While folk music didn’t begin in the Sixties (it had been around for decades,) it really picked up speed in 1962 and 1963. The Kingston Trio had been active since the Fifties and were still charting in 1963. The New Christy Minstrels charted three songs in 1963 and while The Limeliters were not a Top 40 group, a look at their list of albums shows that many of them were released in the early Sixties.
We wouldn’t even know about “Walk Right In” today if it weren’t for Erik Darling. When he was eighteen, he saw the Weavers in concert and knew that’s what he wanted to do with his life. He was born in 1935 in Baltimore, Maryland, and grew up listening to old folk music and records and on the radio. When he heard “Walk Right In” on an old album, he decided he could re-record it and maybe make a hit out of it.
The song was written by Gus Cannon in 1929 and was originally recorded by Cannon’s Jug Stompers. By 1963, Gus Cannon was 79 and living in a small house in Memphis, Tennessee and was practically destitute. He had had to hock his banjo to buy coal the winter before. So, when “Walk Right In” became a hit, Cannon was in the money again and actually got a new record contract out of the deal.
Luckily for Cannon, Erik Darling decided to record the song. He joined with two friends of his and they became the Rooftop Singers. Those friends were Bill Svanoe who played the guitar much like Darling did and Lynne Taylor, a jazz singer who would add the female touch to the music. Lynne had performed with Tommy Dorsey and Benny Goodman, just to name two. The two guys played twelve string guitars which was very unusual in the Sixties. There were only a handful of people in the country who could play a twelve-string in those days.
The Rooftop Singers only had one more Top 40 hit, “Tom Cat” (#20) and by 1967, had broken up and disappeared. Erik Darling ended up as a psychologist and died of lymphoma in 2008 at the age of 74. Lynne Taylor passed away in 1982. Bill Svanoe became an actor and then a celebrated screenwriter, winning many awards for his work. As far as I can tell, he is still alive and lives in Fearrington, North Carolina.
“Walk Right In” entered the pop chart on January 12, 1963 and spent two weeks at number one.
This video shows a little shorter version of the song, but it is a live performance of the singers and I prefer that to just a recording over a slide.