Who are the Dovells?
The Dovells were a American vocal group, from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. In the late 1950s, they first emerged as “The Brooktones,” with members including Len Borisoff (aka Len Barry). After the group’s first single “No No No” (a regional hit), they soon disbanded with the members going on to form other groups. The remaining Brooktones, with Borisoff included, added other members to form a new band called the Dovells. Their first hit was “Bristol Stomp” which started a string of their handful of dance hits. Their other charting singles were “Do The New Continental,” “Bristol Twistin’ Annie,” “Hully Gully Baby” and their second and final Top 10 hit “You Can’t Sit Down.” Len Barry left the band in 1965 to pursue a solo career.
From the Brooktones to the Dovells
The Dovells’ roots were based on the Brooktones, which formed in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1957. The name “Brooktones” was derived from Philadelphia’s Overbrook High School, where all of the band members attended. The Brooktoens consisted of Len Borisoff (Len Barry), Arnie Silver, (aka Arnie Satin) Mark Gordesky, Jerry Gross (aka Jerry Summers), Mike Freda (aka Mike Dennis) and Jim Mealy. The boys wanted to form their own group after having been inspired by Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers — in fact they would even record their own rendition of “Why Do Fools Fall in Love” and “I Want You to Be My Girl.”
The Brooktones’ first single was “No, No, No.” It was a hit locally but didn’t get anywhere beyond their immediate locale. Very soon the Brooktones disintegrated. In 1960, Summer and Dennis later founded their own act the Gems along with Mark Stevens and Alan Horowitz.
Meanwhile, Len Barry and the other remaining Brooktones welcomed newer members Jerry Serlen (or Sirlin) and William Shunkwiler. Being a new group once again, they renamed themselves as The Dovells. They later snagged a recording deal with Parkway label after mounting a live audition in late 1960.
The Dovells’ most famous song “Bristol Stomp”
The Dovells’ first single on Parkway was their re-recorded version of “No, No, No,” which fared a bit better the second time around. A new Dovells song was based on a dance that was seen around Bristol, a town just outside Philadelphia. The song was called “Bristol Stomp,” written by Kal Mann and Dave Appell, and sung in lead vocals by Len Barry. Mann and Appell would write many other Dovells material.
When “Bristol Stomp” was released as a single in the summer of 1961, it didn’t chart at first. But in September and school season arrived again, it finally entered the Billboard charts. It was gaining more chart action and by October “Bristol Stomp” reached its peak at #2 (pop) and #7 (R&B). “Bristol Stomp” sold over a million copies, and reached gold record status.
Other hits by the Dovells
Other Dovells “dance” songs also appeared on the charts: “Do the Continental” (#37 pop; 1962), “Bristol Twistin’ Annie” (#27 pop, #28 R&B; 1962), “Hully Gully Baby” (#25 pop; 1962), “The Jutterbug” and their 1963 vocal version of Philip Upchurch Combo’s “You Can’t Sit Down,” which was their other highest charting hit at #3 pop (#10 R&B).
Len Barry’s departure
The Dovells were naturally quite busy at the height of their career. They also backed up other acts such as Chubby Checker, Fabian, and Jackie Wilson, and also did uncredited backing vocals for Checker’s hit “Let’s Twist Again.” The Dovells were also in demand on tours, and this brought them tensions among the members. These tensions reached ultimately blew off on their Christmas show in Miami Beach, Florida in 1963.
Len Barry finally quit the Dovells in to pursue a solo career by signing with Decca. In 1965 he achieved his biggest hit single with “1-2-3,” which he also wrote.
Keeping the Dovells afloat
With Barry out, now the Dovells were reduced to a trio. They continued cutting records for Parkway in 1964 and the following year they made an appearance on the film Don’t Knock the Twist, which also featured Checker, Dion and the Marcels.
When the Dovells moved to MGM in 1968, they changed their name into The Magistrates. Under their new monicker they scored a hit “Here Comes the Judge,” which was based on a popular skit on TV’s Laugh-In comedy show.
Into the 1970s the Dovells remained active, but only Summers and Stevens were the only original members left along with newer backup players. In the early 1990s Barry rejoined them for a couple of reunion performances. Summer and Stevens still continued performing under the Dovells name.