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Part 1 (1959 – 1968)

In our genre I don’t think there are very many artists that have gained wide popularity and recognition only with their live act and stage shows - without having a single hit record on national charts. The Checkmates Ltd. is one such entertaining unit that became a big draw – mostly on the West Coast and Las Vegas venues – although its first hit appeared only in 1969, ten years after the debut single. The two lead singers, Bobby Stevens and Sonny Charles, tell the story of the group, with a few words from other related music makers, too.


 If we proceed chronologically, the first member of the group to pop up into this world was Robert Lee Stevens, the dark and rich baritone voice. He was born in Fort Wayne, Indiana, on September the 6th in 1939. Music world knows also other artists by the name of Bobby Stevens, such as a folk-country singer from St. Louis, Missouri, and a British pop singer, who was active especially in the 1960s and whose real name is Ray Pilgrim, but in terms of music genres and ethnicity our Bobby differs from the rest.

Bobby comes from a big family, but he hasn’t any children of his own. Bobby: “Total family members were fourteen. However, several died as infants or at birth. Total surviving members were ten, six boys and four girls. I wasn’t in Fort Wayne too long. I was there only during my teenage years, and it was alright, a very good experience. Fort Wayne is one of the major cities in Indiana. It was decent growing up over there.” With a population close to 270,000, in recent ranking Fort Wayne comes second only to the capital, Indianapolis and its 870,000 inhabitants.

Today Bobby resides in Avenal, California, with a population of approximately 13,000 plus over 4,000 inmates in the Avenal State Prison. The town is located almost 300 km north of Los Angeles and 320 km south of San Francisco. “It is the breadbasket of America. They grow fruits and vegetables and they basically supply whole of California and most of the United Stated with vegetables. It is a small farm area.”

Bobby lists Sam Cooke and Fats Domino as examples of his early idols – “all from that era, they all made me enjoy the industry” – but in his family he was the only one to pursue a career in music business. “I have nephews and nieces, who are contemplating it now, but not professionally yet.”


Charles Hemphill aka Sonny Charles, the sweet and resonant tenor, was born on September the 4th in 1940 in Blytheville, an easternmost settlement of Arkansas, 90 km north of Memphis, with an estimated population of 13,500 today. Sonny: “We grew up there back in the 1940s. My dad was a sharecropper, and we had a cotton field. That was our basic income, we harvested cotton. When I was almost eleven, we moved to Indiana.”

Among other musical celebrities hailing from Blytheville there were Dee Clark and Junior Walker, but Sonny didn’t get acquainted with them at that point. “We were pretty isolated. We would go to town on Saturdays for a few hours and then come back. We went to school in a local church – we didn’t have a school house – and a teenage girl would teach us reading and writing.”

“When I was about five years old, my dad would drive the family to a location where there would be tent movies. A large tent was constructed with seating so that the black sharecropper families would watch movies that were projecting onto a screen. These movies were mostly sepia movies featuring black actors and performers. That was the first time I saw Herb Jeffries, Louis Jordan, Ella Fitzgerald, Mahalia Jackson, etc. But my favourite at that point in my life was Louis Jordan. I was too young to work in the fields, so they would leave me on the wagon, where they could see me, and I would pretend that the cotton stalks and the corn stalks were my audience and I would perform Louis Jordan songs to this fictitious audience.”

“I had six sisters, all older than me. My youngest sister, Theopolis, was six years older than I am. She sang a few times with a jazz saxophonist James Moody (1925-2010) and was offered a recording contract, but this was probably in 1952-53 when she was very young and didn’t take the job.”

“I have two sons of my own, but they’re not in music at all.” In 1951 Sonny moved to Fort Wayne, Indiana. “It was a total revelation for me, because no longer did we have to deal with the racism and segregation, which was pretty severe in the south back in the 40s and 50s. When I came up to north, it was totally different. Everything was integrated. We went to school with all races. There was no over-racism.”

“My first musical idol was my sister that sang with James Moody. She would learn songs and I would learn songs with her as a kid. I started singing along with her. During my teenage years my biggest influences were Johnny Mathis and Clyde McPhatter. Then at about 14 years old I got into a children’s choir at our church singing gospel songs. The lady, who was in charge of the choir, for some reason thought that I could be a lead singer, so she gave me the opportunity to sing a few songs, which I did mutilated in the beginning, because I was too shy. She didn’t give up on me, and pretty soon I got confident enough and people started liking what I was doing.”


Sonny: “That led to a talent show with my good buddy. He asked me to come there and just support him on stage while he sings the Frankie Laine song, That Lucky Old Sun. He started singing... and froze, and I just took over and started singing the song. I got a record contract from a local guy, who had a small record company. I was probably 13 or 14. We did some recording, but it was never released. That was back when we recorded right on the acetate. It wasn’t tape. I don’t know what happened to that stuff.”

Both Bobby and Sonny went to Fort Wayne Central High School. Bobby: “I played football and basketball in Central High School in Fort Wayne in 1957 and ’58.”  Sonny: “Bobby and I were both in a high school football team. We lived pretty close to each other and after the games we would walk home and sing Frankie Lymon songs, Clyde McPhatter songs and all that stuff that was popular around 1956.”

Also one John Calvin Thomas played in the same football team and he was to join Bobby and Sonny in their subsequent venture into music. Bobby: “Calvin Thomas was our first drummer, an excellent player and performer.” Sonny: “He was born on December 14th, 1940. He prefers to be called John. He was an outstanding high school athlete. He was a running back on the football team. He was a tremendous track athlete.”


Sonny: “We formed a doo-wop singing group. Jimmy Milton was our first tenor, I – Chuck Hemphill - was the second tenor, Bobby Stevens was baritone and Marvin Smith was the bass singer.” Jimmy was born April 9th 1941, and Marvin was born on September the 25th in 1939 in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Sonny: “First it was just four guys singing with a drummer, John. We were doing shows for the Chamber of Commerce and places like that. Later on Harvey Trees approached us and said ‘why don’t you guys let me back you on these songs.’ We said ‘okay’, and he said ‘hey, I know a bass player’ and then he brought Bill Van Buskirk. So we had three guys, who played the guitar, bass and drums and backed us up. The Continentals were the seven of us, and there were four in the singing group.”

John Calvin Thomas was the drummer, Harvey Trees (born on June the 14th in 1940 in Aitkin, MN) was on guitar and Bill Van Buskirk (born on February the 7th in 1941 in Fort Wayne) was on bass. The group was integrated, as Harvey and Bill were white. Bobby: “We basically performed rock ‘n’ roll. We always did a lot of covers of hits of those times... pop, rock.” Sonny: “Each singer would do solo songs, so we basically sang whatever was popular on the radio at the time.”

Clifford Ostermeyer aka Cliff Ayers was born in Decatur, Indiana, in 1923. He became the vocalist in Sammy Kay’s Orchestra, went solo and released mostly easy listening and country music singles since the early 1950s on such labels as Decca, Emerald, Rainbow, Lincoln, K-Ark and American Sound. He settled down in Nashville in the early 1970s.

Sonny: “We came second in a talent contest. There was a girl group that won. They were pretty little girls that sang the McGuire Sisters sort of songs. But there was a gentleman, who was a radio DJ in Fort Wayne, and he brought us in and we recorded two songs at that station directly on acetate, and he released them like in three states – Michigan, Indiana and Illinois.”

The gentleman in question was the above Cliff Ayers, who released the Continentals’ first single on the Emerald label in 1959. Based in New York, Emerald was Cliff’s own label, which existed from 1954 till 1961. Besides Cliff’s own singles, some of the other acts that had releases on that label included Rusty Cole, Webb Foley and Tex Neighbors.

The debut single by the group was credited to Cliff Ayers & the Continentals. The A-side was an up-tempo doo-wop dancer titled I Wonder Why, written by Jacqueline Diane Surguy Pyle. She was a one-time cheerleader and later a songwriter, poet and children’s book author. She passed in 2017 in Connersville, Indiana, at the age of 86. Alongside Cliff’s singing, we can enjoy a high falsetto voice. Bobby: “That would be Jimmy Milton. Jimmy had a great falsetto voice.”

On the flip there was a mid-tempo, the Olympics type of a rendition of Dance with the Dolly (with a Hole in Her Stockin’), a much-covered song, which was originally recorded by Tony Pastor in 1940 but best known by the Andrew Sisters five years later. This really was the first released record, on which we can hear the voices of the upcoming Checkmates. Bobby: “Our voices were on audition demos we did in Indiana or Chicago, but they were not released.” Sonny: “Dance with the Dolly got a lot of airplay for a few weeks. We never got an accounting on how many records were sold, so we never got any money for it. We were very young guys and pleased to be on the radio.”


Bobby: “We had joined The Buddy Plan, a program the army had at the time to encourage enlistment. The program guaranteed enlistees that they would serve the total time of their enlistment together or be released upon request. When we joined, they first sent us to St. Louis, Missouri, for basic training, and then we got separated. I went to South Carolina and Kansas. I went to my company commander in Kansas and demanded that we all be resigned or released. The army agreed and reunited us. We stayed in the army for the full three-year term.” Sonny: “We ended up in Fort Lewis, which is right outside of Tacoma, Washington. We were in the Entertainment Division, so we would play hospitals and do also the PR stuff and some of the most bizarre jobs you can think of. It was fun. It was a growing experience for us.”

They enlisted in the army on June 23rd in 1959 and were discharged on June 22nd in 1962. Bobby: “Marvin Smith wasn’t able to join the army at that time, because he was helping his parents, so he joined us a little later on.” Sonny: “John Calvin Thomas was our drummer with the Continentals. He went by the stage name of ‘Sloopy.’ He played with us all through our army enlistment, and he played with me again in the early 1970s. Calvin lives now in South Carolina. I’m still in touch with him.”

“Jimmy Milton left the band, when we joined the army in 1959. He performed solo as ‘Little Jimmy Milton.’ He was with the group Heatwave, and he was in the stage production of Hair. Jimmy lives now in Connecticut, where he continues to perform. We sort of lost contact with each other, as the years went by. We were pretty much located in L.A. and Las Vegas and they had interest in other places and that’s where they went.”

The original Checkmates Ltd: from the left Harvey Trees, Bobby Stevens (sitting on a chair), Bill Van Buskirk, Sonny Charles and Sweet Louie (on front)


The next recording session took place right after the members were discharged from the service in June 1962. Sonny: “That’s when we changed our name to the Checkmates. We were in the studio, and the engineer asked, what is the name of our band, and we said ‘the Continentals’, and he said ‘no, that’s not going to work, there are Continentals in every city of America.’ There was a chessboard sitting on one of the tables. He saw that we were an integrated group, so he said ‘why don’t you call yourselves the Checkmates.’”

The single was released on Regency Records, which operated out of Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood, CA, and some of the other acts in its roster included the Avantis, Danny Hamilton and Dan-Rays.  Sonny: “There was a group called the Ventures, and one of the kids was Don Wilson. His mom had the company Regency Records, and she recorded us. Besides Don, there was also Nokie Edwards in the Ventures, and we worked with them in the studio. We also did some shows backing as their backing band.”

Released in the fall of 1962, What Do You Do is Bobby’s tender doo-wop ballad, on which Sonny and Bobby share vocals. The B-side, Shoo-Be-Shoo-Be-Do, is a mid-tempo number written by Bobby and Sonny. The record was co-produced by Don’s mother, Josie Wilson, and on the label it reads Check-Mates.


The second Checkmates single was titled Searchin for Love and it was backed with Perfect Fifth. The single was released on I.R.P. Records, which operated out of Chicago. Sonny: “I.R.P. was some guys, who offered us a chance to record, and at that point we were just trying to get recognized. They released it. It never was successful.” Bobby: “At that time we were working Lake Tahoe, Nevada. It was one of those things, when a guy comes up to you after the show and says ‘I really liked what I heard, I’d like to get you guys on a record’, and so we signed with him.”

Searchin for Love is a bluesy jump, written and sung by Bobby, who also plays harmonica on the track. The flip, Perfect Fifth, is a guitar-driven instrumental composed by Harvey Trees and Sonny. Bobby: “The Perfect Fifth? There were five of us. The title also means orientation for notes in music.” Credited to Check-Mates Inc., the line-up of the group at that point was Bobby Stevens, Charles Hemphill, Marvin Smith, Harvey Trees and Bill Van Buskirk. Inc. was added to the name of the group to avoid confusion with Billy Joe & the Checkmates, who had released Percolator (Twist) and climbed with it up to # 10 on Billboard’s pop charts in early 1962.


Throughout the 1960s the group’s popularity grew and the Checkmates became known as one of the most exciting live acts. They headlined The Copacabana in New York, The Fontainebleau in Miami, Playboy Clubs and other nightclubs in California, Wisconsin and New Orleans, all over the States. They had the Three Degrees opening up for them and they opened up for Bill Cosby, Herb Albert & the Tijuana Brass etc. and co-headlined with Woody Allen, Lou Rawls and Joan Rivers, among others. They are, however, best known as an exhilarating lounge act in Nevada’s casinos and hotels, so it’s no wonder that their debut album was a live one.

The double album, Live at Harvey’s – Too Much!, was recorded at Harvey’s Wagon Wheel Casino in Stateline, Nevada. Bobby: “That’s in Lake Tahoe. At that time it was one of the biggest gambling places. Across the street there was another major gambling place, Harrah’s hotel. We had a very lively show. Besides singing we danced and played instruments, although I never played anything other than the drums.” Sonny: “We were performing at Harvey’s, and we were pretty popular. We were drawing big crowds. Then these guys showed up! ‘We got a recording studio and we sure would like to do something with you guys.’”


The live album was released – surprise, surprise! – on a garage label called Ikon in 1965. Ikon operated out of Sacramento, California, and released records also by Shondells, Knightsmen, the Styx, Prophets, Madd, Inc. etc. As if not enough surprises, the sound engineer, Eirik Wangberg, hails from Norway. After those first excursions into music, Eirik has become a renowned producer/musician/engineer/arranger/writer in music and he has had success with such artists as Paul McCartney, Diana Ross, the Beach Boys, Dionne Warwick, Smokey Robinson, John Mayall, to name a few (  

Eirik: “I co-produced and engineered Live at Harvey’s – Too Much album on Ikon Records. Jim Barkley was the director and co-owner of Ikon studios in Sacramento. He was nice and outgoing but horrible at managing the studio and the Ikon Records label. It ended in bankruptcy and I did not get paid for a long while for being the studio boss.”

You can sense from the album that those days the group had a frantic show with quite a lot of humour included. They performed colourful versions of popular songs of the day – such as Kansas City, Turn on Your Love Light, You’ve Lost that Lovin’ Feelin’, What’d I Say, Ya Ya and Hang on Sloopy –  in a thundering, big-voiced way and mostly in a fast tempo. The only original song, Do it to Deff, was picked up for the retrospect Ikon Records Story 2-CD on Frantic Records in 2005.

Only the sound quality on the album leaves a lot to desire. Eirik: “We had portable studio equipment and Jim asked me to go to Harvey’s in Nevada to record The Checkmates Ltd. We set up the instruments and our equipment on one of the top floors of the hotel. I can remember not being too happy about the outcome. The band and I had way too little time to adjust. A new environment for us all takes time to get used to with all technical equipment and instruments. It was a rushed production.” Bobby: “Technically it wasn’t a great album, because it was a ‘garage situation’, but it was a chance for us to get in the recording industry, so we took it.”

On a personal level, however, everything went smoothly between the engineer and the performers. Eirik: “I remember the guys as being very nice and hopeful as any about the record. And we were sad we did not get more time together.”  Eirik is still active today. “These days I am producing an artist in Toronto over internet and finishing up my own double album, mostly with music from the sixties.”

Sweet Louie playing drums


Live at Harvey’s didn’t sell enough to appear on charts. Sonny: “It never had much airplay. If it did, it was just local.” But at least something with a lasting effect happened those days: when Marvin Smith sang Louie Louie on stage, a lady in the audience shouted “Sweet Louie” and that name stuck for the rest of Marvin “Sweet Louie” Smith’s life.

On the next record and in fact on all the records to come the name of the group was to be the Checkmates Ltd. Sonny: “Besides Billy Joe & the Checkmates there was still another group called the Checkmates back in Connecticut, so we decided to go with ‘Ltd.’, so that we can be a limited corporation.  That was when we started playing the western circuit, which included Las Vegas.” Bobby: “It was also a joke. Ltd was - light, tan and dark. We had a mixed group.”

There was another change, when Charles/Chuck Hemphill changed his stage name to Sonny Charles. Sonny: “Every time they would do write-ups on us, they would always misspell my last name. It was Humphill, Hempfield or something like that. My dad and everybody who knew me called me Sonny. So Bobby said ‘why don’t you just call yourself Sonny Charles’, and that’s how that came about. I took my nickname and my first name as my stage name. It’s much easier to say and remember.” Sonny remembers that name change day well, because it took place, when Nat King Cole died, on February 15 in 1965.

To avoid confusion it’s good to clarify that in the mid-60s there was also another recording artist by the name of Sonny Charles. He had peppy teeny pop releases on labels like Fraternity and Penquin, but he was in fact Sonny Sheets out of Covington, Kentucky.

Checkmates at the Pussycat á Go Go


Sonny: “Nancy Wilson came to see us. We were playing at a place called The Pussycat a’ Go Go in Las Vegas. We were on from one o’clock in the morning till about six o’clock. It would be daylight, when we finished. The place was really packed with celebrities, because when they finished their show they came to hang out with us. And when Nancy Wilson came by, she really loved us” Bobby: “At that time she was very prominent on the jazz side and pop-jazz.”

Born in 1937 in Ohio, Nancy Sue Wilson is a three-time Grammy Award winner. Her peak in popularity fell on the mid-60s, when her most notable singles on Capitol Records included (You Don’t Know) How Glad I Am (in 1964), You’ve Got Your Troubles (in ’66) and Face It Girl, It’s Over (in ’68). Among her best-selling albums those days there were Yesterday’s Love Songs/Today’s Blues, Today, Tomorrow, Forever, How Glad I Am (all in ’64), Today-My Way, Gentle Is My Love (both in ’65) and A Touch of Today (in ’66).

Nancy’s admiration for the group was so great that she ended up becoming their manager for a spell. Sonny: “We signed up with her as our manager. She got us on Capitol Records. That’s when we broke out and became a national act.”  Bobby: “I managed the group throughout our time in the army until we were signed by Nancy Wilson. Then she turned the controls of management over to Jay Cooper, a prominent lawyer in Beverly Hills. I still managed the group on the road, though.”

Bobby: “Nancy was unbelievably supportive and she was a major, major factor in our career. She even danced with us on stage. I still say to this day that she was the only woman I know that can do ‘The Pony’ in high heels. Jay, who managed her as well, took care of the legal contracts and he managed us through her for awhile, until she dissolved our management and Jay took over. One time we were proposed also by the Smother Brothers’ company to manage us, but we went with Nancy.” Nancy passed in December 2018.


The first Checkmates, Ltd. single on Capitol was recorded in Los Angeles on January the 22nd in 1966 and produced by Nancy Wilson and David Cavanaugh (1919-81). Bobby: “David Cavanaugh was a major producer and a great arranger. He arranged also Nancy’s music at that time.” After playing tenor saxophone in many bands and releasing singles in his own right, too, in the 1950s David became the Director of A&R for Capitol, where he worked with most of the label’s top artists, and finally in the 1970s he was promoted to the President of Capitol Records.

The plug side of the single was titled Do the Walk (the Temptation Walk), and it was a driving dancer written and sung by Bobby. Sonny: “The Temptation Walk is based on the dance step made popular by the Temptations.” At least Jackie Lee and Entertainers IV have released similarly titled singles, but they are different songs. One, who actually covered this Bobby’s mover, was Harry James in his swinging style (in 1966) and most probably the Lettermen performed it in their shows.

Bobby: “We had recorded Do the Walk ourselves in Vegas, and I think our recording was better than the recording released. It had a little more funk and drive to it.” On the lively flip called Glad for You Sonny and Bobby share lead vocals on this Bobby’s song. Bobby: “I think the single was popular but not exactly here. What I see on the Internet, it was more popular in foreign countries.” In years to come it has evolved into a popular floor-filler on a Northern Soul scene in the U.K.


The follow-up single - I Can Hear the Rain b/w Kissin’ Her and Crying for You – was recorded the first of August in 1966 and released two months later. I Can Hear the Rain is an impressive beat-ballad with a lot of elements from the Righteous Brothers sound of those days. Sonny: “It sort of was deliberate, because they were so popular back then. Back in the day, if one act had a hit everybody tried to copy it.” The flip is a loud and almost aggressive stomper, which later has become a firm northern soul favourite in the U.K.

It was back to the plain Checkmates again – without Ltd. - on their third Capitol single in early 1967, Please Don’t Take My World Away. On the A-side it still reads “featuring Sonny Charles”, and again we are treated to a Righteous Brothers type of a big ballad, not unlike Just Once in My Life, only less dynamic. Both this song and the preceding I Can Hear the Rain were produced by David Axelrod (1931-2017), a producer/arranger/composer, who on Capitol also worked with Lou Rawls and Cannonball Adderley prior to his fusion solo projects later on. Sonny: All that stuff was pretty much related to the Righteous Brothers, and these two songs came from the same recording session.”

The B-side, a dancer called Mastered the Art of Love, was produced by Nancy Wilson and David Cavanaugh and cut a year earlier. It has since turned into another northern soul favourite, and it was written by Bobby Baugh. Bobby: “That’s me. That’s my writing name. Baugh is my mother’s maiden name.”

The fourth and final Capitol single was released in June 1967. Walk in the Sunlight is once more an impressive big “Righteous Brothers” ballad, written by Bobby Baugh and Mike Jarrett. Bobby: “At that time one of our writers had written music for our publishing company. His name was Michael Jarrett. He came to us and said ‘I can’t get the words to go with this.’ He gave me the track, and I just sat down and wrote the lyrics.” We’ll meet Michael Jarrett still later in this feature.

For the flip Bobby and Marvin “Sweet Louie” Smith wrote a song titled A & I. Bobby: “At that time there was a lot of jerk music, because there was a dance called ‘the jerk.’” The Larks had a hit with The Jerk in early 1965. Bobby: “Louie had the whole idea for it and I just went in with him. It was also reflective of our college here in the United States.” This single as well as the next album was produced by Kelly Gordon. Kelly (1932-81) was a songwriter, singer and producer, who among other things co-wrote That’s Life and produced Bobbie Gentry’s Ode to Billy Joe.

Bobby: “I like all of those Capitol recordings, because I wrote most of those. I wrote all of our first stuff until we started getting with other producers. Nancy owned the Kacydee publishing company, where we published our material through until she stopped managing us. In the post-Nancy management days we had our own Oten Music Publishing Company. Nancy released us to publish our songs under any banner we wanted to. She was always good to us and very fairly controlled our business arrangements between us.”


Guess what? Also the sophomore album is a live one. Sonny: “For some reason we kept hearing folks to say ‘we need to capture the energy of the Checkmates’, because we were a very energetic act. We were a very physical act. We could dance all over the place. They wanted to capture that excitement on an album. Our studio stuff never caught on, so they were going to go for that. They brought all the recording people in and we did it at Caesar’s.”

Bobby: “It was recorded live in the lounge, because at that time at Caesar’s we were headlining at the lounge. We were also the opening act for whoever was in the main room. We did three shows, one in the lounge and two in the main room. We recorded that I think all in one night.”

Recorded in Las Vegas and released on Capitol in December of 1967, the album became the first nationally charted record for the group: in April 1968 it peaked at # 36 on Billboard’s “Best Selling Rhythm & Blues LP’s” charts. It was also released on Ember in the U.K. in 1969 and as a CD on Vintage Masters in 2012. On the jacket you can read notes by Sammy Davis, Jr., Bill Cosby, Nancy Wilson, Shelley Berman, Tom & Dick Smothers and Woody Allen: “... some of them are negro and some are white. It was never that way in the old south. The next thing you know there’ll be Jews in showbusiness.” Bobby: “I think that was because Woody Allen was headlining the main room and we were opening for him at that time.”

On the LP we get 42 minutes worth of stimulating covers of the hits of the day. The group is backed by Nate Brandwynne’s full orchestra, and among the highlights there are Sweet Louie’s interpretation of Larry Williams’ and Johnny Watson’s A Quitter Never Wins, Sonny doing his “Bobby Hatfield” cover of Ebb Tide and an over 6-minute version of You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’. Bobby: “We actually were a major cover band, and Las Vegas is actually more of a show than the music town. On the record you had to include applauses and gag lines.” In the notes Tom & Dick Smothers still write: “The most exciting and fast-paced show we’ve seen – you have to see them to believe it, The Checkmates are where it’s at.”

The group was busy those days. Bobby: “We were performing all over. We had a 16-week-a-year contract in Las Vegas, we had a 12-week-a-year contract at Harrah’s in Lake Tahoe and we opened in Copacabana, which was the biggest nightclub in New York at the time. We opened for Don Rickles, and we went back and headlined ourselves... and we played all over the West Coast, every major hotel.”

Getting closer to the year of 1969, can you hear a distant rumble? It comes from the A&M new studios in Hollywood, and the source becomes clear in the beginning of the second part of the Checkmates Ltd. story.





(Label # / titles / Billboard placing, pop/soul / year)


Emerald, EM-3000) I Wonder Why / Dance With The Dolly (With A Hole In Her Stockin’) (1959)


Regency 26) What Do You Do / Shoo-Be-Shoo-Be-Do (1962)


I.R.P. 101) Searchin For Love / Perfect Fifth (1963)


Capitol 5603) Do The Walk (The Temptation Walk) / Glad For You (1966)

Capitol 5753) I Can Hear The Rain / Kissin’ Her And Crying For You

Capitol 5814) Please Don’t Take My World Away / Mastered The Art Of Love (1967)

Capitol 5922) Walk In The Sunlight / A&I




LIVE AT HARVEY’S – TOO MUCH! (Ikon Records, IER 121-124 S) 1965

Louie Louie (medley) / Kansas City / Turn On Your Love Light (medley) / All Right (intermission) // Lovin’ Feelin / Long Tall Texan / All Right (intermission) // What’d I Say (medley) / Sittin’ On My Ya Ya / Do It To Deff / All Right (intermission) // High Heel Sneakers / Hang On Sloopy / Louie Louie (ending)


LIVE! AT CAESAR’S PALACE (Capitol 2840) # 36–r&b / 1967

Medley: What’d I Say & Can I Get A Witness & Bread And Butter & Little Bitty Pretty One & Rockin’ Robin & Mr. Lee & Everybody Loves A Lover / Sunny / A Quitter Never Wins / You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’ // Show Me / Ebb Tide / Hold On I’m Comin’ / Baby I Need Your Lovin’

Main interviews conducted in February and March 2020;

Acknowledgements to Bobby Stevens, Sonny Charles, Eirik Wangberg; H.B. Barnum and Phil Hurtt (in upcoming parts);

Sources: David Cole/In The Basement # 52; John Smith/Love Music Review # 7; Bob McGrath’s The R&B Indies (book)

© Heikki Suosalo

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