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The Ultimate Flairs (MP3), MP3 (£7.99)
For record company owners, it was often the practice in the 50s to have a vocal group named after one of your labels.
The Bihari family, owners of the Modern group of labels, were no exception. They had started the Flair label in 1953 with primarily a hillbilly leaning, but then decided to widen the label's musical spectrum to include blues and R&B. What better than to have a vocal group named the Flairs as a showcase for the Flair label? The Flairs were born and they progressed to become one of the most respected vocal groups that came out of the West Coast doo wop scene.
Ace has released FLAIRS tracks before as part of the six-volume survey of Modern Vocal Groups" (CDCHD 698 / 723 / 741 / 764 / 783 / 817) but now it's time to dedicate a CD to the group's output, both under their own name and a quite a few pseudonyms. Consisting of Richard Berry, Cornel Gunter, Obie Jessie, Peter Fox and Beverly Thompson, the Flairs formed in late 1952 whilst many of the members were at Jefferson High School in Los Angeles. Richard Berry was the group's main songwriter as well as lead vocalist, although Cornel Gunter shared lead vocals as did, to a lesser extent, Obie Jesse (aka Young Jessie).
The group's six singles releases on the Flair label are included as well as outings where they posed as the Hunters and possibly as the Whips. There was an overlap of membership between the Flairs and groups named the Five Hearts and the Rams so their tracks are included too. Each track has been comprehensively annotated by Gordon Skadberg of Earlybird Records.
Also featured are tracks taken from the 1963 Crown LP outing. Interestingly, the Crown album cover had what appeared to be a genuine Fazzio 'painting'. It turns out, in reality, to be a colour touch-up of the Flairs original Flair label promotional photograph that is featured on the cover of the CD. It was the habit of the people at Modern to write the track listings of early Crown releases on the back of discarded LP cover slicks or promo material. Many are written up on copies of the back cover of Red Callender's rare album (Modern LP 1201), but the cover photograph turned up as the reverse of the track listing of "Organ Fantasy in Hi-Fi" by Betty Staples on Crown 5023 and on a couple of LPs by Cuban-influenced dance band leader Eddie Gomez!
After recording an intriguing combination of ballads and up-tempo items, the group split up after a couple of years. Each of the lead vocalists managed to have fairly distinguished careers. Richard Berry continued to write and record, including the landmark 'Louie Louie' with the Pharaohs on the Flip label. His solo efforts and as lead of the Pharaohs can be heard on CDCH 355 Richard Berry "Get Out Of The Car"as well as CDCHD 977 Richard Berry "Have 'Louie' Will Travel". Cornel Gunter continued with later Flairs groups on Modern (backing his sister Shirley), and with the Ermines on Loma. He also had a three year stretch with the world-famous Coasters on the Atco label. Obie Jessie also had a successful solo career as Young Jessie and he, too, did a spell with the Coasters. His solo output is showcased in CDCHD 607 Young Jessie "I'm Gone". Later the Flairs name was re-used by Platters manager Buck Ram. His group had different members from the original group and then changed their name to the Flares, and had the hit 'Foot Stompin'. That group's recordings are available on The Flares "Footstomping" (CDCHD 841).
As for the original group, had they been formed in the 60s rather than the 50s, they would probably have been given the 'supergroup' moniker. Here, for the first time in a legitimate CD reissue, are the group's finest recordings. As Gordon Skadberg says in his notes - they were the Ultimate!
By Peter Gibbon"