Saturday, January 19, 2019
Showtime: 8:00pm (doors 7pm)
$69, $59, $49
An evening with two legendary Rock and Roll Hall of Fame groups: Little Anthony and the Imperials (“Tears On My Pillow”, “Going Out of My Head”, “Hurt So Bad”, “Take Me Back”, “I’m On The Outside (Looking In)”, “Two People in The World”, “Shimmy Shimmy Ko-Ko Bop”) and The Flamingos (“I Only Have Eyes For You”, “Lovers Never Say Goodbye”, “Nobody Loves Me Like You”)
LITTLE ANTHONY AND THE IMPERIALS:
Little Anthony and the Imperials is a rhythm and blues/soul/doo-wop vocal group from New York, first active in the 1950s. Lead singer Jerome Anthony “Little Anthony” Gourdine was noted for his high-pitched falsetto voice, influenced by Jimmy Scott. The group was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on April 4, 2009, 23 years after the group’s first year of eligibility for induction, waiting longer than any other artist for the honor.
In 1957, a doo-wop group known as the Chesters existed with members Clarence Collins, Tracy Lord, Nathaniel Rodgers, and Ronald Ross. Anthony Gourdine, a former member of the Duponts, joined as lead vocalist. Ernest Wright took over from Ross, and the group recorded briefly for Apollo Records.
Changing their name to the Imperials, they signed with End Records in 1958. Their first single was “Tears on My Pillow”, which was an instant hit. (While playing this song, D.J. Alan Freed came up with the name “Little Anthony”.) The B-side, “Two People in the World”, was also a hit. The group followed up with “Shimmy, Shimmy, Ko Ko Bop” in 1960. When their success dwindled in 1961, Little Anthony left to attempt a solo career. Some members left, and the line-up then became Collins, Wright, Sammy Strain, and George Kerr. Kerr was replaced by Kenny Seymour after a short time. This line-up had little success.
Little Anthony returned in 1963, replacing Seymour. The group’s classic line-up – Gourdine, Ernest Wright, Clarence Collins, and Sammy Strain – was now complete. With the help of record producer/songwriter Teddy Randazzo (a childhood friend of the group), the Imperials found success on the new DCP (Don Costa Productions) label with the dramatic pop-soul records “I’m On The Outside (Looking In)” (1964), “Goin’ Out Of My Head” (1964), “Hurt So Bad” (1965), “I Miss You So” (1965), “Take Me Back” (1965), “Hurt” (1966), and “Out of Sight, Out Of Mind” (1969). In 1965, the Imperials appeared on the CBS-TV special Murray The K – It’s What’s Happening, Baby, where they performed “I’m Alright” before a live audience in New York. At the height of their career, the group made two appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show, at the time television’s top talent showcase, on March 28th, 1965, and again on January 25th, 1970. They also performed on many other popular television variety shows during the sixties, including Shindig!, Hullabaloo, Perry Como’s Kraft Music Hall, Dick Clark’s American Bandstand, and The Tonight Show.
The Imperials then joined United Artists Records and were assigned to its Veep Records subsidiary, and then to the parent label itself, where they recorded “World Of Darkness”, “Better Use Your Head”, “If I Remember To Forget”, “Yesterday Has Gone”, and the Thom Bell-produced “Help Me Find A Way (To Say I Love You)”.
Albums from this era include: Reflections, Payin’ Our Dues, Out Of Sight, Out Of Mind (named after their hit cover of The Five Keys song), and Movie Grabbers, which included a rendition of “You Only Live Twice”, the James Bond motion picture theme.
They recorded the one-off single “Father Father” for Janus Records, which they later performed on the Merv Griffin Show. Then they went to Avco Records in the early 1970s and recorded “On A New Street”, and charted with the songs “La La La (At the End)”, and “I’m Falling In Love With You”. This album was produced by both Bell and Randazzo. A second LP for Avco Records entitled Hold On was withdrawn from sale in the USA after the failure of the title track to sell and AVCO’s subsequent financial difficulties. The group appeared on Soul Train on May 26, 1973. By this time, Sammy Strain and Ernest Wright had left the group, although both would eventually return.
Ernest Wright left in 1971 to join Tony Williams’ Platters. He was replaced by the returning Kenny Seymour, who was again replaced after a short time by Bobby Wade. Strain left in 1972 to join the O’Jays, and was replaced by Harold Jenkins (who had already been functioning as the group’s choreographer). Jenkins and Seymour had previously performed together in the Impacts. Little Anthony left for a second (more successful) attempt at a solo career. The trio of Collins, Wade, and Jenkins continued as “the Imperials”. Clarence Collins left in 1988, and was replaced by Sherman James. They then toured as “Bobby Wade’s Imperials”. James left in 1992, and was replaced by Ron Stevenson.
That same year, Collins, Wright, Strain, and Little Anthony reunited for a concert at Madison Square Garden. This reunion proved to be a success. When the decision was made for the foursome to tour together again, Wade relinquished the Imperials name, with his group becoming “Bobby Wade’s Emperors”. They became the house band at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas. At this point Sammy Strain left the O’Jays, and permanently returned to the Imperials. 1992, the year of the group’s reformation, just happened to also be the 40th anniversary of Dick Clark’s American Bandstand, and he invited the Imperials to appear as part of the televised special celebration.
On August 30, 1997, the group was featured on NBC’s Today show as part of that show’s “Summer Concert Series”, and appeared on two popular PBS specials; Rock, Rhythm, and Doo-Wop, and Soul Spectacular: 40 Years Of R&B in 2002 and 2003, respectively. Also, during this period, they recorded two new CDs: Little Anthony & the Imperials – Live: Up Close & Personal (the group’s first ever live album), and Pure Acapella, an all a capella CD showcasing the group’s vocal talents on several classic 50’s doo-wop songs, including their own hit, “Two People In The World”, which was written by Imperials member Ernest Wright. These two recordings marked the first time that the classic line-up had recorded together in over 30 years.
Anthony, Collins, Wright, and Strain continued touring as “Little Anthony and the Imperials”, until Strain retired in 2004, and Harold Jenkins returned to take his place.In 2010, Jenkins also retired,and was replaced by Robert DeBlanc. As of 2011, the Imperials are (along with the Dells), one of few 1950s-era R&B groups still touring with the great majority of their original members (Gourdine, Collins and Wright). They are also one of the very few late 1950s-based groups to successfully re-invent themselves and go on to maintain consistent recording success well into the 1960s/1970s.
Little Anthony and the Imperials released their first new LP in several years in October 2008, entitled “You’ll Never Know”, and they performed on the Late Show With David Letterman on August 26, 2008. On their Discovery album, the electronic music duo Daft Punk sampled Little Anthony and the Imperials’ 1977 recording of “Can You Imagine” for the track “Crescendolls”.
Their Top 20 Pop hit, “Shimmy Shimmy Ko-Ko Bop” was sung by young actors Jared Rushton and David Moscow in a scene in the 1988 Tom Hanks hit movie Big.
As of January 2012, Little Anthony and the Imperials continue to tour and attract large audiences throughout the United States and abroad after 54 years in the music business. January 2013 will mark the 55th year of Little Anthony and the Imperials. The group will embark on their 55th Anniversary and Farewell Tour to show their appreciation to the loyal fans that have enjoyed their music. Although this marks the end of the iconic group’s historic run together; Little Anthony will continue to perform to the delight of his adoring fans for years to come.
Little Anthony and the Imperials received the Rhythm and Blues Foundation’s Pioneer Award in 1993. They were inducted into the Vocal Group Hall of Fame in 1999 and the Long Island Music Hall of Fame on October 15, 2006. On January 14, 2009, it was announced that Little Anthony and the Imperials had been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. In addition to Anthony, Wright, Collins, and Strain, Original Imperials member Nathaniel “Nate” Rogers was also present to be honored. The group was inducted by longtime friend, Miracles member Smokey Robinson. In October 2009, the group performed “Two People in the World” at the 25th Anniversary Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Concert.
Imperials member Sammy Strain is one of the few artists in popular music history who is a double Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee, having been inducted with The O’Jays in 2005 and the Imperials in 2009.
Anthony and the Imperials were inducted into Mohegan Sun’s Wolf Den Hall of Fame on January 8, 2011, Anthony’s 70th birthday.
The Flamingos are led by original member Terry “Buzzy” Johnson, an Inductee to The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, The Grammy Hall of Fame, The Rhythm & Blues Foundation and The Vocal Group Hall of Fame. He was and is still the musical and vocal arranger, songwriter, producer, 1st tenor and lead vocalist for The Flamingos.
The roots of The Flamingos can be traced back to Chicago’s south side, circa 1950.Jacob “Jake” Carey and Ezekiel “Zeke” Carey (cousins via Zeke’s adoption by Jake’s aunt and uncle), had relocated to the area from Baltimore, Maryland. Having been raised as followers of the Church Of God and Saints Of Christ (a religious order of African-American Hebrew Israelites), the Careys joined their local congregation’s choir where they met John E. “Johnny” Carter and Judah Byrd. Johnny suggested they form a group, so with Jake singing bass, Judah on baritone, Zeke singing second tenor and Johnny on first, the group added lead singer Earl Lewis, a local youth who was dating Johnny’s sister and the only singer in the group who wasn’t also a member of their congregation. The quintet took to calling themselves The Swallowsand practiced, with a focus on their harmonies. However, shortly after, Judah Byrd was replaced by Johnny Carter’s cousin Paul Wilson and in the early months of 1952, Earl Lewis was replaced by Sollie McElroy. (Earl Lewis went on to sing with The 5 Echoes and is in no way related to the lead singer of The Channels, as some articles have erroneously reported.)
Sollie was originally from Gulfport, Mississippi, but had moved to Chicago with his family in the late 1940′s. He was brought to the Careys, Carter and Wilson by the group’s manager, who proceeded to book the group mainly for house parties and talent competitions. Around this time, the group became aware of The Swallows out of Baltimore who were beginning to realize success on King Records. Beginning to search for a new name, Johnny Carter’s mother threw the name “Flamingos” into the proverbial hat, inspired by a local athletic club. The group started using “The El Flamingos,” which evolved into the “The 5 Flamingos” and later just “The Flamingos.”
In 1952, The Flamingos’ amateur manager was drafted into the military – a blessing in disguise which found them in the hands of a professional manager, Ralph Leon. The caliber of their bookings improved and they began playing larger local venues, performing songs like “We Three” and “September Song” – pop-oriented tunes, at the urging of their new manager. Although they frequently performed at engagements with local disc jockeys, it wasn’t until 1953 that The Flamingos had their first shot in the recording studio. Chance Records signed the group and recorded “If I Can’t Have You”, “That’s My Desire” and “Someday, Someway”, all with Sollie on lead and “Hurry Home Baby”, a bass lead featuring Jake out front.
By mid-1953, “If I Can’t Have You” and “That’s My Desire” started to get local R&B airplay in a few markets around the country. So, a few months later, Chance took the group back into the studio to cut “Carried Away,” “You Ain’t Ready” and “Golden Teardrops”, again all with Sollie singing lead and “Plan For Love,” led by Johnny Carter. “Golden Teardrops” was written by Carter and his friend, jazz/blues singer Eddie “Bunky” Redding. The song met with critical acclaim but only made noise on the east coast and a few major cities in the Midwest.
A contract with Joe Glaser and Associated Booking Corporation landed The Flamingos a spot on a tour with Duke Ellington and a March of Dimes TV show, but the group still had no national break-out hit. Between late 1953 and early 1954, The Flamingos recorded “September Song” (the song with which Sollie had auditioned for the group), “Jump Children” and “Cross Over The Bridge” with Sollie on lead as well as “Listen To My Plea” and “Blues In A Letter” with Johnny Carter handling lead chores.
With Chance Records’ viability fading fast, The Flamingos moved over to the Parrot label, owned by local DJ Al Benson, with whom the group had performed in the past. Kicking off their Parrot career were recordings of “Dream Of A Lifetime,” “If I Could Love You,” “On My Merry Way” and “I Really Don’t Want To Know”, all with Sollie on lead, but the latter two also featuring Jake and Johnny, respectively.
In fall of 1954, the Flamingos met up with Nathaniel “Nate” Nelson, who had been singing with a local unrecorded group called The Velvetones(and happened to be a first cousin to The Orioles’ Sonny Til.) Nate became an unofficial “sixth member” of the group, a relationship which evolved into his becoming an alternate lead, standing in for Sollie on occasion and eventually replacing Sollie. Sollie McElroy went on to sing withThe Moroccos, The Chanteurs (who evolved into The Chi-Lites) and The Nobles, but unfortunately missed out on all of The Flamingos’ success to come.
Nate led the group through one last recording session for Parrot, yielding “Get With It,” “Ko Ko Mo (I Love You So),” “I’m Yours,” and “I Found A New Baby,” the last of which was more of a group effort. Around the same time, midway through negotiations to bring the group to Chess Records, manager Ralph Leon died of a heart attack. After his passing, the group took affairs into their own hands and closed the deal with Chess. Brothers Lenny & Phil Chess really liked The Flamingos and wanted to ensure airplay, so they had the group record for their Checker subsidiary. (At the time, some radio stations had a practice of only playing a certain number of records on any one label, so Chess begat this offshoot lest some of their better radio-ready releases fall by the wayside.) The Flamingos’ first Checker wax “(Chick-A-Boom) That’s My Baby” (written by Nate & Johnny) b/w “When” was released shortly after, in April of 1954. Further evidence that Lenny Chess favored The Flamingos, was that he had the group entertain at his son Marshall Chess’s bar mitzvah. The event was attended by early industry moguls such as Alan Freed and Ahmet Ertegun.
In July, Checker followed up with “Please Come Back Home” b/w “I Want To Love You.” Though the group still was without a national hit, or more importantly, a cross-over pop hit, that didn’t stop The Flamingos from landing a month-long engagement in Las Vegas, doing a 45-day tour for impresario Irving Feld and performing around the country at venues such as the legendary Apollo Theater in New York. In December of 1955,The Flamingos performed on one such rock & roll show at the Brooklyn Paramount with Pat Boone, who heard them sing their soon-to-be-released ballad “I’ll Be Home.” According to Nate, Lenny Chess gave him the opening line of “I’ll Be Home,” but Nate wrote most of the rest of it. In January, “I’ll Be Home” was released, but by month’s end, Pat Boone’s cover was right on its heels. The Flamingos’ original hit #5 on the national R&B charts but Boone’s vanilla version captured the pop (white) market. Dejected, the group continued on their quest to crossover to the pop mainstream listening and recording-buying public.
After a few months of licking their wounds, Checker released The Flamingos’ ”A Kiss From Your Lips” and backed it up with “Get With It,” a song they had actually recorded for Parrot records before the label folded. “Kiss” did very well for the group in some of the country’s urban markets and even reached #12 on the national R&B charts, but it too failed to crossover. April of ’56 found The Flamingos back at the Paramount in Brooklyn for Alan Freed’s “Easter Jubilee Of Stars” with The Cleftones, The Platters and Frankie Lymon & The Teenagers, among others. Freed loved the group so much he put them in his new movie “Rock, Rock, Rock.” Unfortunately, just prior to filming, Zeke Carey was drafted, and therefore does not appear in the film. The group lip-synced to “Would I Be Crying”, with Nate pouring his heart out on lead and John E. Carter’s unmistakable tenor soaring in the background. Even with the film being shown in an estimated 400 movie houses around the country, the group couldn’t seem to get “Would I Be Crying” off the ground. The single died quickly. (Contrary to some articles, the group did not sing their new song “The Vow” in the movie.) In September of 1956, John E. Carter was drafted into the Army, leaving the group a trio.
The group had no problem finding a replacement for Zeke Carey – it took them just two short months to add neighborhood friend Charles “Tommy” Hunt to the fold. But when The Flamingos played Baltimore’s Royal Theater in October 1956, they were still in search of a first tenor. In the audience was Isaiah “Terry” Johnson, an old acquaintance of the Careys by way of the Church of God and Saints of Christ congregation in Baltimore.
Terry (better known to his friends as “Buzzy”) had been the primary lead singer, songwriter and musical arranger for his group called The Whispers, who recorded for Gotham Records. As Terry watched the show, he claims he saw an aura around The Flamingos and saw himself onstage performing with group as they sang songs like “The Vow” and “A Kiss From Your Lips.” After the show, he went backstage to tell The Flamingos about his other-worldly experience and learned that they were looking for a musician who could sing tenor. The following day, Terry returned with his guitar. He sang and played and the group was impressed, but when he played for them the records he had cut with The Whispers, The Flamingos were taken aback. They must have heard what they were looking for in Terry’s sound, because just prior to relocating the group to New York, The Flamingos recruited him to join forces with them. On Christmas Day of 1956, Terry Johnson and The Flamingos both got the break they had been waiting for, although perhaps neither realized it at the time.
The first few months of 1956 were hectic but productive. The five Flamingos (Jake Carey, Nate Nelson, Paul Wilson, Tommy Hunt and Terry Johnson), moved into the Cecil Hotel on W 118th St in Harlem, a hotbed of R&B and jazz artistry. (The Hotel was home to the legendary jazz club Minton’s Playhouse which is considered to be the birthplace of be-bop, often featuring Thelonius Monk, Dizzie Gillespie, Charlie Parker and later Miles Davis, sometimes in extended jam sessions which went on into the wee hours of the morning.) Members of The Cadillacs, Solitaires,Harptones and Drifters were often seen out and about, and an 18-year-old Terry Johnson relished the interaction with these artists to whom he was fast-becoming a peer. In February, The Flamingos played a week of shows at the Apollo Theater (located just a few blocks away from their new home-base.) The stint was so successful, it was held over for a second week. In March, The Flamingos celebrated the expiration of their Chess contract by signing with Decca Records. (Decca, at the time, had become most famous for releasing the first-ever #1 rock & roll hit, Bill Haley & The Comets’ ”Rock Around the Clock,” but had not yet become famous for rejecting The Beatles after the fab four’s earnest audition for the label.)
The Flamingos had previously relied on Johnny Carter’s arranging skills until Uncle Sam snatched him from the group. This void was quickly filled as Terry immediately started to put his ear to the grindstone and began arranging the music and vocals for the group’s newest compositions. The first evidence of Terry’s influence can be heard on “The Ladder of Love,” the most notable of a dozen songs The Flamingosrecorded for Decca. “Ladder” is also the only Flamingos’ Decca recording to have been released on CD. The others still languish in obscurity, but Terry considers “Ladder of Love” to be a “My Way” of sorts, referring to the message of the song. Other Decca sides, “Hey Now,” “Let’s Make Up,” “Helpless,” “My Faith in You,” “Ever Since I Met Lucy,” “Kiss-a-Me,” “Where Mary Go,” “The Rock & Roll March,” “Jerri-Lee” and “That Love is You” were never promoted properly and the latter two were never even released, although the group would re-record “That Love is You” in later years. (Nate co-wrote “That Love is You” as well as much of the group’s earlier material and, later, “If You Try” for The Chantels. The co-author of “That Love is You,” is often mis-credited. Nate actually co-wrote the song with Terry.)
Since Terry had been raised in a home filled with pop music, he was influenced as much by crooners such as Nat King Cole as he was R&B balladeers like Sonny Til (incidentally, his neighbor in Baltimore.) He enjoyed the harmony of groups like the Four Aces, Modernaires andMcGuire Sisters as much as The Harptones and Five Keys. This influence took The Flamingos in a new direction and shortly after a contractual snag between Nate and Checker Records was resolved by the group’s departure from Decca in the spring of ’58, Terry Johnson finally took the group where they had been struggling to go for years.
Jake forged a relationship with producer Richard Barrett who was in charge of A&R (artists and repertoire) for George Goldner’s End Records at the time. Barrett was the original lead singer of The Valentines, had discovered Frankie Lymon & The Teenagers and was now working with The Chantels and Little Anthony & The Imperials. Richard Barrett and Jake Carrey were responsible for getting the group signed to End Records, where their first recording was a song Terry had written for a girl he knew in Wildwood, NJ. “She was leaving for Europe and told me she didn’t want to say goodbye,” Terry recalls. “In the course of her crying, she muttered, ‘Lovers never say goodbye’ and a light bulb went off! I wrote the song around that.” The song was just what The Flamingos needed. It had a sound unlike anything The Flamingos had done before. Written and arranged by Terry, it oozed teenage angst and featured a duet by Terry (singing lead on the verse) and Paul Wilson (harmonizing over Terry’s lead.) The duo would then switch places as Paul’s baritone lead consoled “Though we must part, there’s no reason to cry,” and Terry echoed Paul, “Though we, though we must part,” in a beautiful falsetto tenor which would become the hallmark of many Flamingo hits to come.
Jake, Nate, Tommy, Paul and Terry kept their fingers crossed as “Lovers Never Say Goodbye” hit the R&B charts and then it happened – for the first time in Flamingo history, the group had a national pop hit! The Flamingos were poised for greatness by the time Zeke returned from the Army. (It is interesting to note that some articles have implied the group broke up when Zeke was drafted and regrouped when he was discharged, but this is obviously erroneous and physically impossible as the group performed on film, took publicity photos, recorded and released over a dozen recordings, including their first national hit, all while Zeke was absent.)
Upon Zeke’s discharge, the general consensus among the members was that The Flamingos were now established and had perfected their harmonies and arrangements as a quintet, and Zeke would not be re-admitted to their ranks. Even his “cousin” Jake was adverse to having Zeke re-join them, but Terry argued that since he played the guitar, he could teach Zeke to play the bass and it would make them more of a self-contained group. Terry inspired Nate to pursue his talent on drums and Tommy to start playing piano. The group carried the instruments around, practicing for almost a year before debuting their instrumental talents at the Regal Theater in Chicago on a show headlined by Lionel Hampton.The Flamingos, already considered pioneers because of their vocals, became one of the first self-contained vocal groups on the scene.
Terry reports that one of the reasons he had been so enthused about joining The Flamingos in 1956 was the notion of being able to sing in the same group with Johnny Carter when he returned from the service. Terry had all sorts of ideas about arranging harmonies between their two soaring falsetto tenors. However, when Johnny returned from the Army, the group argued (successfully) that seven would be a crowd. John E. Carter went on to a five-decade long career with The Dells.
With the success of “Lovers Never Say Goodbye,” the group continued to perform regularly, with increasing popularity, and End Records tried to recreate the magic with “But Not For Me.” Originally from the 1930 musical “Girl Crazy,” the recording featured the same formula of a Terry Johnson – Paul Wilson duet. Although it never charted, it marked the first of many old standards Terry would re-arrange in Flamingo fashion, at George Goldner’s urging. By this time, Goldner had given Terry thirty-two old standards, mostly from the 1930′s and 40′s and asked him to begin rearranging the songs so the group could record an album. Goldner didn’t waste any time releasing “Love Walked In” b/w “At The Prom” to try to keep the ball rolling. Both featured the duet lead of Terry and Paul. (Can you say, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it?”) The A-side, which featured the eerie whistling of one George Goldner, was an old Gershwin chestnut but the B-side was another Terry Johnson original composition.
Terry quickly applied the duet formula to the vintage tune “Time Was,” as he had with “Love Walked In” and “But Not For Me.” “The Breeze and I,” “As Time Goes By,” “Begin the Beguine,” and a few others followed, but the one that left the budding arranger stumped was the Al Dubin – Harry Warren composition “I Only Have Eyes For You.” He lamented to Nate Nelson about what to do with the song, to which Nate suggested incorporating the Russian anthem “Song of the Volga Boatmen.” Nate, whose nickname was “lips,” was known for his snide jokes and wry sense of humor. Terry disregarded the remark and went back to his room at the Cecil to try to figure out an arrangement on his guitar. Laying in his bed with the guitar across his body, he fell asleep. “By the time I awoke,” Terry recalls, “God had given me the arrangement in a dream.” A few chords Terry had been strumming before he dosed off, a bass-line variation of the “Volga Boatmen” song and an ethereal vocal background idea came together quickly after Terry had woken his colleagues to muster for an impromptu rehearsal. The evolution of Terry’s arrangement of “I Only Have Eyes For You” was at first met with ridicule from the other Flamingos, then mild reluctance from the record label, but shortly after release, the record began to garner airplay in Philly. If any other recording by any other artist had been claimed to come from God, in a dream, the story would likely be quickly dismissed. Listening to The Flamingos’ version of “I Only Have Eyes For You,” its origin almost seems obvious.
The release of the LP Flamingo Serenade and the single “I Only Have Eyes For You” put the group on the map as the 45rpm soared up the national pop charts. The spark in Philly soon spread like wildfire throughout the country and even as far abroad as Australia as the record hit #1 in many local markets, climbed to #3 on the national R&B charts and peaked at #11 on the pop charts in the summer of 1959. Goldner asked Terry to come up with a follow-up to the monster hit and Terry wrote “Mio Amore.” It was Goldner’s idea to give it an Italian name but the composition was Terry’s through and through, as was the flip side “You, Me and the Sea.” (End had a habit of re-pressing The Flamingos’ hits with variant B-sides, so if you’re looking through your collection as you read this, you may notice the resulting chaotic flip side syndrome.)
Around this time, both Checker and Decca started scrambling to release whatever Flamingos material they could find in their vaults, but none had the magic of the End recordings, and none charted. Alan Freed called the group for more live shows and another movie, this time asking them to perform their hit “Lovers Never Say Goodbye” and an up-tempo reworking of “Jump Children.” While “Lovers” landed on the cutting room floor, you can see a still photo of the group singing it on the movie’s promotional poster – Terry and Paul off to one side, turned in, in duet fashion, while the balance of the group provides the background. However, the performance that did make the big screen featured The Flamingos’ stage show version of “Jump Children.” Paul Wilson, the group’s primary choreographer, inspired by The Nicholas Brothers high-stepping of the 1940’s, outdid himself in what was perhaps one of the most explosive dance routines ever pulled off by group. (Paul later taught the moves toLittle Anthony & The Imperials who mimicked The Flamingos’ routine on their own “I’m Alright.”) The Flamingos’ uniforms matched their flashy steps as they became known for their green, rust and white outfits, which were interchangeable so that they would often appear in two-tone splendor. Many recall a mystique surrounding the green threads as well as the group’s two Cadillacs with Flamingos embroidered on the seats.
Having proved with “Jump Children” that they rocked just as well as they rolled, one of End’s next releases “I Was Such A Fool” was backed with a house-rocker that Terry penned himself, “Heavenly Angel.” Terry and Tommy even traded leads on the frantic 5 Royales classic “Crazy, Crazy, Crazy” and sang a duet version of “Maria Elena.” The Flamingos most successful up-tempo turn came though when Sam Cooke borrowed Terry’s guitar backstage at a show to teach them “Nobody Loves Me Like You,” which he had written for them. In May of 1960, the group shared a bill with Sam at the Tivoli Theater in Chicago and sang Sam’s gift to them for throngs of screaming fans who had just made “Nobody” the group’s second biggest national hit to date.
It’s interesting to note that when “Nobody Loves Me Like You” was originally released in March of 1960, “Besame Mucho” was on the flip side. When it came to George Goldner’s attention that Atlantic Records was releasing The Coasters’ two-sided rendition of the latin-flavored standard on their Atco subsidiary, Goldner called Atlantic chief Ahmet Ertegun and suggested that it might not be a great idea for both 45′s to hit stores the same week. Ertegun and Goldner struck a deal that Goldner would re-issue the disc with a different flip side and in return, Atlantic would have its promotion men push “Nobody Loves Me Like You” at the same time they were promoting their own “Besame.” The A-side went flying up the charts and for the second time, End Records replaced the original B-side with the Terry Johnson original “You, Me and the Sea.”
Also in the spring of 1960, End released The Flamingos’ second LP, Flamingo Favorites, which had the by-now-obligatory Terry Johnson – Paul Wilson duets “You Belong To My Heart” and “Tell Me How Long” as well as “Besame Mucho,” “My Foolish Heart” and “That’s Why I Love You,” among many others.
September 1960 brought the release of “When I Fall In Love” b/w The Swallows’ old hit “Beside You.” Terry sang lead on both sides, but while the A-side garnered local attention in select cities around the country, it never got the national attention it deserved. Today, Terry frequently opens his shows with the fan favorite.
The Flamingos’ musical prowess became so well-respected that one evening at the Apollo Theater, when Sammy Davis, Jr.’s conductor became ill, Sammy recruited Terry to conduct his orchestra. An adrenaline-fueled but capable turn with the baton, onstage for an entire set with the show biz legend remains one of Terry’s favorite memories to this day.
Equally as legendary perhaps, was The Flamingos’ status on the social scene. Members’ escapades frequently appeared in newspaper and magazine blurbs, the most high-profile of which were Paul Wilson’s relationships with Valerie Carr and Dinah Washington (later recounted in her biography) and Nate Nelson’s relationships with Zola Taylor of The Platters and Aretha Franklin. (Aretha and Nate had been introduced by Harvey Fuqua of The Moonglows, but it “wasn’t a heavy affair,” the Queen of Soul noted in her autobiography.)
Shortly after, the group released their Requestfully Yours album. A mix of old standards, singles that had already had their day in the sun and an original tune, the highlights included the Cole Porter standard “In The Still Of The Night,” “Never In This World,” and “Everybody’s Got A Home But Me,” and “Tenderly.” As fall turned into winter, other writers were starting to see dollar signs when they looked at The Flamingos’ meteoric rise and the prolific team of Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman (“A Teenager In Love”, “Hushabye”, “Viva Las Vegas”) were no exception. It’s a little known fact that they wrote “Kiss Me Quick” expressly for The Flamingos, but somehow that tune ended up in a 1961 recording session with none other than Elvis Presley. The Flamingos ended up with the Drifters-style “Your Other Love” as a consolation prize from the songwriting duo. The single charted nationally, as did “Time Was” with Terry and Paul on lead, but the latter would prove to be The Flamingos’ last chart single before the group splintered.
Soon after, the group found out that Tommy Hunt was pursuing a solo career. The Careys, now paranoid about other members harboring other aspirations, accused Terry of wanting to join forces with The Treniers. Over the next several months, the group fell apart, with Terry and Nate in one faction called The Modern Flamingos and the Careys with Paul Wilson in the other. The Careys’ group was left in shambles with its primary lead singers gone, and Jake reported to Jet Magazine that his group had to turn down more than $10,000 worth of contracts while trying to pick up the pieces after the split.
Fast forward a year or so to 1963, when Terry and Nate bumped into Skyliners’ lyricist and manager Joe Rock in Pittsburgh. Joe was impressed with Terry’s new group and very excited that he had the main voices of The Flamingos present. So excited in fact, that he offered the group a record deal. He already had one song, titled “Walk Softly Away” and asked Terry and Nate if they had anything to back it with. Terry replied that it wouldn’t be a problem – the duo quickly retreated to their hotel and wrote “Let’s Be Lovers” that evening. In June of 1963, Rock recorded the songs with Terry and Nate singing in a duet style (surprise!) that sounded so much like The Flamingos, the song could have easily been the follow up to “Lovers Never Say Goodbye” or “I Only Have Eyes For You.” Joe Rock cut a deal with Atlantic Records to lease both the Modern Flamingos’ recordings and “Since I Fell For You” by The Skyliners. Shortly after, both singles came out on Atlantic’s Atco subsidiary. Fearing infringement issues with their erstwhile colleagues and label, Terry and Nate called themselves The Starglows for the purposes of the record release. A tin ear could have surmised who was singing on the recording and when Zeke & Jake Carey heard “Let’s Be Lovers,” they spurred George Goldner to swing into action. Either the previously documented goodwill between Goldner and Ertegun from the “Besame” days had dissipated or Goldner had the upper hand in this dispute. Forces greater than Rock, Johnson or Nelson squashed the release into oblivion just as it began to get noticed in local east coast markets like Pittsburgh. The Starglows were finished before they started. Shortly after, Nate went on to sing with Herb Reed and Sonny Turner in The Platters until a heart attack in 1982 rendered him unwilling to travel internationally, far from his physicians at home.
In 1984, a chance encounter in a nightclub near Framingham, Massachusetts, where Nate was living at the time, found Nate back on stage with Terry and his Flamingos. The two enjoyed such a nostalgic evening together that Terry invited Nate to re-join him on the road. Nate agreed and the two old friends exchanged sheet music so they could incorporate each other’s newer material into a new show. Unfortunately, while in the process of putting it all together, a routine phone call by Terry to Nate’s home was met with the news of his untimely passing. Nate was 52 and had been in desperate need of a heart transplant.
During a 50-plus year career of performing with the original Flamingos and later his own Flamingos incarnations, Terry Johnson was recruited by Smokey Robinson to write and produce at Motown and following a tenure there, was recruited by Harold Melvin to act as musical director for The Blue Notes with Teddy Pendergrass until the last show they performed together in 1976.
All tolled, The Flamingos performed literally hundreds of shows at the legendary Apollo Theater in New York, and thousands more at similar theaters across the country, racked up 5 television appearances on Dick Clark’s American Bandstand, 3 hit albums and 9 national pop hit singles. A broad spectrum of artists, from Lou Rawls and Aaron Neville to Three Dog Night and Tavares, have publicly proclaimed the influence of The Flamingos on their development. In 2001, The Flamingos were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame at the Waldorf Astoria in New York City, in the same ceremony as Michael Jackson, Paul Simon, Aerosmith, Queen and Steely Dan. Keith Richards of The Rolling Stones, Steven Tyler of Aerosmith and hundreds of other industry luminaries gave Terry, Johnny Carter and Tommy Hunt, the last surviving members at the time, a standing ovation when they were inducted – proof of the group’s immeasurable impact. The Flamingos continue to permeate pop culture. They have been an answer on Jeopardy, revered in a George Carlin comedy routine, mentioned in a James Patterson novel, heard in countless commercials, featured in the soundtracks of TV shows The Sopranos and Buffy the Vampire Slayer and punctuated pivotal scenes in blockbusters such as “Something’s Gotta Give” and “A Bronx Tale.” Terry Johnson takes every opportunity he gets to thank God and The Flamingos’ fans for making it all possible.