It’s another evening of oldies rock and roll with the Shirelles and others

Published on April 1st, 2021

By Jim Dail

In the early days of rock and roll, groups with bird names were somewhat common, with bands like the Flamingos, Penguins and Orioles. There was, of course, one of the biggest of all time, the Poquellos.

Granted, that was the first name of the all-time great Shirelles, whose lead singer, Shirley Alston Reeves, will perform along with Maurice Williams and the Zodiacs, J.T. Carter and others as part of the Legends of Doo-Wop II on July 16 at The Highlander Auditorium in Upland.

The Shirelles were the first girl group to hit number one on the Billboard charts, accomplishing that feat with “Will You Love Me Tomorrow” and “Soldier Boy.”

“We never thought we would be recording artists or anything like that,” said Reeves. “The boys were singing and there was a basement where they would sing and show off the harmonies. Beverly Lee and myself put the group together. It was just going to be her and I, but it wasn’t working so we needed to get Doris [Coley] and Mickie [Harris].”

While babysitting, the girls decided to write a song and they were singing in the gym when a teacher stopped them.

“The teacher said we had to sing at the talent show or had to stay after school, so we got matching blouses and skirts and sang at the show,” she said. “We had never written a song before that and we just decided we will sing a line for each day of the week and someone said ‘I met him on a Sunday, then I met him on a Monday, and we added hand claps.”

That song was “Tonight’s the Night,’ and one of their classmates, Mary Jane Greenberg, had a mother who owned a record company.

“She told us that her mother’s company was Tiara Records and we said bye,” she laughed. “Eventually we went down there and that started it.”

When it comes to the song they are most noted for, “Will You Love Me Tomorrow,” it was a song brought to them by Carole King, who had written it with Jerry Goffin.

“I told them I didn’t think it was a Shirelles song because it was a little on the country western side,” she said. “Our producer, Luther Dixon, said if I still didn’t like it after we recorded it then we would put it on the album instead of as a single. But when we started to do the recording and I heard the music and the strings, I fell in love with it.”

As for “Soldier Boy,” it was penned by Florence Greenberg and Dixon.

“We had time left over in the recording studio so Florence said time is money and let’s do this song I wrote,” she said. “We had to rehearse it with the piano player and then we put it down in one take.”

Other hits included “Mama Said,” “Dedicated to the One I Love,” “Baby It’s You” and “Boys,” the latter two both recorded by the Beatles on their debut album. Few bands from that era can point to 12 hits, but through it all Reeves is definitely humble.

“It amazes me that people still love to hear these songs because I never get tired of singing them,” she said. “People thank me for taking them back and that’s a great feeling for me.”

Also on stage will be Maurice Williams and the Zodiacs, known for the Billboard smash “Stay,” as well as “Little Darlin’.’”

It started for Williams with him just wanting to be part of anything musical.

“I wanted to be in the high school band so bad that back then the bass drum player was short and he needed someone to hold up his drum in the parade and I did that, marching in front of him just to be in the band,” he laughed. “I moved on to trombone and first string. I was a big time man in the band!”

When he formed the vocal group, The Gladiolas, they had a R&B hit with “Little Darlin’.” However, as was common, another group, The Diamonds, had a smash hit with a cover version.

“The Diamonds were wonderful, and I was into sound and music and theirs was so great,” he said. “I thought just the idea of a harp player on a song that I wrote was incredible. They had that on their record and the quality was so good because of the company. I just loved it.”

A few years later, they finally had the big smash with “Stay.”

“That song is a real thing, just like I was in love with two girls in ‘Little Darlin’,’” he said. “With ‘Stay,’ it was one of those same girls, and I wanted her to stay at my house a little longer. Her brother was supposed to pick her up later. We were all families who knew each other and I was telling her that your mama don’t mind because we are all family. The next morning, I wrote the song.”

By the way, no she did not stay and that worked out pretty well.

“My wife says she is glad that girl didn’t stay,” he laughed. “There would not have been that song if she had.”

The key to him was that people could sing it.

“Al Silver of Herald Records liked the song but he told me to go back and make it shorter and to sing it flat,” he said. “He said if it is flat, the man on the street can hum it.”

And that song has been a hit for years.

“People keep passing these songs down and that keeps them alive,” he said.


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