Job security gave me a chance to work on Big Al's career, which was now on the upswing. Clyde Otis, a well respected record producer for Mercury Records, had cut a ton of hits for Dinah Washington and Brook Benton, both as singles and duets. In 1963, I called Lelan Rogers who had just produced a million selling record by Esther Phillips titled "Release Me" on Lenox Records. I suggested we copy Clyde Otis' strategy and cut a duet with Esther Phillips and Big Al Downing. He flipped over the idea and as soon as he found material, Big Al and I flew to Nashville for the session. The song was "You Never Miss Your Water 'Til The Well Runs Dry". Also, we cut a single on Big Al titled "Mr. Hurt". The duet with Esther Phillips was released first and hit the charts in the #90 spot, but soon fizzled out. Big Al's "Mr. Hurt" was released two months later in 1963. It went immediately on Dick Clark's "American Bandstand". But just as the record was exploding, Lenox Records went belly up.
Interestingly enough, Lelan Rogers then set up a meeting in 1964 with Clyde Otis himself, who was now the Director of Artist and Repertoire at Columbia Records. Clyde Otis liked what he heard of Big Al and Esther Phillips and decided to team Big Al with a young Aretha Franklin as he had previously done with Dinah Washington and Brook Benton. But Clyde Otis resigned from Columbia Records before this project got off the ground.
In the meantime, since Big Al had become a tremendous song writer, I got him a contract in 1964 to write songs for Fats Domino, with me being the co-publisher of the songs. Domino recorded five of the songs and two became hits: "Heartbreak Hill" and "Mary Oh Mary". Both singles can be found on the Fats Domino album shown here, "The Paramount Tapes". With Big Al writing for Fats Domino and recording for Columbia Records, his band The Rhythm Rockers were getting restless, as they had played the same club in D.C. for four years. In late 1963, the British Invasion started with The Beatles, who exploded on the U.S. scene in early 1964. To keep the band happy and lay down some British Invasion-style music, I took them into the studio to cut two sides on their own, "She's The One" and "Slippin' Thru Your Fingers". In the back of my mind I was hoping that I would have two hit acts with basically one band.
I sent the two song demo tape out as The Chartbusters to forty-five record companies. Forty-four labels turned it down, but Harry Finfer, a legend in the record business, had started a new label with Sam Hodge called Mutual Records. Previously Harry had discovered Duane Eddy while he was Owner/President of Jamie Records, a label he named after his daughter. Harry gave me $4,000 for the rights to release the single. "She's The One" became an instant hit, selling 750,000 records and reaching #33 in the Billboard charts against stiff competition. Years later Tom Hanks would tell People Magazine in an interview that The Chartbusters were one of the inspirations for his film "That Thing You Do!".
The Chartbusters were euphoric over their immediate success. The band performed on Dick Clark's "American Bandstand", which had been a dream of mine and Vernon's. Shown here is a picture backstage with Dick Clark. However, all of this sudden attention on The Chartbusters caused a giant problem since they were supposed to be Big Al Downing's backing band. Big Al was upset with me and the band because they got a Top 40 hit before he did and were suddenly all over the media. Big Al fired me and the boys and got himself a new band. At that time our careers parted ways. Big Al went his way and Vernon Sandusky and I went ours. Big Al and his band continued to play at the nightclub until 1968...