The 5 Dollars - Letters

Letters Resulting From The
Publication Of The 5 Dollars Article

[Letter from Andre Williams]

Dear Discoveries and Marv Goldberg:

I would like to clarify some errors and address some disparaging and inflammatory remarks made by your writer Marv Goldberg in his article in your paper about my group The five Dollars [last issue]. When you write about records and events from 40 or 50 years ago there's bound to be some mistakes, but I will not allow this man to denigrate me in front of my loyal fans with his inflammatory comments. If a writer doesn't like my music, I'm cool with that. To each his own. Bad rapping the music is one thing. Distorting facts to boost your story is another. Many times people believe what they read in print as the gospel truth.

First of all the story has me entering The Five Dollars later than I did. The Five Dollars were called The Del-Torros when I came to Detroit in the mid '50s. I met the group through their singer Eddie Hurt who was my brother-in-law. At first I sang with them on porches and I was not an official member. Mostly we sang on the porch at Eddie's house and that is where they asked me to join the group. Not after the Fortune audition like the story said.

It was also said that The Five Dollars made a trip to Chicago to audition for Chess Records before I joined. Again not so. I was there and it was Vee-Jay not Chess. We were sitting around Young's Barbecue wondering how we could get a contract and we decided to go to Chicago. We made up a scheme to say we were The Diablos to get in the door. A stupid teenage scam when you think about it. We made up our mind to go to Vee-Jay. Vice President and A&R director Calvin Carter was more than anxious to sign us on the spot. He told us to hold on a minute. He called Fortune and Mrs. Brown told him The Diablos were exclusively signed with them and had not been released. We were caught in our scheme. So we broke down and told Calvin the truth. We pleaded with him to give us a break. He said he liked us, however since we weren't straight with him he was scared to touch us. Calvin said our name didn't have a good ring to it and we should come up with something like The Five Dollars. It was Calvin Carter at Vee-Jay Records who named the group, not one of The Spaniels like the story said.

Your story says that I was brought into the group after The Five Dollars' audition with Fortune Records. Wrong. I was a full member during the audition. I sang second lead tenor on "Harmony Of Love." We did not have any songs at the audition so Eddie sang some Clyde McPhatter songs. Mrs. Brown did not seen to be impressed enough to sign us on the basis of doing other people's songs. Also Nolan Strong was already Fortune's lead tenor and there was no way to knock Nolan out of the box. We knew we had to come up with something different to bring any interest to Mrs. Brown's ear. "Harmony Of Love" was different. There was no words. It was like we were human instruments. We based it on "Baby I Need You" by The El Dorados. Richard Lawrence did "Doctor Baby" which he wrote and Mrs. Brown was won over. I credit Richard for being the one to get The Five Dollars a contract with Fortune Records.

The story says that I "couldn't hold a tune." I have never claimed to be a vocalist in the league of Clyde McPhatter or Nolan Strong. My role in the group has always been that of an entertainer. I knew that I could tell stories and come up with good lyrics. During that time the music industry was making a dramatic change. The high tenors were fading away with the public and we came up with something new. The story claims that I was "so bad on harmony that they told him to pretend to sing when he was in the background." Bullshit. You're going to name a cat "Mr. Rhythm" and then tell him to fake it? When Charles left the group after "So Strange" I took on the responsibility of singing the bass parts, the baritone parts and the lead parts, whatever the song called for. That's three parts. Bass on "White Christmas." Baritone on "I Was Wrong" by The Moonglows. Lead on "Going Down To Tia Juana." I handled three parts and was actually encouraged to do more.

Of course I talk in most of my songs. That was my thing. And today I can't do a show without my people asking for the talking songs like "Greasy Chicken", "Jail Bait" and "Bacon Fat" and that is a worldwide situation.

The article says "Devora stuck Andre out front." This is untrue. Promoters stuck me out in front because I was dancing and doing the splits and all the showy things. I was carrying The Five Dollars stage show like Sammy Sosa carries The Cubs. I am not bragging. My role in the group was to generate excitement. It was also said that "Andre acted like the boss." This was a situation that fell on my shoulders because I could communicate with the business people. If I "pushed my way to the front" who connived Little Eddie to do the same after I left the group? Groups at that time featured their most dynamic and visual member on stage whether he was the boss or not. Remember, Billy Ward was the boss of The Dominoes but it was Jackie Wilson and Clyde McPhatter who were in the spotlight.

It doesn't take a rocket scientist to see that Mr. Goldberg is tripping over his own stories. He says "Devora Brown and Andre Williams were making deals behind closed doors and ended up as part of The Five Dollars." I was already part of The Five Dollars before I met Mrs. Brown. If I couldn't hold a tune, what good could I be to an upcoming group? Ask any Fortune artist and they will tell you that it was impossible to make any deals behind closed doors with Mrs. Brown. Mrs. Brown was not a "behind closed doors" type person. What you signed was signed in stone. I can't think of too many artists in the fifties who could pick what was released. That situation didn't come into play until the independent producer came on the scene. Before that the label spent their money on recording you and they picked what they thought would sell. Usually we didn't know what was our next record until it shipped. Standard practice.

I'll correct a few more things before we get to the main deal here. We did not tour Canada. We went to play in Windsor for an Emancipation Day show and we were back home the same night. We never wore masks as the story said. We threw play dollar bills to the crowd not real ones like the story said. The paper says I did not appear on Don Lane's record. Untrue. I set up the harmony arrangement and sang baritone on it. It was also said that the group usually appeared without me and did not consider me part of the group. Lies.

About appearing under both our group names, the only guy who ever put The Don Juans and The Five Dollars on the same bill was a fellow named Frank Brown who wanted to double us up to make his placard stronger. Once we established both names, we would use The Don Juans to play for white crowds and Five Dollars for black crowds. Don Davis started playing guitar earlier than you said. He was with us both times we played at The Akron Armory in the fifties. The story says on "My Tears" it was The Five Dollars. Incorrect. There was no background except Gino Parks. The Dollars was nowhere near the building. I absolutely wrote "Bacon Fat" on the way to The Flamingo Club in Memphis. The words in the song tell it all. I didn't "borrow" it from anybody. It was written in the car with a bacon sandwich on my lap and finished up at Bobby Calhoun's aunt's house.

How and why would talk Berry Gordy out of taking on The Five Dollars in 1957? Berry was still struggling in the factory in 1957. How could I talk Gordy out of a group for a business he didn't even start yet? Why would I not pass a good connection on if I could? Ask Marv Johnson about this. Ask The Dramatics. Ask Laura Lee, J.J. Barnes or Edwin Starr. I have never held any animosity towards any member of The Five Dollars. As a matter of fact, I brought up the suggestion to Norton Records of reuniting the surviving members of The Five Dollars for my Bait And Switch CD.

The worst lie told by Mr. Goldberg is the outright slanderous allegation that I was "sneaking around" with the wife of our manager Sandy St. Amour and that forced him to drop the group. This is just insane. The fact is that Mrs. St. Amour did not want Sandy investing his money and his time in five black boys which she felt was a lost cause. Sandy would bring The Dollars around to his house in St. Clair Shores and his high class neighbors did not take kindly to us carrying on there. His wife was dead set against him working with us. She and Sandy's mother gave him an ultimatum to make him work full time in the family florist business. Sandy took the group as far as he could. He had no music business connections. He was a florist who helped us out in his free time. I have never in my life acted in a disrespectful manner toward Mrs. St. Amour. I never saw Sandy with a gun like the story said and he never accused me of improper actions. This incident happened only in somebody's dreams.

Mr. Goldberg makes a statement about the murder of my brother-in-law Eddie Hurt that says "Andre Williams gave out a couple of stories that are unsubstantiated." Mr. Goldberg, what are you implying? I was called by a member of The Five Dollars, either James or Lonnie, and was told that Eddie was shot to death. I'm surprised the paper would print such trash. If Andre Williams "messed up the group" why do The Five Dollars, Fortune Records and Andre Williams live in Legend Land today? Why is it I have traveled the world on tours answering fans' questions about The Five Dollars? I am proud of my contribution to The Five Dollars. Every member should be proud. Maybe Mr. Goldberg wants to stir up trouble in order to sell papers, but don't deny the fans the facts as they happened. If they ever bring back "The Twilight Zone" put down my vote for Marv Goldberg as the head writer.

Andre Williams
Chicago, Ill

[Letter from Charles Evans]

Dear Discoveries:

A month ago I had the opportunity to write about some of the events of my life, and for most of us if we go back over thirty or forty years we may have a date, or even a year wrong, but the events ["The Five Dollars" Sept. 2001 issue, disputed by Andre Williams last issue, DiscMail] happened as I said. I'm writing now in-response to Mr. Williams' letter disputing the events I mentioned.

It may very well have been Vee Jay Records and not Chess that we tried to sign with, but like I said I may have a date or even a record label wrong. The events I mentioned that involve Mr. Williams are true.

I refer you to the beginning of his statement where he still refers to himself as the founder of the Five Dollars, his group. We were a group of five (first photo shown in the September article) and had routines; had already written "Dr. Baby" and many, many more songs, when we met Mr. Williams. So why even after all these years does he still refer to us as his group? Perhaps he adopted us and we didn't know it. If anything we discovered him. I don't want to seem like I am bad-mouthing a fellow entertainer, and it sounds bad and It is. I only mentioned two good opportunities that Mr. Williams talked and manipulated us out of, there were many, many more.

I admitted that I was passive and easily lead; I was sixteen years old. All I wanted to do was sing. You must remember, while most of what happened [took place] I was not aware of while it was [going on]. I didn't know that Mr. Williams was making deals with the Browns to keep us at Fortune until a long time later, I also admitted that Mr. Williams could dance but could not hold a tune, which was true.

When he met us he followed us everywhere, always influencing Eddie, his brother-in-law. Him being Eddie's brother-in-law is why we tolerated him for as long as we did. We were like brothers until Andre came along, and as far as him begging Joe Weaver to let us sing backup, he was not there when Joe asked us to sing backup, and Mrs. Brown was glad we wanted to do it. The same when we, or should I say I, brought Marsha Renay to Fortune Records (forgive me, Marsha). Again Mr. Williams was not there or on the record.

On to Chet Oliver. His manager, Mr. Kennedy asked me if we would bring Chet to Fortune and back him on "Cool As A Cucumber," and again Mr. Williams was not present nor on the record. If you interview Chet or Marsha they will tell you that they never received ten dollars apiece from record sales. There were always excuses that the records were not selling, but the DJs were playing them on all of the stations. After months of excuses, Chet and Marsha never came back to Fortune again.

Mr. Williams mentioned in his letter that James or Lonnie called him when Eddie died. Mr. Williams has never been to a reunion of any kind with [any] of the Five Dollars, nor has he called, acknowledged or attended any of the three funerals of the Dollars. Mr. Williams also says that I left the group after "So Strange." I won't call him a liar, I'll just say his memory is not as good as mine, since that was the second recording of many others to come after.

As far as Mr. Bartolucci [Ron Bartolucci, who, although he was not connected with the 5 Dollars or Fortune Records at the time of these events, also wrote a letter to back up Andre Williams; he neglected to mention in his letter that he was involved in some promotional/management/recording deals with Williams], he has never met me, or any of the Dollars. Nor has he ever witnessed any of the events I mentioned. How can he jump from year to year with answers to my article? Because he is being spoon-fed his words. I'll just answer one discrepancy.

When we went to Chicago we had not met Sandy St. Amour, who later became our manager. That's why he did not accompany us to Chicago. Over the years I have read and heard [what] Andre told about the Five Dollars, and I have never had a chance to respond. I could go on for hours about [how] Andre and the Browns conspired together to keep us at Fortune. I don't want to nitpick on every issue, but even years later a conspiracy still exists with Mr. Williams and the Browns. In 1996 a CD by the Five Dollars with all of our songs [was released], which I might add sounds like practice tunes; most of them were released without our knowledge, and once again we have not received any royalties.

I don't blame Mr. Williams 100% for damaging our careers, for being a traitor to the group, only 40%. The 60% goes to the Browns. Oh, and let me say, no one can ask Marv Johnson anything since we buried him In 1993, another funeral you did not attend or acknowledge. After shedding Andre and the Browns we did not die, we sang many years after that at the 20 Grand, one of Detroit's most popular nightclubs, and some others. After 40 years James (now deceased), Lonnie, Jay Johnson, Joe Weaver and I are still friends.

Lonnie didn't think your letter was worth commenting on, I hope this is the last time you will use the Five Dollars name to keep yours in print.

Charles Evans
(bass/lead singer of the Five Dollars)

[Letter from Jay Johnson]

Dear Discoveries and Marv Goldberg:

I only know about the Five Dollars when Charles Evans, Lonnie Heard, and James Drayton were talking around me. They talked about how they were treated when Andre Williams took leadership of their group. It wasn't a pretty picture they painted. Whenever we talked about their experience with Andre, and my experience with Andre, there was a lot of similarities of events that occurred with them [and] occurred with me also. I was a bass singer in Andre Williams New Group. Other members included Bobby Calhoun (baritone), Steve Gaston (second tenor), Gino Parker-Purifoy (first tenor). Gino Purifoy was a natural born tenor with a very high range, but lost his range because of a problem he was having.

There has been a lot said and unsaid! But I am not writing this letter to destroy Andre's career or memory. Nor to discredit him in any way. I want to tell the facts. I will not stand by in the year 2001 and watch any history of my life In the 1960s be distorted by lies or untruthfulness by anyone. It Is a fact that I made little money as a member of Andre's New Group. I can't remember making over $25 a show; sometimes I got paid nothing! Andre always told the group we will get paid tomorrow, but tomorrow never came. I remember clearly when I was still In school for the summer of 1955; we left town and went to Memphis, Tennessee. We were to gig there for three weeks at a time. All I got was free room and board each time, and one meal a day; no money in my pocket. The money I got from my parents I always gave to Andre. He would say "get all the money you can to help pay for gas to get there." I was a teenager, only 15 years of age.

When Andre met my parents, he left an impression with them that we were going to be stars. They put me in his hands, believing he would guide me In the right direction. He not only fooled me but he fooled my parents also. I remember my father saying to me after I had been out on the road with Andre, "boy, you better go back to school and get yourself an education." You see, at the time I had dropped out of school and my father knew I had no money. He knew I wasn't making any money with Andre. I couldn't even give back any of the money my parents had given me when we went on the road. They wanted to know "was Andre taking all the money?" Or should I say, they knew he was taking all the money. In the article, Andre fights back! Andre has told the truth as a lie and a lie as it is the truth. How ugly? You see, Andre would drop the group over [at] Aunt Betsy and Uncle Emery's house. Upon Andre's arrival back at Aunt Betsy's home, we were all sitting around; Andre, myself, and the other group members. Andre said he had an idea (and] we all began to write this song together. The song was "Bacon Fat." We knew we needed money and this was a way we could make money if the song became a hit,

Regardless of what Andre says, he knows and God in Heaven knows that I wrote the line "Seen some people on the railroad tracks with their cotton sacks on their backs." Andre ended it with "We got a brand new dance called the Bacon Fat.") The other guys also wrote and gave their own [lyrical] ideas on that song. According to Andre, we were to share the writer's rights, but when we got back to town, we all went to the studio. We recorded the songs "Bacon Fat" and "Just Because Of A Kiss." We couldn't wait for the record to be pressed; when [it] came in we were at Fortune Records. We were listening to how [it sounded]; that's when I looked at the label and discovered that Andre had claimed sole writer rights. None of our names were mentioned. I asked Andre "How can this be? We wrote this song together!" He laughed and replied, "Don't worry Jay, you all gonna get your money." We were given no credit for writing the song with him.

I remember clearly one day James, Charles and Lonnie came in the record company, where we were at. They looked at us: The Group. Andre had not yet arrived. The Dollars said to us, "You stole our record!" I just looked at them and said, "We wrote this song in Memphis, Tennessee and Andre had come up with the idea." I did not know at the time that Andre had already recorded that song with them as they said. As our record made [a] success on the charts, engagements started us to working and touring; the pay was still very low.

The only show I remember performing that song [at), was The Duke Theater, located on Eight Mile Road. We were the star act because of our hit record. The Five Emery's wanted to be last so they were hiding. Andre came and got me and said "We are going to fix that, they will not be on the show hiding to be last." His idea was that we would be so good that they would not try to come behind us again. His plan worked. The people booed them after they sang their first song. They were saying "Bring back Andre and the New Group." We worked so hard, and I danced so much that I went out in the snow for some fresh air and got sick for a whole week. I had a touch of pneumonia and was hospitalized. This same week that I took ill, we were to appear and perform at a place called the Booker T. Theater, with Otis Williams and The Charms, Al Banks and The Turbans. Andre told the rest of the guys in the group, [that] since Jay is sick, he would have to do the show himself, Why when only one member, the bass voice of the group was missing because of being sick, why not let the other members go on? They way l see it, he wanted to make the money all by himself.

He was again breaking his own rule and word. He had made a rule that if one member of the group took sick, and they did a show, the member would get half of his pay, if not all. I did not receive any money, nor did any of the group members come and see me while I was in the hospital for a whole week.

When Bobby Calhoun came to see me a week later, I was at home. I told him and Steve Gaston "I quit!" My whole family said it was a shame no one from the group had come to see me while I was sick; they said I had been such a loyal group member. Andre knows that after I quit I went back to Pershing High School of Detroit, Michigan. Before I quit the group, while I was attending school, he would come to the school in a brown station wagon and pick me up. The doors of his car said Andre Williams And His New Group. We also had a guitar player by the name of "One Riff Magrif"; Andre fired him. The guitar player traded his car in so that Andre could get a car. I thought It was wrong when Andre fired him. He wouldn't even give the guitar player $100 so he could have money to put down on another car. He stated to Andre, "I had a car when I joined the group, now I have nothing."

I wrote all this to say, where Is this righteous image of Andre coming from? Why would Andre call Charles, a friend, a liar? Andre, tell the truth! We have all lived a long time and come a long way, there will be no more reply from me on this matter. You know, Andre, there is a lot I could have told, but I chose not to. Everyone In the group knows what really happened. My brother, be kind in your words to your former group members. Remember, we are not perfect and everyone makes mistakes. Maybe you just forgot over the years. I am not holding you captive of what you have said about others or what you have done. Andre, I did not write this to hurt or destroy you, only to tell the truth of what I remember. You may remember it differently. We all have good memories we can get out of our past music history. However, I forgive you of some of the things you have done to me and hope others will also. I am holding on dearly to my music memories of the past, learning from my past experience, and putting prayer towards my future promises. I suggest, my friend and brother, you do the same.

Jay Johnson
Detroit, MI

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