Half of the celebrated R&B duo Bob & Earl, singer Earl Nelson also enjoyed a solo career under the alias Jackie Lee, recording a series of singles that subsequently emerged as Northern soul classics. Born in Lake Charles, LA, on September 8, 1928, Nelson cut his teeth singing in his church's gospel choir. His family relocated to Los Angeles in 1937, and at age 17 he enlisted in the U.S. Army, working on the construction of the Panama Canal. Upon returning to civilian life he began singing with a variety of Los Angeles-area doo wop and R&B acts, usually in collaboration with vocalist Bobby Byrd (aka Bobby Day). Nelson's lead tenor graces the Hollywood Flames' 1954 single "Buzz Buzz Buzz," and a year later he and Byrd teamed as the Voices to record "Two Things I Love" for the Cash label. A series of little-noticed efforts followed, credited to various acts including Bobby "Baby Face" Byrd & the Birds as well as Bobby Day & the Satellites, and in 1957 perennial second-banana Nelson even headlined the Class label release "I Bow to You." The first Bob & Earl single, "You Made a Boo-Boo," appeared later that same year. Both Nelson and Day were nevertheless working at the Revell Toy Factory when the long-dormant "Buzz Buzz Buzz" emerged as a surprise hit in 1958. While a reassembled Hollywood Flames went on to record a clutch of new material for Class and Ebb, Day also scored a massive solo hit with "Rockin' Robin," and when the Flames sputtered out in the wake of 1960's "Gee Whiz," Nelson revived the Bob & Earl partnership, albeit recruiting former Laurels vocalist Bob Relf to replace the otherwise occupied Day.
This incarnation of Bob & Earl first recorded in 1962, cutting a pair of singles ("Don't Ever Leave Me" and "Deep Down Inside") for the Tempe label. After a move to the Marc imprint, the duo entered the studio in 1963 alongside accompanist Barry White to record "Harlem Shuffle," which Nelson and Relf co-wrote in emulation of singer Round Robin's "Slauson Shuffletime" -- the gritty, sinuous track remains an R&B landmark, reaching the U.S. Top 50 and becoming an even bigger hit in the U.K. (In 1985, the Rolling Stones scored an international smash with their inferior cover of the song.) Despite the success of "Harlem Shuffle," Bob & Earl's follow-up releases -- including "My Woman," "Your Lovin' Goes a Long, Long Way," and "Baby I'm Satisfied" -- fared poorly, and in 1965 Nelson launched a solo career with the Mira single "Ooh Honey Baby," credited to Earl Cosby. His next effort, the Mirwood label release "The Duck," was instead attributed to Jackie Lee -- the single cracked the R&B Top Five and hit the Top 20 on the pop charts as well, guaranteeing Nelson would continue recording under this latest alias. While he did not return to the charts, Mirwood releases including "Do the Temptation Walk," "The Shotgun and the Duck," "Oh! My Darlin'," and "Darkest Days" all later made Lee an immortal within the ranks of Britain's Northern soul revival culture. Singles for ABC-Paramount and Uni followed, and after reuniting with White, who produced the 1974 Warner Bros. comeback attempt "Strange Funky Games and Things" (credited to Jay Dee), his recording career ground to a halt. Nelson nevertheless continued playing live across L.A. for decades to follow -- after a long battle with Alzheimer's disease, he died July 12, 2008, at the age of 79. ~ Jason Ankeny, Rovi