Three years after The Contours were founded in 1959, they were one of the biggest soul groups. Their 1962 single, Do You Love Me, reached number one and sold over one million copies. The Contours had come a long way in the two years since they signed to Motown. This was ironic, given Berry Gordy originally turned the group down.

That was in 1960, a year after Joe Billingslea and Billy Gordon founded The Blenders in Detroit. They then added Billy Hoggs and Billy Rollins, who responded to Joe’s newspaper advert. This wasn’t the end of the changes. No. Leroy Fair replaced Billy Rollins. The final piece in the musical jigsaw was  Hubert Johnson. This coincided with The Blenders changing their name to The Contours.

Now called The Contours, they auditioned for Berry Gordy’s Motown in the Autumn of 1960. Berry Gordy wasn’t impressed and turned The Contours down. The Contours didm’t give up though.

They visited Hubert Johnson’s cousin Jackie Wilson. He just happened to be a friend of Berry Gordy. Jackie Wilson got The Contours a second audition. At the audition, The Contours sang the same songs and in the same way. This time though Berry Gordy decided he liked The Contours. They were rewarded with a seven year contract. 

Their debut single was Whole Lotta Woman. Released in January 1961 Whole Lotta Woman failed to chart. This was an inauspicious start to their career. It would get worse before it got better. 

Not long after this, Leroy Fair left The Contours. His replacement was Benny Reeves, the brother of Martha Reeves. His time with The Contours was curtailed, when Benny headed of to join the US Navy. Benny’s replacement was Sylvester Potts. He made his debut on The Contours’ sophomore single The Stretch. Just like their debut single, it failed to chart. However, The Contours’ career was about to be transformed.

Early in 1962, The Contours released their third single Do You Love Me. It  reached number one in the US Billboard R&B charts and number three in the US Billboard 100 and sold over one million copies. This was the start of a run of three singles The Contours released between 1963 and early 1964. However, by June 1964 things weren’t going well for The Contours.

Two years later, in June 1964, The Contours weren’t happy. They weren’t happy with what Motown were paying them. Nor were they happy about their conditions. Discussions with Motown President Berry Gordy were going nowhere. After a lengthy discussion, the members of The Contours decided there was only one thing way to resolve the situation, by going on strike. 

This backfired on four members of The Contours. Lead singer Billy Gordon changed his mind about going on strike. Billy and guitarist Huey Davis were kept on by Berry Gordy. However, he sacked the other members of The Contours. In came Council Gay, Jerry Green and Alvin English. Three months later Alvin English left The Contours and Sylvester Potts rejoined the group. This new lineup of The Contours made their debut on Can You Jerk Like Me? It gave The Contours a hit single, reaching number forty-seven in the US Billboard 100 and number fifteen in the US R&B charts. Things looked good for the new lineup of The Contours, who feature on Just A Little Misunderstanding-Rare and Unissued 1965-1968, which was recently released by Kent Soul, an imprint of Ace Records.

Just A Little Misunderstanding-Rare and Unissued 1965-1968 features twenty-six tracks. This includes a mixture of singles and fourteen unreleased tracks. This makes  Just A Little Misunderstanding-Rare and Unissued 1965-1968 the perfect companion to Kent Soul’s previous compilations of The Contours’ music. It also documents the next chapter in The Contours’ career.

Following the release of Can You Jerk Like Me, there was some debate about what The Contours’ next single would be. Eventually, First I Look At The Purse was released in June 1965. A mid-tempo stomper with a powerhouse of a vocal, it reached number fifty-seven in the US Billboard 100 and number twelve in the US R&B charts. Things had started well for the new lineup of The Contours. The success continued.

Just a Little Misunderstanding, which was written by Stevie Wonder, was chosen as The Contours next single in 1966. It doesn’t feature Billy Gordon on lead vocal. Instead, Levi Stubbs’ brother Joe took charge of lead vocal on this horn driven stomper, which would later prove popular among within the Northern Soul scene. Although Just a Little Misunderstanding reached just number eighty-five in the US Billboard 100, it reached number eighteen in the US R&B charts. Over the Atlantic, in the UK, The Contours enjoyed their first hit single, when Just a Little Misunderstanding reached number thirty-one. Tucked away on the B-Side was Determination, which is something of a hidden gem. A dramatic, soulful ballad, it’s nearly as good enough as the single. These weren’t the only tracks where Joe sung the lead vocal.

There are seven other tracks on Just A Little Misunderstanding-Rare and Unissued 1965-1968 where Joe takes charge of the lead vocal. This includes Determination, which was released as a single in April 1966. It failed to chart. Other tracks include the previously unreleased A Weak Spot In My Heart, Need Your Lovin’ (Want You Back), I Grow Deeper In Love Every Day and Come See About Me. The stomping I Can’t Help Loving You Baby wasn’t released until 2007. It features one of Joe’s best lead vocals. He was after all, a talented vocalist. That’s why Joe was asked to join a new Motown group The Originals. As Joe’s career was in the ascendancy, Billy Gordon’s career was spiralling out of control.

One of the reason for this was the loss of Billy Gordon. He left The Contours for good around this time. Billy had left before in 1965, but returned. Now this was for good. This was a disaster for The Contours. It was even worse for Billy. His life seemed to spiral out of control. In 1968, he was arrested for attempted burglary. He was put on probation. After that, things got worse for Billy. Billy spent much of the seventies and eighties in prison. Worse was to come for Billy. 

in 1987, Dirty Dancing featured Do You Love Me. For The Contours this was a huge bonus. Especially Billy, who had sung the lead vocal. So, he decided to try and rejuvenate his career. Things didn’t work out. Nobody would hire Billy. For the next twelve years, his life spiralled further out control. So much so, that in 1997, Billy was reduced to living on the streets. He died later in 1999. Back then, nobody had any idea how bad things would get for Billy Gordon. For The Contours, their career began to stall.

When The Contours entered the studio to record Sometimes I Have To Cry and Our Last Rendezvous, Joe didn’t take charge of the lead vocal. Instead, the songs feature Jerry Green. Sometimes I Have To Cry failed to chart. It saw a return to the familiar Motown sound. On Our Last Rendezvous, it seems as if The Contours have been inspired by The Drifters. A delicious slice of soulful music, it features a new side of The Contours. Other tracks to feature Jerry was Baby Hit And Run and When A Man Loves A Woman, two of the unreleased tracks. It featured what was The Contours’ third lead vocalist. Not long after this, Dennis Edwards would become The Contours’ fourth vocalist.

After Joe Stubbs left The Contours, the hunt began for a new vocalist. Motown knew just the man, Detroit based Dennis Edwards, who just so happened to be signed to Motown. 

Dennis had been forging a career as a singer before he was drafted. When he returned home, he began his career all over again. Before long, he found himself signed to Motown. This seemed a good move. Then he was left in limbo for several month. He was just about to ask to be released from his contract when he was asked to become The Contours’ new lead vocalist.

His debut single with The Contours was It’s Just So Hard Being A Loser. Released in 1967, it stalled at number seventy-nine in the US Billboard 100 and number thirty-five in the US R&B charts. Ironically, it’s one of The Contours best singles. That’s because it marks a move away from the trademark Motown sound.  It marks a coming of age from The Contours. They’re at their soulful best. Accompanied by swirling strings, they deliver a vocal full of heartache and despair. The heartache and despair continues on You’re Love Grows More Precious Everyday. A soul-baring ballad, it’s a glimpse of what The Contours were capable of. After that, Dennis became The Contours full-time lead vocalist.

Unfortunately, It’s Just So Hard Being A Loser was The Contours’ last US single. It wasn’t the last recording Dennis made with The Contours. Far from it. There’s another twelve tracks featuring The Contours’ with Dennis at the helm.

Most of the twelve tracks haven’t been released before. Growing, a smooth and soulful ballad featured on The Contours’ 1974 album Baby Hit and Run. The unreleased tracks include Girl Come On In and the heartfelt I’m Here Now That You Need Me. 

New life and meaning are breathed into three cover versions. The first  What Becomes Of The Broken Hearted. Sunny then takes on a  laid-back, understated and soulful sound. Turn To Stone is the best of the covers. It’s a perfect showcase Dennis and The Contours. They feed off each other as they reinvent a familiar track. 

Two of Dennis’ finest moments are What’s So Good About Goodbye and  You’re Love Grows More Precious Everyday. These track are a taste of what would follow from Dennis. After this, the tempo rises.

Keep On Tryin’ (‘Til You Find Love) is a joyous hidden gem where The Contours, accompanied by dancing strings and handclaps kick loose. Ain’t That Peculiar is driven a rasping horns, cooing harmonies, swirling strings and a stomping beat. There’s no drop in the tempo on the needy I Like Everything About You and Can’t Do Without Your Love and then Which Way To My Baby, which features a heartbroken Dennis. Each of these tracks demonstrate how important a part Dennis Edwards played in The Contours’ story.

Despite Dennis Edwards’ contribution, The Contours never again replicated the commercial success they’d previously enjoyed. The highpoint of their career was their 1962 single, Do You Love Me. It reached number one and sold over one million copies. Never again, would The Contours enjoy the same commercial success. 

Instead, The Contours enjoyed eight further singles after Do You Love Me. These singles never replicated Do You Love Me. That’s despite the undoubted quality of The Contours’ singles. Maybe part of the problem was the changes in The Contours’ lineup.

Maybe part of the problem was they never settled on one vocalist. The loss of Billy Gordon was a big blow. Although three talented vocalists filled Billy’s shoes, this meant that The Contours never quite established their own sound. After all, the four vocalists were very different. Ironically, when The Contours found Dennis Edwards, the vocalist who could revive their fortunes, their career stalled.

When The Contours added Dennis Edwards to their lineup, their success dried up. They only released one further single. That was an opportunity lost. Dennis was a hugely talented vocalist. He could bring lyrics to life, and breath meaning and emotion into them. However, by then, The Contours had slipped down the Motown pecking order.

Sadly, he came to the party too late. By the time Dennis joined The Contours, and took charge of the lead vocal on It’s Just So Hard Being A Lose, other groups were getting priority from the Motown hierarchy. Five years after they’d released their number one single Do You Love Me, The Contours’ career was at a crossroads. Rumours that they were about to release their debut album came to nothing. A year later, The Contours were history.

During the rest of 1967, Dennis split his time between The Contours and his solo career. He recorded a number of vocals. It hadn’t been decided if they should be released by Dennis or The Contours. The Contours final recording was Which Way To My Baby. It wasn’t released until 1996. However, not long after the recording of Which Way To My Baby, The Contours were history.

The end came in 1968, when The Contours were playing a concert in Baltimore. After the concert, Dennis retired to his room, while the rest of The Contours enjoyed some R&R. Then during the night, Dennis was awakened by the police and arrested. 

After Dennis went to his bed, The Contours party got out of hand. Someone was stabbed in the bar. He and the rest of The Contours were arrested and spent a night in the cells. That was the end. When he returned home to Detroit, Dennis told the rest of The Contours he was leaving the group. He went on to join The Temptations. This marked the end of the road for The Contours. 

After nine years and four lead singers, The Contours were no more. They were a hugely talented and soulful group who could’ve and should’ve enjoyed much more commercial success than they did. A reminder of this is Just A Little Misunderstanding-Rare and Unissued 1965-1968, which was recently released by Kent Soul, an imprint of Ace Records. 







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