The Colts and Edwards Air Force Base are both products of Bakersfield, California. As we'll see in a moment, the two overlapped to some extent.
The story of the Colts goes way, way back to 1942, when a 7-year old Carl Moland (resident of Bakersfield) traveled to Boley, Oklahoma to attend his grandfather's funeral. There, he saw three singing brothers: Melvin, Joe, and Rueben Grundy, along with their uncle, J.T. Williams. They were gospel singers, performing at a school because a tornado had recently destroyed their church. Although he didn't meet the brothers at the time, it turned out that Carl's parents had gone to school with the Grundys' parents. Zipping forward to 1954, the Grundy family had relocated to Bakersfield and all finally met up while attending Bakersfield High School.
Joe, Rueben, and Carl began singing gospel together, along with a fourth student, William "Gus" Davidson. Rueben and Gus were tenors, Carl was a baritone, and Joe was a baritone/bass. They made several appearances at churches, but remained nameless. Finally, branching out into secular music, they decided to call themselves the Melonaires.
The Melonaires were influenced by Sam Cooke and the Soul Stirrers, and, interestingly, Day, Dawn And Dusk, who taught them a bit of choreography when they did some shows together in Bakersfield. (Later on, Earl "Speedo" Carroll, of the Cadillacs, would also show them some choreography.)
One day, Samuel "Buck" Ram, owner of Personality Productions and manager of the Penguins and that up-and-coming group, the Platters, stopped in Bakersfield to get a hamburger. While he thought about it, he called an old friend and asked if there was any local talent worth checking out. The friend, who was a bandleader, mentioned the Melonaires, who had done some local shows, including one with Country singer Spade Cooley.
Ram looked them up and had them audition for him. He liked what he heard (some gospel songs and their version of the Lancers' "Sweet Mama Tree Top Tall"). He told them to come down to Los Angeles (about 75 miles south of Bakersfield) when they'd graduated high school and he'd write some songs for them. By that time, the Platters' "Only You" was starting its climb to the top of the charts and the Melonaires realized that signing with Ram would be a good move.
So down to Los Angeles they went. Well, almost all. Gus Davidson's parents kept him from leaving for a tawdry show business life. Luckily, they found Leroy "Nick" Smith, a New Jerseyite who was just separating from the Air Force at Edwards Air Force Base (see, I told you it would overlap) and who was taking some courses at Bakersfield College (located on the same campus as the high school). Both Carl and Rueben were in the high school choir; Joe was in the college choir, along with Leroy.
Once the foursome hooked up with Buck Ram again, the first thing to go was the "Melonaires" name. Ram decided to call them the "Colts" (and their contract stipulated that he owned that name). As Carl says, "We were green as a peck of peas."
Jean Bennett, who worked with Ram at Personality Productions, remembered the name change. She said Buck came up with the name "Colts" because they were "such good-looking young studs. They drove all the girls wild." They were very nice young men "who knew how to work a crowd." She couldn't remember if Ram wrote "Adorable" specifically for them, or if it was a song already in his stockpile.
When they got to L.A., they all enrolled in Los Angeles City College, for a short while. Carl remembers that "we were working all day and singing all night." Not a good formula for college success. Ram decided to make them "cute," by having them wear college sweaters and embarrassing freshman beanies for their photo sessions. While they did wear the sweaters on stage, the beanies kept falling off and were quickly abandoned.
Ram also arranged for them to record for Larry Mead, who owned Perfection Plastic Products. This was a low-budget record pressing plant at 1486 North Fair Oaks Avenue. (As far as I can determine, the plant was literally in Mead's back yard.) Mead not only owned the pressing plant, but a couple of labels too: Mambo and Dig This Record. His A&R man was Mike Gradney (with whom he owned Mambo), who would start Spry Records in 1957 (for now, Gradney became the Colts road manager).
In early September 1955, the Colts' first record was released on Mambo: "Adorable"/"Lips Red As Wine" (with Rueben Grundy leading both sides). Buck Ram had written both tunes ("Lips" as "Lynn Paul"). However, as soon as the record was released, it promptly disappeared. Well, kind of. At this point, Larry Mead had second thoughts about the name of his label. While Mambo had been named to take advantage of the 1953-4 mambo craze, there was always the nagging suspicion that the distributors might pass it by, thinking it was a Latin music label instead of one specializing in R&B. Mead owned another label, Vita, first started in 1951, which had been dormant for a couple of years. He'd recently reactivated it and "Adorable" was re-released on Vita the same month.
"Adorable" started making a lot of noise in the Los Angeles area and soon it was a hit. (Very soon, since the Drifters recorded their cover version on September 19.) While the Colts made it to the national charts (#11) for only a single week, the Drifters ran for 10 weeks, including one week at #1. (This would be the first test for Johnny Moore, the Drifters new lead singer.) I can't remember ever hearing the Colts version at the time in New York. Worse, it was covered by the Fontane Sisters on Dot for the Pop market.
With their version of "Adorable" reaching #1 on Zeke Manners' KFWB show (after being aired for only a week), the Colts started getting work, appearing on the Larry Finley and Al Jarvis TV shows in Los Angeles.
The record was reviewed on September 17, with both sides rated "good." Other reviews that week were for the Charms' "One Fine Day," the Voices' "Hey Now," the Fi-Tones' "Foolish Dreams," and the Cashmeres' "There's A Rumor." By October 29, both the Colts and the Drifters were rated "Best Buys" by the trades.
In October, the Colts played the 400 Club in San Diego and were on Jerry Nesler's radio show there. Then, they were booked into a Hunter Hancock show at the Paramount (in Los Angeles) with Joe Houston, Dinah Washington, the Penguins, Big Jay McNeely, and the Platters. They (along with the Penguins and Mel Williams) were also guests on the Ray Robinson show, broadcast over KGFJ from Connoley's Record Store.
Soon, the Colts were back in the studio to provide a few lyrics to saxman Jackie Kelso's rendition of the currently-popular "Kwela Kwela" (there were versions by Bill Hayes and Buddy Morrow). Released in October 1955, nothing much happened with the song (they weren't on the flip) and the record was never sent out for review.
The Colts' next record was "Sweet Sixteen" (led by Joe Grundy), backed with "Honey Bun" (fronted by Rueben Grundy), released in January 1956. The former song was written by "Lynn Paul," but this time Buck Ram gave half the songwriting credit to Alan Freed (although I'm sure Freed had nothing to do with it). "Honey Bun" was written by the Penguins' Curtis Williams, along with "Lynn Paul." Freed played "Sweet Sixteen" a lot in New York, however it wasn't the Colts' original, but the cover by Bobby Byrd and the Voices.
Also in January, the Colts got to play the Apollo Theater during the week of January 6. Also on the bill were Count Basie, Joe Williams, George Kirby, and Coles & Atkins.
"Sweet Sixteen" received an "excellent" review on February 11, 1956, along with Ray Charles' "Drown In My Own Tears," Ivory Joe Hunter's "A Tear Fell," the Sounds' "Sweet Sixteen," the Penguins' "My Troubles Are Not At An End," and the Wrens' "C'est La Vie."
The last Vita record was issued in April 1956: "Never, No More"/"Hey You, Shoo Bee Ooh Bee," two more sides led by Joe Grundy. Joe wrote "Never, No More," while the flip was credited to the whole group (until it was re-released in 1962 on Plaza - as "Hey, Pretty Baby" - then, it had been magically re-written by Lynn Paul).
Also April, the Colts became part of Irvin Feld's "Biggest Rock 'N' Roll Show Of 1956." They shared the stage with along with Bill Haley and the Comets, Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers, Clyde McPhatter, Lavern Baker, Joe Turner, Bo Diddley, the Drifters, the Flamingos, and the Teen Queens. This was a 45-day junket around the East Coast, the Midwest, Texas, and Canada. It kicked off in Hershey, Pennsylvania on April 20, continuing on to Atlantic City, New Jersey; Richmond, Virginia; Norfolk, Virginia; Scranton, Pennsylvania; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; and White Plains, New York in the next six days (try plotting it on a map; it isn't pretty). They hit Chicago on May 11, and the entire tour wound up on June 6. A couple of days later, the Colts had their biggest TV appearance, on Jackie Gleason's "Stage Show."
Another eastern show was at the Town Casino in Buffalo, New York. They were told that it was a religious town and that they'd go over big by throwing in a gospel number. It worked; Carl says that they had to take seven encores to please the crowd. (They also sang their version of "Love Is A Many Splendored Thing" on that show. This did little to endear them to the Four Aces, who were also on the bill.) Buck Ram also found out that Count Basie was looking for a group to take with him to the Apollo Theater and the Colts became the lucky ones. Also on the bill were Joe Williams, Moms Mabley, and George Kirby (unfortunately, I can't find the date of that show).
Then things began to fall apart. Joe Grundy received his draft notice and Buck Ram replaced him with bass Don Wyatt from Fresno. Don was studying piano with the sister of Mike Connors ("Mannix"), who introduced him to Buck Ram. Then brother Rueben Grundy left, and Ram brought in Eddie Williams, former lead singer of the Aladdins.
On May 26, the trades reviewed "Never, No More"/"Hey You, Shoo Bee Ooh Bee," with both sides receiving "good" ratings. Other reviews that week went to the Clovers' "Love, Love, Love," Big Maybelle's "Candy," Shirley Gunter & Flairs' "Headin' Home," the Spaniels' "Dear Heart," and the Magnificents' "Up On The Mountain."
In August 1956, the trades announced that Buck Ram had signed the Colts and Dolly Cooper to Dot Records, but somehow the deal for the Colts fell through. Dolly went on to record for Dot, and was actually backed up by the Colts on one side of her first Dot release "I'm Looking Through Your Window," a song that Leroy Smith had written.
After this, Buck Ram decided that the Colts should become more like the Platters. To this end, he added Mickey Lynn, wife (or girlfriend; accounts differ) of Mel Williams, and renamed them the "Four Colts And A Filly." Carl says they actually backed her on a couple of unremembered songs, which may never have been released. They appeared at Larry Potter's Supper Club, but she developed an "attitude" and the concept never took off.
The Colts (Eddie Williams, Leroy "Nick" Smith, Carl Moland, and Don Wyatt) then recorded a single song for Buck Ram's new Antler label: the venerable "Sheik Of Araby" (led by Don). For some reason, Buck didn't have them do a companion song and the tune was issued, in February 1957, with the older "Never, No More" as the flip. Note that the label incorrectly spelled sheik as "shiek."
The record was reviewed on March 9, with "Sheik" receiving an "excellent" rating. Other reviews that week were for Bob Kornegay's "The Man In The Phone Booth," the Moonglows' "Don't Say Goodbye," the Dells' "Why Do You Have To Go," Johnnie & Joe's "Over The Mountain, Across The Sea," the Crystals' "I Love My Baby," the Jivers' "Ray Pearl," and "Forever," the first solo by Sam Cooke (as "Dale Cooke"), receiving a "fair" rating.
In July, the Colts were headlining at the El Cortez Hotel in Las Vegas. Then, the Colts and the Harris Sisters were off to Honolulu for a one-month Hawaiian tour.
Also in July, Eddie Williams and Don Wyatt became band singers, providing the vocals for an RCA Camden EP called Rock'N Ram. Ram was the "bandleader" for a 26-piece orchestra under the direction of Eddie Beal. The record got a "good" review on July 29, spotlighting Eddie and Don, who were mentioned as members of the Colts.
The Colts also got some new members. Leroy Smith had decided to call it quits and went home to New Jersey; Carl Moland also left. They were replaced by tenor Prentice Moreland and baritone Ray Brewster. Now the Colts no longer contained a single original member.
Prentice Moreland (whose most famous utterance was "Great googa mooga, lemme outta here" on the Cadets' "Stranded In The Jungle") had been with a lot of groups, including the Du Droppers, the Dominoes, and the Chanteclaires.
Alton Ray Brewster had been a replacement in the Penguins in mid-1956 and was with them when they appeared with Alan Freed for his Labor Day show at the Brooklyn Paramount. (Ray and Penguin Curtis Williams had been in the same drama class at Jefferson High.) Another member of the Penguins at that time was Teddy Harper, who'd formerly been the baritone of the Aladdins; it was through Teddy that Ray met Eddie Williams initially.
The only member of the original Colts that Ray Brewster ever met was Leroy "Nick" Smith. When Ray was with the Penguins in 1956, Nick went with them to New York (probably to visit his family in New Jersey).
The re-formed Colts practiced a while with Eddie Beal and then did a Shrine Auditorium (Los Angeles) benefit show. No matter where they appeared, though, they never sang any of the original Colts material. I asked Ray if his Colts group ever wore the hokey sweaters and beanies. His answer was a resounding "Hell, NO!"
In September 1957, Ram re-released "Sheik Of Araby" on Antler. The flip was a tune that had been recorded by the "new" Colts: "Guiding Angel" (led by Eddie Williams).
Under the heading of "Here Today, Gone Tomorrow," when the new Antler release was reviewed, "Guiding Angel" was ranked "good," but "Sheik Of Araby" (shorn of its original bass intro) now received a "poor" rating, when only seven months before, it was considered "excellent." How have the mighty fallen! Other reviews on October 21, 1957 were for the Velours' "This Could Be The Night," the Teen Queens' "I Miss You," the Playmates' "Giddy-Up-A-Ding Dong," the Glowtones' "The Girl I Love," the Sentimentals' "I Want To Love You," the Embers' "Your Souvenir," the Rockin' Dukes' "Angel And A Rose," and Jimmy Ricks' "Lazy Mule."
But then the Colts realized that they weren't really getting anywhere with Buck Ram. He'd simply spread himself too thin and didn't have time for them. "Buck had practically ignored us," says Ray. While he gave them musical director Eddie Beal to placate them, they decided to leave Ram's empire.
However, they couldn't take the "Colts" name with them; Ram owned that. So the Colts became the "Fortunes" and embarked on a new career. November saw them open at the California Club in Los Angeles, then it was on to the Chi Chi Club in Palm Springs for 10 days (as the opening act for Jerry Lewis). They also accompanied actress Denise Darcel, who fancied herself a singer, on a two-week engagement in Phoenix, Arizona. At another appearance at the El Cortez Hotel in Las Vegas, they opened for old-time bandleader/singer Ted Lewis ("Is everybody happy?") Since the act between them and Lewis was a troupe of skaters from the Ice Follies, the stage was usually covered in ice!
They did a benefit show at a club called the Band Box which had regular meetings of an organization called the "Saints And Sinners." They were asked to entertain the members and were themselves inducted. This was a golden opportunity, since they met a representative of the William Morris talent agency and also someone from Decca Records. The Fortunes' fortunes were looking bright.
By November 1957, Rueben Grundy had teamed up with the Deville Sisters and had a single release on Mike Gradney's new Spry label: "Every Word," backed with "Sail Away." "Every Word" would be recorded in the following year by Billy Jones (or Billy Fortune, but in reality Billy Storm) and the Squires as "Everyword Of The Song."
In December, the Fortunes signed with Decca Records and had a single session on the 11th. Decca provided them with five songs, including "Tarnished Angel" (the theme to the soon to be released "The Tarnished Angels" starring Rock Hudson, Robert Stack, Dorothy Malone, and Jack Carson). None of the Decca material was particularly good in Ray Brewster's opinion, but it was what they were given. In spite of this, the singing is excellent.
"Tarnished Angel" (a pretty, if hokey song) was released in January 1958 to coincide with the release of the film; its flip was "Who Cares." (Both sides were led by Prentice Moreland.) Both sides were rated "good" on January 6, along with Bobby Lewis' "Mumbles Blues," the Charms' "Oh Julie," the Silhouettes' "Get A Job," Robert & Johnny's "We Belong Together," the Channels' "Altar Of Love," the Serenaders' "I Wrote A Letter," and the Bey Sisters' "Sentimental Journey."
In March 1958, Dootsie Williams presented a gold record to Redd Foxx, for his series of "Laff Of The Party," at an affair at the Club Oasis. The Fortunes were there, as were Sammy Davis Jr., Slappy White, Laverne Baker, the Penguins, and the Cuff Linx.
The second Decca record, "Trees" (led by Don Wyatt), backed with "How Clever Of You" (fronted by Eddie Williams) was released in August 1958. It was reviewed on August 11 (both sides "fair") along with Chuck Berry's "Carol," the Cleftones' "She's So Fine," the Spaniels' "Stormy Weather," and Richard Berry & Lockettes' "The Mess Around."
The Fortunes remained together for around two years, but finally Prentice Moreland's drinking and attitude got to them. They were playing an engagement in Great Falls, Montana and he just got to be too much for them. "When he wasn't singing, he was a pain in the neck," says Ray.
How come the Fortunes never recorded again? Says Ray: "After that [Decca] recording [session] we signed with the William Morris Booking Agency. They booked us so often and all over the place that we kept putting off recording. Then Prentice with his problem caused the actual break up before we recorded another session."
In the fall of 1959, both Ray Brewster and Eddie Williams joined the Hollywood Flames. Don Wyatt had been with the Flames for a single session, while also with the Fortunes (he can be heard on "Frankenstein's Den," which was recorded on March 15, 1958). The week before, he had appeared on the Spade Cooley TV Show. Don ended up working with Nat "King" Cole, appeared in an episode of "Gomer Pyle," and was also a part of the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour.
After a 1961 Chess session, Ray left the Hollywood Flames for the Cadillacs, replacing Earl "Speedo" Carroll, who had joined the Coasters. Ray led the Cadillacs as both Ray Brewster and "Bobby Ray" on their Capitol and Arctic sides.
But all wasn't quiet with the Colts. A May 1959 trade blurb said that "The Colts, newly released from the armed forces, back on record again on the new Delco label." Well, at least Joe Grundy had been discharged from the army. He got back with brother Rueben and Carl Moland, but Leroy Smith had departed for the wilds of New Jersey, so the fourth member was older brother Melvin Grundy (a tenor).
This aggregation ("Joe Grundy and the Colts") recorded two songs "Oh When You Touch Me" and "I Never Knew" for Leroy Hurte's Bronze label. Hurte, who had been a member of the 4 Blackbirds and the Jones Boys Sing Band in the 30s (two of the precursors of the Red Caps), had acquired Bronze around 1940, but shut it down a decade later, when he'd moved to New York. In 1958, he returned to Los Angeles and eventually started it up again. He wrote "Oh When You Touch Me" and presumably had high hopes for it, since the flip wasn't the Colts' "I Never Knew," but an instrumental version (by "Leroy Hurte & Orch."). The production run was small; only a couple of hundred copies. He then sold the Colts masters to the new Delco label (of Gardena, California) in April. Presumably because it wasn't part of the original release, "I Never Knew" would never have the same artist credit as its flip side. The first Delco release had "Oh, When You Touch Me" (which now had a comma in the title) by "The Colts, featuring Joe Grundy"; "I Never Knew" is just credited to "The Colts."
The record was reviewed on June 6, 1959 (with "Oh When You Touch Me" getting a "good" rating). Other reviews that week were for the Pals' "Summer Is Here," Cookie & the Cupcakes' "Until Then," Clyde McPhatter's "Twice As Nice," and Tarheel Slim & Little Ann's "It's Too Late."
Confusion time: Remember when Buck Ram christened the original group "The Colts" so that he could own the name? Well, now (presumably after reading the review of the record in the trades) he contacted Delco and "reminded" them of that. This led to the record being reissued with "The Colts" being replaced by the "Red Coats" on Del-Co (now with a hyphen). That is, "Oh, When You Touch Me" is by "The Red Coats, featuring Joe Grundy"; "I Never Knew" is just credited to "The Red Coats."
Strangely, it was also re-released, on Del-Co, as just "Joe Grundy" (on "Oh, When You Touch Me") and "Grundy Brothers" (on "I Never Knew"). Both sides have "The Red Coats" in smaller letters beneath the main artist name. It didn't matter, however, nothing ever happened with the record under any name.
The Delco labels are a mess. Aside from the artist names already mentioned, the label name is variously "Delco" and "Del-Co"; a company name is missing on the Colts record, but is "Del Company" on the Red Coats and "Del-Co Company" on the Grundy Brothers. The writer credit for "I Never Knew" was variously "Joe Grundy," "Joe Grundy - L. Hurte," and "Grundy Brothers." The writer of "Oh, When You Touch Me" was spelled "Hert" and "L. Hurte." (BMI has the writer credit for both songs as Joe Grundy and "Le Roy Hurtes.") Take a look at the label images above.
For some reason, Buck Ram re-released "Sweet Sixteen" on his Plaza label in April 1962. Its flip was "Hey You, Shoo Bee Ooh Bee" (now re-titled "Hey, Pretty Baby").
In 2012, Carl Moland is the last survivor of the original Colts; Joe, Rueben, Leroy, and Melvin are all deceased. Both Ray Brewster and Eddie Williams from the later Colts/Fortunes are still alive; Prentice Moreland and Don Wyatt are deceased.
And that's the story of the Colts. A lot of good music from a lot of talented singers.
Special thanks to Brian Lee of colorradio.com and Victor Pearlin.
MAMBO (the Colts; first group)
112 Adorable (RG)/Lips Red As Wine (RG) - 9/55
VITA (the Colts; first group)
112 Adorable (RG)/Lips Red As Wine (RG) - 9/55
114 Kwela Kwela (JG)/[Rat-A-Tat - Jackie Kelso] - 10/55
(NOTE: the main artist is sax player Jackie Kelso)
121 Sweet Sixteen (JG)/Honey Bun (RG) - 1/56
130 Never, No More (JG)/Hey You, Shoo Bee Ooh Bee (JG) - 4/56
DOT (Dolly Cooper backed up by the uncredited Colts)
15495 I'm Looking Through Your Window/[Big Rock Inn - Dolly Cooper] - 8/56
ANTLER (the Colts; "Sheik Of Araby" is by the second group)
4003 Sheik Of Araby (DW)/Never, No More (JG) - 2/57
(NOTE: Never, No More is the master by the original group)
ANTLER (the Colts; "Guiding Angel" is by the third group)
4003/4007 Sheik Of Araby (DW)/Guiding Angel (EW) - 9/57
(NOTE: This re-release of "Sheik Of Araby" is missing the original bass intro)
DECCA (as "Fortunes"; third group)
9-30541 Tarnished Angel (PM)/Who Cares (PM) - 1/58
9-30688 How Clever Of You (EW)/Trees (DW) - 8/58
How It Lies, How It Lies, How It Lies
BRONZE (as "Joe Grundy & Colts"; fourth group)
204 Oh When You Touch Me (JG)/[Oh When You Touch Me - instrumental - by Leroy Hurte & Orch.] - ca. 3/59
DELCO (as "Colts, featuring Joe Grundy"; fourth group)
4002 Oh, When You Touch Me (JG)/I Never Knew (JG) - 4/59
(NOTE: "Oh, When You Touch Me" is by "The Colts, Featuring Joe Grundy"; the flip side is just by "The Colts.")
DEL-CO (as "Red Coats"; fourth group)
4002 Oh, When You Touch Me (JG)/I Never Knew (JG) - 59
(NOTE: "Oh, When You Touch Me" is by "The Red Coats, Featuring Joe Grundy"; the flip side is just by "The Red Coats.")
DEL-CO (as "Grundy Brothers: The Red Coats"; fourth group)
4002 Oh, When You Touch Me (JG)/I Never Knew (JG) - 59
(NOTE: "Oh, When You Touch Me" is by "Joe Grundy"; the flip side is by "Grundy Brothers." Both sides have "The Red Coats" in small letters)
PLAZA (the Colts; reissues of masters by the first group)
505 Sweet Sixteen (JG)/Hey, Pretty Baby (JG) - 4/62
(NOTE: "Hey, Pretty Baby" is "Hey You, Shoo Bee Ooh Bee")
CAE-435 Rock'N Ram - 7/57
Crazy Lips (DW)/Any Hour (DW)//Hey Operator (EW)/That's A Lotta Brass (instr)
110 Every Word (RG)/Sail Away (RG) - late 57
LEADS: RG = Rueben Grundy; JG = Joe Grundy; DW = Don Wyatt; EW = Eddie Williams; PM = Prentice Moreland