EARL NELSON (By Dik de Heer)

Born Earl Lee Nelson, 8 September 1928, Lake Charles, Louisiana
Died 12 July 2008, Los Angeles, California

The musical career of Earl Nelson was entwined with that of Bobby Day for many years. Bobby Day, of course, is best known for his 1958 # 2 hit "Rockin' Robin". But long before that, in 1949, Bobby (then known under his real name, Robert Byrd) was a founding member of the Flames, later the Hollywood Flames. This group recorded prolifically for labels like Unique, Recorded in Hollywood, Specialty, Lucky and Aladdin, but they didn't score any hits until Earl Nelson joined the group in 1957. In October of that year, the Hollywood Flames recorded "Buzz Buzz Buzz" (with Earl as lead singer) for John Dolphin, who sold the master to Lee Rupe for release on her Ebb label. It peaked at # 11 on the pop charts and # 5 on the R&B lists in early 1958. This was followed by a long line of further releases on Ebb, and then Atco (1959-60), but only "Gee" on Chess (1961) brought the Hollywood Flames back in the R&B charts, for the second and last time. Meanwhile, Bobby Day was also contracted as a solo artist to Leon Rene's Class label. His backup singers, the Satellites, were more or less the same people who sang with him in the Hollywood Flames. In 1955, Bobby and Earl had already recorded together as The Voices and from 1957 onwards, they started recording as Bob and Earl, debuting with "You Made A Boo Boo" (Class 213). Their 1958 single "Gee Whiz" (not the Carla Thomas song) was a # 28 hit in 1960 when it was revived by the Innocents. Having several identities could be quite lucrative. By changing names and clothes, Bobby and Earl sometimes managed to be on the same bill three times : as the Hollywood Flames, as Bob and Earl and as Bobby Day and the Satellites. They were all the same four guys! After Bobby Day left the Hollywood Flames, Earl chose to continue with the duo Bob and Earl, and chose Bobby Relf (from the Laurels) to become the new Bob. In 1963 they recorded an early soul classic, "Harlem Shuffle", which went to # 44 (both pop and R&B). In the UK, record buyers were not yet quite ready for these new intense sounds (except for George Harrison, who called it his favourite record of all time), but when it was reissued in 1969, it went to # 7 on the UK charts. Bobby Relf had also been a member of Earl Nelson and the Pelicans, who recorded one single for Class ("I Bow To You"/"Oh Gee Oh Golly"). And Earl was probably also the lead singer on "Wow Wow Baby"/"Oo Wee" by the Searchers (Class 223). In 1965, Earl scored a big solo hit as Jackie Lee with "The Duck" (# 14 pop, # 4 R&B) on the Mirwood label. Jackie was Earl's wife's name and Lee was his own middle name. Earl never completely retired from music and is still living in Los Angeles.

For more details see the (long) Bob and Earl Story at http://www.ritchie-hardin.com/soul/bobearl1.html Recommended listening: The Hollywood Flames (Specialty SPCD 7021/ Ace 420). The Class & Rendezvous Story (Ace 461).

These pages were originally published as "This Is My Story" in the
Yahoo Group "Shakin' All Over". For comments or information
please contact Dik de Heer at

-- Return to "This Is My Story" Index --