florida can also boast of such an organization, the South Florida Group Harmony Association (SFGH) formed by ex-New Yorkers and ex-New Jerseyites. In the Los Angeles area there is the Doo-Wop Society of Southern California (DSSC), headquartered in Seal Beach. These organizations usually publish newsletters, and sometimes magazines; they also present radio shows, and put on live concerts of revived vocal groups.
Overseas, research in vocal groups has been far less prevalent. The tradition to view rock and roll as much more of a rockabilly and a guitarand sax-dominated music led many foreign writers to overlook the vocal groups, whose ballad approach posed a barrier to aesthetic appreciation. Gradually, foreign writers, notably in Great Britain, began to warm up to the form, first by beginning to appreciate the many jump sides put out by 1950s vocal groups, and then to appreciate the ballads as well. Publication in the late 1980s and early 1990s of various stories on vocal groups, mostly by Seamus McGarvey in Blues & Rhythm: The Gospel Truth, Juke Blues, and the premier British vintage rock and roll magazine, Now Dig This, testify to the belated interest in vocal groups.
Blues & Rhythm: The Gospel Truth, a highly professional and welledited magazine, started out with a small, unimpressive 6″ x 8 1/2″ format, and by issue 19 had expanded to a 8 1/4″ by 11 3/4″ format, and has shown consistent improvement over the years. Since its founding in 1984 Blues & Rhythm: The Gospel Truth has, under several owners and editors, been a limited forum for doowop coverage. On the other hand, of all the fanzines discussed in this survey its coverage of gospel groups has been the most extensive as its subtitle testifies. It has carried out an ambitious ten-times-a-year schedule, and has for most of the time adhered to it. Blues & Rhythm has benefited from having a highly enthusiastic doowop fan on its staff, Tony Watson. The journal has done a thorough job of reviewing CD reissues of vocal groups, with most of the reviews written by Watson, but it has not opened its pages to featurelength articles on vocal groups. Watson had to place his article on the Ravens’ lead, Jimmy Ricks, with Goldmine in the United States.
Juke Blues was founded in 1985 by a group of blues lovers who had been associated with Blues Unlimited for many years, and their perspective was for many years narrowly focused on blues. The new magazine, consistent with its title, worked to achieve a little broader coverage to include some pieces on vocal groups as well as other types of rhythm and blues acts. Under editor Cilla Huggins, Juke Blues has limited its coverage to those vocal groups that exhibited a heavy gospel heritage or those groups that have possessed an aggressive and raw vocal approach. All the articles it has featured on vocal groups were written by Seamus McGarvey, who contributed stories on the Clovers, Cadillacs, and Five Royales. Huggins has worked to upgrade the quarterly with each issue, and by the time it featured the Five Royales in 1994 and 1995 in a twopart article she was able to accompany the article with extraordinary vintage four-color reproductions of photos of the group from a nightclub performance in the 1950s.
Now Dig This was founded by Trevor Caijo in 1983 to provide a forum for the long-time British obsession with 1950s rock and roll. For most of its early history, the magazine concentrated largely on the white southern and southern-style rock and rollers, such as Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Buddy Holly, and on black solo artists, such as Little Richard, Fats Domino, and Nappy Brown. Coverage of doowop groups was rare, and usually limited to the biggest acts, such as the Drifters and Clovers. The reviews of vocal groups reissues tended to be done by unsympathetic reviewers, whose unfamiliarly with the music and lack of insight were most evident. The British, in contrast to their American counterparts, favored the up-tempo jumps (which better fit their definition of rock and roll) and downgraded the ballads. Gradually, however, British tastes began to merge into some conformity with those in America, and they started paying attention to many more groups and started evaluating the ballad sides greater insight.
Many of the fanzine writings have filtered through to the general public via liner notes projects. There have also been several important books on doowop. They All Sang on the Corner, by school teacher Phil Groia, ranks among the best works on the subject. Largely centered on the vocal groups that arose in the various boroughs of New York City, the book provided the first in-depth analysis and history of a regional vocal group scene. Originally published in 1973, the book is a much improved revised version from 1983 is worth searching out. Another regional discussion of doowop can be found in Paul Lepri’s The New Haven Sound: 1946-76 (1977), which along with coverage of various self-contained rock bands, included extensive coverage of white and black vocal groups. Lepri’s presentation was undermined, however, by his unfortunate decision to cover the scene rigorously year-by-year.
An outstanding general work was Rhythm and Blues (1971), by Lynn McCutcheon, who largely concentrated on the principal vocal groups and provided an interesting sociological study of doowop as well as a history. His book was marred by a tendency to merely mention releases of innumerable vocal group rarities without any examination of the records’ import or lack thereof. Another fine work was Ed Engel’s look at largely Italian-American vocal groups from New York in White and Still All Right (1977). The publisher’s choice to run only half of Engel’s profiles in a far-too-thin book deprived the reader of what could have been a near definitive resource.
The research output among blacks has largely been autobiographies by the performers and musicians, so when a book by an African American appeared that provided analysis and historical perspective it was a real treat. That book was Du-Wop (1991), by the former doowop singer Johnny Keyes. Although Keyes’s career in music has been fairly extensive, doowop fanatics knew Keyes primarily as the lead singer of the Chicago vocal group the Magnificents, of “Up on the Mountain” fame.
At first sight the 100-page book appeared to be a memoir of the singer’s career in the music business; it was not. Keyes, using his personal experiences as the model, wanted to provide universal insights about what it was like to be in a doowop group during the 1950s. He systematically explained how a doowop group practiced, how it prepared for a recording session, how a recording session went, what a tour was like, what a break-up was like, along with many other similar explications. This proved to be an invaluable ethomusicological contribution to doowop research, which so far has largely concentrated on writing histories of groups.
In 1992 there appeared the most definitive history of doowop groups in Jay Warner’s massive The Billboard Book of American Singing Groups: A History 1940-1990, in which the bulk of the coverage was devoted to 1950s rhythm and blues vocal groups. The presentation was not in straight narrative form. Rather, each decade was introduced with several pages of general history followed by dozens of individual group histories in alphabetical order.
The year 1992 also saw an analytical examination of doowop music from Anthony J. Gribin and Matthew M. Schiff in their important work, Doo-Wop: The Forgotten Third of Rock ‘n Roll. The writers presented an original thesis that doowop should not be considered a part of rhythm and blues, but one of three subcategories within rock and roll. Doowop thus constituted the “forgotten third of rock androll,” while the other two-thirds are “rhythm and blues” and “rockabilly.” Gribin and Schiff provided a useful and enlightening breakdown of stylistic shifts of the music from its emergence in the early 1950s to its revival in the early 1960s, plus a cultural examination of doowop groups (the latter largely from secondhand sources).
The year 1996 saw the publication of this author’s Doowop: The Chicago Scene, the first book on doowop from a university press. It was largely built from articles that I have published in the last two decades in various fanzines, but it also introduced a lot of new material, including examinations of the groups in the context of radio, nightclubs, theaters, and the street culture of Chicago. And most important, the book tried to reclaim for doowop groups their place in rock and roll history.
The Impact of Doowop Fanzine Research and Writing With more than twenty years of comprehensive research and writing on doowop on both sides of the Atlantic-in fanzine articles, liner notes, and books-has any of it in the past decades made any kind of impact on the broader cultural and musical landscape? As a whole, I think not much. It’s as though the doowop writers and researchers have been talking to themselves for the past decades. They have not seemed to be able to persuade the cultural mainstream that doowop was an important part of the rock and roll revolution and deserves to be respected as such. At least, that is what we must conclude from what has been written about doowop in the leading publications of the mainstream press.
In 1993, the New York Times published a feature article by Martin Gottlieb called “The Durability of Doo-Wop.” The author did an excellent job of surveying the early 1990s subculture of doowop appreciation, but his essay began with remarks about how the music has not received respect. “Doowop is so submerged in caricature and deprecation,” said he, “that shadings of Rodney Dangerfield color its very name” (1). Gottlieb noted that “it was easy for teen-agers to emulate, but it also led to broad parody, mediocrity and to many critics, a creative cul de sac that caused pop music to move on without it.” He added that “nostalgia played a huge part in bringing most people back to doowop” (25). Gottlieb also noted that “the doowop world exists in a string of specialty record shops, private record collections, small club dates and gatherings of devotees sprinkled through the blue-collar byways of the New York region. . . [and includes] an audience made up heavily of classic Reagan Democrats-white, middle-aged, working-class men-and the black performers most fans venerate” (25).
A favorite way mainstream critics have condescended to doowop is to connect it with nostalgia for the innocent 1950s, as though there could be no musical reasons why the genre could be valued. Gottlieb was careful in his essay to moderate his associating doowop with nostalgia by quoting Donn Fileti of one of the leading doowop reissue companies, Relic Records, who asserted that the doowop fandom went beyond wistful longings for the past to a “genuine appreciation for the music” (Gottleib 25). But when Rhino released the three-CD Doo Wop Box in 1994, and both Rolling Stone and the New York Times felt compelled to take note of it, the nostalgia connection was sadly resurrected. The Stephen Holden essay in the Times concentrated on the form as a source of nostalgia, referring to “nostalgically potent” songs and asserting that “doowop has long been synonymous with ’50s nostalgia.” He chose to end his essay on a diffident note, by raising about “Earth Angel” the question, “Is it one of the most magical records ever made-or is it just nostalgia?” (Holden 26). Holden tried to be respectful to the music, but as a middle-class critic, he had to show a distance from it as well, and what better way than to connect doowop with nostalgia?
In 1994 a reactionary (in the best sense of the word) as well as compelling critique of popular music, Hole in Our Soul by Martha Bayles was published. Bayles makes a strong argument that much of the rockmusic in the last couple of decades has deteriorated as it has departed from the verities of its vernacular roots, primarily African American music. Given her stance, one would expect that she would provide some acute recognition for the strong role of doowop and vocal groups in 1950s music. Alas, such is not the case. Her empirical knowledge is slight as her insights are deep. For instance, she lists the three main strains of R&B as being “jump bands,” “largely Los Angeles-based club combos,” and “Chicago blues bands.” As an also-ran she lists doowop groups, whose style she saw as being “taken directly from the black church” (Bayles 111). There are two principal mistakes here. One, her assertion that doowop was basically of church origin shows she hasn’t listened to much of it and has read virtually no literature on the subject. Only a minority of the vocal groups of the 1950s could be said to have come directly from the church. Two, her view that Chicago blues had a greater role in R&B than doowop groups is not supported by a look at the national charts. Being extremely generous, by placing all of John Lee Hooker’s records in the Chicago blues category, for instance, I came up in my survey of the charts in Joel Whitburn’s Top R&B Singles with 121 “Chicago blues” entries and 342 doowop and vocal group entries (excluding girl group and soul records) from 1945 to 1963 on the Billboard R&B charts.
If one checks the type of sources Bayles uses one can understand where she went wrong. Apparently assuming that the most authoritative critical writing on popular music appears in the New York Times and Rolling Stone, her research relies almost exclusively on those two sources to the exclusion of generally more knowledgeable and insightful sources such as Gribin’s and Schiff’s Doo-Wop and other books on doowop, as well as the research writings in such journals as Goldmine, Record Collector’s Monthly, Juke Blues, and Bim Bam Boom. An investigation of Popular Music and Society would not have hurt, either. In 1975 Jonathan Kamin wrote an article for the journal that discussed the large role of doowop in the popular music scene, but the term “doowop” was not in great currency then and he referred to it as “ghetto-sound vocal groups” (179).
The bias against doowop is reflected in the difficulty of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum has had in getting famous doowop groups into its hallowed halls. As of this writing, in 1996, only one true doowop group has made it into the Hall of Fame, Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers, and that is only because the nominating committee after years of fruitlessly sending the name to the voting members, only to have the group rejected, chose to vote the group directly in. The committee passed a rule that after seven rejections by the voting membership the committee can vote the candidate into the Hall of Fame. Other vocal harmony groups in the Hall of Fame are the Orioles, Drifters, Coasters, and Platters (the Orioles were directed voted in as a roots artist). The Flamingos and the Moonglows clearly belong, and possibly in the next few years the nominating committee will see fit to induct them, but their entry will not come from the 800 some voting members. In 1995 both the Flamingos and the Moonglows were nominated but the membership did not see fit to put them high on their ballots.
In the early 1990s, as a new generation of rock writers has come to the forefront, there has developed a subtle and insidious rewriting of rock and roll history. The younger generation has no recollection of the term “rockaballad,” a common term from the 1950s to describe a doowop in the context of rock and roll, and is erasing doowop from the rock and roll canon. One Chicago rock critic, David Rothschild of NewCity, reviewed Gribin and Schiff’s Doo-Wop in 1993, and referred to doowop as music that preceded rock and roll (maybe he thought rock and roll began with the Beatles, as many radio stations increasingly think). He obviously did not read the book. This reminds us that the earliest rock and roll generation grows old not only internally but also in respect to the younger rock and roll generation. As social critic Alan Wolfe has eloquently put it, “if we try to make declarations about the world, we discover that it no longer belongs to us. The young steal from us our sense that we can say something important. They do not read the books we write; they do not even read the books we read” (Wolfe 38). The claims of the old doowop fans to the music’s importance, it appears, will increasingly fall on younger and ever more deaf ears.
Occasionally in this vast desert of mainstream cultural commentary, one can find an oasis of appreciation and knowledge of doowop. The popular music critic of the New York Daily News, Dave Hinckley, for example, regularly has reviewed doowop releases and has written appreciative obituaries when group members die (his very early experience of writing for Yesterday’s Memories obviously played a role in his interest). Also, the national political/cultural columnist Jeff Greenfield occasionally has mentioned his appreciation of doowop harmony groups.
What is clear after more than 30 years of research and writing by fans of doowop is that this despised vernacular form was on the cutting edge of the rock and roll revolution. Much educational work needs to be done to restore doowop to its rightful place in the history of rock and roll and to overcome the tremendous force of mainstream criticism that not only keeps doowop out of the cultural consciousness but ignores the voices of those who appreciate and defend doowop. These voices may not continue much longer, as most doowop fans are now in their SOs and fast losing their youthful enthusiasm for the music. Their body of work, nonetheless, remains for the academic community to build on, perhaps in such publications as Popular Music and Society.