I have now listened to the On the Beat doo wop special and it can be thoroughly recommended. I think it's possible for US readers to access it too, so click here, wherever you are, if you want to hear an engrossing interview punctuated by lots of doo wop. The programme, which is on BBC Radio Merseyside and presented by Spencer Leigh, lasts two hours. I don't have the time to give a blow by blow account but will add a few thoughts here.
My main impression is, I suppose, of relief - hearing a singer from that era who still sounds like he can sing, and who is being offered more opportunities to do so.
Although Little Anthony was, I suppose, the first doo wop singer I ever heard (on Mike Raven's R&B Show on BBC Radio 1) I haven't followed his fortunes particularly closely so it was interesting to hear how much he was bound up with figures I do admire. First of all, it was pleasing to hear that the Flamingos' Golden Teardrops was a major influence on him:
That is the song that made me say I want to be a singer, I wanna do that stuff.And we then heard it. Yep, Golden Teardrops on the BBC. That made my weekend.
We also got to hear early sides like You on Winley Records, a delightfully raw performance and a local hit in the New York area. This attracted the attention of a neighbour needing a lead singer for his group; Anthony agreed to go along, and they auditioned for Richard Barrett and Gone Records. They had a song called Just Two Kinds of People and based the arrangement on the Channels' The Closer You Are. Richard Barrett called in George Goldner, and both were excited that they had another Frankie Lymon on their hands, eagerly asking if their parents could come around at five and sign contracts.
And so a career was started whose longevity and variety Anthony is careful to credit to the good men around him, especially Richard Barrett (above), who saw him as a crooner and started him off on standards, as Barrett and Goldner also did with the Flamingos. In fact, Anthony sort of distances himself from doo wop, or at least points out that doo wop is not all he is. And with Teddy Randazzo and Don Costa he certainly went on to create a series of songs in the sixties which were something else again. He didn't meet Sinatra but Costa passed on that Frank said: "Tell the kid he sings good." And when we hear Sinatra's record of Goin' Out of My Head it doesn't sound as good as Little Anthony's version.
I was also interested to learn that his gospel-style song I'm Alright benefited from being finished off by ... Sam Cooke. It was a number worked up for his live performances which George Goldner noted didn;t have a bridge and Cooke was eager to oblige. It also sounds, to my hears, that Cooke might have schooled him in how to sing it: as with his proteges on SAR, the label Cooke set up as a pet project, Anthony's phrasing is recognisably Cooke-ish.
Anthony is aware of his impact and importance - more than once he says "we were barnstormers of that kinda stuff", referring to his willingness to experiment with different styles - but this is balanced by a genuine belief that he possesses a gift. Only one of the Imperials is left, although the group really ended in 1973 in terms of being a close-knit group of brothers - though Anthony recognises that that's not what the fans want to hear.
But I'm still here, and I've been gifted and blessed with a voice [... ] on loan.In addition to work with Paul McCartney and a planned duets album, Anthony Gourdine will have an autobiography out shortly. I look forward to reading it.
[Spencer Leigh] So you genuinely feel it's a gift -
I know it's a gift because it ain't natural. I'm not supposed to sing like this at my age. I was told by one of the acts here, he said Man, my gosh, I was listening to in the wings, he said, you're singing better now than you ever sung. I remember the great Michael Jordan, he once made a tremendously difficult shot, and when he made it it was almost like he wasn't even looking at the basket, and when he made it he was like how come I did it and when I go out it's the same thing, I don't know how, it just comes out I go on stage, and there is my world, there is where I'm at peace with everything.
You can learn more about Richard Barrett's work with Little Anthony and the Imperials here. It's part four of a series entitled The Musical Legacy of Richard Barrett which can be found on the Classic Urban Harmony website - main page with all sorts of other links here. The Spectropop obituary of Richard Barrett can be found here.
And Spencer Leigh must be commended for a typically sensitive interview which seems to have brought out the best from his subject. (Is there any area of 50s/60s music with which this man is not on intimate terms?) I have mentioned earlier that I'm trying to work up a presentation about doo wop and Anthony's account in the interview of hearing the Crows' Gee for the first time really conveyed the excitement of a new discovery: it was blues and it was something else. On the Beat is one of the few programmes I listen to regularly, and I commend it to readers: if you like the spread of music discussed in this blog then you will get a great deal from this programme. A year or two ago there was the possibility of its being axed; as I argued at the time, its appeal is far wider than the Liverpool area and Spencer's eclectic sensibility guarantees that even a musical nut will learn something new most weeks.