The Olympics Remembered©2007JCMarion

In the late fifties the era of the R & B vocal groups was still a major influence on the musical tastes of the young generation of Americans. That very popularity was beginning to fade in the coming wave of teen idols spawned by the emergence of Elvis and the start of the American Bandstand-ization of musical trends. Still in Southern Californis it was the way to go for numerous teenagers trying to make a go of things by putting a few voices together for fame a (small) fortune. In the hallways, rest rooms and yard of Centennial High School in the rough area of greater Los Angeles called Compton, a vocal quartet was put together by Walter Ward in early 1957. They took the name of The Challengers , and besides Ward the members were Ed Lewis, Charles Fizer, and Walter Hammond. By the time they felt they had something to offer musically, they went searching for a record label to try their harmony on wax. They got a shot with a small independent label called Melotone Records and recorded the tunes "I Can Tell" and "The Mambo Beat" on # 1002. This first attempt predictably went nowhere.

Somewhere along the way during the spring of 1958, they made contact with Jesse Belvin, one of the titans of the R & B scene during the fifties in the L.A. area. He saw something he liked about the group who now called themselves The Olympics. He set the group up with a management team and within weeks the quartet signed on with Demon Records a local label trying to cash in on the rock 'n roll market. In late June Demon # 1508 hit the streets with the songs "Weatern Movies" and "Well !". The novelty tune "Western Movies" written by Fred Smith of Keen Records (along with partner Cliff Goldsmith) hit immediately. Within a month Liberty Records had taken over distribution, the record was breaking big in the Northeast, and The Olympics were slated to appear on American Bandstand with Dick Clark. That show since going national in August the previous year, had become the focal point for record companies and talent agents to present recording acts to the country. With its huge audience of potential record buyers it had become the gold standard for all personal appearance gigs.

In late August the very first rock 'n roll show was held at the famous Hollywood Bowl. Called "A Salute To Dick Clark". The Olympics appeared along with a wide variety of music talent such as Bobby Darin, The Shields, Champs, Jimmy Bowen, and others. The Olympics also scored with that other icon of the musical fifties Alan Freed. The man who started it all signed the group to appear at his Labor Day Week "Big Beat Show" at the Brooklyn Fox Theater. Bill Haley & The Comets, The Everly Brothers, and Chuck Berry will share the headliners status, and also on the bill would be The Cleftones, Larry Williams, The Danleers, Elegants, Jimmy Clanton, and many others. "Western Movies" had a wide appeal, with its novelty approach very much like the various songs recorded by The Coasters ("Movies" is very much like "Searchin") and is a natural for comparison to "Along Came Jones". In October The Olympics hit the road with a travelling revue featuring Buddy Holly & The Crickets, The Elegants, Imperials, Dion & The Belmonts, and teen idols Bobby Darin, Frankie Avalon, Jimmy Clanton, Eddie Cochrane, and Connie Francis. That was the state of the music scene in late 1958. After tremendous run for their first hit, The Olympics have finally released a followup side for Demon Records. The songs are "Dance With The Teacher" and "Everybody Needs Love" on # 1512. It barely grazed the pop charts for the group.

In 1959 after the Olympics second record for Demon disappeared quickly, the label was out with a new side in February on # 1514 with the songs "Your Love" and "Chicken". The group's manager John Criner who also owns Spot Records, makes the rounds trying to drum up interest in the new record but it is apparent that this one will be unsuccessful. During the late spring The Olympics look for a change and sign on with Arvee Records also of Los Angeles. They soon have a new single featuring "Private Eye" (advertised as similar to "Western Movies") and "Hully Gully" on Arvee # 562. In September Liberty Records re-releases "Your Love" an earlier side for Demon by the group. The reason is renewed interest in the song in the Southeast. Late in the year after pushing "Private Eye" as the 'A' side, the flip tune "Hully Gully" is starting to take off especially in San Francisco and Seattle.

Moving into the nineteen sixties, as the era of the R & B vocal groups was coming to an end, The Olympics racked up some good sellers in the pre-Beatle years of the decade on the Arvee label, especially the year 1960. That year "Big Boy Pete" on # 595, "Shimmy Like Kate" on # 5006, and "Dance By The Light Of The Moon" on # 5020, were all good sellers in both the pop and R & B markets. Further records for Arvee were not as well received as the focus of the music began to change. They kept at it with a number of dance tunes for DuoDisc, Loma, and Mirwood to the mid sixties. One of their tunes was "Good Lovin" made famous by The Rascals and Grateful Dead. One of the original members Charles Fizer, lost his life in the riots in Watts in 1965. The Olympics last record came out in 1973 for MGM and after fifteen years their name became a memory. They were one of the last R & B vocal groups to have a national hit.

CDs available featuring the group are "Western Movies" on Ring Of Stars with 30 tracks (including the original "Good Lovin") , and the less desirable "Best Of" on Varese Varaband with 17 tracks (but still with most of the big hits).

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