DON AND DEWEY
Art Rupe's Specialty label released some of the wildest black rock n roll of the second half of the 1950s, with Little Richard and Larry Williams as its best selling artists. The music of Don and Dewey falls in the same category, but somehow commercial success eluded them. But several of their compositions from this period later became big hits for others. Born and raised in Pasadena, California, Don Bowman and Dewey Terry were school buddies. Don developed proficiency on guitar, harmonica and piano and studied classical violin from 1944 to 1954, while Dewey learned to play piano at St. Andrew's Catholic School. Later he would also take up the guitar, inspired by his hero, Guitar Slim.
During their high school years, Don and Dewey became interested in vocal group singing and joined a six-man group called The Squires. This ensemble first recorded for the Kicks label ("Lucy Lou", 1954), followed by six poor-selling singles for another Pasadena company, Mambo/Vita, in 1955-56. There were too many people in the Squires to make any money, so Don and Dewey (being multi-instrumentalists, capable of writing and arranging) decided to split from the group and continued as a duo. At this point Don began to call himself Don Harris. They made one single as Don and Dewey for the Shade label ("Miss Sue"/"My Heart Is Aching"), before being signed to Specialty Records by Art Rupe. "Miss Sue" was re-recorded at the first Specialty session (January 29, 1957), but remained unissued until 1991, along with "Hey Thelma" and "Baby Gotta Party". "Jungle Hop"/"A Little Love" was selected by Rupe as the first Specialty single. Next came the close harmony ballad "Leavin' It All Up To You". Little did Don and Dewey know at the time that this song would become a giant hit (twice, even), but not for them.
"Just A Little Lovin'" (late 1957), "Justine", "Koko Joe" (both 1958) and "Farmer John"/"Big Boy Pete" (1959) didn't sell either and when their Specialty A&R man Sonny Bono left for Sid Talmadge's Rush label in 1959, Don and Dewey went with him. This was a big mistake on their part, as Rush was too small to give them proper exposure. Two singles were released on the Specialty subsidiary Fidelity in 1960, but by then Art Rupe, who hated payola, had grown tired of the music business and his labels lay dormant until 1964. In that year Rupe became temporarily interested in the record business again and produced new Specialty recordings by both Little Richard ("Bama Lama Bama Loo", featuring Don & Dewey among the backing musicians) and Don and Dewey (the single "Get Your Hat"/"Annie Lee" and the excellent "Mammer-Jammer"). Again there was little success, but by then the songs they wrote began to become a gold mine (albeit especially for Rupe's publishing company, Venice Music). Already in 1960, the Olympics had a # 50 hit with "Big Boy Pete". In 1963, "I'm Leaving It Up To You" was a # 1 hit for Dale and Grace (and in 1974 a # 4 hit for Donnie and Marie Osmond). The Premiers scored with "Farmer John" in 1964 (# 19), which was also recorded by the Searchers and later by Neil Young. The Righteous Brothers covered both "Koko Joe" (written by Sonny Bono) and "Justine" during their pre-Spector stint at Moonglow. The Kingsmen had a # 4 hit in early 1965 with "The Jolly Green Giant", which was in fact "Big Boy Pete" with different lyrics.
After touring with Little Richard in his backing band (including a visit to the UK in 1964), Don and Dewey put together a lounge act, playing the Dunes in Las Vegas for a few years. Don then turned himself into blues violinist Don 'Sugarcane' Harris, playing electric violin with John Mayall and Frank Zappa and recording several albums in the 1970s. Dewey Terry also cut a solo album, for the Tumbleweed label in 1972. From time to time Don and Dewey reunited for live gigs on the oldies circuit. Unfortunately, Don later became a drug addict and spent some time in prison in the early 1990s. When Don and Dewey performed at Hemsby, England, in May 1991, Dewey's partner was Ron Shy, who became Don's permanent replacement after 1999. That was the year that Don Harris died, at the age of 61, after a long struggle with pulmonary disease. Dewey Terry continued to perform until his death of throat cancer in 2003 (aged 65).
The Specialty recordings are Don and Dewey's most enduring musical legacy. It's hard to tell why they didn't sell, in spite of the utilization of the services of top session men like Earl Palmer, Rene Hall and Plas Johnson. Art Rupe's refusal to pay payola may have been of influence. Perhaps Don and Dewey were simply too wild for many radio stations or maybe too frightening for the white teenage girls who made up such a large segment of the record buying public in the fifties.
More info :
Discography : http://koti.mbnet.fi/wdd/dondewey.htm
Acknowledgements : Billy Vera, Marv Goldberg, Seamus McGarvey.
Dik, May 2013
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