Born Ray Pamade Denson, 28 April 1930, Mount Airy, Surry County, North Carolina
Billy Lamont (sometimes spelled La Mont) was an Afro-American R&B singer whose death in 2012 passed unnoticed, apart from a mention in a local New Jersey newspaper. Biographical information about him on the Internet is virtually non-existent. The following is largely based on an interview with Dan Kochakian in Blues & Rhythm # 157 (March 2001).
Born in North Carolina, Ray Denson moved to Georgia at a young age and later to New Jersey, probably Irvington. He would remain a resident of the Garden State for the rest of his life. Ray was a very good dancer and started to dance professionally in 1951, taking on the professional name of Billy Lamont. His singing career started more or less by accident in 1956 when he was recruited as a last-minute replacement for H-Bomb Ferguson on a show that also featured Chuck Willis and Solomon Burke, among others. By that time he had already written several songs and in 1957 he gave a tape of his songs to Arthur Candino who was an A&R man for Savoy Records. Candino liked what he heard and invited Lamont to do a session in New York City on July 25, 1957. Billy was a little nervous, as he had not been singing for very long and he was in awe of the session musicians, people like Sammy Price (piano) and Kenny Burrell (guitar). But it turned out well and "I Got A Rock 'n' Roll Gal"/"I'm So Sorry" was released in October, on Savoy 1522. The A-side is an excellent rocker and was my introduction to Lamont in 1970. My buddy Henk Gorter had acquired a copy of the single and put it on a reel-to-reel tape for me. Two other songs, also written by Billy himself, were consigned to the vaults, "Uncle John's Been Goofin'" and "Is You Is", but the latter was recorded by another Savoy artist, Nappy Brown, in August 1958. According to Lamont, his second single was "If You Believe You Can, You Will"/"I Need Love", recorded for the NYC label Central in 1958, but there is no evidence that this record was actually released. In December 1958 he did have a 45 released, though, "Tom Cat"/"Millie", for the tiny Candelo label, with King Curtis on sax. Two nice rockers, arranged by Leroy Kirkland. "Tom Cat" came from the pen of Jack Hammer, being one of the few Lamont recordings that Billy didn't write himself.
This was followed by what I consider to be his best rocker, the Little Richard- styled "Country Boy", with backing by the Upsetters. It was first released on 3-D ( # 850), but that small label had poor distribution and Columbia leased the master, re-releasing it on OKeh 7125 in September 1959. "A pounder which dancers will like", wrote Billboard about "Country Boy". However, it was the slow flip-side that was promoted, "Can't Make It By Myself", which was in the style of Gene Allison's "You Can Make It If You Try". Allegedly, it was Billy's biggest seller, though it didn't make the national charts. A second OKeh single, "I'm Gonna Try"/"Now Darling" (1960) featured the same accompaniment : Grady Gaines and the Upsetters, the Gibraltars on backing vocals and arranger Robert Banks on piano. In June 1960, Billy did a one-off session for the King label, resulting in the single "Hear Me Now"/"Come On Right Now", the top side being a virtual clone of "Bony Moronie", but not as powerful.
The next time Lamont appeared on record, it was uncredited. In the wake of Chris Kenner's success with "I Like It Like That", Lloyd Price reissued a 1959 recording by Kenner, "Don't Make No Noise", on his Prigan label (# 2002) in September 1961. The flip-side, "The Right Kind Of Girl", was also credited to Chris Kenner, but was actually sung by Billy Lamont.
It wasn't until 1965 that Billy recorded again. "Shake And Jerk"/"Girls, Girls, Girls" was one of the first releases on the new Bang label, produced by Gene Redd. The same year saw the release of the single "So Called Friend"/"(Darlin') Please Come Home" on Johnny Brantley's Bran-T label, in the soul style that was so popular in the mid- and late 1960s. Johnny Brantley produced several other recordings by Lamont that have never been issued.
"(Zap! Pow!) Do the Batman"/"Do the Thing" was recorded for Atlantic in January 1966 with Gate Wesley and his band, one of the first Batman records. Billy's final release of the 1960s was "Sweet Thang"/"Please Don't Leave" (20th Century Fox 6707), released in 1968, but the backing track was already recorded in June 1966 with Jimi Hendrix on guitar. It was an R&B Spotlight pick in Billboard, but rock n roll fans will probably hate it. This single and the Atlantic 45 were also supervised by Johnny Brantley, a NY based producer with Georgia roots.
The 1970s brought very few new releases by Lamont. "Communications Is Where It's At, Parts 1 & 2" (Grill 302) was credited to Billy the Baron & His Smokin Challangers (sic), released in 1976. "Produced by Ray Denson" says the label, which means that Billy had now also become a producer. Bobby Byrd (of the Famous Flames, James Brown's group) was a cousin of Lamont and he told Cliff White that he produced a record on Billy in the late 1970s, "On the Money Side", for the Red Greg label, which never came out. Probably Lamont's final release was the 12-inch maxi single "The Man With the Master Plan"/"The Cowboy" (Law-Ton 1600), credited to Billy Lamont & the Unn Band, issued in 1980. Solidly in the funk groove.
"In the 1980s I went into gospel", Billy told Don Kochakian. He produced and recorded some gospel recordings for Jet Records ; it is not clear if these have been released. About the 1990s, he has nothing to say. I assume he was retired from the music scene by then.
Billy Lamont died on June 3, 2012, at the University of Medicine & Dentistry of New Jersey in Newark, aged 82.
CD : Billy Lamont Meets Chuck Edwards (Official CD 5678, Denmark). 28 tracks, 15 by Lamont (1957-68) and 13 by Chuck Edwards. Released in 2001, no liner notes. In spite of the label's name, this is a bootleg release.
Acknowledgements : Don Kochakian, Tapio Väisänen.
Dik, May 2013
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