One of rock’s most iconic duos, their time in the spotlight was more or less over by their early 20’s, but during their halcyon teenage years they were a steady presence on the charts as they brought a new perspective to the New Orleans rock sound of the Nineteen Fifties.

Shirley Goodman and Leonard Lee were born ten days apart, in late June 1936, and at fifteen years old the neighborhood acquaintances along with other kids in the area pestered local recording studio proprietor Cosimo Matassa to let them cut a song… not for potential release, but just for the experience of doing so and to get a record they could play.

He told them if they could pay him the two dollars for the costs he would record them and when they returned some time later with the money he was obligated to follow through on his promise, despite hoping to put it off. When they’d sung their song and got their record he thought it was the end of things but as he was searching for a tape he could erase for a session with Aladdin Records he came across the kids efforts which impressed Aladdin’s owner Eddie Mesner who was particularly interested in Lee, who’d written the song, and Goodman, whose off-key soprano voice cut through speakers.

Tracking them down and signing the two, who were barely friends, to a record contract, they entered the studio just after Goodman had turned sixteen and days before Lee was to hit that milestone himself, re-recording the song they’d done with their friends, “I’m Gone”, this time with a band led by Dave Bartholomew who produced the session.

When the song hit #2 on the national charts their status as rock’s top duo going forward was established, a position they’d more or less hold for the next four plus years. Ironically though it was the flip side, which they’d written together, suggesting they were in a relationship for the sake of the song, which gave Aladdin their selling point, dubbing them “The Sweethearts of The Blues”. Over the next two years their fictionalized saga as couple, breaking up and making up, was embellished with each new release, giving them claim to conceiving of the firt ongoing “rock opera”, as the pair wrote the songs themselves and were bolstered by the cream of the New Orleans session musicians.

Aside from regional best sellers though it wasn’t until they shifted their focus to broader themes that they re-entered the national consciousness in a big way with three unrelated songs all featuring the word “Good” in the title, the most famous of which “Let The Good Times Roll” became a generational rock anthem.

Almost always trading off vocals set them apart from those who sang in unison, like labelmates Gene & Eunice, while Goodman’s piercing soprano that rarely stayed in key gave them an instantly identifiable sound that audiences found endearing. With Lee’s more soulful baritone and consistently good songwriting, their output helped keep Aladdin Records flush in the rock market for much of the decade.

By the late 1950’s they left the label and went to Warwick Records where they were talked into re-recording their biggest hit which charted again in its new rendition in 1960 bookended by two other pop chart entries that showed they still had appeal, though with both prone to putting on weight they no longer looked like the same innocent kids from just a few years earlier.

From there they landed at Imperial Records where for the first time in a decade they reunited with Dave Bartholomew who’d overseen their debut. But by now the market was undergoing too many changes for them to keep up and the pair soon went their separate ways. Goodman moved to Los Angeles and tried to find another male vocal partner to recapture the magic of the past, but none of the pairings, including with low rider staple Brenton Wood under his given name Alfred Smith, panned out.

She found much more success as a backing singer for other rock acts by the late 1960’s and early 70’s, her two most prominent sessions being those for Dr. John on his immortal Gris Gris album from 1968 and The Rolling Stone’s classic Exile On Main Street, on both of which her shrill soprano is easily heard through the mire.

After Shirley and Lee reunited for one huge rock ‘n’ roll revival show at Madison Square Garden in 1972, Lee became a social worker while Goodman was a secretary at record company when in the mid-1970’s Sylvia Robinson, singer, guitarist, owner of All Platinum Records and one half of the other big 1950’s duos Mickey & Sylvia called Goodman asking if she’d be interested in adding her voice to a nascent disco cut she was working on with male vocalist Jesus Alvarez.

The resulting smash “Shame, Shame, Shame” put Goodman back on the charts, and atop the R&B Charts for the first time in 18 years and led to a brief comeback in which she scored another smaller hit before packing it in once again.

Leonard Lee passed away of a heart attack in 1976 at the age of 41 while Goodman suffered a stroke in the 1990’s and died back in her hometown of New Orleans at the age of 69 in 2005.

Though the two hadn’t envisioned a career in music when they scrounged up the two dollars with their friends, with two of the most unique and identifiable voices of their era, Shirley & Lee wound up with a substantial career and a hallowed place in 1950’s rock ‘n’ roll.

SHIRLEY & LEE DISCOGRAPHY (Records Reviewed To Date on Spontaneous Lunacy):

(Aladdin 3153; October, 1952)
One of the great debuts in rock history as Leonard Lee’s smart lyrics combined with the rolling melody carried out by Dave Bartholomew’s band gives Shirley Goodman’s unique voice and their effortless byplay an ideal platform resulting in a well earned #2 hit. (9)

(Aladdin 3153; October, 1952)
Another well-written song by the duo perfectly encapsulates the teenage experience but without a better melody there’s not many instrumental tricks Bartholomew can conjure up to make this more appealing as with its slow pace it lays bare their vocal deficiencies. (4)