The Story and Music of The Exciters


Introduction to The Exciters

The Exciters were a 60s music era R&B/soul group consisting of three female members – Brenda Reid, Carolyn Johnson and Lillian Walker – and one male member, Herb Rooney (who would also become Reid’s husband). Originally an all-girl act, Reid, Johnson and Walker were still teenagers when they founded the group together with another girl Sylvia Wilbur. They first dubbed themselves as the Masterettes as a female counterpart to a doo-wop combo The Masters (of “A Man Is Not Supposed to Cry” fame). After the departure of Wilbur, a few lineup changes and the addition of Rooney, they were now billed as The Exciters. The Leiber & Stoller-produced single “Tell Him” provided the Exciters their first (and only) solid hit, reaching the Top 10 pop chart in 1962. Their subsequent singles – “He’s Got The Power,” “Get Him,” “Blowing Up My Mind” and the original version of “Do-Wah-Diddy” – performed less successfully. Nevertheless, The Exciters figured quite significantly in Britain’s Northern Soul scene. British beat group Manfred Mann’s cover of “Do-Wah-Diddy” became a hit in 1964. Dusty Springfield’s change of musical direction was inspired by hearing “Tell Him” on a chance. The Exciters’ 1975 single “Reaching For The Best” peaked at #31 on the UK singles chart, although the song was tailored to aim towards Northern Soul fans.

The Exciters’ early life and formation

Best remembered for their 1963 breakthrough hit “Tell Him,” The Exciters were an American doo-wop group existing in the early 1960. They consisted of Carolyn Johnson, Lillian Walker and the couple Herb Rooney and Brenda Reid. Formed in 1961 in Queens, New York, the female members attended high school together and initially started as The Masterettes (a sister group of the Masters). However, Wilbur left the group in 1962, being replaced by Penny Carter. The Masterettes passed the audition for the songwriting and record producing partners Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller. Later, Carter left and was replaced by the Masters member Rooney, whom later Reid met and eventually married.

The Exciters hitting the charts with “Tell Him”

Signing to United Artists in late 1962, the group changed its name into The Exciters. That was also the same year when The Exciters released their debut single “Tell Him” that would also become their biggest hit single. Arranged by George “Teacho” Wiltshire, the song peaked at #4 on the Billboard Hot 100 in early 1963.

“Tell Him” was actually first recorded by Gil Hamilton (also known Johnny Thunder) but it failed to become a hit. The Exciters’ version of the song lifted the perception of the female singers during that time as well. It was also the reason why singer Dusty Springfield chose to become a pop/soul artist. Before the Exciters left United Artists, further minor pop hits were released including “He’s Got the Power” (#57, 1963), “Get Him” (#76, 1963) and “Do-Wah-Diddy” (#78, 1964).

The Exciters on other labels and later years

In 1965, The Exciters released their first single for Roulette Records which was a cover of “I Want You to Be My Boy,” a Frankie Lymon & the Teenagers original. It charted very low on the pop charts at #98. Until the end of the 1960’s, they recorded for a variety of labels such as Bang, Shout and RCA. Most of their later releases were unnoticeable. However, their single for Bang called “A Little Bit of Soap” peaked at #58 on the pop charts. Around that point, Johnson and Walker left The Exciters and were replaced by Ronnie Pace and Skip McPhee. They group finally called it quits on 1974.

Still being credited as The Exciters, the couple Brenda and Rooney released a single in 1975 entitled “Reaching for the Best.” The song was actually aiming the Northern Soul scene but it also became a big pop hit in the UK, reaching #31 there. In 1978, the two were credited as Brenda & Herb and a hit with “Tonight I’m Gonna Make You a Star.” When the pair separated, Reid gathered some of his family members and formed a new version of The Exciters. Reid and Walker are still performing occasionally, still being billed as The Exciters.

Rooney, the only male in the group, died in the early 1990’s. Johnson died at the age of 62 on May 7, 2002. Brenda and her son from Herb, Mark Cory Rooney are now music business executives.

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