(Video of The Cleftones singing "Heart & Soul" is at end of this post.)
According to legend The Cleftones emerged from Jamaica High School in Queens, New York, after elections for the student council of the school. They decided to stay together as budding entertainers after the elections were and were known as The Clefs. The members were Herb Cox, Berman Patterson, and Warren Corbin. They joined with another local group and Charlie James and Buzzy McClain were added. The new quintet was now called The Silvertones and performed at neighborhood venues. Soon the group changed their name to The Cleftones.
A high school friend, of the group David Rollnick became the manager of the group and started making the rounds of the area R & B record labels. George Goldner the head of Tico and Rama Records liked what he heard and set up the very first session for the Cleftones, and soon entered Mastertone Recording Studios in New York City.
The 'A' side was to be an uptempo rocker written by group member Berman Patterson called "You Baby You." The tune led off with Herbie Cox and Berman Patterson on an a capella dual intro lead. The dance tune was released not on Rama as originally planned but on the new Goldner Gee label.
The recording of "You Baby You" sold well on the East Coast and in Detroit. The flip side of the record was a forgettable ballad called "I Was Dreaming." In March of 1956 the second record by The Cleftones was released; "Little Girl Of Mine" and "You're Driving Me Mad." The 'A' side, the mid tempo rocker "Girl" took off. During the spring of 1956, the song was practically a teenage national anthem. The Cox written song sold well over a million and a half copies and was a national smash.
Next, The Cleftones, released "Can't We Be Sweethearts" and "Neki- Hokey" both written by Herb Cox and Berman Patterson. "Sweethearts" became an instant national hit. Next, The Cleftones released "String Around My Heart" and "Happy Memories." Although the record takes off quickly it does not approach the sales figures for the previous three releases by the group.
The Cleftones began 1957 with thoughts of changing their sound. Their next release featured a mid tempo rocker but this time with a softer edge. It was called "Why You Do Me Like You Do" and again was written by Berman Patterson. Herb Cox did the lead singing with Patterson picking up the vocal on the bridge. This newer type of sound did not click with record buyers in any great numbers however, and the flip side "I Like Your Style Of Making Love" was very much like the 'A' side and also did not get much attention.
Later that year, The Cleftones for the first time sang a ballad and promoted it as the 'A' side of a Gee Records release. This was "See You Next Year." The vocals by Cox and Berman featured two part harmony on the main choruses and trading lines on the bridge, but didn't go over with the public. The flip side "Ten Pairs Of Shoes" was forgettable as was the follow-up "Hey Babe"/ "What Did I Do That Was Wrong."
By now the magic had gone and the group was struggling. Bookings were few and far between. There was one last release in this period pairing "Lover Boy" and "Beginners At Love." The jump side "Lover Boy" again showed the pop sound that had taken over in rock 'n roll by that time in 1958. By this time, George Goldner began focusing on The Chantels and the new Flamingos. The Cleftones were signed to Hugo and Luigi's Roulette Records by Henry Glover, longtime A & R man for many labels especially Federal/ King.
During the summer of 1958 the Cleftones recorded "She's So Fine" / "Trudy." The fortunes of the group had sunk to a new low as record sales and personal appearances evaporated.
Henry Glover and George Treadwell - manager of the Ben E. King new Drifters - got together with The Cleftones (with added member Patricia Spann) and forged a new identity for the group to go with their revamped sound. In the spring of 1961 the released a new version of a standard from big band days called "Heart And Soul." The loping tempo, fine lead by Herb Cox, together harmony by the group with the female voice connected with the public. For the first time in five years The Cleftones were back on top, as the recording broke into the top twenty national pop charts and top ten R & B listings.
The Cleftones next released "For Sentimental Reasons," is September 1961. The record sold well enough to again enter the national pop charts. but by 1963 the end was near, and The Cleftones became another memory of the great era of the R & B vocal groups.
(Press album cover for direct link to the entire Amazon Website):
The Cleftones' appeared on the PBS television special Fifty Years of Doo Wop singing a lively version of "Heart And Soul."