The Career and Music of The Hollywood Flames

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Introduction

The Hollywood Flames were an American doo-wop/R&B vocal group formed in Los Angeles, California in 1949. The original lineup consisted of Bobby Byrd, David Ford, Curlee Dinkins, and Willie Ray Rockwell, but the lineup would frequently fluctuate. As often as their roster changes, the Hollywood Flames had also used several monickers as they recorded prolifically under many labels – Alco, Selective, Aladdin, Specialty, Class Records, Lucky, Swingtime, Hollywood, and Chess Records among many others. The band scored their highest hit with “Buzz Buzz Buzz” which entered the Top 20 pop chart and Top 10 soul chart in 1957. It was sung by one of the band’s erstwhile members Earl Nelson (who would later form the duo Bob and Earl). The Hollywood Flames managed to churn out one more hit with “Gee” in 1961, and they would record for a few more years before disbanding in 1967.

Early years as The Flames and their formation

The Hollywood Flames were an American R&B vocal group formed in Watts, Los Angeles in 1949, and would be active during the 50s music and 60s music scene. The first lineup consisted of Bobby Byrd, David Ford, Curlee Dinkins and Willie Ray Rockwell. The quartet was also formerly known as the The Flames when they were just amateurs, joining a talent show in high school. They had their first paying gig at in LA’s Barrelhouse Club owned by Johnny Otis, and had one record for Selective Records the in 1950. At such an early point as a group, the Hollywood Flames never had a steady formation. For a short time, Rockwell was sometimes replaced by Clyde Tillis and later by Gaynel Hodge while Dinkins was later replaced by Curtis Williams.

Around 1954, The Hollywood Flames had been recording and billed in different names such as The Turks, The Jets and The Sounds. Meanwhile, Ford and Hodge worked with Jesse Belvin and Alex Hodge (Gaynel’s brother) as The Tanglers. In 1955, Hodge left The Hollywood Flames, focused on The Turks. However Hodge’s slot was replaced by Earl Nelson. During that point, Earl had just recorded with Byrd as the Voices which eventually changed to Bob & Earl.

The Hollywood Flames’ recordings, side projects and hit singles

With the formation by Byrd (renamed as “Bobby Day”), Ford Dinkins and Belvin, The Hollywood Flames was signed to Class Records in 1957. Nonetheless, they recorded under these names: Bobby Day & the Satellites and Earl Nelson & the Pelicans.

In 1958, The Hollywood Flames released “Buzz Buzz Buzz” that would become their first hit. The song, which was co-wrote by Byrd, peaked at #5 on R&B chart while it was at #11 on the Billboard Hot 100. “Buzz Buzz Buzz”‘s flipside “Crazy” hit the pop chart as well at #11 later that year. Despite of the success, Byrd left the group to pursue his other band and his solo career.  Shortly, it was also followed by Curtis William’s departure.

Recruiting two new members in 1958, who were Eddie Williams (ex-lead of the Alladins) and Ray Brewster (ex-Penguins), they flew to New York and signed a contract offered by Atco’s subsidiary Atlantic Records. This time led by Earl Nelson, they released “Every Day, Every Way” as their first single for Atco. To promote the record, they also had an appearance at the prestigious Apollo Theater along with other big names in the industry by that time. However, they never had a hit song for Atco until they got signed for Chess imprint in 1961. The song “Gee” was their last entry on the R&B chart at #26.

For the next five years, they were still constantly releasing singles and changing personnel except for Ford. The Hollywood Flames disbanded in 1967. Nelson (Jackie Lee) died on July 12, 2008.

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