AM radio listeners were hooked from the first strains of Barbara Mason’s syrupy, 1965 Top 5 hit “Yes, I’m Ready,” AM listeners of 1965 were hooked. The male back up singers, including a young Kenny Gamble, ask Mason a simple question: “Are You Ready?” The eighteen-year-old Mason drew her inspiration from that one line when penning the song in the bedroom of her parents’ Philadelphia home. Accounts differ on where she heard the query first, but just two hours south on Interstate 95, a Baltimore group cut a record that initiated the conversation.
“Are You Ready,” asked the Chapells? The group formed in 1964 when vocalists Ronald Hammond and Joe Wade got together with guitarist Charles Addison and began scratching out songs in East Baltimore. A record deal with the hyper-local Double Check imprint resulted in a 45 of “No Friends At All” b/w the titular “Are You Ready” in early 1965. Mason’s answer song hit Philly airwaves in May of that year and never looked back. “It hit Charles hard,” said his brother Lindsey Addison. “Knocked the wind right out of him.” The group fractured under the disappointment shortly after.
A Chesapeake Bay winter blew by before Charles Addison and Ronald Hammond reconvened the Chapells. They deputized former El Domingos singer Lester “Chick” Harris to lead the new group, and Harris in turn recruited a handful of teenage girls from the neighborhood to update the Chapells’ doo-wop sound. In addition to Evelyn Robinson, Elaine Jenkins, and fourteen-year-old soprano Alice Wilhoit, Harris put together a steady backing band for the group that included Charles’s brother Lindsey on drums and their first cousin Vaudry Thompson on bass. They spun their tires in the local talent show circuit for three years before a chance encounter on a flight from Friendship International to Atlanta Municipal produced an opportunity to re-enter a recording studio for the first time in half a decade.
R.B. Patterson was in the midst of running a profitable livery service in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn when he got the idea to turn the garage space into an after hours venue. “He spread sawdust on the floor to soak up the oil,” recalled Lindsey Addison. With their shoes still tracking sawdust, the Chapells were brought into a make shift studio on the 8th floor of an office building in Midtown. “Searchin’,” “I Moan For You,” “You’re Acting Kinda Strange,” and “Help Me Somebody” were cut in a single day, and the group returned to Baltimore the next day. Patterson added strings to “You’re Acting Kinda Strange,” a vibraphone to “Help Me Somebody,” and his name to the credits on both songs and issued them on Bedford Records in the spring of 1969.
Aside from a few spins on Baltimore’s WWIN, the record timed out quickly. Infighting over being ripped off by Patterson divided the group over the following year and they disbanded permanently in 1971. A set of lo-fi demos tracked on portable reel-to-reel in Elaine Jenkins’ basement captured the Chapells evolving from vocal group to self-contained band, but were put in a drawer until plans for this reissue developed 45 years later. The Chapells asked the world “Are you ready?” more than 50 years ago. This album finally answers that question.
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