Tom Doody: I Wanna Meet You
by Daniel Coston
Featured in The Big Takeover Magazine
Issue no. 90
The Cryan’ Shames are one of the best bands from the 1960s that are still being discovered. Hailing from the fabled Chicago scene, their first single, “Sugar & Spice” cracked the Top Fifty in 1966. Known for their lush harmonies and peerless live shows, the band recorded three impressive albums before disbanding in 1969. Each album is still a gem waiting to be discovered.
Singer Tom Doody, and percussionist Jim Pilster, aka J.C. Hooke, still lead the Cryan’ Shames today. Doody, known to fans as Toad after a nickname given to him by his brother, called in to talk the Shames’ enduring legacy.
Coston: How did you come to join the Cryan Shames?
Tom Doody: The band had grown out of a group called the Travelers. [Guitarist] Gerry Stone had fronted it a couple of years before I joined. I got into it when he reformed the group. He and I were going to junior college in LaGrange. Gerry asked me one day between classes if I knew anybody that could sing. I told him, “I could”. Which was really strange. I was a fairly shy individual, and the only singing experience I’d had was in the grade school choir. He said, “Come on out for an audition.” I did, and they said, “Yeah, come by our singer.”
We became the Cryan Shames because we knew we were going to put out a record. We knew that there was already a group called the Travelers out on the radio, so we needed a new name. We went over to JC Hooke’s house. We were in the basement, where we rehearsed. We spent a few hours trying to come up with a new name, and we couldn’t. Pilster was walking up the stairs to go to his kitchen to get us some cold drinks, and he said, “Man, it’s a crying shame we can’t come up with a name.” It was like a eureka moment. Everybody looked at each other, and said, “That’s it!” We had to spell it a little bit differently, because we wanted to be different. So we had, Cryan’ Shames.
Coston: “Sugar & Spice” became your first single, but that wasn't your original plan.
TD: Our first recording session was actually, “If I Needed Someone”. You hear it on our first album, but we were preparing to release it as our first single, and George Harrison put a hold on it. He wanted his version to be the first one released in the United States. We had a hold on that for six months, and our manager said, “We’ve got to get something out.”
Jerry Stone and I had heard the Searchers version of “Sugar & Spice”, and we liked it. Jerry brought the 45 into our rehearsal, the night before we recorded it. We listened it, and we said, “It sounds good, but let’s change some things.” I did not like the melody, and the dirge-like qualities they used in that song. I basically put harmony parts on top of the melody, and make those the melody, which made our version sparkly and bright. Our manager said, “Okay, let’s record it.”
We went to the recording studio the next day at 9am. South Sound Studios, which was in the same building as WLS. We recorded it on a three-track player. We did the instruments on one track, then everybody in the band stood around one single mic in the studio. We sang to the track, and they said, “If you could move in, if you could move back. If you could turn your head a bit, because you’re popping your p’s.” I turned my head a little bit to the left. We rehearsed it three times, and they said, “Let’s take one.” We did that, and they said, “Okay, let’s do another one.” They [layered] it, which was a big thing, back then.
In about forty-five minutes to an hour, we recorded “Sugar & Spice”. We recorded the b-side, “Ben Franklin’s Almanac”, in about thirty minutes. They then mixed them, and pressed them onto acetate. We packed up our gear, got in our cars, and were driving home on Michigan Avenue. We always listened to WLS, so we turned them on. The guy that discovered us, Dex Card, he was on the air at the time. No sooner did we turn it on, but Dex said, “I want to introduce you to this group that I’ve discovered. This is the first time that you’re gonna hear from them, and I guarantee that it won’t be the last.” And he played “Sugar & Spice”, which we had just recorded.
We almost crashed our car. We were giddy, and we were going to stop at our local hangout in LaGrange, called Top’s Big Boy. We pulled into the parking lot, and we were walking through the door, and one of our friends opened his car door, and yelled, “They’re playing it!” Suddenly, about one hundred, to 150 of our friends come running out. There’s about twenty-five cars in the parking lot playing Sugar & Spice, and everybody was dancing to it.
Coston: Your first album came out soon after “Sugar & Spice.”
TD: We signed to Columbia, and they wanted an album immediately. We didn’t have a lot of material for it, so we recorded the [cover] songs that we were playing live. There were exceptions, like “I Wanna Meet You”, which [guitatist] Jim Fairs wrote. He started writing that on the way back from a gig in Wisconsin. We learned it in the van, drove straight to the recording session, and that was the first song we recorded at that session. We did that whole recording session on no sleep.
We sounded better live than we sounded on record. On Scratch, there was less dynamism to the songs. Everything was being compressed, but our stuff was much more dynamic, live. When we first came out, we did shows with the Byrds, the Lovin’ Spoonful, and a bunch of others, and they all said, “I’m glad that we’re not on tour with you. We wouldn’t be able to go onstage.” We thought, we owe it to ourselves, we owe it to our fans, and we owe it to the song to be as good as we can.
Coston: For A Scratch In The Sky, you used Columbia’s studio in New York City.
TD: The Arthur Godfrey studio, they called it. The first songs we did there was “Mr. Unreliable”, and “Georgia”. While we there, a guy came into our control room, and it was Paul Simon. He said, “That’s a really cool song. What you need is a tenor guitar.” He brought in his tenor guitar, and showed us how to play it. We said, “Would you like to play on it?” And he said, “I’d love to, but this is your song. You guys go ahead and play on it.” So we used Paul Simon’s guitar on that.
We rehearsed so incredibly hard on that whole album. Jim Fairs came back from a vacation in Florida, and he said, “I’ve got a song that could be pretty good.” He played “It Could Be We’re In Love”, and we fell into place. Isaac [Guillory] played organ, so that Lenny [Kerley] could play bass. The chords were pretty intricate, and I remember that we played it for two days straight. Changing little things, changing tempos, until it was kind of like magic.
When that happened, Jim sat down and said, “Toad, come here. I’m going to teach out the melody and the lyrics.” He taught it to me. I said, “There’s a couple of little things I’d like to change about the melody.” He said, “Yeah, go ahead.” I had it down after a couple of hours, and then we had the whole band sit down, and we did harmony parts.
We worked on the harmonies for three days. At the end of the week, Jim said, “Let’s play and sing this together.” We did, and it sounded phenomenal from the first time we played it. We said, “That’s it. We’ve got our next single.”
Coston: The band had lineup changes on each album, and yet the harmonies were always amazing.
TD: We were really fortunate that we had some really good people in all of our bands. In fact, I thought that Synthesis was our best singing. That album, they didn’t use as much compression on. The instruments sparkle a little bit more, I thought the vocals sparkled a little more. I like the material more on Scratch In The Sky, and I like the vocals more on Synthesis.
Coston: The band broke up soon after the release of Synthesis.
TD: People say, “You broke up in 1969. Why?” And I say, “Because we were a Sixties group.” [laughs] We really thought that Scratch In The Sky was going to propel us to the top echelon. When it didn’t, it was severely disappointing. Even though we had one more album to do, we were almost semi-despondent about it. Instead of looking to the future, we started looking inward.
People were starting to point fingers. We thought, rather than departing on a level where we don’t talk to each other again, let’s break up and move on.
Fifty-five years later, I’m still great friends with Jim Pilster, and with Lenny Kerley, James Fairs, Dave Carter, and Al Dawson. If keeping the friendships that I have now was the price of our breakup, it was well worth it.