Johnny Keyes Interview
By Gary Sorkin, Editor-In-Chief
I call it “Doo-wop,” Johnny Keyes, of Johnny Keyes And The Magnificents calls it “Du-wop.” I guess it really doesn’t matter. It is the music we listened to, sang along with - and fell in love with that special person to. It’s all about the “moon, and love, and those magic moments so different and so new.” Johnny Keyes is a true affectionado of Du-wop. Read his thoughts on the subject, read about it’s history, our past, our present - and our future. You will learn much about “those magic moments.” I also urge you to read between the lines, there is much wisdom from a Baby Boomer by the name of Johnny Keyes. Visit his
website and buy his book, Du-Wop.
One last word from me: Shoo-wop, doo-wah, baby. (I wish I could sing.)
Editor: Doo-wop, or Du-Wop as your book is called has such a distinctive romantic sound and is usually about LOVE. So much of today’s music is about struggle and despair. What do you think of this?
Johnny Keyes: There are no new emotions to write or sing about...at any time...not yesterday, not today, and maybe not tomorrow. Just maybe, the "Trend" or “Marketing Strategy" will influence the direction that the Artist is being led by the Record Company and or the Record Producer. Negative might be selling this season, while Positive was hot last Season and Romantic was happening the season before last. It is constantly changing, but remaining the same, because of the Cycle.
Editor: Take me back. When did you first hit that note that convinced you that music was important in your life? Where were you?
Johnny: For me, it began at home with my family. My Grandmother would be singing in the kitchen while preparing the meals. I would sit there in the kitchen, listening to the songs and learning to sing them with her. My father sang one or two songs, a couple of his Al Hibbler favorites. Sometimes, he’d sing a Bill Kenny tune. It was when he had just come home after working the four-to twelve shift at Union Carbide in Clearing, Illinois. He did his singing in the kitchen, while he was fixing a snack or warming his dinner. Every now and then, grown-ups would make you entertain their "company" by singing a song. "Sing that song you and your grandmother were singing in the kitchen, the other day." And of course they would make you sing at school. There were Anthems, Hymns, Christmas Carols, Christmas Pageants, Easter plays and the Little Musicals.........Then there was High School. We found out that one of the most effective ways to attract girls was to sing to them. If you would serenade her in front of her parents, you would score Major Points.
Editor: Explain that wonderful Doo-Wop harmony to me.
Johnny: The Bass Part is the foundation. The next part (or building block) is the Baritone voice; he will harmonize with the Bass. Next we add the Second Tenor part; this is the third building block. We are building the harmony - from the lowest pitched voice, to the highest. The Second Tenor is harmonizing with the first two voices now. The last voice or part will be the First Tenor. He, of course, will harmonize with everybody else. And the Lead Singer is the Leading Instrument in this Five-Piece Vocal Orchestra. And there are, of course, many variations. The number of vocalists may differ at times. There are four-man Groups, Trios, and Duos. Sometimes the chords are voiced differently, but the example above is one of the basic Du-Wop structures for our purposes here.
Editor: You do a lot of work with kids of today, what do you think of their music?
Johnny: When you say their music I suppose you are saying New Music (As opposed to OUR Music...OLD Music). It has been my experience - after singing before Boys and Girls Clubs, record stores, and High School assemblies, I never got the feeling that the music we were performing was anything else but OUR Music. Recently we were singing at the James Jordan Boys and Girls Club on Chicago's Westside. The age group ranged from six years old to fourteen years old, with a couple of "Baby Boomer" Grandparents, who must have snuck in. The audience responded enthusiastically to “Why Do Fools Fall In Love,” “Charlie Brown,” “Rockin’ Robin,” and “Up On The Mountain.” It sounded to me like Our Music was their Music and vice-versa. Maybe our Old Music was new to them? There’s that cycle again.
Editor: Which groups did you listen to back in those “good ol’ day?” Who influenced you the most?
Johnny: We listened to the Dixie Hummingbirds, The Soul Stirrers, The 5 Royals, and The Moonglows. Harvey had a way of arranging voices, similar to the way Duke Ellington arranged his with horns and strings. His backgrounds sang a counter-melody under Lead Singer, Bobby Lester. (Check out “The Beating Of My Heart” or “Penny Arcade”.)
Editor: What music do you listen to today?
Johnny: All of it. I play Du-Wop tapes in the car on the way to work. During the day I listen to the radio in the van, while I am working, I groove to the "current music.” by whatever name it's called today. On the way home I listen to Du-Wop tapes in the car...again. When I am working on my next book (Du-wop 2), Du-wop tunes are playing in the background. After I turn in for the night, I make sure Smooth Dusty Jazz plays all night while I am sleeping. First thing in the morning it's Blues that starts my day. Yeah......
Editor: Baby Boomers love the doo-wop sound. Do you think that with the passage of time that the doo-wop sound will fade much like “swing” or “dixie-land?”
Johnny: I don't agree with the notion that any Music Form fades with the passage of time. Maybe, everything old becomes new again. All you have to do is stick around long enough and you will see Swing Music being played again -
wide-legged, peg-legged pants, being worn again. Men with their hair parted in the middle, women wearing Up-Swept hairdos, and French-Rolls, Nehru Jackets, and maybe Du-Wop didn't fade with the "passage of time" either. Just maybe it never really left but went through a few changes, like a different label, or accent. It might have been given a new "Look", or a different sound, a Country flavor, a "Hard-Rock texture", a different, but similar spelling. Maybe that's the way the Cycle works. What comes around goes around. It never faded - it was forced into a lateral move. It's a frame of reference. It's the roots of Rock and Roll.
Editor: What was it like for an African-American rock n roll group to tour the south in the 1950’s?
Johnny: We didn't gig in the South that much. The first time we made a gig, it was in Memphis, Tennessee. Gerald Gregory, the late, great Bass Singer of The Spaniels was with us. (He wasn't singing with us. He was driving us to Memphis in The Spaniels station wagon. We didn't have a wagon and he didn't have a gig that weekend so he helped us out.} We were pulled over by the Highway Patrol and detained until the ownership of the station wagon was verified. We hadn't even crossed the Illinois State line......Another time, The Tour Bus carrying the Roy Hamilton Show Members, our Group, The Clovers, The Silhouettes, The Dubs, and a host of others, pulled into Gulfport, Mississippi and we stopped for sandwiches. Nobody left the bus, except for the designated “sandwich person,” elected by the majority. That was the quietest busload of Show-People I have ever seen in my life.....Of course the only places we could stay the night were the "Colored Motels and Rooming Houses"....Other than that, we didn't have any major incidents. There were other "adventures" on other tours, like the time in Louisiana and a few Texas close calls....but I have to save something for my next Book, Du-Wop 2.
Editor: Where and when can your fans see you perform in the near future?
Johnny: Johnny Keyes And The Magnificents can be seen performing on TV in The PBS Special, Do-Wop51. It will play again and again (hopefully.) Also there are plans being made to take this MARVELOUS SHOW on the road in the form of a National Tour. As soon as I find out the dates and Cities, I will let everyone know.
Editor: Johnny, last question: Why do fools fall in love?
Johnny: To answer that question, I will have to find out WHO..WHO WROTE THE BOOK OF LOVE? It's been fun doing my first written interview for Boomers International. Thank you for your patience and understanding.
Johnny Keyes - and remember,
Editor: Please read Johnny Keyes book, Du-Wop, and relive “those magic moments.”
Thank you, Johnny.
NOTE From Jeri:
Check out Johnny's local web pages that I created for him:
Johnny & The Magnificents
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