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Donnie Elbert

Northern soul legend Donnie Elbert was born May 25, 1935, in New Orleans. His family relocated to Buffalo, NY's east side three years later, and there he learned to play guitar and piano. Influenced most profoundly by the Drifters' Clyde McPhatter, Elbert co-founded a doo wop group called the Vibraharps with friend Danny Cannon in 1955, serving as its guitarist, songwriter, and arranger while largely relegating himself to background vocals. After making his recorded debut on their single "Walk Beside Me," Elbert left the Vibraharps in 1957 amidst creative differences and turned to a solo career, recording a demo session that earned him a contract with the King label's Deluxe imprint; his Deluxe debut, "What Can I Do?," cracked the R&B Top 20 but the follow-up, "Believe It or Not," went nowhere. Arguably Elbert's finest early single was his third Deluxe effort, 1957's haunting "Have I Sinned?" -- an exemplary showcase for his powerful falsetto, the record was a huge regional hit, especially in Pittsburgh, where legendary DJ Porky Chedwick played it relentlessly.

Although he played New York City's Apollo Theater and toured the so-called "chitlin' circuit" of African-American-owned and operated nightclubs, Elbert's career faltered -- he released no fewer than five singles on Deluxe in 1958 ("Let's Do the Stroll," "My Confession of Love," "I Want to Be Loved But Only by You," "I Want to Be Near You," and "Just a Little Bit of Lovin'"), none of which made any commercial impact. Relations with Deluxe grew even more strained as Elbert consistently battled with producers over the direction of his career, and after completing his first full-length, The Sensational Donnie Elbert Sings, he finally left the label in 1959, landing with fledgling indie Red Top long enough to cut 1960's "Someday (You'll Want Me to Want You)." From there he signed with Vee-Jay, notching another regional smash with "Will You Ever Be Mine?," which reportedly sold upwards of 250,000 copies in the Philadelphia area but failed to take off nationwide. After two more Vee-Jay efforts -- "Half as Old" and 1961's "I've Loved You, Baby" -- Elbert hopscotched from label to label including Jalynne ("Mommie's Gone"), P&L (1962's "Nobody Knows"), Parkway ("Baby Cakes"), Cub (1963's "Love Stew"), and Checker ("Just a Cotton-Pickin' Minute"), rarely staying for more than one record before moving along yet again.

The emergence of the Motown sound deeply impressed Elbert and he began modeling his music in its image -- while a crack crew of backing vocalists and session players (the famed Funk Brothers) were required to create authentic Motown records, Elbert played all the instruments on his recordings himself, creating note-perfect evocations of the sweeping, shimmering Motor City soul sound. (Exhibit A: 1965's Gateway label release "A Little Piece of Leather" -- though it failed to chart in the U.S., the record was a massive hit in Britain and remains a perennial favorite on the U.K.'s Northern soul club scene.) Elbert was so skillful at approximating the Motown sound that owner Berry Gordy, Jr. extended a contract -- however, according to legend, the label's artist development department head, Harvey Fuqua, let slip that Motown had no interest in supporting his career and wished to sign him only to eliminate the competitive threat he posed. So in the wake of one last Gateway single, "Your Red Wagon (You Can Push It or Pull It)," Elbert returned to the road; perhaps his career would have been rejuvenated had he recorded his composition "Baby Walk Right In," but instead he gave the song to fellow Buffalo singer Darrell Banks, who promptly sped up the tempo, retitled it "Open the Door to Your Heart," and cut it in Detroit. Not only was the end result a Top 40 pop hit and one of the finest soul records ever made, but to add insult to injury, Elbert wasn't even credited as its composer, a legal mess that took years to sort out and still ended with Banks receiving 50 percent of all royalties.

By this point England no doubt seemed a relatively safe haven, so Elbert relocated there sometime in 1966; two years later he resumed his recording career with "In Between Heartaches," a one-off for Atco, followed in 1969 by the Deram release "Without You," which so expertly mined the vogue for rocksteady rhythms that the single went on to top the Jamaican charts. Elbert returned stateside in 1970, generating his first U.S. chart hit in over a decade with the Rare Bullet label release "I Can't Get Over Losing You," which reached the number 26 spot on the R&B charts. A year later he resurfaced on the All-Platinum label with "Where Did Our Love Go," a cover of the Supremes classic that he actually recorded two years earlier while still in England -- the single hit number two on the R&B charts and number 15 on pop playlists, and its follow-up, "Sweet Baby," climbed to 30 R&B in early 1972. For All-Platinum Elbert also re-recorded a number of his vintage compositions, among them "A Little Piece of Leather," before signing with Avco-Embassy, where he entered the studio with the hitmaking production team of Hugo & Luigi. However, while at Avco Elbert balked at the label's insistence that he record material associated with Motown, and despite the success of his cover of the Four Tops' "I Can't Help Myself," which hit number 14 on the R&B charts, the label eventually shelved the troubled project, selling the completed tracks to the Trip label, which cobbled together the 1972 LP Stop! In the Name of Love.

After his dismissal from Avco, Elbert reluctantly returned to All-Platinum, resurfacing in 1973 with "This Feeling of Losing You"; the follow-up was another cover, this time a 1974 reading of the Mickey & Sylvia classic "Love Is Strange." He left All-Platinum in the wake of another songwriting controversy, claiming authorship of labelmates Shirley & Company's R&B chart-topper "Shame, Shame, Shame," which was instead credited to label owner Sylvia Robinson -- unlike his claim against Banks, the squabble was not resolved in Elbert's favor, and although Robinson remains the sole writer credited, "Shame, Shame, Shame"'s arrangement does seem like his handiwork. For 1975's "You Keep Me Crying (With Your Lying)," Elbert finally formed his own label, the short-lived A/O -- a subsequent release, "I Got to Get Myself Together," appeared on an imprint bearing his surname, and was among his final recordings. During the mid-'80s he finally retired from performing, signing on as director of A&R for Polygram's Canadian division; on January 31, 1989, Elbert suffered a massive stroke and died at the age of just 53. ~ Jason Ankeny
full bio

Selected Discography

x

Track List: Bubblegum Soul

1. Give Me Just A Little More Time

3. Build Me Up Buttercup

5. I'm Doin' Fine Now

6. Jack In The Box

8. Band Of Gold

11. Want Ads

14. Black Joy

15. Eeny Meeny

17. I've Been Hurt

18. Red Red Wine

19. Melting Pot

x

Track List: Chess Uptown Soul

1. The Entertainer

3. Jerk And Twine

4. Oh What A Feeling

6. Sitting In The Park

7. Temptation 'bout To Get Me

9. Nothing But You

10. I Wont Need You

11. Wear It On Our Face

13. Pushover

15. Searching For My Love

16. I Had A Talk With My Man

17. I Believe She Will

21. Mama Didn't Lie

22. Go Away Little Boy

23. The Soul Of A Man

x

Track List: EP Choice - From The Rare Mod EP Collection

1. I'm Out

2. You Really Got Me

3. Need Your Lovin'

4. Ooh Poo Pah Doo

5. This Old Heart Of Mine (Mono)

6. You Can't Keep A Man Without Love

7. Yeah, I Do Love You (Demo)

8. Beginnings

9. Daughter Of The Sun (Demo)

10. Pretty Thing

11. Gotta Get Enough Time (Demo)

12. Marching Off To War

13. A Love I Believe In

14. Walk From Here To Mexico

15. See That My Grave Is Kept Clean

16. Why Don't You Write Back To Me

17. Roundabout

18. We Got Good Lovin'

19. Somebody Speaks Your Name (Demo)

20. Backdoor Man

21. She Ain't No Good

22. Circles (Southampton Guildhall 1966)

23. Untie Me

24. You'll Never Get Away Fom Me

x

Track List: Northern Soul: The Essential Collection

x

Track List: Rhythm & Blues 1952-1959 - Music Sampler, Vol. 2

1. My Ding A Ling

2. K.C. Loving

3. Aged And Mellow Blues

4. Beside You

5. I'll Drown In My Tears

6. Baby I'm Doin' It

7. Get It

8. White Cliffs Of Dover

10. Nervous Man, Nervous

11. Fast Women And Sloe Gin

12. Take Me Back

13. Annie Had A Baby

14. Hearts Of Stone

15. Only You (And You Alone) [Re-Recorded]

16. My Boy - Flat Top

17. Walking The Blues

19. Come Home

20. Another Woman's Man

22. I'm Tore Up

23. Fever

24. D.B. Blues

25. What Can I Do

26. Think

27. It Hurts To Be In Love

28. Hold Your Lovin'

x

Track List: The 70's Album

Disc 1

2. Can't Get By Without You

3. Indian Reservation

4. The Man Who Sold The World

5. Shooting Star

6. Everything I Own

7. Dolly My Love

8. Sunshine Day

10. Love Of The Common People

11. After The Goldrush

15. Knock On Wood

16. Brandy

17. I'll Go Where Your Music Takes Me

18. Fanfare For The Common Man

Disc 2

1. Band Of Gold

2. Lost In France

5. Uptown Top Ranking

6. Banner Man

8. Alright, Alright, Alright

9. In My Chair

10. If I Had You

11. Kung Fu Fighting

14. I'm Doin' Fine Now

15. Double Barrel

16. Run For Home

17. Dancin' On A Saturday Night

18. Me And My Life

x

Track List: Vee-Jay: The Definitive Collection

Disc 1

2. Baby, It's You

3. Goodnite Sweetheart, Goodnite

4. Ain't Times Hard

5. You Don't Have To Go

7. I Wish You Would

8. At My Front Door

9. Hurt My Feelings

10. Bad Boy

11. Somewhere To Lay My Head

13. Fool's Prayer

14. Oop De Oop

15. I'll Be Forever Loving You

16. Ain't That Lovin' You Baby

18. Up On The Mountain

19. Big Town Playboy

20. Rock 'n' Roll Mama

21. Oh What A Nite

Disc 2

1. Dimples

2. The Telephone Is Ringing

4. Uncloudy Day

6. Mother's Son

8. Honest I Do

9. Farther Along

10. You Can Make It If You Try

11. It Hurts Me Too

14. Blues Get Off My Shoulder

15. For Your Precious Love

17. I Love You Honey

18. Leave You In The Hands Of The Lord

19. Nobody But You

21. Crying For My Baby

Disc 3

1. Mary Don't You Weep

2. Steppin' Out

3. Just A Little Bit

6. Will The Circle Be Unbroken

7. Easy Lovin'

8. No Shoes

10. He Will Break Your Heart

11. Exodus

12. Big Boss Man

13. Raindrops

14. Every Beat Of My Heart

16. Bright Lights, Big City

17. Nite Owl

18. Duke Of Earl

19. Real Gone Mama

21. Boom Boom

Disc 4

1. I'm A Woman

2. Make It Easy On Yourself

3. Sherry

4. Rainbow

7. Body Surf

8. You're No Good

10. The Shoop Shoop Song (It's In His Kiss)

11. Steal Away

12. Have I The Right

13. Let It Be Me

15. Getting Mighty Crowded

17. Tainted Love

18. Billy's Bag

19. Stay In My Corner

21. Let's Do It Over

22. I Don't Know What You've Got But It's Got Me

Comments

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I can listen to this jam over and over.
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Love Donnie Elbert!
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I love all his rolitas...
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This is one of those jams you wanna grab your lady and dance real slow & hold her tight.
Report as inappropriate
Panty dropper lol
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Why do you not have a history about Donnie Elbert, are there any accomplishme n t s to write about? It always interests me to know about the singers and where they are now. Thank you!

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