Saturday, September 5, 2009

Wee Jams Still Jammin'

wee jams
Wee Jams, image from Beach Music 45's

The Wee Jams, founded by Barry Haughin and the late Jim “Doc” Halliday with some other Avonworth High class mates in 1964, started out as “The In Crowd," and became the Wee Jams in 1966.

They quickly made a name for themselves, churning out local hits like “You’ll Lose a Precious Love,” “You Are Everything,” “Zu Zu,” and "Patti Ann," featured on “Pittsburgh’s Greatest Hits”, Volume XII.

In the fall of 1967, the group was courted by ABC Records, the label headed by Ray Charles, The Impressions, Jim Croce, Dusty Springfield and Three Dog Night at the time, but never reached a deal; their manager was a little too pushy for the ABC suits.

The Wee Jams didn't answer when that opportunity knocked, and predictably, they all drifted off to college or careers, closing the curtain on their first act.

A few stabs at reuniting the group failed with the short-lived Wee Jams II and Father Maple. The band disappeared again until 1996, when two singles, "Patti Ann" and "Something Old, Something New," written by Haughin, were picked up by Mad Mike, who started spinning the records at dances and on the air. The group has been playing steadily since as William Dell and the Wee Jams.

Today the Wee Jams are heavily requested on Pittsburgh oldies radio, including KFB (770AM), WEDO (810AM and 103.9FM weekends) and 3WS (94.5FM), along with scoring steady gigs at clubs and festivals.

The current Wee Jams roster includes original members William Dell and Barry Haughin, with vocalists Hal Weiss, Louis Cioppa, and Dan Fera. The rhythm section is made up of Duane Weber on bass, Gordie Herbst on guitar, and Bob Fetherlin on drums.

And hey, the Wee Jams aren't all about oldies. They produced a hit single in 2007, "Most of Those Pretty Young Girls," that's getting airplay on Pittsburgh oldies stations. It was also picked up by radio stations in the Carolinas, which play beach "shag" music, and it was an East Coast monster.

“Most of Those Pretty Young Girls” reached the top spot in many Carolina playlists, and hit #9 worldwide on the Beach Music Charts of Cashbox Magazine. It was recently introduced into the Beach Music Hall of Fame.

In addition, they had two other beach-genre songs that charted, “Nothing Can Stop Me” and “I Love Only You”. Their CD, "Peepin' Through The Window," (SGW019CD) moved pretty well, too. They also get regular love from internet station www.949thesurf.com.

The group today:

Bill Dell was in the original Wee Jams in 1967 and co-founded Wee Jams II in 1971. He's a perfect fit, being retro all the way, from the antiques in his home to his rotary dial telephones; one of his band mates says he never moved on from the 60s.

Dell released several singles under his own name, the biggest being "You Are Everything" in 1979, a duet with Milly Tamburro, credited to William Dell with Amelia.

Barry Haughin, vocalist and keyboardist, is the group's songwriter, composing many Wee Jams' tunes including "Patti Ann," and co-founder of the original band. Not only does he make records; he's also an avid collector. Haughin lives in Boardman, Ohio.

Louie Chioppa's is the Wee Jam tenor, and learned his craft "...on the corner. We used to sing on the corner, and the police used to chase us off. My idol was Frankie Lymon." He was also a member of the DeVilles and the Magic Moments.

Guitarist Gordie Herbst joined the group during the Wee Jams II phase in 1971. His day job is financial administration at Edinboro University.

Hal Weiss plays both the horns and adds a falsetto to the band. His trumpet has backed acts like Jimmy Beaumont and the Skyliners and Five Guys Named Moe. As for his voice, well, he once filled in for Philadelphia soul legend Brenda Coates of Brenda and the Tabulations.

Originally a saxophonist, Duane Weber switched to bass in high school years. He also played for Wee Jams II and Father Maple. Weber wears the engineer cap on many of the group's sessions.

Dan Fera dates back to Etna's Molly Maguires, one of the Burg's busiest bands during the sixties. He sings second tenor, and makes his home in Sharpsburg.

Bob Fetherlin lays down the drum tracks, and also is behind the kit for The Craig King Band.

They're also a bit of an oddity in that they control their discography. The vast majority of their tunes are on the Stacy's Golden Wax label, owned by Dell and named after his daughter. The Wee Jams are represented on a couple of compilation records, too, like PGH-XII and "Old School Shag" on Repete #2388.

That's quite a career span, from young doo-woppers to graying beach boys, and the Wee Jams pulled it off. After all, how many guys from Avonworth are resurrected as Carolina shag heroes? It's every silverback's dream.


Wee Jams - "Patti Ann"

3 comments:

Dom said...

WIthout a doubt, the Wee Jams are incredible when it comes to performing a cappella Doo Wop.

Dom Palmieri
Founding Member
The Streetlights

Barry said...

Ron:
What a fabulous site! Thanks for taking the time and effort to validate and track the music of our area. I'll bookmark you and spend hours researching.
One correction: We Wee Jams hailed from Avonworth High School, not Avalon. They were neighboring boroughs, but distinct from each other.
An entry on Kathy Zee? I'm in heaven!
Will someone PLEASE compile a Fenways CD? I'll buy the first 10 copies!

Rock on!
Barry Haughin

Ron Ieraci said...

Barry - I fixed up the Avonworth references. And I thank groups like the Wee Jams, who have been entertaining Pittsburgh since...well, as long as Old Mon has been around.

And right on to the Fenways; you could easily put a box set out among the Sonny DiNunzio groups and tracks.