Two back-to-back weekends of incredible music have left me feeling exhilarated, emotional, and exhausted. It began with the Newport Folk Festival, followed by last weekend’s 60th anniversary of the Newport Jazz Festival. You may have already seen my Folk Festival coverage, and my Jazz Festival story will be appearing here on Popdose soon.
As I said, the music was incredible, but the Jazz Festival was faced with having to overcome bad weather on two of its three days. Saturday was particularly rainy, but that didn’t stop 6,000 people from showing up (there were 8,000 tickets sold for the day) to support the music they love. The performers were obviously inspired by the passion of all of those people sitting out in the pouring rain and delivered the goods, big time.
All of that rain couldn’t help but make me think of the Dramatics, and their 1972 hit “In the Rain.” They rose up out of Detroit in 1964, and were known as the Dynamics when they started recording the following year. Their first single was something called “Bingo” b/w “Somewhere” for Detroit’s Wingate label, a subsidiary of Golden World Records. It may not have seen much chart action, but the record affected the group’s future in another way; Wingate mistakenly printed “The Dramatics” instead of “The Dynamics” on the record label, and they were the Dramatics ever after.
In 1966, the Dramatics, as they were now known, released another single for Wingate, “Inky Dinky Wang Dang Doo” b/w “Baby I Need You.” Again it failed to see any action, but a year later Motown bought out Golden World, including all of their labels, and all, well most, of their artists. The Dramatics, with their two failed singles, apparently didn’t make the grade and signed with Sport Records instead. It was there that they had their first small-scale hit with “All Because of You” in 1967.
In 1968, the future began to look brighter for the Dramatics when they signed with Stax Records and began recording for the Volt subsidiary. Still, it took three long years for them to score a genuine hit with 1971’s “Whatcha See Is Whatcha Get.” The record peaked at #9 on the Billboard Hot 100 and sold a million copies. By this time the lineup of the group included Ron Banks, “Wee Gee” Howard, Elbert Wilkins, Willie Ford, Larry Demps, and keyboard player James Mack Brown.
The Watcha See Is Whatcha Get album did well for the Dramatics, hitting the Top 20 on the Pop chart, and #5 on the R&B chart. Despite the success, Howard and Wilkins left the group shortly thereafter, to be replaced by L.J. Reynolds and Lenny Mayes. This was the lineup that you might have seen on Soul Train, the lineup that found success with “In the Rain” in 1972.
“In the Rain” was written by Tony Hester (who would later be shot to death in a street robbery in 1980), and released on Volt Records in February, 1972. Don Davis produced the session. Maybe it was Davis who had the idea to include the sound of rain and thunder at the beginning of the record (it occurs again in the instrumental and chorus sections of the song), and to this day that’s what makes it immediately identifiable to a listener. “In the Rain” was the biggest hit the Dramatics ever had, selling over a million copies while reaching the top of the Billboard Best Selling Soul Singles chart, and #5 on the Billboard Hot 100.
“In the Rain” may have been the biggest Dramatics hit, but it wasn’t the last. Their other hits, albeit much lesser ones, included “Toast to a Fool,” their cover of Billy Paul’s “Me and Mrs. Jones,” “I’m Going By the Stars,” and “Be My Girl.”
Remember Howard and Wilkins, who left the group after the success of “Whatcha See is Whatcha Get” but before the bigger success of “In the Rain”? Well they decided to form a splinter group, and the Dramatics, feeling the need to distinguish themselves from the departed members, temporarily called themselves Ron Banks & the Dramatics. Howard eventually returned to the group, recorded two albums with them, and left again.
Snoop fans might be interested to know that it was the Dramatics who sang on “Doggy Doggy World,” which appeared on Snoop’s first album in 1993. They collaborated again with Snoop nine years later when they sang on “Ballin'” from Paid tha Cost to Be da Boss.
Ron Banks (2010), “Wee Gee” Howard (2000), Elbert Wilkins (1992), Lenny Mayes (2004), and Larry Mack Brown (2008), are all gone now, but the Dramatics continue on. These days the lineup includes L.J. Reynolds, Willie Ford, Winzell Kelly, and Michael Brock.
The Dramatics were inducted into the Rhythm & Blues Music Hall of Fame in 2013.