Saturday, 5 October 2013

Bob Collins & the Fabulous Five

Bob Collins and the Fabulous Five from Greensboro, NC were a popular frat party booking throughout the Carolinas and Virginia. Venues in the 1960s included the Polo Club (Winston, Salem), the Casino (Nags Head, NC) and the National Guard Armoury (Greenville, NC). Their largest mainstream hit in the mid 1960s was “If I Didn’t Have a Dime” a.k.a. “Jukebox”, a previous minor hit for Gene Pitney. Their version was released on the Greensboro label Jokers 3. The band was originally formed in 1961 and continued until 2007. It had at least twenty-five members in its long history.

From a northern soul perspective, “Inventory on Heartaches” (Main Line ML1367) and its flip “One and Only Girl’ both written by Donny Trexler are of most interest. Both tracks stand up as top quality up-tempo northern dancers, possibly with “Inventory” having the beach edge with its catchy phrasing and “One and Only Girl” taking a grittier soul duo type approach.

The first time “Inventory on Heartaches” was introduced to the northern scene is unclear. Kev Roberts reports that he came across the record in 1981 whilst living in the US.  However Butch got his first copy around the same time from collectors Dave Withers and Rod Shard, and then located a second copy about a year later, which he thinks was given to Rob Marriot in exchange for a copy of  The Hyperions “Why Do You Wanna Treat Me the Way You Do”. All parties agree that “Inventory on Heartaches” was never really given the initial exposure on the northern scene that it deserved. At the time, the flip was better known, albeit played as an Eddie and Ernie “cover up” by Rob Marriot. 

This situation seems to have reversed in latter years however. “Inventory on Heartache” was reissued in the US in 1990 on vinyl and a year later on “Grand Strand Gold Volume 3” (Ripete CD). Further releases occurred as part of the CD box set sold along with the publication of Greg Haynes’ Heeey Baby Days book in 2006 and in the UK two years later on the beach / northern soul related CD  “Ain’t Nothin’ Like Shaggin’ ” (Goldsoul). Marion Carter from Ripete further reported that the label re-recorded another version of the song in the late 1990's by some original members of the Fabulous Five including Donny Trexler, although Bob himself was not involved in the project. The original Main Line label was just one activity of the Main Line distributing company based in Cleveland. The company distributed appliances, appliance parts – and records. The label logo was the same as that used by the business in all its activities. Main Line was part owned by RCA. The label even utilised the services of legendary Detroit writer and arranger Dale Warren at one point for a recording by local Cleveland band Selective Service.

Tracking down band members was a challenge. Bob Collins who (contrary to previous reports) sang lead on “Inventory on Heartaches” is now retired from singing and has moved from Myrtle Beach to High Point NC. However, Donny Trexler, band founder and writer of both sides of the Main Line release still performs at venues along Myrtle Beach and was available for interview. 

Donny was the founder, writer, guitarist and vocalist for The Fabulous Five between 1961 and 1968. He began his singing career at a tender age in Summerfield, near Greensboro, NC. He initially sang in church, and at eight years old performed with Joe Stone and the Dixie Mountain Boys, a blue grass band. In 1958 Donny was hooked on rock and roll and taught himself guitar. At high school aged 14, he formed a five piece band called Donny and the Blue Jets (the name of the school football team), and then joined another group which eventually evolved into the Fabulous Five. As well as his time with The Fabulous Five, he recorded throughout the seventies with his wife in two long running beach bands. In November 2000 Donny was presented with the Carolina Beach Music Academy Award for lifetime achievement, inducted into the South Carolina Rhythm and Blues Hall of Fame a year later and received the Palmetto Award from the local Governor Hodges. In 2007 he was nominated for Carolina Beach Music Awards (CBMA) Instrumentalist of the Year Award. Donny and Susan now live and work in north Myrtle Beach.  

“I wrote "Inventory On Heartaches" and "One And Only Girl" in 1967; at that time the Fabulous Five had been a group for about six or seven years." Donny says. "The group started around 1960 as The Sixteens in a club called Henry's Danceland in Stokesdale, NC near Greensboro, NC I was an original member. The Sixteens took on Bob Collins as a drummer in the summer of 1960 and then the group was renamed Chuck Tilley and The Fabulous Five in January of 1961. Bob Collins became the lead singer in late January 1962 when the group dismissed Chuck Tilley. We performed in clubs, for fraternity parties, for debutante parties and in many other venues throughout the south-east U.S. We opened for groups like The Impressions, Anthony and the Imperials, the Tams, Wilson Pickett and many more in the 60s. In 1966 we recorded “If I Didn't Have A Dime (Jukebox)”, on which I sang the lead. That song was a great success for us and still is for me.”

“Regarding the other band members, there were many throughout the years. When “Inventory” was recorded in January 1968 they were Bob Collins (lead vocals), Tommy Tucker (saxophone), Allen Brewer (bass), Lenny Collins (on drums, and no relation to Bob), John Cook (keyboards) and Donny Trexler (lead guitar). I stay in touch with Allen and John but not much contact with anyone else. Tommy Tucker died in 2008 and I heard that Lenny Collins isn't doing too well health-wise. I left the group in late February 1968 to start another group called the Music Era. We were on Atlantic Records and had an upbeat remake of “What The World Needs Now”, the old Jackie DeShannon tune. I wrote the flip side called "I Can't Take It."  The Music Era disbanded in late December 1968 because of the military draft. I then joined The Okaysion's and played with them (MW: as lead singer and on guitar) until spring 1972. My wife, Susan, and I started a group called Swing in September 1972 that lasted 16 years. We even did a remake of "Inventory On Heartaches" in 2005 with Susan Trexler on lead vocals. That was a number one song in beach music at that time. I still do five or six gigs a week and Susan sings with me sometimes.”   

Billy Ray Smith, drummer with the band between 1978-1980, provided some insight into the whereabouts and current activities of some of the former band members:

“I was with a group called The Shapparells at the time and became Bob’s drummer when that position came open. At that time the only original members left were Bob and John Cook on keyboards. During that period, beach music and blue eyed soul were still popular around the college campuses so we did a lot of those up and down the east coast. We also continued to play the beach clubs and festivals with all the other beach bands. These festivals are still popular today with several still going on annually in Virginia and the Carolinas. The band I am currently with, The Impacts, contains three former members of The Fabulous Five: John Cook, Randy Case, and myself. We do the old Fabulous Five tune “Jukebox” in most of our shows. We get a lot of requests for it because people know we're the closest thing to the original Fabulous Five left now. Randy Case joined the Five in 1977 and stayed for about a year. The band disbanded in 2007 and John Cook joined The Impacts later that year. John has appeared in many bands through the years doing guest spots or just playing where he could when bands he was with were taking time off. He has MS and playing music is about the only way he is able to make any money so he tries to stay busy. Unfortunately, his years of performing haven't provided much of a retirement fund. He had taken some time away from The Impacts this year but is scheduled to rejoin us in June. I am afraid his age (now 68) and the illness are starting to take a toll on him so please keep him in your prayers. Again thanks for remembering us.”

Copyright  E. Mark Windle 2013.


Billy Ray Smith. Personal coms. April and May 2012.
Donny Trexler. Personal coms. May 2012.
George Gell. Personal coms. May and July 2012.
Kev Roberts. Personal coms. June 2012.
Ripete Records. Marion Carter. Personal coms. May 2012.
Mark Dobson. Personal coms. June 2012.
Susan Trexler. Personal coms. May 2012.

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