Making Your Memories with Rock & Roll and Doo Wop
In the mid 1990’s I attended a concert in Glendale, Ca. that headlined the world-famous Platters. Knowing that the Platters had been around since the late 50’s I was somewhat surprised at how “young” they were. I attributed their somewhat unorthodox style to their longevity. Bringing a long playing 33 1/3 RPM album of theirs, I looked at the photos. The people on stage did not even remotely look like those on my favorite album. What was going on here?
As the music industry grew to gigantic proportions, so did the complications it created. By the late 1990’s, many of the original artists passed away or left the industry. The legal rights to their names, the groups, and their music many times went into limbo or were seized for monetary gain. One could pick up a trade journal and find a group called the Platters, Drifters, Coasters, Flamingos or Olympics playing in two or three venues across the country simultaneously.
Back-up musicians would laugh when one of the phony groups did not make it to perform. The fake “Coasters” who had just performed, changed out of their red spangly suits into blue outfits and reemerged as the Drifters!
It is done cleverly. There is usually at least one old guy in the phony group, so the audience can say: that must be the Real One!” For example; there are only two remaining members of the original Drifters, Bobby Hendricks and Charlie Thomas. I once saw Charlie Thomas attending a concert. He went on stage, grabbed the mic and let the audience know: “This is NOT the Drifters!” He pushed them off stage and caused havoc for the promoters.
At another concert, a group calling themselves the Shangr-La’s (“Leader of the Pack”) tried to gain legal rights to the group name and bragged about their history together on stage. One was barely out of diapers and introduced her Mom, implying that she was both a member of the original group (which she was not) and also her mother (which she was not).
If we plunk down our money to see a group perform, it should have something to do with the group. Somebody must really have been a part of “Yakety-Yak,” “Charlie Brown,” or “Poison Ivy.” Yes, the lead singers may have passed away, (Ben E. King, Carl Gardner and Tony Williams come to mind) but at least one member should be an original.
Many of the original artists who were not able to protect the rights to their music decided to do something about it. As chairman of the Truth in Music Committee at the Vocal Group Hall of Fame, Jon Bauman, better known as “The Bowzer,” was a longtime member of the Doo Wop group Sha Na Na. He provided the impetus to pass a law to protect the consumer from imposter groups that tried to pass themselves off as the real thing in live performances. Today, laws have been passed in over thirty-three states to ensure that, with very few exceptions, a member of the authentic recording group must be in the group that performs or own a legitimate federally registered trademark to the group’s name. Thus, the Truth in Music legislation.
When you plan to attend the next oldies concert, conduct some research. If you see a Platters concert advertised, look for the name Sonny Turner. He is the only surviving member of this iconic group. Look for Bobby Hendricks or Charlie Thomas if the Drifters are billed to perform. Terry Johnson has been a member of the Flamingos since 1952 and still performs throughout the country. There is currently no member of the Coasters alive to perform so buyer beware. There is a group called the Del-Vikings and lead singer Kripps Johnson Jr. has taken over for his deceased father and carried the name forward. Bottom line; check it out, or email me and I will!
Today, you will see groups that bill themselves as ‘tribute groups,’ or spell the group name differently. That is the result of Truth in Music legislation and the efforts of Jon “The Bowzer” Bauman.
Our audiences clearly think they are honoring the body of work, the legacy, the deep pleasure this music has given us since, well, you know how long! This defining music has been a cornerstone in bringing people together as much or more than any piece of civil rights legislation could do.
OH, YES, I’M THE GREAT PRETENDER – SONNY TURNER AND HIS PLATTERS
WHY IS EVERYBODY ALWAYS PICKIN’ ON ME? – CARL GARDNER AND THE COASTERS
Making Your Memories is a commentary on the music of the 1950’s and early 60’s. “Joe D” is an on-air talent for Orange County based KSBR FM 88.5 and is host of “MAKING YOUR MEMORIES” Sunday nights at 10PM. He is also author of “Making Your Memories With Rock & Roll and Doo Wop - -The Music and Artists of the 1950’s and early 60’s.” www.making-your-memories.com