The Jive Five is a Doo Wop group that was formed in Brooklyn, New York. They honed their singing skills in various schools and buildings that had a nice reverb sound in the area. Eugene Pitt was singing at work one day and was overheard by the wife of music industry gentleman who set up an audition for them. The executives at Beltone records loved the song "My True Story" and signed them right away. The song went on to be a smash hit. Eugene Pitt and The Jive Five are still performing today.
E.P. - Good Morning
R.V.B. - Good Morning Mr. Pitt?
E.P. - Speaking. Is this Mr. Rob? (haha)
R.V.B. - This is Mr. Robert. How are you doing today?
E.P. - Pretty good today, pretty good.
R.V.B. - Are you down in the Carolina's?
E.P. - Yea I'm in South Carolina, Newberry.
R.V.B. - Is it raining down there like it is up here?
E.P - Nooo, the weather's very good here... nice and warm. We're in the 90's today
R.V.B. - Oh very nice. I don't know if you remember but I did met you up at LAR... I know you meet a lot of people in the hallway up there.
E.P. - Sure I remember you.
R.V.B. - I got a nice picture of the two of us. It's very, very nice. Thank you very much for taking the time. It's an honor to be speaking with you. So you were born in Brooklyn right?
E.P - Born in Brooklyn... Kings County Hospital. (haha)
R.V.B - So you were in Brooklyn your whole life?
E.P. My whole life, yes. My father lived in Virginia... Emporia Virginia.
R.V.B. - That's where he met you mother, right?
E.P. - He met my mother there but she came from North Carolina.
R.V.B. - So when you were in Brooklyn, what kind of music were you exposed to at a young age?
E.P. Back then, we listened to gospel music in the house so my favorite singer was Sinatra and Nat King Cole. (haha)
R.V.B. - You liked the sweet singers.
E.P. - Yeah, yeah, yeah. We used to call Sinatra the crooner. (haha)
R.V.B. - (haha) How young were you when you started singing?
E.P. - Well I was around twelve or thirteen, when my father took me under his wing and four of my sisters and we sang gospel. My brother Frank and my brother Herbert who's in my group now, sang with three more of my other sisters. We had two gospel groups in the family. We were called "The Pitt Gospel Singers".
R.V.B. - Did you sing in the church? What part of Brooklyn were you living in?
E.P. I was living in Brownsville.
R.V.B. - Oh ok, do you remember the churches that you were singing in?
E.P. The church we attended was up on Rockaway Avenue. It was called the Zion Baptist Church.
R.V.B. - There must have been a lot of singing going on in the church, was there other groups also?
E.P. - Well there was groups who used to come from other churches and sing but my family was the only group that belonged to that church.
R.V.B. - Did your group go around and sing in other churches also? did you go around to other neighborhoods?
E.P. - Yeah, we went with the Pastor to other churches when they had meetings when all the churches visit and they had big shows. I was the bass singer in the group. My sisters and my brothers trained me to be a bass singer.
R.V.B. - Can you give me an example of one or two songs that you sang?
E.P. - Back then yeah ahh... We sang... boy are you taking me back. (haha) Ok (he starts singing) "Do what you want to do with me Lord, do what you want to do" and "When we get to heaven were gonna sing and shout Lord. There's gonna be nobody there that's gonna put me out. I'm gonna talk to the father and talk to the sun. Tell em' about the world that I just came from". (He sang really low bass) That was my part.
R.V.B. - That's a nice song. It's kind upbeat.
E.P - Yeah well that's what I'm doing now. I'm into writing a gospel album. I've got like eight songs that I've written already. My brothers and I are gonna record a gospel album. That's what we're working on.
R.V.B. - Awesome. So when you finished your gospel period... In Brooklyn, and in the Bronx, and in Queens, and also in Staten Island, and basically in inner city areas "Doo Wop" seemed to be taking over and it was like a phenomenon. How did you go about making the switch to start finding people to start singing in that genre?
E.P. - Well what had happened... my mother passed away when I was like thirteen going on fourteen and we kind of slid away from the church. I started going out and hanging around the corners. I could you know, hold a note. I met these guys... Norman Johnson, Billy Prophet, Jerome Hanna, Richard Harris and Billy Prophet came to me and said "Hey Gene, we're gonna start a group. Do you want to be in it?". I said "Yeah, I wouldn't mind being in it". So I went around and met with them on Hart Street. That's where Richard was living. We all met on Hart Street and we started saying "Who was gonna sing what?". I never wanted to be a lead singer. Norman Johnson was the bass. I wanted to be the tenor. They said "No, you ain't gonna be no tenor man. You can't tenor". (haha) So we made him the bass. So I said "What I can do is take you to my father and he can show you some notes". So that's what I did, I took him to my father and my father trained them how to sing. We got back out on the corner and all the girls would be around and "Wow these guys got some strange harmony" because we were singing those gospel chords. I got a job working in working in the Key Food. I was like nineteen then. I got me a job working in the Key Food. I was in the Key Food singing one day and this lady walked in and said "Wow! You can really sing. My husband, he writes music and stuff". So I said "Oh yeah?" and she said "Yeah, you should come over and talk to him". I just thought she was a lady who wanted attention or hearing me sing or whatever and I didn't go and then she came back the next week and said " I told my husband about you and he's looking for you to come over". So I decided I'll go over there. So I went over and I met Mr. Waltzer and I told him that I had a group. He said "You should bring your group over and let me hear them because I have a friend that's opening up a record company". In the meanwhile I was singing with Claude Johnson, Estelle Williams, Haskell Cleveland, Freddy Jones and myself. We were called the Genies. We sang around different parts of Brooklyn... the different nightclubs and stuff like that.
R.V.B. - Now was there a particular turf? Did you sing on a specific street corner? I know everyone else was doing it during that time.
E.P. - Oh yeah, we sang in the hallways on the corner of Pulaski street. There was a big, big building there and they had that good echo in the hallway or we went in the school P.S. 54 which is right on Nostrand and Myrtle Avenue.
P.S. 54 Brooklyn, New York
R.V.B. - Now did you draw a crowd when you were practicing and getting your skills up?
E.P - Oh yeah, we drew a crowd. All the girls and boys, they'd be out listening and they used to gather around and watch us singing and harmonizing but I never wanted to be the lead singer. I always winded up being the lead singer because I knew most of the songs. I would show them to the guys and I would wind up being the lead.
R.V.B. - When you draw the girls, that's what it's really all about when you're young. (haha)
E.P. - Yeah, that's what it was about you know.
R.V.B. - So you were singing with the Genies. When you were working in that supermarket and that woman heard you, were you like working in the isles or stocking the shelves? How did she hear you?
E.P. - Yea I was a stock clerk. I used to put all of the can goods on the shelves and stuff like that. That's when she heard me. So I decided to go with her to Mr. Waltzer's house when I got off from work. I told him I had a group and he said "Bring your group down" and I said "Ok one day I'll bring them down". In the meantime Claude Johnson moved to Long Beach. He took Freddy Jones with him who was the bass. Haskell and Estelle stayed in Brooklyn and she started Jeannie and the Boyfriends. They made "It's me knocking". Claude Johnson moved to Long Beach and made the record we used to sing "Who's that knocking". I kept in Brooklyn and I started the group "The Jive Five". That's the group that I brought to Mr. Waltzer.
R.V.B. - Was it just local guys that you knew from just singing around?
E.P. - Yeah, they lived in the neighborhood. Richard Harris lived on Hart Street, Jerome Hanna lived on Pulaski Street. Billy Prophet, Norman Johnson and myself lived on Myrtle Avenue. We lived on the same block.
An old picture of Myrtle Avenue
R.V.B. - I see, so how long did it take you to start the new band and go see the gentleman in the studio?
E.P. - So what happened, we got together after we learned some stuff and harmonies from my father. We rehearsed everyday for two hours a day... seven days a week. Sometimes longer because we used to hang out longer, just hang and be with the girls and stuff like that. We were real close and then after I went to Mr. Waltzer and he told me he had a friend who opened up a record company. He was gonna set up an audition for us. I said "Ok, I'll have these other guys who really can sing". We didn't have a name at the time. We used to call ourselves "The Blenders" and then one day these girls said "You're Five Jive Guys" We said "Wow the Jive Five. That sounds good". We put that name in a hat along with a few others and the "Jive Five" came out. So Oscar Waltzer set up an audition for us at Beltone records.
We went up to Beltone records and on the way up there I met my good friend Jackie Wilson. So Jackie said "Hey Gene, Where are you going?". I said "We got this audition up at Beltone". He said "Well I'm going too". Jackie came with us to 1650 Broadway. 610 was the room number and it was right on the corner of 51st Street. We went up there and met Mr. Waltzer... he was there. Les Cahan and Joe Rene, Otis Pollard and a good friend of mine Marcia Vance. Oscar introduced us to Les Cahan (the owner) and he said "Well sing something". So we sang a few songs... about six or seven songs and he said "You guys can really sing". He said "Wow! I love those songs. Do you have any more?". So I said "We got a song we don't like". He said "You don't like it?". I said "No because it's a true story". He said "Let me hear it" and we sang "My True Story". He said "That's a hit". (hahaha). So he signed us up with a recording contract and we recorded ourselves a hit.
R.V.B. - Where did you get the inspiration to do "My True Story"? How did that come about.
E.P. - That was a true story. It's about me and my girlfriend. God Bless her... Phyllis Little was her name. I never used it in the song. Names have been changed to protect her and I. That's what I put in it.
R.V.B. - (hahaha) When they pressed it and played it... where were you the first time that you heard it?
E.P. - Well I was in Philadelphia in the Uptown Theater because I took the record to a friend of mine Porky Chedwick in Pittsburgh and I gave him a box of them. He called me back two weeks later and said Gene, you don't know it but you got a smash hit. He's the first one who played and he made it a hit and it started spreading, spreading, spreading. With it being a hit, we got a chance to go on Dick Clark where we did sixty one, one nighters. We traveled all over the place with Dick Clark.
R.V.B. - Who else was traveling with you?
E.P. - Around that time it was Dick Clark ahh... Paul Anka... He was the head star. Paul Anka, we had Clarence "Frogman" Henry, we had the Shirelles, we had the Drifters, we had Peter and Gordon, we had Linda Scott, we had Duane Eddy and the Rebels, The Jive Five, Chubby Checker.
R.V.B. - That's an eclectic mix, did you become friends with those people?
E.P. - Oh sure me and Tom Jones became the best of friends. We sat together and always laughed and joked... we had so much fun. He's a great guy.
R.V.B. - Was there any shows that stuck out in your mind or any venues that you played in that you really enjoyed?
E.P. - Yeah I would say there's a venue that we did and my first chance meeting Tiny Tim. Playing his ukulele... this guy I'm telling you, we sat down and we talked for about two hours. This guy is so smart it's a shame... brilliant.
R.V.B. - Oh really?
E.P - Just a quiet laid back guy.
R.V.B. - Well he sure made a name for himself because everybody knows who he is.
E.P. - Yeas that's right.
R.V.B. - He was on the Rowan and Martin TV show.
E.P. - Yeah
R.V.B. - So after you had your initial success I gather you went back in the studio and recorded more singles.
E.P. Oh yes we went back and recorded more and more singles after that and on the way I wrote songs. I wrote a song "They're Laughing at me" for Barbara and the Silver Slippers. They were on the Cahan Label. That's the first record that I had ever written and I gave that one to them. They recorded it.
R.V.B. - So you started becoming more and more of a song writer?
E.P. - Yeah and I started writing stuff for Nickelodeon. I started them out with the top of the hour singing the "Nick Nick Nick". I wrote all that.
R.V.B. - When you got that gig... the Nickelodeon gig, I see it lasted a long time. Where did you do those recordings?
E.P. - The bumpers we did in the studio on 27th street and Broadway and a lot of them we did at "Kids Choice". So we were moving around the country.
R.V.B. - In your travels around the country, I gather you played all the way across America to California?
E.P. - Oh yeah, California, overseas to England, Germany, and different places like that.
R.V.B. - How did the European people take to the group.
E.P. - They really loved the Jive Five. We did a gig over in England and I'm telling you, it was so crowded. There had to be six thousand people in this big arena and they never went home. They stayed there all night dancing and partying and everybody was having fun. We went on at like 6AM in the morning. That's when we went on stage. (hahaha)
R.V.B. - On these shows did you do like a half hour set?
E.P. = We did like an hour.
R.V.B. - Did the group ever have any club dates where you had to play for a couple of hours? or was you guys always like a show type thing?
E.P. - Well no, we had club dates where we were the only ones on the show. We did everything... all the top stuff. We used to do stuff by the Beatles... "Day Tripper". Stuff by the Stones... "Satisfaction". We made one big show out of it and we had a lot of fun doing that for a lot of years.
R.V.B. - I see that you recently came up with a concept album where you did beach songs. What inspired you to do that?
E.P. - Well a good Friend of mine "Richard Hourihan"... God bless him, he passed away now going on a year... him and Bobby Jay. came to me and said we're going to do this album of beach music because beach music was getting a lot of attention at the time. Myrtle beach and all that. They did "The Shag" and stuff like that. So we jumped on the bandwagon and put out this album "Steppin' out". I didn't leave the group, I just said I was "Steppin' out" to do this album. I went in the studio with Bobby Jay. and Dickie Harmon in Joel Katz' studio and we recorded it. It came out pretty good.
R.V.B. - Ah ha, that's nice. Now you're working on a gospel album. How do you get together with your buddies to record that? Do you come to New York to do it?
E.P. - Right now, we rehearse all the gospel songs. I'm gonna come back to New York and were gonna go in the studio. In Joel Katz' studio in Jersey. I'm having my music director write up the music. I gave him a tape with the songs so he's putting the chords down.
R.V.B. - How are you enjoying living down south?
E.P. - Down here it's nice and peaceful... It's just good living. You sit out on your porch, everything is nice... the sun is shining. They got me planting grass all over the place so I'm a real farmer now. I'm cutting grass (hahaha) and I love it.
R.V.B. - So that's what you do on your off time... you enjoy the outdoors? Do you have any hobbies that you do when you're not doing music?
E.P. - Oh yeah, I'm building a studio. I'm working on a studio right now in my house. I have a two car garage and I'm turning it into a studio and I'm gonna start recording. You know in the south here, gospel music is big. So I'm gonna get little kids out of the choir in the church and record them as groups and put out gospel songs.
R.V.B. - That's a great idea. You're gonna start your own label?
E.P. - Yeah.
R.V.B. - Very good. Are you feeling good? Are you healthy?
E.P. - Oh yeah, I'm holding on, doing the best I can. Every day is not peaches and cream but I'm holding on and enjoying myself.
R.V.B. - Do you miss Brooklyn?
E.P. - Due to the fact that my brothers are living there and some of the friends that I know but other than that... no I don't really miss it.
R.V.B. - One other thing that I wanted to ask you... are you a Dodgers fan?
E.P. - (hahaha) I was. When they left Brooklyn, I just gave up on baseball. The Nets came to Brooklyn... so I said "Well I'm gonna be a Nets fan". Now I moved away from there so I guess I got to me find me a team in the Carolinas (haha)
R.V.B. - Well they got a football team right? The Panthers.
E.P. - My team is the Green Bay Packers. I had a cousin who used to play with them... Elijah Pitts.
E.P. - He was a running back. One of the greatest running back for the Green Bay Packers. So that was my team. They won a few championships so I'll just stay with them.
R.V.B. - I understand that you were not quite shabby in the strength department because you had a nickname right?
E.P. - Samson... yeah (haha)
R.V.B. - Did you play any sports?
E.P. - Well I don't want to brag about myself but I'm one of the best third baseman in the game. I played for twenty five years at the "Hot spot". We had a team called the "Park Rats". We were supposed to play "The King and his Court" but this other team bought out our pitcher and brought him to Puerto Rico. We were gonna play them in New York at the Worlds Fair. We had the best team... never lost a game.
R.V.B. - Well congratulations on your career up until this point. I know it's still going on and you got a lot of music ahead of you. The music community is proud of everything you've accomplished and I'm sure you're proud of yourself.
E.P. - Yeah well, I've helped a lot of people up and down the way. I took Gloria Gaynor under my wing... Tony Bongiovi, Jay Ellis and Meco Manardo and myself, made Gloria Gaynor a star. "Honey Bee" was the name of the album and "Never could say Goodbye" went platinum. You know Tony Bongiovi is Jon Bon Jovi's uncle and I taught Jon how to sing and harmonize.
R.V.B. - Awesome... well keep up the good work and thank you for taking the time to speak with me and I'll see you at the next LAR show.
E.P. - (haha) Alright, thank you so very much there.
R.V.B. - Alright Gene, have a nice day.
E.P. - God Bless.
Interview conducted by Robert von Bernewitz
This interview may not be reproduced in any matter or form without permission
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Thanks to Mary Garcelon for her help
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