This talented, but short-lived vocal group met while they were in Greenland, serving in the US Air force. The original members included James Willingham, Richard Travis, Tony Thomas and Gerald Craig. Soon after, they took notice of DiFosco Irvin (Big Dee Irwin), a talented piano player and vocal talent. He was invited to join the group. During the harsh winter months, while off duty, they practiced their harmonizing with various songs. Although they had no experience, Willingham had family connections with The Cadillacs and The Heartbeats.
After transferring from Greenland, they ended up at Andrews Air Force Base in Washington D.C. where they got back together and named themselves, The Rocketeers. Gerald Craig left the group at this time. The remaining members performed at some engagements in the area.
The Rocketeers wanted to record and headed to the Big Apple and before long they were discussing a contract at Hull Records. Record company Bea Daslin was not fond of their name and so the group changed it to The Pastels. They went into the studio and cut BEEN SO LONG, but Hull Records kept the song on the shelf for several months, then gave it a little push by releasing it on their subsidiary label, Mascot Records.
In December of 1957 BEEN SO LONG on Mascot Records began to get attention. In January of 1958 in a deal with Mascot Records, the master was assigned to Argo Records, who could distribute the single nationally and give it much more exposure. On March 10, the single charted on the Billboard R&B chart and peaked at #4. On March 3, BEEN SO LONG charted on the Billboard Top 100 (Pop Chart) and climbed up the Top 100 to #24. The single remained on the chart for 16 weeks. The flip side of the single was MY ONE AND ONLY DREAM, it did not chart.
In February of 1958 they were signed to tour “The Big Beat Show” for DJ Alan Freed, with an all-star line up that included Jerry Lee Lewis, Buddy Holly And The Crickets, Chuck Berry, Frankie Lymon and many others. The tour began in March at the famed Brooklyn Paramount.
Before leaving the touring circuit, The Pastels performed at the legendary Apollo Theatre with Little Willie John and Bill Doggett. Their second release was YOU DON’T LOVE ME ANYMORE/LET’S GO TO THE ROCK AND ROLL BALL, the single failed to chart. They then released SO FAR AWAY and DON’T KNOCK in October of 58′ on Argo Records, but this single also failed to chart. Due to issues involving the music buiness and the lack of success with their newer releases, The Pastels ended their career as a vocal group in 1959. Big Dee Irwin died in August of 1995 at the age of 63. Their legacy, lives in their Doo-Wop classic from 1958…BEEN SO LONG…and they are a part of the great music from the, “GOLDEN ERA OF ROCK AND ROLL”
Till the next time—Joe