spectropop presents


The Sandpipers Story




They were just kids, living out a dream. Three girls, not yet in high school -- one moment, singing a cappella; the next, being backed by a group of future rock music legends. One moment, singing at a fashion show; the next, recording for a soul label in the northeast. Mr. DJ, give a spin to that not-so-moldy oldie by the Sandpipers, 'All Over But The Crying'. Listen to those sultry harmonies, and try to picture that these girls were not yet fifteen years old, singing about grown-up heartaches and heartbreaks. No, not just singing about the hard lessons of life, but bringing it home with soul to spare. Nailing it! "Your kisses don't stay on my lips anymore. I said it's almost over." There just has to be more to this story, right? Well, fortunately there is.




Sally Hurst


Debbie Kilpatrick


Charlyne Kilpatrick


The year was 1965, and the place, Pensacola, Florida. Fran Kilpatrick came home from work one day to find her young daughters harmonizing with a classmate. 13-year-old Charlyne Kilpatrick sang soprano, while 12-year-old Debbie Kilpatrick and 13-year-old Sally Hurst traded alto vocals and leads. Together, they were music to Fran's ears. "She had a dress shop at the time," says Charlyne Kilpatrick. "My mother said, 'Oh girls, you should do this for a fashion show.' She dressed us all alike, and that's how the Sandpipers started."

Soon the girls found themselves booked for a gig at Pensacola Municipal Auditorium, complete with dancers in Hullabaloo-style cages. A local disc jockey caught their act, and liked what he saw. "He said he wanted us to come out to the Sahara Club and do some shows on the weekend," says Charlyne. It was at the Sahara Club they would find a new backing band - and more - in the Allman Joys.

"Gregg was 17 and Duane was 18," remembers Charlyne. "They had Mike Alexander on bass, and Maynard Portwood on drums. Maynard was the oldest one of the bunch. When they first came to Pensacola, they stayed at a hotel on Mobile Highway, with groupies hanging out the door. Once they started backing us up, our parents invited them to stay at our house. And you know they loved staying at our house. They didn't have groupies hanging out, but they had home cooked meals, and they just loved my dad. When I look back on it, it's amazing to me that they wanted to stay at our house, instead of a hotel where they could have all the girls. But then, they had girls everywhere. In my heart, I know Debbie was Gregg's girlfriend, if you can call it that. I mean, she was thirteen years old. And Duane was my boyfriend, though we weren't alone enough to take it any further than kissing."

"Duane and Gregg Allman were responsible for telling my parents, 'Fran and Charlie, bring the girls out to New York, we're gonna be there during the summer at Trude Heller's in Greenwich Village, and you should bring the girls.' The disc jockey that got us into the Sahara Club had some connections with Columbia Records and Bob Johnston, who was working with Bob Dylan, and he arranged an audition with Columbia."

This was pretty heavy stuff. Going to New York, playing with the Allmans, and auditioning for Bob Dylan's producer! It was also the first time the Kilpatrick girls had been on an airplane. "I was just green from air sickness," says Charlyne. "But once we arrived, the Allman Joys were there to greet us. I'll never forget it, like it was yesterday. We stayed at the Statler Hilton, while they stayed in Greenwich Village. We took a cab together, went shopping, and ate pizza." They also auditioned together. "It was the first time Gregg had ever played a Hammond B3 organ. Unfortunately Bob Johnston wasn't interested in the Allman Joys, which wasn't very smart. He was very interested in us, but he was extremely busy in the studio (recording "Blonde On Blonde" with Bob Dylan). He was so exhausted. He asked my parents to bring us back in two weeks."


The Sandpipers backed by the Allman Joys, March 1966


That second meeting never happened. "Trude Heller had formed a record company of her own, Tru-Glo-Town - 'Tru' for Trude Heller, 'Glo' for Gloria Toote and 'Town' for Ed Townsend. They had their studios in Englewood, New Jersey. That's when my parents decided we would sign with them. Ed Townsend wrote the song for my sister, sitting at the piano, looking into her eyes. He wrote 'All Over But The Crying' in a couple of minutes. He just wrote it looking at her."

Townsend, who'd recorded the classic beat ballad 'Don't Lead Me On' for Tru-Glo-Town around the same time, was also responsible for the flip side (co-written with Jesse Herring Jr.). 'Ballad To A Missing Lover' is an overlooked gem, with a classical-styled melody in the vein of the 1965 number one hit 'A Lover's Concerto', and comes off sounding like a cross between the Toys and the Shangri-Las. The song evokes a lot of tension with its spoken bridge of "You didn't leave 'cause you wanted to, and that is why I pray and pray for you". Where did her lover go, and why did he seemingly vanish without a trace? In true Shangri-Las style, those questions are never answered… although Charlyne Kilpatrick says she knows what Townsend had in mind. "Ed wrote that because of the times. He was thinking of the military boys being away. He was thinking of Viet Nam."

Both songs were recorded at the same session. "The night that we recorded, the back-up band was an orchestra that was on the way to a gig at a country club. We did that in very few takes. They were all in tuxedos, about 26 pieces. They were studio musicians, but they also played shows."

At Trude Heller's, the girls shared the stage with the likes of Otis Redding, Ben E. King, and Sam The Sham & the Pharaohs. One night in particular was especially memorable. "The Shangri-Las were in the audience," recalls Charlyne. "That made it really difficult for Debbie. She was so nervous, seeing them sitting out there. She forgot the words to the song. And we were doing 'Remember Walking In The Sand' at the time!"

After the engagement at Trude Heller's, the Sandpipers and Allman Joys would go their separate ways, although they would remain close throughout the years. The girls returned to Pensacola, where their record received a lot of airplay. Unfortunately, Tru-Glo-Town didn't have the resources to break the record nationally, leaving questions about what might have been had the girls made it to their second audition with Columbia. "Who knows what might have happened?" says Kilpatrick. "We were too young to really know what was going on. We had no say. No one asked us. If we'd waited two weeks, who knows?"

Back home in Florida, the girls were paired up with some of the hottest bands in town, including blue-eyed soul sensations the Soul-7. "Fran Kilpatrick had plenty of money and bought a new PA system (mikes, amp and speakers) and had costumes made for the girls that complemented the burgundy and black tuxedos we wore," remembers Tommy Ratchford, former lead singer of the Soul-7. Next the Sandpipers would be paired with the Laymen, who'd recorded a single for the Minaret label. When the Laymen split (as it turns out, temporarily), the girls landed with another local band, the Scoundrels, and recorded a second single that's rather - how should I say it? - remarkable, although it's of more interest to garage band fans than Northern soul collectors.


The Sandpipers backed by the Laymen, live at The Place,
Pensacola, Florida, July 1966


In late 1966 the Young Rascals were one of the hottest bands in America, to the point where even their B-sides were getting played on Top 40 radio. One Rascals flip side, 'Love Is A Beautiful Thing', was never really pushed by Atlantic Records, leaving an opportunity for groups from all over the globe to try to take the song to the top of the charts. Oh, there were many, many cover versions of the song, but none quite like the Sandpipers.

What was so unique about the Sandpipers' rendition? While most groups tried to create a backing track that SOUNDED like the Young Rascals, our heroines took it a step further, using the ACTUAL Rascals backing track. In fact, in a few places, you can even hear the Rascals' vocals, as the girls sing along with Felix Cavaliere and Eddie Brigati! The record came out with no credits whatsoever - not even a record company name. "In today's society, that's like downloading," says Charlyne. "We did that here in a studio where we took the actual original recording, and recorded over the vocals. A local disc jockey did it and pressed it, and no one ever said anything!"

The flip side is a turbo-charged update of Martha & the Vandellas' 'Dancing In The Street' that featured a backing track by the Scoundrels. "We had a great time recording it. We always had fun," says Charlene. The record has a party atmosphere, and has the type of sound that would work well on a 'Girls In The Garage' compilation. The record was not a hit, and was not distributed outside the Pensacola area.

Sally Hurst left the group and was replaced by Shirley Paris, the girlfriend of Freddie Garcia of the Scoundrels. Paris would also have a side-project with Charlyne Kilpatrick that would take them to Muscle Shoals. "We were known as Double Image, and we did a record on Amy that was produced by Papa Don Schroeder," recalls Kilpatrick. "We recorded both sides in an 18-hour session that just about killed me." The A-side, 'The Power Of Love', is an early version of a Dan Penn-Spooner Oldham tune that would later be recorded by Kilpatrick's old friends Duane and Gregg Allman, with their new band, the Hour Glass. Don Varner would also cut the tune. "Dan Penn was in the studio with us. He wrote the flip side ('Say You Love Me') while we were sitting around between takes." Double Image didn't last very long, due to some internal problems within the group. "I was only fifteen or sixteen, and looking back it was silly, but Papa Don was kind of having a fling with Shirley. Papa Don was a married man, and I just didn't want to be a part of that. So I got out. We didn't do very much touring in support of the record."

Shirley Paris left the Sandpipers and was replaced by an even younger Kilpatrick sister, Kay. "We couldn't keep the Sandpipers name because of the 'Guantanamera' group, so we became the Daisies," recalls Charlyne. We performed on Broadway at a club opened by Trude Heller, Trude's Trick. The Scoundrels backed us, and we were billed as 'The Daisies, formerly known as the Sandpipers'." Soon after, the Daisies called it quits, and the girls went off to pursue separate musical paths. (It should be noted that this is not the Daisies of 'Cold Wave' fame.)

Debbie and Charlyne Kilpatrick continued to sing in local bands. Charlyne now fronts a 7-piece group in Pensacola. Sally Hurst also kept going, with groups such as the Stonewalls. But the three original Sandpipers did not sing a note together for 35 years… until the summer of 2003, when the trio reunited before a hometown crowd of more than 10,000! By some counts 14,000 people turned out to dance and cheer and remember three young girls - now women - whose music and style were such a part of growing up in the area in the mid-'60s. Tommy Ratchford of the Soul-7 was among those impressed by their performance. "After all these years, {they're} still at it. Charlyne can still hit the high notes and she's still got the schmaltz to capture and hold an audience with her voice and her stage presence. She should have made it… but you know how that goes."

Fortunately there is the Northern soul scene to appreciate the work that local girl groups cranked out some forty years ago. I invite you to dig out the girls' Tru-Glo-Town single, and hear the magic for yourself.





All Over But The Crying / Ballad For A Missing Lover

Tru-Glo-Town 502


Love Is A Beautiful Thing / Dancing In The Street

No. 45099





The Power Of Love / Say You Love Me

Amy 985



According to Charlyne Kilpatrick, there are several hours of reel-to-reel tapes of unreleased Sandpipers performances from 1966. Unfortunately, their whereabouts are unknown.

The author wishes to thank the following for their assistance: Charlyne Kilpatrick, Tommy Ratchford, Kitty Bacon, Jim Roark, Don Shetterly, Howard Earnshaw and John Ridley.

First published in Soul Up North magazine, #43: www.soulupnorth.org

Jeff Lemlich: www.limestonerecords.com