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  “Now I’m going over to shagging,” exclaims Mr. Eugene Pitt with a cordial laugh.  “I’ll be doing beach music.”  Although the word ‘shag’ may have a different meaning in the U.K. – and I’m not talking about a bird or tobacco here – in the Carolinas there’s only one way to interpret it.  “People dance.  They have fun.  And the music is always uptempo.  I know back when I was a young lad coming up we used to love this music.  Back then it was like bebop, or the swing, or hand dancing… stuff like that.  It was just a different name.  Then I found out they call it shagging and I said ‘wow, that’s the same thing we used to do back then’.”


  Eugene’s latest CD is entitled Steppin’ Out in front, “I Love Beach Music” (2009 Hourihan Productions II; 21 tracks, 74 min.), and it was produced by Bobby Jay, and Rich Hourihan acted as an executive producer.  “I started out as a doowop singer and got involved in r&b and then together with my partner Richard Hourihan, who’s a record collector and a producer, we decided to do beach music.  That’s like taking me back home.  I love that stuff.  Richard, Bobby and myself, we picked up the songs that we like.  Some of the songs that you hear on the CD were recorded by other groups, but they weren’t played over here (New Jersey) like they are being played in the Carolinas, down Myrtle Beach.”

  “Bobby Jay started out singing with a group called the Laddins and that’s when I met Bobby.”  Bobby joined the group as a bass singer in 1957.  “His family and my family were very close.  We were singing always on shows together, meeting at shows… plus he’s a DJ.  I got to hear him all the time on the air.  Recently he started travelling with the legendary Teenagers – remember Frankie Lymon?”

  Steppin’ Out invites us to listen to Eugene’s interpretations of both old and new beach favourites, such as I Love Beach Music (earlier by the Embers), Too Much Foolin’ Around, Silly Little Girl and There Ain’t Nothing like Shagging (the Tams), Carolina Girls (Chairmen of the Board), Soothe You (Angel Rissoff), Lover Please (Clyde McPhatter), Sweet Soul Music (Arthur Conley) and Trapped By A Thing Called Love (Denise LaSalle).  They are all feel-good and danceable tracks, and in the best tradition of beach music they all feature live musicians.  One of the highlights is Gaelic Storm’s Before the Night Is Over.  “Richard brought that song to me.  I loved it and just phrased it the way I wanted to sing it and Bobby did the arranging.”

  “This CD was cut at Broadway South, which is owned by Joel Katz in Jersey.”  As a delight to old-school fans, among the background singers you can spot the Cookies, led by Margaret Ross, who joined the group as early as in 1961.  “She’s a very lovely lady.  When the Cookies came in the studio to do the background work, it was a night of fun… just singing and recording and having snacks.  It was like a little party in the studio.  The Cookies are still working.  They’re on a lot of shows.”

  Besides basic beach music, Eugene shows his versatility by including jazz elements to such songs as When We Met, Jazzy Lady (by Richard “Dimples” Fields) and Sure Shot.  “When We Met is a new song that I wrote and arranged.  Sure Shot is a song that I had written for dee-jays – ‘you hit me with a sure shot’.  I thought they would take it on the beach, as their personal song.  I recorded that song earlier with the Jive Five, but it was with synthesizers, but then on this session we did it with all live musicians.  Bobby Jay brought Jazzy Lady to me, because in the Carolinas his wife is a DJ, and they call her Jazzy Lady.”

  Richard Hourihan brought to Eugene Gonna Move across the River and Just Don’t Care, two ragtime & boogie-woogie feel songs, but in the midst of jolly uptempo hullabaloo Eugene offers us also soothing moments with such melodic ballads as The Wheel of Fortune, China Gate, Daisy Daisy and There’s a Hero.  “Daisy, Daisy is a song that was written by one of the Cadillacs, J.R. Bailey.  Bobby Jay brought that song to me, because he had recorded it years ago with some other artist and he never put it out, and he told me he wanted me to hear it.  I heard the song and I liked it.  I put my flavour to it, my style and Bobby loved it.  My favourite on this CD would have to be Hero, because I believe people can relate to that song; there’s a hero in every person.”  Eugene was the arranger on Hero

  On his earlier recordings Eugene was known for hitting high falsetto notes every now and then, but the material on the new CD doesn’t really require that anymore.  “On the shows I hit those high notes, but here you don’t have to do it.  Beach music is for dance, just having fun.”  In spite of Steppin’ Out being Eugene’s solo CD, the group Jive Five is still active.  “We’re still doing shows together.  The fellows are still part of my family.  Today in the Jive Five we have Herbert Pitt singing bass, we have Frank Pitt singing top tenor – they are my two younger brothers – then I have Beatrice Best singing baritone.  Then we have Casey Spencer singing second tenor and myself, Eugene Pitt, singing lead.”


  Eugene: “I was born on November 6 in 1937, in Brooklyn, in King’s county hospital, 572 Blake Avenue.  My father Christal sang with the Golden Gate Quartet, when they were going out to school in North Carolina, back in the early 30s.  That’s when him and the Golden Gate (Jubilee) Quartet started singing.  Then my father moved to Virginia, where he met my mother, and that kind of broke him away from the group, because he got married and started a family.”

  Eugene’s early idols were Frank Sinatra and Nat Cole.  As a kid he was also known by the name of Sampson.  “Back in the days all the teenagers had nick-names.  I was kind of strong and built for my age, so I just took on that name.”

  “I started singing, when my father took me and four of my sisters under his wing.  He showed us how to sing and harmonize.  We became a gospel group.  We were the Pitt Gospel Singers.  We sang around in churches quite a few years until my mother passed away.  I was like thirteen, when she passed away.  Then the group just broke up.”

  “Then at the age of seventeen I started singing out in the streets, on the corners.  It was just the guys in the neighbourhood.  We called ourselves the Akrons.  The group consisted of Ray MurphyEddie Murphy’s uncle – Eddie Murphy’s father Charles Murphy, myself, Santee Shaw and Monroe Shaw.  My brothers, who are singing with me now, were in the Top Notes and the Zip-Tones.”  None of those three groups made recordings at that point.

  After the Akrons, Eugene joined an early, non-recording incarnation of the Genies.  “I became the member of the Genies with Claude Johnson, Freddie Jones, Estelle Williams and Haskell Cleveland.  We were all living in Brooklyn, and then Fred Jones and Claude Johnson moved to Long Beach and that’s when they formed another Genies and they recorded Who’s That Knocking.”

  Who’s That Knocking became a small pop hit in 1959 (# 71) on Shad Records, and one member of that recording group was Roy C.  Roy: “When I met them, they were already together.  One of the singers had gone to a trip somewhere and did not return.  They asked me to join the group, and I did.”  The other members in Roy’s group were Bill Gaines, Alexander Faison, Fred Jones and Claude Johnson.  They recorded six singles for Shad, Hollywood, Warwick and Forum between 1959 and ’61.  Later Claude Johnson went on to become ‘Don’ in Don & Juan, of What’s Your Name fame.

  Eugene: “Estelle stayed in Brooklyn.  She got her group together called Jeanie & Her Boy Friends, and they recorded It’s Me Knockin”, an answer song on Warwick 508.


  “Then I got my group together, the Jive Five.”  The name derives from local girls calling the boys “five jive guys.”  The first line-up of the group in 1958 was Eugene (lead), Jerome Hanna (1st tenor), Thurmon “Billy” Prophet (2nd tenor), Richard Harris (baritone) and Norman Johnson (bass).  “We all lived in the same neighbourhood.  I was working in a supermarket as a stock clerk.  One day this lady came in while I was singing, and she said ‘wow, you can really sing.  You should come to see my husband.  He writes music’.  I thought the lady was joking around.  I didn’t take her seriously, but then she came back the next week and said ‘I told my husband about you, and I thought maybe you’d come over and see him’.  So I went over to see him.  That was Mr. Oscar Waltzer, and I told him I had a group that sang and he said ‘I’d like to hear you guys’.”

  “That week he invited us to dinner.  We came over and we sang for him and he said ‘I like that.  You guys can really sing.  My friend is getting ready to open up a record company and I’ll see that I can get you an audition’.  So we waited like two weeks, and then he said that we have an audition to go to Beltone Records.  So I went to the audition to 1650 Broadway, and on the way I met my friend Jackie Wilson, who said ‘I’m going with you’.  We went up to Beltone and there we met Les Cahan (the owner), Joe René and Otis Pollard.  We sang about four or five songs, and Les Cahan said ‘wow, you guys can really sing.  Do you have any more songs?’  I told him we have a song that we don’t really like.  ‘Why you don’t like it?’  ‘Because it’s a true story’.  And we sang My True Story, and he said ‘that’s a hit’.  We wound up recording that and that’s what it was - a hit.”

  Cut in late ’60, on the crest of a doowop revival wave the Beltone single went as high as # 1-r&b and # 3-pop during the next summer.  “Back then it was a smash.  It took us where we are today.  I guess it was because of the sound.  My father taught my group how to sing also.  He thought that we were going to be a gospel group.  When we came to the house, my father showed us how to sing gospel songs.  We couldn’t sing doowop songs.  When we got out on the street corners, we’d sing rock ‘n’ roll songs.  So all the guys are singing rhythm & blues, but it sounds like gospel.  When we recorded My True Story, it had that real high gospel feel.  That made a different sound.”


  Eugene confirmed having written a hefty ballad called Never, Never in haste in a car, since the next recording session was getting closer and they didn’t have a follow-up song.  The single wasn’t actually a smash.  It climbed up to # 74-pop in late 1961, and the succeeding dancer titled Hully Gully Callin’ Time didn’t fare any better.  On the contrary, it only bubbled under at # 105-pop in early ’62.

  Their next Beltone ballad, What Time Is It? (# 67-pop), was now credited to the Jive Five with Eugene Pitt, and in 1962 there had been some changes in the line-up, too.  Casey Spencer replaced Billy Prophet.  “At that time Billy wanted to go out on his own as a single artist.”  Andre Coles replaced Jerome Hanna.  “He developed walking pneumonia.  I went to the hospital to see Jerome and he said he wanted to go home and die.  And that’s what he did!”

  Norman Johnson - similarly to Hanna – caught cold and eventually passed away, already prior to Hanna.  “We went to Toronto, Canada.  We had to do a show up there, and it was really cold.  We did the show and we left, because we had to be at the Apollo Theater the next morning for a rehearsal.  We jumped in the car.  We were soaking wet, and when we came back we all had very bad cold.  I went to the doctor, and they started giving me penicillin, but Norman didn’t go to the doctor and he too developed walking pneumonia.”

  Beatrice Best replaced Richard Harris.  “Richard came back later, because then Best had an ulcer problem.  He had to stop singing.  Still later on Richard was replaced by his brother, Webster Harris.  This happened around ’64, when Richard joined the police department.

  On the label of the next single in ‘62, Every Day Is like a Year/She’s My Girl, it reads Eugene Pitt only, no mention of the Jive Five.  “Bobby Lewis was supposed to do a recording.  I was in the studio at the time.  We waited, and Bobby Lewis didn’t show up, so Joe René gave me the lyrics and said ‘Gene, learn the song.  You’re gonna record it’.”  In five minutes after Eugene was given the song, he recorded it in one take. 

  Another post-doowop type of a slowie in late ’62 called These Golden Rings (# 27-r&b) preceded an uptempo ditty titled Johnny Never Knew (b/w the familiar Lily Marlene) early next year.  However, for the next ballad, Rain (# 128-pop), they had recruited three singers from the Cadillacs – J.R. Bailey, Bobby Phillips and Buddy Brooks - alongside Eugene and Billy Prophet, who had returned for a minute.  “When we were on Beltone, we had a little flare with some members of the group and their families about royalties and stuff like that.  Otis Pollard was our manager at the time, and we were supposed to go to record.  He took me and Billy Prophet and three of the Cadillacs to record Rain.”

  Still in the 60s they released a couple of singles on Beltone, Hurry Back and The Girl with the Wind in her Hair - which was cut first by the Corvairs , with Eugene on lead – but the hits seemed to elude them more and more at that point.  “It was the change of the music.  Doowop, or rhythm & blues, was fading down because of the British invasion.” 

  By the end of 1963 the group had cut a wealth of material on Beltone, enough for an album actually.  “They never recorded an album with the Jive Five.  There weren’t that many artists on the label.  At the time it was just the Jive Five and Bobby Lewis, when I signed up.”  Among some of the other acts, who had releases on the label, there were Richie Adams, Chuck Jackson, the Intruders, the Opals, Dean Barlow and the InspirationsBarbara & the Slippers recorded the first song Eugene ever wrote called They’re Laughing at Me.


  Eugene, Richard Harris, Casey Spencer and Beatrice Best were the four members of the Jive Five, when they covered a 50s doowop ballad named United for Otis Pollard’s Sketch label in 1964.  It was quickly leased to United Artists, but only their next UA single, a jolly and laid-back mover called I’m A Happy Man, charted in 1965 (# 26-r&b, # 36-pop).

  They would still have five single releases on UA in 1965 and ’66 (A Bench in the Park, Goin’ Wild, In My Neighbourhood, You’re a Puzzle and You Promised Me Great Things), but only a mover titled A Bench in the Park made some chart bubbles (# 106-pop).  For the most part those UA sides are sunny dance tracks, not unlike what the Drifters used to sound like those days.  The first ever Jive Five album, I’m a Happy Man (UAL 3455), was released in 1965, but you don’t see it floating around very often these days.  Although most of the Jive Five compilation CDs today cover their Beltone material (some unreleased ones, too), the United Artists stuff is also available and comes highly recommended.

  In the 60s the Jive Five were on the road a lot.  “Sometimes it was very scary, because in some towns they were very prejudiced, especially in the southern states.  Ku Klux Klan was putting up posters about having a meeting and we were supposed to do a show in that town at the same time.  We had to cancel out the show and keep moving.  But at the same time we were happy, because we were singing.”

  “We toured with other artists.  We were with Tom Jones, Peter and Gordon, Linda Jones, Linda Scott, the Shirelles, Clarence “Frogman” Henry, Chubby Checker… we travelled with all those guys.  The Jive Five at that time was the only group that survived through the British invasion.  In ’65 we had I’m a Happy Man that was a big hit for us.”

  In 1966 Veep released a promo single on Eugene Pitt, Another Rainy Day/Why, Why Why.  “That’s part of Beltone.  Les Cahan got me to do those songs, because the group was in a flare thing, when they had the Cadillacs doing the background.  They tried to get me out as a single artist, and I didn’t want to be a single artist, because with the group we all grew up together and we hung out together.”  The Jive Five is on the background of these sides.

  In the 60s the Jive Five did also some background singing on other artists’ recordings, and one of them was a singer called George Jackson, whose roots lie in the 50s doowop group, the Plants.  So he’s not the famous southern soul songwriter-singer.  Their most famous contribution was for Gloria Gaynor, when they did background on Never Can Say Goodbye (in ’74) and some of her other recordings in those sessions.  At that time the Jive Five and Gloria Gaynor shared the same manager, Jay Ellis.  Also the Jive Five did the background for Gary U.S. Bond’s Seven Day Weekend.


  Next the Jive Five signed with the Musicor label for three singles in 1967 and ’68.  “That was through our manager, Otis Pollard.  He hooked that up for us.”  Crying like a Baby remained again only bubbling under at # 127-pop, but the second single was significant in two ways.  For one thing, No More Tears is actually a magnificent deep soul ballad, so it departs somewhat from the normal Jive Five repertoire.  Secondly, the lead singer on this song is a new guy by the name of Richard Fisher.  “Richard is leading, and as you can hear it’s like a gospel background.  Richard Fisher was another member that Otis Pollard brought into the group, when Beatrice Best had to stop singing for awhile, because he had ulcer.”  Also by this time Webster Harris had replaced his brother, Richard Harris.  Sadly Webster passed away in 2003.  “He had diabetes, and he had some complications with that.”

  The final Musicor single in 1968, a sweet soul ballad called Sugar (Don’t Take Away My Candy), deservedly saw some chart action (# 34-r&b, # 119-pop), and it was credited to the Jive Five featuring Eugene Pitt.

  In 1970 under a more contemporary name of Jyve Fyve – also Jive (Five) Fyve - the group in the line-up of Eugene, Richard Fisher, Casey Spencer and Webster Harris released two singles for Decca – the almost funky You Showed Me the Light of Love and I Want You to Be My Baby/If I Had a Chance to Love You, which charted at # 50-soul.  “All the changing of the labels those days came through Otis Pollard, our manager.  We changed the name to Jyve Fyve, because promoters were expecting five group members and there were only four of us.”

  Back to the old Jive Five name, their next recordings in 1971 and ’72 were for Avco – Come down in Time and the spiritual standard Follow the Lamb (with two flip sides, Let the Feeling Belong and Lay, Lady, Lay) – before hopping over to George Barrie’s Brut label out of New York in 1974 for a one-off titled All I Ever Do (Is Dream About You) – now as the Jyve Fyve, for a change.  “We got out of the reach with Otis Pollard, and we went with Jay Ellis.  He was our manager at that time, and he was familiar with the Brut label.”  On that record Johnny Watson had replaced Richard Fisher.


  During the next five years the group performed in different disguises.  As Shadow they released on Chess in early 1975 a single called Sad Faces (b/w People Don’t Know What Love Is).  This is not the same group that included some former members of the Ohio Players and who recorded for Elektra in the late 70s/early 80s.  “We changed our name, because we figured that Jive Five was an old doowop name, and we wanted to come out fresh.  We were the same Jive Five members.”

  Sad Faces appeared again as the b-side of their next, charted single on Columbia in 1975 named Samson (# 92-soul), but this time they were called Ebony, Ivory & Jade.  “Ebony, Ivory and Jade were Casey Spencer, Richard Harris and myself.”

  In 1977 the next incarnation of the group was called Showdown, and now they scored again with a small disco hit titled Keep Doin’ It on Honey Bee (# 90-soul).  The song was written by Curtis Blandon of the Vocaleers and the later Dubs fame.  “The members of Showdown were Webster Harris, Casey Spencer, Richard Harris and myself.  The production team had also Tony Bongiovi, Meco Monardo and Jay Ellis.”  That very same year, twelve years after their debut, the group had their second album released, Showdown featuring Sampson (Honey Bee 24002), with seven, mostly funky disco tracks on it.

  In 1977 it was once more time for a name change.  Now as Sting – again, no way related to Gordon Sumner – they cut one single for Midsong International (Do It in the Shower) and a year later Pleasure for ABC.  “It was disco music, and that was with Richard Harris, myself and two girls, Janae and Sheila.  They later went on their own.”  Under the title of Pleasure they also released an album on ABC 1110 in 1978, the third LP in Eugene’s career.  It was again a 7-track set, produced by Jay Ellis and four songs co-written by Jay, Eugene and Curtis Blandon.


  In the early 80s the Jive Five was stung into action mainly in the oldies circuit, in the line-up of Eugene, Casey Spencer, Richard Harris and Beatrice Best, but soon Casey and Richard were replaced by Eugene’s brothers, Herbert and Frank, and a new member, Charles Mitchell

  In accordance with the revival of old-time group harmony singing, a New York label called Ambient Sound released in 1982 two Jive Five singles – Magic Maker, Music Maker and Don’t Believe Him DonnaArlene Smith pays a visit on both of them.  In 1985 they still released Are You Lonesome Tonight.  “It was Marty Pekar.  He was the guy that promoted a lot of stuff for Nickelodeon.  He and Marsha, who was a secretary from Beltone, decided to get a record label together.  The recording studio was like in the basement, and the echo from the hallway created the ambient sound.”  Ambient Sound released also two neo-doowop style albums on Jive Five entitled Here We Are (in 1982) and Way Back (in ’85).

  Eugene already mentioned Nickelodoen, American Kids’ television network, where for about seventeen years starting from 1985 Eugene and the Jive Five wrote and sang jingles in a doowop style.  You can watch and listen to some of them at  “I wrote the theme song for Nickelodeon and the group sang it.”

  In 1995 Relic Records released a CD called Live on Stage, which had been recorded already in the 70s and which contains material deriving from the Jive Five’s Beltone era.  In 2003 Eugene still released a single titled It’s Christmas with a group called the Royal All-Stars, which included Harold Gill, Maurice Unthank, Art Loria and Beatrice Best.  Maurice passed away in 2008.  “He was our piano player and musical director.  He had a blood clot.”

  …which brings us today and Gene’s delightful Steppin’ Out CD, which should bring both the old school fans and younger shag generation together to listen to and enjoy no-nonsense, melodic and energetic music.  Eugene is a survivor, who has moved from doowop to soul, from disco to oldies and is finally perfecting his craft in beach music.

On the pic above Eugene Pitt's solo group (left to right):
Dickie Harmon, Bobby Jay, Joel Katz & Eugene Pitt (Photo credit: David Judovin)

(Interviews with Eugene conducted on May 18 and 30 in 2009.  Acknowledgements also to Mary Garcelon and Richard Hourihan.  Jay Warner’s book, American Singing Groups, is a good source).

Heikki Suosalo

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