The Magic Touch : The Platters©2005JCMarion


The Platters were destined to become the biggest act in the history of R & B and rock ‘n roll vocal groups. Their story begins in the early nineteen fifties in Los Angeles. The original members of the group were Cornell Gunter, Alex Hodge, Gaynel Hodge, Joe Jefferson, and Herb Reed. They called themselves The Platters after a term that was used on radio by d.j.’s referring to records. They began their career appearing at area amateur showcases and on local television. In 1953 Cornell Gunter left the group and David Lynch replaced Joe Jefferson. The Platters found a lead singer named Tony Williams and now the reformed group had music industry pro Ralph Bass as their manager. They were soon signed to Federal Records based in Cincinnati, Ohio. Their first recording for Federal was “Give Thanks” and “Hey Now” on # 12153, released in November of 1953. Late in 1953 they came in contact with Buck Ram through singer Linda Hayes who was managed by Ram, an arranger and composer, who was also manager of the pop vocal-instrumental trio The Three Suns. Ram signed a management contract with the group and soon made some changes within The Platters. He replaced Alex Hodge with Paul Robi, and wanted to add a female voice to the group. The person he chose was Zola Taylor who had been a part of the group Shirley Gunter ( sister of Cornell) & The Queens who had R & B hits “You’re Mine” and “Oop Shoop”. In January of 1954 The Platters recorded “I Need You All The Time” / “I’ll Cry When You’re Gone” on # 12164, but this record too, went nowhere. In May The Platters recorded the pop oldie “Roses Of Picardy” and “Beer Barrel Boogie” on Federal # 12181 and once again not much action on the record.


In June the group was back in the studio again and soon “Tell The World” and “Love All Night” on # 12188 was released. In August The Platters played a big R & B show at Los Angeles Savoy Ballroom with B.B. King as headliner. In September the group played the Hollywood Trocadero, and a month later took part in the Johnny Otis Hepcat Ball at the Shrine Auditorium. In October “Love All Night” is a good seller on the West Coast, the first record by the group to show some promise. In November “Voo-Vee-Ah-Bee” and “Shake It Up Mambo” were released by Federal on on # 12198. In December The Platters appear with Johnny Otis and band at the Riverside Rancho. In January of 1955 Federal Records released “Maggie Doesn’t Work Here Anymore” and “Take Me back, Take Me Back” on # 12204. The next month they recorded as backup for Linda Hayes on the tunes “Please Have Mercy” and “Oochi Pachi” on King # 4773. In April of 1955 under the urging of Buck Ram, The Platters sign with Mercury Records with their A & R chief Bibby Shad. In May The Platters record a Buck Ram tune called “Only You (And You Alone)” and “Bark Battle And Ball” on Mercury # 70633. The record remains stagnate for three months as the group tries to get some action on it and appears in Las Vegas. By late July the record suddenly picks up steam and is selling well in Los Angeles and Philadelphia. “Only You” starts to get airplay on all fronts, both R & B and pop formats. By September the record is big enough to spur a cover version by The Cues on Jubilee and the release by King Records of the original version by The Platters that went unreleased at the time. In October “Only You” is number one on the national R & B charts and even more impressively, number seven nationally on the pop music best sellers. It is a fitting reward for the group after two years of trying to produce a hit record. The record goes on to sell over one million and is reputed to have sold more than a million in France on that country’s Barclay label, a first for France. The Platters perform at a big R && B show at the L.A. Paramount with The Colts, Penguins, Dinah Washington, Joe Houston, and Big Jay McNeeley. Late in the year The Platters go in the studio for their follow up record to their successful debut for Mercury. They record “The Great Pretender” (another Buck Ram tune) and “I’m Just A Dancing Partner” on # 70753. The new record takes off from day one and looks to be an even bigger hit than “Only You”. King Records tries to horn in on the group’s new found success by re-issuing “Tell The World” and “I Need You All The Time” on Federal # 12250. The Platters are set to go in front of the cameras in Alan Freed’s “Rock Around The Clock” in Hollywood. “Pretender becomes another million seller for Mercury and the group becomes one of the hottest acts in the country.

In April The Platters join Freed again, this time for his Easter Week show at the Brooklyn Paramount Theater. The show breaks all records for attendance and causes huge traffic tie ups in the area. Mercury releases “The Magic Touch” ( written by Ram), and “Winner Take All” on # 70819. Both are ballads with a shuffle rhythm and both are solid hits. “Touch” is the stronger of the two and The Platters show no signs of fading. In June of 1956 The Platters make their national television debut on Jackie Gleason’s show. That month “My Prayer” and “Heaven On Earth” is released on Mercury # 70893. The Platters win the disc jockey poll in Cash Box magazine as the most played vocal group. In July lead singer Tony Williams plans to record as a solo artist. Mercury issues an LP by The Platters which is self titled ( on Mercury # 20146) and one of the tunes on the LP “I’m Sorry” is getting huge airplay even though it has not been released as a single. The album makes it into the top ten album sales charts. The Platters appear on the Ed Sullivan TV show in August. After that the group will do a week in Toronto, Canada. In September Buck Ram puts together what he calls the “Happy Music Show” starring The Platters and featuring The Flairs, Penguins, Dolly Cooper, Young Jessie, Shirley Gunter, and Joe Houston make appearances in the East, including a ten day stay at the New York Coliseum. In September “You’ll Never Never Know” and “It Isn’t Right” is released on Mercury # 70949. The next month The Platters go to Hollywood for a filming of a segment in the new movie “The Girl Can’t Help It” featuring their version of the latest hit for them “You’ll Never Never Know” written by group members Tony Williams and Paul Robi. The group plays Denver in November, and despite a heavy snowfall a big crowd showed up to hear the music. At year’s end, Buck Ram’s “Happy Music” show plays the West Coast. The Platters now considered a pop music act as they are consistent chart toppers.

In January of 1957 The Platters tour the country of Australia and the Philippines, then return to the United States for a few days to do film work on a new movie called "Rock All Night". After the filming is completed the group will go East for a ten day engagement at Brooklyn's Town & Country night club, the group's first appearance in the New York City area. For the February school holiday, Alan Freed will present the first rock 'n roll stage show at the New York Paramount which will headline The Platters and also present the film "The Girl Can't Help It" which also features the group. In March The Platters head for London where they will begin a three month tour of the United Kingdom. That month "I'm Sorry" and "He's Mine" is released on Mercury # 71032. In April "I'm Sorry" begins to sell big on the East Coast. In May Mercury Records releases an LP album featuring songs from the film "Rock All Night" which stars The Platters. Also at this time ?My Dream" and "I Wanna" is out on # 71093. In June the group sets up plans for another movie shoot with Alan Freed, then keeping up their globe trotter status they leave on a thirteen week tour of South America.

In July of the year, Tony Williams records as a solo artist for Mercury on the tunes "Let's Start All Over Again" ( a 1954 hit for Buddy Johnson's Orchestra with vocal by Nolan Lewis) and "When You Return" on 71158. Manager Buck Ram also records for RCA's Camden label as a bandleader with vocals by two members of The Colts, Eddie Williams and Don Wyatt. Ram is busy on other fronts also. He forms Antler Records, and is also setting up a motion picture which records the group's South American tour. Working title for the film is "The Flying Platters" which will also be the title of the new Platters LP. October finds The Platters appearing in Paris and a new Mercury release is out - "Only Because" and "The Mystery Of You" on #71184. In December the group is on the East Coast for club appearances and a spot on the Ed Sullivan television show. At year's end "Helpless" and "Indifferent Me" ( written by Zola Taylor) are released on Mercury # 71246.

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