DON GARDNER AND DEE DEE FORD
(By Tony Wilkinson)
In 1962, the listening world was treated to the R&B gospel drenched call and response sounds of 'I Need Your Lovin' by Don Gardner and Dee Dee Ford. This record made the USA pop top twenty and the top ten in the separate R&B chart and was released in many other countries such as the UK. Whilst the duo only had one other significant hit, with the song 'Don't You Worry', the impact and lasting remembrance of their principal success has been enough to ensure their place in musical history.
Don Gardner was born in Philadelphia on May 9, 1931, and started out as a professional musician in 1947 whilst still at school. Mentored by Doc 'Dumplin's' Bagby, Gardner gained experience as a singer in the outfit Harry 'Fat Man' Crafton & The Craftones prior to forming his own band The Sonotones. On piano in this combo was Jimmy Smith , who later after switching to the organ achieved a major impact in the jazz field with such smashes as 'Walk On The Wild Side'. (When Smith left the Sonotones, he was replaced by Richard 'Groove' Holmes). Gardner first recorded (as Donald Gardner) for the Philadelphia based Gotham label in 1949 with a version of 'September Song'. Actually, Gotham issued this twice with different flips. The Sonotones had three singles (top sides were 'How Do You Speak To An Angel', 'I'll Walk Alone' and 'I Hear a Rhapsody') issued on Bruce Records (home of The Harptones) between 1954 and 1955. Whilst with this record company, the group cut quite a few instrumentals which eventually saw the light of day on budget label releases but credited to Jimmy Smith after he made the big time.
Come 1957/1958, Gardner cut two singles ('This Nearly Was Mine' and 'There! I've Said It Again') for the King Records subsidiary company DeLuxe Records which was followed by the instrumentals 'Up the Street' c/w 'Dark Alley' for the small Junior label. The last mentioned company was the original home of The Silhouettes and their rock 'n' roll classic 'Get A Job'. Either late 1959 or early 1960, Richard 'Groove' Holmes left the Sonotones and was replaced in March 1960 on organ by Dee Dee Ford.
Dee Dee's real name is Wrecial Holloway and she was born in Minden, Louisiana in 1936 but, come 1951, had moved to Newark, New Jersey and learnt how to play the organ in church. She also had a great singing voice and therefore added another facet to Gardner's band. The group had obtained a residency at Small's Paradise and it was here that they came to the attention of Arthur Big Boy Crudup who was, at the time, recording for Harlem record entrepreneur Bobby Robinson. Robinson owned Fire and Fury Records and was then on a roll with artists such as Buster Brown, Bobby Marchan, Elmore James, Lightnin' Hopkins and Wilbert Harrison.
Signed to Fire Records as Don Gardner and Dee Dee Ford, they recorded 'I Need Your Lovin' which was a highlight in their club act. Actually, the issued record is an edited version as it omits the lengthy introduction as the pair built up the tempo, momentum and intensity. Robinson clearly knew what he was doing as the disc crashed into the R&B charts eventually reaching the number four slot. It also made the national top twenty pop charts, peaking at # 20. However, Gardner has been quoted as saying that he never got paid any royalties. Prior to signing for Fire, the duo had laid down some sides for KC Records that had been produced by Doc Bagby. In an attempt to cash in on the success of 'I Need Your Lovin', KC Records issued 'Glory Of Love' and this reached #75 on the Billboard Hot Hundred. Not to outdone, Robinson issued the official follow up 'Don't You Worry', another gospel based R&B chanter. This made #7 on the R&B chart but only made the lower reaches of the national pop chart (# 66). There was to be one further single, the Titus Turner composition, 'T.C.B. (Taking Care Of Business)' c/w 'Lead Me On' and one L.P. by the duo for Robinson before they departed Fire Records. After the split, in June 1964, the band went to Sweden for a tour. Gardner had lost his wife in a tragic accident and wanted a change of scene and thus Scandinavia was selected. After a shaky start, the tour was a success and was recorded. This has been issued on CD but it is strange to note the omission of 'I Need Your Lovin' in the final cut. A listen reveals a solid R&B base with jazzy overtones that is veering towards early soul.
Sometime after this and back in the USA, Dee Ford and Don Gardner went their separate ways. Whilst Dee Dee faded from sight and presumably gave up the music business, Gardner carried on as a solo artist and released the single 'I'm A Practical Guy' c/w 'You Babe' for Verve in 1968, followed by 'My Baby Loves To Boogaloo' for the Englewood, New Jersey based Tru-Glo-Town records.
Gardner had one more brush with the charts when he teamed up with Jeanette 'Baby' Washington who had scored big as a solo artist in the early to mid sixties with ditties such as 'That's How Heartaches Are Made', 'The Bells' and 'Only Those In Love'. The duo laid down some sides for the Philadelphia based Master 5 label that were produced by Bobby Martin (who had secured chart placings with his productions on songs by The Manhattans). Of these, 'Forever' went to # 30 on the R&B chart in the spring of 1973. Despite follow-ups, the pair had no more national breakouts although Baby Washington did score further hits as a solo artist.
That is just about it for the story of Don Gardner and Dee Dee Ford, but they made some first rate recordings.
© Tony Wilkinson March 2008.
-'The Very Best Of Don Gardner & Dee Dee Ford' - Collectables COL CD 6446. This is a 26 track compilation of Bobby Robinson productions.
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