The Ad-Libs story began in the mid-1950’s in Bayonne, New Jersey. At first, the group was called the Arabians and sang street corner acappella. The original group consisted of Hugh Harris, Danny Austin, John Alan, David Allen Watt, Jr. and James Wright. As the Creators, the group recorded “I’ll Never Never Do It Again” for the T-Kay label out of Brooklyn. Later that year, they recorded “Yeah He’s Got It” for the Philips label who also released the seasonal standard, “I Stayed Home (New Years Eve)” as the Creators’ third and final release. During this time, Dave Waats entered the Army and was replaced by Chris Coles, formerly the bass of the Roamers on Savoy.
(Label photo courtesy of Mike Molinaro)
Both “I’ll Never Never Do It Again” and “I Stayed Home” were written by John Issac Taylor, an extraordinary songwriter who had been a saxophone player with his own big bands back in the 1930’s and 1940’s. Taylor, who would figure heavily in the Ad-Libs’ later success, discovered the group harmonizing in a basketball court. They were soon rehearsing at his home.
By 1964, the group consisted of Hugh Harris, Danny Austin, David Watt and Norman Donegan. Donegan began singing with a church group called the Buds of Promise. Norman and David Watt grew up together and when Watt got out of the service, he brought Donegan into the group. The group then discovered Mary Ann Thomas singing with another group at the Fabian Theater in Hoboken and persuaded her to join their group as lead. With the new female lead, the group changed names to the Ad-Libs.
John Taylor wrote “The Boy From New York City” for the group, while they were rehearsing on a rooftop, overlooking the Hudson River and the New York City skyline. The group helped with the lyrics and they soon cut a demo of the song. Bill Downs, the Ad-Libs’ manager took the demo to Red Bird records, a label owned by Jerry Leiber, Mike Stoller and George Goldner. After an audition, the song was rerecorded and released on the new Blue Cat subsidiary. “The Boy From New York City” was released in December 1964 and by March of 1965 it had cracked the top ten of both the Pop and R&B Charts.
With a hit record, the Ad-Libs toured the country. They did the Dick Clark tour by bus with Dionne Warwick and Chuck Berry that lasted 53 days. Other tours followed with Little Anthony & the Imperials, Del Shannon and Joe Tex. The Ad-Libs’ follow up recording was the Jeff Barry/Ellie Greenwich composition, “He Ain’t No Angel”. Unfortunately, neither that record nor the group’s next two for Blue Cat ever sold that well.
The Ad-Libs left Blue Cat and in 1966 made a remarkable record for A.G.P. Records. One side, “Human” is a great vocal group version of the Tommy Hunt ballad. The flip is a nice Northern Soul side, “New York In The Dark”. Some say that “New York In The Dark” also came out on the Eskee label, but we’ve never seen one.
By the late sixties, the Ad-libs personnel began changing. Several members dropped out but would sometimes come back for recordings or shows. When they didn’t, the Ad-Libs had several people who could fill in. Irene Baker sang lead on the Ad-Libs’ next recording, “Every Boy And Girl” for the Karen label. After that and another unsuccessful recording for the Philips labels, the Ad-Libs moved to the Share label in 1968.
On the Share label, the Ad-Libs were produced by one of the best producers around, Van McCoy. McCoy brought the Ad-Libs back on the charts with “Giving Up”. John Allen (of the Creators) rejoined the group. Linda Goodson joined the Ad-Libs and did lead. For awhile, the Ad-Libs had two women and three men in the group. The Ad-Libs continued singing off and on throughout the 1970’s. In the late 70’s the group reportedly consisted of Arthur Robinson, Irene Baker, Hugh Harris, Rose Myers and David Watt. Shortly after this, Chris Bartley joined the Ad-Libs. Bartley was also being produced by Van McCoy. McCoy had recorded several records with him for the Vando and Buddah labels, including the successful “The Sweetest Thing This Side Of Heaven”. [It’s said that another McCoy (Vando label) artist, Art Robins, also passed through the Ad-Libs)]
In 1981, the song, “The Boy From New York City” was turned into an even bigger hit by Manhattan Transfer. This breathed new life into the Ad-Libs’ career.
The Ad-Libs returned to the studio in 1982 to record “I Don’t Need A Fortune Teller” (now a Northern Soul classic) on the Passion label. Incredibly, during the pressing of the first (and only) 1000 copies of the record, a mistake was made and the records were pressed with the labels reversed. The mistake was not noticed until all but a handful of copies were left to be pressed. With only about ten copies having the labels on the correct sides, most of the copies had to be destroyed. Less than a hundred of the (label-reversed copies) were saved and given to the Ad-Libs to use for promotion. As a result, this record is now extremely rare with labels reversed and impossible to find with labels on the correct way. Classic Urban Harmony LLC obtained our copy (shown here) in 1982 when the group visited Bill Swanke’s Big Beat Show on WRSU-FM to promote the record. The record never caught on, so no further pressings were ever made.
The Ad Libs appeared in the 1985 doo wop movie, “Joey,” along with the Silhouettes, Teenagers, Elegants and others.
In 1988, the Ad-Libs recorded four records for John Taylor’s Johnnie Boy label. The first was a remake of the Creators’ “I Stayed Home,” this time featuring Chris Bartley’s lead. The Ad-Libs on Johnny Boy were Dave Watt, Mary Ann Thomas, Chris Bartley, Abby Grant and Ray Block. Ray Block and Abby Grant had been part of the group Vintage (Catamount label) in 1972 along with James Wright from the Creators, Cada Brooks from the Atlantics , and Eller Weas Little from the Spellbinders. [This info provided by Ray Block.] For some great photos of Ray with the Ad-Libs, Vintage and other groups click Here.
Today the Ad-Libs are no longer singing. Mary Ann Thomas and Huey Harris have passed on. David Watt passed away in 2008. Danny Austin joined the church and no longer sings secular music.
Pam and Charlie Horner with Norman Donegan, 2006.
The Ad-Libs appearing at the United in Group Harmony Association in 1981.
Left to right: Dave Watt, Natalie ????, Chris Bartley, Eller Weas Little, Jimmy Hollinger.
Ad-Libs Singles Discography
As the Creators
T-Kay 110 – I’ll Never Never Do It Again / Boy He’s Got It 1/62
Philips 40058 – Yeah he’s Got It / Boy He’s Got It (Instru) 8/62
Philips 40083 – I Stayed Home / Shoom Ba Da 62
As the Ad-Libs
Blue Cat 102 - The Boy From New York City / Kicked Around 12/64
Blue Cat 114 - He Ain’t No Angel / Ask Anybody 4/65
Blue Cat 119 - On The Corner / Oo-Wee Oh Mee Oh My 8/65
Blue Cat 123 - Johnny Is My Boy / I’m Just A Down Home Girl 66
A.G.P. 100 - Human / New York In The Dark 66
Karen 1527 - Every Boy And Girl / Think Of Me 11/66
Philips 40461 - You’re In Love / Don’t Ever Leave Me 5/67
Share 101 - You’re Just a Rolling Stone / Show A Little Appreciation 68
Share 104 - Giving Up / Appreciation 12/68
Share 106 - Nothing Worse Than Being Alone / If She Wants Him 69
Capitol 2944 - Love Me / Know All About You 10/70
Passion 1 - I Don’t Need A Fortune Teller / Spring And Summer 82
Johnnie Boy 1 - I Stayed Home / I Stayed Home [acappella] 1/88
Johnnie Boy 2 - The Tide Has Turned / The Tide Has Turned [instru] 88
Johnnie Boy 3 - Close To Me / Close To Me [instru] 88
Johnnie Boy 4 - I Stayed Home / Santa’s On His Way 11/88
"Neighbour Neighbour" / "Lovely Ladies" [Interphon 7717] was not recorded by the American Ad Libs but by the British Group The Adlibs, who were the resident group at the famous Adlib Club in Leicester Square in London. This info from Steve, bass guitarist with the [British] Adlibs.
For more details on the Ad-Libs, see Marc Taylor’s article in “A Touch of Classic Soul,” Vol. 1, No. 12 (Dec 2006).
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