Saturday, December 6, 2008

El Capris

El Capris from Marv Goldberg's R&B Notebook

The El Capris first got together in the city's Hill District in 1954. It seemed like half the Hill's junior high population was singing for them - there were seven members, all either 13 or 14 years old.

They were Eddie Jackson (lead tenor), James Scott (first tenor), Theodore McCrary (second tenor), Leon Gray (baritone), William Germany (baritone and conga drums), Larry Hill (bass), and James Ward (bass and bongos). They modeled their style after the Five Royales, Ravens, Clovers, and Ink Spots, more R&B than doo-wop.

They called themselves the El Capris because they thought it was the sexy Spanish version of "The Bluebirds," their original choice. Actually, "Capri" isn't even a Spanish word. We checked the dictionary; the Bluebirds translate as "Los Azulejo", a terribly tongue-twisting title for a Pittsburgh act.

But hey, El Capris it was, and it worked fine for them, even if it drove their Spanish teacher into fits of apoplexy.

The group broke out when they won a school talent contest on July 4th, 1955, earning a singing session with Bullseye Records owner Woody Henderling in New York City.

Henderling signed the El Capris on the spot, and they returned to Pittsburgh to cut their first single, "Shimmy Shimmy Ko Ko Wop," b/w "Oh, But She Did" (Bullseye 102) at Porky's WHOD Studio. They wrote the A side, and the B side was a cover of an Opals tune.

Released in March of 1956, the record flopped nationally, though it did score locally on both sides of the vinyl. Pittsburgh jocks did love B sides, and were never shy about turning a record over.

The group skipped to Joe Averbach's local label Fee Bee for their follow-up, 1957's "Your Star" b/w "Dance All Night" and "To Live Again" (there were alternate pressings with different flip sides, with both versions issued as Fee Bee 216).

Averbach pushed the disc hard, and had the El Capris appear at the Apollo Theatre, the Uptown, and the Trianon, along with all the local spots, but the record went belly-up.

After a third single, "Safari" b/w "Quit Pulling My Woman" - which wasn't even performed by the group, although it was credited to them on the label - (Ring-O 308, a Fee Bee affiliate), they left Averbach.

The El Capris began to spin apart. The problem wasn't local fame. They were a hot draw at the area clubs, and popular on the eastern tours. But between no hit recordings and coming of age, the wheels began to fall off the El Capris.

By 1958 only McCrary, Gray, and Germany remained from the original seven, but they soldiered on, adding first tenor Percy Wharton and bass Sam Askue to cut "Ivy League Clean" b/w "They're Always Laughing At Me" (Paris 525). Like the other records, it went nowhere fast, though the B side did get some Tri-State love.

The El Capris never recorded after that (not from lack of effort; apparently they couldn't sweet talk any labels into giving them studio time), but the group continued playing the East Coast nightclub circuit until they finally broke up in 1970.

Eddie Jackson went on to Philly, where he sang with Brenda and the Tabulations ("Dry Your Eyes"). Larry Hill became a craftsman and sculptor, and passed away in 2004. The rest scattered with the wind so far as Old Mon can tell.

A quarter century later, co-founders Germany and Jackson played a series of revival showcases launched by a come-back concert at Donna's Carousel Lounge on May 14, 1994. They were back.

The El Capris revamped the roster with second tenor Shane Plummer (who is active in the SOUL - Save Our Unique Legacy - club, whose members are trying to preserve the history of black music) and bass Doc Battle. They're still making music, performing the occasional local gig on the Pittsburgh oldies circuit.

The history of the El Capris is well told in Marv Goldberg's R&B Notebook.

"Oh, But She Did - El Capris

1 comment:

Ron Ieraci said...

Thanks, E. Brown. he was nice enough to point out that one of the songs I had listed, "Girl Of Mine," was by the Sam Crumby-led El Capris, not the homeboys. Mea culpa; I took it out.