Billy Ward and his Dominoes

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For other people named Billy Ward, see Billy Ward (disambiguation).
"The Dominoes" redirects here. For the band formed by Eric Clapton, see Derek and the Dominos.
Billy Ward and his Dominoes
Also known as The Dominoes
Genres Doo-wop, rhythm & blues
Years active 1950–1960s
Labels Federal, Jubilee, London, Decca
Past members Billy Ward (deceased)
Clyde McPhatter (deceased)
Charlie White
Joe Lamont
Bill Brown
James Van Loan
David McNeil
Jackie Wilson (deceased)
Eugene Mumford
Milton Merle
Cliff Givens

Billy Ward and his Dominoes were an African-American R&B vocal group. One of the most successful R&B groups of the early 1950s, the Dominoes helped launch the singing careers of two notable members, Clyde McPhatter and Jackie Wilson.[1]

Career[edit]

Billy Ward (born Robert L. Williams, 19 September 1921, Savannah, Georgia, died 16 February 2002, Inglewood, California[2]) grew up in Philadelphia, the second of three sons of Charles Williams and Cora Bates Williams, and was a child musical prodigy, winning an award for a piano composition at the age of 14.[3] Following military service with the Coast Guard Artillery Choir he studied music in Chicago, and at the Juilliard School of Music in New York. While working as a vocal coach and part-time arranger on Broadway, he met talent agent Rose Marks, who became his business and songwriting partner.

The pair set out to form a vocal group from the ranks of his students, hoping to cash in on the new trend of vocal quintets in R&B. The group was at first called the Ques, composed of Clyde McPhatter (lead tenor), whom Ward recruited after McPhatter won "Amateur Night" at the Apollo Theater, Charlie White (tenor), Joe Lamont (baritone), and Bill Brown (bass). Ward acted as their pianist and arranger.[3] After the group made successful appearances on talent shows in the Apollo Theater and on the Arthur Godfrey show in 1950, Rene Hall recommended them to Ralph Bass of Federal Records, a subsidiary of King, where they were signed to a recording contract and renamed themselves The Dominoes. Their first single release, "Do Something For Me", with McPhatter’s lead vocal, reached the R&B charts in early 1951, climbing to #6.[3]

After a less successful follow-up, the group released "Sixty Minute Man", on which Brown sang lead,[3] and boasted of being able to satisfy his girls with fifteen minutes each of "kissin'" "teasin'" and "squeezin'", before "blowin'" his "top".[1] It reached #1 on the R&B chart in May 1951 and stayed there for 14 weeks, and crossed over to the pop charts, reaching #17 and voted "Song of the Year" for 1951.[3] It was an important record in several respects—it crossed the boundaries between gospel singing and blues, its lyrics pushed the limits of what was deemed acceptable,[4][5] and it appealed to many white as well as black listeners. In later years, it became a contender for the title of "the first rock and roll record".

The group toured widely, building up a reputation as one of the top R&B acts of the era, edging out the Five Keys and the Clovers (two of the top R&B groups of the early 1950s) and commanding an audience which crossed racial divides. However, Ward's strict disciplinarian approach, and failure to recompense the singers, caused internal problems. "Billy Ward was not an easy man to work for. He played piano and organ, could arrange, and he was a fine director and coach. He knew what he wanted, and you had to give it to him. And he was a strict disciplinarian. You better believe it! You paid a fine if you stepped out of line," according to Jackie Wilson.[6] Ward most likely got the idea of levying fines against group members from his tenure in the military. Article 15 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice gives a unit commander authority to mete a certain amount of punishment to troops under his or her command without going through a court-martial, which includes fines (partial forfeiture of pay).

The name "The Dominoes" was owned by Ward and Marks, who had the power to hire and fire, and to pay the singers a salary. Clyde McPhatter was being paid barely enough to live on, even though most of the Dominoes' success was due to McPhatter's soaring vocal abilities. "Whenever I'd get back on the block where everybody'd heard my records - half the time I couldn't afford a Coca-Cola," according to McPhatter.[7] Allegedly, Ward paid his singers $100 a week, minus deductions for taxes, food and hotel bills.[8] McPhatter often found himself billed as "Clyde Ward" to fool fans into thinking he was Billy Ward's little brother. Others assumed Ward was doing the lead singing.

White and Brown both left in 1951 to form the Checkers, and were replaced by James Van Loan (1922–1976) and David McNeil (1932–2005, previously of the Larks). In March 1952, the Dominoes were chosen to be the only vocal group at Alan Freed's "Moondog Coronation Ball". The hits continued, with "Have Mercy Baby" topping the R&B charts for 10 weeks in 1952. Later records were credited to "Billy Ward and His Dominoes".[9]

In early 1953, McPhatter left to form his own group, the Drifters. His replacement in the Dominoes was Jackie Wilson, who had been coached by McPhatter while also singing with the group on tour. Lamont and McNeil also left and were replaced by Milton Merle and Cliff Givens (Givens had been in The Southern Sons Gospel Quartet, and joined the Ink Spots in 1944 upon the death of original bass Orville "Hoppy" Jones). With Wilson singing lead, singles such as "You Can't Keep A Good Man Down" continued to be successful, although the Dominoes did not enjoy quite the same success as they had with McPhatter as lead tenor.

In 1954, Ward moved the group to the Jubilee label and then to Decca, where they enjoyed a #27 pop hit with "St. Therese of the Roses",[3] featuring Wilson on tenor, giving the Dominoes a brief moment in the spotlight again. However, the group was unable to follow that success in the charts, and there were a succession of personnel changes. They increasingly moved away from their R&B roots with appearances in Las Vegas and elsewhere. Elvis Presley went to hear Jackie Wilson and the Dominoes in Las Vegas in 1956 and was so impressed with Wilson's singing that he went back to Sun Studios and cut the Million Dollar Quartet's version of Don't Be Cruel. Elvis introduces the song by saying how Wilson sang it much better than him and then proceeds to do an impersonation of the much slower Dominoes version, backed by Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins and Jerry Lee Lewis.

In late 1957, Wilson left for a solo career and was replaced by Gene Mumford of the Larks.,[3] after which the group earned a contract with Liberty Records. They had a #13 pop hit with "Star Dust". Star Dust was one of the earliest multitrack recordings in the rock & roll era. The session was on March 7, 1957. The tapes have been mixed into true stereo. This is one of the very first songs (1957) by a rock & roll/R&B artist in true stereo. The track also reached #13 in the UK Singles Chart in October 1957.[2] It was to be their only million seller.[10] This proved to be their last major success, although various line-ups of the group continued recording and performing into the 1960s.

They were inducted into the Vocal Group Hall of Fame in 2006.

Discography[edit]

Singles[edit]

Year Single (A-side, B-side)
Both sides from same album except where indicated
Chart Positions Album
US Pop[11] US
R&B
[9]
UK[12]
1951 "Harbor Lights"
b/w "'No!' Says My Heart" (from 18 Hits Volume Two)
- - - Billy Ward & His Dominoes Featuring Clyde McPhatter
"Do Something For Me"
b/w "Chicken Blues"
- 6 - Clyde McPhatter With Billy Ward & His Dominoes
"Sixty-Minute Man"
b/w "I Can't Escape From You" (from 18 Hits Volume Two)
17 1 -
"I Am With You"
b/w "Weeping Willow Blues"
- 8 -
1952 "That's What You're Doing To Me"
Original B-side: "When The Swallows Come Back To Capistrano" (from ...Featuring Clyde McPhatter)
Later B-side:"Love Love Love"
- 7 -
"Have Mercy Baby"
b/w "Deep Sea Blues"
- 1 -
"I'd Be Satisfied"
b/w "No Room" (from 18 Hits Volume Two)
- 4 - All Their Hits (1951-1965), Volume One
"Yours Forever"
b/w "I'm Lonely"
- - - 18 Hits Volume Two
1953 "The Bells" / - 3 - Clyde McPhatter With Billy Ward & His Dominoes
"Pedal Pushin' Papa" - 4 -
"These Foolish Things (Remind Me of You)" / - 2(1) - Billy Ward & His Dominoes Featuring Clyde McPhatter
"Don't Leave Me This Way" - 15 - Clyde McPhatter With Billy Ward & His Dominoes
"You Can't Keep A Good Man Down"
b/w "Where Now Little Heart" (from 21 Hits Volume Four)
- 8 - 14 Hits Volume Three
"Rags to Riches"
b/w "Don't Thank Me" (from 21 Hits Volume Four)
- 2(1) - All Their Hits (1951-1965), Volume One
"Christmas In Heaven"
b/w "Ringing In A Brand New Year" (from All Their Hits (1951-1965), Volume One)
- 19 - 14 Hits Volume Three
1954 "Until The Real Thing Comes Along"
b/w "My Baby's 3-D" (from 21 Hits Volume Four)
- - - Billy Ward & His Dominoes Featuring Clyde McPhatter
"Tootsie Roll"
b/w "I'm Gonna Move To The Outskirts Of Town" (from 14 Hits Volume Three)
- - - 21 Hits Volume Four
"Handwritting On The Wall"
b/w "One Moment With You" (from 14 Hits Volume Three)
- - -
"Above Jacob's Ladder"
b/w "Little Black Train" (from 21 Hits Volume Four)
- - - 14 Hits Volume Three
"Gimme Gimme Gimme"
b/w "Come To Me Baby"
- - - Non-album tracks
"A Little Lie"
b/w "Tenderly" (from Billy Ward & His Dominoes Featuring Clyde McPhatter)
- - - 14 Hits Volume Three
1955 "Sweethearts On Parade"
b/w "Take Me Back To Heaven"
- - - Non-album tracks
"Can't Do Sixty No More"
b/w "If I Never Get To Heaven" (from 21 Hits Volume Four)
- - - All Their Hits (1951-1965), Volume One
"Love Me Now Or Let Me Go"
b/w "Cave Man" (from 21 Hits Volume Four)
- - - 14 Hits Volume Three
"Three Coins In The Fountain"
b/w "Lonesome Road"
- - - Billy Ward & His Dominoes Featuring Clyde McPhatter
"Learnin' The Blues"
b/w "May I Never Love Again"
- - -
1956 "St. Therese Of The Roses"
b/w "Home Is Where You Hang Your Heart" (Non-album track)
13 - - Billy Ward and The Dominoes
"Will You Remember"
b/w "Come On, Snake, Let's Crawl" (Non-album track)
- - -
"Half A Love (Is Better Than None)"
b/w "Evermore" (from Billy Ward and The Dominoes)
- - - Non-album track
"Bobby Sox Baby"
b/w "How Long, How Long Blues" (from 21 Hits Volume Four)
- - - 14 Hits Volume Three
1957 "Rock, Plymouth Rock"
b/w "'Til Kingdom Come" (from Billy Ward and The Dominoes)
- - - Non-album track
"Star Dust"
b/w "Lucinda"
10 2(1) 13 Yours Forever
"One Moment With You"
b/w "St. Louis Blues" (from Billy Ward and The Dominoes)
- - - 14 Hits Volume Three
"To Each His Own"
b/w "I Don't Stand A Ghost Of A Chance With You"
- - - Billy Ward and The Dominoes
"When The Saints Go Marching In"
b/w "September Song"
- - -
"Deep Purple"
b/w "Do It Again"
18 - - Yours Forever
"My Proudest Possession"
b/w "Someone Greater Than I" (from Sea Of Glass)
- - - Non-album tracks
1958 "Solitude"
b/w "(You Grow) Sweeter As The Years Go By"
- - -
"Jennie Lee"
b/w "Music, Maestro, Please!" (from Yours Forever)
55 14 -
1959 "Please Don't Say No"
b/w "Behave, Hula Girl"
- - -
"I'm Walking Behind You"
b/w "This Love Of Mine"
- - - 21 Hits Volume Four
1960 "You're Mine"
b/w "The World Is Waiting For The Sunshine"
- - - Non-album tracks
"The Gypsy"
b/w "You"
- - -
"Lay It On The Line"
b/w "That's How You Know You're Growing Old"
- - - 21 Hits Volume Four
1962 "Man In The Stained Glass Window"
b/w "My Fair Weather Friend"
- - - Non-album tracks
1965 "O Holy Night"
b/w "What Are You Doing New Year's Eve"
- - - All Their Hits (1951-1965), Volume One

Federal Records discography[edit]

1950
Federal 12001 - "Do Something For Me"/"Chicken Blues"
1951
Federal 12010 - "Harbor Lights"/"No, Says My Heart"
Federal 12016 - "The Deacon Moves In" (with Little Esther)/"Other Lips, Other Arms" (Little Esther)
Federal 12022 - "Sixty Minute Man"/"I Can't Escape From You"
Federal 12036 - "Heart To Heart" (with Little Esther)/"Looking For A Man To Satisfy My Soul" (Little Esther)
Federal 12039 - "I Am With You"/"Weeping Willow Blues"
1952
Federal 12059 - "That's What You're Doing To Me"/"When The Swallows Come Back To Capistrano"
Federal 12068 - "Have Mercy Baby"/"Deep Sea Blues"
Federal 12072 - "Love, Love, Love"/"That's What You're Doing To Me"
Federal 12105 - "I'd Be Satisfied"/"No Room"
Federal 12106 - "Yours Forever"/"I'm Lonely"
Federal 12114 - "The Bells"/"Pedal Pushin' Papa"
1953
Federal 12129 - "These Foolish Things Remind Me Of You"/"Don't Leave Me This Way"
Federal 12139 - "You Can't Keep A Good Man Down"/"Where Now Little Heart"
1954
Federal 12162 - "My Baby's 3-D"/"Until The Real Thing Comes Along"
Federal 12178 - "Tootsie Roll"/"Move To The Outskirts Of Town"
Federal 12184 - "Handwritting On The Wall"/"One Moment With You"
Federal 12193 - "Above Jacob's Ladder"/"Little Black Train"
1955
Federal 12209 - "Can't Do Sixty No More"/"If I Never Get To Heaven"
Federal 12218 - "Cave Man"/"Love Me Now Or Let Me Go"
1956
Federal 12263 - "Bobby Sox Baby"/"How Long, How Long Blues"
1957
Federal 12301 - "St. Louis Blues"/"One Moment With You"
Federal 12308 - "Have Mercy Baby"/"Love, Love, Love"

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b Gilliland, John (1969). "Show 3 - The Tribal Drum: The rise of rhythm and blues. [Part 1]" (audio). Pop Chronicles. Digital.library.unt.edu. 
  2. ^ a b Roberts, David (2006). British Hit Singles & Albums (19th ed.). London: Guinness World Records Limited. p. 591. ISBN 1-904994-10-5. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f g Warner, Jay (2006). American Singing Groups: A History from 1940s to Today, pp. 312-15. Hal Leonard Corporation.
  4. ^ Gillett, Charlie (1996). The Sound of the City: The Rise of Rock and Roll (2nd ed.). New York, N.Y.: Da Capo Press. p. 156. ISBN 0-306-80683-5. 
  5. ^ "10 Often-Censored Songs From the Early '50s". Rebeatmag.com. 2014-09-04. Retrieved 2016-05-07. 
  6. ^ Arnold Shaw, Honkers And Shouters. The Golden Years Of Rhythm And Blues. New York: Crowell-Collier Press, 1978, p. 443.
  7. ^ "The Drifters: Let the boogie woogie roll - 1953-1958", Atlantic Records 81927-1, by Peter Grendysa
  8. ^ Shaw, Honkers And Shouters, 1978, p. 283.
  9. ^ a b Whitburn, Joel (1996). Top R&B/Hip-Hop Singles: 1942-1995. Record Research. p. 120. 
  10. ^ Murrells, Joseph (1978). The Book of Golden Discs (2nd ed.). London: Barrie and Jenkins Ltd. p. 96. ISBN 0-214-20512-6. 
  11. ^ Whitburn, Joel (2003). Top Pop Singles 1955-2002 (1st ed.). Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin: Record Research Inc. p. 752. ISBN 0-89820-155-1. 
  12. ^ Betts, Graham (2004). Complete UK Hit Singles 1952-2004 (1st ed.). London: Collins. p. 832. ISBN 0-00-717931-6. 

External links[edit]