1950 and 1960s MUSIC GROUPS
There are three more dynamic singing groups to add to those that have last names ending with S. They are a significant part of the 1960s era which I believe is a big of the best music of all-time: Huey Smith, The Spencer Davis Group, Steppenwolf, Morris Stoloff and The Supremes…
Huey Smith was born in the Central City neighborhood of New Orleans. He was influenced by the innovative work of Professor Longhair. He became known for his shuffling right-handed break on the piano that influenced other Southern players. Smith wrote his first song “Robertson Street Boogie”, named after the street where he lived, on the piano, when he was eight years old. He performed the tune with a friend, with the two billing themselves as Slick and Dark. Smith attended McDowell High School and Xavier University of Louisiana in New Orleans. When Smith was fifteen, he began working in clubsand recording with his flamboyant partner, Eddie Jones, who rose to fame as Guitar Slim. When Smith was eighteen, in 1952, he signed a recording contract with Savoy Records, which released his first known single, “You Made Me Cry”. In 1953 Smith recorded with Earl King. In 1955, Smith became the piano player with Little Richard’s first band in sessions for Specialty Records. The same year he also played piano on several studio sessions for other artists, such as Lloyd Price. Two of the sessions resulted in hits for Earl King (“Those Lonely Lonely Nights”) and Smiley Lewis (“I Hear You Knocking”). In 1956, Smith recorded for Ace Records’ with his Rhythm Aces. The A-side of the record was “Little Liza Jane”, backed with “Everybody’s Whalin'”. On the session, in addition to Smith on piano, were sax man Lee Allen, Earl King on guitar, and Earl Palmeron drums. The Rhythm Aces consisted of vocalists Dave Dixon, Roland Cook, and Issacher “Izzycoo” Gordon. Mac Rebennac, also known as Dr. John, said, “And Huey was catching the real second line on ‘Little Liza Jane’. Of course he had the right cats doing it, but he had that instinct for getting it. And with Dave Dixon and Izzycoo (Gordon) singing on it, man, he couldn’t get no better.” Gordon, who also sang with another notable New Orleans vocal group The Spiders, recorded Smith’s Latin-tinged “Blow Wind Blow” under the name “Junior” Gordon in 1956. In 1957, he formed a band, Huey “Piano” Smith and His Clowns, with sometime vocalist Bobby Marchan, and signed a long-term contract with Ace Records, represented by former Specialty record producer Johnny Vincent. Smith and the Clowns recorded “Rockin’ Pneumonia and the Boogie Woogie Flu” with singers Sidney Rayfield (Huey’s barber) and eighteen-year-old “Scarface” John Williams joining him on vocals. Not caring for the sound of his own voice, Huey instructed Williams to move closer to the microphone. “Get in closer, John,” he said. “I’m trying to get a hit out of this.” The record was issued as “Rockin’ Pneumonia and the Boogie Woogie Flu (https://youtu.be/-WWlwgoAxPE) (RQ 8)by Ace Records’ John Vincent. The record sold over one million copies, achieving gold disc status.
Spencer Davis Group. 1963-present
They are a British group that formed in 1963 in Birmingham, England (which is about half way in between Liverpool and London in the central part of the country). The initial group members were: Spencer Davis (guitar), Steve Winwood (keyboard, guitar), Steve’s brother Muff (bass guitar) and Pete York (Bass). Muff came up with the group’s name as he said Spencer was the only member who liked doing interviews while we all stayed in bed. Their four best known songs were: “Somebody Help Me” (https://youtu.be/UlLRgcjUkvw) (RQ 6) and “Keep on Running” (https://youtu.be/TyZrK9meebo) (RQ 5) both No1s in England (written by reggae musician Jackie Edwards). These singles, due to lack of promotion, didn’t get airplay in the U.S. They introduced a special medley of tribute singles in Germany based after a 1913 operetta (Spencer had studied music in West Germany in the early 60s) . Their other two were: “I’m a Man” (https://youtu.be/POCUgBSVENQ) (RQ 8) and “Gimmie Some Lovin” (https://youtu.be/ko3m0NBbq1o) No2 in the U.S. and No7 in the UK. These two records sold more than one million copies and were awarded gold record status. In 1966, the group also starred in a British musical comedy movie: “The Ghost Goes Gear.” Steve Winwood left in 1967 to form Traffic then joined Blind Faith before going out on his own to become a solo artist. After 1968, the group became inactive (with exception of recording a couple unproductive singles) and reformed a couple of times without the Winwood brothers.
The group was formed in late 1967 in LA by lead singer John Kay. His other band members were: Goldy McJohn (keyboard), and Jerry Edmonton (drummer). The band was named after the German novel “Der Steppenwolf.” They all had been previously with a Canadian band called The Sparrows. Michael Monarch (guitarist) and Rushton Moreve (bass) were recruited from the LA area via notices placed in local musical instrument stores. The group sold more than 25M records worldwide including eight gold albums, 12 Billboard Hot100 singles. Six were Top40 including:
“Born to be Wild (https://youtu.be/egMWlD3fLJ8) (RQ 10+)
“Magic Carpet Ride” (https://youtu.be/U4WiyxXpyZc) (RQ 10+)
“Rock Me” (https://youtu.be/p9oXFNbUdn4) (RQ 8)
After 1972, personalities clashed and the group split up whereby Kay continued with the group from 1980-2015. The band was nominated for the Rock and Roll HOF in 2017 but were not inducted.
Morris Stoloff worked as music director at Columbia Pictures from 1936 to 1962. Among space age popfans, he is best remembered for his 1956 Top 10 hit that paired the swing era tune “Moonglow” (https://youtu.be/MLStsAY2fDI) (RQ 10) with the love theme from the movie Picnic, the medley called “Moonglow and Theme from Picnic“. It sold over one million copies, and was awarded a gold disc by the RIAA. Stoloff was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. A child prodigy on the violin, Stoloff was taken under the wing of W. A. Clark. After studying with Leopold Auer for several years, Stoloff was touring the U.S. as a featured soloist at the age of 16, and joined the Los Angeles Philharmonic a year later as its youngest member ever.
Supremes, The. 1959-1977
The quartet was initially formed in Detroit in 1959 was called The Primettes. The original group members were: Diane Ross, Florence Ballard, Mary Wilson and Betty McGlown all lived in the Brewster-Douglass public housing project. In 1958, while in junior high, Ballard begun discussions with her friends and classmates to form the Primettes. Their first recording using Lu Pine Records was: “Tears of Sorrow” (https://youtu.be/w4OPDynjTTs) (RQ 3) and “Pretty Baby” (https://youtu.be/ZK5CmbFbYII) (RQ 3) on the backside. The record didn’t catch on. They continued on though with doing hand claps and background vocals for Marvin Gaye and Mary Wells. In 1960, the group signed on with Motown Records as The Supremes. Gordy Berry, their manager at Motown had given the girls a list of band names to consider: besides The Supremes, the others were The Darlenes, The Sweet Ps, The Melodees, The Royaltones and The Jewelettes.
Even though Diane thought that the name The Supremes was too masculine, they went with it. Between 1961-63, the group released six singles that didn’t chart. As a result, they were initially jokingly being referred to as “The No Hit Supremes.” By December of 1963, they recorded their first charted song (No23): “When Lovelight Starts Shining Through His Eyes” (https://youtu.be/QE0qaIk8LRo) (RQ 9) Ross, Ballard and Wilson initially sang lead for songs, but Berry Gordy ended up choosing Diane. In the spring of 1964, they recorded “Where Did Our Love Go” (https://youtu.be/qTBmgAOO0Nw) (RQ 10+). It reached No1 on the charts in the U.S. The song was initially intended for the Marvelettes but the Motown producers coerced them into doing it as the ladies didn’t like the song. Afterward, Diane ended up going by Diana in 1965. Next, the ladies recorded four No1 hits in a row:
“Baby Love” (https://youtu.be/Yd43nWkgUzg) (RQ 10)
“Come See About Me” (https://youtu.be/PycKSdKG_74) (RQ 10)
“Stop in the Name of Love” (https://youtu.be/Aax5EDQMOq4) (RQ 8)
“Back in My Arms Again” (https://youtu.be/X-iNQ-E_b6Y) (RQ 9)
“Stop in the Name of Love” was nominated for a Grammy Award in 1965 for the Best R&B Song. The whole “look”of the Supremes were very well orchestrated. Starting with Maxine Powell’s Motown finishing school, a vocal style focusing of femininity, detailed makeup, sophisticated (but simple) and graceful dance routines, and wearing high fashion gowns and wigs. Time and the Detroit News commented on their polished presentation techniques. They also commented that they didn’t scream or wail incoherently and nine out of ten words in their lyrics can be understood by listeners. By the end of 1966, they produced three more No1 hits singles:
“I Hear a Symphony” (https://youtu.be/zcylDkRw7dg) (RQ 10)
“You Can’t Hurry Love” (https://youtu.be/fQ7uXX9K7Sk) (RQ 10)
“You Keep Me Hanging On” (https://youtu.be/t3bjMtqpGBw) (RQ 10+)
Their album “Supremes A Go-Go” outsold the Beatles “Revolver.” In 1967, there was tension brewing as other Motown performers felt that Betty Gordy was placing too much attention on Diana (as evidenced ny the groups name that changed to: Diana Ross and the Supremes). Ss a result Ballard became depressed feeling pushed aside by Diana. She began abusing alcohol. Even so, the group recorded two more singles in the first quarter of 1967: “Love is Here and Now Your Gone” (https://youtu.be/X4z2iubQPgo) (RQ 10) and “The Happening” (https://youtu.be/Z4IFtxQfLWg) (RQ 10). However, as a group, the Supremes began to implode. The Supremes recorded somewhere between a total of 50-100M records. It is difficult to put a number on the dollars earned or the net worth of the Supremes. For example, it is estimated that Diana’s net worth is 250M.