The Clovers settled into Chicago's Crown Propeller Lounge, for a week's engagement, starting January 25, 1954. In early February, they and Ruth Brown appeared at the Uptown Theater in Philadelphia. Not only did both acts perform, but they received Billboard's Juke Box Operator's Poll Awards; Ahmet Ertegun drove down for the occasion. Atlantic artists were represented four times in the top ten money-making artists: Joe Turner (#3), the Clovers (#7), Ruth Brown (#8), and Clyde McPhatter & the Drifters (#9). Top spot in the poll went to Imperial Records' Fats Domino.
A strange letter appeared in the "Love And Marriage" column of the January 2, 1954 edition of the Pittsburgh Courier. It was written by Private William L. Frazier, who was serving in Korea. He wanted to get married after he left the service and sought to correspond with girls in the D.C. area. Nothing special so far, but he went on to say: "I am very fond of music. In fact I used to sing with a popular quartet called the Clovers. Perhaps you have heard of them or have heard some of our records." Needless to say, Harold Winley never heard of him.
Atlantic next issued "Lovey Dovey" and "Little Mama," in February 1954. This would be another two-sided hit for them, with "Lovey Dovey" reaching #2, and "Little Mama" peaking at #4. It was the only Clovers record featuring Charlie White on both sides, ironically issued after he'd left the group. At appearances, Billy Mitchell did Charlie's leads, being capable of emulating Charlie's gritty style.
"Lovey Dovey" has the delightful lyrics: "You're the cutest thing that I did ever see/I really love your peaches, want to shake your tree" (which popped up in "The Joker," a 1973 hit for the Steve Miller Band). "Little Mama" has Charlie White lamenting the wrong he's done to his lady: "played around little mama, yes, and I did you mighty wrong." Now that she's leaving, he's sorry. But is he sorry for what he did or that she's walking out the door?
The disc was reviewed the week of February 20, along with the Flamingos' "Plan For Love," Cozy Eggleston's "Big Heavy," Shirley & Lee's "Lee Goofed," the Du Droppers' "Dead Broke," the Lamplighters' "Smootchie," the Hollywood Flames' "I Know," the Topps' "Tippin'," and Della Reese's "Yes Indeed." By March 6, the record was considered a Best Buy, due to its strong showing in New England, Philadelphia, Buffalo, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Nashville, Durham, Atlanta, Dallas, St. Louis, Milwaukee, Chicago, and Los Angeles. "Lovey Dovey" would inspire Pop covers by Bunny Paul, Vicki Young, and Ella Mae Morse.
On February 24, the Clovers joined Billy Eckstine, Ruth Brown, the Johnny Hodges Orchestra, and emcee Nipsy Russell in Norfolk, Virginia, to kick off an eight-week tour of the South and Midwest.
The March 27, 1954 R&B charts showed two Clovers songs in the top ten: "Lovey Dovey" (#3) and "Little Mama" (#9). Also present were three more Atlantic sides: the Drifters' "Such A Night" (#5), its flip, "Lucille" (#7), and Ray Charles' "It Should Have Been Me" (#10). This was the first time that a single label had captured half of the top ten.
Sometime in the early spring of 1954, the Clovers were invited to film some of their repertoire for Studio Films. Fans got to see Billy Mitchell lead the Clovers in "Hey Miss Fannie," "Fool, Fool, Fool," "Little Mama," "Your Cash Ain't Nothin' But Trash," and "Lovey Dovey." "Your Cash Ain't Nothin' But Trash" was incorporated into the movie Rock 'n' Roll Revue (1955); "Fool, Fool, Fool" and "Lovey Dovey" appeared in Basin Street Revue (1956); and the others were broadcast on the TV show Showtime At The Apollo.
On April 16, 1954, the Clovers went into the Fulton Recording Studio (in New York) and recorded three more songs led by Billy Mitchell: the second, released, version of "Your Cash Ain't Nothin' But Trash," "In The Morning Time" (by Rudolph Toombs), and "Nobody But You."
On May 1, the Clovers appeared with Alan Freed at his "Moondog Coronation Ball" held at Newark's Sussex Avenue Armory; the first show he ever put on in the East. Also on the show were the Harptones, Muddy Waters, Charles Brown, Arnett Cobb, Sam Butera, and Buddy Johnson's Orchestra, featuring Ella Johnson and Nolan Lewis. It was estimated that about 20% of the 10,000 patrons for this R&B show were white. This would soon serve to turn R&B music in a whole new direction.
A few days later, Buddy Bailey was discharged from the army and lost no time rejoining the Clovers. The decision was made to turn the quartet into a quintet, and Billy Mitchell was retained, occasionally taking over lead chores. Why was he kept? Matthew says, "'cause he was a singin' fool!"
On May 31, 1954, they opened an engagement at Emerson's in Philadelphia. A couple of days before, it was announced that the Clovers would be one of the acts at Alan Freed's "Moondog Jubilee Of Stars Under The Stars," to be held, at an unspecified date, at Brooklyn's Ebbets Field. Others scheduled were the Dominoes, the Orioles, the Count Basie Orchestra, the Buddy Johnson Orchestra, Muddy Waters, Fats Domino, and Little Walter. For whatever reasons, the show never took place.
In June, Atlantic issued "I've Got My Eyes On You," backed with "Your Cash Ain't Nothin' But Trash." "I've Got My Eyes On You" sounds a bit like the Police's "Every Breath You Take." With lyrics like "everywhere you go and everything you do, I've got my eyes on you," it isn't meant to make paranoids feel secure! Listen for Van Walls' tinkly piano again. "Your Cash Ain't Nothin' But Trash" was another of those songs that had "hit" written all over it. It's in the same vein as the Robins' "Framed" (and may actually have inspired that song). It's about a poor guy who just can't seem to come to grips with life. Girls spurn him; salesmen shun him. Why? Because his "cash ain't nothin' but trash." Finally, he's mugged by a thief who adds insult to injury with "you ain't lost nothin', what you cryin' about?" Dragged before a judge for mistaken drunkenness, he's fined $20, but "all I had was a buffalo" (that's a buffalo nickel, for all of you too young to have seen one). The record was another of the Clovers' two-sided hits; "Your Cash Ain't Nothin' But Trash" made it to #6 and "I've Got My Eyes On You" to #7.
The record was reviewed the week of July 17, 1954; both sides, as usual, got "excellent" ratings. Also reviewed that week were Ruth Brown's "Oh What A Dream," Marvin & Johnny's "Cherry Pie," the Honey Bears' "It's A Miracle," the Ravens' "I've Got You Under My Skin," the 5 C's "My Heart's Got The Blues," the Quails' "Somewhere Somebody Cares," and the Flairs' "This Is The Night For Love."
On June 24, the Clovers began an engagement at Jimmy Nelson and Billy Berg's 5-4 Ballroom in Los Angeles. In early July, Atlantic put out a press release announcing that Lou Krefetz had taken on managerial duties for a second group. This time it was the Chords, a group from the Bronx, who recorded for Atlantic's Cat subsidiary. Their novelty record "Sh-Boom" was currently doing well on local charts. However, Krefetz, whom the Clovers considered a great manager, just didn't have the time to devote to the Chords and never did much for them.
July 17 found the Clovers at Gene Norman's "Fifth Annual Blues Jubilee," at the Hollywood Shrine Theater. Also present were the Chords, the Robins, and the Hollywood Flames. The show then played Bakersfield, San Jose, Pismo Beach, Fresno, and Salinas, before returning to the Riverside Rancho in Los Angeles. On July 23, the Clovers appeared, with Fats Domino and John Greer, for three days at the 5-4 Ballroom. The Clovers and Greer subsequently appeared at the Rainbow Ballroom in Denver.
On August 7, 1954, the Clovers played Chicago's Madison Rink, at the "Jam With Sam" dance party, hosted by WGES DJ Sam Evans. Others on the bill were Little Walter, Sunnyland Slim, and Big John Greer (there was plenty of "stature" to choose from here).
Remember back in March when Atlantic had captured five out of the top ten R&B tunes in the survey? Now, in August, they managed to have seven of the top 10 (although there were actually eleven songs, since two were tied for #10): the Chords' "Sh-Boom," the Drifters' "Honey Love," Joe Turner's "Shake, Rattle and Roll," Ruth Brown's "Oh What A Dream," and three tunes by the Clovers: "Lovey Dovey," "I've Got My Eyes On You," and "Your Cash Ain't Nothin' But Trash." Atlantic was far and away the "hit-makingest" independent record company around.
August 28, 1954 saw the Clovers back in the Atlantic Studios. This time they did: "Alrighty Oh Sweetie" (by Dossie Terry and Art Whelton), the second version of "Only While I Dream," and the original, unreleased version of "Love Bug." Billy led on "Only While I Dream," while Buddy was out front on the other two. Then it was off on a three-week tour of the South and Texas, along with Fats Domino. Partway into the tour, Fats developed infected tonsils and had to be hospitalized in New Orleans. Shaw Artists quickly substituted Amos Milburn and Floyd Dixon as replacements, and the show went on.
The next Atlantic release was October's "I Confess" and "Alrighty Oh Sweetie." "I Confess," the last Charlie White tune issued (by now, he'd been gone a year), once again featured a heavy beat on a slow rocker, and "Alrighty Oh Sweetie" is that certain type of song wherein whatever question is asked, it always gets answered with the same maddening response (in this case "Alrighty, oh sweetie"). [While Atlantic would vary it over the years, the original release had the spelling 'Alrighty' in the title.]
On October 22, 1954, the Clovers once again appeared at the Apollo Theater, along with Edna McGriff and the Paul Williams Orchestra.
"I Confess" was well-reviewed the week of November 20, along with the Drifters' "White Christmas," the 5 Pearls' "Please Let Me Know," Lavern Baker's "Tweedle Dee," the Regals' "Run Pretty Baby," the Chestnuts' "Don't Go," the Hollywood Flames' "Fare Thee Well," and the Valentines' "Tonight Kathleen." However, this record was the first real disappointment for the Clovers, failing to chart nationally, even though the sides got good reviews and "Alrighty Oh Sweetie" was a Tip in Charlotte (the record did well in local markets).
December 6, 1954 found the Clovers opening at Boston's Hi-Hat. Then it was back to New York for their next Atlantic Studios session, on December 16. This time they recorded the 1951 Tony Bennett song, "Blue Velvet" (written by Bernie Wayne and Lee Morris) and re-recorded "Love Bug" (by Ahmet). The third track that day was "If You Love Me" (by Memphis Curtis, who had written "Lovey Dovey"). All three sides were led by Buddy.
"Blue Velvet" (with its haunting sax work by Sam "The Man" Taylor) and "If You Love Me" were issued that same month. Even though the Clovers had been singing "Blue Velvet" for years at the Apollo, they had to fight for the same number of years to get to record it, since Atlantic didn't own the publishing rights! Although "Blue Velvet" is one of the finest tunes the Clovers ever recorded, it only managed to stagger up to #14 on the charts. "If You Love Me" is a pleasant, standard Clovers-type tune, reminiscent of "Ting-A-Ling."
The Clovers opened for a ten-day stint at Los Angeles' 5-4 Ballroom on Christmas Eve, 1954, along with Jim Wynn and his Band. This time, they got to fly out and back.
On January 14 and 15, 1955, the Clovers were part of Alan Freed's first live New York City show, held at the St. Nicholas Arena. The "Rock 'n' Roll Jubilee Ball" was played out in three performances, and also featured Clyde McPhatter & the Drifters, Ruth Brown, the Moonglows/Moonlighters, Red Prysock and his Orchestra, Fats Domino, Varetta Dillard, Mickey "Guitar" Baker, Danny Overbea, Joe Turner, the Harptones, Charles Brown, and the Buddy Johnson Orchestra, with vocalists Ella Johnson and Nolan Lewis.
In January, Lou Krefetz produced his own package show: the "Top 10 R&B Show." Kicking off January 28 in Norfolk, it was billed as the first show featuring all Shaw Agency artists and the first show fully produced by Krefetz. Up and down the highway for 60 grueling days, the tour featured the Clovers, Faye Adams, the Otis Williams and the Charms, Joe Turner, the Moonglows, Lowell Fulson, the Paul Williams Orchestra, the Bill Doggett Trio, and the Spence Twins. It would play the entire country, except the far west. The tour's February 5 performance was in Chicago, as another "Jam With Sam" show (hosted by Chicago DJ Sam Evans). It ended up in Buffalo, on March 20. If you were too lazy to buy tickets in advance, you could see all this for only $2.00 at the gate!
In March 1955, it was announced that Charlie White, former Clovers lead, had just formed his own group, called the Playboys, and would record for Cat Records. (In reality, the "Playboys" were simply Atlantic's jack-of-all-trades backup group, the Cues.) The week of March 19, "Blue Velvet" was a Territorial Tip in Los Angeles.
On April 7, 1955, the Clovers went to New York's Coastal Studios to record four more tunes: "If I Could Be Loved By You" (by Leroy Kirkland and Mamie Thomas), the unreleased version of "Love, Love, Love," "Nip Sip" (by Rudolph Toombs), and "Kiss Me Before You Go." All sides were led by Buddy. Two days later, they appeared at another couple of "Jam With Sam" dances, first at the Gary (Indiana) Armory, then at Chicago's Madison Rink. Also on the bill were the 5 Echoes, the Danderliers, King Kolax, Muddy Waters, and the Paul Williams Orchestra.
Five days later, the Clovers were part of the week-long "Rock 'n' Roll Easter Jubilee," presented by Alan Freed at the Brooklyn Paramount Theater. They shared the stage with the Penguins, the Moonglows, Lavern Baker, B.B. King, Danny Overbea, Red Prysock, Mickey Baker, and the Count Basie Orchestra.
Also in April, Atlantic released "Love Bug" and "In The Morning Time," but for the second time, one of their Atlantic releases failed to chart. "Love Bug" is a cute and bouncy tune ("The Love Bug bit me and he really made me know it too"). "In The Morning Time" is another of those drinking songs: "she'd been drinkin' that good whiskey, feelin' that good wine." The result? "She hit a big Caddy and wrecked my new car." Strangely, the narrator doesn't seem to care one way or the other.
In July 1955, the Clovers were part of Gene Norman's Jazz Concert at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles. They shared the stage with the Meadowlarks, the Medallions, the Jewels, Marvin & Johnny, the Voices, the Earl Bostic Orchestra, and the Chuck Higgins orchestra. On July 30, it was reported that Lou Krefetz would be re-joining Atlantic as Sales Manager. He'd also be responsible for Cat Records, and Atlantic's newly-launched Atlas subsidiary (quickly re-named Atco, when Tommy Robinson reminded them of the existence of his 125th Street label of the same name).
In August, Atlantic released "Nip Sip," backed with "If I Could Be Loved By You." The record was reviewed the week of August 27, along with the Dominoes' "Take Me Back To Heaven," the Gypsies' "I'm Good To You Baby," Shirley Gunter's "Ipsy Opsie Ooh," Richard Berry's "Together," the Delltones' "Baby Say You Love Me," the Pyramids' "Deep In My Heart For You," and the Sheppards' "Love." "Nip Sip" would put the Clovers back on the charts, peaking at #10. It's another one of their drinking tales, although they tried to disguise it a bit under lyrics that talk about "vanilla malts" and "root beer." "If I Could Be Loved By You" is another bit of standard Clovers fare, which wasn't different enough to land it on the charts.
The Clovers went into the Apollo, with Ruth Brown, for the week beginning Friday, August 12. Late that month, the Clovers became part of the fall edition of Lou Krefetz's "Top 10 Revue." This time they covered the East, Midwest, South and Southwest along with Joe Turner, the 5 Keys, Bo Diddley, the Charms, Gene & Eunice, Etta James & the Peaches, Charlie & Ray, the Paul Williams Orchestra, and MC Al Jackson. The most interesting of the tour's appearances would be on October 29, when it played New York's prestigious Carnegie Hall (the MC that on that occasion was DJ Hal Jackson).
The week of October 22, 1955 found "Nip Sip" as a Tip in Atlanta. Other Tips that week were the Turbans' "When You Dance" (also in Atlanta), the Diablos' "The Way You Dog Me Around" (Detroit), the Orchids "Newly Wed" (Philadelphia) and the Robins' "Smokey Joe's Cafe" (Los Angeles).
Remember those filmed performances that the Clovers did back in the spring of 1954? Well, "Your Cash Ain't Nothin' But Trash" had since been made part of a movie called "Rock 'n' Roll Revue." The film's initial release had been in April 1955, and now, on October 24, it opened in 70 New York theaters. In addition to the Clovers, film clips of Ruth Brown, Larry Darnell, the Delta Rhythm Boys, Martha Davis and Spouse, Joe Turner, Dinah Washington, Lionel Hampton, Nat Cole, and Duke Ellington had been cobbled together, with the embarrassingly non-funny Willie Bryant as MC. Even more film clips (of the Larks, Paul Williams, Amos Milburn, Count Basie, Sarah Vaughan, Herb Jeffries, and Faye Adams) would be stitched together to create "Rhythm And Blues Revue," which debuted Christmas week in Baltimore.
The Clovers did another session on November 11, 1955, at which they recorded "Devil Or Angel" (by Blanche Carter), "Hey Doll Baby" (by Titus Turner, who would record his own version in 1961), and "Baby Baby, Oh My Darling" (by Paul Winley). This time they recorded at Capitol Studios in New York. Once again, all sides were led by Buddy.
When you think about it, "Hey Doll Baby" was a true Clovers' song. It's the story of a guy who's so happy to be home after a prolonged absence that he's going into denial about what's going on around him. ("Hey doll baby, whose coat's hanging in the closet?/I don't remember when I bought it/Tell me that your brother was here today/I don't wanna take it no other way.")
"Devil Or Angel," on the other hand, was completely out of character for them. It isn't a Clovers-type arrangement, nor a Clovers-type tune. The writer, Blanche Carter, a Florida native, would receive a BMI award for writing one of the biggest R&B hits of 1956. She claimed that for years she'd been mailing songs to New York, with no results. This is the one that did it for her. As far as I can determine, however, she never again wrote a hit song. (Jerry Wexler has said that this is the only unsolicited song that ever became a hit for Atlantic.) While "Hey Doll Baby" appealed to the Clovers more than "Devil Or Angel," the latter was the side they really spent time working on.
In December 1955, the Clovers were back at the Apollo for Christmas week, along with Ruth Brown, and the newly-separated-from-the-Drifters Clyde McPhatter.
"Devil Or Angel" and "Hey Doll Baby" were released in January 1956. It would be the last double-sided hit for the Clovers: "Devil Or Angel" went to #3, and "Hey Doll Baby" leveled off at #8. Note that while this is probably the song most associated with the Clovers, it was never a national Pop hit, only making the R&B charts. It was reviewed the week of January 14, along with the Flamingos' "I'll Be Home," the Midnighters' "Partners For Life," Richard Berry's "I Am Bewildered," the Melloharps' "I Love Only You," the Hurricanes' "Maybe It's All For The Best," the Fi-Tones' "It Wasn't A Lie," the Trojans' "I Wanna Make Love To You," the Teen Queens' "Eddie My Love," and the Dikes' "Don't Leave Poor Me." The following week "Devil Or Angel" had broken out in New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, D.C., St. Louis, Nashville, Cleveland, and Durham.
On March 10, Atlantic announced that it had renewed the contracts of both the Clovers and Clyde McPhatter (just about to be discharged from the army). The next day found the Clovers playing Chicago's Park City Bowl, in a show promoted by DJs McKie Fitzhugh and Ric Ricardo. Others on the bill were the Drifters, Al Smith's Orchestra, and Bo Diddley.
The next Clovers session was held on March 29, 1956. It produced "Bring Me Love" (by Fay Whitman, Howard Greenfield, and Neil Sedaka), "Your Tender Lips" (by Joseph Brisbon and Howard Biggs), and "Love, Love, Love" (by Sunny David, Teddy McRae, and Sid Wyche). All were led by Buddy (with Matthew McQuater dueting with him on "Your Tender Lips").
The downside of this session is that it introduced the dread choral-group-behind-an-R&B-group (hereinafter referred to as the Dread Chorus). This was an unpleasant trend that would continue through many of their sessions. In later years Jerry Wexler said he could "kick myself in the ass" for doing that to R&B. So many artists, not only Atlantic's, had their work trivialized by these choruses. As Pete Grendysa put it, "The deadly-dull chorus and arrangements by Ray Ellis that are heard on so many Atlantic records from the late 1950s adroitly alienated the R&B audiences for the Clovers, Lavern Baker, Ruth Brown, Joe Turner and Clyde McPhatter, without making a place for them on the Pop charts." The Dread Chorus was actually there in the studio with the Clovers; it wasn't a case of overdubbing.
Then it was off on Lou Krefetz's "Rhythm & Blues Show of 1956." Kicking off in Richmond in early April, it was on to Charlotte, up the East Coast, into Toronto, then down through the Midwest, on to Texas, then the Southeast, finishing up, after five weeks, in Birmingham. Also on the show were Fats Domino, Ruth Brown, Little Richard, the Cadillacs, the Turbans, the Sweethearts, Little Willie John, Al Jackson and his Fat Men, and the Choker Campbell Orchestra. As a "side trip," the Clovers played Kansas City's Orchid Room when the tour swung by there.
The next Clovers release was May's "Love, Love, Love," backed by "Your Tender Lips." "Love, Love, Love" would be the Clovers' last Atlantic chart hit, rising to #4 on the R&B charts. The big surprise here was that, for the first time, a Clovers song made the Pop charts (although only to #30). It was reviewed the week of May 26, 1956 along with James Brown's "I Don't Know," Big Maybelle's "Candy," the Spaniels' "Dear Heart," the Magnificents' "Up On The Mountain," the Parakeets' "I Have A Love," Neil Sedaka & the Tokens' "While I Dream," and the Colts' "Never No More."
If you took the Dread Chorus away from "Your Tender Lips," you'd still have a song that wasn't very interesting, except for the duet lead of Buddy Bailey and Matthew McQuater. "Love, Love, Love" has somewhat childish lyrics, but with a bright and bouncy melody. Nice piano work is featured, although it isn't by Van Walls. It did well in New York, and is one of the Clovers songs I remember from the time.
On May 18, the Clovers began a week at the Howard Theater. While there, Matthew McQuater turned himself in to answer a non-support warrant issued by Juvenile Court in Washington. He'd filed for divorce earlier that month, since the couple had been separated since 1951. His wife immediately filed for support for their three children. Lou Krefetz stepped in to persuade the court to grant a continuance in order to "give him enough time to get his payments together."
May 25, 1956 saw the Clovers back at the Apollo, along with Al Jackson & the Fat Men, Pee Wee Crayton, and the Paul Williams Orchestra.
On June 7, 1956 the Clovers recorded a single song: "A Lonely Fool" (by Burton, Franz and Randolph). This tune, featuring a duet lead by Buddy and Billy, was almost a waltz! The next day, June 8, saw two more tunes recorded: "Springtime" and Chuck Willis' "From The Bottom Of My Heart." The former was led by Buddy, the latter by Billy. All three had the Dread Chorus. Although Atlantic didn't release "From The Bottom Of My Heart" until August, the 5 Keys cut a cover version of it on June 26 (however, it was never issued as a single).
Although he remained with the Clovers, Bill Harris went off on his own to cut an album. Entitled simply "Bill Harris," it was issued on EmArcy in 1956, and is considered to be the first album of solo jazz recordings played on a classical guitar. (EmArcy stood for Mercury Record Company; can you guess who owned it?) While it's easy to overlook Bill as "just" the Clovers' guitarist, he was a highly-trained musician (guitar, piano, drums, and voice), whose heart was in the fusion of blues, jazz, and classical music on the guitar.
In August, Atlantic issued "From The Bottom Of My Heart," backed with "Bring Me Love." They were reviewed the week of September 22, along with Fats Domino's "Blueberry Hill," the Teenagers' "The ABC's Of Love," the Crescendos' "Sweet Dreams," the Spiders' "That's The Way To Win My Heart," Young Jessie's "Hit, Git, And Split," the Vibraharps' "Cozy With Rosy," the Palms' "Darling Patricia," the Jewels' "She's A Flirt," the Flairs' "Aladdin's Lamp," the Ebonaires' "The Very Best Luck In The World," the Jayhawks' "Don't Mind Dyin'," and Marvin & Johnny's "Hey Chicken." The week of October 6, it was reported breaking out in Boston, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Buffalo, Cleveland, St. Louis, Nashville, Durham, and Atlanta. "From The Bottom Of My Heart" represents, in my opinion, an excellent example of the Dread Chorus ruining a perfectly good song. In spite of this, I remember it well, so it did get a lot of airplay. "Bring Me Love" is a pretty ballad that makes you want to strangle every single member of that damned chorus.
On August 24, 1956, the Clovers were back at the Apollo, as part of Dr. Jive's competition to Alan Freed's Labor Day Show at the Brooklyn Paramount. Also with Dr. Jive were Bo Diddley, Charlie & Ray, the 5 Satins, Butchie Saunders, Big Maybelle, Claudia Swann (in her first solo outing since leaving the Griffin Brothers Orchestra), the Valentines, and the Channels.
On September 28, the Clovers were part of Irvin Feld's latest Rock 'n' Roll touring show. This one also included the Platters, Bill Haley and the Comets, the Buddy Johnson Orchestra, Ella Johnson, Chuck Berry, Shirley & Lee, Shirley Gunter, and the Flairs.
November saw the next Clovers release: "Baby Baby, Oh My Darling" and "A Lonely Fool." "Baby Baby, Oh My Darling" was not a great rocker, but it did have a definite Clovers sound, having been recorded prior to the introduction of the Dread Chorus. "A Lonely Fool" was the last of the choral numbers to be released; it is, in my opinion, a fairly boring ballad. The record was reviewed (excellently) the week of December 8, 1956, along with the Moonglows "I Knew From The Start," the Sensations' "Little Wallflower," the Schoolboys' "Please Say You Want Me," Nappy Brown's "Little By Little," the Flamingos' "Would I Be Crying," the Copesetics' "Believe In Me," the Jaguars' "The Way You Look Tonight," the Danderliers' "She's Mine," the Baltineers' "Moments Like This," the Marquis' "Bohemian Daddy," the Fi-Tones' "Waiting For Your Call," and the De Bonairs' "Mother's Son."
Also in November, Atlantic released the first Clovers LP. Simply entitled The Clovers, it contained "Love, Love, Love," "Middle Of The Night," "Lovey Dovey," "Blue Velvet," "Yes, It's You," "Little Mama," "Ting-A-Ling," "Crawlin'," "I Played The Fool," "Here Goes A Fool," "Hey, Miss Fannie," "I Got My Eyes On You," "Don't You Know I Love You," and "Devil Or Angel." Except for "Yes It's You" and "Here Goes A Fool" (two fine ballads), every song on the album had been an R&B charter. It cost all of $4.98, proving that people in those days got their money's worth! The album was given an excellent rating the week of December 15. The photo on the cover is the only one I've ever seen that features all six members, and was taken, literally, as soon as they came off the stage of the Apollo (probably in August); there was a photography studio close by.
November found the Clovers in Denver, playing the Denver Coliseum. An eight-hour snow storm capped off a cold snap, but 7,000 fans came out to see them, along with Bill Haley & the Comets, Frankie Lymon, the Platters, Clyde McPhatter, Shirley & Lee, the Flairs, Chuck Berry, and the Buddy Johnson Orchestra, with Ella Johnson. Much as I hate snow, I would have gone myself!
On December 7, 1956, the Clovers began another week at the Apollo, along with Big Maybelle and the James Moody Orchestra. Along with the stage show, the movie was a revival of Rhythm And Blues Revue, released to counter Alan Freed's Rock, Rock, Rock, which had opened two days earlier. (Rhythm And Blues Revue was a companion piece to Rock 'n' Roll Revue, but none of the Clovers' performances were in it.) As soon as the week was over, the Clovers high-tailed it to Akron to take part in a memorial performance for Jack Clifton, local star of TV and radio, who had died in September. Also present were Jim Lowe, Betty Johnson, Clyde McPhatter, the Ernie Freeman Trio, the 3 Friends, Jesse Belvin, and Wendell Tracy's Orchestra.
The Clovers recorded four more songs on December 20, 1956: "You Good Looking Woman" (by Bill Barnes), "Here Comes Romance" (by Lou Stallman and Walt Phillips), "Love May Call," and "In The Rain." At least the first two were led by Buddy.
In early February 1957, the Clovers signed with the new Tim Gale Booking Agency. Tim was the brother of Moe Gale, whose agency had managed the Ink Spots from the time they came to New York in 1934 through most of the 1940s.
March 8, 1957 found the Clovers at the Apollo, with a Dr. Jive show. Also on the bill were Lloyd Price, Moms Mabley, Amos Milburn, and Edna McGriff.
Also in March, Atlantic issued "Here Comes Romance," a simplistic, forgettable song, coupled with "You Good Looking Woman." To try for a different sound, "You Good Looking Woman" features Mike Chimes playing the harmonica; the results are actually pleasant. The disc was reviewed the week of March 23, along with Chuck Willis' "C.C. Rider," Ivory Joe Hunter's "Empty Arms," Mickey & Sylvia's "There Ought To Be A Law," the Coasters' "Searchin'," the Souvenirs' "So Long Daddy," the Paragons' "Florence," the Minors' "Jerry," and the Metrotones' "Skitter Skatter."
For Easter, the Clovers were part of Jocko's "Rocketship Rock 'n' Roll Stars Easter 1957 Revue" at the Loews' State Theater in Manhattan. The MC was WOV DJ Jocko "Your Ace From Outer Space" Henderson. Also appearing were Mickey & Sylvia, the Jive Bombers, the Diamonds, the Heartbeats, Jo-Ann Campbell, the Teenchords, the Paragons, Googie Rene, and the Buddy Johnson Orchestra, featuring Ella Johnson and Floyd Ryland.
The next session, on April 18, 1957, produced four tunes: "I I I Love You" (by Wilbert Smith), "Baby Darling," "So Young" (by Dwight Sherman), and "Pretty Eyes." "I I I Love You" was led by Billy and "So Young" by Buddy; no one remembers the other two.
On May 4, 1957, the Clovers were part of Alan Freed's first live TV special, along with the Del Vikings, Screamin' Jay Hawkins, Sal Mineo, Guy Mitchell, and June Valli. This was "testing the waters" to see if he could make a go of a weekly TV show (which he subsequently did, although it only lasted for four performances).
May 8 found them at the Syria Mosque Theater in Pittsburgh. They were part of a show starring George Hamilton IV, Ray Charles, Ruth Brown, the Moonglows, the Charms, the G-Clefs, Johnnie & Joe, and Bo Diddley. It was hosted by DJ Barry Kaye (WJAS).
In May, Atlantic released "I I I Love You" and "So Young," two songs which were so far beneath the Clovers that they sank into the oblivion they so richly deserved. In spite of this, the trades gave them very good reviews. "I I I Love You" has a gritty sound, wasted on an insipid song. "So Young" is the story of an "older" guy falling for a teenage girl. It brings to mind "Young Girl," by Gary Puckett and the Union Gap.
The Clovers were back at the Apollo the week of June 21, 1957, along with Al Hibbler, Bull Moose Jackson, and Pigmeat Markham. On June 24, Lou Krefetz, who had once again left his Sales Manager position at Atlantic, announced the formation of Poplar Records, located at 48 West 48th Street, in Manhattan. His first release was "After" by the Bachelors. another D.C. group, who had started as the Jets on Rainbow, before changing their name and recording for Aladdin, Royal Roost, and Poplar. Krefetz also ran Chelwood Publishing.
The last session of the Clovers' Atlantic contract took place on July 26, 1957. The four songs recorded were: "Wishing For Your Love" (by Sampson Horton), "Down In The Alley" (by Jesse Stone), "All About You" (by David Hill and Augustus Stevenson), and "There's No Tomorrow" (by Al Hoffman, Leon Carr, and Leo Corday). "Wishing For Your Love" was led by Buddy, "All About You" was by Billy, "There's No Tomorrow" was a Buddy and Matthew duet, and "Down In The Alley" had them all singing in unison. This was the second try at "Down In The Alley," the first having been recorded almost four years previously, at their December 15, 1953 session.
Atlantic released "Down In The Alley" and "There's No Tomorrow" in August 1957. They were reviewed the week of September 16, along with the Moonglows' "Confess It To Your Heart," the Demens' "Take Me As I Am," the Tunemasters' "Sending This Letter," the Cuff Links' "It's Too Late Now," the Love Notes' "If I Could Make You Mine," and the Rob-Roys' "Tell Me Why" (which received a very poor rating). From the opening "Changity, changity, changity, changity, chang, chang" through the slangy "I'll plant you now, and dig you later," this was a real Clovers song. It showed that even in 1957 they were still capable of turning out a quality product, if given the chance. "There's No Tomorrow," on the other hand, is a very uninteresting piece, even though it had a partial duet between Buddy and Matthew. It had been written in 1949 (based on "O Sole Mio") and had been made popular by Tony Martin. The pairing of these two songs shows, in a single record, how Atlantic was unsure of how to proceed with the Clovers.
Also in August, the Clovers joined Roy Hamilton on a tour of Texas and the Midwest. Also on board were the Spaniels, Johnnie & Joe, Huey Smith & Clowns, Annie Laurie, and Buddy & Ella Johnson.
On September 6, 1957 Irvin Feld's "Biggest Show Of Stars" hit the road. Starting in Pittsburgh and lasting about 45 days, it featured the Clovers, the Drifters, Fats Domino, Clyde McPhatter, Lavern Baker, and Chuck Berry.
Also in September, Billy Mitchell parted with the Clovers for a while. Lou Krefetz announced that he'd signed Billy to Poplar (there was no mention of the Clovers) and Billy lost no time in doing some recording. Around December, Poplar released his "Rock And Roll Tango," backed with "Bottomless Pit." On both of these, he's backed by the (uncredited) Bachelors.
In October, the Clovers joined Roy Hamilton again on a tour of the South, including Baltimore, Norfolk, Richmond, and Raleigh. Others on the show were the Tune Weavers, Thurston Harris, Doc Bagby, and Little Joe.
"Down In The Alley" was reported a Territorial Tip in Memphis the week of October 28. Other Tips that week were by Larry Williams: "Bony Moronie" in New Orleans, and "You Bug Me Baby" in San Francisco.
November found the Clovers as part of George "Hound Dog" Lorenz's "Show Of Stars," which featured Jerry Lee Lewis, the Billy Williams Quartet, Roy Hamilton, the Mellokings, the Tune Weavers, Little Joe, Screamin' Jay Hawkins, Thurston Harris and Doc Bagby.
The week beginning December 13, 1957 brought the Clovers back to the Apollo Theater as part of a show promoted by DJ Jack Walker (WOV). Others on the bill were Thurston Harris and Dee Clark (it was the first New York appearance for each), the Chantels, Bette McLaurin, the Paragons, and the Glowtones.
In January 1958, Atlantic released "Wishing For Your Love," backed by "All About You." While "Wishing For Your Love" was originally recorded by the Clovers, by the time Atlantic issued it, the Voxpoppers' version was out there, and that was the one the public bought. The record was reviewed the week of February 24, along with Billy Mitchell's "Rock And Roll Tango," Billy Bland's "Chicken In The Basket," the Scarlets' "She's Gone (With The Wind)," the Chimes' "Lovin' Baby," the Chandeliers' "Blueberry Sweet," and the Aquatones' "You." "Wishing For Your Love" is a pleasant tune, but not really something that the Clovers should have done. "All About You," on the other hand, is in the Clovers style, but the song itself is very uninspired ("Doubled-up, bent-over, knocked-out about you").
In February 1958, Lou Krefetz clarified the position of Billy Mitchell: he'd remain a member of the Clovers and record as a soloist for Poplar. (Since Billy had returned to the Clovers at this point, this announcement becomes clear. However, he would never again have a release under his own name.) Krefetz also announced the signing of the Voxpoppers, whose "Wishing For Your Love" was topping the Clovers' version on the charts.
The formal announcement that the Clovers were no longer recording for Atlantic was made on May 19. Krefetz, of course, simply switched them to Poplar. Not only was the label owned by their manager, but the musical director was their old friend from Atlantic, Jesse Stone (who did freelance arranging work).
At Poplar, they made two singles. The first of these, issued in June 1958, was "The Gossip Wheel" (led by Buddy), backed with "Please Come On To Me" (led by Billy). The record was reviewed the week of June 16 (both sides got good ratings), along with Fats Domino's "Little Mary," Bo Diddley's "Hush Your Mouth," the Kodoks' "Oh Gee, Oh Gosh," Robert & Johnny's "I Believe In You," the Preludes' "Vanishing Angel," the Serenaders' "Dance, Darlin', Dance," the Danleers' "One Summer Night" the Nobles' "Poor Rock 'n' Roll," the Sophomores "Each Time I Hold You," the Nite Caps' "Jelly Bean," the Raindrops' "Dim Those Lights," and the Impressors' "Loneliness."
Also in June, they once again played the Apollo (starting on the 27th), this time with Roy Hamilton, Bobby Freeman, Ketty Lester, Samson & Delilah, Juggling Joe, and the Reuben Phillips Orchestra.
The second Poplar single, released in August 1958, was "The Good Old Summertime" (led by Billy), coupled with "Idaho" (written by Jesse Stone and led by Buddy). It was reviewed the week of September 8, along with the Gondoliers' "You Call Everybody Darling," the Tempos' "I'm Laughing At You," and the Dreamtones' "Love In The Afternoon."
In September, the Clovers hit the road once more, on a package tour with Chuck Berry, Lloyd Price, and Diana Dove. By this time, they'd lost Bill Harris. One day he realized that he'd done so much touring with the Clovers that he barely knew his 12-year-old son. For this reason, he decided not to go on with the group. He settled down in D.C. to start teaching guitar (at the Bill Harris Guitar Studios) and also took up singing blues. (Bill's heart may have been in classical and jazz music, but he still named his daughter "Clovia"!)
In October, Poplar released The Clovers - In Clover, an LP containing three of their single sides ("The Gossip Wheel" wasn't included), plus "Old Black Magic" (Buddy), "Jamaica Farewell" (Buddy), "What Is This Thing Called Love" (Buddy), "Pennies From Heaven" (Buddy), "Kentucky Babe" (all), "To Each His Own" (Buddy), "Vaya Con Dios" (Buddy and Matthew), and "My Mother's Eyes" (Billy). For some reason, the final cut was Billy Mitchell's "Rock And Roll Tango" (backed up by the Bachelors; there's no indication that the tune isn't by the Clovers). When Krefetz claimed it was a collection of standards, he wasn't far off. This album is fantastic! (If, however, you expect to hear the Clovers sing "Crawlin'" or "Needless," it isn't for you.) Almost all the songs are pleasant and bouncy, in the best Pop tradition. I can't say that I cared much for "Vaya Con Dios," "Kentucky Babe," or "Idaho" (a Jesse Stone composition from the 40s, that sounds like it belongs in some corny Hollywood musical), but all the rest are top-notch. I especially liked "Rock And Roll Tango" (even if it isn't by the Clovers); it's a great melding of a real tango with an uptempo beat. "My Mother's Eyes" is the closest they come to an R&B arrangement, but it still (in my opinion) puts the 4 Buddies' version to shame. Note that the cover photo, taken in New York's Central Park, doesn't have Bill Harris.
While the material and the arrangements that they'd endured during their last couple of years at Atlantic caused them to have to rise above it (which they sometimes couldn't do), Poplar allowed them to indulge in a style of singing with which they were very comfortable. While most R&B collectors would write off the Clovers after 1956, they made some wonderful music at Poplar. Don't forget, these guys could sing!
On November 15, 1958, the Clovers went to Europe, setting out on a 15-week tour of Italy. Since Bill Harris was gone, their accompanist was pianist Fox Wheatly. Matthew McQuater didn't go along either, and the group was back down to a quartet. While they were gone, in early 1959, their entire Poplar catalog was purchased by United Artists. Lou Krefetz made his usual deal with the company, and ended up as National Sales Manager for UA. While Krefetz made sure that he took good care of himself, he never lost sight of the Clovers either. Both McQuater and Winley say that the Clovers liked him and that he was a good manager.
In May 1959, United Artists issued two cuts from the Poplar album as the first UA Clovers release: "Old Black Magic" and "Rock And Roll Tango" (by Billy Mitchell and the Bachelors; once again, it's being passed off as a Clovers song [although United Artists may not have known]). In fact, the entire album, title and all, would be re-released by UA in May. (Billboard reviewed it the week of May 11, and concluded "Much pleasurable listening.") On June 1, "Old Black Magic" was a Billboard Pick Of The Week, indicating very strong sales potential. Unfortunately, it never lived up to that potential.
On Friday, April 10, 1959, with Matthew McQuater back on board, they began a week's stay at the Apollo, along with Sam Cooke, Willie Lewis, Sally Blair, and the Reuben Phillips Orchestra.
On June 8, 1959, the Clovers did their first session for United Artists; it was under the supervision of Leiber & Stoller, the wunderkinder of independent productions. Of the four songs recorded that day, three of them were Leiber & Stoller tunes.
"Love Potion #9," fronted by Billy, was one of Leiber and Stoller's "playlets." (It has at least a numerical relationship to their "Riot In Cell Block #9.") The tunesmiths had been associated with Atlantic, and had, for a while, acted in an a&r capacity for the Clovers. They'd wanted to write for the group, but for some reason Atlantic hadn't let them. Now they had a Coasters-type song that they'd brought to Don Costa at United Artists to give to the Clovers. The two other L&S songs recorded in June were "Stay Awhile" (Buddy) and "Lovey" (Billy). The fourth tune was one that they'd learned when they were in Italy: "Noni Cosi" (led by Buddy; presumably this should have been "Non E' Così," - "it's not so").
In July, UA released "Love Potion #9," which became the Clovers last chart hit, reaching #23 on both the R&B and Pop charts. There were two versions of "Potion": the last two lines of the final stanza on the single are: "But when I kissed a cop down at 34th and Vine / He broke my little bottle of Love Potion #9," whereas the album version has (the second time through): "I had so much fun that I'm going back again / I wonder what happens with Love Potion #10." The flip was "Stay Awhile." As you would expect, Harold Winley states: "We got a lot of work from 'Love Potion #9'."
The record was reviewed the week of August 3, and was singled out as a pick of the week. Other picks that week were the Everly Brothers' "Till I Kissed You," the Chantels' "I'm Confessin'," and Kripp Johnson's "A Door That Is Open." Also reviewed were the Passions' "Just To Be With You," Bill Haley's "Joey's Song," Buddy Holly's "Peggy Sue Got Married," the Levee Songsters' "Our Love Is A Vow," Grady Chapman's "Let's Talk About Us," and Wink Martindale's "Deck Of Cards."
The week of October 12, 1959 saw a very favorable review of the newly-released Atlantic LP, The Clovers' Dance Party. It was, of course, issued to take advantage of the hit they were having with "Love Potion #9." While it dug back to 1951 for "Fool, Fool, Fool," the rest of the songs had been released from 1955 to 1958 (from "In The Morning Time" to "Wishing For Your Love"). At the same time, as part of a series, Atlantic issued albums by Clyde McPhatter, Ray Charles, and Lavern Baker.
It was back to the Apollo the week of November 27, 1959. This time they shared the stage with Carmen McRae and Al Hibbler.
On January 13, 1960, there was a marathon session, at which the Clovers recorded eight tunes for UA, all led by Buddy Bailey: "You Said," "So Good, So Good," "Easy Lovin'," "That's What's Worrying Me," "I'm Confessin' That I Love You," "One Mint Julep," "Too Young," and "The Sheik." By the end of the month, "Lovey" and "One Mint Julep" had been released as the third UA single. The Clovers found themselves competing with Johnny Preston's "Running Bear," Jimmy Jones' "Handy Man," and Marty Robbins' "El Paso."
One of my favorite Clovers songs from this period is "Lovey." I always wondered about the line "I swear I never saw a pair of prettier feet," until I recently heard the original, unreleased, version by the Coasters, entitled "Hey Sexy." The line in question went: "I swear I never saw so much potatoes and meat." This Leiber & Stoller tune was probably considered too raunchy for the time (the Coasters had recorded it only a month before the Clovers), but with a little reworking, it was fine for the Clovers, as a follow-up to L&S's "Love Potion #9."
On April 15, 1960, the Clovers were part of a week-long Dr. Jive show at the Apollo. Also appearing were Santo & Johnny, Ben E. King, Etta James, the Olympics, Robert & Johnny, Wade Flemons, Billy Bland, and Bobby Marchan.
In May, United Artists issued "Easy Lovin'," backed with "I'm Confessin' That I Love You." It was reviewed on May 16 (both sides "excellent"), along with Ernie Fields' "Begin The Beguine," Dante & the Evergreens' "Alley Oop," and Solomon Burke's "This Little Ring."
Around the same time, UA released an LP, Love Potion Number 9, which contained all 12 songs that the Clovers had recorded for them to date.
The last United Artists session was held on October 12, 1960. It produced the remake of "Yes, It's You" (Buddy), "Burning Fire" (Billy), "Have Gun" (Billy), and "The Honeydripper" (all).
In November 1960, UA released "Yes It's You," coupled with "Burning Fire." Both sides were rated "good" on November 28. Other reviews that week were for Carla Thomas' "Gee Whiz," The Olympics' "Dance By The Light Of The Moon," and Dee Ervin's "I Can't Help It."
The last UA record was released in April 1961. Taking advantage of the boom in TV westerns, the Clovers had done an Olympics-style tune, "Have Gun" (alluding to the famed "Have Gun, Will Travel" show, starring Richard Boone). The flip was the 25-year-old Joe Liggins tune, "The Honeydripper." None of these records made the top 100 (although "The Honeydripper" dozed along at #110). Both sides got "excellent" ratings on May 8, along with Roscoe Gordon's "Let 'Em Try," Gladys Knight and the Pips' "Every Beat Of My Heart," and the Fabulous Playboys' "Nervous."
The only exception to my praise of the Clovers during the Poplar/United Artists period is their re-makes of two of their old hits: "One Mint Julep" and "Yes It's You." They invite comparisons with the originals and, in my opinion, don't really hold up very well.
Although "Love Potion #9" got them a lot of work, there was no strong follow-up, and they weren't appearing much in 1961. At this point they left United Artists and switched over to Winley Records, owned by Harold Winley's brother, Paul. They did a pretty version of the old standard "Wrapped Up In A Dream," backed by "Let Me Hold You," which was released in June of 1961. Buddy led "Wrapped Up In A Dream," while Billy fronted "Let Me Hold You." Both songs got "good" ratings on July 3, along with Ray Charles' "Am I Blue," the Chantels' "Look In My Eyes," Billy Dawn's "Look What I Found," the Miller Sisters' "You Got To Reap What You Sow," and the Five Stars' "Blabber Mouth."
When this failed to take off, the group just sort of drifted apart. Matthew McQuater left show business completely, becoming a Dallas businessman. Buddy Bailey and Harold Winley had gotten day jobs, since the group would only have a gig every couple of months. Says Winley, "It was the first job I'd ever had."