A TRIBUTE TO MARVIN JUNIOR of the DELLS
One of the best
– if not THE best - and most soulful baritone singers is gone. Marvin Junior
passed away on May 29, 2013, in Harvey, Illinois - about fourteen miles from Chicago – due to kidney failure and weak heart. Many remember how on the big hit version
of Stay in My Corner in 1968 on Cadet Records Marvin stretches a note
(on ‘baby’) for seventeen seconds. However, on stage he used to stretch it a
lot longer and on the third single release of the same song on 20th
Century in 1982 he holds that one note for thirty seconds!
Marvin was born
on January 31 in 1936 in Harrell, Arkansas, but moved to Harvey, when only six
months old. Marvin: “My mother and my aunt sang in a spiritual group, and I’ve
sung spirituals. My father played guitar. We listened to groups like the
Moonglows, the Five Keyes and we’ve always liked Ray Charles. My
number one was the Moonglows, but I also loved a lot of spiritual singers, the
Highway QC’s, the Sensational Nightingales...”
Together with Verne
Allison, Chuck Barksdale, Michael McGill, Johnny Funches and Lucius
McGill, they formed a group called the El Rays in 1952 (in Spanish
‘rey’ means ‘the king’). Marvin: “They always try to make us the kids that
came from the ghetto, but Harvey then was a middle-class town, of 35 000.
We were raised here in Harvey, and we went to a beautiful Thornton High School.”
Their very first
single on Checker in 1954 was Darling I Know/Christine. Marvin: “Leonard
Chess gave us a cheque of seventy-something dollars and we thought we were
cheated. Truthfully he did us a favour, because the record really didn’t do
anything. It wasn’t a lot of copies printed. It was only put out in Chicago. I sang Christine. After we recorded that record, Leonard really hurt my
feelings, because he told me I was not a singer. He said he liked me and told
me to get me an education, to get a good job, because I was not a singer.
Later, when we signed back the next time (in ’62), he tried to get me to sign a
Lucius left the
group in 1954, and soon after that they went to Vivian Carter’s house
and signed with Vee-Jay Records. “As we hadn’t had any big hits with our name,
we changed our name to the Dells. Vivian was the one that suggested that,
but Verne came up with the name. The same thing as it was before – we wanted a
short name. If you had a long name – there were so many acts in a show there,
like from six to nine acts – your name would get abbreviated.”
between 1955 and ’64 they released 17 singles and enjoyed some hits, such as Dreams
of Contentment, Oh What a Nite and Stay in My Corner, for the first
time in 1965. The group disbanded for almost two years after a car accident in
November 1958, and Johnny Funches left them in 1961 right after they had
auditioned for Dinah Washington. They replaced him with Johnny
Carter of the Flamingos fame, and kept working as an intact quintet
until Johnny’s passing in August 2009.
returned to Chess, to one of its subsidiaries, Argo, for two years and four
singles in 1962, but their most magnificent period – both musically, and in
popularity – was with another Chess subsidiary, Cadet from 1966 till 1975.
Besides their own hits, the group did background work and contributions for
many other artists, including Bo Diddley, Chuck Berry, Barbara Lewis, Betty
Everett, Wade Flemons, Andre Williams, Etta James, Joe Murphy, Ted Taylor,
Cicero Blake, Jo Ann Garrett, Bobby Jones, the Players etc. After Dinah Washington they toured with Ray Charles for a while.
The Dells, the
producer and writer Bobby Miller and the arranger Charles Stepney formed
the winning team to create such masterpieces as O-O I Love You, There Is,
Stay in My Corner, Always Together, Does Anybody Know I’m Here, I Can Sing a
Rainbow & Love Is Blue, Oh What a Day and Open Up My Heart.
second time we did Stay in My Corner was like a mistake. We had put an
album together, and we were ten minutes short on the album. We had been doing Stay
on stage and it went over well, so we thought ‘let’s put Stay on the
album’. Stepney said ‘well, it’s not ten minutes long, but I’ll tell what
we’ll do. We’ll stretch it’.”
Their next big hit in 1971, The Love We
Had (Stays on My Mind), was cut with Charles Stepney only. Marvin:
“Bobby Miller had an argument with Chess. He left and went to Motown. He
tried to get us to follow him over to Motown, but we didn’t do it. He got very
upset about that. We weren’t really thinking about leaving, because they gave
us a new and better contract.”
producer was Don Davis, who first gave the group a golden record with Give
Your Baby a Standing Ovation in 1973, and then hooked them up with the
Dramatics (Love Is Missing from Our Lives). Marvin: “Don Davis had
the Dramatics already. He came up with the idea of us and them doing an album
together. We were bumping into each other in the studio all the time,
After that the
group continued recording with different producers on such labels as Mercury,
ABC/MCA, 20th Century, Private I, Veteran, Virgin, ZOO/Philadelphia
International, Dells/Way Records, Volt and Devine between 1975 and 2002. In
the mid-80s there were rumours about the group joining forces with Gamble
& Huff. Marvin: “Gamble & Huff were gonna produce us already in
the 70s. Chess owed Gamble & Huff some money, and they told Chess ‘okay,
we produce the Dells, but you gotta pay us our money you owe us first... which
didn’t happen. The rumour is that those first tunes that Harold Melvin and
the Blue Notes had cut on that first big album were written for us, because
we were coming over to Gamble & Huff. When we didn’t go, they gave them to
Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes.”
Finally they cut
an album with Gamble & Huff called I Salute You on ZOO/PIR in 1992.
Marvin: “To me, that’s the best album we’ve ever made. But what happened with
that album, the distributing company and Gamble & Huff got into a big
argument. They got to arguing over the budget – who was gonna pay for the
video, they got arguing over a lot of things – and it ended up so that the
record just got lost. It didn’t play. Gamble & Huff after that left the
Already a year
prior to that, in 1991, the Dells came back to the limelight with the release
of a movie, The Five Heartbeats. It was accompanied with the popular
soundtrack and the power ballad, A Heart Is a House for Love. Marvin:
“That was 85 % our story.” The director, Robert Townsend, travelled
with the group for six weeks and listened to their stories, mostly by Marvin.
In 2000 the
Dells were part of the Going Home....A Tribute to Duke Ellington project,
but they also released an impressive album of their own on Volt Records called Reminiscing.
Two years later they released a fine but little-known mini-CD called The
9/11 Suite on Devine Records. In 2004 they were inducted into the Rock and
Roll Hall of Fame and their documentary titled The Dells: Oh What a Night won
a Chicago/Midwest Emmy in the category of Outstanding Achievement for
Documentary Programs – Documentary or Cultural Significance in 2004-2005.
There’s also a 2007 DVD available (http://www.soulexpress.net/soulconcerts_dvds.htm).
Please read also Chuck Barksdale’s comments on their Then and Now CD
from 2008 at http://www.soulexpress.net/deep408.htm#dells.
always thought that entertainment was a big part of people’s life. I don’t
think they know how big and important music is to their lives. I always tell
them to try just one week or only two days to go without television or radio or
record. Then you’ll see how important it is. When we came up, all the
entertainers, we tried to be role models. We dressed as neat and clean as we
can and we did the best shows we could. We sang songs that had messages and
good stories in it.”
are from my multi-part Dells feature in Soul Express).
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