The Rough Cut is honored to have its first contributor, “Echoes of the Past” writer Steven Kahn (aka41sk), for the excellent article he published on the Mandells. The article is thorough, well researched, and critically acclaimed. Enjoy!-citizen G
The Mandells (top to bottom: Eranious Murray, Jimmy Smith, Russell (aka “Peesburgh”), and Chuck Young
(View a video of “Darling I’m Home” here)
“Darling, I’m Home” by the Mandells is a stirring ballad which contains many of the elements of classic rhythm and blues vocal group harmony. The song begins with Neil Murray proclaiming, in his distinctive, booming bass vocal – “You know I turn back the calendar, I mark, mark off the days, I’m hoping and I’m praying that you’ll come back one day.” Lead singer Chuck Young immediately enters with his “Smokey Robinson-esque” tenor lead – “Darling, I’m home, here by your side.” Jimmy Smith, Russell and Charles Clemons occasionally interject with their backup “ho-ho’s” and Chuck Young’s expressive voice eventually becomes a full-fledged, emotional falsetto. The song then segues into bandleader Ray Esquivel’s memorable saxophone solo, and concludes with an emotional plea from Chuck – “Neil won’t you help me find my baby,” followed by Neil’s reply; “Oh Chucky I hear your call.” These last two lines, completely ad-libbed, are indicative of the vibrant “live” atmosphere in the studio which the song seems to capture perfectly. The Mandells – the vocal group performing this song – have been shrouded in mystery among vocal group harmony collectors for years. Yet their exciting live performances have been firmly etched into the minds of many involved in the music scene of Albuquerque, New Mexico in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s. This article will trace the history of the group.
Eranious McNeil Murray (known by his friends as Neil Murray) was born to an A.M.E. church minister in Charleston, South Carolina on February 3rd, 1938. From a young age Neil had been involved in the church, and he was eventually exposed to the “new” musical form which came to be known as rhythm and blues. All the while, his family relocated to a number of towns throughout South Carolina, and in June of 1955, young Neil graduated from John Ford High School in Saint Mathews. Looking to save money for college, he decided to leave his familiar surroundings and joined the United States Air Force.
Neil began his time in the Air Force by undergoing eleven weeks of military training at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas. He followed this up with further training in Fort Belvoir, Virginia – this time for his specific work as an engineering draftsman. In December of 1955 he was flown from Manhattan Beach Air Force Station in Brooklyn, New York to Frankfurt, Germany. From Frankfurt he took a train to Munich, and then Erding, Germany. Erding was a small town about twenty miles away from Munich. It contained a U.S. Air Force base where Allied pilots were being taught, among other things, how to fly the latest jets.
Neil recalls walking onto his base at Erding on December 26, 1955 with the song “Sixteen Tons” by Tennessee Ernie Ford playing on the speaker in the background. A few days later he stopped by the local airman’s club and noticed the military men playing various different games as well as listening to music. Neil, being a musically-trained second tenor vocalist, noticed four military men singing harmony who were unaware of the vocal changes of what they were singing. He joined in their singing, took it upon himself to teach them proper methods of harmonizing, and soon became the baritone/bass singer in their vocal group (his voice had gradually deepened as he got older). Around mid-January of 1956, they decided to name their group “The Supremes.” The Supremes were:
Harry Golphin – first tenor and lead
Wil “Dallas” Hubbard – first tenor, second tenor and lead
James Lay – second tenor, baritone and lead
Neil Murray – piano, second tenor, baritone, bass and lead
The group began rehearsing regularly, and their list of songs was growing on a daily basis. Neil recalls that he often sat at the piano, and he was the one who came up with the harmony. They began putting on shows for the officers and airmen stationed on their base, performing at the airman’s club, the NCO club – as well as doing private shows for the officers. They performed popular songs of the day, including Cherry Pie (Marvin & Johnny), Idol With A Golden Head (The Coasters), Get A Job (The Silhouettes), and an original ballad written by Neil titled “Darling If You Left Me” (which they frequently closed with). A particular crowd favorite was “Why Don’t You Write Me,” which had been recently recorded by The Jacks.
The Supremes became quite popular at Erding, and in the spring of 1956 they won the talent championships held on the base. They soon found themselves competing in the European championships of the Air Force talent competition “Tops In Blue” (held in Wiesbaden, Germany), which they won as well. In the late spring Neil and his squadron moved to Bordeaux, France, and The Supremes continued to perform. However, within a few months, this was to change.
In October of 1956, on a promise that after thirteen months they could return to the base at Bordeaux and serve their remaining time there, Neil Murray and James Lay (of The Supremes) took an assignment at Wheelus Field Air Force Base in Tripoli, Libya. At their new base, Neil and James quickly formed a new singing group. Being that they were stationed in the Libyan Sahara Desert, they decided to name their group “The Desertiers,” consisting of the following members:
(name not remembered) – first tenor, second tenor and lead
Henry (last name not remembered) – first tenor, second tenor and lead
James Lay – second tenor and lead
Neil Murray – piano, baritone, bass and lead
The Desertiers (similar to The Supremes) began competing in local singing competitions, and soon performed in the North African championships of the “Tops In Blue” competition, held at Wheelus Base. They beat five other groups (including The Cadets, who went on to record “Stranded In The Jungle”), and won the championship in the spring of 1957. Following this, they went to Wiesbaden, Germany (as The Supremes had) and performed in the European championships of the Tops In Blue.
The Desertiers at the “Tops in Blue” Competition
In the fall of 1957 Neil and James’ assignment at Wheelus Base had ended, and The Desertiers dissolved. Neil was set to return to the base in Bordeaux, but was instead given an option to pick three Air Forces bases in the United States that he wanted to continue serving in. Neil chose three bases in California, none of which were available at the time, but there came a need for an enlistment at Kirtland Air Force Base, which was located near the Manzano mountains in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Neil was happy because he figured that New Mexico was close enough to his first choice of California.
Neil Murray arrived at his new home at Kirtland Air Force base on December 27, 1957. He immediately began singing with his fellow airmen, and soon joined another group that was in need of a bass vocalist. They decided to name this group The Vocaltones, which consisted of the following members:
Milton J. Smith – tenor and lead
Wayne Boswell – baritone, tenor and lead
Barry Boswell – tenor and lead
Neil Murray – piano, baritone, bass and lead
The Vocaltones ca. 1958 (top to bottom: Jimmy Smith, Eranious Murray, Wayne Boswell, and Milton Smith)
Milton J. Smith, a Navy seaman from New Orleans, Louisiana, was a talented singer with a velvety smooth high tenor. Wayne and Barry Boswell came from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, were fraternal twins who did not look alike, and were serving in the Air Force as staff sergeants. All were stationed on base at Kirtland. Barry Boswell, however, was not a steady member of the group and eventually dropped out. About three months after the group had formed, Jimmy Smith, a fireman in the Air Force who was brand new to Kirtland, joined The Vocaltones on tenor and lead. Jimmy was unrelated to Milton Smith but was also a talented vocalist with a distinctive and smooth high tenor.
The Vocaltones practiced regularly, began to entertain people at Kirtland and around the greater Albuquerque area, and soon found themselves with a strong and devoted local following. They performed a vast selection of popular songs including “I Love You For Sentimental Reasons” (with Milton Smith on lead) and Lee Andrews and the Hearts’ “Teardrops” (Wayne Boswell on lead). Neil recalls that during the Christmas season of 1958 the group also added holiday songs to their repertoire, including a unique rendition of the Drifters’ version of “White Christmas,” with Milton Smith singing Clyde McPhatter’s high tenor lead part.
In the spring of 1959 The Vocaltones won the talent championships at Kirtland base, and followed this up by winning the competition of the Air Research and Development Command. This led them to the main championships (aka “Tops In Blue) which were held at Francis E. Warren Air Force Base in Cheyenne, Wyoming, where they came in at second place.
The Vocaltones, seen wearing shades on the right side of the photo, at the “Tops in Blue” competition
Neil Murray was honorably discharged from the U.S. Air Force on June 7th, 1959, followed a few weeks later by Milton Smith and Wayne Boswell. Neil took some time off to visit family and friends in the Carolinas. He thereafter returned to Albuquerque and in the fall of 1959 began work as an engineering draftsman for the U.S. Army Corp. of Engineers. Wayne Boswell stayed in the Air Force but was transferred to an assignment at another base, and Milton Smith left the Air Force completely – returning back home to civilian life in New Orleans.
Less than a week before Milton Smith and Wayne Boswell left Kirtland Air Force Base (as well as The Vocaltones), the group competed against another group from nearby Manzano base. This group from Manzano featured a talented young singer from St. Louis, Missouri named Chuck Young, who patterned his singing style after Smokey Robinson from The Miracles. The group also included Charles Clemons as well as a man named Russell (whose last name is not remembered). The Vocaltones, being the polished vocal group they were, defeated this other group but were nonetheless highly impressed by them. As soon as Milton and Wayne left, Jimmy and Neil decided to take Chuck, Charles and Russell into their group. After three weeks of rehearsals The Vocaltones were revitalized, and immediately went back on stage with a new and slightly different “doowop” sound. The Vocaltones now consisted of the following five members:
Chuck Young – first tenor and lead
Jimmy Smith – first tenor, second tenor and lead
Russell (last name not remembered) – second tenor and lead
Charles Clemons – baritone, bass and lead
Neil Murray – piano, baritone, bass and lead
Sometime around late 1959, Chuck and Jimmy approached Neil with a new name for their group, and decided upon “The Mandells.” Neil does not recall exactly where the name came from, but the name stuck and the group continued to successfully perform both at Kirtland Base as well as around Albuquerque, New Mexico.
In early 1960 Neil Murray, successful as he was with his vocal groups, decided to start up a full band. This band was named “The Swinging Supremes” (after Neil’s earlier vocal group The Supremes) and consisted of the following members:
Neil Murray – arranger, pianist and lead vocalist
Mike Silva – arranger and saxophone player
Frankie Lerma – lead guitar
Emilio Armijo – bass guitar
(name not remembered) – drums
The Swinging Supremes ca. 1960 (clockwise from top left: Neil Murray, Emilio Armijo, Frankie Lerma, Charles Brown, Mike Silva)
Neil cannot recall the name of their original drummer (he went by the nickname “Hollywood”) but he was soon replaced by someone named Charles Brown, Jr. The Swinging Supremes began playing local gigs around Albuquerque. They were the featured band at the University of New Mexico’s “Wednesday Night Band Nights” (held in the Student Union building) and they also performed at various hotels around the area. In addition, they would also often accompany Neil when he performed onstage with The Mandells, creating an exhilarating live performance. In the fall of 1960 Neil returned to work at Kirtland Air Force (the other Mandells were still serving there in the military), this time working as a civilian engineering draftsman. He was also taking classes at the University of New Mexico.
In the early part of 1961, The Mandells made a connection with a record company based out of Sierra Vista, Arizona known as Smart Records. Smart Records was started back in 1949 in Phoenix, Arizona and was owned by a man named Bill Hillman, who also owned a local amusement business. In the late 1950’s, he moved his amusement business (as well as his record company) further south to Sierra Vista, Arizona, located near the Fort Huachuca military base. Smart was a small outfit, and did not even have their own recording studio at the time. Neil recalls that a man named Gaither E. Stepp likely introduced them to Smart Records, and the company was immediately interested in recording them.
On the morning of April 8th 1961, Neil Murray and The Mandells took an eight hour car ride from Albuquerque, New Mexico to Phoenix, Arizona for a recording session to be held later that day for Smart Records at the well-known Audio Recorders studio in Phoenix. During the long ride, Neil recalls that the group practiced harmonizing the four songs they planned on recording. “Because I Love You” was a song that was written by Neil (specifically for the recording session) in tribute to Jimmy Smith and his new girlfriend Priscilla. The song was to feature Jimmy on lead vocals and the rest of the group harmonizing behind him. “I Don’t Have You” was also written by Neil specifically for the session, and was to feature Chuck Young as lead vocalist. “Darling, I’m Home” was an original song that was primarily written by Chuck Young. The group had rehearsed it and even sung it a few times at shows – with Neil playing the intro to the song on the piano. Now that the group would be actually recording it (and Neil would be singing as opposed to playing the piano) they wanted to come up with an intro to the song that was more unique and memorable. Neil recalls that they were playing around with the song during the car ride and he immediately came up with a spoken intro that had him singing “you know I turn back the calendar, I knock knock off the days, I’m hoping and I’m praying, that you’ll come back some day.” The words seemed to fit the rest of the song, the rest of the guys liked it, and they decided that they would begin the song accordingly. The fourth song, “Who, Me?” was written by Neil in its entirety during the long car ride to Phoenix. It was a fast number in the vein of The Coasters (the officers at Kirtland had always liked that type of song) and was to feature the group singing together in unison, with Russell carrying the melody and Neil prompting them along with his bass vocal of “who, me?”
The Mandells (left to right: “Peesburgh,” Charles Clemons, Jimmy Smith, and Chuck Young. Eranious Murray is playing the piano in the background
The recording session itself took place in the early afternoon, and Neil recalls that it lasted about 2-3 hours. The backup band for the session was another group from Albuquerque (named The Gliders), who had traveled in a separate car to the recording session in Phoenix. The Gliders featured a talented leader and saxophone player named Ray Esquivel and consisted of the following members:
Ray Esquivel – saxophone
David Trujillo – piano
Ray Lopez – drums
Eddie Gallegos – guitar
In addition to The Gliders, a local musician named Buddy Wheeler (who had earlier played on some of Duane Eddy’s recordings) was the bass player on the session. The recording engineer was Jack Miller and the producer of the session was Gaither E. Stepp. The four songs were recorded in the studio entirely live and in one take each. Neil remembers that the band (especially Buddy Wheeler) was surprised at how polished The Mandells were, and the vocal group and the band worked incredibly well in the studio together. In fact, on the recordings you can really hear the live energy that took place in the studio at that time! “Darling, I’m Home” was recorded first – with Neil leading it off with his bass vocal intro followed by Chuck with his soaring tenor lead, and Jimmy and the rest of the guys harmonizing in the background. They even threw some ad-libs into the song, and at the end of the recording you can hear Chuck Young sing “Neil won’t you help me find my baby” followed by Neil Murray answering with the reply “oh Chucky I hear your call.” Next up they recorded “Who, Me?,” followed by “Because I Love You” and “I Don’t Have You.”
The four songs recorded at the session were soon pressed onto two 45 RPM records, which were labeled Smart 323 (Darling (I’m Home) / Who, Me?) and Smart 325 (Because I Love You / I Don’t Have You). The records were pressed by Sidney J. Wakefield Custom Record Pressing of Phoenix, Arizona. Smart 323 was then leased out to Chess Records (it is believed that Gaither E. Stepp was their connection to Chess) and was released as Chess #1725. “Darling, I’m Home” was popular on local (New Mexico) radio at the time, and Neil recalls one day hearing the song on KLOS while taking a drive down route 66.
The Mandells, returning to Albuquerque, New Mexico, quickly went out and performed to promote the songs. On one Saturday they appeared on the local Johnny Appleseed Show and they also sang at the Albuquerque Civic Center – a performance venue which was well-known locally. Another time they performed at an expensive hotel that had recently opened in Albuquerque (called “Western Skies”) in front of the governor of New Mexico as well as various other local celebrities. They also continued to perform at the Kirtland and Sandia (another local military base) NCO clubs, and even one time at a dance at a local high school. At many of these shows Neil would play the piano while the rest of the guys would sing as well as play out their in-step dance moves. The songs they performed included “Get A Job” by The Silhouettes and The Coasters’ “Idol With A Golden Head” (on which Neil sang lead and played the piano), and their four original (and recently recorded) own songs. At one show they also sang the Coasters song “Charlie Brown” and the crowd liked the rendition so much that they requested the song again – and The Mandells sang it again at the conclusion of the show. The shows were vibrant and incredibly exciting – visually as well as musically, The Mandells were certainly a sight to behold!
The Mandells, backed by the Swinging Supremes, performing at the Civic Auditorium in Albuquerque, New Mexico. In this photo, “Peesburgh” is singing lead on a cover of a Hank Ballard & The Midnighters song, and Mike Silva is on the saxophone
The Mandells continued to perform throughout 1961, but broke up after Jimmy, Chuck, Russell and Charles were discharged from Kirtland. Jimmy decided to leave the military, and went back to his home in Philadelphia. He married his girlfriend Priscilla and also got a job working for Boeing Vertol as a firefighter, and then a crew chief. Years later, he got a job with the Los Angeles Times newspaper. Sadly, Jimmy Smith passed away from cancer in 1998. Chuck decided to reenlist in the military and was relocated to Southern California. He retired many years later, and he and his wife Eva moved to Sacramento. Unfortunately, Chuck Young passed away in December of 2008, followed the next year by his wife Eva. Charles Clemons and Russell also stayed in the military – Neil believes that Russell went into the intelligence field. Their current whereabouts are not known (nor are the whereabouts of Neil’s earlier singing partners Wayne and Barry Boswell and Milton J. Smith – if anyone knows where these people are please email firstname.lastname@example.org). Neil Murray became a popular disk jockey on Albuquerque radio (going by the moniker “The Priest from the East”), followed by many years as an investigative reporter on television, and currently resides in Minnesota – where he still records in his own home studio!
The Mandells were a talented vocal group whose live performances were enjoyed by many throughout Albuquerque, New Mexico in the early 1960’s. The group is fondly remembered to this day. In addition, their four excellent vocal group recordings remain prized collector’s items. The group’s unique harmony and exciting delivery are appreciated by many who love the sound of authentic rhythm and blues vocal group harmony.
Darling (I’m Home) / Who, Me? – Mandells – Smart 323
Because I Love You / I Don’t Have You – Mandells – Smart 325
Darling, I’m Home / Who, Me? – Mandells – Chess 1794
(The author wishes to thank Neil Murray, John P. Dixon, Priscilla Conkrite, Tommy Mitchell, and Charlie Horner for all of their assistance. In addition, a big thanks to all of the guys who sang and performed in the Supremes, Desertiers, Vocaltones, Swinging Supremes and Mandells for all of their contributions to the field of rhythm and blues vocal group harmony)
Read another article about The Mandells here
Listen to “Darling (I’m Home)” on YouTube here
Steven Kahn, September 2018