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Combo Vocal Groups Volume 2, CD (£11.50)
There's been a bit of a hiatus in our story of the vocal groups which recorded for Jake Porter's Los Angeles-based Combo label and there's a good reason for that. Many smaller independent R&B labels, such as Combo, either didn't document their recordings very well in the first place or what had been in existence at some time had disappeared by the time that Ace Records came to own the masters. Under these circumstances, it's hard to come by biographical information on the artists, even when a doo wop group on the label may have recorded a collector's gem that fetches big money when one of them comes on the market. A good example of this is the male group, the Debonairs, whose pairing of (Why Can't We Be) As Other Lovers Are / The Bill Collector will set you back a cool $1500. The first side was featured in the first volume in this series (CDCHD 599) and the humorous The Bill Collector is one of three sides (including one previously unreleased ) by the Debonairs on this volume.
That our survey of Jake's groups can now continue is thanks to the research put into the recent publication of L.A. R&B Vocal Groups 1945-65" by Steve Propes and Galen Gart (published in 2001 by Big Nickel Publications, for more information on and updates to this valuable reference work go to http://lavocalgroups.com/). The hiatus in release, which is rather longer than I care to admit, is now over as Steve Propes has contributed his knowledge of the line-ups and history of the Combo vocal groups in the shape of the sleeve notes for Volume 2. His well-researched descriptions are probably about as much as we are ever going to know about some of the groups.
As well as the Debonairs, the Native Boys and the Squires also have three releases on this compilation. The Native Boys feature two collectors' favourites - Laughing Love and Cherrlyn, whilst the Squires have two early releases Whop and My Little Girl-.-plus an unissued side. In addition to Cherrlyn, girls names, a perennial doo wop favourite theme feature in Arline by the Starliters and Bobby My Love by Carl Ell & the Buddies. Girls feature themselves as lead singers. There are two tracks from the Echoes (a group to which Darlene Love briefly belonged) and Ethel Brown is the Hot Mamma fronting Brother Woodman's Chanters. From the novelty side come Thunderbird Baby by the Paramounts and Chop Chop Boom with Al Smith & the Savoys in front of Jack McVea's band. The latter song is unusual for the Combo label as it is a cover version. Combo groups tended to feature songs written either by group members or by Jake Porter himself, but Chop Chop Boom had been a hit for the Danderliers on the Chicago-based States label the year before Al Smith's Combo version. It even featured another Al Smith as a disputed original writer and the notes explore the ins and outs of the fascinating story.
The selections on Vol 2 comprise a mixture of released and unreleased songs as on Volume 1 and have been compiled with the help of noted vocal group collector and discographer Tony Tisovec. As well as tracks from groups whose identities are known, there are some where we have no real clue other than the fact that the recordings were made for Jake's labels. But some of these are just too good to pass up, so a couple of ?îUnknown Groups' feature in the track listing of this compilation. Another aspect of increasing interest to vocal group collectors is the area of single artists with (a usually unidentified) group in the background. Danny Boy Owens and the well-known Jesse Belvin are represented in this manner. It all makes for another good cross section of Jake Porter's vocal group sides. You can expect more of the same, together with some seasonal surprises, in Volume 3 which should see the light of day by the end of the year.
By Peter Gibbon