Imitation groups use names from the old days to draw fans

January 04, 1991|By Steven Bergsman | Steven Bergsman,Cox News Service

WHILE THE Milli Vanilli controversy grabbed headlines recently, another kind of pop music phoniness remains unchecked.

In the 1950s, groups such as the Coasters or Drifters or Shangri-Las topped the charts. Today, baby boomers who grew up on this music can still see some of these performers in action.

But the Drifters or the Coasters who now appear at county fairs, nightclubs or resorts may have few, if any, of the original players. These are imitation groups put together by promoters to exploit the affection people still have for this nostalgic pop music.

Most fans of '50s rock do not know the names of members of groups such as the original Coasters (Carl Gardner, Leon Hughes, Bobby Nunn, Billy Guy and Adolph Jacobs). So they have little idea they are being ripped off.

One of the best examples of this took place on New Year's Eve in Arizona, when two of the state's most luxurious resorts presented traditional oldies rock shows.

Among the groups appearing at the Wyndham Paradise Valley Resort near Phoenix were the Marvelettes. Appearing 100 miles away at the Ventana Canyon Resort in Tucson were the Marvelettes.

The shows took place at the same time.

Actually, this instance of dueling Marvelettes has little to do with the Marvelettes people remember for singing such songs as "Please Mr. Postman" or "Don't Mess With Bill." There is nary an original member of the Marvelettes in either of the groups.

The original group consisted of five schoolgirls from Inkster, Mich. -- Gladys Horton, Katherine Anderson, Georgeanna Dobbins, Juanita Cowart and Wanda Young.

They were signed to Berry Gordy Jr.'s Tamla label and in late 1961 gave Gordy's Motown factory its first No. 1 hit, "Please Mr. Postman." Between 1961 and 1968, the Marvelettes charted 10 Top 40 hits.

After "Please Mr. Postman" was released, Cowart dropped out of the group. Soon afterward, Dobbins quit and the group continued on as trio, which is how it is most remembered. In 1969, Horton left and by the following year, the real Marvelettes had disappeared from the music world.

Horton resigned from the Marvelettes, got married and subsequently had three children. Her first child was born handicapped, and Horton stayed out of the music scene to be with the child, not returning until the mid-1980s when she started recording again. In 1988, she began touring.

The difficulty for her now is that there are numerous imitation Marvelettes groups competing against her.

Legally, if a group has not worked for at least two years, someone else can use the name. Unfortunately, some promoters don't even bother with that legality.

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