The Vibrations were an R&B vocal group from Los Angeles with a flair for novelty songs that became famous during the early 1960s. They are best known for "The Watusi" (1961), an upbeat early rocker about a then-popular dance craze, and "My Girl Sloopy" (1964), the original R&B version of the 1965 garage rock smash by The McCoys known under a different title ("Hang On Sloopy").
Formed in 1955 while all the members were still in high school and first known as The Jayhawks, this group began as a quartet made up of Carver Bunkum (bass), Carlton ("Carl") Fisher (tenor), baritone Dave Govan (d. 2009), and lead singer/tenor James Johnson (deceased). As The Jayhawks, they had a Top 20 hit in 1956 with "Stranded In The Jungle," a novelty doo-wop song co-written by Johnson and Ernestine Smith that also became a hit that same year for The Cadets and The Gadabouts. By 1960, after some personnel changes, The Jayhawks had evolved into The Vibrations, a quintet with a classic lineup consisting of Johnson, Fisher, Govan, and two newer members, Don Bradley (bass) and tenor Richard ("Ricky") Owens (April 24, 1939 - December 6, 1996) who, at times, served as lead singer.
The Vibrations debuted in 1960 on the Pop/Rock charts with the haunting romantic ballad, "So Blue." Their fame took off the following year with "The Watusi" (1961), a Top 40 Pop/Rock and Top 20 R&B hit not to be confused with "The Wah Watusi," the similarly-titled 1962 smash by The Orlons. At around the same time, The Vibrations had a Top 20 hit as The Marathons with the novelty song, "Peanut Butter," and became one of very few acts in pop music history to have had three songs make the Top 40 or better with each hit being under a different group name. The Vibrations had another Top 40 hit in 1964 with "My Girl Sloopy," a rawer, grittier version of The McCoys' "Hang On Sloopy" with a Latin beat, bongos, a brass section, and whooping audience noises in the background. The group's many hits, which continued through 1970, also included a soulful rendition of the pop standard, "Misty" (1965), "Keep On Keeping On" (1965), and "Love In Them There Hills" (1968). The Vibrations also had a minor hit in 1961 with an updated version of "Stranded In The Jungle."
The Vibrations briefly disbanded in 1971, at which time, Ricky Owens joined The Temptations, serving as a replacement for Eddie Kendricks. After Owens' return, The Vibrations continued touring and performing in nightclubs through 1976 before their final split.
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- Marv Goldberg gives a detailed account of the history of The Jayhawks/Vibrations based on an interview with Vibrations member Carl Fisher (ca. 2010).
- Find A Grave remembers Richard Owens of The Vibrations.
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- The Watusi 1961
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