Remember : The Velours©2004JCMarion

The street corners and hallways of Brooklyn's Bedford-Stuyvesant section was the breeding ground for many vocal groups of the 1950s. One of the best of these was the group known as The Velours. Formed in 1956 the group consisted of Jerome Ramos who sang lead on most of the group's tunes, tenors Donald Haywood and John Cheetom, baritone Ken Walker (soon replaced by John Pearson), and Charles Moffett who joined the group soon after its founding, who sang bass. After the always necessary honing of harmonies and style, the group went about searching for a shot at a recording contract with the best bet being one of the many neighborhood independent record companies that were so prevalent in the nineteen fifties.

Jerry Winston was a record company entrepreneur, who had a label called Mardi Gras that specialized in Latin music performances. In 1955 he had a huge crossover hit in "Speakup Mambo" by Al Castellanos, and was also branching out in the jazz field. In the spring of 1956 another Castellanos crossover hit "Together 1-2-3" for Winston gave him the confidence to enter the R & B field with a new label called Onyx Records. The one time Brooklyn based company (now located in mid town Manhattan) signed and recorded some local talent including The Chordells, a girl group called The Joyettes, and The Velours. Winston picked the group to feature on the first release by the company and "My Love Come Back" was on the street in June of 1956.The flip side was "Honey Drop" on Onyx #501. Soon after its release, the record gets a "best bet" from Cash Box magazine. Featured on this and all subsequent Onyx releases is the very capable backup band led by one of the best of all New York session men, Sammy Lowe. Another plus is the lead voice of Ramos, who comes across as a strong singer with a dramatic 'sob' in his style. "My Love Come Back" gets good airplay on all New York City radio stations and does well on the sales chart. By early October The Velours join their label mates The Pearls for a week at the Apollo Theater. During the fall months the record continues to sell and late in the year Onyx label head Winston readies the group for their next record release.

In February of 1957 "Romeo" was released on Onyx #508 and interesting choice of songs because Ramos went by the nickname Romeo and many thought that lent an autobiographical edge to the tune. The flip side of the record released on #508 is "What You Do To Me". This second effort by the group did not do well and so they quickly returned to the studio and worked up a ballad called "Can I Come Over Tonight?". The new tune was out on Onyx #512 in mid May of the year and this time listeners took notice. It was an immediate airplay favorite and a good seller in the Northeast. There were a lot of vocal gymnastics in the delivery including stops, tempo changes, bass voice workouts, and Ramos jumping up to falsetto range on the bridge. Sammy Lowe gives the tune a nice pop song backup and all these features add up to a most unique sound of the time. "Where There's A Will" is the seldom played flip side of record, and The Velours solid comeback gives them wide recognition. They are signed to do a week at the Apollo Theater with Dr. Jive (Tommy Smalls) along with a number of vocal groups such as The Heartbeats, Sensations, Charts, Jesters, Charlie & Ray, and Ann Cole, Donnie Elbert, and Roy Brown. By August the record is starting to sell nationally and is a first for Onyx Records. In September The Velours do some shows in the Midwest with fats Domino in support of their record which is doing well in Chicago and Detroit.

In mid October Jerry Winston releases a new record by The Velours on #515 called "This Could Be The Night". Again Ramos shows his unique style on lead and again Sammy Lowe puts together a wonderful instrumental backing for the group. Using a rhythmic shuffle with prominent vibes, the sound is pop sounding but with an R & B edge. The framing lyric of the song ("Couldn't you, couldn't I, fall in love..") is a great scene setter and is one of the better vocal group efforts of the year. In October The Velours sign on with "The Fantabulous Rock 'n Roll Show of 1957". The monster traveling troupe doing one nighters across the South and Midwest also features Larry Williams, Ray Charles, Mickey & Sylvia, Joe Turner, Bo Diddley, The Moonglows, Nappy Brown, The DelVikings, and Roy Brown. In early 1958 after two solid sellers in a row the group tries a tune with a Latin feel called "Remember" which is paired with "Can I Walk You Home?" on #520. Some rumors are around that Jerry Winston is shopping the new single by The Velours to other labels which seems to imply that the future of Onyx Records is shaky at best.

In early March it is announced that Onyx Records has indeed folded and that MGM Records has purchased the masters from the label. MGM also announces that it has hired Winston as a producer to work under Morty Craft head of A & R for the label. MGM will launch a new label aimed at the teenaged market to be called Orbit Records. Its first release is the Onyx master of "Remember" / "Can I Walk You Home" on Orbit #9001. Within two weeks of that announcement, Orbit Records is shelved and the new MGM label will be called Cub. "Remember" is now out on Cub #9001, the third label for the song in less than a month. The song still manages to receive the Cash Box award as pick hit of the week. MGM says that "Remember" has topper 25 thousand in sales in the New York City area alone. During the summer "Crazy Love" and the pop standard "I'll Never Smile Again" are released on Cub #9014. The record fails to generate much excitement and the group feels the label is only giving lukewarm support to the group in promoting their efforts.

In the spring of 1959 The Velours record their version of The Clovers standard "Blue Velvet" which is backed with "Tired Of Your Rock and Rolling" on Cub #9029 which goes nowhere and this marks the end of their recording contract with MGM. They made one record for an obscure independent label Studio Records in 1959 - "I Promise You" and "Little Sweetheart" both with Keith Williams on lead vocal on #9902, and then were recorded by George Goldner on a variety of his labels in the early sixties. First were remakes of "Can I Come Over Tonight?" and "Where There's A Will" on Gone #5092, then "Sweet Sixteen" and "Daddy Warbucks" on Goldisc #3012, and finally "Lover Come Back" and "The Lonely One" on End #1090. By 1961 this was the end for The Velours, BUT - Ramos, Cheetom, and Haywood kept it together and added Alfred Pitts and re-invented the group as The Fantastics and became a soul music entry for the British labels Deram, Bell, and Polydor. They also cut one more side as The Velours for MGM in the late 60s - "Don't Pity Me" and "I'm Gonna Change" on #13780.

By now their history has been assured as a superb and somewhat unique vocal group from the fifties. Their Onyx Records sides have the right stuff to be included on any collection that will showcase the music of the era. Maybe their life was a bit short lived, but those five solid sides over a two year period of time in the later fifties are a part of our life and a part of that time in America.

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