The history of the black doowop group The Flairs is a complicated one. Those who want the full details are referred to Marv Goldberg's article (mentioned at the bottom), which also includes a discography. The Flairs came together as a group while most of them were attending Jefferson High School in Los Angeles in 1952. The original members were Richard Berry (born 11 April, 1935), Cornel(ius) Gunter (born 11 November, 1938), Obediah "Young" Jessie (born 28 December, 1936), Thomas "Peter" Fox and Beverly Thompson. During the summer of 1953 they approached Joe Bihari of Modern Records for a chance to record. Although they lacked professional training, Bihari noted their natural singing/songwriting talents and signed them to a two-year contract.
The group was named the Flairs, after Bihari's new Flair label, which was set up as a country music subsidiary of Modern, but soon switched to R&B. They had seven records issued as the Flairs on Flair Records from July 1953 to March 1955. All the songs were original material written by various members of the group. Richard Berry and Cornel Gunter shared all the lead vocals except for a few by "Young" Jessie. The initial recording sessions were done with local musicians, but later sessions were arranged and backed by Ike Turner and then Maxwell Davis.
The original group members all sang on the first five releases but then Richard Berry and Beverly Thompson left the group during the summer of 1954. They were replaced in the recording studio by Randy Jones and Charles Jackson for the last two Flair releases.
The Flairs sometimes recorded under a different name and with other singers from the Los Angeles vocal group scene. Joe Bihari chose to release these efforts on his Flair label, crediting the Hunters, Five Hearts, Chimes, Rams and (possibly) the Whips. Richard Berry also had solo recordings released on Flair during 1953-54 and Young Jessie, backed by the Flairs, had his first recording as a single artist issued on Modern Records in early 1954 ("Lonesome Desert"/"I Smell A Rat"). Some of the Flairs recordings from this period were first issued on a Crown LP (5356) in 1963, which is now a vocal group collector item.
Although they did not score any national hits, the Flairs were one of the premier west coast R&B vocal groups during their Flair period. They were equally adept in recording beautiful ballads as well as raucous rockers. In the autumn of 1955, the group came to the attention of Buck Ram, who expressed an interest in managing the Flairs. The only problem was that the group was falling apart. Young Jessie got serious about his solo career and Peter Fox joined the Cadets/Jacks. It was Cornel Gunter, still only 17, who formed a new Flairs group, with his cousin, Kenneth Byley (first tenor), Thomas Miller (baritone) and George Hollis (bass). Occasionally, this new line-up was augmented by Cornel's older sister Shirley Gunter, who had scored a # 8 R&B hit in September 1954 with "Oop Shoop" on Flair. This group recorded three singles for the Loma logo as Cornel Gunter and the Ermines, before Buck Ram placed them on ABC-Paramount, for which label they recorded in the style of the Platters. In 1957, the Flairs recorded for Buck Ram's very own Antler label, after which there followed a lean period with the Flairs missing out on record deals while Buck Ram concentrated on the Platters. Cornel Gunter departed for the Coasters, becoming a member of the classic line-up (1958-1961) that recorded "Yakety Yak", "Charlie Brown", "Along Came Jones", "Poison Ivy", etc.
In September 1959, the Flairs became the Flares. Two ex-members of the Cadets had joined their ranks, Aaron Collins and Willie Davis. Tommy Miller and George Hillis were still around and, with Zola Taylor of the Platters in mind, Buck Ram also added a female member, Beverly Harris, later replaced by Patience Valentine. They started recording for Felsted in 1960 and scored a # 25 pop hit in 1961 with "Foot Stomping, Part 1" (Felsted 8624). Felsted's sales manager, Walt McGuire, set up the Press label especially for Buck Ram's productions. There were another seven singles by the Flares, all on Press, but a follow-up hit proved hard to come by. There followed a Press LP release in 1964 and that was the end of the 11-year history of the Flairs / Flares. The Flares CD (see below) had a positive review in NDT 231 ("Overall, a strong and varied compilation.") In spite of the presence of Plas Johnson and Earl Palmer on quite a few tracks, I would rate the collection as no more than average.
Sources / acknowledgements:
"The Ultimate Flairs" (Ace CDCHD 1023). Released in 2004, 29 tracks. Liner notes by Gordon Skadberg.
"The Flares, Foot Stompin' " (Ace CDCHD 841). Released in 2002, 26 tracks. Liner notes by Bill Millar.
Richard Berry, Cornel Gunter and Young Jessie, the three original lead singers, all have their own entry in the Shakin' All Over library. http://www.geocities.com/shakin_stacks/index.html Gunter was murdered in 1990, Berry died in 1997.
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