I Know - The Hollywood Flames©2004JCMarion

The Flames first saw the light of day as a R & B vocal group in late 1948, organized by musical hopeful Robert Byrd in Los Angeles. The other members of that first lineup of the group were David Ford, Willie Rockwell, and Curly Dinkins. They got together and worked on getting their vocal sound right and began to rehearse a number of songs that they felt they could present in a personal style. Most of the ballads they worked on were a mix of pop standards from the past, and modern tunes they heard on the radio. They also tried out a number of original songs put together by the group that were mostly basic jump tunes set at a good dance tempo. When they felt that the group had enough material and were ready for an audition, they headed for the clubs that lined Central Avenue in the Watts section of Los Angeles which was the heart of the entertainment night life in the Black community in the late nineteen forties. They passed the test at one of the better known clubs, The Barrelhouse, run by musician Johnny Otis and his partner Bardu Ali. The new group was decently received and soon they were set for their initial recording date.

John Blackburn owned a small independent record label in Los Angeles called Selective Records which had recently come into being. He lined up the new group for a recording session in December of 1949, and in January the first record by the Flames was released on Selective # 113 with the songs "Please Tell Me Now" and "Young Girl". By late February "Young Girl" was showing up on the local R & B charts in Los Angeles and the fledgling vocal group seemed to be on their way. In July The Flames had gained enough name recognition to appear at the Shrine Auditorium as part of Gene Norman's big Rhythm & Blues Show that featured such names as Roy Milton, Camille Howard, Jimmy Witherspoon, PeeWee Crayton, Dinah Washington, and others.

In September of 1951, Recorded In Hollywood Records releases a remake of "Young Girl" coupled with a new version of "The Glory Of Love", which is a hit for The Five Keys on Aladdin. The group is billed as The Hollywood Flames. During this time Art Rupe head of Specialty Records takes over operations of Fidelity Records which has recorded "Tabarin" and "W-I-N-E" by the Four Flames on # 3001. Adding to the confusion, Recorded In Hollywood releases "I'll Always Be The Fool" and "She's Got Something" by the group (again with the "Hollywood") on # 164. In early 1952 Art Rupe takes the group from Fidelity and moves them to Specialty to record a cover of The Cardinals R & B version of "Wheel Of Fortune" on # 423. The flip side is the tune "Later" and the group is billed as The Four Flames. In August of 1952 songwriter Otis Rene ("Sleepy Time Down South") and bandleader Preston Love (formerly with Lionel Hampton and long time associate of Johnny Otis) form a new label in Los Angeles called Spin Records. Their first release is "Strange Land Blues" and "Crying For My Baby" by The Flames on # 101. And yet - in October Recorded In Hollywood Records signs The Hollywood Four Flames to the label and records the group on "Baby Please" and (once again) "Young Girl" on (again) # 165. In November Recorded In Hollywood releases # 164 (again) which features the Hollywood Four Flames with Que Martyn's orchestra on the songs "I'll Always Be The Fool" and "She's Got Something" (again). In December The Flames are now on Aladdin Records and appear on # 3162 with the Maxwell Davis band and vocalist Patty Anne on the tunes "Midnight" and "My Heart Is Free Again".

In March of 1953 the Mesner Brothers, owners of Aladdin Records and song writer Rudy Toombs, establish a new record label in Los Angeles. The company will be known as 7-11 Records and one of their first releases is by The Jets who are in reality The Four (Hollywood) Flames. The songs are "Gomen Nasai" and "Volcano" and are released on # 2102. In September of 1953 The Flames are recording for 7-11 Records. "Baby Pretty Baby" and "Together" are released on 7-11 # 2107. In early 1954, another L.A. based label records the group. This time it is Swing Time Records and the tunes are "Let's Talk It Over" and "I Know" by The Hollywood Flames on # 345. "I Know" makes the R & B charts in Los Angeles even as the group is recording for still another local label, John Dolphin's Lucky Records. In June Aladdin Records releases ""Got A Little Shadow" and "I'll Hide My Tears" on # 3247 as by The Jets. During the summer The Hollywood Four Flames hit the road with Gene Norman's Blues Jubilee which also stars The Clovers, Chords, Robins, Four Tunes, and others. The tour will cover the Pacific Coast for six weeks. In July Lucky # 006 is released with "Ooh La La" and "Peggy" as by The Hollywood Flames. Lucky Records also buys the masters of "I Know" which the group recorded for SwingTime and will now be distributed nationally. In September Decca Records acquires the Lucky masters including the ones previously on SwingTime and plans a big promotional effort on behalf of the Hollywood Flames. In spite of all that however, still another L.A. independent label Money Records (another John Dolphin enterprise) releases "Clickety Clack I'm Leaving" and "Fare Thee Well" on # 202.

In January of 1955 Decca re-releases a SwingTime recording "I Know" and "Let's Talk It Over" on Decca # 48331. In 1956 there was much moving around by members of the group and a great deal of unsettled activity. For the most part the group consisted of Robert Byrd, Gaynel Hodge, Dave Ford, and Curly Dinkins. During the spring of 1957 Leon Rene a long time recording industry man in Los Angeles had a label called Class Records. His son Googie was A & R head for the label (he would have a great instrumental hit record called "Break It Up") and saw promise with the Flames. He gave Robert Byrd a new professional name "Bobby Day" and renamed the group The Satellites in the fashion of the day thanks to the Russian space grab. They recorded a Byrd original called "Little Bitty Pretty One" and backed it with the pop evergreen "When The Swallows Come Back To Capistrano" influenced by the Clyde MaPhatter and The Dominos version, and it was released on Class # 211. The record started out with a rush, but was overtaken by a cover version by Thurston Harris & The Sharps. The Satellites had two further releases during 1957 on Class - "Darling If I Had You" / "Beep Beep Beep" on # 215, and "Sweet Little Thing" / "Honeysuckle Baby" on # 220.

In September of 1957 a new record label based in Los Angeles financially backed by Art Rupe of Specialty and run by his wife Lee called Ebb Records, presents the Hollywood Flames with Earl Nelson on lead on a dance tune called "Buzz Buzz Buzz" on # 119. The flip side is "Crazy". The dance side gets a huge push when it is highly reviewed and played on the new nationally televised "American Bandstand" show. Within days after its appearance on the show it is selling big across the country. In December the group is a top name on the personal appearance field, even doing a weekend engagement in Montreal at the Cafe Mocambo. After that date the Hollywood Flames will appear for a week with Al Benson at his holiday show in Chicago at the Regal Theater.

On January 7, 1958 The Hollywood Flames appear on "American Bandstand" with Dick Clark who is certainly responsible for a great part of the group's success. In February the group follows up their big hit with "Give Me Back My Heart" and "A Little Bird" on Ebb # 131. On February 26, the group returns to "American Bandstand", and the same month Lee Rupe of Ebb announces that the label has made a deal with London Records in England giving that company distribution rights across all of Europe for "Buzz Buzz Buzz". After the "Bandstand" appearance the Hollywood Flames do a tour of the East Coast and also promote their new Ebb 45 rpm EP featuring "Buzz" and three new original songs. In March Class # 225 - "Saving My Life For You" / "Little Turtle Dove" is released as by Bobby Day. In April the group now tours the West Coast and Ebb releases "Frankenstein's Dance" and "Strolling The Beach". In may the group does local television in L.A. with Red Blanchard. That month Day (Byrd) receives a BMI award in both R & B and pop music fields for the success of his composition "Little Bitty Pretty One". In may the group tours with Googie Rene and his band as Bobby Day & The Satellites. In late June the Hollywood Flames have another new release on the songs "Chains Of Love" and "Let's Talk It Over" on # Ebb 146. At the same time Bobby Day and The Satellites record "Rockin' Robin" and "Over And Over Again" on Class # 229. Thurston Harris again covers the Day original but this time Day prevails as the record develops as one of the biggest two sided hits by a vocal group (although the label continues to bill the record as by Bobby Day).

Bobby Day & The Satellites had a further number of credited releases for Class during the remainder of 1958, but none of them garnered any great sales or airplay. "Say Yes" / "That's All I Want" on # 245, "Mr. And Mrs. Rock And Roll" / "Got A New Girl" on # 252, "Ain't Gonna Cry No More" / "Love Is A One Time Affair" on # 255, and Unchained Melody" on # 257 all failed to chart. In January of 1959 "I'll Be Seeing You" the old pop music gem is recorded by the Hollywood Flames and gets nice reaction and airplay in Los Angeles. The flip side is "Just For You" on Ebb #153. In April The Hollywood Flames record their version of the big R & B hit by Little Sonny Warner and Big Jay McNeely, "There Is Something On Your Mind" on # 158. In August "Much Too Much" and "In The Dark" are released on Ebb # 163. late in 1959 the group moves from Ebb to Atco, part of the Atlantic Records company. Their first side for Atco is released right before Christmas and features the tunes "Every Day Every Way" and "If I Thought You Needed Me" on # 6155. Other Atco recordings were "Ball And Chain" on # 6164, "Devil Or Angel" / "Do You Ever Think Of Me?" on # 8171, and "Money Honey" / "My Heart's On Fire" on # 6180, all released during 1960. The group at this time consisted of Dave Ford, Ray Brewster, Donald Height, and former member of The Penguins, Curtis Williams. Robert Byrd (Bobby Day) had tried his hand as a solo artist. After the Atco sides went nowhere, The Hollywood Flames packed it in. They were a viable vocal group for more than a decade. They had known fleeting successes through all those years, but the new musical reality had looked them straight in the eyes.

The group's name actually carried on for another seven years without any further hits as sporadic recordings surfaced on labels such as Chess, Vee-Jay, Goldie, and Symbol. The Flames in all their different identities, lineups, labels, and looks, survived from the late forties until the sixties encompassing the entire age of the Rhythm & Blues vocal groups. Their longevity alone makes them legends in the musical history of this unique American art form. For that alone they are worthy of our remembrance.

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