Varetta Dillard ©1999JCMarion
In October of 1951 Savoy Records boss Herman Lubinsky signs Varetta Dillard to a recording contract. The first release on the label is Savoy #822 "Please Come Back To Me" / "Love And Wine". Not much happened with that first outing, and in February of 1952, "Hurry Up" / "Please Tell Me Why". In March Varetta does one week at the Apollo Theater in Harlem. Next for her is a series of one nighters throughout the South with the band of Oran "Hot Lips" Page and the Five Keys. In mid May "A Letter In Blues" / "Easy Easy Baby" is the next Savoy release. In the South "Easy" gets considerable airplay. From that jump in plays and sales Varetta gets two weeks at New York's Club Baby Grand, a week at the Howard Theater in Washington D.C., and a an appearance at Detroit's Flame Show Bar. "Easy" is now subject to the pop cover, this time by Eileen Barton on Coral. A few days after Labor Day Savoy releases "Them There Eyes" / "You Are Gone". One side of the record "Eyes" gets good airplay in the East and Midwest. In late November a Rudy Toombs song, "I Cried And Cried" is out on Savoy b/w "Double Crossin' Daddy". In an attempt for something new, Savoy teams Varetta with blues singer H-Bomb Ferguson for an end of year release - "Tortured Love" / "Give It Up".
In January of 1953 Varetta is back in Detroit appearing at the Flame Show Bar. There are also plans to record in the motor city. A tour is booked to travel through the South and Midwest which also features Larry Darnell and Wynonie "Mr. Blues" Harris. "Getting Ready For My Daddy" / "Three Lies" is the latest pairing released by Savoy in late February. In April Varetta does a week at the Club Downbeat in Providence, Rhode Island. In May "Mercy Mr. Percy" / "You're No Kinda Good" is out on Savoy. In May Varetta appears in Atlantic City. Meanwhile "Percy" seems to be the big hit record that has so far eluded her and Savoy reports it is selling well in all areas. "I Love You" / "I Love You Just The same" is released to try and ride the coat tails of "Percy". In late October Varetta is again teamed up with Wynonie Harris this time for a week at the Apollo Theater. Even though "Percy" is still selling well by late November, Savoy releases "I Ain't Gonna Tell" / "My Mind Is Working".
1954 opens for Varetta Dillard with a two week set at the Royal Peacock in Atlanta. However not much more is heard from Varetta until the summer when she appears at a WNJR show and picnic in New Jersey over the July 4th weekend. Savoy issues the first release in some time by Dillard "Send Me Some Money" / "Love". Later in the year she plays the Club Baby Grand in Harlem, and then takes time off for impending motherhood. Soon after the tragic death of singer Johnny Ace on New Year's Eve 1954, Varetta records a tribute eulogy on Savoy called "Johnny Is Gone". It immediately takes off and is the first charted record by the singer in more than a year and a half. It is by far the most popular of the number of recorded tributes to Ace, and it sells well across the country. In March Dillard is part of George Woods "Rock & Roll 55" show in Philadelphia, and then appears at another all star show at St. Nicholas Arena in New York. The very first in person rock and roll show in New Jersey is presented by WNJR deejay Danny "Cat Man" Stiles in Passaic on Memorial Day weekend, and the star is Varetta Dillard. Mainly because of the sales performance of Varetta Dillard and Nappy Brown, Savoy Records has its biggest quarter in its history for the first three months of 1955. In a throwback to "Percy", Savoy releases "Promise Mr. Thomas", and the flip is "You're The Answer To My Prayer". The last record release of the year by Savoy is "I'll Never Forget You" and "I Can't Stop Now".
The first event to take part in 1956 for Varetta Dillard is her leaving her label of five years, Savoy. Her new label is the RCA subsidiary label Groove. her first outing for the new label is "Mama Don't Want" and the flip side is a cover of Ruth McFadden and The Royaltone's "Darling Listen To The Words Of This Song" originally on Old Town. During the spring Varetta appears at a number of in person shows with radio personality Ramon Bruce. During the summer Groove releases "Cherry Blossom" and then "Got You On My Mind" / "Skinny Jimmy" but both go nowhere. Dillard tries to capture her past success on the tribute eulogy to actor James Dean who dies in a car crash. "I Miss You Jimmy" is paired with "If You Want To Be My Baby". By the end of the year Varetta Dillard has one more try with (appropriately) "One More Time" and "I Can't Help Myself". In 1957 Varetta is moved to the parent label RCA Victor when the Groove label is disbanded, and does a session with R & B greats Lieber and Stoller on their first RCA production. "Time Was" and "I Got A Lot Of Love" is released on RCA #6936. In October of 1957 "Undecided" and "That's Why I Cry" on #7057. In November Varetta joins The Jive Bombers on the Joe Bostic television show in New York. In January of 1958 RCA #7144 is released featuring the tunes "Star Of Fortune" and "The Rules Of Love". The Cookies sing backup on the record, and despite a good push from RCA the record does not do well. During the summer RCA releases #7285 - "What'll I Do" and "Just Multiply" which disappears almost immediately. By the end of the year RCA does not renew her contract and she is signed to a new label Triumph Records, which is started by former Atlantic Records co-founder Herb Abramson. The label releases "Good Gravy Baby" and "Scorched" in late 1959. The changing demographics and styles of the record buying public have R & B performers like Dillard labelled an "adult" oriented performer, and her chance to attract pop music fans is almost an impossible task.
Varetta Dillard was another female performer who spent most of her time on the R & B periphery, but she did enjoy brief periods of national fame due to her two lasting recordings - "Mercy Mr. Percy" and "Johnny Has Gone".
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