Shep and the Limelites
|Crazy For You (The Heartbeats)||Hull H-711|
|Your Way (The Heartbeats)||Hull 45-H-716|
|A Thousand Miles Away (The Heartbeats)||Hull 45-H-720|
|Down On My Knees (The Heartbeats)||Roulette R-4054|
|Daddy's Home||Hull 45-H-740|
|This I Know||Hull 45-H-740|
|Ready For Your Love||Hull 45-H-742|
|Who Told The Sandman||Hull 45-H-748|
|I'm All Alone||Hull 45-H-767|
|Why Did You Fall For Me||Hull 45-H-767|
SHEP AND THE LIMELITES:
ANATOMY OF A ONE HIT WONDER #9
Doo Wop Special #2
I Wanna Tell You A Story
Artists who flickered briefly then disappeared.
One Hit Wonders, the media called them. Part of the fascination of fifties and sixties music.
Contributor: Dave Stephens
A lot of people, when they think of doo wop, think of one hit wonders. They manage to blithely ignore, or somehow disqualify, artists like the Teenagers, the Flamingos, the Coasters, Dion & the Belmonts and more, and point to the Rays with Silhouettes, the Diamonds with Little Darlin’, the Vikings and Come Go With Me, and loads more. And inevitably in that list would be Shep and the Limelites with Daddy’s Home. Yet how many of those people realise that Daddy’s Home was but one in an autobiographical song sequence from leader, James “Shep” Sheppard, that had started many years before, with another group entirely, and wouldn’t end with Daddy’s Home?
I’ve been guilty in other Toppermosts of not always being complimentary about Dave Marsh, author of “The Heart Of Rock & Soul: The 1001 Greatest Singles Ever Made”, but he has my undying gratitude for his entry on Mr Sheppard and his amazing series of songs. I’m going to quote Dave’s first paragraph in full (but he continues to rhapsodise for nearly two more pages):
“You think Frank Zappa or Pete Townshend or Ray Davies or Brian Wilson or the Beatles are big deals because they invented the “concept album”? Years before any of them dreamed of entering a record studio, James “Shep” Sheppard invented the concept single. Virtually every 45 his two groups, the Heartbeats and Shep and the Limelites, released over a period of six years was part of the same yarn, an ongoing saga of a boy, a girl, and the physical and emotional distance between them. By the end of the tale, they had been married and separated and the singer was sitting by himself, reviewing their whole relationship, from beginning to end.”
Put all that to one side for a couple of minutes and listen to Shep and the boys with Daddy’s Home:
From the vibes led intro, through the rat-tat-tats from the boys and the supremely elegant sax, to that soaring Sheppard voice effortlessly spanning octaves and dropping in a stunning vibrato at just the right moment. And the boys throw in some real doo wops – I mean DOO WOPS not some other syllables. This was a winner all the way. Who cares if the tune wasn’t a lot more than the old doo wop progression which such groups had used for the best part of a decade. It’s how you dressed it up that counted and Shep and the team gave it a fashion spin worthy of Dior.
You’re my love
You’re my angel
You’re the girl of my dreams
And I’d like to thank you
For waiting patiently
Daddy’s home, your Daddy’s home, to stay
Later on the narrator repeats “Daddy’s home to stay”, followed by “I’m not a thousand miles away”. The significance of the second phrase won’t be apparent until I’ve backtracked a few years. Suffice to say for now that the US public loved the record to the extent that it hit the number two spot in the US Pop Chart in 1961. It did see release in the UK (on Pye) and was one of only two UK releases from the group. I have zero memory of it being plugged on the radio.
It’s at this juncture we need to step into the time machine and set the control for 1953. At that time, among the budding vocal groups operating out of the Queens area of New York, there were a couple of relevance to our story, the Hearts (later to be renamed as the Heartbeats due to a girl group called the Hearts) and an outfit led by James Sheppard. The two groups had one of those near mythical street corner vocal battles and the Hearts were so impressed with Sheppard that they offered him the lead tenor role. They were even more impressed when they discovered that he could write songs.
The group’s first single, Tormented, was released in 1955 (on Network Records out of Philadelphia) with the rather lengthy credit “Russell Jacquet & His Orch. The Heartbeats Quintet”. It was a worthy slow doo wopper, written by Sheppard, and set the pattern for future releases. There were several neat touches about the record, the wandering tenor, the usage of one of the guys on falsetto plus another on bass vocal which demonstrated that Sheppard was looking for ways to make the group’s debut stand out from the crowd. We are informed that King Curtis was the guy on sax and that Oscar Peterson might also have been present (source: Roy Simonds’ King Curtis discography).
For their next record, Crazy For You, the guys switched to another independent label, Hull Records, run by a neighbour of one of the boys, William Miller, plus Blanche “Bea” Kaslan. Greater minds than mine have stated that this was the first in the “Shep Saga”, though to me it sounds like most love songs of the period with the lead spelling out his infatuation with the lady. Melodically, it was another doo wop progression, but in performance terms, more polished than the first with the opening section sung a capella. With more obvious pop appeal, it was a record that started to get the group some recognition:
The flip, Rockin-N-Rollin-N-Rhythm-N-Blues-N, a much more up tempo and upbeat affair, was an obvious attempt to get at another audience, those that liked to get out on the dance floor. This was a common device on doo wop records – if the A-side doesn’t get ‘em the B-side might. (And yes that was the full title as shown on the actual 45.) For me it’s one that merely confirms that Shep was right to focus on ballads.
Your Way from 1956 was an absolutely gorgeous slooooooow ballad wherein the a capella intro was extended and a spoken section – or what I term a recitation – was included. Backing was minimal, little more than a piano putting all the focus on the harmonies. The boys had also learned a new trick, the grand finale, another device often used on doo wop records aimed at getting the listener on a jukebox to immediately put money in the slot and request the record again. I’m assuming that this is another in the “Shep Saga” and the girl friend has both emotionally and geographically gone away (or had her way). In real life Sheppard’s girlfriend upped sticks and moved to Texas.
This is made clear in the very next record, A Thousand Miles Away, where Shep is, of course, telling her how much he’s missing her. A couple of other things are noticeable on this one, the slightly staccato melisma from Shep (which had appeared before but not to this extent) plus more invention from the backing singers including some rat-tat-tat-tats and an even more exotic ending. A variant on the rat-tat-tat-tats was to occur on Daddy’s Home as I’ve already noted. And I would assume that this was a deliberate reference back on the later record.
A Thousand Miles Away was the high point of the Heartbeats career in terms of chart success – it achieved #53 in 1957 – but they made further excellent records. The pairing of 500 Miles To Go and New Year’s Eve progressed the story, with Shep en route (to Texas we assume) on one side and with her for the end of the year on the other. The record was released in December ’57 (according to 45Cat) so whether this was based on memories from a year earlier or was something of a look-ahead, we don’t know.
There were several label changes during the Heartbeats career (though, intriguingly, Shep went back to Hull when he was joined by the Limelites). The Heartbeats first single for Roulette, released in Feb ’58 was another interesting pairing. The A-side, which was not penned by Sheppard, was entitled I Found A Job. It was an upbeat affair and clearly an answer/sequel disc to the Silhouettes’ Get A Job which had been a hit in ’57. As far as I know this is the only occasion when Shep in either of his two incarnations had ‘answered’ someone else’s record – he was normally too busy answering his own records (or continuing the story line depending on how you look at it). This does give me an excuse to include the Silhouettes splendid record as well as the Heartbeats’ answer.
The B-side to this single is, to these ears, much the better side. Entitled Down On My Knees, it had a heavier back beat than usual and sounds, unusually for Shep, much more of a blues ballad, with some serious pleading involved. Writing elsewhere I’ve used the term “doo wop morphing into soul”. That’s exactly what this record was. Whether Shep wasn’t fully comfortable with this role we don’t know, but he didn’t progress it further unlike his peers, James Brown and Little Willie John. Whatever, it does leave us with an excellent record:
Given the ‘send my baby back home’ theme, this one also fitted neatly in the “Shep Saga”.
By One Million Years (1959) the boot seems to be on the other foot. She’s now talking about coming back having not answered letters or calls for some inordinate period of time. He claims to have found someone else, if only we could believe him. By the time we get round to flipping the record it’s all change, and Darling I Want To Get Married.
Sheppard had had problems with alcohol which worsened while he was with the Heartbeats. These got so bad that apparently he passed out at the mike on stage in Philadelphia. Group mate Albert Crump took over the lead vocal role until Sheppard had recovered (source: AllMusic). It’s generally claimed that it was his alcoholism which caused the group to break up but the slackening of interest in doo wop might have had something to do with it.
Shep and the Limelites: James Sheppard (top), Charles Baskerville (left), Clarence Bassett (right))
James Sheppard then opened a restaurant in the Jamaica area of Queens but continued to sing at weekends. His hankering for performing didn’t disappear though, and he approached a couple of old friends, Clarence Bassett and Charles Baskerville who had both been in a group called the Videos, with a view to forming a group again. That they did and Shep and the Limelites were born. Most unusually all three were tenors. What’s more the two backing singers sometimes used falsetto.
Whether by luck or by judgement, the second coming of Shep coincided with the first revival of doo wop. Kaslan and Miller welcomed him back to Hull Records and were rewarded with the success of Daddy’s Home, the group’s debut record. On this one, Shep had almost gone out of his way to tie the 45 into the “Shep Saga”. The punch line in the Heartbeats biggest seller, A Thousand Miles Away, was “Daddy’s coming home soon”. And in Daddy’s Home he states “I’m not a thousand miles away” in order to hammer the point home (apologies for the pun). Quite why the theme had switched between her being 1,000 miles away (from home?) to him coming home, possibly from military duty, though that’s sheer guesswork, I don’t know.
The paying punters might well have got it right. The debut disc could have been the best of the bunch as far as S and the L’s were concerned, but it was an impressive bunch in terms of consistency and with nothing head and shoulders re differences. This I Know, the flip of that same record, kicked off almost in slow soul mood with some lovely flowing melisma from Shep, but any dramatic effect was near ruined by the sheer effrontery of a you-you-you-you-you-you-you-you (I didn’t count) about a minute in followed by a middle eight packed with icing sugar harmonies. It gets in my Top Ten by virtue of the magnificence of the performance, not to mention the number of times I’ve gone back to it.
The saga continued. On Ready For Your Love he recommenced his courtship of the lady (and the boys gave us some creative and almost distracting support), with Three Steps From The Altar the wedding took place, to be remembered on Our Anniversary. But the flip of that one, Who Told The Sandman, had him not sleeping well with subterranean worries troubling him. It was also a wholly successful attempt to take on board some of the excesses of early sixties teen poppery. It worked both as a pastiche and as a splendid record in its own right.
The doubts grew. On What Did Daddy Do, he opened with the telling phrase, “Did I do wrong by coming home”. On Everything’s Gonna Be Alright, a string laden gospelly affair he’s trying to convince himself that it’ll be OK anyway. But it wasn’t. Jumping ahead to I’m All Alone we have our hero on his ownsome with his memories. “There is no one to love me” is another of those opening phrases that manages to say it all with telling economy. One to make you shiver.
But that wasn’t all by any means. Collected on the second CD of The Complete Shep And The Limelites or on Shep And The Limelites: Daddy’s Home Vol. 2 there’s a whole load of extra material much of which didn’t see release at the time, often preceded by false takes. Take This Advice From Daddy is another from the breaking up stage of the marriage. “What makes you think I’m crazy” tells you immediately that something ominous is going to follow. “I’ll turn you loose if you try to fool me (sha la la), although it will break my heart.” This one, and several others, has guitar only backing suggesting that these were but demo attempts. Another of these is the up tempo Don’t Let Our Love Slip By (not Don’t Let Your Love Slip By as Spotify have it.) With full arrangement this could have been a stunner. However I’ve saved my last pick for Why Did You Fall For Me which is one from this set which did see release – it was the flip of I’m All Alone. This could almost have been a Drifters record with Bert Berns having snuck into the studio to add the latin flourishes.
However, a storm was brewing.
Not only did the follow-up releases to Daddy’s Home not sell in significant numbers, the very success of the record was a magnet for copyright holders. Nom Music who held the rights to A Thousand Miles Away sued Hull Records and Keel Music (set up by Bea Kaslan) for copyright infringement. Amazingly, since there are considerable differences between the songs, Nom won the legal battle, which gave them all the royalties from the later song plus a protective injunction against any further use of it. When you consider that Sheppard had written both songs, the whole thing seems more than a little ridiculous.
But it put extra strain on Sheppard who was still grappling with earlier demons that hadn’t gone away. The group broke up but did reunite at the end of the decade for some oldies shows.
James Sheppard was murdered on 24th January 1970. He was found dead in his car on the Long Island Expressway, having been beaten and robbed. He was 34.
I have been doing my damnedest to do without headings, apart from the essential FOOTNOTES of course. But I very nearly reincarnated QUOTES just for one from Cub Koda writing in AllMusic on The Complete Shep And The Limelites. It’s in respect of the entire assembled output from the group, demos and outtakes included:
“One of doo wop’s best kept secrets.”
1. The record that kept Daddy’s Home off the top chart position was Ricky Nelson’s Travellin’ Man.
2. In the early days of the Heartbeats, the boys got to know jazz saxophonist Illinois Jacquet and he loaned them his basement to rehearse in. The Russell Jacquet in the credits on their first single was Illinois’ brother.
3. I made an attempt at a definition of the Doo Wop Progression in the T’most on Richie Barrett. To save you looking that up, here are those words: “I’ve casually used the term “doo wop progression” in the main text. It’s a chord progression that was used heavily in doo wop songs plus other material, particularly, but not only, in the fifties and early sixties. In the key of C, the sequence runs C-Am-F-G. If that’s not meaningful think Donna or Teenager In Love (or most of Mr Barrett’s songs).” For Mr Barrett substitute Mr Sheppard.
4 There was a further and rather better known answer disc to the Silhouettes’ Get A Job, and it came from the Miracles with their celebrated Got A Job which was also released in February 1958.
5. I had to check out the group, the Videos. This is their Trickle Trickle from ’58 which isn’t bad at all:
6. Three months after the release of Daddy’s Home, a record appeared on the Hull label from the Monotones entitled Daddy’s Home But Momma’s Gone i.e. an answer record to Daddy’s Home.
7. Although very tempted I didn’t actually purchase any albums from either the Heartbeats or Shep and the Limelites in the process of putting this piece together. My sources have been, in the main, three albums on Spotify: The Heartbeats: Daddy’s Home, an excellent set with both sides of the singles in order plus a bonus in the shape of the first three singles from Shep & the Limelites, and both volumes of Shep And The Limelites: Daddy’s Home.
8. During the Shep and the Limelites period, Sheppard often used the forename Shayne instead of James. In actuality it was his middle name.
9. I make no claim to have unearthed the complete “Shep Saga”. Indeed I’d state with total confidence that I’ve definitely not unearthed every component. I’ll leave the reader to comb through the singles and the unissued songs.
10. I owe it to Shep to make some comment about the quality of his voice. I did come across one journalist comparing him to Sam Cooke. Among his lesser tracks was Teach Me, Teach Me To Twist. It’s on the second half of the clip below and, yes, it does bring back memories of the great Sam. Our man does come off second best on this but the ballads show him in a much better light.
11. Those with exceedingly long memories may recall my sub-heading to this post, I wanna tell you a story, as an intro line used by fifties Brit comedian, Max Bygraves. Just popped into my mind though I was never a fan.
12. STOP PRESS (Isn’t that what they used to say?) After an exchange of information with Our Esteemed Editor I’ve discovered that Daddy’s Home wasn’t the first release from Shep and the Limelites. Well it was technically, but that’s not the point. They made two records for the Apt label which itself was a subsidiary of ABC-Paramount Records. The records appeared under alternate names as shown below:
Apt 25039 Shane Sheppard – Too Young To Wed / Two Loving Hearts
Apt 25046 Shane Sheppard and the Limelites – One Week From Today / I’m So Lonely (What Can I Do)
All four sides appear on the Daddy’s Home album credited to the Heartbeats / Shep And The Limelites. They appear in correct order preceding Daddy’s Home and the two subsequent singles. I’ve listened to them and they’re good examples of the group’s chosen genre. To my eyes, this only increases the value and importance of this album. I’d also draw the reader’s attention to the opening words of the A-side of the second single – “One week from today, I’m coming home”. Would seem to be the ideal lead-in to Daddy’s Home.
One further nugget, though it’s unlikely to come up in a pub quiz, in between the two releases, Apt 25040 was Johnny Kidd and Shakin’ All Over.
More info on the excellent Dave Marsh book I referred to, “The Heart of Rock & Soul: The 1001 Greatest Singles Ever Made”, here.
I discovered this web page on Shep and the Limelites at Nostalgia Central which was of help.
Dave Stephens is the author of two books on popular music. His first, “RocknRoll”, is available as an ebook and is described by one reviewer as ‘probably the most useful single source of information on 50s & 60s music I’ve come across’. “RocknRoll” contains further reflections on One Hit Wonders in its 1,000+ pages. Dave followed this up with “London Rocks” in 2016, an analysis of the early years of the London (American) record label in the UK. You can follow him on Twitter @DangerousDaveXX.