The doo-wop vocal quartet was formed in Queens, New York, USA, in 1954, originally named simply the Hearts. Three of the band members, Albert Crump (lead), Wally Roker (bass) and Vernon Sievers (baritone), met while attending Woodrow Wilson High School. They completed the line-up with Robbie Tatum from a neighbouring school. They acquired a new lead in the shape of James Sheppard (c.1936, Queens, New York, USA; d. 24 January 1970, Long Island, New York, USA) and Crump then sang first tenor. The group made their recording debut on Philadelphia’s Network Records with Sheppard’s ‘Tormented’. Receiving scant promotion, it brought the group little exposure and fewer sales. More productive would be a liaison with Hull Records. This began in September 1955 with ‘Crazy For You’, a strong regional seller, and continued with ‘Darling How Long’ in February of the following year. One of the most fondly remembered records of the whole doo-wop era, ‘Your Way’, like all their previous releases was written by Sheppard. Though it did not chart at the time, it has subsequently become one of the most popular songs of the period.
Their star rising, the Heartbeats’ next recording was ‘Oh Baby Don’t’, but it sold mainly on the strength of Sheppard’s plangent b-side composition, ‘A Thousand Miles Away’. This quickly became a nationwide hit, peaking at number 53 in the Billboard charts. The Heartbeats sought to confirm their popularity with nationwide tours in the company of Ray Charles, B.B. King and others. After a publishing dispute with Hull Records, the Heartbeats’ next single emerged on Rama Records in 1957. ‘I Won’t Be The Fool Anymore’ was followed by ‘Everybody’s Somebody’s Fool’, which returned them to the lower reaches of the charts. Spells at Gee and Roulette Records (two singles each) preceded the band’s break-up in 1958, at which time the members divided into two factions. The rest of the band were allegedly none too impressed when Sheppard fell asleep at the microphone one night in Philadelphia, and other bouts of unshackled egotism exacerbated the situation. The momentum was lost, and all bar Sheppard returned to regular employment. Their erstwhile lead put together Shep And The Limelites, who released a number of singles, though only one, ‘Daddy’s Home’, enjoyed major success (US number 2 in 1961). Sheppard was found dead in January 1970 after being shot and robbed. The four surviving members of the Heartbeats reunited in December 2003 to celebrate their 50th anniversary.
Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.
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