TWO decades together; over twenty years of success; 22 years of hit records and SRO performances. Not a bad track record for anyone! The Dells join the ranks of the two or at the most three groups who have stayed together, intact, with no changes in personnel for that incredible length of time. Next to Gladys Knight & The Pips and The Four Tops, this mighty, mighty group have seen twenty years of change — both in and out of the music business. And they're still together! Not only that, but as Chuck Barksdale informed B&S, they are about to embark on what promises to be the most exciting era in the group's history. Some explanations needed.
"Basically, we have been rethinking our career, the group's career. And we all reached a collective point of thinking together. And that called for some dramatic moves for The Dells. Firstly, we have signed a brand new management contract which will come into effect within the next month or so. Then, we are in the process of terminating our contract with Chess Records. We've been with the company this time around since 1966 and we feel that, for a variety of reasons, it is time to move on. I guess it has something to do with being taken for granted: after all, we've been one of the company's mainstays for years now. Now don't get me wrong," Chuck explains. "Those years with Chess have been very precious to us all. But somehow, we lost something with the death of Leonard Chess back in 1970. The company inevitably changed — and I guess it's just never been the same kind of feeling since. We had been contemplating leaving for some time and there was talk a couple of years back that we were going to sign with Warner Brothers. But we felt that the time wasn't right — whatever, we weren't ready — so we re-signed with Chess. But now, we are more than ready for those changes! And, let me tell you, the word has gotten out that we want to sign with a new company — and we've had seven offers!! And, believe me, we just don't know right now what to do! All the companies we've spoken to are offering truly fantastic deals — with all kinds of inducements to sign with them. I guess we'll be investigating each one thoroughly and reaching some kind of decision soon."
What, you might wonder, is the secret behind The Dells staying together for so long? "Basically, I guess we all feel that we've been blessed. It's a matter of things being pre-destined. We all grew up in the same town, Harvey, Illinois, and our parents were close. We all went to school together and we just all had that same human feeling. It just all seemed to fit together that we formed The Dells and, I don't know, we find that the more years we spend together, the better it is!" Chuck naturally says that "there are times when we fuss and fight, but that's natural! But I think one of the reasons that so many groups don't stay together is because they don't have basically the same background as each other. But, like I said, we all feel it's something which was meant to be."
There can be little question that The Dells have achieved a great deal during their years together. Aside from any other consideration, they must be the only group who can regularly re-cut their material and still hit the charts! They did both "Stay In My Corner" and "Oh What A Night" for V.J. Records and then recut both for Chess and more recently have found themselves back on the r&b charts with a remake of "The Glory Of Love"! "I guess you could say we're two time winners. But you know, there are still so many things for us to do. We certainly don't feel that we've gotten over to white audiences the way we should have done, record-wise. That has a great deal to do with the promotion and exposure we've had in the past. And that is something which will change with our present plans to make a new deal. We've been lucky inasmuch as black audiences have really sustained us over the years — I would say about 95% of our record-buying fans are black — and we are naturally more than grateful for keeping us in business." Chuck also feels that the time is ripe for The Dells to get into soundtracks and movies "we've had offers before but never quite the right thing. So we're in a position to pick and choose and that's what we'll do."
In many ways, The Dells are the only male vocal group to have successfully bridged the gap. "Well, we go back to the things of the 50s right around to people like The Stylistics. And we've learned so much, seen so much. The secret is to capitalize if you know how to utilize!" They have managed to enjoy consistent chart success with their record releases although Chuck feels that some of their product could have been so much better. "I can't say in all honesty that we've been happy with all the material we've had. Take the "Freedom Means" album — that should have been one of our best sellers, but it didn't do as well as we hoped. Then "Standing Ovation" should have broken big, pop as well as r&b, but again, lack of exposure and promotion left it hanging. But don't worry, as soon as we have a new contract, we're gonna be in the studios the very next day!"
Remarkably, The Dells in no way suffer from over-confidence and Chuck astoundingly revealed that "we still get nerves every single time we get ready to go out on stage! It's like the late Dinah Washington told us many years back. The only time you have to worry is when you're not nervous beforehand! Believe me, you'll never see five more nervous guys before that curtain goes up!" One of the contributing factors to the longevity of the Dells' career must be their very human qualities. "Well, we all feel that show business is the greatest profession there is. That ability to communicate. You know, it has been gruelling for us — we've spent precious little time at home with our families — it's been almost non-stop since 1967 when we began to make it in a sense financially. But you know, we reached a point back in 1970 when we just didn't know if we were coming or going and our viewpoint on our whole careers changed. We had to find a way to deal with peace of mind because what's the point of running around for years trying to make it if you're not happy. But I feel that we're on the right road now. In fact, we just did something that we've never been able to do in the history of the group. And that is, we took nearly six months off — during which time I think we did just four gigs. It had a lot to do with our current plans for making those big changes but do you know, that is the first time we've had the chance to just be with our families for any length of time. And, you know, even though we all see each other all the time with being on the road, we still found time to call each other and talk, just as friends. But for the future, once things get rolling, we will be planning our schedule to allow for us to spend more time at home." As far as Chuck is concerned it is "compassion, humanity, concern and love" that has kept The Dells together spiritually and mentally and you would have to go a long way to find a group more talented and more together.
It looks very much as if 1975 will prove to be a big turning point in The Dells' career and Chuck says they now look forward to being together for "44 years at least!" With all the new plans coming into fruition, it is more likely than ever that we will find The Dells occupying newer heights on the charts and playing to larger audiences than ever before. International success on a large scale can't be too far off for the group and that too is well overdue.
About the Writer
David Nathan is the founder and CEO of SoulMusic.com and began his writing career in 1965; beginning in 1967, he was a regular contributor to Blues & Soul magazine in London before relocating to the U.S. in 1975 where he served as U.S. editor for the publication for several decades and began being known as 'The British Ambassador Of Soul.' From 1988 to 2004, he wrote prolifically for Billboard, has penned bios, produced and written liner notes for box sets and reissue CDs for over a thousand projects. He returned to London in 2009 where he has helped create SoulMusic.com Records as a leading reissue label.