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By the fall of 1956, they were calling themselves the Mellotones, gaining attention in the local area and catching the ear of a black pianist named Dick Levister, who offered to become the group's manager and accompany them during live performances. It was Levister who brought them to the attention of Al Silver, who owned both the Herald and Ember labels, which had been up and running since 1952. Both New York-based labels specialized in vocal group records.
Silver, one of the pioneering R&B label owners, had by this point already recorded and released numerous hit singles by acts on both Herald and Ember, including the Nutmegs (whose 1955 R&B smash hit "Story Untold" made it to number two in the nation), the Five Satins (whose "In the Still of the Night," a smash in 1956, had been leased to Ember; they later scored a hit for the label with "To the Aisle," a Top Ten R&B hit -- number 25 pop -- in the summer of 1957), and the Turbans (whose "When You Dance" was the group's best charter for Herald"). Silver liked what he heard and the group -- with their trademark white jackets (at Levister's insistence, supposedly) -- helped them forge an identity with the teenage public. For the Mellotones' first release, Silver chose a tune called "Tonite, Tonite" (Herald number 502), written by Billy Myles (who also penned "All My Love You Were Made For" with Jackie Wilson). It was released during the summer of 1957 and became an immediate regional smash hit. Unfortunately, Silver discovered too late that there was already a record out that summer on George Goldner's Gee label by a group called the Mello-Tones, (their "Rosie Lee" later climbed into the Top 24 on the pop charts). A quick name change was in order and using Levister's nickname "King," "Tonite, Tonite" (Herald number 502) was quickly re-released as by the Mello-Kings. The single was a big seller in the Northeast, again having regional ties. They made more than one TV appearance with Dick Clark on both the daily American Bandstand and his weekly Saturday Night show for ABC network.
Late in 1957, the Mello-Kings recorded their next single, "The Chapel on the Hill," which failed to earn them much additional success. Their next single, "Baby Tell Me Why Why Why" also missed. However, their next single, "Valerie," became a regional hit in the New York area on its way to becoming a classic example of doo wop despite the fact that it didn't chart nationally. At the height of their popularity, they were added to "package" tours, where they performed alongside acts like the Channels, the Dells, the Flamingos, the Spaniels, and labelmates the Five Satins.
The success of "Tonite, Tonite" and to a lesser extent, "Valerie," however, earned them a slot on Herald's first compilation of hits, a full-length LP entitled Herald the Beat, which featured hits by the Turbans, Nutmegs, Faye Adams, and unabashedly gay vocal duo Charlie & Ray. Sales of the excellent LP helped improved the Mello-Kings' visibility on the music scene in 1958. Their label continued to issue the Mello-Kings' lone hit on all subsequent compilation albums.
The group began going through some personnel changes shortly thereafter, and despite releasing five more singles on the Herald label from 1959 to 1961 while continuing to score hits with groups like the Silhouettes "Get a Job" and Maurice Williams and the Zodiacs ("Stay,") to name two, no further hits were forthcoming for the Mello-Kings.
The Mello-Kings made a final appearance during one of Richard Nader's very first revival shows in 1969; they can be heard reprising "Tonite, Tonite" on the Kama Sutra release of the live recording. They subsequently broke up. Bob Scholl died in a boating accident on August 27, 1975, in New York. ~ Bryan Thomas
Track List: Tonight, Tonight
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