The Blossoms were one of the most important backing groups in rock n roll history. The abilility to adapt their voices to any vocal style catapulted them to the status of the most in-demand session singers of their time.
Before the Blossoms, there were the Dreamers, six female students at Fremont High School in Los Angeles. It was not long before this sextet was discovered by Richard Berry who got them signed to the Flair label in the summer of 1954. The Dreamers joined Berry in the studio after much rehearsal and their first single, ""Bye Bye"/"At Last" (Flair 1052) was credited to The Dreamers featuring Richard Berry. After this first record, the group became a quartet : Fanita Barrett, Gloria Jones and the twin sisters Annette and Nanette Williams, all born in 1938.
The Dreamers developed a crystal clear harmonic tone. Everything they sang was done in three or four-part harmonies. Happy being backing vocalists, they were not interested in making a name for themselves. They backed Richard Berry on three singles for Flair, one single for RPM and one on Flip. But in 1956 they also got the chance to record on their own, on Flip (as the Dreamers) and on Class (as the Rollettes).
Their vocal coach Eddie Beal helped the group get a deal with a major label, Capitol, in 1957. One condition was that the group change their name. An A&R man at Capitol named the group the Blossoms, after noticing they had different skin tones. When Nanette Williams expected her first child, she left the group and was replaced by 16 year-old Darlene Wright, whose distinctive, powerful voice would give the Blossoms a new sound. She had previously sung with the Echoes (who had two singles released in 1957, one on Combo and one on Specialty) and also done session work behind Sam Cooke and Clydie King.
The Blossoms' recordings for Capitol (only three singles, 1957-58) were quite a departure from the California R&B sound they were singing behind Richard Berry and Etta James. But their versatility also made them misunderstood by the major labels. Capitol did not know how to promote them as primary artists. There followed a short stay (two singles) at RCA under the name the Playgirls. Annette Williams left the group in 1960 and the remaining Blossoms (Fanita, Gloria, Darlene - all three were married in 1959-60) soon signed with Challenge Records. There, they had their only hit under their own name, an answer record to Ernie K-Doe's "Mother-In-Law" called "Son-In-Law", which went to # 79 on the Billboard pop charts in 1961. Darlene Wright, who usually sang lead, was not available for this session and it is still unclear who her last-minute replacement lead on "Son-In-Law" is.
None of the follow-ups made any impact. The group was indifferent, as they had plenty of studio work. They backed literally hundreds of artists, like Bobby Day, Larry Williams, Bobby Darin, Sam Cooke, Gene Autry, Ed Townsend, Doris Day, Shirley Gunter and Duane Eddy (on "Dance With the Guitar Man", they were the Rebellettes). Some big hits on which they can be heard are "Goodbye Cruel World" (James Darren), "Johnny Angel" (Shelley Fabares) and "Monster Mash" (Bobby Pickett).
Part-time Blossoms soon joined the fold : Gracia Nitzsche (Jack's wife), Edna Wright (Darlene's sister) and Carolyn Willis. Their biggest hit came in the autumn of 1962, but it was not billed as the Blossoms. "He's A Rebel", featuring Darlene's raging lead, became a # 1 for ... the Crystals. Though the Blossoms could not reap the benefit of having a hit single, they established an ongoing relationship with Phil Spector that would last for three years. Darlene Wright was rechristened Darlene Love by Spector in January 1963 and had a few solo hits under that name. Darlene and Fanita (now Fanita James) also were Bob B. Soxx and the Blue Jeans, together with Bobby Sheen, and as such scored a Top 10 hit with Spector's production of "Zip-A-Dee Doo-Dah", followed by two smaller hits. Near the end of 1962, Gloria Jones had left the Blossoms. She wanted to get her social work degree and settle down. Gloria was replaced by Gracia Nitzsche, the first white member of the Blossoms. However, when the Blossoms became the resident backing group at the TV show "Shindig" in 1964, producer Jack Good insisted that the backing trio must be an all black group. Jean King was then chosen as the third Blossom. After "Shindig" folded in 1966, the group signed to Reprise Records, where they recorded a handful of carefully crafted songs, produced by Jimmy Bowen. This was followed by singles on Ode, MGM, Bell and Lion. This latter label issued the first and only Blossoms LP, the critically acclaimed "Shockwave" (1972).
Until 1975, the Blossoms were Fanita James, Darlene Love and Jean King. They started touring with Tom Jones in 1969 and worked extensively in Las Vegas in the 1970s for Elvis Presley, Paul Anka, Tom Jones and Dionne Warwick. Internal conflicts came to a head during an extensive tour with Dionne Warwick. Darlene left the group in 1975, had an unpleasant reunion with Phil Spector for "Lord If You're A Woman" (1977), dropped out of the entertainment industry for some five years, even cleaned houses in Beverly Hills for a living, but made a strong comeback in the 1990s. Fanita James was the one constant factor in the group from 1954 until 1990, when she retired the Blossoms. Since then she has occasionally toured and recorded with the Shirelles. Jean King died of a heart attack in 1983.
|These pages were originally published as "This Is My Story" in the
Yahoo Group "Shakin' All Over". For comments or information
please contact Dik de Heer at email@example.com