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Charms / Otis Williams and the Charms

Cincinnati, 1952-1960

The Charms were the most succesful of Cincinnati's R&B vocal groups. They were formed by students at Withow High School in Cincinnati. Like many groups of their age and era, they performed at school shows and neighborhood events. The group included Otis Williams on lead, with Bob Smith, Rolland Bradley, Joe Penn, and Richard Parker.

The group was spotted at a school talent show by Syd Nathan of King records. The word was that Withow's shows were a good source of young R&B singers and musicians, so Nathan often attended these shows. Nathan signed the group, after Otis demanded that Nathan sign them as a unit and not him alone. They recorded at King but their first 45 was issued on the Rockin' label, a joint venture between King and Henry Stone of Miami. It was not successful, but the group continued to record for King which released a series of 45s in 1954 on the Deluxe label, with a month or two in between releases. A couple of these got some airplay and promotion in trade publications. After the Rockin' 45, Donald Peek replaced Bob Smith

Finally on the sixth Deluxe 45, the group scored big - all the way to number 1 on the R&B chart - with "Hearts of Stone", a song first recorded by the Los Angeles group the Jewels. This was at a time when groups would often jump to record their version of a fresh release, if they thought they could do better. After the Charms recording started making noise, other artists jumped to cover them, but the Charms won the battle in a big way.

Nathan and the group figured they now had momentum, so they recorded a couple more covers of recent releases, "Ling Tung Tong" (originally by the Five Keys) and "Bazoom (I Need Your Lovin')" (originally by the Cheers) and scored top 15 hots with both of them. 

With these hits, the group was in demand to perform, so they played the Apollo Theatre in NYC as well as other places Just as it seemed like there was no way to go but higher, Otis was dumped by the other four members, for reasons unknown, the most likely seems to be that Harry Stone thought he could bo even bettwe with them. The split got ugly as both sides (Otis vs the four) fought for the rights to the lucrative Charms moniker. Otis recruited a new group with Rollie Willis, Lonnie Carter, Grafton Diggs, and Matt Williams. Diggs didn't last long and was replaced by Winfred Gerald.

The Otis Williams group record as "Otis Williams and his Charms" and "Otis WIlliams and the New Group" while the other four recorded as the Charms. The Charms were signed by Henry Stone for his new Chart label, as the agreement with King and Stone had ended as Stone wanted to go on his own.

After a couple misses, the new Otis Williams Charms scoresd hits with "That's Your Mistake" and "Ivory Tower", which was their highest pop charting 45. Meanwhile, the breakaway Charms on Chart stopped releasing records, with only the one Chart 45. 

The group continued to record and peform through the rest of the decade. Bill Caffie replaced Chuclk Barksdale who replaced Matt Williams. None of these recordings charted. Otis had been getting deferments from the military draft., but in 1960 he joined the Army, which effectively put an end to the group. He spent two years in the Army, and fit in a couple recording sessions for King records during that time. None of the records from these sessions did much.

When Otis got out of the Army, he took a break in recording, returning in 1965 for Okeh records. He recorded a number of songs with studio singers, a total of 4 45s were released on Okeh as Otis Williams and the Charms.  These Okeh 45s had him doing soul material, recorded in Nashville. While the Okeh records were not hits, they did result in Otis moving to Nashville and working for Stop records. He re-recorded a bunch of old songs for one LP, and then decided to make a LP in the small but determined scene of black R&B singers doing country music. The one and only LP in this style was "Otis Williams and the Midnight Cowboys". This was probably his biggest selling record since the 1950s, probably somewhat for the uniqueness. Since there was no real band named the Midnight Cowboys, he used the Endevors from Cincinnati for the cover and promo pics.

The Midnight Cowboys project was the last recordings for Otis Williams, but he returned to Cincinnati and has performed occasionally.

Two members of the Charms, Winfred Gerald and Lonnie Carter, formed the Escos after the Charms disbanded in 1960. Ronnie Willis formed his own group, the Contenders, and made a 45 for Saxony.