The String-A-Longs may not have been the most exciting instrumental group of the Shakin' All Over era, but they had a very distinctive sound (with three guitars) and one giant international hit in 1961. The group originated in Plainview, Texas, in 1957, as the Patio Kids. This name was soon changed to the Rock 'n' Rollers, who in their turn became the Leen Teens. The nucleus of this group were Keith McCormack (born 19 October 1940, Dalhart, Texas ; guitar, vocals), Aubrey de Cordova (bass) and Richard Stephens (guitar). Jimmy Torres (guitar) and drummer Don Allen joined later.
Their first recordings were made at an Amarillo radio station and pressed up by the Ven label. They were strictly a vocal band then, with McCormack handling the vocals. In 1958, the Leen Teens auditioned for Norman Petty at his studio in Clovis, New Mexico. This resulted in the single "So Shy"/ "Dream Around You", which Petty placed on Imperial. It bombed, but the group continued to record every few months down at Clovis over the next three years. Meanwhile the group were playing locally in Texas, amassing plenty of publicity.
In the autumn of 1960, the group was booked for another recording session, but singer Keith caught a cold on the way to Clovis and could hardly speak when they arrived in the studio. Norman Petty suggested to record two instrumentals. He offered them a song called "Wheels", which had been turned down by the Fireballs, Petty's regular instrumental group. Torres and Stephens came up with their own melody, which they called "Tell the World". When the record came out on the Warwick label, the labels had been switched. "Wheels" had become "Tell the World" and vice versa. However, label credit for "Wheels" (as we now know it) went to Petty, who claimed it as his own, though the melody was written by Torres and Stephens. A settlement was reached in 1964 and the BMI database now lists three writers for "Wheels": Petty, Torres and Stephens. Petty renamed the group "The String-A-Longs", though the members disliked the name. When both sides started to take off, Warwick split it in two separate singles : "Wheels"/"Am I Asking Too Much" (with a vocal by McCormack) on Warwick 603 and "Tell the World"/"For My Angel" on Warwick 606. "Wheels" went to # 3 in the US, # 8 in the UK, and # 1 in several other countries, including Holland, where it stayed on the charts for 32 weeks. Worldwide sales of the String-A-Longs version reached 7 million and the combined sales of all versions now exceed a staggering 16 million. The Billy Vaughn cover on Dot sold a million in Germany alone and outsold the original version there. Two follow-ups also made the Billboard charts : "Brass Buttons" (# 35) and "Should I" (# 42), both in 1961. Over the next four years the group released a further ten singles and two albums. Keith McCormack also recorded vocals as Bryan Keith and "Sad Sad Song"/"Mean Woman" was released in the UK on London HLU 9707, but went unnoticed. The group were doing some tedious tours around the States, receiving very little financial reward. When they tried to get a settlement from Warwick, the label filed for bankruptcy. The group now refused to tour. Petty signed them to Dot, where they made more good singles, like "Twist Watch" (written by Jimmy Torrres), "Mathilda"/"Replica" and my own personal favourite, "Sunday (Salve Regina)", but in 1965 the releases stopped.
In 1968 Keith McCormack replaced Jimmy Gilmer in the Fireballs as lead vocalist for the next six years. He had already written them hits in the shape of "Sugar Shack" (the biggest hit of 1963) and "Daisy Petal Pickin'", so he was justly qualified. All five members are still living and incredibly, just as I'm writing this, on July 7, Jimmy Torres announces that the group will reunite shortly: http://www.jimmytorres.com/archive.php (Look at the date : Wednesday July 7, 2004. You heard it first on SAO!)
More info (interview): http://www.musicdish.com/mag/index.php3?id=7875
CD: The String-A-Longs, Wheels. Ace CDCHD 390. Released in 1993. 28 tracks from Warwick and Dot.
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