Obituary: Gerald `Bounce' Gregory

TODAY'S TEENYBOP and rhythm 'n' blues acts may include several vocalists but none (not even Dru Hill or Another Level) are organised along the traditional lines of the doo-wop groups of the Fifties with a lead, one or two tenors, a baritone and, most famously, a bass singer. Gerald "Bounce" Gregory hit the distinctive low notes on the Spaniels' 1950s classic "Goodnite Sweetheart Goodnite".

While the seminal recording was eclipsed by the McGuire Sisters' cover which reached the US Top Ten, film-makers know that the Spaniels' original version gives the true flavour of the period. "Goodnite Sweetheart Goodnite" is thus one of the gems featured on the soundtracks of George Lucas's American Graffiti (the original Fifties nostalgia movie of 1973) and Floyd Mutrux's American Hot Wax (the 1976 biopic of the American DJ Alan Freed who coined the expression rock 'n' roll). Indeed, over the course of a 25-year career, the Spaniels proved a more versatile and prolific harmony group than the Crests, the Del-Vikings, the Diamonds, the Heartbeats, the Moonglows and the Monotones who faded away into obscurity.

Born in 1934, Gerald Gregory attended the Roosevelt High School in Gary, Indiana, where fellow students nicknamed him "Bounce" for his uncanny ability to make his incredibly low voice resonate around the corridors. Soon, Gregory, Ernest Warren (1st tenor), Willie C. Jackson (2nd tenor) and Opal Courtney Jnr (baritone) were blending their delicate harmonies and emotive singing in the glee club and on street corners. They talked another pupil, the talented vocalist James "Pookie" Hudson, into joining them as lead tenor and named their fledgling vocal ensemble Pookie Hudson and the Hudsonaires.

In 1952, the quintet's performance at a local Christmas talent concert went down a storm, though Gregory's young wife was heard muttering that they sounded like a bunch of dogs. The Spaniels' name stuck; perhaps it was better than the various birds, flowers or makes of cars favoured by the likes of the Ravens, the Laurels or the Edsels.

Further bookings at local hops followed and, in the spring of 1953, the group gave an impromptu a cappella performance in a Gary record store belonging to the DJ Vivian Carter and her husband Jimmy Bracken. The couple had already thought about starting their own label and were so impressed by the outfit that they toyed with the idea of calling their new imprint Spaniel. Eventually, they plumped for the initials of their Christian names and set up VeeJay Records in neighbouring Chicago.

On 4 May 1953, the Spaniels became the first act to record for VeeJay, cutting two Hudson-Gregory compositions, "Baby It's You" and "Bounce", at Universal Recording Studio in Chicago. Ironically, they had to settle for the catalogue number Vee-Jay 101 as the bluesman Jimmy Reed jumped the queue. Leased to the Chance label, "Baby It's You" reached the Top Ten in the R&B charts and, in September 1953, the Spaniels recorded two follow-up singles, "The Bells Ring Out/House Cleaning" and the perennial ballad "Goodnite Sweetheart Goodnite".

Written by Hudson and Calvin Carter, Vivian's brother who had joined the company as A&R man, "Goodnite Sweetheart Goodnite" owes much of its appeal to Gregory's basso profundo uttering the immortal duh-duh, dit, duh-duh. In fact, the track is so distinctive because the Spaniels were pioneering a new technique, using two microphones, one picking up the lead while the remaining vocalists gathered around the second.

Dave Marsh, the Rolling Stone journalist and compiler of The Heart of Rock and Soul: the 1001 greatest singles ever made, considers "Goodnite Sweetheart Goodnite"

the greatest all-time sign-off song. The first couple thousand times you hear it, the secret seems to be the sweet tenor lead; the next couple thousand, it seems like it must be the harmonies. After that, you realise it's that slow, soloing bass voice, really deep, which makes the record.

Simple yet effective, the Spaniels' cool teen song reached the US Top Thirty in 1954 despite competition from the pop version by the McGuire Sisters. In these segregated times, the vocal trio started the trend of white artists covering R&B hits which snowballed when Pat Boone and Elvis Presley got in on the act.

The Spaniels should have capitalised on their early success. They played the Apollo Theatre in New York with Joe Turner, toured with the Drifters and even worked tapdancing into their live act. But, try as they might, following up "Goodnite Sweeheart Goodnite" proved a problem. "Let's Make Up" and "You Painted Pictures" were only regional hits and, in 1955, Calvin Carter stepped in briefly to replace Opal Courtney, who had been called up in the army.

Several personnel changes followed, briefly leaving Gerald Gregory at the helm as the sole founding member of a Spaniels line-up which headlined the 1956 VeeJay cavalcade of stars alongside the El-Dorados, the Dells and the Magnificents. Later that year, Hudson rejoined the group now also comprising James "Dimples" Cochran (baritone), Carl Rainge and Donald Porter (both tenors).

The quintet soldiered on, recording many more sides such as the poignant "(You Gave Me) Peace of Mind", the gorgeous "You're Gonna Cry", the nonsensical "Great Googley Moo" and the uptempo "Everyone's Laughing", the group's last pop hit in 1957. Further compounding their run of bad luck, the Ravens turned down the chance to do "The Twist". Sharing the bill in Washington with the Nightingales, a gospel group, Hudson was offered the infectious ditty but passed it on to Hank Ballard, whose version was in turn overshadowed by Chubby Checker's rendition.

Gregory continued with the Ravens until 1960 when "I Know" became their swansong on the VeeJay label. (The first large independent record company owned by black Americans, well before Berry Gordy's Tamla Motown, it went on to release the Beatles' early recordings in North America after Capitol had passed on the option.) The bass singer often rejoined "Pookie" Hudson, who led various line-ups of the Ravens recording for Parkway, Buddah and North American (1970). In 1991, they were awarded the Pioneer Award from the Rhythm 'n' Blues Foundation of the Smithsonian Institute.

Gregory last performed with the Ravens in December 1998 but his inimitable bass-line lives on in the original and the myriad versions of "Goodnite Sweetheart Goodnite" by Sha-Na-Na, Chuck Berry, Bing Crosby, Dean Martin and even Mantovani.

Gerald Gregory, singer, songwriter; born Gary, Indiana 1934; married; died Gary 12 February 1999.

Arts and Entertainment
Nick Hewer is to leave The Apprentice after 10 years

TV review Nick Hewer, the man whose eyebrows speak a thousand words, is set to leave The Apprentice

Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says

film George RR Martin owns a cinema in Santa Fe

Arts and Entertainment
Clued up: John Lynch and Gillian Anderson in ‘The Fall’

TV review

Arts and Entertainment
The Baker (James Corden) struggles with Lilla Crawford’s Little Red Riding Hood

film...all the better to bamboozle us
Arts and Entertainment
English: Romantic Landscape

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump


Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

Arts and Entertainment
William Pooley from Suffolk is flying out to Free Town, Sierra Leone, to continue working in health centres to fight Ebola after surviving the disease himself

Arts and Entertainment
The Newsroom creator Aaron Sorkin

Arts and Entertainment
Matt Berry (centre), the star of Channel 4 sitcom 'Toast of London'

TVA disappointingly dull denouement
Arts and Entertainment
Tales from the cryptanalyst: Benedict Cumberbatch in 'The Imitation Game'

Arts and Entertainment
Pixie Lott has been voted off Strictly Come Dancing 2014

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

    Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

    As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
    The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

    The Interview movie review

    You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
    Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

    How podcasts became mainstream

    People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

    Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
    Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

    A memorable year for science – if not for mice

    The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
    Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

    Christmas cocktails to make you merry

    Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
    5 best activity trackers

    Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

    Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
    Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

    Paul Scholes column

    It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
    Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

    Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

    2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

    Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

    The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
    Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

    Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

    The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
    Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

    The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

    Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas