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The Dells

The Dells were one of the finest and longest-lived R&B vocal groups in history, and what's most amazing is that they did it with nearly all the same members. They were one of the very few doo wop outfits to successfully update their sound, finding their strongest commercial niche in the late '60s and '70s as a polished smooth soul harmony group. While their chart fortunes certainly fluctuated over the years, they remained a viable act right up into the '90s, by which time they had long since achieved legendary status in the R&B community.

The Dells were formed in 1953 in southern suburbs of Chicago, specifically the town of Harvey, Illinois, where all the members attended high school together. The original lineup featured lead baritone Marvin Junior, lead tenor Johnny Funches, tenors Verne Allison and Lucius McGill, second baritone Mickey McGill, and bass Chuck Barksdale. Initially called the El-Rays, the group recorded their first single, "Darling I Know," for Chess Records subsidiary Checker that year; it flopped. Lucius McGill departed not long after, and wasn't replaced, cutting the group down to a quintet. Newly christened the Dells, they got another shot in 1955 when they signed to Vee-Jay. They had a minor R&B hit with the ballad "Dreams of Contentment" that year, but really scored big in 1956 with the doo wop classic "Oh What a Nite," which featured Funches singing lead and went Top Five on the R&B charts. Thus established, the Dells hit the road, although they found it difficult to duplicate their chart success. Tragedy nearly struck in 1958; on their way to a gig in Philadelphia, the body of the group's station wagon failed, resulting in a serious accident that lacerated Junior's larynx (slightly altering his voice thereafter) and nearly cost McGill the use of his leg. The Dells went on hiatus to recover; in the meantime, Barksdale became a temporary member of the Moonglows, where he sang alongside Marvin Gaye.

The Dells reconvened in 1960 and successfully auditioned to tour with Dinah Washington, as both her opening act and backup group. Funches, however, was tired of touring and decided to stay home with his family, which would be the last time any member left the group. He was replaced by lead/falsetto tenor Johnny Carter, a former member of the Flamingoes. Working with vocal coach Kirk Stewart, the Dells perfected the more challenging art of jazz harmony singing. They toured with Washington for two years, subsequently signing with the Chess subsidiary Argo and releasing four jazz-flavored singles, all of which tanked. They returned to Vee-Jay in 1964 and began recording R&B again, though their local nightclub act centered more around jazz; 1965 brought them a Top 30 R&B hit with "Stay in My Corner," their biggest success since "Oh What a Nite." However, Vee-Jay went bankrupt in 1966, and the Dells returned to Chess for a third time, this time the Cadet subsidiary; their first two singles, "Thinking About You" and "Run for Cover," became local hits. Also in 1966, the Dells became Ray Charles' touring vocal backup, giving them an opportunity to sing in some of their biggest concert venues yet.

Cadet was where the Dells' career really started to take off. In 1967, the label assigned producer Bobby Miller and arranger Charles Stepney to handle the group, and they began to exploit the striking contrast between Junior's earthy baritone and Carter's luminous falsetto, adding lush orchestrations and plenty of horn charts. The Dells' first album under the Miller-Stepney aegis, There Is, was a smashing success, spawning no less than four hit singles including an expanded remake of "Stay in My Corner" that topped the R&B charts and went Top Ten pop. Suddenly the group was bigger than it had ever been; their follow-up album, 1968's Always Together, spun off another four singles. Released in 1969, Love Is Blue gave them another R&B number one and pop Top Ten with a remake of their '50s classic "Oh What a Nite." Miller moved on to other projects in early 1970, and Stepney became the Dells' producer on the following year's Freedom Means, which featured the hit ballad "The Love We Had (Stays on My Mind)." After a Dionne Warwick repertory album in 1972, Cadet hired Don Davis as the group's new producer, which paid immediate dividends in the form of the Dells' first certified million-selling single, 1973's "Give Your Baby a Standing Ovation." After a few more hits with Davis, the Dells left Cadet in favor of Mercury in 1975.

Although the group's production kept pace with the times, incorporating nods to disco, their Mercury stint wasn't as successful, and they switched labels again in 1978, jumping to ABC for a couple of albums. It seemed their career momentum had stalled, at least until 1980's I Touched a Dream LP, recorded for 20th Century. Produced by the Chi-Lites' Eugene Record, I Touched a Dream recaptured the Dells' old magic, and was greeted with enthusiastic reviews. The follow-up, Whatever Turns You On, wasn't quite as successful, though, and the Dells wound up spending a number of years off record, returning with a little-noticed old-style soul album in 1988's The Second Time. It looked as though they might be consigned to the oldies circuit until filmmaker Robert Townsend approached them to serve as consultants on his movie about a fictional vocal group, The Five Heartbeats. The Dells recorded a song called "The Heart Is a House for Love" for the soundtrack, which became a left-field R&B chart hit when it was released as a single in 1991. That led to a new album for Zoo in 1992, I Salute You, which attempted to mate the Dells' sound with urban contemporary and new jack swing production; however, it wasn't a hit, and the group returned to touring. Former lead singer Johnny Funches died of pneumonia in January 1998, and Verne Allison underwent a successful triple bypass in 2000, the same year the Dells released Reminiscing on the revived Volt label; it was their first album of new material in eight years. Johnny Carter died of cancer in August 2009, and in May 2013 Marvin Junior died after suffering from heart and kidney problems. ~ Steve Huey, Rovi
full bio

Comments

The Dells - a favorite of Porky Chedwick - he died Mar 2, 2014
God bless the Dells. Thank you thank you thank you!
always together and stay in my corner were sounds of black love
The dells recorded with the dramatics (battle) does anyone know the title?
7th grade sock hops in the new gym, that was a big deal... As a kid never knew what a lot of the lyrics ment, didn't matter... 60 minute man? Oh well, glad to have THE best memories ever!
Oh what a night dear to kiss u so !!!!!
Every man should give his woman a standing ovation.... #Classic RIP Johnny and Marvin....
Do u think there's anything better than harmony that's this smooth
Oldies por vida ese
bppoll
This is still the best. Makes me happy listening to the lyrics and music.
WRONG LYRICS!!!!!! !
Hewassosmoot h
Imissyou
Hewasaking
Bad a** song
This is what you call music I love it
This gives me such wonderfull memories. To bad today's kids don't have this music.
reina.belmon t e
The Dells were the Best Group EVER!!! All their voices harmonized so beautifully! ! !
I was listening 2 the Dells way back then, when all the other girls in my class were fainting over Elvis....... . . t h e 5 Satins, the Moonglows,, the Del Vikings,THAT WAS REAL MUSIC!!! No disrespect 2 Mr. Presley, but........
HARVEY OWN I LIKE THEM ALOT SMILE...
R..I.P JOHNNIE CARTER AND MARVIN SCOTT JR OF CHICAGO,IL AND LOVE YOU ALL CHICAGO OWN THE MIGHTLY DELLS HELLO MR. BARKDALE SMILE...
The O'jays are great too hold on to your seat belts ima rock on !
How about always and forever heatwave
Hey they don't sing this great today that young guy advant was close to it they are in a class by themselves And we are too this is our life bond do you agree
I got to do some oldies but goodies jam soon
navarro1959
love this music reminds me of a lot of goodtimes yrs ago
jtly66
great oldies, great music
Just one of my favs from the mighty mighty Dells.....
The voices, soul brothers. 14y 1m
Greatness!
rachael_y_mi g u e l
Baby making song absolutely love it!!
man i wish this world can be!!!
japorter24
Aaaaaang! Edie Kane
MARVIN JR RIP BEST PIPES TO COME OUT OF CHI
Marvin Jr. and Johnny. The voices of yhis group. May they Rest in Eternal Peace! :'(
A beautiful song with so much meanin 2 it I luv it.!!©
Great rola
Love this
Cit wassohot songs
I imiss thedells songs
gregorymurra y 7 1
yassss me and my baby soooo many yrs ago and still together
Memories. ...
Awesome. .....
Tell the story Yes

The Dells. Was The Truth What A Night.
Yez to Vincent the love we had stays on my mind
I lovretbis song yougo
colemandonna 3 8
The Dells was a very powerful group.
kt_martin
what beautiful memerious
listen to this station sure brings back a lot of great memories.
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