The Fantastic Four


Band members                              Related acts

  line up 1 (1963-65)
- William Hunter -- guitar

- 'Sweet' James Epps (aka James Hanson) (RIP 2000) 

   -- lead vocals 

- Joseph Pruitt -- baritone and second tenor vocals 

- Ralph Pruitt (RIP 2014) -- vocals 

 

  line up 2 (1965)

NEW - Wallace 'Toby' Childs (RIP 1979) -- vocals (replaced 

  William Hunter)

- 'Sweet' James Epps (aka James Hanson) (RIP 2000) 

   -- lead vocals 

- Joseph Pruitt -- baritone and second tenor vocals 

- Ralph Pruitt (RIP 2014) -- vocals 

 

  line up 3 (1965-75)

- 'Sweet' James Epps (aka James Hanson) (RIP 2000) 

   -- lead vocals 

NEW - Cleveland Horne (RIP 2000) -- first tenor vocals

NEW - Earnest Newsome -- bass vocals 

- Joseph Pruitt -- baritone and second tenor vocals 

 

  line up 4 (1975-77)
- Wallace 'Toby' Childs (RIP 1979) -- vocals

- 'Sweet' James Epps (aka James Hanson) (RIP 2000) 

  -- lead vocals

- Cleveland Horne (RIP 2000) -- first tenor vocals

- Joseph Pruitt -- baritone and second tenor vocals 

 

  line up 5 (1977-79)

- Wallace 'Toby' Childs (RIP 1979) -- vocals

- 'Sweet' James Epps (aka James Hanson) (RIP 2000) 

  -- lead vocals

- Cleveland Horne (RIP 2000) -- first tenor vocals

- Joseph Pruitt -- baritone and second tenor vocals 

NEW - Paul Scott -- bass vocals (replaced Ernest Newsome)

 

  line up 6 (1985-2000)

- Wayne Dixon -- vocals

- 'Sweet' James Epps (aka James Hanson) (RIP 2000)  --

  lead vocals

- Cleveland Horne (RIP 2000) -- vocals

- Paul Scott -- vocals

 

  line up 6 (1985-2000)

- Wayne Dixon -- vocals

- 'Sweet' James Epps (aka James Hanson) (RIP 2000)  --

  lead vocals

- Cleveland Horne (RIP 2000)-- vocals

- Ralph Pruitt (RIP 2014) -- vocals 

- Paul Scott -- vocals

 

  line up 6 (2000)

- Wayne Dixon -- vocals

NEW - Ralph Pruitt (RIP 2014) -- vocals 

- Paul Scott -- vocals

 

 

 

 

 

- James Epps (solo efforts)

- The Exceptionals (Cleveland Horne and Paul Scott)

- The Prophets (Cleveland Horne and Paul Scott)

- The Volumes (Ernest Newsome)

 

 

 


 

Genre: soul

Rating: 4 stars ****

Title:  The Best of the Fantastic Four

Company: Gordy

Catalog: SS717
Year:
 1969

Country/State: Detroit, Michigan

Grade (cover/record): VG+/VG+

Comments: --

Available: 1

Catalog ID: 1315

Price: $25.00

 

 

So here's a wonderful and largely overlooked mid-'60s Detroit soul group that had the misfortune of falling victim to factors largely beyond their control which ultimately saw their talents sold as if they were a market commodity rather than a talented vocal group.

 

Formed in 1965, the original Fantastic Four line-up featured  Wallace 'Toby' Childs, James Epps, and brothers Joseph and Ralph Pruitt.   Signed by Joanne Bratton and  Ed Wingate's Detroit-based Ric Tic label, between 1965 and 1968 the group released a string of eleven 45s.  Their catalog sold well throughout Detroit and they enjoyed a couple of national hits before Berry Gordy bought out the entire Ric Tic operation for a reported $1,000,000.

 

Released by Motown's Gordy label, the band's 1969 debut "The Best of the Fantastic Four" was a compilation of material taken from1967-68 Ric Tic singles.  Included on the album were the following 45s:

- 1966's 'Can't Stop Looking for My Baby' b/w 'Can't Stop Looking for My Baby' (Ric Tic catalog RT 113)

- 1966's 'Can't Stop Looking for My Baby' b/w 'Just the Lonely' (Ric Tic catalog number RT-121)

- 1967's 'The Whole World Is A Stage' b/w 'Ain't Love Wonderful' (Ric Tic catalog number RT-122) # 6 pop; # 63 R&B

- 1967's 'You Gave Me Something (And Everything's Alright)' b/w ' Romeo And
Juliet's "I Don't Wanna Live Without You (Play)' (Ric Tic catalog number RT-128) # 12 pop; # 55 R&B

- 1967's ' To Share Your Love' b/w 'As Long As I Live (I Live For You) (Ric Tic catalog number RT-130)   # 30 pop ; 68 R&B

- 1968's 'Goddess Of Love' b/w 'As Long As The Feeling Is There' (RIc Tic catalog umber RT-134)  # 39 pop

- 1968's 'Love Is A Many-Splendored Thing' b/w 'Goddess Of Love' (Ric Tic catalog number RT-136)

- 1968's 'I've Got To Have You' b/w  Win Or Lose (I'm Going To Love You)   (Ric Tic catalog number RT-139)  # 23 pop

- 1968's 'I Love You Madly' b/w 'I Love You Madly' (instrumental) (Ric Tic catalog number RT-144)

 

In spite of the group's talent, Motown management seemingly wanted nothing to do with these guys, That was incredibly sad given the fact musical they were actually a good fit for the label's patented sound.   Lead singer Epps had a wonderful, growling voice that has always reminded me a bit of a cross between David Ruffin and Levi Stubbs (not a shabby comparison).  Judging by these eleven tracks, they were every bit as good as most of the male vocal groups on the label - actually better than quite a few.   The fact their only album for Motown was a compilation of previously issued material is simply sad.  That was only underscored by the shabby packaging - wonder how much effort the Motown marketing team spent on the album cover ....  You can only wonder what would have come of a true collaboration between the group and Motown heavy weights like Holland-Dozier-Holland, or Smokey Robinson.

 

"The Best of the Fantastic Four" track listing
(side 1)

1.) I Love You Madly - 3:03

Anyone who doubted these guys were worthy competitors to better know Motown acts like The Four Tops, or The Temptations only needed to check out this killer ballad. Their ninth single for Ric Tic., this one served as a wonderful showcase for Epps' growling lead vocals.  Always loved Joseph Pruitt's spoken word segment and the little guitar figure that rang throughout the tune.   rating: **** stars

2.) The Whole World Is a Stage - 2:54

Simply a gorgeous slice of mid-'60s soul with a melody, vocals, and lyrics that were as good as anything out of the Motown system.  How could you not fall in love with the opening humming section ?    Understandably their biggest hit pop and R&B hit ...   rating: **** stars

3.) You Gave Me Something (and Everything's Alright) - 2:45

To my ears the epic and heavily orchestrated  'You Gave Me Something (and Everything's Alright)' has always sounded like a Motown production.   Pretty ballad with a killer refrain, but not what I'd consider to be one of their best tracks.   rating: *** stars

4.) I've Got To Have You - 2:52

Interesting, kind of jazzy ballad with some tasty guitar licks in the mix.   Epps driving delivery was very reminiscent of David Ruffin on this one.   rating: **** stars

5.) Share Your Love - 2:47

The first disappointment, the ballad 'Share Your Love' sounded like it had been crafted to appeal to mainstream white audiences.   Pretty bland and forgettable.  rating: ** stars

6.) Goddess of Love - 2:50

A return to prime form and a classic mid-'60s soul tune that should have been a massive hit for the group.  Interestingly the album version was quite different from the Ric Tic original.  Whereas the single featured an elaborate arrangement, the Gordy version was a spare, stripped down take.   The 45 version was better.     rating: **** stars

 

(side 2)
1.) Can't Stop Looking for My Baby - 2:35

Ah one of the best heartbreak songs ever recorded ...   and the back harmonies/handclaps are simply to-die-for.   rating: **** stars

2.) As Long As I Live (I Live For You) - 2:42

You weren't going to mistake the vocal for Marvin Gaye, but the song's breezy, pleading melody, and killer refrain have always reminded me of a Gaye performance.  Another album highlight.  rating: **** stars

3.) Man in Love - 2:45

One of the album's most hardcore soul oriented tunes.  Fantastic backing vocals from the group.   rating: **** stars

4.) Romeo and Juliet's I Don't Wanna Live without You - 2:54

Nice Four Tops vibe on this one with Epps showing he could belt it out with as much energy and guts as Levi Stubbs.   Add a refrain that Motown would have killed to come up with (which might explain why Berry Gordy paid so much to buy Ric Tic) and you can see why this should have been a massive single for the group.   rating: **** stars

5.) Just the Lonely - 2:59

This one was originally released as the 'B' side accompanying 1967's 'Can't Stop Looking for My Baby'.  Sweet ballad with a big, echo sound that sounded like it might have been one of the first things they recorded.   rating: *** stars  

 

For hardcore fans, Motown's Soul subsidiary re-issued 'I Love You Madly" as a single:

 

 

 

- 1968's 'I Love You Madly' b/w 'I Love You Madly' (instrumental) (Soul catalog number S-35053)

 

 

The group languished on Motown's Soul affiliate for another two years, releasing a string of isolated and quickly forgotten singles:

 

- 1969's 'I Feel Like I'm Falling In Love Again' b/w 'Pin Point It Down' (Soul  catalog number S-35058)  # 110 R&B
-1969's 'Another Lonely Night' b/w 'Don't Care Why You Want Me (Long As You Want Me) (Soul catalog number S-35065) 
-1970's 'On The Brighter Side Of A Blue World' b/w 'I'm Gonna Carry On' (Soul catalog number 35072) 

 

 

 

 


Genre: soul

Rating: 4 stars ****

Title:  Alvin Stone (The Birth and Death of a Gangster)

Company: Westbound

Catalog: W 201
Year:
 1975

Country/State: Detroit, Michigan

Grade (cover/record): VG+/VG+

Comments: --

Available: 2

Catalog ID: 1386

Price: $20.00

 

So this may not be the most original concept album you've ever come across, but I love 1975's "Alvin Stone (The Birth and Death of a Gangster)" and anyone who grew up on blaxpolitation soundtracks should rush out to grab a copy. Okay, technically it wasn't a blaxploitation soundtrack since there was no film to go with it, but as a concept album I'd argue it fell in the same aural niche.   Produced and largely written by Al Kent (aka Albert Hamilton), the album borrowed liberally from the likes of James Brown, Isaac Hayes, Curtis Mayfield,  Norman Whitfield,, and others making it one of those fun spot-the-influences collections.  The funky title track pretty much carried the plotline (young under-privileded man turns to a life of crime and comes to a bad end).  Probably the album's best performance, 'Words' borrowed liberally from Curtis Mayfield, while 'Have a Little Mercy', 'Let This Moment Last Forever', and the first part of  'My Love Won't Stop At Nothing'  allowed James Epps and company to showcase their talents as old-school balladeers.   And speaking of Epps; he was the group's secret weapon with a voice that was capable of handling the entire soul spectrum from silky ballads to taunt funk tunes.  Shame he didn't get more recognition.   (Always loved the Jack L,. evy designed newspaper story-themed cover art.)  

 

"Alvin Stone (The Birth and Death of a Gangster)" track listing:
(side 1)

1.) Alvin Stone (The Birth and Death of a Gangster)   (Al Kent - Calvin Colbert) - 7:25

The title track opened the album with a wonderful upbeat number that went by in flash.  James Epps seldom sounded as good.  Admittedly the spoken word narrative and sound effects were cheesy (even back in 1975), but this tune was easily as funky as anything Hayes and Mayfield penned.   The funny thing is the tune's always reminded me a bit of The Temptations' 'Papa was a Rolling Stone'.  That didn't stop Westbound from tapping it as a single:

 

- 1975's 'Alvin Stone (The Birth and Death of a Gangster)' b/w 'I Believe in Miracles (I Believe in You)' (Westbound catalog number WT-5009)   rating; **** stars

2.) Have a Little Mercy   (Al Kent - Calvin Colbert) - 5:35

Pretty old-school ballad that showcased the group's nice harmony vocals.  Westbound also tapped this one as a single.

 

- 1975's 'Have a Little Mercy' b/w 'County Line' (Westbound catalog number WT 5021)  rating; *** stars

3.) County Line   (Al Kent) - 3:25

Coming as a major surprise 'County Line' reflected a distinctive Southern soul vibe - kind of Memphis/Stax thing going on here.   Who would have ever expected it from a Detroit group.   The song also had some hysterical lyrics too boot.  Would have made a dandy single.   rating: **** stars

 

(side 2)
1.) Let This Moment Last Forever   (Al Kent - Calvin Colbert) - 6:00

'Let This Moment Last Forever' could have been the album's prettiest ballad were it not for the inept spoken word raps and the angelic female backing singers that clogged the opening and closing segments.  The midsection was a nice, Gospel-tinged love song.  rating: *** stars  

2.) Words (Al Kent) - 6:00

The slinky 'Words' has always reminded me of a strong Curtis Mayfield tune.  Like Mayfield's best work, the song showcased a strong melody and some thought provoking words.   Probably my choice for the album's standout performance.   rating: **** stars

3.) My Love Won't Stop At Nothing   (Al Kent) - 8:00

'My Love Won't Stop At Nothing' started out as a standard ballad before shifting tempo and groove into blaxploitation soundtrack mode.   Slinky and one of the album highlights.   rating: **** stars

 

 


Genre: soul

Rating: 4 stars ****

Title:  Night People

Company: Westbound

Catalog: W 226
Year:
 1976

Country/State: Detroit, Michigan

Grade (cover/record): VG+/VG+

Comments: --

Available: 1

Catalog ID: 5641

Price: $20.00

 

Anywhere but Detroit The Fantastic Four would have been a massive act.  Unfortunately, in spite of occasional hits, coming from Detroit they ranked no better than also-rans.  That was a shame since these guys were quite talented turning out some 1960s and 1970s sides that were every bit as good as better known competitors.

 

 

Produced by Al Kent for Westbound Records, 1976's "Night People"  found the quintet (now consisting of lead singer 'Sweet' James Epps, first tenor Cleveland Horne, baritone Joseph Pruitt, and bass singer Paul Scott), trying to blend classic 1970s soul moves, with a dollop of Norman Whitfield-styled real world commentary, and even an occasional disco rhythm.  At least on the surface it wouldn't sound like a very promising mix, but for the most part these guys somehow managed to pull it off.  Epps was certainly an overlooked jewel.  He had a great voice and the other three were first rate harmony singers, giving the album considerable energy throughout.  Yeah, sounding like an O'Jays castoff 'Hideaway' was a bit too blatant in its attempt to appeal to the crowd (though overlooking the suffocating orchestration it's grown on me the more I hear it), but powered by some some great harmony vocals and fantastic uncredited guitar (courtesy of Dennis Coffey?), the opening medley 'Night People/Lies Divided By Jive' and 'Don't Risk Your Happiness On Foolishness' were killer slices of Norman Whitfield-styled funk (underscored by Hornes' tenor the latter bore more than a passing resemblance to Whitfield's work with The Temptations).  Interestingly Epps old school voice was at its best on the self-penned ballad 'By the River Under the Tree'.  Best of the lot was 'If I Lose My Job'.  (Funny that I'm listening to the latter track on the eve of Barack Obama's inauguration.)   An overlooked gem that showed that deserved far more attention.  The album was tapped for a pair of singles:

 

- 1976's 'They Took The Show On The Road' b/w 'Don't Risk Your Happiness On Foolishness' (Westbound catalog number 5030)

-1976's 'Hideaway' b/w 'They Took The Show On The Road' (Westbound catalog number 5032)

 

"Night People" track listing:
(side 1)

1.) Medley: Night People / Lies Divided By Jive   (A. Hamilton - C. Colbert / A. Hamilton - Cleveland Horne - James Epps) - 10:57
2.) If I Lose My Job   (A. Hamilton) - 6:05

 

(side 2)
1.) Hideaway   (A. Hamilton) - 5:30
2.) By The River Under The Tree    (James Epps - Josephy Pruitt)  - 4:32
3.) Don't Risk Your Happiness On Foolishness   (A. Hamilton) - 4:13
4.) They Took The Show On The Road   (A. Hamilton) - 4:10

 


The Fantastic Four are one of those groups with a high mortality rate.  Childs died in September 1979.  Horne died of a massive heart attack in April 2000.  One of those odd coincidences, but five months later (September 2000), Epps suffered a fatal heart attack.  Ralph Pruitt died of natural causes in 2014.

 

 

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