Thursday, November 29, 2012


"Don't quit your day job," is a cynical remark you often hear in show business.

For Earl Carroll (November 2, 1937 – November 25, 2012) let's adapt a Bob Dylan line instead: "20 years of show biz and they put you on the mop shift."

Yes, the lead singer who was in two of the most popular doo-wop groups of all time, became a janitor in the 1980's, working in a public school (P.S. 87).

Ironically, Carroll began making music in another Manhattan public school; P.S. 139. There he entertained classmates as a member of The Carnations in 1953. They began recording the next year, but since there was already a group by that name, Earl and his friends became The Cadillacs. "Gloria" was their song to gain attention.

They were rehearsing for a show when disk jockey Alan Freed came by to watch. He urged their manager to record a new tune called "Speedoo" and issue it as a single. It became their biggest hit, and Earl's signature tune. That was the power of radio and disc jockeys. Today bands throw songs on YouTube free, and get no response beyond a friend or relative saying "Don't quit your day job."

"Well, they often call me Speedo but my real name is Mr. Earl…"

Back then, the underlying theme of black doo-wop was the search for identity. Even in the most frivolous settings, the singer and listener shared this need for respect. The song actually came from Carroll reminding someone that "Speedoo"was just a nickname. Likewise the self-proclaimed "Duke of Earl" re-invented himself as a somebody "no one can stop." The Drifters described their poverty but held onto the dream of being "On Broadway." The Coasters moaned the comic refrain, "What About Us?"

And so Earl Carroll rose above his sarcastic nickname: "I always liked to take my time, do things at my own pace," Carroll explained. "The other guys would be telling me, Come on, hurry up Speedy."

The Cadillacs changed personnel before they became popular, and even more conflicts with group members after. Their manager added to the confusion by sending out several versions of the band, with an original member fronting a group of hired hands. In one city Earl Carroll and the Cadillacs" might play, while in another "Jesse Powell and The Caddys" and in another, "The Cadillacs," with J.R. (Jimmy) Bailey. Finally in 1959 Bailey emerged as the official lead vocalist.

The Cadillacs' best years were behind them. Earl Carroll speeded along as a member of The Coasters, who became the greatest at rockin' novelty songs. When the hits stopped, the oldies circuit was a decent alternative, especially for a group with a dozen recognizable hits, not just two. But after twenty years of Coasting, the oldies concert market was not so viable, and Earl started his day job in 1982.

Earl was known at P.S. 87….for keeping the place clean. A local kiddie-book author wrote a book about him called "That's Our Custodian." He became a minor celebrity. "You really felt good about keeping the school clean, and then the teeny-weenies, they love you so much,” he told an interviewer in1988. "When they found out I was a rock ’n’ roller – I was on the 50th anniversary of the Apollo with Bill Cosby – the kids couldn’t believe it."

In the 50's and early 60's, before the civil rights movement began to rumble, The Cadillacs and the rest faced segregation indignities in touring the South, and the usual "small print" in record contracts and unfair "deals" from record labels. Where was the freedom? The rights? Things changed in the late 60's, but into the 21st Century, Mr. Earl saw the scales of justice tip and go back down. Copyright's become jeered as "copywrong," and if a man wants to get paid for writing or performing songs, he's told "music should be free." Go get a day job. The big power is not an "evil" record label, but a monopoly such as Google, with their "chilling effects" dealt to anyone trying to prevent their work from being stolen, and "Anonymous" groups who deny rights to the individual by declaring, in essence, "believe what we believe, do things our way, or we'll attack and destroy you." Not exactly the message of Martin Luther King Jr.

Earl Carroll put in his time at the public school, and retired in 2005. He'd gotten The Cadillacs back together for occasional oldies shows during his tenure at the school, but after a long work-week, he and the group could only get bookings on weekends, and in the summer, and often an oldies show only wanted The Cadillacs for "Gloria" and "Speedoo," and then other acts took the stage. Carroll sometimes paid out of his own pocket for transportation, meals and hotel. But that's how the arc went in his lifetime: from doing shows to spark record sales to doing shows because there were no record sales.

He ended up in a public nursing home, suffering from diabetes and finally a stroke. He died a few days ago at the age of 75, a shell of "Speedoo," but hopefully still known and respected as "Mr. Earl." Your download is both "Speedoo" and the inevitable attempt at a spin-off, "Speedoo is Back."

SAPRISTI! SPEEDOO Mr. Earl Carroll Speedoo is Back


Tardy said...

Hi there

Just wanted to let you know that I've changed my blog address from to (for your blogroll)!

Thanks - and keep up the good work!


Ill Folks said... soon as I figure out the latest changes to the dashboard and how to revise the blogroll, I'll re-tard. I think a few blogs I've mentioned need updating, and there are a few good folks I'd like to add to the list.