Almost two decades before the J. Geils Band, Aerosmith, Boston and The Cars established Boston once and for all as a multi platinum music-making metropolis, The G-Clefs pinned the city near the center of the US musical map with their 1956 song “Ka-Ding Dong,” the first rock ‘n roll track out of the city to become a national hit, and which featured a 16-year old from Lynn, Fred Picariello, who topped the charts on his own three years later as Freddy “Boom Boom” Cannon.
An irresistibly flamboyant and especially well-choreographed quintet described as “doo-wop delivery with R&B soul,” The G-Clefs were the harmonizing pioneers of Boston’s soon-to-be uniquely prominent place in the pop-music scene. Influenced themselves by the Dominoes, the Five Keys and the Drifters, their own influence is quite similarly evident on Cannon’s 1960s albums, Jonathan Richman’s harmonic blends in the late 1970s and virtually everything New Kids on the Block produced in the 1980s.
Formed in 1952 in Roxbury, Massachusetts, and originally called The Bob-o-Links, the original group consisted of three Scott brothers – Teddy, Chris, and Tim, who was nicknamed “Payme” – plus their neighbor Ray Gibson and their cousin Joe Jordan, who left the group in the mid-1950s, replaced by another Scott brother, Arnold who was nicknamed “Ilanga.” Their earliest performances – when the band members were between ages 12 and 16 and for which they charged audience members a penny – were in the Scott family’s backyard, and later they started making regular appearances singing hymns and gospel standards at St. Richard’s Catholic Church.
In early 1953, after changing their name to The G-Clefs at the Scott’s mother’s suggestion, the entrepreneurial teens started holding their own dances, renting a hall and selling tickets before shows, and that summer they made their debut at The Rollerway, a roller-skating rink in Revere that was used as a dance hall on Friday nights. After playing there almost weekly for nearly two years – literally hundreds of shows – they were scouted by Jack Gold, an A&R man for Boston-based Pilgrim Records, with whom they signed a management contract.
In early 1955, at Ace Recording Studios in Boston, the band recorded its first single, a cover of “Mary Lee” by The Rainbows which was never released, and in June they recorded the delightfully infectious “Ka-Ding Dong,” written by Ronnie Jordan and John McDermott and featuring the future Freddy Cannon as a studio guest on lead guitar. Released in July on Pilgrim, the record was an immediate hit in New England and by September it had reached #24 in the Billboard Hot 100 – and #9 on the R&B charts – eventually being recorded by both The Diamonds and The Hilltoppers and covered live by a gaggle of others.
In November 1955, Pilgrim released another fast-paced rocker by the group that reached the Top 40, “Cause You’re Mine,” and in March 1956 they released yet another hit, the ballad “Symbol Of Love,” followed by appearances at the Apollo Theatre in New York in September and November. In 1957, when Pilgrim released the band’s moderately successful singles “Zing Zang Zoo” and “Is This The Way,” The G-Clefs were part of trailblazing DJ Alan Freed’s Easter Show at the Brooklyn Paramount Theatre in New York along with Bo Diddley, the Del Vikings and others.
In September 1961, after the band had taken a four-year hiatus, Terrance Records released the group’s rendition of another ballad, “I Understand (Just How You Feel)” – which used the melody from “Auld Lang Syne” and which had been a hit for The Four Tunes in 1954 – and it reached #9 in the Billboard Hot 100, their best-selling single. In 1962, Terrance released The G-Clef’s final charting hit, the ballad “A Girl Has to Know,” which peaked at a relatively weak #81 in the Billboard Hot 100. In 1967, the group recorded a live album, The G-Clefs on Stage, at The Beach Ball in Revere and in 1968 they did their first European tour, followed by another in 1970 and their first gigs in Japan. In the mid-1970s, the band bought the Peppermint Lounge in Revere and renamed it The Pied Piper, performing there often.
After staying out of the limelight in the 1980s, the group resumed a very active performing schedule in the 1990s, when Joe Jordan returned to the band after nearly 40 years. Playing six nights a week at times through the early 2000s, they played multiple gigs at venues including at the Strand Theatre in Dorchester and well-known spots in Revere such as the Wonderland Ballroom, The Ebb Tide and Hurley’s nightclub.
Forever an irreplaceable element of New England’s ever-eclectic musical mosaic, several members of The G-Clefs passed away in recent years: Ray Gipson in 2015 at age 77, Tim Scott in 2017 at age 78, and Teddy Scott in 2018 at age 82. “The G-Clefs made surprisingly few records for having stayed together the better part of six decades,” wrote one critic in 2015. “And that’s what makes their story all the more special.”
(by D.S. Monahan – May 2022)