This would be one of my favourite (Gary) R&B singing groups of the late fifties. It would be hard to categorize the reason why, but there was just something about them that I enjoyed.
- Walter ‘Sleepy’ Ward (28 August 1940, Jackson, Mississippi, USA, d. 11 December 2006, Northridge, California, USA; lead),
- Eddie Lewis (b. Houston, Texas, USA; tenor),
- Charles Fizer (b. 6 June 1940, Shreveport, Louisiana, USA, d. 14 August 1965, Los Angeles, California, USA; baritone) and
- Walter Hammond (baritone),
They recorded one single (‘I Can Tell’) for Melatone Records as “the Challengers” before changing their name.
The Olympics’ finest moment came with ‘Western Movies’ (1958), a humorous novelty disc in the vein of the Coasters and the Clovers, which reached the pop Top 10 in the USA and Top 20 in the UK. The song was produced and co-written by Fred Smith, who later worked with Bob And Earl.
The same was true of ‘Private Eye’, another laconic tribute to 50s pulp-fiction culture,
but it was 1960 before the group claimed another major US hit with ‘Big Boy Pete’, by which time Thomas Busch and then Melvin King (b. Shreveport, Louisiana, USA), had replaced Walter Hammond. King had occasionally stood in for Fizer during the late 50s.
The Olympics later went on to have hits with such dance floor favourites as ‘The Bounce’ (1963) and ‘Good Lovin’’ (1965 – later successfully covered by the Young Rascals).
In 1965, lead vocalist Fizer, who had been in and out of the group and whose troubled life had already resulted in a prison sentence for drugs possession, was shot by the National Guard during the Watts riots.
King, whose sister was also killed, left shortly afterwards.
Ward and Lewis carried on with Mack Starr aka Julius McMichael (b. 25 November 1935, USA, d. June 1981; ex-Paragons), with the trio enjoying one last national pop/R&B hit with ‘Baby Do The Philly Dog’ (1966) before being drawn towards the ‘oldies’ circuit.
Kenny Sinclair joined in 1971 to make the group a quartet once more.
Starr was killed in a motorcycle accident in 1981 and was replaced by William DeVase.