THE KALIN TWINS
Herbert Harry Kalin, born 16 February 1934, Port Jervis, New York
Among the pop stars of the early rock n roll era, the identical twins Herbert (Herbie) and Harold (Hal) Kalin were perhaps the most unlikely. The brothers were older than most of their contemporaries (their Decca biography lists their birth date as February 16, 1939, but they were in fact born five years earlier) and their interest in the rock and roll of the time was minimal.
Born in Port Jervis, New York, Herbie and Hal had been performing in public, together and apart, from their early childhood and they became professional musicians on leaving the local high school in 1952. Among their favourites were Johnnie Ray, Nat 'King' Cole and Tony Bennett : music from the pre-rock era. But they also heard rhythm and blues and early rock n roll. Following Herbie's spell as a solo vocalist and Hal's US air force national service, the twins teamed up, moved to Washington, D.C. and began to play the nightclubs there. In 1957 they came to the attention of songwriter Clint Ballard, who offered his services as manager and got them a deal with Decca Records in New York.
Their first session, in December 1957, resulted in a single that coupled "Jumpin' Jack" (written by Ballard) with "Walkin' To School" (a Kalin/ Kalin composition). Music that had one foot in the semi-rock pop of Paul Anka and Bobby Darin and one in Everly Brothers-style close harmonies. The record flopped, but on their second session, the Kalin Twins clicked.
The pair's biggest hit, "When", started off as a B-side. Hal told Jimmy Guterman in 1991 : "Decca thought that 'Three O'Clock Thrill' was more of a teenybopper hit. It mentioned a soda store and had a nice sax ride. They took out big ads in Billboard, but we were secretly promoting 'When'. We knew 'When' would make it." The brothers were right. It took the disc jockeys about two months to discover the B-side, but then "When" (written by Paul Evans and Jack Reardon) went all the way to # 5 on the Billboard pop charts. (And even # 1 on the Billboard R&B charts, but in 1957-1958 there wasn't much difference between the pop charts and the R&B lists.) In the United Kingdom, it was an even bigger hit, topping the charts for a full five weeks. After a London Palladium appearance and slots on BBC television's first pop show, Six-Five Special, the twins undertook a British tour - as one of the first US rock n roll acts to do so - supported by Cliff Richard, who became a lifelong friend.
The follow-up, "Forget Me Not", also did well, peaking at # 12 in the autumn of 1958. The subsequent single, "It's Only the Beginning", made it to # 42. The 1957-58 sessions were all held at the Pythian Temple in New York City, under the supervision of Jack Pleis, but the 1959 dates (there were three of them) occurred in Nashville, with Owen Bradley in the producer's chair and with accompaniment by the Nashville A-Team. This did not improve their sales, though : "Sweet Sugar Lips" spent one week at # 97 in July 1959 and that was the end of the line, chart-wise. But recording was no longer the Kalins' focus. Through the remainder of their Decca contract, Herb and Hal spent most of their time on the road.
After several NYC sessions in 1960-61, the Kalins returned to Nashville in June 1962, for their final Decca session. A cover of Joe Brown's # 2 UK hit "A Picture Of You" was completely overlooked by American record buyers. Disappointed, the brothers decided to call it a day and returned to their day jobs, although they did record an isolated single for the Amy label in 1966.
They did not perform again until 1977 when a friend booked them to appear weekly at his new night spot, the River Boat Club. For some years they performed on the oldies circuit, sometimes joined by their younger sibling Jack to appear as the Kalin Brothers. A few new singles were recorded for small labels, including a disco remake of "When", coupled with the patriotic "American Eagle" (1980). They disappeared again until their old friend Cliff Richard invited them in 1989 to perform in a series of UK shows to celebrate his 30th anniversary in show business.
In August 2005, Hal Kalin died from injuries he suffered in a car accident, at the age of 71. Almost a year later, Herbie Kalin succumbed to a heart attack, aged 72. The Kalin Twins are primarily remembered as one-hit wonders. Their heart was not really into rock n roll, so Decca's attempt to fit them into the teenage mold often produced half-hearted stuff. In the harmony department, they were no match for the Everly Brothers.
More info :
Discography/sessionography (until 1962) :
Acknowledgements : Jimmy Guterman, Encyclopedia of Popular Music (edited by Colin Larkin), Bruce Eder (All Music Guide).
CD : The Kalin Twins, When (Bear Family BCD 15597). Released 1992. 30 Decca tracks, 1957-62 (seven previously unissued). Liner notes by Jimmy Guterman.
Dik, May 2014
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