Arguably, the very first vocal soul group and one I've certainly referenced here on the site upon many occasions already ... Despite being a revolving door group for their entire run, nothing but talent walked in and out of The Falcons! Most notably, the incredible Wilson Pickett though Eddie Floyd, Mack Rice and Joe Stubbs were all quite prolific vocalists in their own right; each having glorious stand-out performances scattered amid The Falcons catalog. However, I do think it's safe to say that their most significant and certainly longest running member wasn't a member at all, but rather their producer and manager Mr. Robert West.
The story of the Falcons begins around 1955 when Eddie Floyd and Bob Manardo worked together in a Detroit jewelry store. When things were slow, they practiced singing and finally decided to form a group. Bob (a lead tenor) recruited his friend, baritone Tom Shetler. Eddie (also a lead tenor) brought in second tenor Arnett Robinson. Thus, the original Falcons were a mixed group as Bob and Tom were white. The Falcons (named by Arnett Robinson) were managed by Robert West, who was Eddie Floyd's uncle. The only thing missing now was a bass. Enter Willie Schofield. He was singing bass with a street-corner group that performed at amateur shows. One day, he came to hear the Falcons and, since they sounded much more professional than his group, he was interested enough to join them. Most of the material practiced by the Falcons was in the supper club and modern harmony vein, with some gospel added. They mostly played supper clubs in Detroit, but traveled as far as New Jersey and New York (where they auditioned at the Baby Grand with Dakota Staton). In 1956, the group went to Chicago to audition for Mercury Records. However, on their arrival, they were told that auditions were only held in New York! Through some wheeling and dealing, they managed to audition anyway and the Falcons' recording career began with the issue of their first record in August 1956: ("Baby, That's It"/"This Day"). Their session was produced by Willie Dixon, who had been in the 5 Breezes and the Big Three Trio. Soon after, Bob Manardo was drafted and Tom Shetler decided to enlist. They tried to persuade the others to enlist too, painting glorious pictures of service assignments, but Eddie, Arnett, and Willie were younger and not interested in relinquishing their freedom. Manager Robert West held auditions and the Falcons soon acquired Joe Stubbs, a lead tenor whom they had met during a gig in Canada (right across the river from Detroit). Joe, brother of the Four Tops' Levi Stubbs, brought guitarist Lance Finnie into the group and the Falcons remained with four voices. Before joining the Falcons, Joe and Lance had been with the Fabulous Four (a quintet that also had first tenor "Smitty Boo," second tenor Timothy Peyton, and baritone Richard Beasley). This group, from Detroit's Northern High, had made a record on a small, local unremembered label: "Woe Is Me/Some Say Love"; Joe had done lead on both sides. About a month after Joe and Lance joined, Arnett Robinson left. This time, the Falcons placed an ad in the paper announcing auditions. One who answered was baritone Mack Rice. Mack had been with the 5 Scalders, another group from Northern High. Called the Scalders because "we were so hot," they consisted of Johnny Mayfield (tenor), Sol Tilman (tenor), Gerald Young (tenor), Mack Rice (baritone), and James Bryant (bass). They won first prize in the school's amateur show singing the Clovers' "Hey Miss Fannie," won the 1954 Detroit Tribune's Theatrical Poll, and recorded a couple of records for the local Sugar Hill and Drummond labels in 1956. With the lineup of Joe Stubbs, Eddie Floyd, Mack Rice, Willie Schofield, and Lance Finnie, the classic Falcons group was in place and they could now settle down to serious recording.
The Falcons' next releases were on labels owned by Robert West. There was "Sent Up"/"Can This Be Christmas" on Silhouette in December 1957; "This Heart Of Mine"/"Romanita" on Kudo in May 1958; another Kudo release ("Searching For My Baby" and "Baby Won't You Change Your Mind") as backup to DJ Joltin' Joe Howard; and "You're So Fine"/"Goddess Of Angels" on Flick in January 1959. They had also recorded some sides for Chess around 1958, but nothing was released at the time. Trying anything, West released a 1959 Falcons record as by the "Newports." Deception or not, "Chicky Chop-Chop"/"Hurry-Arthur Murray" failed to chart. The winner was, of course, "You're So Fine." When it started to take off locally West negotiated a deal with Unart (a subsidiary of United Artists). By the time it had peaked, "You're So Fine" had made it to #2 on the R&B charts (in a 20-week run) and #17 Pop. Just to show you what the power of a big name label can do, when the Unart release of "You're So Fine" was reviewed on March 16, 1959, it was rated "excellent"; the identical song on Flick had been rated "good" only the week before! In mid-1959, there was a second Falcons release on Flick (West's deals included the right to retain and market anything already in the can): "You Must Know I Love You"/"That's What I Aim To Do." Then, Unart issued "You're Mine"/"Country Shack" in August. With "You're So Fine" having been such a monster hit, Chess decided to cash in on the Falcons too. However, instead of merely releasing the 1958 masters (which no one was ever satisfied with), Chess had the Falcons come in and re-record the sides. This strategy paid off. When "Just For Your Love"/"This Heart Of Mine" were issued in October 1959, "Just For Your Love" rose to #26 on the R&B charts. In the following year, this record was re-released on Anna, a Detroit label owned by Billy Davis, along with Gwen and Anna Gordy (Berry Gordy's sisters); it was distributed by George Goldner at Gone/End Records. The Falcons were now under contract to United Artists, which issued "The Teacher"/"Waiting For You" in May of 1960. "The Teacher" was a good-sized R&B hit, reaching #18 on the charts. In August, there was "I+Love+You"/"Wonderful Love," but this failed to chart. In the summer of 1960, Wilson Pickett was added to the group and Joe Stubbs was phased out. Willie Schofield found Pickett somewhere and brought him to audition for Robert West. The other guys didn't really like Pickett's sound (which was too much of a gospel/blues treatment) and really wanted to get Marvin Gaye. However, Gaye was unavailable, so they stuck with Pickett. Joe Stubbs went on to sing with the Four Tops, the Contours, and the Originals, although he was in and out of the Falcons (as was Wilson Pickett) for the next three years. Pickett's first lead was "Pow! You're In Love," a song that Sam Cooke had written for Joe Stubbs (although it was decided that Wilson sounded better doing it); Joe was on the session, though. It was released in January 1961, with "Workin' Man's Song" as the flip. In early 1961, the Falcons' 2-year contract with United Artists was up and wasn't renewed. The guys went back to recording for Robert West, on his new Lu-Pine label. In January 1962, he issued "I Found A Love"/"Swim." The Pickett-led "I Found A Love" was another R&B smash, hitting #6 on the charts. Note that at the same time Lu-Pine was releasing Falcons records, they were also issuing solos by Joe Stubbs, Eddie Floyd, and Mack Rice.
Another 1962 release on Lu-Pine found the Falcons backing up Bennie McCain and the Ohio Untouchables on "She's My Heart's Desire"/"What To Do." Meanwhile, West had gotten the Falcons a contract with Atlantic Records (not hard to do, since Atlantic handled the distribution of Lu-Pine). They had a session in April 1962 at which "Lah-Tee-Lah-Tah" and "Darling" were recorded. However, this was during a time when Willie Schofield had left for a while. He was replaced by Ben Knight, formerly of the Imperials on Great Lakes. The record was released in June, but went nowhere. Willie was back in time for the group's second (and last) Atlantic session in October 1962. However, Eddie Floyd wasn't on that one, having been replaced by Gene "Earl" Martin (a cousin of Bill Withers and another alumnus of the Fabulous Four). The songs recorded included "Take This Love I've Got" and "Let's Kiss And Make Up," which were released in February 1963. After this session, Wilson Pickett and Earl Martin left and the classic group reformed (Joe Stubbs, Eddie Floyd, Mack Rice, Willie Schofield, and Lance Finnie). It didn't last long, however; they broke up for good in the early Spring of 1963, when Willie got his draft notice. As well as singing with the Falcons, Eddie Floyd, Mack Rice, Joe Stubbs, and Wilson Pickett each had solo careers. Eddie hit #1 with his "Knock On Wood" for Stax; Mack recorded for several labels as "Sir Mack Rice," and Wilson had five #1 songs for Atlantic: "In The Midnight Hour," "634-5789," "Land Of 1000 Dances," "Funky Broadway," and "Don't Knock My Love." However, back in 1963, Robert West had no Falcons group to record. Acting quickly, he took another one of his groups, the Fabulous Playboys, and renamed them the Falcons. Around April 1963, the Fabulous Playboys (Carlis Monroe, Chester Flemings, Johnny Alvin and James Gibson) were playing Gleason's Lounge in Cleveland, when West told them that his "other" group, the Falcons, had disbanded. Since he owned the name, he wanted to keep it going by renaming the Fabulous Playboys the Falcons. They were reluctant to give up a name that they'd used for seven years, but they realized that, as the Falcons, they could make a lot more money. The Fabulous Playboys finished out the week at Gleason's and returned to Detroit to learn all the Falcons' arrangements. Mack Rice became their road manager to provide a link between the two groups. The new Falcons finished out the Atlantic contract when "Oh Baby"/"Fine Fine Girl" were both recorded and released in October 1963. In 1964, the new Falcons had a single release on Lu-Pine: "Lonely Nights"/"Has It Happened To You Yet." Nothing much happened with the Falcons for another two years. In 1964, Robert West was shot in a dispute over the management of Mary Wells and, needing a long convalescence, could no longer manage them. Frank Kocian became their new manager and recorded them on his Big Wheel label. There were two Big Wheel releases in 1966 and another two in 1967. The third of these, "Standing On Guard" rose to #29 on the R&B charts. These were the last original recordings for the Fabulous Playboys/Falcons. One final 45 "I Just Can't Wait"/"Buy Now Pay Later" as The Firestones was issued on Moira Records in 1968, featuring this Fabulous Playboys/Falcons line-up.
-by Marv Goldberg
I Got A Feeling is the whole frikkin' package and then some! A complete chronology of The Falcons, including a ridiculous amount of unissued recordings, backing efforts, featured solo singles from various members of the classic line-up, more unissued recordings, and the complete recordings of the second Falcons outfit (1963/64-68). On top of that, I gave this collection a little TLC and with the help of Marv's excellent excerpts, took the time to indicate who is singing lead on each track. There's a text doc with corresponding legend to help you sort it out. Almost entirely sourced from FLAC, all files chronicled, cleanly tagged and MP3 @ 320kbs. Thanks kindly to original uploaders, enjoy.