Saturday, May 30, 2009


"I'll Do Anything" - The Diadems

The Diadems got together as a gang of ten Homewood pre-teens in 1953, organized by Cleveland "Butch" Martin (who was blind, though it never hindered his ability to sing or write a song) and Earl Thompson. They called themselves the El Moroccos.

In 1956, the core of the act formed up. Martin was the lead, and was backed by Thompson (first tenor), Jerry Hill (baritone), Alvin Allsberry, Gerald Johnson and Arlene Gore. Allsberry and Johnson left in 1958, and Gore in 1959.

They were replaced in the lineup by bass Jerry Mitchell and Earl's brother Robert, a second tenor that was singing with the LaRells. The revamped group renamed themselves the Countdowns.

They didn't find any angel to back them in Pittsburgh as far as a recording deal went, so they motored to the Big Apple in 1960 and met up with Teacho Wiltshire, of the Tin Pan Alley label. They did a demo of a Top Notes song called "Shake It Up Baby," and Wiltshire wanted them to stay in NYC to record it.

But the boys were grown up now, and headed back to Pittsburgh, where their girls were. Can't beat that home cookin'! They became the Diadems, and recorded "What More Is There To Say" b/w "Ala Vevo" in 1961 on LaVerve #187.

Wiltshire didn't forget about them. He called and asked them to come back to New York to cover "Shake It Up Baby," but they were under contract to LaVerve and passed. The Isley Brothers didn't; they recorded the tune as "Twist And Shout." They were that close.

The following year, they signed on with Joe Averbach's Fee Bee label, and released some wax for his affiliates. "Why Don't You Believe Me?" b/w "Yes I Love You Baby," (Star #514), written by the group, was released in 1963, and "Dancing On Moonbeams" b/w "My Little Darling," was issued on Goodie #207 in 1964, with Jerry Hilton on lead.

The Diadems quickly followed with the doo-wop Martin-Thompson song "I'll Do Anything" b/w "Goodnight Irene" (Goodie #715) the same year. Buddy Sharpe and the Shakers, local rockabilly legends, provided the musical track behind them.

That was the last hurrah for the Diadems. Mitchell took ill, and the group disbanded for a bit. They came back as the Torches in 1965, and became the Rhythm Rascals in 1966, cutting the ballad "Why Do You Have To Go" b/w "Girl By My Side" on Sonic #117 that still receives some love from oldie compilation albums. And like many soul groups from back in the day, their wax still spins for Northern Soul fans in England.

Their trail ends in the seventies, and so goes the tale of the Diadems. Their leader, Butch Martin, died in Wilkinsburg of cancer in 2002 at the age of 63.

(Old Mon thanks Mitch Rosalsky and his book "Encyclopedia of Rhythm and Blues and Doo Wop Vocal Groups" for filling in much of the story. Travis Klein's liner notes with "Pittsburgh's Greatest Hits" were quite helpful too.)

"Why Don't You Believe Me?" - Diadems 1963
(Don't let the label fool ya!)

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