THE HOLLYWOOD FLAMES
Among the countless R&B groups that were active in Los Angeles in the 1950s, the Hollywood Flames surely stand out in importance and longevity (1949-1966). They changed group name, personnel and label more often than probably any other group. I won't try to give a full overview of all those changes here ; it would result in a very long and rather dull story. The full details can be found at Marv Goldberg's website, complete with discography:
The original name of the group was the Flames. Bobby Day, of "Rockin' Robin" fame, was one of the founding members. However, at that time (1949) he was known under his real name, Robert Byrd. He was blessed with an extremely wide range and could cover the tenor, baritone, bass or lead parts. The other three original members were David Ford, Curley Dinkins and Willie Ray Rockwell. They had their first record release on the Selective label in January 1950, "Please Tell Me Now"/"Young Girl", quickly followed by 3 singles on Unique, credited to the Hollywood Four Flames. Two of the Unique masters, "Tabarin" and "W-I-N-E" were picked up by Specialty's Art Rupe, for rerelease on his Fidelity label (as by "The Four Flames"). "Tabarin", a song in the style of "Crying In the Chapel" by the Orioles, was written by Murry (sic) Wilson, the father of three of the Beach Boys. In early 1952, Rupe had them record a cover version of "Wheel of Fortune" (Specialty 423), but this was far outsold by other versions, most notably Kay Starr's. By late 1953 Rockwell and Dinkins had been replaced by Leon Hughes (later of the Coasters), Gaynel Hodge (a founding member of the Platters) and Curtis Williams (who would soon join the Penguins, but he returned later). During that year the group recorded for Aladdin and its 7-11 subsidiary. 1954 was a productive year, with eight releases, most of them on John Dolphin's Lucky label. By now they were usually billed as the Hollywood Flames, but they also recorded as the Jets, the Turks and the Sounds. Gaynel Hodge left in late 1955, to start his own group (a reformed version of the Turks) and was replaced by Earl Nelson, who had already recorded some duets with Bobby Byrd as the Voices (on the Cash label).
In 1957 the group became yet another entity when they signed with Leon Rene's Class label. Googie Rene renamed Bobby Byrd "Bobby Day" and renamed the Flames the Satellites. The second single by Bobby Day and the Satellites, "Little Bitty Pretty One" (Class 211) looked like a smash, until it was covered by Thurston Harris, whose Aladdin version went to # 6 on the Billboard pop charts, while the original stalled at # 57. Earl Nelson also got the chance to record solo singles for Class, which were credited to Earl Nelson and the Pelicans.
Meanwhile, the group's multiple identities enabled them to record for more than one label at the same time. As the Hollywood Flames, they signed with Lee Rupe's Ebb label. Bobby Day's composition "Buzz Buzz Buzz" (Ebb 119), with Earl Nelson on lead, entered Billboard's Top 100 on November 25, 1957, peaking at # 11 pop and # 5 R&B. Finally, after recording for almost eight years, the Hollywood Flames had a real hit. The lineup was now probably Earl Nelson, Bobby Day, David Ford, Clyde Tillis and Curtis Williams, but "Buzz Buzz Buzz" was the last cut on which Bobby sang with the Hollywood Flames (replaced by Don Wyatt). Bobby concentrated on his solo career and was soon rewarded with a giant hit, "Rockin' Robin" ( # 2, Class 229), while the reverse, "Over and Over" charted in its own right, reaching # 41. Both songs have been covered / revived by many artists ; the Dave Clark Five even scored a # 1 in 1965 with "Over and Over" and Michael Jackson's version of "Rockin' Robin" (1972) went to # 2, just like the original. Bobby scored three smaller hits on Class in 1959 and also continued to record duets with Earl Nelson as Bob and Earl. The part of "Bob" was taken over by Bobby Relf (1937-2007) in 1962. This duo recorded "Harlem Shuffle" in 1963. Earl Nelson had a solo hit in 1965 with "The Duck" (as Jackie Lee, # 14).
Ebb released six more singles by the Hollywood Flames after "Buzz Buzz Buzz" in 1958-59, but nothing charted. This was followed by four singles on Atco and one for Chess, which gave the group its last chart entry ("Gee", Chess 1787, # 26 R&B, lead vocal by Donald Height). The last label they recorded for was Symbol. The group finally split up in 1966. Bobby Day, Dave Ford, Willie Rockwell, Clyde Tillis, Curtis Williams and Earl Nelson have all passed away.
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