BIOGRAPHY AND DISCOGRAPHY

 

One of the many early 50’s rock vocal groups to find immediate success and only to endure a long period of commercial indifference until leaving the industry behind by the end of the decade only to see their records hailed by later generations of hardcore fans long after their career ended.

The Swallows were among a handful of important rock vocal groups to emerge from Baltimore, Maryland in the late 1940’s and early ‘50’s and Earl Hurley, one of their members lived across the street from The Orioles’ lead singer Sonny Til, the group they emulated early on.

When King Records producer Henry Glover heard them on a swing through town he was impressed but wanted them to come back with their own sound, not one derived from an already established group. A few months later he signed them and their first release in the spring of 1951 hit the national charts.

Though the specialized in ballads initially with Eddie Rich singing lead, they had the versatility to do other material and bass Bunky Mack handled the lead duties for the racier uptempo numbers. When producer Glover wanted a different voice for “Beside You” he turned to Junior Denby, the group’s primary songwriter and baritone whose performance gave them their second – and last national hit.

With Denby fast becoming Glover’s preference for lead duties, the others almost became expendable in the studio, something evidenced when Denby was drafted and the rest of the group toured extensively without making new records, though they were still under contract. When Glover found out Denby was home on leave he brought him into the studio with an unnamed gospel group and had them provide backup for him on six sides that would all be credited to The Swallows.

This shortsighted move contributed to the group’s downfall as Rich was talented enough to be offered the job of replacing Clyde McPhatter in The Dominoes. The group had one final session for King in March 1953, more than a year after their last one, and Rich and Mack each got a lead while Money Johnson got his first two chances at the job but by the time they were released in the fall the group were done at the label.

When Denby was discharged he returned to the company to try his hand at a solo career but when he discovered they’d cheated him out of his writing royalties he left music for good. The other Swallows, with changing personnel thanks to more losses to military service, cut one record for a tiny label before they were left to subsist on live gigs which wasn’t enough to sustain them and they broke up in 1956.

Some of the members sang, and even recorded some, with other groups before reconvening The Swallows with Rich, Johnson and Hurley all taking part from the original incarnation along with Calvin Rowlette, the lead singer of The Honey Boys another Baltimore group who Rich had recently appeared with. Rounded out by Edward Crawford, who’d taken Mack’s role as bass singer a few years earlier as The Swallows first run was winding down, and a newcomer Buddy Bailey they reconnected with King Records who signed them and had the group cut four sessions with Rowlette on lead for almost all of them, among the songs cut was a version of Bobby Hendricks budding hit “Itchy Twitchy Feeling”, as Hendricks had briefly been a Swallow in the mid-50’s for live appearances. Amazingly their version charted as well, although barely, spending one lone week at #100 on the Pop Charts, their only appearance there.

Despite this “success” the group soon broke up and Rich went on to make one more record in the early sixties as part of Sonny And The Dukes before calling it a day. In the 1980’s he resurrected the group for nostalgia audiences, albeit with no other vintage members. Denby however had begun singing again – even joining Rich’s Swallows for one night in 1983, and when The Swallows were inducted into the United Group Harmony Association (UGHA) Hall Of Fame in 1994 Denby and Rich were on hand to accept the award and perform one last time together on stage.
 
 
THE SWALLOWS DISCOGRAPHY (Records Reviewed To Date On Spontaneous Lunacy):

WILL YOU BE MINE
(King 4458; May, 1951)
A very well-written original that perfectly epitomizes young love and sung with disarming beauty by Eddie Rich – with notable help from bass Bunky Mack – this is a minimalist gem with airy harmonies adding to the delicate ambiance. (8)

DEAREST
(King 4458; May, 1951)
Though it’s become known as one of their more cherished records it’s actually very sloppy, from lyrical confusion to an alarming lack of melody and while there are some nice moments it would’ve been helped enormously by a more impassioned reading. (5)

SINCE YOU’VE BEEN AWAY
(King 4466; August, 1951)
A really well sung record with a nice melody and good lyrics that does more than enough to succeed despite a few easily correctable glitches which may be due more to inexperience and the unfamiliarity of writer/producer Henry Glover to their strengths. (7)

WISHING FOR YOU
(King 4466; August, 1951)
Despite a few moments where Eddie Rich’s lead and the vocal blend of the others is reasonably satisfying, the bulk of this is too flimsy to connect, both narratively, vocally and with its sparse poppish arrangement and the bass bridge isn’t safe to travel over. (4)

IT AIN’T THE MEAT
(King 4501; December, 1951)
A gloriously suggestive, if not outright obscene, record about sexual pleasure which is erotic, funny and eminently musical thanks to Sonny Thompson’s great arrangement that keeps the action churning behind the group, specifically Bunky Mack’s sly lead vocal. (9)

ETERNALLY
(King 4501; December, 1951)
A stylistic homage to The Orioles, right down to the sentiments being expressed, with a similarly stark arrangement makes this sound outdated, but the group’s vocal and a tender lead by Eddie Rich are just enough to rescue it from being nothing more than an uninspired retread. (6)