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Retro Redux: Tennessee Ernie And The Caravelles

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As a young teenager with eclectic music tastes, one of my favorite records was Tennessee Ernie Ford's tribute to coal miners, "Sixteen Tons." (Video below.) Of course, I wasn't the only one who found a lot to like about that song — after all, it rocketed to the top of both country and pop charts — but the "B" side of the record also provided an interesting story.

I had that record and played it constantly, but mostly the "A" side. Still, I must have listened to the reverse side fairly often because Ol' Ern's version of "You Don't Have To Be A Baby To Cry" still sounds pretty familiar to me. ernAnd even though the song only got into the Top 100 for him, it did provide the inspiration for a later version that almost reached the top of the charts.

In the early 1960s, English co-workers Lois Wilkinson and Andrea Simpson teamed up and began to entertain their office mates at parties. Their lilting vocal style was reminiscent of singing sisters Prudence and Patience (the subjects of an earlier piece), but when they decided to cut a demo record they chose Ford's "B" side song.

Calling themselves the Caravelles (a name they borrowed from an airplane), the girls caught the attention of a record company, who took them straight to the studio for a higher-quality recording. Their 1963 platter of "You Don't Have To Be A Baby To Cry" steadily climbed the British charts and soon crossed the Atlantic to also hit it big in the U.S.

caraOver the next few years, the Caravelles continued to record but didn't have a lot of success — or at least not the kind they'd enjoyed with their one big song. They changed styles a few times through the years and even got around to covering Prudence and Patience's songs, but nothing hit the charts in a big way and they eventually went their separate ways.

Lois Wilkinson did perform for a while as as solo under the name Lois Lane, but didn't have — er — super results. Andrea Simpson kept the Caravelles name alive for a while with other partners, but eventually both founders of the original duo became part-time entertainers.

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  • Steven Burstein

    Lois Wilkinson has had a decent career as a professional singer in Jazz clubs,, even if it wasn’t “Super”.