The Birds and the Bees

Just keep trying! Jewel Akens did and he was finally rewarded with a hit song. The Houston-born singer (named as he was because his mother had been hoping for a girl) spent his teenage years (the '50s) in Los Angeles; around 1958 he met Jerry Stone (real first name Albert) of doo wop group The Fascinators, whose "Shivers and Shakes" had been released that year on Walter "Dootsie" Williams' L.A.-based Dootone label. Jerry and Jewel formed The Four Dots (unwittingly taking the name of a Pittsburgh group that had recorded for Bullseye in 1956); entrepreneur Jerry Capehart, a songwriter and manager of Liberty Records rock and roller Eddie Cochran, took notice. "My Baby," a routine uptempo doo wop song credited to Jerry Stone and the Four Dots, appeared in the fall of '58 on a new Liberty subsidiary label, Freedom.

Cochran played guitar on the group's Freedom sides, giving them a mildly rocking sound unlike other R&B artists of the day, though it apparently wasn't enough to separate them from the pack. "Don't Wake Up the Kids," a domestic novelty along the lines of The Coasters' chart topper "Yakety Yak," was promoted in trade magazines in January '59; Jewel composed the B side, "Pleading For Your Love," his name misspelled on the label as "Jewel Akins." Liberty had no further interest after these two singles, so Capehart started his own label, Silver, and had the group do backing vocals for actor John Ashley (star of late '50s guilty pleasures Dragstrip Girl, Motorcycle Gang and Hot Rod Gang) on his initial bid to be a singing idol; "Seriously in Love" was a good midtempo rhythm/teen track, but it failed to establish Ashley among the ranks of hitmaking actor-singers Tab Hunter, Sal Mineo and others (though his film career lasted into the 1970s and he appeared in a fistful of now-cult favorites).

As the '50s came to an end, Jewel Akens graduated from supporting voice to duo partner when he and Eddie Daniels (a former Ebb label solo act) teamed up as Jewel and Eddie. "Opportunity," their first record for Silver, was the best result yet of Akens' efforts, a catchy folkish rock song with an unusual sound, at least for a pair of black singers. Eddie Cochran's acoustic six-string strumming added to the track's appeal (the flip side of some copies, "Strollin' Guitar," was an instrumental electric-axe Cochran recording, yet was still credited to Jewel and Eddie). "Opportunity" received a fair amount of airplay in Los Angeles, reaching the top 40 there in early 1960, the closest Akens would come to having a hit for another five years.

Following a couple of other 45s on Silver, Akens and Daniels waxed a manic mid-'61 two-sider for Imperial Records as The Astro-Jets: "Boom-A-Lay" (a tongue-twisting jungle chant) backed with "Hide and Seek" (rapid-fire lyrical shenanigans!), both written by Akens. Then Jewel went solo with "(Dancing) The Mashed Potatoes" and its fierce R&B flip "Wee Bit More of Your Lovin'," once again featuring Cochran's expert guitar licks, for Jerry Capehart's own Capehart label. It seemed promising enough that Crest (a company Cochran had once recorded for) picked it up for wider distribution...but the switch in record labels didn't turn the trick. Tough going for Jewel! Things eventually got better; in the meantime he was building a solid but scattered stockpile of masters that would ultimately serve as sonic treats for future treasure hunters.

Jewel Akens

Jewel was in The Rainbows with Terry Evans, Jimmy Russell and Thomas Turner in 1963; there was one single on the oddball Gramo label, then the foursome recorded as Terry and the Tyrants for Kent. Jewel, Jimmy and Thomas backed Terry on a solo disc for Kayo, then they took on yet another name, The Turn Arounds, that seemed to identify their constantly-changing attempts at marketing themselves. Herb Newman signed the group to his Era label in 1964, resulting in one single, "Ain't Nothin' Shakin'," a recycled idea presented with a slick soul arrangement. Newman saw more potential in Jewel as a solo artist, offering him a song his son, Barry Stuart, had written; "The Birds and and the Bees," a simple, nursery-rhymish ditty with a mature motive ('When I look into your big brown eyes, it's so very plain to see...that's it's time you learned about the facts of life, starting from A to Z...') became the unlikely hit Akens had been waiting for. Debuting on the national charts in January '65 it rose quickly, spending most of March and April in the top ten, one of the biggest hits ever for Era Records.

The follow-up, "Georgie Porgie," had the same juvenile theme, but with a humorously life-threatening twist (', please put down that least you've got to give your Georgie one last chance to run!') and had a brief chart run in May. His third Era single, "It's the Only Way to Fly," borrowed the Western Airlines slogan (spoken by a character named Wally Bird, sitting comfortably atop a moving plane in often-shown animated TV commercials). Several more singles were released by Era before Akens moved to Colgems, a stroke of good timing that landed him as an opening act in concert for the label's main attraction, The Monkees. He made occasional records in the 1970s and was one of the producers of The Super Taylors on Ronn, a 1973 collaboration of otherwise unrelated solo soul singers Little Johnny Taylor and Ted Taylor. Jewel Akens kept on keepin' on and was still at it in the early 1990s as a member of doo wop nostalgia group Johnny Staton and the Feathers.

- Michael Jack Kirby


The Birds and the Bees