Yesterday's Memories : The Mellows©2006JCMarion


In New York City during the early nineteen fifties there were a number of hotbeds for the emerging sound of R & B vocal group harmony. One of these was in the borough of The Bronx in an area called Morrisania, and it was here that the vocal group known as The Mellows was formed. The main individual that certainly gave the group the direction and drive for success was Harold Johnson. He had previously spent some time with the group The Crickets that featured lead singer Dean Barlow. He was looking to start a new vocal group and had joined Johnny Wilson and Norman Brown, and was searching for a fourth member to round out the quartet. Instead of the usual male foursome, he discovered the wonderful voice of Lillian Leach who was also from the neighborhood. Because of the characteristic of their sound, Johnson named the group The Mellotones. That name was short lived however, as it was an oft used one, and the group decided to abbreviate their name to simply The Mellows. From the start it was a perfect fit. It is an interesting fact, that in subsequent years Lillian has said that one of her favorite singers during those early days was Jerri Southern, who projected a sentimental and wistful sound much like Lillian's.

When the group had worked on some songs and Johnson felt that they were ready to do a recording session, the search for a record label was on. They wound up auditioning for Joe Davis who Harold Johnson was familiar with from his days with The Crickets. Davis worked for a time with MGM records and then went out on his own. The Crickets who recorded on MGM, Jay-Dee, and Beacon Records for Davis, seemed like a good fit for the new group. In July of 1954 Joe Davis signs The Mellows to his Jay-Dee label. In early August of the year Jay-Dee # 793 is released featuring The Mellows on "How Sentimental Can I Be?" and "Nothin To Do". "Sentimental" immediately shows the song writing ability of Harold Johnson with the first of his compositions. The record does get initial airplay but does not develop into a strong seller. In October the trade press mentions the Mellows as part of a vanguard of popularity for vocal groups that is becoming the rage among teenagers in Harlem in New York.

Right after New Year's Day in 1955 Jay-Dee records releases the second recording by The Mellows. "Smoke From Your Cigarette" and "Pretty Baby What's Your Name" are issued on # 797. The ballad side "Smoke" gets widespread airplay in New York, especially from Alan Freed on his nightly show. By March the record is a solid seller in the Northeast and The Mellows star at a show in April called "The 1955 Rock & Roll Festival" at New York's St. Nicholas Arena. Also on the bill are The Cadillacs, Varetta Dillard, Otis Blackwell, Red Prysock, and the Joe Morris band. Soon after the show Jay-Dee releases # 801 featuring the songs "I Still Care" and "I Was A Fool To Let You Go". "Care" was another winning ballad given a superb vocal by Lillian in the very rare lineup of a female lead with an all male backup. Even with Alan Freed once again championing the group on his radio show, the record fails to chart or sell in good numbers out of the New York metro area. In late summer Jay-Dee Records releases one more single by The Mellows with the songs "Yesterday's Memories" and "Loveable Lily". The ballad "Memories" follows the pattern of excellent songs (most written by harold Johnson) that are worthy of the exceptional rendition given by Leach. The result however remains the same. Good initial reaction in the local area, but Jay-Dee is unable to break the record nationally.

In late 1955 The Mellows left Jay-Dee Records and early the following year signed on with a local record label called Celeste. At about this time there were personnel changes within the group as Norman Brown left and was replaced by Arthur Crier and Gary Morrison. Crier had some vocal group experience and the Mellows now a quintet entered the studio for a new beginning. Unfortunately the problems they encountered at Jay-Dee became even more magnified with Celeste-mainly a question of promotion and distribution. "My Darling" and "Lucky Guy" were released on # 3002 in the spring of 1956, followed three months later by "Sweet Lorraine" and "I'm Yours" on # 3004. Both records seemed to disappear almost as fast as they were issued and so The Mellows ended the year somewhat disallusioned about their place in the music field.

In 1957 The Mellows hooked up with another New York independent label located in the famous Brill Building on Broadway. Candlelight Records recorded the group listing Lillian as Lillian Lee, and the songs were another super ballad "Moon Of Silver" paired with "You've Gone" on #1011 in late March. Most of Candlelight Records energies however seemed to be taken up with their merger with Bullseye Records and the Mellows record suffered the same fate as most of their other efforts. They also did a session for Apollo Records that did not result in any releases for that label. By the summer of the year The Mellows had given up the dream and the group broke up. Harold Johnson and Arthur Crier kept their talents in the music scene with a number of recording sessions as back up singers (especially on Curtis Lee's "Pretty Little Angel Eyes"). They even had a hit record in 1961 with an up tempo rocker called "Nag" for Seven Arts.

More than three decades after the Mellows called it quits, there they were once again united in song. Arthur Crier along with Eugene Tompkins (formerly of The Limelighters) presided over a public access cable TV show called "Doo Wop Is Alive" from Mount Vernon, New York. The scene was complete with Lillian Leach once again vocalizing with the guys. Tompkins then moved to Atlanta and presided over the Yesterday's Memories Music in that city and they televised the grand opening. And there was Lillian singing along to the recorded "Loveable Lilly". What a scene to bring back a flood of most pleasant memories of one of the top vocal groups ever. Arthur Crier passed away in 2004, and Eugene Tompkins is heard on WRFG (Radio Free Georgia) on Saturday mornings playing the vocal group sounds.

The Mellows can be heard on a 1999 live recording cd and a rare Relic cd "Yesterday's Memories". The Mellows also show up on a number of compilation cd's with a few of their songs. Also there was an Apollo record that was released on a 45 in the late nineteen eighties of the tunes "So Strange" and "Be Mine" on # 542 that has shown up on e-bay. If you have never heard The Mellows songs, you owe it to yourself to make an effort to find a source of their music and you will see why this group is something very special. Why the Jay-Dee sides did not sell in the millions is one of the great injustices during the time of the music that they so wonderfully presented. They were surely among the best ever.

to next page . . . . . .

back to title page . . . . .