Maurice Williams and the Zodiacs

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Maurice Williams and the Zodiacs
Maurice Williams and the Zodiacs facing the right but looking straight in two rows of three in striped suits and black bow ties.
Maurice Williams (front, center) and the Zodiacs in 1960
Background information
OriginNashville, Tennessee, USA
GenresDoo wop
LabelsHerald Records, Vee Jay Records, Excello Records (The Gladiolas)
MembersMaurice Williams
Henry Gaston
Wiley Bennett
Charles Thomas
Albert Hill
Willie Morrow
Past membersEarl Gainey

Maurice Williams and the Zodiacs were an American doo-wop/R&B vocal group in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Originally the (Royal) Charms, the band changed its name to the Gladiolas in 1957 and the Excellos in 1958, before finally settling on the Zodiacs in 1959.[1]

Early history[edit]

Maurice Williams was born 26 April 1938 in Lancaster, South Carolina.[1] His first experience with music was in the church, where his mother and sister both performed. By the time he was six, Williams was performing regularly there. With his childhood friend Earl Gainey, Williams formed the gospel group the Junior Harmonizers. As rock and roll and doo-wop became their primary interest, the Junior Harmonizers changed their name to the Royal Charms.

The Royal Charms and the Gladiolas[edit]

In addition to Williams and Gainey, the Royal Charms were made up of Willie Jones (baritone), William Massey (tenor, baritone, trumpet), and Norman Wade (bass).[2] In the winter of 1956, while still in high school, Williams and his band traveled to Nashville, Tennessee, to record for the Excello label. At the time they were going by the name the Royal Charms, but the founder of Excello Records, Ernie Young, convinced them to change their name to the Gladiolas[3] (at the time, there were at least two other bands using the same name).

The song "Little Darlin'" was a No. 11 hit on the Billboard R&B chart in 1957,[4] but did not break into the Billboard Hot 100's Top 40.[5] However, when it was covered by the Canadian group the Diamonds, it moved up to No. 2.[6]

The Zodiacs[edit]

Williams finished high school and while on the road with the band, their station wagon broke down in Bluefield, West Virginia. The band came across a British-built Ford car known as the Zodiac (a 'luxury' version of the Ford Zephyr built in Britain, Australia and New Zealand) and changed their name.[3] Shortly thereafter, Henry Gaston replaced Earl Gainey.[2]

In the spring of 1959, Maurice Williams and the Zodiacs performed at the University of South Carolina in Columbia, South Carolina. Around that time, the group split and reformed. The members were Williams, Gaston, Wiley Bennett, and Charles Thomas. Later, Little Willie Morrow and Albert Hill were added.[2] One month later, in the early summer of 1959, the band recorded in a Quonset Hut on Shakespeare Road in Columbia. The recording engineer, Homer Fesperman, recorded several tracks that the band had hoped would include a hit. One of the last tracks that they recorded that day was "Stay",[2] a song that Williams had written a couple of weeks before. Williams sang lead and Henry Gaston sang the counter-verse falsetto.

After taking the demo of "Stay" to Al Silver at Herald Records in New York City, the song was pressed and released in early 1960. At 1:36, "Stay" is the shortest recording ever to reach number one on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in the United States.[7]

At the end of 1963, the British band the Hollies recorded "Stay",[2] which gave the group their debut Top Ten hit single in the UK, peaking at No.8[8] in January 1964, three years after the Zodiacs' version had peaked at No. 14 on the UK Singles Chart (January 1961). Later versions of "Stay", by the Four Seasons (1963) and Jackson Browne (1978),[2] reached the Top 20 in the U.S., each selling over one million copies in the United States alone. The inclusion of the Zodiacs' "Stay" on the soundtrack to the film Dirty Dancing in 1987 led to the song selling more records than it had during its original release.

A 1965 recording by the group, "May I", released by Vee Jay Records and Dee-Su Records, became, over the years, another million-selling record.[1]

Later life[edit]

Williams continues to record, tour, and release music. He was inducted into the North Carolina Music Hall of Fame in 2010.[9] He also made several performances for the PBS "Doo Wop 50" show series in 2001.

Henry Gaston died on August 24, 2015.[10][11]

Discography[edit]

  • 1960 singles: Stay; I Remember; Stay with Maurice Williams and the Zodiacs (6-track EP)
  • 1965 At the Beach
  • 1997 Let This Night Last, produced and arranged by Ron Oates
  • 2000 The 21-song album, Back To Basics, was produced and arranged by Ron Oates in Nashville, Tennessee. It contains re-recorded versions of "Stay" and "Little Darlin".

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c Murrells, Joseph (1978). The Book of Golden Discs (2nd ed.). London: Barrie and Jenkins Ltd. p. 130. ISBN 0-214-20512-6.
  2. ^ a b c d e f Colin Larkin, ed. (1997). The Virgin Encyclopedia of Sixties Music (First ed.). Virgin Books. p. 474. ISBN 0-7535-0149-X.
  3. ^ a b Montague, Joe. "Interview with Maurice Williams". Riveting Riffs. Retrieved Mar 9, 2015.
  4. ^ Whitburn, Joel, The Billboard Book of TOP 40 R&B and Hip Hop Hits, Billboard Books, New York, 2006, p. 219
  5. ^ Whitburn, Joel The Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits, Billboard Books, New York, 1992 p. 198
  6. ^ Whitburn 1992, p. 139.
  7. ^ per Casey Kasem on the American Top 40 broadcast for the week ended March 15, 1980: cue sheet
  8. ^ Rock File 4 - Chart log of American/British Top 20 Hits 1955-1974, Charlie Gillett & Simon Frith, Panther Books Ltd (1976)
  9. ^ "2010 Inductees". North Carolina Music Hall of Fame. Retrieved September 10, 2012.
  10. ^ "Henry Gaston". Legacy.com. Retrieved March 11, 2021.
  11. ^ "Maurice Williams' famous song has staying power, 55 years later". The Charlotte Observer. Retrieved March 11, 2021.

External links[edit]