31 December 2009

Doo Wop Dialog[ue]: 10

(42/M/London, England)


Your message reminded me of hearing one of the Carey cousins (can't remember which) being interviewed on an oldies station when the Flamingos came to London around 1990 (I BITTERLY regret not going). He was asked by the DJ why he thought the music had stood up so long and I remember one key word in his reply: “cohesive." Which seems a good word to apply to the Flamingos themselves – their longevity, their amazing consistency.

It was very moving to read you description of that night - wish I'd been there - and I hope lots of people share their thoughts about, memories of, this greatest of all groups in this thread. Incidentally, I know that London gig was videoed but I've no idea where to obtain it.


After I originally posted this on the Doo Wop Shop board a reader very kindly sent me a video of that show, which was actually in 1991. It is currently available in the UK on DVD under the title London Rock'n'Roll Stage Show 1991 - not to be confused with the oft-issued 1972 London rock'n'roll show with Chuck Berry and Little Richard etc. You can obtain it from several places but I have used
Raucous Records in the past for doo wop CDs and found them reliable; the link will take you to a complete songlist for the DVD, although the Flamingos only sing three songs: I Only Have Eyes For You, I'll Be Home, and, with some playful choreography, Nobody Loves Me Like You, penned by Sam Cooke.

The DJ referred to was Randall Lee Rose, an American who at that time was presenting a doo wop show on the London AM station Capital Gold, called Randall Lee Rose's (as opposed to Kewl Steve's) Doo Wop Shop - yes, amazing as it sounds, for a while there was regular access to doo wop in the UK in those days before internet radio was widespread. He compiled a CD of that title for Ace Records which is still available and it could certainly be recommended as a starting point for a doo wop collection with the emphasis on the fun, poppier side, rather than R&B-slanted "deep doo wop," as I think I've seen Robert Pruter term it.

Assuming the DVD is the same as the video, there are actually some clips of one or more of the Flamingos being interviewed by Randall in the Capital Gold studios, although the particular part of the discussion referred to in the post either wasn't videoed or didn't make the edit. I might be misremembering, because it was a long time ago, but my feeling at the time was that Jake Carey (to judge from my memory of the timbre of his voice) was quite passionately trying to explain the music's longevity, and its importance to him, and Randall's response was something like: "Wow, that's deep," which suggested either he wasn't really getting what Jake was saying, or he didn't want to explore it further in what was meant to be a short segment to promote the concert - or maybe, quite understandably, he was just stunned, overwhelmed to meet those legends of vocal harmony.

Anyway, Randall Lee Rose has been a champion of doo wop in this country so maybe the best thing to say is that my subjective impression of that moment in the interview helped trigger my radio play about a composite doo wop star, because it suggested a possibly unbridgeable gulf between the person making the music, with everything it has cost and meant to bring it into being, all the wholly personal associations, and the fan - even a professional and dedicated fan, like a deejay - who can't see it in quite the same way.

I also think the moment, and that magical word, "cohesive," stuck with me because it was reassuring, and moving, that a performer of about four decades' standing at the time still seemed so genuinely enthused about what he was doing, and hadn't resigned himself to being a kind of well-paid musical labourer in the nostalgia field; by way of contrast, I had seen a cabaret-hardened Drifters briefly reunited with Ben E King in the early eighties (discussed in a later post) and the difference between the two attitudes onstage was evident.

In case anyone from the UK is reading this and remembers those Capitol Gold shows, I tried to see what I could find about RLR's subsequent career. As far as I can tell, he was recently on a station called Big L presenting a fifties-themed show, but it's not clear whether he's still part of it or will ever be returning, to judge from the posts from fans on an increasingly plaintive
messageboard. It appears that his Big L is show had originally gone under the title of The Doo Wop Shop, like his Capitol Gold show, which sadly suggests that whatever the pockets of enthusiasm for doo wop in the UK there isn't a big enough audience to keep advertisers happy. He also does voiceover work and you can find a fairly full biog here.

There was also a 1992 Wembley show sponsored by Capitol Gold, which I did attend, and which featured the Spaniels, the Belmonts (sans Dion) and the Teenagers (with Lewis Lymon); I'll write more about this at a future date, but sadly it was sparsely attended, which didn't help atmospherewise, and I presume that was the end for what had apparently been a conscious attempt to revive Alan Freed-style package shows, complete with house band.

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