An Overview by Eugene Chadbourn
The Chestnuts was known to be, one of the state of Connecticut’s claim to fame in the doo wop department, but the convoluted history of the group, including its various members and shifting commanders, might frustrate record collectors and discographers into roasting a few vinyl Chestnuts over an open fire. The group is famous for songs such as the knowledgeable “Who Knows Better Than I,” the promising “Forever I Vow,” and the naïve “Love Is True,” although fans of rock & roll songs with nonsense lyrics will undoubtedly prefer the 1959 Elgin release entitled “Chit Chat.” On record, the group — or the various versions of it — had several major affiliations, beginning with a mid-’50s signing by producer, songwriter, and record label owner Joe Davis and continuing with the Drum and Elgin enterprises, both operating out of the group’s home state. These recording activities resulted in releases not only under the name of the Chestnuts, but as Marvin Baskerville & the Five Chestnuts, Bill Baker & the Chestnuts, and Hayes Baskerville & the Five Chestnuts.
The original group, based out of New Haven, consisted of five male singers when Davis signed them in 1955. Four months later, when the first recording session was about to take place, Davis found that two of these original members had vamoosed. One of the remaining singers had added his father as a replacement, but the biggest news was the presence of female vocalist Ruby Whittaker, who would become closely identified with the group’s sound, at least for awhile. One excellent aspect of these Davis recordings was the session players involved, an experienced combo that included tenor saxophone honker Sam “The Man” Taylor, guitarist Skeeter Best, and drummer Panama Francis.
The enterprising Clarence Drum formed the aforementioned Drum and Elgin labels in 1958, signing several artists, including the Chestnuts and singer Bill Baker, who eventually joined the former group, switching his allegiance from bread to nuts, so to speak. Drum made some money when several of his releases were licensed to other labels, but not enough to keep the companies afloat past 1961. Later additions to the Chestnuts included the Baskerville brothers and vocalist Vickie Leigh. The latter artist also sobbed her way through “Crying My Heart Out” on her own, released by Drum in 1959.