The curiously named Rochell and the Candles were an all-male black vocal group, formed in 1958 in Los Angeles, by Rochell Henderson (lead and tenor), Johnny Wyatt (lead and first tenor), Mel Sasso (tenor) and T.C. Henderson (bass). The two Hendersons were not related, but both came originally from Louisiana. Wyatt was a Texan and only Sasso was an L.A. kid. The foursome played clubs until they had enough original material to record. Four tracks were recorded in the backyard studio of Ted Brinson (a professional bass player who can be heard on most of Larry Williams's early Specialty recordings) in Watts, where at least two major 1950s hits had been recorded, "Earth Angel" by the Penguins and "Western Movies" by the Olympics.

The group took their demos to Hunter Hancock of KGFJ, then one of the hottest R&B deejays in L.A. Hancock had started his own label, Swingin' Records in 1959 and scored a hit with "There Is Something On Your Mind" by Big Jay McNeely. Hancock tested out their song "Once Upon A Time" on his show by playing their acetate and the studio phones started ringing immediately. Released in October 1960 on Swingin' 623, "Once Upon A Time" slipped into Billboard's Hot 100 in February 1961, eventually reaching # 26. The feminine sounding lead on this doowop number was by Johnny Wyatt. The record was not in keeping with the group's image : not only was Rochell not the lead, "Rochell" wasn't even a girl. The group got plenty of work out of their hit, but when both follow-ups flopped, the group switched to the Challenge label in 1962. On "Every Night" they were backed by the Champs, but this ballad didn't sell either, in spite of a good Billboard review. Their best record came in 1963, but it never stood a chance, as it was not even the A-side. "Annie's Not An Orphan Anymore" (Challenge 9191, written by Dave Burgess of the Champs) was a mid-tempo rocker that confounded its 1963 release date by harking back to an earlier era, with a "fat" sax sound. It was co-produced by Gary Usher and Mike Borchetta. The A-side was what you could call a proto-funk recording, "Let's Run Away And Get Married", that crashed on takeoff.

Four older cuts were released in 1964 on two singles, including an odd arrangement of "Big Boy Pete", before the Candles were snuffed out. Johnny Wyatt went on to record as a solo vocalist and had releases on Challenge, Magnum and Bronco. Jay Warner writes in his otherwise excellent Billboard book of American singing groups (1992) that he was the leader of the soul group Johnny and the Expresions, but that was Johnny Matthews. Johnny Wyatt died in December 1983 at the age of 45. Rochell and the Candles were a typical one-hit wonder group with an atypical image.

Acknowledgements : Jay Warner, Rob Finnis.
Rochell and the Candles on YouTube (no moving images):

"Annie's Not An Orphan Anymore" is still available on the CD "More Hollywood Rock 'n' Roll" (Ace 494), released in 1994.


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