BIG DEE IRWIN
Born DiFosco T. Ervin, Jr., 8 July 1932, Harlem, New York City, New York. Died 27 August 1995, Las Vegas, Nevada
R&B baritone singer Big Dee Irwin came up through the ranks, first as lead singer of the Rocketeers, a vocal group he had formed in 1955 when he was an air force sergeant stationed in Greenland. Rechristened the Pastels, the group was signed by Bea Caslon's Hull Records in the Brill Building in New York City. Their first record, cut in September 1957, was the slow doowop number "Been So Long", co-written by Irwin, and first released on the Hull subsidiary Mascot. The record started breaking in Washington, D.C. and was swiftly picked up by the Chess brothers for national distribution via their Argo label. April 1958 saw the Pastels peaking at # 4 on Billboard's R&B charts and at # 24 in the pop charts. By this time all four members had been discharged from the Air Force. The guys were free to tour with such luminaries as Frankie Lymon, the Platters, Sam Cooke and Larry Williams. Two follow-ups failed to grab record buyers by the throat and the Pastels disbanded in 1959.
Still contracted to Hull, Irwin made some solo records as Dee Erwin ("I Can't Help It", "Let's Try Again"), which also sold poorly. In 1961 publisher Don Kirshner added Irwin to his Aldon stable of songwriters in the Brill Building and then set up his own record label, Dimension Records, in 1962. The first release on that label gave Irwin his biggest success as a songwriter : "He Is The Boy". Never heard of it? Just flip over your copy of Little Eva's "The Loco-motion". Royalty rates are the same for both sides of a hit, and, over the years, most reissues of this multi- million seller have retained the original coupling. Big bucks for Big Dee! It was only a matter of time before Irwin would be fully employed as both singer and writer. His first Dimension single - and the first of his records to bear a Big Dee Irwin credit - was the self-penned "Everybody's Got A Dance But Me" (1962). It was overlooked, but then came "Swinging On A Star", originally a # 1 hit for Bing Crosby in 1944. Coupled with the equally strong "Another Night With the Boys" (previously recorded by the Drifters), Irwin's version went to # 38 on Billboard's pop charts in mid-1963. In the UK, "Swinging On A Star" was released with some delay, as Dimension's license switched from Decca (London American) to the Pye group (Colpix). It was an even bigger hit in Britain, peaking at # 7 in January 1964. The sarcastic ripostes of an uncredited Little Eva were the cherry on the cake and Eva would make appearances on several subsequent recordings by Big Dee. The follow-up singles were unsuccessful. Neither the tongue-in-cheek "Happy Being Fat", nor the Goffin-King penned "You're My Inspiration" saw any appreciable action. In late 1963 Dee paid his first visit to the UK to promote his hit, taking time out for new recordings under the supervision of Tony Hatch (among these the Seven Dwarfs' anthem "Heigh-Ho"). Two more British tours followed in 1964, but in spite of some strong releases and several UK TV appearances, Dee would have no further hits on either side of the Atlantic.
Dimension had lost its hitmaking power as Gerry Goffin and Carole King were less and less involved in the label's creative output and Don Kirshner and his partner Al Nevins had sold out to Columbia Pictures, with Aldon Music becoming Screen Gems. Dee saw the writing on the wall and split, forming his own publishing outlet, Fineline Music. His songs have been recorded by Ray Charles, Bobby Womack, the Hollies, the Dells and others. The 1965-71 period saw him recording sporadically for Rotate, Roulette, Fairmount, Phil-L.A. Of Soul, Polydor and Imperial, credited alternately as (Big) Dee Irwin, Dee Erwin and Dee Irvin. In 1972 he did a comeback album for the short-lived Signpost label. As DiFosco he had a small R&B hit (# 89) in 1976 with the disco number "Face To Face" on the Roxbury label. He was almost forgotten when, at the age of 63, he suddenly died of heart failure in 1995.
CD: Another Night With Big Dee Irwin : The Complete Dimension Recordings And More (Westside WESM 511, 1997). 25 tracks, including "Been So Long".
Acknowledgements : Malcolm Baumgart and Mick Patrick, Liner notes for the Westside CD ; Jay Warner, The Billboard book of American singing groups (1992), page 271-272 (Pastels entry).
Discography : http://www.soulfulkindamusic.net/bderwin.htm
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