Friday, March 13, 2009

The Cryan' Shames

One of my favorite Chicagoland bands of the '60's was The Cryan' Shames.

Although they never had a Top 40 Hit on the national charts, The Cryan' Shames were ALL over the radio here in Chi-Town back in the mid-to-late '60's.

Hits like Sugar And Spice, I Wanna Meet You, Mr. Unreliable, It Could Be We're In Love and Up On The Roof ALL made The Top Ten on AM Giants WLS and WCFL and were played right alongside all of the biggest hits of the day. (Here in Chicago, It Could Be We're In Love topped the charts for FOUR WEEKS during the summer of 1967, despite never rising higher than #85 on the Billboard Chart and #70 on the Cash Box Magazine counterpart. As a result, National #1 Hits like All You Need Is Love by The Beatles and Light My Fire by the Doors never reached the summit here in Chi-Town.)

Over the years, more and more folks around the country have been discovering some of this GREAT music they missed the first time around thanks to its inclusion in various '60's compilations, a complete CD reissue series of all of their albums on Sundazed and services like Forgotten Hits.

The hits stopped in 1968 and, by 1970, the band split up after completing a series of appearances at Dex Card's Wild Goose nightclubs.

In 1973, an attempted "merger" with another big Chicagoland musical attraction, The Ides Of March, pumped some new life into some of these former bandmates. (We'll give you the rundown on this venture in their own words later this weekend.)

The Cryan' Shames would reunite again in the late '80's and have been together (in SOME formation) ever since, regularly appearing at many of the local summer neighborhood festivals around Chicagoland. Original Jim "Hooke" Pilster is still on board and, at various times, you're likely to catch lead vocalist Tom "Toad" Doody, guitarist Jim Fairs and/or Rock And Roll Roots / DRIVE DeeJay Bob Stroud sitting in as well. (They've also recently presented forums for vocalists like Dennis Tufano, original lead singer of The Buckinghams, Jimy Sohns, lead vocalist of The Shadows Of Knight and Ronnie Rice, the most often featured lead vocalist of The New Colony Six to step up to the microphone again, using The Cryan' Shames as their back-up band!!!)

For a rundown on upcoming appearances, be sure to check out The Cryan' Shames' website:
Click here:


I caught The Cryan' Shames for the very first time back in 1966 when the band was still calling itself "The Travelers". They were playing a WLS Hop in the parking lot of The Hillside Shopping Center and WLS "East Of Midnight" Jock Don Phillips was MC-ing the event. Incredibly, what drew me there in the first place was the fact that I was in the market to buy a new guitar and had seen an advertisement for a Sunburst Gretch Country Gentleman in the local paper. When I called the phone number, I was told that I could "demo" the guitar during one of the band's breaks at that Hillside concert. Sure enough, I was soon sitting inside of a trailer with Shames' Guitarist Jim Fairs, right after the band had played a KILLER version of the Jr. Walker hit "Shotgun". Completely intimidated by his presence after seeing him perform on stage just moments before (and a complete NOVICE on the instrument) I barely gave the guitar much more than a casual once-over ... but Fairs let me hear how it COULD sound in the hands of a VERY capable guitarist. Had I only known then what I know now, I would have bought the thing ... but the truth is, I had my heart set on a brand new Cherry Red Gibson ES335 ... and no USED guitar (no matter WHO it belonged to) was going to dissuade me!

Before we left, we heard The Travelers play what they said was going to be their "brand new single" ... a FANTASTIC version of The Searchers' hit "Sugar And Spice". Prior to the record being released, the band changed their name to The Cryan' Shames ... and the very first record pressed was hand-delivered to Clark Weber over at WLS Radio, The Big 89, who IMMEDIATELY put it on the air. It was a break-out smash ... and Sugar And Spice raced up the WLS chart, eventually peaking at #4. (This is probably their best-known tune outside of Chicago, where WLS was beamed into households ALL over the country with a 50,000 watt clear channel most evenings. It ended up on Rhino's Nuggets LP and gained a whole new audience.)


A while back, we asked Tony Hatch to fill us in on the story behind "Sugar And Spice", a song he wrote for The Searchers under the pseudonym "Fred Nightingale". Here is what he told us:
Hello Kent,
Here's the full story regarding SUGAR AND SPICE:
SWEETS FOR MY SWEET had been a big hit for THE SEARCHERS but I was having difficulty getting them into the studio again because of the work generated for them by the hit. A familiar story. Their manager could only see the instant money and the boys needed it. They didn't write songs and although they had some other American R&B songs in their repertoire I was reluctant to release another cover. Whilst waiting for them to confirm a recording date I wrote SUGAR AND SPICE as a reserve title although I did think it would make a good follow-up to 'SWEETS' if only they would record it. The session was finally arranged and I fully expected them to arrive with at least a couple of good ideas. They had nothing so I played them SUGAR AND SPICE and, fearing they might not like it or be influenced against it because I, their producer, had written it, I told them it was a song I'd picked up from a young UK writer called FRED NIGHTINGALE. I was thinking, 'Well, if they say it's crap, it's not my song.' Happily, and somewhat to my surprise, they liked it immediately and set about arranging and rehearsing it. This was fortunate for me because we were in an expensive recording studio and not a cheap rehearsal room. By then I couldn't risk telling them the truth and kept saying inane things like, 'I wish Fred had been here.' It was recorded 'live'. It felt good. The record company (PYE) thought it was the perfect follow-up to SWEETS and the rest, as they say, is history.
THE SEARCHERS have said for many years that they always knew it was my song but preferred to let me play my game. It isn't true that I had a proven track record in 1963 but it was building. I'd had a US & UK hit with LOOK FOR A STAR in 1959, some more near misses, a couple of hits with comedian BENNY HILL plus Bobby Rydell's FORGET HIM in early 1963 but that was about it. DOWNTOWN and the real hits started late in 1964.
I haven't heard the CRYAN' SHAMES record for years so can't really remember it but would have been very pleased to have them cover it.
Best wishes.
By the way, after this piece originally ran, I sent a copy of THE CRYAN' SHAMES' version so that TONY could hear it again, figuring that, at the VERY least, it deserves a listen every thirty years or so!!! LOL After listening to it again after all this time, here is what TONY HATCH had to say:
Thanks, Kent.
Pretty good for a 43-year-old record but the lyrics are the most basic (or do I mean banal?) ever written. I think that resolves the issue of the songwriting credit. I wrote the tune. Fred wrote the lyrics.
LOL!!! TOO funny!!!


Sugar And Spice was followed by one of MY favorites by the band, "I Wanna Meet You", which went to #6 on the Chicagoland charts.

The following year, the incredible voices and beautiful harmonies of the band were showcased on two ballads ... It Could Be We're In Love and Up On The Roof. Up On The Roof was first a hit for The Drifters back in 1963, but The Shames stripped it down even further and let their voices carry the tune. Story goes that Carole King liked The Cryan' Shames' version so much, she had it played at her second wedding!

It Could Be We're In Love became the band's biggest local hit, topping the charts here for four weeks during the summer of 1967. Again, the voices REALLY shine on this one ... and the arrangement has often been compared to that of Brian Wilson and The Beach Boys over the years. All I know is that it's become a Chicagoland classic. Enjoy!