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 A Brief History

On most informed lists of influential early rock ‘n’ rollers, the Crew Cuts would have to rank near the top.  But Rudi Maugeri (baritone), John Perkins (lead), Ray Perkins (bass), and Pat Barrett (tenor) weren't actually rock ‘n’ rollers in the first place: their clean-cut, white-harmony, glee-club approach was really in the style of early and mid-'50s “older style” vocal groups such as those “Four” groups -- the Four Aces, the Four Lads, and the Four Freshmen.  The young Canadian quartet eventually differed from those acts, however, in their concentration upon covers of songs originally recorded by R&B / doo-wop vocal groups.  Their cover of the Chords' "Sh-Boom" set the pattern, going to number one in 1954, and created the blueprint for their other commercially successful pop treatments of R&B hits by the Penguins, Gene & Eunice, Otis Williams & the Charms, the Robins, the Spaniels, the Nutmegs, and others.  

Though all four had been students under the tutelage of Mgr. John Ronan at Saint Michael’s Cathedral Choir School, Maugeri and John Perkins were at first in a quartet called The Jordonaires.  (Elvis Presley would, later, have a back-up group with the same name.)  The other two Jordonaires later joined The Four Lads.  After high school, in 1952, Maugeri and Perkins joined Barrett and the other Perkins brother, Ray, and called themselves the Four Tones.  After a bit of success in small clubs, and a few name changes for the group, they entered the Arthur Godfrey Talent Hunt.  Though they placed second, their jobs didn’t get any better.

In March 1953, they worked on a show with Gisele MacKenzie.  She told her record label executives about this terrific group, but she couldn’t remember their name.  Then, (and whether the story is true or not doesn’t matter -- it makes a great show business story) they drove 600 miles in forty degrees below zero weather with no heat in their car, to appear on a TV show in Cleveland.  A deejay, Bill Randle, gave them the name that stuck after he observed their short haircuts.  Randle helped them get signed with Mercury Records.

The good-looking Toronto foursome’s first hit was one they wrote themselves, "Crazy 'Bout Ya Baby”.  But it didn’t take very long for them to find out that they were going make more money and get more famous by covering tunes that were originally recorded by R&B doo-wop groups.  When the Crew Cuts discovered "Sh-Boom," they gave the song a far more standard, whiter, pop treatment than the Chords had, complete with a highly original big-band orchestration.  Although the original Chords version still became one of the first Top Ten rock ‘n’ roll hits, the Crew Cuts' cover outsold it by a wide margin, finding a much smoother entrance into established radio formats and much greater popularity with mainstream white audiences.  The Crew Cuts were bridging the gap between the big-band sound and the R&B music that was sweeping the country, and they were reaping the benefits of stardom, as well.  When they were booked into a Toronto club, the city fathers welcomed them home with a ticker-tape parade.

The Crew Cuts, with regular visits to the Top 20 over the next couple of years, repeated the "Sh-Boom" syndrome with songs like "Earth Angel," their second biggest hit at number three.  It was later voted the best slow dance song of the 50’s.  Somewhat sadly, nobody remembers the Crew Cuts' version today, the Penguins' original having long established supremacy with audiences and on oldies stations.  The two versions could hardly have been more different:  the Penguins used only a piano and drums as a backup, while the Crew Cuts utilized a 16-piece big band.  However, the combinations of swing, doo-wop, R&B, and what was being called rockabilly, created a new sound in the world of music, one that would last forever.  Dick Clark once remarked to a current Crew Cut, Bob Duncan, “The 50’s era will never go away.  It will be like the Dixieland style of the 20’s, never to pass away and always the favorite of the young and the old.”  

The Crew Cuts followed “Earth Angel” with “Gumdrop”, “Angels In the Sky”, “Mostly Martha”, and “Young Love”.  Their strategy of foraging for sources among black R&B vocal singles was so successful it became widely imitated throughout the industry, by Pat Boone, the McGuire Sisters, Georgia Gibbs, and numerous others.  Many rock historians point out -- with a great deal of justification -- that this amounted to an attempt by the music establishment to buck the oncoming threatening storm of the rock era by watering it down into a much more palatable and conventional form that in reality had little to do with rock at all.  For a while, it worked -- the white covers frequently outsold the black R&B originals throughout 1954 - 1956.  But after Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry, and others had staked their own claim on superstardom, it became increasingly obvious that teenagers preferred the real article, and that the entrenchment of authentic rock ‘n’ roll was inevitable.

Some revisionists have claimed, dubiously, that the Crew Cuts actually helped pave the way for the acceptance of rock in the mainstream by giving all those doo-wop songs a far greater audience than they could have found if they were “ghettoized” in the R&B community.  After a while, however, the Crew Cuts themselves were being widely outsold by their sources; "Young Love" (a cover, naturally, although this time of a country classic by Sonny James) was their last Top 20 hit in early 1957.  Their Mercury hits are far more properly classified as pop vocal outings than rock ‘n’ roll, owing much more to pre-rock harmony and band arrangements.  By 1958, they'd left Mercury for stints with RCA and other labels and they broke up in 1964.  Though they sang together very infrequently over the ensuing years, they were honored, along with the Diamonds and the Four Lads when they received the Juno Lifetime Achievement Award in 1984

One of the original members, Rudi Maugeri, died in May of 2004.  The remaining three appeared on a PBS show about old-time rock ‘n’ roll that aired later in 2004. 

Currently, the publicly performing Crew Cuts are Michael Redman, Bob Duncan, Joe Dickey, and Skip Taylor (from 1st tenor to 2nd bass, respectively).  They pay homage to the original quartet by singing the same harmonies, having fun but “behaving themselves” on and off stage, and performing with enough verve and expertise to garner standing ovations wherever they perform. 

A long tradition continues, at the same high level. 

DISCOGRAPHY - Singles

1954

  • All I Wanna Do/The Barking Dog (Mercury)

  • Crazy 'Bout You Baby (Mercury)

  • Oop-Shoop (Mercury)

  • Sh-Boom (Mercury)  Dance Mr. Snowman Dance (Mercury)

1955

  • The Whippenpoof Song (Mercury)

  • Earth Angel/Ko Ko Mo (I Love You So) (Mercury)

  • Chop Chop Boom (Mercury)

  • Don't Be Angry (Mercury)

  • A Story Untold (Mercury)

  • Gumdrop (Mercury)

  • Angels In The Sky/Mostly Martha (Mercury)

  • Slam Bam (Mercury)

  • Unchained Melody (Mercury)

1956

  • Seven Days (Mercury)

  • Tell Me Why (Mercury)

  • Bei Mir Bist Du Schon (Mercury)

  • Love In A Home (Mercury)

  • Halls Of Ivy (Mercury)

1957

  • Young Love (Mercury)

  • Whatever, Whenever, Whoever (Mercury)

  • Suzie Q (Mercury)

  • I Sit In The Window (Mercury)

  • I Like It Like That (Mercury)

  • Be My Only Love (Mercury)

1958 Hey! Stella/Forever, My Darling (RCA)
1959 Over The Mountain (RCA)
1959 Legend Of Gunga Din (RCA)

Albums/CDs
1954 Crew Cut Capers (Mercury)
1954 The Crew Cuts On The Campus (Mercury)
1955 Music Ala Carte (Mercury)
1958 Surprise Package (RCA Victor)
1959 The Crew Cuts Sing (RCA Victor)
1959 The Crew Cuts Have A Ball (RCA Victor)
1960 You Must Have Been A Beautiful Baby (RCA Victor)
1960 The Crew Cuts Sing Out! (RCA Victor)
1962 High School Favorites (Wing)
1963 The Crew Cuts Sing Folk (Camay)
1996 The Best Of The Crew Cuts: The Mercury Years (Mercury)