The Contours (1958-1971)

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The Contours were a talented early Motown Records group that began as a quartet called the Blender in Detroit, Michigan in 1958. They had brilliant choreography of splits and fouetté turns that Motown founder Berry Gordy first thought was too much for a stage act but Jackie Wilson persuaded him to give them a chance. In 1961, the Contours were signed as one of Motown’s first acts.

The members comprised principal vocalist Billy Gordon, born on April 3, 1938, in Detroit; Hubert Johnson, born January 14, 1941, in Detroit, Michigan; Billy Hoggs born September 23, 1937, in Detroit; Joseph Billingslea, Jr., born November 14, 1937, in Hamtramck, Michigan; and Leroy Fair born October 12, 1942, in Hammond, Louisiana.  Eventually others joined the group including Sylvester Potts, born December 22, 1938, in Detroit; Joseph Stubbles, born March 17, 1942, in Detroit. Billy Gordon born in Detroit on August 15, 1937, Dennis Edwards Jr. born in Fairfield, Alabama, on February 3, 1943, and guitarist Huey Marvin Davis born on August 17, 1938, in Columbus, Mississippi. All of the members were reared in Detroit.

The Contours charted eight hits in the1960s beginning with their chart-topping 1962 R&B smash, “Do You Love Me,” which sold more than a million copies and peaked at no. 3 on the Billboard R&B chart and remained charted for five months. The following year, 1963, “Shake Sherrie” made R&B Top 40 singles, followed by “Can You Jerk Like Me?” that peaked at no. 15 on R&B, and “The Day When She Needed Me” which charted at no. 47 on the pop chart. In 1964, the Contours charted at no. 41 on R&B with the single “Can You Do It.”

The year 1965 saw the release of “First I Look at the Purse” which reached no. 12 on R&B and no. 57 on the pop chart. “It’s So Hard Being a Loser” peaked at no. 85 on Billboard Hot 100 and remained on the charts for one week in 1967. It was The Contours’ last charting single. Then group members went their separate ways.  Dennis Edwards Jr., for example, became the replacement vocalist for David Ruffin of the Temptations.

In 1989 the Contours were inducted into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Walk of Fame in Royal Oak, Michigan and in 2000 they received the Smokey Robinson Heroes and Legends Award. In 2010, the group was inducted into the Doo-Wop Hall of Fame of America and in 2015 they were inducted into the Rhythm & Blues Hall of Fame.

Founding member Hubert Johnson committed suicide on July 11, 1981, in Detroit at the age of 40. Joseph Stubbles died at age 56 in Detroit on February 5, 1998. Billy Gordon died in Detroit on May 10, 1999, at the age of 57. Huey Marvin Davis died on February 23, 2002, in Detroit at 63 while Leroy Fair died on December 9. 2004 at 62.  Sylvester Potts died on January 6, 2017, in Detroit at 78. Dennis Edwards Jr. died on February 1, 2018, in Chicago at the age of 74.

While never the most successful of the Motown acts, the Contours influenced nearly all the record label’s groups that followed.