Come Go With Me

Rock and roll's foremost Air Force-based vocal group formed in the mid-'50s while its members were stationed in Pittsburgh. The unusual Dell-Vikings name was suggested by bass singer Clarence Quick after a hoop-shooting club he belonged to in Brooklyn called the Vikings (Brooklynites have long been fascinated with the famous Norse seamen, it seems). The other members, Samuel Patterson and tenors Bernard Robertson and Donald Jackson, were from various sections of New York. Tenor and ofttimes lead singer Corinthian "Kripp" Johnson of Cambridge, Massachusetts rounded out the quintet. Taking a cue from several popular R&B acts, guitarist Joe Lopes joined as an unofficial sixth member. Before making their first record, Patterson and Robertson quit for disparate reasons and were replaced by tenor Norman Wright and baritone David Lerchey, who was white...and with that the DVs were one of the era's rarely-seen racially-mixed singing groups.

Barry Kaye, a deejay on Pittsburgh's WJAS, and Joe Averbach, a local record promoter, showed interest in representing the quintet after seeing them perform. In October 1956 several songs were recorded including "Come Go With Me," a demo-quality take with only guitar and drums for backing. Composed by Quick, its simple lyrics contained an ambiguous "coming-going" proposition; the brilliance of the song would be evident after a second, more slickly executed, version was made for Averbach's start-up Fee Bee label (its logo a cartoon bee reminiscent of characters from the Max Fleischer shorts of the 1930s). Wright sang lead, backing vocals were strong and energy was high; the record couldn't help hitting big in the Steel City, especially after Kaye pounded it on his popular radio show. It was licensed to Dot Records and released nationally in January '57, hit the charts in February, spent most of April, May and June in the top ten and remained on Billboard's Top 100 until September, repeating its Pittsburgh success in spades. Just as the single was taking off, Donald Jackson was transferred to Germany and replaced by Donald "Gus" Backus, a white singer from Long Island with dreams of becoming a big star.

While "Come Go" was moving up, Fee Bee put out a follow-up that crossed country with doo wop, a practically unheard-of mashup of styles; "What Made Maggie Run" paired the guys with lead singer Joey Biscoe (better known in C&W circles as Cowboy Joe Bisko) and the result was a wild, twangy, rhythmic rockabilly number, its awesomeness perhaps too much for the mass audience, as it sold poorly even after Dot picked up the master (and spelled the name Delvikings on labels). Kripp took lead duty on the next single, another Fee Bee-to-Dot deal (typsetters weren't paying attention...again...and gave label credit to "Krips"). "Whispering Bells," a romantic, uptempo killer of a track, hit the charts in July, joined "Come Go With Me" in the top 40 almost immediately, and was top ten by month's end. By this time an Air Force representative, acting as the group's manager, had butted in and made a deal with Mercury Records on behalf of the members who were minors (under 21 in those days), claiming they'd been taken advantage of. He got away with it somehow and The Del Vikings appeared as a separate act with Quick, Wright, Lerchey and Backus.

Joan Whitney and Alex Kramer had penned hits throughout the 1940s for the likes of Jimmy Dorsey, Gene Krupa, Guy Lombardo, Louis Jordan, Bing Crosby, Doris Day, Perry Como and countless others; suddenly they were causing vibrations on the rock scene with "Cool Shake," a danceable, delirious Del Vikings treat. Paired with Quick's superfast "Jitterbug Mary," both with lead vocals by Backus, the two-sided hit had a nice summer run on the charts. Meanwhile, Johnson and Jackson (both finished with their military service by this time) added bass Edward Everette, tenor Arthur Budd and future star tenor Chuck Jackson, who parlayed this experience into a major career with a string of hits (signature song: "Any Day Now") spanning the 1960s.

The Dell-Vikings

Those first recordings were sold to Luniverse, the label that had been hot the previous 12 months with Buchanan and Goodman's million-selling "Flying Saucer" and several successive novelty "break-in" singles; they overdubbed some additional instruments to the masters and released "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" on a single (Del-Vikings the designation) as well as an eight-song album, Come Go With the Del Vikings, which included the original "Come Go With Me." So in the space of several months, the Dell-, Del-, Del and Delvikings had hit the record stores on four different labels as two separate groups with 12 members (at least that many!) and scored two formidable hits. Then in July, just as "Cool Shake" seemed to be bringing Gus's dreams closer to reality, he was transferred to Germany (military service can sure mess up a guy's fun-time timing!); he made the best of an enttäuschend situation and formed a group there called The Vidells. Ritzy Lee came on board as his stateside replacement.

Del Vikings disc "Come Along With Me" was a disappointing follow-up on Mercury, as was "I'm Spinning," curiously issued on Fee Bee, Dot and in a different recording on Mercury (the material was strong, but momentum wasn't there...besides, "Come," "Whispering" and "Cool" continued cruising the national charts well into the fall). Mercury somehow (illogically?) won the battle of the labels, but four additional singles through late 1958 failed to ignite even one percent of the excitement and crazy record sales of the previous year. The group (without Johnson) was featured in the Eastmancolor rock and roll flick The Big Beat, with a disappointing acting debut for singing star Gogi Grant but good performances by Fats Domino (the film's title theme was his), The Diamonds and the Del Vikings, who lip-synced "Can't Wait" and "Come Go With Me." Kripp's group stayed busy doing backing vocals on other artist's sessions using the name The Versatiles, but at some point in '58 he joined the rival "Del" Vikings, which spelled the end for the double-l original group, and ended the confusing "Dual Vikings" phase about a year after it had begun.

In mid-'58, Gus Backus returned to the U.S. on military leave and made a rocking single, "My Chick is Fine," for Carlton Records. Later, back in Germany, he had several hits on the Polydor label including "Der Mann im Mond (The Man in the Moon)," a number one Deutschland hit in October 1961. One final U.S. recording, "Short on Love," appeared in the U.S. in '63 on MGM, as he came to realize he'd achieved the stardom he'd a part of the world he hadn't expected. Kripp Johnson did a couple of smooth ballad solo singles for Mercury in '59 under the supervision of Clyde Otis, who had much better luck around that time using similar arrangements behind Brook Benton.

A reconfigured sextet headed by Norm, Kripp and Clarence appeared on Alpine in 1960, taking a Coasters/Olympics approach with the Al Dexter novelty "Pistol Packin' Mama." ABC-Paramount picked them up in '61 and the first of seven singles, "Bring Back Your Heart" (sounding similar to The Drifters' smash "Save the Last Dance For Me" with its Spanish-style arrangement), saw some chart action. "I've Got to Know," a tight little tune on the Gateway label in 1964, deserved more attention than it got. Starting in the 1970s, The Del Vikings worked the oldies circuit with an often-varying lineup of singers. Norman Wright (the "Come Go With Me" lead voice), Kripp Johnson (the main "Whispering Bells" man) and Clarence Quick (the guy who came up with the name) were the most consistent performers in those later years.

- Michael Jack Kirby


Come Go With Me Whispering Bells