I had a flat tire today. I like to write my column in the local library. I get inspired when I’m surrounded by books. The library even has a special “quiet room,” and being in it makes it easy to focus on the task at hand. I made a stop before heading to the library, and I guess I wasn’t paying attention because I hit a curb while pulling into the parking lot.
I thought the tire looked low when I headed into the store, and by the time I came out, my car was listing badly to one side. My first thought was the spare. I could put it on and be on my way, even if it was one of those “donut” spares. I’d never had a flat tire with this car, so I had never had to look for the spare. I opened the trunk and under a panel, in the space where a spare should be, I found a square device that would purportedly inflate, and even seal my tire. But I had no idea how to use it.
I pay for roadside assistance, so I made the call. A little while later, a tow truck showed up. The driver took one look at the tire, and one look at the electrical device from the trunk, and told me that he’d have to tow the car. All this to tell you that I’m writing the column from home today. I hope your day is going better than mine.
Which brings me, in an extremely roundabout fashion, to the Ovations. The got together in Memphis in the early ’60s. The original lineup consisted of Louis Williams Jr., Nathan ‘Pedro’ Lewis, and Elvin Lee Jones. Williams was the lead singer, and his voice bore echoes of the singer he idolized, Sam Cooke. Before forming the Ovations, Lewis had sung with a group called the Del-Rios, which was led by William Bell, and recorded for Stax Records.
The Ovations got their first break when they were recommended to Goldwax Records by the songwriter Roosevelt Jamison. Their first release for the label was “Pretty Little Angel,” but it was their second single, “It’s Wonderful to be In Love,” that really launched their career. The single reached #22 on the R&B chart, and #61 on the Pop chart in 1965.
“It’s Wonderful to be In Love” was sufficiently successful to land the Ovations on tours with headliners like James Brown, James Carr, Percy Sledge, and Gladys Knight & the Pips. Everything was set for the group to have a follow-up hit. They had a song from hot songwriters Dan Penn and Spooner Oldham, and they went down to the hitmaking hotbed of Muscle Shoals, Alabama to record it. Inexplicably, “I’m Living Good” was not a hit.
At that point, Jones left the group. He was replaced by Billy Young, who had been a member of the Avantis. But another Goldwax single written by Penn and Oldham, “I Need a Lot of Loving,” failed to chart, as did “I Believe I’ll Go Back Home,” and several other singles for the label. It wasn’t until 1967 that “Me and My Imagination,” a song co-written by Goldwax label chief Quinton Claunch, gave the Ovations their second hit.
Two years later the group found themselves embroiled in a royalties dispute with their label. The dispute led to the collapse of the label, followed shortly by the dissolution of the Ovations. But Williams wasn’t done yet. In 1971 he put together another group of Ovations, this time with singers Rochester Neal, Bill Davis, and Quincy Billops, Jr.
MGM Records came calling in the form of their local imprint Sounds of Memphis. In 1972 the Ovations scored a #19 hit for the label with “Touching Me.” A year later the Ovations scored their biggest hit with a cover of Sam Cooke’s “Having a Party” that also included snippets of other soul hits. In reality, the single had been recorded by Williams with some background singers, but it was released under the Ovations name, and ran all the way up to #7 on the R&B chart, and #56 on the Pop chart.
That would be the final success for the Ovations. After recording one more album, We’re Having a Party, for MGM, they split up for good. Louis Williams, Jr., the driving force behind the Ovations, passed away in 2002.