The Masqueraders came by their name honestly, which is ironic given that what they did to earn the name was somewhat dishonest. In their early days they would often appear in Texas towns performing under the names of a big time national groups. Remember, it was the late ’50s, pre-Internet days, and it was easier to get away with things like that.
It was 1958 when the Masqueraders first got together in Dallas. Originally it was the initiative of two guys, Charlie Moore and Robert Tex Wrightsil, who were still in middle school. They were called the Stairs in those days, and the group also included brothers Johnny and Lawrence Davis, and Charlie Gibson.
The Stairs recorded three singles for the small South Town label, but before long the Davis brothers quit, and Gibson joined the Army. The group was back down to the original members, Moore and Wrightsil. They recruited Lee Wesley Jones to be their new lead vocalist (a role that Moore originally filled). Harold Thomas and David Sanders completed the new lineup and they began touring relentlessly throughout Texas. That’s when they started pretending to be other groups, and they changed their name to the Masqueraders, which must have seemed appropriate.
Their first single as the Masqueraders, “A Man’s Temptation,” was released in 1963. Two years later they released “Talk About a Woman” on Houston’s Soultown label, and then headed to Detroit to audition for Motown. The audition didn’t go well. The Masqueraders were told they were too much like the Temptations, and Motown didn’t need another Temptations. There they were in Detroit with no money, and no way home.
The Masqueraders came up with the idea of performing at Detroit’s legendary Twenty Grand Club to raise money to get them back home. Around this time they met Lou Beatty who had a label called LaBeat. The group released five singles for the label, but none of them gained any traction.
When it was time to move on again, the Masqueraders left Detroit and headed for Memphis to audition for producer Chips Moman. They ended up recording eight singles in Moman’s American Studios. The first of these was “I Don’t Want Nobody to Lead Me On” in 1967, and it was a minor hit for the group. The single was licensed to New York City’s Wand label.
Moman was concerned about contractual problems so he credited the follow up single, “This Heart Is Haunted,” to Lee Jones & the Sounds of Soul and licensed it to Amy Records. A subsequent single stiffed and Wand dropped the Masqueraders. Moman negotiated a new deal for the group with Amy’s parent label, Bell Records.
It was at this time that the Masqueraders really hit their stride musically. Their soulful vocal stylings blended with the first rate studio crew at American made for an undeniable sound. They had another minor hit with “I Ain’t Got Nobody Else.” It was also during this time that the Masqueraders providing backing vocals for a nationally known Memphis group called the Box Tops, which featured a young vocalist by the name of Alex Chilton.
Ten years after they first got together, the Masqueraders had their first national hit. In 1968 Moman released “I’m Just an Average Guy” on his own AGP label, and it went all the way to #24 on the R&B chart. Two more singles for AGP followed, but neither did as well, and it was time for the Masqueraders to go home.
Back in Dallas the Masqueraders formed their own label, Stairway Records, and began to release singles. Unfortunately they didn’t have the means to do too much promotion, and they had no national distribution. Neither of the singles, “Let Me Show the World I Love You” (1971) and “The Truth is Free” (1972) were successful.
Before long it was time to hit the road yet again, and this time the Masqueraders returned to Memphis were they recorded for Willie Mitchell’s Hi label. They released two singles for the label, but hits proved elusive once again. By 1974, group founder Charlie Moore had had enough and quit after more than 15 years with the Masqueraders.
Moore was replaced by returning member Lee Evans and the group took their act to Isaac Hayes’ HBS label. There they made their very first album, but the label soon declared bankruptcy and the Masqueraders ended the ’70s without a record deal. They weren’t ready to give up however, and maintained a busy touring schedule.
In 1980 the Masqueraders signed with Atlanta’s Bang Records and released a self-titled album that is considered their greatest work. There were also two singles for the label that didn’t chart. They still refused to quit however. Eventually Moore returned to the group and believe or not they continued to be active well into the new century.