Strong & The Diablos©2000JCMarion
The Diablos as a Rhythm & Blues vocal group first saw the possibilities of their talent in the halls of Detroit's Central High School in the early fifties. The first influences for the group were Clyde McPhatter & The Drifters, The Orioles, The Dominos, and The Midnighters (originally known in Detroit as The Royals). The members were lead singer Nolan Strong, Willie Hunter, Quentin Banks, Juan Guitierrez, and guitarist Bobby Edwards. When they felt they were ready, the search was on for a record label that would feature the young singers. They chose a small independent local label called Fortune Records, and the group and record company owner Devora Brown readied the first session for The Diablos.
The songs chosen for the group were "An Old Fashioned Girl"and the Brown written "Adios My Desert Love". The 'push' side "Adios" was an immediate area favorite in the motor city and enabled The Diablos to build a reputation throughout Detroit as a good up and coming vocal group. Fortune #510 was released in the spring of 1954. Any national recognition was not to happen for the group yet as the local favorites were back recording for Fortune in early September. The result of that session produced one of the landmark records in vocal group history. The smooth,haunting,almost ethereal atmosphere of the song has left listeners spellbound for 45 years (and counting). Fortune Records, not blessed with the resources of national distribution, counted on radio play and word of mouth to hype sales. If this record had come out a little over a year later when the rock 'n roll tidal wave was in full force, this tune would have been picked nationally and would have sold millions. Fortune #511 was one of those once in a lifetime occurrences and it has become the purple label 45 with the tinny sound that is the stuff of legends,
From the strength of their first two records and their recognition as a talented musical act, the group begins a three week engagement at Detroit's Madison Ballroom. They also fit in a guest appearance at the city's famous Flame Show Bar. Early the next year Fortune #514 - "Hold Me Until Eternity" and "Route 16" was released. Not nearly as breathtaking as the previous record, The Diablos followed that effort with "Daddy Rockin' Strong" and "Do You Remember What You Did?" for Fortune #516. By June the jump side was doing well in the motor city, but again was stifled on the national scene.The group was invited to Chicago in July to appear at a big R & B revue hosted by the "ol Swingmaster" Al Benson. With The Diablos were Floyd Dixon, The El Dorados, Doctor Jo Jo, The Orchids, Eddie "Cleanhead" Vinson, and the Red Holloway band. In August at a ceremony at the Madison Ballroom in Detroit, Fortune Records Devora Brown presents the group with a silver record award for their recording of "Adios". Radio personality Bristoe Bryant is the m.c. In the fall the group released Fortune #518 - "The Way You Dog Me Around" and "Jump Shake And Move". The ballad side ("Dog") was a beautifully performed song that got good airplay.
As "The Way You Dog Me Around" does well, the Diablos do a series of one nighters in the Ohio-Pennsylvania area with d.j. Eddie Saunders. The latest for Fortune builds and becomes the groups greatest seller getting on the national R & B charts and is a consistent seller through the end of the year, The Diablos end the year making the rounds of the Northeastern theater circuit stopping at Hartford's State Theater, New York's Apollo, Philadelphia's Uptown, Baltimore's Royal, and D.C.'s Howard. By this time Banks and Guitierrez had left and were replaced by Jim Strong and George Scott. "The Way You Dog Me Around" was a strong seller in the Midwest reaching the number one position in Cincinnati, Indianapolis, and number 2 in Louisville on the R & B charts. The group plays the Orchid Room in Kansas City and joins Charlie & Ray, Ursala Reed, and the Joe Morris band in Cleveland for two weeks at The Circle. Continuing in the Midwest, The Diablos are part of the big "Jam With Sam" show in Chicago with Sam Evans. Also on the bill are Ray Charles, The Daps, Morroccos, and Kool Gents.
"You Are" and "You're The Only Girl Delores" on Fortune #519 came out in spring 1956, but it seemed that there was still greater interest in the previous record. However "You Are" manages to do well in Kansas City (top five) and Oklahoma City (top ten). On Labor Day weekend of 1956 The Diablos appear in Windsor, Ontario (across the river from Detroit) in an unusual bill starring with Stan Kenton & his Orchestra. Supporting acts are The Nitecaps, and Four Dollars. In November "Try Me One More Time" and "A Teardrop From Heaven" are released on Fortune #522. At this time Nolan Strong got his greetings and was army bound. There was one more release by Nolan Strong & The Diablos taken from an earlier session in early 1955 and issued as Fortune #525 in May of 1957 - "Can't We Talk This Over" and "The Mambo Of Love". The record was soon forgotten and further recordings by the group would have to wait until Nolan Strong had his army discharge.
During this time and after Nolan got back together with the group, they released a number of singles staying with the little Detroit label. None of them were of any consequence but are prized today by collectors. In 1959 : Fortune #529 - "My Heart's Will Always Belong To You" / "For Old Time's Sake"; #531 - "Goodbye Matilda"/ "I Am With You"; #532 - "I Wanna Know" / "I Should Be With You"; #536"Since You're Gone" / "What Are You Gonna Do?" in 1960. Skip ahead to 1962 and The Diablos released #541 "Harriet"/ "Come Home Little Girl"; #544 "Blue Moon" / "I Don't Care"; and #546 - "Mind Over Matter" / "Beside You". In 1963, it may have been the start of the British Invasion musically, but The Diablos and Fortune Records plugged on. #532 - a recut of "I Wanna Know" with a different flip side called "If I, Oh I"; #551 - "Playboy" / "I Won't Be Your Fool";; #553 - "I Really Love You" / "You're My Love"; #556 - "It's Because Of You" / "Every Beat Of My Heart"; #563 - "Real True Love" / "Village Of Love"; #564 - "Are You Making A Fool Out Of Me?" / "I Want To Be Your Happiness" with Tony Valla & The Alamos; and #569 - "Ali Coochie" / "You're Presentable". After a decade as a vocal group, recording for the little Fortune label the entire time, The Diablos were done as a pop act. They would play revival shows now and then but that was the story of the group.
There were however two interesting sidelights that add to the history and mystique of the group. Their great recording of "The Wind" was in re-release in both 1960 and 1962 and picked up substantial sales for the time and the music. Many great fans of the music today are surprised to hear about the original Fortune release of the tune by The Diablos, kowing the song only by the great cover recording by The Jesters. The second event is the strange story of The Velvet Angels. Record collectors in New Jersey came by an a capella practice tape made in a hotel room, and all listeners were so knocked out by the sound that collector labels released the songs as by The Velvet Angels as the status of the songs under the name The Diablos would have been a legal quagmire to say the least. Three 45s on the Medieval label surfaced as did an LP on the well known Relic label. They were sensational sounds under harsh recording conditions (not too far removed from Fortune Records actually) but the music showed through. The Velvet Angels take on "Fools Rush In" is worth the price of the entire LP.
That then is the history of a most unique vocal group. They never had a substantial national hit, but unlike most groups in this situation, The Diablos had a prolific output of recordings. They are readily available on CD today as the Fortune name endures as does the name and fame of The Diablos. If only for their version of "The Wind" they would be a legend, but having produced so much more they remain one of the truly recognizable vocal groups in the history of this wonderful music. Sadly Nolan Strong passed away in 1977 a relatively young man, but he leaves a legacy of musical memories to keep his talent alive.
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