The Contours Biography

The Contours formed as an R&B vocal group in Detroit in 1959, featuring lead vocalist Billy Gordon, Billy Hoggs, Joe Billingslea and Sylvester Potts. Hubert Johnson (14 January 1941, d. 11 July 1981) joined the line-up in 1960, and it was his cousin Jackie Wilson who secured the group an audition and then a contract with Motown Records in 1961. Initial singles proved unsuccessful, but in 1962 the dance-orientated number ‘Do You Love Me’ became one of the label’s biggest hits to date, topping the R&B charts and reaching number 3 in the US pop listing. The same frantic blend of R&B and the twist dance craze powered the follow-up, ‘Shake Sherry’, in 1963. Both songs heavily influenced the British beat group scene, with ‘Do You Love Me’ being covered by Brian Poole And The Tremeloes, Faron’s Flamingos and the Dave Clark Five. Unfortunately, the Contours were unable to capitalize on their early success, and their exciting, slightly chaotic sound lost favour at Motown, usurped by the choreographed routines and tight harmonies of acts such as the Temptations and the Four Tops. As the Contours’ line-up went through a rapid series of changes, they had occasional R&B successes with ‘Can You Jerk Like Me’, Smokey Robinson’s witty ‘First I Look At The Purse’, and the dance number ‘Just A Little Misunderstanding’. Although ‘It’s So Hard Being A Loser’ (1967) was the Contours’ last official single, posthumous releases, particularly in Britain, kept their name alive.

Former lead vocalist Dennis Edwards later enjoyed consistent success with the Temptations, and as a soloist. Versions of the Contours appeared on the revival circuit from 1972 onwards, and while Johnson committed suicide in July 1981, Billingslea, Potts and Jerry Green carried on performing during the rest of the decade. In 1988, ‘Do You Love Me’ returned to the US Top 20 on the strength of its inclusion in the movie Dirty Dancing. Billingslea, Potts, Arthur Hinson, Charles Davis and Darrel Nunlee issued Running In Circles on Ian Levine’s Motor City label in 1990. The former lead vocalist Joe Stubbs also recorded Round And Round for the same label. Billingsea and Potts continued into the new millennium, reaping lucrative bookings for their revue show and recording a studio album for the Orchard label.

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