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Much hoopla has been made about Buddy Holly & the Crickets winning over the black audience at the Apollo in Harlem, but many roots rock fans aren't aware that the venue actually thought it had booked Dean Barlow & the Crickets, a popular doo wop group of the era. Dean Barlow, originally named Grover Barlow, was the one constant through several different versions of the Crickets. He also sang in several other groups and attempted a solo career with a series of singles on the Jay Dee label. Label proprietor Joe Davis was a strong supporter of Barlow, hiring recording engineers time and time again to point microphones in the direction of his hauntingly expressive voice.
The original Crickets came out of the intense vocal music scene of the Bronx in the '50s. In 1952 the group was introduced to Davis, a recording pioneer who had run the Beacon label before going to work for MGM as a rhythm and blues A&R man. In early 1953 the Crickets were signed to MGM, releasing a debut record within only a few weeks later and causing many a stomach ache for any listener who took the group's advice about mixing "Milk and Gin." While this record did quite well for a rhythm and blues side, the label's apparent lack of interest in promoting a follow-up was one of the main reasons Davis went back into the indie record scene, starting up Jay-Dee and taking a fine roster of artists with him including the Blenders, Paula Watson, and Barlow's Crickets. In 1953 Barlow changed the entire lineup of the group, bringing in Robert Bynum, William Lindsay, and Joseph Diaz to replace Harold Johnson, Gene Stapleton, Leon Carter, and Rodney Jackson. By the beginning of the following year, the group was experimenting with covering pop tunes such as "Changing Partners," seeking the same kind of record sales artists such as Patti Page and Bing Crosby were enjoying. This, however, was not to be. The series of JayDee singles by the Crickets were flops, but this did not deter Davis, who promoted the group once again upon the revival of his old Beacon imprint. The Beacon release was the first record to credit the group as Dean Barlow & the Crickets. This was where "Grover" apparently got nixed from the Barlow, supposedly because producer Davis didn't like the name; it's a good thing he didn't go to work for Sesame Street.
Ironically, this was the period where the Crickets' records began to sell in larger quantities again, yet Davis was convinced that grooming Barlow for a solo career was the thing to do. Crickets records were coming out on Beacon, solo Barlow on Jay-Dee, but the result was apparently confusion as well as sales. The Cricket's new "Be Faithful" became the biggest-selling record in the existence of both the Crickets and Barlow, and the solo "I'll String Along with You," a remake of a '30s pop song, also did quite well. The group was unable to stay together with the lead vocalist stringing along with them, his mind on his solo career. "We were in Washington," Lindsay recalled in an interview, "and when we got in the dressing room Dean said that he was going to be singing some songs tonight by himself. He sang two selections by himself after we had did our show, and within a month or so told us that he was going on his own. This is how the Crickets broke up." Barlow's follow-up solo records did not prove his decision a brilliant one. He got back into vocal groups, reuniting with Lindsay and Diaz to form the Bachelors with Waldo "Champ Rollow" Champen. Then this group morphed into the Montereys, cutting the sentimental "Dearest One" for Onyx.
Barlow is not related to the modern rock musician who plays in groups such as Mental as Anything and Kill 4 Suzy.