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Grover 'Dean' Barlow and the Crickets

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Music Note
Music Note

Dean Barlow and the Crickets were one of the finest smoothes harmony groups to sing rhythm and blues ballads in the early fifties. In a very short period (January 1953 to May, 1954) Joe Davis produced at least eighteen memorable sides by the young vocal combo and the Morrisania section of the Bronx, New York, influenced by the Ravens, Orioles, Swallows, Larks, Four Buddies, and other masters of the r&b ballad style, the Crickets were never able to duplicate the rather modest success of their first single "Your'e Mine" and consequently were forgotten except by loyal collectors of fifty's r&b. All their singles have been generally unavailable for years, and no group has been more deserving of an album compilations than the original Crickets.

Grover "Dean" Barlow, the lead voice of the Crickets was one of the truly great lead singers of rythm and blues harmony. Like Ray Pollard of the Wanderers, Willis Sanders of the Embers, and a very few others, Barlow may have been too good (too smooth, too "pop") to capture a mass audience. Male groups were dominating the r&b scene in 1963 when the Crickets first entered the picture, but perhaps the bluesy, more soulful sound of the Clovers, Dominoes, or Five Royals caught the record buyer's ear more quickly than the sweet harmonies of the Jay Dee group. During the early days of r&b collecting (1959-1964), the Crickets' 45's were rarely mentioned.

But as listeners mature and refine their unsophisticated "doo-wop" tastes, the popularity of a "class" act like the Crickets soars.
Crickett 2
Barlow was originally from Detroit and he moved to the Bronx around 1951 when he was sixteen. He was an avid stickball fan and made some new friends at the Forest House Community Center who were to be the first Crickets aggregations. They included Grover "Dean" Barlow (lead), Harold Johnson (tenor and guitar), Eugene Stapleton (tenor), Leon Carter (baritone), and Rodney Jacson (bass) They practiced diligently both original songs written by Harold and pop standards similar to the hits of the Ravens. The Crickets were not slavish imitators, however; they possessed their own distinctive style.

At one point the young men met agent Cliff Martinez (who later managed the Crows on Rama and the Mello-tones on Decca) who introduced them to veteran record producer and song publisher Joe Davis. Davis had cut such acts as the Five Red Caps, the Deep River Boys, and the Blenders, so it was natural that a smooth, tight, pop r&b vocal combination would attract his attention. According to Dean Barlow, Davis chose the name "Crickets" and wisely retained all rights to it in case any or all members left the group (George Treadwell, the manager of the Drifters, had a similar arrangement) His prescience earned Davis a considerable amount in 1958 when he won a large cash settlement from Buddy Holly and the Crickets who used the name he owned. Davis also retained the contract for the group himself and produced four sides which he leased to MGM in the winter of 1953. "Your'e Mine"/"Milk and Gin" was Cashbox's r&b "sleeper of the week" in the February 21, 1953 issue (beating out the Buccaneers' "Dear Ruth" on Souther, among others) and eventually rose to #8 on the New York City regional r&b list a month later. The Crickets did one nighters and package tours, and played the Apollo Theatre in Harlem with Ruth Brown, Moms Mabley, and Sonny Still. According to Rodney Jackson, they slept on Oriole George Nelson's floor when they appeared at the Royal in Baltimore, and were stranded in Petersburg, Va. when Fats Domino left the tour after a fight with his band. They were known for their satorial splendor; eight different outfits kept both their wardrobe and reputation at a peak in 1953.

The Crickets second release for MGM "For You I Have Eyes"/"I'll Cry No More" was one of their finest performances, but it received little attention in May, 1953 when it was issued. Davis then decided to reactivate his Jay Dee label (see Relic LP #5038-"Best of Jay Dee") and he recorded about seven songs with the Crickets in an historic New York session on April 24, 1953. The first release scheduled for mid-summer was Jay Dee #777, "Dreams and Wishes"/"When I Met You," advertised in Cashbox for August 1st. Some of the sides recorded in the April 24th date featured Gil Stevens on piano, Alan Hanlon on guitar, and Milton Hinton on bass, while others (according to Davis's files, "Your Love") used Al Williams on piano, Cozy Cole on drums, Sam Taylor on tenor sax, Arvel Shaw on bass, and Mondel Lowe on guitar. Two more songs from that session "I'm Not the One Your Love" and "Fine as Wine" (#781) were, manufactured in October, 1953, but by this time, the original Crickets group had just about disbanded. Joe Davis was encouraging Dean Barlow to go out as a solo, and Harold Johnson was soon to join Lillian Leach and the Mellows (see Relic #5039 - Best of the Mellows"). Rod Jackson, Leon Carter, and Eugene Stapleton never sang professionally again. A second Crickets with Barlow as lead, tenor J.R. Bailey, baritone, Bobby Spencer, and bass Freddy Barksdale, (all of whom later joined other groups), was formed but never actually recorded. The third and last Crickets did the final Jay Dee sessions; it consisted of Barlow, Robert Bynum (1st tenor), William Lindsay (2nd tenor), and Joe "Ditto" Dias from the Chords on bass. This group recorded Patti Page's big hit "Changing Partners" and "Your Love," which was released as Jay Dee #785 in late December 1953. "Are You Looking for a Sweetheart?"/"Never Give Up Hope" (#789) and "Just You"/"My Little Baby's Shoes" (#786) were released about six weeks apart in the winter months of 1954. These two 45's did very little, and the third Crickets were on their way to oblivion, Davis tried again later in 1954 with "I'm Going to Live My Life Alone"/"Man From the Moon," released as Jay Dee #795 (and later Davis #459) although these songs were cut by the original group at the April 24, 1953 session. Since Davis was apparently not concerned with the problmes potential discographers would face twenty-five years later, he reactivated his Beacon label with "Be Faithful" (recorded May 28, 1953) and released it in November, 1954. This track was overdubbed with more contemporary instrumental accompaniment and re-issued on Beacon in the late fifties.

Dean Barlow had a very modest solo "hit" with "I'll String Along With You" in March, 1955, and he joined with William Lindsay and a couple of others to form the Bachelors on WWRL dj Tommy Smalls's and arranger Sammy Lowe's Earl label in 1956. With the Montereys on Onyx and their "Dearest One," Barlow got a lot of local attention in 1957. He even remade "Your'e Mine" as a single with strings in the background for Morty Craft and Warwick in 1960, but the litigious Joe Davis quickly secured an injunction against it. Barlow then recorded for Beltone-Lescay ("Third Window From the Right") and finished his active singing career with "Dont' Let Him Take My Baby" for Rust. Listen to the classic, smooth ballads by the Crickets on this album and compare Barlow's strong lead with the 1953 group to his command of the Montereys New York hit "Dearest One: (see Relic LP #5005-Golden Groups Pt. 1, Best of Onyx"). It is clear that Grover "Dean" Barlow ranks with the best r&b leads of all times.

Donn Fileti (adapted from Marv Goldberg's interviews with Dean Barlow and Rodney Jackson in Yesterday's Memories.)
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