Cleveland Warnock gave the Wallace Brothers their start but can't remember all the members' names. But that's understandable: Warnock is 71 years old and still works in building and construction while caring for a brother afflicted with Alzheimer. It didn't help that his house caught fire some years ago, destroying master recordings, pictures, and other mementoes.
A guy named Wallace, no kin to the brothers, brought the six-piece band to Warnock's attention in 1963. Promoted as a duet, the Wallace Brothers were actually a six-man band with cousins John Simon and Ervin Wallace on lead vocals. Other Wallaces, Cooky and Earnest, played in the band. Calling the outfit ragtag is being kind. Simon doubled on a saxophone that was in such bad shape that Warnock had to have it repaired. The drummer supported his drum kit with broomsticks. Ervin played the guitar, and Earnest the organ.
Warnock wrote songs with Billy Bardon in the '40s and '50s for movie cowboy Jimmy Wakely, and never strayed far from the music business. He liked the Wallace Brothers and their potential. Simon in particular had a flair for showmanship, and was handsome and smart. Their members ranged from 14 to 16 years of age and all attended Archer High School in Atlanta. Warnock transported them from Atlanta to his East Point, GA, home for basement rehearsals. "Faith" b/w "I'll Let Nothing Separate Me," written by Earnest, was their first single. The words are biblical but the omission of the Lord's name made them secular. Cleveland's newly founded Royal label launched the Wallace Brothers in 1963. A copy of "Faith" on Royal Records is a nice collector's item.
Now recording artists, the Wallace Brothers stepped up their gigging. Nashville disc jockey John R Richbourg of WLAC played "Faith" on his popular radio program and generated some interest. A deal was struck with Russell Sims, and subsequent copies of "Faith" and the Wallace Brothers' future recordings bore the Sims Records logo. Warnock received percentage points from Sims and co-publishing rights to the Wallace Brothers' songs. With Richbourg touting "Faith," many R&B stations east of the Mason-Dixon line added the single to their rotations.
Their second single, "Precious Words" b/w "You're Mine," released in the spring of 1964, opened more doors. It spent six weeks on the Cash Box black music survey, but never climbed higher than number 31. Claudia Robinson, a blue-eyed soul singer/writer listed as Claud Robinson by B.M.I., wrote the song. Cleveland managed Claudia, who sung in a female group when he met her. He took her to Nashville, but nothing happened for her except the few songs she composed for the Wallace Brothers.
The Wallace Brothers' last gem was their third single, "Lover's Prayer." Released in the fall of 1964, it squeaked into Billboard's Hot 100, stopping at number 97. At the time, Billboard didn't have a black music survey, but the record did make the Cash Box black survey. Written by Earnest and Cooky Wallace, it followed the same format as the previous singles, two-part harmonies sung over a simple rhythm bed, accented by a rolling organ.
While nothing hit with much authority, their crude recordings were added to R&B play lists in the South and the North. Sims released their only LP, Soul, Soul and More Soul, in 1965. Sims took them to Muscle Shoals, AL's famed Fame Studios to cut additional tracks for the album, which included both sides of the first three singles. Sims Records released one more song off the album in 1965, but "One Way Affair" b/w "Go On Girl" sunk without a trace. Two additional singles issued in 1966, "I'll Stay Aside" and "No More," added to the doldrums.
The United Kingdom division of Sue Records issued three Wallace Brothers singles, with the last being "I'll Step Aside," in 1967; Sue also dropped a compilation album of Wallace Brothers tracks called Soul Connection in 1968.
Back in the States, Russell Sims issued the last Wallace Brothers single, "Thanks a Lot," on Sims in 1967. When it bombed, Sims and the band parted ways. They signed with Jewel Records in 1968, releasing three singles that 99.9 percent of the world's population have yet to hear. Simon joined the Naturals, who enjoyed one release on Calla Records, "I Can't Share You"; they faded when Calla's owner, Nate McCalla, was murdered at his home in Florida.
According to Warlock, the Wallace Brothers' biggest problem was their mom, who at one time inked them to six different contracts. Each time she signed them to a production or record company she received money. This led to contractual problems, and hard feelings which contributed to the group's demise. ~ Andrew Hamilton, Rovi