1-2-3 : LEN BARRY ON PAUL VIDAL's BIG V JAMBOREE
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SPOTLIGHTING AN EXCITING WHITE SOUL SINGER

Len Barry & The Dovells.Len Barry

When I was 9 years old in late 1965, I used to listen to the radio after coming back from my country school and I remember how much I loved Len Barry's then current hit - the beaty, soulish and instantly infectious '1-2-3'.
That singer had one of those voices which just grab you and never let go - like Gene Vincent's, Sam Cooke's or John Lennon's. A voice full of light and shade, a voice full of Soul. It was quite apparent that Len Barry knew his R'n'Blues.

Len Barry was born Leonard Borisoff in Philadelphia on June 12, 1942 (some sources state that it was December 6, 1942, but Donny Borisoff, whose father and Len were first cousins, has confirmed that Len's date of birth was June 12) ; it was an ideal place to be exposed to the black group sounds of the '50s. In 1958, an outfit called The Bosstones had an uptempo rocker - 'Mopitty Mope' - out on the Boss label (# 501, b/w 'Wing Of An Angel') : 16-years old Len Barry is thought to have sung on it and it does sound like him. Some time later, Len teamed up with another bunch of guys out of West Philadelphia to form the Brooktones, soon to be rebaptized The Dovells, a name coined by Bernie Lowe, owner of the Cameo-Parkway record company who would sign them in early 1961. The line-up then was comprised of Len (lead singer), Jerry Gross (first tenor), Mark Stevens (bass), Arnie Silver (baritone) and Mike Dennis. Mark Stevens soon left the group, to be replaced by Danny Brooks who wouldn't stay very long either, thus reducing the quintet to a quartet. Their first single, 'No No No' (Parkway 819) was an instant flop but the second, 'Bristol Stomp' (# 827), co-written by Kal Mann, Bernie Lowe and Dave Appell, became a #2 hit in a matter of weeks, after Dick Clark played it on 'American Bandstand'. It was originally coupled with a ballad, 'Out In The Cold', although later pressings had 'Letters Of Love' on the flip (that song had already been the flip-side to 'No No No'). To me, 'Bristol Stomp' was one of the superior 1961 singles and just about as important as 'Stay', the Maurice Williams & The Zodiacs hit of the previous year, for defining the new '60s Rock'n'Roll sound.

Good exposure and fine singing helped establish The Dovells as one of the top dance groups on the scene. They appeared in the film, 'Don't Knock The Twist' in 1962 (with fellow Cameo-Parkway artists, Chubby Checker, Dee Dee Sharp and The Carroll Bros who once cut a powerful version of Billy Emerson's 'Red Hot') and lined up more smashes for a couple of years : 'Bristol Twistin' Annie', 'Hully Gully Baby' and finally 'You Can't Sit Down', a vocal version of The Phil Upchurch Combo classic instrumental (Boyd 3398) which reached #3 in 1963. In fact, The Dovells used to jam a lot with guitarist Philip Upchurch at the 'Harlem Club' in Atlantic City and that's how they got the idea of putting words to that exciting tune. Once again, the hit side was coupled with two different B-sides. Other good tracks recorded by the group included the snappy 'Save Me Baby' (featuring a special appearance by bass singer, Danny Brooks), '36-22-36' and the rockin' 'Betty In Bermudas'. Most of these songs featured wild tenor sax breaks and wavy organ backings but all of them displayed Len's raucous voice (and sometimes his incredible falsetto) at the forefront. With due respect to the other members of the group whose nice harmonizing echoed the '50s Doo-Woppers they idolized, it was plain obvious that the singing star was Len Barry. Before 1963 was over, Len had walked out on them and started a solo career on Parkway's sister label, Cameo.

In an interview with Wayne Jones, published in the January 1982 issue of US mag,'Goldmine', Jerry Gross stated that Len Barry had a tendency to think he was 'the white James Brown' ; it should be noted that The Dovells were one of the few white groups to have been allowed to play the famous Apollo Theatre in New-York, the very location where James Brown was captured at his best on a live recording from October 24, 1962 (King LP 826). Indeed, Barry had all the tricks and inflexions used by black vocalists ; sometimes, his vocal style reminds me of another great white Soul singer : Eric Burdon.
His first solo '45 for Cameo was a double-sided belter ; 'Don't Come Back' was tailor-made for him but even more impressive was his cover of LaVern Baker's 'Jim Dandy', where it takes a really wild sax solo to match the power of his vocal delivery. He carried on with another superb outing featuring the brassy & catchy 'Hearts Are Trump' on one side and the bluesy, organ-dominated 'Little White House' on the other. All these early solo sides, plus choice material cut with The Dovells, were astutely compiled on a 1965 album titled 'Len Barry Sings With The Dovells' (Cameo 1082) - an absolute must for '60s collectors.

'Hearts Are Trump' enjoyed some degree of success and, in retrospect, its elaborate arrangements can be viewed as a template for his soon-to-come Decca stuff. There, producers David White and John Madara took charge of Len Barry, keyboard player Jimmy Wisner being the arranger. David White had been part of Danny & The Juniors until 1963, the legendary white vocal group responsible for two of the quintessential '50s Rock'n'Roll anthems : 'At The Hop' (Singular 711, then ABC Paramount 9871) and 'Rock'n'Roll Is Here To Stay' (ABC Paramount 9888). All the while, White often collaborated with singer Johnny Madara and the pair came up with many good rockers such as 'Dottie' (Danny & The Juniors, ABC 9926, in '58) and Chubby Checker's best ever disc, 'The Fly' (Parkway 830, in '61). With the arrival of Bob Dylan and the British groups, White and Madara teamed up with Ray Gilmore to form the Spokesmen and enter the 'protest-song' arena. Their album, 'The Dawn Of Correction' (Decca DL 4712), remains a slickly produced but ultimately laughable answer to Barry Mc Guire's then popular 'Eve Of Destruction' (just check out their faces over the background on the front cover - it's hard not to burst into laughter !). Happily, Madara and White proved to be the right choice to take care of Len Barry's musical career. Not surprisingly, Len's Decca debut '45 featured an updated remake of a Danny & The Juniors classic, titled 'At The Hop '65' : soulful, brassy, danceable and containing a piano solo, it was a very good rendition. But it was the other side which clicked, the gimmicky 'Lip Sync (To The Tongue Twisters)'.

In October 1965, we were treated to another all-time great sixties record : '1-2-3' (Decca 31827). Despite its apparent simplicity, it was a perfect recording, fully capturing the mid-'60s flavor.

To be continued soon...............................................
© PAUL VIDAL * Privas, France * February/March 2003

LEN BARRY'S DISCOGRAPHY - SOLO & WITH THE DOVELLS
[with thanks to Patrick Hughes]
LEN BARRY
THE DOVELLS
45's
45's
Cameo 303 Don't Come Back/Jim Dandy Parkway 819 No, No, No/Letters Of Love
Cameo 318 Hearts Are Trump/Little White House Parkway 827 Bristol Stomp/Out In The Cold
Decca 31788 Lip Sync/At The Hop '65 Parkway 827 Bristol Stomp/Letters Of Love
Decca 31827 1-2-3/Bullseye Parkway 833 Do The New Continental/Mope-Itty Mope Stomp
Decca 31889 Like A Baby/? Parkway 838 Bristol Twistin' Annie/The Actor
Decca 31923 Somewhere/It's A Cryin' Shame Parkway 845 Hully Gully Baby/Your Last Chance
Decca 31969 Happily Ever After/? Parkway 855 The Jitterbug/Kissin' In The Kitchen
RCA 9348 The ABC's Of Love/Come Rain Or Come Shine Parkway 861 Save Me Baby/You Can't Run Away From Yourself
RCA 9464 Sweet & Funky/? Parkway 867 You Can't Sit Down/Stompin' Everywhere
Parkway 867 You Can't Sit Down/Wildwood Days
Parkway 882 Betty In Bermudas/Dance The Froog
LPs
LPs
Cameo C-1082 SINGS WITH THE DOVELLS
Hearts Are Trump/Don't Come Back/Havin' A Good Time/Lockin' Up My Heart/Save Me Baby/Miss Daisy De Lite/Little White House/Jim Dandy/Bristol Stomp/You Can't Sit Down/Betty In Bermudas/36-22-36

Parkway P 7006 BRISTOL STOMP

Parkway P 7010
ALL THE HITS OF THE TEEN GROUPS

Parkway P 7021 FOR YOUR HULLY GULLY PARTY

Parkway P 7025 YOU CAN'T SIT DOWN

Cameo C-1067 GOLDEN HITS
(featuring The Dovells & The Orlons)

Wyncote 9052 DISCOTHEQUE

Wyncote 9114 BIGGEST HITS

Decca DL 4720 (Mono) / DL 74720 (Stereo) 1-2-3
1-2-3/Will You Love Me Tomorrow/Treat Her Right/I-O-U/Would I Love You?/Lip Sync (To The Tongue Twisters)/You Baby/Like A Baby/Bullseye/At The Hop '65/Don't Throw Your Love Away/Happiness (Is A Girl Like Mine)
RCA LPM 3823 / LSP 3823 MY KIND OF SOUL
BUDDAH BDS 5105 UPS AND DOWNS

 

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