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Columns > Mike Gruenberg - In My Life

Published: 2003/03/25
by Mike Gruenberg

Cryan’ Shames

You’ve been driving in your car for many hours. The time spent behind the wheel has you in a restless frame of mind. Inevitably, you find yourself on the New Jersey Turnpike. Outside of the New York State Thruway, the New Jersey Turnpike qualifies as one of the most boring roads in America. Although you really want to continue driving to your destination, you have to get off the turnpike and get a cup of coffee and a bite to eat at one of the rest stops because if you don’t, you will probably fall asleep at the wheel.
It’s now 1:00 AM and you pull into the next available rest stop. Your hope is that there will be some choices of decent food and fresh brewed coffee so that you will be sustained for the remainder of your journey. Your worst fears are soon realized when you notice that all the food possibilities at the rest stop are reduced to one because all the other food services are closed except for Roy Rogers. Under the glare of heat lamps, you can choose carefully wrapped chicken, roast beef, fish or burgers that most likely were prepared hours prior to your arrival. Your fears are even more fully realized when you reach for the fries and find them to be hot and soggy. You then understand that the reason they are so hot and soggy is because they too, have spent an inordinate amount of time waiting for unsuspecting customers who may not notice that the heat lamp is not improving the quality of the fries.
Undaunted you pay for the least offensive food offering, have the attendant pour you some coffee and head for ‘Roy’s Fixins’ Bar’ where time has not treated the lettuce nor the tomatoes kindly. Fortunately, there are a few tomatoes and leaves of lettuce that somehow have escaped the ravages of time and you’re able to select a few good representative samples of each. Sitting down by yourself, you gaze upon the other patrons of the establishment and it is clear to you that you have stumbled into a situation where nobody in the room bears any resemblance to people that can make you comfortable. But, you are tired and hungry. Satisfying the need to replenish your strength is all that matters. As you take your first bite of your sandwich, ‘Hungry Heart’ by Bruce Springsteen is played as background music. You smile and say to yourself ‘that fits!’ That song is a perfect theme to the whole experience. You could not have picked a better tune to describe your thoughts.
In the 1960’s, the city of Chicago gave us some great rock groups. We all know the many hits of the group called Chicago, but I remember other Chicago based groups such as American Breed, Buckinghams, Shadows of Knight and Cryan’ Shames. All of these groups burst upon the rock scene and had a fair amount of success. However, the Cryan’ Shames brush with fame is a true example of unsuccessfully trying to fit in.

The Cryan’ Shames first hit was a remake of the Searchers’ 1964 hit ‘Sugar and Spice.’ They recorded the song for Destination Records in 1966. Columbia Records was so impressed with the fact that Destination was able to sell 400,000 copies of the song in a very short period of time that they signed the group to their label. Once again, the larger one swallowed up the small label.
Naturally, Columbia was interested in a strong follow-up to ‘Sugar and Spice.’ In 1967, the group was enjoying wide popularity in Chicago. Their live shows were always sold out. They released their first single for Columbia. It was called ‘It Could Be We’re In Love.’ The tune was praised by critics and as a result, the major radio stations played this and as many Cryan’ Shames tunes as possible. Although the tune reached the Top 10 in the mid-west, it did not gain national attention. It was an upbeat tune with great vocal harmonies. Listening to it today, it is a great example of 60’s light, good-time music.
By the end of 1967, they released their first album for Columbia called ‘A Scratch In The Sky.’ The album showcased their musical and harmonic talents. It was also a far better produced album than their first album on Destination. Clearly, the group and the producers were given a generous amount of freedom and studio time to produce the album. This encouraged the group to experiment with various musical instruments on this album. Listening to the album, you are impressed with the many different styles of music that is presented. For example, they do a great job on the Carole King tune, ‘Up On The Roof.’ The tune was very popular in Chicago, but failed to garner national attention. ‘Sunshine Palm’ was a great rockin’ tune with powerful guitar work and their signature tight vocal harmonies. This was a clear departure from their earlier bubble gum sound. I particularly like ‘Cobblestone Road’ which is a Beatles style of song. Once again, the music and harmonies are flawless. This tune fades into the next tune ‘Dennis Dupree From Danville’ which is also a great rock tune.
Critics had a great deal of trouble categorizing the group. Their tunes ran the gamut from bubble gum to hard rock to jazz. As you listened to ‘A Scratch In The Sky’ and their follow-up album, ‘Synthesis’ you would inevitably ask yourself, ‘where do these guys fit?’ Are they light rock, hard rock, Beach Boys sound alike, jazz…? There are representative tunes of all genres in these two albums. What’s even more frustrating is that they do all these types of music in a very proficient manner. Furthermore, most of the tunes sound great today 35 years after they were recorded. It seems to me that the group would have been better served to find a particular style that they could have said to themselves, ‘that fits!’
Sundazed Records ( )has recently released on CD the ‘Sugar and Spice’ ‘Scratch In The Sky’ and ‘Synthesis’ albums. The packaging created by Sundazed has excellent pictures and liner notes. I recommend purchasing these albums since they are a true representation of a 60’s group that produced great music and should have gained more national notoriety. At the very least, you will enjoy the music. (

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