The Falcons were a vocal group whose membership at one time or another included such luminaries as Eddie Floyd, Wilson Pickett, Sir Mack Rice, and Joe Stubbs. They formed in Detroit when Floyd and Bob Manardo, who worked together in a jewelry store, decided to put together a group. Manardo brought in his friend Tom Shetler, and Floyd enlisted Arnett Robinson. Eventually bass singer Willie Schofield was added to the lineup.
The year was 1955, and the Falcons were one of the first integrated groups. They played a lot of clubs around Detroit, but would also venture off to the east coast on occasion. In 1956 Mercury Records was holding auditions. Thinking that the auditions were in Chicago, the Falcons headed there only to learn on their arrival that the auditions were being conducted in New York.
Undeterred, the Falcons managed to wheedle an audition and did well enough to get a record deal. Their first single, “Baby, That’s It,” b/w “This Day,” was released in August, 1956. Before they could have any real success, Manardo was drafted, and Shetler decided to enlist. The remaining three Falcons added Joe Stubbs (brother of Levi Stubbs), and guitarist Lance Finnie to the lineup. Something about these changes didn’t sit well with Arnett Robinson, and he left the group a month later.
The Falcons ran some ads looking for a new baritone singer, and Mack Rice answered one. The classic Falcons lineup was in place, and serious recording began. Their manager, Robert West, owned several labels, and singles like “Sent Up” (Silhouette, 1957), “This Heart of Mine” (Kudo, 1958), and “You’re So Fine” (Flick, 1959), began to appear on them.
“You’re So Fine” turned out to be a major hit for the Falcons, helped along when West arranged for national distribution of the single by Unart, a United Artists subsidiary label. The record climbed all the way to #2 on the R&B chart, and #17 on the Pop chart. The Falcons followed their hit with three more singles for Unart, but the label was eventually discontinued and “You’re So Fine” was reissued by the parent label, United Artists.
Back in 1958 the Falcons had recorded some unreleased tracks for Chess Records. The Chicago blues label decided to take advantage of the success that the Falcons had with “You’re So Fine” and had the group come in and re-record those songs. It was a good move as “Just For Your Love” rose to #26 on the R&B chart in 1959. The following year the record was re-released by Detroit label Anna, which was owned by Berry Gordy’s sisters, Anna and Gwen Gordy, and Billy Davis.
The Falcons remained signed with United Artists, and in 1960 they had another hit with “The Teacher.” That summer, Wilson Pickett became a Falcon, and Joe Stubbs left. Pickett was actually the group’s second choice. They wanted Marvin Gaye, but he was otherwise engaged at the time. Pickett debuted as lead singer on the Sam Cooke-written song “Pow! You’re In Love.” As for Stubbs, he did pretty well for himself, going on to sing with the Four Tops, the Contours, and the Originals.
In 1961 the Falcons contract with United Artists was not renewed and they began to record for another West-owned label, Lu-Pine, which was distributed by Atlantic Records. Lu-Pine released “I Found a Love” in early 1962. The record was an R&B smash, reaching #6 on the chart. The follow-up, “Lah-Tee-Lah-Tah,” did nothing however.
There were some lineup changes, including the departure of Pickett, but eventually the group’s classic lineup got back together. It was short-lived however. When Schofield was drafted in 1963, the group broke up for good. Lu Pine (the hyphen had disappeared) released one last original Falcons record in 1966. “Anna” b/w “You’re On My Mind” were old recordings that featured Pickett on lead.
The break-up of the group didn’t stop Robert West however. In 1963 he took another group that he managed called the Fabulous Playboys, and renamed them the Falcons. The new Falcons carried on for several years and even had a Top 30 hit with “Standing On Guard” in 1967. But by 1970, the new Falcons too had disbanded.