Spotlight On: Philly's Own THE ORIGINAL ORLONS
Arguably the music of the 50's-60 is some of THE most popular music of all times and the 'original' Orlons were/are among the talented crooners and groups we danced to, fell in love to and treasure down to this day. Jukebox music was filled with tunes from numerous artists from around the country. We may not remember all of the artists but we can never forget the songs. "Going to the Chapel of Love" (The Dixie Cups), "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" (Jay Siegel & The Tokens), "You Belong To Me" (The Duprees) "Wonderful Wonderful" (The Tymes), and many more.
I am thrilled to chat with Philly's own "Original Orlon" Mr. Stephen Caldwell. The group was originally called 'Little Audrey and the Teenettes' in the early 50's and included sisters, Audrey, Jean and Shirley Brickley along with Rosetta Hightower and Marlene Davis. Shirley, Rosetta and Marlena continued singing at Overbrook High School and were heard by student Stephen Caldwell who sang with a local unrecorded group called 'The Romeos'. Stephen brought his baritone lead to the girls' attention and soon turned the unnamed trio into a quartet. They subsequently followed in the footsteps of their Overbrook rivals 'The Cashmeres' (who later became 'The Dovells'), by calling themselves 'The Orlons'.
Pati Buehler: Stephen, I found it comical how the Orlons found their name. Please share that story.
Stephen Caldwell: Pati, if you heard that we were looking very hard to find a name that would fit our group mix (Three young Ladies and one young Man) we were rehearsing one winter night, and the tag in my black sweater kept tickling my neck, SO i pulled it off, and there was the word ORLON, a Dupont product, I said that we had to look no more. Everyone agreed and the rest is history.
They practiced at Shirley's house on songs like "Mama Said" ('The Shirelles') and "Stormy Weather" ('The Spaniels'). They were also influenced by acts like 'The Chantels', 'Ray Charles' and 'The Moonglows'. In the fall of 1961, thanks to an introduction made on their behalf by Len Barry, of 'The Dovells', "The Orlons" auditioned for Kal Mann of Cameo Records and were signed almost immediately. Mann/Appell started writing songs for the group. Their first single was "I'll Be True" lead by Marlena, was described as 'a sincere piping by the young sounding female on a wistful rock-a-ballad about a gal's message to her GI sweetheart. Wax has a chance. Ditto for their early 1962 follow-up "Happy Birthday Mr. 21".
Pati: Stephen, so much has changed in the music industry since the 50's-60's. What are some of the changes that you and your group needed to keep up with?
Stephen: Pati; As far as The Orlons are and have been concerned about , is doing what was done in the 50's and 60's. Those groups that made changes left a lot of their fans that made them popular out in the cold. I can say that, because, we still get standing ovations at the end of our performances. That tells me that there has been no need for The Orlons to change.
After backing Dee Dee Sharp (another Cameo artist) on the dance tune "Mashed Potato Time" (#3 POP, #1 R&B), 'The Orlons' moved in their own dance tune "Wah Watusi". On May 26th Billboard cited it as "a solid item for teen buyers. The group sells the rhythmic swinger with enthusiasm and drive, while the combo provides effective backing. Watch it!" In July it danced to number two, with only Bobby Vinton's "Roses are Red" above it. It was at this time that Cameo decided to feature Rosetta (alto), with Shirley (alto), Marlena (soprano) and Stephen (baritone) supporting her.
Don't Hang Up" climbed the charts in the fall and winter of 1962 to number four POP, number three R&B and number 39 in the United Kingdom. Their first major performances were in New York's Apollo Theater with 'The Crystals', 'Bob B Soxx and the Blue Jeans', 'Chuck Jackson' (whom the Orlons backed on stage), Tommy Hunt (of 'The Flamingos'), and Gene Chandler. The quartet kept up their chart barrage into 1963 with "South Street" (#3POP, #4R&B), "Not Me", (#12 POP, #8R&B), and "Crossfire" (#19POP, #25R&B). By 1964 their style was being swept aside by the British invasion.
Still, with nine charted records and three top five hits, the group was able to work right into the 70's until Rosetta decided to move to England. Shirley died that same year. Stephen and Marlena kept the group alive until Marlena passed in 1993. Also in memoriam are Patricia Miller, Audrey Brickley and Alberta Crump.
Pati: Stephen, you've been performing for over 50 years now. That's incredible! Dare I ask, what you think of today's music and who do you admire these days for their outstanding musical achievements?
Stephen: Pati, I say this with an open mind. Most of what is done in this business today is called ENTERTAINMENT. What we recorded and peformed was MUSIC, so that is how I list today's performers. This answer might sound a little personal, but I most admire, all of the ladies that have performed in and with me since 1957 as an Orlon.
The Orlons have employed many ladies to keep the sound and the group alive. Today's group is Jean Brickley- Maddox, Coco Muhammad, Cynthia Powell and of course Mr. Original Orlons himself, Stephen J. Caldwell.
Pati: Clearly your generation of music set the standard for many. Where do you see groups like The Orlons in today's music industry?
Stephen: Pati, the few groups that are still performing today from my generation, are always going to compete for work in today's industry. Why? because we still have fans, even with most of us having a (7) in front of our birth years. But most of all, we love them....OUR FANS....
We can truly admire artists that are still performing and enjoying their craft after 50 years! I am wishing you and the Orlons many more years of creating and performing "music".
For more information about The Orlons please visit their website at www.theorlons.org
Photos & Video: Courtesy of The Orlons