The Cincinnati vocal group scene in the 50s was quite robust, although seemingly few of the groups there ever got to record. Four that did were Otis Williams & the Charms, the Students, the Isley Brothers, and the Emeralds.
The Emeralds were originally friends from Bloom Junior High School, but by the time the group really coalesced, during the summer of 1953, some had already gone on to high school.
The members were: Cedric Cox (first tenor), Charles Godfrey (second tenor), Willis Miller (baritone), Clyde Giles (bass), and John McGue (guitar). Passing over a "bird-group" name, Charles called them the "Emeralds," after his birthstone. One day, Charles' older brother introduced them to tenor Luther Bond, who was about 17 at the time, somewhat older than the others (Charles himself was 15).
The Emeralds started practicing the music of the Dominoes, Clovers, Flamingos, 5 Keys, and Drifters. With arrangements of "Golden Teardrops," "Good Lovin'," and "Money Honey," they started playing the amateur show circuit in Cincinnati. Charles remembers their first professional performance being around November 1953 at the State Theater (where local groups got the chance to open for the big-name acts). That week, the "big name" was the Flamingos. (Needless to say, the Emeralds avoided doing "Golden Teardrops" that time.)
Ernie Waits, a DJ on WNOP, was the Emeralds' manager, and it was through his efforts that they recorded some demos and sent them off to Savoy Records in Newark, New Jersey. Savoy responded positively, sending a band to Cincinnati, so that the group could record locally (remember, they were all in school, which limited their ability to travel).
The first session was held on January 15, 1954, and four tunes were recorded (all led by Luther Bond): "See What You Done," "What If You," "Starlight, Starbright," and "You Were My Love." The first three songs had Luther Bond credited as author; "You Were My Love" was penned by Charles. However, while Luther got the writer credit, Charles says he basically only came up with the titles and a few lyrics, leaving the other members to finish and arrange them.
Matters were made worse when the group's first record ("What If You"/"See What You Done") was released later that month; the label read: "Luther Bond and His Emeralds."
There was instant resentment of Luther because of this. He was the last one brought into the group and all the others did the arranging, but suddenly it was "His Emeralds." Of course, it was really a decision that was made by Savoy, but it was to have interesting consequences.
Herman Lubinsky, owner of Savoy Records, announced the signing of the group on January 30. This seemed to be one of the standards of the recording industry: you announced the signing of the group after they had done their first session. This probably has its roots in announcements that were made about groups that ended up not recording for the label at all, for whatever reasons.
The record was reviewed in the February 27, 1954 Cash Box:
See What You Done ("B"): Luther Bond gives an extremely sexy reading of a quick tempo jump that should excite his audience.
What If You ("B+"): Bond oozes sex as he dramatically sells a slow emotional blues. His individual styling could make this side happen big.
"What If You" was reported doing well in Newark in March. (Newark's Roamers loved the song, and practiced their own version of it.) By April 3, it was a tip in Newark (along with the Moonglows' "Secret Love").
Of course, it didn't hurt to have a DJ for a manager; Ernie Waits featured the song on WNOP, which led to decent local sales.
What was it like for a young group that now had a record which could lead to better appearances? Says Charles: "At our age we couldn't go anywhere to promote it. We got kicked out of a lot of nightclubs." If they could actually get a booking at a place that sold liquor, they had to wait outside until they were on, and were hustled out again immediately after they'd performed. No one wanted to lose an extremely profitable liquor license by having minors on the premises.
In June, Savoy issued "Starlight, Starbright," backed with "You Were My Love." The record was reviewed in Billboard the week of June 26, 1954, along with the Platters' "Tell The World," Shirley & Lee's "Keep On," Jalacy Hawkins' "Baptize Me In Wine," the Jets' (Hollywood Flames) "I'll Hide My Tears," the Velvets' "I Cried," and the 5 Keys' "How Do You Expect Me To Get It."
This is the Cash Box review from June 26:
Following his successful initial release on Savoy, "What If You", Luther Bond and his Emeralds follow up with a two sider that bears the stamp of a potent sales-puller. "You Were My Love" is a slow pretty that lead Bond sings with a distinctiveness and quality that makes for much appeal. The group backs in fine style. The flip, "Starlight Starbright", is a slow blues, about which the same strong adjectives might be used. The group has a sound all its own, a very important asset in these days when every group sounds like every other. [I assume someone's mother wrote that.] With a proper promotional follow up this aggregation could break big.
On July 4, 1954, the Emeralds appeared at a picnic (at Patrylow's Grove Park in Kenilworth, New Jersey), sponsored by station WNJR. It ran from noon to 2 AM, and featured Roy Hamilton, the Orioles, Big Maybelle, Larry Darnell, the Bull Moose Jackson Orchestra, the El Tempos, the Joe Liggins Orchestra, the Dreams, Nappy Brown, the Orchids, Varetta Dillard, and the 4 Bells. Wouldn't you have braved the ants to have been at that one?
The week of July 31, 1954 found "You Were My Love" a tip in Cincinnati (along with the Charms' "My Baby Dearest Darling").
And then the cracks started to appear. Charles Godfrey was the first to get fed up with Luther Bond's top billing, leaving the group in late '54. "I was tired. I was going to let it alone." Charles' place was taken by tenor Wardell Fallon, who was on the Emeralds second session on March 20, 1955. They recorded another four songs that day (all led by Luther): "It's Written In The Stars," "I Won't Believe You Anymore," "Chica-Lee," and "I'll Love Again."
The first two of these were issued in May 1955, as the last Savoy record by the Emeralds. "It's Written In The Stars" was reviewed in Billboard the week of July 9, 1955, along with the Harptones' "Life Is But A Dream," the Platters' "Only You," Piano Red's "Red's Boogie," the Squires' "Sindy," the Sonics' "As I Live On," and the Griffins' "Scheming." Here's what Cash Box had to say that same day:
It's Written In The Stars ("B+"): Luther Bond leads his Emeralds through a sentimental softie in excellent fashion. The blues ballad comes off well and Bond may have his best seller yet.
I Won't Believe You Anymore ("C+"): The flip has bond and the lads rocking to a fast beat bouncer. Good dance side backer-upper.
On October 14, the Emeralds appeared at the Paradise Auditorium in Cleveland, along with the Hornets and the 4 Flames.
And then the cracks turned into a chasm. By the end of 1955, the Emeralds had split up (more accurately, everyone, except John McGue, left Luther). Willis Miller, Clyde Giles, and Cedric Cox then got back together with Charles Godfrey, and, with the addition of lead tenor Harold Davis (a neighborhood friend), they formed the Victorials. "We named ourselves after the car [the Ford Crown Victoria]; we must have spelled it wrong."
The Victorials were lucky enough to hook up with another DJ: Charles "Bugs" Scruggs of WCIN. He had them record some demos at the station and sent them off to Imperial Records. The April 21, 1956 Cash Box reported: "Bugs Scruggs (WCIN-Cincinnati, O.) has been managing the Victorials for about eight months and recently signed and cut the group with Imperial Records." Imperial responded by sending pianist Ernie Freeman to Cincinnati to hire some pick-up musicians and oversee a recording session in March 1956. Two tunes were waxed (both led by Harold Davis): "I Get That Feeling" and "The Prettiest Girl In The World."
In April, Bugs Scruggs began talking up his group, although he named their songs as "I Get That Feeling" and "Rank-A-Tank" (a reference to the lyric in "The Prettiest Girl In The World": "Way down in Rank-A-Tank, down by the river bank"). In September, when Scruggs was promoted to Program Director of WCIN, he was still talking about "Rank-A-Tank" (although it's difficult to understand why he (a DJ no less) just didn't read the label to notice that the title had been changed).
The record was released in July, and was reviewed in Billboard the week of September 15. Other reviews that week went to Clyde McPhatter's "Thirty Days," the Platters' "You'll Never, Never Know," the Delegates' "The Convention," the Dells' "Oh What A Nite," Huey Smith's "Little Liza Jane," the Barons' "Don't Walk Out," the Joytones' "Gee What A Boy," Charlie & Ray's "Mad With You Baby," and the Chestnuts' "Forever I Vow."
Also in July 1955, Luther Bond and the Emeralds played the Uptown Theater in Cleveland, along with Faye Adams, Beulah Bryant, and Gene & Eunice.
When their record went nowhere, the Victorials decided to call it a day, breaking up after about a year in existence.
Meanwhile, back at the Emeralds. Luther Bond and John McGue had recruited Willie King (tenor), Johnny Johnson (baritone), and Robert Trice (bass). On July 31, 1956, around the same time that the Victorials' record was being released, the new Emeralds recorded four sides for Cincinnati's own Federal label: "Old Mother Nature," "I Love You Baby," "I Cry," and "Six Foot Hole" (which was originally entitled "Dig Me, Dig Me Baby").
"I Cry"/"I Love You Baby" were released in September 1956 and reviewed in Billboard the week of September 29, along with: Big Maybelle's "Mean To Me," the Cadets' "Dancin' Dan," the Heartbeats' "A Thousand Miles Away," the Turks' "This Heart Of Mine," the Calvaes' "Mambo Fiesta," the Marigolds' "It's You, Darling, It's You," and the Teentones' "Love Is A Vow." The week of November 19 found "I Cry" a tip in Cincinnati. Here are the reviews from the October 6 Cash Box:
He Loves You Baby ("B+"): Bond and the group sing with the assistance of an echo chamber on this unusual deck. It is a slow beat blues with wailing that the echo gives an unreal sound. Deck bears watching.
I Cry ("B"): Luther Bond and The Emeralds blend softly on a slow, drifting blues ballad. Bond and the group have an appealing sound. Warm offering.
The November 24 Cash Box reported that "I Cry" was the #2 record on Big Jim Reed's WCIN show that week.
After that, the Emeralds were dormant for a couple of years. They re-formed around the spring of 1959, when Charles Godfrey rejoined Luther Bond, John McGue, Robert Trice and Willie King. The new member was tenor Jerry Rembert. (By this time, Charles says, they were good enough singers to let the songs dictate the parts each one sang. Therefore all except Trice were tenors, switching down to baritones as needed.)
They then hooked up with Ray Scrivener's Showboat label, based in Nashville, Tennessee (a joint venture with Apollo Records). In their first Showboat session, held in Nashville in mid-1959, they recorded "Gold Will Never Do" and "Jitterbug Jamboree." These sides were issued in August.
"Gold Will Never Do" was reviewed in Billboard the week of September 21, 1959, along with Dinah Washington's "Unforgettable," Jimmy Jones' "Handy Man," the Dells' "Dry Your Eyes," and Roy Brown's "School Bell Rock." These are the reviews from the September 26 Cash Box:
Gold Will Never Do ("B+"): Deeply expressive ballad chanting by Bond on his Showboat bow. A set of real touching lyrics should attract much attention. Can bust through.
Jitterbug Jamboree ("B"): Lively session here is tailor made for the dancers. Emeralds neatly back up on both cuttings.
In October 1959, possibly in reaction to the new Emeralds release, Federal finally issued the other two masters ("Old Mother Nature" and "Six Foot Hole") that had been in the can since July 1956. They were reviewed in Billboard the week of November 16, along with Jimmy Reed's "Baby What Do You Want Me To Do," the Falcons' "This Heart Of Mine," Roy Hamilton's "Ebb Tide," and the Fidelitys' "Walk With The Wind." The November 21 Cash Box had this to say:
Old Mother Nature ("B+"): Beautiful soft rock ballad of an inspirational nature. Bond convincingly communicates the meaningful message of the lyrics. Ork-chorus is a vital asset.
Six Foot Hole ("B"): Attractive rhythm affair is deliciously grooved with Bond vigorously leading the way over the swinging opus.
There was a blurb in the January 2, 1960 Cash Box that told us Ray Scrivener had "acquired sole ownership of Showboat Records". It went on:
Scrivener disclosed that the reaction to Showboat's initial release, "Gold Will Never Do" by Luther Bond and the Emeralds, has prompted him to begin a flying tour of the U.S. to set up distributorships for the label. The label's second release, an instrumental, will be out about the first of the year.
On January 30, 1960, the Emeralds appeared at the Pla-Mor Arena in Cleveland, along with the Sahibs, the Protones, the Latin Dabs (Debs?), and Dave Cox & His Sharptones.
The Emeralds got to play the Apollo Theater as part of a Dr. Jive show that began on Friday March 18, 1960. (I'm not sure why, however. They weren't a known act and didn't have a current record.) They shared the stage with the Coasters, the Isley Brothers, Jimmy Reed, the Cruisers, Fay Simmons, and the Clickettes; the show was held over for a second week. They also appeared at the Uptown Theater in Philadelphia, and the Cotton Club and the Rainbow Club in Cincinnati.
The Emeralds waxed another two masters at their final session: "Someone To Love Me" and "Should I Love You So Much." Although the Emeralds had brought along some songs that they wanted to record, both of these tunes were given to them the evening before the session. They had planned to go out on the town in Nashville, but instead, they had to spend the whole night in their hotel room, learning and arranging both songs, which were released in July 1960.
But in 1960, as Charles says, "We were getting older. It was time to let go of the dream and get employment. We weren't getting richer, just older." The early 70s found Charles and Willie King as part of the local Soul group Double O and the Demingos. Thanks to Bob Meehl, we find out that Charles Godfrey was the writer of both sides of the Emeralds on King ("Baby You've Got Me"/"Promises" - King 6078), recorded on September 4, 1966 and released the following year. Possibly they're the same group as the Demingos.
Luther made the Cincinnati papers on September 28, 1975 when he reported to the police that his wife stabbed him in the stomach during a fight. I guess he took it personally; he filed for divorce in November.
Luther Bond, lead voice of the Emeralds, had heart problems, and passed away in August, 1979. His obituary, in the August 29 Cincinnati Enquirer, claimed that he'd been the lead singer of "Luther Bond and his Imperials". John McGue died in March 1962 and Clyde Giles in September 1998.
The Emeralds had a nice sound and gave us some great music. I didn't realize when I started this, however, that there would be essentially three different "Emeralds" groups, with the Victorials thrown in for good measure.
Ads are, as usual, from Galen Gart's First Pressings series. Special thanks to Victor Pearlin.
1124 What If You/See What You Done - 1/54
1131 Starlight, Starbright/You Were My Love - 6/54
1159 It's Written In The Stars/I Won't Believe You Anymore - 5/55
12279 I Cry/He Loves You Baby - 9/56
1501 Gold Will Never Do/Jitterbug Jamboree - 8/59
12368 Old Mother Nature/Six Foot Hole - 10/59
1505 Someone To Love Me/Should I Love You So Much - 7/60
5398 I Get That Feeling/Prettiest Girl In The World - 7/56