Originally known as The Four Tones, the Crew Cuts consisted of brothers John and Ray Perkins, Rudi Maugeri, and Pat Barrett. Like The 4 Lads, they met while singing in the St. Michael’s Choir School. In fact, Maugeri and John Perkins were with that band in its infancy, but left to finish school.
In 1952, Maugeri ( who also did the vocal arrangements for the group), the Perkins brothers, and Barrett formed The Canadaires (a name suggested by the audience) when they scored a gig doing a weekly local Toronto radio show. All four members happened to be working at Govt of Ontario jobs, but once they got a bit of exposure, all quit to pursue their musical interests full time. Developing a pop version of a barber shop quartet, they worked the dinner clubs around the GTA and into Niagara Falls, Ont & NY area. In ’53 they competed on Arthur Godfrey’s TV and radio program, “Talent Scouts,” where they came in second to a comedian.
While in New York, they recorded a pair of songs they’d written themselves called “Chip Chip Sing A Song Little Sparrow” for Thrillwood Records, but soon returned to Toronto. There, they landed the opening slot in Gisele MacKenzie’s show at the Casino Theatre.
They were invited to appear on a Cleveland television music program, and in the dead of winter, drove 600 miles to appear on the “Gene Carroll Show,” where they remained for three appearances. It was there they met local disk jockey Bill Randle. On his show he coined the band’s name, the first recognized link between rock & roll and fashion. In addition, Randle arranged for them to audition with Mercury Records, who liked them enough to sign the quartet to a contract.
They changed their name to The Crew Cuts, and their first singles for a major label made little impression, lasting only a few weeks in the top 40 in the fall of ’53. But “All I Wanna Do” and “Crazy ‘Bout You Baby” were written by Maugeri and Barrett themselves, unusual for the period because the majority of the other doo-wop era groups were spoon fed their material by the labels. They too would be put on that diet also, and became specialists in cover recordings of Detroit’s Black R&B groups, one of the very first White vocal groups to reap those benefits. They also had literally hundreds of unrecorded pre-Motown hits pitched to them that were written with them in mind.
Of those groups were The Chords, who’d released a single called “Sh’Boom” which hadn’t yet entered the charts. Mercury execs thought it would be a good fit for The Crew Cuts to cover, and would be a hit while giving an emerging Black R&B sound a wider audience. A quick trip to the studios and by May 1953 their own version of the song was released. While the original version eventually spent a blink of an eye at #2 in the US, The Crew Cuts’ version eventually topped both the American and Canadian charts, where it remained for nine weeks Stateside and 10 at home. In the process it became the second biggest selling single of ’54, after Kitty Allen’s “Little Things Mean A Lot.” Their version of that song is argued by many as the first true rock and roll song. Despite its big-band influence and undertones, it’s rhythmic harmonies predate Bill Haley’s “Rock Around The Clock” – our southern friends’ pic for that dubious honour.
They were quickly one of the top attractions when they were added to the rosters on the endless travelling rock & roll tours throughout the US and Canada. In between long bus rides they found time to hit the studios when possible, and a number of hits followed, mostly covers or hand picks by the label.
“Oop Shoop,” originally done by Shirley Gunter, was in the top 20 in Canada for two months later that year, and went to #13 on the American chart. Next up was “Earth Angel” (originally recorded but not charted by The Penguins), which peaked at #2 on the US charts while staying in the top 20 for 20 weeks, topped the Canadian chart for six weeks, peaked at #4 in England, and was a top 10 in Australia. The song was another pop/R&B crossover hit, and management shipped them off for their first international tour, where they sold out a number of the top venues overseas.
By ’55 Mercury was shopping out the singles to independent distributors, to varying degrees of success, including “Chop Chop Boom,” “Ko Ko Mo (I Love You So)” with The David Carroll Orchestra, “Dance Mr. Snowman Dance,” “The Whippenpoof Song,” and covers like “Don’t Be Angry” (originally by Nappy Brown), “A Story Untold” (The Nutmegs) and “Gum Drop” (Otis Williams and his Charms). The latter made the top 10 on both sides of the 49th.
While they had their run at the charts, they, (along with other White vocal groups) were also paving the way for future sanitizers of the rhythms and grooves coming from the Black music industry, like Pat Boone and The McGuire Sisters. In fact, during this period, the White covers frequently outsold the Black originals. But as the true rock & roll explosion had happened, The Crew Cuts didn’t fizzle. Also, the gradual breakdown of radio segregation in general also contributed to a lesser acceptance of cover versions.
Their last charted single was “Young Love” in January 1957 (an odd choice since Sonny James had already taken it to #1 and Tab Hunter rode it to #3 with a much longer stay). Still, their version cracked the top 20 in Canada and the US, and more touring throughout North America ensued. Five more singles were released under Mercury’s banner, including “Suzie Q” (considered by some critics as one of the worst of the many many covers of the song ever), “Whatever, Whenever, Whoever,” “I Sit In The Window,” “I Like It Like That,” and “Be My Only Love.” Following mediocre at best results from any of them, the label put out one more album, MUSIC A LA CARTE later that year. And when that too failed to make a ripple in the tide of R&R, they were tossed overboard from the good ship Mercury.
They moved to RCA Records in ’58, who leased out a string of poor selling singles to various subsidiaries (Warwick, Whale, Vee-Jay, ABC, Chess to name a few) over the next few years. They tried shaking the covers stigma and released three original singles – “Hey!,” “Over The Mountain” and “Legend of Gunga Din.”
But starting with SURPRISE PACKAGE in ’59, they released ten more albums up until 1962, and there were signs of the foursome futily trying to expand their sound, but stay within the defined limits of their core essence. They tried covering everything from The 4 Lads’ ” Moments To Remember,” the New Year’s classic “Auld Lang Syne,” and the jazz standard “When The Saints Go Marching In,” to an all-original grassroots folk album. One brilliant marketing move, saw one record in 1960 contain half of the same record less than a year earlier on side one. And on side two was… tips on improving your 9 and 12-pin games from the clean cut swooners, trying to capitalize on what was apparently a very popular sport at one time, because for musicians, nothing says trying to stay hip like a tub of hair grease, pants that ride above your ankles and a good game of bowling.
They officially called it quits in 1964, and they all scattered throughout the US over the following years. They reunited in Nashville in 1977 for a one-off performance, then a few odd dates here and there over the next few years. In 1980, Pickadilly Records acquired the rights to a bunch of later material from the band that hadn’t been released, resulting in the album, THE WONDERFUL HAPPY CRAZY INNOCENT WORLD. This in turn sparked an onslaught of a handful of their songs making their rounds on compilation albums, which continues today.
Along with The Diamonds and The 4 Lads, they were inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame in 1984 in recognition for their contributions to the Canadian doo-wop era and their influence shaping Canadian pop music. The three groups were also inducted into the Vocal Groups Hall of Fame. During the taping in Sharon, PA, all three groups’ performances (plus many others) were used as part of a PBS Television’s fundraising drive – “Magic Moments – The Best of ’50s Pop,” which is still shown regularly on the network and available on DVD. After the original disbanding, Maugeri became a radio DJ in Los Angeles and New York and did other production projects on the side. In the ’90s, he then opened a pair of wellness centres in Hollywood and Las Vegas. He died in his Las Vegas home of pancreatic cancer on May 7, 2004.