Dozier Boys

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The Dozier Boys may be a minor footnote in the musical history of the R&B vocal groups, but they were an important part of the local south side of Chicago vocal group scene and are to be given credit…
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The Dozier Boys may be a minor footnote in the musical history of the R&B vocal groups, but they were an important part of the local south side of Chicago vocal group scene and are to be given credit for a career that spanned a quarter century of popular music history while performing everything from strict swing-era vocal harmony to true doo wop of the rock & roll vintage. They were also one of the first acts signed by Leonard Chess and Phil Chess prior to their success with blues artists, and they recorded for a number of other important U.S. labels. They made a number of appearances on television, and also recorded for several labels between 1948 and 1964.

The Dozier Boys also recorded with many musicians during their lengthy career that would go on to have substantial jazz careers under different names: during their brief association with Okeh, the Doziers worked with Fritz Jones, later to become famous as Ahmad Jamal. Another Dozier Boys musician, Herman "Sonny" Blount, became known as Sun Ra after 1952 and continued to record under that name for nearly 40 more years. Tenor saxophonist Bill Evans would later become a famous jazz artist -- no, not that one -- under the name Yusef Lateef. Wes Montgomery was also playing with the group for a while.

The Dozier Boys -- original vocal members were Lucius Teague (lead vocals), Eugene Teague (baritone, guitar, arranger); Cornell Wiley (first tenor, baritone, string bass), and Benny Cotton (bass vocals) -- began as the Four Tones, singing gospel, performing at neighborhood nightclubs and bars, and hosting a radio show in Hammond, IN. Later, the Four Tones met the Four Vagabonds, whose lead singer John Jordan gave them training in singing pop tunes. Lucius Teague left to study dancing and acting (he ended up joining the army, where he served for 30 years) and was replaced by Bill Minor, a lead tenor and drummer. Wiley's stepfather -- Cyrus Dozier -- a druggist by trade, gave them financial support and encouragement; the group was renamed the Dozier Boys in his honor. They became so successful while appearing on amateur shows in Chicago that they soon were no longer allowed to compete because they had won too often. From late 1947 to December 1948, Eugene Wright's 11-man Dukes of Swing -- including tenor saxophonist Bill Evans -- featured the Dozier Boys as their official vocalists. Herman "Sonny" Blount was the group's music director, pianist, and arranger. The Doziers held down successful bookings on their own(including those at the Beige Room, the basement club in the Pershing Hotel) for long periods from the fall of 1948 to mid-1950.

Willie Dixon, a friend of the Wiley family, later introduced them to Leonard Chess, by then a managing partner in the Chicago-based Aristocrat Records, who signed them to the label; Phil Chess was running the Macomba Lounge at the time, and was not yet involved in record company affairs. By the early '50s, Leonard Chess had already begun signing new local acts, including Muddy Waters, who had already become Chicago's leading entertainer and was well on his way to becoming a blues legend. On these first 78 rpm releases in 1948 for Aristocrat, the Dozier Boys played their own instruments, adding Blount as a session pianist. Often they are credited as "Andrew Tibbs and the Dozier Boys" with Sax Mallard's Combo, with Tibbs and another lead vocalist, Benny Cotton, sharing the lead duties. Eugene Wright later left the group to join the Count Basie Band around Christmas of 1948.

The Dozier Boys continued recording for Aristocrat while working at the Beige Room for over a year after the Dukes of Swing departed, and on June 25, 1950, they participated in the "Session in Progress: Ragtime & Swing" concert, with Eugene Wright (back from the Basie band). They were also regulars on "Spotlight Talent," a one-hour weekly TV show on WBKB, hosted by well-known Chicago DJ Al "Old Swingmaster" Benson. This was the first all-black TV show in Chicago and only ran for one season.

By mid-1950, they were the first vocal group to be issued on the new Leonard Chess label, Chess Records. Bill Minor and Benny Cotton alternated on lead vocal duties for the recording. They continued to play local gigs, appearing at Joe's Rendezvous in the late summer and "4 Star Frolics," a midnight show, at the 4 Star Theater. Then, after Cotton was drafted, the Dozier Boys picked up Mifflin "Pee Wee" Branford for lead tenor vocals and guitar. Branford had previously played with the Cats and the Fiddle (from 1942 -- when he replaced Tiny Grimes -- till 1948).

In October 1950, Chess re-released the Doziers' "All I Need Is You," thinking that the recent popularity of vocal group recordings (spurred by the incredible success of the Orioles and the Clovers), would lead to renewed airplay and sales. It didn't. By then, the Chess Brothers were too busy with their Checker Records label, so in 1951, the Doziers jumped at the chance to sign to Chicago-based Okeh, the Columbia Records subsidiary, who wanted the group in an effort to bolster their R&B roster. Unfortunately, Okeh's A&R man, Ed Kissak, thought the group sounded too "white," and no recordings for the label were issued.

The Doziers worked hard to revamp their sound and in August 1952, signed to the Chicago-based independent United Records, but no new releases appeared from the quartet -- Teague, Branford, Minor, and Wiley -- until 1953. By this time, Benny Cotton had been discharged from the Army and the Dozier Boys had expanded to a quintet. Now known as the "Five Dozier Boys," the group went on a tour with the "Hollywood in Harlem Revue," with Pigmeat Markham and Timmie Rogers. After a death in Pee Wee's family, he returned to Chicago. His replacement was Wes Montgomery, who remained in the group just a few weeks, until Pee Wee was able to return.

In 1955, the Dozier Boys were awarded first place after singing "I Ain't Got Nobody" on the Arthur Godfrey Talent Scouts Show. Afterwards, they recorded for ABC/Paramount, but nothing was ever released. In 1956, Branford left the group (he later joined 3 Sharps and a Flat). His replacement was non-singing pianist Truxton Kingslow, who months later fell in love with a local girl from Minnesota. They were married, and Kingslow decided he didn't want to leave the local area, so he was replaced by Joe Boyce, a non-singing vibes player who was only 19 at the time. Around this same time, Bill Minor also married and left the group, and his 17-year old replacement Frank "Red" Bell was a high tenor who played tenor sax. After Minor left, Cotton began to play the drums, which were his instrument from then on.

For about six months, the group changed its name to the Bel-Aires; this name does not appear on any of their recordings. They recorded for Fraternity Records in the fall of 1957; in 1958, Boyce left to return to college, and he was replaced by Pete Hatch and later, pianist Bobby Blevins. During this period, Teague and Dave Barber (of the Four Freshmen) were responsible for the group's arrangements (which had to be frequently revised, with all the personnel changes).

This new lineup recorded for Apt, a subsidiary of ABC-Paramount, but not long after the session, Eugene Teague collapsed and died and of kidney failure during a performance. The group did little for the next six months, while Wiley took over the group's leadership and arranging, training new members and handling some of the bookings. Blevins came and went from the group; when he was not available, sometimes the Doziers went on as a trio, and sometimes they replaced him with guitarist Ben White. The group eventually ended up with Janie Records, circa 1960, and remained with the label until 1964. They frequently changed names, calling themselves "The Moving Times," among others. At some point in the 1960s, Pee Wee Branford fell two stories and broke his back; he was so depressed about becoming paralyzed that he committed suicide.

In 1967, they were contacted by the U.S. Army, which wanted more black entertainers with the U.S.O. in Vietnam. Bell and Blevins declined to go, so they were replaced by Clifford Scott (tenor sax, trumpet, piano) and Jerry Hubbard (guitar, tenor vocals). The Vietnamese government opened a program to train Vietnamese entertainers and the Moving Times were hired as teachers; they lived in Da Nang for a time.

The group returned to the United States in 1970 and changed their name back to the Dozier Boys for a few gigs, then decided to disband after 24 years. Frank Bell, Lucius Teague, Wes Montgomery (1925-1968), Pete Hatch, and Truxton Kingslow are all deceased. Cornell Wiley has worked with the Bob Allen trio since 1973 and teaches the string bass at Dennison University. Benny Cotton has worked with the Impromptus, a polka band. Bobby Blevins, Bill Minor, and Jerry Hubbard were the survivors as of 2001, as was Joe Boyce, who was a Senior Editor for the Wall Street Journal.