Robert and Johnny belonged together. In the midst of the Rhythm & Blues and Rock & Roll group explosion of the mid-50s, they, and a few like them, showed that there was room for a duet.
Robert Carr and Johnny Mitchell were from the Bronx, New York (north of the more familiar Harlem in Manhattan), as was your author (although I wasn't aware at the time that we were neighbors).
The story begins in the Morrisania section of the Bronx, a neighborhood which boasted the Crickets, the Chords, and the Wrens. In 1954, Morris High School student Robert Carr sang with a group called the Royal Tones (which included Leo Macedon, Henry Wilkerson, and Eugene Tompkins). This group practiced until they felt they were ready to try their luck with Atlantic Records, where they sang "Where Will I Spend Eternity" (a song Robert had written). VP Jerry Wexler told them to come back with their parents' consent and they'd get a recording session, but the group broke up when Leo's mother refused to sign.
Eugene immediately began putting together the Limelighters and Robert teamed up with guitar-playing Johnny Mitchell (whom Eugene doesn't remember from Morris High). Robert (the lead voice) and Johnny (the harmony voice) were two more of the young hopefuls who showed up at Hy Weiss's midnight auditions at the Tri-Boro Theater on 125th Street (down the block from the Apollo).
Weiss, owner of Old Town Records, was impressed and hired them in early 1956. Soon after, they held their first session, which resulted in "I Believe In You" and "Train To Paradise," which were released in April. (Eugene Tompkins remembers Robert telling everyone in school that they'd just done an all-night recording session.) Both sides got good reviews in the trade papers the week of April 21, along with the Six Teens' "A Casual Look," the Wheels' "My Heart's Desire," the Harptones' "What Is Your Decision," the Jacks' "Why Did I Fall In Love," the Solitaires' "The Honeymoon," the Savoys' "Say You're Mine," Ruth McFadden's "Two In Love," the Chimes' "Chop Chop," Arthur Lee May & Crowns' "Gloria," and Mr. Bear's "Radar."
In May, Old Town placed an ad in the trades that listed Billy Bland's "Chicken Hop" as "A Hit!," the Royaltones' "Crazy Love" as "Going Strong!," and Ruth McFadden's "Two In Love" as "Moving Steady." Strangely, although "I Believe In You" was listed second, there were no words of hyperbole to go along with it. While "I Believe In You" was a solid New York area hit, Old Town's miserable distribution prevented it from going national.
Robert and Johnny's next session was held in September 1956. The three known songs that they recorded were "You're Mine," Million Dollar Bills," and "Your Kisses."
In late September it was reported that Morris Levy, and his partner Phil Kahl, had purchased 50% of Old Town's Maureen Music publishing company. In October, "You're Mine"/"Million Dollar Bills" was the first record released under this new set-up. Somehow Levy also convinced Hy and Sam Weiss to hand over local distribution of Old Town and Paradise to Tico Distributing. Tico (which was the parent of Rama and Gee) was owned by George Goldner and his partner Joe Kolsky. Kolsky, was, conveniently, the brother of Phil Kahl. Levy was, conveniently, the manager of Alan Freed. Ever wonder why Freed played so many Rama and Gee records? Well, now there was a good reason for him to play a lot of Old Town records too.
Along with the release of "Million Dollar Bills," Old Town also held a session for Robert and Johnny in October. They recorded: "Don't Do It," "Baby Come Home," and "Gosh Oh Gee."
"You're Mine" was reviewed the week of November 10, along with Lavern Baker's "Jim Dandy," Johnnie & Joe's "I'll Be Spinning," the Cadets' "I'll Be Spinning," the Avalons' "It's Funny But It's True," the Cookies' "My Lover," the Medallions' "Did You Have Fun," and Bob Gaddy's "Operator."
On November 16, Robert and Johnny began a week at the Apollo, as part of a Dr. Jive show. They shared the stage with the Cadillacs, Bo Diddley, Screaming Jay Hawkins, the Dells, the Debutantes, the Schoolboys, the Chips, the Heartbeats, Ann Cole, Annie Alford, and the Reuben Phillips Orchestra.
Robert and Johnny played the Apollo Theater again the week beginning February 8 (the "R&B Stars of 1957" show). The other acts were the Solitaires, the Pearls, the Velours, the Belltones, Ann Cole, the Playboys, and the Paul Williams Orchestra.
In February 1957, "Don't Do It" and "Baby Come Home" were released, but only in selected markets. When it seemed to be doing well, Old Town released it nationally in March. The disc was reviewed the week of March 16, along with Chuck Berry's "School Day," Bobby Marchan's "Chickee Wah-Wah," the Heartbeats' "I Won't Be The Fool Anymore," Joe Turner's "Red Sails In The Sunset," Muddy Waters' "Got My Mojo Working," the Continentals' "Picture Of Love," the Pretenders' "Close Your Eyes," the Chestnuts' "Who Knows Better Than I," the 5 Satins' "Oh Happy Day," the Dominoes' "Rock, Plymouth Rock," and the Mellows' "Moon Of Silver."
Sometime in late 1957 there was another Robert and Johnny session. The four songs recorded were: "Broken Hearted Man," "Indian Marriage," "We Belong Together," and "In The Rain."
"Broken Hearted Man" was released in November, with "Indian Marriage" as the flip. Actually, it seems as if two different takes of "Broken Hearted Man" were issued at the same time.
When "Broken Hearted Man" showed no signs of taking off, "We Belong Together" and "In The Rain" were issued in December. They were reviewed the week of January 6, 1958, along with the Silhouettes' "Get A Job," the Mello-Kings' "Baby Tell Me," the Channels' "All Alone," the Fortunes' "Tarnished Angel," the Bey Sisters' "Sentimental Journey," and the Serenaders' "I Wrote A Letter."
On January 31, 1958, Robert and Johnny began another one-week stint at the Apollo, this time as part of a Dr. Jive show. They shared the stage with Joe Turner, the 5 Satins, Lee Allen, the Turbans, Clay Tyson, Tiny Topsy, and the Wanderers.
By the week of February 17, "We Belong Together" was a Tip in Newark. It did so well, that on March 25, Robert and Johnny sang it on Dick Clark's "American Bandstand," as well as his Saturday night show on the 29th. The song became a Tip in Los Angeles during the week of April 14. In fact, in spite of moving up local charts very slowly, the song was such a big hit that it made the national R&B charts, peaking at #12. It was even strong enough to crack the Pop charts, where it made it to #32.
There was a small session sometime in early 1958. At it, Robert and Johnny recorded the first try at "I Know" (under its original title of "God Knows").
Later that spring, they recorded the second try at "I Know," as well as "Marry Me," and the second version of "I Believe In You."
In May 1958, Old Town issued "Marry Me," with "I Know" as the flip, on their standard yellow label. Almost immediately, however, the label color was changed to blue, and "I Know" was replaced with "I Believe In You." At that point, the Old Town ads trumpeted "They Have Another Hit." "I Believe In You" was reviewed the week of June 16, along with Fats Domino's "Little Mary," Bo Diddley's "Hush Your Mouth," the Kodoks' "Oh Gee, Oh Gosh," the Clovers' "The Gossip Wheel," the Preludes' "Vanishing Angel," the Danleers' "One Summer Night," the Sophomores' "Checkers," and the Raindrops' "Dim Those Lights." It was a Tip in Los Angeles the week of July 21.
June 13 found Robert and Johnny beginning another week at the Apollo, this time as part of a Jocko show. They appeared with Frankie Lymon, Ed Townsend, the Coasters, Jerry Butler & Impressions, Lee Andrews & Hearts, and the Kodaks.
In mid-1958, they had another session, at which they recorded "I'm Truly, Truly Yours," "Eternity With You," "Give Me The Key To Your Heart," and "Truly In Love."
In August "Eternity With You" and "I'm Truly, Truly Yours" were released. Once again, Old Town released it locally (in New York) first. When it showed signs of moving, Hy Weiss decided, in September, to issue it nationally. The record was reviewed the week of September 22, along with the Solitaires' "Big Mary's House," the Pentagon's "Silly Dilly," Vernon & Cliff's "You Came Along," the Vibes' "What's Her Name," the Arrows' "Annie Mae," the 5 Delights' "There'll Be No Goodbye," and the 5 Jades' "Rock And Roll Molly."
December 1958 saw the release of "Truly In Love" and "Give Me The Key To Your Heart." The disc was reviewed the week of January 19, 1959, along with Chuck Berry's "Anthony Boy," the Imperials' "When You Wish Upon A Star," the Coasters' "Charlie Brown," the Moonglows' "Love Is A River," the Moonbeams' "Cryin' The Blues," and the Rob Roys' "Pizza Pie."
Finally! A session that can be dated! On March 27, 1959, Robert and Johnny recorded "Dream Girl," "Oh My Love," "Wear This Ring," and "Bad Dan."
In April, Old Town issued "Dream Girl" and "Oh My Love." They were reviewed the week of May 11, along with Chubby Checker's "The Class," the Rays' "Zimba Lulu," Bobby Hendricks' "I'm A Big Boy Now," and the Plurals' "Good Night."
Around August 1959, Old Town released "Wear This Ring" and "Bad Dan." The record wasn't reviewed, and promptly faded from sight.
On January 21, 1960, "Hear My Heartbeat" and "Try Me Pretty Baby" were recorded (with violins and the Dread Chorus); they were released in February.
On April 15, 1960, Robert and Johnny were part of a Dr. Jive show at the Apollo. They shared the stage with the Clovers, Santo & Johnny, Ben E. King, Etta James, the Olympics, Wade Flemons, Billy Bland, the Vines, and Bobby Marchan & the Tick-Tocks.
In the spring of 1960, Old Town re-released the combination of "We Belong Together" and "In The Rain," which had been Old Town #1047 in 1957. Now the disc was given a different number (#1086). It staggered into the charts, reaching #104 by January of 1961.
On June 29, 1960, Robert and Johnny recorded "I Got You" and "Baby Girl Of Mine." These two tunes were released in July.
Later that year, on October 25, they recorded two more tunes, "Please Me Please" and "Jungle Party." "Please Me Please" was released in December, with 1956's "You're Mine" as the flip.
Sometime in mid-1961, the duo recorded "Togetherness" and "I Don't Stand A Ghost Of A Chance." In August, Old Town re-released "I Got You," this time coupled with "Togetherness."
On September 29, 1961, Robert and Johnny were part of a week of "Old Goldies" at the Apollo. Others on the bill were: Sonny Til & the Orioles, Little Anthony, Shirley & Lee, the Teenagers, Little Joe, the Valentines, and Charlie & Ray.
In April 1962, Old Town released "Wear This Ring" and "Broken Hearted Man," both of which had been previously issued (in 1959 and 1957, respectively).
By this time, Robert and Johnny had parted company with Old Town. Like many of Old Town's performers, Robert and Johnny stayed around for years, even without major hits (and, one assumes, major [or even minor] money).
1963 found Robert and Johnny at Juggy Murray's Sue Records, where they released "A Perfect Wife" and "Pretty Brown Eyes," which vanished without a trace.
Also in 1963, Old Town decided to reissue "Hear My Heartbeat" and "Try Me Pretty Baby," which had originally come out in 1960. This time, however, they were released on Old Town's Barry subsidiary.
And that was it. Another act that might have made it big if only Old Town had had proper distribution channels. Robert and Johnny gave us some delightful music: "We Belong Together," "I Believe In You," "Train To Paradise," and "Eternity With You" were all solid New York hits. Thanks Robert. Thanks Johnny.
1021 I Believe In You/Train To Paradise - 4/56
1029 You're Mine/Million Dollar Bills - 10/56
1038 Don't Do It/Baby Come Home - 2/57
1043 Broken Hearted Man/Indian Marriage - 11/57
1047 We Belong Together/In The Rain - 12/57
1052 Marry Me/I Know - 5/58
1052 Marry Me/I Believe In You (2nd version) - 5/58
1058 Eternity With You/I'm Truly, Truly Yours - 8/58
1065 Truly In Love/Give Me The Key To Your Heart - 12/58
1068 Dream Girl/Oh My Love - 4/59
1072 Wear This Ring/Bad Dan - ca. 8/59
1078 Hear My Heartbeat/Try Me Pretty Baby - 2/60
1086 We Belong Together/In The Rain - spring 60
1091 I Got You/Baby Girl Of Mine - 7/60
1100 Please Me Please/You're Mine - 12/60
1108 I Got You/Togetherness - 8/61
1117 Wear This Ring/Broken Hearted Man - 4/62
UNRELEASED OLD TOWN
Gosh Oh Gee
God Knows (first try at recording I Know)
I Don't Stand A Ghost Of A Chance
792 A Perfect Wife/Pretty Brown Eyes - 63
BARRY (subsidiary of Old Town)
1015 Hear My Heartbeat/Try Me Pretty Baby - 63