1963 Bob & Earl – Harlem Shuffle
The Hollywood Flames had several members who successfully wrote and recorded music independently of the group. Most notable was Bobby Byrd, who later changed his name to Bobby Day. Bobby had some success as a solo artist with Rock-In Robin in the late fifties, but the success wasn’t lasting.
The lead singer on the Hollywood Flames’ biggest record was Earl Nelson, and he and Bobby began recording records outside of the group as Bob & Earl. In 1958 they released the single Gee Whiz which only reached #103. It was not the same song as the single Gee Whiz Carla Thomas wrote and recorded in 1961. Bobby had several successful solo records in the next few years but the duo’s records failed to chart, and by 1960 they stopped recording together.
Determined to make a success of Bob & Earl, Earl recruited a replacement for Bob in 1962 and began recording again. The new Bob was Bobby Relf, who had previously gone by Bobby Garrett and Bobby Valentino while in at least four other groups (including two groups that included the future star, Barry White).
Their first charting single was Don’t Ever Leave Me. The record peaked at only #85 in 1962. Their other charting single was Harlem Shuffle, which reached #41 in 1963. Bob and Earl wrote the song themselves, although several sources show that they based the song on the Northern Soul tune Slauson Shuffletime by Round Robin. Harlem Shuffle initially failed to chart in the UK. Repeated efforts to follow up that single failed to reach the charts.
By 1965, Earl had struck out with a solo career, this time using the name Earl Cosby. When that didn’t pan out, he recorded The Duck for yet another record label. The single listed the singer as Jackie Lee and the novelty dance tune reached #14 in 1966. He recorded several more singles that were eventually successful with England’s Northern Soul fans.
In 1969, Bob & Earl’s record label reissued Harlem Shuffle in the UK in 1969 and the record reached #7 on the UK chart.
Bobby Relf pursued a solo career that ironically was also most successful with Northern Soul fans in the UK in the seventies. He also worked with Barry White, writing and co-producing some records.
The Rolling Stones covered Harlem Shuffle in 1986 with Bobby Womack singing backup vocals. Their version of the single reached #5 on the US Hot 100. They released a performance video for the single that included animation.
House of Pain clearly sampled the horn section from the intro of Bob & Earl’s single when they recorded Jump Around in 1992.
Earl continued to perform live in the LA area until his health deteriorated. He died in 2008.
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