Bloop Hits: Rich Allen and the Ebonistics
Next Monday, we’ll find out which (if any) of the ten men on the latest Golden Era Committee ballot will be inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2015. The nominees — Dick Allen, Ken Boyer, Gil Hodges, Bob Howsam, Jim Kaat, Minnie Minoso, Tony Oliva, Billy Pierce, Luis Tiant and Maury Wills — all have staunch supporters and impressive résumés. But if making a great doo-wop record could bolster your case for Cooperstown enshrinement, Dick Allen would have been inducted long ago.
That’s right: While “The Wampum Walloper” — who was the National League’s Rookie of the Year in 1964, and the American League’s MVP in 1972 — is best-known for his prodigious fence-clearing blasts and his often-fractious relationship with the press, Allen was also a genuinely talented singer. Unfortunately, the only remaining evidence we have of his abilities on the mic is “Echo’s of November,” the 1968 single he cut as Rich Allen with the Ebonistics, his fabulously named vocal group, for Philadelphia’s Groovey Grooves label.
Given the tumultuousness of the era, Allen’s prickly reputation and his “bad dude” swagger — John Iacono’s 1972 photo of him juggling baseballs while smoking a cigarette might be the funkiest image ever to adorn the cover of Sports Illustrated — one might expect his lone recording foray to have been a funky declaration of individualism, à la James Brown’s “Say It Loud — I’m Black and I’m Proud,” which was also released in riot-torn 1968.
But as Allen’s co-author Tim Whitaker mentions in their 1989 book, Crash: The Life and Times of Dick Allen, the slugger was a doo-wop aficionado, well-schooled in the finer points of street-corner harmony. “Back in his playing days,” Whitaker writes, “he would often harmonize before a game in the clubhouse with the grounds crew to get loose.” It makes perfect sense, then, that Allen’s lone single would be an achingly lovely doo-wop ballad, a dreamy throwback to the days over a decade earlier when vocal groups like The Penguins, the Platters, and the Harptones ruled the charts, and a young man in Wampum, PA kept his ear glued to the late-night radio transmissions coming out of Philly.
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