Eric Darling (1933-2008) was a folk musician in his teens when he haunted the Greenwich Village clubs of New York City. By the age of 18 he had become adept on both the guitar and banjo. During his early 20s he formed the Tune Tellers and then the folk trio The Tarriers, who placed two singles on the Billboard Hot 100. His life changed during 1958 when Pete Seeger left The Weavers and he was picked to replace him. He spent over four years as a member of the legendary folk group before going solo.
This brings us to then-79-year-old Gus Cannon. During 1930 he had written a blues song called “Walk Right In” and recorded it with his backing band, the Jugstompers. It came to the attention of Darling, but he wanted to record it with a trio. He recruited guitarist Bill Svanoe and big band jazz Singer Lynne Taylor, who had performed with Benny Goodman and Tommy Dorsey. And so the Rooftop Singers were born.
His attraction to “Walk Right In” evolved into the highlight of his career. He and Svanoe both played 12-string guitars on the track and the trio’s harmonies were impeccable as they moved the old blues tune over to an up-tempo folk classic.
The single sold over one million copies and on January 26, 1963 reached the number one position on the Billboard Hot 100 where it remained for two weeks. It also topped the Easy Listening (now Adult Contemporary) chart for five weeks. It even charted on the Country chart, which was a good fit, and on the R&B chart, which was a real stretch.
The Rooftop Singers remained together until 1967 with middling success. While they had two more singles reach the Hot 100, Darling always maintained that the group was assembled for one specific song and nothing else they released really measured up to “Walk Right In.” Darling and Svanoe continued to perform as a duo into the early 1970s but ultimately went their separate ways.
The Rooftop Singers may not have changed the course of American music but 50 years ago this week they topped the United States music world.