The Mellows (1) (Bronx, New-York)
Lillian Leach (Lead)
John Tiny Wilson (First Tenor)
Harold Johnson (Second Tenor & Guitar)
Norman Polecat Brown (Bass)
Lillian Leach sounds like the name of a fictitious character, maybe a femme fatale from a comic book or a relative of the Munsters. She is a real person, however, the lead singer of a vocal group that scored several hits despite only being active "for a minute" -- in the parlance of the beatniks whose mellow scene included digging the Mellows. While nobody seems to have thought of using "Smoke from Your Cigarette" as a theme for passive smoke bans in nightclubs, the loyal doo wop audience remains fond of the combo and its lead singer. The Mellows are yet another in an influx of similarly motivated harmonizers hailing from Morrisania, which sounds like a South Pacific island but is really a neighborhood in the Bronx, the same one from which originated the Chords, the Crickets, the Wrens, the Limelighters, and the Five Chimes. The original members of this 50s vocal harmony group from the Bronx, New York, USA, were female lead Lillian Leach, first tenor Johnny ‘Tiny’ Wilson, second tenor Harold Johnson and bass Norman ‘Polecat’ Brown. The Mellows never had a national R&B hit, but enjoyed a number of regional hits on the east coast on the strength of the lead voice of Leach, who possessed one of the warmest and most sensual voices in the history of doo-wop.The three boys had met as teenagers at the Morris High School in the Bronx, New York, USA. They encountered Leach at a party in 1954 when she joined their harmonizing. The revised blend was an instant hit, and the sound it produced gave the quartet their name (having learned that their original choice, the Mello-Tones, had already been employed elsewhere). They signed a contract with veteran Joe Davis on his Jay Dee label, releasing the Johnson penned ‘How Sentimental Can I Be?’. They made their biggest impact with their second release, the exquisitely romantic ‘Smoke From A Cigarette’, from early 1955.
It achieved substantial local success, and during the neo-doo-wop renaissance of the early 60s became one of the most requested oldies. The next release, another remarkable ballad, ‘I Still Care’ (1955), received modest airplay. Its b-side featured another wonderful ballad, ‘I Was A Fool To Care’. The last release for Jay Dee was ‘Yesterday’s Memories’, another under appreciated masterpiece of its time.In 1956, the Mellows moved to the Celeste label, and at this point Norman Brown left and vocal group veterans Arthur Crier and Gary Morrison were added. Commercial success at Celeste was not forthcoming, even for the outstanding ‘My Darling’. The group left the company in 1957, and completed one more recording session for Apollo in 1958 (which was left in the can) before disbanding. Johnson and Crier went on to form the Halos, who backed Curtis Lee on ‘Pretty Little Angel Eyes’ and enjoyed a hit under their own steam with ‘Nag’.