THE ESSEX

Easier Said Than Done

I think Anita Humes has been unfairly overlooked. That may be a strange thing to say about a singer who once had a number one hit, but her case is unusual. In the fall of 1960 Anita, a former bakery worker from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, joined the Marine Corps; just out of her teens, she was stationed at Camp LeJeune in Jacksonville, North Carolina. Through her interest in music she joined a trio of male singers, all Marines originally from New York and New Jersey. Walter Vickers (who also played guitar), Rudolph Johnson and Billie Hill had been performing on and off the base when Humes joined as lead vocalist; Indiana-born drummer Rodney Taylor was a fifth member for a time.

They called themselves The Essex, inspired by Essex County in New Jersey and the city of Essex, Maryland, both located along highway 95 between the Marine base and N.Y., where they auditioned for record companies. Signed by Roulette in early 1963, the quartet recorded several songs, the least of which was "Easier Said Than Done," a tune penned by two Marine friends from LeJeune, Larry Huff and William Linton. Its rhythm was based on the sound the teletype machines made in the military office where Linton worked; the track was thrown together quickly and no one gave much thought to its chances of being a hit...or even being released at all.

So of course producers George Goldner and Henry Glover decided the easily-done ditty would be the act's debut single...and the first week in June it appeared on the U.S. charts. 1963 was, perhaps, the year with more wild-card, out-of-nowhere chart-toppers than any other. The first week in July it blasted to number one, knocking Kyu Sakamoto's surprise Japanese smash "Sukiyaki" off the summit. My take on the popularity of "Easier Said Than Done" is that its '...(I-I)-I get so timid and shy each time that I look him in the eye' idea resonated with just about everyone who'd ever experienced a romantic crush interlaced with heart palpitations and/or stomach butterflies.

"A Walkin' Miracle" (penned by Hugo and Luigi with George David Weiss and Adam Levy) gave group credit to The Essex featuring Anita Humes; the move was on to establish her as a household name! Coming right behind "Easier Said" with a like-minded message, similar sound and tempo, it managed a strong showing two notches below the top ten in late September. "She's Got Everything" (a Jimmy Radcliffe-Ora Mae Diamond tune) dealt lyrically with the subject of envy in a way few would dare, boldly confronting paranoia and an attitude sure to send most any guy running after the other woman: 'I have nothing...but she's got everything...I have nothing...' is the sentiment the song ends on. A low-charting third single in December, it deserves deeper scrutiny.

The Essex

Anita's vocals on all three recordings are light, appealing and uniquely 1963; nothing from any other year by any other artist sounds quite like them...that is, except for the handful of later Essex efforts. Humes completed her Marine tour; "Curfew Lover" ('...oh, no! I don't wanna go home!') made its point in an original way, at least; label credit to Anita Humes and the Essex marked the final step in designating "Nita" (her sometimes-nickname) as the star...but the song reached the ears of too few fans. In '63 and the early months of '64, the group (minus Rudolph) logged thousands of tour bus miles with Dick Clark's Caravan of Stars, after which the group's members parted and Anita's abbreviated solo career started. "When Somethin's Hard To Get" varied the arrangement, but Anita's vocals oozed Essexlike essence. "Just For The Boy" suggested a progression away from the sound. But neither got off the ground.

Longing to resume military life, she made a snap decision to enlist in the Women's Army Corps (yet she claimed to have never gone through any training as a WAC...I guess once you've been a Marine, you're tough enough for anything!); by October, she'd married an Army man and begun singing with military bands. In November, she was on CBS-TV's fake-'em-out panel show To Tell the Truth, appearing with a couple of white ladies claiming to be "The Real Anita Humes" and stumping three of the four celebs (Tom Poston, Pamela Tiffin, Kitty Carlisle and astute top 40 fan/correct guesser Orson Bean). In '66 the Essex reformed as a trio with Anita, Walter and Billie, appearing on the Bang label with "The Eagle," written and produced by Teddy Vann. One final single produced by Ritchie Cordell, "Everybody's Got You (For Their Own)," updated the sound but spelled the end for the group as recording artists.

In 1967, Anita quit the Armed Forces for good while her husband stayed in, making her an "Army Wife" for the next two decades. Then they divorced and she moved back to Harrisburg, spending the rest of her life there. Other than one or two reunion performances, Anita Humes fell out of favor with fans (as can often be expected) and was all-but-ignored by the city of Harrisburg (no excuse there as celebrities, even the short-term ones, usually receive some sort of recognition on their home turf). Life, love, career...getting through it all without a hitch is just "Easier Said Than Done."

- Michael Jack Kirby




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Easier Said Than Done