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 By Bob Davis of Soul-Patrol.com | With thanks to NewBlackMan (in Exile)


Tuesday, June 4, 2013.


My very first encounter with the Dells was in 1969. I had just heard the song "Oh What a Night" on the radio in NYC. I was listening to the radio in my bedroom and of course I thought the song was off the hook. As the song was just about to end, my father walked in to the room and said:


Mr. Davis: What's that you are listening to?


Young Earthjuice: It's a brand new song.


Mr. Davis: That song isn't new.


Young Earthjuice: Frankie Crocker just said that; "it's the brand new release from the Dells."


Mr. Davis: It may be a new release, but that song is old as dirt. It first came out when I was a teenager and the guy singing it has to be at least my age, if not older.


Sure enough, as I would later learn, via continuous listening to Frankie Crocker, that the Dells had indeed originally released the song "Oh What a Night," back in 1955. Frankie said that it had been a hit song and that the Dells were one of the few "doo wop" groups that were still around and kicking.  He also said that the Dells lead singer Marvin Junior had co-written and sang on the original 1955 version of the song.


Years later when I met Marvin Junior, I told him that story. He told me that he has heard a variation of that same story many times from many different people. He said that every time he hears it that it made him smile because it means that the Dells are truly "multi-generational."


And that they are. Marvin Junior might just be the single most influential "voice" in the history of Black music. His influence on male singers like Teddy Pendergrass, David Ruffin, Cee Lo Green and others are quite obvious. Other influences are just as powerful, but perhaps not quite so obvious. Take for example our friend Chuck D, front man of the legendary rap group Public Enemy. A few years ago, Chuck D. told me that when he first started, he intentionally set out to sound as much like Marvin Junior as possible. I didn't quite believe him, so I decided to spend an afternoon listening to Public Enemy songs & Dells songs, back to back to back. The vocal similarities are astounding. Chuck really does sound like Marvin. Not exactly, but "almost," in the same kind of way that Teddy Pendergrass and David Ruffin did.


So one way we can think about Marvin Junior is that his influence runs from "doo wop to hip hop."


But more important would be to think about and consider exactly why Marvin would have such a multi-generational influence?


Well I think that is also painfully obvious. Marvin's voice is that of a proud and virile Black man. It is of someone who recognizes the struggle that he faces and faces it head on. It is a voice of teachers and preachers. It is a voice that all men who want to influence others would want to emulate. It is in fact the voice of leadership. Listen carefully to speeches of people like Martin Luther King. Jr.,  Jessie Jackson, Louis Farrakhan and  others. Listen to the voices of some of your favorite Black politicians, DJs, actors, etc. Don't many of them sound like they are emulating the voice of Marvin Junior?


All of this may just be too much to think about or to consider, after all, wasn't this man just a singer? Or even just a great singer?


Well perhaps you are correct?


Perhaps it is all too complex to think about?


Maybe I should just let it go?


After all, the whole topic of Rhythm & Blues itself is a pretty complex topic, and perhaps its complexity is best left alone and we should simply focus on the songs?


Marvin Junior wasn't really what you would consider "computer literate."


However he was quite interested in Soul-Patrol. He told me that he would have someone print out many of the things I had written, and whenever I would see him, we would have conversations about some of the topics I had written about.


Once backstage Marvin said to me; "Bob one of the reasons that I like you so much is because you understand that Rhythm & Blues is a complex thing.


Of course I knew just where he was going, but I could tell that he wanted to let it all out, so I said to him...How so Marvin?


Marvin said; "One of the reasons why some Americans prefer Blues over Rhythm and Blues, is because Blues is pretty simple. Blues is easy to play and it's easy to relate to. Blues is straightforward, simple, and reflects a back to a time that is simple and uncomplicated. Rhythm and Blues on the other hand was born first of the complexities of the great migration of Blacks from the south, then the complexities of World War II and the integration movement of the 1950's/1960's. Rhythm and Blues is complex, it's harder to play, harder to interpret, it's complicated and carries with it implications for America that some Americans don't want to deal with."


Of course I smiled and when I did, I thought about all of the people from the major music publications who questioned why the Dells belonged in the Rock n' Roll Hall of Fame. They told me that they thought the Dells weren't significant enough, that they hadn't accomplished enough, etc. I could look into their eyes and know what they were really thinking.


They were thinking; "the Dells are nothing but a broken down, bunch of dumb doo wop singers."


They never bothered to get to know Marvin Junior and that was their loss. They just might have missed out on their opportunity to learn something about Rhythm and Blues. But then again, maybe that is what they were afraid of?


Back to that "leadership thing" for just a moment...


Whenever I was around Marvin and started talking about artists like Smokey Robinson or Lionel Ritchie, Marvin would always say the same thing...


"Bob, what I don't understand is why when these guys decide to go solo, they don't take the rest of the group with them? Seems to me that even as a solo artist, you still need background singers, why not keep the same background singers who made you successful in the first place? After all, these are the people who best know how to maximize your strengths and minimize your weaknesses..."


Now to be perfectly clear, speaking as someone who knows the Dells very well, I can tell you that the Dells don't have a "leader."


They are the shining example of "harmony" on multiple levels, which each member making a valuable contribution to the whole, if often unseen by the general public. Notice I didn't say that they always agree on everything. But they always found a way to make "harmony" out of a disagreement. That's the reason why the Dells have been together for so long, unlike many of their contemporaries.


But Marvin was their lead singer, on most of their songs. And he certainly could have become a "solo artist" had he wanted to. But instead he stands as a shining example of "leadership among equals." And that my friends is something that we can all take inspiration from.


RIP - Marvin Junior



Bob Davis is co-owner/creator (with his brother Mike) of the award winning Soul-Patrol.com.  Davis was instrumental, along with Soul-Patrol.com, in helping The Dells to become inducted in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Follow him on Twitter @Kozmicfunk.


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