The Charms Biography

This popular R&B act of the mid-50s was formed in Cincinnati, USA, by Otis Williams (lead), Richard Parker (bass), Joseph Penn (baritone), Donald Peak (tenor) and Rolland Bradley (tenor). ‘Heaven Only Knows’ was released by Deluxe Records, followed by ‘Happy Are We’, ‘Bye-Bye Baby’, ‘Quiet Please’ and ‘My Baby Dearest Darling’, all of which failed to secure significant success. However, their September 1954 cover version of the Jewels’ ‘Hearts Of Stone’ took them into the US charts and by January of the following year the song had peaked at number 15 (number 1 in the R&B charts), despite competing versions by both the Jewels and the Fontane Sisters. December 1954 produced two follow-ups: ‘Mambo Sha-Mambo’ and another cover version, this time the Five Keys’ ‘Ling, Ting, Tong’, were released concurrently, the latter keeping stride with the Five Keys’ original version and reaching number 26 on the Billboard charts. The policy of outgunning the opposition over ‘hot new songs’ soon became a Charms trait, but it was not always so successful. An attempt to hijack Gene And Eunice’s ‘Ko Ko Mo (I Love You So)’ in February 1955 failed, and marked the group’s return to writing originals. ‘Two Hearts’ was written by Otis Williams and King Records’ A&R head Henry Glover, but was in turn covered within a week by Pat Boone, who took it to US number 16.

The Charms then toured as part of the Top Ten R&B Show package with the Moonglows, Clovers and others. After asking for a pay rise from Deluxe the entire group, with the exception of Otis Williams, was sacked. Williams was joined by Rollie Willis, Chuck Barksdale (11 January 1935, Chicago, Illinois, USA; ex-Dells) and Larry Graves. This version of the Charms was imaginatively renamed ‘Otis Williams And His New Group’. Some things, though, did not change. The success of ‘Gum Drop’ was usurped by a Billboard Top 10 version by the Crew-Cuts. Meanwhile, the remaining four-fifths of the original Charms had left for Miami, where they filed suit against Deluxe over their continued use of the brand name. Deluxe countered by issuing two singles under the name Otis Williams And His Charms, while Parker, Penn, Peak and Bradley released ‘Love’s Our Inspiration’ for their new label, Chart Records. Without Otis Williams there was little residual interest, especially as Williams’ incarnation of the Charms went on to score two significant hits in ‘That’s Your Mistake’ and ‘Ivory Tower’. However, both Barksdale (back to the Dells) and Graves quit, with Winfred Gerald, Matt Williams (no relation) and Lonnie Carter taking their places. A poor chart run was then ended with the release of another cover version, this time of the Lovenotes’ ‘United’, in June 1957. It was their last significant success, despite a continuing and prolific relationship with Deluxe, and then King Records, until 1963. Only ‘Little Turtle Dove’ and ‘Panic’, both from 1961, scraped the lower reaches of the charts. Ironically, by this time Lonnie Carter had joined the original Charms, who had now become the Escos. Williams then transferred to OKeh Records but without success, before signing to Stop Records as a solo country artist. The Charms’ complicated but fascinating history ended with the move.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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