Don & Dewey, Jungle Hop
Don & Dewey with Johnny Otis (middle)

It was in Pasadena in 1938 that Don Harris and Dewey Terry were born and raised and where they studied piano, guitar and Fender bass and where Don learned the violin. Their high school years were the mid-fifties and like their counterparts in urban areas across the United States, they became interested in vocal group singing what is now called doo-wop. They helped form the six-man Squires, an unusual number, as most groups of the day featured a lead singer assisted by three or four background vocalists. The Squires also differed from most street-corner aggregations in that they could boast the skills of Don & Dewey as instrumentalists. In this respect, they harkened back to such early groups as the Orioles and the Swallows.

They first recorded for the Kicks label, also known as one of tenor sax man Chuck Higgins's many stopping points and where he had cut "Shotgun Wedding." The Squires' record was "Lucy Lou," first of more than a few "name" titles Don & Dewey would record. Next stop for the Squires was another Pasadena company, Mambo/Vita. On Mambo they cut "Sindy," a formulaic four-chord ballad which was covered on Modern by the Cobras as "Cindy" [sic]. A few more Squires records on Vita followed, including some backing singer Effie Smith, who later formed Spot Records and Aries Publishing with her hushand, John Criner. It was at Spot that Don & Dewey were first taken out of the group and featured on their own.

Late in 1956. Mike Akopoff and Jack Andrews of Central Record Sales negotiated with Smith and Criner to release Spot's masters of "My Heart Is Aching" and "Miss Sue" by Don & Dewey on their Shade label. By December, however, Criner was having his contracts with the boys court-approved so he could make a deal with Art Rupe at Specialty instead. "Miss Sue" was re-recorded at Don & Dewey's first Specialty session in january 1957. The single from that session, "Jungle Hop," sank, as they say, without a trace. The songs they wrote, on the other hand, turned out to he a gold mine for Venice Music, Specialty's publishing division. Louisiana's Dale & Grace hit #1 pop and #6 R&B with their 1964 revival of "Leavin' It All Up to You," a feat repeated ten years later by bonnie & Marie Osmond.

The Premiers hit with "Farmer John" and the Olympics with "Big Boy Pete." The Righteous Brothers patterned their style on that of Don & Dewey. recording both "Justine" and "Koko Joe". Maybe the time was more right or the teenybopper masses found, as has often been the case, white versions of black music more palatable to their tin ears. The sales figures are persuasive, but I find it satisfying to note that, decades after the fact, it's the Chords' "Sh-boom" and Etta James's "Roll With Me Henry" we hear today on oldies radio instead of the Crew-cuts and Georgia Gibbs's then better sellers.

Billy Vera (1991)