Though not from Cleveland, OH, aficionados of C-Town-based music have adopted Bobby Wade as a native son. The classy singer was born in Meadville, PA, on May 19, 1942, and developed a love for soul music, listening to Porky Chadwick, an R&B DJ out of Pittsburgh. Meadville's African-American population was small and the city had little to offer in the way of soul. At 14 he started singing with the Cootie Harris Jazz Quintet, a local outfit, and still found time for school and to help his father build the family home where his mom still lives. He sang with the band until graduation from Meadville High, learning plenty, including the phrasing and techniques of easy listening crooners Frank Sinatra, Nat Cole, Sarah Vaughn, and Billy Eckstine and the stage presence of master entertainers like Sammy Davis Jr. and comedian Redd Foxx; years later, he met and befriended both in Las Vegas.
In 1965, he trekked to Youngstown, OH, to record with Cootie Harris (a drummer) for Marjon Records. Wade led "You Don't Understand Me," a tune that was the B-side of Bobby Freeman's "Do You Wanna Dance"; the hard to find single was credited as the Cootie Harris Group. It didn't do much, but Wade used it as a resume when he relocated to Cleveland in 1966 where he found employment with Greyhound as a baggage handler.
On his way to work one day, he saw a sign on E. 55th Street that said Way Out Records, curious and with record in car, he stopped in and met the owner Lester Johnson (Bill Branch and Little Red also owned a piece of the pie). He played the recording for Johnson and then played a song he was writing on the piano. Johnson loved his voice -- an ex-singer himself, he appreciated Wade's smooth, laid-back, classy style. Wade called in sick and worked with singer/songwriters Rod "Rico" Simmons and John Washington (two members of the Sensations) on a song that also credits Wade as songwriter, "Flame in My Heart."
Johnson took Wade to Cleveland Recording that evening to cut the record. Way Out had many investors, including Don King (who became a huge fight promoter), Judge Lloyd Brown, and Cleveland Brown's Jim Brown and John Wooten; Brown liked the record and financed it for his Big Jim Records, a subsidiary of Way Out that released one other recording, "Baby Don't Go" by the Occasions, which was popular in Cleveland, Chicago, and a few other towns.
He befriended Syd Friedman, a promoter and booking agent; Friedman worked out of a building across the street from the Greyhound Bus Station on Chester Avenue. Before the Way Out deal, Wade had sung "You Don't Understand Me" on the Big Five Show hosted by Don Webster, a local version of American Bandstand. While lip-syncing, the record started skipping (the show was live); instead of bailing, Wade imitated the record's stammer until it stopped and finished the song. When he met Friedman, Friedman told him he had been looking for him, he needed a MC/comedian to work the French Quarters, a strip bar, located on Euclid Avenue. Friedman has seen the Big Five Show and Wade's debacle and thought he was a comedian. Wade took the job and became a MC/singer, holding the gig for three years, as well as working at the Theatrical Grill on Cleveland's notorious Short Vincent Street, where the gangsters hung out. The energetic singer often worked the French Quarters and the Theatrical Grill on the same nights, finishing up at the Grill and still rising on time to make his day job at Greyhound.
He went back to Way Out in 1970 to record "Four Walls and One Window," the song he auditioned with in 1966. Simmons and Washington contributed to what Wade had and it came out with "Can't You Hear Me Calling You" on the flip; the Occasions accompanied Wade on backing vocals. The tearjerker got good local play and Wade became a regular at the Sir Rah House on Lee Road. Deluxe Records, out of Cincinnati, picked it up for mass distribution, but it didn't blow up as expected. Deluxe followed with "Blind Over You" b/w "Funny How Times Slip Away," O'Jays' Bobby Massey and Walter Williams wrote the A-side. Wade hit the road opening for the O'Jays, but his excellent recordings simply weren't getting promoted. After Deluxe, he returned to Way Out for one final release, "I'm in Love With You," previously done by Verna & Rob (Middlebrooks), a husband/wife duo. It became yet another sweet slab of soul that didn't chart as good as it sounded. Wade also performs backing vocals on Fred Towles' "Too Much Monkey Business."
He joined Terri Bryant and New Direction, their gigs took them to Las Vegas in 1974 and Wade met Richard Barrett, founder of Frankie Lymon & the Teenagers, singer with the Valentines, and manager of the Three Degrees. Barrett was friends of Little Anthony & the Imperials and knew they needed a replacement for Kenny Seymour and suggested Wade. He accepted and stayed an Imperial even after Little Anthony left to solo. They continued as a trio of Wade, Charles Collins, and Harold Jenkins and scored a Top 20 hit in England with "Who's Gonna Love Me" (1977), produced by Tony Silvester; it entered the R&B Top 40 in the States. Wade left when Little Anthony returned, at this point, he wanted to be in control and do his own thing, which included a stint with Doris Troy's ("Just One Look") Drop Me off Uptown show in 1981; in 1982, he ran the Black Rose Supper Club at the Orbit Inn.
In 1984, he produced shows at the Tropicana Hotel before revamping the Imperials as Bobby Wade's Emperors with Jenkins and Ronald Stevenson. His brother Billy is the bandleader, with bassist Anthony Jones and keyboardist Dairo C, the other staples. They play numerous lounges in Vegas, including the Luxor's Nefertiti Lounge, the Light House, the Boardwalk, and the Excalibur. A Vegas resident for more than 35 years, Wade is married to a hometown girl, Ruth (since 1961), and has two daughters, one son, six grandkids, and a great-granddaughter. His three brothers: Billy, Kenny, and Ricky also live in Vegas. In addition to entertaining, he runs a limousine service Wednesday through Sunday and hustles tourists during the day, taking them on tours. He's recorded two audio CDs of his live shows and is still looking for that elusive big hit record. Wade never visits Meadville, but flies his mom to Vegas often for extended visits -- especially when the snow hits -- to be with her brood.