Little is known of the very early days of Robert Odell Marshall Sr. other than he was born in Greenwood SC, circa 1938 and was the son of Eddie and Sara Marshall. His first recording was made in 1962 for the (Washington) DC label with an instrumental called “Ain’t No Big Thing” (DC 0433; unrelated to the often covered Radiants’ classic). Within a couple of years, Bob Marshall and the Crystals were regularly performing at popular venues throughout Virginia and North Carolina.
One of these spots was Nags Head Casino, on the Beach Road near Jockey’s Ridge. It was the place to go if you were in the Outer Banks area of the North Carolina coast. Originally a barracks for the stonemasons who constructed the Wright Brothers National Memorial, G.T. “Ras” Wescott transformed it into a leisure centre and nightclub, with a 1000 - 1500 capacity. Local Molly Harrison wrote for Our State magazine:
“....In Nags Head, teenagers rocked the floors of the Casino when they danced. Anytime you talk about the past on the Outer Banks, the conversation inevitably rolls around to the Casino. It drew not only locals and vacationers but also music lovers from all over eastern North Carolina and Tidewater Virginia, who did whatever it took to get to the dance hall on the dunes. Some of the biggest names in popular music navigated their buses along back roads and across wooden bridges to play in the nightclub…..the cavernous, two-story building housed 13 bowling alleys, plus pool tables, games, and a snack bar downstairs. Upstairs was the dance floor and bar. The top-floor shutters were always propped open with a stick, the summer breezes drifting in and the music drifting out across the Nags Head sands. The Casino was known for its “barefoot dancers”. Ras Wescott waxed and buffed his wooden dance floor every day, and he had a policy against shoes. Patrons, including servicemen in uniform, shed their shoes on the way upstairs and spent the rest of the evening gliding across the floor like skaters on ice….Ask just about any Outer Banker older than 50 about the Casino, and they’ll have a stockpile of favourite memories — the boxing matches on Wednesday nights, the fights in the parking lot, the night walks on Jockey’s Ridge and the beach after closing time, rowdy patrons jumping out of the second-floor windows to escape the bouncers, Wescott turning away long-haired surfers because he didn’t like men with ponytails, and Miss Burrus cutting off said ponytails in the ticket line....”
A variety of popular local bands and visiting national stars graced the club through the years. In the 1960s it was the turn of beach bands and R&B acts, with the likes Bill Deal and the Rhondels, The Temptations, The Four Tops, The Tams, The Drifters, and Maurice Williams and The Zodiacs. Bob Marshall and the Crystals were among them. Initially billed at Nags Head Casino for most of the summer season of 1964, they proved popular enough for further follow up appearances at Nags Head and other North Carolina venues for around two or three years, when local promoter Richard Levin and two brothers Steve and Tom Herman approached them for bookings.
The Herman brothers were from a white middle class family in south east Virginia. Around 1954 their family located to Norfolk, the largest city in Virginia. Tom remembers their oldest brother taking them to rock and roll events when he was around 12 years of age; Steve had a similar early musical introduction.
“I was always interested in black music”, Steve recounts. “We had a live-in housekeeper who was always listening to 850 WRAP. A few years later I graduated from high school, and discovered I had an entrepreneurial interest – beyond wanting to make money, just the thrill of putting something together. I saw the opportunity of band promotion. Kids were listening to black music on but couldn’t access the live bands. A friend of mine and I hung out in a black neighbourhood near his home. We found a band called Katrell Dixon and the Satellites. We made some tapes and took them to Golden Crest, Long Island, New York around 1960. It never really went anywhere but I continued to book bands for events. I eventually left Virginia to go to college in Pennsylvania, but during the summer I would return to promote local and bigger name acts for shows and parties. White college students were looking for R&B bands to book for their parties.”
Tom picks up the story: “Whilst Steve was away in college, people would turn to me looking for R&B acts. I got into the idea of booking and paying bands. My first job was booking a July 4 party at a frat order party at Virginia Beach. Around 1963, aged 15 and 16 years old, Tom and I joined to form the Rebel Booking Agency and soon had Norfolk venues like Nansemond Hotel, Ocean View and the Golden Triangle (a large expedition hall which could hold 1500). We picked up on african-american bands that weren’t getting any exposure at non-black venues. In particular we found ourselves booking Charlie McClendon and the Magnificents and Bob Marshall and the Crystals a lot. I don’t think the two bands really knew each other though as Charlie was based in Norfolk and Bob mainly played the Carolinas at the time. Richard and I had heard Bob was popular at Nags Head Casino and other venues. The band would play both black and white clubs, and their repertoire consisted of a mix of white pop covers and R&B songs.”
After establishing a successful series of live bookings, Levin and the Herman brothers’ attention turned to the business opportunity to be had with entering the recording world:
“I graduated from college 1965 and started at Law School at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville” recalls Steve. “In Spring ’66 I joined an academic journal called the Law Review. Tom and Richard were working on a record label to promote the bands and were looking for a name for it. Tom called me for ideas and I gave him “L-Rev” - how the journal title is presented in academic citations. I guess we thought there would be no chance anyone else would have the same label name!”
Charlie McClendon and the Magnificents, and Bob Marshall and the Crystals were to be the only artists on the label. Charlie was a composer, musician and producer in the Hampton Roads region of coastal Virginia who was a popular live act around the african-american clubs of Church Street in Hampton Roads. Prior to joining L-Rev, Charlie and his band had been hired by Frank Guida as contract session musicians for a number of artists on his Legrand label and other related work, featuring Ida Sands, Gary US Bonds and Jimmy Soul. Now, with a proper promoter behind them, their popularity grew as they reached a wider audience, playing local resort hotels such as the Nansemond, and backing Otis Redding, Solomon Burke and other artists who came to town.
Tom continues: “We discussed the idea of recording Bob and Charlie for our new label with Norman Johnson (of The Showmen), who we knew well. Norman recommended Virtue Recording Studio to us, which he knew from his work for Swan in Philadelphia. That’s where we ended up recording all the L-Rev 45s. We were on a tight budget. Any profits from band bookings were put into the label. We liked to find R&B songs which we thought a white audience would like, that were fairly unknown at least in the region. On our trips to Virtue we knocked out as many as we could do for the session time, which was expensive for us. Usually we did two to four tracks per session. The Paramount Pressing company was used for manufacture, which Frank Guida handled for us. Initially for most of the recordings there would be a 1000 pressing run. Many of the 45s got plays on the black WRAP and on the white orientated WCH station. We would often buy radio time on these stations to promote bookings. As the records became popular we would order further pressing runs.”
Bob Marshall and the Crystals had four L-Rev 45s, all released around 1966-1967. “Never Seen a Girl Like You” / “She Shot a Soul in My Soul” (LR-967-S) was the debut release for L-Rev. The top side was an original composition by Bob. The flip is better known as an Elf outing by Knoxville’s Clifford Curry. Two Nashville writers, Chuck Neese and Mac Gayden, had originally written “She Shot a Hole in My Soul”. Respected sound engineer Buzz Cason presented this to Curry. Sean Francis reports in his online blog that whilst Curry’s version climbed the charts in both the Billboard Hot 100 and R&B Charts in 1967, when he played Virginia venues the local crowd claimed he was singing a Bob Marshall song. Curry put this down to poor national distribution by Bell. The Crystals version had been released just a few months after Curry’s, and had become a regional hit.
By far the rarest of the bunch, and the 45 of most northern soul interest, was Bob Marshall’s second L-Rev 45 “I’m Going To Pay You Back” (LR-968). In the UK, this was played on the northern soul scene since the Stafford Top of the World all nighter era by DJ Keb Darge, placing its rediscovery around the early 1980s. Since then, the flipside “You Got Me Crying” has also received attention. Exactly how many of these were pressed is unknown. Tom remembers the two most popular 45s were Bob’s take of “She Shot a Hole in My Soul”, originally by Clifford Curry and Charlie’s L.C. Cooke cover “Put Me Down Easy”. “Each of these sold well over 5000 copies. I still have master-tapes and acetates of the recordings. As far as “You Got Me Crying” was concerned, I liked this one the most, but Bob wanted to push “I’m Gonna Pay You Back”. I felt it had too similar a melody to “She Shot a Hole in My Soul”, but he felt it would be popular for that reason. Kind of like an answer record. Then he moved onto the next thing and the record just got ‘lost’. We wanted the bookings so went along with Bob. I’m not sure how many of these were pressed, though a number were returned, possibly not promoted as well as it should have been.”
The band’s third and fourth releases for L-Rev were the Ray Whitley penned beach classic “I’ve Been Hurt” / “The Indians” (LR-911168) and “Gimme Some Lovin’ ” / “Raise Your Hand” (LR-22770) respectively. The topside of the latter was an instrumental cover of the Stevie Winwood / Spencer Davis Group track, which had been released in the UK and reached US shores late 1966. As a performing band, it is easy to see why Bob Marshall and the Crystals were in the habit of recording cover versions.
Bob Marshall’s only LP was the awkwardly named “Tuff Ten + 2” (Century Records LP FV 28392). The tracks were mostly cover versions of R&B standards popular at the time, save Bob’s originals “Gimme Your Love” and “Never Seen a Girl Like You”. Other tracks included: “Soul Finger”, “My Girl”, “Higher and Higher”, “She Shot a Hole in My Soul”, I’ve Been Hurt”, “Groovin’ ”, “Reach Out”, “Mister Pitiful”, “Poor Side of Town” and “Shotgun”. Tom Herman remembers: “The LP really had nothing to do with us, other than the fact that it contained L-Rev tracks. I’m pretty sure by that stage we had closed L-Rev; I had left for college and Richard and Steve moved on too. Bob had approached Richard to ask if it was OK to use the L-Rev tracks on the LP.” As a self financing venture, the rarity of the LP reflects a low pressing run, possibly in the 100s. Century was a successful and prolific custom recording and pressing service owned by the Keysor family in Saugus, California, but tended to concern themselves mainly with vanity and educational recordings; low pressing runs were the norm. The Keysor plastics products empire was partly built on this enterprise, although in 2003 the company faced financial penalties of $4.3 million when involved in an environmental contamination law suit, eventually filing for bankruptcy.
The Tropics (who gave the northern scene “Hey You Little Girl”), played with Bob Marshall and the Crystals at Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Va., circa 1968. “They had a great horn section” says guitarist Ken Adkins. “I later heard from them whilst I was a booking agent at Jokers Three. They sent me some promo copies of their new 45 releases. I never did book them though, as they weren’t that well known in the local markets I was involved in. At that time I heard them they tended to play more in Virginia.”
US beach music fan Dan Cullipher also recalled seeing Bob Marshall and the Crystals perform, after the L-Rev phase. “They were some of the best times you could have in our area for an impressionable teen. I guess their most recognized song for those that heard them was "She Shot a Hole in my Soul". My girlfriend at the time (now my wife) and I saw them perform several times in our area in the very early 1970s. At the time we saw The Crystals, we were young and in a rural area. They normally played the National Guard Armoury where there was enough room. Great memories. I can still hear them in my mind.”
By the 1980s, Bob was established in his ‘regular job’ at the Howmet Turbine company in Hampton, Va. However he continued to pursue his love of music and performing. Fellow co-worker Bobby Lineberry had just started learning to play the guitar when Bob approached him:
“I met Bob at Howmet in 1985, when he was a supervisor in the electrical and chemical discharge processing department. He mentioned he needed a guitar player for his band. I was quite new at it and barely knew any bar chords or songs. He invited me to a practice session anyway where I met his two brothers and his teenage son and daughter. His older brother and son played alto sax and the other brother, bass. His daughter played keyboard. Bob fronted the band on vocals, guitar and occasionally sax. He also provided vocals but from time to time would get a singer. He taught me about bar chords and with in a week he had me playing live parts. My time with him was short but we played a number of venues including Moose Lodges, Norfolk Yacht Club other private engagements large parties. He was a good teacher and he lifted my guitar playing to a new level. Bob took me to jazz, blues, and funk songs I’d never thought about playing. I remember him fondly for being a kind gentleman who shared with me the music he had to offer.”
No new studio recordings in later life are known. Bob was clearly settled with his wife Evelyn and family, and remained at Howmet Casting Division for a total of 28 years. He passed away suddenly in July 2013, aged 75 years. His body rests in a funeral home in Hampton.
Copyright E. Mark Windle (2016, 2018). You Got Me Crying! The Story of Bob Marshall and the Crystals modified excerpt from Rhythm Message, available to purchase in the new book section.