The History of American Rock & Roll – featuring The Tokens, The Crystals and The Coasters!
Jay Siegel’s The Tokens
The multi-talented Jay Siegel is best known for his soaring falsetto on the classic mega-hit, “The Lion Sleeps Tonight.”
Born in Brighton Beach, New York, a lifelong friendship with Neil Sedaka began when both attended Lincoln High School in Brooklyn, where in 1955, Sedaka formed The Linc-Tones singing group. A year later, Siegel joined the Linc-Tones and the group name was changed to The Tokens. Siegel and Sedaka and fellow Tokens Cynthia Zolitan and Hank Medress then recorded “While I Dream” and “I Love My Baby” for Melba Records. As The Tokens, they performed together on their first television show, The Ted Steele Dance Time.
In 1958 Sedaka left The Tokens to begin his amazing solo career. Siegel joined Warren Schwartz, Fred Kalkstein and Hank Medress to form Darrell and The Oxfords. Together they recorded the regional hit, “Picture in My Wallet”. A reformed Tokens group emerged in 1961 with Mitch and Phil Margo joining Medress and Siegel. The group quickly attained prominence with the hit song, “Tonight I Fell In Love.”
In October 1961, they recorded what has become one of the biggest hit songs of all time, “The Lion Sleeps Tonight.” That hit song celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2011. One of the seminal songs of all times, it has enjoyed resurgence in multi-generational popularity thanks to its prominence in the long-running Broadway hit show, The Lion King.
Other major hits for The Tokens include, “He’s in Town”, “I Hear Trumpets Blow” and “Portrait of My Love”. Jay Siegel and the Tokens have also produced many American pop classics, including The Chiffons, “One Fine Day” and “He’s So Fine”, Randy and the Rainbows, “Denise”, Tony Orlando and Dawn’s, “Candida”, “Knock Three Times”, and “Tie a Yellow Ribbon”, as well as “I Got Rhythm” and “See You in September” by The Happenings.
The Tokens were the first vocal group to produce a million-seller record for another. “He’s So Fine,” by the Chiffons. Another Tokens hit production by The Chiffons “Sweet Talkin’ Guy’ was co-written by music executive Doug Morris, currently CEO of Sony Music Entertainment, whose history with The Tokens goes back to Morris’ days as a staff songwriter and promotion director for Laurie Records.
The Tokens enjoyed success recording commercial jingles in the 1970s and 1980s for such products as Benson and Hedges cigarettes (“Silly Millimeter Longer”), Pan American Airlines (“Pan Am Makes the Going Great”), and Clairol hair products (“She Lets Her Hair Down”).Over the years, The Tokens have shared the stage with such greats as The Beatles, Chuck Berry, and Little Richard.
When Phil Spector discovered The Crystals, not one was yet out of high school. Their first recording, There’s No Other (Like My Baby) was also their first hit which catapulted them straight to the “Apollo” theatre. They continued their successful recordings with five more TOP TEN records: Uptown, He’s A Rebel, He’s Sure The Boy I Love, Da Doo Ron Ron, and Then He Kissed Me. Two of the TOP 50 most popular records in the Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame belong to The Crystals. The group has scaled from five members to three. The Crystals now consist of Dee Dee Kenniebrew, who was there from the very first recording, Patricia Pritchett-Lewis and Melissa Antoinette Grant.
Dee Dee started singing professionally at age 15 with The Crystals, honing her craft while working and watching acts like “Jackie Wilson, Sam Cooke, Dionne Warwick, The Commodores,” and many others. Dee Dee went to school with Gregory Hines, Patty Duke, and Bernadette Peters among other stars.
While the original girls left one by one in the sixties for various personal reasons and other pursuits, she has carried on The Crystals all the way into the new millennium. “I hung in for the fans that have stuck with me through the years. Fans whom I promised that as long as they wanted to hear the songs, I would not stop singing them. I appreciate them so much. We’ve had over 40 years together now! I’ve managed to acquire a whole lot of new fans during the 70′s, 80′s and 90′s as well; and that…I just love! ”
Patricia has been blessed with one of the finest gifts of live showmanship seen in a long time. The fact that she acts only enhances her ability. You might see her in an episode of “Law and Order”, “One Life To Live”, “As the World Turns” or “Saturday Night Live.” If you are a patron of the theater arts you might have seen her in “Invisible Fences” ( Staged Reading-Lark Theatre), “Truth” (Staged Screenplay- Inter-borough Repertory Theatre), “Having Our Say”, (Martha’s Vineyard Playhouse), “In The Upper Room”, (Symphony Space), “Black Nativity”, “Brown Women Who Fly”, Henry Street Settlement) or on the national tour with Theatre works U.S.A. The Crystals are blessed to have her.
A truly faithful person, Patricia thanks God for her gifts, her husband, her family, her friends and fans for their unwavering love and support.
Melissa joined The Crystals in 2002. Affectionately known as the “baby” of the group, she is not new to the entertainment industry. Before joining the legendary Crystals, Melissa toured internationally throughout the countries of Germany, France, Switzerland, Argentina, Chile and Uruguay singing Gospel R&B and Jazz. She has been featured as a soloist for the prestigious Duke Ellington and Princeton Orchestras. Melissa was also cast by the Billie Holliday Theatre for the musical “Raisin Hell” created by Motown legend Smokey Robinson and William “Mickey” Stevenson. Melissa holds a B.F.A. in music from the City College of New York. Melissa is a real showman and a powerhouse!
The Coasters are an American rhythm and blues/rock and roll vocal group that had a string of hits in the late 1950s. Beginning with “Searchin’” and “Young Blood,” their most memorable songs were written by the songwriting and producing team of Leiber and Stoller. Although the Coasters originated outside of mainstream doo wop, their records were so frequently imitated that they became an important part of the doo wop legacy through the 1960s.
The Coasters are a doo-wop group that started in October 1955. The original members of the Coasters were Carl Gardner, Billy Guy, Bobby Nunn, Leon Hughes (who was replaced by Young Jessie on a couple of their early Los Angeles recordings), and guitarist Adolph Jacobs. Jacobs left the group in 1959. The Coasters’ were formed out of the group The Robins, a Los Angeles based rhythm and blues group, which included Carl Gardner and Bobby Nunn.
The songwriting team Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller had started Spark Records, and in 1955 produced “Smokey Joe’s Cafe” for the Robins (their 5th single with Leiber-Stoller). The record was popular enough that Atlantic Records offered Leiber and Stoller an independent production contract to produce the Robins for the Atlantic label. Only two of the Robins—Gardner and Nunn—were willing to make the move to Atlantic, recording their first songs in the same studio as the Robins had done (Master Recorders). In late 1957 the group moved to New York and replaced Nunn and Hughes with Cornell Gunter and Will “Dub” Jones. The new quartet was from then on stationed in New York (although all had Los Angeles roots).
The Coasters’ association with Leiber and Stoller was an immediate success. Together they created a string of good-humored “storytelling” hits that are some of the most entertaining from the original era of rock and roll. Their first single, “Down in Mexico,” was an R&B hit in 1956 and appears (in a re-recording from 1970—still with Gardner singing the lead) on the soundtrack of Quentin Tarantino‘s Death Proof. The following year, The Coasters crossed over to the national charts in a big way with the double-sided “Young Blood“/”Searchin’.” “Searchin’” was the group’s first U.S. Top 10 hit, and topped the R&B charts for 13 weeks, becoming the biggest R&B single of 1957 (all these were recorded in Los Angeles).
“Yakety Yak” (recorded in New York), featuring King Curtis on tenor saxophone, included the famous lineup of Gardner, Guy, Jones, and Gunter, became the act’s only national #1 single, and also topped the R&B chart. The next single, “Charlie Brown,” reached #2 on both charts. This was followed by “Along Came Jones,” “Poison Ivy” (#1 for a month on the R&B chart), and “Little Egypt (Ying-Yang).”
Today, The Coasters consist of:
J.W. Lance – lead vocals, previously tenor vocals (2001–present)
Primotivo Candelara – baritone vocals (2008–present)
Eddie Whitfield – bass vocals (2009–present)
Dennis Anderson – tenor vocals (2011–present)