The Dells - Biography

The Dells are one of  longest-lived R&B groups in history. Forming in 1955, their line-up remained stable from 1960 until 2009, when lead tenor Johnny Carter passed away. Beginning as a doo-wop group, they transformed into a soul act, enjoying their greatest popularity in the late 1960s and '70s.


The roots of The Dells were in Harvey, Illinois act doo-wop act, The El-Rays, which were formed by Thornton Township High School students Johnny Funches (lead tenor), Lucius McGill (tenor), Verne Allison (tenor), Mickey McGill (second tenor), Marvin Junior (lead baritone), and Chuck Barksdale (bass). They recorded "Darling I Know" for Chess Records's Checker subsidiary in 1954. Lucius left the group, leaving them a five piece and in 1955 they signed to Vee Jay, rechristened The Dells. Their first hit came with "Dreams of Contentment." In 1956, they scored a bigger hit with "Oh What a Nite." They hit the road on the heels of its success. In 1958, on their way to Philadelphia, they were involved in a serious accident that nearly cost McGill the use of a leg and lacerated Junior's larynx, permanently altering his voice. A hiatus followed to allow their recovery as well as the release of their debut, Oh, What a Nite (1959 Vee-Jay). In the meantime, Barksdale performed with Marvin Gaye in The Moonglows. Frustrated with inactivity, Funches retired from performing.


The Dells reconvened in 1960, with Johnny Carter of The Flamingos stepping in for Funches. The new line-up toured with Dinah Washington , as both her opening act and back-up group, for the next two years after which they signed with another Chess subsidiary, Argo. They released four, jazz harmony singles which performed poorly. After returning to Vee Jay in 1964, they returned to the charts in 1965 with "Stay in My Corner." Their sophomore release, It's Not Unusual (1965 Vee-Jay), followed. 


Vee Jay closed shop in 1966 and The Dells returned, once again, to Chess, this time releasing "Thinking About You" and "Run for Cover" for their Cadet subsidiary. That year they toured as Ray Charles's back-up group as well. There Is (1968 Cadet) was their biggest success. Always Together - The Dells Musical Dinner (1968 Cadet), Love Is Blue (1969 Cadet), Love It Is, Like it Was (1970 Cadet), Freedom Means (1971 Cadet), The Dells Sing Dionne Warwicke's Greatest Hits (1972 Cadet), Sweet As Funk Can Be (1972 Cadet), Give Your Baby A Standing Ovation (1973 Cadet), The Dells (1973 Cadet), The Dells vs. The Dramatics (1974 Cadet), The Mighty Mighty Dells (1973 Cadet) and We Got to Get Our Thing Together (1975 Cadet) followed.


After nearly a decade of success at Cadet, The Dells left and signed with mercury. New Way Back (1976 Mercury),  Love Connection (1977 Mercury) and They Said It Could't Be Done, But We Did It (1977 Mercury) all kept apace of new trends but failed to match their previous success. In 1978, the singed with ABC. New Beginnings (1978 ABC) and Face to Face (1978 ABC) were less successful still.


In 1980, they released I Touched A Dream (1980 20th Century Fox) which was a surprise success. Whatever Turns You On (1981 20th Century Fox) was less successful and after that, The Dells focused primarily on performing. Over the next decade they released One Step Closer (1984 Private Records) and The Second Time (1991 Urgent). When Robert Townsend approached them as consultants for his film, The Five Heartbeats, the group recorded a new song,  "The Heart Is a House for Love," which provided another hit. Encouraged by the success, they released a New Jack Swing album, I Salute You (1992 Zoo).


On January 23, 1998, their original leader, Johnny Funches passed away of pneumonia. Two years later, Verne Allison underwent a successful triple bypass. That year they released their first album of new material in eight years, Reminiscing (2000 Volt). As The Dells and Friends, they released Open Up My Heart: The 9/11 Suite (2002 Devine). In 2008, they released Spending Our Christmases Together (2008 Dells/Way). On August 21, 2009, they lost Johnny Carter to cancer.




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