DON JULIAN (And the Meadowlarks)
Born Donald Ray Julian, 7 April 1937, Houston, Texas
Singer / songwriter / group leader / guitarist / producer.
Don Julian and the Meadowlarks were another in the seemingly endless tapestry of R&B vocal groups inhabiting Los Angeles in the 1950s. Unlike many teenagers who chose to become musicians or singers, Julian grew up in a non-musical family, did not sing in the church choir and had no formal vocal training to speak of. While attending John C. Fremont High School in South Central L.A., he formed a vocal group, the Meadowlarks (originally the Soulinaires) with two classmates, Ronald Barrett and Earl Jones. Earl's brother Randy Jones (later a member of the Flairs and the Penguins) joined not long afterwards and it was this quartet that, in 1954, had two singles released on Joe Bihari's RPM label, credited to "The Meadow Larks". Their first A-side. "Love Only You", was clearly modelled on "Gee" by the Crows, one of the first R&B hits to cross over to the pop charts. The Meadowlarks also sang background for Percy Mayfield (as the Maytones) on two Specialty singles.
Randy Jones was soon replaced by Glenn Reagan, who was white, thus making the Meadowlarks one of the first integrated groups. In January 1955 they were signed by Dootsie Williams, owner of the Dootone label. Their first single for the label was "Heaven And Paradise". Unlike the four RPM tracks, this was a slow, sentimental ballad. Although it didn't chart nationally, this was the Meadowlarks' biggest seller (until 1964 at least), so it was no surprise that the next two singles, "Always And Always" and "This Must Be Paradise", were very much in the same style. Six Dootone singles were released during 1955-57, the last two of which are pure rock n roll. Especially good is "Boogie Woogie Teenage" (Dootone 405, 1956), with a blistering sax solo by Plas Johnson. This record and "Big Mama Wants To Rock" showed that Julian's tenor voice was equally at home with tear-stained ballads and hard-driving rock 'n' roll.
After leaving Dootone, Julian (the only constant factor in the group) recorded for Art Laboe's Original Sound label and in the 1960s for Rudy Harvey's Dynamite and Amazon labels. Sales were minimal and for most R&B vocal groups this would be the end of the story. However, Don Julian had bigger plans. Through numerous personnel changes, he kept the group together playing clubs, dance halls and bars on the strength of their local hits. In 1964, he was fronting a trio he called The Larks, with Ted Walters and Charles Morrison. (Of course, this group has nothing to do with the Larks who recorded for Apollo from 1951 until 1955.) The first half of the 1960s was the time of the weekly dance craze and Don Julian and his group finally had their moment in the spotlight with "The Jerk", a # 7 pop hit in late 1964 / early 1965, on John Dolphin's Money label. On the Cash Box R&B chart, it went all the way to # 1. John Dolphin rushed out an LP, also called "The Jerk", which peaked at # 143 on the bestselling albums list. Pretty soon the market was flooded with jerk records. The craze disappeared as quickly as it had sprung up and consequently, the Larks' follow-ups, "Soul Jerk" and "Mickey's East Coast Jerk", and two further albums in 1966-67 sold poorly.
In later years Julian recorded soul and funk, primarily for his own Jerk label, well into the seventies. He and the Larks also recorded the sound- track to the 1973 blaxploitation film "Shorty the Pimp", but the movie was never released and the soundtrack foundered as well (it was finally issued in the 1990s).
Though not a musical innovator, Don Julian was always a businesslike musician and organiser who kept his band together right up until his death (of pneumonia) in 1998 at the age of 61. His longevity in the music business went far beyond that of most of his peers.
More info : http://www.soulsounds.com/ajulian.html
Acknowledgements : Lee Cotten (book "Reelin' & Rockin'", 1995, p. 189), Wayne Jancik, All Music Guide (Bryan Thomas).
CD : All of Don Julian & the Meadowlarks' RPM, Dootone and Original Sound recordings are assembled on the CD "Heaven And Paradise" (Ace 552). Released 1996, 22 tracks.
Discography : http://www.soulfulkindamusic.net/djulian.htm
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