Classic ’50s and ’60s rock and roll sounds come to town

Published on March 26th, 2021

By Jim Dail

Many of the greatest hits of the rock and roll era were released in the 1950s and 1960s as part of the doo-wop movement.

On Saturday, July 18, at The Highlander Auditorium in Upland, “The Golden Era of Doo-Wop” will feature some of those timeless hits such as “Just a Dream,” “A Thousand Stars,” “I Only Have Eyes for You” and “The Lion Sleeps Tonight,” with every song performed by either the original singer or original members of the group: The Flamingos featuring Terry Johnson, The Tokens, Jimmy Clanton and Kathy Young.

For Jimmy Clanton, the man behind “Just a Dream,” which hit Number 4 on the Billboard charts in 1958, his fame took off after spending a brief time writing that classic song.

“I didn’t even want to be a singer, but I was a guitar player in a white R&B band in Baton Rouge and I overheard that the singer got $5 more for a gig,” he said. “So, I learned a few songs off rock and roll radio and I got paid!”

He went into a studio with his band to hear what they sounded like and after the band went through its songs – with Dick Holler singing – the engineer told them they had more time.”

“I said I had this song, which I had written because of a lover’s quarrel I had with my girlfriend, and he said to go ahead and put it down,” he said. “I got a call from Johnny Benson who said he had a record company called Ace Records, and he heard the song when we were at the studio. I drove down to New Orleans and he wanted to sign me.”
A subsequent trip to the recording studio led to a session with some of the finest studio musicians of the time, then an appearance on “American Bandstand.” The orders for the song started flooding in, and the rest is music history.

For “I Only Have Eyes for You” and The Flamingos, Terry Johnson was the man behind the arrangement of the cover song that remains an all-time classic.

“We were working on an album that would become “Flamingos Serenade,” and I fell asleep,” he said. “They had given me 33 songs and wanted me to craft them more in the style of The Platters, who were huge at the time. I rattled off 32 of them but the last one seemed corny and had no flavor to it.”

It was a sleeping habit that provided what Johnson calls a “gift from God.”

“I had a habit of lying down with a guitar on my chest, and I dreamed of the song exactly as it came out, and I woke up and my fingers were in the shape of the chord,” he said. “I called the guys and told them to come over at 4 a.m. They heard it and they acted like I was crazy!”

But the song took off and hit Number 11 on the Billboard charts in 1959.

In 1960, it was Kathy Young who vaulted to stardom with “A Thousand Stars” recorded with The Innocents.

“I always wanted to be a singer since I was about five,” she said. “I met Jim Lee of Indigo Records at a rock and roll show and told him how much I wanted to be a singer. He told me he’d heard me sing, liked my enthusiasm and that I should have an audition.”

After getting a concussion from a near-drowning accident and not getting in touch with Lee, she eventually wound up in the studio, and Lee pulled out the sheet music to “A Thousand Stars” and asked her to come back the next night.

“The Innocents were there, and I started singing and they just started to harmonizing,” she said. “And that’s how it came about.”

“The Lion Sleeps at Night” was a massive success in 1961, hitting Number One on the Billboard charts.

It was a demo that lead to one of the all-time classic songs of the 1960s.

“We had done a demo to get started and one of the things we did was ‘Wimoweh,’ which had been done by The Weavers, who I was a fan of, but of course it was just a chant,” said original Phil Margo. “RCA Records liked it but they decided it needed a lyric.”

When they went in to record the song, the lyrics were handed to the band.

“It was boring so we went to the piano and changed the melody and the lyric, though we never got credit,” he said.

RCA pushed the song “Tina” rather than “The Lion Sleeps Tonight,” but Dick Smith in Worcester, Ma. began to play the song and it took off.

And they will all be together playing their classic hits at The Highlander Auditorium.


Comment guidelines, edit this message in your Wordpress admin panel