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In the January 6, 1951 issue of Cash Box, the magazine reviewed the debut singles of three acts who collectively would help to define the rock vocal group scene of the next few years.

Two of them – The Four Buddies and The Dominoes – were reviewed in the Rhythm & Blues section of the trade paper and their records would each soon be giant hits.

The last of them had their release covered in the Pop Section and not surprisingly with content that made it somewhat appropriate for that market The Clovers would have to wait until their next single on another label with a revamped sound to break through and join the others at the forefront of rock’s new frontier.


Don’t Mean Maybe
Though this is indeed the same group who in just a matter of months will kick off a string of hits that no artist in rock would come close to matching by the mid-1950’s, the style of The Clovers as heard on this record only vaguely resembles that which made them the biggest stars of their era… and “vaguely resembles” might be overselling the similarities by half!

Like a lot of young black singers who came of age in the mid 1940’s the role models for achieving the kind of success that made a career in music more attractive than working in a factory or a gas station or as somebody’s chauffeur were few and far between. But with due respect to The Mills Brothers, no slouches themselves when it came to widespread success and influence, it was The Ink Spots who towered over the competition in the minds of the up and coming generation, scoring legitimate Pop hits in addition to ruling the Black charts with their sterling high tenor leads from Bill Kenny and a bass recitation from Hoppy Jones.

Their impact was so big that nobody in America, black or white, during the late 1930’s and early 1940’s could remain unaware of the group for very long. But while a lot of their records were exquisitely sung, heartfelt and innovative, like any act who became so big there was an immediate tendency to revert to formula – the same exact acoustic guitar intro, the same high tenor, almost falsetto, leads of Kenny and the same spoken bridge by Jones in a manner that teetered precariously at times on unflattering racial stereotypes.

Unlike most artists who keep repeating their approach to the letter The Ink Spots remained unchallenged commercially until the mid-1940’s, just the time when The Clovers came together in a Washington D.C. high school. Naturally they were going to follow suit, not copying the structure so much as the repertoire of pop styled material such as Yes Sir, That’s My Baby.

By the time they’d began to draw local notice and got an agent who managed to secure them a one-off record deal with tiny Rainbow Records in New York, the music scene had drastically changed with rock’s birth in 1947 and its subsequent rise over the next three years. Some of the vocal group influences they’d picked up on during this time helped move them away from the sounds of the past, adopting a Jimmy Ricks-like bass presence with Harold Winley, while Sonny Til’s far more emotional readings of songs also were reflected in Buddy Bailey’s leads, but it wasn’t quite enough to fully put them on the road to tomorrow. As a result they were still being thought of – by Rainbow Records and themselves – as a pop group.

It just so happened pop music couldn’t have cared less about them.


When I Reach The Preacher Man I’ll Say
One look at the songs they chose for their debut single, as well as their vocal arrangement, tells you where their heads were at as they launched their recording career… a career which promised to be exceedingly short if they stuck with this game plan.

Yes Sir, That’s My Baby was a song dating back to the 1920’s… a sure sign that record labels and rock artists alike (or in this case “potential” rock artists) were lacking in conviction that rock ‘n’ roll would continue to be viable for very long despite the clear evidence to refute that belief.

But in The Clovers’ case at least they didn’t have the moldy old song pushed on them by a skeptical record company, instead it had long been a part of their own repertoire and in fact had been the song that won them a talent show heard over the radio back in 1948 that led indirectly to them picking up bass singer Harold Winley who’d heard them on the air and went down the next week and soon joined them.

It’s Winley too that helps to push their rendition of this song towards rock ‘n’ roll, even if only on the borders, as he adds enough of a bottom to their wordless harmonies behind Bailey’s falsetto lead to give this a little bit of gravity.

When he gets a chance to throw in a solo interjection midway through the record starts to tilt away from the pop concept just enough to make it palatable for a rock fan and coming out of that brief interlude the backing vocals open up considerably as the others get to sing actual words where Winley’s voice is prominent enough to make an impression.

Unfortunately when he gets his big chance to take the bridge solo he fouls it up by seemingly trying to go even deeper, no doubt trying to win a dick swinging contest against Jimmy Ricks and make a name for himself on The Clovers first public airing. But as we know nobody in the world could best Ricky in this department and to try and do so is foolhardy, not to mention musically self-defeating as he drifts out of key and makes it all sound forced and artificial.


By The Way
The others don’t sound great either. Their harmonies are good – although not in a style that would find favor with anyone buying the latest rock sides – but for far too much of the record Bailey is way out of his own comfort zone singing that high and he simply can’t hold the notes properly.

It should go without saying that singing is made up of equal parts technical abilities and interpretive qualities and he keeps tripping up on the former while depriving himself of any authenticity on the latter.

He starts off well and at various times during the main thrust of the song he’ll occasionally hit a nice stretch and you’re ready to admire it but then his voice cracks, his projection weakens considerably and he strains to hold it together. He never fully relinquishes control of the song but it’s a constant struggle and he’s clearly not at ease during any of Yes Sir, That’s My Baby.

The real mistake they made was in letting him sing in falsetto for as long as he does, because when drops down to his normal range the song comes alive by comparison. Bailey had a distinctive voice in his natural tone that was much more appealing than any third rate Bill Kenny imitation… and Kenny himself singing this and hitting all the notes properly wouldn’t make much headway with rock fans in 1950 either.

Instead of trying to be themselves they went for an Ink Spots meets Ravens pastiche and fell short in both as neither Bailey or Winley have the breath control for what they’re trying to do and consequently they paid the price for it.

Essentially this was an amateur group trying to show they were ready for the big time, but they were doing so not in a rehearsal hall or a talent show but rather in a recording studio where the results would be released for the world to hear and for an audience to reject, thereby potentially ending their chances to succeed before they ever took off their coats.

No Use To Hide It
One of the things that was hard to impress upon certain artists and record companies then – and remains hard to convince some people today who gravitate to that era in general precisely because it’s not THIS era today which they fail to understand or appreciate – is that in order to make your mark in music, especially a cutting edge brand of music, you can’t spend your time looking back.

Records are designed for those coming of age at the moment they’re released, yet often they’re being made by people who came of age five or more years before. That chasm has to be bridged if you want to make it big and like it or not The Ink Spots style was no longer relevant in late 1950.

Ironically the same issue of Cash Box that reviewed Yes Sir, That’s My Baby also reviewed a record by those same Ink Spots and gave it high marks calling it “one of the best waxings they’ve had in a long long while” and then going so far as to claim “Ops who want a disk that’s gonna be played for a long time better latch onto this”.

Apparently none of those distributors for the juke trade read that week’s issue because The Ink Spots record sank without a trace. The reasons for that are obvious… it just wasn’t 1941 anymore and heading into 1951 there weren’t enough people left who cared about them. Time had moved on, as it always does, and their fans had long since stopped listening to new music, or new records by old acts they once loved. Meanwhile new groups with new sounds were finding new audiences eager for something made with their tastes in mind.

This isn’t it.

Until The Clovers found their own unique and thoroughly modern style to appeal to the current dominant market nobody would care about them either.


(Visit the Artist page of The Clovers for the complete archive of their records reviewed to date)