Monday, July 19, 2010

Twice as Tough!

I wanted to look into "So Tough" as I came across something odd - two versions of the same song, from the same era. OK perhaps it's not that strange, it seems to have been much more common years ago for several versions of the same song to come out very close to each other as labels tried to capitalize on others' hits. But it is odd that I found two versions of this random song from the 50s within a few weeks.

"So Tough" was first recorded by The Casuals for Back Beat Records in 1957.  Love this label design! It shouts, "Let's bang on the drums and dance like wild men!" You'll note that this 45 indicates the artist as "The Original Casuals" - apparently "The Casuals" wasn't a very original name so later versions of this record were billed as "The Original Casuals" to avoid legal issues. Here's a blurb (from here) I found about Back Beat Records:
In August 1957, Don Robey, president of the Houston-based Duke-Peacock labels (One to the few successful Afro-American businessmen in a Caucasian dominated industry), announced the formation of a new label, Back Beat, aimed at the burgeoning Rock'n'Roll market, Duke and Peacock being primarily gospel and R&B outlets. "The artists appearing under our new label are in most instances teenagers in actual age count or at heart". explained Robey punctiliously, "and as such, our new baby Back Beat is dedicated to the teenage market."

What better way to get the teen market than to release teen artists? You'll notice The Casuals are certainly quite young in this promo picture. Here I was hanging out and causing trouble and these kids were making hits! All I know about The Casuals is that they were from Dallas and this tune broke the national top 50 Pop charts. Surprisingly, I see a couple of copies of this record for sale on Amazon here: So Tough b/w I Love My Darling

And no we move on to version number two, from the Kuf-Linx on Challenge records. This one was also released in 1957, just months after the original. Like The Casuals version, this one did well but seems to have been more of a West Coast regional hit. Unlike The Casuals, Kuf-linx was comprised of seasoned black musicians who brought a very different vocal style to the song.

Here's a little info on Kuf-Linx pulled from this very comprehensive page:
The Kuf-Linx consisted of John Jennings (lead tenor), Johnny Woodson (tenor), Gaines Steele (tenor), George (Biggie) McFadden (bass), Leo Z. Manley, Darrell Johnson, and Gwen Johnson. Jennings and McFadden had been in the Jubalaires in the mid-40s. L.Z. Manley was a well-known gospel lead singer, who had been with the Heavenly Gospel Singers and the Stars Of Harmony. Gaines Steele, younger brother of gospel great Silas Steele, sang with Detroit-area gospel groups and a West Coast Ink Spots group (with Clifford Givens); in the mid-60s, he was a member of the 4 Tunes. Gwen Johnson was a Los Angeles session backup singer singer. This basic group consisting of a whopping seven members, likely recording as John Woodson and the Crescendos on the Spry label.
Challenge Records, founded in '57 out of L.A., was briefly mentioned in my last post regarding "The Originals". They had quite a run before going under in the 60's!
A now for the two clips! Which do you prefer?
The Casuals version:

The Kuf-Linx version:

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