Most Of All : The Moonglows©2004JCMarion


It was the year 1950, the place Louisville, Kentucky, and the beginning of one of the great stories of music in the decade of the fifties was about to start. Bobby Lester and Harvey Fuqua , two friends from the neighborhood, took to singing together and dreamed the dream that someday they could be on stage performing. That dream was soon put on the back burner when military service called in the time of the Korean conflict. Fast forward to two years later, and the scene shifts to Cleveland. Fuqua was still harboring musical aspirations perhaps intensified by the success of his uncle Charlie, who was a founding member of that groundbreaking vocal group The Inkspots. With Prentice Barnes and Pete Graves both of Cleveland, they formed a trio which they called The Crazy Sounds. At this time they were influenced more by jazz then the blues. Harvey soon talked his boyhood buddy Bobby Lester into joining their new group and they hoped to start to get some paying gigs in and around Cleveland and that might lead to a record session someday.

One night in late 1952 at a local appearance at a small Cleveland night spot, they were heard and recommended to popular WJW radio disc jockey Al "Moondog" Freed. He thought the new group had potential and set up a record session at the radio station. He changed their name to better reflect the influence of his own persona, so they were now known as The Moonglows. The result of the on the spot session was "I Just Can't Tell You No Lie" and "I've Been Your Dog" on Champagne #7500. Freed produced the record label just for this one session, and also gave the group a lesson in the business. Although Lester and Fuqua had written the tunes, writers credit on the label read "Al Lance" who just happened to be a pen name of (surprise !) Alan Freed. Pushed on the nightly Moondog radio show, the side sold well in the Cleveland area. However Freed had so many other irons in the fire that he could not follow up and so the group went out on their own to secure a record deal for themselves. They initially went to Chess records, but indifference by the powers that be there was responsible for the group to be at the front door of Chance Records. There owner Art Sheridan and producer Ewart Abner liked the possibilities and in September of 1952 The Moonglows were signed to the label. By the next month their first side for Chance was released. The tunes were "Baby Please" and "Whistle My Love" on Chance #1147. Freed's hand was still on the group as he was assigned writer's credit on the Fuqua and Lester original composition. He also played a role as the group's "manager" and of course the most important part of all, nightly spins of their records on Moondog's radio show in Cleveland.

Chance #1150 was the second side for the label by The Moonglows. It was a seasonal pair of tunes with "Just A Lonely Christmas" and "Hey Santa Claus" by the group and again it was a decent seller in the Chicago-Cleveland area. In early 1953 The Moonglows do an R & B vocal group version of Doris Day's pop hit "Secret Love" backed by "Real Gone Mama" on #1152. The ballad side takes off as the R & B world has their own rendition of a top tune in the country. It quickly becomes the top seller for the label. In April the Annual Moondog Ball in Akron Ohio, draws a huge crowd and The Moonglows are well received. Also on the show are Charles Brown, Margie Day, and the Paul "Hucklebuck" Williams band. Part of the show is broadcast live on WJW radio. Meanwhile "Secret Love" begins to show up on best selling R & B charts on the East Coast in Baltimore and Newark, New Jersey. In June Chance Records releases the latest Moonglows side - "I Was Wrong" and "Ooh Rockin Daddy" on #1156. By now the group is growing disenchanted with the label for the absence of royalties for record sales and music publishing. They begin to search around for a new label. "I Was Wrong" is a best seller in both Philadelphia and Washington D.C. as well as the usual areas of strength in Chicago and Cleveland. It is the group's biggest selling record ever. As the Chance label begins to suffer economic decline during the summer, there is one more record by The Moonglows on the label. "219 Train" and "My Gal" on #1161 is a casualty of this situation. The second time is a keeper as The Moonglows are signed by Chess Records in September of 1954. The standard is about to be set.

In mid October of 1954 The Moonglows are in the recording studio for Chess Records and are concentrating on their new ballad song. It is called "Sincerely", an original by Lester and Fuqua and is soon released by Chess on #1581 (the flip side is "Tempting"). The group previews the new song during a two week stay at Chicago's Crown Propeller Lounge. As soon as the record is released, it gets a huge number of requests on radio and the resulting airplay leads to a jump in sales for Chess. The Moonglows go out on the road for their first series of one nighters with Lowell Fulson and Lynn Hope. As "Sincerely" starts to really sell and starts to break nationally, Chess releases a duo side by Bobby and Harvey on the tunes "Shoo Doo Be Doo" and "So All Alone". They call the duo The Moonlighters and release the record on its second label Checker Records on #806. This side too, gets heavy airplay and sales. Alan Freed promotes the tune and the "group within a group" concept. The year of 1954 closes out as the rock 'n roll revolution in American music is under way, and "Sincerely" by The Moonglows is at the forefront. That this sentimental love song sung so inventively by this vocal group would be one of the landmark records in this shift of musical opinion in the country (and the world) remains one of the more remarkable achievements of all time in this field. It is now that the fifth member of The Moonglows becomes part of the group, guitarist Billy Johnston.

The Moonglows are part of the bill at Alan Freed's first stage show in New York at St. Nick's Arena in January of 1955. It was set up as a show featuring radio poll winners which was set up by Freed (now legally prevented from using his Moondog nickname). Also on stage at that historic two night show were Joe Turner, Fats Domino, Danny Overbea, The Drifters, Clovers, Harptones, Buddy Johnson & his band with Ella Johnson and Nolan Lewis, and Red Prysock and his combo. The Moonglows also sign on with a huge touring unit set up by The Shaw Agency called "The Top Ten R & B Show" for sixty one nighters. Also on the bill are fats Domino, Joe Turner, Faye Adams, Amos Milburn, The Clovers, Charlie & Ray, Bill Doggett, and the Paul Williams Orchestra. Before leaving on the tour, the group will do a week at New York's Apollo Theater with faye Adams and Joe Morris, and take part in a "Jam With Sam" show in Chicago with that city's radio personality Sam Evans. "Sincerely" goes national on the R & B charts and makes a move toward the pop charts when a cover version of the tune by The McGuire Sisters for Coral Records hits the ground running and takes the steam out of the push by The Moonglows. However the Moonglows still make a great leap forward for the new sound of American music.

In March of the year Chess releases "Most Of All" and "She's Gone" on #1589. "Most Of All" shows a most interesting and innovative ballad performance by the four voices that catches the ear of young listeners. It is a revelation to those unfamiliar to the style of the R & B vocal groups. In April of 1955, The Moonglows are part of Alan Freed's second New York stage show, over the Easter week holiday at the Brooklyn Paramount. Attendance records at the theater that had stood since the early nineteen thirties were shattered by the crowds for the show. Along with The Moonglows on the show were LaVern Baker, Danny Overbea, Three Chuckles, Eddy Fontaine, Penguins, and Red Prysock. The Moonglows wowed the crowds, many of whom were seeing R & B performers for the first time. The synchronized movements, dance routines, and snappy suits and shoes were something new and exciting for many of the audience. This first truly mainstream show where the majority of the crowd was White, would generate a buzz that in time would spread like wildfire from coast to coast. And right in the middle of it all were The Moonglows.

By April "Most Of All" is a big seller especially in the East and in Chicago. It is covered again, this time by The Fontaine Sisters for Dot Records. In May the group follows Freed to New England and appears for a week at the Loewe's State in Boston and three days in Providence, Rhode Island. After the Freed shows the Moonglows will appear at the Apollo Theater for a week with Dr. Jive (Tommy Smalls) in the "1955 Rhythm & Blues Review". That month another new ballad recording by the group is released for Chess Records. Foolish Me" on #1598 is paired with "Slow Down", but the ballad side once again captures the interest of the record buyers. Sales are not even close to the previous two records by the group but by now they are recognized as one of the premier vocal quartets in the country. They are used as backup singers to Bo Diddley on "Diddy Wah Diddy" and "Diddley Daddy". In September "Starlight" and "In Love" are out on Chess #1605. The ballad "Starlight" has a great dramatic opening and the usual (by now) unique arrangement by the group. The close uses the familiar Moonglows "ooh-wah" ending. Both sides sell well in the Washington D.C. and Baltimore areas. By the end of the year "In My Diary" and "Lover Love Me" on #1611 is released and most listeners are captivated by the "in My Diary's " use of a descending chord structure which is a rarity in the R & B field. Bobby Lester again shows why he is one of the top lead singers in all of the vocal group world. The Moonglows are part of the biggest musical show ever in Detroit for a Robin Seymour and Mickey Schorr hosted rock revue which also featured Chuck Berry and The Turbans.

to next page . . . . . .

back to title page . . . . .