Billy Ward and His Dominoes
Billy Ward and His Dominoes
While working as a vocal coach and part-time arranger on Broadway, he met talent agent Rose Marks, who became his business and songwriting partner. The pair set out to form a vocal group from the ranks of his students. The group was at first called the Ques, and comprised Clyde McPhatter (lead tenor), Charlie White (tenor), Joe Lamont (baritone), and Bill Brown (bass). Ward acted as their pianist and arranger. After the group made successful appearances on talent shows in the Apollo Theater and on the Arthur Godfrey show in 1950, Rene Hall recommended them to Ralph Bass of Federal Records, a subsidiary of King, where they were signed to a contract and renamed the Dominoes.
Their first single release, "Do Something For Me", with McPhatter’s lead vocal, reached the R&B charts in early 1951, climbing to #6. After a less successful follow-up, the group released "Sixty Minute Man", on which Bill Brown sang lead, and boasted of being able to satisfy his girls with fifteen minutes each of "kissin'" "teasin'" and "squeezin'", before "blowin'" his "top". It reached #1 on the R&B chart in May 1951 and stayed there for a near-record 14 weeks. It was an important record in several respects – it crossed the boundaries between gospel singing and blues, its lyrics pushed the limits of what was deemed acceptable, and it appealed to many white as well as black listeners, peaking at #17 on the pop charts. In later years, it became a contender for the title of "the first rock and roll record". The group toured widely, building up a reputation as one of the top R&B acts of the era, and an audience which crossed racial divides.
However, Ward’s strict disciplinarian approach, and failure to recompense the singers, caused internal problems. The name "The Dominoes" was owned by Ward and Marks, who had the power to hire and fire, and to pay the singers a salary. Clyde McPhatter was being paid barely enough to live on, and often found himself billed as "Clyde Ward" to fool fans into thinking he was Billy Ward's brother. White and Brown both left in 1951/52 to form the Checkers, and were replaced by James Van Loan and David McNeil. In March 1952, the Dominoes were chosen to be the only vocal group at Alan Freed's "Moondog Coronation Ball".
The hits continued, with "Have Mercy Baby" topping the R&B charts for 10 weeks in 1952. However, in early 1953, McPhatter also decided to leave, and soon formed a new group, the Drifters. His replacement in the Dominoes was Jackie Wilson, who had sung with the group on tour. Lamont and McNeil also left and were replaced by Milton Merle and Cliff Givens.
With Wilson singing lead, singles such as "You Can't Keep A Good Man Down" continued to be successful. In 1954, Ward moved the group to the Jubilee label and then to Decca, where they enjoyed a #27 pop hit with "St. Teresa of the Roses". However, the group were unable to follow that success in the charts, and there were a succession of personnel changes. They increasingly moved away from their R&B roots with appearances in Las Vegas and elsewhere.
In late 1956, Wilson left for a solo career, replaced by Eugene Mumford, of The Larks. The group then got a new contract with Liberty Records, and had a hit with "Star Dust.” "Star Dust" made #13 on the Top 100 in the summer of 1957 and sold for 24 weeks. This proved to be their last major success, although various line-ups of the group continued recording and performing into the 1960s. Read more on Last.fm.
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