L.A. R&B legend Jackie Lee's career was intrinsically connected to two other L.A. vocalists in particular, Bobby Byrd (aka Bobby Day) and Bobby Relf, but his biggest solo success was recorded without help from either one.During the early to mid-'60s, he recorded solo R&B tracks under a various names, including Jay Dee, Earl Cosby, Chip Nelson, and finally, as Jackie Lee. It was under this name that Nelson scored his biggest solo hit with the popular R&B dance number "The Duck," waxed in 1965 for Mirwood Records.
Lee started out as a member of numerous West Coast doo wop and R&B groups, appearing under his real name (Earl Nelson), beginning with the Bobby Byrd's Hollywood Flames (that's Nelson singing lead on "Buzz, Buzz, Buzz," in fact, the group's number 18 pop hit for Ebb Records in 1958). After Bobby Byrd left (he was replaced by Bobby Relf) to continue to record solo hits Class Records -- including "That's All I Want" and "The Bluebird, the Buzzard, and the Oriole," in 1959 -- Nelson's Flames/Satellites continued recording for both Class and Ebb until 1959.
By 1960, however, Nelson and the Hollywood Flames weren't quite ready to be extinguished, eventually signing with Atlantic's Atco subsidiary before ending up on Edsel Records. At this point, Nelson and Bobby Day both ventured off to form a duo called Bob & Earl. Day left the duo before they produced any hits, however, and Nelson soon re-configured the act with a second "Bob," former Flame Bobby Relf. (Relf had been quite busy recording under a whole roster of identities, waxing singles as a solo artist under the names Bobby Garrett and as Bobby Valentino). Relf & Earl Nelson's lone Bob & Earl hit, "Harlem Shuffle," was a minor-key rumbler featuring a young Barry White on piano. The duo's vocal interplay presaged the talented Stax Records duo Sam & Dave, while the lyrics provided the listener with instructional R&B dance moves for a dance which was also called the Harlem Shuffle. Reportedly produced by Fred Smith -- a talented R&B producer and songwriter, who had previously written hits with partner Cliff Goldsmith and produced both Little Caesar & the Romans ("Those Oldies but Goodies [Reminds Me of You]") and the Olympics ("Hully Gully," "Western Movies"), among others -- and arranged by White, "Harlem Shuffle" was originally released in the U.S. on the Marc label (Marc 144), one of the several L.A.-based labels for which Bob & Earl recorded in 1964. The song climbed into the lower rungs of the U.S. Top 40 (number 36, Cashbox/number 44 Billboard) before slipping off the charts.
In 1965, Nelson teamed up with White and Fred Smith for a single called "The Duck," which was issued by Nelson under the name Jackie Lee (Jackie was Earl's wife's name and Lee his own middle name). The "Duck" single -- spinning off on an orbit of its own due to the success of then-popular dance hits -- was such a huge hit that Jackie Lee and company quickly recorded a full-length, cash-in album for Mirwood which featured a whole slew of related "Duck" ditties and covers of popular dance-related titles, plus a new version of "Harlem Shuffle" and a remake of "Hully Gully."
Meanwhile, Bob & Earl's "Harlem Shuffle" had gone on to achieve its biggest success when it was re-released as a single, in 1969, where it became a Top Ten U.K. hit (number seven pop). Since its 1963 debut on the Marc logo, "Harlem Shuffle" has attracted high-profile cover versions by everyone from the Righteous Brothers, Edgar Winter, platinum-coiffed Georgia rocker Wayne Cochran, to the Rolling Stones, who revived it in 1986 for their Dirty Work LP.
Nelson (aka Jackie Lee) continued to have a thriving career in music but failed to have any hits after "The Duck." ~ Bryan Thomas