In the fifties, there were two vocal groups called The Diamonds : a New York City rhythm and blues group that recorded for Atlantic and a white Canadian group who specialized in covers of R&B hits. My story will deal with the latter group.
The Diamonds have taken their share of the blame heaped upon white artists of the 1950s who made their living covering the records of black singers. Still, they were the most succesful white pop group of the mid-fifties and, unlike that other Canadian group on Mercury, the Crew-Cuts, their covers were generally very good, in some cases surpassing the originals. From late 1957 onwards, the Diamonds recorded mostly original songs. But they were not exactly innovators and most rock 'n' roll historians dismiss the group as unimportant.
The original members of the group were David Somerville (lead), Phil Leavitt (baritone), Ted Kowalski (tenor) and Bill Reed (bass). They were students at the University of Toronto, who practiced several different vocal group styles, including four-part "barbershop" harmony. By the summer of 1955 the group had crossed the U.S. border with their new manager Nat Goodman. He got the group an audition at Coral Records in NYC, which resulted in their first single, "Black Denim Trousers and Motorcycle Boots"/"Nip Sip". Nobody told The Diamonds that these songs had already been recorded by the Cheers and the Clovers respectively. Their versions were no match for the originals and Coral showed no interest to retain the group. With the help of influential DJ Bill Randle from Cleveland, the Diamonds then signed with Mercury Records, a label that knew how to exploit the (then substantial) market for cover discs. Their first four singles for Mercury in 1956 (all Top 40 hits) were "Why Do Fools Fall In Love", "Church Bells May Ring", "Love, Love, Love" and "Ka-Ding-Dong", originally recorded by the Teenagers, the Willows, the Clovers and the G-Clefs respectively. The Diamonds' versions of the two latter songs even scored on the R&B charts. Crossing back to the black market with a white cover was something unheard of in 1956, but the Diamonds started to make a regular practice of it. The key might have been Dave Somerville, whose vocal timbre fell somewhat between white pop and black rhythm and blues and may have fooled the black public into thinking the group was black.
After the next two singles had flopped completely, the group seemed on the way out. Enter "Little Darlin'". Nat Goodman felt that this record by Maurice Williams and the Gladiolas would be a smash for his group to cover. Legend has it that prior to the recording session, Goodman had the group rehearsing the song all night in their hotel room. They became so fed up with it that they exaggerated the bass and falsetto parts in an attempt to turn the song into a satire of itself. The now classic bass talking bridge (on the original Maurice Williams did the bridge in his natural tenor voice) was certainly an improvement on the Gladiolas' recording and showed that the group was not devoid of musical creativity. "Little Darlin'" became the Diamonds' biggest hit, peaking at # 2 in Billboard (both pop and R&B!) and at # 3 in the UK, where it was their only hit.
After succesful covers of "Words Of Love" (Buddy Holly) and "Silhouettes" (The Rays), the Diamonds had to face the fact that the cover era was coming to an end. They began looking for original material and were approached by tunesmith Clyde Otis, who had composed a song based on a new dance craze, "The Stroll". Popularized by Dick Clark's American Bandstand, the song went to # 4. Soon after this smash, Kowalski and Reed departed and were replaced by Evan Fisher and John Felton, both from California. From this point on, the Diamonds' singles were predominantly originals, but their popularity waned. They continued issuing singles, some of which were cover tunes ("Walking Along", "One Summer Night"). By mid- 1959, after "She Say (Oom Dooby Doom)" (Barry Mann's first success as a writer), the group's popularity had run its course. The group disbanded in 1962, but the members remained in touch and reunited for a TV special in 1974. In 1987 they released "Diamonds Are Forever", an album aimed at the country market. Two singles from the LP did well enough to be listed on various country charts. Over the years, the original members of the group retired for one reason or another.
Dave Somerville embarked upon a solo career as David Troy, before joining the Four Preps in 1967. That group was history by 1969, but in 1993 Somerville joined the New Four Preps with original Preps Ed Cobb and Bruce Belland and Jim Yester, ex-lead singer of The Association. After the death of Ed Cobb in 1999, the three remaining members continued as Yester, Belland & Somerville (aka Triple Gold) : http://www.ybsgold.com/ybs3tenors.htm
CD: The Best of the Diamonds : The Mercury Years (Polygram, 1996).
|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 firstname.lastname@example.org