Tuesday, 1 October 2013

There'll be fifteen minutes of expoundin' my thesis, and then you'll holler "Please, DO stop!"

No time, I'm afraid, to write a detailed post, so consider this an interim bulletin for those who might care. This blog is going back to basics as I have been asked to prepare a presentation for students about doo wop music. I will post audio when it's done and add the occasional entry here as I go along if you want to keep up with my progress.

Which task has made me think back to Phil Groia's They All Sang On the Corner, the first book I read devoted to the subject. I have to admit it didn't live up to my expectations. Not that there wasn't good info in it, but as the first book I read specifically about doo wop, there was a bit too much of the trainspotter about it. Yes, I know: following the changing members of the Cadillacs, etc is important, and there were some great phrases in the book, for example describing Frankie Lymon as the little boy who "lit up like a Christmas tree" whenever a microphone was placed before him. But the "list" aspect seemed - to me, anyway - to devalue the book a bit.

Against that, of course, you could say what's a history of the subject for if not to set the record straight? And such books may be better regarded as reference books than sparkling single-sitting reads. 

I mention this partly because I have just received Johnny Keyes' book Du-Wop (sic), have already read half, and it really puts you there, in the middle of a group. It's fairly short but it answers questions I've often thought about but don't think I've seen answered before.

In particular, Keyes says that the backing musicians for doo wop groups in the studio would compose arrangements which essentially came from the singers' acapella version of the song, though it would be the musicians who would get all the credit. Interesting, too, to note that the musicians were usually older and could be contemptuous of the groups. If a band was supporting a group or groups live, it could be that a current hit might be played at the wrong tempo, either through negligence or a deliberate attempt to mess the singers up. But the main thing is that, according to Keyes, the real creativity was in working out the vocal arrangement then bringing it into the studio, whereupon the band would quickly work up a backing.

I will have more to say on that and maybe some other books in my next post. So join me, why don't you, in my quest to boil down forty years' enthusiasm for streetcorner sounds into one measly hour. Which gives a whole 'nother meaning to Sixty Minute Man, hence the above title.

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