Had Maurice Williams and his Gladiolas not raised the money necessary to drive from their Lancaster, South Carolina homebase to Nashville to audition for Ernie Young's Excello Records, one of 1957's biggest hits might never have happened. That The Gladiolas didn't score that hit was a major injustice, but as its writer, Williams hopefully earned some royalties.
Lead tenor Williams (born April 26, 1938 in Lancaster), tenors Earl Gainey and William Massey, baritone Willie Jones, and bass Norman Wade started out in 1955 as The Royal Charms at Barr Street High School. They held down a Saturday morning radio program for a year, then decided to make a record. Young had a thing for naming his groups after flowers; he rechristened them The Gladiolas (he also had The Marigolds and The Hollyhocks on his imprint). The bluesy mid-tempo Sweetheart Please Don't Go, another Williams composition, was chosen as the plug side, relegating the clattering Little Darlin', classified as a calypso on its blue-and-orange label, to the underside when it came out on Excello in early '57.
Radio programmers preferred Little Darlin'. That spring it started a run on the R&B charts that peaked at #11 on 'Billboard's' 'Best Seller' lists and #41 pop, but only after the emergence of a Mercury cover by The Diamonds, a white group from Canada. Not only did their exaggerated interpretation vault to #2 pop, it did the exact same thing on the R&B charts during a run that commenced a month prior to The Gladiolas' emergence. Excello couldn't compete with Mercury's distribution and promotion; The Diamonds' cover had television and movie exposure aplenty.
The Gladiolas tried again with a calypso-based Run Run Little Joe, but no one covered it or its flip Comin' Home To You. He tried a different tack on Hey! Little Girl; The Gladiolas' third Excello offering was a melodic ballad, paired with I Wanta Know. They finished their Excello stint with the Williams-penned romp Shoop Shoop in 1958, backed with the saucy Latin swayer Say You'll Be Mine.
Young owned the Gladiolas name, so Williams left it behind when the group exited. Manager Harry Gaines conjured up a new moniker upon seeing a newspaper ad for a new auto, the Zodiac. In 1959, Maurice Williams and The Zodiacs recorded for tiny South Carolina labels Cole and Selwyn, Henry Gaston supplanting Gainey. Then the group imploded, leaving Maurice and Gaston to find new members. In 1960, The Zodiacs would sit atop the national pop hit parade. Williams did not give up easily