Jerry Gross b. December 29, 1942
Len Barry b. June 12, 1942
Mike Freda b. June 3, 1943
Arnie Silver b. May 11, 1943
The Dovells are best known for a handful of early-’60s dance hits, including their biggest one – “The Bristol Stomp” – number one (according to Cash Box) and number two (Billboard) on the pop charts in 1961, climbing its way to number seven on the R&B charts as well. They went on to have four more dance hits, three of which charted in the Top 40, giving them five different charters to five different dances in a little over a year during 1962, including “Do the New Continental” (number 37), “Bristol Twistin’ Annie” (number 27), “Hully Gully Baby” (number 25), and a Top 100 charter, “The Jitterbug” (number 82).
The Dovells originally formed in 1957 as the Brooktones, taking their name from Overbrook High School in Philadelphia, where each of the original members – Jerry Gross (aka Jerry Summers), lead and first tenor, Len Borisoff (aka Len Barry), lead and tenor, Mike Freda (aka Mike Dennis), second tenor, Arnie Silver (aka Arnie Satin), baritone, Jim Mealey, bass, and part-timer Mark Gordesky (aka Mark Stevens), tenor – attended classes. They began singing at local school functions and occasionally at John Madara’s record store, located at 60th and Market Streets in Philly. (Madara had co-written “At the Hop” for Danny & the Juniors, in addition to other classics).
Inspired by Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers – they would even record “Why Do Fools Fall in Love” and “I Want You to Be My Girl” – the Brooktones performed for the next few years and even though their “No, No, No” gained some recognition in Philadelphia, the group had little success outside the immediate area and disbanded. Summers and Dennis left to form a new group called the Gems with Mark Stevens and Alan Horowitz in the summer of 1960. In the meantime, Barry and the other Brooktones were negotiating to sign with Bob Marcucci’s Chancellor Records (home to teen idols Fabian and Frankie Avalon), adding William Shunkwiler and Jerry Sirlin.
In December of 1960, after a live audition was arranged for the quintet with Cameo/Parkway, they were quickly signed to the label. Barry later asked Summers to come back and help out on the harmonies and at Summer’s suggestion, Mike Dennis also joined the group as well. They were now back to the core group. Cameo exec Bernie Lowe suggested the Brooktones change their name to the Deauvilles (after the Deuville Hotel in Miami Beach), but the group thought it was too hard to spell and changed it instead to the Dovells.
The Dovells’ first single, released in March 1961, was a re-recorded version of “No, No, No” which fared little better the second time it was released. In May, the Dovells recorded “Out in the Cold Again” (a remake of the Teenagers’ ballad) and a new song based on a dance that Parkway promotion man Billy Harper had witnessed kids doing at the Goodwin Fire Hall in Bristol, PA, just outside Philadelphia. It was called “The Stomp,” so the Dovells’ decided to give it a more formal name on their recording: “The Bristol Stomp.” The song didn’t chart during the summer of 1961, but in September, just as school was once again in session, the song broke out of the Midwest and began to get airplay, gaining enough momentum to go national by September 11. By mid-October, it was climbing the charts, making it all the way to number one.
Parkway followed up the Dovells’ “Bristol” with several dance-related Top 40 tunes. During 1962, the Dovells were immortalizing every dance Dave Appell and Kal Mann (who wrote many of the Dovells’ songs) could think of, but didn’t have another hit until “You Can’t Sit Down,” their version of Phil Upchurch’s “break” song. In 1964, the Dovells recorded one of the first covers of “She Loves You” by a new English group called the Beatles, but Parkway delayed its release, and when the original shot to number one, it seemed like a bad idea to release the Dovells version (which continues to sit in a vault somewhere).
The Dovells backed up Fabian, Chubby Checker, and Jackie Wilson at the Brooklyn Fox and often recorded as an uncredited vocal group behind Checker (that’s them on the hit “Let’s Twist Again”). They toured continuously too, until the inevitable tensions arose and ultimately exploded at a Christmas show performance in Miami Beach in December 1963. Len Barry quit the group. (He later signed with Decca as a solo act and is today remembered best for his hit single “One, Two, Three,” which charted at number two on the pop charts in November 1965.) Now down to a trio, the remaining Dovells recorded three Parkway singles in 1964 and toward the end of 1965, they appeared in the film Don’t Knock the Twist, appearing alongside Dion, Chubby Checker, and the Marcels.
In the spring of 1968, Summers came up with an idea for a song based on a skit he saw on TV’s “Laugh-In” comedy show. The song – like the repeated phrase from the skit – was “Here Come the Judge.” It was recorded with a female lead, Jean Hillery, and was later released on MGM Records under the name The Magistrates. The other Dovells later heard the song and were clearly miffed. That summer, “Judge” became East Coast smash (#54 on Billboard’s Pop charts), and the Dovells toured behind it with Hillery; when she came out they’d become the Magistrates (despite the hit, they’d never record again). Later, Dennis was replaced by part-time Dovell Mark Stevens.
In 1974, the Dovells recorded a cover of “Dancin’ in the Street,” which had been a huge hit for Martha and the Vandellas ten years before in 1964, but their version – for the Event label – barely charted at number 105. They continued to perform until Satin gave notice that he, too, would be leaving the group. Stevens and Summers decided to continue, having band members filling in on vocals and developing a Dean Martin/Jerry Lewis-styled stage act to go with their million-selling hits. This approach enabled them to work for another 16 weeks a year in Las Vegas. In 1991, Len Barry rejoined for two reunion performances. Summer and Stevens continue to perform nationally and internationally and have performed for former president Bill Clinton twice at inaugural balls. Summers also produces corporate events and runs an advertising agency when not performing with the Dovells.
Bryan Thomas, All Music Guide, (allmusic.com)