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Stanley Mitchell and The Tornados

Four O'Clock In The Morning

The Motor City spawned its share of groups long before Berry Gordy's rise. Lead tenor Stanley Mitchell, born February 10, 1935 in Detroit, got his start in church. "My first professional thing was with a group called The Mayflower Harmony Five,"he said. Mitchell crossed over to the secular side in his teens, forming The Cherokons (tenor Dickie Cooper, baritone Joe Miles, and bass Frank Holt).

Stanley's break came when Jackie Wilson departed Billy Ward's Dominoes. "They were having an amateur show at the Paradise (Theater)," said Mitchell. "I saw Jackie and Billy Ward come out on the mezzanine while we were performing. We performed one of Clyde McPhatter & The Drifters' first tunes, and he got my address and phone number, as if he were interested in me at the time." Stanley joined the Dominoes in early 1955, lasting only briefly due to Ward's strict discipline. "That's why I didn't stay," he said. "He had his own way of doing things."

Bandleader Lionel Hampton was interested in hiring Mitchell too. "We had auditioned to travel with Lionel Hampton," he said. "I got a call from home that Hamp had called, so I quit." The Cherokons became The Hamp-Tones until Mitchell got itchy feet again. "Things weren't going well as far as money goes," he said. "So I just packed up and came home." Back in Detroit, he assembled The Tornados in mid-'55 with himself on lead tenor, tenor William Weatherspoon, bass Ben Knight, and ex-Royals/Midnighters baritone Charles Sutton. Another Royals/Midnighters mainstay, songwriter Alonzo Tucker, was their road manager.

"I was looking something to do, and they were looking for something to do, so we hooked up," said Stanley. "I went and found Ben and Spoon, and organized the Tornadoes." Tucker got the group a contract with Chess in 1956. They waxed their debut session in Chicago, Willie Dixon played bass. Alonzo wrote Four O'Clock In The Morning. "It was a blues," noted Mitchell. Its flip, Would You – Could You, was another Tucker theme. Chess issued the single in early '57. A 1958 followup session was shelved, so The Tornados moved over to Robert West's Bumble Bee logo the next year. There the quartet cut Geni In The Jug and Love In Your Life. "Mr. West was recording groups at the time, and he liked the way we sounded," said Stanley.

Mitchell made a '61 solo single in New York for George Goldner's Gone logo, Devil In Disguise. He cut another in 1967 for Musicor's Dynamo subsidiary, Quit Twistin' My Arm, with Detroiter Richard 'Popcorn' Wylie in charge. Weatherspoon hooked on at Motown as a writer/producer, co-writing Jimmy Ruffin's '66 smash What Becomes Of The Brokenhearted. Mitchell remained a draw in Detroit for decades, raising his profile in 2001 by fronting the Motor City Rhythm & Blues Pioneers in tandem with Joe Weaver and Kenny Martin.  He died in Detroit on October 13, 2006.


- Bill Dahl -

Various Street - Corner Symphonies 1957 Vol.9

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