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Colony Records was my place for original Black R&B

Richard G. Carter | 10/4/2012, 1:59 p.m.
Colony Records was my place for original Black R&B

"Well, it's three o'clock in the morning. Baby, I just can't get right. Well, I hate to leave you baby, don't mean maybe, because I love you so."--The Spaniels, "Goodnight Sweetheart, Goodnight" (Vee-Jay Records, 1954)

Among the memories that came rushing to my mind upon hearing the recent news of the imminent closing of Colony Records at West 49th and Broadway is the titanic talent of so many trendsetting Black singers and musicians of the 1950s and 1960s. Indeed, their innovative sounds entertain and enchant millions to the present day.

Such performers provided a unique approach to music in general, and original Black rhythm and blues in particular. The very best did their best work during its golden era of 1953-1963. And I revel in the fact that I was around to enjoy it.

For my money--as a lifelong devotee of the genre and author of the authorized biography of the legendary Spaniels of "Goodnight Sweetheart, Goodnight" fame--Colony Records was a welcome oasis in a desert of musical mediocrity and copycat cover records. Over the years, it stocked all of the original sounds I love on 45 rpm.

The thing that initially made Colony so special for me is that it reminded me of my personal introduction to doo-wop at Radio Doctors in downtown Milwaukee. There, as a callow youth in 1953, I found the Spaniels' haunting "Baby, It's You" after hearing it on a Black radio station.

The yellow vinyl "Baby, It's You" on the Chance label remains the best R&B record ever. I still recall rushing home via city bus to hear James "Pookie" Hudson, Gerald Gregory, Willie C. Jackson, Opal Courtney Jr. and Ernest Warren do their thing. And I was astonished to later learn they recorded it while finishing high school in Gary, Ind.

Since that time, I've been fortunate to meet and discuss original Black R&B with many DJs, journalists, aficionados and performers regarding this distinctive American art form. Included were Wolfman Jack of "The Midnight Special" and "American Graffiti" fame; Ronnie I. of New Jersey-based United in Group Harmony Association; Bobby Jay (WCBS-FM); David Hinckley (New York Daily News); Gene Chandler of "Duke of Earl" fame; Jerry Butler (Impressions); Harvey Fuqua (Moonglows); Willie Winfield (Harptones); LaVern Baker, Chuck Berry, Ruth Brown, Fats Domino and other notables.

In my Milwaukee hometown, after the Spaniels' "Baby, It's You" made me a believer, I traded R&B insights with radio's Eddie O'Jay in his pre-New York days; Chuck Dunaway (WRIT) and Mannie Mauldin Jr., Greg Drust, Jack "Junior" Black, my high school pal Alvin Russell and my future wife, Susan Orr--all of WYMS-FM.

And, of course, there were the original Spaniels, with whom I spent many hours in Gary researching my book, "Goodnight Sweetheart, Goodnight: The Story of the Spaniels (August Press, 1995). After its publication, Susan and I escorted this iconic vocal group on a visit to Colony Records, where we took lots of photos.

Colony was housed in the 11-story Brill Building, famed for more than 150 music publishing offices and studios where some of the best known American songs were written by a musical who's-who. Those who worked there included Ben E. King, Bobby Darin, Laura Nyro, Neil Diamond, Connie Francis, Phil Spector and Carole King.