Phil Dirt - Reverb Central - PO Box 1609, Felton, CA 95018-1609 USA
The String-A-Longs - Wheelsdotdotdot
artworkThe String-A-Longs have the honor of being among the very few guitar instro bands to break the Billboard charts in any significant way. They did it in 1960 with "Wheels" when they hit number 3. They are also among the earliest to use a Leslie to effect the lead guitar. They were a Norman Petty band, and were contemporary to the Fireballs. They came from Plainsville, Texas, and were originally called the Patio Kids. Personnel were Richard Stephens - guitar, Keith McCormack - guitar, Jimmy Torres - guitar, Aubrey de Cordova - bass, Charles Edmiston - drums, later replaced by Don Allen - drums. Their sound was essentially MOR guitar, but they sometimes approach rock in a way that later would be dubbed "soft rock." Most of their recordings are covers, softly delivered in a sub-Fireballs way with Leslie instead of reverb.
Picks: Wheels, Brass Buttons, Should I, Scottie, Nearly Sunrise, Sunday (Salve Regina), My Blue Heaven, Mathilda, Skippin', Mina Bird, Happy Melody, Panic Button, Walk Don't Run, Summertime, Perfidia, Bulldog, Spinnin' My Wheels, Red River Twist, Take A Minute, You Don't Have To Go, Torquay, Twist Watch, Harbour Lights, Tell The World, Are You Lonesome Tonight, My Babe, Heartaches, Replica

Track by Track Review


Wheels dotdotdot
Rock (Instrumental)

Ain't no surf here, and barely hot rod. It's melodic, fluid, and borders on MOR. "Wheels" is closer to the Norman Petty Trio than the Fireballs or Buddy Holly. It is a very pretty quasi rock piece with an infectious melody line and arrangement. It was a Billboard hit in 1960 on Warwick, the same label that brought us Johnny and the Hurricanes. It peaked at number 3. Not bad for a guitar instro. This is a Norman Petty composition.

Brass Buttons dotdotdot
MOR Rock (Instrumental)

This is a much more moderate tune than "Wheels," with an even more MOR melody. Like "Wheels," this is also a Norman Petty composition. It has a similar lilt, and it is writing that gives them that Norman Petty Trio feel, even though they are instrumented differently. The infectious melody keeps this from being too sappy.

Should I dotdot
MOR Rock (Instrumental)

This very MOR tune is still in the vein, but closer to the elevator than much of their other early material. Mostly, it's hokey.

Scottie dotdotdot
MOR Rock (Instrumental)

Norman Petty's "Scottie" hints at the highlands, but the cheesy arrangement is miles from anything the kilted ones might imagine. Light and almost fluffy, it's quite similar to "Should I." Still, it's more acceptable as a near rock piece.

Nearly Sunrise dotdotdot
Rock (Instrumental)

This Norman Petty tune was first cut by the Fireballs. Here, it takes on a much different feel, with a much gentler delivery and Jorgen Ingman "Apache" string swipes. It's curiously interesting despite it's mild arrangement. I think it's the odd string swipes that keep it alive.

Sunday (Salve Regina) dotdotdot
MOR Rock (Instrumental)

Well, here we find an afternooner, an octogenarian's rock anthem, for doing the boog-a-loo from the infirmary. Definitely fluffy and uninspired. It's a pretty melody, but destined for the careful and the discrete.

My Blue Heaven dotdotdot
MOR Rock (Instrumental)

This classic George Whiting song has seen everything from big band to popabilly arrangements. This is dancing in your respectable shoes. It's tasteful, but without any zest or life. "Just Molly and me, and baby makes three..."

Mathilda dotdotdot
MOR Rock (Instrumental)

Slow and different than the rest, this is maybe a bit more rock oriented in that fluid slow dance way. It can't decide if it's a fifties or sixties piece. For 1962, with surf rockin' up the instro scene, "Mathilda" tries to hold back the tide. It's not down to Lawrence Welk, but it is not very lively. The lead guitar work is very fluid.

Skippin' dotdotdot
MOR Rock (Instrumental)

This previously unreleased number is very pretty, with a melodic flow, and an echo treatment on top of the Leslie. Mid tempo, just the slightest bit chunky, and very suave.

Mina Bird dotdotdotdot
Rock (Instrumental)

"Mina Bird" is one of only four originals on this disc. It was penned by guitarist Jimmy Torres, as were three of the others. It's a playful piece, with a definite nod to fellow Norman Petty act the Fireballs. It's damped guitar and melodic flow are just what that implies. A fine restrained track.

Happy Melody dotdotdot
MOR Rock (Instrumental)

Well, back to the MOR circuit. Frothy non-offensive MOR tending guitar work. It's all too neat and clean, with an all too happy melody line.

Panic Button dotdotdot
Rock (Instrumental)

George Tomsco's tune is lightened up for the faint at heart. This diet version is much too saccharin for me, with the damped guts of the Fireballs original replaced by restrained finery. It's quite well played, just free of anything resembling drive or emotion. Having said that, it does work OK.

Walk Don't Run dotdotdot
Rock (Instrumental)

This is a variation on the Ventures' 1960 arrangement of the Johnny Smith tune. It's less energetic than the Northwest version, but more spunky than anything else here. The drums are so withheld that it's almost as if they're covered with a thick quilt or something. Nifty enough, nearly rocks, and very well played.

Summertime dotdotdot
MOR Rock (Instrumental)

George Gershwin's "Summertime" played in a plinky fifties arrangement with great restraint. Where's the fire of Porgy and Bess, or at least the suave acid edge of the Viscounts?

Perfidia dotdotdot
Rock (Instrumental)

The Ventures made this into a rock standard. The String-A-Longs return it to the land of fluff, with just the slightest hint of drive. It's like a prettier tribute to the Ventures. It's quite nice, just very restrained. You can almost see them in their chairs playing this tune, aching to rock, but remaining discrete.

Bulldog dotdotdot
Rock (Instrumental)

Approaching the Fireballs, but less percussive feeling, this is actually quite a nice version of their classic. I think George Tomsco would like this. Very true to the original, just slightly less "real," or maybe a little too perfect.

Spinnin' My Wheels dotdotdot
Rock (Instrumental)

No, it's not a revamping of "Wheels," though it's almost a return to the style. The stop-start action is kinda nice, but it's just so restrained. Yet, it does have a minuscule flair.

Red River Twist dotdotdot
Rock (Instrumental)

Yup, it's "Red River Valley" in a strange arrangement with extreme Leslie guitar and a rockin' second guitar. It has none of the fire of the Johnny and the Hurricanes version, but it does grab you by your closet MOR hairs.

Take A Minute dotdotdot
Rock (Instrumental)

This is the second of the Jimmy Torres originals. It's actually quite friendly, with a pleasant arrangement, and a very good Fireballs like melody. Choppy and smooth.

You Don't Have To Go dotdotdot
MOR Rock (Instrumental)

The only original from guitarist Keith McCormack, this is a fairly fluffy MOR tribute to the Fireballs. It's melody is much more MOR than most of theirs, but it does have their damped guitar fun.

Torquay dotdotdot
Rock (Instrumental)

George Tomsco's great "Torquay" delivered softly and perfectly, more restrained, but retaining the playfulness of the tune.

Twist Watch dotdotdot
Rock (Instrumental)

This was the first single they cut for their new label Dot after the fall of Warwick. It's fitting label-mate Lawrence Welk, very refined and restrained. The melody is a tasty Fireballs like thing from the pen of Jimmy Torres.

Harbour Lights dotdotdot
MOR Rock (Instrumental)

This over covered MOR classic gains no new credibility here. Just MOR fluff, soft enough to get by even the retirement home sensors.

Tell The World dotdotdot
MOR Rock (Instrumental)

"Tell The World" was co-written by Jimmy Torres, Richard Stephens, and Norman Petty. It's a mighty slow blues, with a riff that borders on a blues jam. Not very interesting.

Are You Lonesome Tonight dotdot
MOR Rock (Instrumental)

Man-o-man, is this anti-rock or what. You can just see the prune-faces swaying in their chairs... Soft rock before there was such a term.

My Babe dotdotdot
MOR Rock (Instrumental)

Jeepers, a Willie Dixon tune, and a rockin' arrangement. Then again, there's the weirdness of the varying shouts of "my babe" that brings it down. I think this is the first track on this disc that actually presents the drums loud enough to hear. very strange arrangement, like fake blues or something.

Heartaches dotdotdot
MOR Rock (Instrumental)

With more rock production, and an near-outskirts of surf feel, this is a strange blend of almost rock and MOR. Like Lawrence Welk's "Pipeline" or "Scarlet O'Hara," this rocks mightily against the bubble machine, but not after sundown. Still, it's pretty fun.

Replica dotdotdot
MOR Rock (Instrumental)

"Replica" is actually a lot like "Wheels," with a little less charm and spunk. It's a decent track, with a friendly feel and playful air. Norman Petty wrote this in a fit of replication.