Soul Serenade: The Capitols, “Cool Jerk”

Written by Ken Shane's Soul Serenade, Music

 

The summer of 1966. I spent it on the beach and Boardwalk in Atlantic City. Incredible music poured out of tinny sounding transistor radio speakers everywhere I went. The songs of that summer included “Paint It, Black” by the Rolling Stones, “Hanky Panky” by Tommy James and the Shondells, “Sunny” by Bobby Hebb, “Sweet Talkin’ Guy” by the Chiffons, “When a Man Loves a Woman” by Percy Sledge, and “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg” by the Temptations.” But the Tempts and their Motown colleagues were not the only ones pushing great music out of the Motor City. Because 1966 was also the summer of the Capitols.

They got together in 1962 as an actual band, as opposed to a vocal group, called the Caps. The original lineup included drummer Samuel George who was also the lead singer. Don Storball played guitar and sang backup vocals, and Richard Mitchell was the keyboard player who also sang backup. At the time, an Ann Arbor DJ named Ollie McLaughlin owned a label called Karen Records. When the Caps opened for Barbara Lewis, McLaughlin caught their act and signed them to his label. In 1963, they released their first single “Dog and Cat” b/w “The Kick.” The record had plenty of energy, just like their later singles would, but the lyrics were pretty childish and the Caps failed to find an audience for it. As a result, the group fell apart and the members went their own ways.

The 1960s were known for a number of dance crazes. There was the twist, the watusi, the frug, and many others. One of the biggest was a dance called the jerk. The jerk was more sexually suggestive than some of the others, so much so that in some Detroit clubs it was known as the “pimp jerk.” Storball could sense which way the wind was blowing and he wrote a song hoping to capitalize on the jerk craze. He was smart enough to worry that such a song might end up being banned on the radio so instead of calling it “Pimp Jerk” he called it “Cool Jerk.”

The other Capitols saw the potential in Storball’s song and decided to get back together. They got in touch with McLaughlin to give him the good news and to book some studio time. On March 14, 1966, they went into the studio and although “Cool Jerk” was not technically a Motown record, the backing group that day was none other than Motown’s legendary Funk Brothers. McLaughlin served as producer. There were supposed to be horn players on the record but perhaps fearful of the wrath of Berry Gordy, Jr. they failed to show up for the sessions. The session went on without them, the horn parts simply left out of the mix.

The Capitols

The “Cool Jerk” single was released two weeks later on Karen Records (it was eventually picked up by Atlantic for distribution) and it rose to #7 on the Billboard Hot 100 while reaching the #2 spot on the R&B chart. Not content to rest on their laurels, the Capitols released two albums in 1966 hoping to capitalize on the success of the “Cool Jerk” single. Both albums, Dance the Cool Jerk and We Got a Thing, were primarily made up of Motown and other soul covers. Neither album did very well although Dance the Cool Jerk managed to scrape into the Top 100 for a week.

The Capitols released eight more singles in the wake of their “Cool Jerk” smash. Only two of them charted and none higher than #65. As a result, the Capitols will always wear the one-hit wonder tag. In 1969, they broke up for good. Don Storball became a cop and still lives in Detroit. Samuel George died in 1982, and Richard Mitchell died two years later.

The Capitols may have only had the one hit but it’s a hit that has been covered many times over the years and one that has influenced generations of musicians. Among the artists doing their own versions of “Cool Jerk” were Todd Rundgren, the Tremeloes, the Coasters, the Outsiders, and the Go-Gos. The song has also been featured in numerous films including a memorable version that had Bootsy Collins performing the song backed by the Funk Brothers in Standing in the Shadows of Motown.

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