Remembering Dee Clark

One of the realities of the music world is that some stars are less remembered than others, even when their level of talent is head and shoulders over that of many of the bigger names. A good example might be Dee Clark, who was one of the best R&B singers of the Fifties and Sixties but is seldom mentioned today.

Delectus ‘Dee’ Clark was born in Arkansas but grew up on Chicago’s West side, musically inspired by his mother, gospel singer Delecta Clark. While still in his early teens he formed a threesome called the Hambone Kids with buddies Ronnie Strong and Sammy McGrier. The guys specialized in — surprise — hambonin’, a sort of masochistic style of performing that involves singing while accompanying yourself with lots of rhythmic slaps and pats to the body.

It wasn’t long before the guys became a popular area draw, and in 1952 they even cut a record of “Hambone,” backed by the Red Saunders band, but Clark soon moved on. For a few years he bounced around, but spent most of his time singing with the Goldentones, later renamed the Kool Gents. The group sold a few records and by 1957 Clark was ready to try for a solo career, but he struggled to find his own identify. For a while he emulated other stars, but it turned out well because when Little Richard left the spotlight behind to enroll in bible college, Clark took over the balance of his tour.

As his fame grew, Dee Clark also found more success in the recording studio with his first solo hit, “Nobody But You.” Following close behind was an even bigger seller, another up-tempo love song called “Just Keep It Up” (video below). But Clark also released a record that was a little bit of a throwback to his ‘hambone’ days, with a touch of Bo Diddley thrown in; an infectious tune called “(Hey) Little Girl.”

As the decade of the Sixties began, Clark was well-established and continuing to spin out successful records like “How About That,” but his biggest was still to come. Inspired by a rain-soaked trip to New York, his stunning recording of “Raindrops” (clip) shot up the charts and became Clark’s all-time biggest hit.

It was also to be the high point of his career, and as the Sixties wound down so did the success of Dee Clark. Subsequent records didn’t recapture the magic, and the frustrated singer even tried changing record companies but sales steadily fell. As the years passed he sold a few records from time to time and continued to follow a relentless tour schedule, appearing wherever he could find a spot, but eventually his health deteriorated. Dee Clark died in 1990 — just 52 years old.

8 thoughts on “Remembering Dee Clark

  1. Always a fan of Dee Clark but especially of the song, “Hey Little Girl”. Like it from the first moment I heard it. But in hind sight, I think one of the reasons I liked it so much was because of another song that remains an all-time favorite of mine and that is “Willie and the Hand Jive” by the Johnny Otis Show which was released about a year or so earlier. Although “Hey Little Girl” is somewhat faster, the rhythms used in the songs are eerily similar. 🙂

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  2. I think you’re right, Alan. I remember that song, and I guess ‘hamboning’ and ‘hand jive’ have a lot of similarities. Wasn’t there also a female singer who was known for the hand jive?

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  3. Another great and forgotten talent. I remember “Hey Little Girl” and of course Raindrops” but I never put two and two together and realized they were by the same guy. Too young to care at the time…

    He had great pipes and perhaps with different management could have become Johnny Mathis….

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  4. Don’t persoanlly recall any female recordings of the song. I know they performed the ‘hand jive’ in “Grease” but the song performed for that number was not the one in discussion.

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