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Little Ben & The Cheers

Little Ben & the Cheers, from Chicago's Southside, recorded at least 15 singles on a variety of labels. Ben Norfleet was the oldest of the teens, who were brothers and cousins: Ben Norfleet (lead), Frank Norfleet (first tenor), John Norfleet (second tenor), and Merlon Norfleet (bass). They were the children of the Norfleet Brothers, a very popular Chicago gospel group. A show at a Chicago high school with the Jacksons, prior to their Motown success, was a career highlight. The Jacksons recorded under another name at the time for Steel Town Records and came over from Gary, IN, to do the show. Due to age and religious background, the Cheers performed at high schools and hops; they didn't play bars or supper clubs and lacked the connections for the star-studded shows at the Regal and other venues. They cut two records for Penny Records produced by Richard Pegue, who recorded with the Norvells; the combo hit locally the first time out with "(I'm Not Ready to) Settle Down" (1967), a big hit in Chicago that never got much play anywhere else. Its successor, "Never More" b/w "I'm Gonna Get Even With You" (1967), didn't do as well and prompted them to sign with Vi Muszynski's, aka "the Record Lady's," Larado Records. Muszynski was the first person to sign the Impressions to a recording contract. She leased them to Vee Jay Records where they hit the first time out with "For Your Precious Love." Unbeknownst to most historians and writers, Muszynski received points for the Vee Jay hit; Ewart Abner ended that arrangement by pulling Jerry Butler from the group and signing him to a solo contract. Abner had legal precedent on his side as Reprise Records signed Tony Williams (Platters) to a solo deal and Mercury Records -- the Platters' label -- sued and lost. Vee Jay issued a few more singles by the Impressions, minus Butler, then dropped them like a hot potato, ending the association with Vi Muszynski. Vee Jay never wanted the Impressions, only Butler. With the monies from "For Your Precious Love," Muszynski started Bandera Records and recorded "Listen for Me" b/w "Shorty's Got to Go" on the Impressions; when it didn't move, they released them from their contract. Nobody thought Curtis Mayfield would become what he became. Ernie Hines and Ben Norfleet wrote the Larado single "Beggar of Love" (1968), a ballad that buzzed locally. Its flip, "Roll That Rig," was a country song originally done on Bandera by B. J. & the Boys. Via some kind of deal, "Beggar of Love" dropped again the same year on Gemini Star Records with "Brown Eyed Devil" riding shotgun, this time credited to the Norfleet Cousins. Even stranger, "Beggar of Love" came out in 1968 again on Rush Records credited as Little Ben & the Cheers. The Norfleet Brothers recorded "The Story of Martin Luther King" on Rush as well; the label was probably a family venture. Rush was unorthodox, they issued the group's next single "Baby You're Mine" three times in 1968 with as many catalog numbers. In June 1968, Rush leased the rights to Bell Records who flung it out there, too. Despite all the attention, it didn't sell many copies. Somewhere in the mix, they recorded a gospel record for Bandera as the Fleetones. The group's lack of success was due to inadequate management, poor promotion, and bad timing. It surely wasn't lack of talent, as Little Ben possessed a blasting tenor similar to Jackie Wilson's. In 1969 they cut "Soul Heaven" on Audio Arts Records as Norfleet. Ben was drafted into the military, hence the name change. Two singles on Okeh Records followed: "I Made up My Mind" b/w "Take Me to Paradise" (1969) and "I'm Glad I Waited" b/w "Can't Let You Do It" (1970), the latter as the Cheers. Sandwiched between the two releases was a reissue of "Settle Down" b/w "Mighty, Mighty Love" on Penny. Ben returned from military duty resulting in "Since You Came Into My Life" on Mocha Records (1974) which showed promise in Chicago and parts of the Midwest but stalled at a paltry 10,000 copies sold. Mocha leased it to Foxcar Records but the venture did nothing to improve sales. A final release "Two Loves" b/w "Never Again" on Nation Records, both written by Ben and John Norfleet, flopped and the underappreciated group gave up the struggle. Ben Norfleet died in the late '70s, some suspected from exposure to Agent Orange while serving in Vietnam. ~ Andrew Hamilton
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