Crescents

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Inspired by Frankie Lymon & the Teenagers, four teenagers from the Outwaithe Housing Projects in Cleveland, OH, formed a group similar to the New York sensations. Al Banks (tenor), Leroy McQueen (baritone),…
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Inspired by Frankie Lymon & the Teenagers, four teenagers from the Outwaithe Housing Projects in Cleveland, OH, formed a group similar to the New York sensations. Al Banks (tenor), Leroy McQueen (baritone), Garfield Jackson (bass), and 13-year-old William Burrell (lead), and christened themselves the Crescents. Al, Leroy, and Garfield were 18 years old and had graduated from school, while Burrell, who sung under the stage name of Billy Wells, still attended Kennard Jr. High. The group was making a name for themselves in the greater Cleveland area when Al Banks got the ear of Sid Friedman, who owned and ran All-Star Theatrical Agency. Sid had them audition for Henry George, who quickly signed them to Reserve Records, with Sid becoming their manager and booking agent. From the studio came "Julie," written by member Garfield "Buddy" Jackson, and the flip, "I Love Only You," composed by Billy Wells. Reserve had a unique way of promoting its recordings, they gave the Crescents a few boxes of records and told them to drive to different R&B concerts, at which Friedman had booked them, to promote "Julie." They guys didn't get any financial help from Friedman or Reserve and had to use their meager personal funds to get going. Soon their money ran out and they were flat broke. Destitute, they had to sell the records to get money for gas and oil to return home. During their travels, they performed on the same bill with artists like Pat Boone, the Four Seasons, Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, James Brown, Bill Doggett, and many others. Their recording had gotten airplay in the North and the South. Wells, the youngest member, was eventually dismissed from the group. Leroy McQueen states, "we put him out because he was delinquent." According to Leroy, a group rule was that while in the group, Wells had to continue his schooling or get the boot. Wells took the boot. Lawyer "Henry" Curtis (tenor) replaced Wells and they continued to dazzle audiences. Other members left for various reasons which left an opening for Arthur Blakey to join in 1963. Arthur had sung with Cleveland's legendary Crown Imperials, a much ballyhooed group that never recorded. Blakey did most of the Crescents' leads in his readily identifiable, boisterous, shouting, country preacher style. Other artists were amazed that the Crescents could do with four voices what some groups had difficulty achieving with five. Once again they approached Sid Friedman, their previous manager and booking agent, who after hearing their exciting sound, signed them to contracts and proceeded to launch them in a new direction. The motive was to cash in on the Beatles, the latest rage, who were coming to America. To be different, they decided to jettison the Crescents and renamed themselves the Wigs, after the Whig Political Party. Sid had colonial costumes made for them, complete with every detail from head to toe. The costumes were topped off with authentic-looking wigs. The group was a sight to behold. Friedman called Carl Maduri (who later hit with Wild Cherry), and he struck a deal for them with Golden Crest Records, where they enjoyed a second release, "Sweeter Than Wine," and then "Chicken Switch," as the Wigs, in 1964. Carl and Sid gave the guys a hot beginning, including a parade on Euclid Avenue, and an autograph session at Higbee's Department Store, piggybacking on Connie Francis, who was there signing autographs. Afterwards, they did an interview at WJW Television, and a red carpet was rolled out for them to walk on. The red carpet became their trademark and they used it whenever they came on-stage. Johnson Publications (Jet and Ebony magazines) had a journalist/photographer interview and photograph them. The photo was featured in the Picture of the Week section of Jet. The exposure in Jet led to the Wigs' most prestigious gig, opening for Mary Wells at Leo's Casino in Cleveland, OH. As the Crescents, and the Wigs, the guys hung around approximately ten years, from 1956 to 1966. They only recorded two singles, but they did do the background vocals for Clark Vaden's 45 release, "Irene," and "You Can Make It If You Try," on Reserve Records. In addition, Friedman had snatched the writers' credit from the guys. "You're Sweeter Than Wine" lists Carl Maduri and Sid Friedman as the writers, when the credit should have gone solely to Al Banks. Only Friedman's name is listed as the composer of "Chicken Switch," when the song was actually a group effort by Blakey, Banks, McQueen, and Porter. Where are they now? Leroy McQueen is near retirement as a CNC operator, a job he's held for more than 20 years in Valley View, OH. Arthur Blakey sang with the Hesitations on Kapp Records shortly after leaving the Wigs and enjoyed some success, recording four albums with the group. He is now employed as a physical therapist at a nursing home in Cleveland. Al Banks still lives in the area, and works for General Motors. William Burrell (Billy Wells) drifted to California and is believed to play jazz piano in small clubs. Lawyer Curtis owned and operated the Hair First Salon in Warrensville Hts., OH. He also worked for Soft Sheen Hair Products before retiring. His son, Mark Curtis, is a multitalented vocalist/instrumentalist and is shopping some slamming tracks. Garfield Jackson was last known to teach college courses in Columbus, OH. James Arnold Porter practices the Muslim faith and lives in the Chicago, IL area.