Who was/is The Nutmegs ? - CDs, Vinyl LPs, DVD and more
Although they aren't the first notable group on 'Street Corner Symphonies' to hail from New Haven, Connecticut (that honor went to The Scarlets on our previous disc), The Nutmegs took it one step further commercially, nearly topping the R&B charts in 1955 with their forceful ballad Story Untold.
Lead tenor Leroy Griffin was the group's chief songwriter, composing several of their releases for Al Silver's Herald Records. The quintet started out as The Lyres in 1953 with Leroy, his brother James 'Sonny' Griffin as first tenor, James 'Coco' Tyson as second tenor, baritone Billy Emery, and bass Leroy McNeil. The Lyres got a chance to record Leroy's ballad Ship Of Love for the J&G label, Emery fronting the group. While in New York, they met The Du Droppers, who sent them in the direction of former OKeh and Groove A&R man Danny Kessler. He became their co-manager and brought them to Silver.
Their name changed to The Nutmegs (Connecticut, after all, is the Nutmeg State); the quintet debuted on Herald in March of '55 with Story Untold. Make Me Lose My Mind, another Griffin original, was the flip. Leroy's tremulous lead on Story Untold was unusually powerful; the band, probably led by Leroy Kirkland, provided a kick despite the slow tempo. It sailed to #2 on 'Billboard's' R&B 'Best Seller' list that summer, though any crossover aspirations were extinguished by those pesky Crew Cuts' #16 pop cover.
The Nutmegs reverted to their recent past for their encore, reviving Ship Of Love, complete with nautical sound effects. That #13 hit on 'Billboard's R&B 'Jockey' list that October was it for the group on the charts, despite some fine 1956 Herald follow-ups (a ballad, Key To The Kingdom, preceded the jumping Comin' Home, spotlighting McNeil's burbling bass). Emery and Tyson split, supplanted by ex-Five Dukes tenor Sonny Washburn and former Five Satins tenor Eddie Martin, as The Nutmegs changed their handle to The Rajahs.
New Haven entrepreneurs Marty Kugell and Tom Sokira snared The Rajahs for their new Klik logo, recording them acappella in October of '57 and then dubbing instrumental backing on their single I Fell In Love. Many of their Klik masters found issue in 1963-64 on Slim Rose's Times Square logo, sparking an East Coast acappella uprising. Herald tried twice to resuscitate The Nutmegs, first in '59 with My Story and again in '62 with a Coasters-influenced novelty, Rip Van Winkle. Leroy Griffin died in a New Haven factory accident, still a young man. McNeil was stabbed to death in a 1975 altercation. At least their stories have been told.
- Bill Dahl -
Various Vol.7, Street Corner Symphonies 1955
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