What can you say about the Flamingos? Obviously one of the great vocal groups of the 50s, they were, simply, the essence of Chicago's groups. Justly famous for their tight, highly-polished harmonies, they turned one out beautiful tune after another. But it goes far beyond that. Their intricate harmonies were highly respected by their peers; after a certain point they found widespread audience acceptance; and, finally, their early recordings are highly prized by collectors. Much has been written about the Flamingos over the years. This article attempts to synthesize those writings while adding newly-discovered information. The journey will take us from their beginnings in Chicago to the close of their career on End Records. It stops there since much of their 60s work was in the Soul field and is outside the scope of my interest.
Let's go back to the South Side of Chicago, around 1950. Bass Jacob "Jake" Carey (born August 29, 1923) was from Baltimore, but had been living in Chicago for a while. His "cousin," second tenor Ezekiel "Zeke" Carey (born January 24, 1933), had recently graduated high school and come to Chicago too. Here, they had both joined the choir of the Church Of God And Saints Of Christ. This denomination sang hymns in a minor key, creating a feeling of sadness. (Here we have the first great influence on the future sound of the Flamingos.)
[Note that for as long as we've known about the Flamingos, we've "known" that Jake and Zeke Carey were cousins. However, they weren't really cousins and actually weren't even directly related at all! The Careys lived in Baltimore (down the street from Sonny Til), and Zeke was taken in and raised by Jake's uncle and aunt. He adopted the Carey name and from that time on they'd always refer to each other as "cousin."]
In the choir, the Careys met first tenor Johnny Carter (born June 2, 1934) and a baritone named Judah Byrd. Soon, the four started singing together after church: sitting around on front steps or standing on street corners. They called themselves the "Swallows."
Enter tenor Earl Lewis, who was dating Johnny Carter's sister. Earl, just a "guy who liked to sing," began harmonizing with the Swallows, and soon found himself their lead singer. Since he wasn't a member of their church, Earl became the first of the Flamingos' "outsider" leads. Thus, the earliest incarnation of the group that was to become the Flamingos was: Earl Lewis (lead), Johnny Carter (first tenor), Zeke Carey (second tenor), Judah Byrd (baritone), and Jake Carey (bass).
They practiced and practiced, emphasizing harmonies (those minor keys!) over lead singing. This gave them a somewhat unique sound. However, Judah Byrd didn't remain with them too long and Johnny Carter recruited another member of the church choir, his first cousin, baritone Paul Wilson (born January 6, 1935). By late 1951, however, Earl Lewis started discovering girls and missing rehearsals. Something had to be done.
Zeke had a job at Montgomery Ward, where one of his co-workers was Fletcher Weatherspoon. One night in early 1952, Weatherspoon attended a talent show at the Willard Theater. He was very impressed with a tenor on the bill named Sollie McElroy. Sollie had been born in Gulfport, Mississippi (on July 16, 1933), but his family moved to Chicago when he was 15. He occasionally sang in the church, but wasn't really into it. More than anything, he wanted to be an entertainer. While he admitted to listening to Bill Kenny and the Ink Spots, Sollie pretty much developed his own style because he wanted to "do something for himself."
Since Weatherspoon was going to attend a party to hear the Swallows, he decided to bring Sollie along. The Swallows sang; Sollie started harmonizing with them; Weatherspoon decided to manage them; and the guys decided that Sollie would fit their needs better than Earl Lewis. Not a bad night's work. [Earl subsequently ended up in the 5 Echoes (recording for Sabre and Vee-Jay), along with future Flamingo Tommy Hunt and future Disco legend Johnnie Taylor.]
Sollie was asked to come down to a rehearsal and sang "September Song." He sang it so high and with such emotion that, partway through it, he just keeled over and fainted.
Weatherspoon got them to sing at "quarter parties" (held in someone's house; the admission was a quarter - this was probably a local name for a rent party) and "waistline" parties, (where your admission, in pennies, was the size of your waistline). They did a lot of these, sometimes several in a night. They never got paid for them, but at least they got experience.
Weatherspoon, a member of the Elks, naturally got them a lot of gigs at Elks functions. Then there were the talent shows. The first of these was at Martin's Corner (owned by a friend of Weatherspoon), where they came in first, totally blowing away the competition. (Well, truth be told, they were the only ones who showed up that night as contestants. [Or maybe not, Jake said they were the only ones, but Weatherspoon has said that there were other contestants.]) Martin's gave them a booking for the next night.
Then, the group developed name problems. The King label Swallows (ironically, for Jake and Zeke, a Baltimore group) were having chart successes. The guys had to find another name.
Johnny Carter's mother suggested the name "Flamingos," because of an athletic club in the neighborhood. It was originally the "El Flamingos," but they finally settled on the "5 Flamingos," a name under which they'd appear until around 1955 (although none of their recordings had that name). There was even a Chicago Defender ad from October 1952 that pegged them as the "5 Flamingo Boys."
Their last big problem was with Fletcher Weatherspoon. Well, actually it wasn't with him, but with Uncle Sam. The Flamingos liked Weatherspoon, and he got them lots of appearances, but now he'd been sent his draft notice.
Fortunately, at one of their appearances at Martin's Corner, there was someone in the audience from the King Booking Agency, owned by Ralph Leon. As his final act before going off to the army, Weatherspoon made arrangements to turn the management of the group over to Leon.
Once Ralph Leon, a professional in the booking field, took over, they started getting better appearances. These included the Club Delisa, the Crown Propeller Lounge, the Indiana Theater, the Little Squeeze, and the Black Orchid.
Their material was influenced by the places they played: mostly mellow, with a few jump numbers thrown in. But, according to Sollie, they stayed away from blues, because that wasn't the kind of music that got people to sit down and buy drinks. Sollie said that the material was mostly picked out by Zeke and Jake, who tried to come up with songs that fit Sollie's voice. They kept a limit on his vocal range, however; Sollie wasn't permitted to go higher than a certain note, because Zeke couldn't keep up with him.
Here's how Sollie described it: "We would get up there. We had a couple of songs that we did. The one that was real popular that they [the Ink Spots] did: "We Three." You know how Bill [Kenny; lead singer of the Ink Spots] used his hands and everything? Well, this is what people wanted to see. They weren't into Rock & Roll as yet, so we had to do such things as "How Much Is That Doggie In The Window," some other things by Patti Paige... "September Song." In other words, it was quiet music. You stand up clean: you had your makeup on, you had your hair done, your shoes were perfect. And you had one guy on a mike, four on another. So, everything was blending together. You sang. You used your hands to express [waving around a zircon ring his mother had given him - in the same way Bill Kenny waved around his diamonds]. And that's how we became known as balladeers. And that's how we got into the better clubs. We didn't play no juke joints. The only time we played small clubs in the city was in between gigs, for some pocket money."
Just like the Dominoes, Zeke and Jake instituted a system of fines for not showing up for rehearsals or appearances, being late, and not being dressed correctly.
They did lots of shows for local DJs, like Al Benson, Herb Kent, and Vivian Carter. When they traveled, however, they'd come home broke, since no one knew what they were supposed to have been paid. Many times they'd stay in private homes where rooms were rented out to entertainers.
In a January 1952 blurb in the trade papers, Savoy Records of Newark, New Jersey, announced the signing of the Flamingos. Whoever that group was, it wasn't the guys from Chicago and, in fact, nothing was ever issued on Savoy by any group with that name.
In early 1952, Ralph Leon took them to Lewis Simpkins and Leonard Allen's United Records. They auditioned a cappella and were told that they sang too well and didn't sound black enough! They left with no contract and went home to practice some more. (A strange reaction; United probably would have recorded them if they'd stopped practicing so much.)
Finally, they signed with Art Sheridan's Chance label. Their first session was held on January 28, 1953, when they recorded "If I Can't Have You" (led by Sollie, with Johnny as second lead), "Hurry Home Baby" (Jake), "That's My Desire" (Sollie), and "Someday, Someway" (Sollie).
It took Chance a while to get the ball rolling: "Someday, Someway" and "If I Can't Have You" were finally released in March. The platter was reviewed on March 14 (both sides ranked "good"). Other reviews that week went to Willie Mae Thornton's "Hound Dog," B.B. King's "Woke Up This Morning," Slim Gaillard's "Gomen Nasai," and Jimmy Lee & Artis' "All Right Baby."
On June 20, 1953, "If I Can't Have You" was a Pick Of The Week, doing well in Philadelphia, Detroit, Cincinnati, Buffalo, and St. Louis. On July 11, it was rated a Tip in Los Angeles. As soon as it started taking off in L.A., it forced a local group called the "Flamingos" to change their name. They became the "Platters," and I'm told they did well.
While "If I Can't Have You" was still seeing action, Chance released "That's My Desire"/"Hurry Home Baby" in June. Both received "excellent" reviews on August 15, along with Carmen Taylor's "Ding Dong," Joe Turner's "Honey Hush," the Prisonaires' "Just Walkin' In The Rain," and the 4 Vagabonds' "P.S. I Love You" (reissued to take advantage of the Hilltoppers' hit). A week later, "That's My Desire" was a Tip in Los Angeles.
Also in August, the Flamingos held their second Chance session (although the exact date is unknown). This time they recorded three songs led by Sollie: "Carried Away," "You Ain't Ready," and the incomparable "Golden Teardrops." A fourth song, "Plan For Love," was led by Johnny Carter.
This is what Sollie had to say about "Golden Teardrops": "We had a gentleman by the name of Bunky Redding who wrote the song, but we added a little bit here and there. [Bunkie Redding was a friend of the group; actually, he and Johnny Carter wrote the song.] We started rehearsing that song at my mother's apartment on 46th and Langley. I never will forget it. We rehearsed and we rehearsed. And we changed it and changed it and we were trying to get a beginning. And we began to put the song together like a puzzle. It took us about three months to do that song. Then we finally got it. If you listen to the background, there is very little music. It was almost a cappella. You could hear the notes, the blending of the voices. We rehearsed a long time on that song. In fact we were almost ready to give it up. We couldn't get it like we wanted to. And Johnny started bringing in that tenor and it started fitting in. And so when we felt like we were comfortable with it, we recorded it. We never sang it in public [before it was recorded]. Once we got it together, we went to the studio and recorded it. We never did pre-sing our songs to see how the audience would accept it. We rehearsed it and went to the studio."
On Labor Day 1953, the Flamingos appeared at Chicago's Park City Bowl (a skating rink owned by Jimmie Davis, future owner of Club 51 Records). Also on the bill were Cleveland's Coronets and the Sonny Stitt Orchestra.
In September, Chance issued "Golden Teardrops"/"Carried Away." The record was reviewed on October 31 (both sides "excellent"), along with Tab Smith's "All My Life," Frankie Ervin's "False Love," the Robins' "Ten Days In Jail," and Louis Jordan's "I Want You To Be My Baby."
Also in October, with "Golden Teardrops" not doing much, Chance released "Plan For Love"/"You Ain't Ready."
Then, in November, the Flamingos signed with Joe Glaser's Associated Booking Corp and were sent off on a tour with Duke Ellington. With him, they appeared at Howard Theatre (Washington, D.C.) and the Apollo Theater (New York).
On December 24, 1953, the Flamingos held their third Chance session, at which they recorded three songs: "Blues In A Letter" (led by Johnny), "September Song" (Sollie), and "Jump Children" (Sollie). This last tune featured the "vooit, vooit" riff that had been used by Marion Abernathy ("The Blues Woman") in "Voo-it! Voo-it!," released back in 1946.
Out of the blue, on January 2, 1954, the trades made "Golden Teardrops" a Tip in New York, but there was no further national chart action for it. Later in January, the Flamingos appeared at Chicago's Rainbow Gardens. On January 29, they were part of the "Flamingo Concert," hosted by DJ McKie Fitzhugh at the Corpus Christi Auditorium (Chicago). Also on the bill were the 5 Echoes (with the Flamingos' old lead, Earl Lewis) and the 5 Thrills.
The Flamingos' last Chance session was held on February 17, 1954. They only recorded two songs: "Cross Over The Bridge" (Sollie and Johnny) and "Listen To My Plea" (Johnny). Then, they had to drive all night to get to New York, since they opened at the Apollo Theater on February 19, along with Duke Ellington and Dusty Fletcher.
"Plan For Love" was rated "excellent" in the trades on February 20 (after having been released way back in October). Other reviews that week went to the Clovers' "Lovey Dovey," 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." Also in February, the Flamingos appeared on a March Of Dimes TV Show.
Chance issued the fifth Flamingos record in March 1954: "Cross Over The Bridge"/"Listen To My Plea." The record doesn't seem to have been sent out for review. Actually, by this time, things were slowing down at Chance; owner Art Sheridan seems to have lost interest in running a record company. Sensing this, Ralph Leon placed the Flamingos at DJ Al Benson's Parrot label. Sheridan kept Chance going for a while longer, but by early 1955 the label was just a memory.
They held their first Parrot session sometime in July 1954, recording "On My Merry Way" (led by Sollie and Jake), "Dream Of A Lifetime" (Sollie), "If I Could Love You" (Sollie), and "I Really Don't Want To Know" (Sollie and Johnny).
"Dream Of A Lifetime" and "On My Merry Way" were paired for an August 1954 release, but the disc wasn't reviewed until January 15, 1955, when both sides were rated "good." Other reviews that week went to the Medallions' "The Telegram," Gene & Eunice's "Ko Ko Mo," the Roamers' "Deep Freeze," the Mellows' "Smoke From Your Cigarette," the Platters' "Maggie Doesn't Work Here Anymore," the Angels' "A Lovely Way To Spend An Evening," and Buddy Johnson's "Upside Your Head."
Even though they had departed, Chance released "Blues In A Letter"/"Jump Children" in October 1954. Those sides were reviewed on November 13 (both "good"), along with the Moonglows' "Sincerely," the Platters' "Shake It Up Mambo," the Moonlighters' "So All Alone," the Chanteclairs' "Someday My Love Will Come My Way," the Orioles' "Runaround," Earl Curry & Blenders' "Late Rising Moon," the Counts' "Waitin' Around For You," and the Checkers' "I Wasn't Thinking, I Was Drinking." At this point, the only master still in the can at Chance was "September Song," which didn't see the light of day until a 1964 Constellation LP.
[Note: it has occasionally been rumored that the Emperors, whose "I May Be Wrong" was released on Chicago's Haven label in September 1954, were actually the Flamingos. They weren't.]
One day in the fall of 1954, the Flamingos met up with a first tenor named Nate Nelson (who was Sonny Til's first cousin). According to Johnny Carter, Sollie was getting a swelled head and just wasn't fitting in anymore. Nate started hanging around and they made him a sixth member. Although the Flamingos were now a sextet, there were only ever five on stage at once: Sollie and Nate alternated, sharing a uniform (coincidentally, Nate and Sollie were the same size). Since Nate had already been in the Navy, the others felt safe that their lead singer wouldn't be drafted. [Nate Nelson (born April 10, 1932) came from a local non-recording group called the Velvetones (Nate Nelson, Lee Diamond, Roy Flagg, Donald Blackman, and Winfred Veal).]
No one expected Sollie to stay long under these circumstances, and soon enough he walked out on the group. Since he didn't feel that he was making much money out of the association, it was no big thing to him. "I was ready to take the group higher, but I was broke. When I say broke, I mean I didn't have no money. I wanted to dress nice and I couldn't buy the clothes I wanted to buy and look the way I wanted to look with the compensation I was getting from my singing." After the Flamingos, Sollie McElroy sang with the Moroccos (Ralph Vernon, Melvin Morrow, Frederick Martin, and George Kemp) for about three years. 1961 found him on the La Salle recordings by the Chanteurs (the group that would eventually become the Chi-Lites). Later that year, he was with the Nobles that recorded for Stacy.
By the time of their second Parrot session, held sometime in November 1954, Sollie was gone and Nate was in. Of the four songs recorded, three have Nate in the lead: "I Found A New Baby" (all), "Get With It" (Nate), "Ko Ko Mo" (Nate, dueting with Johnny Carter), and "I'm Yours" (Nate).
"Get With It" (with Nate) was immediately paired with "I Really Don't Want To Know" (with Sollie). Issued late in December, it wasn't sent out for review.
On January 9, 1955, the Flamingos played the Trianon Ballroom (Chicago), along with the Spaniels, Roy Hamilton, Jimmy Reed, the Counts, Big Maybelle, and Lavern Baker.
Also in January, Parrot released the third Flamingos record: "Ko Ko Mo"/"I'm Yours." "Ko Ko Mo" was a cover of the Gene & Eunice original, while "I'm Yours" covered Don Cornell's big Pop hit. The platter was reviewed on February 5 ("Ko Ko Mo" being ranked "excellent"), along with the 5 Keys' "Close Your Eyes," Dinah Washington's "That's All I Want From You," the Charms' cover of the Flamingos' cover of "Ko Ko Mo," the Orioles' "I Love You Mostly," the Cadillacs' "No Chance," the Strangers' "Dreams Came True," Mac Burney & 4 Jacks' "Tired Of Your Sexy Ways," the 5 Royales' "You Didn't Learn It At Home," and the Gems' "I Thought You'd Care." On March 5, "Ko Ko Mo" was a Tip in Chicago (as was Gene & Eunice's original version).
And then, once again, managerial tragedy struck the Flamingos. Around the beginning of 1955, manager Ralph Leon died of a heart attack. In later years, Jake and Zeke spoke highly of Leon; he was always adamant that the Flamingos do songs that would be appreciated by Pop audiences. After he died, the group handled their own affairs. Leon had been negotiating a deal with Chess Records at the time of his death. Chess subsequently approached the Flamingos directly, and a deal was struck.
On March 21, 1955, the Flamingos held their first session for Chess' Checker subsidiary. They recorded three songs: "(Chick-A-Boom) That's My Baby" (led by Johnny), "When" (led by Nate), and "Need Your Love" (also Nate). "(Chick-A-Boom) That's My Baby"/"When" were released in April, but not reviewed.
Also in April, loads of DJs and record company owners (including Alan Freed and Ahmet Ertegun) were present at the bar mitzvah of Marshall Chess, Leonard's son; the Flamingos, Chess' brand new acquisition, entertained.
The Flamingos' second Checker session was held on June 15, 1955, when they recorded "Please Come Back Home" (Nate), "Just For A Kick" (Nate and Paul Wilson), "I Want To Love You" (Nate and Johnny), and "Whispering Stars" (Nate).
In July, Checker issued "Please Come Back Home," backed with "I Want To Love You." They were reviewed on July 30, with "I Want To Love You" receiving an "excellent" rating. Other reviews that week were for the Hurricanes' "Poor Little Dancing Girl," the Midnighters' "Give It Up," the Penguins' "Walkin' Down Broadway," Mickey & Sylvia's "Se De Boom Run Dun," and Smiley Lewis' "I Hear You Knocking." Also in July, the Flamingos began four weeks at the Moulin Rouge in Las Vegas.
For a company as big as Chess, it's amazing that there are so many sessions that can't be precisely dated. I'll do the best I can, but from here on in, I generally only know the month of recording. Chess files can be charitably described as "chaotic." Sometime around October, the Flamingos had their third session (this one we don't even have a month for). They recorded "Chickie Um Bah" (Johnny Carter and Jake Carey) and "I'll Be Home" (Nate). Even stranger, there were two versions of "I'll Be Home" recorded that day, each receiving a separate master number.
On November 4, 1955, the Flamingos began a week at the Apollo Theater. They were part of a Dr. Jive show that also featured Bo Diddley, Bill Doggett, the Jacks, Dakota Staton, the Heartbeats, the Harptones, Howlin' Wolf, Etta James, and the Willis "Gator Tail" Jackson Orchestra.
Christmas week found them at another Dr. Jive show, this time at the Brooklyn Paramount. Also on the bill were the Turbans, Shirley & Lee, the 5 Keys, Ruth Brown, the Cheers, Bo Diddley, Willis Jackson, and [shudder] Pat Boone. Sadly for the Flamingos, this is when Boone heard them sing the recorded-but-as-yet-unreleased "I'll Be Home."
In early January 1956, Checker issued "I'll Be Home"/"Need Your Love." These were reviewed on the 14th, with "I'll Be Home" ranked "excellent." Other reviews that week were for the Clovers' "Devil Or Angel," the Midnighters' "Partners For Life," Richard Berry's "I Am Bewildered," the Mello-Harps' "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." By the end of the month, Pat Boone's version of "I'll Be Home" had hit the stores.
Also in January, the Flamingos played a week in Hartford, Connecticut. At the end of the month, they were part of a show that appeared at four Korman theaters (Detroit) in seven days. They shared the boards with Dakota Staton, Nolan Lewis, Sonny Til and the Orioles, the Charms, the Sweethearts, and the T.J. Fowler Orchestra.
On January 28, "I'll Be Home" was a Pick Of The Week in New York, Baltimore, Philadelphia, Buffalo, Chicago, Milwaukee, Detroit, Nashville, St. Louis, and Durham. On February 4, it was a Tip in New York; on the 18th, a Tip in Chicago. This time, good reviews mirrored the public's taste: "I'll Be Home" rose to #5 on the R&B charts. It completely missed the Pop charts, however, because of the Pat Boone cover version. The prevailing feeling nowadays is that the Flamingos version is revered, whereas no one ever plays Boone's laughable version. So what? While true, that's scant comfort. The time to crack the charts, feel good about your work, and maybe even make a few bucks from it is when the song is current, not 50 years later!
Zeke Carey remembered that "We got very hurt by that song. He [Boone] sold many times more records than we did. We had worked so hard to get through and we knew that it was going to be a bona fide hit. We had done a show with Alan Freed in New York, and Pat Boone was also on the show. Our song had been out about three weeks. [Actually, it was a Dr. Jive show and the record hadn't even been released yet.] About two weeks after that show, his record came out and swamped ours. It was a devastating, painful experience."
On February 17, with "I'll Be Home" riding high, the Flamingos began a week at the Apollo. Others on the bill were Little Richard, Guitar Slim, Moms Mabley, and the Lloyd Lambert Orchestra.
Sometime in March, they returned to the Checker studios to lay down "Cry" (Nate and Johnny) and "A Kiss From Your Lips" (Nate). "A Kiss From Your Lips" and "Get With It" were released in April.
What do you mean you don't remember me mentioning that the Flamingos recorded "Get With It" for Checker!?! Calm down, calm down. They didn't. For reasons that I don't particularly understand, Checker purchased the Parrot master in March or April. Billy Vera reasons it this way: "In 1956, John Burton bought out Al Benson and became owner of Parrot/Blue Lake. 'Lawyer John,' as he was known around the Chess office... served as Chess' attorney. The last Parrot release, by St. Louis Jimmy, was under Burton's reign...." By the time the dust had settled, Chess would have purchased or leased all the Flamingos' Parrot masters (some on two occasions). What I really don't understand is why, with "Chickie Um Bah" and "Cry" in the can, they needed another master at all. The ways of the recording industry are not meant to be comprehended by us mere mortals.
Also in April, the Flamingos were part of Alan Freed's "Easter Jubilee Of Stars" at the Brooklyn Paramount with the Teenagers, the Platters, the Willows, the Rover Boys, the Cleftones, the Jodimars, the Royaltones, and Ruth McFadden.
On May 11, they appeared at the International Amphitheater, in Chicago, as part of the "R&R Jamboree." This time they shared the stage with the Drifters, Bill Haley and the Comets, the Platters, Clyde McPhatter, Lavern Baker, the Teen Queens, the Teenagers, Bo Diddley, Joe Turner, the Colts, and the Red Prysock Orchestra.
"A Kiss From Your Lips" got an "excellent" review on May 12. Other reviews that week were for the Sophomores' "Every Night About This Time," Joe Turner's "Corrine, Corrina," the Turbans' "I'm Nobody's," the Penguins' "Dealer Of Dreams," the Inspirations' "Raindrops," Day, Dawn & Dusk's "Anytime," and the Dreamers' "Lips Were Made For Kissing." At the same time, Clyde McPhatter's "Treasure Of Love" and Little Willie John's "Fever" were pick hits of the week.
A week later, "A Kiss From Your Lips" was a Pick Of The Week, reported doing well in New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Buffalo, Chicago, Detroit, St. Louis, and Nashville. By the time it finished its run, it had reached #12 on the national R&B charts.
In July, the Flamingos had another Checker session, at which they recorded: "The Vow" (Nate), "Stolen Love" (Johnny), "Dream Of A Lifetime" (Nate), and "Nobody's Love" (Nate; a reworking of their very first recording, "If I Can't Have You").
The Flamingos' last Checker session was held sometime in early August. The two songs recorded were "Would I Be Crying" (Nate) and "Shilly Dilly" (Johnny). However, more troubles were brewing for the Flamingos: probably right after this session, Zeke Carey was drafted.
On August 6, 1956, shooting started on the Alan Freed movie, Rock, Rock, Rock. The Flamingos would record their segment ("Would I Be Crying") later that month, in New York. Since Zeke was serving his Uncle Sam, he missed the filming.
Also in August, Checker released "The Vow"/"Shilly Dilly." They were reviewed on October 6, with "The Vow" receiving an "excellent" grade. Other reviews that week went to the El Venos' "Geraldine," Little Richard's "She's Got It," the Valentines' "Nature's Creation," the Royal Jokers' "She's Mine, All Mine," Frankie Marshall's "Every Minute Of The Day," and the Pharaohs' "Watusi." Note that the accompanying ad for "The Vow" uses a photo with Sollie McElroy!
Then, Uncle Sam struck for a second time: Johnny Carter, the Flamingos' incredible first tenor, was called up and left for the army on September 19 (ending up as a cook in Germany). By October, Charles "Tommy" Hunt had joined to replace him. Tommy (born June 18, 1933) was originally from Pittsburgh, but lived in Chicago for a while (that's why he was a member of Earl Lewis' 5 Echoes in 1953 & 1954). Tommy was another singer who hung around with the Flamingos. Thus, when they needed a tenor, he was handy.
The Flamingos were now a quartet: Nate Nelson (first tenor), Tommy Hunt (second tenor), Paul Wilson (baritone), and Jake Carey (bass). But Leonard Chess, owner of Checker, was getting nervous. Two of the stalwarts of the Flamingos were gone. Would the group break up? To hedge his bets, he signed Nate Nelson to a separate contract. This was to have serious repercussions later on.
Actually, Chess was doing a little more than just hedging bets. While Johnny Carter reported to the army on September 19, he would have gotten his draft notice at least a month before that. With Zeke gone and Johnny going, Nate appeared, on September 1, as "Nate Nelson of the Flamingo's [sic]" at a "Jam With Sam" [Evans] show at Chicago's Trianon Ballroom. Others on the bill were Ray Charles, Chuck Willis, J.B. Lenoir, Jimmy Binkley, and the Calvaes. It's unknown whether this was a one-shot deal or an attempt at a solo career, but Nate was soon back with the Flamingos as the ink dried on his Chess contract.
In October, 1956, the Flamingos played Baltimore's Royal Theater. In the audience was Isaiah "Terry" Johnson (also nicknamed "Buzzy"). Terry (born November 12, 1938) had been the lead of the Whispers ("Fool Heart" and "Are You Sorry"). As Terry watched the show, all of a sudden, he "saw a glow of light around them and I saw myself with them." Shaken by this, he went backstage to tell them (he was allowed in because he knew Jake from the "old neighborhood" in Baltimore). They weren't converted on the spot, but Nate Nelson asked him if he knew someone who was both a tenor and guitarist, since they wanted to get back up to quintet strength. Well, that wasn't a hard question to answer, and Terry came back the next day to audition for them. (Since Jake had relocated to Chicago long before the Whispers had come into existence, he had no idea that Terry could sing R&B.) Terry brought the Whispers records with him and they were all impressed with his singing and musical talent. The audition seemed to go well and he was told, "We'll be in touch."
Picture a cartoon with time going by: the leaves rip off the calendar; the days pass; the weeks pass; the months pass. Terry eventually gave up on the Flamingos.
On October 12, the Flamingos were back at the Apollo, as part of the "New R&B Stars Of 1956" show. Other "new stars" were the Pearls, the Velours, the Dells, the Channels, the Solitaires, Ruth Mc Fadden, and Titus Turner.
November saw the release of the last Checker record for a long while: "Would I Be Crying"/"Just For A Kick." It was reviewed on December 8 and both sides got "good" ratings. Other reviews that week were for the Clovers' "A Lonely Fool," 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 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."
Rock, Rock, Rock finally opened on December 5, 1956. I don't know what the reviewers at the time thought of it, but I loved it, as did all my friends. It stands the test of time: we got to see Alan Freed, the Flamingos, the Moonglows, the Teenagers, and Chuck Berry. We got to hear Connie Francis sing (although no one had ever heard of her at that point, and I'm not sure her name was even in the credits originally). We got to see a teenaged Valerie Harper (in the audience "watching" the New York-filmed Teenagers perform, although I'm sure that audience was filmed in California). We got to see Teddy Randazzo's jacket magically closing and opening as various takes were stitched together. Was the plot stupid? What plot? Was there a plot? Did we care? Do we care now? Come on, let's not kid ourselves, we weren't expecting a musical version of Hamlet; we were ecstatically happy with what we got.
Finally, on Christmas Eve, Terry Johnson got the call to join the Flamingos! All he had to do was meet Jake in Philadelphia the next day. Piece of cake! The Flamingos were a quintet again: Nate Nelson (first tenor), Tommy Hunt (second tenor), Paul Wilson (baritone), Jake Carey (bass), and Terry Johnson (tenor and guitar).
Terry started right in by doing some arranging for the group on "The Ladder of Love" and their show material (he would end up doing all of their arranging, as Johnny Carter had previously done). Since Terry had grown up listening to Pop music more than R&B, this took the Flamingos in a new direction. Terry arranged all the Decca and End cuts (up to sometime in 1961). "I was producing and didn't even realize it!"
On February 22, 1957, the Flamingos were part of a Dr. Jive show at the Apollo. Others on the bill were Mickey & Sylvia, the Drifters, Chuck Willis, the Teenchords, Big Maybelle, Little Joe and the Thrillers, and Solomon Burke. Most of the show was held over for a second week (the Drifters and Teenchords left, to be replaced by the Channels, the G-Clefs, and the Love Notes).
At some point, the Flamingos supposedly backed up Bo Diddley on a ballad called "You Know I Love You," which was not released until 1990. However, as I stated before, Chess/Checker session information is chaotic at best, and it's more probable that just some of the Flamingos (and probably some of the Moonglows) were in the studio and therefore used for backup work.
Around March 1957, with their Checker contract expired, the Flamingos got a contract with Decca Records. This was the big time and they expected to do well. However, remember that lead singer Nate Nelson was still under a separate contract to Checker. (Of course, Decca didn't know this at the time of the signing). Checker then gave Decca a hard time, effectively killing any massive promotion for the group. Although they recorded a dozen songs for Decca, resulting in five records, Decca never really promoted any of them.
On June 24, 1957, Decca finally announced the signing of the Flamingos. They were a bit late (standard industry practice), since the group's first session had been over two months earlier (on April 19). At that time, they'd recorded "The Ladder Of Love" (led by Nate, with Paul doing the talking part), "That Love Is You," "Let's Make Up" (Tommy), and a fourth, unknown, title. "The Ladder Of Love" and "Let's Make Up" were released in late June and reviewed on July 1 (both "good"). Other reviews that week were for the Heartbeats' "Everybody's Somebody's Fool," Chuck Berry's "Oh Baby Doll," the Cellos' "The Juicy Crocodile," the Cleftones' "See You Next Year," the G-Clefs' "Zing Zang Zoo," and Charlie White's "Little Mama, Don't Leave Me."
August 15 found the Flamingos back in the Decca studios, recording "Helpless," "My Faith In You," "Jerri-Lee," and "Hey Now!." The first three were led by Nate (with help from Paul on "My Faith In You"), and "Hey Now!" featured Tommy Hunt. On September 20, it was back to the Apollo, along with Johnny Mathis, Rose Hardaway, the Mambo Aces, and Teddy Hale.
Over the summer, the Flamingos played Jake Diamond's Martinique, in Wildwood, NJ. Also appearing in Wildwood were Steve Gibson's Red Caps. During this engagement, Gibson got the idea of "borrowing" Nate Nelson to sing lead on a cover version of the Rays' "Silhouettes," which the Red Caps recorded on September 13 for ABC Paramount. His reasoning was that there was no one in his group who had a "teenage sound" (this is what probably prompted him to hire George Tindley, former lead of the Dreams). Nate never appeared with the Red Caps; his involvement with them was simply that one song.
In October 1957, Decca issued "Helpless"/"My Faith In You." They were reviewed on October 7 (both "good"), along with Larry Williams' "Bony Moronie," Chuck Berry's "Rock 'N' Roll Music," Huey Smith's "Just A Lonely Clown," the Teenchords' "Your Last Chance," the Universals' "Again," the Hearts' "You Say You Love Me," and the Glad Rags' "My China Doll."
On April 4, 1958, the Flamingos returned to the Apollo as part of a Dr. Jive show. This time, they shared the boards with Fats Domino, the Coasters, the Dells, the Spaniels, and the Fidelitys.
The Flamingos' last Decca session was held on May 6, 1958, when they recorded "Kiss-A-Me" (Nate), "Where Mary Go" (Nate, with Paul doing the talking part), "Ever Since I Met Lucy" (Tommy), and "The Rock And Roll March" (Jake). "Where Mary Go" and "The Rock And Roll March" were paired for a July release. The disc was reviewed on July 14 (both "good"), along with the Laddins' "Did It," Bobby Freeman's "Betty Lou Got A New Pair Of Shoes," Sam Cooke's "Win Your Love For Me," the Excels' "Baby Doll," and the Saxons' "Rock And Roll Show."
On August 29, the Flamingos joined Dr. Jive again at the Apollo. Others on the show were Jackie Wilson, Big Maybelle, Bob & Earl, the Heartbeats, the Videos, the 5 Keys, the Bobbettes, Bobby Day, the Satellites (Hollywood Flames), Arnett Cobb, and Ronnie Baxter.
In the summer of 1958, when Zeke Carey was discharged from the army, Jake didn't want to let him back in the group. He claimed that they already had five singers and didn't need any more.
But Terry Johnson stepped in. Since he played the guitar, he argued, if he taught Zeke to play the bass, it would make them more of a self-contained group. This was a convincing argument. Terry also inspired Nate and Tommy to pick up instruments (drums and piano, respectively) and the Flamingos became a six-man vocal/instrumental group: Nate Nelson, Tommy Hunt, Jake Carey, Paul Wilson, Zeke Carey, and Terry Johnson.
One of the reasons Terry had joined the Flamingos was to be able to sing in the same group with high tenor Johnny Carter. However, when Johnny returned from the Army in September 1958, Jake refused to let him back in! Now, the unopposable argument was that they already had six singers. (Don't feel bad for Johnny, however; he joined the Dells and remained with them for 50 years.)
After a year and a half with Decca, the Flamingos realized that they weren't going anywhere; the company was simply doing nothing for them. It was a moot point, since Decca didn't pick up their contract anyway.
However, they were the Flamingos and wouldn't stay out of the music scene for long. In September 1958, they began a long and fruitful relationship with George Goldner's End Records. But it almost didn't happen. "Richard Barrett had to talk Goldner into taking us," remembers Terry. Goldner was doing well with Little Anthony & the Imperials and the Chantels at the time and it took Barrett a few weeks to convince him.
In October, George Goldner announced the signing of the Flamingos. At least that was close to their first session date of September 26. While I usually try to document the songs that were recorded at each session, End's master numbers and session dates don't match up very well, so I'll just give you the released records.
Their first outing on End gave us "Lovers Never Say Goodbye" (a duet lead by Terry and Paul) backed with "That Love Is You" (led by Nate). They were reviewed on October 27 (with "That Love Is You" receiving an "excellent"). Other reviews that week were for Chuck Berry's "Sweet Little Rock And Roller," the Imperials' "So Much," Fats Domino's "Whole Lotta Loving," the Cadillacs' "Peek-A-Boo," Jackie Wilson's "Lonely Teardrops," and the Charms' "My Friends." On November 24, "Lovers Never Say Goodbye" was a Tip in St. Louis. It ended its run at #52 on the Pop charts and #25 on R&B.
On January 16, 1959, the Flamingos returned for another week at the Apollo. This time they were with Jerry Butler, the Crests, Little Anthony and the Imperials, the Quin-Tones, Wade Flemons, Doc Bagby, and Clay Tyson.
When Checker saw that the Flamingos were still capable of turning out hits, they released a single in January 1959, followed by an LP the following month. The single had two previously-unreleased tunes, both led by Nate: "Dream Of A Lifetime" and "Whispering Stars." The LP had those two, plus "The Vow," "Would I Be Crying," "A Kiss From Your Lips," "Shilly Dilly," and "Chicka Boom (That's My Baby)." In addition, Checker included "Ko Ko Mo" and "On My Merry Way" from their Parrot days (Checker had bought or leased the masters), as well as the previously-unreleased "Stolen Love," "Chickie Umbah," and "Nobody's Love."
Also in February, End issued "But Not For Me" (featuring the duet lead of Terry Johnson and Paul Wilson), backed with "I Shed A Tear At Your Wedding" (Tommy Hunt). Both were rated "excellent" on February 9, along with the Titans' "No Time," Lloyd Price's "Where Were You (On Our Wedding Day)," the Heartbeats' "Darling, I Want To Get Married," Sheriff & the Ravels "Shombalor," the Jive Bombers' "Stardust," and the Diablos' "Goodbye, Matilda." In spite of the great ratings, neither side ever charted. On February 23, "Lovers Never Say Goodbye" was rated a Tip in Philadelphia.
On March 2, the trades got around to reviewing "Whispering Stars" and "Dream Of A Lifetime." Both were ranked "fair," but you have to take into account that the sound was three years old at this point. Other reviews that week went to the Channels' "My Love Will Never Die," "Don & Dewey's "Big Boy Pete," Howie and the Sapphires' "More Than The Day Before," the Checker Dots' "Alpha Omega," and the Vibes' "Misunderstood."
Also in March 1959, End released "Love Walked In," backed with "At The Prom" (both had the duet lead of Terry and Paul). Then, in April, they put out "I Only Have Eyes For You"/"Goodnight Sweetheart," both led by Nate. At a slightly later date, "I Only Have Eyes For You" was reissued with "At The Prom" on the flip.
In April, George Goldner issued the Flamingo Serenade LP, which featured a dozen old standards: "Love Walked In" (Terry and Paul), "Music, Maestro, Please" (Tommy), "Begin The Beguine" (Tommy), "The Breeze And I" (Tommy), "Time Was" (Terry and Paul), "Goodnight Sweetheart" (Nate), "I Only Have Eyes For You" (Nate), "I'm In The Mood For Love" (Terry), "As Time Goes By" (Tommy), "Where Or When" (Paul), "Yours" (Nate), and "But Not For Me" (Terry and Paul).
The Flamingos were definitely headed in a heavy-duty Pop direction! "George Goldner wanted us to go in another direction than regular R&B," Terry said. "He wanted us to do standards like the Platters, who were doing songs like 'Smoke Gets in Your Eyes.' I was open to the idea, because I wasn't raised on R&B; my parents listened to Patti Page, the Mills Brothers, the Ink Spots and Bing Crosby. When George said he wanted me to change the structure of the songs and give them a nice flavor, I was excited because it was such a good challenge for me." In fact, George Goldner and Richard Barrett went to a music store and bought up the sheet music to every old song they could find, turning them over to Terry Johnson to arrange for the Flamingos.
In April 1959, the Flamingos appeared in the Alan Freed movie, Go Johnny Go!, singing and dancing a frenetic version of "Jump Children." The routine had been recorded in a New York studio in February. Even off the screen it was a crowd-pleaser: "We always closed with "Jump, Children," says Terry. Note that while the film opened in many markets in April, it didn't make it to New York until the end of July.
"I Only Have Eyes For You"/"Goodnight Sweetheart" were reviewed (both "good") on May 4. Other reviews that week went to the Jayhawks' "I Wish The World Owed Me A Living," the Coasters' "Along Came Jones," Bobby Freeman's "Mary Ann Thomas," the Shields' "Play The Game Fair," the Danleers' "Your Love," and the Drifters' "There Goes My Baby." By May 25, it was a Tip in Philadelphia. It finally peaked at #11 on the Pop charts and #3 R&B. This would have to rank as the Flamingos' biggest hit; none of their songs ever reached #1 nationally.
Remember those dark days when the Flamingos recorded for Decca? Well, seeing hits on the charts, Decca frantically dug out a couple of old masters: "Ever Since I Met Lucy" and "Kiss-A-Me" were released in May 1959. When these went nowhere, Decca issued "Jerri-Lee"/"Hey Now!" in July. These were reviewed on July 20 (with "Hey Now!" receiving an "excellent"). Other reviews that week were for the Fiestas' "Our Anniversary," the Imperials' "I'm Alright," the Starlighters' "I Cried," the Charms' "Who Knows," Tony Allen & Champs' "Nite Owl" (reissue), and Junior Denby's "With This Ring" (a reissue of a couple of his 1954 tunes).
In July 1959, the Flamingos did ten days at the Uptown in Philadelphia, along with the Fiestas, Jesse Belvin, Dee Clark, the Drifters, Chubby Checker, and Jerry Butler. On July 11, they appeared on Dick Clark's ABC-TV Saturday night show, singing "I Only Have Eyes For You" and "Lovers Never Say Goodbye."
Also in July, End released the second pressing of "Love Walked In." This time it was paired with the Nate Nelson-led "Yours." They were reviewed on August 17 (both "excellent"). Other reviews that week were for the Falcons' "You're Mine," the Fidelitys' "Marie," Ocie Smith's "Song Of The Dreamer," the Saucers' "Cha Wailey Routa," and Joe Lyons and the Arrows' "Bob-A-Loop."
In November, End put out "I Was Such A Fool" (led by Nate)/"Heavenly Angel" (a duet lead between Tommy Hunt and Zeke Carey). It was reviewed on December 7 (with "I Was Such A Fool" ranked "excellent"). Other reviews went to the Rivieras' "Eleventh Hour Melody," the Isley Brothers' "Respectable," Milton Grayson's "Don't Blame Me," and Young Jessie's "Lula Belle." "I Was Such A Fool" would reach #71 on the Pop charts.
On November 20, the Flamingos were booked into the Apollo again, this time with Little Anthony and the Imperials, the Isley Brothers, the 5 Satins, Carmen McRae, the Clovers, Al Hibbler, Pigmeat Markham, and the Reuben Phillips Orchestra.
December 1959 saw the release of the pretty "Mio Amore" (Nate), backed with "You, Me And The Sea" (Tommy), two songs that had been written and arranged by Terry.
In January 1960, the Flamingos played the Copa Club in Newport, Kentucky. Then, in February, it was back to the Apollo for a Dr. Jive show that also featured Johnny Nash, Nappy Brown, the Hollywood Flames, Tiny Topsy, the Centurions, Eugene Church, Barrett Strong, Jean Sampson, and the Fidelitys.
February's release was "Nobody Loves Me" (led by Nate and Terry, and written by Sam Cooke), paired with "Besame Mucho" (Tommy). It was almost instantly reissued (as "Nobody Loves Me Like You"), with "You, Me And The Sea" (Tommy) as the flip. "Nobody Loves Me Like You" made it to #23 on the R&B charts.
In April 1960, the second LP, Flamingo Favorites, was released. This one had a mixture of standard and non-standard tunes: "Besame Mucho" (Tommy), "Dream Girl" (Zeke and Paul; the Jesse & Marvin song), "Crazy, Crazy, Crazy" (Tommy and Terry; the 5 Royales song), "That's Why I Love You" (Paul), "Heavenly Angel" (Tommy and Zeke), "Mio Amore" (Nate), "Maria Elena" (Tommy and Terry), "Sweet And Lovely" (Paul), "Tell Me How Long" (Terry and Paul), "My Foolish Heart" (Nate), "You Belong To My Heart" (Terry and Paul), and "Bridge Of Tears" (Nate).
In May, "You, Me And The Sea" was issued for the third time. This outing saw "Besame Mucho" as the flip. Then, in June, "Mio Amore" was given another chance, with "At Night" (Nate) as the new flip. This time it charted, rising to #74 Pop and #27 R&B.
On June 24, the Flamingos began another week at the Apollo with Dr. Jive. This time, they shared the stage with Jimmy Jones, Marv Johnson, Tiny Topsy, and the 5 Satins.
September 1960 saw the release of "When I Fall In Love" and "Beside You" (the Swallows' song); both sides were led by Terry. The following month, End issued the Requestfully Yours LP. Most of the tunes were standards: "In The Still Of The Night" (Tommy; the Cole Porter song), "Beside You" (Terry), "Never In This World" (Nate), "When I Fall In Love" (Terry), "You, Me And The Sea" (Tommy), "Everybody's Got A Home But Me" (Tommy), "Nobody Loves Me Like You" (Nate and Terry), "Tenderly" (Paul), "I Was Such A Fool" (Nate), "Every Time I Think Of You" (Nate), "At Night" (Nate), and "You'll Never Walk Alone" (Tommy).
November's End release was "Your Other Love" (Tommy)/"Lovers Gotta Cry" (Nate).
1961 started off with January's "That's Why I Love You" (Paul)/"Kokomo" (Nate and Paul). In spite of this being a sadly out-of-date tune by now, it just cracked the top 100, crawling to #92 (R&B).
On February 17, the Flamingos were back at the Apollo, this time with Brook Benton, Thelma Carpenter, Cook & Brown, Titus Turner, and the Reuben Phillips Orchestra.
In April, End issued "Time Was" (Terry and Paul), coupled with "Dream Girl" (Zeke and Paul). "Time Was" made it to #45 on the national R&B charts. Also, in April, Vee-Jay released two old Chance masters: "Golden Teardrops" and "Carried Away," in order to make a few bucks from the new "oldies" craze.
And then, the Flamingos began to come apart. Tommy Hunt sneaked off to do some recording on his own. He never informed the others that he'd recorded "Human" (released in May 1961), but soon enough, everyone in the group knew about it. Jake and Zeke Carey took it badly. It turned them so paranoid that they started accusing Terry of wanting to leave too. This became a self-fulfilling prophecy: after a couple of weeks of this, Terry finally got disgusted with them being so controlling and really did leave. Nate Nelson, who had also been fighting with the Careys, left a few weeks after Terry.
Terry Johnson then put together the Modern Flamingos, while the Careys got a couple of new tenors: Eddie Williams and Billy Clarke (who had been with the Strangers). The group was now: Eddie Williams (lyric tenor), Billy Clarke (tenor and drums), Zeke Carey (tenor and bassist), Paul Wilson (baritone), Jake Carey (bass), Alan Fontaine (guitar), and Julien Vaught (saxophone). They started recording again in September 1961.
Everything released on End after April 1961 was recorded after Tommy, Terry, and Nate had left. All the remaining End singles were led by Eddie Williams: "My Memories Of You"/"I Want To Love You" (October 1961), "It Must Be Love"/"I'm No Fool Anymore" (April 1962), "For All We Know"/"Near You" (ca. August 1962), "I Know Better"/"Flame Of Love" (ca. April 1963), and "(Talk About) True Love"/"Come On To My Party" (ca. November 1963).
At some March 1963 sessions, they laid down all the tracks for their The Sound Of The Flamingos LP. It contained "Too Soon To Know" (led by Eddie Williams), "You're Mine" (Paul), "Flame Of Love" (Eddie), "My Lovely One" (Eddie), "The Sinner (El Pecador)" (Billy Clarke), "I Know Better" (Eddie), "I'm Coming Home" (Eddie), "Moonlight In Vermont" (Eddie), "(When You're Young And) Only Seventeen" (Paul), "Without His Love" (Billy), "Ole Man River" (Billy), and "Danny Boy" (Eddie, along with saxophonist Julien Vaught).
Sometime after those sessions, they added tenor Doug McClure to make a sextet of singers again. (This is the same Doug McClure who was in the Pyramids on Mark-X and who was the son of Sam McClure, baritone of the Shadows.) However, not long after Doug joined, both Eddie Williams and Billy Clarke departed (although Clarke would rejoin them in the 70s).
In September 1963, the Billy Clarke-led "Ol' Man River" (note different spelling from the LP) was broken into two parts for a Roulette single. (This was probably about the time when Roulette bought out End Records.)
After End, the Flamingos recorded "Lover Come Back To Me"/"Your Little Guy" for Bellville, in the Spring of 1964. These were purchased by Checker, which re-released them in June of that year. September's "Goodnight Sweetheart" and "Does It Really Matter" seem to have been recorded for Checker itself, although they also could have been Bellville masters.
Paul Wilson lasted until 1964, and then he was gone too. With varying personnel (including baritone Sidney Hall), the Flamingos continued recording throughout the sixties and seventies, switching to a Soul sound. They recorded for Philips ("The Boogaloo Party" charted in 1966), Julmar, Polydor (where they had their last chart hit, "Buffalo Soldier," in 1970), Ronze (their own label), and Worlds.
The only other "Flamingos" record from their "early" period was "A Lovely Way To Spend An Evening"/"Walking My Baby Back Home," a couple of a cappella tunes released on Times Square Records in December 1964. Not only did this have nothing to do with Jake and Zeke, they were probably by white groups. (I say "groups" because it doesn't even sound like both sides are by the same singers.) These were some horrendous masters that Slim Rose obtained somewhere and decided to put out under the "Flamingos" name. I checked my moldering collection of KBBA magazines and the record was being pushed as a couple of early Flamingos tunes. I can't imagine how he got away with this, since the Flamingos were still performing.
There was recognition of sorts in 1998, when PepsiCo used the Flamingos' "I Only Have Eyes For You" in one of their commercials. Trouble is, they didn't secure permission. The Flamingos sued and, in January 2006, a judge awarded $250,000 to Terry Johnson, Tommy Hunt, and the estates of Jake Carey, Zeke Carey, Nate Nelson, and Paul Wilson.
Most of the Flamingos are gone now: Jake Carey died on December 10, 1997; Zeke Carey on December 24, 1999; Sollie McElroy, January 15, 1995; Nate Nelson, June 1, 1984; Paul Wilson, May 6, 1988, and Johnny Carter on August 21, 2009. However, Tommy Hunt and Terry Johnson are not only still alive in 2012, but are still performing.
In early 2013, Terry Johnson is due to release a new CD celebrating the 60th anniversary of the Flamingos: "The Flamingos: Ambassadors For Romance." The thirteen selections include: "You, Me, And The Sea," "When I Fall In Love," "I Only Have Eyes For You," "It Had To Be You," "Who Can I Turn To," and "I'll Be Home."
On March 5, 2013, the Florida Lottery, which uses a flamingo as its logo, teamed up with Terry Johnson's Flamingos to introduce the "$3 Million Flamingo Fortune" game. The Flamingos are featured, singing "I Only Have Eyes For You," in the organization's newest ad campaign.
The Flamingos are one of those groups (and there are very, very few of them) that had a deep, lasting influence on R&B music. Most of the groups of the 50s listened to the Flamingos. They had a superb R&B lead singer in Sollie McElroy and a superb lead singer, period, in Nate Nelson. Throw in Johnny Carter's high tenor and arranging, and then Terry Johnson's arranging, matched with George Goldner's know-how, and the Flamingos were a mighty force.
Interview with Earl Lewis by Robert Pruter, Goldmine, 5/79.
The Sollie McElroy quotes come from an interview conducted by Lou Rallo in April 1992.
"The Flamingos: The Chicago Years" by Robert Pruter, Goldmine, 4/6/90.
Galen Gart's First Pressings series.
Ferdie Gonzalez' Disco-File, for the discographical information.
Special thanks to Theresa Johnson, Todd Baptista, L. Carl Tancredi, Steve Applebaum, and Mike Bauer.
1133 Someday, Someway (SM)/If I Can't Have You (SM/JC) - 3/53
1140 That's My Desire (SM)/Hurry Home Baby (JAC) - 6/53
1145 Golden Teardrops (SM)/Carried Away (SM) - 9/53
1149 Plan For Love (JC)/You Ain't Ready (SM) - 10/53
1154 Cross Over The Bridge (SM/JC)/Listen To My Plea (JC) - 3/54
808 Dream Of A Lifetime (SM)/On My Merry Way (SM/JAC) - 8/54
1162 Blues In A Letter (JC)/Jump Children (SM) - 10/54
811 I Really Don't Want To Know (SM/JC)/Get With It (NN) - 12/54
812 I'm Yours (NN)/Ko Ko Mo (NN&JC) - 1/55
815 When (NN)/(Chick-A-Boom) That's My Baby (JC) - 4/55
821 Please Come Back Home (NN)/I Want To Love You (NN/JC) - 7/55
830 I'll Be Home (NN)/Need Your Love (NN) - 1/56
837 A Kiss From Your Lips (NN)/Get With It (NN) [the Parrot master] - 4/56
846 The Vow (NN)/Shilly Dilly (JC) - 8/56
853 Would I Be Crying (NN)/Just For A Kick (NN/PW) - 11/56
30335 The Ladder Of Love (NN/PW)/Let's Make Up (TH) - 6/57
30454 Helpless (NN)/My Faith In You (NN/PW) - 10/57
30687 Where Mary Go (NN/PW)/The Rock And Roll March (JAC) - 7/58
1035 Lovers Never Say Goodbye (TJ&PW)/That Love Is You (NN) - 10/58
915 Dream Of A Lifetime (NN)/Whispering Stars (NN) - 1/59
LP-1433 The Flamingos - 2/59
Dream Of A Lifetime (NN)
A Kiss From Your Lips (NN)
Ko Ko Mo (NN/JC) [the Parrot master]
Shilly Dilly (JC)
Whispering Stars (NN)
Stolen Love (JC)
On My Merry Way (SM/JAC) [the Parrot master]
Chickie Umbah (JC/JAC)
The Vow (NN)
Nobody's Love (NN)
Would I Be Crying (NN)
Chicka Boom (That's My Baby) (NN)
1040 But Not For Me (TJ&PW)/I Shed A Tear At Your Wedding (TH) - 2/59
1044 Love Walked In (TJ&PW)/At The Prom (TJ&PW) - 3/59
1046 I Only Have Eyes For You (NN)/Goodnight Sweetheart ( NN) - 4/59
1046 I Only Have Eyes For You ( NN)/At The Prom (TJ&PW) - 59
LP-304 Flamingo Serenade - 4/59
Love Walked In (TJ&PW)
I Only Have Eyes For You (NN)
Music Maestro Please (TH)
I'm In The Mood For Love (TJ)
Begin The Beguine (TH)
As Time Goes By (TH)
The Breeze And I (TH)
Where Or When (PW)
Time Was (TJ&PW)
Goodnight Sweetheart (NN)
But Not For Me (TJ&PW)
30880 Ever Since I Met Lucy (TH)/Kiss-A-Me (NN) - 5/59
1055 Love Walked In (TJ&PW)/Yours (NN) - 7/59
30948 Jerri-Lee (NN)/Hey Now! (TH) - 7/59
1062 I Was Such A Fool (NN)/Heavenly Angel (TH&ZC) - 11/59
1065 Mio Amore (NN)/You, Me And The Sea (TH) - 12/59
1068 Nobody Loves Me (NN&TJ)/Besame Mucho (TH) - 2/60
1068 Nobody Loves Me Like You (NN&TJ)/You, Me And The Sea (TH) - 2/60
LP-307 Flamingo Favorites - 4/60
Besame Mucho (TH)
Maria Elena (TH&TJ)
Dream Girl (ZC/PW)
Sweet And Lovely (PW)
Crazy, Crazy, Crazy (TJ&TH)
Tell Me How Long (TJ&PW)
That's Why I Love You (PW)
My Foolish Heart (NN)
Heavenly Angel (TH&ZC)
You Belong To My Heart (TJ&PW)
Mio Amore (My Love) (NN)
Bridge Of Tears (NN)
1070 Besame Mucho (TH)/You, Me And The Sea (TH) - 5/60
1073 Mio Amore (NN)/At Night (NN) - 6/60
1079 When I Fall In Love (TJ)/Beside You (TJ) - 9/60
LP-308 Requestfully Yours - 10/60
In The Still Of The Night (TH)
Nobody Loves Me Like You (NN&TJ)
Beside You (TJ)
Never In This World (NN)
I Was Such A Fool (NN)
When I Fall In Love (TJ)
Every Time I Think Of You (NN)
You, Me And The Sea (TH)
At Night (NN)
Everybody's Got A Home But Me (TH)
You'll Never Walk Alone (TH)
1081 Your Other Love (TH)/Lovers Gotta Cry (NN) - 11/60
1085 That's Why I Love You (PW)/Kokomo (NN&PW) - 1/61
1092 Time Was (TJ&PW)/Dream Girl (ZC/PW) - 4/61
VEE-JAY (Chance Masters)
384 Golden Teardrops (SM)/Carried Away (SM) - 4/61
1099 My Memories Of You (EW)/I Want To Love You (EW) - 10/61
1111 It Must Be Love (EW)/I'm No Fool Anymore (EW) - 4/62
1116 For All We Know (EW)/Near You (EW) - ca. 8/62
1121 I Know Better (EW)/Flame Of Love (EW) - ca. 4/63
1124 (Talk About) True Love (EW)/Come On To My Party (EW) - ca. 11/63
SLP-316 The Sound Of The Flamingos - 63
Too Soon To Know (ALL/EW)
You're Mine (PW)
Flame Of Love (EW)
My Lovely One (EW)
The Sinner (El Pecador) (BC)
I Know Better (EW)
I'm Coming Home (EW)
Moonlight In Vermont (all/EW)
(When You're Young And) Only Seventeen (PW)
Without His Love (BC)
Ole Man River (BC)
Danny Boy (JV/EW)
ROULETTE (End masters)
4524 Ol' Man River - Part 1 (BC)/Part 2 (BC) - 9/63
100 Lover Come Back To Me (DM)/Your Little Guy (DM) - 64
1084 Lover Come Back To Me (DM)/Your Little Guy (DM) (Bellville masters) - 6/64
1091 Goodnight Sweetheart (DM)/Does It Really Matter (DM) - 9/64
TIMES SQUARE (one or two white a cappella groups)
102 A Lovely Way To Spend An Evening/Walking My Baby Back Home - 12/64
September Song (SM) - 12/24/53
If I Could Love You (SM) - 7/54
I Found A New Baby (all) - 11/54
Cry (NN/JC) - 3/56
That Love Is You (NN) - 4/19/57
Without A Song (??) - 10/31/58
We Were Made For Each Other (??) - 2/18/59
River Of Tears (??) - 2/26/59
Happy Birthday Elise (??) - 2/60
A Kiss From Your Lips (NN) - 10/20/60
I'll Be Home (NN) - 10/20/60
Jump Children (PW/NN) - 10/29/60
Lover Come Back (??) - 11/17/61
Shout It Out (??) - 6/17/63
BC = Billy Clarke
DM = Doug McClure
EW = Eddie Williams
JAC = Jake Carey
JC = Johnny Carter
JV = Julien Vaught (saxophone lead)
NN = Nate Nelson
PW = Paul Wilson
SM = Sollie McElroy
TJ = Terry Johnson
TH = Tommy Hunt
ZC = Zeke Carey