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Nolan Strong & the Diablos

Further information: Fortune Records

around 1950 and originally consisted of Strong (lead

tenor), Juan Guitierrez (tenor), Willie Hunter (baritone),
Quentin Eubanks (bass), and Bob Chico Edwards (guitar). The Diablos name is said to have come from a book,
El Nino Diablo (The Little Devil), that Strong was reading for a high-school book report. In 1954, the Diablos
went into Detroits Fortune Record Studios to cut some
demo sides, with the hopes of furthering their career.
Their hopes were realized even more quickly than they expected. Those demos impressed Jack and Devora Brown,
owners of Fortune, who immediately signed the group to
record for their label. Their rst recording for Fortune
was the Devora Brown-penned Adios My Desert Love,
a cha cha-avored tune.[2]

Nolan Strong & the Diablos were a Detroit-based R&B

and doo-wop vocal group best known for its hit songs
"The Wind" and Mind Over Matter. The group was
one of the most popular pre-Motown R&B acts in Detroit during the mid-1950s, through the early 1960s.
The group recorded for Fortune Records, along with
label-mates Andre Williams and Nathaniel Mayer. The
Diablos recorded for the family-operated label in Detroit
starting in 1954 until around 1973.

In a 2008 interview with Goldmine, Smokey Robinson

said: There was a guy who lived in Detroit and had a
group called the Diablos. His name was Nolan Strong. But it was their second Fortune record that established
They were my favorite vocalists at that time.[1]
the group as R&B legends. Written by the group members, The Wind had a haunting sound, with the group
chanting blow wind in harmony behind Strongs delicate tenor lead, and smooth and sexy talking bridge. Fol1 Nolans bio
lowing the release of The Wind, Guitierrez and EuNolan Strong was born in Scottsboro, Alabama, on Jan- banks left the group, to be replaced by Nolans brother
uary 22, 1934, and moved to Detroit at a young age. He Jimmy on tenor and George Scott on bass. Over the
started singing soon after arriving in Detroit and formed next two years this conguration of Diablos would turn
his rst Diablos group in 1950. Nolan was drafted into out several records, including Route 16, Do You Rethe U.S. Army in 1956 and was honorably discharged in member What You Did, Daddy Rockin' Strong, The
Around, You Are, and A Teardrop
1958. Nolan Strong, the lead vocalist, had an ethereally Way You Dog Me
high tenor. Strongs smooth voice, inuenced mainly by
Clyde McPhatter was, in turn, a primary inuence on a
young Smokey Robinson.[1]

By late 1956, more changes were in store for the Diablos. Scott decided to leave the group about this time to
Nolan died on February 21, 1977 at the age of 43 in De- join Hank Ballard & the Midnighters - and again the Diablos were in need of a bass. Enter Jay Johnson, who was
troit. Little is known about the last years of his life.[2]
introduced to Strong through fellow Fortune artist Andre
As for his fellow Diablos, Jay Johnson is the only surviv- Williams. Although not quite 17 at the time, Johnson was
ing member. Jimmy Strong died January 29, 1970, at age already a veteran singer, having sung bass with Williams
34. Hunter, Edwards, and Eubanks are also deceased.
new group on Bacon Fat, Just Because of a Kiss,
Mean Jean, and Bobby Jean. (Williams new group
consisted of Gino Parks, Bobby Calhoun, Steve Gaston,
and Johnson.)[2]
2 The Diablos Biography
Strong was impressed and the Diablos had their new bassman. Johnsons rst session with the Diablos was on
Can't We Talk It Over and Mambo of Love, recorded
in late 1956 and released in 1957. By the time the rst
Fortune of Hits album came out, Johnson had already replaced Scott with the group. Unfortunately, the picture
on the album cover didn't reect this change, and shows
the group with Scott instead of Johnson. This oversight
may be a factor in many believing that Johnson didn't
join the group until several years later. In fact, Johnson is
The group formed at Central High School in Detroit heard on bass on more Diablos recordings than either EuThe Diablos, with their 1954 classic The Wind, are
revered among R&B and doo wop lovers. The group had
a unique sound, centered around the high ethereal lead
tenor voice of Nolan Strong. Besides The Wind, the
Diablos were known for many songs, such as Adios My
Desert Love, Can't We Talk This Over, Mambo of
Love, If I, Harriet, I Am With You, Goodbye
Matilda, I Wanna Know, Beside You, Mind Over
Matter, and many more.


banks or Scott. Among these are: Beside You, Mind

Over Matter, Everything They Said Came True, Welcome Baby to My Heart, I Wanna Know, If I Could
Be With You, Since You're Gone, Harriet, Harriette Its You, I Am With You, Are You Making a
Fool Out of Me, You're My Happiness, Village of
Love, For Old Times Sake, My Heart Will Always
Belong to You, and Come Home Little Girl. On Village of Love, Johnson also provided the bass on the original Fortune version by Nathaniel Mayer & the Fabulous
Also in late 1956, about the time Johnson joined the
group, Strong received a call from Uncle Sam and was
soon o to the service for a two-year stint. While Nolan
was in the service, the Diablos released one single without
him, Harriet, backed with Come Home Little Girl,
featuring Hunter on lead. Without Strong, the Diablos
magic seemed to be missing and the record received little
fanfare. After Strong returned from the service, the group
recorded Harriette Its You. But when Nolan came back
from the service, things weren't quite the same. Fortune
was focusing more of their attention on Strong, and not
the Diablos group. In 1954, records showed The Diablos Featuring Nolan Strong. Then billing changed to
Nolan Strong & the Diablos, and by 1962, when Mind
Over Matter was climbing the charts, the label just read
Nolan Strong, although the Diablos were on the record,
as prominent as ever. This lack of recognition along with
nancial inequities (lack of royalties and unequal pay to
the group members versus Strong), inevitably lead to the
groups demise.
Just as Strong had been inuenced by Clyde McPhatter,
he in turn would be inuential to Smokey Robinson. And
Robinson was not the only one at Motown to have an appreciation for Nolan Strong & the Diablos. Berry Gordy
had wanted to bring the Diablos into his fast-growing Motown complex. The deal never happened.
In 1964, the group disbanded. Calhoun indicates he went
south and did some work with Stax Records. Iverson and
Hunter returned to Detroit. Johnson stayed on for a time
in New Jersey, continuing to perform solo at the Tender
Trap, but also found his way back to Detroit. Upon his
return, he joined Detroits Five Monarchs, but did not
record with them. In the late 1960s Johnson formed the
soul group the Four Sonics, releasing two singles in 1968
on Detroits Sport label. The group recorded through the

Velvet Angels

In 1964, as the Diablos were dissolving, the Velvet Angels

were forming. The group would include Diablos alumni
Johnson and Hunter along with Calhoun (baritone) and
Cy Iverson (tenor). Iverson had gone to high school with
Johnson, and Calhoun had recorded with Johnson as part

of Williams new group on Fortune. They were inspired

by groups like the Mills Brothers and Ink Spots.
The Velvet Angels performed at clubs around Detroit and
across the border in Canada and soon traveled to New Jersey in search a deal and shows. Soon after setting up residence in Jersey City, they found an ad for a talent show
in the local paper. As luck would have it, they performed
at show and won. Frank Sheldon, the show sponsor and
owner of the Tender Trap club in Fairview, NJ, was looking for this type of group. The Velvet Angels were talented and versatile doing a mix of R&B, pop, gospel, and
soul music, and doing them all a cappella. Things were
starting to happen for the Velvet Angels; they were hired
to do commercials for Lionel Trains, but unfortunately
their manager became ill and that deal fell apart.[2]

4 Nolan briey joins the Velvet Angels

And right about here is where the Velvet Angels story
gets very interesting and also somewhat confusing. Nolan
Strong had remained on good terms with Hunter and
Johnson and had talked about reuniting with them. In
1963, Strong came to New Jersey and spent some time
with the group, rehearsing and appearing with them at the
Tender Trap. Some of these rehearsal sessions at their hotel (the Madison Hotel in Jersey City, NJ) were recorded
on a basic home tape recorder. A young man named Angelo Pompeo made the acquaintance of some of the group
members and eventually purchased some of the rehearsal
tapes. Johnson was not there at the time of the deal, nor
aware of it until after the fact. The tapes soon found their
way to Eddie Gries, who would issue some of the tunes
as singles on his Medieval label.
And so in 1964 I'm in Love b/w Let Me Come Back
was issued as Medieval 201. Both sides highlighted the
bass work of Johnson, with a bass lead on Let Me Come
Back, and an incredible driving bass on I'm in Love
(also released as Co-Op 201). Interestingly, the Medieval
record credits Strong as the writer while the Co-Op
version credits Calhoun-Hunter-Johnson-Iverson. The
singles were well received at the time by a subculture of
doo wop collectors that had developed in the metropolitan
New York City area, but garnered little notice elsewhere.
And yes, Strong is heard on these tapes but mostly as a
background singer, although he did lead vocal on Fools
Rush In. More Velvet Angels material was released later
through Gries on the Relic Best of Acapella series, as
well as his Acappella Showcase Presents the Velvet Angels LP, also on Relic. The picture of the Velvet Angels
that appears on the Relic Velvet Angels album incorrectly
identies Johnson (third from left) as Strong.[2]


Strong has also been an inuence on rock and roll bands.

In December 2009 Lou Reed, of the inuential '60s band
the Velvet Underground, told Rolling Stone Magazine editor David Fricke, If I could really sing, Id be Nolan
Strong - during an interview at the New York Public Library.[4]
The Diablos were inducted into the United In Group Harmony Hall of Fame in 2003. In March 2008 the group
was inducted into the Doo-Wop Hall of Fame of America.

[5] Music: The 100 greatest Detroit songs ever!". Metro

Times. Retrieved 2012-09-07.
[6] FORTUNE numerical listing discography. 78discography.com. 2009-12-11. Retrieved 2011-12-30.
[7] DetroitLabelsFORTUNElist.
Capitolsoulclub.homestead.com. Retrieved 2011-12-30.

8 External links
Nolan Strong bio

In 2007, The Metro Times listed The Wind at #11

in The 100 Greatest Detroit Songs list - which was the
November 11 cover story.[5]

100 Greatest Detroit Songs in Metro Times

In September 2010 Daddy Rockin' Strong: A Tribute to

Nolan Strong & the Diablos, an LP, was released by The
Wind Records, with distribution by Norton Records. The
album features 13 new Diablos covers by a cast of rock
and roll, punk and garage rock bands. It features the Dirtbombs, Reigning Sound, Wreckless Eric & Amy Rigby
and Mark Sultan, among others.

Smokey on The Diablos

Jay Johnson, the last surviving member of the Diablos, formed a new Diablos group in 2007 with vocalists: Bobby Turk, Art Howard, Mike Clark. The group,
Nolan Strongs Diablos, is booking shows in the United

The Diblos bio

Fortune Records bio

All Music Guide bio
Diablos bio
Smokey Robinson on Nolan
The Velvet Angels bio
Doo-Wopp Hall Of Fame Of America
Nolan Strong Billboard bio
Listen to Nolan Strong Blog


All releases are on the Fortune Records label, Detroit,

Michigan,[6] [7] unless otherwise noted.


Nolan Strong & the Diablos

Nolan Strong
The Velvet Angels
Members: Nolan Strong, Bob Calhoun, Cy Iverson,
Willie Hunter and J. W. Johnson


[2] Nolan Strong Biography & Awards. Billboard.com.
Retrieved 2012-09-07.
[3] Carson, David A. (2005). Noise, and Revolution: The
Birth of Detroit Rock 'n' Roll. University of Michigan
Press. ISBN 0-472-11503-0.

Buy the Nolan Strong tribute record


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