The Del Vikings (Contemporary Musicians)
Perhaps the most memorable doo wop songsters, the Del Vikingslso spelled Del-Vikings, Dell Vikings, or Dell-Vikingspitomized the sweet, carefree sound of the 1950s with their phrase "Dom, dom, dom, dom, dom-dee-doobie, dom." While other groups rose and quickly passed into oblivion, the Del Vikings produced dozens of recordings, including two classic hits, and continued performing into 2001. One of the first R&B harmony groups to evolve doo wop from rock 'n' roll, they maintained a distinctive sound that jelled with "Come Go with Me" and "Whispering Bells," two charttoppers that still appeal to a wide range of listeners.
The original quintetirst tenor Corinthian "Kripp" Johnson, second tenor Don Jackson, baritones Bernard Robertson and Samuel Paterson, and bass Clarence E. Quickegan performing at the Pittsburgh Air Force Base camp hall in 1955 and won a base talent contest the next year. The group derived its name from an interest in the Viking navigators of medieval history and appended "Del" to give the name more style. Two less credible accounts of their naming suggests that they liked paperbacks published by Viking Press or followed a Brooklyn basketball team named the Vikings. After Paterson and Robertson transferred to Germany, the remaining trio added two substitutes. Tenor Norman Wright, an 18-year-old Philadelphian, got his start singing pop tunes like "Mule Train" informally on streets and at his Air Force base in Amarillo, Texas. While serving in Amarillo, he formed a harmony group. After being transferred to Pittsburgh, he tried out with the Del Vikings, who were impressed that he could "sing 'Hey Senorita' better than any of 'em," Wright recalled on the Destination Doo-Wop website. Quick chose Wright as the group's lead singer. The fifth member, baritone David Lerchey, the only Caucasian in the group, integrated the quintet, which joined the Meadowlarks and the Mariners as one of the first singing doo wop groups to mix races.
From national competitions in New York and Bermuda, the Del Vikings advanced in popularity with a boost from Pittsburgh radio disc jockey Barry Kaye. Under his direction, they recorded nine songs a cappella, including Quick's "Come Go with Me" and Johnson's "How Can I Find True Love." Snubbed by major labels, they signed with Joe Auerbach's Fee Bee, a small recording company based in Pittsburgh, and rerecorded their original set accompanied by Joe Lopes and Gene Upshaw. Auerbach leased their signature tune to Dot Records, which issued it in 1957.
Rocketing to number four of the pop charts, "Come Go with Me" remained strong for 31 weeks. By juggling free days from servicing jets on the flight line, the rising Del Vikings toured the nation and scored as a feature of the Easter revue for Alan Freed's Brooklyn Paramount shows. Air Force officials halted the group's performance in uniformhe military only wanted the group to perform in uniform if they were doing official recruitment gigs. Wishing to avoid becoming an Air Force singing group, the members contented themselves with gigs in Pittsburgh, juggling their differing schedules until they finished their military service. With the departure of Don Jackson, they recruited second tenor Donald "Gus" Backus, lead singer on "Cool Shake."
The group's history is pocked with internal disagreements. Their manager attempted to break the contract with Fee Bee on the grounds that all of the members except Johnson were under 21 years old when they signed with Auerbach. A new contract with Mercury Records produced a confusing split: the Dell-Vikings (spelled with two "I"s and a hyphen), including Jackson and Johnson, recorded "Whispering Bells" for Dot Records in 1957, when their song rose to nine on the charts. Two others, "Willette" and "I Want to Marry You," were less successful. The Del-Vikings (one "I" and a hyphen), featuring Backus, Blakely, Lerchey, Quick, and Wright, joined Mercury and released "Cool Shake" and "Sunday Kind of Love." Kaye further muddled group identity by remixing the original demo tape with orchestral background as an LP bearing the Luniverse Records label; he also issued a 45 of "Hey Senorita" and "Over the Rainbow."
The squabble went to court, where a judge awarded the name Del Vikings and any variants to Mercury. The group became the first to have three hits on the charts at one time, a feat later achieved by Elvis Presley and the Beatles. Further variants placed Joe Lopes in Lerchey's place during a cameo appearance with Fats Domino and the Diamonds in the film Big Beat, released in 1957. Dot Records' Dell-Vikings harmonized Arthur Budd, Ed Everette, and Chuck Jackson with Don Jackson and, at the court's insistence, renamed themselves the Versatiles. The group soon fizzled out. By 1959, when the Mercury contract expired, Johnson formed a sextet with Willie Green, Ritzy Lee, Douglas White, Billy Woodruff, and Quick. The new group signed with ABC-Paramount but never achieved the musical magic of the original Del Vikings.
In 1972, during a renaissance of rock's oldies, Quick rereleased "Come Go with Me" in New York City on the Scepter label. The following year, George Lucas's pop classic film American Graffiti featured the song as an example of classic doo wop. In 1980, Johnson built a new Dell-Vikings sound featuring John Byas, Lee, Lerchey, and Wright and, in 1985, produced a new hit, "Share the Night." Another film, Rob Reiner's Stand by Me, released in 1986, featured Del Viking sounds.
After Quick's death in 1985 and Johnson's demise five years later, the surviving smooth doo wop sound derived from Norman Wright, who performed in a quartet with his sons Norman "Skip" Wright Jr. on guitar, Anthony "Beaver" Wright on bass, and Mike Machado on drums. A friend of the Wright brothers, Machado had played in a band with them before joining the group, mixing with other pros, and learning from what he described on Destination Doo-Wop as Norman Wright's "whole sense of professionalism." Skip Wright earned and maintained a music high around age ten, when he talked up the Del Vikings at school and helped promote doo wop among younger listeners and moviegoers. The group thrilled audiences with a performance of "Come Go with Me" at the 1996 Summer Olympic Games in Atlanta, Georgia.
The current Del Viking hybrid keeps a string of bookings in the United States, Europe, and Asia, in part because of their high-energy performances of song and dance. Another source of demand comes from nostalgia movies and reruns of television programs like Happy Days. Skip's brother, Anthony, who is two years his junior, credits the Public Broadcasting System (PBS) Doo-Wop 50 television special in December of 1999 with reviving interest in the Del Vikings and boosting a new millennium's renaissance.
"Come Go with Me," Fee Bee, 1956.
"True Love"/"Baby, Let Me Know," Fee Bee, 1956.
"Come Go with Me"/"True Love," Fee Bee, 1957.
"Maggie"/"Down in Bermuda," Fee Bee, 1957.
"Whispering Bells," Fee Bee, 1957.
"Cool Shake"/"Sunday Kind of Love," Mercury, 1957.
"When I Come Home"/"I'm Spinning," Mercury, 1957.
"Over the Rainbow"/"Hey Senorita," Luniverse, 1957.
"You Cheated"/"How Could You," Mercury, 1960.
"Bring Back Your Heart," ABC Paramount, 1961.
Come Go with the Del-Vikings, Luniverse, 1957.
They Singhey Swing, DJ, 1957.
A Swinging, Singing Record Session, Mercury, 1958.
Come Go with Us, Dot, 1960.
The Dell Vikings and the Sonnets, Crown, 1963.
Cool Shake, Buffalo Bop, 1988.
Rock 'n'Roll Remembered, BVM, 1990.
1956 Audition Tapes, Collectibles, 1990.
Rockin'& Rollin' Wedding Songs, Vol. 1, Rhino, 1992.
Dell Vikings, Collectibles, 1993.
Dell Vikings, Vol. 2, Flyright, 1993.
Dell Vikingsor Collectors Only, Collectibles, 1993.
Come Go with Me, Flyright, 1994.
The Best of the Del-Vikings: The Mercury Years, Uni-Mercury, 1996.
Come Go with Me: The Best of the Del-Vikings, Uni/Hip-O, 1997.
The Best of the Del-Vikings, MCA, 1997.
Come Go with Me, Hot, 1998.
Street Corner Serenade: The Greatest Doo Wop of the 1950's and 1960's, Rhino, 1999.
Doo-Wop 50 Live, Wea/Rhino, 2000.
New Millennium Doo Wop Party, Wea/Rhino, 2000.
Number One Songs, Classic World, 2000.
Gribin, Anthony J., et al, The Complete Book of Doo-Wop, Krause Publications, 2000.
Amusement Business, September 20, 1999.
Business Wire, October 13, 1998.
Dayton Daily News, June 1, 2001.
Detroit Free Press, August 27, 1982; September 5, 1985.
Hartford Courant (Connecticut), August 23, 2001.
Los Angeles Business Journal, August 21, 2000.
Miami Herald, May 19, 1988; December 29, 1988; June 3, 1989; July 12, 1990; June 22, 1999.
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, August 21, 2001.
New Statesman, July 25, 1997.
New York Daily News, September 16, 2000; February 22, 2001.
New York Times, August 22, 1999.
Patriot Ledger (Quincy, MA), February 14, 2000.
UPI (newswire), July 22, 2001.
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Mary Ellen Snodgrass