In the late 1950s in Detroit, two singers named Joe Billingslea
and Billy Gordon left their group (The Majestics) to create
their own vocal group. Billingslea placed an ad in the local
paper for other singers. Billy Hoggs answered it and was
hired. Hoggs suggested they also consider his neighbor, Billy
Rollins. Billingslea and Gordon agreed. Billy Gordon named
the quartet "The Blenders". Almost immediately, Rollins was
replaced with another friend of Hoggs named Leroy Fair. After
singing together for a while, the group decided that adding
a fifth member would round out the harmonies and complete
the sound that Billingslea and Gordon were looking for. They
added Hubert Johnson. By the fall of 1960, The Blenders believed
they had perfected their sound to the point where they could
make a recording. They visited a music company called "Flick
and Contour Records." The audition didn't pan out, but Billingslea,
intrigued by the company's name convinced the group to change
its name to "The Contours".
Later that day, the group traveled to Motown Records and
auditioned for Berry Gordy, Jr. He liked the group's raw sound,
but suggested they take a few more months to polish their
act. They left disappointed, but fate stepped in and reversed
their fortunes. Unbeknownst to the other group members, Hubert
Johnson was the cousin of Brunswick recording artist Jackie
Wilson, who at the time had already charted nine hits and
who was a personal friend of Berry Gordy. The group went to
Wilson's home for some advice. After listening to the group
sing, Wilson telephoned Gordy and persuaded him to take a
another look at The Contours. They returned the same day and
the second trip netted them a seven-year recording contract
In January 1961, Motown released The Contours "Whole Lotta
Woman" b/w "Come On And Be Mine". The record did not have
much success. Shortly afterward, there was some disappointing
news for Leroy Fair. Despite his great voice, Leroy couldn't
handle the required choreography, and the group (to steal
the words of the song to come) broke his heart, cause he couldn't
dance. The group replaced him with Bennie Reeves (brother
of Motown recording artist Martha Reeves). Reeves tenure ended
when the United States Navy called him to active duty. Sylvester
Potts replaced Reeves. This group recorded, "The Stretch"
b/w "Funny" which didn't fare much better than the first effort.
However, for The Contours, the third time would become the
In 1962, Gordy created a new label for Motown Records called
the Gordy label and signed The Contours as its first artist.
In the summer of 1962, the group recorded Berry Gordy Jr.'s,
"Do You Love Me," resulting in the group's (and label's) first
hit. Within two weeks of its release, the song roared to #2
on the Billboard Hot 100, taking the #1 spot on the R&B charts
and #3 on the pop charts. It remained on the charts for five
months. The song was the Gordy label's first million-seller,
and it still holds the record as Motown's fastest rising hit
of all time.
In 1963, the group charted another hit, sending "Shake Sherry"
to the #21 position on the R&B charts (#43 pop). In 1964,
they charted "Can You Do It" at #41 R&B. Still in 1964, they
recorded a ballad entitled "The Day When She Needed Me". However,
by the time this song was released, The Contours would undergo
a major restructuring.
The group had irreconcilable creative differences with Motown.
At a 1964 meeting with Berry Gordy, Jr., original members
Joe Billingslea and Billy Hoggs along with Sylvester Potts
announced they were quitting. A week later original member
Hubert Johnson resigned, leaving Billy Gordon as the only
original member of the group. Motown reconstructed the group
as a quartet, adding Council Gay, Jerry Green and Alvin English.
The reconstituted group recorded and released "Can You Jerk
Like Me??" On the flip side was "The Day When She Needed Me"
by the earlier members of The Contours. Both songs charted
in 1965 (#15 R&B and #37 R&B/#47 pop respectively). The reconstituted
group also charted "First I Look At the Purse" (#12 R&B/#57
After a year Sylvester Potts returned to the group replacing
Alvin English. However, almost immediately afterwards, the
only remaining original member, Billy Gordon, left and was
replaced by Joe Stubbs (former lead singer of the Falcons
and brother of the Four Tops' Levi Stubbs). This group charted
"Just a Little Misunderstanding" (#18 R&B/#85 pop, 1966).
Joe Stubbs quit and was replaced by Dennis Edwards (who would
later replace David Ruffin in The Temptations). This iteration
of The Contours charted "It's So Hard Being a Loser" (#35
R&B/#79 pop, 1967). After its contract with Motown expired,
The Contours disbanded..
About 1971, original member Joe Billingslea revived the group,
playing a few dates here and there. By 1981, the group consisted
of Joe Billingslea, former Contour Council Gay, Arthur Hinson,
Martin ‘Beanie’ Upshire and C. Autry ‘Breeze’
Hatcher. The Contours began to play a lot more dates. In 1984,
Arthur Hinson left the group and was replaced by R. Charles
Davis. A week later, Council Gay left and Sylvester Potts
returned to the group. In 1987, Hatcher left the group and
Arthur Hinson returned.
That same year, "Do You Love Me" was included in
the movie, "Dirty Dancing", starring Patrick Swayze
and Jennifer Grey. This revived the song and it returned to
the pop charts in July 1988 for eight weeks, peaking at #11.
As certified by the Recording
Industry Association Of America, "More Dirty Dancing
(1987 Film Additional Soundtrack)" (which included "Do
You Love Me") went multi-platinum at level 4.0.
The movie soundtrack spawned a "Dirty Dancing Concert
Tour", which featured THE CONTOURS and other artists
including Bill Medley, Eric Carmen, Ronnie Spector, Merry
Clayton and a set of dancers from the movie. A week before
the tour was to start, Beanie Upshire was replaced by Darrel
Nunlee. This version of THE CONTOURS played the ten-month
"Dirty Dancing Tour," entertaining over two million
fans in eight countries. The "Dirty Dancing Tour"
was Performance's 1998 Variety Act of the Year. The tour also
gave birth to a live CD release. THE CONTOURS contributed
"Get Ready", "Higher and Higher", "Cry
to Me" and "Do You Love Me" to the 1989 release
"Dirty Dancing Live In Concert". In September 1998,
THE CONTOURS released a CD, "Great Dirty Dancing Hits",
sprinkled with several of their hits as well as hits of other
artists. In July 1999, yet another Dirty Dancing CD, "Dirty
Dancing: More Dirty Dancing [Original Recording Remastered]"
which included "Do You Love Me" was released. In
all, re-released version contributed to ten million new copies
of the song, "Do You Love Me." It's fair to say
that Dirty Dancing has been good to THE CONTOURS.
In 1990, Arthur Hinson left the group and THE CONTOURS continued
as a quartet until 1993 when Darell Nunlee left and Gary Grier
and Al Chisholm were added taking the group back to a five-man
form. This configuration of THE CONTOURS existed until early
2004, when Sylvester Potts quit. He was replaced by Dupree
left and in 2006, Odell Jones replaced him. In 2014, Jones left The Contours and was replaced by Lyall Hoggart. In 2015, Dwjuan Brock replaced Charles Davis.
THE CONTOURS have made two appearances on the PBS Specials,
"Rock, Rhythm & Doo-Wop" and "Motown: The
Early Years." They have also been featured on American Bandstand, the Dick
Clark Show, Oprah, Kelly & Company and The Montel Williams
Show. On July 20, 1989, THE CONTOURS were inducted into the
Rock 'n' Roll Walk of Fame outside Royal Oak's Metropolitan
Musicafe in Royal Oak, Michigan. They also received the Smokey
Robinson Heroes And Legends Award in 2000 and have been nominated
for The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. In 2010, they were inducted into the Doo-Wopp Hall of Fame of America. In 2015, they were inducted into the Rhythm & Blues Hall of Fame.
THE CONTOURS continue to record and
tour extensively. Their show is jam-packed with dazzling high-energy
choreography, impeccable harmonies and those timeless Motown
grooves that everyone knows and loves. You can choose to dance,
sing along, or just sit back (if you can) and watch the show
as they perform all of their greatest hits together with many
of the greatest hits of the 1960s and a selection of classic
songs from the Dirty Dancing Soundtrack. The show is as high
energy as it was in the 1960s, though the flips and splits
of yesteryear have been replaced by a brilliant choreography
more suited to gentlemen in their second half-century of life!