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Joy Riding With Detroit's Dramatics

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; When t comes to giving the ! music world outstanding vocal groups of the rhythm 'n' blues 5 persuasión, few cities- if indeed 5 any- even come close to equaling ! the prowess of Detroit. The grand tradition goes all ; the way back to those halcyon ! days of the '50s, when from out ï of the Motor City came such ! neering groups as Hank Ballard and the Midnighters ("Work With ! Me Annie"), the Falcons ("Yoii're; ! So Fine") and, in their embry! onic stages, the Miracles ("Bad ! Girl," "Gota Job") and the Four ■ : Tops. : ! By the mid-'60s Detroit was ! ! "group city," thanks to the ' gence of a seemingly endless ; number of notable ensembles, I including the Temptations, the ! Supremes, the Contours, the Spinners, Martha and the Vandel; las, and Gladys Knight and the ; Pips. The 70's have given us the ! Undisputed Truth, the Origináis, ! the Fantastic Four and such In victus Records groups as the ; Chairman of the Board (with lead singer General Johnson), ! the Honey Cone, 100 Proof Aged In Soul, 8th Day and the Glass j House (featuring Scherrie Payne, ' ! now of the Supremes). 1 972 was the year that another Detroit group, the Dramatics, got the smash Jiit record they needed ', to propel them to star status, pulling them out from the ranks of the many artists whose popu5 larity was not only moderate but regional as well. j "Whatcha See Is Whatcha Get" is the title of the tune that 5 resulted in the acquisition of ! Gold Record Number One for the Dramatics. It was the first of a long stringof big ones, 5 among them "In the Rain" (also ! gold), "Get Up and Get Down," ! "Toast to the Fooi," "Hey You! j Get.Off My Mountain" and, more J recently, "(l'm Going By) The ! Stars In Your Eyes," "You're ! Fooling You," "Choosing Up On You," "Door to Your Heart," "Me and Mrs. Jones" and "Treat ! Me Like a Man." Their highly successful albums ! were Whatcha See Is Wjiatcha Get, The Dramatic Experience, Dramatically Yours, The Dells ! Vs. the Dramatics (featuring the ! two groups both asa team and separately), The Dramatic Jack pot and Drama V. The new, just-released Dram atics album, Joy Ride, is shaping up as one of the tastest-selling ; R&B Lp's in the country, espe! cially in the Midwest- hot on the heels of two other albums releas ed this month, Stevie Wonder's ; Songs In the Key of Life and Í Earth, Wind & Fire's Spirit. Joy Ride contains the chart-climbing single "Finger Fever." In many respccts the Dramatics are the prototype of the black male vocal group- complex vocal techniques, slick choreography, dapper attire, smooth harmony, etc- but everything they do s done considerably better than most of the competition. To use the vernacular, they are "bad." Today the Dramatics are Ron Banks, L.j. Reynolds, Larry (Squirrel) Demps, Lenny Mayes and Willie Ford. The Dramatics story actually began in the mid 60's at Pershing High School. Ron Banks, Roderck Davis, Larry Demps, Cleveland Larry Reed and Michael Calhoun formed a group, named themselves the Dramatics and practiced relentlessly-but they were still not unlike many other groups around the city, at least as far as career progression was concerned. That situation was altered one fateful night in '64 when the fellows were performing (for little or nothing) at Mr. Kelley's on Detroit's near east side. Itjust so happened that their dynamic performance suffrciently impressed a representative of the Golden World record company (Edwin Starr, ].). Barnes, Holidays, Flaming Embers, Detroit 'Emeralds) to land them a contract with the west-side label. Following the signing the matics recorded several tunes, including "Inka Dinka Wang Dang Do," "Bingo," "Somewhere" and "All Because of You"- not the most memorable records in the world, but some were respectable sellers n the Detroit área. After "All Because of You" in '67 not much was heard from the Dramatics. End of chapter one. Chapter two begins at the point (very late '60s) when Detroit's famous musician-producer Eli Fountain watched the group perform at one of Ernie Durham's hops at the 20 Grand without the benefit of new hit records. Again using the vernacular, they turned the place out. Fountain took them to Don Davis' burgeoning Groovesville Productions, where they recorded "Your Love Was Strange" and signed to have their product released on the Volt label, part of the Stax family, with all future production work to be handled by Groovesville. It was a fruitful association, to say the least. But things began to go sour in '73-business disagreements between Groovesville and Stax culminated with the termination of the arrangement. After the smoke cleared away, the Dramatics were taken to ABC. And the Dramatics themselves - now Ron Banks, William ("Weegee") Howard, Larry Demps, Al Wilkins and Willie Ford- were having nternal difficultiesas well. It s unclear exactly what went down, but that same year the press was notified that Howard ; and Wilkins were out and that '. their replacements were L.J. nolds and Lenny Mayes. The altered Dramatics carried ; on surprisingly smoothly- '. prisingly because Howard had led ï on most of the group's hits, j cluding the million-sellers : cha See Is Whatcha Get" and "In l the Rain." For a short while Howard j formed as a solo artist ("Mr. ; matic") but, to everyone's l prise, he and Wilkins rather denly recruited three other ers and began performing as "The ; Dramatics." They then signed l with Mainstream Records and ♦ had a sizable national R&B hit titled "No Rebate on Love." ; The public was confused, often '. not knowïng which group they ï were going to see or- for that matter- were listening to on J ord. Both groups claimed to have J the right to the name Dramatics, l each identifying themselves as the "real Dramatics." To cut down the confusión, ï the first group began recording ï and performing as "Ron Banks and the Dramatics" while the J gal hassles over the name t ics continued. Early this year the public got j another surprise when Howard J and Wilkins' Dramatics recorded '. "Sho Nuff Good Feeling" with a ï different name- the Dramatic perience. However, the record ; was not successful. Latest word l is that Howard -(everyone calis him Weegee) has signed with a Detroit-based record company ; as a solo artist. '. Ron Banks' group was ! ed the right to use the name "The Dramatics" by a California court ; and the controversy was settled. '. End of chapter two. Today the Dramatics- and j Groovesville Productions- feel ; confident that the best is yet to '. come, despite their llustrious and h i ghl y successful past. j mism constitutes the beginning : of chapter three. ! The group has a large and al following across the country- but t is incredibly large and ; al in Detroit, somewhat of a l prise since it is often true that artists are more appreciated ; side of their home-town than in. J Their recording situation couldn't l be better, with producers and writers like Don Davis, Michael Henderson, Tony Hester and J C.R.'Cason, and musicians such ! as Eli Fountain, Earl Van Dyke, ! Rudy Robinson and Henderson j in their corner. How could they J possibly lose?! Yes, chapter three looks very nteresting indeed, o ..... . ..