june 2012

The Jamies: (clockwise from bottom) Tom Jameson, Serena Jameson, Arthur Blair, Jeannie Roy

‘Say Goodbye to Dull School Days’

In ‘Summertime Summertime’ the Jamies kissed off the classroom with impunity and wrote their name into the ledger of seasonal classics

Hailing from Dorchester, Massachusetts, The Jamies--brother and sister Tom and Serena Jameson along with Jeannie Roy and Arthur Blair—wrote their names large in summer song history in 1958 with the doo-wop influenced “Summertime Summertime,” an eternal seasonal classic.

Tom Jameson died from cancer on July 19 2009, at age 72. His sister Serena (Jameson) McKenney and Jeannie (Roy) McLeod—the female half of the Jamies--remain close friends of more than 50 years’ standing. It was Tom who brought everyone together to form the group, adding Arthur Blair, a mutual friend from First Baptist Church (and a bass singer in the choir to boot), to round out the quartet.

The Jamies, 'Summertime, Summertime'

"My whole family was musical," Serena recalls. In 1949, the Jamesons moved to Dorchester and joined the First Baptist Church. "My grandmother took me by the hand and introduced me to Mrs. Marini, the choir director, and that's where I met Jeannie. I was 10 and she was 11."

Hailing from a music loving family herself, McLeod recalls how her father “used to sing in the pubs in Scotland,” adding: "I loved ballads. That was my thing. We had a lot of church music at home, too."

Serena has a vivid memory of the day her brother Tom wrote what became “Summertime Summertime.” As she related to Goldmine, "I remember being upstairs while my grandmother lay resting on the couch downstairs. Tom was in the living room, where the piano was, as he composed 'Summertime Summertime,’ until every word and every note was exactly as he wanted it. He was a perfectionist. I thought my grandmother had a lot of patience to listen to it over and over, but she never complained. I think she rather enjoyed it.

“When he was satisfied that he had written the words and music exactly as he wanted them to be, he asked Jeannie and me if we would sing it."

The Jamies, 'Searching for You,' the flip side of 'Summertime, Summertime' (co-written by Tom Jameson and Sherm Feller)

An all-out and somewhat sarcastic celebration of being liberated from classroom commitments, “Summertime Summertime” finds the group telling off the teacher much as the teacher might have put them in their place during the school year (“I’m sorry teacher but zip your lip”) while kissing off their educational endeavors as “dull school days” while proclaiming, “It’s time to live and have some thrills.” It can certainly be argued that only Alice Cooper’s “School’s Out”—released in 1972, 14 years after “Summertime Summertime”—takes such an acerbic tone towards pedagogy and curriculum. The arrangement features four distinct harmony parts, from soprano to bass, painstakingly written and arranged by Tom Jameson.

"Tom was a tough taskmaster as we practiced," Serena adds. "Everything had to sound perfect."

For months, the unnamed group would gather (as often as three times a week) to rehearse the song.

"It was getting towards summer," Jeannie remembers. "We practiced with the windows open because nobody had air conditioning in those days. My mother said the neighbors were complaining because we were doing it over and over."

"It seemed like an eternity before Tom was satisfied that we knew it perfectly," Serena continues. "He then informed us that it was time to make a demo."

The Jamies,  'Don't Darken My Door' (1959, United Artists; written by Tom Jameson; arranged and produced by Don Costa

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 then he and Arthur took them around to several disc jockeys in the Boston area to see if they could interest the disc jockeys in playing them."

Enter Boston DJ Sherm Feller, who later went on to become the legendary PA announcer at Fenway Park for the Boston Red Sox. Feller offered the demo to Archie Bleyer, owner of Cadence Records. Hearing no commercial potential in the single, Bleyer passed, but Feller subsequently got a bite from Epic Records. He also took the group on the road to promote the single now renamed “Summertime Summertime.” Between July 18th of 1958 and Labor Day it sold a quarter of a million copies. The song climbed to #32 on the charts; re-released in 1962, it peaked at #38. Yet it lives on—a two-time one-hit wonder—as one of early rock ‘n’ roll’s timeless seasonal songs, a vanishing sub-genre today.

Jeannie says one fragile, a cappella 78 RPM version of the Jamies’ big hit single remains in her archives. Minus instruments, its arrangement is identical to the hit record. The grooves, she adds, are wearing thin.

Bopper Bob Hennessey


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