The Contours were one of the early African-American soul singing groups signed to Motown Records. The group is best known for its classic chart-topping 1962 hit, "Do You Love Me," a million-selling single that became a major hit all over again in 1988.
- 2 Discography
- 3 References
- 4 External links
Joe Billingslea (born November 14, 1937) and Billy Gordon founded a singing group called The Blenders in their native Detroit, Michigan in 1959. They completed the group with Billy Hoggs and Billy Rollins, who had responded to an ad placed in the local newspaper by Billingslea. The group soon added Leroy Fair (in place of Billy Rollins) and bass singer Hubert Johnson and changed the name to The Contours. In the fall of 1960, the group auditioned for Berry Gordy's Motown Records. Gordy turned the act down, prompting the group to pay a visit to the home of Johnson's cousin, R&B star and Gordy associate Jackie Wilson. Wilson in turn got The Contours a second audition with Gordy, at which they sang the same songs they had at the first audition, the same way, and were signed to a seven-year contract.
The group's first single, "Whole Lotta' Woman," was released in January 1961 and failed to chart. Within months of its release, Leroy Fair was replaced by Benny Reeves, brother of Martha Reeves. Shortly thereafter, Benny Reeves left to serve in the United States Navy and he was replaced by Sylvester Potts. In 1961 the group's second single, "The Stretch", was released and it also failed to chart. In early 1962, Gordy had The Contours record "Do You Love Me," a composition allegedly originally meant for The Temptations. But, in a 2008 interview for MOJO Magazine, original Contour Joe Billingslea stated that this was not the case. In the article, Billingslea stated to author Phil Alexander that the song's author, Motown founder Berry Gordy, offered the song to The Contours first, only intending to give The Temptations the song after he saw that The Contours were having trouble with it. However, after practicing the tune again, Gordy gave the nod—and the song—to The Contours.
The resulting record, with its shouted lead vocals from Billy Gordon, hit #1 on Billboard's R&B chart and crossed over to #3 on the Hot 100 in 1962. It sold over one million copies, and was awarded a gold disc.
Although the Contours never quite repeated the extraordinary success of "Do You Love Me," they returned to the charts three times during 1963 and 1964 with "Shake Sherry," "Can You Do It" and "Can You Jerk Like Me." In 1964, Billy Hoggs, Joe Billingslea, Hubert Johnson, and Sylvester Potts all left Motown. Berry Gordy hired Council Gay, Jerry Green and Alvin English to back Billy Gordon, making the Contours a quartet. Within a year, Sylvester Potts returned to the group (replacing Alvin English), and Billy Gordon departed shortly thereafter. Gordon was replaced by Joe Stubbs, brother of Four Tops lead singer Levi Stubbs. Stubbs soon quit the act and was replaced byDennis Edwards.
During the mid-1960s the Contours recorded several records which received R&B radio play, notably "First I Look at the Purse" (written by Miracles members Smokey Robinson and Bobby Rogers), "Can You Jerk Like Me" and its charting flip side, the Smokey Robinson written-and- produced "That Day When She Needed Me", Shake Sherry, and "Just a Little Misunderstanding", but were considered secondary to Motown's major male vocal groups: The Temptations, The Four Tops, and The Miracles. The group's seven-year contract with Motown expired in 1967 and when lead singer Dennis Edwards was recruited to replace the departed David Ruffin as lead singer of The Temptations in mid-1968, the Contours disbanded. Edwards later became a solo hits maker as well.
Although they charted up a hit in the UK Singles Chart in 1970 with a re-release of "Just A Little Misunderstanding," The Contours' real claim to fame lies with "Do You Love Me." Both these tracks and others Contours work can be found on various Motown compilation albums.
In the early 1970s, Joe Billingslea resurrected the group with himself, Arthur Hinson, Martin Upshire, C. Autry Hatcher and former Motown Contour Council Gay as its members, and began performing at local clubs around Detroit. During the seventies and early eighties, the group's popularity increased and they began playing dates throughout the US and even some international dates. In 1984, Charles Davis replaced Hinson and a week later Potts rejoined the group replacing Gay. In 1987, Hatcher left the group and Arthur Hinson returned. In 1988, Darell Nunlee was added when Martin Upshire left. The same year, "Do You Love Me" was prominently featured in the film Dirty Dancing. In 1988, a reissue of "Do You Love Me" sent the song back to the Billboard Top 40 charts for eight weeks, peaking at number eleven. The movie and the record spawned a 1988 "Dirty Dancing Concert Tour" followed by a new recording contract for Ian Levine's Motorcity Records where the group recorded two albums Flashback and Revenge although the latter was not released, though the songs would later be featured on the later compilation, "The Best of The Contours".
In 1992, Hinson left the group, and it continued as a quartet until 1993 when Nunlee left. Al Chisholm (formerly with The Falcons) and Gary Grier were recruited in 1993. This configuration - Joe Billingslea, Chisholm, Davis, Grier and Potts - continued from 1993 until 2004.
In 2004, Sylvester Potts left to form his own group with the four members (Leroy Seabrooks, Kim Green, Tony Womack and Darell Nunlee) of a local Detroit group named Upscale, which immediately began performing as 'The Contours'. Billingslea sued and Potts countersued, each claiming the rights to the name. These suits were resolved in an out-of-court settlement which provided for the existence of both groups to be identified as "The Contours with Joe Billingslea" and "The Contours featuring Sylvester Potts," respectively. Within months of the founding of the Potts group, Seabrooks left making it a quartet. In 2006, the Contours with Joe Billingslea filled the vacant bass singing spot created by Potts' departure with Odell Jones. In 2011, Nunlee left Potts' group and was replaced by Tee Turner. Both groups are currently performing.
Founding member Billingslea, now 76 years old, continues to perform with his group, 'The Contours with Joe Billingslea', which is among the acts featured in a DVD released by Motown in January 2007 called Motown: The Early Years, featuring its appearances on the Public Broadcasting System specials. In March 2010, the Contours were inducted into the Doo-Wop Hall of Fame. The induction show featured a performance by the Contours with Joe Billingslea. Original member Hoggs left the Contours in 1964 to become a minister. Today he is retired and lives in Mount Pleasant, Michigan. In 2005, Hoggs made his first and only appearance since 1964, singing with Billingslea and the Contours for the taping of Motown: The Early Years. Johnson committed suicide in Detroit, on July 11, 1981, at age 40. Gordon died sometime during 1999. Fair passed away in December 2004. Mid-1960s member, Joe Stubbs - brother of Levi Stubbs, died on February 5, 1998. Guitarist Huey Davis (pictured on the Do You Love Me album cover, was an unofficial member of the Contours although he was pictured in virtually all of Motown's publicity shots of the group) died on February 23, 2000, at his home in Detroit.
Sylvester Potts continues to perform with his group, 'The Contours featuring Sylvester Potts' with 2012 performances including the re-opening of The Detroit Historical Museum and Aretha Franklin's Annual Christmas Party. The line-up consists of Motown veteran Sylvester Potts, 16 year member of The Miracles, Tee Turner together with Anthony Womack and Kim Green.
In 1964, The Contours recorded a second album for Motown entitled The Contours: Can You Dance (Gordy 910). It featured the chart hits, "Can You Do It", "Can You Jerk Like Me", "That Day When She Needed Me", and nine other tracks, including The Marvelettes' hit, "Danger: Heartbreak Dead Ahead". For unknown reasons, this album was unreleased by Motown, but in April 2011, the album's original tracks, along with fourteen unreleased original Contours 1960s Motown recordings, and new 2011 interviews with the Contours' founder Joe Billingslea as well as with Sylvester Potts, was released as part of the CD compilation collection, Dance With The Contours on the import label, Kent Records, under legal license from, and with the full approval of, the owners of the Motown catalogue.
All singles were issued on Gordy Records unless otherwise noted
- 1961: "Whole Lotta' Woman" (issued on Motown)
- 1961: "The Stretch" (issued on Motown)
- 1962: "Do You Love Me" (#3 US, #1 R&B)
- 1963: "Shake Sherry" (#43 US, #21 R&B)
- 1963: "Don't Let Her Be Your Baby" (#64 Pop)
- 1963: "Pa I Need A Car" / "You Get Ugly" (did not chart)
- 1964: "Can You Do It" (#41 US, #16 R&B)
- 1964: "Can You Jerk Like Me" (#47 US, #15 R&B)
- 1964: "That Day When She Needed Me" (b-side of "Can You Jerk Like Me," #37 R&B)
- 1965: "First I Look at the Purse" (#57 US, #12 R&B)
- 1966: "Just a Little Misunderstanding" (#85 US, #18 R&B, UK #31)
- 1967: "It's So Hard Being a Loser" (#79 US, #35 R&B)
- 1988: "Do You Love Me" (#11 US, issued on Motown, re-released after the success of the 1987 movie Dirty Dancing)
- 1989: "Face Up to the Fact" (issued on Motorcity Records)
- 1992: "Running in Circles" (issued on Motorcity Records)
- Do You Love Me (Now That I Can Dance) (Gordy 901, 1962)
- The Contours: Can You Dance Gordy 910 (1964- unreleased)
- Flashback (Motorcity Records, 1990)
- The Very Best (Hot Productions, 1995)
- The Very Best of the Contours [Original Recording Remastered] (Motown, 1999)
- Essential Collection (Spectrum, 2000)
- A New Direction (Orchard, 2000)
- 20th Century Masters: Millennium Collection (Universal, 2003)
- Live II (Middle Earth, 2003)
- Dance with The Contours (Kent/Universal/Motown, 2011)