Norman Fox & The Rob-Roys ©2001JCMarion


The Rob Roys were a Bronx based group that had its beginnings developed out of two other Bronx institutions - DeWitt Clinton High School and the earlier vocal group called The Harmonaires. This group had recorded "Lorraine" and "Come Back" for the Holiday label (#2602) in early 1957. Bob Trotman and Andy Lilly from The Harmonaires joined Bob Thierrer, Buzzy Helfand and Norman Fox to form a new vocal group named The Velvet-Tones. As they practiced their tunes and perfected their sound, Norman Fox emerged as the lead singer of the group's original material.


In the spring of 1957 the Velvet-Tones came in contact with Dave Rolnick and Don Carter who had offices on 49th street in New York City, and were the East Coast representatives for none other than the "Texas Godfather", Don Robey and the Duke-Peacock recording companies based in Houston. Duke-Peacock made their name on Black gospel and southern R & B like Junior Parker, Big Mama Thornton, and Bobby "Blue" Bland, but they recently had success with The El Torros and so were willing to try other vocal groups. After a tryout for Carter and Gelfand, a recording date was set up for late April of 1957 and the name of the group was changed to The Rob-Roys. A late change put lead singer Norman Fox out front and so the group was ready for their first go in the recording studio. The first tune to be recorded was an original written not by Fox but by Helfand, the bass singer for the group. The song was "Tell Me Why" and is not to be confused with a song of the same name recorded by the pop group The Four Aces in the early fifties. The plan by Carter and Rolnick was to release the group's single on the new Duke-Peacock subsidiary label called Backbeat Records. The proposed flip side of the record was a tune named "Audrey", and by late August the first release on the label was out on #501.


"Tell Me Why" was a typical infectious up tempo group song, the kind that was so prevalent in the mid fifties. The record got good radio airplay along the Eastern seaboard from Washington D.C, to Boston and was one of the highlights of the summer of '56. With public recognition and fame came the inevitable round of personal appearances and dee-jay record hops and radio station interviews. Norman Fox & The Rob-Roys were on that rock & roll magic carpet ride. While Backbeat Records played out all it could from "Tell Me Why", the group was ready for the all important follow up. The second side by the group was set up and featured another up tempo tune, this time written by members Bob Thierrer and Bob Trotman. It was called "Dance Girl Dance" and proved to be a worthy follow up to "Tell Me Why". The ballad flip side was called "My Dearest One" and the release was on Backbeat #508 in April of 1958. Again it was the vocal group national stronghold of Baltimore-Philadelphia-New York that gave the record its impetus to be another good seller for the group. Unfortunately again, the label could not turn the record into a national hit and the feeling of discouragement now began to set in among members of the group.


Whether it was inexperience dealing with a new teenage record buying public on the part of Duke-Peacock, or pooling their resources in a different direction, the group had enough of Backbeat Records and Don Robey. They traded on their name recognition and landed a record deal with a major label - Capitol Records. "Dream Girl" and "Pizza Pie" were waxed for Capitol on #4128, but by now in 1959, the first golden age of rock 'n roll music was at an end, and there would be a kind of malaise for four years until the second phase of the age would resurrect itself. Right now however, Norman Fox & The Rob-Roys world had come to a screeching halt.


Before Capitol Records could act on the group's behalf with their new single (which some time later showed up on Hammer Records #544), Don Robey's representatives in New York provided a contract with the Rob-Roys that voided any agreement that they had with Capitol or anybody else. The Capitol release was shelved and the group was now back with Robey and Backbeat Records. They were forced to record six more tunes for Backbeat Records which were never released until they found the light of day in the late eighties aimed at collectors. They were - "Lover Doll" with two different flip sides - "Little Star" on #499, and "Do-Re-Mi" on both #499 and #501 (again), and "That's Love" and "Rainy Day Bells" on #500.


Except for a couple of unreleased efforts in the early 60s, that was the end of the line for Norman Fox & The Rob-Roys. Three years after its original release, "Tell Me Why" had a second life in the form of a hit record by the Dion-less Belmonts for Sabrina #500. Once again the great tune captured the airwaves and the dancing feet of the areas listeners. One final bit of sad reality for the Rob-Roys is that on many vocal group compilation CDs today, it is The Belmonts version of the great tune that is included, and not their superior original. Well as Frank Sinatra used to sing . . . . ."that's life". But of course we know !

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