dozen (or so) questions for
Larry Chance of The Earls
with Ray D'Ariano
a lot of perfect doo wop records from the 50's, The Flamingos, "Golden
Teardrops," "Ten Commandments Of Love" by The Moonglows,
or the up-tempo, "Speedo" by The Cadillacs for example. One
of the first perfect doo wop records of the 60's was "Remember Then"
from The Earls. It contained the classic doo wop riff .. WOP WOP PATTY
PATTY BOP BOP SHOE BOP DE BOP BOP OWOOOOOOO, and the amazing lead vocals
of Larry Chance.
Larry has been the leader and vocalist with The Earls for over 5 decades,
and has one of the great voices not only in doo wop, but in the history
of rock and roll. We recently crossed paths, in of all places, on the
site of the original Woodstock Music Festival in Bethel, New York. A few
days later he graciously participated in this interview.
You were born in South Philly
.a lot of talented people who hit it
big grew up in your neighborhood
Chubby Checker, Frankie Avalon
did you know any of these guys before you got into the biz?
LC: I sat behind Chubby in elementary school... I knew him as Ernest
Evans... I'd see Frankie Avalon around the neighborhood once in a while.
I remember him carrying around a trumpet case. So many great artists came
from Philadelphia. Not just groups like the Danny & the Juniors, Dovells,
Blue Notes, Patti LaBelle & the Bluebelles, the Stylistics but pop
singers, Jimmy Darren, Fabian, Dee Dee Sharp
Operatic singers, Mario
Lanza, comics, Joey Bishop, David Brenner
Jazz greats like John
Coltrane, Dizzy Gillespie
Soul artists like the O'Jays, Solomon
RD: Who were your musical influences as a kid?
I had so many... I've always had a very wide spectrum of musical taste...
I loved Hank Ballard, the Ravens, Flamingos, Perry Como, Delta Rhythm
Boys, Nat "King" Cole, Johnny Ray, Swan Silvertones, Eddie Arnold,
Buddy Johnson Band, Count Basie Band, Billy Ward & the Dominos. I
could go on for hours. I found so much to love in all genres... Loved
R & B, Blues, Big Band music, Gospel, Country, Jazz. I guess Ray Charles
said it best, only two kinds of music, good & bad. I lived near a
Baptist church and often I would go there on Sunday mornings & listen
to them sing. I also recall a place called Pep's Musical Show Bar. I think
it was on Broad Street. I would stand outside & listen to acts like
the Blue Notes, Big Maybelle, and Jimmy Reed.
RD: That's great. I grew up in New Rochelle and Felix Cavaliere
of The Rascals was from Pelham. He used to hang out outside a R&B
club in New Rochelle called the Three Fours and listen to this Hammond
organ soul group, The Mighty Cravers, I think. Anyway, your family moved
to the Bronx and you formed a vocal group. How'd all that go down?
I started singing on the street corners in Philadelphia. When my family
moved to the Bronx it just seemed so natural to me. Music was always my
greatest love. We'd sing in school, (Evander Childs High School) on park
benches, on the corner. Anywhere & everywhere!! I remember us taking
the subway down to 149th Street. That's where the old 3rd Ave. El went
underground. We'd get off & sing there for hours. The tiles made us
sound like we were in a recording studio. At least, that's what we thought
a studio would sound like.
RD: Looking for an echo, right? So your group was called the High
Hatters. Where did you perform and what were the songs you guys were singing?
LC: I remember our first appearances were at the Moose Lodge on
216th Street in the Bronx and at Teen Town in Mt. Vernon, NY. We sang
all the standard street songs, "Zoom, Zoom, Zoom," "I'm
So Happy," "Why Do Fools Fall In Love," "Thousand
Miles Away," etc.
RD: Great stuff, "I'm So Happy," wow, what a tune. How
did the High Haters become The Earls?
LC: Our intention was to wear tails, spats, top hats, white gloves
& canes. Of course, that cost money, which we didn't have much of
at that time. That's why we became the Earls, no cost, (laughs) I chose
the name Earls by sticking my finger in a dictionary. It landed on Earl
(nobleman of high rank) so we then became the Earls. I found out in later
years that Lionel Richie also stuck his finger in a dictionary to name
the Commodores. I've always been amused by the fact that had I placed
my finger just a little higher we might have been named the "Ears,"
and the same situation by Lionel might have resulted in the Commodores
being the "Commodes." (laughs)
From 62-64 The Earls had their greatest string of hits
Then," "Never," "Eyes," "Cry Cry Cry,"
"I Believe." Must have been a heady time for you.
It was wonderful. I got to meet all of the performers I idolized. I was
meeting the DJ's I listened to for so many years, Jocko Henderson, Hy
Litt, Bruce Morrow, etc. I remember having my ear glued to the radio every
Monday evening when Peter Tripp, I think he was known as the curly haired
kid in the third row, would present the Top 40 records of the week. I
would listen intently to see if my tunes were still climbing the charts
or on the way down. More importantly, those recordings gave me an audience.
The joy I still get from performing for them is the greatest high possible.
It's an unexplainable experience.
RD: Aside from recording, what did the group do to promote the
LC: We did record hops for DJ's (Murray the K, Bruce Morrow, Scott
Muni, Hal Jackson, etc.) We did the Christmas show at the Brooklyn Fox
for 10 days with Murray the K. It was incredible
Lines around the
block for every show
Jackie Wilson, Little Anthony & the Imperials,
the Crests, the Drifters. I was with musical royalty. Needless to say,
I was intimidated, yet proud to be among them. Here I was, a street kid
from the Bronx, by way of South Philly, sharing the stage with some of
the greatest performers of all time, whew!!! I remember that show being
the 1st big show for Dionne Warwick. She was fabulous. I knew she'd be
a huge star!! We did many local TV shows, Clay Cole Show, Connecticut
Bandstand, Bruce Morrow's Go Go show. The most exciting for me personally
was doing the American Bandstand show in Philadelphia. I remember dancing
there a few times & vowed that one day I'd be there as a performer.
I was able to fulfill a dream I'd had as a teen. That was soooo very special.
The Beatles broke
the British Invasion hit and
the American recording acts took a hit. Radio just about abandoned all
of you. Your thoughts?
LC: I felt that there was room for all of us. British, Motown,
Doo Wop, etc. It seemed that if you weren't British or Motown at that
time you weren't played. One or two American acts were played such as
the Beach Boys, Four Seasons, Jay & the Americans. However, Doo Wop
become a forgotten art form until Gus Gossert, Don K. Reed, Hy Litt, Jerry
Blavat, and a few others across the country refused to accept its demise.
They showed the industry that there was a market for the old harmony sounds.
Richard Nader took it to Madison Square Garden and other major venues.
Sold-out performances helped create a demand for the music once again
and helped create oldies stations such as WCBS-FM to garner high ratings
playing the Drifters, Coasters, Duprees, Fats Domino, Chuck Berry, etc.
You made some terrific records during the so-called British invasion
"Ask Anybody," "Remember Me Baby" (B side: "Amore").
How did you deal with hearing inferior stuff on the radio while your great
recordings were being ignored?
LC: It was disappointing to say the least. But I'd learned that
show biz was a combination of talent & luck. The most talented didn't
always get the success that some lesser acts did with lots of hype. My
attitude became kind of like, oh well, Ces't La Vie...
RD: I was working at a club in Mt. Vernon in the late 60's called
The World and a favorite soulful-horn band we booked was called Smokestack.
Any recollections of that group?
LC: Ah yes, I remember it well. I was on the bill with the Rascals,
if my memory serves me correctly. That was my first gig with them. Oldies
bands were not getting work at that time. Clubs weren't hiring any "Doo
Woppers." So we added three horns to the act, changed the name to
"Smokestack" & became a very in-demand show, dance band
in the NY, NJ area. We did covers and some original material that we recorded
for the Daisy label which was distributed by the Decca label.
RD: So our paths crossed for the first time at The World, but we
didn't realize it. We met formally in the 80's at WNBC when you were doing
comedy on Imus In The Morning, and me the same on the show after you guys.
How'd you hook up with Imus?
LC: Don was doing comedy records back then that were being produced
by my pal Paul DeFranco. Paul & I were doing some recording projects
together at that time. Don's brother, Fred was a songwriter but he couldn't
sing very well. He needed someone to sing his originals so that he could
shop them. Paul put me in contact with Don & Fred. I did demos of
Fred's songs for him and while working with Fred became friendly with
Don. I'd often do wacky things in the studio, comedy, dialects, etc, So,
when Don came back to New York to work for WNBC radio he put me to work
as his crazy editorial manager, Geraldo Santana Banana & the streetwise
entrepreneur Rainbow Johnson.
RD: I need to jump back to the 70's for a second. The disco fever
had swept the nation and you did a version of "Tonight Could Be The
Night" where you combined disco and doo wop. That is one of the greatest
recordings I ever heard. I was working at Casablanca at the time and I
was sure it was going to hit number one. Your comments.
LC: It was one of my most disappointing studio endeavors!! I remember
some of the reviews:
Cashbox: Pick of the Week
Billboard: Spotlight Single
California Disco Association: Hottest record of the month, blows my hat
When I read those reviews, I felt, wow, I'm gonna have me a smash!! Sold
maybe 10 copies, and I think my mom bought 6 of those. (laughs)
Today vocal group harmony is called doo wop and there is a great catalogue
of songs from the golden era much like the great American song book from
another time there aren't a lot of groups performing or recording
this material. Is it over? Or how does this music get preserved?
LC: I don't think it's over yet. The series of Doo Wop specials
done by PBS-TV earned them their greatest ratings ever and made them more
money then the Three Tenors, Sinatra, Liza, etc. I still record and have
doo wop tunes on each album I do. Recently I did an album called "Back
On the Streets of the Bronx" which even had a couple of A Cappella
tunes on it. I still put some Doo Wop tunes on every CD I do with the
Earls, both original & some of the standard tunes. I also record some
Jazz & Big Band tunes as a single artist. As I mentioned previously,
my musical taste is vast.
RD: Larry Chance and The Earls today have a super live show. You've
got The Earls hits of course, your amazing vocals on jazz and standards
like "At Last" or "I'll Be Seeing You," plus a lot
of comedy. How can a club, school or individual book you guys for a gig?
LC: They can contact us at our web site: www.larrychanceandtheearls.com
or my email address: LCandEARLS@AOL.COM
RD: Thanks for taking the time Larry. Any last thoughts?
LC: Thanks for the interview. It made me recall many long ago moments
which I seldom think of any more. It was nice to reminisce. Regarding
any last thoughts, I guess it would be how very fortunate I am to still
be doing this 53 years after forming the Earls and making a living doing
what I so love and live to do. To still be active and take the stage having
overcome throat cancer is overwhelming at times. I'm so fortunate to have
the greatest fans on this earth. They are the reason I'm able to still
be a performer after all these years. I'm so appreciative of their love
and continued support. Very humbling indeed. Stay well my friend.
RD: Right back at you. Rock on.