Introduction to the Impalas
The Impalas were an American doo-wop vocal group in the late 1950s, one of the few racially-integrated groups at that time. They’re now mostly remembered via their 1959 Top 10 pop hit, “Sorry (I Ran All The Way Home).” The Impalas were signed to MGM’s subsidiary label Cub which released the single “Sorry (I Ran All The Way Home).” It went to The Top 10 on the Hot 100 chart, Top 20 on the R&B singles chart and on the UK singles chart as well. Although their follow-up single “Oh, What A Fool” positioned on the lower ranks of the Hot 100 that made it as their only other charting single, the Impalas are now nevertheless considered as a one-hit wonder. They split in 1961.
The Impalas’ early years
The Impalas were a R&B/doo-wop vocal group, formed in Brooklyn, New York in 1958. They consisted of lead singer Joe “Speedo” Frazier, Richard Wagner (second tenor), Lenny Renda (baritone), and Tony Carlucci (first tenor). With Frazier the only African-American member, the Impala were one of the very few racially-mixed groups during that era. The inclusion of Speedo Frazier came later, as he was heard by the other three members one day while they were practising at some street corner. The sweet-voiced Frazier offered them to beef up their harmonies which led him to be elevated as the Impala’s lead vocalist.
The quartet first recorded for Hamilton label when they were discovered by Artie Zwirn and Gino Gioassi (of Gino and Gina vocal duo). Zwirn and Gioassi wrote the lyrics of the Impalas’ would-be hit “Sorry (I Ran All the Way Home). In 1959 local disc jockey Alan Freed who heard the group by chance. He helped the Impalas land another record deal, this time to Cub label which was a subsidiary imprint of MGM Records.
“Sorry (I Ran All The Way Home)”
However, another version of the story says that it was Alan Freed and Artie Zwirn who first discovered the quartet. In any case, “Sorry (I Ran All the Way Home)” steadily rose on the charts, finally peaking at #2 on the Billboard Hot 100. It also landed at #14 on the R&B singles chart, and #28 on the UK chart in the summer of 1959. The single sold over a million copies and received a gold disc.
The Imapalas’ later career
However, “Sorry (I Ran All the Way Home)” proved to be the Impalas’ one and only major hit, as their follow-up “Oh What a Fool” didn’t fare as well on the charts (#86 on the Hot 100). “Oh What a Fool” was also written by Zwirn and Gioassi. The song’s failure to chart high was largely blamed on Cub’s complacency. Initially, “Oh What a Fool” did actually well, having sold an advanced 100,000 copies. This made the label confident that they didn’t need to bother any longer in promoting the single. Alas, they turned out to be wrong, and what a costly mistake they made.
The Impalas continued to churn out a few more unsuccessful singles (including a single released on 20th Century label) before calling it quits in 1961. Frazier, after the breakup, launched his own career and later he also revived his old band as a touring nostalgic act. Frazier died in April 2014, aged 70.