Wednesday, 8 July 2015

The Spaniels # 2

The previous post was a bit convoluted so I am going to add something today which will, I hope, be clearer. In the meantime I have been rereading Richard G Carter's book on the Spaniels, which can be recommended. It's not necessarily superbly written throughout, but where it scores is that there is a degree of frankness about it which made me wonder at times whether it was wise for the group to embark upon it - at least if they were expecting a PR job.

But I'm glad they did, because you really are taken into the heart of things. Although the book was published in 1994 it ends before they have gone to London, so presumably the MS was completed around 1991. There is a lot of optimism and hope from the various members at the end, though I couldn't say precisely how much success the group had in later years. Group members seem to assume they're on the verge of a huge breakthrough - or at least are entertaining the possibility - and that finally they will get the money and acclaim which is their due. Whatever level of success they did enjoy I don't think it matched up to their expectations.


There are many painful details I didn't mention in my earlier review. Astonishing times when Pookie Hudson is on the verge of starvation, waiting for money from Vee Jay which doesn't come. Trapped in a hotel at the end of a tour with nothing to eat or drink or even forced to sleep rough for a while. And I note that although he forgave Vee Jay's Vivian Carter on her deathbed, he drew the line at singing for her at a benefit: "Let the Lord take care of her." At one point in the narrative Pookie says he hopes he will never have to go back to manual work and it seems to hover as a possibility.

Marv Goldberg's page on the group gives a detailed account of fluctuations in personnel but in quoting so much from it in the previous I lost sight of the basic point, which is that  in addition to the nucleus of Pookie Hudson and Gerald Gregory the Spaniels Mk II were made  up of Carl Rainge, James (Dimples) Cochran aka Dimp, and Donald (Duck) Porter even if other individuals may have come and gone.

They had much more experience than the departed Willie C Jackson, Ernest Warren and Opal Courtney, having been in more groups and knowing how to sing from a technical point of view. With the exception of Gerald Gregory, the earlier Spaniels might swap parts during a song - a phenomenon which is described in the short memoir by the lead singer of the Magnificents Johnny Keyes entitled Du-Wop (sic). Here's how Donald Porter describes it in Carter's book:
They (the first group) more or less sang at random. Nobody had a distinct part. And some of it came out real good.
But when we came in with specific, designated ... you're first tenor, and I'm second tenor and I'm baritone. These are the distinct parts that you sing. And it worked very well for us. ... part of it is by virtue of us coming from that operative, spiritual background, and that James Cochran and I had a group before that and were able to perform and sing other  group's songs, note for note. We brought this experience and know how to the Spaniels, which at the time they did not have.
Incidentally, what Keyes says in his book about older artists resenting doo wop groups seems to have been true for the Spaniels too: there is an account of Nat King Cole's anger when the Spaniels take several bows before the older man goes on stage.

More credit ought to be given to Billy Shelton than I gave. From the book, he wasn't just in Pookie's first group at school (the Three/Four Bees) but was responsible for training him and helping the group work out arrangements.

Apparently around 1954 he had the offer to join the Spaniels Mk II but didn't take it up. He was at college but says he used that as an excuse. He feared he wouldn't be able to "cut the mustard" as the others had had so much experience of being on stage. Nevertheless he and his son, Teddy, were part of the original Spaniels who were put together in the early nineties so he has more right than anybody else to be pictured as part of the group today ... even though I still think that Pookie and Gerald ought to have been mentioned by name in the documentary.

According to the book there was some ill feeling about the Mk II version of the group not being honoured by the Smithsonian. One of the members made the point that their recording life had been longer than that of the original members. But the decision by Pookie Hudson to reassemble the original members (who then had to learn the songs they hadn't been in on) in the nineties wasn't strictly an aesthetic one: he is candid in the book about having arguments with the new lot, and although admitting they were the better singers he talks about the originals being more soulful.

To conclude this post with a lesser known example of the Mk I group, Willie C Jackson offers his interjections as Pookie Hudson sings Since I Fell For You:

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