THE MOONGLOWS

From Kentucky to Cleveland, Chicago to Detroit, the road taken by Harvey Fuqua is closely associated with the rise of Cleveland-to-New York disc jockey Alan Freed by way of Fuqua's and Bobby Lester's vocal group The Moonglows, one of rock's classic acts. Childhood friends in Louisville, the two started as a musical duo in the late 1940s, Harvey (nephew of The Ink Spots' singer-guitarist Charlie Fuqua) playing piano while the two sang separately and in harmony (they did a lot of Ink Spots songs...wonder why!). Saxophonist Ed Wiley (he'd just had a hit, "Cry, Cry Baby") hired them for a brief southern tour in 1950, after which the duo returned to pounding the streets in Kentucky Derby Town. A devastating fire caused the death of Harvey's mother and his girlfriend's two children; to get a fresh start, the couple moved to Cleveland, where Freed's late night rhythm and blues show on WJW was starting to take off.

Harvey put together a group he called The Crazy Sounds with Danny Coggins, a tenor, and bass singer Preston Barnes. Bobby Lester made the move from Louisville and the quartet began performing, catching the attention of Freed, who by '52 was a local celebrity. The quartet recorded a ballad, "I Just Can't Tell No Lie," at the WJW studio. Then Freed suggested they dump the "Crazy" moniker for the Moonglows (sounded kinda like his on-air nickname "Moondog") and the song was released in 1953 with an uptempo tune, "I've Been Your Dog (Ever Since I've Been Your Man)," on Freed's Champagne label, both sides showing songwriter credit to Al Lance, a pseudonym for the wheeling, dealing deejay. Coggins figured the odds of them making it and took an early exit (his hunch was wrong). Alexander "Pete" Walton grabbed the tenor spot.

In 1953 they signed with a Chicago label, Art Sheridan's Chance Records, and turned out ten sides over the next year, the most promising a cover of Doris Day's chart-topping pop hit "Secret Love," with a lead by Bobby and some nice flourishes from the other group members. None of the Chance discs really connected, but a big break for the Moondog led to a change in Moonglow fortunes. Freed had made such a splash in Cleveland that he was hired by WINS, New York City's hit music station, placing him in an unprecedented position for breaking recording acts....and making lots of money.

Freed got them a deal with Chicago label Chess, a well-timed move as founder Leonard Chess had been trying, with no luck, to find a hitmaking doo wop act. Debut single "Sincerely," featuring a fabulous lead vocal by Bobby, did the trick, a number two R&B hit that's arguably the definitive ballad of rock and roll's breakout '55 season. Fuqua was pressured by Freed to share his writer credits (a tactic Freed foisted on others), but it paid off handsomely for both when The McGuire Sisters covered the song and locked down a long run on top of the pop charts in the early months of the year, adding a million or so points to the royalty statements. Perhaps Harvey wasn't all that worried about splitting the take; the middle chorus of "Sincerely" ('Oh lord, won't you tell me why I love that girlie so...she doesn't want me, though I'll never, never, never, never let her go') bears a striking resemblance to the lyrics of The Dominoes' 1952 hit "That's What You're Doing To Me," composed by Billy Ward and Rose Marks, who likely received zero compensation for their uncredited contribution. Ah, the wild 'n' weaselly record biz!

Chess also put out a Moonglows single on Checker under a different group name, Bobby Lester and the Moonlighters, perhaps as insurance should "Sincerely"'s sentiments ring false; "Shoo Doo - Be Doo (My Loving Baby)" got lost in the shuffle, a shame because it cooks from start to finish and should have joined the smash Moonglows disc in the top ten. The act became a quintet with the addition of guitarist Wayne Bennett, who quit almost as soon as he arrived and was replaced by Billy Johnson...who stuck around several years. Harvey and Bobby shared the lead on "Most of All," a spring '55 R&B hit that bounced straight into the pop world via a version by crooner Don Cornell that reached the top 20, generating another bump in writer Fuqua's and co-credit-hog Freed's bank accounts. In May, the Moonglows showed up for a Bo Diddley session, providing backing vocals for the rocking summer hit "Diddley Daddy," Harvey's quid pro quo for co-composing the song with Bo.

The Moonglows were featured in many of Alan Freed's big New York rock and roll shows, while Harvey and Bobby occasionally moonlighted as...the Moonlighters! The next Moonglows single, "We Go Together" (penned by Cleveland-based record guys Shelly Haims and Perry Stevens), impacted in June '56, then the quintet did the ol' 'up...down...an' up' with the sprightly "See Saw" (written by Roquel "Billy" Davis, Charles Sutton and lead singer Fuqua using the alias Harry Pratt), an R&B hit and top 30 pop crossover in the fall.

Next, Hollywood came calling...well, actually, Freed pulled a few strings and got a lucky break. Rock Rock Rock!, one of the earliest R&R films, lives up to its name. Hitting theater screens in December 1956, it starred Freed and 13-year-old actress Tuesday Weld in her film debut (her singing voice supplied by struggling 17-year-old singer Connie Francis) and included spotlight performances by LaVern Baker, Chuck Berry, Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers, The Johnny Burnette Trio, The Flamingos, Teddy Randazzo...and Alan's Moonglows doing a pair of non-hits, "I Knew From The Start" and "Over and Over Again." 85 minutes of thrills for young music fans!

While not all Moonglows singles were solid sellers, they landed another R&B and crossover pop hit in the summer of '57 with a remake of Percy Mayfield's seven-year-old standard, "Please Send Me Someone to Love," this one featuring a lead vocal by Harvey. There was another movie appearance in the fall in Freed's Mister Rock and Roll; Randazzo, Baker, Berry and Lymon's Teenagers were on hand again in addition to Little Richard, Brook Benton, Clyde McPhatter, Screamin' Jay Hawkins, C&W's Ferlin Husky and jazz great Lionel Hampton. The Moonglows' contribution was an unusual-for-them Latin number, "Barcelona Rock," which wasn't released as a single (despite Freed's introducing it as "...their latest hit").

Marshall Paul, whose previous peak as a songwriter had come in '51 with "Long Distance Call" by Muddy Waters, composed what was perhaps the group's best-remembered hit, "Ten Commandments of Love," an epic four minute love song (that needed to be even longer, 'cause the tenth commandment is missing!). Edited to 2:43 on the single (though it actually ran over three minutes), it marked the act's return to the R&B top ten in October 1958 and became their biggest pop hit. Most obvious was the name on the label: Harvey and the Moonglows. Something was up! Fuqua had begun doing solo sessions and some singles were credited simply to Harvey, despite frequent participation from Moonglows members. Around this time, he duetted with Etta James for the first time, on a Kent single released under the name Betty and Dupree.

The Moonglows

The group split up around the end of 1958, then Harvey assembled a new Moonglows outfit, a Washington, D.C. foursome with one late-'57 Okeh single, "Wyatt Earp," to their credit. Reese Palmer, Chester Simmons, James Nolan and future ladies' man/soul star Marvin Gaye (still using the original spelling, "Gay"), gave up their previous name, The Marquees, ready and willing to join the mighty Moonglows; former Dells bassman Chuck Barksdale joined a little later. They backed Harvey on his so-called solo single "12 Months of the Year" (its flip, "Don't Be Afraid to Love," was featured in the movie Go, Johnny, Go!, which appeared on cinema marquees that summer). Lester, meanwhile, did some solo recording and toured under the group's name, while Harvey and his "new" 'Glows made another record, "Mama Loocie."

Harvey was instrumental in getting Etta James signed to Chess, where in 1960 she began a decade-spanning string of hits on the company's Argo and Cadet labels. Two efforts on Chess by Etta and Harvey made an impact in 1960: a dynamic ballad, "If I Can't Have You," that was penned by the briefly lust-struck pair and made the R&B top ten, and a nearly-as-big cover of Howlin' Wolf's then-current, Willie Dixon-penned "Spoonful." Lester kept rolling with his own Moonglows group counting at least one long-running member, Pete Walton (calling himself Pete Graves by that time), among its roster. The final Chess single, "Blue Velvet," appeared in 1962 as Bobby Lester and the Moonglows. Later, Graves formed yet another group and kept the Moonglows name going for several years, occasionally making records for small labels.

Harvey headed for Detroit in 1961, where he started Tri-Phi (The Spinners had their first hit on the label) and Harvey (notable for early delights by future Motown regulars Shorty Long and Jr. Walker and the All Stars). He married Berry Gordy's sister, Gwen Gordy, and made his own solo recordings for Tri-Phi, the highlight a wacky, island-rhythm tune "(Dance) Any Way You Wanta" from early '63, one of many songs co-written with his bride. He discovered Ann Bogan, an unsung Motown talent (originally from Cleveland, she made two singles with Tri-Phi group The Challengers, sang with ever-dependable Motown backing group The Andantes and was later a member of The Marvelettes); the two did one single for the Harvey label, "What Can You Do Now," as Harvey and Ann.

Around 1964, Fuqua sold his labels to Berry Gordy and went to work for Motown as a songwriter and producer. He wrote or cowrote songs for The Monitors, The Elgins and The Velvelettes, collaborated with Johnny Bristol on some of Tammi Terrell's solo efforts (and one of her hit duets with Gaye, "If I Could Build My Whole World Around You," in '67) and had a big year in 1969 as co-creator of hits by David Ruffin ("My Whole World Ended (The Moment You Left Me)"), Edwin Starr ("Twenty-Five Miles"), Walker's All Stars ("What Does it Take (To Win Your Love)") and The Supremes ("Someday We'll Be Together," a song he'd first written with Bristol and Jackey Beavers, who'd recorded the song in 1961 as Johnny and Jackey).

In the early '70s, Harvey Fuqua left Motown and formed a partnership with Charlie Hearndon, producing The Nite-Liters (also known as The New Birth, a group that Ann Bogan spent some time with). Reuniting with his longtime pal Bobby Lester and true-blue tenor Pete Graves, a new-but-classic lineup of The Moonglows came back on the scene with a few singles on RCA including a minor hit remake of their most famous song, "Sincerely '72." Lester ultimately functioned as the group's frontman until his death in 1980.

- Michael Jack Kirby

NOTABLE SINGLES:




MORE ARTISTS

Sincerely Ten Commandments of Love (Dance) Any Way You Wanta