The Crew-Cuts were one of the first (perhaps even THE first) white vocal groups to reap the benefits of covering recordings of black performers and exposing those songs to a wider audience. The group was formed in Toronto in 1952 as the Canadaires. By early 1954 the quartet consisted of John Perkins (lead vocals), his brother Ray Perkins (bass), Pat Barrett (first tenor) and Rudi Maugeri (baritone), who also did the vocal arrangements for the group. All were born in 1931, except Ray Perkins who was born in 1932. Singing in a barbershop group style, the Crew-Cuts got their break in the USA after performing on Gene Carroll's TV show in Cleveland, Ohio. After the show they were introduced to Bill Randle, an influential disc jockey, who suggested a name change to the Crew-Cuts (after their identical haircuts) and arranged an audition with Mercury Records. Their first record, "Crazy 'Bout Ya Baby" (Mercury 70341) was written by group members Barrett and Maugeri and went to # 8 on the pop charts. For their second session, in May 1954, they were asked to cover an R&B tune that had not yet entered the R&B charts, but showed every sign of doing so soon. It was "Sh-Boom", originally recorded by the Chords on the Cat label, an Atlantic subsidiary. The Chords' version was a big hit (# 2 R&B, # 5 pop), but it was easily outsold by the Crew-Cuts version, which topped the Billboard charts for no less than nine weeks, making it the second biggest hit of 1954 (after Kitty Kallen's "Little Things Mean A Lot"). Inevitably, "Sh-Boom" set a pattern for the Crew-Cuts. Though they had shown with "Crazy 'Bout Ya Baby" that they had the potential to write their own material, Mercury fed them on a diet of cover songs, to which they could add their clean-cut, white harmony glee-club approach. "Sh-Boom" was followed by a cover of Shirley Gunter's "Oop Shoop", which went to # 13 pop, while the original peaked at # 8 R&B. "Earth Angel"/"Ko Ko Mo" was their second biggest hit, with both sides making the Top 10, though nobody plays (or even remembers) the Crew-Cuts' versions nowadays. Other succesful cover hits were "Don't Be Angry" (originally by Nappy Brown), "A Story Untold" (the Nutmegs) and "Gum Drop" (Otis Williams and his Charms). The latter, which peaked at # 10, is actually one of their best records, where the big band setting works well. Most of their records sound hopelessly outdated nowadays, whereas the original versions have stood the test of time much better. In the UK, the Crew-Cuts charted only twice, with "Sh-Boom" (# 12) and "Earth Angel" (# 4). The latter stayed on the charts for 20 weeks, whereas the original by the Penguins did not register at all. The strategy of covering (and "sanitizing") R&B hits for the white market was imitated by Pat Boone and other Dot artists, by Georgia Gibbs, the McGuire Sisters and others and during much of the 1954- 1955 period this worked well. The white covers frequently outsold the black originals. But after the explosion of rock 'n' roll in 1956, it soon became clear that teenagers preferred the real article. The gradual breakdown of radio segregation also contributed to the diminished acceptance of cover versions by pop singers.
Somewhat surprisingly, the Crew-Cuts stopped covering R&B songs after "Gum Drop". Their success was already dwindling in 1956 and their last chart record was "Young Love" in January 1957 (# 17), this time a cover of two white vocalists (Sonny James and Tab Hunter), who both sold far greater quantities of the song than the Crew-Cuts. However, Mercury continued to cover R&B songs with another group of Canadians, the Diamonds, who went on to score hits until 1959. By mid-1958 the Crew-Cuts had moved to RCA, where all their eight singles flopped. Recordings in the 1960s for Warwick, Whale, Vee-Jay, ABC and Chess didn't sell either and the group disbanded in 1964.
The Crew-Cuts were not rock and rollers. Their clean-cut harmony approach belonged to an earlier era, in the style of such early and mid-50s groups as the Four Freshmen, the Four Aces and the Four Lads. In their own way, the Crew-Cuts contributed to building a bridge between rhythm and blues and pop music by paving the way for recognition and acceptance of the black originators.
Acknowledgements : Jay Warner, Richie Unterbeger (All Music Guide), Guy Brighter (liner notes for the Jasmine CD).
CD : The Crew-Cuts, Sh-Boom (When Swing Met Doo-Wop & Rock 'n' Roll). Jasmine JASCD 432 (2006). 51 tracks on 2 CD's.
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