The Olympics

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.

The Olympics

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Video:  1965 Hollywood A GO GO TV Show, Hully Gully/
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Video:  1965 Shindig (yes that is Billy Preston on the Organ) Good Lovin’ (yes before the Young Rascals)
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Video:  Western Movies 2002 with only Eddie Lewis as a surviving member/
1.  Western Movies/ Demon 1508/ August 1958/ #8
2.  (I wanna) Dance with the Teacher/ January 1959/ #71
3.  Private Eye/ September 1959/ #95
4.  (Baby) Hully Gully/ March 1960/ #72
5.  Big Boy Pete/ June 1960/ #50 #10 R&B
6.  Shimmy Like Kate/ October 1960/ # 42
7.  The Bounce/ Tri Disc 106/ April 1963/ #40
8.  Soul Dancer/ July 1966/ Mirwood.
Originally known as “the Challengers”, this adaptable vocal group,  was formed in Compton, California, in 1954:
  • 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.

1.  Western Movies/ Demon 1508/ August 1958/ #8

The same was true of ‘Private Eye’, another laconic tribute to 50s pulp-fiction culture,

3.  Private Eye/ September 1959/ #95

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.

5.  Big Boy Pete/ June 1960/ #50 #10 R&B

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).

7.  The Bounce/ Tri Disc 106/ April 1963/ #40

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.

–o–

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One response to “The Olympics

  1. Pingback: A-Z Billboard Singles – Letter O | Russ & Gary's "The Best Years of Music"

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