LITTLE ANTHONY (AND THE IMPERIALS)
Born Jerome Anthony Gourdine, 8 January 1941 (many sources say 1940), Brooklyn, New York City
Little Anthony and the Imperials were one of the few 1950s vocal groups to survive and prosper during the 1960s and beyond. Their chart career spans sixteen years (1958-74), with a total of 19 entries in the Billboard Hot 100.
With a dad who played alto sax and a gospel-singing mom, Anthony Gourdine was well-schooled in music. In 1955 he formed his first group, the Duponts, who recorded one single for the Winley label. Backed by ace session men like Mickey Baker, Sam Taylor, Panama Francis and David Clowney, "You"/"Must Be Falling In Love" was released in July 1956, but failed to click. A second single on Royal Roost Records fared no better and in 1957 Anthony left the Duponts to join the Chesters, who had one release on Apollo before joining George Goldner's End label, where things really began to happen.
It was Goldner's A&R man Richard Barrett who offered the Chesters the chance to record two songs for End, "Two People In the World" and "Cha- Cha Henry", both written by group member Ernest Wright, the group's original lead singer. Goldner shifted Anthony into the lead position and encouraged him to sing in a high, child-like voice. After the two songs were laid down, the group thought that these would constitute the Chesters' first End single, but then Barrett came up with a demo of "Tears On My Pillow" (sung by Bobby Darin, who still made demos for Don Kirshner at that time) and played it for the group. They were not too enthusiastic, but agreed to record it. The song was the brainchild of two professional songwriters in the Brill Building, 20 year-old Sylvester Bradford and 55 year-old Al Lewis, who had co-authored "Blueberry Hill" in 1940.
When "Tears On My Pillow" was issued in July 1958, label credit went to "the Imperials", instead of the Chesters, an idea of End's promo man Lou Gallo. But when Alan Freed starting playing the disc, announcing the group as "Little Anthony and the Imperials", Goldner saw to it that all subsequent pressings were credited that way. The record reached the # 4 position in Billboard on October 13 (also # 2 R&B) and sold over a million copies. "Tears On My Pillow" is a classic heartache ballad. It has been covered extensively (including a UK # 1 for Kylie Minogue in 1990) and was featured in a number of movies about the 1950s, including the blockbuster "Grease".
The intended follow-up was a song from the pen of Neil Sedaka (hot at that time as the writer of the Connie Francis hit "Stupid Cupid") called "The Diary". Goldner had to go on a trip, but left instructions with Richard Barrett to make this the next A-side. Instead, Barrett issued a song titled "So Much", which just happened to be written by someone named Richard Barrett. Sedaka was doubly annoyed : he hadn't liked the Imperials' recording of "The Diary" and now it wasn't even coming out. So Neil took his version to RCA, recorded it himself and saw it reach # 14, thus launching his impressive chart career. When Goldner returned he was furious (but not enough to fire Barrett) and tried to salvage the situation by rush releasing "The Diary" as the Imperials' third End single, but it was too late. "So Much" had stalled at # 87 and "The Diary" didn't chart at all in Little Anthony's version. After minor hits with "Wishful Thinking" (# 79) and "A Prayer and A Jukebox" (# 81) in 1959, the group returned to the Top 30 in early 1960 with the novelty "Shimmy Shimmy Ko-Ko-Bop" (# 24), their first uptempo A-side. Seven more End singles came out in 1960-61 before Anthony left the group in late 1961, for a solo career on Roulette that never took off. The remaining Imperials found a new lead singer in George Kerr and recorded for the Carlton and Newtime labels, but neither Anthony nor his erstwhile group had any luck on their own and in 1963 they were reunited. The group's members were now Anthony (lead), Sammy Strain (first tenor), Ernest Wright (second tenor) and Clarence Collins (baritone/bass). They started recording for the DCP label (Don Costa Productions) in 1964, where Teddy Randazzo was their producer. Randazzo, a veteran of the Three Chuckles, used the latest production techniques to give the group a whole new sound. Thus began a period for Little Anthony and the Imperials which was even more successful than their stint at End. The first DCP single, "I'm On the Outside", peaked at # 15 and was followed, in late 1964, by their biggest hit of the 1960s, "Goin' Out Of My Head" (written by Teddy Randazzo and Bobby Weinstein), which went to # 6 and is now considered a pop standard. It has been recorded by everyone, from Petula Clark to Ella Fitzgerald, from Floyd Cramer to Frank Sinatra.
"Hurt So Bad" also made the Top 10, followed by a few smaller hits in 1965- 1966. After the demise of DCP, the group was moved to Veep, a subsidiary of United Artists (where they were billed as "Anthony and the Imperials") and later (1969-70) to the parent label itself.
After one last, minor hit in 1974, Anthony left the group for the second time in 1975, became a born-again Christian and came back with an inspirational LP, "Daylight", produced by B.J. Thomas (1980). Sammy Strain went on to great success as a member of the O'Jays and Ernest Wright joined one of the Platters groups. The Imperials without Anthony scored a # 17 hit in the UK in 1977 with the danceable "Who's Gonna Love Me" on the Power Exchange label.
Anthony, Collins, Strain and Wright reunited in 1992 and toured the oldies circuit steadily thereafter.
More info : http://www.classicurbanharmony.net/Barrett%20Legacy%204%20copy%201bb2.pdf (may take some time to download)
CD : Little Anthony and the Imperials, 25 Greatest Hits (EMI Gold, 1998). All the hits from 1958-74, and more. The music is good, but the packaging is shoddy. No liner notes.
You Tube :
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