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Digging Through the Record Stacks - 2

Posted by Whitmore, April 15, 2008 09:41pm | Post a Comment

Music historians often site The Diablos as the originators and early archetypes to the Motown sound. Formed in Detroit in about 1950 by high school students Nolan Strong and Bob "Chico" Edwards, the Diablos derive their name from, El Nino Diablo, a book Strong was reading for a school report. From the start the group's sound centered on Nolans’s eerily ethereal, lead tenor voice. (Musical talent ran deep in his family: Nolan’s cousin, Barrett Strong, wrote "Money'' and many other R&B standards.) Other original Diablos members included Juan Guiterriez as the second tenor, Willie Hunter singing baritone, Quentin Eubanks as bass with Edwards on guitar, and later on Nolan’s brother, Jimmy, would join the group as the second tenor.

In 1954, the Diablos went into Fortune Records to cut some demos. The owners of Fortune, Jack & Devora Brown, who founded the label in 1947, immediately signed them. Their first single, "Adios My Desert Love" (Fortune 509, 1954), was written by Devora Brown. However, their second single and masterpiece, "The Wind" (Fortune 511, 1954), was written by the group. This ballad has a curiously ghostly quality and takes full advantage of the groups strongest points; a simple guitar line plays with a light vibrato, filling in behind the perfectly sculpted background harmonies singing "blow wind," as Strong's incredibly delicate, smooth as silk lead carries over the top. The atmosphere takes on a rather strange quality during the bridge when, backed by a quirky plate-reverb effect, Strong quietly recites his lines about his missing lover.  All and all, and truthfully, this cut is slightly bizarre but so evocatively captivating.  And, of course, it went nowhere, until some eight years later when "The Wind" was re-released in 1962-- this time it found a national audience, hitting the lower rungs of the Billboard Charts. “The Wind" is now regarded as a doo wop classic and is much sought after by collectors. The Diablos would continue to record for Fortune Records until the mid sixties, though with various lineups, perhaps the reason the last few releases were credited to only Nolan Strong.

Having once been heavily influenced by Clyde McPhatter, Nolan Strong in turn would be a huge influence on a young Smokey Robinson & the Miracles over at Motown. At one point Berry Gordy tried to sign Nolan Strong & the Diablos, reportedly offering 5,000 dollars for the their contract, but a deal never emerged. Later, Gordy would cover a Diablos' composition "Mind over Matter" on his Mel-O-Dy label with a group called the Pirates, later known as the Temptations. Between 1954 and about 1964 The Diablos would release about twenty singles for Fortune records. Other than “The Wind” in1962 and "The Way You Dog Me Around" (Fortune 518, which made the R&B charts for one week in 1956), they had no other only national charting sides, though many of their singles were huge regional hits. Other great singles include "Mind Over Matter" (Fortune 546, 1962), which went to #1 on Detroit radio in 1962, "Daddy Rockin' Strong" (Fortune 516, 1955), "If I (Could Be With You Tonight)" (Fortune 532, 1959), and "Since You're Gone" (Fortune 536, 1960). Unfortunately, for some unknown reason, after leaving Fortune Records, Strong never recorded nor signed with another label again. He died on Feb 21, 1977 in Detroit and is buried in Wayne, Michigan, at Westlawn Cemetery not far from where another great R&B singer is buried, Jackie Wilson.

Relevant Tags

1950's (53), Doo Wop (3), 45's (53), Detroit (10), Motown (12), Nolan Strong (1), Barrett Strong (1), Jackie Wilson (4), Record Geeks (28), R&b (20), Soul (41)