Following in the footsteps of his older brother, the legendary Frankie Lymon, Lewis Lymon also made an attempt at rock & roll stardom. And though his group, the Teenchords, never enjoyed the level of success achieved by Frankie's Teenagers, they still carved out a significant niche for themselves in the ranks of 1950s rock & roll vocal groups.
The Lymon family was a musical one, with the father, Howard Lymon singing in a local gospel group, the Harlemaires. Lewis had previously sung with the Harlemaires Juniors along with brothers Frankie and Howard Jr.. And in 1956, with the success the Teenagers were having, it was not surprising that Lewis wanted to take a stab at it too. The Harlem-based Teenchords even had a similar-sounding name to the pace-setting Teenagers. The group consisted of Lewis Lymon (lead), Ralph Vaughan (first tenor), Rossilio Rocca (second tenor), Lyndon Harold (baritone), and David Little (bass).
The Teenchords didn't even have to leave Harlem to be discovered and recorded. On a visit to the Apollo to hear the Teenagers, Lewis and his group were tipped off that local entrepreneur Bobby Robinson was looking for new talent. Robinson owned a record store in Harlem and was also a record producer who had already started two record labels, Red Robin and Whirlin' Disc. The fledgling Teenchords group went to Robinson's shop and introduced themselves. When Robinson learned that Frankie Lymon's brother, Lewis, was in the group, he was quite receptive to an on-the-spot audition. The Teenchords performed "Who Can Explain," a Teenagers song. Convinced that the young lads could sing, and with the Lymon name to go along with it, Robinson signed the Teenchords on the spot.
For their first recording, Robinson tried to come up with something that would be catchy and appealing to a teenage audience. First he came up with a vocal riff. He had the group keep singing ad nauseum, until finally he came up with suitable lyrics to go with it. And so "I'm So Happy" was born. The flip side, "Lydia," was penned by Lymon and relates to a girl he knew from his neighborhood. The tunes were issued on Robinson's newly formed Fury label and released in late 1956. The record never charted nationally, but had respectable East Coast sales. In a January 1957 trade ad, Robinson boasted the disc had sold 40,000 copies in its first ten days in the New York, Philadelphia, and Boston markets. In fact, four years later, in 1961, a young record producer named Phil Spector would cover the record with a group called the Ducanes. The Teenchords' second record, and perhaps their best two-sider, was released in March of 1957. It paired the up-tempo "Honey, Honey" with a nice ballad, "Please Tell the Angels." The Teenchords maintained an active performance schedule. They returned to the Apollo, but this time as performers rather than fans, and also appeared at the Paramount on an Alan Freed extravaganza. A June 1957 press release announced that the Teenchords would be featured in a new film, "The Hit Record," along with a bevy of other rock & roll acts. When the film made it to the screen, the title had been changed to Jamboree. The group's last Fury release, also in 1957, was "I'm Not Too Young to Fall in Love" backed with "Falling in Love."
Apparently the Teenchords had fallen out of love with Bobby Robinson. They had supposedly been signed to a two-year contract with Robinson, but by September 1957 George Goldner was announcing that he had signed the Teenchords to his End label, although it appears that there was never an official contract signed. The label move came on the heels of a tour the Teenchords had made in the British West Indies with the Bullmoose Jackson Orchestra. Their first End waxing of "Too Young" paired with "Your Last Chance" received excellent ratings from Billboard. You can see the Teenchords perform "Your Last Chance" in the Jamboree motion picture. But, like their Fury recordings, their End releases would also not chart nationally. Their second and last End recording matched "Tell Me Love" with "I Found Out Why," which was a lackluster answer song to the Teenagers' "Why Do Fools Fall in Love." Both sides received very good ratings from Billboard. Spurred by a demand for "oldies" in the early '60s, Goldner reissued "Too Young," this time paired with "I Found Out Why" in 1962.
When two of the Teenchords, Little and Harold, were discovered in a stolen automobile, the fate of the group was all but sealed. Mrs. Lymon would not allow her son to continue singing with the contingent. Some personnel changes were made, but shortly thereafter the group had disbanded. As the group's swan song, Goldner released a single on his Juanita label. "Dance Girl" backed with "Them There Eyes" came out in 1958 with little fanfare. Although the Teenchords were the first to record the Les Cooper-authored "Dance Girl," it had also been given to another group, the Charts. The Charts' version on Everlast beat the Teenchords to market and garnered most of the sales. Les Cooper & the Soul Rockers would have a hit in 1962 with the instrumental "Wiggle Wobble," and his Soul Rockers group included former Charts member Joe Grier on sax.
Following the breakup of the Teenchords, Lewis Lymon went on to record one more record as part of the Townsmen. Issued in 1961 on the PJ label, "I Can't Go On" had Lewis on lead. The flip side, "That's All I'll Ever Need," had Louis Vasquez handling the lead vocal chores. The other members of the Townsmen were Ralph Ramos and McDuffy Swaggart. The record became an instant obscurity. A tour of duty in the armed forces in the early to mid-'60s removed Lewis from the music scene. By the time of his return, America had experienced the British Invasion and the shape of teenage rock & roll had changed dramatically from the heyday of doo wop.
In the early '70s, when another "oldies" revival was sweeping the Northeast, Lewis re-formed the Teenchords and played at a number of venues. In the years since then, he has at times performed with other aggregations of the Teenchords. In 2003, he performed as a member of Frankie Lymon's Teenagers with original members Jimmy Merchant and Herman Santiago. Louie Lymon & the Teenchords' End and Fury recordings are available on a CD issued by Relic Records. ~ Jim Dunn