Sunday, December 06, 2015

Passings: Wally Roker of The Heartbeats (1937 - 2015)

Wally Roker, the bass singer for the group The Heartbeats, has died in a California hospital at the age of 78. Wally had recently been ill including having brain surgery on November 14 according to Peter Lemongello, Jr.

Known as the "Godfather of Doo-Wop", Roker was much more than just a singer. He did start in the music business as a founding member of the Heartbeats in 1953, forming in Jamaica, Queens with Vernon Sievers, Albert Crump and Robbie Tatum. Originally known as The Hearts, they changed their name when they found out that there was a female vocal group already using that moniker.

James "Shep" Sheppard soon joined the group as lead singer and they were signed at what would be a series of different labels including Network and Hull. It was on the latter that they released Crazy For You which became a local New York hit and allowed them on bills at the Apollo and with Alan Freed.

In mid-1956, the group recorded what would become their biggest hit, A Thousand Miles Away, which was originally issued on Hull and, later, Rama for national distribution. It became a hit, going to number 5 on the R&B singles and 53 on the pop chart.

Even though the group continued to record for Rama and, later, Gee, they did not chart again and broke up in early 1960.

Roker had taken care of much of the group's business and he used that experience to continue in music for the rest of his life. He was instrumental in the forming of Scepter Records, originally introducing Florence Greenberg to producer and songwriter Luther Dixon and working as the label's A&R man.

Later, Roker moved to Chicago in 1965 and, in 1970, to L.A. where he worked for the likes of ABC and TRC Records and formed a series of labels including Canyon, Roker, Soul Clock and Stardom. He was also part of the forming of the Doo Wop Hall of Fame and has appeared with other members of the Heartbeats on special occasions over the years.