The Cleftones Biography

This R&B vocal group from Queens, New York, USA, comprised Herb Cox (6 May 1939, Cincinnati, Ohio, USA; lead), Charlie James (b. 1940; first tenor), Berman Patterson (b. 1938; second tenor), William McClain (b. 1938; baritone), and Warren Corbin (b. 1939; bass). The group came together at Jamaica High School in 1955. After joining George Goldner’s Gee label, the group launched their recording career with ‘You Baby You’, a regional hit in late 1955. The record, with Cox’s dry lead, Warren Corbin’s effective bassfills, and session musician Jimmy Wright’s frantic saxophone blowing, set the tenor of the group’s subsequent records. With their second record, ‘Little Girl Of Mine’, another peppy number, the group became nationally known as the record went to number 8 R&B and number 57 pop in 1956. Two excellent follow-ups the same year, ‘Can’t We Be Sweethearts’ and ‘String Around My Heart’, were superbly representative of the Cleftones’ exuberant style, but both remained regional hits.

A move to a ballad in 1957, the outstanding ‘See You Next Year’, did not restore the Cleftones to national prominence. In 1959 Gene Pearson (from the Rivileers) replaced McClain, and the following year Patricia Spann was added to the group. The addition of the female to the group also signalled a slight change in style; the leads began to take greater prominence over the ensemble sound as doo-wop was beginning to fade. ‘Heart And Soul’, a rock ‘n’ roll remake of an evergreen, typified the new approach and proved to be the group’s biggest hit, going to number 10 R&B and number 18 pop in 1961. Other important tracks from this era included the album cut ‘Please Say You Want Me’ (featuring Pat Spann in a beautiful remake of the Schoolboys’ hit) and another evergreen remake, ‘For Sentimental Reasons’. The Cleftones’ recording career came to an end in 1964.


Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.


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