OTIS WILLIAMS (AND THE CHARMS)
Born 2 June 1936, Cincinnati, Ohio
Otis Williams, not to be confused with the Temptations member of the same name, was the lead vocalist of the Charms, an R&B group that had its greatest success in the years 1954-1957. Along with the Cadets/Jacks, they were one of the top black cover groups, though they were covered as much as they covered others.
Williams was a talented athlete and he could have played for the Cincinnati Reds baseball team, but he chose for a career in music instead. In 1952 he joined an existing singing group when one of its members was sick. The group, which Otis named The Charms, consisted of Rolland Bradley (tenor), Bob Smith (tenor, soon replaced by Donald Peak), Joe Penn (baritone) and Richard Parker (bass). Their first record, the self-penned “Heaven Only Knows”, came out in July 1953 on Henry Stone’s Florida-based Rockin’ label, but was soon reissued on DeLuxe (a King subsidiary), after a deal between Henry Stone and King boss Syd Nathan. King was a Cincinnati label, but very few acts were actually from Cincinnati, the Charms being one of the exceptions. After five flops on DeLuxe, the Charms hit the big time with “Hearts Of Stone” (originally recorded by the West Coast group The Jewels), which topped the R&B charts for nine weeks in late 1954. It sold over one million copies and also made the pop charts (# 15), but was still outsold by a white cover by the Fontane Sisters on Dot (# 1 pop).
Their next single, with two covers, was a double-sided hit. “Ling Ting Tong” (The Five Keys) went to # 5 R&B (# 26 pop), “Bazoom” (The Cheers) to # 15 R&B. Another double-sided cover, “Ko Ko Mo”/“Whatdaya Want”, failed to chart, but then came “Two Hearts”, an original by Otis Williams and Henry Stone. It made the R&B Top 10 (# 8), but in the pop market the Charms were beaten by a cover by Pat Boone (# 16), who started his streak of 60 chart singles with this song. Likewise, the Rudy Toombs original “Gum Drop” was the victim of a cover by the Crew Cuts, whose version rose to # 10 pop, while the Charms’ version went nowhere. This was the first single credited to “Otis Williams and His New Group”. The Stone-Nathan partnership had run aground in the spring of 1955 and Henry Stone took the original Charms with him to his new label, Chart Records. Staying with DeLuxe, Otis Williams recruited three new backup singers and soon his records would appear as by “Otis Williams and His Charms”, whereas the earlier singles had simply been credited to The Charms. His first success with the new line-up was “That’s Your Mistake” (# 14 R&B, # 48 pop), soon followed by his biggest pop hit, “Ivory Tower” (# 11 pop, # 5 R&B). However, two female white versions of “Ivory Tower”, by Cathy Carr (the original, # 2) and Gale Storm (# 6), beat Otis and his team to the real money. “United” (# 5, mid-1957) was Williams’s last entry into the R&B charts.
Though Otis Williams was not a rock ’n’ roller in the accepted sense, he recorded quite a few songs that can only be described as rock n roll. Examples are “Well Oh Well”, “Red Hot Love” and the Coasters-styled “Don’t Wake Up the Kids” (1958), which was covered by The Four Dots with Eddie Cochran on guitar. Williams also did some arranging and producing jobs for Syd Nathan. In 1956 he co-arranged Little Willie John’s “Fever” and in November 1958 he arranged and co-produced Hank Ballard’s original version of “The Twist”.
Otis was drafted in June 1960 and served in the Army for two years. However, he was still able to record occasionally when he was home on leave. From 1960 on his records were released on the parent label, King, instead of DeLuxe. Some were solo recordings, most were still credited to Otis Williams and His Charms. In 1961 they scraped the bottom of the Hot 100 twice with the Hank Ballard-styled rocker “Little Turtle Dove” (# 95) and with “Panic” (# 99). He did his last session for the King label in September 1963.
In 1965-66 Williams recorded for OKeh without success, then retired from music for several years, working as a barber in Cincinnati. Otis had always liked country music and recorded country material for Pete Drake’s Stop label during 1969-1971, including the album “Otis Williams and the Midnight Cowboys". It seems that these were his last recordings. In the 1990s Williams returned to group harmony singing, touring internationally with a new group of Charms. He is still active today.
More info : http://www.uncamarvy.com/Charms/charms.html (By Marv Goldberg)
Discography / sessionography (by Frank Frantik) :
Acknowledgements : Marv Goldberg, Jay Warner, Jon Hartley Fox.
Dik, June 2015
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