Bill Deal played keyboard instruments and Ammon Tharp played drums. The two met when they were each hired to play for a local Virginia group called the Blazers. The two began working together as a duo, playing and singing mostly R&B standards. They worked up a limited number of songs, so during an evening of playing in a club, it forced them to repeat songs. Somebody suggested they call themselves the Rhondels based on a poetry term “rondel” that refers to poems that repeat the opening lines in the middle of the poem. The name stuck.
In 1961 they recruited five more musicians and became Bill Deal & the Rhondels. The band played in clubs in Virginia, eventually becoming an important group in the Beach Music genre. That genre existed primarily as part of the Shag dance phenomenon in the Carolinas.
The members of the group changed almost constantly. They focused on covers of soul records done in a blue-eyed soul style, with the lead vocals coming from Ammon. In 1968 the group released the album Sock It To You 12 Times on Beach Records that was a collection of covers of Beach Music records and a few Beatles songs. Sales were not brisk.
Maurice Williams was a singer/songwriter who led the group The Zodiacs in the late fifties and early sixties. He wrote their 1960 chart-topping single, Stay. The group struggled to follow up on that success. One of the unsuccessful singles that Maurice wrote was May I, which failed to chart in 1965.
Bill’s group played the song in their shows for years and had stopped including it in their setlists. In 1968, a fan requested the song, and as a joke, they played the song to a polka beat. The result sounded much better than it ever had before. The group went back into the studio and quickly recorded the song. Jerry Ross owned the small Heritage record label in Philadelphia, and a local promoter took the song to the label and they released it. The single reached #39 on the Hot 100 in early 1969.
One of the early success stories in Beach Music was The Tams, a group that had taken their name from the Tam-o’-shanter hats that they wore on stage. Ray Whitley wrote many of the songs they recorded, although not all of them were hits. In 1965 they released the single, I’ve Been Hurt.
Bill Deal & The Rhondels released I’ve Been Hurt as their second single. It did even better than their first single, reaching #35 a few months later.
The biggest hit the Tams had came in 1964 with their release of another Ray Whitley song, What Kind Of Fool Do You Think I Am. Their single reached #9 on the Hot 100.
The cover version by Bill Deal & The Rhondels was a hit in the Summer of 1969 and reached #23. They had two more singles that reached the Hot 100, but never got near the top forty again. The band disbanded in the early eighties, but Bill reformed the group in 1986. They continued playing shows until Bill’s death in 2003.
Records by the Tams and Bill Deal & The Rhondels became even bigger hits in the UK as part of the Northern Soul revival in the seventies. The Tams 1964 single, Hey Girl, Don’t Bother Me, only reached #41 on the US Hot 100 in 1964, but its re-release was a #1 hit in the UK in 1971.
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