Information on these pages is provided for the purpose of promoting greater understanding and appreciation for vocal group harmony. Copyright 1998-2006. All Rights Reserved. Property of Nikki Gustafson & Jim Dunn. Not to be duplicated, reproduced or otherwise used without permission
R&B Vocal Group Interviews
Clovers - Five Keys - Flamingos - Orioles
Listen to members of some of the great legendary vocal groups as they expound on various aspects of their careers. The interviews on this page were all recorded in late 1964 at the 1964-65 Apollo Oldies show in NYC. The Clovers, Five Keys, and Orioles interviews were conducted by Joe Marchesani, who at the time was co-host of the Time Capsule radio show. ( see link below to our Time Capsule section) The Flamingos interview was handled by Carl Tancredi, an early Time Capsule listener. The interviews were processed for on air listening by inter-weaving the actual dialogue with some of the group's recordings. These special interview shows were no doubt a real treat for original Time Capsule listeners ( three aired in January 1965). Most of these artists have since passed away. These vintage interviews captured some special moments in R&B vocal group history. They are presented here, once again, for your listening enjoyment.
Listen to Interview
with Harold Winley of the Clovers.
The Clovers, featuring lead tenor Buddy Bailey recorded for Rainbow, Atlantic, Poplar, United Artists, Winley and Port. The original group consisted of John ' Buddy" Bailey, Matthew McQuater, Harold Lucas, and Harold Winley. The Clovers were one of the premier vocal groups of the early 1950's, and are probably best known for their 1952 hit "One Mint Julep" which reached # 2 on the R&B charts, and was also re-recorded for United Artists in 1959.
From the early to mid 50's they had a string of R&B hits for Atlantic. "Don't You Know I Love You", "Fool, Fool, Fool" and "Ting-A-Ling" all reached the # 1 position. Other Clovers' classics include "Here Goes A Fool", "Lovey Dovey", "Nip Sip", "Devil Or Angel", "Love, Love, Love"and "Blue Velvet", all released on Atlantic.
On United Artists in 1959 we find "Love Potion Number 9" climbing to # 23 on the charts and putting the Clovers back in the public eye. Besides the remake of "One Mint Julep", the Clovers also released "That Old Black Magic" and "I'm Confessin' That I Love You" for United Artists.
Moving to Winley in 1961, the Clovers recorded " Wrapped Up In A Dream" , "I Need You Now" and "Be My Baby" (as the Fabulous Clovers).
1963 gave us "Stop Pretending" and "That's What I Will Be" on Porwin. With 21 charted singles, the Clovers were one of the most successful recording groups of the 1950s.
The Five Keys
Listen to Interview
with Ramon Loper & Maryland Pierce of the Five Keys.
In the late 1940s, in the town of Newport News, Virginia, a group of young men entered an amateur program at the Jefferson Theater . Their names were Rudy West & Bernie West (brothers), and Raphael Ingram and Ripley Ingram (also brothers). They were known as The Sentimental Four and after winning 3 consecutive weeks of amateur contests at the Jefferson , they were invited to perform at the Apollo where they also won . This led to subsequent engagements at the Royal and Howard Theaters. As they established their reputation along the eastern seaboard, they were noticed by Eddie Mesner, owner of Aladdin Records, who signed them to a recording contract. By this time, Raphael went into the army and was replaced by Maryland Pierce (formerly of The Avalons). Also added was another singer, Dickie Smith, and a sixth man, piano player Joe Jones. Their name was changed from "The Sentimental Four" to "The Five Keys" The Keys toured both the east and west coasts and their Aladdin songs were recorded in New York and Los Angeles. Some of their approximately 17 Aladdin releases in the early fifties consisted of Glory Of Love, How Long, Someday Sweetheart, Red Sails In The Sunset and Yes Sir, Thats My Baby with Rudy West & Dickie Smith on leads, and My Saddest Hour and Serve Another Round with Maryland Pierce on 1ead.
Original Aladdin Five Keys
At their induction into UGHA Hall Of Fame - April 1992
In 1953, both Rudy and Dickie entered the army and were replaced by Ramon Loper and Ulysses Hicks. Now recording for Capitol, they released Ling Ting Tong, with Pierce on lead. When Hicks died suddenly in 1954, before Rudy returned home, the lead tenor position was filled temporarily by Dickie Smiths cousin, none other than the great legend himself, Mr. Willie Winfield of The Harptones. Backed by The Howard Biggs (former Ravens arranger) Orchestra, they were in the right place at the right time to be recorded by Capital 's advanced audio techniques. With Rudy on lead, they recorded Out Of Sight, Out Of Mind and Wisdom Of A Fool. Another great Capitol release, Close Your Eyes featured Maryland Pierce on lead, echoed hauntingly by Rudys high floating tenor.
Tired of touring, Rudy retired from the group in 1958. In 1959, with the addition of Dickie Threat in Rudys spot, they recorded several sides for the King label, but it just wasnt quite the same without Rudy. During this time, Rudy also recorded on his own for King, covering the Passions Just To Be With You with an unlisted group.
In 1962, Rudy produced and re-recorded Out Of Sight, Out Of Mind with a new group of Keys consisting of Rudy, Bernie and Dickie Smith, along with John Boyd and Willie Friday, for Seg-Way Records. On this version, the group's background harmonies were more pronounced. In 1965, Rudy recorded No Matter on the Inferno label with yet another configuration of Keys, then consisting of Rudy, Edmond Hall, Ollie Sidney, Theodore Jones and George Winfield (yes, another of Willies cousins).
In 1997, Rudy was still hitting those notes and sounding as good as ever with his current group of Keys. At a UGHA meeting/show at Scheutzen Park, New Jersey (11/28-29/97), the crowd was treated to two nights of breath taking Keys performances, one night featuring Aladdin and the other Capitol material. When asked (by Nikki) at a previous show,
How do you feel today, in the 1990s, singing in front of an audience ? ,
Rudy responded :
I am so happy to see the enthusiasm and to know my music is still so much appreciated. Im thrilled to see this music being kept alive.
Rudy West at UGHA concert - 11/29/97 (with Nikki right)
Rudy West passed away May 14, 1998. His last performance, at which we were in attendance, was on April 18,1998 in Nassau Coliseum on Long Island, NY. Even at that point in time, his voice was still magnificent, and his phrasing impeccable. The audience was justifiably thrilled at what would be the final performance of this legendary R&B artist. Ripley Ingram had previously passed away. Ramon Loper died in October 2002. The surviving original members, at the time of writing are Bernie West, Dickie Smith and Maryland Pierce. Fortunately, most of the Five Keys extensive recorded output is now available on various CDs.
Listen to Interview
with Zeke & Jake Carey of the Flamingos.
Considered to be one of the best and most unique sounding R&B vocal groups, the Flamingos gave us many great songs through out the fifties. The original group formed in the Chicago area and included cousins Jake & Zeke Carey, along with Paul Wilson & Johnny Carter.
Their smooth polished harmonies provided eloquent backing for their varied lead singers. Sollie McElroy fronted the group on their first recordings for Chance, issued in 1953-54. Among these releases were some choice ballads, such as their first record of "If I Can't Have You", "That's My Desire" and "Golden Teardrops", considered by many vocal group collectors to be the ultimate vocal group ballad. Sollie's expressive lead vocals were beautifully balanced with Johnny Carter's exquisite floating falsetto/tenor embellishments, and the groups impeccable harmonies. Although vocal gems, the Chance recordings never received sufficient airplay to make the charts. They became more revered over time, when some of their later 1950's recordings gained chart attention, and with the development of an oldies collectors market in the early 1960's. Alan Freed also helped to expose the earlier Chance material when he had the Flamingos perform the 1954 "Jump Children" (aka "Voit-Voit") in his 1959 film "Go Johnny Go !
A move to Parrot Records in 1954 resulted in three more fine but basically unsuccessful singles, most notable of which was "Dream Of A Lifetime". By the time of their last Parrot release in 1955, Sollie McElroy had left the group to be replaced by Nate Nelson on lead vocals.
Sollie McElroy at UGHA show- Nov 1992
With Nate Nelson at the helm, the group migrated labels again, this time to Checker. With their 3rd Checker release "I'll Be Home", the group finally realized chart success in early 1956, with the tune reaching the # 5 spot on the R&B charts. Although not rising quite as high, "A Kiss From Your Lips" also achieved good chart action that same year.
The groups momentum was broken when Johnny Carter and Zeke Carey were called up for military service. During this time Tommy Hunt joined the remaining 3 Flamingos and a move to Decca produced 4 singles that went largely unnoticed. Johnny Carter, following the service, found his way back not to the Flamingos, but rather to the Dells.
When Zeke Carey rejoined the Flamingos in 1958, they label hopped again, this time to End. It was here that the group would regain chart success with "Lovers Never Say Goodbye" reaching # 25, and "I Only Have Eyes For You" peaking at #3 on the R&B charts. While at End, they also recorded four fine albums, "Requestfully Yours", "Flamingo Favorites","The Sound Of The Flamingos" and "Flamingo Serenade".
The Flamingos demonstrated their staying power by developing instrumental as well as vocal proficiency, and modifying their musical style over time. They continued to record successfully into the 70's on a variety of labels and had a 1970 charter with their version of "Buffalo Soldier".
Their extensive output and the outstanding quality of so much of their material, assures the Flamingos a place in the top ranks of R&B vocal groups of all time.
Listen to Interview
with Sonny Til of the Orioles.
One of the most influential of all R&B vocal groups, the Orioles are certainly at the top of the list, when it comes to pioneer vocal groups. Formed in Baltimore, and originally known as the Vibranaires before they recorded, the group featured the cool yet expressive lead voice of Erlington Tilghman (aka Sonny Til). The rest of the original group consisted of Alexander Sharp (1st tenor), George Nelson (baritone & 2nd lead), Johnny Reed (bass), and Tommy Gaither (guitar). Discovered by Deborah Chessler, who became their manager, the Orioles first recording in 1948 of the Chessler penned tune "It's Too Soon To Know" went to #1 on the R&B charts but more importantly crossed over to the pop charts rising to # 13. The group recorded prolifically for the Jubilee label, and had other major hits with "What Are You Doing New Years Eve", "I Miss You So" , "At Night", and "Crying In The Chapel".
Besides the expected R&B fare, they also recorded a number of songs of a religious nature, including a rendition of the Christmas classic "O Holy Night" and the moving Easter tribute "Robe Of Calvary".
After the original Orioles group disbanded, Sonny Til formed other Orioles groups and continued to record until 1981, the year of his death.
These pictures of Sonny Til (one at right with Nikki) are both from a 1981 UGHA show, shortly before his passing.
In the late 1990's two Orioles groups were active. One, based in NJ, featured Bobby Thomas on lead. Bobby sang with Sonny in the 70's Orioles' configuration . Previously he had recorded with the Vibranaires ( name borrowed from the original Orioles name) on After Hours Records. This grouping also contained the only surviving original member of the Jubilee Orioles, bass Johnny Reed, who passed away in 2004. In the Washington, DC area another Orioles group is fronted by Diz Russel. Diz was originally with the Regals who became the Orioles that recorded with Sonny Til on Vee-Jay.
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