Otis Williams & The Charms©1999JCMarion


In August of 1953 the first notice was served on the public by an announcement in the trade press of a new record release on the Rockin' label ( a subsidiary label of King Records of Cincinnati, Ohio that operated out of Miami headed by Henry Stone). The songs were "Heaven Only Knows" and "Lovin' Baby" on #516. The record got some airplay especially in the Midwest, and sold slowly at first. Soon numbers were enough so that the record was moved to the DeLuxe label. Syd Nathan the head of King Records acquired the catalog of New Jersey based DeLuxe label the year before and now with The Charms record, the label was back in business and "Heaven Only Knows" was re-released as the first of the new DeLuxe sides as #6000.

The Charms were from the Cincinnati area and consisted of Ron Bradley and Donald Peak - tenors, Joe Penn - baritone, Richard Parker - bass, and lead singer Otis Williams. Late in the year the second record was released. This time the songs were "Happy Are We" and "What Do You Know About That"on DeLuxe #6014. Nothing much happened with that record and soon they tried again. Right after the new year #6034 - "Bye Bye Baby" and "Please Believe Me" seemed to disappear without a trace. In early April #6050 - "Quiet Please" / "Fifty Five Seconds" also barely made a ripple, and that made four in a row that missed the mark in making The Charms a noted R & B vocal group on the scene. In July of that year the group had their first indication of success with the DeLuxe release of "Come To Me Baby" and "My Baby Dearest Darling". The 'A' side of "Come To Me Baby" was a good seller in Miami and Atlanta, while the flip side was the preferred tune in the Midwest as it sold well in their hometown of Cincinnati and also in Louisville, Kentucky. The Charms seemed on the verge of a breakout hit.

In September of 1954 DeLuxe #6062 by The Charms was released. The 'A' side was a cover of the Jewels tune "Hearts Of Stone".This rarity of a R & B cover by another R & B act soon began to sell in big numbers, especially in the Southeast.Except for the West coast and the Northeast, The Charms version of the tune was a big seller. It became the first record to chart for the DeLuxe label in over two years and justified the faith that King Records had in the group by sticking with them during more than a year without a hit record. Later in the year The Charms version was selling well in the pop field as it went against competition by The Fontaine Sisters pop version. The Charms DeLuxe record of the tune got into the top fifteen sellers on the pop music charts, an unprecedented accomplishment for an R & B vocal group in the fall of 1954.The group was finally a hot commodity in the growing field of Rhythm & Blues music and they were soon booked for The Top Ten R & B Show which went out on tour in January of 1955. Others on the bill were The Clovers, Joe Turner, Faye Adams, The Moonglows, Bill Doggett, Lowell Fulson, and the Paul Williams band.

At the end of the year DeLuxe released "Mambo-Sh-Mambo" and "Crazy Crazy Love" on #6072. This record got swallowed up in the continued popularity of "Hearts Of Stone". Because of that failure, the group was quickly back in the studios for DeLuxe and went back to their winning formula of covering other R & B acts. For #6074, The Charms recorded their version of "Ling Ting Tong", a Capitol hit for The Five Keys, and "Bazoom I Need Your Loving", another cover of a Capitol hit, this one by The Cheers. The Charms out performed The Keys record on both the R & B and pop music charts, and also charted with the flip side. Six weeks later The Charms had another two sided cover record on #6080 - "Kokomo" a hit for Gene & Eunice on Combo,and "Whaddya Want", a Spark Records hit by The Robins. This time the formula was not very successful, as many savvy listeners became aware of the practice of covering records and many new converts to this style of music searched out the originals. This last possibility was certainly the case in New York and the surrounding areas. Alan Freed's refusal to play cover records at the time (really directed at White pop covers), nonetheless had the effect of shutting out The Charms. Up to this time I had never heard of the group and their versions of their hit records were unknown in the New York area.

This situation was about to change in mid march of 1955 as The Hearts recorded an original tune called "Two Hearts" on DeLuxe # 6065. Because it was not an R & B cover, the record got airplay in all major markets and quickly became a national hit. Heavy play by Alan Freed in New York propelled the record to hit status across the country. Turnabout came to The Charms as soon as the record went national,it was covered by Pat Boone for Dot Records and won pop music honors on the tune. As the next record was released - "When We Get Together" and "Let The Happenings happen" on #6087, The Hearts joined The Penguins for a "battle of the groups" in Detroit in mid May for a show to benefit that city's teenagers. The show was hosted by Alan Freed. Later in the month they appeared in South Florida with Floyd Dixon. By June of 1955, the label was extolling the talents of Otis Williams who was from a musical family. (His sister was noted gospel and R & B singer Marie Knight). Accordingly the group was now known as Otis Williams & His New Group, and then Otis Williams & His Charms, and there were also plans to record Otis as a solo performer. The first DeLuxe side under the new name (with some personnel changes) was #6090 - "Gum Drop" and "Save Me, Save Me".Downbeat magazine, a jazz journal of long standing fame, now recognized the appeal and importance of Rhythm & Blues music, and presented to The Charms an award naming them the top R & B vocal group of 1955. Once again as "Gum Drop" began to climb upward on the sales charts, Mercury Records Crew Cuts did the cover and topped the pop charts.

In September DeLuxe released a record by the original group of Charms - "It's You You You" and "One Fine Day" which immediately sank into oblivion. In October Otis Williams and the group are part of the Lucky Seven Blues Tour doing one nighters across the country on the bill with Earl King, Little Willie John, Jack DuPree, Marie Knight, and Hal Singer. In December Henry Stone parts company with King/Federal/DeLuxe labels and begins his own company Chart Records.One of the first signees for the new label are the original Charms, and they and Stone sue King over use of the name. So now it is officially Otis Williams & His Charms on DeLuxe,and the plain old Charms on Chart Records in Miami. The first side out for the group is on Chart #608 - "Love's Our Inspiration" and the oddly named "Love Love Stick Stov".

In January of 1956 Otis and his group appear at Washington D.C.'s Howard Theater along with Donna Hightower, The Heartbeats, and former Buddy Johnson vocalist Nolan Lewis. Then they go cross country for a series of appearances in L.A. including the 5-4 Ballroom and the Savoy. The DeLuxe recording of "That's Your Mistake" and "Too Late I Learned"on #6091, and #6092 - "Do Be You" and "Rolling Home" both did next to nothing. However with the next recording Otis Williams & His Charms hit it big once again. It was a cover record again, but this time a pop hit was the subject. The group did a mellow ballad version of the Cathy Carr waltz tune "Ivory Tower" and it did quite well, capturing many pop listeners as well as those younger fans of rock 'n' roll. This turned out to be the biggest seller ever for the group just missing the pop music top ten. Among the many personnel changes affecting the group by now was the interesting fact that a majority of the copies of "Ivory Tower" read as by Otis Williams on the label. Not to be forgotten, the original Charms now recording for Chart Records came out with #613 - "Heart Of A Rose" and "I Offer You". Soon "Heart" was doing well, getting into the top three R & B sellers in their home town of Cincinnati.

The follow up record to "Ivory Tower" was "One Night Only"/"It's All Over". The rocking "Night" got good support and airplay, and again was labeled as by Otis Williams. However the studio recordings and the subsequent air shots with Alan Freed show the full group of Charms on both tunes. The group played Milwaukee with The Magnificents and then to the Southeast and both Carolinas. At summer's end DeLuxe was still at it with #6097 - "Whirlwind" and "I'd Like To Thank You Mr. D.J.".Soon "Whirlwind" took off and became a hit in the South especially Memphis (a top ten seller) and New Orleans. In November, back to DeLuxe listing of Otis Williams & His Charms, #6098 is released - "Gypsy Lady" and "I'll Remember You". The last release of 1956 was December's #6105 - "Blues Stay Away From Me" and "Pardon Me".

By the start of 1957, The original group of Charms on Chart Records had faded away, but there was one last release from that label that adds to the confusion by being a session by the Otis Williams group - "I'll Be True"/ "Boom Diddy Boom Boom" on #623 which went nowhere. The current group with Otis didn't fare much better for a time. Deluxe #6115 - "Walkin After Midnight", #6139 - "No Got De Woman" / "Nowhere On Earth", and #6137 - "Talking To Myself"/ "One Kind Word From You" all were failures. The next release found the group back in their familiar guise-as a cover act with "United" on #6138. The cover outsold the original and got into the top five R & B sellers in the country. Two more DeLuxe records were released in 1957 - "Dynamite Darling" on 6149, and a two sided cover attempt - "Oh Julie" originally by The Crescendos, and The Dubs "Could This Be Magic", but both releases did not sell.

From 1958 through 1963, Otis Williams & His Charms continually released records on DeLuxe,and then King. They never had another hit, but kept at it. "Little Turtle Dove" and "Panic" both in 1961 barely made the top one hundred (one week each time), but even after the twelve year association with King Records was ended the Charms were still in there trying. A handful of mid sixties records for Okeh did nothing. Finally Otis Williams called it a career, in Rhythm & Blues that is. He re-invented himself as a country singer and some of his efforts were well received first as a solo on the Stop label, and then with a band called Otis Williams & The Midnight Cowboys.

Otis Williams & The Charms led a curious existence. Because of the group's predilection toward the cover record, they were seldom heard in the Northeast because of the tremendous influence of Alan Freed and his refusal to play the covers. But on an original like "Two Hearts" or a R & B cover of a pop tune like "Ivory Tower", the music of The Charms was heard throughout the land. In fact one of the only remaining air checks of vintage Alan Freed (from the spring of 1955) features "Two Hearts" and you can hear Freed with the cowbell, phone book, and on mike asides along with The Charms. That is my memory of the group, one which had a strange existence to be sure, but one that persevered for a dozen years as a R & B vocal group pace setter

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