THE JAYHAWKS / VIBRATIONS
The Jayhawks were one of those West Coast groups who changed names, personnel and labels at the drop of a hat. Their career spanned over two decades, but only two years as the Jayhawks. The original group was formed in 1955 at Los Angeles Jefferson High School and included Jimmy Johnson (lead), Carl Fisher (tenor), Dave Govan (baritone) and Carver Bunkum (bass). An encounter with Flash Records owner Charlie Reynolds led to a recording contract. Reynolds liked their ballad "Counting My Teardrops", which was released on Flash 105 in October 1955 (according to Marv Goldberg) or January 1956 (Jay Warner in his Billboard book of American singing groups). It sold well enough locally to give the group a second chance. The novelty rocker "Stranded in the Jungle" came out in May 1956. It was written by group member Jimmy Johnson, the Jayhawks' manager Al Curry and local teenage girl Ernestine Smith. In spite of the record's low fidelity and the Jayhawks' shaky harmony, "Stranded in the Jungle" became an instant hit. Modern Records, recognizing the song's potential, recorded a more polished, more powerful and better recorded version with the Cadets. In fact, most people think that the Cadets' version is the original. Their version peaked at # 15 in Billboard's pop charts, bypassing the Jayhawks' version (# 18) and another cover by the Gadabouts on Mercury (# 39).
The Jayhawks' hit proved to be a one-shot. A third single on Flash, "Love Train", derailed early and two singles on Aladdin in 1957 also failed to catch on. They changed their name to the Vibes for two singles on the Allied label, but in 1959 they were again credited as the Jayhawks for a further two singles on Eastman Records. Then, in 1960, they changed their name - almost for the last time - to the Vibrations. Carver Bunkum had left the group and with the addition of Don Bradley (bass) and Richard Owens (tenor, ex-Six Teens), the group was now a quintet, with much-improved harmonies. There was one release on the small Bet label before the Vibrations were signed by Checker Records in Chicago, a subsidiary of Chess. With their third single for that label, the group returned to the charts after a 5-year absence. Released in early 1961, "The Watusi" went to # 25 pop and # 13 R&B. The melody was almost a note-for-note copy of Hank Ballard's "Let's Go, Let's Go, Let's Go" from a few months earlier.
Two weeks after "The Watusi" dropped off the Hot 100, the group entered the charts again, but not as the Vibrations. H.B. Barnum, A&R man for Arvee Records, had a problem. His hot act the Olympics were touring on the East Coast and he needed a new single immediately. Barnum persuaded the Vibrations to do a little moonlighting, and an Olympics- styled novelty called "Peanut Butter" was cut and credited to "The Marathons". It peaked at # 20, but Leonard Chess discovered the fraud and filed a lawsuit against Barnum and his label. The Arvee single was stopped and Chess-Checker released a re-recorded version of "Peanut Butter" on both Chess 1790 and Argo 5389, labeled as "The Vibrations named by others as Marathons" ("Vibrations recorded as Marathons" on some pressings). Arvee kept the name the Marathons for use with another group to record a Marathons LP.
By 1964 the Vibrations were progressing from a dance group with hits like "My Girl Sloopy" (# 26) on Atlantic to a more ballad-oriented sophisticated soul sound on Okeh. Erroll Garner's "Misty" was another Vibrations hit, in 1965 (# 63 pop, # 26 R&B) and in 1968 they had their final chart entry with "Love In Them There Hills" (# 93 pop, # 38 R&B).
They signed to Neptune Records in 1969, resulting in three singles, followed by singles on Mandala and North Bay in 1972. The final Vibrations single was released by Chess in 1974, "Make It Last"/ "Shake It Up". Carl Fisher had left the group in 1973, after 18 years. He was not replaced and the group continued as a quartet. The Vibrations struggled on until 1976, when they finally called it quits. Since then, James Johnson and Richard Owens have passed away.
More detailed information (including a full discography) can be found at:
CD: Out of Sight : The Checker Years (2 CD-set, RPM UK, released 2004).
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