a lot of perfect doo wop records from the 50's, The
Flamingos, "Golden Teardrops," "Ten
Commandments Of Love" by The Moonglows, or the
up-tempo, "Speedo" by The Cadillacs for
example. One of the first perfect doo wop records
of the 60's was "Remember Then" from The
Earls. It contained the classic doo wop riff .. WOP
WOP PATTY PATTY BOP BOP SHOE BOP DE BOP BOP OWOOOOOOO,
and the amazing lead vocals of Larry Chance.
Larry has been the leader and vocalist with The Earls
for over 5 decades, and has one of the great voices
not only in doo wop, but in the history of rock and
roll. We recently crossed paths, in of all places,
on the site of the original Woodstock Music Festival
in Bethel, New York. A few days later he graciously
participated in this interview.
You were born in South Philly
.a lot of talented
people who hit it big grew up in your neighborhood
Checker, Frankie Avalon
. did you know any of
these guys before you got into the biz?
LC: I sat behind
Chubby in elementary school... I knew him as Ernest
Evans... I'd see Frankie Avalon around the neighborhood
once in a while. I remember him carrying around a
trumpet case. So many great artists came from Philadelphia.
Not just groups like the Danny & the Juniors,
Dovells, Blue Notes, Patti LaBelle & the Bluebelles,
the Stylistics but pop singers, Jimmy Darren, Fabian,
Dee Dee Sharp
Operatic singers, Mario Lanza,
comics, Joey Bishop, David Brenner
like John Coltrane, Dizzy Gillespie
like the O'Jays, Solomon Burke, etc.
RD: Who were your
musical influences as a kid?
I had so many... I've always had a very wide spectrum
of musical taste... I loved Hank Ballard, the Ravens,
Flamingos, Perry Como, Delta Rhythm Boys, Nat "King"
Cole, Johnny Ray, Swan Silvertones, Eddie Arnold,
Buddy Johnson Band, Count Basie Band, Billy Ward &
the Dominos. I could go on for hours. I found so much
to love in all genres... Loved R & B, Blues, Big
Band music, Gospel, Country, Jazz. I guess Ray Charles
said it best, only two kinds of music, good &
bad. I lived near a Baptist church and often I would
go there on Sunday mornings & listen to them sing.
I also recall a place called Pep's Musical Show Bar.
I think it was on Broad Street. I would stand outside
& listen to acts like the Blue Notes, Big Maybelle,
and Jimmy Reed.
RD: That's great.
I grew up in New Rochelle and Felix Cavaliere of The
Rascals was from Pelham. He used to hang out outside
a R&B club in New Rochelle called the Three Fours
and listen to this Hammond organ soul group, The Mighty
Cravers, I think. Anyway, your family moved to the
Bronx and you formed a vocal group. How'd all that
I started singing on the street corners in Philadelphia.
When my family moved to the Bronx it just seemed so
natural to me. Music was always my greatest love.
We'd sing in school, (Evander Childs High School)
on park benches, on the corner. Anywhere & everywhere!!
I remember us taking the subway down to 149th Street.
That's where the old 3rd Ave. El went underground.
We'd get off & sing there for hours. The tiles
made us sound like we were in a recording studio.
At least, that's what we thought a studio would sound
RD: Looking for
an echo, right? So your group was called the High
Hatters. Where did you perform and what were the songs
you guys were singing?
LC: I remember
our first appearances were at the Moose Lodge on 216th
Street in the Bronx and at Teen Town in Mt. Vernon,
NY. We sang all the standard street songs, "Zoom,
Zoom, Zoom," "I'm So Happy," "Why
Do Fools Fall In Love," "Thousand Miles
RD: Great stuff,
"I'm So Happy," wow, what a tune. How did
the High Haters become The Earls?
LC: Our intention
was to wear tails, spats, top hats, white gloves &
canes. Of course, that cost money, which we didn't
have much of at that time. That's why we became the
Earls, no cost, (laughs) I chose the name Earls by
sticking my finger in a dictionary. It landed on Earl
(nobleman of high rank) so we then became the Earls.
I found out in later years that Lionel Richie also
stuck his finger in a dictionary to name the Commodores.
I've always been amused by the fact that had I placed
my finger just a little higher we might have been
named the "Ears," and the same situation
by Lionel might have resulted in the Commodores being
the "Commodes." (laughs)
From 62-64 The Earls had their greatest string of
"Remember Then," "Never,"
"Eyes," "Cry Cry Cry," "I
Believe." Must have been a heady time for you.
It was wonderful. I got to meet all of the performers
I idolized. I was meeting the DJ's I listened to for
so many years, Jocko Henderson, Hy Litt, Bruce Morrow,
etc. I remember having my ear glued to the radio every
Monday evening when Peter Tripp, I think he was known
as the curly haired kid in the third row, would present
the Top 40 records of the week. I would listen intently
to see if my tunes were still climbing the charts
or on the way down. More importantly, those recordings
gave me an audience. The joy I still get from performing
for them is the greatest high possible. It's an unexplainable
RD: Aside from
recording, what did the group do to promote the records?
LC: We did record
hops for DJ's (Murray the K, Bruce Morrow, Scott Muni,
Hal Jackson, etc.) We did the Christmas show at the
Brooklyn Fox for 10 days with Murray the K. It was
Lines around the block for every
Jackie Wilson, Little Anthony & the
Imperials, the Crests, the Drifters. I was with musical
royalty. Needless to say, I was intimidated, yet proud
to be among them. Here I was, a street kid from the
Bronx, by way of South Philly, sharing the stage with
some of the greatest performers of all time, whew!!!
I remember that show being the 1st big show for Dionne
Warwick. She was fabulous. I knew she'd be a huge
star!! We did many local TV shows, Clay Cole Show,
Connecticut Bandstand, Bruce Morrow's Go Go show.
The most exciting for me personally was doing the
American Bandstand show in Philadelphia. I remember
dancing there a few times & vowed that one day
I'd be there as a performer. I was able to fulfill
a dream I'd had as a teen. That was soooo very special.
the British Invasion hit and the
American recording acts took a hit. Radio just about
abandoned all of you. Your thoughts?
LC: I felt that
there was room for all of us. British, Motown, Doo
Wop, etc. It seemed that if you weren't British or
Motown at that time you weren't played. One or two
American acts were played such as the Beach Boys,
Four Seasons, Jay & the Americans. However, Doo
Wop become a forgotten art form until Gus Gossert,
Don K. Reed, Hy Litt, Jerry Blavat, and a few others
across the country refused to accept its demise. They
showed the industry that there was a market for the
old harmony sounds. Richard Nader took it to Madison
Square Garden and other major venues. Sold-out performances
helped create a demand for the music once again and
helped create oldies stations such as WCBS-FM to garner
high ratings playing the Drifters, Coasters, Duprees,
Fats Domino, Chuck Berry, etc.
You made some terrific records during the so-called
"Ask Anybody," "Remember
Me Baby" (B side: "Amore"). How did
you deal with hearing inferior stuff on the radio
while your great recordings were being ignored?
LC: It was disappointing
to say the least. But I'd learned that show biz was
a combination of talent & luck. The most talented
didn't always get the success that some lesser acts
did with lots of hype. My attitude became kind of
like, oh well, Ces't La Vie...
RD: I was working
at a club in Mt. Vernon in the late 60's called The
World and a favorite soulful-horn band we booked was
called Smokestack. Any recollections of that group?
LC: Ah yes, I
remember it well. I was on the bill with the Rascals,
if my memory serves me correctly. That was my first
gig with them. Oldies bands were not getting work
at that time. Clubs weren't hiring any "Doo Woppers."
So we added three horns to the act, changed the name
to "Smokestack" & became a very in-demand
show, dance band in the NY, NJ area. We did covers
and some original material that we recorded for the
Daisy label which was distributed by the Decca label.
RD: So our paths
crossed for the first time at The World, but we didn't
realize it. We met formally in the 80's at WNBC when
you were doing comedy on Imus In The Morning, and
me the same on the show after you guys. How'd you
hook up with Imus?
LC: Don was doing
comedy records back then that were being produced
by my pal Paul DeFranco. Paul & I were doing some
recording projects together at that time. Don's brother,
Fred was a songwriter but he couldn't sing very well.
He needed someone to sing his originals so that he
could shop them. Paul put me in contact with Don &
Fred. I did demos of Fred's songs for him and while
working with Fred became friendly with Don. I'd often
do wacky things in the studio, comedy, dialects, etc,
So, when Don came back to New York to work for WNBC
radio he put me to work as his crazy editorial manager,
Geraldo Santana Banana & the streetwise entrepreneur
RD: I need to
jump back to the 70's for a second. The disco fever
had swept the nation and you did a version of "Tonight
Could Be The Night" where you combined disco
and doo wop. That is one of the greatest recordings
I ever heard. I was working at Casablanca at the time
and I was sure it was going to hit number one. Your
LC: It was one
of my most disappointing studio endeavors!! I remember
some of the reviews:
Cashbox: Pick of the Week
Billboard: Spotlight Single
California Disco Association: Hottest record of the
month, blows my hat off.
When I read those reviews, I felt, wow, I'm gonna
have me a smash!! Sold maybe 10 copies, and I think
my mom bought 6 of those. (laughs)
Today vocal group harmony is called doo wop and there
is a great catalogue of songs from the golden era
much like the great American song book from another
time there aren't a lot of groups performing
or recording this material. Is it over? Or how does
this music get preserved?
LC: I don't think
it's over yet. The series of Doo Wop specials done
by PBS-TV earned them their greatest ratings ever
and made them more money then the Three Tenors, Sinatra,
Liza, etc. I still record and have doo wop tunes on
each album I do. Recently I did an album called "Back
On the Streets of the Bronx" which even had a
couple of A Cappella tunes on it. I still put some
Doo Wop tunes on every CD I do with the Earls, both
original & some of the standard tunes. I also
record some Jazz & Big Band tunes as a single
artist. As I mentioned previously, my musical taste
RD: Larry Chance
and The Earls today have a super live show. You've
got The Earls hits of course, your amazing vocals
on jazz and standards like "At Last" or
"I'll Be Seeing You," plus a lot of comedy.
How can a club, school or individual book you guys
for a gig?
LC: They can contact
us at our web site: www.larrychanceandtheearls.com
or my email address: LCandEARLS@AOL.COM
RD: Thanks for
taking the time Larry. Any last thoughts?
LC: Thanks for
the interview. It made me recall many long ago moments
which I seldom think of any more. It was nice to reminisce.
Regarding any last thoughts, I guess it would be how
very fortunate I am to still be doing this 53 years
after forming the Earls and making a living doing
what I so love and live to do. To still be active
and take the stage having overcome throat cancer is
overwhelming at times. I'm so fortunate to have the
greatest fans on this earth. They are the reason I'm
able to still be a performer after all these years.
I'm so appreciative of their love and continued support.
Very humbling indeed. Stay well my friend.
RD: Right back
at you. Rock on.
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