Fi-Tones - part one : Five Fabulous Voices ©1999JCMarion
The group that became the Fi-Tones Quintette started as so many of the R & B vocal groups had in the early fifties, trying their harmony riffs out on the street corners and hallways of their inner city neighborhood. In this case the locale was Boy's High School in New York City's borough of Brooklyn. The group was originally known as The Caverliers Quartet and consisted of Leroy Ramsey, Cecil Holmes, Marlowe Murray, and Ron Anderson. They were soon brought to the attention of Tommy Robinson, a Harlem music entrepreneur who operated the small independent Atlas label. The Caverliers Quartet actually recorded for Atlas and had one release in June of 1953 on Atlas #1035 - "You Thrill Me So" / "Dynaflow". Nothing much in the way of sales or airplay was in the cards for this recording and so the Caverliers Quartet history came to an abrupt ending. After a series of personnel changes, starts and stops, and some debate about direction and style, the new vocal group emerged and the Fi-Tones were born. The lineup now consisted of Marlowe ("Lowe") Murray, Cecil Holmes, and Ron Anderson from the Caverliers, plus new members Gene Redd and Lloyd Davis.
In the waning days of August of 1955, Atlas #1050 was released as the first single by the Fi-Tones Quintette (as the group was listed on most of their Atlas releases). The songs were "Foolish Dreams" and "Let's Fall In Love". The 'A' side "Dreams" was a solid ballad and one of the great group sides released during the magical year of 1955. The interesting sound of the group on the song made it a favorite among listeners of Alan Freed and Dr. Jive in the New York area. The trade ads for the record proclaim that "it is hotter than jail house coffee", whatever that means. The record got consistent airplay and steady sales through the fall and early winter of that year. Soon after the holidays in mid January of 1956 the followup to "Foolish Dreams" was in the record stores and on the air. It was "It Wasn't A Lie" and "Lots And Lots Of Love" on the very next release for Atlas Records on #1051. Another smooth ballad by the group, it became a local favorite of radio dj's in the East. Tommy Robinson this time was active in doing promotion for the record and the Fi-Tones managed to come in first place in a listener's poll of favorite vocal groups held by R& B stalwart, WNJR radio in Newark, New Jersey. That March the next record release for Atlas #1052, was the Fi-Tones Quintette and their treatment of "I Call To You" and the flip side was "Love You Baby". Once again a great ballad rendition of the group found many appreciative listeners and the Fi-Tones were becoming a consistent group of performers and solidifying their position as one of New York's favorites. In spring of that year the Fi-Tones appeared on Tommy "Dr. Jive" Smalls Rhythm & Blues Easter Review at the Apollo Theater in Harlem. Also on the bill were The Moonglows, Charlie & Ray, The Solitaires, Sugar & Spice, and an up and coming singer named Brook Benton.
In mid summer the next Fi-Tones release for Atlas was out. This one was "I Belong To You" and the unfortunately named "Silly And Sappy" on #1055. The group kept up their string of very listenable and successful ballads with this recording. As an indication of the ability of the group to find success outside of their home base in the northeast, "I Belong To You" was listed as the number seven record in Kansas City. In addition to the records the group was on the go making many personal appearances throughout the northeast in support of radio airplay. Creeping into this situation however was the notion by Tommy Robinson that his premier recording group was losing the hit making edge needed to increase record sales. He now began looking elsewhere for talent that would bring in better numbers for his small operation. By early 1957 the musical direction in America was changing and in the wake of Elvis' breakthrough and the popularity of the young high tenor lead vocal groups, the smooth ballads of groups like the Fi-Tones were beginning to lose out in prominence. At the end of the year it was obvious that their days at Atlas were numbered. The last release for the label was out at year's end on #1056 - "Waiting For Your Call" and "My Tired Feet". The performance while still an excellent rendition of the tune, seems to indicate that a change of scenery was in the offing for the guys. "Waiting" did not last very long on the airplay rotation and did not make a dent in the charts and so fans of the group were wondering if that was the end for the five. In late summer they had their answer.
In February of 1957 The Fi-Tones were part of a big show in Harlem for the benefit of the PAL. The show was held at the Savoy Ballroom. Also on the bill were The Bop Chords, Chips, Channels, Hearts, Johnnie & Joe, and many others from the jazz and rock 'n' roll fields. The Old Town label best known for their long connection with The Solitaires, signed The Fi-Tones Quintette. When the group changed labels they also changed personnel slightly. Lloyd Davis who had done so well as lead voice in some of the recordings left and was replaced by Reggie Barnes. It wasn't a long lasting or monumental pact, in truth it resulted in only one record, but it was one that was well worth the wait and well worth the effort by the group. It was Old Town #1042 - "My Faith" and "My Heart". The sure 'A' side "My Faith" was certainly one of the finest ballad records of all in 1957, and showed that the group retained their superior way with a romantic ballad even though this type of tune seemed out of synch with the times as they were then. This was the last great Fi-Tones record, although it was not the last one issued. By late in the year 1958 the group ended its association and so the Fi-Tones were no more. However, Tommy Robinson released a few records by the group that they had recorded previously. They were issued on his new label Angle Tone and were released in 1958 and 1959. For the record (pun intended) they were : Angle Tone #525 - "You'll Be The Last" / "Wake Up"; Angle Tone #530 - "What Am I Going To Do" / a re-release of "It Wasn't A Lie"; Angle Tone #532 - "I Found My Baby" / "She's The Girl For Me"; and Angle Tone #536 - "Deep In My Heart" / "Minnie".
That is the story of the Fi-Tones Quintette, five Brooklyn guys with a superior way with a ballad. They were not flashy, certainly not ground breaking, and were not trend setters in style or presentation. They were however consistent - in fact they were consistently excellent. For a period of two years in the mid fifties, they were among the top ballad performers of all the R & B vocal groups on the music scene. I can still recall one night all those years ago when I first heard "Foolish Dreams", and I thought how much I would like to be able to produce music as good as what I was hearing. To me at that time, that seemed to be the achievement of a lifetime. It has proven to be something a lot less momentous of course, but the music remains and endures, and becomes a wonderful key in unlocking pleasant memories of times gone by. They will never come again, but the soundtrack is there. In this case it is the CD entitled "Foolish Dreams" on Relic which includes all the Atlas and most of the Angle Tone sides plus some unreleased sides. You will have to find "My Faith" on an Old Town compilation CD. It is worth the search for the sound of the Fi-Tones Quintette : five fabulous voices.
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