It’s a proven fact that the Platters were the biggest vocal group of the 50s. This was due to their ground-breaking combination of black doo wop and commercial pop. Another remarkable feature of the group was the soaring tenor of Tony Williams, who sang lead on the majority of their hits, including the No 1s ‘The Great Pretender’, ‘My Prayer’ and ‘Smoke Gets In Your Eyes’, on Mercury from 1955 to 1962. Also in the group at this time were David Lynch (tenor), Paul Robi (baritone), Herb Reed (bass) and Zola Taylor.
By late 1960 Williams had decided to embark on a solo career and moved over to the Philips label to record. None of his efforts were successful although a track from his last session for the label in 1963, ‘How Come’ was recently reactivated in the British clubs. In the meantime the Platters and their manager, Buck Ram, set about the arduous task of finding a suitable replacement for Williams. The winning candidate amongst the many, many singers auditioned was Charles “Sonny” Turner. Sonny had been lead vocalist with the group the Metrotones. The other members were Melvin Smith, James Frierson, Leonard Veal and Leuvenia Eaton and the line up had cut two 45s for the Cleveland-based Reserve label in 1957. Turner’s voice came very close to Tony Williams’ in terms of both style and power. However Mercury were so enamoured with Williams’ vocals that they usually issued old tracks from the can as singles and even called him in to overdub current Platters’ sides. Further personnel changes occurred in the group around this time, with Zola Taylor leaving and being replaced by Barbara Randolph for a time and then by Sandra Dawn. Nate Nelson, formerly of the Flamingos, came in for the departing Paul Robi.
When the group left the Mercury label Buck Ram decided it was time to update their sound to a more contemporary R&B-based style, like that of the Drifters. The result was the dramatic ‘Run While It’s Dark’, with Nate on lead, which was first issued as by Platters ‘65 on the small Entree label, possibly owned by Ram. Lack of promotion meant that the single disappeared without trace so Ram negotiated the signing of the Platters to the successful independent Musicor Records. By January 1966 the group were already appearing in ads for the label though their first Musicor single did not appear until March of that year. The delay may have been caused by the search for a producer who would bring the group’s sound bang up-to-date. The man chosen for the job had quite a pedigree in creating R&B and soul hits - Luther Dixon.
Dixon was also a tremendous songwriter and he and his new bride, Inez Foxx, penned the Platters’ debut A-side, ‘I Love You 1000 Times’. Dixon was commuting from New York to Detroit to record at this time and he selected some of the best of that city’s musicians to provide the cracking backbeat on the session. Sonny also contributed an outstanding lead vocal and is supported by strong background harmonies. It should be noted though that these harmonies are not necessarily by the rest of the Platters. As Buck Ram recounted to Bill Millar “Some of the sessions we did on Musicor we just used Sonny and four other voices - we didn’t even use the group”. The flip of ‘I Love You 1000 Times’ was proof of the singing and writing talents of Nate Nelson. He wrote ‘Don’t Hear, Speak, See No Evil’ with Herb Reed and the result is even more danceable than the top side. The combination proved to be a winner and the single was the Platters’ first hit (No 31 Pop, No 6 R&B) in over four years.
Dance fans would have been disappointed however with the follow-up album issued in June 1966. ‘I Love You 1000 Times’ was the only up-tempo item included, the remainder of the tracks being ballads, including recuts of some of their Mercury hits, produced in New York by Garry Sherman. The next 45 was another Dixon/Foxx composition, ‘Devri’ with a great arrangement by Mike Terry, though it must be said not as strong a song as their first Musicor hit, which may explain its lack of chart action.
This in turn may have led to the group playing safe on the next single, a coupling of two ballads from the album, a revival of the Flamingos’ ‘I’ll Be Home’ and a re-recording of ‘(You’ve Got) The Magic Touch’, which crept in at No 97 on the pop charts in December 1966. Early the next year Dixon, ably assisted by the ace Detroit songwriting team of Richard ‘Popcorn’ Wylie and Tony Hester, came up with the song that is probably the best known side by the Platters during this period, ‘With This Ring’. Catchy as they come, the track propelled the group back into the top 20 in March 1967. Also of note is the beautiful ballad flip ‘If I Had A Love’ (another track from the first album) with a fine tender performance from Sonny.
The next album, aptly titled “Going Back To Detroit” was firmly pointed at the dancefloor, being filled with up-tempo items like the hit and the title song. ‘Going Back To Detroit’ had an interesting history in that the backing track had already been used by Johnnie Mae Matthews on her production of ‘Lonely You’ll Be’ by Calvin Williams issued on Northern Del-La and Atco. Johnnie Mae also recorded the song herself (with the same track) issuing it on the Art and Jam labels in Detroit. This version was also picked up by Atco.
Some more new blood was injected into the group with the appearance of Larry Johnson (replacing David Lynch) in the line-up while recording the album. He also provided the lead vocal on the driving ‘Get A Hold Of Yourself’. Also around this time the Platters recorded a storming version of Johnny Hampton’s ‘Not My Girl’ at Terrashirma Studios in Detroit. This track was rescued from the vaults by Kent’s very own Ady Croasdell and appears here on CD for the first time.
By the time of the following single Luther Dixon had moved on to pastures new and Popcorn Wylie had taken over the producing reins. Popcorn penned ‘Washed Ashore’ with partner Tony Hester and the big brassy arrangement was provided by Detroit veteran Sonny Sanders. The record was a moderate success reaching No 29 R&B and No 56 Pop (July 1967). The New York team of Vernon Harrell and J R Bailey came up with the next A-side, ‘Sweet Sweet Lovin’’ and Wylie had been promoted to production co-ordinator which may indicate extensive production assistance from the writers. This out-and-out stomper was the last hit for the group in November 1967.
The tie-in album also contained a couple of Wylie-Hester gems - ‘Doesn’t It Ring A Bell’ and ‘How Beautiful Our Love Is’. The last title was used as the flip of the next 45. The top side ‘Love Must Go On’ signalled a return to recording in New York under the supervision of Stan Kahan. He also produced the following single ‘Think Before You Walk Away’ (a fine song from Detroiter Steve Mancha) backed with ‘So Many Tears’. The next coupling, ‘Hard To Get A Thing Called Love’ / ‘Why’ was produced by Inez Foxx’s brother Charlie but failed to sell. Two final singles appeared, the superb ‘Fear Of Losing You’ (also recorded as ‘Fear’ by Scotty Williams on the Mona-Lee label) and the melodramatic ‘Be My Love’, which both used tracks previously issued on singles as the flips, which unfortunately indicated that Musicor had given up on the group.
Sonny Turner left the Platters in 1970 to form Sonny Turner Sound Ltd. He was last heard of in 1984 recording an album for Christopher Records in Greenville, South Carolina. Among the tracks were ‘What We Share’ with added vocals by the ‘Ring My Bell’ lady, Anita Ward, and a re-tread of ‘With This Ring’. Buck Ram died in January 1991 and Tony Williams in August 1992. This collection presents to you ALL the Platters up-tempo tracks issued on Musicor, together with a selection of their tastiest ballads.
ROB HUGHES 1994