The Diamonds

In 1953, Dave Somerville was working as a sound engineer for the CBC in Toronto, when he noticed four men practicing in the hallway practising for “Pick The Stars”, a local talent show. After exchanging pleasantries, he offered to be their manager. This group was composed of Stan Fisher, Ted Kowalski, Phil Levitt, and Bill Reed. They agreed and for the next several months, Somerville provided tutoring, and got practice time in un-occupied studios at the CBC.

That Christmas, the group was supposed to sing at party at a local church, but that date conflicted with studies for a law exam of Stan Fisher, the lead singer, who decided he needed the study time. Since Somerville knew all the songs, he took his place. The audience reaction was so tremendous that night that the group decided to turn professional. Fisher meanwhile decided to stay in law school and not continue with the group, so Somerville became the permanent lead singer.

By 1955, all members of the group had left college, and/or real jobs, to sing full time. Professional musician Nat Goodman became their manager, and got the band onto “Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts” on American television. The result of the contest was a stalemate between the Diamonds and another contestant, with the prize being the guest artist for a week on Godfrey’s show. Despite the tie, they were invited on to the program, which eventually led to a recording contract with Coral Records, which released four songs, the most notable being “Black Denim Trousers & Motorcycle Boots”, a cover of a recording originally by The Cheers. The Diamonds’ version sold a few thousand copies, which was only enough to get them a little local recognition.

The next big step was an audition with Cleveland radio DJ Bill Randle, who’d helped The Crew Cuts, among other groups, early on. Randle was impressed with the Diamonds and introduced them to representatives from Mercury Records, who signed the group to a recording contract. At this time, black artists were not played on white radio stations. Mercury Records, as well as other major labels, were assigning white artists to cover the recordings of black artists for the purpose of expanding their listening audience. The Diamonds would go on to cover The Clovers, The Willows, and The Heartbeats, among others.

This game plan was the premise to the first recording they did for Mercury – “Why Do Fools Fall in Love,” in February 1956, a cover of Frankie Lymon and The Teenagers’ song. The song peaked at #12 on the charts, and was followed by “The Church Bells May Ring” two months later, which peaked at #14. Three more songs were on the radio before the end of the year – “Love, Love, Love,” which reached #30, “Ka-Ding-Dong” (#35) and “Soft Summer Breeze,” which peaked at #34.

1957 started out with their biggest hit, “Little Darlin’,” originally recorded by the The Gladiolas, which reached #2 on the American charts and was there for eight weeks. Ironically, the band thought the b-side, “Faithful & True” would be the hit. “Words of Love” followed that summer, peaking at #13, then “Words Of Love” (#13), “Zip Zip” (#16), and then “Silhouettes” (#10). Their final single in 1957 was “The Stroll,” which stayed on the charts for six weeks and peaked at #4. The song wasn’t a cover, but one written for them by Brook Benton, based on an idea by Dick Clark, and sparked by the dance craze with the same name by all the crazy kids at the time.

For the better part of the year, the band also found itself on the road during the “Show of Stars” tour, an ensemble of some of the biggest names in pop music at the time that featured them, as well as the likes of Fats Domino, Paul Anka, The Everly Brothers, Frankie Lymon, and others, performing a handful of songs each night as they criss-crossed the continent.

They released their first full length album in ’58 – AMERICA’S NUMBER ONE SONG STYLISTS. The singles also kept coming. “High Sign” peaked at #37, “Happy Years” made it to #73 that summer, and “Walking Along” debuted that October while making it up to #29 on the charts. The band also found itself on the silver screen that year, appearing in the movie “The Big Beat,” where they performed the song “Where Mary Go.” They also performed the theme song for “Kathy-O” and had by that point made many television appearances, including shows hosted by Steve Allen, Perry Como, Vic Damone, Tony Bennett, Eddy Arnold and Paul Winchell. During Winchell’s show, Bill Reed ended up running away from a grizzly bear in a skit gone wrong. They’d also made several appearances on American Bandstand.

Although they were signed to do rock & roll, Mercury also paired them with Pete Rugolo in ’58. The album, entitled appropriately enough, THE DIAMONDS MEET PETE RUGOLO, returned them to their roots and allowed them to do the loosely gospel inspired, “You’ll Never Walk Alone.” In fact, it was The Revelaires, a black gospel group from Detroit, that they credited as their main influence on their singing. The other eleven songs were pop ballads and jazz standards.

But by 1959 their star was fading. “She Say (Oom Dooby Doom),” released in January, was only one of two singles that year. It peaked at #18, while the band members were off doing their own things – either finishing University studies, getting married and raising families, or getting out of the business all together – or any combination of the above. Later that year, “The Bottom Of My Heart” was released, and peaked at #33.

In 1960, Mercury execs talked them into doing a ‘doo wop meets country’ album, entitled SONGS OF THE OLD WEST, which featured no singles, but did contain interesting versions of old-time country and western standards such as “Cattle Call,” “Home On The Range,” “Streets of Laredo,” and “Cool Water.”

“One Summer Night,” released in the summer of ’61, was the group’s final single, peaking at #22. With the ever-changing style of rock & roll and their Mercury contract expired, the Diamonds continued touring the country to keep the name alive. The group now consisted of California-born John Felten, Ohio native Evan Fisher, Glenn Stetson, Harry Harding, Jim Malone, and Danny Rankin. All had been in the band at one point or another, and John Derise, who’d gotten his start earlier in the decade singing for Tommy Dorsey, also joined the alumni in ’69.

By the early ’70s, Somerville and the other original members were touring again, either as a whole or in parts, as The Diamonds. And at one point, there were at least two groups performing under the Diamonds’ name, one led by Stetson. His version worked prolifically through to the ’80s, and were instrumental in the ’50s music revival. Stetson founded a nightclub called Little Darlin’s Rock-n-Roll Palace, in Kissimmee, Florida. It featured a number of artists from the ’50s and early ’60s era. This created an issue that was ultimately settled in court. The ruling determined who legally owned the Diamonds’ name, and allowed the original four to use the name a few times each year.

In 1983, the original version of the group got back together for a series of shows that ended up as the LIVE AND WELL album. The Diamonds, along with The Crew Cuts and 4 Lads, were inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame in 1984 in recognition for their outstanding influence on shaping Canadian pop music.

They continued doing the one-off reunions now and then, until 2000, when they again received national attention via PBS, when they were invited to perform on the network’s production of “Doo Wop 51,” and again on PBS’s fundraiser special “Magic Moments – The Best Of ’50s Pop” in 2004.

In the early ’00s, Somerville released the album, THE ROCK AND ROLL GREYHOUND – a collection of material from a number of ’50s stars recorded during the “Show Of Stars” tour. Somerville claims to be a direct descendant of Charlemagne. In the year 1100, another supposed relative, Gualter Somerville, is credited as killing the last dragon in Scotland.

After receiving a heart transplant three years earlier, Stetson died in 2003. In October, 2004, the band was inducted into The Vocal Group Hall of Fame in Sharon, Pennsylvania, only weeks before Reed died in his Florida home at the age of 68. Two years later, they were inducted into the Doo-Wop Hall of Fame in Detroit. Ted Kowalski died in 2010 from heart disease, at the age of 79, and Dave Somerville succumbed to pancreatic cancer in 2015.

  • With notes from Barry Worrell