Perfect Sound Forever


The Clovers with Mr. Winley the second from the left

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

PSF: Do you remember any good show in particular that stands out for you?

HW: Yeah, the one show that always stands out for me is the Joe Louis show. The first one that we did with (boxer) Joe Louis... (laughs) Ruth Brown, Wynonie Harris the blues singer, Lester Young. That's with Connie (Kaye) when he did the "Mint Julip" thing. And Buddy Johnson's band. When I identify that, I'll tell anybody after that, 'you know this song "Since I Fell For You"'? Well, Buddy wrote that and his sister Ella sang it. That turned out to be the biggest thing he ever wrote and he was quite a songwriter. And they had a hit dance band. They called him 'the King of the One Nighters.' That was the band. And Lester Young had a dance band, they had two dancers, Stuffy Bryant and the Edwards Sisters were tap dancers. Leonard Reed, he was the choreographer and he was partners with Joe Louis and they did a skit together where Joe Louis would knock him down and tell him to get up, and he'd say 'you didn't get up when (Rocky) Marciano hit you!' (laughs) But then every now and then, Joe would slip and hit Leonard for sure. He'd say 'hey man, you knocked the hell out of me!' That was funny.

And then after that, it was good. Ruth Brown, the next show we did with her was with Billy Eckstein. And the band was Johnny Hodges, who was taking a vacation from Duke Ellington and he had quite an array in the band- number one, he had John Coltrane, Benny Golson a top writer and arranger, Lawrence Brown from Duke Elliington's band. And Nipsy Russell was the MC. And that show did very well.

PSF: Any shows stand out from that time which went really bad?

HW: Ho, ho, ho boy, have I got one for you. Besides that one I just told you about in Georgia... We were in Memphis. See, during those days, in some towns in the South, you did two shows- you did a show for the blacks and you did a show for the whites. It was usually the white show first and the black show later. We're in Memphis- Fats Domino, Little Richard, Big Joe Turner, Paul Williams and his band, the Five Keys, the Clovers. The show starts and everybody's doing their act and so the guy looks around and says, 'where's Fats?' Fats Domino hadn't shown up. And it was 'he'll be here, he'll show up... blah, blah, blah...' But the people that knew Fats started getting nervous. Fats had a reputation. Now, he wasn't George Jones. Fats would go up to his man and said 'hey man, y'all wanna go home?' He said 'yes' and he'd say 'Shit, Fats is leaving the show' and he'd leave. Memphis was one of them. Now, it's late. Little Richard has been on, did his act. The Clovers had performed, Ruth Brown had performed and most everybody had performed except Big Joe Turner. Now, it's time and the people started saying 'where's Fats?' 'Cause when Little Richard went out there, he sang everything that Fats had recorded, just about. But this is a white audience- they didn't want to hear that. They said 'where's Fats?'

Now, usually in those venues, you know, there's always a card game going on among the performers or a craps game but a lot of card games. And the cop was standing there and he was signifying over the game. And then audience got boisterous. They're saying 'We want Fats! We want Fats! We want Fats!' That same cop said 'You better put them damn cards away- somebody's going to jail!' (laughs) We said 'wait a minute!'

The thing that saved that night was Big Joe Turner. The Five Keys never worked that night. They put Big Joe Turner out there and started "Shake, Rattle and Roll" and everything in the key of C, you know, waving his hands around. He's the only person that calmed those people down and the man cut the show.

PSF: When you were touring with the Clovers early on, did you witness any kind of racist behavior towards the group?

HW: We did have a few other incidents, you know. I mean, the Clovers had an incident in Montgomery, Alabama during a bus strike there. We had played, did the job the night before and went downtown, I'll never forget this, to the Whitley Hotel, that's still standing, to pick up our manager. And this is a white hotel and this is early Sunday morning. We drive down here and we call the black bell man out and tell him to ring this guy's room and tell him that we're downstairs. And there's a gentleman out front that's selling newspapers. And he's looking at us with a very unhealthy look and we looked at him. And the next thing we know, there's a cop. He pulled up and he looked like Barney Fife. This guy pulled his gun out and stuck it right at the window and stuck it right at my head and said 'which one of you was it? We said 'What? What is this?' And he said 'I got a call that there's a bunch of niggers down in a car whistling at a white woman.' And there ain't nobody out on the street at this time of the morning, Sunday Morning. And we started talking to this man and we had a nine passenger DeSoto with a rack on the rack on the top, had all the luggage up top. And he looked at that, a lot of people used to look at that and say 'What the hell are y'all? A baseball team or something.' (laughs) And we told him 'we just came down here to pick up a person that we're travelling with, our manager.' And he ranted and raved and he's walking around the car. And he told the driver 'give me your driver's license.' And he took Claude's driver's license and it's a D.C. driver's license and we had a Maryland tag car and we had 'Atlantic Records' and 'Shaw Artists Cooperation, New York, New York' on the back, on the trunk. And he said 'where the hell are you coming from?' You know, it was too much for him, he couldn't handle all of this. (laughs) And he ranted and raved at us and told us to get the hell out of there. Said something like 'I'll have you see the judge in the morning.'

So we go back up to the black neighborhood, to the hotel and we call Sam and told him that he had five minutes. The cop followed us. Sam came, got in the car, we take off for Mississippi. Chambers Post Office, Mississippi. It is NOT ON THE MAP. You got to this bank or this building and you call him and he comes and gets you. Now we're going on down the highway, going to Mississippi. Sam passes a car and when he goes back in, the double line popped up and as soon as it did, a siren went off on this car that he just passed. In this car is a highway patrolman and the Justice of the Peace, out hustling Sunday morning. And they ranted and raved at Sam and whatever it was. We stayed in the car but we could hear the man hollering at him and tearing on. And they let him go but Sam in parting asked him, could he direct him and he said 'I don't know where the hell it is! Y'all just get on out of here.' We go and finally found this town and for the blacks they had... You wouldn't believe the nightclub they had there. They had a little unisex barber shop and a combination restaurant and a little drug store where they sold what they used to call 'notions' at that time.

The band, Billy Ford, I'll never forget, went on the club and unloaded and when we went there, we had the car in the middle of the town. During those periods if you were travelling, you made your car visible and let the people know that you're there. A highway patrolman comes up. "What are y'all doing here?' This is the same day. I couldn't believe this. He's talking across me to Sam, the road manager, who's Jewish. And Sam wasn't used to this stuff. (laughs) But he was cool. And the man asked him what he was doing there and so-and-so. And he says 'The group is the Clovers and it's written on the car...' 'Yeah, yeah, what are you doing here?' 'So he says we're playing at a dance that night at Club Harlem. So he say 'OK, what kind of a dance?' 'Well, it's a dance at 10 o'clock?' And he said 'What time is it over?' 'It's over at 2.' He said 'alright, I don't wanna see you around here after 2 o'clock.' Then he says 'where are you going when you leave here?' And Sam said 'we're going to Atlanta.' We were actually going to New Orleans, which is in a different direction- we had been out on the road so we knew about that. You know, to meet out on the road and have a little party but we told him a different direction. And he stood there for a minute and he said 'these niggers don't need no dancing tonight. Y'all get outta town!' So we went back to the club and told the man and he said 'OK, nothing I can do about that.' We told the band and they hurried up and got out of there. It all happened in one day. I said 'wow.' Two guns in one day. Alabama and Mississippi.

And we went right back to Mississippi in a matter of less than a year with Joe Louis and couldn't get the cops off of Joe Louis. 'Mr. Louis! We know you like to play golf, can we set something up for you so you can play golf at this all-white golf club?' I kid you not. I said 'I'll be darned.' You get run out one week and then they couldn't get away from him the next week. They opened up a swimming pool that was supposed to be closed in the neighborhood but they opened it up for us, for the show. I said 'well, I'll be damned.'

PSF: Why did the Clovers leave Atlantic?

HW: The Clovers in October 1958 went to Italy. We joined a musical there and we stayed over there until March 1959. We left the show because they were having difficulties getting monies to us. Now they were having problems when we got there. They had been in rehearsals for about a month or so before we got there. And we stayed there as long as we could but the money wasn't flowing like it was supposed to be, man. Giving me all these half a million lira and then I look around and you got nothing... (laughs) These great big bills, don't amount to a hill of beans, as the old folks say. But nevertheless, we left and we came back to the States. We went over on, I'll never forget this, the original Queen Elizabeth. We sailed from New York to Cherbourg, France. First negative sign- the people in Paris didn't meet us, we had to stay in Cherbourg three days until they came and got us. And then they took us to Paris. We spent the day there. And I'll never forget, Billie Holliday was there, lost somewhere- they were looking for her and they found her in dive somewhere singing her ass off and she was supposed to be at a concert hall! (laughs) Quincy Jones was there. But we finally got on to Milano and we went into rehearsal and we stayed there. Blah, blah, blah. We got the show on the road but the money just wasn't flowing right. And we took all we could and we had to leave.

Now, as I said, we went over on the Queen Elizabeth, we came back on the Christopher Columbus, which was a garbage scow. The Queen Elizabeth weighed 87,000 tons and the thing we came back on weighed 18,000 tons in the middle of March in the North Atlantic Ocean. (laughs) You reach for your plate and it'll be out in Hollis, Queens somewhere. (laughs) But that was a miserable trip coming back. So we got off and we got to Nova Scotia- we couldn't unload so we had to stay there that night. I never got sick but Buddy Bailey held out 'til we got to Halifax and he got sea sick. We get to New York and we get off the ship and the first thing Lou, our manager, says to us (is) 'you're no longer with Atlantic Records!' And that was the end of it. He had power of attorney, nobody never asked him why this or that... Nothing!

And then we went home and we did theaters. We had been off to sea for four months and didn't have nothing going for us on the charts. "Devil Or Angel" was the last thing we had and that was in the death throws as far as doing anything for the group at the time. Maybe two or three weeks went by and Lou came to us and said 'I got someone working with United Artists.' And someone had just died over there 'cause I know he got the job. I said 'wow.' (laughs) He said 'I'm working with so-and-so,' I can't think of the producer's name at the time but the guy who produced "Love Potion." He went on to do some stuff in California. Nevertheless, we do this, we get this "Love Potion" thing. So he said 'Lieber and Stoller are going to give you all this tune.' So we heard it and everybody... we scream right away, 'that's the Coasters! That's definitely for the Coasters.' And we were looking at it suspiciously-like. 'No, that's for the Coasters.' But we recorded it and you know, the rest is history. But it didn't... "Love Potion" outsold all that stuff that we did for Atlantic put together and outsold all of it, that one record. But look at the period, between 1951 and 1960. It is now the globe. It's not Atlanta or Baltimore or this or that, it's the globe. So that was the difference.

PSF: Were you surprised by how popular "Love Potion" became?

HW: No, not really.

PSF: Why not?

HW: I just wasn't.

PSF: You just knew that it was going to be a hit?

HW: No, I didn't know that. I didn't have that feeling that we had at Atlantic Records where Ahmet would say 'yeah!' or Tommy Dowd would say 'I think we got something.' Even the musicians would say 'yeah, we got this.' That "Love Potion" session wasn't like that. Even though, I don't remember the guy's name, but Jesse Stone was there... and I don't remember the musicians. That was the thing in mind... Although I was in the group, you asked me about groups (bands), I couldn't tell you very much but you ask me about some jazz musicians and I can tell you all you wanna know. (laughs) That's where my head was.

PSF: What did you think of the Searchers' version of "Love Potion"?

HW: It was alright. I'll tell you what. I was at an eye doctor and I put my name down in the information. So there's a young Asiatic gentleman and he says 'what type of music do you do?' And I told him the group. He went right to him computer, BAM and came up with the Searchers. I said 'that's good.'

It just seemed a little more relaxed. It wasn't as intense as ours.

So I said to this guy, 'yeah but find the Clovers.' So he searches the Clovers and he found it and the Coasters, because they did record it. Believe it or not, I had the pleasure of singing that song with the Coasters. We were on a show together down here with (bass singer) Ronnie Bright. They missed the plane to New York and Carl (Gardener) had to do that show- he had to get on stage and he didn't want to miss that money. And they asked me if I would do it on stage with them and I said 'yeah!' So I went on stage with them and did both versions.

PSF: What led to the group breaking up after that song?

HW: Well, we had no idea that the song would do what it did. And actually, it didn't stand up the way it does stand up now. I could mention that song to anybody, along with the movie (1992's Love Potion Number Nine, with Sandra Bullock) and with American Graffiti and that other movie Losin' It and stuff like that, and I mention that song and people know it! But it wasn't enough to sustain us at that period, to keep us out there. And actually, that's when I pulled out of the group. I had to though. Then the group actually disintegrated. The guys drifted off. Bill Harris and (Matthew) McQuater never went to Europe with us. Bill Harris had just started his music studio and he said 'man, my son is 12 years old. He don't know me.' (laughs)

And McQuater didn't want to go over there. So we carried a piano player over there, thank God, that he spoke seven languages fluently. (His) name was Fox Wheatley. The jazz musicians used to call him, 'yeah, he's a fox, alright! A sly fox!' But he was priceless. He spoke so much Italian and we would ask him 'let's speak Dutch or go to another language,' and he would go 'OK.' And this guy went to high school with me wife and he graduated three years later, he was gone. (laughs). And we're in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, two, three days out of New York. And he came and made this grand announcement- 'hey man, I just got this ship to shore from my wife and they released me from Saint Elizabeth.' That's the mental hospital in Washington. And I said 'Oh, that's good.'

PSF: I know you said that "Yes Sir, That's My Baby" is your favorite Clovers song but do you have any other favorites?

HW: "Blue Velvet." Let's see... There's another song we did with those voices... "Bring Me Love" was another song that we did with the voices, under the direction of Ray Ellis. He went on to do... the theme song from Spiderman, you know, the cartoon thing. Yeah, there's a lot of them that I like and that's not completely answering your question, but "Yes Sir, That's My Baby" will always stand out with me.

PSF: Are there any current artists that you like?

HW: I like Mary J. Blige. I like... I'm trying to think of a male singer... (laughs) Maybe the guy that plays the piano... John Legend. And not too many, I'm not disparaging them, but I just don't... I'm listening for things... Actually, they don't have to sing anymore. (laughs) And it gets kind of difficult if I really try to find somebody. But Mary J. man, she wipes me out. She's a keeper. I've liked her for years. Queen Latifah, she's very talented and she's about business. See, we weren't about that in those days. We weren't writing our songs, we weren't producing our songs. That's one thing I love about today's entertainers- they got their own thing. But actually, that started with Sam Cooke, not Ray Charles. Sam Cooke was the first guy to say 'I want my own masters, I want this, I want that.' Sam Cooke started that and Ray Charles went ahead and completed it.

PSF: What are your current and future plans?

HW: We're working on a project right now and in fact, you know the way they record today? One guy do one thing, one plays and I do another thing... (laughs) Most of the stuff that we're working on right now is lacking one thing and that's me. The guys have already done some things and the other voices, King Raymond Green playing, Ike Bowers and Carlos Wilson, those are the gentlemen's' names. They've already put down most of their stuff. Now what has to happen next is me. My contribution. They're arranging things for me to be done, stuff has to be rewritten. We have some capable musicians that are doing this and they're interested in the group- that's the most important thing, is to have someone interested in what you're trying to do. And they tailor the stuff to you. And it will be known as 'Harold Winley's Clovers.' That's the way the group is named now. And we do have projects going on that we're working on. I don't mean like 'yeah, I'm working on this thing...' Five years it took you to do that? But I think a little different, you know. One week you go into the studio and you record and go to five years and that's what you did? (laughs) But I understand that now more than I did before because of the way technology is and so forth. And I'm learning a lot about that through working with King and the rest of the gentleman in the group. I'm not really attuned to a lot of stuff that's going on out there now and I'm not ashamed to say it. I still tell my granddaughter, 'yes, I still use a flip-open phone... but I'm light years ahead of you.'

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