Saturday, September 15, 2007

It's Twine Time!: Alvin Cash And The Registers

"The Twine, which is the title of this album, is a dance started in one of Chicago's High Schools. It is the consensus of opinion that Dunbar High School students started the dance.
Herb 'The Cool Gent' Kent, WVON deejay, popular with teenagers, picked up the name at one of his regular record hops and started talking about the WOODBINE TWINE (the title of our newest release by the Five Du-Tones). Bill Cody, who has taught choreography and dancing in and around Chicago for many years to most of the singing groups, saw the dance and brought it to the attention of Mar-V-Lus' A&R man, Andre Williams. Andre saw the dance and felt the beat - grabbed Alvin Cash and the Registers, and bingo, the rest is history. Alvin Cash, the leader of the Crawlers dance group has been on the entertainment scene as a dancer and entertainer for thirteen years. Alvin was born in St. Louis, Missouri, is now 23 years old. At the age of 10, Alvin became a close associate of his Uncle Bill Robinson Jr., who was a well known dancer in the St. Louis area; and soon after, became a part of his uncle's act. Later, when Alvin's brothers, Robert (now 16) and George (now 15), were 7 and 8 respectively, they joined him as part of his act. Robert 'B Q', a radio personality at KATZ in St. Louis, named the act (because of their ages) THE CRAWLERS. Alvin, unmarried, lives in Chicago. George and Robert, who are still attending Sumner High School, St. Louis, Missouri, commute to Chicago every weekend to work in various clubs, returning to St. Louis on Sunday for classes on Monday."

- liner notes to Mar-V-Lus LP 1827, "Twine Time" released in 1965.

The weather is still fine, and summer has not left us behind, it's time to dance but one thing is on my mind: How do you do The Twine?

I don't know about you, but not having lived through the Sixties, and living far from the talcum powdered dancefloors of northern soul, I have immense difficulties in strutting my stuff. I hear a record, my body wants to move, but I am reduced to one of three options: propping up the bar for another pint; gyrating wildly in a freestyle form of funky James Brown dance which results in injuries for other dancers; or the intense,
solo dance, comprising lots of shuffling and spinning, that for some reason third-generation mods like me seem to think should accompany Green Onions.

What I really would like to be able to do is to dance The Bop, The Watusi, The Cool Jerk, The Boston Monkey, The Birdland, The Sissy Strut, The Popeye, The Funky Penguin, or just Shake A Tailfeather. The trouble is, I have never actually come across anybody who knew how any of these dances go. I suppose there is the Twist, and the Mashed Potato, but surely things used to be more exciting than that? Where did all the dancers go? Nowadays, there seem to be more people interested in learning the foxtrot than in knowing what to do when somebody yells, "It's Twine Time!". When Land Of A Thousand Dances comes on, you'll find me propping up the bar again, watching other people go, "Well, I know how to , um, and do the .. well, ..."

I am still no nearer to finding out just exactly how to dance the Twine. Maybe Sis Detroit can enlighten us?:

"I was once in a boogaloo contest in a backyard party (twenty-five cents to enter the gate.) But I was a young teen-ager. When the jerk came out, I was an older teen, and I had slowed down a bit, but tried to hang in there. The twine was quite easy, but the older I got, the less I danced, and the more I just listened and observed."

This sounds slightly reassuring, as I am now at the tender age of 34, and need to consider slipped discs, hernias etc. Meanwhile, Joe Nawrozki, a writer for the Baltimore Sun, attests to the powers of The Twine when far from home:

"I would see this again years later, stinky and scared young guys dancing to candlelight in a sandbagged Vietnam bunker, serenaded by a tropically-warped Temptations album. That
dancing was integrated [unlike in clubs in Baltimore] and I learned how to do the boomerang, shing-a-ling, the skate and the twine time. Dance was a brief connection with home for us, time out from the insanity of war."

So what is the story behind The Twine?

Alvin Cash (real name Alvin Welch) was I believe the eldest of eight children. Alvin, Arthur, George, and Robert formed a song and dance act and called themselves The Four Steps or the The Step Brothers. Alvin wanted to try to get into music, and encouraged his brothers to visit him in Chicago for dance gigs and competitions. As a dance group they were very successful. They renamed themselves The Crawlers, while Alvin formed a band of his own called the Nightlighters. It was while the Crawlers were dancing at the Budland Dance Club in Chicago that Andre Williams spotted them, and decided to try Alvin out at Mar-V-Lus back in Chicago.

The other brothers in the Crawlers were not featured on the record that came out of this, Twine Time, written by Andre Williams and Verlie Rice, following on from the tune Woodbine Twine by The Five Du-Tones. All being much younger than Alvin, nobody could quite see how they would fit together as an r&b group performing for adults. That is all bar one. While Andre was taken by Alvin's singing skills, flambouyancy and sharp, colourful dress sense, it is another brother, George, to whom much of the credit should go for crafting the dance we know as The Twine. Don on the Soulful Detroit forums recalls:

George was the person who originated the dance moves named The Twine that Alvin adapted ... Since George was a dancer he would make up the dance routines, or would make better routines out of any regions dance moves. If anyone ever saw Alvin Cash do a concert you know what I mean."

George was so talented he is alleged to have shown Major Lance and others how to improve their moves. Not only that, but despite his young age at the time, George was know locally as a remarkable drummer, playing with local group The Vows. He could even dance at the same time, and once, opening a concert for Frank Sinatra with the Four Steps, he was invited back on to play some drums by Frank himself, while tapping! According to Don, George's drumming was so good that "[it]... even made Sammy Davis, Jr said wow!" So it is George you can hear keeping the beat on The Twine Time and many other Alvin Cash recordings. Only trouble was, due to his age, George would have to be snuck into clubs and snuck back out again as soon as the set was over:

"Since George being young, he couldn't stand around or mingle in the area because he was underage, and would have to stay in the back before the shows began and during intermissions and after."

While George was too young to latch onto the fame that went with Alvin Cash and The Registers, he went on to play drums with a number of groups, including Mothers' Finest, and continued playing with The Vows. He is married to Berniece Willis of The Kittens.

Ladies and gentlemen, you don't need to check your watches, I'll tell you what time it is!

Alvin Cash & The Registers - Twine Time (Mar-V-Lus 6002)

Alvin Cash & The Registers - Twine Awhile (from Mar-V-Lus MLP 1827)

Information from liner notes, and from the informative posts of Mel(andthensome),
Sis Detroit, Randy Russi, and most especially Don on the Soulful Detroit forums

1 comment:

sexy said...