The Packards are another of the myriad small groups that came and went in the New York music scene of the 50s. Usually, they sank without a trace. The Packards, however, had a slightly more lasting impact.
In the fall of 1955, Milton Turner (second tenor) and Ray Hayes (bass, baritone, and piano) were students at Benjamin Franklin High School on 116th Street in Manhattan. Milton had relatives who lived further uptown in Washington Heights (around 155th Street and Amsterdam Avenue) and, while visiting them, he met Bill Fredericks (baritone and bass) and Bill Atkins (baritone), both of whom attended a vocational high school. Another acquaintance was first tenor Clive Williams, who was older than the others. Eventually, they formed the inevitable group and, because everyone seemed to choose a bird name or a car name, they called themselves the Packards (after the luxury automobile).
They practiced a lot in Washington Heights, probably trying to impress the neighbors (Eartha Kitt owned a boutique on 155th Street and Duke Ellington lived on 158th). They modeled themselves after the Flamingos, the Clovers, and the Willows (with whom Milton Turner worked for a few weeks).
Of course they had their own versions of the hits of the day. Milton remembers working on "Speedoo" and "Church Bells May Ring."
For management, they turned to Joel Weeks, who owned both a candy store and a Cadillac. As ironic as it sounds, the Packards loved to be driven around in the Cadillac!
Finally, in the early spring of 1956, Weeks hooked them up with the owners of the Pla-Bac label. ("Two black guys from the Bronx had that label," remembers Milton). One of them was bandleader Paul Boyers.
The Packards had two songs that they wanted to record: Ray had written "Dream Of Love" and "Ding Dong" (the latter with Milton). Pla-Bac was willing to record those, but also gave them two other songs to learn, both written by "Scott and Smith": "Ladise" and "My Doctor Of Love." That was the deal: if they wanted the recording session, they had to record those songs. "We didn't even care for the songs and didn't practice them much," said Milton.
On April 6, 1956, they duly reported to the studio (which was in Boyers' house) at around 9:00 in the evening to start recording the four songs. All the leads were by Milton.
The only instrumentation on the session was Ray Hayes' piano; the Paul Boyers Band was overdubbed later on. But there was a problem. Two, in fact. First, Bill Fredericks, who was doing bass (Ray had moved up to baritone), couldn't get the part right. Second, they hadn't rehearsed as well as they should have.
The results show. By the time the session had concluded (around daybreak the next morning), the only songs with some promise were the ones the guys had worked on themselves. [In fact, many collectors consider "Ladise"/"My Doctor Of Love" to be one of the worst two-sided releases ever.]
"Ding Dong"/"Dream Of Love" were released sometime in the spring of 1956, but Pla-Bac didn't send them out for review. They were followed soon after by "Ladise"/"My Doctor Of Love," also not reviewed.
Surprisingly, "Ding Dong" started making a bit of noise in the New York market, although there couldn't have been much promotion involved with a label this size. However, it was enough so that Joel Weeks made a deal with Hy Weiss of Old Town Records to pick up the masters. Thus, "Ding Dong" and "Dream Of Love" were reissued, in August 1956, on Old Town's Paradise subsidiary. [This had inadvertent consequences later on. In May 1958, Old Town purchased "Jingle Jingle" by the Tremaines, which had already appeared on the local Cash and Val labels. The first Old Town release was fine, but for some reason they reissued it in June, with the Tremaines renamed the "Packards." This has led many over the years to believe that there's a link between the "Ding Dong" Packards and the "Jingle Jingle" Tremaines. There isn't.]
For the second time, "Ding Dong" wasn't sent out for review. It would have been competing with Old Town's "Tonight" (the Supremes), "The Angels Sang" (the Solitaires), and "Love You Baby All The Time" (Gwen Edwards and the Co-Eds).
In September 1956, Hy Weiss trumpeted that he was taking over the Packards masters, to be issued on Paradise. It probably slipped his mind that they'd already been released the prior month. However, let's look at how the September 1 Cash Box saw this: Hy Weiss ... has also taken over a master from Playback [sic] which will be released immediately. It is "Dig Dong" [sic] by the Packers [sic], and will be out on the Paradise label. At least they spelled Hy's name right.
The Packards had very few paid gigs. They did record hops at schools, mostly in New Jersey, as well as Palisades Amusement Park. They worked a few clubs in Mount Vernon and Yonkers (immediately north of New York City), but that was about it.
Finally, in 1957, Clive Williams quit. He was much older than the others and had family responsibilities that he couldn't meet if the group wasn't making any money. To replace him, the guys brought in Ray Hayes' wife, Barbara.
But, in truth, the rest of the Packards couldn't sustain the lack of income either and started drifting apart. Ironically, Packard automobiles would go belly-up at around the same time.
At the tail end of the Packards' existence, Milton, Ray, and Barbara were approached by Connie McGill (a man), who was interested in forming a group. The result was a quartet called the Visions. They practiced a lot (including a song called "Take It Like A Man"), but finally, in early 1961, Barbara Hayes left. She was replaced by Henry "Slick" Hill and an additional fifth member (whose name Milton can't remember; possibly it's Richard Raves). Milton didn't last too much longer (nor apparently did the other member). The 5-man photo of the Visions says "Edge Recording Stars," but it's an old photo of the group. Milton was gone by the time of the Edge recordings ("Take It Like A Man"/"My Love Will Never Change," released in June 1962). Connie McGill and the Visions (the trio of Connie, Henry, and Ray) went on to record many Soul sides for many labels throughout the 60s.
After that, Milton joined Bobby Lester's Moonglows (with Alexander "Pete" Graves and Doc Green [note that this is not the Dock Green who sang with the 5 Crowns and the Drifters]). After Milton and Bobby Lester had left them, Pete Graves added Bearle Easton and George Thorpe (both of whom had been in the Red Robin Velvets) and the group recorded for the Crimson, Lana, and Times Square labels.
Then, Milton hooked up with Johnny and Timmy Ridley and the three of them recorded some sides for Atlantic as the Ridley Brothers. However, none of these was ever released.
Meanwhile, Bill Fredericks hadn't been idle. He'd become a cabaret singer, specializing in Drifters songs, so when the Drifters needed a new member at the end of 1966, it was a natural fit. He'd remain with them through 1974, spanning their last records on Atlantic and their relocation to England. When he left the Drifters, he became a soloist, appearing all over Europe and releasing a few records on Polydor and some other labels in the late 70s.
One of the things that Bill Fredericks did while with the Drifters was to bring in Milton Turner to replace the departed Charlie Thomas. Milton stayed two years, from December 1967 to late 1969, by which time, the fortunes of the Atlantic Drifters had pretty much bottomed out.
Turning to another branch of the entertainment industry, Milton was an extra in two 1973 movies: "Black Caesar," and it's sequel, "Hell Up In Harlem."
Of the Packards, Bill Fredericks passed away in 1999, at age 57. The whereabouts of Clive Williams and Bill Atkins are unknown. Ray Hayes is still around in 2007, as is Milton Turner, who's still in the music business, working for B-Boy records in marketing and promotion.
105 Ding Dong/Dream Of Love - 56
106 Ladise/My Doctor Of Love - 56
PARADISE (subsidiary of Old Town)
105 Ding Dong/Dream Of Love - 8/56