RIP Tom Jameson of The Jamies

From Todd Baptista:

Tom Jameson, who wrote the perennial doo-wop favorite, "Summertime Summertime" and recorded it with his group, the Jamies, died of cancer Sunday July 19, 2009 at age 72, according to his sister, Serena McKenney, who sang with him in the 1950s quartet.

Born in Boston on April 24, 1937, Thomas Earl Jameson was singing tenor in the Boy’s Choir at Boston’s Trinity Church, when he came up with an idea for a song. “We lived in my grandmother’s house, and I remember being upstairs and my poor grandmother laying down for her rest on the couch in the dining room, and Tom was in the living room where the piano was, playing that over and over as he wrote it, because he was a perfectionist,” Serena laughed in a 2008 interview. “I thought, ‘Is it ever going to end?’ When he finished it, he asked Jeannie (Roy, who sang with Serena in Dorchester's First Baptist Church Choir) and me if we would sing it.”

“It’s Summertime”, a classic ode to school vacation, featured four distinct harmony parts, from soprano to bass, painstakingly written and arranged by Jameson. Arthur Blair, a bass in the Baptist Church choir rounded out the quartet. “The harmony, everything was totally and completely his,” Serena adds. “He was a tough taskmaster. Everything had to be perfect.”

For months, the unnamed group would gather- often three times a week- to rehearse the song. On May 24, 1958, a demo of “It’s Summertime” was recorded at the Roy Nelson Studio on Boylston Street in Boston. “Tom paid,” Jeannie remembers. “He had a couple of copies made, and he and Arthur took them around to several disc jockeys in the Boston area.”

Two local DJs showed interest. Jameson decided to go with Sherman Feller (1918-1994), a popular fixture on WEEI and WEZE who had been in the medium for some 17 years, and had rubbed shoulders with everyone from Nat “King” Cole to Frank Sinatra. “Tom chose Sherm because he had contacts,” Serena explained. "Tom also signed something which gave Sherm half the writer’s compensation and allowed Sherm’s name to be printed on each record as co-writer. Sherm also got manager’s percentage and the publishing.”

Feller interested Cadence Records' Archie Bleyer in his protégés and brought them to New York to record the song on July 2 and subsequently suggested naming them the Jamies, from Tom and Serena’s last name.

The group’s bouncing lyrics and tight harmonies were augmented nicely by a harpsichord, which stood out among the sparse accompaniment. Blair’s bass intro was followed by a cascade of voices, from Tom’s tenor and Serena’s alto, to Jeannie’s clear soprano. “When we went to record, they said ‘Stop and let us know if you want any changes,” Serena recounted, “and Tom did stop it several times because it wasn’t the way he had it in his mind. It had to be exactly the way we had practiced.”

When Bleyer passed on the finished master, Feller brought it across the street to Epic Records which released the record on July 18. “Summertime, Summertime” cracked the pop chart on August 11, peaking at #26 in an 11-week stint. A winter follow-up, “Snow Train” never caught on. In 1959, Feller arranged a deal with United Artists by which time Rosalind Dever and Robert Paolucci (1935-2004) had replaced Serena and Arthur. The bouncing “Don’t Darken My Door” was issued in November, 1959 but failed to draw a national audience. In early 1960, the Jamies quietly dissolved.

Tom Jameson, who also composed the group’s B sides, “Searching For You”, “When The Sun Goes Down”, and “The Evening Star”, worked as a computer programmer and as an analyst in the banking and insurance industries, making his home in the Boston suburb of Braintree.

Through the years, “Summertime, Summertime” has taken on a life of its own. In 1960, it sold another quarter of a million copies, and when it was released for the third time in 1962, it spent eight weeks on Billboard’s Hot 100 and hit #38. Jameson’s composition was also recorded by the Fortunes, the Doodletown Pipers, Hobby Horse, Jan & Dean, Mongo Jerry, and Sha Na Na. Buick, Applebee’s Restaurants, and Coca-Cola have used re-recordings in commercials.