Joe Billingslea and THE CONTOURS
In 1958, a group of four extremely talented young singers - Joe Billingslea, Billy Hoggs, Billy Gordon and Leroy Fair created a singing group known as the Blenders. A short time later Hubert Johnson joined the group. After paying their "dues" for two years, singing for mostly local audiences, the group decided to take a shot at a recording career with Berry Gordy, Jr. at Motown Records®. On the way to the studio, Joe Billingslea suggested changing the name of the group to The CONTOURS. By the time they arrived at Motown Records®, they were The CONTOURS! It took a phone call to Berry from rock and roll legend Jackie Wilson (cousin of Hubert Johnson) and a second audition before The CONTOURS became the third male group signed to Motown. After inking a seven-year deal, they released two records, "Whole Lotta Woman" b/w "Come On And Be Mine" and "The Stretch" b/w "Funny," both of which failed to chart. However, for The CONTOURS, the third time would become the charm!
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In 1962, Gordy created a new label for Motown Records® called the Gordy label and signed The CONTOURS as its first group. In the summer of 1962, Berry Gordy Jr. penned "Do You Love Me." He added Huey Davis (sometimes called the sixth Contour) at guitar. The result was the group's (and label's) first hit. Within two weeks of its release, the song roared to #2 on the Billboard Hot 100, taking the #1 spot on the R&B charts and #3 on the pop charts. It became the group's first gold record and remained on the charts for five months. The song was the Gordy label's first million-seller, and "Do You Love Me" still holds the record as Motown's fastest rising hit of all time.
In January 1963, "Shake Sherry" debuted on the charts, rising to R&B's #21 spot (#43 pop). Late that year, they hit the pop charts again (#64) with "Don't Let Her Be Your Baby." In 1964, they charted "Can You Do It" at #16 R&B (#41Pop). In 1965, The CONTOURS charted "Can You Jerk Like Me??" at #15 R&B (#47 Pop). The flip side, "The Day When She Needed Me," a ballad written by Smokey Robinson, was also a hit (#37 on the R&B charts and #47 on the pop charts). Later that year another Smokey Robinson penned tune, "First I Look At the Purse" charted for The CONTOURS (#12 R&B, #57 pop). In 1966, Stevie Wonder co-wrote "Just a Little Misunderstanding," which The CONTOURS took to #18 on the R&B charts and #85 on the pop charts). In 1967, they landed another hit with, "It's So Hard Being a Loser" (#35 R&B, #79 pop).
This series of smash hits landed The CONTOURS as fixtures on the popular "Motortown Revue," which toured the United States every year. Like the acts of the day, The CONTOURS had a great choreography to go along with their great singing. However, their dancing style was over the top and it even included synchronized splits, flips and an occasional summersault. The result was a highly energized performance that thrilled audiences wherever they went.
As the sixties came to a close, a combination of factors, including changing musical tastes fueled by the "British Invasion" caused a decline in the popularity of many early-sixties artists including The CONTOURS. Before the seven-year contract period expired, all of the original members left the group. As they left, Motown replaced the originals with other singers. When the contract expired, Motown declined to renew it so the replacement CONTOURS disbanded in 1968. About 1971, original member Joe Billingslea revived the group, playing a few dates - most of them at local venues. Between then and 1987 the group's popularity steadily increased throughout the US and Canada and so did the number of performances.
In 1987, "Do You Love Me" was included in the movie, "Dirty Dancing," starring Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey. The movie revived the song's popularity and its re-release hit the pop charts in July 1988, remaining for eight weeks, peaking at #11. As certified by the Recording Industry Association Of America, "More Dirty Dancing (1987 Film Additional Soundtrack)" (which included "Do You Love Me") went quadruple-platinum.
The movie soundtrack spawned a ten-month "Dirty Dancing Concert Tour," which featured The CONTOURS and other artists including Bill Medley, Eric Carmen, Ronnie Spector, Merry Clayton and a set of dancers from the movie. The troupe entertained over two million fans in North America, Europe and Australia. The "Dirty Dancing Tour" was Performance's 1998 Variety Act of the Year. The tour also gave birth to a live CD release. The CONTOURS contributed "Get Ready," "Higher and Higher," "Cry to Me" and "Do You Love Me" to the 1989 release "Dirty Dancing Live In Concert." In September 1998, The CONTOURS released a CD, "Great Dirty Dancing Hits," sprinkled with several of their hits as well as hits of other artists.
In July 1999, yet another Dirty Dancing CD, "Dirty Dancing: More Dirty Dancing" which included "Do You Love Me" was released. In all, re-released versions contributed to ten million new copies of the song, "Do You Love Me." It's fair to say that Dirty Dancing has been good to The CONTOURS.
On July 20, 1989, The CONTOURS were inducted into the Rock 'n' Roll Walk of Fame outside Royal Oak's Metropolitan Musicafe in Royal Oak, Michigan. In 2000, they received the Smokey Robinson Heroes And Legends Award. They have also been nominated for The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. They continue to perform in the US and abroad, bringing their energetic, versatile and entertaining show to hundreds of thousands of fans every year throughout the world.
Today, Joe Billingslea and The CONTOURS include original member Joe Billingslea, 21-year group member Charles Davis and twelve-year veterans Gary Grier and Al Chisholm. In recent years the group has been featured in PBS specials. The latest PBS Special entitled Motown—The Early Years airs for the first time in August 2005 and includes performances by Joe Billingslea and THE CONTOURS. Videos from this series, entitled “Doo Wop Gold” are available from Time-Life. In this, the 45th anniversary of THE CONTOURS’ signing with Motown Records, the group is as popular as ever. They have a new CD, “THE CONTOURS - Live II” and they play about 100 dates per year. The show is as high energy as ever, though the flips and splits of yesteryear have been replaced by a brilliant choreography more suited to gentlemen in their second half-century of life!
Live in concert, Joe Billingslea and The CONTOURS are just plain good old fashioned, Motown steppin’, hand clappin’, feet stompin’, fun. Don't miss 'em!
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