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The Holidays and Debonaires by Rob Moss

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Site note - this article was originally published on Soul Source in full back in 2010, it was clipped approx 2012 at the author Rob Moss's request. Rob here in 2023, has just given us the ok to revive and re-publish this and others in full.

The Holidays and Debonaires - A Marriage Made in Detroit by Rob Moss

Motown's purchase of Golden World Records Inc. in September 1966 created considerable turbulence among the artists, musicians, producers and technicians associated with the sequested company. Speculation persists as to owner Ed Wingate's actual willingness to sell, having refused on several occasions, and the possible involvement of 'outside' organisations in applying pressure on him to bring about the move, as well as providing the capital to finance it.

The success of the Golden World and Ric Tic labels with a stable of talented artists providing local, national and international hits, the profitability of the Golden World studio as a recording facility for 'outside' projects and Wingate's association with related businesses that enhanced his profile in the community, all point to the implausibility of such a decision at that juncture. His failure to be associated with any and all public announcements of the takeover, choosing instead to let (business partner) Joanne Bratton represent the company, may portray the real story.

The immediate effect of the change saw the dissolution of two of the company's most prolific groups - The Debonaires and The Holidays. Both had worked extensively around the city providing background accompaniment for a host of artists, including, ironically, many sessions at Motown, and had recorded under their own identities for Golden World and others. Despite several more records and more background work in the months following the sale, it was the relationship between[b] Elsie Baker and Tony Gray[/b] that ultimately signalled the end of both groups, when they were married in the autumn of 1967. The events leading up to the union provide a compelling and engrossing chronicle of life at 3246 West Davison during the mid 1960s.

Joyce Vincent, Dorothy Garland and Elsie Baker began life as The Debonaires by auditioning for Bob Hamilton in the Spring of 1963 at Pershing High School in Detroit. They were 15 and 16 years of age. Hamilton's friendship with Ed Wingate and Joanne Bratton led to a second audition at Bratton's house, where they were signed to a contract. Elsie Baker recalled that "…we actually wrote a song 'Please don't say we're through' for the audition and they liked that a lot. It turned out to be our first recording for the company too. Our parents signed the contract 'cause we didn't know anything about that. Golden World wasn't built at that time so 'Uncle' Ed flew us down to New York to CBS studios to record our song and 'A little too long' and they put that out. We were soooh excited 'cause we were having so much fun. We had no idea how the record did – we didn't care" The good times only got better for the group when the Golden World studio was completed several months later and they began to provide backing vocals for other artists and record themselves. Dorothy Garland remembered how their honour was protected "My mother came in with us one afternoon and put Mr. Wingate in the corner and gave him a hard time. Reminded him how we were trying to go to school and gave him all these other orders! We found out later that he had gathered all the guys together and warned them that we were strictly OFF LIMITS!" Most heeded the warning.

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The Debonaires


The second Debonaires release on Golden World featured collaboration between singer Pat Lewis, Ronnie Savoy and 'Popcorn' Wylie on something of a novelty, 'Eenie Meenie Gypsaleenie'. Elsie reminisced "Mr. Wingate called us in one day and said 'I want y'all to try something…' Then we recorded it pretty quickly. We hit it so easy. The local kids and teenagers around town loved that record but Motown didn't want the Debonaires to compete with the Supremes so Berry Gordy put pressure on local radio stations not to play our records. When he finally bought the company out we were the first to go." Undeterred by these minor set backs, the group continued to flourish, particularly doing background work. "It was at this time (mid '65) that we started to work with the Holidays doing back ups. I guess producers liked our harmonies together. We had done Golden World Revue shows with them so we knew them quite well. That's when I first got with Tony (Gray). We were on the Detroit O'Jays sessions (I'll never forget you' 'It won't hurt') most of Edwin's songs, The Prophets, The Dramatics, Melvin Davis, The Parliaments, JJ Barnes, The Platters, Steve Mancha, almost all the Fantastic Four songs with Sweet James … they were so many…and we did sessions at Motown too. That's us on 'This old heart of mine' (Isley Brothers) together with the Holidays and we all did 'What becomes of the broken hearted' (Jimmy Ruffin) too. We did a lot of sessions at Motown though the Holidays did many more. In those days it was quite normal for people like us to be brought in for recording sessions. All the labels did it …Motown more than most. The lead singer would deliver the lyric and we would sing the rest. It made it much easier that way, especially if the acts were on the road. And most of the time we sounded better than what they'd got!"

Pat Lewis knew the girls well and recalled what a pleasure they were to work with "I was asked by Mr. Wingate to help them out and show them the ropes when we first started at Golden World. Those girls just lit the place up laughing and giggling all the time. They were hyper …they were the original brats. Everyone loved them. But when it was time to sing – watch out! They picked things up really quickly too. Never needed over dubs and they would nail most things in one take. My sister Diane and me sang with them quite a bit. We would always get them to turn the lights down real low to create an atmosphere in the studio when we recorded. It made it much easier and much more fun. I remember one session where they got the giggles and the producer had to stop it. It was either 'Down in the dumps' or 'I just can't leave you' with Tony Hestor – it was his session anyway. They would always sing 'live' with any artist they were backing, where they could. Anyway, I guess Tony tended to sing with his neck at an angle and the girls found this funny. No matter how many times they tried to sing it straight one of them would crack up. Tony took it with good grace though – he didn't know what they were laughing at I don't think. That was a session where their vocals were added later without any distractions." Despite their success as backing singers, it was decided that an accomplished lead singer should be added to the line up. Dorothy recalls how the audition process took place "We were told that Mr. Wingate wanted someone with a stronger voice especially on our recordings so we went along with that. First they brought in Lonette McKee but she was much taller than us so that wouldn't have worked. Then Diane (Logan) came in and we liked her. It all happened pretty quickly really." Diane Logan's first project was the beautiful 'How's your new love treating you' which, despite being the group's best release to date, suffered from a lack of promotion, possibly caused by the Motown buy out, that severely restricted its success. Another project that failed to materialise was a tour to Europe, as Elsie explained, "Yes, Joanne had OK'd it. It was us, the Holidays and Edwin. Some dates had been arranged but three months later the company was sold so it never came off."



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Diane Logan

In late 1966 erstwhile local DJ/Promoter LeBaron Taylor took the group to his own Solid Hit label and paired them with the Parliaments' George Clinton for what many consider to be their best record – 'Loving you takes all of my time' b/w 'Headache in my heart', both written and produced by Clinton. Interestingly, both were recorded at United Sound. Sadly, the record buying public didn't respond and so writing duties switched to Mike Terry and Leon Ware for their final release at Terra Shirma. 'Headache in my heart' was again used as the B-side but 'I'm in love again' led the way. The record achieved reasonable local success but couldn't break through to regional and national recognition. Despite the disappointments, Elsie recalled those times with sincere fondness "We really had fun performing our songs at places like Phelps Lounge and the 20 Grand – that was the best place …I don't think we ever made much money but we didn't care. It was just great fun. The people we worked with were some of the most talented people I ever met and, as a group, we still all keep in touch. A lot of groups say negative things about other members years later but not us. In the summer of 1967 Tony and I decided to settle down and start a family. We got married in September…"

…thus fulfilling a prophesy he had made to the other members of the group on first seeing a photo of the Debonaires pinned up on the studio wall at Golden World back in 1965. "Yes that is true. I told people who my wife was going to be before I'd even met her. I told her too when I met her. I guess I was right because we are still married!" Tony Gray announced triumphantly in 2010.

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Tony and Elsie

The Holidays first visited Detroit in 1964 when they were known as the Caprees. Charles Guy, Robert Johnson, Willie 'Butch' Johnson and Tony Gray lived in Jackson, Mississippi but came up to audition for Motown as Gray explained "They liked us and wanted to sign us but two of the guys needed to go back to Jackson to graduate from High School first. We were all between 17 and 19 years old. Charles left the group around this time and moved to California. The three of us came back a few months later, 'cause they still wanted us, but we met Richard Morris on the way in and he warned us about drug use there … we didn't even drink …and also about the number of groups they had. So we didn't go in. We heard about Golden World and went over there to give it a shot. We met Don Davis who asked us if we'd got any original material. We had 10 of our own songs but he liked 'I'll love you forever' best. They used us as background singers on different artists and we got a good reputation. We worked with Tony Hestor a lot." The fate of 'I'll love you forever' still rankles Tony Gray to this day and shows, once again, how Don Davis' penchant for misrepresenting his contribution to song writing became infamous. BMI music publishing company lists the writers as Tony Gray, Robert Johnson and Don Davis yet, on the record label, only Davis is credited. The fact that Gray has not a received a penny in royalties pales in comparison to the manner in which the song was initially allotted by Ed Wingate. "Tony Hestor and Don were working on the track which wasn't coming out right so I went in and worked with the musicians directly to show them what I wanted. Joe Hunter did the lead sheets and Dennis Coffey arranged the strings and when we were finished I was happy with it. Then we put the background vocals on it. Then Ed Wingate comes in and says he is going to give the song to Edwin Starr. We were shocked. It was nothing personal against Edwin, 'cause we had worked with him and knew him well. Then I went kinda crazy I guess – I asked Wingate what right he had to decide what would happen to our song and told him he wasn't going to take anything from us and who did he think he was. I guess he wasn't used to being spoken to like this or being challenged 'cause he got mad and told us to leave the building."

The impasse lasted four days in which time both Jack Ashford and George Clinton acted as both confidantes and intermediaries for the group. Wingate finally apologised and promised to make it up to them. The compromise reached was that the record came out by The Holidays but the lead vocal, by Edwin Starr, was retained. This makes a total nonsense of the statement Starr made in an interview to explain the duplicity, especially his claim not to know who The Holidays were " …I got tricked into doing that song. I went by the studio one night and producer Don Davis said 'Edwin …show these guys how to sing this song. A couple of weeks later I hear 'I'll love you forever' on the radio and I thought they must have got some other guys to sing it until I realized the voice was mine. The DJ announced the group's name as The Holidays. I thought The Holidays! Who the hell are they?" Yeah right. The record became a national hit and prompted a tour that included appearances at the Apollo theatre. " Ed Wingate was good to his word after our dispute and booked us on the best tours. It was at that time that Eddie Anderson joined us. We performed with Tammi Terrell for a while. She was a wonderful person. We opened for The Impressions and they were very kind to us. James Brown told us that we would be big stars. Then there was Jackie Wilson, Junior Walker and his band, Bettye Swann and so many others …we had a ball. Ed or Joanne never took a dime from our 'live' appearances and Joanne always gave us $2500 when we went out, to cover our room and board. They were good people and they were good to us."

As negotiations to buy the company dragged on, Motown made further overtures to the group " Joanne was speaking to Berry Gordy one day and she passed the phone to me. He said he wanted us to come over there. He promised that 'I'll love you forever' would get to number one and that he would look after us. I told him that I'd speak to the other guys about it. Robert and Eddie wanted to go but me and Butch didn't, so it didn't happen. It split us up really I guess 'cause we went our separate ways after that." The follow up to 'I'll love you forever' was 'No greater love' b/w 'Watch out girl' but sales were poor as Gray explained " We thought 'Watch out girl' was a stronger song and should have been the A side but they went with 'No greater love'. That release was around the time when Berry Gordy was buying the company and so it didn't get proper promotion. We'd split by then anyway." The Holidays did record several more records for LeBaron Taylor's Revilot label throughout 1967, but with vastly different personnel. Robert Johnson and Eddie Anderson, fresh from the split, stayed with Don Davis, who teamed them with Leon Ware to record 'Love's creeping up on me' b/w 'Never alone' and ' I keep holding on' b/w 'I know she cares' but with little success. Davis then changed matters dramatically for their final release on Revilot by bringing in a completely different group. The 'Four (4) Hollidays' (sic) had recorded for several labels including Markie, Master and Holliday Records in Detroit prior to the Golden World group and included only one survivor from their original line up, Jimmy Holland. He and George Clinton combined to write 'All that is required is you' for the new version of the (old) group, which was coupled with 'I'll keep running back', but with no significant success. This would have been the last Holidays release of the era were it not for a release on Groove City Records by The Hollidays (sic) in 1968 'Easy living' b/w 'I lost you'. As may be expected, Don Davis was again involved. He had produced both songs on Steve Mancha, who wasn't happy with the idea of 'Easy living' being his next single and flatly refused to sanction it's release under his name. The ever-creative Davis went ahead and released it anyway but with a slightly different spelling.

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Tony Gray 

Although Tony Gray has fond memories of his time at Golden World, he continues the battle to receive his share of the royalties as co writer of 'I'll love you forever'. "When Motown bought the company Don, Robert and I signed for a three way split. I later discovered that Don hadn't submitted ownership to BMI but had taken a 45% share for himself and given Robert the other 55%. I wrote to them both but didn't get a reply so now I've taken it up with BMI." Gray joined the Detroit Fire Department in 1967 and remained with them until his retirement. He continued to sing background vocals at various studios around the city, including many for Holland/Dozier/Holland's Invictus/Hot Wax/Music Merchant labels, on a part time basis, well into the 1970s. Elsie Gray (nee Baker) never sang professionally again but did become qualified as a high school teacher and enjoyed a successful career until her retirement. They live in a palatial estate on the outskirts of Detroit.

Rob Moss

http://www.hayleyrecords.co.uk





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Hi Rob

Nice read. I see Jimmy Holland just about every time I'm in Detroit, he would love to bring the Holidays over to the UK, but every time I've mentioned it to anyone here no one has shown any interest, shame really.

Dave

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Rob--you know how much i.ve admired your scribings over the last 20 or so years,and this is up there with your best.

Cheers for the education

Tony C.

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Agreed, well done Rob, fascinating reading, i recall Edwin Starr being interviewed by Richard Searling on a local radio show 1983, talking about Golden world and tales of tapes been rolled down streets etc !!!!!!!

Brett

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Very informative Rob, you've certainly done your homework,

going to have to read it a few more times

( too much to take in at once )

regards

Pete H

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Thats brill Rob,it goes to show just how much competition was held back to prevent other artists hitting the big time.You can understand why the Supremes needed protection,they wernt all that good,well not in the recording studio anyway.Gilly

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Thanks everyone. It means a lot to me that people I respect enjoyed the piece. Currently working on an article about the Hamilton brothers based on an interview I did with Ronnie Savoy several years ago! Really struggling to find photos of any of them, from the time, if anyone can help. Desperately need shots of Ronnie, Al Kent and Bob Hamilton.

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site note

Site note - this article was originally published on Soul Source in full back in 2010, it was clipped approx 2012 at the author Rob Moss's request. Rob has given us the ok to revive and re-publish this and others in full.

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I always find it fascinating to learn about the personalities, the politics and the background to records I actually own .

The Debonaires: Headache in My Heart, the fabulous  girlie dancer produced by George Clinton.

The lead vocalist was Diane Logan to “How’s your New Love Treating You” ,  a ballad good enough to stop traffic and getting lots of spins these days.

Now I also know how Edwin Starr became the lead singer on the Holidays track: I’ll Love You Forever.

Thank you for an excellent  and informative article.


 

 

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