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The Cellos

Rang Tang Ding Dong (I Am The Japanese Sandman)

The days when Apollo Records was a force in the R&B and jazz fields were in the rear view mirror by the time The Cellos were old enough to record for the New York firm. The quintet was a product of Charles Evans Hughes High School in Manhattan, consisting of lead tenor Alton Campbell, first tenor Billy Montgomery, second tenor Clifford Williams, baritone Bobby Thomas, and bass Alvin Williams. In 1955, when they first sang in the school's halls, they were known as The Marcals.

Deep-voiced Alvin dreamed up the zany rocker Rang Tang Ding Dong (I Am The Japanese Sandman), with its tongue-twisting nonsense lyrics and Oriental musical motif. The group cut a $4 demo at Nola Studios that so impressed recording engineer Lew Merenstein that he played it for his uncle Charles, a bigwig at Apollo. Very little was clicking for the label, so taking a chance on a Japanese sandman wasn't much of a gamble. The Cellos cut it and Thomas' ballad, You Took My Love, on January 24, 1957 at Mastertone Studios. The ever-reliable Sam 'The Man' Taylor was on hand for the sax solo. Out that April, the crazy ditty made it to #62 pop, inspiring covers by pianist Chuck Miller on Mercury and a then-unknown Ray Stevens on Prep that couldn't touch the original.

Lew Merenstein became The Cellos' manager and got them on the road, but there was time to wax another Williams-penned rocker, The Juicy Crocodile, as their Apollo encore. It was as insane as Rang Tang Ding Dong and incorporated another laser-beam guitar riff (the dreamy ballad Under Your Spell sat on the other side). They tried again in October with a pair of jumps supplied by Williams: The Be-Bop Mouse (something of a Japanese Sandman sequel) and a more traditional Girlie That I Love. With the jumping What's The Matter For You and a last ballad, I Beg For Your Love, in early 1958, The Cellos called it a day. Montgomery and Campbell joined The Channels in 1959.

- Bill Dahl -

Various Street - Corner Symphonies 1957 Vol.9

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