The Cryan' Shames actually were a big deal in Chicago in the mid- and late '60s, when a bunch of their singles hit the local Top Ten; some of them were small national hits as well. The biggest of these was "Sugar and Spice," a cover of a Searchers song that made the Top 50 in 1966 and was later featured in Lenny Kaye's renowned Nuggets anthology of '60s garage bands. In their original incarnation, the Shames leaned toward the pop end of garage.
Borrowing heavily from the Beatles, the Byrds, and the Yardbirds, guitarist James Fairs wrote a clutch of energetic guitar pop/rockers with sparkling harmonies. After 1966, the group pursued an increasingly mainstream pop direction featuring saccharine arrangements and material. In this respect they uncannily mirrored the devolution of local rivals the New Colony Six, who also shifted from tough pop/rock to MOR in their bid for national success. But the Shames' appeal endures, partly through the efforts of reissue/archival labels such as Sundazed Records, which have kept their music available into the 21st century, and some of the original members, who have kept the band alive as a performing outfit from the 1980s onward.
They actually started out in Hinsdale, IL, as the Prowlers, a trio formed by Gerry Stone (rhythm guitar), Tom "Toad" Doody (vocals), and Dave Purple (bass, keyboards), who added guitarist James Fairs and drummer Dennis Conroy, both late of a local band from Downers Grove called the Roosters. The quintet became the Travelers, specializing in R&B and rock & roll covers, though Fairs was starting to write originals as far back as 1964. They became a sextet with the addition of Jim Pilster, a one-handed tambourine player whose artificial extremity got him dubbed "J.C. Hooke."
Included in their ranks were four singers who were capable of handling lead vocals as well as harmonies, and as they already had their rock & roll and R&B sound down, they emerged as a heavyweight outfit on the local band scene, equally adept at covering the Beatles, the Byrds, or the Rolling Stones, among others. Additionally, as they discovered, Pilster's presence lent them some novelty/publicity value as "the guys with the hook," an attribute that would also benefit the Barbarians around the same time, who sported a member with a replacement appendage. According to biographer Clark Besch, they were making upwards of $180 a gig (albeit split six ways) in 1966, a good fee for a group that had never recorded. They also attracted the attention of manager Bob Monaco, who was associated with the local Destination Records label, and hoped to rectify that gap in their biography in short order.
Their new name was imposed upon them when they were notified that another band had a prior claim on "the Travelers" -- as they told Besch, the situation was described by one of the affected parties as "a cryin' shame," and that became their new name. The group and Monaco intended to make their recording debut with George Harrison's "If I Needed Someone" -- a new Beatles song not yet available in the U.S. -- but were thwarted, as the Beatles' publisher wouldn't allow the release. Instead, they grabbed up another, older British Invasion-spawned original, "Sugar and Spice," written by producer/composer Tony Hatch (under the pseudonym "Fred Nightingale") for his client group the Searchers. The number had been in the repertory of another local band, the Riddles, and they got their version out through MG Productions on a tiny local label.
The resulting single, which included a proto-psychedelic Fairs original called "Ben Franklin's Almanac," became a Top Five hit locally in Chicago, and attracted the attention of Columbia Records, which bought up their contract and put the record out nationally. It easily made the Top 50 and Columbia wanted more -- the band duly obliged with "I Wanna Meet You," another Fairs original, which only made the Top Ten locally and number 65 nationally. Columbia was still interested in an album, however, and the group delivered the 12-song Sugar & Spice long-player. It was a fairly good record of its kind, mixing covers and Fairs' originals and, as it was done on a tight budget -- basically Columbia accepted the record as delivered, according to Pilster in an essay by Besch -- it also included all four single sides, plus their proposed debut of "If I Needed Someone." Although the album barely cracked the Top 200 nationally, the single and the long-player between them helped raise the band's fees more than fivefold in just a matter of weeks.
by Bruce Eder
1. Sugar And Spice (Fred Nightingale) - 2:27
2. We Could Be Happy (Jim Fairs) - 2:34
3. Heat Wave (Lamont Dozier, Brian Holland, Eddie Holland) - 2:07
4. We'll Meet Again (Hughie Charles, Ross Parker) - 2:05
5. Ben Franklin's Almanac (Jim Fairs) - 1:57
6. She Don't Care About Time (G. Clark) - 2:23
7. Hey Joe (Where You Gonna Go) (B. Roberts) - 2:40
8. If I Needed Someone (George Harrison) - 2:17
9. July (Jim Fairs) - 1:34
10.I Wanna Meet You (Jim Fairs) - 2:05
11.We Gotta Get Out Of This Place (Barry Mann, Cynthia Weil) - 3:38
12.You're Gonna Lose That Girl (J. Lennon, P. McCartney) - 2:13
13.Mr. Unreliable (Single Version) (L. Kerley) - 2:23
14.Georgia (Jim Fairs) - 2:15
15.It Don't Matter To Me (D. Gates) - 2:54
16.Bits And Pieces (Version One) (L. Kerley) - 2:29
17.The Road (L. Kerley) - 2:18
The Cryan' Shames
*Tom Doody - Vocals
*Jim Pilster - Tambourine
*Dennis Conroy - Drums
*Jerry Stone - Guitar
*Jim Fairs - Guitar
*Dave Purple - Bass, Organ, Harpiscord