THE PLATTERS (By Steve Walker)
Tony Williams (lead tenor) (born 15 April, 1928, Elizabeth, New Jersey; died 14 August, 1992, Manhattan, New York City)
Part of the burgeoning Los Angeles rhythm & blues scene of the early 1950's, the original Platters group consisted of Cornell Gunter, brothers Gaynel and Alex Hodge, Joe Jefferson and Curtis Williams. Formed in January 1953, the original line-up showed several early changes, with cab driver David Lynch replacing Joe Jefferson, Herb Reed (from the gospel group the Wings Over Jordan) replacing Curtis Williams and Tony Williams (introduced by his sister, Linda Hayes) replacing Cornell Gunter. Cornell Gunter went on to play an important part in the stories of the Flairs and the Coasters. His sister Shirley Gunter also sang with the Flairs and recorded with her own group, the Queens, on Modern.
They were signed by Ralph Bass to King subsidiary, Federal Records and, after an un-credited appearance behind Big Jay McNeely chanting the title on 'Nervous Man Nervous' (Federal 12141), the group appeared in the studio under their own name in October 1953. One of the songs they recorded was 'Only You (And You Alone'), written by big-band arranger Buck Ram, who had penned the song for the group that he idolised, the Ink Spots [for more on Buck Ram, see http://www.geocities.com/shakin_stacks/buckram.txt and http://www.thegoldenplatter.com/buckram.html ]
The Platters' early attempt at 'Only You' was considered by label supremo Syd Nathan to be unsuitable for release and was held in the can until late 1955, when it was marketed as a spoiler following the runaway success of the Mercury hit version. Buck Ram had, by this time, become the group's manager - he also managed other local acts - the Penguins, the Flairs, the Colts, Young Jessie and Linda Hayes. It was his idea to augment the male quartet with the addition of a perky female member of Shirley Gunter's Queens, Zola Taylor, in early 1954. Shortly thereafter, Paul Robi replaced Alex Hodge, (Gaynel Hodge had already quit the group), and the 'classic' Platters' line-up was in place.
A number of singles appeared on Federal throughout 1954, but gave no real indication of the smooth balladeering style which was to follow, and the Platters left the label in early 1955, having shared the billing with Linda Hayes on her single 'Oochi Pachi' (King 4773). Despite the group's lack of significant record sales, Buck Ram's management and promotional skills had secured them a fully-booked diary around the Los Angeles area.
Mercury were keen to sign another Buck Ram-managed group, the Penguins, on the strength of their massive Dootone hit, 'Earth Angel' and Ram persuaded the Mercury management to take the Platters as a makeweight in a two-for-one deal. Ram knew that there was value in his song 'Only You' if only it could be recorded with a different arrangement. At the group's first Mercury session, A&R manager Bob Shad let Ram play the piano for the first and last time on a Platters session and between them they worked up a sweet pop arrangement that would act as a template for all that was to follow.
'Only You' was released in May 1955 (c/w 'Bark, Battle And Ball' - Mercury 70633) and, after stagnating for a couple of months, began to break out in Los Angeles (pushed by Hunter Hancock) and Philadelphia, getting airplay and sales in both the r&b and pop markets. A cover version by the Cues was released on Jubilee, and by October, the Platters were number one on the national r&b charts and number seven on the pop music best sellers list, eventually selling in excess of one million copies of 'Only You'.
They were back in the studio in September 1955 to record the follow-up - another Buck Ram tune 'The Great Pretender'. Coupled with 'I'm Just A Dancing Partner', the record was released in November on Mercury 70753. Meanwhile, Syd Nathan started revisiting Federal's back-catalogue in an attempt to grab some of the sales of the increasingly popular group. The Federal version of 'Only You', previously deemed unfit for release, was issued in December 1955 (Federal 12244).
'The Great Pretender' got an extra boost when the group performed the song [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=58rgEdiPaa4] in the Alan Freed movie 'Rock Around The Clock' and the record topped both the r&b and pop charts in early 1956. In the same movie, the Platters also performed 'Only You' [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6W2u7-8-oFY].
By April 1956, the Platters had most definitely arrived on the scene. As a result of two consecutive million-sellers, they joined the Alan Freed Easter Week show at the Brooklyn Paramount, breaking all attendance records - the perfect platform to promote their latest release, 'The Magic Touch' c/w 'Winner Take All' (Mercury 70819). Meanwhile, Stan Freberg and his 'cling-cling-cling jazz' added his seal of approval with a wonderful pastiche of 'The Great Pretender'.
In late 1955 and early 1956, Mercury were 'between distributors' in the UK, and neither of the Platters' first two hits were released concurrently with their US counterparts. 'Only You' was available via the Hilltoppers' version on London-American HL-D 8221 and reached number 3. UK artist Jimmy Parkinson made the Top Ten with his version of 'The Great Pretender' on Columbia 3729. In fact, we had to wait until August 1956 for Mercury UK to release the Platters' two mega-hits, and they did so as a double-sided (78 rpm only) release - 'Only You' c/w 'The Great Pretender' (Mercury 117) which climbed to number 5 in the charts. 'The Magic Touch' had previously been released in June 1956 on Mercury 107, but had made no impression on the charts.
Hit followed hit throughout the next couple of years. 'My Prayer' c/w 'Heaven On Earth' (Mercury 70893) was followed by their best-selling self-titled album. TV appearances were plentiful and in the autumn of 1956, following the release of their latest hit (and my personal favourite) 'You'll Never Never Know' c/w 'It Isn't Right' (Mercury 70948), they went to Hollywood to record 'You'll Never Never Know' for inclusion in the greatest of the rock'n'roll era movies, 'The Girl Can't Help It'.
In early 1957 The Platters toured Australia and the Philippines, then returned to the United States for a few days to work on a new movie called 'Rock All Night', singing 'I'm Sorry' [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xt_ADnPr79E] and 'He's Mine' [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FHgHiE9x8Ng]. Following a headline appearance at Alan Freed's New York Paramount show in February, which also saw the theatre premier of 'The Girl Can't Help It', the Platters set out for a three month tour of the UK, where, in true British tradition, they found themselves appearing on a touring variety bill that also contained Vera Cody and her horse Goldie, and acrobatic comedians the Two Palmers.
Meanwhile, back in the US, the Platters were in the charts with 'On My Word Of Honor' c/w 'One In A Million' (Mercury 71011) and 'I'm Sorry' c/w 'He's Mine' (Mercury 71032). 1957's hits were completed by 'My Dream' c/w 'I Wanna' (Mercury 71093) followed by 'Only Because' c/w 'The Mystery Of You' (Mercury 71184) and the group also undertook a thirteen-week tour of South America. During 1957 they also appeared in the Roger Corman movie 'Carnival Rock', performing 'Remember When' [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RFqg4zXm3wk]
Following the Platters' introduction of 'Twilight Time' (co-written by Buck Ram for the Three Suns in 1944) on Dick Clark's 'American Bandstand', the record hit the chart high-spots in early 1958 whilst they embarked on a gruelling five-month tour of Europe, including an appearance at The World's Fair in Brussels and an audience with the Pope in Rome. During this tour, whilst in Paris, they recorded their next chart entry, 'Smoke Gets In Your Eyes', originally a hit for Paul Whiteman's Orchestra in 1934. Jerome Kern's widow was so incensed by the Platters' revival of her late husband's composition that she tried, unsuccessfully, to stop its distribution. The flip of 'Smoke Gets In Your Eyes' - 'No Matter What You Are' - is a hidden gem.
Throughout 1959, the tours (including another visit to Australia) and the hits kept on coming, together with more film work. Despite the four male members of the group being arrested (and later acquitted) on a well-publicised morals charge in Cincinatti, Ohio, the hits continued to flow. 'Enchanted', 'Remember When', 'Where' and 'Wish It Were Me' (from the movie 'Girls Town') made the charts in 1959 and the year finished with an extended European tour, beginning with appearances at various U.S. military bases in Germany. On 17 January, 1960, the Platters appeared on 'Sunday Night At The London Palladium' as support to bill-topper Cliff Richard.
The new decade began with a solid hit on both sides of the Atlantic when 'Harbor Lights' (a hit for Frances Langford in 1937) c/w 'Sleepy Lagoon' raced up the charts, whilst Tony Williams released a solo album 'A Girl Is A Girl'. 'Harbor Lights' was a big seller, but it also marked the last time that the Platters would reach the top ten best seller list. Subsequent releases, including 'Ebb Tide', 'Red Sails In The Sunset', 'To Each His Own' and 'If I Didn't Care', most of which made the lower reaches of the top thirty, were billed as 'The Platters Featuring Tony Williams'.
In early 1961, Tony Williams left the group to sign as a solo artist for Frank Sinatra's newly-formed Reprise label. His place as lead singer with the Platters was taken by Sonny Turner whose voice is heard on 'I'll Never Smile Again' c/w 'You Don't Say' (Mercury 71847).
Over the next few years, following Tony Williams' departure, the original group began to break apart. Next to leave, in 1964, was Zola Taylor, replaced by Sandra Dawn. The following year saw the departure of Paul Robi and David Lynch. Robi's place in the group was taken by Nate Nelson, whose cool lead had fronted the Flamingos' 'I'll Be Home' in 1956 (only for Pat Boone to grab the pop sales with his watered-down version). At about this time, Buck Ram filed a lawsuit against Mercury Records, who were refusing to accept Platters' recordings without Williams' lead vocal.
By 1966 Buck Ram had the Platters signed to the Musicor label, but the glory days were over, apart from a couple of middling hits with 'I Love You A Thousand Times' and the Motown-influenced 'With This Ring'.
Tony Williams and his wife formed the New Platters; Zola Taylor, David Lynch and Paul Robi fronted the Original Platters; Herb Reed remained with Buck Ram's Platters until 1969, when he too left to form his own group. Various 'Platters' groups have trodden the boards of the world's clubs, theatres and TV studios for the past 40 years and still their power to draw a full-house remains unrivalled.
In 1990 the Platters were inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame.
To quote from Marv Goldberg's 'R&B Notebooks': "What were the secrets of this remarkable success? The Platters' sound was crisp and clear and, above all, understandable. They specialized in adult ballads and soulful renditions of pre-rock standards. Their lush harmonies were framed by string-laden arrangements and benefited from Mercury's state-of-the-art recording technology".
And Jay Warner writes in 'American Singing Groups': "By the time their recording days were done, they'd amassed 16 gold singles and three million-selling LPs. They performed in cities and countries that most Americans never dreamed had even heard a Platters disc, taking American music to appreciative audiences all over the world."
They had The Magic Touch.
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