The Shadows : Here and Gone
The Shadows were a vocal quartet that seemed to always just miss out on the opportunity to become a top notch group worthy of inclusion among the top R & B vocal groups of the late 40s and early 50s. Their style was closer to that of their inspiration, The Inkspots, than to the newer styles in the field such as the Orioles and Ravens. Scott King was the lead singer of the Shadows, with Jasper Edwards, Sam McClure, and bass singer Ray Reed. They had been kicking around the club circuit in the New York City and Philadelphia areas without much lasting success and had gone in different directions with an occasional appearance now and then. In late 1949, a former officer in the U.S. Army named Ed Levy heard them sing and was very impressed by the group's sound and their presentation. When he found out that the Shadows had no professional management or recording contract, he immediately decided to take on these responsibilities and put his other post military plans on hold for the near future.
After a short period of practice and polish, Levy secured a recording contract for the group with one of the many small New York independent labels that were starting up in the late 40s. The record company was Lee Records, in which Levy was a partner, located on the west side of Manhattan on Eleventh Avenue. The Shadows went in front of the microphones and recorded soon after New Year's Day of 1950. The first issue by Lee records was number 200 - "I've Been A Fool" / "Nobody Knows". The other early releases by the Lee label show a wide range of styles including dramatic vocals by Gregg Jones, gospel tunes by The Sons of Heaven, and the Prince Aubrey Calypso Troubadors. The 'A' side of the record, "Fool", gets immediate airplay in New York and nearby eastern cities. They now have a bit of a local identity and name recognition. But just as the group felt that they were about to finally break out and score a retail success the record stopped selling and airplay ceased killing off any future demand for the record. With personal appearances tied to the initial sales of the record, the Shadows were confident that they would have a chance to exhibit their talents beyond the northeast. They are booked into the Paradise Theater in Detroit and the Regal in Chicago but those shows do not translate into getting the group wider recognition.
Lee Records then releases #202 featuring the Shadows : "You Are Closer To My Heart Than My Shadow" and "I'd Rather Be Wrong Than Blue". The lead ballad, "You Are Closer" was written by Ed Snead former bass player for the Jimmy Lunceford band and a member of the Ben Smith Quartet. The song also has a promising start and is covered by the Delta Rhythm Boys. Again the disc seems to die a quick death after a fast start and this release too, is quickly forgotten. By September of 1950 Ed Levy and the Lee Record Company are no more (as Levy is called back to military service with the outbreak of hostilities in Korea) and the Shadows feel lucky to have been picked up by Sittin' In With Records from Los Angeles. The label puts out a record by the Shadows in October which is #583. This release pairs "Jitterbug Special" with I'll Never Let You Go". Once again as with previous recordings by the group, there is initial positive reaction. But as is now becoming all too familiar, soon after this starting period, the record falls flat. By the end of the year, after fulfilling their contractual commitments, there seems to be little heart by members of the group to continue, and so the group calls it quits. However this is not the end of the story for the Shadows.
Two and a half years later in June of 1953, Decca Records decides to try and make an impact in the growing Rhythm & Blues recording field. They have seen the power of NY independent Atlantic, and watched fellow majors RCA and Columbia move into the R & B style. Mercury and Capitol have followed suit. One of the R & B acts signed to Decca is Scott King & The Shadows who have not recorded in three years. So the group was back in the sound studios again. In late July Decca comes out with #28765 - "No Use" / "Please Stay". Unfortunately, in the past three years the luck of the Shadows to break this jinx has not gone away. The record fails to chart or even to get significant airplay of any kind. Decca tries again in November with "Don't Be Bashful" / "Tell Her". Once again failure is the result of this latest recording. At the end of the year the foursome calls it a day again, only this time they all seem to realize that they have certainly run the course. The music is moving in new directions and the Shadows have never been a major player and it is just not in the cards for them to see success now. There is one last bit of history to add to the story of the Shadows. In July of 1954 in the heart of the "great changeover" in American music, Decca sees fit to release one last record by the Shadows. This one is Decca #48322, pairing "Better Than Gold" and "Big Mouth Mama". It disappeared without a trace. Records by the Shadows are very hard to come by, especially the Lee sides even though they outsold the Sittin' In With and the Deccas.
Like many other performers, the Shadows have become a footnote to the era that led to the foundation of rock and roll and changed music forever. And like the other failures, we strive to keep their memories alive and to let today's music fan know that they did indeed exist. They left their mark, their imprint, regardless of how small it was. That they were responsible for no major innovation or were not the subject of any movement of historical impact, should not detract from the pursuit of information of who they were and what they accomplished. Because they were there, that should be enough.
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