Brief introduction to the Blue Jays
The Blue Jays were an American vocal doo-woop group who surfaced fleetingly in the 1960s. Hailing from Venice, California, the group consisted of Leon Peels (who came from Newport, Arkansas), Van Richardson, Alex Manigo and Leonard Davidson. They formed n 1961, and landed a record deal with Milestone Records. Their only hit was their debut single “Lover’s Island” which broke into the Top 40 in 1961. But their subsequent singles failed to chart and shortly after The Blue Jays were no more, going down to history as a one-hit wonder.
The formation of the Blue Jays
The short-lived vocal group the Blue Jays ideally epitomize the transition from 1950s R&B to 1960s soul by performing doo-wop-styled songs with a gospel-styled lead vocal.
The Blue Jays consisted of Leon Peels (born on October 18, 1936 in Newport, Arkansas), Van Richardson, Alex Manigo (or Manigeault), and Leonard Davidson (also known as “Len” or “Tree Tall Len”). They were formed in Venice, California in 1961, and at the same year they got their recording contract with Milestone label, owned by country artist Werly Fairburn. Milestone, whose line of artists composed of rockabilly artists, had tasted a big success with “Diamonds and Pearls” by the Paradons. The Blue Jays are sometimes called Leon Peels and the Blue Jays.
“Lovers Island” — the Blue Jays’ only charting single
The Blue Jays released their first single also in 1961 entitled “Lovers Island,” penned by Peels and Manigo. Some consider this song to be one of the last true doo-wop songs, but in retrospect, you could see more than just a semblance of soul in Peels’ singing, carried out in a gospel style.
“Lovers Island” provided the Blue Jays with their first and only hit (and charting single), peaking at #31 on the Billboard Hot 100’s Top 40 chart in 1961. It also did well regionally, especially around Los Angeles’ R&B singles rankings.
Later career and disbandment
“Lovers Island” seemed to be a beautiful and fitting farewell for the doo-wop era. The Blue Jays’ other singles were also excellent, such as “Tears are Falling,” and “The Right to Love.” However, these didn’t go anywhere commercially, and not long after the Blue Jays quit for good in early 1962, and they are pegged as a one-hit wonder.
Soon after the breakup, Leon Peels launched a short-lived solo career, signing up with Whirlybird Records. He recorded a handful of singles including “On a Magic Island.” Peels continued working in the music industry as well as did a variety of occupations. He died on April 10, 1999 after a battle with cancer
List of Blue Jays recordings
(Note: this list may be impartial and incomplete, so feel free to contribute if you know more of the Blue Jays’ recordings)
1. The Blue Jays’ records (all on Milestone label)
- “Lovers Island” b/w “You’re Gonna Cry”
- “Tears Are Falling” b/w “Tree Tall Len”
- “Rock Rock Rock” b/w “Let’s Make Love”
- “The Right to Love” b/w “Rock Rock Rock”
- Milestone also issued a joint album of the Blue Jays and the Paradons.
2. There are also records that jointly feature the Blue Jays, the Paradons, and the Sentimentals, released by Collectable Records Corporation (aka Collectables)
- “Diamonds and Pearls” (The Paradons) b/w “Lovers Island” (The Blue Jays)
- “The White Cliffs of Dover” (The Blue Jays) b/w “I Want to Love You” (The Sentimentals)
- An album featuring the Blue Jays and the Paradons titled The Blue Jays Meet the Paradons.
3. Another record of the group was released on Classic Artists Recordings (as Leon Peels and the BlueJays):
- “Alice from Above” b/w “Once Upon a Love