Take it away, Iggy!
I love The Orlons and my other featured artist, Dee Dee Sharp! If you love R&B music and feel good music then these top-notch performers can’t be beat. (Nearly all of The Orlons and Dee Dee Sharp’s recorded music is available at all digital music outlets and on YouTube.)
“Not Me” was originally recorded by Gary (US) Bonds and was a minor hit for him. I think The Orlons version is one of the funkiest records of the 1960’s or at least until Aretha arrived. Rosetta Hightower’s lead vocal is amazing. The BackBeat and party atmosphere of this record is so enticing that I don’t know how anyone can resist. Everyone involved with this record successfully captured a little over two minutes worth of excitement on vinyl and that’s what it’s all about.
Along with a successful string of great singles, The Orlons also recorded several outstanding and critically acclaimed albums. Most of the albums feature their then current hit single along with well chosen and beautifully covered R&B and Doo Wop hits. One of these albums, “South Street” is the most fun you’ll ever have listening to and singing along with an album. On their albums, each member of the group gets to take a turn as lead vocalist and they are all fine singers. Marlena Davis was a very much in demand Harmony vocalist and sang on recordings with Johnny Mathis, The Tymes and many others.
The Orlons consisted of lead singer Rosetta Hightower (June 23, 1944 – August 2, 2014), Shirley Brickley (December 9, 1944 – October 13, 1977), Marlena Davis (October 4, 1944 – February 27, 1993) and Stephen Caldwell (born November 22, 1942).
Before they became The Orlons, they were an all-girl quintet called Audrey and the Teenettes. They formed in the late 1950s in junior high school and consisted of Hightower, Davis, and three Brickley sisters: Shirley, Jean, and Audrey. However, after the Brickleys’ mother did not permit 13-year-old Audrey to sing in certain clubs with the group, she and Jean quit, making the group a trio.
In high school, the group’s three remaining members discovered fellow student Stephen Caldwell, who was lead singer of a local group called the Romeos. Impressed, they invited him to join the group in 1960 and named themselves The Orlons as a tongue-in-cheek nod to the friendly rivalry they had with a popular group at their high school, the Cashmeres. (Orlon was a brand name for the widely used synthetic fiber acrylic.)
A high school friend, Dovells lead singer Len Barry, encouraged them to audition for Cameo-Parkway Records at the turn of the decade. The group took his advice in the fall of 1961, but were rejected at first, although the record label signed the group after two more auditions. Cameo executive Dave Appell appointed Hightower as the lead singer, and began writing songs for them.
Before rising to fame with their first national hit, “The Wah-Watusi”, which reached No. 2 in the US pop chart, in 1962, the group provided back-up vocals for Dee Dee Sharp’s hits “Mashed Potato Time” and “Gravy (For My Mashed Potatoes)”. They recorded their own versions of those songs for their debut album, The Wah-Watusi, which received a rating of 4.5 out of 5 from Allmusic in 2006. They had a second hit in the same year with “Don’t Hang Up”, a No. 4 hit on the pop chart. The group had three hits in 1963, “South Street”, the group’s last Top Ten hit, which reached No. 3 on the Billboard chart; “Not Me” , which reached No. 12; and “Crossfire”, the group’s last hit, which reached No. 19.
Davis left the group in August 1963 and Caldwell quit the group in 1964, Sandy Person replaced Davis. A short-lived stint by Yvonne Young was followed by original Teenette, Audrey Brickley, Shirley’s sister. By then, the group’s popularity had waned in the United States due to misdirection of their record company, Cameo Records. They continued to perform into the late 1960s with success in the UK. They disbanded in 1968 after Hightower decided to stay in England after a tour. Hightower had a successful career as a soloist and as an in-demand session singer, backing Joe Cocker, John Holt and other popular artists. She married record producer Ian Green.
In later years, Davis married and found work as an executive secretary, while Caldwell became a shop steward of the bus drivers’ trade union, and then became the administrator of the union’s legal fund in Philadelphia and served on the Philadelphia Board of Education for 29 years. In 1988, Caldwell and Davis re-formed the group with two new members and performed live on the oldies circuit until Davis’ death in 1993.
On October 13, 1977, Shirley Brickley was shot dead by an intruder in her home in Philadelphia. Marlena Davis lost a battle with lung cancer on February 27, 1993 (aged 48). Audrey Brickley died of acute respiratory distress syndrome on July 3, 2005 (aged 58). Stephen and Jean Brickley still perform as The Orlons with two of Stephen’s cousins, Albreta Crump and Madeline Morris.
“Mashed Potato Time” is Dee Dee Sharp’s first solo hit. I am including it because it features Rosetta Hightower, Marlena Davis and Shirley Brickley of The Orlons on back up vocals. The song is basically a reworking of The Marvelettes huge hit “Please Mr. Postman” with new lyrics and a backup vocal sung in harmony rather than the unison backup vocal provided by The Marvelettes on their recording. The addition of The Orlons harmony backup vocal on Dee Dee’s record made it sound completely different to most listeners and record buyers sent it to the top of the charts again! I don’t know how Dee Dee was able to sing so convincingly and effectively about mashed potatoes and I believe she deserves a Grammy for being able to do it. I don’t think Adele could do it. I believe that Dee Dee Sharp and The Orlons are among the best in the pantheon of purveyors of feel good music! They have brought so much joy into my life and I thank them.
Your best friends,
Buffalo Tom, Gunther, Iggy, Stephen Caldwell & Dee Dee Sharp
… constant vigilance!