There is good news and bad news about the Tymes. The good news is that they are soon releasing a Cameo-Parkway box set with a lot of Tymes tracks on it. The bad news is that their long-time lead singer, George Reginald Williams Jr. died from cancer at the age of 68 in New Jersey on July 28 this summer. The funeral took place in Philadelphia on Saturday, August 7. He is survived by his wife, two daughters, a brother, a sister, ten grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren. Born the 6th of December in 1935, after the Tymes’ hit period George, “the Grand Duke”, spent almost twenty-five years in Europe but returned to the U.S.A. in 2002. We were late to talk to George, but the group’s first tenor, Al “Ceasar” Berry, was kind enough to help us with the history of the group.
“Actually my name is Albert Alexander Berry III, but everybody calls me ‘Ceasar’. When I was about ten years old, my father saw on television Edward G. Robinson’s movie Little Caesar, and the next thing I know he started calling me ‘Ceasar’.” Born in Philadelphia on March 17, 1941, Al’s grandfather had played cello in the Philadelphia Symphony Orchestra. “My sister, Juanita Holiday, is a jazz singer. She’s been singing for about ten years now, and we just finished a cd on her.”
When asked about early idols, seems that for Al there is one above others. “As a matter of fact, I met him a couple of months ago. We did a show up in New York with one of my favourite groups. I’ve always said that if I was ever to become a singer, I would want to pattern myself by him. I met Terry Johnson of the Flamingos. When I met him, it was like meeting my idol. Then there are Nat King Cole, Johnny Mathis, all the good singers like that.”
“First I used to play drums for a couple of years. We had a band in school. They used to have a thing here in Philadelphia called ‘Schools on Parade’. Every school in the city had different musicians, and I was picked as a drummer. Then I left it alone, and we just started singing on street corners. That was a big thing back in those days, and we thought ‘hey, let’s just form a group’. We never thought about recording back then in the 50s. I was with various people till I met Norman Burnett.” Al graduated from Northern High School in Philadelphia in January 1959.
Norman Burnett (baritone), a native of Philadelphia, and George Hilliard (second tenor) out of Virginia formed a vocal duo as early as in 1956. “They had a group. I don’t know, if they had a particular name, but Norman and George formed a group, when they met at a summer camp in Pennsylvania. They also started singing at different talent shows up there, they won one contest and then, when they came back to the summer camp, they started looking for additional members, and that’s when I got the call. They had a bass singer, who just passed away, but then Donald Banks – who is George Hilliard’s cousin – wanted to join the group and he finally got in.”
In 1959 in the line-up of Al, George, Norman and Donald, the group named itself the Latineers. “Back in those days everybody had ‘neers’ at the end of the name, so we called ourselves the Latineers. We tried to pattern ourselves behind the Flamingos. They were a big influence on us.” Little Joe & the Latineers, who cut Let The Good Times Roll/Someday for Valmon, is a different group. Our Latineers didn’t have an official record released those days.
“They used to have a shop down at the 13th and Market down here in Philadelphia. Everybody went in to do a little demo – it only cost about five dollars. It was like a meeting place for all the groups in Philadelphia. Everybody was trying to outsing each other.”
Next year they recruited George Williams Jr. to become their lead singer. “We all tried to sing lead first. Norman worked at the hospital and George, who was a truck driver, drove the fork-lift at the hospital, the Einstein Medical Center. Norman heard him singing one day and asked him, did he want to join the group. When he came in, he had a lot of Johnny Mathis influence in him. That’s the type of stuff he was singing. George was a very good singer. We were very fortunate to get him, too.”
Still in the early 60s singing was more or less a hobby for the boys. “Everybody had odd jobs. I was a supervisor of the housekeeping department at a place in Philadelphia called Kennedy House, and Norman worked as a cook in a hospital. Then there was a talent contest back in ’63. It was called Tip-Top Talent Hunt, and WDAS radio station sponsored it. Voters took the labels from the Tip-Top bread wrapper and sent it as ballot. We never made the end of the contest, because we ran into Billy Jackson. He was the head of a&r department at Cameo-Parkway. Leroy Lovett was one of the judges that heard us, and he told me to contact Billy at Cameo-Parkway Records.”
Leroy is known as an ace arranger in Philadelphia, and Bill Jackson had been a member of the Revels ever since the group started recording in the mid-50s. “They had big records like Cha Cha Toni (Sound 135 in ’56) and Dead Man’s Stroll (Norgolde 103 in ’59). After the group broke up, Billy took the job at Cameo-Parkway. They had a big stable. We did a lot of tours together. As a matter of fact, we went with Dick Clark’s Cavalcade of Stars across the country.”
Cameo-Parkway was a creation of Bernie Lowe and Kal Mann, and this Philadelphian corporate practically and recording-wise existed till 1967. Actually Bunny Sigler was the last artist to have a record out on their label (Follow Your Heart). Later Cameo-Parkway was sold, and in February 1969 the name was changed to ABKCO. Cameo was founded in 1956, and their first # 1 pop hit happened in early ’57 with Charlie Gracie’s Butterfly (Cameo 105). The label concentrated on creating teen hits with Bobby Rydell, the Orlons, Dee Dee Sharp, Evie Sands, Len Barry and Don Gardner. Their albums in the 50s were first in the jazz genre before switching over to dance music. In their roster they even had Rawhide’s Clint Eastwood, who had an album called Cowboy Favourites in ’63 and a single titled Cowboy Wedding Song the very same year. Johnny Maestro was one of the Cameo artists that the Tymes used to work and record together with.
Parkway was launched in 1958 – first single was by Jerry Field and the Temptations – and from the next year on they went on to have both national, and local (mainly) dance hits with Chubby Checker, the Dovells, the Tams, Bobby Freeman, the Premiers, the Turbans, Donniel Elbert, Lee Andrews, the Swans, Don Covay and Patti LaBelle & the Bluebelles.
“Len Barry is a very good friend. After he left the Dovells, he went wint Decca Records, and we backed him up on 1-2-3. I see Steve Caldwell from the Orlons all the time. He’s one of the original members. Dee Dee Sharp is like my little sister. She and my sister started singing together in church. I know Dee Dee from way back. We used back her up on her records. We also backed up Johnny Maestro. He did a song called I’ll Be True (Cameo 256; ’63). We backed Chubby Checker on a few things.”
SO MUCH IN LOVE
“The president of the Cameo-Parkway Records, Bernie Lowe, came up with the name ‘Tymes’. We still went on as the Latineers at first, but they came up with the name ‘the Tymes’ within the record company.”
“We used to rehearse at my home, and our lead singer George Williams came in with a song, and, as we first did it, it was called As We Stroll Along. He had written it and, as a matter of fact, we all had a hand in writing it. That was our very first single.”
Credited to Jackson-Straigis-Williams, So Much In Love entered the Billboard pop charts the first of June in 1963, went to # 1-pop (for one week) and # 4-r&b, and had a pop chart run of 15 weeks (r&b – 10 weeks). In Britain it hit # 21-pop. The song was done a cappella. This catchy finger-snapper is a pure and melodically simple ballad, and quite doowopish. Actually it’s a clean-cut pop song with a beautiful tune. It is one of the most covered songs in music history: All-4-One, Art Garfunkel, Jay & the Americans, Timothy B. Schmit, the Shagri-Las, Percy Sledge, Tierra, the Chiffons, the Invincibles and many, many more. (On the very first single pressings by the Tymes it read So In Love. So Much In Love was also on Abkco 4013 with a monologue intro).
“Roy Straigis was a musical arranger for So Much In Love, and on our early stuff Roy and Billy put the music together for us. So Much In Love we did in a variety of ways. We did it with a jazz beat, we did it with a full orchestra, we did it with a calypso beat and we did it uptempo. Finally Bernie Lowe came along and said ‘let’s take out all the music and let’s just try something new’. That’s me doing the finger-snaps on the record. They took out all the music, and I really thought that was going to be our first bum, but we were lucky.” The high female voice belongs to Marlena Davis of the Orlons.
Today Roy Straigis (72) together with Artie Singer (84), who had a hand in producing Danny & the Juniors’ gold single At The Hop in 1957, are making music for children (on Wyncote Records as the Haircuts).
On the b-side they released a song titled Roscoe James McClain, a beaty novelty and unlike any other Parkway record the Tymes released. “That’s the side that I thought they’re going to release on us. That was more like a Coasters thing, like they did Searchin’. That’s me doing the lead on that, that gravel voice. I’m somewhat glad that they didn’t release that as the top side, because up to the day I don’t think I’m able to sing that.”
Hot on the heels of the hit single – and actually the biggest single in the Tymes’ career – they released an album by the same name with a mixture of a few new melodies but for the main part standards. “We went in one night, about five o’clock in the afternoon, and we came out like five o’clock in the afternoon next day. It was not a rush-rush thing, but everybody was so hyped up that we just kept recording, getting things together. We did a lot of those standards. That was Billy and the record company, their idea. As a matter of fact, we do a lot of those standards on our shows.”
The album, which first was issued with two different sleeves, could be considered as one of the first concept albums with monologues between the tracks gluing the plot together – first Alone, then falling in love and finally Autumn Leaves. Arranged by Roy Straigis and Billy Jackson, the album entered the charts on August 3 in 1963, went up to # 15-pop and stayed on the charts for twenty weeks.
The opening track was the standard called Alone. “That’s me whistling. I did all the whistles and finger-snaps on our records.” Other standards included That Old Black Magic, Goodnight My Love, The Twelth Of Never, Summer Day and Autumn Leaves.
My Summer Love was a smooth ballad cut a few months earlier by Ruby & the Romantics on Kapp. “Billy Jackson brought it in and asked us what did we think about recording it. We said yes. As a matter of fact, I just talked to Ruby, when she had her birthday recently.”
Let’s Make Love Tonight differs from the rest of the repertoire, as it is a Drifters kind of a ditty, where each member of the group shares lead. “Bobby Rydell did it originally (on Cameo). It was part of Cameo-Parkway’s catalogue. We did a lot of things off their catalogue.”
You Asked Me To Be Yours and Way Beyond Today are two soft and melodic ballads from the pens of Straigis-Jackson-Williams, but Summer Day is the other song (besides Let’s Make Love Tonight) that pops out as a different interpretation, not MOR and easy listening music, but almost like Telstar by the Tornadoes (# 1 in ’62) with some Spanish elements in the arrangement. “We tried a variety of things then. Billy Jackson thought it was a good idea, so we just went ahead and did it.”
In arrangements they relied on George Williams’, “the black Bing Crosby’s”, lead voice and the skillful harmonizing by the rest of the group, so the orchestral backing was rather scarce – mainly drums, guitar, bass, organ or piano and occasional flute or xylophone. “They were studio musicians. Roy Straigis usually played keyboard. Kenny Gamble and the Romeos were our backup band, before Kenny Gamble got his recording company. Later Bobby Eli, bass guitar, was on a lot of our stuff. Bernard Purdie, who was a very good drummer, played on a lot of our stuff, too. And Leon Huff – as a matter of fact, I ran into him and Kenny Gamble not far ago and we were talking about doing some recording with them now. We’re looking forward to that.”
“The success of So Much In Love affected our career very much. Like I said, I never thought that would be a bigger hit. I couldn’t even imagine, how it touched people. Dick Clark had the American Bandstand. Dick Clark was like a springboard for a lot of hits. His show was nationwide and everybody picked up on it, and that was one of the biggest pushes we had for So Much In Love. We’ve also performed in Hullabaloo, Soul Train and Top Of The Pops.”
On the picture above: Ceasar with the owner of Sigma Sound Studios, Joe Tarsia, who engineered the first Tymes album.
“Our second single after So Much In Love was supposed to be Come With Me To The Sea, but then they put out Wonderful! Wonderful!, and we were lucky with that one. That brought us a lot of success. That was Billy Jackson’s idea.”
Wonderful! Wonderful! was Johnny Mathis’ first single hit in early ’57 on Columbia, and it climbed to # 14-pop for him. With their mid-paced, finger-snapping version the Tymes entered the pop charts on August 17 in 1963 and made it as high as # 7-pop (# 23-r&b). Its chart run on the pop side lasted for eleven weeks, but on the r&b side only two weeks. The high-voiced lady on the background again is Marlena Davis. They placed Come With Me To The Sea on the flip. This Jackson-Straigis song is a similar mid-paced finger-snapper, not unlike the plug side.
After the success of Wonderful! Wonderful! they needed another album, and only about five months after So Much In Love they released The Sound Of The Wonderful Tymes in December of 1963. “We weren’t in a particular hurry. It was a lot of standards, and, like I said, Billy came up with ideas and we were trying to put them together. Him and Roy got together and they put the arrangements together. Billy was very successful in picking a lot of the themes that they wrote at the time.”
The album wasn’t as big a seller as its predecessor. On Billboard’s pop charts it reached only the # 117-pop spot and stayed there for ten weeks. Musically it continued where So Much In Love had left off, but this time there were only three in-house melodies – Come With Me To The Sea, a slow-to-mid-paced finger-snapper titled I Thank You, which the Velveteens had recorded earlier in ’61, and a soft, easy-listening ballad called One Little Kiss, penned by Straigis and M.V.Hill. “Hill and Roy Straigis were good friends.”
The standards this time included Blue Velvet, Hello Young Lovers, The Way You Look Tonight, Words Written On Water, And That Reminds Me, Chances Are and Moonlight Cocktails. Address Unknown features some energetic singing with Marlena Davis’ beautiful falsetto gracing the record again in the beginning, and the interpretation was clearly inspired by the Ink Spots. “They were a big influence on us, too.”
“At first we used the Cameo-Parkway studio. That was at 309 South Broad Street, which later became the offices of Philly International Records. We recorded a lot of our stuff at Rec-O-Art, too, and that was around the corner from there. Today it is Sigma Sound” (at 212 N. 12th St.).
Their third pop hit in a row, Somewhere, in not the West Side Story melody, but a poppy and melodic, finger-snapping mid-jogger, written by Mendoza and Wisner and published by Roy Straigis’ Wyncote Music. It entered the pop charts on December 7 in 1963, stayed there for eleven weeks and peaked at # 19. It was backed by Billy’s and Roy’s slow-to-mid-tempo melody titled View From My Window.
Again a hit single called for an album, and in less than three months after the Sound Of The Wonderful Tymes they had their third album, Somewhere, on the market. Arranged and produced by Bob Straigis, the album entered the pop charts on March 7 in 1964, enjoyed only a four-week run and peaked at # 122. They released the album with a sleeve that had a special pocket for a bonus single containing another of those of 40s standards, I’m Always Chasing Rainbows, backed with Isle Of Love, deriving from the 50s.
Besides Somewhere, the in-house tunes this time included a mid-paced finger-snapper called Let’s Fall In Love (Jackson-Straigis); the similar There Is Love (Layne-Straigis); once again, the similar Will You Wait For Me (Straigis), cut earlier by the Dixie Gentlemen a year earlier; an uptown, Drifters kind of a mover with strings and everything titled Anymore (Straigis-Jackson); Why Should I Cry (Kal Mann); and as the closing song a beautiful lullaby named Sleep Tight My Darling (Straigis-Jackson). The familiar songs from the past were Stranger In Paradise, The Lamp Is Low, Night Time and Till The End Of Time.
TO EACH HIS OWN
On the Tymes’ last four Parkway singles there were many songs that didn’t appear on the albums. Originally a hit as early as in 1946, a beautiful ballad called To Each His Own (# 78-pop; 4 weeks) entered the pop charts on March 14 in 1964, and for a change it had a full orchestral backing with violins and everything, including a girl choir. The b-side, Wonderful World Of Love (# 124-pop), was written by Billy Jackson and was actually So Much In Love, part 2.
Three months later The Magic Of Our Summer Love (flipped with a cover of With All My Heart) barely scraped the tail end of the pop charts at # 99 for one week. “That was like a Ruby & the Romantics type of a thing. That was one of our favourite groups, really. That was a good theme for us. I’m surprised it didn’t do as much as it was supposed to do.”
Released in September of 1964, Here She Comes (b/w one more standard, Malibu) was like a snappy Motown song. “That was a big hit for us in Detroit, but elsewhere it didn’t do too well. We wanted to try to create a new style. We were trying to move in to what was happening. We really didn’t want to be typecast as a ballad group.”
In November 1964 the final Parkway single, The Twelfth Of Never, was put out with two flips, Here She Comes and Anymore, but it didn’t score anymore. The group left a lot of unreleased Parkway tracks and demos behind, and one of them was a note-to-note cover of the Beach Boys’ Surfin’ Safari. “During that time every group in the company picked a beach song. We did Surfin’ Safari, Dee Dee Sharp did something, Bobby Rydell did something – just to release a beach summertime thing.”
The material for the farewell compilation, 18 Golden Hits (1965; no chart run), was drawn from the three preceding albums (11 songs from So Much In Love, 3 from The Sound Of The Wonderful Tymes, 3 from Somewhere + View From My Window). Later ABKCO still released a compilation called The Best Of Tymes (4228; ’74). During those two years at Parkway the Tymes recorded soft, melodic music – more doowop-derived, MOR and standards than rhythm & blues – and some even say that for a short while they filled the void left by the Platters.
“The Parkway era was a happy time for everybody. We were like a family, like Motown. Whenever they needed background singers, they would call us. Cameo-Parkway was a big label back in those days. We were signed with Billy Jackson’s production company, and our contract with Parkway ran out and we were searching around for another label, because we were trying to change our sound.”