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Nolan Strong & The Diablos

Nolan Strong & The Diablos

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Nolan Strong & The Diablos were a Detroit-based R&B
Rhythm and blues
Rhythm and blues, often abbreviated to R&B, is a genre of popular African American music that originated in the 1940s. The term was originally used by record companies to describe recordings marketed predominantly to urban African Americans, at a time when "urbane, rocking, jazz based music with a...

 and doo-wop
The name Doo-wop is given to a style of vocal-based rhythm and blues music that developed in African American communities in the 1940s and achieved mainstream popularity in the 1950s and early 1960s. It emerged from New York, Philadelphia, Chicago, Baltimore, Newark, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati and...

 vocal group best known for its hit songs "The Wind
The Wind (song)
"The Wind" is a 1954 doo-wop classic by the pre-Motown Detroit R&B group Nolan Strong & The Diablos. The song appears originally on the group's second 45rpm single, "The Wind / Baby Be Mine," []...

" and "Mind Over Matter." The group was one of the most popular, pre-Motown, R&B acts in Detroit during the mid 1950s, through the early 1960s.

Nolan Strong (1934–1977), the lead vocalist, had an ethereally high tenor. Strong's smooth voice, influenced mainly by Clyde McPhatter
Clyde McPhatter
Clyde McPhatter was an American R&B singer, perhaps the most widely imitated R&B singer of the 1950s and 1960s, making him a key figure in the shaping of doo-wop and R&B. He is best known for his solo hit "A Lover's Question"...

 was, in turn, a primary influence on a young Smokey Robinson
Smokey Robinson
William "Smokey" Robinson, Jr. is an American R&B singer-songwriter, record producer, and former record executive. Robinson is one of the primary figures associated with Motown, second only to the company's founder, Berry Gordy...

. http://www.goldminemag.com/article/More_Love_For_Smokey_Robinson/

The group, along with label-mates Andre Williams
Andre Williams
Andre Williams is an American R&B and punk blues musician who started his career in the 1950s at Fortune Records in Detroit.-Biography:...

 and Nathaniel Mayer
Nathaniel Mayer
Nathaniel Mayer was a rhythm & blues singer who started his career in the early 1960s at Fortune Records in Detroit...

, recorded for Fortune Records
Fortune Records
Fortune Records was a family operated, independent record label located in Detroit, Michigan from 1946 to 1995. The label owners were Jack and Devora Brown, their son Sheldon Brown recorded for the label...

, a small label in Detroit starting in 1954, and ending somewhere around 1973.

Strong has also been an influence on rock and roll
Rock and roll
Rock and roll is a genre of popular music that originated and evolved in the United States during the late 1940s and early 1950s, primarily from a combination of African American blues, country, jazz, and gospel music...

 bands. In December 2009 Lou Reed
Lou Reed
Lewis Allan "Lou" Reed is an American rock musician, songwriter, and photographer. He is best known as guitarist, vocalist, and principal songwriter of The Velvet Underground, and for his successful solo career, which has spanned several decades...

, of the influential '60s band The Velvet Underground
The Velvet Underground
The Velvet Underground was an American rock band formed in New York City. First active from 1964 to 1973, their best-known members were Lou Reed and John Cale, who both went on to find success as solo artists. Although experiencing little commercial success while together, the band is often cited...

, told Rolling Stone Magazine editor David Fricke
David Fricke
David Fricke is a senior editor at Rolling Stone magazine, where he writes predominantly on rock music. In the 1990s, he was managing editor before stepping down.-Background:David Fricke is a graduate of Muhlenberg College in Allentown, Pennsylvania...

, "If I could really sing, I’d be Nolan Strong" - during an interview at the New York Public Library
New York Public Library
The New York Public Library is the largest public library in North America and is one of the United States' most significant research libraries...

. http://blog.limewire.com/posts/32010-live-at-the-new-york-public-library-the-velvet-underground/

The Diablos were inducted into the United In Group Harmony Hall of Fame in 2003. In March 2008 the group was inducted into the Doo-Wop Hall of Fame of America.

In 2007, The Metro Times listed "The Wind" at #11 in The 100 Greatest Detroit Songs list - which was the November 11th cover story. http://www.metrotimes.com/editorial/story.asp?id=12036

In September 2010 Daddy Rockin Strong: A Tribute to Nolan Strong & The Diablos
Daddy Rockin Strong: A Tribute to Nolan Strong & The Diablos
Daddy Rockin Strong: A Tribute to Nolan Strong & The Diablos is a vinyl-only tribute album released by The Wind Records and distributed by Norton Records....

 LP was released by The Wind Records, with distribution by Norton Records
Norton Records
For the Canadian independent record label of the same name, see Matt Minglewood.Norton Records, a New York City based independent record label founded by musicians Miriam Linna and Billy Miller, maintains a focus on primitive, retro rock'n'roll, rockabilly, garage punk, garage rock, lounge music...

. The album features 13 new Diablos covers by a cast of rock and roll, punk and garage rock bands. It features The Dirtbombs
The Dirtbombs
The Dirtbombs are an American garage rock band based in Detroit, Michigan, notable for blending diverse influences such as punk rock and soul while featuring a dual bass guitar, dual drum and guitar lineup...

, Reigning Sound
Reigning Sound
The Reigning Sound is an American garage punk band originally based out of Memphis, Tennessee, now located in Asheville, North Carolina. The band's current lineup includes former Oblivians and Compulsive Gamblers frontman Greg Cartwright on lead vocals and guitar, David Wayne Gay on bass, Lance...

, Wreckless Eric
Wreckless Eric
Wreckless Eric is an English rock and roll/new wave singer-songwriter, best known for his 1977 single " Whole Wide World" on Stiff Records. More than two decades after its release, the song was included in Mojo magazine’s list of the best punk rock singles of all time...

 & Amy Rigby
Amy Rigby
Amy Rigby is an American singer-songwriter. After playing with several New York bands she began a solo career, recording several albums which had only modest sales despite enthusiastic reviews. She settled into a career of touring small venues and private parties while raising a daughter, then...

 and Mark Sultan
Mark Sultan
Mark Sultan is a Canadian musician and entrepreneur from Montreal, Quebec. He was a member of a number of Canadian garage bands including the Spaceshits, Les Sexareenos, and Mind Controls...

, among others.

Nolan's bio

Nolan Strong was born in Scottsboro
Scottsboro, Alabama
Scottsboro is a city in Jackson County, Alabama, United States. As of the 2010 census, the population of the city is 14,770. Named for its founder Robert Scott, the city is the county seat of Jackson County....

, Alabama on January 22, 1934 and moved to Detroit at a young age.
He started singing soon after arriving in Detroit and formed his first Diablos group in 1950. Nolan was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1956 and was honorably discharged in 1958.
Nolan died on February 21, 1977 at the age of 43 in Detroit - little is known about the last years of his life. http://www.billboard.com/artist/nolan-strong/bio/5772#/artist/nolan-strong/bio/5772


The Diablos, with their 1954 classic "The Wind," are revered among R&B and doo wop lovers. The group had a unique sound, centered around the high ethereal lead tenor voice of Nolan Strong. Besides "The Wind," the Diablos were known for many songs, such as "Adios My Desert Love," "Can't We Talk This Over," "Mambo of Love," "If I," "Harriet," "I Am With You," "Goodbye Matilda," "I Wanna Know," "Beside You," "Mind Over Matter," and many more.

The group formed at Central High School in Detroit around 1950 and originally consisted of Strong (lead tenor), Juan Guieterriez (tenor), Willie Hunter (baritone), Quentin Eubanks (bass), and Bob "Chico" Edwards (guitar). The Diablos name is said to have come from a book, El Nino Diablo (The Little Devil), that Strong was reading for a high-school book report. In 1954, the Diablos went in to Detroit's Fortune Record Studios to cut some demo sides, with the hopes of furthering their career. Their hopes were realized even more quickly than they expected. Those demos impressed Jack and Devora Brown, owners of Fortune, who immediately signed the group to record for their label. Their first recording for Fortune was the Devora Brown-penned "Adios My Desert Love," a cha cha-flavored tune. http://www.billboard.com/artist/nolan-strong/bio/5772#/artist/nolan-strong/bio/5772

But it was their second Fortune record that established the group as R&B legends. Written by the group members, "The Wind" had a haunting sound, with the group chanting "blow wind" in harmony behind Strong's delicate tenor lead, and smooth and sexy talking bridge. Following the release of "The Wind," Guieterriez and Eubanks left the group, to be replaced by Nolan's brother Jimmy on tenor and George Scott on bass. Over the next two years this configuration of Diablos would turn out several records, including "Route 16," "Do You Remember What You Did," "Daddy Rockin' Strong," "The Way You Dog Me Around," "You Are," and "A Teardrop From Heaven."

By late 1956, more changes were in store for the Diablos. Scott decided to leave the group about this time to join Hank Ballard & the Midnighters - and again the Diablos were in need of a bass. Enter Jay Johnson, who was introduced to Strong through fellow Fortune artist Andre Williams. Although not quite 17 at the time, Johnson was already a veteran singer, having sung bass with Williams' "new" group on "Bacon Fat," "Just Because of a Kiss," "Mean Jean," and "Bobby Jean." (Williams' "new" group consisted of Gino Parks, Bobby Calhoun, Steve Gaston, and Johnson.) http://www.billboard.com/artist/nolan-strong/bio/5772#/artist/nolan-strong/bio/5772

Strong was impressed and the Diablos had their new bassman. Johnson's first session with the Diablos was on "Can't We Talk It Over" and "Mambo of Love," recorded in late 1956 and released in 1957. By the time the first Fortune of Hits album came out, Johnson had already replaced Scott with the group. Unfortunately, the picture on the album cover didn't reflect this change, and shows the group with Scott instead of Johnson. This oversight may be a factor in many believing that Johnson didn't join the group until several years later. In fact, Johnson is heard on bass on more Diablos recordings than either Eubanks or Scott. Among these are: "Beside You," "Mind Over Matter," "Everything They Said Came True," "Welcome Baby to My Heart," "I Wanna Know," "If I Could Be With You," "Since You're Gone," "Harriet," "Harriette It's You," "I Am With You," "Are You Making a Fool Out of Me," "You're My Happiness," "Village of Love," "For Old Times Sake," "My Heart Will Always Belong to You," and "Come Home Little Girl." On "Village of Love," Johnson also provided the bass on the original Fortune version by Nathaniel Mayer & the Fabulous Twilights. http://www.billboard.com/artist/nolan-strong/bio/5772#/artist/nolan-strong/bio/5772

Also in late 1956, about the time Johnson joined the group, Strong received a call from Uncle Sam and was soon off to the service for a two-year stint. While Nolan was in the service, the Diablos released one single without him, "Harriet," backed with "Come Home Little Girl," featuring Hunter on lead. Without Strong, the Diablos' magic seemed to be missing and the record received little fanfare. After Strong returned from the service, the group recorded "Harriette It's You." But when Nolan came back from the service, things weren't quite the same. Fortune was focusing more of their attention on Strong, and not the Diablos group. In 1954, records showed "The Diablos Featuring Nolan Strong." Then billing changed to "Nolan Strong & the Diablos," and by 1962, when "Mind Over Matter" was climbing the charts, the label just read "Nolan Strong," although the Diablos were on the record, as prominent as ever. This lack of recognition along with financial inequities (lack of royalties and unequal pay to the group members versus Strong), inevitably lead to the group's demise.

Just as Strong had been influenced by Clyde McPhatter, he in turn would be influential to Smokey Robinson. And Robinson was not the only one at Motown to have an appreciation for Nolan Strong & the Diablos. Berry Gordy had wanted to bring the Diablos into his fast-growing Motown complex. The deal never happened.

In 1964, the group disbanded. Calhoun indicates he went south and did some work with Stax Records. Iverson and Hunter returned to Detroit. Johnson stayed on for a time in New Jersey, continuing to perform solo at the Tender Trap, but also found his way back to Detroit. Upon his return, he joined Detroit's Five Monarchs, but did not record with them. In the late '60s Johnson formed the soul group the Four Sonics, releasing two singles in 1968 on Detroit's Sport label. The group recorded through the mid-'70s. In 2002, Johnson is still an exciting stage performer, and has performed recently with Nathaniel Mayer, reprising his "Village of Love" work. http://www.billboard.com/artist/nolan-strong/bio/5772#/artist/nolan-strong/bio/5772

Velvet Angels

But where one story ends, another begins. In 1964, as the Diablos were dissolving, the Velvet Angels were forming. The group would include Diablos alumni Johnson and Hunter along with Calhoun (baritone) and Cy Iverson (tenor). Iverson had gone to high school with Johnson, and Calhoun had recorded with Johnson as part of Williams' "new" group on Fortune. Tired of being devils (diablos is Spanish for devils), they decided angels would be a better name. Velvet was added to describe their smooth and velvety harmonies, calling to mind groups like the Mills Brothers and Ink Spots.

The Velvet Angels performed at clubs around Detroit and across the border in Canada, while perfecting their material. They then traveled to New Jersey in search of greater opportunity. Soon after setting up residence in Jersey City, they found an ad for a talent show in the local paper. As luck would have it, they performed at show and won! Frank Sheldon, the show sponsor and owner of the Tender Trap club in Fairview, NJ, was looking for this type of group. The Velvet Angels were talented and versatile doing a mix of R&B, pop, gospel, and soul music, and doing them all a cappella. Things were starting to happen for the Velvet Angels; they were hired to do commercials for Lionel Trains, but unfortunately their manager became ill and that deal fell apart. http://www.billboard.com/artist/nolan-strong/bio/5772#/artist/nolan-strong/bio/5772

And right about here is where the Velvet Angels' story gets very interesting and also somewhat confusing. Nolan had remained on good terms with Hunter and Johnson and had talked about reuniting with them. In 1963, Strong came to New Jersey and spent some time with the group, rehearsing and appearing with them at the Tender Trap. Some of these rehearsal sessions at their hotel (the Madison Hotel in Jersey City, NJ) were recorded on a basic home tape recorder. A young man named Angelo Pompeo made the acquaintance of some of the group members and eventually purchased some of the rehearsal tapes. Johnson was not there at the time of the "deal," nor aware of it until after the fact. The tapes soon found their way to Eddie Gries, who would issue some of the tunes as singles on his Medieval label.

And so in 1964 "I'm in Love" b/w "Let Me Come Back" was issued as Medieval 201. Both sides highlighted the bass work of Johnson, with a bass lead on "Let Me Come Back," and an incredible driving bass on "I'm in Love" (also released as Co-Op 201). Interestingly, the Medieval record credits "Strong" as the writer while the Co-Op version credits "Calhoun-Hunter-Johnson-Iverson." The singles were well received at the time by a subculture of doo wop collectors that had developed in the metropolitan New York City area, but garnered little notice elsewhere. And yes, Strong is heard on these tapes but mostly as a background singer, although he did lead vocal on "Fools Rush In." More Velvet Angels material was released later through Gries on the Relic Best of Acapella series, as well as his Acappella Showcase Presents the Velvet Angels LP, also on Relic. The picture of the Velvet Angels that appears on the Relic Velvet Angels album incorrectly identifies Johnson (third from left) as Strong. http://www.billboard.com/artist/nolan-strong/bio/5772#/artist/nolan-strong/bio/5772

Jimmy Strong passed away January 29, 1970, at age 34. His brother Nolan would join him on February 21, 1977, at age 43. Hunter, Edwards, and Eubanks are also deceased.

The Diablos

The other members of the original group were Juan Guitierrez (later replaced by "Big Jim" Strong, Nolan's brother), tenor; Willie Hunter, baritone (March 24, 1936 - April 1978); Quentin Eubanks (first replaced by George Scott and then by J.W. "Jay" Johnson), bass; and Bob "Chico" Edwards (died March 11, 2001) on guitar.


J.W. "Jay" Johnson, the last surviving member of the Diablos, reformed in The Diablos in 2007 with new vocalists, including: Bobby Turk, Art Howard, Mike Clark. The group, "Nolan Strong's Diablos," is booking shows in the United States.

Smokey Robinson on 'The Diablos'

In a 2008 interview with Goldmine, Robinson said: "There was a guy who lived in Detroit and had a group called The Diablos. His name was Nolan Strong. They were my favorite vocalists at that time." http://www.goldminemag.com/article/More_Love_For_Smokey_Robinson/


All releases are on the Fortune Records label, Detroit, Michigan,
unless otherwise noted.

Nolan Strong & The Diablos

Year Release Title Notes
1954 509/510 Adios My Desert Love / An Old Fashioned Girl Each side of the release had a different number
1954 511 The Wind
The Wind (song)
"The Wind" is a 1954 doo-wop classic by the pre-Motown Detroit R&B group Nolan Strong & The Diablos. The song appears originally on the group's second 45rpm single, "The Wind / Baby Be Mine," []...

/ Baby Be Mine
1955 514 Route 16 / Hold Me Until Eternity
1955 516 Do You Remember What You Did / Daddy Rockin' Strong
1955 518 The Way You Dog Me Around / Jump, Shake And Move
1956 519 You're The Only Girl Dolores / You Are
1956 522 Try Me One More Time / A Teardrop From Heaven
1957 525 The Mambo Of Love / Can't We Talk This Over this 45 was put together from previous recorded sessions
1958 841 Come Home, Little Girl / Harriet this 45 was put together from previous recorded sessions
1959 531 Goodbye Matilda / I Am With You* * cover of a 1951 recording by The Dominoes on Federal 12039.
1959 532 If I Could Be With You / I Wanna Know
1960 536 Since You've Gone / What Are You Gonna Do
1962 544 I Don't Care / Blue Moon
1963 553 You're My Love / Everything They Said Came True There is also a release # 553 by Nolan Strong with a different B-side
1964 564 Are You Making A Fool Out Of Me / You're My Happiness backed by Tony Valla & The Alamos
1964 574 The Way You Dog Me Around / Jump With Me
unknown Pyramid 159 White Christmas / Danny Boy

Nolan Strong
Year Release Title Notes
1958 529 My Heart Will Always Belong To You / For Old Time's Sake
1962 546 Mind Over Matter (I'm Gonna Make You Mine) / Beside You
1963 553 You're My Love / I Really Love You There is also a release # 553 by The Diablos with a different B-side
1963 556 (Yeah, Baby) It's Because Of You / You're Every Beat Of My Heart
1964 569 (What Did The Genie Mean When He Said) Ali-Coochie /
(You're Not Good Looking But) You're Presentable

The Velvet Angels
Members: Nolan Strong, Bob Calhoun, Cy Iverson, Willie Hunter and J. W. Johnson
Year Release Title Notes
1964 Medieval 201 I'm In Love / Let Me Come Back
1964 Medieval 207 Baby I Want To Know / Since You've Been Gone

External links