all images courtesy of chuckababy music publishing
The Ovations comprised of:
Louis Williams Jnr. (lead singer) (b. 24th February, 1941, Memphis, Tennessee, U.S.A. d. 13th October 2002, Methodist Healthcare University Hospital, Memphis, Tennessee, U.S.A.)
Rochester Neal (vocals)
Bill Davis (vocals)
Nathan (Pedro) Lewis (vocals) (b. 30th July 1943)
Quincy Billops, Jr. (vocals)
These texts were kindly requested reproduced here by Nathan Lewis. The author was Bill Dahl, who thanks Nathan Lewis, Louis Williams, Dan Penn, and Spooner Oldham.
Memphis was by no means overrun with R & B vocal groups during the 1960s.
Sensational single soul artists proliferated at Stax/Volt, Hi, and the city's other top labels, but a mere handful of groups were built to last. The Ovations headed that short but select list, requiring only three members to serve up a series of immaculate 45s for Goldwax Records. The Ovations were fronted by lilting tenor Louis Williams, whose uncanny vocal resemblance to the late Sam Cooke was no accident. "I loved Sam Cooke so. I just idolized him. So I just wanted to sing everything he put out," says Louis, bom February 24, 1941 in Memphis.
"I heard some Soul Stirrers things. Then when he put 'You Send Me' out, boy-mat flipped me!"
Rounded out by Nathan "Pedro" Lewis and Elvin Lee Jones, the Ovations gave Goldwax its first national hit in the spring of 1965 with their breathtaking "It's Wonderful To Be hi Love." Louis had previously been with the Del-Rios, who made a fine 1962 Stax single, "There's A Love" b/w "Just Across The Street." "I started in church, singing around the neighborhoods. I went to Booker T. Washington High School, sung with a group called the Montclairs," says Louis. "At that time, I was a background singer. I didn't want to chance no lead, because I loved backgrounds so much. I loved to sing in the background, and move with the steps. That's where I was 'til I got with a group called the Del-Rios." For a long time, future Stax star William Bell fronted the Del-Rios. "He had a record called 'You Don't Miss Your Water,'" says Williams. "It was a hit for him, so he left the group. That's when I got Nathan with me."
Bom July 30, 1943, Nathan was already experienced when he joined the Del Rios. "I was out in south Memphis with little old groups, doowoppin' up under the street post light," says the Memphis native, whose El Salvadors caught the ear of a local grocery store owner. "He said, 'You all got a song that you think you might want to record?' We said, 'Yeah, we've got two tunes we wrote.' He said, 'What's the name of 'em?' We said, '"Shimmy In The Daytime, Shimmy At Night." And we got another one, "Fall Is Here.'" He said, 'Okay, we'll try to work on cuttin' these two tunes.' Well, he changed our name from the El Salvadors to Bamey & the Googles! We didn't like it. We went, 'Bamey & the Googles-where'd you get that?' His name was Bamey, Bamey Shillingstein. So he felt comfortable with Bamey. But what about the Googles? Where did that come in? We just didn't want anybody calling us the Googles! "Bamey took us to a guy that had a jewelry store here in Memphis, Shimmy Alabaster," he says. "Shillingstein knew Alabaster, and they got together and did this little project." "Fall Is Here" b/w "Doin' The Shimmy" emerged in 1960 on Shimmy Records by Bamey & the Googles. "They recorded that one record. A big old fat, thick record. And we were all clustered around at the store, and had told the people in the neighborhood to listen. And I think Bamey got 'em to play it on the radio about one or two times. Oh, we thought we were really a real group then!"
Being a Del-Rio was a major step up from being a Google. "I met them when I was downtown at my aunt's beauty shop on Beale Street, on 4th and Beale," says Nathan. "Some of the members of the Del-Rios group, Louis Williams and Robert Huntley, would come by the beauty shop, Robert and Louis Liked the way L sounded when we would be back ia-the backroom- going over little tunes. So they suggested that they would tell Harry (Hamson Austin) about my tenor, and they would suggest putting me in the group. So they talked to Harry about it. Harry said, 'Tell him to come up to the Flamingo Room tomorrow.' I went up there, did the interview. "Harry was in the group then, Robert, Louis, and myself," says Nathan. "So we march in there as the Del-Rios. William Bell had just left the group. I wind up inheriting Bell's uniform. So we perform happily as the Del-Rios. Clifford Miller, the owner of the Flamingo Room, sponsored all the uniforms that we used. And we kept a packed house every night." The Del-Rios were soon strengthened by a new member they discovered in Monroe, La. "A paper boy used to come by when we'd be rehearsing at the little hotel we were staying at," says Nathan. "He told us his name was Norman West. He heard us in there rehearsing, so he told us that he played organ, had been to college-had one year ofcollege-and he was interested in music. But he never had a chance to show it. So he noticed that we would go up to Ivory Joe Hunter's house every day. "Norman said, 'Do you think you all could get him to let me come in and sit around with you guys?' I said, 'I'm sure we can!' And Norman did a couple of songs with us, and it worked out well. The guy could walk on his hands, he was acrobatic. Louis was doing splits. So everybody had something to add to the group. Plus Norman played the organ. That was the fast member in the group that really had knowledge of the music. And he could sing real well," says Nathan. "He got on the organ, and the group was tight and right. Well, that went on for about a year or so. Then Norman was drafted into the Army, and Harry Austin, who was the business manager and had been with the group a long time, something made him think it was a good idea to go to Detroit. So the group started dwindling down.
Robert Huntley left the group and went over and started doing things at Stax. So that left Louis and myself. "Willie Mitchell contacted me and Louis. Said, 'Look, I've got some dates. Would you guys be interested in backgrounding Don Bryant on these dates that I've got? You all will be the Four Canes.' So he got one member out of the Canes group. 'So it'll be you, Louis, and Elvin Lee Jones,'" recalls Nathan. "We noticed from that experience on that outing that we had a solid background behind Don. And we knew Louis' potential as a lead singer. So we functioned as the Four Canes to do those dates, and something came to us, said, 'Well, let's work on something original with the harmony sound that we've got, and see what we can come up with.'" With Louis as lead and Nathan and Lee providing scintillating harmonies, three voices were enough. "We had this guy down the street that was working at the blood bank, Roosevelt Jamison.
He was interested in the music. He had been sort of a kin to gospel singers like O.V. Wright, James Carr," says Nathan. "Roosevelt used to listen to us sing. He said, 'Look, man, I know some guys that's interested in cutting some people. Would you guys be interested in coming down to the blood bank this evening after it closes? I'm going to have them down there, and you all show 'em what you got.' "We met the people down at the blood bank, two white gentlemen-Rudolph Russell and Quinton Claunch." The pair owned Goldwax. "We presented our tunes. They said, 'Do you all know a band that can play those tunes?' We said, 'Yeah!' They said, 'Who?' We said, 'Bowlegs Miller.' They said, 'Well, get in touch with Bowlegs and work the stuff up, and we want to cut it.' So they got in touch with Chips Moman over at American Studio. Bowlegs came over, I think we did two tunes. Then we had to come up with a name. So we came up with the Ovations. So Louis, Lee and myself started off with the group and the name Ovations."
The newly minted Ovations' Goldwax debut coupled two fine group-penned originals, "Pretty Little Angel" and "Won't You Call." But it was their self-generated encore that propelled the Ovations onto the national touring circuit. "Sam Cooke had a tune called 'Wonderful,' a spiritual. I started writing a couple of lines, some lines on 'It's Wonderful To Be In Love,'" says Louis. "Me and Nathan and Lee just finished it up." Cut at Moman's fledgling facility, the song felt like a smash from the outset. "We went in the studio at six o'clock that evening, and come out six o'clock that morning. And everybody was rejoicing. I come up and told my mama, 'I know we got a hit! I know it, Mama!'" says Louis. "And boy, when that thing came out, it shook Memphis!" "It's Wonderful To Be In Love" climbed to # 22 R & B and # 61 pop on Billboard's national charts during the spring of '65. Jamison supplied the up-tempo flip, "Dance Party." By late June, the trio was touring nationally.
"I think we did 31 one-nighters with James Brown. Then it was the Otis Redding tour," says Nathan. "There was James Carr on there, and Gladys Knight & the Pips, Mitty Collier, Percy Sledge, Jimmy Tig & the Rounders. It was a great big tour. And we had great, great fun on the tour." "Everybody on that stage, you couldn't come out jiving! You had to sing," adds Louis. "It was just a cookin' tour!" The Ovations torched "Twistin' The Night Away" on The!!!! Beat, an R & B TV program syndicated out of Dallas in '66 guest-hosted that week by Redding and co-starring Sam & Dave, Collier, Sledge, Garnet Mimms, and Patti LaBelle & the Blue Belles.
The Ovations' next Goldwax offering, the exquisite "I'm Living Good," was written by the prolific Dan Penn and Spooner Oldham and cut in Muscle Shoals with Oldham on keyboards. "Chips had cut that record 'It's Wonderful To Be In Love.' Then he called me and wanted me and Spooner to write him a song for the Ovations," says Penn. "That was custom-written. Matter of fact, we took quite a bit of 'It's Wonderful To Be In Love's' groove." Says Spooner of Louis' lead, "He just captured the moment with that song, I thought. It was real nice. In lesser hands, it may not have fared so well." Soul-singing L.A. Rams defensive lineman Roosevelt Grier soon weighed in with a '67 version for MGM.
Penn and Oldham were similarly responsible for the Ovations' driving "I Need A Lot Of Loving," also cut by Wilson Pickett during his Muscle Shoals phase. "Dan's songs always had content," notes Nathan. "He'd get your attention whenever he'd come in. He had on old cowboy boots, and he'd cross his legs, and man, when he'd get through playing that guitar, you could feel what he was saying. You know, it looked like he might have been a black guy in a white skin." Great as it was, "I Need A Lot Of Loving" wasn't even the A side of the 45. That honor went to the group-penned ballad "Don't Cry," also cut in Muscle Shoals. "Me and Lee and Pedro, I had a room somewhere, and we'd just usually get together and just start doing little things and come on up with a lot of stuff," says Louis. "That's how we come up with it, in my one little room." Jones departed in 1966. "At the suggestion of his companion, he decided it would be best if he would kind of let the group slide on. Because she told him to make a decision. She was sort of jealous about the group and Lee," says Nathan. "We came back to Memphis-and got Billy Young, who was a member of the Avantis." The Avantis had cut "Keep On Dancing" for Argo in '63, only to see a Moman-produced cover by the garage-rocking Gentrys rise to # 4 pop in '65. Labelmates George Jackson and Dan Greer were behind the Ovations' '66 45 "I Believe I'll Go Back Home," Jackson teaming with Claunch and Russell to pen "Qualifications" for the flip. "I think Motown had something out on that same beat," says Louis of the latter. "George was good at listening to something with a beat, and he'd write something around it so fast."
Claunch and longtime songwriting partner Bill Cantrell were responsible for the trio's second national hit, the Muscle Shoals-cut spine-chiller "Me And My Imagination." "Somebody brought it to us, and it was an up-tempo song," says Williams. "Nathan did a good arrangement. Nathan wrote that thing down, we got it slower, and it was a smash." "Me And My Imagination" was a # 40 R & B seller in early '67, backed with "They Say," a pounder penned by fellow Goldwax artist O.B. McClinton. Jackson wrote half their next platter, "Ride My Troubles And Blues Away," flipped with Penn's shimmering ballad "I've Gotta Go." Louis and Nathan's thrilling "Happiness" emerged in 1969 as one of the Ovations' last Goldwax 45s, backed with another Williams/Lewis original, "Rockin' Chair." Their buoyant "I'll Be True To You" inexplicably languished in the vaults, as did the intriguing Williams solo outings "I Like Summertime" and "Peace Of Mind."
A dispute over royalties led to the Ovations exiting Goldwax. Greer brought them to the MGM-affiliated Sounds of Memphis imprint, where they scored a # 19 R & B hit with "Touching Me" in mid-1972. They nailed their biggest hit of all (# 7 R & B and # 56 pop) for MGM proper in the autumn of '73 with a Greer-produced remake of Cooke's "Having A Party." However, Nathan and Billy weren't "Having A Party"; Louis was instead backed by anonymous session vocalists. In retrospect, the group probably could have been better prepared on the business front. "We had show, but no business, and the name of the thing is show business," admits Nathan.
Louis hopes for an onstage reunion before long with Nathan, his friend for close to four decades (Young passed away a few years back, and Jones remains retired from music). "We are gonna do that!" promises Williams. One thing's certain: The Ovations deserved better than they got, and their recordings represent a glorious chunk of Memphis soul history.
Soulsville U.S.A.: The Story of Stax Records, by Rob Bowman (New York: Schimrer Books, 1997)
Sweet Soul Music, by Peter Guramick (New York: Harper & Row, 1986)
The Complete Book of Doo-Wop, by Dr. Anthony J. Gribin and Dr. Matthew M. Schiff (Iola, WI: Krause Pubs., 2000)
Playing For a Piece of the Door: A History of Garage & Frat Bands in Memphis 1960-1975, by Ron Hall (Memphis: Shangri-La Projects, 2001)
Joel Whitburn 's Top R & B Singles 1942-1988, by Joel Whitbum (Menomonee Falls, WI: Record Research Inc., 1988)
Louis Williams Jnr. obituary 2002
Louis Williams Jnr. was born to the late Mr. Louis Sr. and Vivian Williams February 24, 1941.
Mr. Williams is married to Mrs. Juanita Burnett Williams.
Louis Williams Jnr. singer, songwriter and entertainer answered his last curtain call Sunday, October 13 2002.
Louis Williams Jnr., born sixty-one years ago, grew up in South Memphis near the world famous Beale Street. Although he was not a member of Mt. Vernon Missionary Baptist Church under Pastor J. L. Netters, he would go to Male Chorus rehearsals with his wife and sing along with the choir. He later honed his velvet
singing voice on the Palace Theater stage.
He attended Leath Elementary School and toured with The Montclairs, managed by the late Goose Tatum (Harlem Globe Trotters) while still at Booker T. Washington High School. Louis later became lead singer of The Del Rio's and recorded in the early years at Satellite (Stax) Records. In 1963, Louis co founded The Ovations who's single recording "It's Wonderful To Be In Love" on the Goldwax label, became a national hit, making The Ovations the first Memphis vocal group to achieve that honor and also the first Memphis vocal group to appear at The Apollo in New York City, Louis/ Ovations performed with such greats as James Brown, The Temptations, and Otis Redding. Followed by such hits as: "Pretty Little Angel", Me and My Imagination", "I've Got To Go" and "Happiness", which was re-released on the Scrooge movie soundtrack.
In 1972, Louis / Ovations signing with MGM / Sounds of Memphis and "You're Touching Me" on the "Hooked On A Feeling" LP and in 1973 "Having A Party" single and LP producing (4) chart singles in Billboard Magazine.
Louis' only solo album "Ole Beale Street Salutes Sam Cooke" A Tribute/ Beale Street Records, Inc. is a testament to his uncanny (Cooke) sound and his spirit to go on in spite of his illness.
His last words were "Lord save me". He fought a good fight and he kept the faith and his reward is laid up on high, but his legacy is left to the memory of his parents, the late Vivian and Louis Williams Sr.; his wife, Juanita; his sons, Terrell and Jerrell; sisters, Barbara, Sharon Dira, Pamela and Kathy Williams Mackey of Culver City, California; brothers, Carl of Detroit, Michigan and Anthony; and other family and friends around the world.
Generations yet to come will be forever discovering his genius and enjoying his music.
"I'd like the memory of me to be a happy one
I'd like to leave an afterglow of smiles when life is done
I'd like to leave an echo whispering softly down the ways
Of happy times and laughing times and bright and sunny days
I'd like the tears of those who grieve to dry before the sun
Of happy memories that I leave when My Life is Done!"
nathan (pedro) lewis
chuckababy music publishing, 1970 kansas st., suite 42, memphis, TN 38109, U.S.A.
Hooked on a Feeling (P-Vine 1972)
Sweet Thing (Vivid 1973)
Having a Party (P-Vine)