The Rays were an African-American vocal group that is hard to classify. They recorded rhythm and blues, doowop, rock and roll and pure pop. During their ten-year career (1955-65) they scored only one major hit, “Silhouettes” (1957), but they were more than just one-hit wonders and lasted longer than most groups from the same era.
The Rays were formed in the autumn of 1955 in New York City. Hal Miller (lead), Harry James (baritone) and Davey Jones (second tenor) came from Brooklyn ; Walter Ford (first tenor) was originally from Lexington, Kentucky. All were born in 1931 or 1932. Miller and Jones had previously recorded with the Four Fellows, who had a # 4 R&B hit with “Soldier Boy” earlier in 1955. Most accounts of the Rays (both print and digital) tell us that they were discovered by Bob Crewe and Frank Slay in the summer of 1957. However, both sides of the first single by the Rays, “Tippity Top”/“Moo-Goo-Gai-Pan” (Chess 1613, released at the end of 1955) were written by Crewe and Slay, which means that their relationship must have started earlier. Bob Crewe and Frank Slay had formed a songwriting / producing partnership in 1953. After their success with the Rays they launched the career of Freddy Cannon in 1959 and produced all of Cannon’s hits for the next five years. Bob Crewe went on to become one of the top producers of the 1960s, working successfully with the Four Seasons, Lesley Gore, Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels and many other acts.
The second single by the Rays, “How Long Must I Wait (For You)”/“Second Fiddle”, was probably recorded at the same session as “Tippity Top”, but was not released until 1957. It was first issued on Argo 1074 (only one of two records that came out in the Argo 1000 series) and then on Chess 1678 (December 1957), after their commercial breakthrough on another label.
In the spring of 1957 the Rays auditioned for the Cameo label in Philadelphia, but they were turned down. Frank Slay, who had an office as an employee of Cameo, happened to run into the group and asked them if they’d like to record for the company he was about to start with Bob Crewe, XYZ Records. “My Steady Girl”/“Nobody Loves You Like I Do” (both sides written by Slay and Crewe) by the Rays became the first release on the XYZ label (catalog nr 100). This single was quickly followed by “Silhouettes”/“Daddy Cool” (XYZ 102), again two Slay/Crewe compositions. After Dick Clark gave “Silhouettes” a spin on American Bandstand, XYZ was flooded with orders, too many for a fledgling label to handle. Distribution was taken over by Cameo and the single was reissued on Cameo 117 in September 1957.
“Silhouettes” peaked at # 3 on both the pop and the R&B charts and sold over a million copies. (In 1965 the song reached the Top 5 again, in a version by Herman’s Hermits.) “Daddy Cool”, the rocking side, had its own devotees and was a UK Top 10 hit in 1977 for the British revival group the Darts. The Diamonds - cover group par excellence - stole some of the thunder of the Rays' hit by covering both “Silhouettes” and “Daddy Cool” on the same Mercury single, which peaked at # 10.
The next two Slay / Crewe productions for the Rays came out on Cameo. When these flopped, Cameo’s owners, Kal Mann and Bernie Lowe, were no longer interested in the group and subsequent releases appeared again on XYZ, now distributed by United Artists. Two singles charted : “Mediterranean Moon” scraped the bottom of the Billboard charts (# 95) in early 1960 and “Magic Moon” (Slay’s adaptation of Debussy’s “Clair de Lune”) reached # 49 in September 1961. My personal favourite of the XYZ recordings is the novelty “Elevator Operator” (1958), which got a surprise release in my country, the Netherlands (London FL 1775).
More info : http://www.waybackattack.com/rays.html
Discography (incomplete) : http://www.45cat.com/artist/the-rays
CD : The Rays, Silhouettes (XYZ 5000). 27 tracks from 1955-1961. Released 1997, rare.
Acknowledgements : Jay Warner, Michael Jack Kirby, Wayne Jancik.
Dik, September 2016
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