Ooh bop sha boo" sing the Guytones as they lead off KING VOCAL GROUPS VOL. 1. A somewhat silly title maybe, but this is a no-nonsense survey of doo wop from the archives of the King, Federal and Deluxe labels. Syd Nathan's record company included A&R men and recording operations in New York City and on the West Coast in addition to the home city headquarters in Cincinnati, Ohio. This enabled him to sign acts from all over the U.S. and provide a rich variation of vocal group sounds and harmonies. The Platters are perhaps the best known and they certainly warrant a CD in their own right (The Platters - Complete Federal Recordings Ace CDCHD 974) but there are many, many more to be included in our dip into the King doo wop vaults. Volume 1 of Ace's survey of King's vocal groups include a mix of well known groups like the Five Keys (originally from Newport News, VA), the Swallows from Baltimore, MD, and Otis Williams & Charms together with lesser known but sought-after groups."
The New York City area was home to the Guytones, Temptations, Chanters, Strangers, Velvet Keys and the Hurricanes. The last group were signed up immediately by King's New York-based A&R man Henry Glover after he saw them performing on a street corner in Harlem. Two of the original members of the group are still performing in a revived Hurricanes group, almost 50 years after that storybook beginning. From the West Coast came the Pyramids, Tenderfoots and, of course, the Californians. Otis Williams & The Charms were, like the male doo wop group the Crystals, originally from Florida but were taken to Cincinnati by Henry Stone when he joined forces with King labels boss Syd Nathan. The Crystals then became truly local artists and were said to live within walking distance of the studio. Other groups hailed from the mid-west, the Five Jets being a Detroit group and the Mascots from Canton, Ohio, a smallish city some 50 miles south of Cleveland. So Lonely Rain and The Story Of My Heart are two of the first recordings what later became the soul super-group the O'Jays. They'd been discovered by a Cleveland deejay, Eddie O'Jay, who became their manager and thought they might do better under a new name, so he decided on the eponymous moniker.
Although credited on the label just to himself, many of Kenny Martin's records feature a fine vocal group or chorus. Ask Me is a good example in this mould from the Detroit-based artist. He too has had a long career, and some of Ace's customers will have had the opportunity to see his performance at last year's Utrecht Blues Festival as part of the Motor City Rhythm & Blues pioneers along with Joe Weaver & Stanley Mitchell. In all there's 24 tracks from 17 different artists from the 1952-61 timeframe and there's plenty more where that came from.
by Peter Gibbon