The Legends were one of the hundreds of New York City groups that were competing for a hit record in the heyday of the Rock 'n Roll era. The high tenor lead that they employed was a direct reaction to the success of Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers.
The members of the Legends met in 1955 at Manhattan's Industrial Arts High School. Unlike most groups, which formed in a specific neighborhood, the Legends were from three different boroughs (the large subdivisions of New York). This was because Industrial Arts accepted students from all over the city. Thus, lead tenor Marshall Samples came from Harlem (in upper Manhattan); baritone Ron Warwell, tenor Bobby Weinstein, and pianist Dominick Fleres were from Brooklyn; tenor Richard "Chico" Brunson called the Bronx his home, and so did bass Sampson Reese. They were all 15-16 at the time.
The members met in the school chorus, and practiced in the hallways and bathrooms "annoying all the people," as Ron puts it.
Marshall chose the name "Legends," but Ron doesn't remember why. Deciding to make the New York City Transit Authority rich, they rotated practicing at each others' houses, as well as at school. Their influences were the Flamingos, the Teenagers, Little Anthony, the Harptones, the Turbans, the Heartbeats, and the Willows. They practiced the hits of the day, as well as a lot of original tunes. The guys found it easy to write songs, since they had a habit of talking in harmony. (If one would see a pretty girl, for example, he'd point her out with the beginnings of some lyrics, and the others would take up a background chant.)
The Legends entered the Apollo Theater amateur show one Wednesday night and walked away with the top prize, which was a booking to do some shows. They then repeated that feat a second time, some months later, in 1955.
Around June of 1956, the guys decided the time was right for getting the Legends sound down on wax. They just walked in to Morty Craft's Melba label (at 1674 Broadway) and auditioned for him. (At the time, Melba's big attraction was the Willows, who had just had a tremendous hit with "Church Bells May Ring." It was also the time when Morty Craft was about to buy out his partner, Ray Maxwell, to become the sole owner of Melba.)
Craft was impressed and set up a session, under the direction of saxist and bandleader Teddy "Cherokee" Conyers ("The Little Man With The Big Horn"). The Legends were dismayed when Conyers entirely changed around their arrangements. At the same time, they picked up a manager, Norman Marsalis, whose sister Marshall was dating.
Their only Melba session produced two songs, both led by the high falsetto of Marshall Samples. The ballad side was "The Eyes Of An Angel" and the up-tempo flip was "I'll Never Fall In Love Again." Both songs were very short, with the former a shade over two minutes and the latter only a minute and three-quarters.
Melba released the record around September 1956, and it doesn't seem to have been reviewed. Its competition was: Lavern Baker's "I Can't Love You Enough," the Teen Queens' "Red Top," the Hearts' "He Drives Me Crazy," the Penguins' Mercury re-cut of "Earth Angel," the Vocaltones' "My Version Of Love," the Pyramids' "Okay Baby," the Keynotes' "Now I Know," Chuck Berry's "Brown-Eyed Handsome Man," the Sophomores' "Linda," the Turbans' "It Was A Night Like This," the Monarchs' "Pretty Little Girl," the Harptones' "Three Wishes," the Platters' "It Isn't Right," the Dells' "Oh What A Night," the Chestnuts' "Forever I Vow," the Teenagers' "The ABC's Of Love," the Clovers' "From The Bottom Of My Heart," and the Jayhawks' "Love Train."
The Legends played the Empire Theater in Brooklyn, backed by Cherokee and His Band, as well as some shows with WWRL's Tommy "Dr. Jive" Smalls and WOV's Jack Walker, "The Pear-Shaped Talker." Most of their appearances, however, were at house parties (on some occasions they ended up getting chased out of the neighborhoods by groups that weren't appreciative of them coming there and impressing their girls). Around 1956, they did a show with the Platters and Little Anthony.
Eventually, their relationship with both Morty Craft and Norman Marsalis soured. Craft told them that there was no royalty money due them, but then they got a call from some girls in their fan club, who told them that the record was a big hit in Connecticut. They got mad at Marsalis because he didn't even know they had a fan club! The result of the confrontation was that Ron got into a fist fight with Marsalis, and when the dust had settled, they had no more manager. After this, they managed themselves.
In late 56, the Legends were fooling around with an arrangement of Harry Belafonte's calypso song "Day-O." They made a demo, which found its way to Glory Records. Next thing they knew, the Tarriers had appropriated their arrangement, and released it as "The Banana Boat Song." (While Belafonte's version of the song hit the charts after the Tarriers', it was something he'd been singing long before he recorded it.)
In late 1957, they had another go at recording. This time, they went down the block from Melba, to Hull Records, at 1595 Broadway. Again they walked in cold, and auditioned for Bea Caslon (owner of Hull, along with Billy Dawn Smith and William Henry Miller). Bea signed them on the spot.
At Hull, the Legends recorded another two songs: "The Legend Of Love" was the ballad, and "Now I'm Telling You" upped the tempo. The former was led by Marshall, and the latter by Bobby Weinstein, with Ron Warwell on the bridge. Interestingly, the beginning of "Now I'm Telling You" has a distinct resemblance to parts of Dion & Belmonts' "I Wonder Why"; however, "Now I'm Telling You" was recorded first. While the Legends did their own arranging, once again the session musicians changed most of it around.
The record was released around November 1957 and wasn't reviewed. It went up against the Dells' "Pain In My Heart," Noble (Thin Man) Watts' "Hard Times (The Slop)," the Drifters' "Yodee Yakee," the Bobbettes' "Speedy," the Coasters' "Sweet Georgia Brown," the Valiants' "This Is The Night," Little Joe's "The Echoes Keep Calling Me," Lee Andrews & the Hearts' "Tear Drops," the Superiors' "Don't Say Goodbye," the Jayhawks' "Everyone Should Know," the Ravens' "Lazy Mule," the Solitaires' "Thrill Of Love," the Plants' "Dear I Swear," the Metronomes' "Dear Don," and Sam Cooke's "I'll Come Running Back To You."
The record sold moderately well ("Now I'm Telling You" doing well in Chicago and "The Legend Of Love" selling in New York), and all was seemingly bright. Amazingly, Hull was paying them royalties.
Then they were told that, since they were an integrated group, they'd have a hard time getting better bookings; because of this, Bobby and Dominick eventually dropped out. Bobby was replaced by a guy nicknamed "Tinker," who was a friend of Richard Brunson.
Then Sampson Reese met a girl, started spending more time with her than with the group, and the guys became jealous. This served to break up the Legends (but at least Sampson married her!).
When it was all over, Ron became a jazz drummer, fronting his own band on weekends. He also returned to his art training (which he picked up at Industrial Arts High School) and became an Art Director for several record companies (turning out packaging for albums). Sampson opened an engraving company in Manhattan; he ended up singing Country & Western music. Bobby and Dom joined the Kartunes on MGM (with Vincent Cassaro and Paul Rubenstein). Marshall cut a solo record entitled "Mama Don't Make Spaghetti Like That." For many years, Bobby Weinstein partnered with Teddy Randazzo in songwriting (you may know some of their tunes: "Pretty Blue Eyes," "It's Gonna Take A Miracle," "Hurt So Bad," "Going Out Of My Head," and "I'm On The Outside Looking In"). When I interviewed him in the 90s, Bobby was Assistant Vice President Of Writer/Publisher Relations at BMI and was also the president of the Songwriters Hall Of Fame (1993-1999).
Special thanks to Eugene Tompkins, Bruce Woolf, Gordon Skadberg, Jeff Beckman, and Frank Russo.
109 The Eyes Of An Angel (MS)/I'll Never Fall In Love Again (MS) - ca. 9/56
727 The Legend Of Love (MS)/Now I'm Telling You (BW/RW) - 11/57
LEADS: MS = Marshall Samples; BW = Bobby Weinstein; RW = Ron Warwell