It was a privilege to have attended the Ultimate Doo Wop Show, a touring package that appeared recently at Buffalo’s majestic Shea’s Performing Arts Center. For starters, Pookie Hudson of Spaniels' fame qualifies as the highlight of this nostalgic extravaganza, but a host of Doo Wop greats helped set the stage for the much esteemed Mr. Hudson who is back-in-action after being sidelined with cancer. This is the gentleman who gave us "Goodnight Sweetheart Goodnight" and so many other wonderful classics. I'd like to provide just a taste of the excitement generated by an evening that brought back fond reminiscences.
Pittsburgh natives the Skyliners are known for 1959’s "Since I Don’t Have You," which was written by lead vocalist Jimmy Beaumont and long-time manager Joe Rock. This plaintive serenade perfectly evoked a bygone era, and it closed out the first half of the program in classy fashion. It's remarkable how Beaumont’s voice has retained its "fountain of youth" allure. Very few white groups could capture the R&B spirit as effortlessly as the Skyliners who comprise of a trio of 50’s hit-making harmony groups originating from Pittsburgh, including the Marcels and Dell Vikings. "Pennies From Heaven," "This I Swear" and "How Much" showcased those distinctively soaring Skyliner harmonies. Their sound has always incorporated a female harmony voice into the blend, and when Donna Groom,the youngest and most recent addition to the group, hit that stunning C note at the tag end of Since I Don’t Have You, the decades evaporated into an instant nostalgic haze evocative of American Bandstand, Happy Days and American Graffiti.
It was a very good night for Pittsburgh, as the welcome mat was also extended to the Marcels, another group of Steeltown alumni. They transported the crowd on a magical trip down memory lane, opening with "Heartaches", and closing with their biggest hit "Blue Moon." It’s eerie how that old reliable can still send chills down the old spine! Book-ended between these chestnuts, they weaved an enchanting medley of standards from the Golden Age Of Rock And Roll ("Earth Angel", "Sincerely", "Sea Of Love", "(I Remember) The Still Of The Night"), thereby causing those sands of time to shift into reverse gear. The Marcels’ mastery of the established repertoire was effortless. Such authority when exercised over sublime and intricate harmonic patterns is genuine art, and that must never be taken for granted.
The Shades Of Blue, a quartet from just outside of Detroit, Michigan, brought their message of blue-eyed Soul to the assembled; and everyone heeded the invitation. Dedicated troupers with countless Doo Wop reunions under their collective belt, their set was replete with a nice commingling of the old and new: 50’s ballads, Motown, Beach Music, Pop standards. Each member displayed vocal prowess on lead vocals, and their cool aplomb shone brightly through the colorful stage lights. Their joy in what they were doing was palpable, and the crowd responded in kind, especially after hearing that glorious summery anthem, "Oh How Happy."
They hail from Gary Indiana, their genesis harkens to the early 50’s, and their gracefully distinctive blend of Gospel and R&B would afford their songs an eternal quality. The term "Doo Wop" actually was derived from the intro to "Goodnight Sweetheart Goodnight" as sung by bass Gerald Gregory, but Pookie Hudson is the actual patriarch of the Spaniels. Pookie commands a level of respect that puts him in a very special category, and his influence is staggering (Aaron Neville, Jerry Butler, Brook Benton, Lou Rawls). Before performing, he announced that the cancer diagnosed a couple years ago is now in complete remission, and warmly thanked his fans for their prayers, e-mails, letters, and wishes for recovery. The man appeared relaxed and healthy, so here's hoping this is the beginning of another exciting chapter in his illustrious career. "Goodnight Sweetheart Goodnight," "Stormy Weather," "You Gave Me Peace Of Mind" and a stunning a capella version of "Danny Boy" delighted the audience. They were inspirational feasts for our collective ears, and served as reminder notes as to why the Spaniels are probably the most beloved and enduring group to emerge from the halcyon days of Doo Wop.
The Contours from Motown climaxed the show in a frenzied ball of energy, backed by their call-and-response style of hard-edged Soul. The highlight of their set was a stylish tribute to label mates the Temptations, as "Ain’t Too Proud To Beg," "The Way You Do The Things You Do" and "Get Ready" accelerated things toward a funky direction. These guys displayed more moves than the June Taylor dancers! Those dance crazes of the 60’s were an important feature of teen culture, and this set emphasized how that element enhanced my generation's enjoyment of the music. As the curtain fell, and the pulsating strains of "Do You Love Me" reverberated in the air, one pondered the emotional bonds linking this group and so many others with their legions of fans across the decades.
My generation grew up with them, and they provided us with an outlet to express our inner emotions, in ways that can’t be expressed satisfactorily in words. So when the Ultimate Doo Wop Show hits your town, circle the date on your calendar, and then get ready for three solid hours of thrilling nostalgia and first-class entertainment.