Too Young Too
Soon - The Mello-Moods ©2000 JCMarion
Whenever true long time fans of the sound of the Rhythm & Blues vocal groups of the early fifties get together, talk will almost always get around to the first of the "bird" groups, the Four Buddies, and The Mello-Moods. The "Moods" just seemed to have that certain something that defined the era and the sound of those years, and hearing once again that sweet soulful sound of the group brought back so many memories of the time. They made very few recordings and their records did not set any sales marks or create a rush of imitators such as their heroes The Orioles, but they just had that something that made them an important part of the scene in the early part of the decade of the nineteen fifties. Probably the most amazing part of the history of this group is that they were barely into their teenage years when they began to get noticed as an accomplished act and interpreter of music.
The Mello-Moods were in junior high school when they began their most surprising career in the year of 1950. The original members of the group were Ray Wooten on lead, tenor voices Bobby Williams and Bobby Baylor, Monte Owens on baritone, and the bass voice was Jimmy Bethea. Through neighborhood contacts, they came to the attention of a fledgling local recording businessman named Bobby Robinson. In 1951 he was attempting to launch his own company to be called Red Robin Records. He saw promise in the young group and originally named them The Robins after his new label, but that name fell by the wayside. When news of the successful West coast group with the same name got around, the teenaged vocalists became The Mello-Moods. Before long the first recorded effort hit the streets on Red Robin #105 - "How Could You" and "Where Are You (Now That I Need You)" backed up by the organ-sax-drums trio of Eddie Schubert Swanston. The earnest and heartfelt performance of the group scored with the public, and soon the record was receiving decent airplay in New York City and Philadelphia. By the end of 1951, the record was a decent seller on the East coast. By January of 1952, Jubilee Records which had a distribution deal with Bobby Robinson, was advertising the record as a surprising "sleeper" hit in the trade papers. Jerry Blaine of Jubilee also says that the Mello-Moods along with the Orioles, are bringing big business to the label. This was quite heady stuff for the teens who were now being talked about in the same breath as their idols from Baltimore.
The first outing for the group charted nationally and the future seemed bright as the quintet assembled for a recording session to follow up their maiden effort. The boys and Bobby Robinson failed to agree on a worthwhile set of tunes, and so two songs recorded at their original date in front of the microphone was used in the second Red Robin recording which used a backtracked release number even though it had a later date of issue. Red Robin #104 coupled "I Couldn't Sleep A Wink Last Night" and "You Just Can't Go Through Life Alone". At this time the fortunes of the group took a left turn, which is partially due to the fact of many different personalities trying to get the group to follow their path. First there was of course Bobby Robinson, and then there was Jimmy Keyes who acted as the quintet's manager. Keyes was a member of the pioneering group, The Chords, which caused him to divide his time and his loyalties. The next person in the guise of a manager for the group was writer, producer, and radio personality Joel Turnero. Another person that had some input at the time was up and coming radio personality Hal Jackson. During this great period of dissatisfaction, Bobby Baylor left the group, and Turnero took the group away from Bobby Robinson.
In late 1952, it was announced that The Mello-Moods were now signed to record for Par Records. The label was owned by Bob Weinstock and was a new R & B offshoot of the jazz label Prestige Records. It soon released records by Brownie McGhee and a young King Curtis among other lesser known R & B performers. By the time The Mello-Moods were back in the recording studio, the decision was made to end Par Records, and so the group would be recording for the Prestige label. The first effort was #799 - "Call On Me" and "I Tried And Tried And Tried", with instrumental backing by Teacho Wiltshire and his combo. The label tried to support the side but seemed out of place lumped in with releases by Miles Davis, Sonny Stitt, and James Moody, as Rhythm & Blues performances. The "Moods" tried again later that year with Prestige #856 - "When I Woke Up This Morning" and "I'm Lost". Once again to most of the listeners who appreciate the sounds of the times, it came off as a superior effort, but was lost among all the other R & B releases of the day and did not sell nor get any appreciable amount of air play on local radio.
By mid 1953, the remaining four members of the group felt that their three plus years of effort as a musical act had given them little in the way of professional or monetary satisfaction. They decided to call it a career and so the great sound of The Mello-Moods came to an end. I had never heard of the group as their day in the spotlight as brief as it was, came before the astounding reach of the music and they did not have the opportunity to present their talent to a much wider audience than was available in the early fifties. Fifteen years after their demise I was listening to New York's Time Capsule Show when I heard an interview with Ray "Buddy" Wooten, and it was interspersed with the entire output of records by The Mello-Moods. It was quite a revelation hearing that classic group sound, and ever since I have tried to find others in that same situation, those that made wonderful music that too often went largely unheard. It is most important that their efforts are now acknowledged and they receive their just place in the history of this music. The Mello-Moods were gone in 1953, but the spirit of their too short existence lived on in the formation of The Solitaires.
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