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Each time we’ll come across this group over the next dozen or more years explanations will undoubtedly have to go with it, for no act in rock seemed to relish confusing people more than they did.

Other groups, even legendary ones like The Drifters, had plenty of personnel changes, even complete overhauls mid-way through their run, but at least they remained on the same label under the same name, but not these guys.

They recorded under so many names, with so many different members, on so many different labels that keeping track of them is never easy, something this appearance only reinforces.


I’ll See You Every Night
Where do we start? How about the name, since that’s a change that’s easy to spot. They started off as simply The Flames on Selective at the start of 1950 and while the members haven’t changed, the record label has… which brings us to the second difference – and ultimately the more interesting one – which is the first appearance of the Recorded In Hollywood label, and consequently their (temporary) name change to The Hollywood Four Flames as a convenient and rather obvious tie-in.

We’ve mentioned John Dolphin’s name in passing before but here’s where he starts to become a player in the game… though not a MAJOR player unless you were an up and coming rock act in Los Angeles who wanted to get a record out in a hurry in which case he was your ticket to a brief flurry of attention around your neighborhood.

Dolphin was a black man who opened a record store in the mid-1940’s which he called Dolphin’s Of Hollywood, even though it was not actually IN Hollywood, but rather on Central Avenue in Watts. The name he chose though had two meanings, the first and more obvious, was to make the store sound somewhat glamorous. The second reason was more subversive and referred to the fact there were no black owned record stores – or any black owned businesses – in Hollywood because black folk weren’t welcome there, so this was him sticking it to them by suggesting the star power when it came to music in Los Angeles was centered smack dab in the black community, which was unquestionably true.

Now Dolphin was hardly a civil rights crusader, he was a businessman looking to promote his store and record company, nothing more. In fact he’d rip off as many artists as virtually anyone in the industry which eventually got him killed when one of them took exception to not being paid for songs he’d submitted and shot him behind the counter of his store in 1958. But the reason he still got so many willing singers coming to him was because he guaranteed the record would come out and be played on radio, often on the same day it was recorded.

He did this by having big name disc jockeys like Hunter Hancock and Dick “Huggy Boy” Hugg doing their shows live in his store’s front window making it a prime destination for music fans to interact with the personalities, including countless artists who stopped by to be interviewed on air, or just soak up the atmosphere as the store was open all night. At its peak hundreds of people would be there on Saturday night, simply enjoying the party. Say what you will about financial chicanery – and we will – but he was truly an innovator when it came how he sold music… both the actual records themselves and the allure inherent in that music.

Recorded In Hollywood was his first label (started in 1948) but hardly his last. His method of operation was simple… young artists wanting to make records had to either have contacts with established companies or pass some sort of audition which even in a city as big as Los Angeles was difficult, despite the many local labels. So Dolphin had an open door policy, he’d record you, press the records and sell them – mostly just in his store at first, unless it caught on and then he’d look to distribute it wider – and the sides would be spun on the air, giving kids a measure of local celebrity, building loyalty in the community, thereby ensuring a steady stream of kids with loose change in their pockets frequented his establishment.

The Flames had already had records released the old fashioned way, but it’d been awhile since they’d seen one come out under their own name and so they signed up with Dolphin in the summer of 1951 and saw two singles issued more or less simultaneously, the first being She’s Got Something, in the process doubling their entire output to date in just a matter of minutes.


When We Get Together Everything Will Be Okay
Though the group has natural vocal talent from the very start, they were still lacking in polish at this stage of the game but this sounds like a song they’d really been rehearsing – sans music – because its vocal arrangement is pretty creative, effectively switching from straight harmony to overlapping parts throughout the record in order to create a much fuller sound.

The record kicks off with some nice harmonizing that starts slow but gradually picks up the pace to build suspense before Bobby Byrd, in his lower range, steps out for the lead while the others are chiming in behind him, trading off lines with Byrd to finish his thoughts, forcing you to pay attention to both equally.

The melodic variations used in such a simple song are pretty striking, not that it’s terribly complex but it’s more inventive than you’d think likely for a bunch of kids who probably came up with their parts on a street corner trying to impress some girls. They hold notes, tweak the melody in unexpected places and constantly switch up the wordless patterns, in the process nudging it beyond the simplicity much of the song seems to be headed towards. It also gives the others a chance to do something rather than just add vocal padding.

Now of course this technique will see rapid advancement in the new few years, almost to the point where it becomes intentionally exaggerated to catch your ear, but although it’s relatively modest on She’s Got Something it still manages to stand out because as the record plays it defies your more limited expectations when basing it on past performances in this approach.

Though you might be wishing for some deeper lyrics as they spin this romantic tale, in truth it fits their situation perfectly. These were kids presumably without too much experience hooking up with girls and so their overly earnest and optimistic come-ons don’t have any cynicism or false bravado weighing them down, nor adding plot twists to the story for that matter. They seem far more concerned with getting the message across they want to be with her than they are with trying to impress her with fancy wordplay.

Granted it might be a little too naïve in some respects – and they don’t do themselves a service with their far too pop like wordless bopping down the stretch, which only adds to that square image – but on the whole this is a decent effort, well crafted and sung with a capable sax solo by Que Martyn… even the organ behind their vocals adds a different ambiance than we’re used to in these kinds of records.


The Things I Want
In some ways you’d have to say they benefited from their association with John Dolphin… not financially I’m sure, but in terms of gaining valuable experience. They sound more relaxed here than they did a year ago, more focused and not relying mainly on enthusiasm to sell it, even though the vocal group scene has gotten much stronger in that time and thus makes this more mundane compared to the huge advancements over the past few months in this field.

But while that means She’s Got Something is not a hit sound for mid-1951 that lack of commercial potential didn’t derail their future prospects in the least because of who it was recorded for.

Dolphin wasn’t seeking nor expecting a national hit, or even frankly a regional one around Los Angeles. What he was after was stirring the interest of those who came into his store… friends and family of the singers who’d buy the record, at least enough for him to profit, but also to create a little neighborhood buzz around The Hollywood Four Flames because that’d mean other local acts would come in to cut records and the more that did, the more it’d pay off for him, maybe even getting him a genuine hit.

So credit the group for taking advantage of an opportunity but look at it merely for what it is, just another step on the ladder leading to bigger opportunities and potential success down the road.


(Visit the Artist page of The Hollywood Four Flames for the complete archive of their records reviewed to date)