Oldies But Goodies Cruise IISailing to the Mexican Riviera October 6-13, 2013
Otis Williams Charms
The Charms were from the Cincinnati area and consisted of Ron Bradley and Donald Peak both tenors, Joe Penn - baritone, Richard Parker - bass and lead singer Otis Williams. In August of 1953 the first notice was served on the public by an announcement in the trade press of a new record release on the Rockin' label of "Heaven Only Knows" / "Lovin' Baby." The record got some airplay especially in the Midwest, and sold slowly at first. Soon numbers were enough so that the record was moved to the DeLuxe label. Sid Nathan the head of King Records acquired the catalog of New Jersey based DeLuxe label the year before and now with The Charms record, the label was back in business and "Heaven Only Knows" was re-released as the first of the new DeLuxe label’. Later in the year their second record was released. This time the songs were "Happy Are We" and "What Do You Know About That". Nothing much happened with that record and soon they tried again. Right after the new year “Bye Bye Baby" and "Please Believe Me" seemed to disappear without a trace. In early April "Quiet Please" and "Fifty Five Seconds" also barely made a ripple, and that made four in a row that missed the mark in making The Charms a noted R & B vocal group on the scene. In July of that year the group had their first indication of success with the release of "Come To Me Baby" and "My Baby Dearest Darling". The 'A' side of "Come To Me Baby" was a good seller in Miami and Atlanta, while the flip side was the preferred tune in the Midwest as it sold well in their hometown of Cincinnati and also in Louisville, Kentucky. The Charms seemed on the verge of a breakout hit.
In September of 1954 "Hearts Of Stone" was released. The 'A' side was a cover of the Jewels tune. This rarity of an R & B cover by another R & B act soon began to sell in big numbers, especially in the Southeast. Except for the West coast and the Northeast, The Charms version of the tune was a big seller. It became the first record to chart for the DeLuxe label in over two years and justified the faith that King Records had in the group by sticking with them during more than a year without a hit record. Later in the year The Charms version was selling well in the pop field as it went against competition by The Fontaine Sisters pop version. The Charms record of the tune got into the top fifteen sellers on the pop music charts, an unprecedented accomplishment for an R & B vocal group in the fall of 1954.The group was finally a hot commodity in the growing field of Rhythm & Blues music and they were soon booked for The Top Ten R & B Show which went out on tour in January of 1955. At the end of the year DeLuxe released "Mambo-Sh-Mambo" and "Crazy Crazy Love”. This record got swallowed up in the continued popularity of "Hearts Of Stone". Because of that failure, the group was quickly back in the studios for DeLuxe and went back to their winning formula of covering other R&B acts.
The Charms also recorded their version of "Ling Ting Tong", a Capitol hit for The Harptones, and "Bazoom I Need Your Loving", another cover of a Capitol hit, this one by The Cheers. The Charms out performed The Keys record on both the R & B and pop music charts, and also charted with the flip side. Six weeks later The Charms had another two sided cover record. "Kokomo" a hit for Gene & Eunice on Combo and "Whaddya Want", a Spark Records hit by The Robins. This time the formula was not very successful, as many savvy listeners became aware of the practice of covering records and many new converts to this style of music searched out the originals. This last possibility was certainly the case in New York and the surrounding areas. Alan Freed's refusal to play cover records at the time (really directed at White pop covers); nonetheless had the effect of shutting out The Charms. Up to this time I had never heard of the group and their versions of their hit records were unknown in the New York area.
This situation was about to change in mid march of 1955 as The Hearts recorded an original tune called "Two Hearts" on DeLuxe. Because it was not an R & B cover, the record got airplay in all major markets and quickly became a national hit. Heavy play by Alan Freed in New York propelled the record to hit status across the country. Turnabout came to The Charms as soon as the record went national, it was covered by Pat Boone for Dot Records and won pop music honors on the tune. As the next record the Charms released was "When We Get Together" and "Let The Happenings happen", The Hearts joined The Penguins for a "battle of the groups" in Detroit in mid May for a show to benefit that city's teenagers. The show was hosted by Alan Freed. Later in the month they appeared in South Florida with Floyd Dixon. By June of 1955, the label was extolling the talents of Otis Williams who was from a musical family. (His sister was noted gospel and R & B singer Marie Knight). Accordingly the group was now known as Otis Williams & His New Group, and then Otis Williams & His Charms, and there were also plans to record Otis as a solo performer. The first DeLuxe side under the new name (with some personnel changes)”. Downbeat magazine, a jazz journal of long standing fame, now recognized the appeal and importance of Rhythm & Blues music, and presented to The Charms an award naming them the top R & B vocal group of 1955. Once again as "Gum Drop" began to climb upward on the sales charts.
In January of 1956 Otis and his group appear at Washington D.C.'s Howard Theater along with Donna Hightower, The Heartbeats, and former Buddy Johnson vocalist Nolan Lewis. Then they go cross country for a series of appearances in L.A. including the 5-4 Ballroom and the Savoy. The DeLuxe recording of "That's Your Mistake" / "Too Late I Learned " also "Do Be You" / "Rolling Home" both releases did next to nothing. However with the next recording Otis Williams & His Charms hit it big once again. It was a cover record again, but this time a pop hit was the subject. The group did a mellow ballad version of the Cathy Carr waltz tune "Ivory Tower" and it did quite well, capturing many pop listeners as well as those younger fans of rock 'n' roll. This turned out to be the biggest seller ever for the group just missing the pop music top ten. Among the many personnel changes affecting the group by now was the interesting fact that a majority of the copies of "Ivory Tower" read as by Otis Williams on the label.
The follow up record to "Ivory Tower" was "One Night Only"/ "It's All Over". The rocking "Night" got good support and airplay, and again was labeled as by Otis Williams. However the studio recordings and the subsequent air shots with Alan Freed show the full group of Charms on both tunes. The group played Milwaukee with The Magnificents and then to the Southeast and both Carolinas. At summer's end DeLuxe was still at it with "Whirlwind" and "I'd Like To Thank You Mr. D.J.".Soon "Whirlwind" took off and became a hit in the South especially Memphis (a top ten seller) and New Orleans. In November, back to DeLuxe listing of Otis Williams & His Charms, is released - "Gypsy Lady" and "I'll Remember You". The last release of 1956 was December's "Blues Stay Away From Me" and "Pardon Me". By the start of 1957, The original group of Charms on Chart Records had faded away, but there was one last release from that label that adds to the confusion by being a session by the Otis Williams group of "I'll Be True"/ "Boom Diddy Boom Boom” went nowhere. The current group with Otis didn't fare much better for a time with "Walkin After Midnight." The next release found the group back in their familiar guise-as a cover act with "United." The cover outsold the original and got into the top five R & B sellers in the country. Two more DeLuxe records were released in 1957 - "Dynamite Darling” and a two sided cover attempt - "Oh Julie" originally by The Crescendos, and The Dubs "Could This Be Magic", but both releases did not sell. From 1958 through 1963, Otis Williams & His Charms continually released records on DeLuxe, and then King. They never had another hit, but kept at it. "Little Turtle Dove" and "Panic" both in 1961 barely made the top one hundred (one week each time), but even after the twelve year association with King Records. After that, Otis went to work as a barber in Cincinnati. After a few years of that, he was contacted by Jimmy Key, owner of the Key Talent Agency in Nashville to work there as a booking agent (for Country & Western acts) and as a talent scout (for R&B acts). Otis, tired of cutting hair by then, picked up and relocated to Nashville in 1969, where he shared an office with Tom T. Hall (who was the talent scout for Country & Western acts).
While Otis Williams was at Key Talent, Pete Drake (owner of Stop Records) came by and convinced him to do some more recording. Securing a release from Columbia His initial recordings for Stop were as "Otis Williams and the Charms" (with a dubbed-in backup group called the Endeavors) including a remake of "Ling Ting Tong." The Endeavors were a Cincinnati group that Otis had worked with in the past. They were a show band with both musicians and singers: Eugene Scott (bassist), Jerry Middleton (guitar), Michael Carr (drums), Mike Peterson (horns), Louis McQueen (singer), and Benny Wallace (singer). Otis brought them to Nashville in order to book them with Key and record them for Stop. While nothing much happened with the Stop releases, Pete Drake made a bet with someone that Otis could record a country album that would sell. Otis went along with it and recorded a dozen country songs, using some of the best musicians in Nashville for the sessions. As was the case with his R&B tunes, the session was produced by Pete Drake and recorded by Elvis Presley's old guitarist, Scotty Moore. (D.J. Fontana, Elvis' drummer, was on them too.)
When the country sides were completed, Stop was unhappy with some of the results. So they took the Endeavors and re-did some of the background instrumentation. While the Endeavors weren't on much of the album, someone thought it would be a great publicity stunt to have them pictured as the "Midnight Cowboys" (named after the recent movie). The company even got them western outfits for some photos (in which Louis McQueen was handed a fiddle to pose with and Benny Wallace a steel guitar). The liner notes were pure invention, including "Otis formed an all-black country band…." The result of all this was a 1971 album called "Otis Williams and the Midnight Cowboys" on Stop (which was distributed by Scepter). While the album did sell, Otis only did a single country date (in Indiana), which didn't even have the "Midnight Cowboys." (The Endeavors did end up recording, as themselves, for Stop.)
Considering the way Sid Nathan was with royalties (or "wasn't," to be more accurate), it's amazing that his acts stuck with him for so long. The Midnighters always seemed to be recording for him, James Brown too. And then there was Otis Williams, a fixture at King for about ten years. As part of his varied careers (singer, barber, booking agent, talent scout, and ersatz C&W star), until recently, Otis owned the “ One Note Café” in Cincinnati but really wanted to be a ball player. Originally into football, he wanted to quit singing and go to Ohio State to play, but Sid Nathan talked him out of it. Nathan also talked him out of baseball, when Otis tried out for the Cincinnati Reds (at the same time as Pete Rose). Fortunately, he has no regrets. Today Otis performs with his Charms: Rufus Allen , Rollie Willis and Kent Butts.
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Heaven Only Knows
Please Believe In Me
Heart Of A Rose
Let Some Love In Your Heart
When We Get Together
It'll Never Happen Again
Friends Call Me A Fool
Baby, You Turn Me On
Ain't Gonna Walk Your Dog No More
Begging To You