The Sensations

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The Sensations are believed to be from Battle Creek, MI, but don't take that tidbit to the bank. Many assume they had Cleveland roots because they recorded on Cleveland's Way Out Records, owned by the…
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The Sensations are believed to be from Battle Creek, MI, but don't take that tidbit to the bank. Many assume they had Cleveland roots because they recorded on Cleveland's Way Out Records, owned by the late Lester Johnson and Bill Branch, but they only came to Cleveland to record. The lineup of John Washington, Ron C. Simmons (better known as Rico), Chester Florence, and Joe Kelly recorded more singles on Way Out (six) than any other artist. Way Out's roster included Bobby Wade, Jesse Fisher, the Springers, Verna & Rob, the Occasions, Lou Ragland, Ruby Carter, Joan Baez, the Hornets, Fred Towles, Sammy Jones, and the Soul Notes.

The group prolific output was due to Washington and Simmons' songwriting and production skills. Not only did they write and produce their recordings, but also served as staff producers for other artists. Their first single in 1966, "I Won't Be Hurt," went unnoticed everywhere as nobody played it or its flip, "Get on Up Mama." Their greatest record, "Please Baby Please," a dramatic, power ballad sung by Washington, was released the same year. It was large locally, with some spot play in other cities, but it never blew up. Frustrated with distribution problems, Way Out inked a deal with MGM Records to distribute the Sensations' next release. The Motown-ish "Got to Find Myself Another Girl," issued in 1968, was lighter with more crossover appeal than its soulful predecessor. It did OK locally, but stiffed nationally despite MGM's clout.

It didn't help that the guys didn't live in Cleveland. You can count the shows they did locally to promote their records on one hand. It was all Way Out could do to get their records played in Cleveland, let alone other cities. It's almost paramount for artists at small companies to reside in the same area to build up a local and regional following. A fourth release, "I Guess That's Life," soured the MGM deal and destroyed what little fan base they had in Cleveland. It was simply a bad choice, a pop-ish, meandering ballad that went nowhere. A fifth record, "Two Can Make It" b/w "It's a New Day," flopped and Way Out was wobbling.

The sixth Sensations' single "Demanding Man" commanded no attention and received no airplay in Cleveland. Surprisingly, the rough-sounding tune has become a Northern soul favorite, which is ironic since most Americans have never heard it. Their final single dropped in 1970 on Delite Records; it wasn't a new single, but an old recording of "Please Baby Please" with its original B-side "Too Shy" and Delite renamed them the Realistics for the single. Delite got it played in a few more markets, but it never took off like it should have.

Way Out Records was toast by the mid-'70s and the Sensations disbanded before the Delite deal, which they probably found out about after the fact. Washington and Simmons fell short of being sought after producers and writers, too. But they wrote some gems for labelmates such as Sammy Jones "She Didn't Know," Fred Towles "Too Much Monkey Business," Lou Ragland "Flame in My Heart," Jessie Fisher "You're Not Loving a Beginner," and Bobby Wade "Four Walls and a Window." After Way Out, they didn't continue, or if they did, their efforts never surfaced. It's said that Washington moved to Cleveland during the group's last years and supported himself by driving a produce truck, but nobody knows his or the other members whereabouts' now. Way Out's co-owner Bill Branch manages Art's Seafood in Cleveland after retiring from the police force.

Way Out had subsidiary labels, the Occasions' morose ballad "Baby Don't Go" dropped on Big Jim Records, and football star Jim Brown helped finance the recording and thus received his own imprint; unfortunately, the association ended after the one record. Brown later moved to Los Angeles and backed the newly formed Friends of Distinction and received a better return for his bucks. Contrary to belief, Ron C. Simmons was not a member of the Sensations from Philadelphia, which featured Yvonne Baker on lead vocals.