• The Willows (1) aka The Five Willows

    Top : John Thomas Steele and Ralph Martin - Bottom : Tony Middleton, Joe Martin and Richie Davis

    The Willows (1) aka The Five Willows (Harlem, New York)


    Personnel :

    Tony Middleton(Lead)

    Richie Davis(First Tenor)

    Ralph Martin(First Tenor)

    Joe Martin(Baritone)

    John Thomas “Scooter" Steele(Bass)


    Discography :

    The Five Willows
    1953 - My Dear, Dearest Darling / Rock Little Francis(Allen 1000 / Lost-Nite 174)
    1953 - Dolores / All Night Long(Allen 1002 / Lost-Nite 183)
    1953 - The White Cliffs Of Dover / With These Hands(Allen 1003 / Lost-Nite 187)
    1953 - Love Bells / Please Baby(Pee Dee 290 / Lost-Nite 192)
    1954 - Lay Your Head On My Shoulder / Baby, Come A Little Bit Closer(Herald 433)
    1955 - Look Me In The Eyes / So Help Me(Herald 442)

    The Willows (1)
    Singles :
    1956 - This Is The End / Don't Pull, Don't Push, Don't Shove(Club 1014/michelle 501)
    1956 - Church Bells Are Ringing / Baby Tell Me(Melba 102)
    1956 - Church Bells May Ring / Baby Tell Me(Melba 102)
    1956 - Do You Love Me /  My Angel (Melba 106)
    1957 - My Angel / Little Darlin'(Melba 115)
    1959 - This Is The End / Dont Push, Don't Pull (Michelle 501)
    1959 - You / My Dear, Dearest Darling (Warwick 524)
    1961 - There's A Dance Goin' On / Now That I Have You (Four Star 1753)
    1964 - It's Such A Shame / Tears In Your Eyes (Heidi 103)
    1964 - Sit By The Fire / Such A Night (Heidi 107)
    Unreleased :
    1957 - Fooled By Her Kisses/ Lazy Daisy (Mercury)

    Tony Middleton & The Willows (1)
    1957 - First Taste Of Love / Only My Heart (Eldorado Eld 508)
    1957 - Let's Fall In Love / Say Yeah (Gone 5015)

    Tony Middleton
    1958 - I'm On My Way / Lover (Saxony 104)
    1959 - Count Your Blessings (See What Love Has Done) / I Just Want Somebody (Triumph 600)
    1959 - The Universe / Blackjack (Triumph 605)
    1960 - Untouchable / I Need You (Alto 2001)
    1960 - Unchained Melody / Sweet Baby Of Mine (Big Top 3037)
    1961 - I'm Gonna Try Love (One More Time) / Is It This Or Is It That (Roulette 4345)


    The Story of The Willows goes back to 114th Street in Harlem, where Tony Middleton (born June 26, 1934) in Richmond,Virgin) lived in I952. He received an invitation to Mrs. Clarisse Martin's house on 115th Street while he was training his boxing at a local gym. Mrs. Martin's twin sons, Joe and Ralph were rehearshing under her guidance with John Thomas “Scuotem Steele (bass) and Richie Davis (1. tenor)  . Being very impressed by Tony‘s fancy footwork and choreography in the ring she knew for sure that the chance to archive some success with this guy in the group would be great - if she could teach them assiduity and discipline. Having been the main impulse behind the recording career of The Willows from 1952 to 1965, she let them practise every day. So you could find the group singing at the corner of 115th and Lenox Ave. in hospitals,at church benefits and at dances at the Chelsea Vocational High School. While still known as “The Dovers», they sometimes used Doc Green as additional singer. One of Green's favourite songs was “The Whiffenpoof Song" by the Cabineers, and so the group decided to try their luck with the same company the Cabineers had recorded for. Abbey Records under the management of Pete &, Goldie Durain had meanwhile moved and changed its name to Allen Records.

    The Willows (1) aka The Five Willows

    The first release for Allen under the name of The Five Willows was the street song "My Dear, Dearest Darling", introducing for the first time the famous bass intro by John Thomas “Scooter" Steele to the public. This gimmick was carefully planned to be their trademark. later reviewed in "Little Darlin'" and "Do You Love Me". Billboard magazine called this release in June “kinda weird and somewhat hypnotic", and so you can hear the group sometimes out of key, while the flipside "Rock Little Francis" (the obligary iump) sounds amateurish, but nevertheless interesting.  Tony was also featured as lead on "The White Cliffs Of Dover". While he shared the vocals with Richie on "Dolores"  - the latter coupled with "All Night Long" on their second Allen release in September.  At the end of 1953, their third Allen record was out, but again no chart entries were noted for "With These Hands" (lead by Richie). When Pete Durain decided to part business with Mr. Allen. The Willows went with him and recorded their next release for Pee Dee Records in early 1954, entitled "Love Bells" b/w "Please Baby". Pete Durain himself went out of business in 19510, but the group was able to record four sides for Herald  in the same style, but again without success.

    The Willows (1) aka The Five Willows

    When Tony met Morty Craft in 1955, who had just left his partners at London Records to form his own Melba label, a chance to record again was in sight. TheWillows  (as they were known now, just dropping the “Five") offered him a ballad entitled CHURCH BELLS MAY RING. which was written by Tony from an idea of his wife Betty. When first released as "Church Bells May Ring"  (mislabeled on early copies), it had transformed into a wonderful rocking tune with a now famous bass bridge (“Hello hello again,my friend, I'm hopin‘ that we'll meet again"). close harmony-and as a gimmick chimes (played by the still unknown Neil Sedaka from a suggestion by Morty Craft) plus a shuffle rhythm. Hitting the R&B charts on April 18,1956, the song reached no. 11 and stayed for 2 weeks, but it had more success before on the pop charts, first appearing at no. 74: on March 28 then climbing to the middle of the Top 100 listing. Soon cover versions by The Cadets. Sunny Gale and The Diamonds followed, and The Diamonds' version nearly outsold The Willows original on all main markets.

    The Willows (1) aka The Five Willows
    1956 at the Alan Freed Easter Show - The Brooklyn Paramout : T.Middleton, R. Martin, F. Donovan, Ri. Davis and J. Martin

    The same story happened again, and so the guys didn‘t get paid more then S 200 for their million seller, even after they took Morty Craft to court, where he declared bankruptcy then. Ironically. the bass bridge at the hit song was sung by Richard “Rico» Simon, a neighborhood friend just substituted for “Scootem" Steele for that session only. Two more records on Melba followed in late 1956,  early 1957, but no follow-up gave The Willows the succes the sure had exspected. Especially "Little Darlin‘ " was in the same vain as "Church Bells May Ring" . While "My Angel" was one of the earliest writing affords of Neil Sedaka and his school pal Howard Greenfield. All Melba recordings  featured the bass riffing of Freddie Donovan. because “Scootem" permanently missed rehearsals, and Tony had to let him go.

    The Willows (1) aka The Five Willows  The Willows (1) aka The Five Willows

    When they left Melba through the help of attorney Aber Greenberg, who had sued Morty Craft for the missing royalties and got their release. they turned the contract over to Carl Edelson, who had his office of Club Records in the same building (1550 Broadway) as their attorney (and Melba Records, too). Four songs were recorded at a September 19,1556 session, but only two were released (see Relic LP 51122) in November on Club,while “Frantically» stays in the can (Edelson later re-released the Club record on his Michelle label in 1963). Eldorado Records, owned by Buchanan and Goodman(of “Flying Saucers» fame) was their next stop in early 1857 (also located 1550 Broadway). and a big band style recording was released in April - "First Taste Of Love" b/w "Only My Heart". They eventually went to Mercury, recording two songs with piano backing by Fats Domino. which were their best tracks according to Richie, Joe and Ralph.

    The Willows (1) aka The Five Willows

    When Richie went into the service in 1985, The Willows continued without him, although two very good songs were released on Gone Records at the end of 1957. With a little bit of promotion, "Let's Fall In Love" (backed with "Say Yeah") could have been a hit for the group. Richie recorded two (still unreleased) songs in Detroit with a different backing group (including Tony), before Tony himself decided to quit the group. The remaining members (plus Richie) backed a guy named Bobby Holiday on “Tiajuana» 8.  “My Letter", while the Martin twins, Freddie Donovan, Joe's wife Dotty and another singer once again did a session for Morty Craft, from which "My Dear, Dearest Darling"  and "You"  (a different version of “Church Bells May Ring" is still unreleased) with lead vocals by Dotty. Under the guidance of Mrs. Martin, the group stayed together until I965, having released their last two records for Heidi (an Atco subsidiary) in 19611. Richie sang lead on “It's Such A Shame" and “Sit By The Fire"  while the latter featured once again Freddie's bass vocals. Tony Middleton has done countless solo recording since then and is still active in the music field and as an actor. So he was nominated in 1972 for a Grammy Award for his recording of “Don't Ever Leave Me.»


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