Jimmy Jones and his Groups©2004JCMarion


In July of 1955 there is an announcement in the trade press that Apollo Records has signed a new vocal group to their label. The group was formed in Germany by United States servicemen stationed there and originally named The Berliners after the city of the country where they were. The new name they chose for the vocal group was the wonderfully musical Sparks of Rhythm. The members of the group are Jimmy Jones, Floyd Edmonds, Andrew Barksdale, and Bobby Moore. By September of the year the new vocalists had their first record out for Apollo. The songs were "I Don't Love You Anymore" and "Woman, Woman, Woman" and released on #479. With very little action on their first record they try another record which is released in November. The songs are "Stars Are In The Sky" and "Hurry Home" on #481 for Apollo. Jimmy Jones who was born in Birmingham, Alabama, in June of 1937 has a unique vocal style as lead singer of the group. He wanders in and out of falsetto and blends in with the background singers, very often taking different directions on following choruses. As a young boy he loved to sing and dance, and between the church and for a time a travelling carnival, he had the opportunity to perform.

There is some positive reaction from radio listeners and record buyers toward the new record by the group, but not enough to make much of a difference in the group's fortunes. At the end of 1955 the Sparks of Rhythm are no more and Jimmy Jones forms a new vocal group which he soon calls The Savoys, conveniently enough because that is the label where they are to get together for a new recording session. By now the personnel of The savoys includes Jones, Moore, Kerry Saxton, and two former members of The Vocaleers William Walker and Mel Walton. In March of 1956 Savoy #1188 is released featuring the songs "Say You're Mine" and "You". The record receives a Cash Box pick hit of the week note, but it remains another forgotten vocal group record.

In a quick moving event, The Savoys are immediately disbanded and with the same personnel connect with George Goldner's Rama Records label in June of the year. The new name for the group is The Pretenders, and "I've Gotta Have You Baby" and "Possessive Love" are recorded for the label and released in late June on Rama #198. The group appears at the Apollo Theater late that month with label mates Mabel King, The Cleftones, Valentines, and Frankie Lymon & The Teenagers, along with Clyde MacPhatter and Sil Austin and his band. Reports are encouraging for "I've Gotta Have You Baby" which is doing well in Boston and Hartford. Unfortunately for the group, the record soon tails off and the group gives it another shot late in the year for Rama with "Plain Old Love" and "Lover" on #210. Once again success eludes The Pretenders and Rama Records loses interest.

In March of 1957, The Pretenders cross paths with Bobby Robinson and he gives them a shot on his Harlem based Whirlin Disc label. That month "Part Time Sweetheart" and "Close Your Eyes" are released on #106. However it is the same old story for Jones and his group and Whirlin Disc looks elsewhere. In April Arrow Records opens in New York and signs The Pretenders to their label. The group continues to impress record people despite their lack of success on the sales charts. The Pretenders are once again renamed, this time as The Jones Boys, and their first Arrow recording is as backup for Barbara Gorman and Sister Viv on the songs "Was It Just For Fun" and "Eight O'Clock Date" on #714. In October of 1957 Jimmy Jones gets solo billing on #717 with the songs "The Whistling Man" and "Heaven In Your Eyes" with backing by the rest of the group.

In August of 1958, Malcom Newkirk of Central Records announces the signing of The Pretenders, the same lineup since the days at Rama. In October Central releases "Daddy Needs Baby" and "Blue And Lonely" on #2605. In November Central sings the praises of The Pretenders and Jimmy Jones, and points out that Savoy, one of the group's former labels, also has a singer by the name of Jimmy Jones on its present roster. There is also a report that the group recorded for Holiday Records during the year.

In January of 1959, Apt Records releases"Daddy Needs Baby" and "Blue And Lonely" (on #25026) after the demise of Central Records. This record ends the vocal group career of Jimmy Jones after five years of trying to dent the pop and R & B market with very little success. He is now a solo artist and his first effort for Epic goes nowhere with "Whenever You Need Me" and "You For Me To Love" on #9339. Epic went elsewhere and Jones was given still another shot, this time with MGM subsidiary label Cub Records. That label was riding high with "Sorry (I Ran All The Way Home)" by The Impalas. In late September Jones recorded his initial side for Cub with the songs "The Search Is Over" and "Handy Man" which he wrote with noted tunesmith Otis Blackwell on Cub #9049. The one song title was truly prophetic for Jones, because the search was over (finally) for a hit record. And what a hit it was !

However, Jimmy Jones new side for Cub Records took its time ingraining itself in the minds of the American public. In early November as part of a MGM-Woolworth tie in, many of MGM's recording stars appeared at the flagship location for the store chain in New York City as part of the Founder's day celebration. Jimmy Jones was one of many who took part. In mid November the record breaks out in Pittsburgh, and then a few days later in Los Angeles. MGM and its Cub label had begun to give up on the record but with this new surge they retooled for wider distribution. Late in the year "Handy Man" starts to break big in Chicago and Detroit. By the first few days of the new decade the record goes national in a big way. It starts a long run on the pop music charts and becomes the biggest seller for MGM Records. It is kept out of the number one spot on the American charts only by Johnny Preston's "Running Bear". The Jones record holds its sales position on the pop best seller list for more than four months. It sells well in excess of one million copies during the first part of 1960. As sales for "Handy Man" begin to fade the follow up for Cub comes out in the Spring. The songs are "Good Timin' " and "My Precious Angel" on Cub #9067. Once again Jones hits the bullseye with his record. "Good Timin' " repeats the success by going to number three on the national pop charts, enjoying a four month stay on the best sellers, and selling one million records for MGM, making it two consecutive gold records for Jimmy Jones. All the disappointments of his vocal group years for Jimmy are now erased by his dominating performances during the first half of 1960.

After the two monster hits, reality returns for Jones as he is unable to return to the dramatic heights that his career had journeyed to. The rest of 1960 was taken up with "That's When I Cried" / "I Just Go For You" (Cub #9072), "Itching For Love" / "Ee-I-Ee-I-Oh" (Cub #9076), and "Ready For Love" / "For You" (Cub #9082). None of these records made a mark on the charts, and neither did four releases for the label the following year. During the early nineteen sixties Pretenders records were released by Roulette, ABC Paramount, and Port. Jimmy Jones continued as a solo performer during the rest of the decade until 1967 when he recorded "Personal Property" on Bell #682, and "Snap My Fingers" and a cover of Buddy Holly's "True Love Ways" on Bell #689. After close to a decade and a half, Jones gave up the performing side to concentrate on writing and producing. He had a lot of failures, a couple of close calls, and two very big successes. "Handy Man" especially, is one of the most recognizable songs from the pre Beatle sixties, and years later a poignant version of the tune by James Taylor again proved irresistible. Through the years Jimmy Jones never gave up and persevered until he had made a name for himself and secured his role in the story of America's music and its history.

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