Who was/is The Cadillacs ? - CDs, Vinyl LPs, DVD and more
The singers in The Cadillacs were born just before the Second World War and their life as grade schoolers revolved around home, school, church, and the streets of the city: the playgrounds and staging areas for boyhood adventures, dreams, and schemes. Stiff and starched in unfamiliar once-a-week clothes, they sang the old songs in church, and they heard the new songs on $10 plastic radios at home, from speakers outside of record stores, and on juke boxes at candy stores and ice cream parlors.
Because they lived in New York City, the music they heard was different from that in the rest of country, aside from the Dinah Shore, Perry Como, Vaughan Monroe, and Vic Damone hits that filled the airwaves. They heard Louis Jordan, Savannah Churchill, Bull Moose Jackson, Wynonie Harris, Hal Singer, Amos Milburn, Ivory Joe Hunter, the Ravens, Clovers, and Orioles. Pee Wee Crayton, John Lee Hooker, Lowell Fulson, and Memphis Slim sang with rhythms of a rural South they had never known. They loved those songs and they loved the big hits they heard everyday and because they loved them they began to sing them with their friends.
The rise of the Cadillacs is paralleled in the stories of dozens of vocal groups whose role models were the Orioles, Ravens, and Ink Spots--black men who had 'made it' and found music to be their passport out of the ghetto. The Cadillacs heard the songs and tried to imitate them.
Jimmy McGowan of The Four Fellows recalled those days. "How does a group of teenagers, who know absolutely nothing about music, learn to arrange and sing a song in harmony? In the beginning we were like blind men trying to construct a house. The whole process required a lot of discipline and attention, we argued constantly. And many times we almost came to blows over whether what we were singing was correct. No time or diplomacy was wasted telling someone he was singing flat or off key. There was but one goal in mind: to learn the song and learn the harmony. To hell with personal feelings. The 'music man' of the group was regarded with a great deal of respect--though that respect was rarely expressed overtly.”
Although learning and arranging a song was a joint undertaking, the suggestions of this 'music man' usually prevailed, and in the Cadillacs this was Earl Carroll. Carroll, a lanky, amiable teenager from Metropolitan Vocational High School, selected equally novice singers Bobby Phillips, LaVerne Drake, and 'Cub' Gaining from his neighborhood of 7th and 8th Avenues near 131st Street. Bass singer Phillips was his closest friend, nearly a brother. "Bobby's mother more or less raised me. She took me in when things weren't going so well with me. People say, 'It's remarkable--you look so much alike'."
They called themselves the Carnations and, notorious as much for their energetic (albeit ragged) harmony as for their trademark lapel flowers, soon built a reputation in the neighborhood and at dances at St. Mark's Church and P.S. 43. In the hot amateur vocal group world of the early 1950s, these dances and talent shows were the commencement exercises for the street corner groups--the big chance to show their prowess against other groups from all over the city. Moreover, the groups were judged by their peers and the audience for their expertise with ballads, not the jump tunes that became popular a few years later.
Most, if not all, of the songs were slow, romantic ballads. The group always featured a single voice, the lead singer, while the other voices usually hummed in support. Nat Cole certainly didn't become popular for his up-tempo songs, nor did Frank Sinatra, Perry Como, or Bing Crosby. It was no different with the rhythm & blues singing groups from this era. Earl Carroll says his musical roots "consisted of spiritual groups like the Five Blind Boys, and the Swanee Quintet, and the Soul Stirrers--they moved us quite a bit when they had Sam Cooke.As much as we loved that music, and used to sing those songs for our own pleasure, we weren't what you would call deeply religious kids. Gospel singers were committed to it."
McGowan and his group had the same choice to make, and they had the same reason for not becoming professional gospel singers. "For one thing, we realized that most of the people singing spirituals were basically religious. They believed in what they were singing and for the most part were living a life that was compatible with what they were singing. The church was an important part of their lives. And singing was something they did in church.”
While performing at the annual P.S. 43talent show in 1953, the Carnations were heard by Lover Patterson, the self-styled former 'manager' of the Orioles (actually he had been their valet), singer, songwriter, and freelance talent scout. Patterson, as the organizer of the Five Crowns, was a veteran of the tricky independent record business that was fueling the fires of the vocal group revolution.
Operating from rented rooms, theater basements, record shops, or out of their cars, the indie operators recorded almost anyone who came to them. Some built substantial record and music publishing empires and the roll call of their names is a Hall Of Fame (or Infamy, depending on your social viewpoint) today: Herb Abramson, Syd Nathan, Leonard & Phil Chess, Art Rupe, Lew Chudd, Bess Berman, Herman Lubinsky, Freddy Mendelsohn, Lee Magid, Jerry Blaine, Sam Phillips, Hy & Sam Weiss, Sol Rabinowitz, Don Robey, David James Mattis, David & Jules Braun, Jim & Ed Mesner, Zell Sanders, Bobby Robinson, Al Silver, and Ahmet Ertegun. No one would argue that without these people rhythm & blues and rock 'n' roll would have never existed.
Several booking agencies specialized in lining up personal appearance dates for rhythm & blues artists. In the early 1950s, one of the most powerful was the Shaw Artists Corporation, started in 1948by Billy Shaw, former vice president of the competing Gale Agency. Shaw grabbed the contract for the Orioles early on and handled the careers of such R&B luminaries as Faye Adams, Amos Milburn, Ruth Brown, Ray Charles, Joe Turner, Fats Domino, the Clovers, Moonglows, Charms, Five Keys, Flamingos, Bo Diddley, Ivory Joe Hunter, Bill Doggett, and Chuck Willis.
Lover Patterson, who died in 1965after a brief heyday of managing the Crowns/Drifters and Ben E. King, introduced the Carnations to Esther Navarro, a lovely young secretary at Shaw who also wrote songs, taught piano and voice, and managed a small stable of artists. Bobby Phillips, the baritone of the Carnations, wanted to be the bass. Cub Gaining didn’t like the change in role and refused to go to the audition.
Patterson brought in veteran singer James 'Poppa' Clark from his Five Crowns and Johnny 'Gus' Willingham to fill out the roster. The group that trooped down to Navarro's office therefore consisted of Earl Carroll, lead tenor; LaVerne Drake and James Clark, tenors; Johnny Willingham, baritone; and Bobby Phillips, newly-minted bass.
Navarro was impressed and signed the group to a management contract. The name Carnations was already in use, and she renamed them The Cadillacs. Naming a group after a prestigious automobile added a touch of class and was a break from the 'birds and flowers' tradition of vocal group tags. Singing other people’s songs might get you a First Prize at an amateur contest, but original material was needed to go on record. Luckily for the boys, Navarro had a drawer full of tunes and a friend in the record business. One of the songs she gave the group to rehearse was Gloria, destined to become a doo-wop standard and street corner favorite in the R&B revival of the early 1960s.
Credited to Navarro, the song bears a striking resemblance to Gloria by famed black songwriter Leon Rene, written in 1946 and recorded in that year by Johnny Moore's Three Blazers with Charles Brown for an album on Rene's own Exclusive label. Navarro's version was sufficiently different and no litigation resulted. The group also made ready to record Lover Patterson's I Wonder Why. The record company that Navarro chose to receive the first hearing of the Cadillacs was Jubilee, owned by Jerry Blaine.
Blaine, pleasant, moon-faced, and wide-eyed, was himself a veteran of the music business from the performer's end. He led a big dance band, Jerry Blaine & His Streamline Rhythm, in New York City in the late 1930s, recorded for Bluebird and even sang a bit. No great shakes with the baton or his voice, he went to work for A1 Green's National Records, a company formed during the musician's recording ban of the mid-1940s, and he rose to the position of national sales manager for the label, which had Herb Abramson as its A&R man. Blaine then moved into sales and promotion for other labels and formed the Cosnat Distributing Company to handle them.
After leaving National, Abramson started a couple of labels himself, Quality and Jubilee. Quality never got off the ground, but Jubilee with Blaine as a partner scored a moderate hit with the Yiddish novelty Essen by Lee Tully.
Abramson then linked up with Ahmet Ertegun to form Atlantic Records and sold his interest in Jubilee to Blaine. In 1948 Cosnat picked up distribution for Sid DeMay's It's A Natural Records, then very hot with It's Too Soon To Know by the Orioles. Around this time he started his Jubilee Music Corporation for publishing and installed DeMay as its boss. The Natural label died a quick death after some heated complaints from the similarly-named National Records and Jubilee acquired the Orioles.
Jubilee eventually became a minor player in the Pop music world and followed the lead of other small labels in starting a dedicated rhythm & blues subsidiary label in 1954 to catch a piece of the growing airplay and sales of R&B discs. ...
CADILLACS The Cadillacs Rock
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