Born Robert James Byrd, Sr., 1 July 1930, Fort Worth, Texas
Bobby Day was an Afro-American vocalist who had a prolific recording career in the 1950s and early 1960s. He recorded under a variety of names, both as a group member and as a solo singer. The song for which he will always be remembered is “Rockin’ Robin”, a million seller in 1958. Though Bobby didn’t write that one, he was also an accomplished songwriter.
Texas-born Bobby Byrd moved to Los Angeles in 1947 to attend college, where he studied maths and music by day, while pursuing a singing career in the evening. Trained as a child in gospel, Bobby was drawn to Johnny Otis’ famed Barrelhouse nightclub where he earned his education in rhythm and blues. In 1949 he formed a group called the Flames with David Ford, Willie Ray Rockwell and (a bit later) Curley Dinkins. The group would exist until 1966 and recorded under no fewer than seven names for 19 different record companies. Needless to say, there were countless personnel changes over the years, with Bobby Byrd as the one constant factor during the first eight years. Most of their recordings were released under the moniker The Hollywood Flames. Their first single came out in January 1950, “Please Tell Me Now”/“Young Girl”, on the Selective label. This was followed by releases on Unique, Specialty, Recorded In Hollywood, Aladdin (and its 7-11 subsidiary), Lucky and Decca (1950-1954). All without any chart success, but the Flames always received local airplay and by 1955 were considered a successful act in the L.A. area.
While he was still a member of the Hollywood Flames, Bobby signed a solo contract with Leon Rene’s Class label in early 1957. Googie Rene (Leon’s son and A&R man) renamed Bobby Byrd “Bobby Day”. “Come Seven” / “So Long Baby” was the first release under his new name, with accompaniment by the Maxwell Davis orchestra. On all subsequent Class recordings he would be backed by the Googie Rene Combo, which included the illustrious trio of Plas Johnson, Rene Hall and Earl Palmer. Backup vocals were provided by the Satellites, who were basically the same people who sang with him in the Hollywood Flames. The second Class single (issued in August 1957) was Bobby’s own composition “Little Bitty Pretty One”. It looked like a smash, until it was covered by Thurston Harris, whose version of “Little Bitty Pretty One” (on the Aladdin label) went to # 6 on the pop charts, while Bobby’s original stalled at # 57. In October 1957 Bobby recorded his final session with the Hollywood Flames, who - after eight years in the business - finally scored a hit with “Buzz Buzz Buzz” (co-written by Bobby, # 11 pop), on which Earl Nelson sang lead. Bobby had already recorded duets with Nelson as the Voices in 1955 and would go on to cut several Class singles with him as Bob and Earl (until they split in 1960 ; the “Bob” on later recordings like “Harlem Shuffle” is Bobby Relf). By changing names and clothes, Bobby and Earl sometimes managed to be on the same bill three times : as the Hollywood Flames, as Bob and Earl and as Bobby Day and the Satellites. They were all the same four guys!
Having left the Hollywood Flames, Bobby now concentrated on his solo career and with success. In October 1958, “Rockin’ Robin” (spelled “Rock-In Robin” on the Class single) reached the # 2 position on the Billboard pop charts and # 1 on the R&B charts. It was written by label boss Leon Rene (as Jimmie Thomas), who also suggested a piccolo solo (by Plas Johnson) in place of the usual sax break, a clever production touch. The B-side, Bobby’s own “Over and Over”, charted in its own right (# 41). Thurston Harris responded almost immediately with another note-for-note cover, but lost out this time (# 96). The sequel to “Rockin’ Robin”, “The Bluebird, the Buzzard and the Oriole”, sounded perhaps too much like its predecessor and got no higher than # 54. Two modest hits in 1959 (“That’s All I Want” and “Gotta New Girl”) signalled the end of his chart success. In 1960 Leon Rene discontinued the Class 200 series (for rock & roll and R&B) and moved Bobby to the Rendezvous label, which he co-owned. With the exception of the first Rendezvous single, “Teenage Philosopher”, these recordings are not as good as those on Class. A major label contract (4 singles for RCA in 1963-64) did not improve his commercial fortunes. In 1965 Bobby Day returned briefly to the reactivated Class label, for one single (“When I Started Dancing”), followed by a 45 on his own Byrdland label. Next he spent a few years touring in Australia and New Zealand before returning to the USA in the late 1960s. In the 1970s and 1980s he performed mainly on the oldies circuit.
Other artists scored hits with his songs : Clyde McPhatter with “Little Bitty Pretty One” (# 25, 1962, also a # 13 hit for the Jackson Five in 1972), The Dave Clark Five with “Over and Over” (their only US number one, 1965) and Michael Jackson with “Rockin’ Robin” (# 2, 1972). Bobby Day died in a Los Angeles hospital on July 27, 1990 only two weeks after he had been diagnosed with cancer.
More info :
Discography : http://www.45cat.com/artist/bobby-day
CD : Rockin’ Robin : The Very Best Of Bobby Day (Ace CDCHD 834). 28 tracks from the Class and Rendezvous labels. Released 2002. Liner notes by Stuart Colman.
Acknowledgements : Jay Warner, Ted Carroll, Marv Goldberg, Wayne Jancik.
Dik, October 2015
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