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Sometime around 14 or 15 years old, maybe sixteen at the absolute latest, the kid who dreamed of playing professional sports… who believed with the utmost assurance growing up that they were destined for the NBA or Major League Baseball even as their decidedly average youth league statistics made that prospect a fantasy of epic proportions… finally realizes that their future doesn’t involve being cheered for scoring the game winning basket in the NBA Finals or hitting a home run to win a World Series.

For most this is merely a gradual acceptance of reality. That growth spurt you were counting on to transform you from an undersized kid with little lateral quickness to a lanky adult who could shoot over opposing players if they backed off you and blow by them with newfound speed if they guarded you too closely, was never going to materialize. Maybe your parents average height was indicative of your eventual size after all, just like they told you.

But since there’s rarely a single moment where your long held dreams come crashing down on you, no sudden wake up call where one minute you fully expected to be drafted someday by a pro team only to be ignominiously cut from junior varsity in high school the next minute, you have plenty of time to come to grips with your fading chances at athletic stardom. You’ve probably already started to pursue other interests you picked up along the way and by the time you reach 18 your sports “career” is already behind you. All that’s left are some team photos in a scrapbook alongside a few yellowed newspaper clippings of your decidedly minor exploits and a handful of trophies packed away in a box in the attic – remnants of your childhood that you’re leaving behind without regret.

But what if your dreams of stardom are in a field where success or failure isn’t determined before you’re old enough to vote? What if you choose a career where your chances at reaching your goal are just as much of a long shot in the end, but now instead of pursuing your dreams in the safe cocoon of childhood, where your progress – or lack thereof – is shielded by the relative anonymity of youth and is viewed as little more than normal childish fantasy, is instead being done on the public stage of adulthood?

For musicians who enter the professional ranks and earn some semblance of a living playing on stage and even those who get the chance to cut some records along the way, their odds at true success – hit singles, national acclaim – are probably not much better statistically than the 8 year old who dreams of playing centerfield for the Dodgers. But whereas the eight year old gives up on that dream over time when it naturally gets replaced by other dreams, ones far more attainable and more suited to their emerging strengths as a human being, the musician has to face their version of cold hard reality that they’re never going to be stars when they are fully grown adults.

So with that in mind at what point in a musician’s career do they take a good hard look in the mirror and say: “We gave it our best shot, but it just is not gonna happen”.

For The Five Scamps that moment undoubtedly came right at this very minute in November 1949.

Now You Can See The Shape I’m In
We could’ve written that intro for any one of a hundred artists we’ve covered so far on our journey through rock history and could easily reprint that screed for tens of thousands of acts still to come. The fact is MOST artists will never become stars and will wind up spending the rest of their lives making ends meet in some other pursuit, one decidedly less glamorous, enjoyable and potentially lucrative as the one they were forced to give up when the breaks they’d been hoping for didn’t come their way.

It’s almost inevitable really. There’s only so much room on the national stage for transcendent stars and while some might momentarily have the spotlight shine on them and get to bask in the applause they have to know deep down that the cheers will soon fade, the hits will stop coming and the bills will need to be paid some other way.

When you take your shot in the public arena like music however the sting of rejection probably feels much harsher than if you fall short of your goals in more modest careers and so there’s really no joy we take in pointing out the shortcomings of so many artists who are on the fast track to obscurity.

Which is why we chose The Five Scamps as the artists with which to use this lead-in for. Though they never would score a national hit, never would really shape the future of any style they performed in, and would hardly be recognizable names to anyone even reasonably familiar with rock history as a whole, The Five Scamps had a career that was nothing to be ashamed of.

In fact, unlike most who have to give up playing music at some point and take a job as a civil servant or a salesman or (if they’re among the lucky ones) a career on the outskirts of the industry, maybe teaching music or managing a nightclub or working for a booking agency, The Five Scamps never stopped playing music professionally together. They were among the rare few who were still earning their keep in their eighties in the Twenty-First Century by doing the very same thing they’d been doing in their twenties back in the 1940’s.

That, my friends, means that while they may have been viewed as a failure in the realm of commercial recordings, they were by no means failures as musicians.

Came Up One Day With Something To Say
So why then did we say The Five Scamps had to face reality and accept the fact that their chances at breaking through were just about over in late 1949 when in fact they still had another – get this – SIXTY YEARS ahead of them as professional musicians?

Because there’s a difference between being up and comers poised for success with boundless opportunities stretched out before them… and being mere working musicians, always scuffling to get by. That’s when most give up throw in the towel and cleverly think up excuses as to why they never achieved greater success to salve their wounded pride throughout eternity. The Five Scamps never took that last step and so in the big scheme of things I’m guessing they were a lot happier.

Which is why we can look at THIS moment, their final release with Columbia for two years (and one of their last releases regardless of label), when they had to know that they were already on the downside of the mountain. However the truth of the matter is that if anyone was entitled to feeling spurned, bitter and angry over their fate and had more than enough genuine excuses at the ready in order to defend their lack of success, it’d surely be The Five Scamps.

The group had already been around for a decade when Modern Records signed them to their first contract in 1947 where they cut mostly modest covers of pop material, both white and black in origin, all to little acclaim before being let go when the recording ban hit at the end of the year.

That was when their career seemed all but dead in the water but then fate stepped in as Columbia Records signed them in 1949 after catching their act in Kansas City in part because the label was at least aware, if not altogether happy, about the changes taking place in music, particularly in black America which was leaving behind sedate styles that had ruled for so long in favor of indulgent and somewhat non-commercial be-bop on one hand and commercial (if musically redundant) rock ‘n’ roll on the other hand. So Columbia decided they’d better at least make a pass at connecting with this stuff and sought out acts that might be willing to give it a go without being dyed in the wool rockers who’d be too hard to control.

The Five Scamps seemed tailor made for that role.

Hire A Favorite Band To Play
To everyone’s surprise however rather than merely being an out-of-touch label’s obedient lackeys for the job The Five Scamps proved they had what it took to compete and dare I say excel as rockers.

Columbia released two singles simultaneously in March and three of the four sides – Chicken Shack Boogie, a cover of Amos Milburn’s huge hit; Gone Home, an original instrumental featuring strong sax playing by Rudy Massingale; and especially Red Hot, an absolutely scintillating original vocal backed by some of the most hellbent playing rock had yet heard – showed that this unlikely group had been pursuing the wrong type of careers prior to rock.

Naturally Columbia was aghast. Or at least we have to assume they were, because while Red Hot did make some territorial charts the label didn’t demand they give them more of the same, as you’d expect a company genuinely hoping to cash in on the movement would do when they heard the results and got pretty good returns on their investment. Instead the rest of their output reverted back to milder songs with less convincing attitudes and surely that was at the behest of the “powers that be” within the company.

Now, on I’m Gonna Cry, their final release during this period, The Five Scamps are caught between two worlds. Rock music is what got them their only real notice and provided them with their best opportunities to show off their abilities, not to mention resulted in what were clearly their best records for anyone with ears. Yet Columbia’s ears were attuned to a different sound and they weren’t keen on attracting the type of riff-raff that rock ‘n’ roll was cultivating as its primary audience.

The experiment, in other words, was more or less over as far as they were concerned. Columbia had no shortage of sales, they were scoring hit after hit with respectable artists performing decent music and they were busy heavily promoting their innovative Microgroove technology which is what broke up the Long Playing 33 1/3rd RPM market for albums, so Columbia really had no use for The Five Scamps and their wild antics any longer.

Where I Was Raised Around
It stands to reason that nothing the group would do – maybe nothing they were capable of doing – would ever match their peak from last winter. Those types of records were like catching lightning in a bottle and the more you tried to RE-capture it, the more your hands would be singed by that lightning when it missed the bottle’s narrow aperture.

But that didn’t mean The Five Scamps couldn’t have made some modest adjustments and kept their rock credentials up to date as this record clearly shows.

Though it’s true that some of what’s found in I’m Gonna Cry is too far behind the times to think that it was even the same group that gave us Red Hot (which are probably the parts that Columbia felt were best!), but there are other aspects of this record which provides enough evidence that they could’ve kept up with the times reasonably well had they just been given more chances to do so, not to mention more encouragement from the people signing their checks.

Like so many vocal groups in rock the prototype remains The Ravens, the originators of the style and the most successful group to date, both in terms of commercial success but also in terms of being able to garner some respect from the mainstream in the process. The emphasis on Jimmy Ricks’s cavernous bass vocals allowed those uneasy with rock and all it entailed to view their records as gimmicks or novelty, while rock fans who knew better were drawn to those same qualities for the underlying TRUE meaning of his delivery, full of eroticism and lust.

The Five Scamps weren’t in possession of anyone in Ricky’s class, though no other groups were either, but that didn’t stop many from trying and The Five Scamps manage to pull off their imitative technique with more panache than most.

Massingale’s piano sets the scene before the others come in singing a nursery rhyme refrain that is pretty lame but that’s just the set-up for James Whitcomb’s bass vocals which are surprisingly effective, giving listeners something warm and resonant with just a hint of lechery to sell it to the rock deviants like us.

The story itself – about a guy that gets dumped – might not have what it takes to win us over (we tend to like coming out on top in our love affairs, especially when sung with the verve shown here), but the structure is solid as it lets the others, who are singing in harmony, chime in regularly before Whitcomb pushes the story along by breaking down how his relationship itself broke down.

There are some good lines found here, the picture he paints is a vivid one, though at times it seems almost ad-libbed as he goes along because of the simplistic sing-songy pattern and the fact that it’s definitely not a concise tale that chooses a main theme right off the bat and then sticks with it, returning to that perspective in the end. Instead this covers a lot of ground from the time when the narrator was on top of the world to the point where he’s “down and out”, left without friends, money or his girl.

In a roundabout way it almost mirrors the group’s own rise and fall, though in real life of course they still had each other, even if the record label and the recording industry as a whole gave up on them.

Slammed That Door In My Face
It’s probably not at all surprising that this failed to make a dent in the market. Columbia certainly didn’t have much use for the group anymore and now fresher faces recording for more liberal record companies who’d give their charges free reign were threatening to put any group with ties to the musical past out of business. Even The Ravens themselves were trying to make adjustments to the changing styles and heightened expectations for rock acts and so a warmed over Ravens-pastiche just wasn’t going to cut it as the 1940’s drew to a close.

Even in the best of circumstances there’s not quite enough here to make it a record that will grab your attention. Whitcomb handles his part well throughout but never adds anything as dramatic as Jimmy Ricks usually offered. The others have pretty good harmonies but no moments that make you stop in your tracks. There’s no sign of their instrumental prowess anywhere on this, not even a mid-song solo on piano or sax to give it more of a kick.

Yet I’m Gonna Cry is still catchy enough, charming enough and authentic enough to be recommended. Maybe our response is due in part to some lingering fondness for the sounds that helped to get this rock ball rolling in the first place, or perhaps maybe it’s thanks to some nagging sympathy, a belief that The Five Scamps deserved a better fate than what they got, but in the end the song itself still has to hold up well enough to want to keep hearing it and this one meets that requirement comfortably.

No, it’s not the best way for them to go out, surely it isn’t what they should be remembered for, but you can’t help but think that if they’d just gotten a few more releases in this mode for the next couple of years it would’ve kept them from being merely a great “what-if” in the bigger picture of rock lore.


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