The Cardinals were a doowop (R&B harmony, if you prefer) group from Baltimore, who concentrated on ballads. Formed in 1946 as the Mellotones, the original members were Ernie Lee Warren (lead tenor), Meredith Bothers (second tenor), Leon Hardy (bass) and Donald Johnson (baritone). Before they made their first record, they were joined by Jack Aydelotte as guitarist and fifth voice. Donald Johnson worked in a record shop (Super Music), owned by one Sam Azrael, who contacted Herb Abramson (co-founder of Atlantic Records) when he passed through Baltimore on a talent search. Abramson gave the group an audition and signed them on the spot. In March 1951 the group came to New York for their first recording session. Atlantic had changed the name of the group from the Mellotones to the Cardinals, as there was already another Mellotones group, who recorded for Columbia. The first single, "Shouldn't I Know" (a pretty ballad, not unlike the Orioles' hit "It's Too Soon To Know") was released in May 1951 and took five months to enter the Billboard R&B charts, peaking at # 7. This success enabled the group to play the Apollo in New York, the Earle Theater in Philadelphia and the Palace in New Orleans.
Their next session, on October 6, 1951, yielded five songs, among which a cover of the big hit "The Wheel Of Fortune". This was released as their third single and went to # 6 on the R&B chart. Shortly after the release of "Wheel", lead singer Ernie Warren was drafted and temporarily replaced by Leander Tarver. The new member led the group through their next single, "The Bump", which sounds like a template for the 1958 Diamonds' hit "The Stroll". The group had only one release in 1953 and it looked like Atlantic was either losing interest or waiting for Ernie to return full-time from the army. He did rejoin the group in March 1954, but the group (now a septet) wasn't brought in to record until January 18, 1955. This four- song session gave the group their biggest hit. It was the Chuck Willis composition "The Door Is Still Open (To My Heart)", which went to # 4 R&B in the spring of 1955 and was later (1964) a Top 10 pop hit for Dean Martin. The Cardinals had their most productive year in 1955 and they toured all over the country, with several "package"shows. The follow-up to "Door" was a cover of the Wrens' "Come Back My Love", their first uptempo A-side. The song has become a doowop classic and was a UK # 2 in 1978 in a version by the Darts. Atlantic released only twelve singles during the six years that the Cardinals were contracted to the label. Nine recording sessions produced 36 sides, twelve of which have never been issued. The final Atlantic single, "One Love" (1957), was one of their best and - oddly enough - written by the same team (Lou Stallman and Joe Shapiro) that created Perry Como's hit "Round And Round". The group disbanded in 1957, but Ernie Warren soon formed a new group with four others. They recorded four songs, almost a capella, which stayed in the vaults for 17 years until Bim Bam Boom Records (a division of the collectors' magazine of the same name) released an EP of the songs in 1974.
In 1958 Ernie re-formed the original Cardinals, with Johnson, Brothers, Johnny Douglas and Jim Boone. The group added an all-white backing band, which left after a year to become the Trend-Els on Tilt Records. The Cardinals performed into the early 1960s and then drifted apart for the last time. There are a few Cardinals records from the 1960s, but they are not by the same group. The Cardinals were a fine ballad act, but they didn't get the promotion that groups like the Drifters and the Clovers received from Atlantic. When Charlie Gillett interviewed Ahmet Ertegun for his 1974 book "Making Tracks", Ertegun couldn't remember the names of any of the members of the Cardinals and it was clear that he didn't feel proud of them. For Jesse Stone, the Cardinals were just a group he coached, nothing special. But many doowop collectors think highly of the group.
Acknowledgements : Jay Warner, The Billboard book of American singing groups (1992), page 94-96. More info: http://home.earthlink.net/~jaymar41/Cardinals.html
CD's The Cardinals, Come Back My Love (Plaza CD-501, 1995). A Portuguese release. 29 tracks, the twelve Atlantic singles, three tracks from the Bim Bam Boom EP and two unreleased demos. The anonymous liner notes are lifted, almost verbatim, from Jay Warner's book. - The Cardinals, The Door Is Still Open (Collectables). Released in 2006, this CD has only 10 tracks.
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