In the 50's and 60's there were quite a few groups named after birds. The most famous were The Ravens and The Orioles, we'll look at these two groups and others in this blog.
The Ravens have stood the test of time as one of the pioneering R&B groups. The Ravens were the first group to use a bass and falsetto tenor to lead , rather than just be in the background. The Ravens also were the first group to add dance steps to their act. Before The Clovers and The Orioles, The Ravens would use bits of jazz, blues, and gospel, to create a sound that appealed to more than just White audiences. This seems to time when the term RACE music got started.
The Ravens were formed by Jimmy Ricks, and Warren "Birdland" Suttles, two waiters from Harlem. The two went to the Evans booking Agency to recruit two more singers, Ollie Jones, and Leonard Puzey, and formed the group in 1945. They named themselves The Ravens and started a craze to name groups after birds. The group hooked up with Howard Biggs, who became their musicical arranager and wrote many of their songs.
The Ravens first appeared at The Club Baron in Harlem in 1946. That same year the group signed with Hub Records and their first single was a song called "Honey". They released two more singles, the best of the two was a jump tune called "My Sugar Is So Refined". They opened with this song when they appeared on a show with Nat King Cole at The Apollo. Puzey started the song singing lead, but when they switched leads and Ricks took over with his booming bass, he brought down the house. Ollie Jones soon left the group and was replaced by a falsetto tenor Maithe Marshall.
The group signed with National Records in 1947 and released a series of songs with Ricks on jump tunes and Marshall with his clear falsetto singing the ballards. Marshall called himself the "B' side singer. In later years fans of the Ravens would fight to get copies of Ravens records just for the "B" side.
In 1947 "Write Me A Letter" on National Records, became the first R&B record to reach #24 on the national charts, but didn't hit the R&B charts until january 1948. The Ravens were the first group to hit the pop charts before they hit the R&B charts. The groups second release for National established the group and it's sound internationally, the song was a rhythmic version of "Old Man River". It was said to have sold over two million copies.
Between 1947 and 1949 the group released a string of ballards and jump tunes for National Records. "Bye, Bye, Baby Blues" reached #13 on the Juke Box chart.
Even though The Orioles were a new group, in 1948, The Ravens covered their first release, "It's Too Soon To Know". The Orioles version reached #1, while The Ravens version only reached #11.
The group started touring on the legendary chitlin circuit, a series of venues on the East Coast and Midwest where thousand of R&B acts performed.
In 1948 National released the groups version of "White Christmas", it went to #9 on the juke box chart. It's been said that this inspired The Drifters version of 1954, almost a note for note copy. The group also had a thrilling ballard version of "Silent Night". In 1949 "Ricky's Blues" went to #8 on juke box. The group's last single with National Records, was "Lilacs In The Rain" with Marshall on lead.
The Ravens signed with Columbia Records in 1950, releasing a number of great songs like the Ricks led "Time Takes Care Of Everything" and the Marshall led "I'm So Crazy For Love". The group recorded just a few singles for Columbia's Okeh affilliate before moving to Mercury late in 1951. With the exception of Ricks, this was an all new Ravens. Jimmy Steward replaced Puzey, Louis Frazier, replaced Heyward, and a falsetto named Joe Van Loan replaced Marshall.
The Ravens were considered one of the top drawer acts of the day, and at times recieved as much as $2,000.00 per show, which was a lot of money for the time.
Mercury issued some softer songs for the group, but they didn't hit the charts for two and a half years and the song was "Rock Me All Night Long". Their best sides for Mercury were "Who'll Be The Fool", and "September Song". Some think that the best ballard ever recorded by the group was the Joe Van Loan led "Don't Mention My Name" released in 1952. Even though three-fourths of the group was new, their sound was almost as good as the original group of the National Record days.
The group signed with Jubilee Records, but in the spring of 1956, Ricks decided to go solo. Van Loan did not want to quit just yet, so he recruited his brothers Paul and James, and David Bowers as the new Ravens. The group was able to maintain the true sound of The Ravens when they signed with Argo Records in 1956. With Van Loan on lead The Ravens had two moderate hits with "Kneel And Pray", and "A Simple Prayer". Van Loan was touching the sky with his glass breaking falsetto tenor. The groups last great hit was a cover of The Scarlets "Dear One" in the summer of 1957.
The groups manager, Nat Margo bought the Ravens name from Ricks, and from that point on a varity groups using the Ravens' name showed up on the circuit in the 60's and 70's.
While it's true Jimmy Ricks created one of the greatest doo-wop groups of all times, he neverd charted as a solo. He signed with a lot of labels overed the years, but finally moved to Florida to work with Count Basie. Ricks stayed active on the club circuit until he passed in 1974.
The Orioles were formed by Earlington Carl Tilghman, (soon to be Sonny Til), in 1947. The original group included Til, Alexander Sharp, George Nelson, and Tommy Gaither. A wanna be song writer named Deborah Chessler discovered the group over the telephone and became their manager(see previous blog Deborah Chessler). In 1948 the group appeared as The Vibra-Naires, on the Arthur Godfrey radio talent show. Richard Williams was the bass for the show, but was replaced by Johnny Reed soon after. The group won a recording deal with a subsidiary of Jubilee Records. Jubilee owner, Jerry Blaine, changed the groups name to The Orioles. In July of 1948 Chessler wrote "It's To Soon To Know" on some toilet paper in a restroom. This was the group's first release. Til was on lead, and the song sold 30,000 copies which put the song at #1 on the R&B chart. Not only did The Ravens cover the song, but so did Ella Fitzgerald and Dinah Washington. It was the biggest race song to cross over to mainstream markets at the time.
The Orioles started touring all over and were moved off of the subsidiary label up to Jubilee. In 1949 they scored another hit with "Tell Me So", and again they were at #1 on the R&B charts but the song didn't cross over. The group had other hits that included "Forgive And Forget", and "Lonely Christmas". Unlike audiences at a Mills Brothers shows, where audience just sat there, The Orioles kept the audience excited, with girls screaming and trying to get to the stage and at Sonny Til. From 1948 to 1954 the group recorded over 120 sides for the National and Jubilee labels. By the late 1950 they were major stars, even though their hits had stop coming.
In 1950 a tragic car accident killed Gaither, and severly injured Nelson and Reed. Til and Sharp were in another car and didn't know about the accident until later. Til and Sharp performed as a duo for a short time, but soon added two new members, guitarist/second tenor, Ralph Williams, and pianist, Charlie Harris. Nelson and Reed both returned to the group. A year later the group had another accident, but this time no-one was hurt. In 1952 the group had a hit with "Baby Please Don't Go" which was an early 45 on red vinyl.
In 1953 Nelson left the group and was replaced by John Gregory Carroll, from the Four Buddies. Also in 1953 they recorded what was a country song by Darrell Glen. The song was "Crying In The Chapel", this song became the group's biggest hit, staying at #1 on the R&B charts for five weeks and reached #11 on the pop charts. This would be the group's last big hit. They had a minor hit later with "In The Mission Of St. Augustine". Williams left the group shortly in 1953, and in 1954 Chessler quit. In 1955 Reed left to join The Ink Spots. He was replaced by Maurice Hicks. The group disbanded in late 1955 or early 1956.
Left without a group Til took a group called The Regals and started The New Orioles. This new group included, Tex Cornelius, Diz Russell, Jerry Holeman, Billy Adams, and pianist Paul Griffin. With the new group Til found a new sound, and some of the old songs were re-recorded to fit the new sound. The group left Jubilee and moved to Vee-Jay Records. This group stayed together until 1957 when Cornelius left the group. Cornelius was replaced by Frank Todd, who lasted a short time and was replaced by Jimmy Brown. After Til's car was repossessed (the group's transportation), in 1959 Holeman and Russell left the group. This was the end of the second Orioles.
Til went solo for awhile, but then formed a third Orioles. This group included, Delton McCall, Billy Taylor, and Gerald Gregory from the Spaniels. This group lasted for awhile and recorded for Charlie Parker Records. Gregory left after a couple of years,and was replaced by Lawrence Joyner, this group split in 1960.
In 1966 Til met Bobby Thomas, a long time Oriole fan who had a group of his own. The group was call The Vibrannaires, (which was the Orioles original name). This group included Thomas, Clarence Young, Harry Accoo, and Mike Robinson. Thomas, Young, and Robinson joined Til as the fourth Orioles. This group recorded until 1975.
After the break-up of the fourth group, Til joined a version of The Ink Spots. With this group Til was able to be an Ink Spot one night and an Oriole the next. This group toured as both groups. Til formed another Orioles in 1977, with former members, Diz Russell, Jerry Holeman, and Billy Taylor. This group somtimes featured Eddie Palmer. The group was together until Til passed in 1981.
The group continued with Russell, Reese Palmer, Skip Mahoney, Larry Jordan and music director Eddie Jones. Jones and Mahoney were replaced by George Spann and Royal Height. Bobby Thomas later started his own Orioles.
There is still an Orioles group touring today, and they still sound great!!
The Flamingos were founded in Chicago by cousins Jake and Zeke Carey. They recruited another set of cousins Paul Wilson and Johnny Carter that had met at a Black Messianic Jewish synagogue. Earl Lewis, (not from the Channels), soon joined the group. The group had many names before they settled on The Flamingos. Sollie McElroy replaced Lewis, who joined The Five Echoes. The group signed with Chance Records and their first single was "If I Can't Have You", was a moderate hit in Chicago. Their second single didn't fair much better. The group's reputation was established with a Johnny Carter written song, "Golden Teardrops". The song had Carters shrill falsetto backed up with some very complex harmonies. The group left Chance Records in late 1953 and signed with DJ Al Benson's Parrot Records. McElroy was there for the first recording session, but soon left the group and was replaced by Nate Nelson. Nelson lead on "I'm Yours", which was released in January 1955. Later that year the group moved to Chess Record's Checker label. Checker Records gave the group the materials they needed to score their first national hit, "I'll Be Home", which went to #5 on Billboard, and was covered by Pat Boone with incorrect lyrics. The group had some moderate hits with songs like, "A Kiss From Your Lips", "The Vow", and "Would I Be Crying", these songs still hold up as some of the greatest R&B records of all time. In 1956 The Flamingos appeared in Alan Freed's movie Rock, Rock, Rock.
Zeke Carey and Johnny Carter were both drafted that same year. Nelson, Jake Carey and Paul Williams, continued on with new member Tommy Hunt, and Terry Johnson who joined the group in 1956.
The group began recording for Decca Records in 1957. The group now included Nate Nelson, Tommy Hunt, Terry Johnson, Paul Wilson, and Jake Carey. The group recorded "The Ladder Of Love", but a dispute between Checker and Nelson ruined any chance of the song having any success. Zeke Carey returned to the group in 1958, making the group a sextet. When Johnny Carter was discharged, he joined The Dells, and stayed with them until he passed.
The Flamingos moved again to End Records and began recording for George Goldner (there's that name again), in New York. Goldner provided them with a more sophisticated sound. They weren't at End very long before they had a hit on the pop charts, "Lovers Never Say Goodbye", written by Terry Johnson, who shared lead on the song with Paul Wilson. This proved to be a winning formula and 3 of the next 12 songs were lead by Johnson and Wilson, on their first album "Flamingo Serenade". The group had a big hit with an old standard "I Only Have Eyes For You" in 1959. The song was recorded in 1934 by Dick Powell. The song has been featured in many movies and TV shows. The group then had a string of hits, which included, "Mio Amore", a Doc Pomus song, "Your Other Love", "Nobody Loves You Like Me" written by Sam Cooke, and "I Was A Fool". That same year the group appeared in Alan Freed's movie Go Johnny Go, songing "Jump Children". The group was known as much for their dancing as they were for their harmonnies. The Temptations and Tavares credit the group as influences.
The group started to fall apart in 1960. Tommy Hunt left for a solo career, Nelson and Johnson left and started The Modern Flamingos in 1961, and recorded as The Starglows for Atco records, in 1963. After some changes, some of the old names re-appeared. Zeke and Jake Carey, and Paul Wilson joined the new group, along with Billy Clarke, Eddie Williams, Alan Fontaine, and Julien Vaught. Clarke and Williams were the leads. A 6th vocalist, Doug McClure, was added in 1962. Clarke and Williams soon left the group. Wilson left in 1964, and Sidney Hall joined the group in 1966. Jake Carey's son J.C, joined the group in 1969. The group recorded several uptempo songs in the 60's, and got their first #1 on the UK charts, with "Ain't But Nothing A Party" during this time. Also at this time The Flamingos started their own label, Ronze, and starting producing their own recordings.
The group continued recording into the 70's and changed members many times over the years. The group appeared on the PBS Doo-wop 50 shows and flew in Tommy Hunt to work with them. Johnny Carter took time off from The Dells for the shows too. In 2005 the group split over a money dispute. There have been, and still are a number of Flamingos groups touring. Members of the group sued Pepsi Cola for using "I Only Have Eyes For You" without permission, the group was awarded $250,00.00.
The Flamingos were inducted into The Vocal Group Hall Of Fame in 2000, The Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame in 2001, and the Doo-Wop Hall Of fame in 2004. "I Only Have Eyes For You" was inducted into the Grammy Hall Of Fame.
The Flamingos are considered one of the best Doo-Wop groups of all times!!
The Swallows were formed in Baltimore in 1946, but were first called The Oakateers. The group included Lawrence Coxson, Irving Turner, Earl Hurley and Norris Mack. The group practised on street corners until 1948, when they joined with Eddie Rich, and Frederick Johnson. Herman Denby was hired later. Turner left the group and became their valet.
The Swallows recorded "Will You Be Mine" in 1951, and the song is considered one of the first Doo-Wop hits. The song went to #9 on Billboard's R&B charts. In 1952 the group released "Beside You", which was the group's second national hit. The 78 year old Eddie Rich and The Swallows are still performing at clubs and cabarets all over the country.
The Penguins were formed in 1953 by Cleveland Duncan and Curtis Williams, who were ex-members of a group called The Hollywood Flames. The two added Dexter Tisby, and Bruce Tate. At first their style was a cross between R&B and rock and roll.
The group took their name from Kool ciarettes, who used Willie the Penguin for advertising. Since the group was cool they decided to call themselves The Penguins.
When Williams joined the group, he brought with a song called "Earth Angel", that he had worked on while with The Hollywood Flames.
The group signed with Dootone Records, and recorded a single in 1954 with "Hey Senorita" as the intended "A" side, but somehow the DJ played the wrong side and played "Earth Angel" instead. "Earth Angel" went to #1 on the billboard charts and stayed there for 3 weeks in early 1955, Duncan sang lead on the song.
As was the custom of the time, if a song looked to be promising a white group would record and release a version of the same song at the same time. This happened with "Earth Angel", the white group in this case was The Crew-Cuts. Their cover of the song went to #3 on the Hot 100 chart five spot above The Pinguins' version. The success of this song launched the career of The Crew-Cuts as cover artist. More than a few singers made their careers as cover artist. Two of the more famous are Johnny Rivers, who stole from Chuck Berry and James Taylor, who robbed MOTOWN.
There was some dispute over who wrote "Earth Angel", so the credit was split between Curtis Williams, Gaynel Hodge, and Jesse Belvin. The song was influenced by Jesse and Marvin's #2 hit "Dream Girl", which contained many of the same vocal changes. The will you be mine phrase in the song came from The Swallows' song of the same name, "Will You Be Mine. The Hollywood Flames had recorded a song in 1953 called "I Know" which is a cord for cord layout of "Earth Angel", and had the same Curtis Williams' piano intro as "Earth Angel. The background harmony of repeated you-oo, you-oo, you-oo had been heard before in the Dominos' "These Foolish Things Remind Me Of You"
After their initial success the group asked Buck Ram to be their manager. Ram's main concern was The Platters, but he was able to make a two for one deal with Mercury Records, who agreed to take on The Platters so they could get The Penguins. As fate would have it, The Platters became the more successful act. The Penguins never had another hit.
In 1955 Bruce left the group and was replaced by Randy Jones (who would later sing with The Cadets). For awhile in 1956 Jones and Tisby were gone from the group. and were replaced by Ray Brewster, and Teddy Harper. Jones and Tisby returned then Williams left and Harper replaced him for good.
The group broke up in 1962, But Cleveland Duncan continued to record as The Penguins with Walter Saulsberry, and a group called The Viceoys as their backup. The group changed personell many times until Duncan was performing at times as The Fabulous Penguins.
The group performed on the PBS television special Doo-Wop 50 show. The Penguins were inducted into the Vocal Group Hall Of Fame in 2004.
The Wrens were formed in 1950 by two friends from the Morrisania section of the Bronx. The friends were, Waldo (Champ Rollow) Champen, and Francis (Frenchie) Consepcion. The first group included Archangel (Archie) Oropeza, and Raoul McLeod. They sang together for awhile before drifting apart.
Determined to put a group together Concepcion, recruited two more singers, George Magnezid, James (Archie) Archer. They sang as a trio in the community center at PS 99, before adding a 4th member, Bobby Mansfield. Mansfield and Concepcion were the leads, Mansfield on uptempo songs and Concepcion on ballards. They admired the great groups of the day, The Clovers, The Ravens, and The Orioles. They practiced songs like "Red Sails In The Sunset", and "White Cliffs Of Dover" The group started appearing at community centers and amateur shows in the Bronx, Manhattan, and parts of New Jersey.
In 1954 the group heard about a talent contest being held by Freddy Johnson, an arranger/pianist. The group entered and won the contest, and Johnson became their manager.
After being urged by Johnson, Rama Records owner George Goldner (there's that name again) stopped by one of the group's rehearsals and liked what he heard. Goldner promised the group that if they signed with him, he would record them immediately. The group had a tentative agreement in place with another label, when Goldner made his offer. The group could not turn down Goldner's offer, so they signed with Rama Records. True to his word Goldner arranged a session for the group in late 1954. They recorded four songs at the session. The songs were "Love's Something That's Made For Two", Beggin' For Love", "Come Back My Love", and "Eleven Roses". The piano player was Freddy Johnson. For some reason Johnson parted with the group soon after the session, some think he was pushed out by Goldner. Goldner's policy was to have complete control of the groups on his labels. The first three songs were written by the group, but "Eleven Roses" was poem by Jack Wachs.
The Wren's first release was "Love's Something That's Made For Two"/"Beggin' For Love". Goldner said the record would be bigger than "Sh-boom". Rama Records didn't push the record very hard and the group only made a few promo appearances.
In early 1955, Rama released The Wren's second record, "Come Back My Love" backed by "Beggin' For Love", no-one knows why Rama used "Beggin' For Love" again. The group then recorded "Come Back My Love" again backed by "Eleven Roses". It was said that 1955 was a chaotic year for Rama Records and that a lot of strange things were happening.
Goldner may have liked The Wren's, but with gambling issues and his involvement with Morris Levy, Goldner was to busy to work with them.
The group released a number of songs, most written by Mansfield and Washington, but out of the blue, the name Vastola started showing up on the labels as a co-writer. This Vastola person was getting credit for songs he had nothing to do with. This name would appear on a number of songs recorded by Rama and Gee labels. As it turns out This person was Gaetano "Tommy" Vastola who was a business associate of Morris Levy (remember that name?).
The Wren's only had one big show and that was Alan Freed's Rock'n Roll Holiday Jubilee. The show ran for 10 days in the winter of 1955/56. The show was the last chance for the group to make it big, it didn't happen. The group drifted apart after the show. After the show Rama released a song that had been recorded earlier called "C'est La Vie". This was a great song but it didn't move, and this would the last time The Wrens' name would appear on a record.
The members of the group went their own way, some sang with other groups, and some tried solo carrers, but no-one had any great success.
The treatment of The Wrens and George Goldner was repeated many times with other groups. There were some very good groups that recorded for Goldner's labels, that never made it in the business. Some were neglected, but most were exploited by Goldner and his partners.