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Biography

Joe Billingslea
Original & Founding Member

Charles Davis
since 1984
Al Chisholm
since 1993
Gary Grier
since 1993
Odell Jones
since 2006
Joe Billingslea
Charles Davis
Al
Gary
Odell

The Contours:
In the late 1950s in Detroit, two singers named Joe Billingslea and Billy Gordon left their group (The Majestics) to create their own vocal group. Billingslea placed an ad in the local paper for other singers and Billy Hoggs answered it and was hired. Hoggs suggested they also consider his neighbor, Billy Rollins. Billingslea and Gordon agreed. Billy Gordon named the quartet "The Blenders". Almost immediately, Rollins was replaced with another friend of Hoggs named Leroy Fair. After singing together for a while, the group decided that adding a fifth member would round out the harmonies and complete the sound that Billingslea and Gordon were looking for. They added Hubert Johnson. By the fall of 1960, The Blenders believed they had perfected their sound to the point where they could make a recording. They visited a music company called "Flick and Contour Records." The audition didn't pan out, but Billingslea, intrigued by the company's name convinced the group to change its name to "The Contours".

Later that day, the group traveled to Motown Records and auditioned for Berry Gordy, Jr. He liked the group's raw sound, but suggested they take a few more months to polish their act. They left disappointed, but fate stepped in and reversed their fortunes. Unbeknownst to the other group members, Hubert Johnson was the cousin of Brunswick recording artist Jackie Wilson, who at the time had already charted nine hits and who was a personal friend of Berry Gordy. The group went to Wilson's home for some advice. After listening to the group sing, Wilson telephoned Gordy and persuaded him to take a another look at The Contours. They returned the same day and the second trip netted them a seven-year recording contract with Motown.

In January 1961, Motown released The Contours "Whole Lotta Woman" b/w "Come On And Be Mine". The record did not have much success. Shortly afterward, there was some disappointing news for Leroy Fair. Despite his great voice, Leroy couldn't handle the required choreography, and the group (to steal the words of the song to come) broke his heart, cause he couldn't dance. The group replaced him with Bennie Reeves (brother of Motown recording artist Martha Reeves). Reeves tenure ended when the United States Navy called him to active duty. Sylvester Potts replaced Reeves. This group recorded, "The Stretch" b/w "Funny" which didn't fare much better than the first effort. However, for The Contours, the third time would become the charm!

In 1962, Gordy created a new label for Motown Records called the Gordy label and signed The Contours as its first artist. In the summer of 1962, the group recorded Berry Gordy Jr.'s, "Do You Love Me," resulting in the group's (and label's) first hit. Within two weeks of its release, the song roared to #2 on the Billboard Hot 100, taking the #1 spot on the R&B charts and #3 on the pop charts. It remained on the charts for five months. The song was the Gordy label's first million-seller, and it still holds the record as Motown's fastest rising hit of all time.

In 1963, the group charted another hit, sending "Shake Sherry" to the #21 position on the R&B charts (#43 pop). In 1964, they charted "Can You Do It" at #41 R&B. Still in 1964, they recorded a ballad entitled "The Day When She Needed Me". However, by the time this song was released, The Contours would undergo a major restructuring.

The group had irreconcilable creative differences with Motown. At a 1964 meeting with Berry Gordy, Jr., original members Joe Billingslea and Billy Hoggs along with Sylvester Potts announced they were quitting. A week later original member Hubert Johnson resigned, leaving Billy Gordon as the only original member of the group. Motown reconstructed the group as a quartet, adding Council Gay, Jerry Green and Alvin English. The reconstituted group recorded and released "Can You Jerk Like Me??" On the flip side was "The Day When She Needed Me" by the earlier members of The Contours. Both songs charted in 1965 (#15 R&B and #37 R&B/#47 pop respectively). The reconstituted group also charted "First I Look At the Purse" (#12 R&B/#57 pop, 1965).

After a year Sylvester Potts returned to the group replacing Alvin English. However, almost immediately afterwards, the only remaining original member, Billy Gordon, left and was replaced by Joe Stubbs (former lead singer of the Falcons and brother of the Four Tops' Levi Stubbs). This group charted "Just a Little Misunderstanding" (#18 R&B/#85 pop, 1966). Joe Stubbs quit and was replaced by Dennis Edwards (who would later replace David Ruffin in The Temptations). This iteration of The Contours charted "It's So Hard Being a Loser" (#35 R&B/#79 pop, 1967). After its contract with Motown expired, The Contours disbanded..

About 1971, original member Joe Billingslea revived the group, playing a few dates here and there. By 1981, the group consisted of Joe Billingslea, former Contour Council Gay, Arthur Hinson, Martin ‘Beanie’ Upshire and C. Autry ‘Breeze’ Hatcher. The Contours began to play a lot more dates. In 1984, Arthur Hinson left the group and was replaced by R. Charles Davis. A week later, Council Gay left and Sylvester Potts returned to the group. In 1987, Hatcher left the group and Arthur Hinson returned.

That same year, "Do You Love Me" was included in the movie, "Dirty Dancing", starring Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey. This revived the song and it returned to the pop charts in July 1988 for eight weeks, peaking at #11. As certified by the Recording Industry Association Of America, "More Dirty Dancing (1987 Film Additional Soundtrack)" (which included "Do You Love Me") went multi-platinum at level 4.0.

The movie soundtrack spawned a "Dirty Dancing Concert Tour", which featured THE CONTOURS and other artists including Bill Medley, Eric Carmen, Ronnie Spector, Merry Clayton and a set of dancers from the movie. A week before the tour was to start, Beanie Upshire was replaced by Darrel Nunlee. This version of THE CONTOURS played the ten-month "Dirty Dancing Tour," entertaining over two million fans in eight countries. The "Dirty Dancing Tour" was Performance's 1998 Variety Act of the Year. The tour also gave birth to a live CD release. THE CONTOURS contributed "Get Ready", "Higher and Higher", "Cry to Me" and "Do You Love Me" to the 1989 release "Dirty Dancing Live In Concert". In September 1998, THE CONTOURS released a CD, "Great Dirty Dancing Hits", sprinkled with several of their hits as well as hits of other artists. In July 1999, yet another Dirty Dancing CD, "Dirty Dancing: More Dirty Dancing [Original Recording Remastered]" which included "Do You Love Me" was released. In all, re-released version contributed to ten million new copies of the song, "Do You Love Me." It's fair to say that Dirty Dancing has been good to THE CONTOURS.

In 1990, Arthur Hinson left the group and THE CONTOURS continued as a quartet until 1993 when Darell Nunlee left and Gary Grier and Al Chisholm were added taking the group back to a five-man form. This configuration of THE CONTOURS existed until early 2004, when Sylvester Potts quit. He was replaced by Dupree Sims. In 2004, the group renamed itself to honor its founder. It is now know as THE CONTOURS with Joe Billingslea. Sims left and in 2006, Odell Jones was added to bring the group to its current configuration.

THE CONTOURS have made two appearances on the PBS Specials, "Rock, Rhythm & Doo-Wop" and "Motown: The Early Years." They have also been features on the Dick Clark Show, Oprah, Kelly & Company and The Montel Williams Show. On July 20, 1989, THE CONTOURS were inducted into the Rock 'n' Roll Walk of Fame outside Royal Oak's Metropolitan Musicafe in Royal Oak, Michigan. They also received the Smokey Robinson Heroes And Legends Award in 2000 and have been nominated for The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

THE CONTOURS with Joe Billingslea continue to record and tour extensively. Their show is jam-packed with dazzling high-energy choreography, impeccable harmonies and those timeless Motown grooves that everyone knows and loves. You can choose to dance, sing along, or just sit back (if you can) and watch the show as they perform all of their greatest hits together with many of the greatest hits of the 1960s and a selection of classic songs from the Dirty Dancing Soundtrack. The show is as high energy as it was in the 1960s, though the flips and splits of yesteryear have been replaced by a brilliant choreography more suited to gentlemen in their second half-century of life!


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Last updated Friday, September 21, 2012.
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