The Carltons -- James Leon Diggs, Larry Bell, and Jerry Norris -- from Washington, D.C., were Chess Records' answer to the Impressions. A&R director Billy Davis was so enamored with Diggs' songwriting skills that he signed them to a deal, even though Diggs was already contracted to Chess with Richard Dunbar as the Knight Brothers. They sounded totally different -- the Knight Brothers sang emotionally gripping, down-home soul with heavy gospel overtones, while the Carltons' breezy, soulful sounds were reminiscent of second-tier Impressions.
Andy Mack's early 1964 single on Chess, "Later Than You Think" b/w "Do You Wanna Go," featured the Carltons. It flopped, but the Carltons issued their first single, "Ooo Baby" b/w "Can't You Hear the Beat," in May 1964. Diggs shifted between both acts depending on who had something going on. Neither ever caught fire, so there was never a conflict. "Hey Mr. Lonesome" b/w "Easy Livin'" (September 1964) was their most successful single, but it was a turntable hit: the units sold didn't equal the radio action.
Chess issued the Carltons' singles on their Argo subsidiary; the final one appeared the same month (October 1964) as the Knight Brothers' first single, which was recorded in Chicago. Previous 45s were cut in D.C. and New York. "I'm a Man" b/w "Keep on Hoping" is the only Carltons single that Diggs didn't write (besides Andy Mack's -- Shena De Mell and Sugar Pie DiSanto co-wrote both sides, with Billy Davis collaborating on the A-side). The single failed to do anything, and the Carltons resigned; ironically, the Knight Brothers' "Temptations 'Bout to Get Me," issued the same month as the Carltons swan single, was the duo's biggest record. Diggs sang with the Starfires on two late-'50s singles on Decca Records. ~ Andrew Hamilton