Born Arthur Griffin Lewis Crier, Jr., 1st April, 1935, Manhattan, New York City
Arthur Crier? Oh yes, you've heard his voice, even if you don't know it. If it wasn't on the humorous introduction ("Oh baby, you're a nag!") to the Halos' hit "Nag", then it was probably his majestic bass proclaiming the title of Curtis Lee's great "Pretty Little Angel Eyes" or singing the acapella line "Come-a little darling, take my hand" on "Under the Moon of Love" by the same Curtis Lee.
Crier was born in Manhattan, but moved to the Morrisania section of the Bronx when he was two. He grew up listening to the Ink Spots, the Mills Brothers and the Golden Gate Quartet in the 1940s. A glee club singer by the first grade, he was performing gospel with a local amateur quintet called the Heavenly Five by age 15. In 1953 he formed the Chimes with Gary Morrison, John Murray and Gene Redd. In that same year the Chimes had two singles released on Royal Roost Records, but then John Murray died of spinal meningitis at the age of only 16 and it wasn't the same without him. Crier and Morrison formed another group in early 1956, the Hummers. They recorded three songs for Old Town Records, which remained in the can until 1993, when they were released in Ace's "Old Town Doo-Wop" series. This group didn't last long either and Crier and Morrison went to the Mellows, who had Lillian Leach as their female lead. The Mellows had enjoyed an East Coast hit in 1954 with "Smoke>From Your Cigarette", but were without a recording contract when the new line-up was formed. The Mellows signed to Celeste Records, for which they recorded nine tracks in 1956, only four of which were released, on two singles (including "Lucky Guy"). Lack of promotion doomed the sides to obscurity. The group members all wisely kept their day jobs. Crier's own personal favourite from the Mellows period is "Moon Of Silver", a haunting ballad which came out on the Candlelight label in early 1957. Following the break-up of the Mellows in 1959, Crier dove headfirst into songwriting, producing and managing, often in partnership with his friend Robert Spencer. As the Pre-Historics, Crier and Spencer recorded "Oh Blues" for Edsel in 1960, on the flip of "Alley-Oop Cha Cha Cha", which was actually sung by Skip and Flip (Gary Paxton and Clyde Battin). The Halos were formed in 1961 (Arthur Crier, Al Cleveland, Harold Johnson and Phil Johnson, the latter two not related). They were all background singers, working in the busy studio network in New York. The group recorded the Coasters-styled novelty "Nag" (written by Crier), which took off to # 25 on the Billboard charts in the summer of 1961. Arthur's prominent bass voice, singing "Oh baby, you're a nag", became the song's hook. It came out on Seven Arts, a label formed by Morty Craft ("a bum and a crook", according to Crier) who also owned Warwick Records. The flip of "Nag" was a good pop song called "Copy Cat", penned by Crier and Robert Spencer. There was only one further single on 7 Arts ("Come On"/ "What 'd I Say") before the label went bankrupt. But the Halos had an LP released on Warwick (simply titled "The Halos"), which included the four sides from Seven Arts.
The success of "Nag" opened many doors and soon the Halos were very much in demand as background singers. Apart from the two Curtis Lee singles mentioned above (both produced by Phil Spector), the group can be heard on such hits as "Who Put the Bomp" (Barry Mann), "Every Breath I Take" (Gene Pitney) and "My Heart Cries For You" (Ben E. King). They also sang behind Little Eva, Johnny Nash, Tommy Hunt, Bobby Vinton, Dion, the Coasters, Connie Francis, Brian Hyland and Johnny Mathis. 1961 was really the big year for session work. Fast forward to 1968. From 1968-1972, Arthur lived in Detroit and worked for Motown Records as a songwriter, producer and background vocalist.
In 1984, Crier reformed the Mellows and began performing again for devotees of 1950s R&B vocal group harmony. Inspired by the "We Are The World" project, Arthur undertook a similar effort featuring vocal group artists of the 1950s and 1960s, called "Don't Let Them Starve". After a National Geographic Explorer cable television documentary on the vocal groups of the Bronx's Morrisiana neighbourhood, Crier and friends formed the Morrisiana Revue, recording the critically acclaimed "Voices of Doo Wop" CD in 1994. It presents the authentic sound of group harmony in a modern setting with digital recording. A champion of the music and fervent believer in its historical preservation, Crier participated in a number of projects that broadened the horizons for vocal group pioneers. Outside of music, Arthur was deeply involved in community work. During the 1970s he was Director of Recreation for the Tremont Improvement Program in the Bronx, working closely with the South Bronx youth gangs to help direct members toward positive pursuits including talent shows and cultural trips.
Arthur Crier was one of the great unsung heroes of group R&B, a ubiquitous presence on the New York music scene, and a man well-loved and very knowledgeable in his genre. He died in 2004 at the age of 69, survived by his wife (Dorothy), six children, nineteen grandchildren and seven great- grandchildren.
Further reading: http://home.att.net/~marvart/Arthurcrier/arthurcrier.html (by Marv Goldberg).
"Nag" by the Halos is available on several compilation CD's, for instance "The Golden Age of American Rock 'n' Roll, Vol. 2" (Ace CDCHD 445).
On the "Voices of Doo Wop" CD see:
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