Born circa 1937, New York City
Vocalist / pianist / arranger / songwriter / bandleader
The early musical career of Rex Garvin was entwined with that of his neighbour Zelma "Zell" Sanders from the Bronx. Being a black woman in the record business was definitely a handicap for Zell in a white, male-dominated industry in the 1950s. She was a hardworking entrepeneur and formidable matriarch who controlled the artists she managed with the tough love of a strict parent, sometimes fining or sacking them on the spot if they broke her rules. Sanders and Garvin were both very much involved with the Hearts, a group of young girls, formed in 1954, whose first record, "Lonely Nights" was placed with Sol Rabinowitz's Baton label in early 1955. It was an immediate hit (# 8 R&B), making the Hearts the second female group to have a song on the R&B charts, after Shirley Gunter and the Queens. The Hearts had no further hits, but continued to release singles until 1963. Garvin weathered the countless personnel changes in the group and remained their arranger and pianist, "mainly to meet girls", as Rex put it. He was more or less considered as a member of the group (the girls lovingly referred to him as "maestro") and appears on one of their promotion photos, see http://www.group-harmony.com/lonely_n.htm
"Lonely Nights" was followed by four further Baton singles by the Hearts, but after her deal with Baton ended, Zell decided it was time to start her own record company, J & S Records (launched in June 1956), where Garvin would become her right hand. He was responsible for the full, bottom-heavy, piano laden arrangements that would come to signify the J & S sound. Rex also introduced Zell to his protégé Joe Rivers, a tall, handsome, black kid, born in Charleston, South Carolina in 1937. One day when Joe was rehearsing a song, Zell Sanders suggested to her daughter, Johnnie Louise Richardson, to sing along with Joe. They became the duo Johnnie and Joe, who recorded prolifically between 1956 and 1969. Their first release, "I'll Be Spinning" (written by Garvin) was so successful (# 10 R&B) that Sanders licensed the master to Chess Records for national distribution because J & S could not afford to press so many copies. The same happened with the fourth single by Johnnie and Joe, which became a monster hit. Again written by Garvin, "Over the Mountain, Across the Sea" went to # 8 on the pop charts and # 3 on the R & B charts in mid-1957. It is Rex singing the harmony vocal behind the duo. The song had a second chart run in 1960, peaking at # 89, and the B-side, "My Baby's Gone On, On" also made the R & B charts. Garvin continued to write songs for the duo, also after they had left J & S and recorded for Gone, ABC-Paramount, Lana and Tuff. During 1964-66, Johnnie was also a member of the Jaynetts, but this was after they scored their big hit, "Sally Go Round the Roses" (1963, # 2). Johnnie was only 43 when she was felled by a stroke in 1988. Her mother Zell had died in 1976 at the age of 54.
Rex Garvin's own recording career started in 1959. It was a duet with Marie Knight, "I Can't Sit Down" (Carlton 502), which went to # 94 on the Billboard pop charts. In 1961, Garvin formed his own group, Rex Garvin and the Mighty Cravers. They released about a dozen singles in the 1960s on a variety of labels, in the R&B / soul vein, the best known of which are "Emulsified", "Sock It To 'Em J.B." (a tribute to James Brown) and "I Gotta Go Now". But Garvin's most interesting record by far (from a rock n roll point of view, anyway) is "Oh Yeah", released in 1962 on the Scatt label (which was launched by Zell Sanders in April 1958 as a subsidiary of J & S), but probably recorded a few years earlier. It is an exuberant rocker, with a fantastic instrumental solo, but this sort of frantic stuff was an anachronism in 1962 and was commercially stillborn. "Oh Yeah" has been reissued on several compilations, most recently as the opening track of the Buddy Lucas CD "Hoppin' Bop With Buddy Lucas" (2004), where it is erroneously listed as "Willie B." by Carman Taylor. An LP by the Cravers came out on Tower in 1968, by which time they had turned to the new funk sounds. The last release by Rex Garvin and the Mighty Cravers was "Strange Happenings" on the Chieftain label in 1971. Not much was heard of them since then. Garvin seems to be living in Georgia nowadays, but it is doubtful if he is still musically active.
Rex Garvin discography: http://koti.mbnet.fi/wdd/rexgarvin.htm
The Hearts : http://home.earthlink.net/~v1tiger/heartsbaton.html
Zell Sanders and J&S Records : http://home.earthlink.net/~v1tiger/jands.html
Johnnie and Joe CD : http://www.acerecords.co.uk/content.php?page_id=59&release=7408
Acknowledgements : Pete Hoppula, Joel Whitburn, John Clemente (author of the book "Girl Groups", 2000).
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