Although the recording dates for the tracks on this compilation span the years 1951-1961, the musical centre of gravity of Modern Vocal Groups Vol 5 is rooted firmly in what many vocal group fans regard as the golden age of doo wop, the 1955-57 period. As well as Modern label favourites such as Jesse Belvin and the Cadets and Jacks groups, some of the artists on this latest volume of this comprehensive survey are not those that you would expect to find on a vocal group collection. B.B. King, for example, is usually associated with a tight band and his beloved Lucille, but he did occasionally provide lead vocals in front of a group. I Was Blind is one of those songs with an un-named group (probably the Flairs) providing vocal accompaniment to B.B. In a similar vein, Joe Houston is readily associated with his crazy tenor sax but did actually record in a number of styles as his recent Ace release (Joe Houston Blows Crazy - Ace CDCHD 772) attests. Two of his waxings with vocal backing, Shtiggy Boom and Come Back Baby are featured on this volume.
One of the most prolific 50s Califonia recording artists was Tony Allen. Both under his lead name or just anonymously as part of a group, Tony seems to have recorded for most of the West Coast independent labels. Tony did his fair share for the Biharis' Modern label group too, and is featured here with some of his early 60s sides for the Kent label, in front of a group known as the Wonders. Look out for more of Tony Allen (and indeed B.B. King) group sides on the next Volume in this series. Donna Hightower and Dolly Cooper provide the interest on the female side. Donna, a talented R&B singer, had started as a big band vocalist and had recorded for others before waxing at least nine sides for Modern. Rumour had it that Lavern Baker was her sister, although this seems unlikely. The bluesier Dolly Cooper has a group behind her on the New Orleans semi-standard Ay La Bah.
Continuing to feature the rarer sides that collectors might otherwise never get to hear, Vol 5 includes both sides of four hard-to-get Modern singles. The Hawks only single (Modern 990) is included here in the released version with instrumentation. The Rockets (992), are not the Jacks under another name, as previously thought, and they became the Rocketeers (999) after one personnel change. The Sounds (981) featured Bobby Byrd, another prolific California artist, who went on, as Bobby Day, to Rockin' Robin fame. As usual, the compilation and annotation is by Gordon Skadberg and the guys at Earlybird Records, complete with mouth-watering illustrations.
By Peter Gibbon