Vintage Gems of Marmoset, the Five Du-Tones


Mid-century American vocal group, the Five Du-Tones contributed to the evolving r&b decade of the 1950s and early 1960s. The group was comprised of five members, Willie Guest, Robert Hopkins, LeRoy Joyce, Oscar Watson, and James West — all of whom had met and assembled musically together at Patrick Henry High School in Missouri.

At the heart of soul vocal groups’ rising popularity, the Five Du-Tones made a name for themselves upon the release of their hit “Shake a Tail Feather,” which aired frequently on r&b radio stations across the country. The hit notably captures the essence of a time period where music was evolving quickly from the previous decade of late ‘40s jump blues; instead listeners could identify how music was shifting away from improvisation with a cleaner, clearer focus on a song’s composition.

The emergence of r&b being rooted in African American communities, the confident, playful and bouncy tempo of jazz blended into the rise of such r&b groups and later, even shaping the origins of rock & roll. In songs like “Shake a Tail Feather” and “Enjoy Yourself” the instrumentation while isn’t lavish, delivers big with lead and backup vocals. Such examples show the distinct shift in the preceding jazz and blues culture that dominated the 1940s, it’s a jump toward something that feels celebratory, even triumphant.

The soulful tenacity behind such songs sets a scene of a sweaty dancehall with participants moving about to match the music’s contagious rhythms. While “Shake a Tail Feather” made it to the US Billboard r&b chart, it peaked at the #28 ranking while also climbing to the #51 position on the Billboard Hot 100 list. The success of the retro hit prompted the Five Du-Tones to continue creating work that merges complimentary yet varying qualities of soul music and the doo-wop trend.

In 1963, the group released “The Chicken Astronaut,” a song that nods at the decade’s beginning milestones in space exploration, playing into the sub-genre of “space music.”

“You can keep those spaceships and rockets

I'll get around in an automobile

I'm an earth man

I don't wanna be no astronaut”

The song paints a picture of a reluctant space traveler who defiantly wishes to stay within the safety of earth’s atmosphere. Telling of the group’s awareness on the surrounding political climate, the song feels like a playful, artful jab at America’s unfolding political change in the early 1960s.

With the Five Du-Tones immersed in a routine of heavy touring and performing, the exhaustion would eventually catch up to band member, James West, who passed away from heart failure at the young age of 26. The group would continue producing music, including the 7” single  “The Gouster” in 1964 — the terms refers to an African-American youth subculture that had emerged from Chicago’s South Side around the time.

Similar to how The Five Du-Tones created content to reflect the dramatic changes behind the U.S. space program, the group continued bringing to life cultural references that inspired them. These kind of objectives proved the group’s strive in creating music that wasn’t merely designed to generate a new dance craze but instead to reflect the pulse of America in the 20th century.

In 1967, The Five Du-Tones disbanded, several group members progressing on to partake in other doo-wop groups like Billy Richard’s Coasters and The Robins. The group’s hit, “Shake a Tail Feather,” would go onto being covered by prestigious artists such as Ray Charges.

The Five Du-Tones’ sonography listed below is available for licensing on Marmoset’s roster. Check out these vintage gems:

Posted on November 20, 2018 and filed under Artist Spotlights, Spotlight: Artists, Music, Marmoset.