You might think it's a straightforward thing to count how many acts there are on a CD, but when you're dealing with records on Jake Porter's Combo label, nothing's that simple. Jake would sometimes include the bandleader or chief instrumentalist along with the vocal group in the artist's name on the label but then on the next release the billing could revert to just the vocal group. In the same vein, Jake would vary the name of the group itself, sometimes including the lead singer's identity and then omitting it! So dependent on how you treat these variations, COMBO VOCAL GROUPS Volume 3 (CDCHD 863) offers up somewhere around 17 different acts amongst its 28 tracks. Following in the style of the first two volumes (CDHD 599 and CDCHD 852 respectively), there is a mixture of released and unreleased material here, with 15 tracks seeing the light of day for the first time.
The Native Boys, fronted by George Lebrune are a group popular with doo wop collectors and they have four outings on this collection. Of the other groups that feature on multiple tracks, the Nutones have three tracks whilst the Ko Kos, Ray Frazier & the Blenders and Al Smith & the Savoys each have two. The last group is a good example of the changing name phenomenon. On Yacka Hoom Boom they are the plain Savoys with leader Al Smith not getting any recognition, but by the next release, Lovin' Man, they have become Brother Woodman with Al Smith & the Savoys. Sax man Brother Woodman also gets a namecheck on Why in front of the Chanters featuring Gene Ford who are a mixed male-female vocal group including Ethel Brown. Steve Propes who, along with Galen Gart, authored the invaluable reference work 'L.A. R&B Vocal Groups 1945-65', again provides the sleeve notes. In them, he explains that the practice of putting in the instrumentalist's name was a device used by Jake Porter to attract older fans of jazz and R&B as well as the typically young vocal group buyer. Hence we also see Jack McVea's name and that of Jake Porter himself on other vocal group records on the label.
The vast majority of the Combo recordings have been transferred from the original tapes but there are a few goodies which have turned up only on acetates. Going through boxes of acetates and test pressings for Combo singles, I came across a 78rpm acetate cut by the Debonairs at Universal Recorders in Hollywood on a very interesting blue, black and white label. The Debonairs, who were inter-changeably called the Debonaires throughout their career, have three tracks on this compilation, so there's an early Christmas 2003 treat in store for buyers since the tunes on the rare acetate were both Yuletide items. As on Volume 2, there are a couple of items on which we have been unable to identify the group involved. Rather than leave them mouldering in the vaults, Tony Tisovec, the co-compiler, has included them and we look forward to awarding a small prize to anyone who can put a name to the group.
VOLUME 3 is the last of the Combo compilations devoted exclusively to vocal groups but it isn't the end of our various artist offerings from the label. Look out for an interesting mix of Combo's R&B output (including a helping of Johnny Moore's Three Blazers) on the forthcoming CD - CENTRAL AVENUE SPEAKEASY.
By Peter Gibbon