Spectropop remembers

ARTHUR CRIER (1935 - 2004)

Bronx Doo-Wop Veteran

Singer-songwriter-producer Arthur Crier, a bass-singing veteran of the doo-wop era who sang on dozens of hit records for artists including Gene Pitney, Curtis Lee, Barry Mann, Ben E. King and the Halos, died at his home in Warsaw, North Carolina on Thursday, July 22 of an apparent heart attack. He was 69.

Arthur Crier was born in Manhattan on April 1, 1935, and grew up listening to the Ink Spots and the Mills Brothers in the early 1940s. A glee club singer by the first grade, he was performing gospel with a local amateur quintet called the Heavenly Five in the Morrisania section of the Bronx by age 15.

In the winter of 1953, Arthur formed the Chimes with Gary Morrison, Gene Redd and John Murray. They recorded two singles, including 'Dearest Darling', for Royal Roost that year. In early 1956, he recorded several songs for Old Town Records with a group called the Hummers, although it would be decades before these would be released. That winter, he and Morrison joined original members Lillian Leach, John Wilson and Harold Johnson in the Mellows, replacing Norman Brown. The Mellows had first recorded for Jay-Dee in the summer of 1954, and had enjoyed an East Coast hit 'Smoke From Your Cigarette', but were without a contract when the new line-up was formed. The Mellows signed to Celeste Records in 1956 and recorded 'Lucky Guy' and the fine ballad 'I'm Yours', but lack of promotion doomed the sides to obscurity. In 1957, they recorded the haunting ballad 'Moon Of Silver', Crier's own personal favorite, for Candlelight Records. Following the break-up of the Mellows, Crier dove headfirst into songwriting, producing and managing. He also formed the Halos and recorded the Coasters-styled novelty 'Nag', which became a national hit in the summer of 1961. Crier's prominent bass voice, singing "oh, baby you're a nag" became the song's hook.

As accomplished background singers, Crier and the members of the Halos were among the most recorded vocal groups of the early 1960s, backing artists including Tommy Hunt, Bobby Vinton, Johnny Nash, Little Eva, Johnny Mathis, Dion, the Coasters, Connie Francis, Brian Hyland and Ben E. King, among others. Crier's resonant bass voice was featured on Barry Mann's 'Who Put The Bomp' and the Phil Spector-produced 'Pretty Little Angel Eyes' by Curtis Lee and Gene Pitney's 'Every Breath I Take'.

His songwriting, managing, and producing credits throughout the 1960s included work with the Four Tops, the Temptations, Thelma Houston, Savannah Smith, Baby Jane and the Rock-A-Byes, the Rosettes, the Darlettes and GQ, which included Arthur's son Keith. From 1968-1972, Arthur lived in Detroit and worked for Motown Records as a songwriter, producer, and background vocalist.

In 1984, Crier reformed the Mellows and began performing again for devotees of 1950s R&B vocal group harmony music. Inspired by the 'We Are The World' project, Arthur undertook a similar effort featuring vocal group artists of the 1950s and 1960s called 'Don't Let Them Starve'. After a National Geographic Explorer cable television documentary on the vocal groups of the Bronx's Morrisania neighborhood, Crier and friends formed the Morrisania Revue, recording the critically acclaimed 'Voices of Doo Wop' CD in 1994.

A champion of the music and fervent believer in its historical preservation, Crier participated in a number of projects that broadened the horizons for vocal group pioneers. With friend and singing partner Eugene Tompkins and Beverly Lindsay-Johnson, he organized the 1999 Great Day in Harlem photo shoot at Shriver's Row in Harlem with several hundred vocal group pioneers. The official photo was unveiled at the Smithsonian Institution in February 2000.

Briefly a touring member of the Chords during the 1950s, Crier joined forces with the group's lone surviving original member, Buddy McRae, for a PBS television appearance in 2002. Crier's rich musical history was chronicled in the 2001 book, Group Harmony: Echoes of the Rhythm and Blues Era. "People love this music," Crier told author Todd Baptista. "It's being ignored, but if you have the right exposure, everybody will love it. Not only collectors, everybody will love it, because the songs are great. I think the music is going to make some noise and find a niche, and be stronger than it is right now."

Crier was instrumental in the production of Doo Wop In DC, a reunion tribute to the pioneers of rhythm and blues, rock & roll and doo-wop music held in Washington last month, and gave his final performance that weekend. "He was so proud of the event, and it really was a wonderful send-off for him," Tompkins said Friday. "I had spoken to him in the morning (on the day he died), and he was in very good spirits, making plans for the all the things he wanted to do next."

Throughout his half-century career as an entertainer, Crier never tired of singing, entertaining, and associating with fans. "The fans are like a drug to me," Crier stated. "The friendship, and the warmth that they show me wherever we work, that's my drug. I don't care how hard my day was. When I walk through the doors at any oldies show, it's like walking into heaven. It makes you feel good. The songs are standards now, and I'm glad, because I want us all to be known and be in the history books where we should be. Let them know that this music did exist."

Survivors include his wife, Dorothy, six children, 19 grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.

Willie C. - http://www.BeachMusicCafe.com
(Photo courtesy of Nikki Gustafson at Harmony Heaven: http://www.harmonytrain.com)

Arthur Crier, singer/songwriter/producer: Born April 1, 1935 - died July 22, 2004