The Imperial Wonders
The year was 1962 in Cleveland, Ohio. Al Boyd was invited to audition for a group called the Matadors. The Matadors which consisted of Fred Butler, James McGennis, Dennis Collins, Kenny Stover or John Owens and Clarence Covington. This was not the same group as Bull and The Matadors which were from Chicago. Which meant that a name change had to be made.
They became known locally for carrying acoustic guitars and singing on the streets passing a hat collecting money. One day at 8112 Hough Avenue a young man named Kennedy Holman from a Cleveland group called the Donations ( these are probably not the same ones on the Internet with a couple of albums out) came running out of the house saying "Hey man, I wanna sing with you guys!" He auditioned and was hired on the spot. He began playing bass guitar and his brother Montana played drums. This was the Birth of the Brown Beatles which became Beatle Brooks and Company and opened for Dave "C" and The Sharptones at The Heidleberg on Cleveland’s west side.
One day Al and Kennedy saw The Temptations on Shindig or Hullabaloo (two nationally televised music shows) and decided they wanted to change to this style of group which attracted the ladies in their neighborhood. There were already lots of groups in Cleveland that had notoriety such as The O’Jays, The Springers, The Sahibs, The Ohio Untouchables, Flash Beaver, The Elzotics, Dave "C" and The Sharptones, Terry Knight and The Packers ( who became Grand Funk Railroad), The Ambassadors, The Hesitations and later The Ocasions, The Soul Notes, The Sensations, The Premiers, Mellow Thunder, The Contemporaries (who became The Purple Image and recorded "Marching To A Different Drummer), The Intertains, Harvey and The Phenomenals, Don Gregory and The Montclairs, Marlene and The Debanettes (who I just was reminded recently, sang on "Happy Feet Time", "Earthquake" and a few others by The Montclairs), AC Jones and The Atomic Aces (who featured The Soulettes Al’s sister Carolyn Boyd’s group on "Hole In Your Soul" ), Jessie Fisher (father of the famous Andre Fisher), The Precisions (not the one from Detroit), Two groups of Rotations (One from East High School and one from Glenville High School), The Primes (Not the early Temptations), The Tamalas (who later became Cleveland’s Sly, Slick and Wicked), The In Betweens, The Pharaohs (Avaughn Wells’ former group), The Soulful Sounds, The Trotters, The Jimmy Landers Trio, Shirley Houston, The Houston Sisters, The Ohio Bell Telefunk (who became Kinsman Dazz and The Dazz Band), The Rolletes (sister group to the Rotations), The Baroz (Cynthia Woodard’s group), The Elements (who's lead singer Mark Anthony sang the pretty falsetto lead on "You Send Me" The Ponderosa Twins' biggest hit), The Ebonettes, The Ponderosa Twins + One, Cash, The Deltones (not the famous Deltones from the fifties but the one who had the member Eric Grant who now sings with The O'Jays), True Movement (who changed their name to Avatar), Sonny Lovell, Bobby Dukes, Jimmy St. Clair, Leon and The Burners, Kim Tolliver, Little Jimmy Scott, Rex Robinson, Eddie Smoots, The Force Band, 9th Street Exit, The Outta Sites, Love for $ and cents (Walter Chaney’s nephew Ruben Chaney’s group), The Solid Foundations, Ruby Carter, Eddie Smalls, The Epics (which were 3 remnants from Glenville’s Rotations), Jim Mudcat Grant (The famous baseball player), Marvelous Ray, The Soul Merchants, Bobby Wade, S.O.U.L. (which featured Larry Hancock, and had their biggest song "This Time Around" written by Al Boyd and Fred Butler in 1972), Ronnie Love, The Heatwave Band (not the famous Heatwave from Dayton/England), The Four Wonders (don’t know who they were)and The Jimmy Landers Trio.
One day while walking on Euclid Avenue Kennedy and Al were going over possible new names for the group. Al came up with Imperial Wonders because their best show songs were "Outside Looking In" by Little Anthony and the Imperials and "Sunset" by Little Stevie Wonder. Al went to Oberlin College for the summer in 1963 and dropped out of singing because he had scored high on aptitude tests. He has a high I.Q. (which later helped his writing) from going to the library reading books and collecting comic books (his and Eddie Levert’s youthful passions) . He first met Eddie Levert of The O’Jays at a comic book stand on 83rd and Cedar before he knew Eddie was one of his idols. Montana Holman dropped out of the group (he’s now deceased from a gun shot in Detroit) and was replaced by a local high school prodigy named Walter Chaney. Kennedy, and Walter found Al lifting weights on 86 Street with his friend Arthur (Butch) Mitchell. They showed him choreography on a song called "I Need You" by a group called the Vontastics and Al got The Temptation fever again. They began winning talent shows all over Cleveland. They got to open for The Dells and Johnny Nash at the Music Box on different dates. Later Johnny Nash got a record label deal and came to Cleveland to put on a talent show at the Cleveland Arena. The Imperial Wonders won the talent show but lost the record deal because Johnny Nash sold the contract to RCA who didn't know how to present the group. Leo Green, a local street corner singer who’s claim to fame was his vocal rendition of "A Change Is Gonna Come" was brought to the group by Kennedy. Kennedy, Al, Leo and Walter were taken to Lira Records by Vernon Jones, Al’s music teacher at East High School. They recorded one song which was a part 1 and part 2 called "I’ve Got A Style" written by Kennedy. They released the song as The Mints but after the record they went back to the name The Imperial Wonders. The record got them on the Ken Hawkins TV show but did not sell.
Then Kennedy who had taken charge of the group recruited Avaughn Wells to sing bass. Al was sad but glad for Leo’s and Avaughn’s addition because they took over certain song duties (Leo took "Ain’t No Sun", "Ain’t Too Proud", "Losing You", "If This Is Love" and Avaughn took "Old Man River") that in Al’s own words kicked his butt to sing hard, then low and then turn around and sing the 1st tenor in the background too. One day when Al, Avaughn, Walter and Leo went to pick up Kennedy for a gig at Robert’s Steak House (A well known night club on Cleveland’s east side) Kennedy’s father broke the news to them that Kennedy enlisted in the Army without telling them. At this point the group had been gigging for Bob Davis at several night spots and Bob wanted the Imperial Wonders to back up Lester "Jelly" McKenzie in the studio. Lester met them at Avaughn’s mother’s house and this resulted in him liking the vibes and harmony of these guys who were eight years younger than him. He suggested that the project still be called The Imperial Wonders and that union resulted in two singles. In 1968 "Just A Dream" (which Lester wrote) and "Zip-A-Doe-Doo-Dah". In 1969 "Trying To Get To You"(which Al and Walter wrote but was credited as written by the whole group) and "When I Fall In Love" were released. These songs got them opening act billings at Leo’s Casino where they opened for acts like The O’Jays, Little Anthony and The Imperials, David Ruffin, Marvin Gaye, etc… The group knew that Gamble and Huff was interested in them and a producer by the name of Bobby Sanders wanted a group to replace his supposedly disbanded group The Young Hearts. The group had one of two choices to make. One, wait for a year for Gamble and Huff or go right then to L.A. and change identities to "The New Young Hearts" aka "The Kings of Hearts". They made the wrong choice whereas Gamble and Huff began penning hot tunes that catapulted the O’Jays to superstardom whereas the group found out The Young Hearts were still around. They found this out while gigging at the Tempo West as The New Young Hearts and the audience came from next door after just seeing The Young Hearts who were at Maverick’s Flats in 1971. They changed their name back to The Imperial Wonders, but not before blowing an opportunity to sign with Electra/Asylum through Lester G. Sills. They picked the wrong producer Robert Stanton who co-wrote the song "Say You" for The Temptations with Robert Walker. Robert Staunton took the demo budget money, produced some poor sounding tracks, brought a car and moved into a new home. The deal was lost and The group did not know how to regroup themselves right away and get another deal.
Lester’s wife back in Cleveland became ill and the group after 8 months in L.A. went back to Cleveland. Lester stopped coming to rehearsals and began writing for SARU Records . He wrote "Bound" by the Ponderosa Twins + 1 and "Son-In-Law" by the Elements. His so called blood disorder manifested then , but that was not the reason for his demise. He actually died of exposure and other complications following surgery in 1988. Leo Green left Cleveland to go back to L.A. after he got a call from Bobby Sanders and joined a group called the Cool Sounds for which Bobby had landed a record deal with Warner Brothers. According to Leo Green the same thing that happened with Robert Stanton happened with Bobby Sanders and the group’s recording effort "Wonder Boy" was not promoted by Warner Brothers.Bobby Sanders passed away in 2007. Al was recruited to replace Russell Watts for one night at The East Town Night Club in Cleveland by Kennedy (Sonny Thompson) Holman. This led to Al recruiting Felton (Archie) Holloway, Willie Powell and Russell Watts to join him and Avaughn Wells to be with The Imperial Wonders. This only lasted for one engagement then that group broke up. Former member of The O’Jays, Bobby Massey began getting a track record as a producer, as evidenced in his SARU/Astroscope and Way Out Records track record. He took the Imperial Wonders which consisted of Al Boyd, Walter Chaney, Avaughn Wells Russell Watts and a new member Will Hargrove aka Will Thomas, who later was on The Kinsman Dazz’s (later to be known as the Dazz Band) first LP produced by Phillip Bailey of Earth, Wind and Fire, to Eddie Levert and Walter Williams of the O’Jays. They along with Bobby Dukes penned a song called "Turned Around Over You"and "You Live Only Once". Will Hargrove quit a day before the recording session and was replaced by James Stewart, a 17 year old kid who was dating Avaughn's girlfriend's sister. Two other songs were recorded during that session. One was "She possesses Love" (written by Walter Chaney and Al Boyd ) and "Who" (which was written by E. Levert and W. Williams). Later "Who" was re-written and called "The Gun" (writers are Al Boyd , Edgar Mitchell, E. Levert and W. Williams). "Turned Around Over You" was released on Solid Foundation Records ( which was really on Shaky Ground) and became a hit in Cleveland, Columbus, Canton Dayton etc. However, a power struggle over control of the Imperial Wonders resulted in the group leaving Solid Foundation and going with Bobby Massey to the O’Jays newly formed label The Sounds of Cleveland (S.O.C. Records). Solid Foundation Records in retaliation came up with a replacement for the Imperial Wonders called The Four Wonders and True Movement. Bobby Massey had produced a song by Al Boyd and Fred Butler on a Cleveland group called S.O.U.L. for Musicor Records out of New York in 1972 so he took the Imperial Wonders to that label. Bobby Massey and Richard Shann produced two songs "Love Coming Down" (A. Boyd) and "My Baby" (B. Massey, R. Shann). These songs did not get the success of prior Imperial Wonder releases even though Musicor had worldwide distribution . In 1974 Al Boyd was flown to L.A. by a producer named Jeffrey Bowen who was producing the Temptations at that time.. That resulted in the song "Shakey Ground" that sold over a million copies on the" Song For You" LP and was a hit single . James and Avaughn departed from the group and Leo Green returned from LA to rejoin the group in 1975. In 1976, Al Boyd became involved in a project with Bobby Massey for a Cleveland singer named David Peoples. Peoples did not care for the songs written by Al Boyd called "The Flesh Trap"( Al Boyd), "The Price Is Right"( Al Boyd), and "Don’t Fight The Feeling"( Al Boyd,Bobby Dukes). So he backed out of the project. Then Bobby Massey asked Al what was the Imperial Wonders doing? Al replied "nothing". they were down to 3 members at that time (Al, Russell, and Leo because Walter Chaney quit the group). So Bobby suggested that they change the name to TRUTH and add Larry Hancock (from the Intertains and S.O.U.L.). Larry Hancock was a great addition because he brought excellent arrangements but, also he and Al made a great song writing team. Adding to the "Peoples" rejects was "Street Corner Hustler" (written by Al Boyd, Walter Johnson and Bobby Massey), which was rewritten to become "Break Bread Together" (written by Al Boyd, Walter Johnson and Bobby Massey), "Come Back Home" (A. Boyd, W. Johnson and B. Massey), "The Moment Of Truth" (A. Boyd, W. Johnson, B. Massey), "All The Signs" (A. Boyd, W. Johnson, B. Massey), "I’m Coming Home" (A. Boyd, Dennis Edwards, and B. Massey), "The Mystic Mountain" (Al Boyd), "I’ll See You Later" (A. Boyd, L. Hancock), "Easy Street" (E. Levert, W. Williams, W. Ross, M. Jackson), "Just Another Dream" (A. Boyd, E. Levert, G. Mims), "There’s Still Time" (A. Boyd, E. Levert) and "Excedrin Headache" (A. Boyd). Also in 1976, Al Boyd and the O’Jays guitar player, Russell Evans (who died a few years ago) wrote a song for The Ohio State Lottery Commission. The song was produced by Bobby Massey and sung by TRUTH. The song was edited into different formats for commercial spots. The commercial sounded so good that it had everyone, even kids, singing "Get Your Lottery Tickets". The FCC had the commercial taken off the radio because it was enticing people to gamble.
Most of these masters are still with Agency Recording. After the TRUTH recording session was over the O’Jays released "Come Back Home" on their sounds of Cleveland (S.O.C.) Records and took TRUTH on a 5 month 20th Anniversary Tour. At the end of the tour TRUTH’s money which was to go into individual bank accounts for the group, wound up in the bank accounts of their management . Larry and Al went to New York to solicit songs and ran into the O’Jays who were performing at Radio City. The O’Jays took them to Philly and introduced them to Kenny Gamble, Leon Huff and Tom Bell. As a result of this introduction, "Take Me To The Stars" which was written by Al Boyd and Larry Hancock, made it on the "So Full Of Love" LP which went Platinum. In 1979 Al, Larry,Leo and Russell went to Philadelphia and met Stan Watson who used to produced The Delfonics and First Choice on his Nickel Shoe Record Label. He took TRUTH into the studio and produced "I Want To Thank You Girl" (A. Boyd, L. Hancock), "Time Machine" (first version A. Boyd, L. Hancock), "Keep On Grooving" (Eugene Curry), "How Good Love Can Be"(A. Boyd, L. Hancock), "Prayer For Humanity"(A. Boyd, L. Hancock). A 12 inch single was released on Nickel Shoe Records which included "I Want To Thank You Girl" and "Prayer For Humanity". The record was never promoted because at the time of its release Disco, had faded as a popular music style.
Dennis Edwards who had left The Temptations had a cousin who lived in Cleveland. Bobby Massey talked Al into helping to come up with songs for a Dennis Edwards LP. TRUTH was enlisted to background Dennis on a short tour. Dennis went back to The Temptations and took some of the songs with him and left Al Boyd and Bobby Massey off as writers on "I’m Coming Home". It was released with all The Temptations as writers but due to litigation from Massey and Boyd has lost itself in The Temptations foremost archives. Bobby then decided to get TRUTH to sign with Murius Records/Devaki Records but Russell and Al disgusted with the TRUTH tour results passed. Leo and Larry’s resulting LP although featuring some songs written by Al Boyd did not feature Russell and Al's names on the cover.
Russell and Al however were enticed to do live performances with TRUTH after attempts to use female back ups failed to produce the desired stage mystique that management wanted. It appears that Al and Russell made a wise decision to break the chain with the management and group because neither Larry nor Leo as artists got any money and none of the writers even from the Musicor days have seen a royalty statement let alone a check.
Al and Russell were joined in L.A. by a fellow Clevelander named Leroi Simmons. Al’s brother, Tommy Boyd, who was living in L.A. at the time, put up money to go to the Total Experience Recording Studio to record "Hostage of Love"(A. Boyd, Roland Boyd), "Never Go Looking For Love" (A. Boyd ,R.Watts), "Everybody Can Dance" (A. Boyd), "Lord What’s Happening To The World" ( A. Boyd), "Love Me To The Music" (A. Boyd, Tom Boyd). The owner of the studio wanted Al to sign a contract to become a member of the GAP Band, but when Al did not sign, he used the groove from "Hostage" which resulted in three hits for the GAP Band. "Burn Rubber On Me" "Early In The Morning", and "Party Train". Al did release one single "Never Go Looking For Love" and "Everybody Can Dance" on his own label Cold Fire Records. The group was called Ice Cold Energy and the single was number1 in Phoenix, Arizona in 1981. Leroi decided to go solo when they were offered a recording deal at A&M Records and rejected the suggestion to use George Duke as a producer. Their new manager Eddie Kritzer took him to the George Tobin Studio in Burbnk. The tracks he cut there went no where and he auditioned for LTD but did not get a permanent spot. Near the end of 1981 Al decided that going to Motown may be the way to go since their old friends, The Dazz Band had success there. However Larry Hancock would not join Leo in coming out to L.A. after Al had gotten his foot back in the door at Motown.This was probably because of some ill feelings between Al and Larry after Eddie Levert told Al that Larry requested Al’s name be left off as a co-writer on a song that Al, Larry, and Eddie wrote called "You Are The One For Me"(Love Committee on Electra Records).The LP did not sell but Al and Larry never wrote together again. Therefore an incomplete TRUTH was doing demos at Jobete that would have been the bomb outlet for TRUTH had Larry (the melody man and other half of the Boyd/Hancock team) came on. Leo left to try to audition for L.T.D. which left Russell and Al to try to recruit new members. Russel introduced Al to Charles Hughes, a Clevelander who went to school with Russell’s brother Thurston and who was now in LA. They along with Ronnie Merriman went into the studio at Jobete and recorded about 10 songs. Al wrote "I Want To Love You", "My Mission Is Love", "No Harmony", "I’m A Millionaire", "Jet Set", "Once In a Lifetime Love", "Sensitivity Session", "Nightmare", "Jail Bait", " The People's Party"and "Possession". These songs are still on the shelf at Jobete along with "Sugar Free Love" (A. Boyd, G. Gooden), "Near To Me"(A. Boyd, K. Parker) this was a re-write of memories by Al Boyd and G. Gooden, "Put Her First" (A. Boyd, P. Michaels), "Let Me Love Him Out Of Your Life" (A. Boyd, P. Michaels), " Touch And Go" (A. Boyd, P. Michaels), "Move With Me" (A. Boyd, J. Levine, Penny Ford), "Forever Came Tonight" (A. Boyd, J.Levine), "Love For Everyone" (A. Boyd, J. Levine), "Bottom Line" (Al Boyd ,Jimmy Levine, Penny Ford), "As Long As We Share Love" (A. Boyd, JP Maxwell), "Heaven Must Be Smiling Down On Me", "Are You Ready" (A. Boyd), "A Man Of Many Words" (A. Boyd), "I Can Give You Love" (A. Boyd, J. Levine), "Fantasy Island" (A. Boyd), "It’s Time" (A. Boyd, K. Broege), "Cloud Pusher" (A. Boyd, K. Broege), "Love Is What I’m Looking For" (A. Boyd, K. Broege), "Double My Pleasure"(A.Boyd, K.Broege), "Late Night Activities" (A. Boyd, Michael Dunlap), "Right Love Wrong Love" (A. Boyd), "Falling In Love All Over" (A.Boyd), "Breaking" (A. Boyd), "Everybody Wants You When You’re Hot" (A. Boyd), "Body Rock"(A.Boyd), "Work Of Art"(A. Boyd), "Hour of Darkness" (A. Boyd, Sheldon Reynolds), "Blow The House Down" (A. Boyd, Kerry Gordy), "Love Encounters"(Al Boyd)and many more songs.
Al wrote six words in the song "Somebody’s Watching Me" that was recorded by Rockwell but didn’t even receive acknowledgements on the album cover.
When Al’s contract with Jobete ended in 1984 he did one other song with Kerry Gordy called "I’ll never Let you Know". Al went to work for Joseph Jackson (Michaels’ father) for several months under Charles Butler. Charles never let Joe sign Al on permanently so Al went back to Cleveland. In 1987 Al and Russell got a call from former member Ronnie Merriman who urged them to come to Wisconsin to meet an engineer named Jeff Harmon. This resulted in the recording of "Running" (A. Boyd) , "Sweet Delight" (this slower version was the first incarnation written by A. Boyd and R. Watts), "Electric Love" (A. Boyd), "Don’t Bite"(A. Boyd), "Temptation" (A. Boyd) and "Gentle Force" (A. Boyd) which was never completed vocally. This project went nowhere because Jeff thought he owned all the songs which Al already owned copyrights to. From 1987 to 1989 Al moved back to Cleveland leaving Russell still in L.A. In between that time in 1988 Al and Russell went to Wisconsin again with Jeff Harmon to do tracks for a group called The Booze Brothers (who were a popular act in Milwaukee). This resulted in the recording of several tracks including "Hot Property" (A. Boyd), "Rampage" (A. Boyd), "It’s Getting Bigger" (A. Boyd), "Heaven Is On Hold"(A.Boyd), "How Do You Want To Be Loved"(Al Boyd),.These songs were never released on the Booze Brothers. While back in Cleveland, Al did a gig backgrounding Larry Hancock who had a new CD out called "Borderline". The CD did not sell and Al did more writing and fishing in Ohio than he ever did in that period of time (1987 to 1989). Finally on July 29,1989 on Larry’s birthday Al went back to join Russell on a project called Popular Demand. This project went into the studio and Al reproduced "Time Machine" (A. Boyd, L. Hancock) , which was previously recorded by TRUTH in 1978(this latest version is on The Imperial Wonders new CD " Time Machine"), "Just Leave" (A. Boyd) and "Sweet Delight"(the uptempo version A. Boyd, R. Watts). The managers at this time tried to release these songs on E.J. Welch as a solo artist but ASCAP put a stop on this song because the songs were never legally obtained by the management who tried to publish them under a BMI publishing company Helene Music. The publishing now belongs to Al’s publishing company ILAHS Publishing.
Al, Russell and Mike Martin added Ronnie Merriman (from the Jobete/Motown session days) to the line up which only lasted for two live performances. Then Mike left and went back to his old group, a local act called Seville (not to be confused with the well known group). Ronnie bowed out (something he’s done 2 times before) and E.J. returned with another Chitlin’ Circuit veteran named Tony Powers. In 1990 they changed the name to 4-U and began singing in clubs around L.A. Tony was replaced by Darol King and the group became the top group in L.A. They began recording again but after 2 yrs they broke up. Al and Darol kept gigging as D-N-A and did some studio work which laid ground for the newly released Imperial Wonders’ "Time Machine" CD. In 2000 Al, Russell, Darol, E.J. and Avaughn joined together to return to the name Imperial Wonders. Darol, due to his gospel and church dedication, will be replaced by former lead singer Leroi Simmons. Today Al, Russell and Leroi The Imperial Wonders are ready to reclaim their rightful throne in the music business.
The Imperial Wonders: Bio
The Imperial Wonders