What’s In A Name: Major Harris, “Love Won’t Let Me Wait”

Almost two years ago, I wrote up the first of what I claimed would be a nine-part series on the solo charting acts of the rock era with whom I share a surname. The curious thing about this collection of singers was that eight of the nine hit the Top 40 exactly once (the ninth, Tony Harris, the subject of that first piece, was the one who didn’t hit at all). It’s taken too long, but I’m finally getting around to a second installment; the impetus was the artist’s appearance on last week’s 5/24/75 rebroadcast.

Major Harris is best-known for that one song, “Love Won’t Let Me Wait.” It’s a not-so-quiet-storm jam, as Harris pleads for (and by song’s end, apparently obtains) a night of ecstatic explosiveness with the woman in his company. It reached #1 on the Soul chart, and made #5 on AT40 (it was #13 when I listened last week).

But finding out very much more about Harris’s life and times has proved somewhat elusive. Searches on Google and Bing lead mostly to obituaries posted soon after he passed away in November 2012 (by about the eighth page, search results begin including references to the late 80s quarterback from West Virginia University with the same name). These articles usually have similar skeletons.

Major Harris was born in Richmond, VA, in 1947. According to his Wiki page, both of Harris’s parents had connections to and interest in music. He sang with several groups you’ve heard of, but invariably after they were done generating their big hits: the Jarmels (also from Richmond), the Teenagers (post-Frankie Lymon, of course), and most notably, the Delfonics (he went back to them after his solo career faded).

Harris put out a couple of singles in the late 60s that went nowhere, although “Call Me Tomorrow” is pretty tasty (the B-side is a decent cover of “Like a Rolling Stone”).

His early 70s work with the Delfonics got him a solo deal with Atlantic, and his debut album My Way (yes, it includes his take on the Paul Anka-penned classic) produced his big hit, as well as “Each Morning I Wake Up,” which made #3 on the Disco chart. Jealousy came out a year later; the first single, “I Got Over Love,” almost sounds like it’s surveying the scene from the morning after “Love Won’t Let Me Wait,” opening with (the same?) woman crying, “Major, don’t go.” It barely crawled into the top 25 on the Soul chart and couldn’t crack the Hot 100 (though two singles from Jealousy–the title cut and “Laid Back Love”–did). Atlantic then dropped him, and it appears he later released two other albums that didn’t go anywhere. Beyond that, the record out there on the Internet is pretty thin, until we get to his death at age 65. One tribute did mention four children.

I don’t have any recollection of “Love Won’t Let Me Wait” getting radio play on WSAI during its run on the pop charts (which may or may not mean anything). I probably learned of its existence from a late 80s Joel Whitburn book; the first time I can recall hearing it was almost exactly eight years ago, when Premiere played 6/7/75. That happens to be the show that got me hooked once again on AT40.

(This is the 300th post with the PastBlast tag.)

What’s In A Name: Tony Harris, “Chicken, Baby, Chicken”

Last month I was browsing through my copy of Joel Whitburn’s Top Pop Singles, 1955-2002, wandering through the ‘H’ section. My last name is relatively common, so it’s not too surprising there have been several acts over the years that share it. I’ve known for a while there are nine solo acts listed with the surname Harris, and that they all charted between 57 and 86.  One thing I have noticed is that while eight of the nine did make the Top 40, exactly zero of them scored more than one such hit.

I figured that it might be cool to do a little digging and find out more about these folks, even though my interest is strictly driven by our respective accidents of birth. Seven men and two women. A couple are well-known (though in one case, not for singing); another has a troubling (understatement alert) story. I’m hoping to do write-ups about them and their hits in a series that I’ll come back to from time to time. I think it should be fun on the whole. Today, I’m taking a look at Tony Harris, not just the first to chart in the rock era, but also the only one who never made it as high as #40.

Tony Harris had a single chart appearance.  “Chicken, Baby, Chicken” spent three weeks on the Top 100 and peaked at #89 on the 8/31/57 survey. A little searching on the web doesn’t reveal much about our subject other than this pair of articles from the British magazine Blues & Rhythm: The Gospel Truth. They appear to be based virtually exclusively on the author’s conversations with Tony. Basic outline: Harris, born in 1934, got his start in gospel quartets in the Los Angeles area while still in his early teens. This led to touring on the gospel circuit (as part of a group called The Traveling Four)  around the western and southern US in the mid-50s before going solo and switching to R&B. He wound up cutting just a few singles over the years; the lack of traction he experienced beyond his one minor hit kept him on the outside looking in. He did stay involved in the music business around LA, at least into the 80s.

It’s an interesting, if minutely detailed and occasionally rambling, story; it almost reads like the transcript of a tape recording at times. Sam Cooke, Darlene Love, Dick Clark, Mighty Clouds of Joy, Bumps Blackwell, the Rivingtons, and Little Richard all make appearances, though some only on the very fringes of the tale. The most fascinating detail revealed is that Harris did a couple of tours posing as Little Richard after the latter found religion and left promoters holding the bag. There are a few pictures of him in the linked articles—I haven’t found any elsewhere. I don’t know if he’s still living; he’d be 84.

The pieces appeared over twenty years ago. The author, Opal Louis Nations, is originally from England and clearly has a longstanding, deep interest in US gospel groups of yesteryear. I assume he’s still around—information on the internet for him outside his own website, while not quite as sparse as it is for Harris, still doesn’t amount to a whole lot. I’m certainly glad to have found the articles.

“Chicken, Baby, Chicken” sounds a little rough around the edges to me, but it’s still a pretty sweet R&B number about the famous dance craze. If you’re curious, take a listen. Ebb was a short-lived LA R&B label in the late 50s; I see that there are two compilations of its releases out there. Tony has three songs on Volume 2, and “Chicken, Baby, Chicken” is its lead track.

By the way, Harris said he wrote this song. The “O” below tells me that I don’t know his actual first name.