What will five dollars get you today? It can get you a lot of solid R&B doo wop harmony if you're talking about the Five Dollars group who recorded for Fortune Records. The group, who recorded both as the Five Dollars and also the Don Juans, was Fortune's number two group in terms of total recordings, second only to Nolan Strong & the Diablos. Fortune frequently used the group to back other artists, which is why there were two names. The Don Juans was the name used when they were the backup group, and the Five Dollars was reserved for when they were the primary recording artists. There are, however, one or two exceptions to this basic rule of thumb. Also, it should be noted that there is no connection to the Don Juans who recorded on Jaguar or Onezy.
The group came together in the early 1950s in Detroit and initially called themselves the Del-Torros. The members were Charles Evans (bass), James Drayton (baritone), Lonnie Heard (tenor), and Eddie Hurt (lead tenor) also known as "Little Eddie". By the time the group came to Fortune studios to audition in 1955, they had added a fifth member, Richard Lawrence, and had also changed their name to the Five Dollars. The name change had come about at the suggestion of one of the Spaniels, whom the group had met on a trip to Chicago. The raw gutsy sound of the Five Dollars was probably well-matched with Fortune Studios. With Fortune's primitive recording environment, the group didn't have to worry for a moment about being over-produced. On August 20 of 1955, Devora Brown of Fortune Records announced the signing of the Five Dollars. In the same press release, she also said that Andre Williams had been signed by Fortune, both as a singles artist and also as part of the Five Dollars. This last part came as shock to the Five Dollars. Andre Williams and Eddie Hurt were in-laws, being married to two sisters. How Williams became married to the Five Dollars remains a mystery. It certainly wasn't a match made in heaven, but appears to have been orchestrated behind closed doors at Fortune. Williams did not record as part of the Five Dollars, although they did back him up on several recordings under their Don Juans' alter ego.
The Five Dollars' first Fortune recording, released in 1955, was "Doctor Baby," b/w "Harmony of Love." Both sides received three stars or "very good" reviews and had a measure of regional success. "Doctor Baby" was a conventional, midtempo jump blues, but the flipside, "Harmony of Love," was a unique effort. The song had no lyrics but centered on the groups harmonic chanting with a prominent melodic falsetto floating over the top. It was not your every day R&B ballad. Following their first recording, Richard Lawrence was drafted and departed the group. Rather than replace him with another vocalist, they added another guitarist, Arnold Oliver, patterning themselves after labelmates, Nolan Strong & the Diablos. Issued in December 1955, their next Fortune release paired "You Know I Can't Refuse," a nice cover of the Orchids tune, with "So Strange," which probably could have been titled "Harmony of Love, Pt. 2." "So Strange" was perhaps a little bit edgier than "Harmony of Love," but similar in its non-lyrical approach. Both sides of this platter also received a "very good" rating With two records under their belt as the Five Dollars in the space of a few months, the group was off and running.
As the Don Juans, they were equally busy. Their first release was with Andre Williams in December 1955 on "Going Down to Tijuana" b/w "Pulling Time." Also in 1955, they backed Joe Weaver on "Baby I Love You So" b/w with "It Must Be Love." Besides Weaver and Williams, whom they backed on several records each, the Don Juans are also credited with backup vocals for Don Lane and Marsha Renay. They can also be heard (although un-credited) behind Chet Oliver on his 1956 release "Cool as a Cucumber." In a departure from the usual "which name do we use" formula, they are heard backing Jim Sands as the Five Dollars on his 1958 release "We're Gonna Rock" and "You Don't Know My Mind." And for those familiar with Nolan Strong & the Diablos, check out the song "Ooh, Ooh Those Eyes," originally released on the Diablos Fortune of Hits, Vol. 1. Though credited to the Diablos, it's actually the Don Juans doing the backup. The distinctive falsetto of Eddie Hurt is pronounced in the background harmonies. Since the group was recording simultaneously under both names, it's not surprising that on occasion, they would be double-billed for a performance. As the Don Juans, they would appear with Zorro-styled masks on, and return as the Five Dollars without the masks. No doubt this ruse was only partially effective.
The tenuous relationship with Andre Williams came to a complete estrangement by the end of 1956. The Five Dollars had been working with Andre on a "dance" tune called "Bacon Fat." The record was issued in late 1956 and started to get some action, so much so that by December of 1956, Epic purchased the master and released it on their label. This would prove to be Andre Williams' biggest record. But when the record was released it wasn't the Five Dollars doing the background. Andre had recruited other singers to back him up and the record came out as by "Andre Williams & New Group." Trying to bring home some of the bacon for themselves, the Five Dollars recorded a follow-up tune "How to Do the Bacon- Fat," released by Fortune in 1957. But the "Bacon Fat" wasn't a monster dance craze like the "Twist," and so the response to their follow-up tune was not too strong.
In what may have been an attempt by Fortune to focus more attention on lead singer Eddie Hurt, the 1957 release "This Is a Miracle," b/w "Calypso Beat" is titled as by Little Eddie & the Don Juans. The groups' next record, issued in 1958, "Yellow Moon," b/w "My Mama Said" was credited to Little Eddie & the Five Dollars. The groups' last release for Fortune was in 1960, "My Baby-O" paired with "That's the Way It Goes." The group continued to perform for some time in the '60s, but eventually decided to end their run at show business success. As of 2002, Eddie Hurt and Richard Lawrence are deceased. Charles Evans, Lonnie Heard, and James Drayton still reside in the Detroit area. Although never a national success, the Five Dollars/Don Juans made their mark as one of the most important of Detroit's pre-Motown vocal groups.