Don't Let Go : Roy Hamilton©2004JCMarion


Roy Hamilton was born in Leesburg, Georgia, in April of 1929. Moving to the New York City area, Hamilton became a member of a gospel quartet called The Searchlight Singers. He developed a strong baritone voice and soon entered the Wednsday Night amateur talent show at the Apollo Theater. After a couple of tries, Hamilton came out on top with his dramatic rendition of "You'll Never Walk Alone" from the Broadway musical ""Carousel" and it would become his signature theme song. Besides singing, young Hamilton is an amateur boxer and also a talented painter. For the next few years however, Hamilton's singing career seemed to be stalled. Living in Jersey City, New Jersey, he mostly made local night club appearances in the area. One night in late 1953 he was seen by radio personality Bill Cook from station WAAT who was greatly impressed by the vocalist. Cook became the manager for Hamilton and in December of 1953 he was signed to the Epic record label, a subsidiary of Columbia Records. This move gave Columbia some leeway, as the pop music singers were released on the main label, and the true R & B performers were recorded for the company's Okeh label. Hamilton was seen as a possible "crossover" singer with a foothold in both pop and R & B and so Epic was the answer. Within a month Epic releases Hamilton's version of "You'll Never Walk Alone" on # 9015 with "I'm Gonna Sit Right Down And Cry" on the flip side. "Walk" explodes right off the bat and becomes an instant smash. By February he hits the stage at the Apollo Theater where it all began, but this time as a headliner. Also on the bill is Ruth Brown, and it is apparent that Roy Hamilton is on his way. His next stop is the Caravan Club in Newark for a week. The record is a number one R & B seller and gets into the top twenty pop hits and remains there for two months.

In March of 1954 Hamilton appears for a week at Birdland in New York. By May Hamilton's record is the number one R & B seller in the nation and is also the first number one for Epic Records. In June "If I Loved You" / "So Let There Be Love" on #9047 is released and Hamilton stars in a big show at Soldiers Field in Chicago with Nat Cole, Sarah Vaughn, and The Orioles. "If I Loved You" (also from the show "Carousel") is a national top twenty five pop music seller. In June Roy signs on with the big "Rhythm & Blues Show" for the Gale Agency which also stars The Drifters, Counts, Spaniels, Faye Adams, LaVern Baker, King Pleasure, Rusty Bryant, and Erskine Hawkins. Hamilton stars at the WNJR picnic on July 4th with The Orioles, Big Maybelle, Larry Darnell, Joe Liggins, Nappy Brown, Varetta Dillard, and Bull Moose Jackson. In September a show called "Kahl Music Presents" will present Roy Hamilton, along with Sarah Vaughn, Count Basie, Billie Holiday, Charlie Parker, Modern Jazz Quartet, Lester Young, and The Drifters. In September "Ebb Tide" and "Beware" are released on Epic #9068. It becomes a top thirty national pop music seller and a top five seller on the R & B charts. In November of 1954 Epic Records celebrates its first anniversary and attending is its biggest seller Roy Hamilton. At that time "Hurt" and "Star of Love" is released on #9086. At the end of the year it becomes apparent that Hamilton has a good following among pop music record buyers which estimates put at least fifty per cent of those that buy his records. He has moved out from the R & B category and is a mainstream performer. hamilton covers Frankie laine's "I Believe" on #9092 which is coupled with "If You Are But A Dream".

In January of 1954 Hamilton heads the bill at the Trianon Ballroom in Chicago with a big show that also features Jimmy Reed, Big Maybelle, The Spaniels, Counts, and Flamingos. The next month many of the same performers hit the stage at Symphony Hall in Boston for weekend shows. LaVern Baker, Della Reese, and the band of Erskine Hawkins joined the tour in early April for a number of dates throughout the Midwest. "Unchained Melody" (from the film "Unchained") is released on Epic #9102 (with another movie title song - "From Here To Eternity" on the flip) and becomes a huge hit going neck and neck with Al Hibbler's Decca version for the top honors. Roy's version sells more than a million copies and is a mainstay on the pop charts for over four months. The Epic releases keep on coming - "You Wanted To Change Me" and "Forgive The Fool" is out on #9111, and "A Little Voice" and "All This Is Mine" comes out on Epic #9118. In June Roy Hamilton is presented with the Downbeat magazine award for the top male vocalist of the year. "Without A Song" / "Cuban Love Song" is released on #9125. ABC television personality Joe Franklin presents the Memory Lane Award for the Outstanding New Male Male Singer to Hamilton. A powerful song called "Everybody's Got A Home But Me" is released on # 9132 with "Take Me With You" on the other side. In mid-January of 1956 Roy plays the Apollo along with Ruth Brown, Charlie & Ray, and The Five Keys. In early 1956 Hamilton signs on for a big travelling R & B show that will tour the South for the first two months of the year.The bill includes Bill Haley & His Comets, The Platters, Shirley & Lee, LaVern Baker, Joe Turner, Bo Diddley, The Turbans, Drifters, and Five Keys. "There Goes My Heart" and "Walk Along With Kings" on #9147 is followed by "Since I Fell For You" on #9160. In late April Hamilton cancels a number of dates as he falls ill and is soon suffering from pneumonia and also tuberculosis. On June 2, 1956, he stuns the music world as he announces his retirement from performing due to his illness and complete exhaustion. His absence from the music scene will be for an indefinite period of time and he will resume his career as a painter which he pursued before his singing talent made him a national star. In September Hamilton's manager Bill Cook takes a turn on the Apollo Theater stage as a singer-comedian. Late in the year Epic releases Roy's last efforts in the studio - "I Took My Grief To Him" and "Chained" on #9180, "A Simple Prayer" on # 9203, and in early 1957 "My Faith, Hope, Love" and "So Long" on #9212.

One year after his announced temporary retirement, Roy Hamilton is back in the recording studio. He records "The Aisle" (and "That Old Feeling") on #9224, which is the same tune as recorded by The Five Satins for Ember and called "To The Aisle". In July Hamilton makes his first in person appearance since his return at an all star show in Atlanta. Helping celebrate his return are LaVern Baker, Little Willie John, Nappy Brown, The Cardinals, and Burnie Peacock and his band. Hamilton will also embark on a short tour of Texas and Oklahoma with The Clovers, Buddy Johnson & his band with Ella Johnson, Johnny & Joe, Huey Smith, and The Spaniels. "I'm Gonna Lock You In My Heart" / "My Heart Sings" is released by Epic on # 9232. In October Hamilton does a series of one nighters in the South with The Clovers, Tune Weavers, Little Joe, Thurston harris, and Doc Bagby's Combo. Many of these performers join Hamilton at the State Theater in Hartford, Connecticut for a big show in November hosted by George "Hound Dog" Lorenz. At the end of 1957 Hamilton breaks box office records at the Howard Theater in Washington, D.C. Epic also releases his newest record "Don't Let Go" on #9257 (which reaches trivia status as being the first rock 'n roll record to be recorded in stereophonic sound). The flip side is "The Right To Love". The record is a big seller and gets as high as the number thirteen position on the best seller charts and remains there for three months. Hamilton closes out the year on stage with WINS dj Paul Sherman's show in New York. Also appearing are Al Savage and his band, Thurston Harris, JoAnn Campbell, The Dubs, Shells, Five Satins, Chantels, and Deltairs.

In January of 1958 Columbia Pictures readies "Let's Rock", a quickie film that has many of the days music stars. Roy Hamilton, Danny & The Juniors, The Royal Teens, Paul Anka, Della Reese, and Julius LaRosa ( ! ) are in the cast. Hamilton makes the scene on "Jocko" Henderson's television show during the first month of the year. In February the success of "Don't Let Go" has led to a number of bookings throughout the country. Hamilton appears on the Dick Clark Saturday night tv show for Beechnut (remember the "ific" buttons ?). In March Roy signs on with Irvin Feld for the "Greatest Show of Stars" road tour that will last eighty days and begin with a swing through Canada. That same month Roy appears at L.A.'s Paramount Theater with Earl McDaniel. In April "Crazy Feeling" by Hamilton for Epic # 9268 is the subject of a lawsuit by Carlton Records because of the release of "That Crazy Feeling" by Kenny Rogers. Carlton feels the titles are too similar and would cause confusion in the minds of record buyers and hurt Carlton's recording. In June Hamilton's recording of "Lips" / "Jungle Fever" for Epic ( #9274) is selling well in Eastern markets. "Wait For Me" / "Everything I Have Is Yours" on #9282 is quickly forgotten but in September good reaction to Roy's recording of Johhny Ace's "Pledging My Love" has caused Duke Records to re-release the original version by Ace. The song has also been recorded by Jesse Belvin for RCA and Roger Williams for Kapp. In November Duke Records releases a remastered version of Johnny Ace's "Pledging My Love" in response to Hamilton's continuing success with his version of the tune on Epic #9294 (the flip is "My One And Only Love"). In November a Roy Hamilton Day benefit show at the Jersey City Armory is held to raise funds for the Central Baptist Fund. Red Prysock, Joe Louis, Varetta Dillard, and others will appear.

Roy Hamilton opens up the year of 1959 with a ten day tour with Jerry Butler and The Spaniels. His first record release of the year is "Somewhere Along The Way" / "It's Never Too Late" on #9301. In March "Blue Prelude" and "I Need Your Lovin" are out on Epic #9307. In June Hamilton records "Time Marches On" a new song written by Neil Sedaka and Howard Greenfield. In July Hamilton appears on the Buddy Deane television show on WJZ-TV in Baltimore. In that same month Hamilton presents his "Star Light Revue" at the Apollo Theater in New York. On the bill are Pigmeat Markham, Maurie Leigh, The madison Trio, and the Rick Henderson Orchestra. In September Hamilton sets box office records at Pep's Lounge in Philadelphia. "On My Way back Home" is released by Epic on #9342. In late October the Greater New York CYO Summer Camp Fund holds a benefit show at the NY Colisseum hosted by Scott Muni and stars Roy Hamilton. Also on the bill are Teddy Randazzo, The Poni-Tails, Connie Francis, Four Lads, and Clyde McPhatter. The show was a complete sellout and a huge success. "A Lover's Prayer" and the Johnny Ace tune "Never Let Me Go" is out on Epic # 9398. In November Epic Records reissues "Ebb Tide" which was a hit for Hamilton in 1954.

Hamilton has one last chart hit in early 1961 with "You Can Have Her" on Epic #9434 which is a solid seller that stays on the charts for two months and hits number twelve in the country. The flip side of this record was "Abide With Me". "You're Gonna Need Magic" and "To The One I Love" is released on # 9443 in may of the year. Next are the songs "Please Louise" and "No Substitute For Love" on # 9449. In 1962 Roy records a cover of Sam Cooke's "I'll Come Running Back To You" along with "Climb Every Mountain" on Epic #9520. By this time the music field has become more fragmented and Hamilton sees his best opportunity in the LP album format. Epic had previously released "Roy Hamilton" and "You'll Never Walk Alone" in 1956, "The Golden Boy" in 1957, "With All My Love" in 1958, "Why Fight The Feeling", "Come Out Swinging", and "Have Blues Will Travel" in 1959. "Spirituals", "At His Best", and "Soft 'n Warm" in 1960, was followed by "You Can Have Her" and "Only You" in 1961. 1962 brought "Mr. Rock and Soul" and "Greatest Hits". Up until 1962 all LPs were recorded for Epic Records. After more than a decade with Epic Records in which Hamilton was their top hit maker, he recorded some LP albums for MGM Records. They were "Sentimental Lonely And Blue", and "Warm Soul" on MGM # 4139. By the mid sixties Hamilton was with RCA Victor and recorded albums including "The Impossible Dream" in 1966, and "The Voice of Roy Hamilton" in 1967. RCA singles include "I taught Her Everything She Knows" on #9601, and "I Get The Blues When It Rains" / "I Let A Song Go Out Of My Heart". While still a relatively young man in the late sixties, Hamilton had been in the music business for half his life, more than two decades. He was planning a possible new direction with his music when he suffered a stroke and died soon after from its complications. He was barely forty years old.

Roy Hamilton is one of those performers who had a prolific output during his all too short career, most of it with Epic Records. There are a number of modern releases of his music that are available on CD format. Among those are "Anthology : Rare Tracks 1955-59", a double re-release of "Mr. Rock And Soul" and "Soft And Warm", "You Can Have Her", "With All My Love", "Golden Classics", and "Roy Hamilton" all on Collectables. "Rockin And Boppin" on Gold Dust, "Hold On To This Mood" on 4th & Broadway, and "You Can Count On Me" on Stardust are others that are available as imports. Roy Hamilton - certainly a voice to remember from someone who passed our way and stayed for too short a time.

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