The Del Vikings aka Dell Vikings
The Del Vikings aka Dell Vikings (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania)
(Part 1 : Biography, Video & Songs)
Corinthian "Kripp" Johnson（Tenor）
Donald "Gus" Bakus（Tenor）
"Dom, dom, dom, dom, dom-dee-doobie, dom......" Probably the most familar phrase in all of doo-wop and maybe music from the 1950's. A phrase created by the legendary Del Vikings - one of the most successful doo-wop groups of all time. Unlike many other original groups, the Del Vikings had two big hits and continued staying power for years. They recorded dozens of records. However, after tasting initial success, the group later struggled to overcome internal strife which ended up keeping them from reaching even greater success. This is the story of one of the most popular and interesting group harmony artists.
The Del Vikings were one of the first rhythm and blues groups to take elements of rock and roll and introduce it to the musical format of doo-wop. They successfully blended the rock and roll sound into doo-wop without destroying the rhythm and blues sound of doo-wop. This is evident on many of their records like "Come Go With Me" and "Whispering Bells" and why they are considered to be real ground breakers in the world of group harmony. It probably also explains their wide-ranging appeal both in the original days of doo-wop and now.
The group formed in 1955 at Pittsburgh Air Force Base, where five Black enlisted men, Corinthian 'Kripp' Johnson (first tenor), Clarence E. Quick (bass), Don Jackson (second tenor), Bernard Robertson, and Samuel Paterson, began singing at the camp hall. They won a talent contest on the base in early 1956, and then competed nationally in New York and Bermuda, where they placed first and second. By that time, they were starting to attract local attention, most notably from disc jockey Barry Kaye in Pittsburgh who wanted to record them. Although historians are not completely sure, their name probably came from stories the group members had been reading about Vikings and the word 'Del' added to give the group name an air of mystery. It may also have come from the the publisher of some of the paperbacks that the group members liked to read - the Viking Press.
Later in 1956, Robertson and Paterson left the group when they were transferred to Germany. They were replaced by Norman Wright (lead tenor) and David Lerchey (baritone). Norman grew up in Philadelphia and was a product of Northeast High School. Unlike many of his doo-wop contempories that longed for a career in music and spent countless hours singing in the hallways at school or on the streetcorner, Norman didn't spend much of his childhood singing except for his aunt who loved to hear his rendition of "Mule Train." Almost immediately upon graduating from high school in January 1956, Norman was sworn into the air force.
He was later stationed at an air force base in Amarillo, Texas, where he started hanging out singing in the hallways (the only hallway singing he ever did. This sparked Norman's interest in group harmony singing and he formed his first group. Norman was later transferred to the Pittsburgh air force base where he met the other members of the Del Vikings. He sang for them and was chosen to join the group because, as he recalled, he could "sing Hey Senorita better than any of 'em." Clarence Quick liked what he heard and Norman became the group's new lead. David Lerchey was white and the Del Vikinge became one of the first integrated doo-wop groups along with the Meadowlarks and the Mariners.
Barry Kaye recorded the group doing nine accapella songs including a version of Come Go With Me written by Clarence Quick with Norman Wright on lead. Most major labels passed on the chance to sign the group. The group was finally signed by Joe Auerbach, the owner of a small Pittsburgh-based label called Fee Bee. The group recorded a full musical version of Come Go With Me backed by the group's own band including Joe Lopes and Gene Upshaw on sax. Norman Wright took the lead on the selection which was released late in 1956. Fee Bee was just too small a label to handle the sales, so Auerbach leased it to Dot which put it out in early 1957.
The record exploded onto the scene and remained on the charts for 31 weeks, reaching number four on the pop chart and number three on the R&B chart. The group was now a national phenomenon and was booked on tours across the country, as well as a featured spot in one of Alan Freed's Brooklyn Paramount shows. Norman recalls that being in the air force made it hard for the group to tour. "If everyone had enough days, we could get away for a weekend gig."
But extended tours didn't work too well sometimes because each of the members of the group would have differing amounts of leave and some would have to return to the base or be considered "AWOL." The group attempted to sing in uniform at times but this practice was stopped by the air force which would have liked to have the group as an official recruitment act. Rather than be transferred to a special services outfit and perform officially as a recruitment act, Norman decided to stay on the "flight line" servicing air force jets. However, the group did do some unofficial recruitment tours around Pittsburgh during this time.
The make-up of the group would once again change, with its second white member, Gus Backus (lead on Cool Shake) replacing Don Jackson as second tenor. With a hit record under their belt, the group hit a snag. Because some of the group's members were under 21 when they signed with Fee Bee, the group's manager tried to get them out of their contract and signed with Mercury Records. The resulting fight among group members resulted in a split with one group calling itself the the Dell-Vikings (the spelling of the group that released "Whispering Bells") on Dot Records, with Kripp Johnson and the returning Don Jackson.
The other rival Del-Vikings, as their name was spelled, recorded on Mercury, led by Clarence Quick and featuring Norman Wright, David Lerchey, Gus Backus and new member William Blakely. The Fee Bee/Dot Dell-Vikings released a single 1957 "Whispering Bells" (also written by Clarence Quick), in the late summer of 1957, which reached number nine on the pop charts. Barry Kaye also got into the fray by taking the original Del Vikings 9 song demo tape and mixing in an orchestra and releasing an LP on Luniverse Records as well as a 45 with Over the Rainbow and Hey Senorita.
The Mercury Del-Vikings released Cool Shake in 1957 (with Gus Backus on lead) but record stores were confused by the presence of two different groups. Court action followed, with Mercury winning the rights to the group and the name the Del Vikings and any variations of it. Yet another group lineup, with Joe Lopes filling in for David Lerchey appeared alongside Fats Domino and the Diamonds in the movie the Big Beat in 1957. The Dot version of the group with Kripp Johnson, now known as the Versatiles, and featuring Don Jackson, Chuck Jackson, Arthur Budd, and Ed Everette, kept recording without success.
By the end of 1957, Kripp Johnson rejoined the Mercury Del-Vikings, with songs like "You Cheated". While the nucleus of the group was back, it never had another big hit. The group, composed of Johnson, Quick, Ritzy Lee, Billy Woodruff, Willie Green and Douglas White, signed a contract with ABC-Paramount but had little success. The group later experienced a revival under Quick in 1972 when they recorded a new version of Come Go With Me for the New York-based Scepter label.
Come And Go With Me Whispering Bells
Is It Any Wonder Can't Wait
The Sun I´m spinning
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