Tyrone Ashley was born Sammy Campbell in Plainfield, NJ. He recorded under his birth name until 1971 when he cut a single for Phil-La of Soul Records in Philadelphia. The Parliaments, also from Plainsfield, competed with Campbell's group, the Del Larks, in talent shows and holiday festivals. The Del Larks formed around 1958 and consisted of Campbell, Ronald Taylor, James Anderson, Mert Matthews, and Raymond Davis. The hangout in Plainsfield was the Silk Palace, a barbershop owned by George Clinton and Parliaments members; after work, the local warblers woodshedded in the back room.
It was a toss up who would score a big hit first, the Parliaments or the Del Larks; they started recording around the same time but the Del Larks early recordings were the most popular. They hit locally around 1958-1959 with "Bubblegum Doll," and "Lady Love," on East West Records distributed by Atlantic; and enjoyed success as Sammy & the Del Larks with "I Will Never Forget" on Ea-Jay, and "Little Darling," on Stop Records. (They messed up a chance to appear on The Ed Sullivan Show by talking loud and cursing in the audition room.)
Campbell wrote and produced for George Blackwell's Smoke Records in Newark, NJ, for a year without pay. Blackwell never released any of Campbell's material, so Campbell supported himself by promoting shows. He formed his own label, Queen City Records, and released "SOS of Love," but it was the second "Job Opening" that built an aura around Campbell; it was a magnificent record, a two-part throbbing jam with a fantastic sax solo coloring part two. He only pressed 1,500 copies. Problems with Blackwell caused the record's demise; Blackwell released a competing version of "SOS" by the Del Larks under a bogus name, and had "Job Opening" squelched. The record later found love among Northern soul fanatics who snatched up thousands of bootleg copies.
Raymond Davis joined Parliament, Anderson developed an alcohol problem, and the Del Larks disbanded. Campbell sent a demo to Galaxy/Fantasy Records in Oakland, CA, and got a deal as Sam Campbell & the Bystanders. A Ray Shanklin production, "Hey La, Ya, Ya," a bluesy number, was his sole Galaxy release. He moved to Oakland, but it didn't help, the label didn't like his other songs; they wanted him to sing blues but Campbell preferred R&B.
Back East he struck a deal with Phil La of Soul Records, who released "Let Me Be Your Man" by Tyrone Ashley in 1971, his most successful record. It nested in the 30s on Billboard's R&B chart for a few weeks, and sold around 50,000 copies, which disappointed Campbell; he swore it sold at least twice that amount. A second single, "Love Sweet Love," stiffed, and Campbell left the label, and concentrated on writing and producing other artists, but the big deal always eluded him.
Around 1975, Ian Levine found him, and as Tyrone Ashley he became one of the first American soul singers produced by Levine. He scored a minor hit in Britain with "Feet Start Movin'." Other singles didn't move as expected and Campbell returned to Plainsfield where he laid tracks in a shed behind his house that he transformed into a recording studio. All the original Del Larks have passed except Raymond Davis, who sang with Parliament for years and joined the Temptations in 1995 for a stint with the legends. Hot Productions released Looks Like Love Is Here to Stay, a CD of Campbell's Ian Levine sides as Tyrone Ashley, in 1995. You can find his cuts sprinkled on a variety of Hot Productions compilations. To date, no one has compiled the early Del Larks or Sam Campbell/Tyrone Ashley singles on one CD. George Clinton and P- Funk: An Oral History, edited by Dave Marsh, contains many interesting quotes by Sammy Campbell.