Side One1 Chicken Blues
2 Do Something For Me
3 Weeping Willow Blues
4 Sixty Minute Man
5 That's What You're Doing To Me
6 I Am With You
7 Don't Leave Me This Way
8 Have Mercy Baby
Side Two1 Pedal Pushin' Papa
2 I'd Be Satisfied
3 The Bells
4 I Ain't Gonna Cry For You
5 You Can't Keep A Good Man Down
6 My Baby's 3-D
7 I'm Gonna Move To The Outskirts Of Town
8 If I Never Get To Heaven
1951 was the year of the big breakthrough for vocal groups in the R&B charts and leading the way were the Dominoes who were the second biggest selling R&B act (after Percy Mayfield) of the year. Their "Sixty Minute Man" was the top selling R&B record and they had other big sellers with "Do Something For Me" and "I Am With You." Success continued into 1952 with "That's What You're Doing To Me", "When The Swallows Come Back To Capistrano", "I'd Be Satisfied", "Have Mercy Baby" and "Love, Love, Love". That year The Dominoes were the 7th best selling R&B act, with The Clovers being the top vocal group and 2nd best selling R&B act (B.B. King was top in '52).
"Rags To Riches", "The Bells", "These Foolish Things Remind Me Of You" and "You Can't Keep a Good Man Down" helped the Dominoes to reach the number four spot in the best selling R&B artists list of 1953, but they were only the third best selling vocal group, coming in behind The "5" Royales (top selling act), and The Clovers (2nd best selling act). 3rd best selling R&B artist of '53 was Willie Mabon. Further down the list was a new group on Atlantic which featured the former star vocalist of The Dominoes, Clyde McPhatter, with The Drifters. Their "Money Honey" was the top selling R&B disc of 1953.
In 1954 R&B record sales were dominated by vocal groups The Midnighters, The Charms, The Clovers, The Spiders, The Chords, The Crows and of course ex-Domino Clyde McPhatter with his Drifters. But of the once dominant Dominoes there was no sign as their records bombed, and thereby hangs a tale.
And you can read that tale on Unca Marvy's R&B Notebooks which is the go-to site for seekers after arcane knowledge of 1950s vocal groups.
The Dominoes were formed by vocal coach, pianist, arranger and songwriter Billy Ward in 1950. The original line up was - Clyde McPhatter (lead tenor), Charlie White (second tenor), Joe Lamont (baritone) and Bill Brown (bass). A former member of the gospel group The Mount Lebanon Singers, McPhatter was the star turn of The Dominoes, bringing holy roller fervor to rocking jump tunes, heartbroken blues and sentimental ballads. In an extraordinary performance in "The Bells" he weeps and wails his way through the song (or so it seemed to the listening public - in the studio he was actually laughing at his own absurdly over the top vocals).
The Dominoes' Federal oeuvre of 1951 - 1953 places them as pioneers in the development of both rock and roll and soul. "Sixty Minute Man" (featuring the deep honeyed bass voice of Bill Brown) is often cited as the first R&B vocal group record to cross over into the pop charts and it even contained the lyrics "I rock 'em, roll 'em all night long." Two absolute blasters featuring McPhatter on lead vocal, "That's What You're Doing To Me" and "Have Mercy Baby" are surely candidates for "the first rock and roll record."
The Dominoes were dogged by frequent personnel changes as various group members became disillusioned by Billy Ward's authoritarian management style and also by the lack of financial reward compared to the number of discs they were selling. Charlie White left in September 1951, Bill Brown quit in February 1952 and Clyde McPhatter baled out in April 1953.
The loss of McPhatter was a particularly hard blow. He was quickly signed by Atlantic to lead a new group formed to showcase his voice, The Drifters. Although he was replaced in The Dominoes by the very talented Jackie Wilson, somehow it wasn't quite the same as Ward began to move the group away from R&B towards pop. Wilson's biggest success with the group was a cover version of "Rags to Riches" in 1953. The contractual situation became rather messy in 1954 as the group were recording simultaneously for both King and Jubilee.
Pop success was achieved on Decca in 1956 with "St Therese Of The Roses" and again in 1957 on Liberty with "Star Dust." There's a post from 2008 on the blog, "The Dominoes After Federal" which showcases vinyl rips and scans by Joan K of the group's output on Jubilee, Decca and Liberty. I have updated the fileshare link on that post.
The Charly LP featured on this post was originally posted back in November 2007 but this time round I've rescanned the album sleeve and also included label shots. The shots of original Federal singles are from scans by Joan K. The sleevenotes by Bill Millar include a good overview of the Dominoes' glory years in the R&B charts.
Download "Have Mercy Baby" from here:
The download includes a folder of Joan K's scans of Dominoes' records on Federal and King. Thanks Joan!
Sources: Liner notes to "Have Mercy Baby" by Bill Millar.
Marv Goldberg's R&B Notebooks
Big Al Pavlow's R&B Book
Unsung Heroes of Rock 'n' Roll by Nick Tosches