Perfect Sound Forever


The Clovers- Paul W is 2nd from the bottom here

Harold Winley interview (Part 2 of 3)
By Jason Gross

PSF: How did you like working for Atlantic Records?

HW: Oh, it was great. Also, we had an association and the whole family... The engineer Tommy Dowd, this guy worked on the atomic bomb! (laughs) But he was a genius. His clients were highly respected classical musicians. Tommy was a trained musician and you'd never know it. He was also an engineer. And Atlantic Records' original office, I don't know how to say it by measurements... Say that Herb and Ahmet's office was maybe... say 20 feet wide and maybe 15 feet deep. And in one of those corners, Tommy built a control room. And when they were recording in that venue, they would take Ahmet Ertegun's desk or Herb's desk and put one on top of the other, string up some microphones and we would record. That's how we recorded. And we had an association that lasted for eight years, when we moved on to United Artists.

PSF: Did any other songwriters at Atlantic stand out for you, who you really liked working with?

HW: Gladys DeJesus, the girl who wrote "Devil or Angel." We had Jesse Stone, who was our producer. Everything we did, he was at the session, except for "Love Potion No. 9." He's also a songwriter and he wrote that Big Joe Turner thing, "Shake, Rattle and Roll." When you'd go into the trunk of his car, he'd have all these books. Rhyming books and things like that. He'd just go get a book and start doin' stuff. You know, Duke Ellington did that! But he was always doing something. Always producer or working on something. But Jesse Stone was black and the thing there... I don't know what happened but Jesse Stone was the backbone of the company so far as producers were concerned. But Jesse was it, man. He just knew exactly what to do and when to do it and who to do it with.

PSF: What about working with Jerry Wexler?

HW: Jerry Wexler came along when Herb went into the army. I think he was at Decca or one of those companies... I think the Ink Spots were at one of those labels... Jerry was alright. We never really got tight with him. (laughs) He was like an interloper to me. 'What's he talkin' about? He don't know what he's talkin' about.' Then one night, we were singing a ballad, I don't know what it was, and he made the mistake of telling everybody 'Sing it like the Ink Spots.' (laughs) 'Cause Bill Kenny (lead singer of the Ink Spots) had a soaring high tenor voice. 'What is he talking about? The Ink Spots...' (laughs) But he was alright but we just never really got that close with him. And then I've heard him when he came down here (to the South) and retired and he 'discovered' Aretha Franklin. Get out of here! Aretha Franklin was in business almost after she got out of her diapers. She grew up singing in her father's church. What is he talking about?

PSF: Did you feel any kind of kinship with the other vocal groups on Atlantic like the Drifters and the Coasters?

HW: Oh yes, definitely. The Coasters were one of the rare groups that came East. Back then, East and West did not come together so far as groups were concerned. The Clovers went all over the country. We went to California and I met Bobby Nunn, the original bass singer with the Coasters. He used to wait for me to come downstairs in L.A. when I stayed on that side of town in South Central. And who was with him? Herb Reed (founding member of the Platters). And so I met him and he was not singing with anybody. He was a bass singer and Bobby Nunn introduced me to him and we'd hang out during the day. We were working at one of the old historic clubs that was in its death throes but the man was still operating it- Club Alabam, which was like a Savoy Ballroom, in L.A.

The Coasters, we had been with them for years. That was really the only group that I met and got tight with, and the Platters. But there the groups that came along later like the Olympics and those guys, whom I met in recent years during these revival shows.

PSF: What do you think set the Clovers apart from other vocal groups of that time?

HW: One of the main things once again was that we had a trained musician and we wanted to sing the stuff that we sang when we met Ahmet because we made the money singing the stuff that he wrote! And we did record that album and that album will tell you exactly where we were- it's called The Clovers In Clover. Ahmet said 'one of these days, I'm just going to let you guys go into the studio...' 'Cause he knew what we wanted to sing but that wasn't what was making money. So let's be realistic here. Even though, there were other groups that had gone away from their original (concept) and what the people knew them for... It's like Berry Gordy when he got those groups together like the Temps (Temptations) and the Four Tops and he immediately... and after they got a foot hold in there, then he trained them and he did very well with what he was doing. He had a plan. He put those guys and said 'Now we're gonna learn some Broadway.' You understand? But that was the stuff we were doing, but not a big production like they did. But that stuff we were doing, walking around and singing that stuff. But that's what was in the streets then. When he did that with those groups, that was good. Like when the Orioles did a song with strings. He said 'Oh wow, listen to this.' And we did that song with... at one period, we had a co-producer called Ray Ellis, and he put voices behind us in a song like "Love, Love, Love" and "From the Bottom of My Heart" and other things like that. And that was great, I thought. 'Cause we loved it and that's what we got together. Like with Charlie Parker and strings, you know? (laughs) Come on. You get pigeonholed and just like I tell the younger (people), 'You know the Temptations, the Four Tops...' I used them as an example. They say 'Yeah, yeah!' I said 'They could go into the studio from now until the end of days and it won't mean nothing.' All the people want to hear is "Baby I Need Your Loving" or whatever they did. So that to me, as Miles Davis said, 'you gonna stunt my growth.' And like Miles said 'I'm gonna be damned if I'm gonna play "Bye Bye Blackbird" for the rest of my life' and (he) wouldn't play it and that's one of his biggest hits! But what was Miles Davis. (laughs)

But sometimes you feel like you're stunted. The group right now, we're working on some things (and I can talk about it but a little bit) that are contemporary. And there's a person that we're associated with whose mind is stuck in the '50's. And he says 'they'll never buy it.' I said 'OK, so Earth, Wind and Fire did a big production of all their old stuff and they're marketing it.' And he said 'But Earth, Wind and Fire is a different type of group.' They never really stopped. They redid everything and brought it up to date. So with the Clovers and the Orioles and the original Drifters, their music changed. And you weren't with it... what you were doing, you were caught in the middle. Like we were doing stuff like "Love, Love, Love," "Tender Lips" and that kind of stuff- we were looking for hits. We were trying to go to another market. And then actually 'til we got to "Love Potion Number 9," that's what did it. And then it really took off actually, to be truthful about it, it really got a revival when the Searchers did it. Then people heard it and they said 'I heard that song by so-and-so..' Then they started digging it up and going back to find out where did the song come from and that's how we got back out there with it.

PSF: You were talking about stage presence before. Did the Clovers get trained with dance moves and such?

HW: No. We did stuff... (laughs) Let me explain this first. During the Clovers' biggest years, we were a dance group. We played dance halls- the Apollo, the Howard Theatre in Washington, the Uptown Theatre in Philadelphia, the Earl Theatre in Philadelphia, the Rio Theatre in Chicago. Never did work the Paradise in Detroit, they tore it down- we were supposed to go in there with Duke (Ellington) and they closed it. Nevertheless, we had a trainer, a gentleman named Leonard Reed, who became a stage manager at the Apollo. He also had a dance line, a line of girls that he used to do. We had him to come to Washington and had him there for a week. We had our music and he listened to the stuff. But mind you, it was not done like Berry Gordy did his stuff 'cause he had the musicians there under contract and those guys had to work for him. Our thing wasn't like that. We used the rehearsal halls down at the musicians' union in D.C. and we rehearsed some steps and Leonard put together a resume of all of our songs from "Don't You Know I Love You" to... I forget the song that was big at the time, but we ended up singing "(One) Mint Julep" with it. That was great- a history of the group. Maybe thirty two bars of "Don't You Know I Love You" and then it went into "Fool, Fool, Fool" and then "Middle Of the Night" and then so-and-so-and-so. But "Mint Julep" was the big closer, as they used to say. We never used it though. Harold Lucas and I had a routine that we used to do on stage that we got from a dance group that we had worked with. And we had used that on one song. Other than that, we did not really have any routines.

We never really got into doing routines... Whatever we did, we could do things, like on "Love Potion Number Nine" say, at the end of the song, we could put up nine fingers. This wasn't something that was trained, this was something that we did out of instinct. Out of the corner (of your eye), you keep your eye on the man next to you and see what was going on. And even like taking a bow, step, back, and bow. And we just never really got into that, although we should have, you know? But that was another story, we just didn't do it.

PSF: You had a bunch of line-up changes in the early and mid '50's where you had Bailey leaving and John Philip and Charlie White coming in and then White leaving and Billy Mitchell coming in and Bailey coming back. How did the group deal with all those changes?

HW: The only real thing that happened there was when Buddy Bailey went into the army. John didn't fit into the group. We heard him sing in West Virginia and a couple of guys in the group and the manger went crazy over him. 'Yay, he could sing!' We were looking for a singer then but we were still here. So we were looking as we travelled around, we were in West Virginia. We weren't really doing a whole lot but we were still traveling in our manager's car. John Philips played the guitar and he definitely was West Virginia... (laughs) He couldn't talk or sing. He would have been better off on Hee Haw. But he was a good guy and he did the spot for a while. He did as much as you could do. I didn't dislike him or anything but it wasn't right, you know? It didn't fit. You understand? I just never settled down with him... But at one point, he arrived at what we call the 'beater effect,' you know you come to the limit of your intelligence and that's it. (laughs) But he said 'I can't do it.'

Charlie White was now out of the Dominos, 'cause he was a rebel. In fact, he had instructions. Billy Ward had already spotted us and said 'y'all stay away from the Clovers!' No kiddin'.

PSF: Why did he say that?

HW: Well, he didn't like us. See, he had the Dominos under his thumb. He was an army officer and he had some guys calling him 'Mr. Ward' and his lady Rose Marks (as) 'Mr. Marks.' And, get out of here! (laughs) Ain't nobody do that crap in show business, man. Get out of here! And, we were loose cannons. Those guys, when you saw the Dominos, they moved as one. Nobody went all by themselves. And these guys walk around here and this guy's telling them... Get out of here! (laughs) But he knew what he was doing. And he knew, just like some of the old managers from the period, what to do with guys- he worked them so much and then set 'em down for a while. He didn't want them to get too much money and then he wouldn't be able to handle 'em.

So, the Dominos were great and we enjoyed meeting them especially Bill Brown, the bass singer in the original (group). But Charlie White was a rebel. You couldn't tell Charlie to do nothing. (laughs) Charlie would (say) 'Get out of here!' And you know, eventually they put him out of the group. And Lou Krefetz heard about it and he said 'get Charlie White from the Dominos' so Charlie came into us and we got a few hits out of him. And the group never missed a step.

Then Charlie had a problem with his wife and this and this, and some other problems he had, some personal problems he had. And we were in Gary, Indiana, I'll never forget that. Joe Morris was in a band and Billy Mitchell was singing with Joe Morris. Well, Billy Mitchell, we all knew each other from the corners in D.C.. But Billy Mitchell actually left home before we did and he was a hell of blues singer. And he was with the (Morris) band so we met him. We were in Gary, Indiana and Joe Morris had this old bus that their office had bought him. Everybody was going to diesel and Joe Morris had this bus that burned gas. That's what they bought for him and he was havin' trouble with that bus and they came there that night. It was the dead of winter and they were freezing. And Billy Mitchell said 'I've just come from Korea and freezing over there.' (laughs) So we connected and renewed old stuff from D.C. and stuff like that. And we got an address where he was. And lo and behold, Charlie had a problem that he couldn't get out of and we called Billy Mitchell. He hired him and never missed a step. And that was a blessing 'cause a lot of guys would have to sit down. We didn't lose no job. We didn't cancel no job because of this or that. And that was a blessing, you know?

But John Philips, like I said, didn't fit and Ahmet wanted to hear him so we would set it specially so they could hear him. So we went in the studio, man and Ahmet said 'no.' I'll never forget that night. He said 'Harold, y'all got to get a lead singer.' And they took us out to a party that night. Ruth Brown was up there and we went to Ray Robinson's, Jack Walker... and Ray Robinson's sister already had a show at this famous café on 125th street. We went up there and hung out there for a while. But Ahmet was very disappointed, you know. The boy, he could sing but he didn't have what they call a 'cutting edge.' And he definitely was from West Virginia (laughs) 'cause he had that twang in his voice, which didn't matter that much, not really, 'cause if you listen to some of the singers who weren't necessarily country and western artists, they had a twang too.

But other than that, after Charlie White, then Billy Mitchell came in and we were unlimited. And then when poor Buddy came back, we decided when "Devil or Angel" was out that we were going to add him and he said 'yeah' so we decided to keep him in the group, which gave us more strength, a wider latitude for recording different types of material.

PSF: I wanted to ask about a few particular Clovers classics to hear what you thought about the songs now or if you had any stories attached to them. The first one is "Fool, Fool, Fool."

HW: That was Ahmet Ertegun (who wrote it). That was it, man. When I did that bass line in there... (laughs) And that was Ahmet Ertegun all the way- he told me what to sing and it worked out perfect. And he used that same background on "The Night Time Is the Right Time," which he wrote with Ray Charles. It's the same background, from "Fool, Fool, Fool."

PSF: What about "One Mint Julep"?

HW: That was Rudy Toombs (who) wrote that and Rudy got stuck with that song. See, that's a different type of song. Now we getting into something. This is a song (where) I had no idea. I know Ray Charles did an instrumental on it. I know Buddy Morrow did an instrumental on it. I had no idea that Sarah Vaughn sang that song. I can go on YouTube now and find all these people that recorded "One Mint Julep." This guy who wrote this song was named Rudy Toombs. He wrote a couple of other things for Ruth Brown. He was a beautiful man, a beautiful person! And the same thing happened to the Platters' piano player, that little young man that they had- somebody robbed him and beat him to death from the street of New York. They did the same thing to Rudy Toombs. (They) beat him to the death in the streets and robbed him.

So yeah, he had "One Mint Julep." We had a time with that song 'cause it has a channel to it and that's unusual for a blues. Usually, a blues is just one thing, you know. You go (singing) 'baby I love you... dum-dum-dum... baby I love you... dum-dum-dum... baby I love you... dum-dum-dum' With "Mint Julep," you say (singing) "No I don't want to love you... dee-dee-dee-dee...dee-dee-dee' and then it's (singing slower) 'da-da-da-da, da-da-da' where it was a channel. So that led a lot of musicians that I know of to play it. Now we were on tour with Joe Lewis and the first time I even heard a musician touch that thing was Lester Young. He was playing the blues and he playing (singing) 'da-da-da, dat-dat-dat.' And we all flipped, you know, when he did that. And the drummer with Lester at the time was the house drummer for Atlantic Records- his name was Connie Kay. He was also the drummer for the Modern Jazz Quartet. And we were very close, very close. Jesse (Stone) used a lot of musicians and I remember there was always Connie Kay.

PSF: What about the song "Good Lovin'"?

HW: "Good Lovin'," that was Charlie White. Yeah. That was a good song. That was me. But there is it, right there, you know? (singing) 'Baby, I want your/Good lovin'... dat-dat-dat-dat-dat, dat-dat-dat.' You know, the same thing. (singing) 'Dat-dat-dat-dat-dat, dat-dat-dat.' You know?

PSF: Has a jazzy feel to it.

HW: Yeah but it was a repetition. It was a song without a channel, it was a 12-bar blues, as they call it. I think it was 12-bar. But as opposed to "Mint Julep," which you could swing because it had a channel.

PSF: What about "Little Mama"?

HW: That was Ahmet Ertegun I believe. That song took off. That was an expression... Still is, in New Orleans. When we got there with that song, man, they said 'what?' (laughs) That was an expression then and it still is down there! Yeah, I like "Little Mama."

PSF: What about "Your Cash Ain't Nothin' But Trash"?

HW: Yeah, Billy Mitchell. That was Rudy Toombs? (ED NOTE: Jesse Stone wrote it as 'Charles Calhoun'). That was a heck of a story. I mean, the story line of the song. (speaking it in rhyme) 'I was walking down the main drag/One Night/Met a fine chick/Looked just right/Stopped when I flashed my roll/Told her she could have/All of my dough... Da-da-da-da... She turned around/And with a frown/I ain't no circus and I don't need a clown/Your cash ain't nothing but trash.' You know?

PSF: That's great!

HW: Yeah. Then he went on and tried to buy a car to impress this woman and everything else. But, yeah, those songs were something. It had a good story. Goodness gracious, we could spend a night in an Irish bar. We did a lot of drinking songs. But so did everybody else back then. There were a lot of drinking songs. "Mint Julep." We had a song called "Crawlin'." I mean, that's drunk- crawling. (laughs) You know? And those songs, when we did a college, you'd have to do that. You'd have to do "Crawlin'."

PSF: How about "Blue Velvet"? That was pretty different from what we're talking about otherwise.

HW: Oh man, please. You see... "Blue Velvet" was a song... Originally we had heard that song by Tony Bennett. Then Arthur Prysock sang it but we were already singing it when he recorded it. That was a street corner song for us. And we had a pretty straight arrangement, pretty much like it came out and there was a change in it. In fact, we didn't record it as Bill Harris arranged it. They changed it because we knew at that the time, three minutes and ten seconds boy, that was it for a record. The juke box operators controlled how long a song was. Isn't it amazing? They said 'I don't want a song playing for no four minutes. Get that thing off of there and let 'em play it again or something else!' And you'd say 'wow..."

But "Blue Velvet" is one of my favorite songs and it still is, you know. But at the top of my list is always "Yes Sir, That's My Baby." You know. Believe me.

PSF: What about "Devil Or Angel"?

HW: Ahhhh... yes. That was another shot in the arm. Let me tell you the story about that song. The girl that wrote that song (Blanche Carter) is from Augusta, Georgia. We were in Augusta with Roy Hamilton and I wanted to talk to her and bring her backstage. Now the police was looking at everybody. Now Roy Hamilton had a piano player named Graham Kerr who was white. Boy, you looked at him and said 'who is he?' So he said 'oh, he's Roy's piano player' and he looked at Roy and Roy's black and he said 'well, he ain't playing no piano in here today!' And there was a couple of jobs back then that Graham couldn't work. They wouldn't allow him on the stage, you know? So I wanted to introduce the lady to the audience and he said 'no, no, no... we ain't gonna do that. She can't be on the stage with all these black people.' Mostly, it didn't embarrass her, or me, but that's the way it went.

But I talked to her... I was in Augusta with the Symphony when I was with the Ink Spots group for many years. I did the Symphony in Augusta.... It's been a while (laughs). And I asked one of the stage hands about her and he said 'She just built this house.' He got somebody, I don't know who it was, to contact her for me and I just hollered at her on the phone, you know. She said she was going to try to get down to the show but she wasn't able to do it.

But yeah, that was a hell of a song. That was the biggest thing we had until "Love Potion Number Nine" came. The boy that redid it who also did "Blue Velvet." Bobby Vinton, when he did that, it was another shot in the arm 'cause he did a hell of a job on it, on both of 'em, I thought. But it brought our music back because one again, people started going 'well, wait a minute... somebody did this song before?' And they went back and got that. So it was a help. And they were saying 'oh man, they're doing your song!' I'd say 'It's not MY song. I did not write that song. The guy that wrote that song, he's very glad to hear that!' (laughs)

And what was happening was, when we were recording all those hits that we had back then, it was about 13 of 'em, if we'd had been doing that during this period or even in the '60's or '70's, I'd be somewhere on an island. You understand? I had to explain to one of my granddaughters, she said 'grand dad, are you rich?' And I said 'No, I'm a worker ant!' And she was looking at Diana Ross and looking at me. I said 'No, no, no dear. When the Clovers were popular, all you had to do is break a record..." That's the term they used. You had to break a record in New York, break a record in Philadelphia, break a record in Detroit, break a record in Atlanta. They didn't hardly talk about the West Coast. Then they were selling records for 97 cents.

I got a poster here that I got off of the Internet, lady sent me, of a tour we did with Bobby Rydell, Frankie Avalon... all these other artists and I look at the price on the ticket. It's a dollar and a half, top ticket is three dollars. Three dollars! A good ticket now costs you a hundred dollars. And the venues that we worked then, we used to work in dance halls that held 300 people. And they'd be charging them a dollar and a half, two or three dollars apiece and we'd just go in there with a band, mostly Fats Domino or Paul Williams or a small group, they had those road bands then. That's who you travelled with. And you'd go into those little dance halls and that's what you did. And we had musicians. These guys wouldn't believe me. I knew musicians out who were making 13, 14 dollars a night and then paying 3 dollars for a room and they had to eat and they had a family.

PSF: Could you talk about "Lovey Dovey"?

HW: Ahmet Ertegun. Yeah. (speaking in rhyme) 'You're the sweetest thing that I had ever see/I really love your peaches,' they changed that... 'Wanna shake your tree.' (laughs) Yeah. "Lovey Dovey" man, that was big. That was a very big song. When that song came out, we weren't aware of it. That was an almost-embarrassing night for us. We were at the hotel in Chicago, they had a ballroom there, I can't think of the name of it. And the kids were hollering '"Lovey Dovey," sing "Lovey Dovey".' And we were kind of like Louis Armstrong with "Hello Dolly." (laughs) 'What the hell are they talking about? "Lovey Dovey"?' (laughs) We recorded the song and forgot it. And then somebody down front, there's always somebody down front in those dance that starts singing the song. Then we said "OHHHH!" (laughs) But we fumbled over it because we recorded it and we didn't know it was released so we did not have it in our repertoire. But we got it together that night. And in fact, we did it twice. We fumbled over it and then we got it together, you know? But Bill Harris just called the key, he said 'it's a blues in so-and-so key.' So the musicians already know where it's going and just like with "Mint Julep," it's with a channel. So he said 'watch out for the channel.' But that "Lovey Dovey," I'll never forget that.

PSF: What about "Wonder Where My Baby's Gone"?

HW: That wasn't a throw away but that song didn't go anywhere. I don't know who put that song in there. We liked it. It was a minor blues- I remember that. It's a nice minor blues but it didn't go anywhere (sales wise). It didn't do anything for us.

PSF: What about "Down in the Alley"?

HW: Oh, yeah... Yeah, that was a good one. You know, what we sang, 'changity, changity, changity, changity, chang, chang,' that was the intro. Now Bill Harris, we were in the studio and he was walking around, looking for something. You know how Bonnie Raitt plays with the (guitar) bar. Looking for a bar to put on them strings so he could get that sound. That's he was trying to do- get the sound like Bonnie Raitt. And we couldn't find it man, so we sang it! Yeah, we sang it. 'Changity, changity, changity, changity, chang, chang,' Oh that's a good one.

There's one guy, one writer and he says 'that's the only real, legitimate blues that the group ever cut' and he didn't know what he was talking about. He didn't know what a blues was because there's a song called "Marie"- you look at the change of it and it's a blues. (laughs) But if you tell somebody it's a blues, they'll say 'That ain't no blues! That's a popular song!' And yeah, it's popular but it's a blues.

See Part III of the Clovers interview
If you came here first, see the beginning of the interview too

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