Project Description

The Contours

In the late 1950s in Detroit, two singers named Joe Billingslea and Billy Gordon left their group (The Majestics) to create their own vocal group. Billingslea placed an ad in the local paper for other singers. Billy Hoggs answered it and was hired. Hoggs suggested they also consider his neighbor, Billy Rollins. Billingslea and Gordon agreed. Billy Gordon named the quartet “The Blenders”. Almost immediately, Rollins was replaced with another friend of Hoggs named Leroy Fair. After singing together for a while, the group decided that adding a fifth member would round out the harmonies and complete the sound that Billingslea and Gordon were looking for. They added Hubert Johnson. By the fall of 1960, The Blenders believed they had perfected their sound to the point where they could make a recording. They visited a music company called “Flick and Contour Records.” The audition didn’t pan out, but Billingslea, intrigued by the company’s name convinced the group to change its name to “The Contours”.

Later that day, the group traveled to Motown Records and auditioned for Berry Gordy, Jr. He liked the group’s raw sound, but suggested they take a few more months to polish their act. They left disappointed, but fate stepped in and reversed their fortunes. Unbeknownst to the other group members, Hubert Johnson was the cousin of Brunswick recording artist Jackie Wilson, who at the time had already charted nine hits and who was a personal friend of Berry Gordy. The group went to Wilson’s home for some advice. After listening to the group sing, Wilson telephoned Gordy and persuaded him to take a another look at The Contours. They returned the same day and the second trip netted them a seven-year recording contract with Motown.

In January 1961, Motown released The Contours “Whole Lotta Woman” b/w “Come On And Be Mine”. The record did not have much success. Shortly afterward, there was some disappointing news for Leroy Fair. Despite his great voice, Leroy couldn’t handle the required choreography, and the group (to steal the words of the song to come) broke his heart, cause he couldn’t dance. The group replaced him with Bennie Reeves (brother of Motown recording artist Martha Reeves). Reeves tenure ended when the United States Navy called him to active duty. Sylvester Potts replaced Reeves. This group recorded, “The Stretch” b/w “Funny” which didn’t fare much better than the first effort. However, for The Contours, the third time would become the charm!

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