Collectors have made the Swallows one of the most beloved of R&B groups. Their haunting ballads and risqué up-tempo novelties are perennial favorites.
The origin of The Swallows goes back to 1946, when a bunch of 13-year-olds from Baltimore formed a group called the “Oakaleers.” The members were: Lawrence Coxson (lead tenor), Irving Turner (tenor and baritone), Earl Hurley (first and second tenor and bongos), Norris “Bunky” Mack (bass, piano, guitar, and drums), and another tenor named Gavin. They were thus a self-contained unit in terms of vocals and instrumental accompaniment.
The Oakaleers practiced on street corners for a couple of years. Then, around 1948, they ran into a couple of guys who also sang on the corner: Eddie Rich (first tenor) and Frederick “Money Guitar” Johnson (baritone and guitar). (Rich and Johnson were childhood friends and eventual brothers-in-law.) Interestingly, Johnson, a lefty, taught himself to play a right-handed guitar held upside down.
Eddie and Money became friendly with Earl, and ultimately ended up joining the Oakaleers in place of Gavin and Coxson (although Coxson was occasionally used as a fill-in at personal appearances over the years). Now the Oakaleers were Eddie Rich, Bunky Mack, Money Johnson, Earl Hurley, and Irving Turner.
Then, one day, Eddie mentioned to Earl that he had a friend that sometimes sang with them and who also wrote songs: second tenor and baritone Herman “Junior” Denby. Earl asked Eddie to bring Junior around and that meeting led to Junior being hired the same day.
Says Junior, “We went out on the street and sang to make money.” While Junior would eventually be the group’s bassist also, in the beginning “I just had a barrel with a single string.” Then Earl’s brother-in-law, a bass player, began loaning Junior his instrument “as long as you take care of it, you can practice on it.” What was it like dragging a full-size bass around to gigs? “It was hell,” says Junior.
However, the group was now a sextet, which was a bit unwieldy. Irving Turner thus stopped singing with the group, but Earl promised him that he’d always be a part of the group; Irving was kept on as valet (and occasional fill-in). We’ll meet him again later.
- Biography of the Swallows (http://home.att.net/~marvy42/Swallows/swallows.html)