Recently, I read a letter to the editor from a reader requesting a story on 1950s vocal groups on television.
It?s a subject in which I personally have a lot of interest. It?s frustrating for many of us to know that in the kinescoped archives of programs, including ?American Bandstand,? the ?Saturday Night Beechnut Show,? the ?Tonight Show with Steve Allen,? and the ?Ed Sullivan Show,? are hours of vocal group gems waiting to be unearthed.
Through trade journals, program logs and professional contracts, we have been able to identify a number of appearances made by vocal groups on various television programs. That?s the good news.
The bad news is that much of the footage may no longer exist.
While a kinescope or two of some early regional programs, including the Milt Grant, Art Laboe and Johnny Otis shows, have surfaced in recent years, most others, like the Clay Cole and Alan Freed shows, did not survive. In fact, all tapes of the Cole show, which ran from 1959-1968, were erased by WPIX-TV in a cost-cutting move decades ago.
Some artists have contacted the owners of the material in search of their early appearances. The late James ?Pookie? Hudson had contacted Dick Clark Productions in search of video of his group, the Spaniels, in the early 1990s, but was disappointed to learn that none of their appearances could be found.
For many years, underground Web sites and mail-order catalogs have been the lone supplier of these vintage clips, which often are poor quality. However, Andrew Solt Productions? purchase of the Ed Sullivan Show archives and subsequent DVD releases of the show?s Beatles and Elvis Presley appearances, along with Reelin? In The Years Productions? incredible three-volume ?American Folk Blues Festival? DVD series has given new hope to collectors of this material.
OK, motion pictures aside, if we had an opportunity to create our own personal vocal group harmony archive, where would we begin?
I?d probably start with ?The Dick Clark Saturday Night Beechnut Show? (Feb. 15, 1958-Sept. 10, 1960). Broadcast live from the Little Theatre in New York City, it primarily featured artists lip-synching to their records.
In 1986, Vestron Music Video released ?Dick Clark?s Best of Bandstand,? a compilation of clips from these Saturday night shows. Among the artists featured were the Silhouettes, Dion and the Belmonts and the Fleetwoods.
While the firm has fielded numerous queries through the years about footage of early rock ?n? rollers Buddy Holly and Ritchie Valens, DCP contends that no footage of either performer exists in their archives today, and the clip of Clark introducing Valens in the film ?La Bamba? was actually a newly recorded voice-over paired with the video of another artist?s intro.
I recently contacted DCP to learn about the existence and future plans for this vintage material, but my inquiry went unanswered.
Various anniversary shows and unauthorized bootleg tapes confirm that footage of artists ? including Huey ?Piano? Smith and the Clowns, the Monotones, Coasters, Dion and the Belmonts, the Imperials, Crests, Impalas and Skyliners exists. Occasionally, a clip will show up on YouTube.com, but they are quickly removed at the request of the ?copyright owner.?
There are other oddities that have surfaced ? the Crystals/Metros lip-synching ?Watching You?, Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers on the Frankie Laine show, and one of my own personal favorites, the original Larks performing ?Lucy Brown? on the Perry Como show from 1951.
While ?The Pied Piper Of Cleveland? may be the Holy Grail of unseen rock ?n? roll films, for me and many vocal group fans, our wish l