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Maurice Williams & The Zodiacs

Maurice Williams is one of the most extraordinarily durable figures in the history of classic R&B and rock & roll, despite the fact that, as a performer, he only ever racked up one major national hit on the pop charts. That song, "Stay," became one of the classic singles in the history of rock -- a number one hit upon its release in 1960 on Al Silver's Herald label, and a popular favorite for decades since, revived in 1987 with its prominent use in the movie Dirty Dancing. Maurice Williams & the Zodiacs recorded only two more minor pop hits before they disappeared from the charts, but Williams has remained active as a performer and, periodically, as a recording artist and songwriter ever since.

Williams was born in Lancaster, SC, on April 26, 1938, and showed himself musically inclined from a very early age -- he started learning the piano from his older sister in the late '40s, practicing daily so that by the time he was ten years old he was having friends from elementary school over for informal jam sessions at his house. Williams had sung in church, but his interest lay more in popular music, and in 1953, he and his friends were ready to form a group that they called the Royal Charms. The group's original membership, in addition to Williams, included Earl Gainey (tenor, guitar), Willie Jones (baritone), William Massey (tenor, baritone, trumpet), and Norman Wade (bass). They played school events and talent shows, winning several and acquiring a local following, before they finally got a paying gig at the local Veterans of Foreign Wars post. The year they'd started out, 1953, Williams had also written two songs that were to have a pivotal effect on his life and career, and the group's history: "Little Darling" and "Stay."

The Royal Charms loved performing, and were popular locally, but working the area around Lancaster, they found their prospects limited. The group's first real break took place in 1956 when a Nashville disc jockey hooked them up with Ernie Young, the head of Excello Records -- Williams, then only 16, bluffed his way into an audition over the phone and then had to raise money from friends and local merchants in Lancaster to make the trip to Nashville in December of 1956.

"Little Darling" impressed Young, although he altered it somewhat, giving the song a calypso beat that it didn't originally have. He also insisted on the group changing its name -- it seemed as though every R&B vocal group (the word "doo wop" hadn't been invented yet) had either "Royal" or "Charms" in its name, and bird-named groups were too common as well. Young happened to like flowers, and selected the name the Gladiolas.

"Little Darling" by the Gladiolas was released by Excello in January of 1957 and was a hit on the R&B charts, rising to number 11 in a four-week run in the early spring of that year. It had a more muted presence on the pop charts, lingering there for 11 weeks but never getting higher than number 41.

What happened next is a matter of interpretation. In some historians' eyes, the Gladiolas' version of the song was undercut by a competing rendition, recorded for Mercury by a white Canadian group called the Diamonds, which rose to number one on the pop charts and sold more than a million copies, even becoming a definitive "doo wop"-type single. On the other hand, some listeners, comparing the two versions, say that the Diamonds' version is more fully realized than that by the Gladiolas, not only with a more ambitious arrangement and greater vocal virtuosity, but a better sound; the Gladiolas' single, by contrast, almost seems like a demo, only partly realized in technical terms.

Regardless of the virtues of either, Williams, for his part, never minded the Diamonds' version, because Young -- in an example of honesty all too rare in the record business in those days -- told him that, as writer of the song, all he should care about is that it sells and gets played, not whose version sells. Young had also left him with full rights as songwriter, rather than trying to buy them away from him, which Williams admits he could've done for practically no money at all in those days. It was a decision that was to earn Williams a vast amount of money at the age of 17 and beyond, and educated him painlessly and well about the business side of the music business.

Williams was a serious high school student, and he earned a music scholarship to Allen University in Columbia, SC, that he had to turn down -- he was simply doing too much in music to interrupt his career, tempting as it was. The Gladiolas kept performing, touring the West once before returning to South Carolina, where they became a heavy favorite among fraternities, especially at the University of South Carolina. At the end of 1958, the group decided against re-signing with Excello, which meant they had to give up their name, which Young owned. This could have been a disaster, forcing them to re-establish themselves in a new incarnation, but a name and a song, courtesy of Williams, made that easy. According to Williams, it was group member Bobby Gore who saw a German car called a Zodiac, and immediately seized on the name -- Maurice Williams & the Zodiacs became the group's new identity.

Over the next year, the original Zodiacs' lineup expanded to nine members, including two saxmen (Calvin McKinnie, Harold Alexander). In 1960, the band hooked up with Al Silver of Herald Records in New York, by way of producers Phil Gernhardt and Al McCullough. The group was supposed to provide demos, and Williams retrieved a song he'd written back in 1953 -- strangely enough, to the same girl for whom he'd written "Little Darling" -- called "Stay" and present it to Silver.

The group signed with Herald and "Stay," sparked by a stunning falsetto performance by Shane Gaston, became their debut on the label during the summer of 1960. It hit number one that fall and easily topped a million sales at the time, also becoming the biggest hit in the history of Herald Records. Williams & the Zodiacs never had another record nearly as big as "Stay," which came out at just the right moment and seemed to sell in subsequent years at the drop of a hat, as a romantic and nostalgia favorite -- by some estimates, their record has topped ten million sales internationally. Additionally, other artists, including the Four Seasons, Jackson Browne, and Rufus & Chaka Khan, all made the Top 20 or better with their respective versions of the song, and the Hollies cut it as a single at the outset of their career.

The Zodiacs didn't fare as well as the song. "I Remember," also released on Herald, never made it past number 86 on the pop charts and didn't appear on the R&B charts at all. Neither did "Come Along," which was released in the spring of 1961 and only climbed to number 83 on the pop charts. During the mid-'60s, the group hooked up with the New Orleans-based production team of Marshall Sehorn and Allen Toussaint. With their guidance, the group cut a passionate, soulful recording of Williams' "May I," a dazzlingly beautiful song that held a lot of promise. Unfortunately, they chose to license it to Vee Jay, which was then the most successful black-owned record company in the world. But Vee Jay went into bankruptcy within days of the record's national release, and "May I" never recovered -- the record did get out on the Dee Su label in New Orleans, which rescued it physically from oblivion, and it found an audience on the radio. It has been certified a million-seller by the RIAA, despite never managing to appear on either the pop or R&B charts. Five years later, it became a modest Top 40 hit in a smoother version by Bill Deal & the Rhondels, a white dance-rock and R&B-based band from the Virginia-Carolinas area who'd been doing it on stage for years. The group subsequently released records on Atlantic, Sea-Horn, and Scepter, including a fine single, "Return," with Gladys Knight & the Pips singing behind them. Williams saw minimal chart action from any of this, but remained active -- Maurice Williams & the Zodiacs were still a major draw in the South, especially in their native state, and in 1965 cut a live album at Myrtle Beach, SC.

Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, Williams led various incarnations of the Zodiacs on oldies tours, primarily on the beach music circuit on the U.S. East Coast. In the wake of Dirty Dancing, which yielded sales of another eight million copies of "Stay," he re-emerged as a recording artist on the Ripete label, based in Columbia, SC, which specializes in beach music (they've also got a best-of the Swinging Medallions out on CD). Ripete has since released the impossible-to-find 1965 live album on CD, and an excellent career anthology of Maurice Williams & the Zodiacs. ~ Bruce Eder & Stephen Thomas Erlewine, Rovi
full bio

Comments

hgonzalez305
yes, we want lyrics...... . . .
Kiss you left hand2 times post this2 and a pink ipod will appear under your pillow
we want lyrics
Kiss your left hand2 times post this2 and a pink iPod will be under your pillow
Kiss your left hand2 times post this3 and a pink iPod. Will be under your pillow
Kiss your left hand2 times post this2 and a pink iPod will be under your pillow
Saw them at Elliots Nest in Chapel Hill NC early 80's. He picked a guy out of the crowd in the middle of a song and gave him the mike. The guy finished the song just as good as Maurice could have. Our jaws were on the floor till Maurice introduced him, Lead singer of the Catalina's..
Classic music!
Let's dance I'm staying
stay just a little bit longer -yeh
p.greer22
The history behind Mr. Williams & The Zodiacs is awesome. A true test of perserverenc e !
ceneberg2014
Iti,so,,good , I , l o , v e , , t h e 5 0 a n a , ,
Maurice Williams & the Zodiacs were, & will ALWAYS BE, the REAL THING!!!!! :-)
Today's music sucks!!!!!
I LOVE YOUR SONG CALLED STAY!!!!!! BEST SKNG EVER <3
MY YOUNGER SON LOVE THIS SONG AND DO TOO SMILE....
Sure wish I could go back to when this was a hit, I had one of the best times in My life!
I'm past 60, & my brain walked out on me years ago, without even saying goodbye!!!
( People told me they noticed the improvement. . ..)
In my hometown there's a street named Maurice Williams Drive; the same street my parents lived on when I was born!!! :-D :-D :-D :-D :-D
I don't want people to think I don't know what year this song came out, it was 1960 not 1962. Just was a brain f*rt (when you get past 60 you get a lot of these)
Ah 1962 what a good year love this song!
I love all the oldies but goodies. They take you back to the real world of music. Glenda Flowers
This music will live forever.
excellent music ! I think there are some good race horse names hidden in the lyrics !!
nicko252008
This music will never die
I love this song
The Diamonds' big hit of "Little Darling" was LAME compared 2 the original by the Gladiolas! I loved it then,& I love it now! Thank u, Mr. Williams & co---u r loved!!!
The guy is like a black Frankie Valli!
great song great artist
What sevillaangle 1 said
brucefrancoi s
So much writing about so little.
When They Rebuild It
Wow, this is #Classical RnB. Follow me on Twitter: @Courage2Bel i e v e or Like me on Facebook: http://www.f a c e b o o k . c o m / T h e C o u r a g e T o B e l i e v e
Don't read this because it actually works. You will be kissed on the nearest possible Friday by the love of you life. Tomorrow will be the best day of your life. However if you don't post this you will die in 2 days. Now you've started reading so don't stop. This is so scary put this on at least 5 songs in 143 minutes. When done press f6 and your lover's name will come on the screen in big letters. This is so scary because it actually works
Maurice Williams song Come Along sounds like his song Stay!!
Easy to figure out where 4 Seasons got their inspiration.
His voice is amazing
Good tune!! ❌⭕❌⭕
take me back take me back
This song is not cool at all.. Oldies big time
kvons1
Memories of youth---this IS an oldie!
Dirty dancing♥♥ love this song!
I remember hearing "Stay" when I was 8 years old !
big hit in Pittsburgh
Awesome song
Beautiful song
great artists
I love all the Artists
love it
Makes me think of my high school girl Lorna!
Wow these songs bring back so many memories of the fifties. Some good and some very sad.
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