There have been several groups called the Velvetones over the years. Probably the finest of these recorded for Coronet and Sonora in the mid- to late 40s.
The Velvetones were from Newark, New Jersey, and formed around 1943. An article in the Baltimore Afro-American dated August 18, 1945, mentions that the Velvetones are appearing at the Piccadilly Club (at Peshine & Waverly, in Newark). This is the same club that had recently given its name to the Piccadilly Pipers.
The gist of the article was that the Velvetones were Enoch Martin, Madison Flanagan, Walter Dawkins, and Sam Rucker. All except Enoch Martin had attended Newark's South Side High School; Martin had gone to Barringer High. All had been in glee clubs. In addition, Enoch Martin had attended Wilberforce University in Wilberforce, Ohio (he'd been an arranger for the Wilberforce Collegians dance band and the Wilberforce Singers) [read carefully, this is probably the last time you'll see the word "Wilberforce" five times in one sentence]. By the time of the article, in August 1945, they had been together for about two years. John Hammond, identified as a "noted talent scout," got Martin to come back east and put together the group. According to Madison, John Hammond (whom he'd never met) was a music critic from New York and was "a pretty good judge of entertainers." Their manager was Mort Browne.
In truth, the Velvetones formed as a chorus with about eight members (including three women). Most of them worked at the Office Of Dependency Benefits in Newark. However, they soon learned that there were too many of them to be commercial. By the time the dust had settled, the four remaining members were: Enoch Martin (pianist, arranger, and baritone lead), Madison Flanagan (tenor lead and maracas), Walter Dawkins (second tenor/baritone), and Sam Rucker (baritone and guitar).
A December 8, 1945 item in the Baltimore Afro-American says that they were held over "indefinitely" at a "Baltimore downtown spot," which impressed the writer so much that he didn't bother to name it (this would have been Doc's, which was reported in Billboard). They had just finished a 12-week engagement at the Piccadilly Club (which was probably the subject of the August blurb). The article claimed that they were ready to record "a series of hot platters" for Decca that very week. Madison confirms that they did have a session for Decca (on August 23, 1945), but that the songs ("I'm Henpecked" and "I Can't Stay Here By Myself") were never released. The photo that ran with the article (which I have a terrible photocopy of) pictures Madison Flanagan, Walter Dawkins and Sam Rucker on the top and Enoch Martin on the bottom.
A February 2, 1946 article in, once again, the Baltimore Afro-American, tells us that the Velvetones "have cut several late recordings" (whatever that means) for Coronet (at 1650 Broadway in NYC). The titles are "One Day," "Jason, Get Your Basin," "Easy Baby," "Heyboblebip," "Sweet Lorraine," and "Swing Out, It Don't Cost Nothin'."
All of these titles were released in March of that year, paired as follows: "One Day"/ "Heyboblebip," "Sweet Lorraine"/ "Easy Baby," and "Swing Out, It Don't Cost Nothin'"/ "Jason, Get Your Basin." An ad appears for all of them in the March 23 issue of Billboard. The list price was 79 cents (48½ cents dealer's cost, including tax).
Also in March 1946, the Velvetones appeared at the Three Deuces in New York City. Late April found them at the Oasis, in Lebanon, Pennsylvania, where they were held over for at least another two weeks.
Within a month or two, Coronet also released "Don't Say You're Sorry Again"/"Georgianna From Savannah" and "Singing River"/"I'm Gettin' Used To Love Again." One possible reason that I've never spoken to anyone who's actually seen a copy of the last Coronet record is that it was savaged by the Billboard reviewer on August 10, 1946. The review went like this:
With little attraction in their vocal blend and with lesser quality in their individual vocal timber [sic], the Velvetones, sepia male quartet, show nothing on the ball in this spinning. "I'm Gettin' Used To Love Again" is a listenable rhythm ditty, singing it for the most part in unison. The solo voice, banked by sustained harmonies, carries the ballad side, "Singing River." Nothing here, either in voice or in style, to hold attention. These sides show no promise for the phono ops [the jukebox operators who would order records to be placed in their jukeboxes].
After Coronet, Walter Dawkins left and was replaced by "Pop" Willie ("Willie" was his last name). He was a bassist and had a baritone/bass voice.
Only a short time later, on June 8, 1946, there's an ad in Billboard for Sonora Records (a Chicago company), listing "Pittsburgh Joe"/"It's Written All Over Your Face" by the Velvetones. The ad copy reads: "The Velvetones now present hit tunes for Sonora."
However, they still weren't impressing the Billboard reviewer, who tore into it on July 20 (yes, I know that this review came before the prior one). Part of what he had to say was:
Song ["Pittsburgh Joe"] is good stage material, but it's uncertain for jukes requiring strict listening attention. Reverse side here ["It's Written All Over Your Face"] is a ballad, crooned legit [not a novelty number in any way] by baritone lead [poor Madison has just had his voice lowered]. Lad fluffs completely on high notes, piano intro and stanza are badly "miked" and finale is fuzzy. Not juke material.
Then there's a 1946/7 ad for the Velvetones on Sonora. "Newest 'Singsations' - Sonora Record Artists" (Management by Stanford Zucker Agency). "Singsations" or not, I spoke with Stanford Zucker himself in the 70s and he didn't remember them at all!
A few months later, Sonora released "It Just Ain't Right," backed with the cute "Reverse The Charges." It took around a year for another release, and then they had two in the same month. September 1947 saw Sonora issue "Ask Anyone Who Knows"/"I Want Some Bread, I Said" and "Don't Bring Me No News"/"Can You Look Me In The Eyes."
At this point, there were some more personnel changes. John Parks replaced Sam Rucker as guitarist and Musline "Muzzy" George replaces "Pop" Willie as bassist.
This group had one release for Super Disc, in April 1948. Super Disc was originally a New York label, but had relocated to Washington, D.C. in 1947. Soon after the Velvetones release, it was acquired by MGM. Actually, as you'll soon see, anyone that the Velvetones recorded for stood a good chance of being acquired by another company.
IIn July 1948, the Velvetones cut a single song for an AFRS Jubilee disc: "'S Wonderful." AFRS discs were cut to be played over Armed Forces Radio stations for the entertainment of our soldiers.
In September 1948, Rondo Records of Chicago purchased 80 masters from the Sonora catalog. In February 1949, for some reason, they reissued "Don't Bring Me No News"/"Can You Look Me In The Eyes." In November 1948, Savoy Records acquired 108 Coronet masters.
January 17, 1949 saw the Velvetones go into the Show Boat in Philadelphia for two weeks. They had just closed the holiday show at the Hollywood Show Bar in Pittsburgh, after a successful engagement in California. The members were still Enoch Martin, John Parks, Muzzy George, and Madison Flanagan.
And then there was a release on Manor in July 1949. I don't know the reason for this, but one side was the Coronet master of "Jason, Get Your Basin." The flip was James Whitcomb & 5 Scamps, doing "Fine Like Wine." Both sides were credited to the "Velveteers." The really amazing thing is that the 5 Scamps' side was current, having only been released, on Columbia, the month before. This is a true mystery record.
The last mention of the Velvetones was in the July 16, 1949 edition of the Baltimore Afro-American, which said that they were playing their fifth engagement at Gene's Musical Lounge in Greenburg, Pennsylvania. It shows the 1946 Sonora photo and claims that they're Flanagan, Dawkins, Rucker, and Martin (however, that photo contained "Pop Willie," not Dawkins [the personnel were identified for me by Sam Dawkins' widow]). Mort Browne is still their manager. Found two more mentions: They were at the Cat And The Fiddle, in Troy, New York, from mid-December 1949 to early January 1950 and at the Town House, in Utica, New York, in June 1950.
The Velvetones might have had more success if they'd been on a larger label, but at least they seem to have been working steadily for several years. By the end of 1949, however, bookings had pretty much dried up. Madison Flanagan and Enoch Martin both survived until the end. By the time they broke up, Muzzy George had been replaced by "Bass" McAnn. John Parks was gone too, but Madison couldn't remember his replacement.
You would think that the story ended there, but in 1972, someone released "One Day"/"Don't Say You're Sorry" as a bogus Savoy record (#991). These are the original Coronet cuts (remember that Savoy had purchased the Coronet catalog in late 1948).
NOTE: There's a Velvetones group that had two releases on Columbia in 1950. A totally different group, their members were: Herman Bell, Wallace Caldwell, Danny Gibson, Milton Hayes, and Togge Smythe. Since Mort Browne seems to have owned the name, it's possible that he put together another Velvetones group.
In 2006, as far as he knows, Madison is the only member still alive (at age 85). Enoch Martin died in 2002 (at 80) and Sam Rucker passed away in 1997 (he was 73).
Special thanks to Fanchon Rucker, George Moonoogian, Neil Hirsch, Todd Baptista, and Ray Funk. Discography by Ferdie Gonzalez.
DECCA (recorded 8/23/45; both unreleased; master numbers given)
73010 I'm Henpecked (??)
73011 I Can't Stay Here By Myself (??)
1 One Day (MF)/Heyboblebip (EM) - 3/46
2 Sweet Lorraine (MF)/Easy Baby (EM) - 3/46
3 Swing Out, It Don't Cost Nothin' (MF)/Jason, Get Your Basin (EM) - 3/46
4 Don't Say You're Sorry Again (MF)/Georgianna From Savannah (EM) - 46
5 Singing River (??)/I'm Gettin' Used To Love Again (??) - 46
3010 Pittsburgh Joe (EM)/It's Written All Over Your Face (MF) - 46
3012 It Just Ain't Right (EM)/Reverse The Charges (EM) - 46
2014 Ask Anyone Who Knows (MF)/I Want Some Bread, I Said (EM) - 9/47
2015 Don't Bring Me No News (EM)/Can You Look Me In The Eyes (MF) - 9/47
1055 Roberta, Get Out Of That Bed (EM)/Find My Baby Blues (EM) - 4/48
283 'S Wonderful (??) - 7/48
[remaining titles by different artists]
RONDO (rerelease of Sonora sides)
1554 Don't Bring Me No News (EM)/Can You Look Me In The Eyes (MF) - 2/49
MANOR (as the Velveteers; see the text)
1190 Jason Get Your Basin (EM; the Coronet master)/[Fine Like Wine - James Whitcomb & 5 Scamps] - 7/49
SAVOY (these are Coronet sides, with a phony Savoy number)
991 One Day (MF)/Don't Say You're Sorry (MF) - 72
LEADS: MF = Madison Flanagan; EM = Enoch Martin