I’m headed to New Jersey this week. I lived there for my entire life before moving to Rhode Island a little over five years ago. I always enjoy returning to my home state to reconnect with friends, and to take in the splendor of the Garden State. Of course one of the things that NJ is best known for is its musical heritage, so I thought it would be only fitting this week for me to feature a group that had at least a tangential connection to the state.
The Moments did not originate in NJ. In fact, Eric Olfus Sr., Richard Gross, and John Morgan got together in Washington, DC in the mid-’60s. Shortly thereafter they signed with Hog Records, a label that had been formed by three classmates at the city’s Howard University. The Moments recorded a single for Hog as a trio, and then they were joined by Mark Greene.
That’s where NJ entered the picture because soon after Greene’s arrival, the Moments signed with Stang Records, a label that had been formed by Sylvia Robinson and her husband Joe at their All Platinum Studios in Englewood, NJ. It didn’t take the Moments long to score their first hit for Stang. “Not on the Outside” made it all the way to #13 on the R&B chart, and #57 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1968.
The group’s success attracted a management team that was led by New York City DJ Frankie Crocker. The team was able to book the Moments for high profile gigs in major cities. The lineup of the group was in constant flux, to say the least. By the time the Moments recorded their first album for Stang, the album cover was a photo of Billy Brown, Al Goodman, and John Morgan, although various other members sang on the album. There were also some obviously female voices on the album, and one of those was thought to be that of Robinson, who, in addition to owning the studio and label, was a professional singer.
If you’re confused at this point, I don’t blame you. But whoever the Moments of the moment were, they managed to record a huge hit for Stang in 1970. “Love on a Two-Way Street” was a song written by Robinson along with Bert Keyes in 1968. It was originally recorded by Lezli Valentine (who claims to have contributed to the song’s lyrics), an All Platinum artist.
At that point most of the original Moments had departed from All Platinum, and the group consisted of Goodman, Brown, and Morgan. It was the Moments version, released two years after Valentine’s, that scored. The smash single featured Billy Brown, who re-recorded the lead vocal over the Valentine’s original track. What was originally supposed to be a filler track for the Moments Not on the Outside, But on the Inside album turned into a huge hit single, topping the Billboard Soul Singles chart, and reaching #3 on the Billboard Hot 100.
Then Morgan left the Moments and was replaced by Johnny Moore (Robinson’s brother-in-law). But he missed a gig and was fired. He was replaced by, wait for it, a guy named Harry Ray. Do you see where we’re going here? Ray ended up singing lead on several Moments hits including “If I Didn’t Care” (1970), “Sexy Mama” (1973), and “Look At Me (I’m In Love)” (1975). I could go on, but it would only lead to more confusion. Suffice to say that by 1979 the Moments had 27 R&B chart hits under their belts.
That was the year that the Moments decided to leave Stang and sign with Polydor. There was just one problem; a contractual dispute prevented them from using the name the Moments so they became, you guessed it, Ray, Goodman, & Brown. Their very first single for Polydor, “Special Lady,” was a smash. In 1980 the record was on top of the R&B chart, and at #5 on the Pop chart. Their follow-ups included “Inside of You,” a Top 20 R&B hit.
In 1982, Ray left the trio for a solo career. He was replaced by Kevin ‘Ray’ Owens. Harry Ray returned to Englewood to record for the Robinson’s new label, Sugar Hill. The following year he re-joined Goodman and Brown. Their comeback single, “Take it to the Limit,” was a Top 10 R&B hit. In 1991, Ray, Goodman & Brown were joined by Harold ‘Eban’ Brown, a one-time member of the Delfonics. Eban Brown became the group’s lead singer for the next two and a half years before leaving to take the lead vocal role in the Manhattans.
In 1992 Harold Ray died following a stroke. Kevin Owens once again replaced him. Ray, Goodman & Brown rolled on into the new century, releasing albums in 2002 and 2003. In 2010 Al Goodman passed away. Eban Brown returned, and he and Billy Brown re-recorded The Moments Greatest Hits – Volume 1, which was released in 2014.
Remember Mark Greene? Well he fought for, and eventually won, the trademark of the Moments name. The Moments featuring Mark Greene released the Urban Legacy album in 2000, and continued touring in the early years of the 21st century.