Like it is, like it was
The greatest vocal group to have ever opened their mouths are calling it a day - after six decades of groundbreaking, heartrending records. The Dells bare their souls to Garth Cartwright
Let’s make things clear from the start: I believe The Dells possess the richest, most distinctive vocal blend in American music history. The drama of their sound involves a gospel force-field matched with the emotional engagements of a keen and loving heart. In song their voices weave and climb – a vocal basketball team of sorts, lots of deft passing and rim shots – gathering around Marvin Junior, who delivers the final slam dunk. For dramatic, complex, emotionally drenched harmonies, The Dells are 20th Century masters.
2012 finds The Dells celebrating their diamond jubilee – 60 years as a group – and also announcing their retirement. This is not a huge surprise; the group has not performed or recorded since lead tenor Johnny Carter was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2008. Carter, who joined The Dells in 1961 when original lead tenor Johnny Funches declined to return to the road, had previously enjoyed success with The Flamingos: thus he was one of the rare individuals to enter the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame in two separate groups. He died on 21 August 2009. Since then soul music’s most golden voices have remained silent.
I travelled to Chicago in 2006 to interview The Dells for my book More Miles Than Money: Journeys Through American Music (Serpent’s Tail) and enjoyed an afternoon in the company of …
by Garth Cartwright
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