Doo Wop Society Show #47: Happy Man, Happy Audience
By Kate Karp
“It was back in 1960 when I fell in love,” Eugene Pitt proclaimed from the performer platform at the Long Beach Convention Center. “My best friend married my girlfriend.”
Pitt was, of course, introducing his first hit, “My True Story,” one of the more cryptic doo wop love ballads. Back in 1961, the Jive Five came onto the teenage scene with Pitt’s epic ill-fated love affair, and had some of us wondering about where, specifically, on the love triangle sat Earl, Lorraine, and Sue. To further obscure the plot - which was never actually revealed - the first line in the song is, “There is a story, Ann….” Who was Ann? Was she yet another member of Gene’s harem? Was she Ann Landers, to whom Pitt was penning his confession of the sins of his heart? And, most importantly, what the heck did bewelled mean?
Despite all the mystery - or maybe because of it - enough of us bought the record and sent it to number three on the pop charts. Of course, what really sold the record and kept Eugene Pitt performing and composing hits nonstop through the English invasion to the present day were his artistic talents, and Show #47 was a fine showcase for them.
Like an appetizer before dinner, the opening taste of an acappella act would have been nice, but the absence of one didn’t detract from the quality of the show-the salad and main courses were very tasty. Harry and the Hi-Tones, featuring guitarist / lead Harry Orlove, David Jackson on bass, Jerry Peterson on sax and Rhys Clark on drums, opened with a couple of instrumentals and doo wop-fringe vocals, including “Rhythm of the Rain” and an appropriately stiff deadpan of Ray Charles’ “It Shoulda Been Me.”
Wearing plantation hats and a beret for Eugene Pitt, the Jive Five took the stage right after the Hi-Tones’ performance and immediately had the audience in the palms of their hands. There wasn’t a peep out of anyone during the entire show, and the sound system at the convention center had nary a fizzle or a whine. Even Vinnie and Moe got to sit down and enjoy the singing of Bea Best and Casey Spencer, who recorded on the hit single “I’m a Happy Man”; Pitt’s brothers Franklin and Herbert; and Eugene Pitt himself, singing out his heart despite the encumbrances of a cane and a previously broken foot. Maurice Unthank, the Jive Five’s keyboardist and arranger, augmented the flawless instrumental accompaniment with the ingredient of authenticity.
The show opened with a bouncing reggae-flavored “Do You Hear Wedding Bells?” with the house lights doing wonderful things with the group’s lime-green suits. The group sang nearly enough of their beloved hits to satisfy the audience - “I’m a Happy Man,” which hit number three in Beatles-flavored 1965 and delivered memories of heading to the Jersey shore with the humid wind blowing through the car’s open windows; the eternal question “What Time is It”; and of course “My True Story,” with Pitt delivering an expository monologue that could have been on the flyleaf of a book version of the song. There was the obligatory dance number, “Hully Gully”; a delivery of “Never, Never” as a lovely medley tribute to Little Anthony, Shep and the Limelights, and Lillian Leach; and “I Am Yours,” dedicated to DWS Board President Phyllis Bardone and her husband Dennis. “Here I Am,” which was swoon material when recorded, was sung acappella in such a way to have blown the audience through the roof and into the harbor.
“But where the hell is everybody?” asked one of the concert-goers. Good question - and not the first time it’s been asked. For all the professionalism of the artists and forethought of the board, not to mention how rare it’s become to have classic doo wop artists performing on the West Coast, the house should have been full. So, where the hell was everybody?
Possible answers are that the show wasn’t sufficiently advertised; that the convention center, while comfortable to sit in, was not completely accessible to out-of-towners; parking charges were high; and the shows are produced more infrequently than in previous years, with a resulting loss of momentum. There’s also the matter of finding a permanent location. Ever since the Petroleum Club changed management and raised its prices far out of reach of a self-sustaining nonprofit organization, The Doo Wop Society has been wandering like a lost tribe of Israel, looking for an echo in the desert. It is hoped that this will be worked out. We’re all older, but we ain’t done yet. And that’s a true story.
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