The Duals – “Stick Shift”



The Duals were a Californian surf rock duo formed in the 1960s, consisting of Henry Bellinger and Johnny Lageman. Ron Barrett, who had just established a new label named Star Revue, liked the guys’ sound and took them in. The Duals recorded “Stick Shift” to which Barrett added some car sound effects. It soon became a Top 40 hit in 1961. Other recordings followed (including tracks with the duo’s own vocals) but didn’t chart, leading to the Duals to a sea of one-hit wonders. A protracted legal battle ensued between the Duals/Ron Barrett and Sue Records who didn’t pay them royalties from “Stick Shift” – and in 2004 they were finally given their rightful financial dues, although Billinger was already dead by then.

Personal information about the Duals

The Duals were a short-lived musical pair consisting of two young guys Henry Bellinger (lead guitar) and Johnny Lageman (rhythm guitar). Both happened to live on the same street in Los Angeles, California until a mutual friend introduced one another. Almost immediately after the meeting, Bellinger and Lageman decided to team up as musicians.

Henry Bellinger originated from Colorado, but he and his family eventually moved to the City of Angels. He loved nearly all sorts of music and was proficient in playing the piano and viola aside from guitar. At the time of their meeting and formation as a musical duo, Bellinger was studying pre-law at the Los Angeles City College.

Lageman, meanwhile, had his roots in New Orleans, Louisiana but relocated to Los Angeles to live with his brother. He first learned to play guitar when he was sixteen years old. Ever since then, Lageman had been interested to become a professional musician.

Bellinger and Lageman were also both 19 years old when they first met, and their recording dreams would be becoming true at the time being. Another distinctive characterstic about them is that they were a rarity — I think the only black duo who performed surf and hot rod music, the genre mostly favored by white artists such as Jan and Dean and of course the Beach Boys. However, the boys played virtually surf and hot rod instrumentals.

Recording career

The two young men were set out to approach record labels to offer their material. At first Bellinger and Lageman approached H.B. Barnum, but Barnum was too preoccupied with other artists. Besides, he doubted towards the songs and especially the kind of music they played. Instead, Barnum introduced the boys to his buddy Ron Barrett, who had just established a new record label named Star Revue. Unlike Barnum, Barrett liked Bellinger and Lageman’s material, which the newbie record owner considered as having a “fresh, clean simple sound.” Barrett immediately signed the boys to his fledgling imprint.

Born in 1937, Barrett had also been a musician. He had been a member of Don Julian’s group The Meadowlarks and the Dootones. His sister was Fanita Barrett (later Fanita James), who sang with the Dreamers, Blossoms and Bob B. Soxx and the Bluejeans.

“Stick Shift” — the Dual’s only hit single

At the time of their record contract signing, the two boys by then had called themselves the Duals. After many rehearings, the Duals released their first single “Stick Shift” (b/w “Cruising”) in 1961. The song featured prominent sound effects — the sound of the engine, the screeching tires, and all that — many music writers think that these effects were the selling point of “Stick Shift.”

A minor label, Star Revue leased the master recordings to New York-based Sue Records which released “Stick Shift.” The single climbed all the way to its peak position at #25 on the Billboard Hot 100. But subsequent singles failed to chart, thus the Duals would be lined with other one-hit wonders.

Legal battle

Despite the hit, the Duals as well as Barrett had a difficult time dealing with it, because they never received any payment from Sue Records. Thus a long, legal battle had set in and eventually stretched for over four decades. Finally, The Duals received their first paycheck in 2004 (through EMI Records) from earnings of their only hit single “Stick Shift.” However, Bellinger was deceased by then so his son Ron Jr. received the money on his father’s behalf.

Recorded tracks by the Duals

Here are the list of the tracks the Duals recorded during their short stint as recording artists in the early 1960s (this list may be partial):

“Stick Shift”
“Nearest to My Heart”
“Cha Cha Guitars”
“Travellin’ Guitar”
“The Big Race”
“Oozy Groove”

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