Born Delecta Clark, Jr., 7 November 1938, Blytheville, Arkansas
Dee Clark was a vocal chameleon who could sound like Clyde McPhatter, like Little Richard when he wanted to, but also like Chuck Berry (on "Dance On Little Girl"). Which doesn't mean that he didn't have a style of his own, but it took a while for him to develop that style.
Clark was one of six children, having two brothers and three sisters. In 1941 the Clark family moved from Arkansas to Chicago, where he sang gospel with the Thompson Community Singers. With two schoolmates, Sammy McGrier and Ronnie Strong, Dee formed a trio called the Hambone Kids in 1951. They had a novelty routine in which they slapped various parts of their bodies to sustain the beat while singing a series of nursery rhyme verses. As "Hambone" their routine was recorded by Red Saunders for OKeh, with label credit going to Red Saunders and his orchestra (actually just bass and percussion), Dolores Hawkins and the Hambone Kids. It became a # 20 pop hit in March 1952 and spawned several cover versions (with modified lyrics), by Frankie Laine and Jo Stafford (# 6 pop), Tennessee Ernie Ford and Carl Perkins (1962), among others. In 1955 one Elias McDaniel took a heavy variant of the rhythm and the same nursery rhyme lyrics, added his own powerful distorted electric guitar sound and immortalised the song and himself as Bo Diddley.
The Hambone Kids soon split up, after which Clark joined the Goldentones, a vocal group that had one release on Jay-Dee in 1955. The group came to the attention of locally influential deejay Herb 'Kool Gent' Kent, who redubbed them The Kool Gents and took them to Vee-Jay in 1956. Their first release for the label was "This Is the Night"/"Do Ya Do", followed by Otis Blackwell's composition "I Just Can't Help Myself". The Kool Gents became The Delegates for the novelty "The Convention" and for "Mother's Son" (both 1956), before lead vocalist Dee Clark was singled out for solo promotion by producer Calvin Carter.
Clark's first three solo singles were released on Falcon, a Vee-Jay subsidiary. The first one, "Gloria", was still a Kool Gents recording, although only Dee's name appeared on the label. The next Falcon single coupled the Clyde McPhatter- styled "Seven Nights" with "24 Boyfriends", a convincing Little Richard imitation. Closer still was the follow-up "Oh Little Girl", recorded with Richard's road band, The Upsetters. Wild rock n roll! When Richard himself abruptly quit performing to enter Bible college, his booking agent hired Clark to fulfill his remaining live dates.
In 1958 Falcon Records was discontinued and its name changed to Abner, after Ewart Abner, co-owner of Vee-Jay. It was on this label that Dee started having hits. "Nobody But You" (his own composition) went to # 3 R&B and # 21 pop (late 1958/early 1959) ; "Just Keep It Up" peaked at # 9 R&B, # 18 pop (mid- 1959) and the Bo Diddley styled "Hey Little Girl" reached # 2 on the R&B charts in the autumn of 1959 (# 20 pop). By then his band was led by guitarist Phil Upchurch. Clark co-wrote "You Can't Sit Down", a # 29 hit for the Phil Upchurch Combo (1961) and an even bigger hit in the vocal version by the Dovells (# 3, 1963).
After four more modest pop hits in 1960 came the real biggie, "Raindrops", co-written by Dee Clark and Phil Upchurch, though the label credit went to Clark only. With a peak position of # 2 pop and # 3 R&B, it was the biggest hit of his career (1961) and his only million seller. Clark's vocal gymnastics match Upchurch's inspired guitar playing and the Riley Hampton arrangement.
Dee stayed with Vee-Jay for another two years, but had only one further hit, "I'm Going Back To School" (# 18 R&B, # 52 pop), in 1962. Ewart Abner was ousted from Vee-Jay in 1963 and formed Constellation Records in part- nership with Bunky Sheppard. Dee Clark and Gene Chandler were personally under contract to Abner, who took them with him to his new label. Dee's first single for Constellation, "Crossfire Time", reached # 92 (pop), but it would be Clark's final chart appearance (in the US at least). He made every attempt to keep up with the fast changing trends in the world of soul music, but none of the other nine 45s for Constellation were successful. There were one-off singles for Columbia (1967), Wand (1968), Eric (1969), Liberty (1970) and United Artists (1971), but they did not return Clark to the US charts. In 1975, he released "Ride A Wild Horse" on Chelsea Records. The record meant very little in the USA, but in the UK (where only his "Just Keep It Up" had previously charted, # 26) it became his most successful disc, peaking at # 16. He was booked for a European tour, he was sent the money for his air fare, and then he disappeared with the cash. No Dee Clark in the UK, no international tour. And since then, no record deal.
He eked out a living touring the USA, especially the southern states, but Dee started to suffer health problems. He had two heart attacks and a stroke in 1987, but did not have health insurance, so he had to carry on working to pay for medical treatment. On December 7, 1990, Dee Clark succumbed to a fatal heart attack, at the age of only 52.
More info :
Discography : http://www.soulfulkindamusic.net/dclark.htm
CD recommendations :
Acknowledgements : Cliff White, the late Tony Wilkinson, Jason Ankeny (All Music Guide).
Dik, May 2014
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