Notebook Cover

  The Hollywood Flames

By Marv Goldberg

Based on interviews with Bobby Byrd,
David Ford, John Berry, and Ray Brewster

© 2006, 2009 by Marv Goldberg

[AUTHOR'S NOTE: This isn't really a story I've looked forward to updating. Los Angeles groups were much friendlier to each other than groups from other cities and freely interchanged members. Even granting that, the story of the Hollywood Flames is more convoluted than most. Additionally, Bobby Byrd told differing stories to various researchers. I'll do the best I can. The quotes from Bobby Byrd appeared in Yesterday's Memories #3, back in September 1975. NOTE: he's not the Bobby Byrd who was in James Brown's Famous Flames.]

The Hollywood Flames existed from 1949 to 1966. In that time, they recorded under a bewildering variety of names, for a bewildering number of labels, with a bewildering cast of personnel.

They began as the Flames in 1949. Bobby Byrd said:

The Flames originated in 1949, when we were all in our teens. We met at the Largo Theater in Watts [a section of Los Angeles] at a talent show given by the theater's owner, which brought together many people from various high schools in Los Angeles. There were 10-15 lead singers there so the owner suggested that we get together to form several groups. This got the ball rolling.

The first one I got for the new group was a tenor, David Ford. I had a friend who could sing harmony pretty well. His name was Willie Ray Rockwell (who sang second tenor); I am sorry to say that he has since died in an automobile accident. I could sing tenor, baritone, or bass, but usually sang bass. We were a trio for a while and then decided we wanted a fourth voice. I had another friend, Curlee Dinkins, who sang baritone and knew harmony fairly well. (When I sang lead, Curlee would move down to bass.)

We learned quickly; we began to sound pretty good. By this time we needed money to live so we went to a club we had heard about, the Barrelhouse, to audition. We were hired to entertain there and we also worked amateur shows for a while. (At this time Johnny Otis was the owner of the Barrelhouse.) We started winning a few prizes here and there and were offered a few little jobs, making maybe five dollars each.

So, according to Bobby, the initial group was David Ford (first tenor), Willie Ray Rockwell (second tenor), Curlee Dinkins (baritone/bass), and Bobby Byrd (bass, baritone, tenor). However, it looks like the second tenor spot was the initial revolving door: a particular recording could have had Willie Ray Rockwell (try saying that three times fast), Leon Hughes, or Clyde "Thin Man" Tillis.

Please Tell Me Now Their first recordings, as the Flames, were made for John Blackburn's Selective label: "Please Tell Me Now" and "Young Girl," both led by Bobby, were released in January 1950. For some reason, "Please Tell Me Now" was re-released with "See See Rider" (led by David Ford) as the flip.

Peppy Prince In March 1950, Selective issued "Sugar Man (Parts 1 and 2)," by Peppy Prince and His Sugar Men. The "Sugar Men" were Prince's band; it's the Flames doing the vocals. Preston "Peppy" Prince had recently been with the Red Caps for a while; he'd later head the Peppy Prince Orchestra on Million Dollar.

Sherman Williams It took the Flames a year and a half to have another recording. By late 1951, they'd hooked up with alto sax player Sherman Williams, who owned the Unique label. In November 1951, Unique released "Dividend Blues" and "W-I-N-E" (both led by Bobby) by the "Hollywood's Four Flames."

Art Rupe Sherman Williams had some kind of deal going with Art Rupe, owner of Specialty Records and its Fidelity subsidiary. Thus, several Unique masters found their way to Rupe's labels. In November 1951, "W-I-N-E" was also released on Fidelity (as by the "Four Flames"), but this time the flip was the David Ford-led "Tabarin." Both sides got poor reviews (Billboard characterized "Tabarin" as "a rather feeble ballad").


Murry Wilson Tabor Inn The song "Tabarin" was written by Murry [sic] Wilson, father of the Beach Boys. Not only did the Hollywood Four Flames release it in November 1951, but so did Bob Williams, singing with the Red Callender Orchestra (as "Tabor Inn" - Federal 12049).

But what does "tabarin" mean? You'd think it meant "tavern" by the way it's used in the song, but it doesn't. The word "tabarin" is the diminutive of "tabard," a short cloak. The most famous snake oil salesman in early 17th Century Paris nicknamed himself "Tabarin," presumably because he wore that kind of cloak. Therefore, the word has also become the French term for a "charlatan" or a seller of quack medicines. Since Tabarin put on a show along with his medicinal sales, the word came to be associated with street theater and then with cabarets.

By the first quarter of the 20th Century, "Bal Tabarin" was the name of many cabarets in the Montmartre section of Paris ("bal" is French for "ball"). Although the formal term for ballroom is "salle de bal," it's possible that "bal" is used as an abbreviation. "La Duchessa del Bal Tabarin" was a 1917 Italian opera.

ad for Bal Tabarin After World War I, the name was exported to the U.S. There was a New York nightclub called "Bal Tabarin," owned by singer Ted Lewis. A place by the same name was San Francisco's most famous nightclub (lasting until at least the mid-40s). A Lake Tahoe (Nevada) Bal Tabarin operated from 1955-60. Closer to home, the Bal Tabarin in Gardena (a suburb of Los Angeles) was around, at 155th and Western, from at least late 1936 through 1950.

The 1939 movie "Midnight" (Claudette Colbert & Don Ameche), mentions a "Bal Tabarin" in Paris. There were also several movies with the word in the title: "L'Héritier du Bal Tabarin" ("The Heir Of Bal Tabarin" - 1933; French); "Une Nuit à Tabarin" ("One Night At The Tabarin" - 1947; French); "Tabarin" (1958; French-Italian); and "La Reina del Tabarín" ("The Queen Of The Tabarin" - 1960; Spanish-French).

There was even a 1952 American movie called "Bal Tabarin" (Republic Pictures) starring the ever-popular Muriel Lawrence and William Ching. It's a crime melodrama set in the Bal Tabarin cabaret in Paris.

On top of this, there's a "Tabarin Peninsula" in Antarctica (don't ask!).

So to answer the question, "Tabarin" was a fairly popular name for a cabaret or nightclub in the first half of the 20th Century.


In December 1951, Fidelity issued "The Bounce" by the Sherman Williams Orchestra, with a vocal on Part 2 by the Four Flames. These were also Unique masters.

ad for Wheel Of Fortune A month later, Specialty released a cover version of "The Wheel Of Fortune" (led by David Ford). Originally a 1951 RCA recording by Johnny Heartman, versions by Sunny Gale, Bobby, Wayne, and Kay Starr were also beginning to take off. It's flip was "Later," led by Willie Ray Rockwell. Once again these Unique masters were billed as the Four Flames.

4 Flames Then it was back to the "Hollywood's Four Flames," when "Tabarin" was released on Unique, this time with the Bobby Byrd-led "Cryin' For My Baby" as the flip. Note that "Tabarin" wasn't the same master as the one on Fidelity, but it did come from the same session. (For example, on Fidelity, the lyrics are "we were dancing to a starlight dream"; on Unique, it's "we were dancing in a starlight dream.) The label claims that the personnel were David Ford, Bobby Byrd, Curlee Dinkins, and Clyde Tillis.

In April, the final Unique recordings were issued: "Please Say I'm Wrong" (led by David Ford), backed with "The Masquerade Is Over" (fronted by Curlee Dinkins). This time, the label credited the "Hollywood Four Flames."

ad for I'll Always Be A Fool ad for Baby Please After this, the Hollywood Four Flames broke with both Unique and Specialty, turning to John Dolphin's Recorded In Hollywood label. There were two releases in August of 1952: "I'll Always Be A Fool" (David Ford)/"She's Got Something" (Bobby Byrd) and "Young Girl" (Bobby)/"Baby Please." "Young Girl" was a re-recording of the Selective cut. I was never really sure who the lead on "Baby Please" is. It's totally unlike any other voice you hear on a Hollywood Flames record. The first time I heard it, I was ready to write it off as some other group that Dolphin stuck on the back of a Flames record, but at the very end you can hear the unmistakable voice of Bobby Byrd. My wild guess was that it's Willie Ray Rockwell doing lead. Fortunately, I got Leon Hughes to take a listen, and he agreed that it was Willie Ray.

About the same time as the first Recorded In Hollywood disc, there was a release on Otis and Leon René's Spin label. Credited to the Flames, the sides were: "Strange Land Blues" (led by Willie Ray Rockwell) and a remake of "Cryin' For My Baby" (Bobby).

ad for Glory Of Love later ad for I'll Always Be A Fool In September, Dolphin reissued "Young Girl," but this time it had "The Glory Of Love" on the flip. Led by David Ford, the recitation was performed by Robin "King" Bruin a DJ on both KGFJ and KWKW (which originated from the window of John Dolphin's record store).

Bobby Byrd claimed that the group was relatively stable during this period:

We recorded for several labels with the same members (Selective, Unique, Specialty, John Dolphin's Recorded in Hollywood, and Spin).

However, since the Unique label mentions Clyde Tillis and not Willie Ray Rockwell, that isn't really an accurate statement. On the other hand, with all the recording and switching record companies, a few things are bound to get lost in the shuffle.

And then, the Flames hooked up with Leo and Eddie Mesner's Aladdin Records (and its 7-11 subsidiary):

Flames - ca. 52 Willie Ray Rockwell In 1953 we went to Aladdin Records and got two new members. Willie Ray Rockwell had left to sing with the Lamplighters; his place was taken first by Leon Hughes, who later sang with the Coasters, and then by Gaynel Hodge, a second tenor who had been singing with a new group, the Platters. Curlee Dinkins also left (although he was to return many times) and was replaced by Curtis Williams. This is a name which has a familiar ring to most people. He is the same artist who started the Penguins and also wrote "Earth Angel." (I know because he wrote most of it at my house.) Curtis was a member of the Flames before he wrote "Earth Angel." In fact, he tried to get us to record it, but we never did.

However, nothing in Los Angeles is easy and Gaynel Hodge has said: "we [he and Curtis] were 'duped' into it by Bobby Day and David Ford, who promised a better career than the one we seemed to be enjoying as the Flamingos." (When Gaynel says the "Flamingos," he's talking about the original name of the Platters. Both Gaynel and Curtis were charter members. Curtis left them for the Flames, but Gaynel seems to have bounced back and forth.)

Patty Anne Eddie Mesner & Patty Anne So it looks like the Aladdin/7-11 sides (on which they were [almost] always called the Flames again) were done with David Ford, Bobby Byrd, Leon Hughes, and Curtis Williams. They started their Aladdin career in December 1952 by backing up Patty Anne (the step-daughter of owner Eddie Mesner, whose name is also seen as "Patti Anne"). The tunes were "My Heart Is Free Again" and "Midnight" (a cover of the Margie Day/Griffin Brothers song).

ad for Gomen Nasai Their next sides were issued on Aladdin's 7-11 subsidiary in March 1953: "Volcano" and "Gomen Nasai" (both led by David). On this record they're billed (for unknown reasons) as the "Jets."

The next 7-11 release was July's "Keep On Smiling" (David)/"Baby, Baby, Baby" (Bobby). The following month saw "Together"/"Baby, Pretty Baby" (both led by Bobby). That same month they did another backup to Patty Anne: "Sorrowful Heart" (the flip was a Patty Anne solo). These were all issued as by the Flames.

Then it was time to wave goodbye to Aladdin (for a while), as they headed off to Jack Lauderdale's Swing Time label. By this time, Gaynel Hodge had replaced Leon Hughes. (Gaynel had left the Platters for good; he'd only been on their first session in September 1953.) On Swing Time, they released "Let's Talk It Over" (David), backed with "I Know" (led by Gaynel) in December 1953. Note that this record was a milestone in the career of the Flames: it was the first time they were credited as the "Hollywood Flames."

the Question label There was a second release on Swing Time in February 1954, and it's a mess. One side is "Go And Get Some More" (clearly led by Bobby Byrd). The flip, however, is "Another Soldier Gone," a gospel song originally on Drummond (a Detroit label) by the Violinaires. Jack Lauderdale was buying up masters all over the place (including some by Detroit's Serenaders) and "Another Soldier Gone" seems to be an alternate take by the Violinaires; it certainly isn't the Flames. To make matters more confusing, both sides are credited to the "Question Marks" (or, to be more accurate, the "? Marks"). And to pile on even more confusion, the disc was also released on the Question label (same data on each side); no one seems to know anything about this pressing.

The Hollywood Flames then returned to John Dolphin, who now owned the Lucky label. In March 1954, they released the pretty "One Night With A Fool" (David)/"Ride Helen Ride" (Bobby).

In May, Aladdin issued a couple of their older masters (once again as the "Jets"): "I'll Hide My Tears" (David; another song written by Murry Wilson)/"Got A Little Shadow" (Bobby).

The next Lucky release (July 1954) was "Peggy" (Gaynel)/"Ooh La La" (David and Bobby duet lead). In September, Lucky issued "I Know" and "Let's Talk It Over," which John Dolphin had purchased from Swing Time. Since "I Know" had been a local hit, Dolphin was trying for national distribution. Also released in September was "Fare Thee Well" (David) and "Clickety Clack I'm Leaving" (David and Bobby in a duet lead). These were on Money, another Dolphin label. I don't know if the refrain is any older than this, but "Fare thee, honey, fare thee well" came straight from Leadbelly's "The Titanic" ("fare thee, Titanic, fare thee well"), written in 1912, but not put on record until 1948.

"Ooh La La" started making some local noise, and, on September 4, the trade papers announced that Decca had signed the Hollywood Flames. They had acquired the group from John Dolphin, who was listed as the owner of Lucky Records. They not only got the Flames, they picked up four of the Lucky masters too: "Peggy," "Ooh La La," "Let's Talk It Over," and "I Know." Decca issued "Peggy" and "Oooh-La La" (note Decca's spelling) in October.

Note that "Peggy" and "Ooh La La" also turned up on a 10-inch Hollywood LP called Note that "Peggy" and "Ooh La La" also turned up on a Hollywood LP called Cat Music For Teenagers. The album also contained tracks by Joe Houston, Chuck Higgins, Maurice Simon, Memo Mata, and the Jimmy Wright Band. I can't figure out a date for this, but the term "cat music" only seemed to be used in 1954 and 1955 (and was the source of the name of Atlantic's Cat label).. The album also contained tracks by Joe Houston, Chuck Higgins, Maurice Simon, Memo Mata, and the Jimmy Wright Band. I can't be sure of a date for this, but the term "cat music" only seemed to be used in 1954 and 1955 (and was the source of the name of Atlantic's Cat label). The Hollywood LPs seem to have been custom pressings by Big Town Records. Probably intended as promotional materials, they may not have been packaged in sleeves.

In January 1955, Decca released the other two masters they'd purchased: "Let's Talk It Over" and "I Know." There was no more talk of the Hollywood Flames on Decca after this. I think that's significant and I think I know why. I'll talk more about it in a bit.

Leo Diamond Aladdin Records then released "Shtiggy Boom" in February 1955. This was another Patty Anne tune, on which she's backed by a group (the flip, "Baby, Baby, I'm In Love With You" was a Patty Anne solo). "Shtiggy Boom" had been recorded that month as a cover of Leo Diamond's original on RCA (a harmonica instrumental). Probably the first vocal version was recorded by the Nuggets, on Capitol, on February 2.) There were also versions by the Bill Johnson Quartet, the Dooley Sisters (backed up by the Jac-O-Lacs), and Joe Houston (with vocal by the uncredited Platters). We've always assumed that Patty Anne's uncredited backup group was the Flames. But was it? I've come to doubt it. The entire contribution by the group was to chant "Shtiggy Boom, Shtiggy Boom" throughout the song. It's possible that some of the Flames were there, but, as I hope to show below, not all of them.

That same month Dolphin released another Hollywood Flames cut on Money: "Emily" (led by Gaynel). It had been recorded in September 1954, and, for reasons that are now becoming clear to me (I hope), he billed them as the "Turks."

Here's what I wrote in my Turks article:

On September 4, 1954, the Hollywood Flames (with Gaynel Hodge, David Ford, Curlee Dinkins, and Bobby Byrd) recorded at least four songs for John Dolphin: "Fare Thee Well," "Clickety Clack I'm Leaving," "Emily," and "Wagon Wheels." The first two of these were released as the Hollywood Flames, and needn't concern us any further.

It's the other two songs that would make life more confusing for us all. [Notice that Curtis Williams is gone from the Hollywood Flames. He'd been booted out of the group for being "too independent," according to Gaynel. But singers didn't stay quiet long in L.A. Soon, Curtis was back, with his new group, the Penguins, poised on the brink of the authorship war over "Earth Angel."]

"Emily" (with Gaynel in the lead) was first released in February 1955 on Dolphin's Money label. However, the name on the label wasn't the Hollywood Flames, but the "Turks" (even more confusing, the flip side was "When I Return," by the [West Coast] Turbans).

Why the Turks? It wasn't a tune by anyone called the Turks, it was a tune by the Hollywood Flames. The short answer is "I simply don't know." (The long answer is suspiciously similar.) As far as the name goes, the best evidence is that Dolphin simply made it up. My educated guess is that, sometime between the September 1954 session and the end of the year, the Hollywood Flames had ceased to exist.

Bobby Byrd had this to say about the spate of recording during 1952 through 1955 (unfortunately, some of it is isn't really correct):

On the next several labels we were on (Aladdin, Lucky, Swing Time, Decca, Hollywood, Money) the group was David Ford (first tenor), Gaynel Hodge (second tenor), Bobby Byrd (bass), and in the beginning either Curtis Williams or Curlee Dinkins (whichever baritone happened to be around). Curtis left after about a year to form the Penguins and was replaced by Clyde "Thin Man" Tillis (second tenor and baritone) but we tried to have Curtis on the sessions with us whenever the Penguins weren't busy. "Thin Man" was quite a showman - a real comedian. Now the group had singers, dancers and comedians - a different type of group. We were very popular at this time (about 1955) all over Los Angeles, but we just didn't have a hit record.

The record companies we recorded for kept changing our name but it was always the same group although we were called the Flames, Four Flames, Hollywood Four Flames, Hollywood Flames, Jets, Tangiers, Ebbtides, and Satellites. (The name "Jets" was given to us by Eddie Mesner of Aladdin.)


Starting in 1955, a lot of odd things happened. They weren't evident to me when I did the original interviews with Bobby Byrd and David Ford, so I never asked about them. Since both are now deceased, it seems likely that much of this section will have to remain based on educated guesses. Fortunately, I have more resources available to me now than I did in the 70s, when the interviews were done.

Here's the point of the speculation: although neither Bobby Byrd nor David Ford mentioned it, I believe that by the end of 1954, the Hollywood Flames had ceased to exist, breaking up for over a year and a half. As far as I can tell, at that time, the Hollywood Flames were: David Ford, Bobby Byrd, Gaynel Hodge, and Curlee Dinkins. My conclusion is based on several facts.


And let's go right into another mystery: The Aladdin files list "So Alone"/"Flame Mambo" [possibly "Flam Mambo"] as #3349. That would mean a release date of October 1956. Bobby Byrd remembered singing lead on "So Alone," and the flip has the guys backing Patty Anne again. The only trouble is, no one's ever seen the record. I don't doubt that the recordings were real, but they were probably pulled at the last moment for some reason.

The next time I know that Bobby Byrd and David Ford were together is in the Ebbtides on Specialty; that session was held in September 1956. The single record that resulted was "The Sound Of Your Voice" (led by David and sounding something like the Four Lads), coupled with "My Confession" (Bobby; a re-recording of the unreleased Cash master that was originally waxed in January of that year). The sides were issued in November. Is anyone out there following this? (Heck, is anyone in here following this?)

And now it starts to get complicated.

Bippin' And Boppin' Let's start with "Robert Byrd & His Birdies": "Bippin' And Boppin' (Over You)"/"Strawberry Stomp" from late 1956. "Bippin' And Boppin" is a Bobby Byrd solo and "Strawberry Stomp" is actually an instrumental by Gil Bernal that had originally been released as Spark 106 in the summer of 1954. The Spark disc is the only record in that series and the label design has a different color than regular Sparks. Presumably Lester Sill (who'd been Spark's sales manager) had something to do with it; Leiber and Stoller didn't. The tunes were also issued on Jamie in February 1957 (as "Robert Byrd & Orchestra").

By 1957, the guys had hooked up with Leon René's Class Records. The group was now David Ford, Bobby Byrd, Curlee Dinkins, and Earl Nelson. However, Leon René decided to break Bobby Byrd off from the Flames and make a soloist out of him. [If it were only that simple!] The Flames (now known as the "Satellites") continued to back up Bobby Byrd (now known as "Bobby Day") on Class (for a while, on some of the songs), and he kept singing with them (as the Hollywood Flames) on Ebb. As he said:

The Satellites" was suggested by the president of Class Records - Googie René, Leon René's son [actually, Leon was the owner]. He also thought up my other name, "Bobby Day."

The first Bobby Day record was "Come Seven"/"So Long Baby," released in March 1957. On the top side, there's no group at all, just someone whistling. The flip has a group, but it's the Dread Chorus, probably not containing any of the Flames.

The following month, the group recorded as "Earl Nelson & the Pelicans" for Class: "I Bow To You" (led by Earl) and "Oh Gee, Oh Golly" (the duet lead of Earl and the returning Curtis Williams).

Sheet music for Little Bitty Pretty One ad for Little Bitty Pretty One In July, Bobby Day, backed by the Satellites, had "Little Bitty Pretty One" (which probably would have been a big hit, but he was out-done by Thurston Harris's cover version). The flip was "When The Swallows Come Back To Capistrano" (a song that made sense to record; Leon René owned the label and he'd written the tune way back in 1940). Bobby said:

The Satellites Bobby Day Right before I recorded "Little Bitty Pretty One," I left the Flames to record on my own. However, I continued to use them as my backup group, the Satellites. There was only one other record that I recorded as a part of the Flames and that was "Buzz-Buzz-Buzz." That was my song and Earl Nelson sang lead (also on that session were David Ford and Curlee Dinkins). I wrote and arranged the tune and the financing came from John Dolphin. Dolphin sold the song to Lee Rupe, who was the ex-wife of Specialty Records' Art Rupe and the owner of Ebb Records.

When the song became a hit, I found out I didn't have any publishing rights and only half the writer credit. Dolphin admitted he owed me $6000, but he was killed before I could get any of it. This is just one of the things youngsters go through when they don't have any knowledge of law or contracts.

Bob & Earl #1 Bob & Earl #2 Even though Earl Nelson was singing with the Hollywood Flames and Bobby Day was both singing with them and on his own, the two of them paired to make a few Bob & Earl records (all other Bob & Earl releases had Bobby Relf in place of Bobby Day). The records with Bobby Day, all on Class, were:

            That's My Desire/You Made A Boo-Boo - August 1957
            Gee Whiz/When She Walks - June 1958
            Sweet Pea/Chains Of Love - June 1958
            That's My Desire/You Made A Boo-Boo - March 1959

ad for the whole mess There was a period during which the Hollywood Flames, the Satellites, Bobby Day, and Bob & Earl could "all" be booked on the same show. Who knows what the audience suspected? According to Bobby Byrd, the Hollywood Flames appeared at the Apollo Theater (New York), the Howard Theater (Washington, D.C.), the Lincoln Theater (Los Angeles), and theaters in Burbank, San Bernadino, Long Beach, Pomona, San Diego, Glendale, Pasadena, Santa Ana, and Alhambra.

ad for Buzz-Buzz-Buzz So as not to be lost in the Bobby Day shuffle, the Hollywood Flames signed with Ebb Records, owned by Lee Rupe (ex-wife of Specialty's Art Rupe). The first thing that they did there (in October 1957) was a tune Bobby had written: "Buzz-Buzz-Buzz" (led by Earl Nelson). Finally, after recording for almost eight years, the Hollywood Flames had a real hit. The flip, also led by Earl, was "Crazy." However, "Crazy" wasn't by the Hollywood Flames at all; it was a 1955 Cash cut by the Voices. (I have no idea how Ebb came up with that one.) "Buzz-Buzz-Buzz" was the last cut on which Bobby Byrd sang with the Hollywood Flames (although they continued to back him up as the Satellites).

The Colts/Fortunes The bass they got to replace Bobby Byrd was Don Wyatt. He'd been with the Colts late in their career (they'd change their name to the Fortunes when they broke away from Buck Ram and started recording for Decca). He seems to have been singing with both the Colts/Fortunes and the Hollywood Flames at the same time: he's on the Fortunes' December 11, 1957 Decca session and also on the Flames' March 15, 1958 session, at which they recorded "Frankenstein's Den."

In November, Class released "Beep-Beep-Beep," by Bobby Day & the Satellites. The flip was the solo "Darling, If I Had You." Then, in December, Class issued the Bobby Day solos, "Honeysuckle Baby"/"Sweet Little Thing."

Prentice Moreland ad for A Little Bird 1958 started off with two Ebb releases by the Hollywood Flames: "Give Me Back My Heart" (led by David)/"A Little Bird" (Earl) came out in January; "Strollin' On The Beach" (Earl)/ "Frankenstein's Den" (Don Wyatt and Clyde Tillis). The group on "Frankenstein's Den" was David Ford, Earl Nelson, Clyde Tillis, Don Wyatt, and the "Perennial Favorite To Be With A Group For A Very Short Time": high tenor Prentice Moreland.

A mystery record is "Two Little Bees"/"It's Love." They were intended to be released as Ebb 143 in February 1958, but it's unclear if it ever was. Both sides are led by Earl Nelson.

On February 7, they were back at the Apollo Theater, along with Frankie Lymon, the Playmates, the Rays, the El Dorados, Jimmy Reed, and John Lee Hooker.

In March, the Hollywood Flames were used to back up Jody Jefferson (as the Tangiers) on his Class recording of "Don't Try." All I hear on the flip, "School Days Will Be Over," is a girl group and a duet lead (Jody Jefferson and ??), although Bobby Byrd said:

The Flames backed up Joe Jefferson (another early member of the Platters) on "Don't Try"/"School Days Will Be Over" which was released as the Tangiers on Class. Joe was never a member of the group.

It's possible that he just didn't remember about "School Days Will Be Over," since what I did was to send him a list of all the records I could think of that he and/or the Hollywood Flames could possibly be on. He marked both sides of that one as being led by Joe (Jody) Jefferson. However, when I look at the list now, he didn't actually say that the Flames were on it. Never having heard it at the time, I didn't ask further.

Also in March, Bobby Day and the Satellites had "Little Turtle Dove" (they're not on the flip, the solo "Saving My Life For You"). Finally, in May 1958, Bobby had his very own hit (backed by the Flames), "Rockin' Robin." The flip was "Over And Over," which Thurston Harris once again covered. These are probably the last sides that paired Bobby and the Flames.

Bobby Day Bobby Day in the 60s Several months later, I had another big hit with "Rockin' Robin." The Flames [Satellites] were behind me on this one too: David Ford, Earl Nelson and Curtis Williams. Curtis had left the Penguins by this time and was once again singing on and off with the Flames. The Flames were now recording for two labels - Ebb (without me) and Class (behind me). I also recorded several duets with Earl Nelson, as "Bob and Earl." The Flames weren't on these. Curlee, Curtis, and Clyde were in and out of the group so much that it's hard to keep track of them. [You see why I was reluctant to take this on? He couldn't even keep it straight.]

Hollywood Flames - 1958 Hollywood Flames - 1958 June 1958 saw the release of "Chains Of Love" by the "Hollywood Flames" on Ebb. This is actually a Bobby Byrd and Earl Nelson duet that had been recorded back in October 1957. It's the same song (but not the same master) as "Chains Of Love" by Bob & Earl, issued that same month on Class. Talk about confusing your audience! It was backed with a re-recording of 1953's "Let's Talk It Over" (led by David Ford). The next month, the group, as the "Satelittes" [sic] (without Bobby Day), released "Heavenly Angel" (led by Curtis Williams) and "You Ain't Sayin' Nothin'" (Earl, leading a Coasters/Olympics genre tune) on Class (it was reissued on Malynn, later that year).

Hollywood Flames - late 1958 The Hollywood Flames closed out 1958 with two releases on Ebb: October's "I'll Get By"/"A Star Fell" and November's "I'll Be Seeing You"/"Just For You." All were led by Earl. The Bobby Day entry for December was "The Bluebird, The Buzzard, And The Oriole," backed with "Alone Too Long." These have a generic-sounding group; it isn't the Hollywood Flames/Satellites.

By this time, Earl Nelson had pretty much replaced David Ford as the lead singer of the group, although, as far as I know, there was never a Hollywood Flames record on which David wasn't present.

January 1959 saw a re-release of Bobby Byrd & the Crescendos' "Sweet Dreams" on Atlantic. This time it had "I'll Be Seeing You" as the flip.

ad for Much Too Much The final Ebb sides were all released in 1959. With the exception of "Hawaiian Dream" (David), they were all led by Earl Nelson. Note that "Much Too Much" was written by Jules Castron, the shadowy third voice in the Voices back in 1955. The tunes were:

            So Good/There Is Something On Your Mind - February 1959
            Now That You're Gone/Hawaiian Dream - May 1959
            Much Too Much/In The Dark - June 1959

The original release of "There Is Something On Your Mind" actually has the otherwise-unreleased "Ooh Baby Ooh" as the track. The labels are exactly the same, but the numbers in the wax are different: 27257 for "Ooh Baby Ooh" and 27795 for "There Is Something On Your Mind". I imagine there was a pressing plant error that was discovered after some records were shipped. The disc was then re-pressed with the correct master.

According to David Ford, the basic Ebb group consisted of David Ford (tenor), Earl Nelson (tenor), Curtis Williams (baritone), and Clyde Tillis (baritone). (This makes no mention, however of Don Wyatt, who wasn't there all that long anyway.) Dave also said that Jesse Belvin can be heard in the background of many of the Ebb sides, although he was never a member of the group.

On August 4, they appeared at the Apollo, as part of a Dr. Jive show. Others on the show were Larry Williams, the Cadillacs, Little Anthony & the Imperials, the Skyliners, Frankie Lymon, the Clintonian Cubs, and Eugene Church.

After this, both Curtis Williams and Clyde Tillis quit. The new members were tenor Eddie Williams (former lead of the Aladdins) and baritone Ray Brewster. (Ray had been in the Penguins in 1956 and both Eddie and Ray had been in the later Colts with Don Wyatt.) Then, the whole group picked up and moved to New York, after securing a contract with Atlantic Records' Atco subsidiary. (While the personnel changes won't get any easier, the recordings sure will.)

ad for Every Day, Every Way On November 4, 1959, they had their first Atco session, which resulted in three songs: "Every Day, Every Way" (led by Earl Nelson, along with Eddie Williams), "If I Thought You Needed Me" (fronted by Eddie Williams), and "This Heart Of Mine." The first two became their initial Atco release, in December. Atco arranged for them to appear at the Apollo Theater to push the record (the week of December 25). Others on the show were: Lloyd Price, Tarheel Slim & Little Ann, and the 5 Keys.

Hollywood Flames - 1960 Hollywood Flames - 1960 They were back at the Apollo on February 19, 1960 for another Dr. Jive show. This time they shared the stage with Johnny Nash, the Flamingos, Nappy Brown, Tiny Topsy, the Centurians, Eugene Church, Barrett Strong, Jean Sampson, and the Fidelitys.

April 1960's Atco entry was "Ball And Chain" (led by Earl)/"I Found A Boy." (While David Ford incorrectly recalled that "I Found A Boy" was led by Earl also, it turns out to be fronted by a female voice; David never mentioned that there was ever a girl on a Hollywood Flames record!) In July, they did "Devil Or Angel" (Eddie Williams), coupled with "Do You Ever Think Of Me" (a duet lead between the girl and, Eddie Williams). All four songs had been recorded on March 11. According to Ray Brewster: "The woman was only there for that one session and I never knew who she was or saw her again."

Hollywood Flames - late 1960 On the final Atco session (held September 15, 1960), Curtis Williams returned, replacing Earl Nelson. (Earl won't be back; that's one less name to keep track of.) The results were "Money Honey" (Eddie Williams) and "My Heart's On Fire" (Curtis and David). Note that Earl Nelson continued to be a part of Bob & Earl throughout the 60s. He went on to record as "Jackie Lee," on Mirwood, in the mid-60s, having a hit with "The Duck" (the Jackie Lee on Swan was a white piano player).

Donald Height ad for Gee After that, the Flames made one record for Chess. At this time the group consisted of a tenor (David Ford) and three baritones: Curtis Williams, Ray Brewster and new member Donald Height, who had replaced Eddie Williams (another singer permanently gone). Released in March 1961, both "Gee" and "Yes They Do" were led by Donald Height. After this session, Ray Brewster left to sing with the Cadillacs. (As both Ray Brewster and "Bobby Ray" he was on their Capitol and Arctic sides.)

John Berry Enter tenor John Berry (lead of the Rainbows on "Mary Lee"). He was now a songwriter living in New York City and David Ford approached him for material. They got to know each other and John ended up joining the Hollywood Flames to replace Ray Brewster. John became sole or part writer of most of the remaining Flames' songs.

On October 11, 1961, they went back to Atco for one more session. They recorded three songs, but all remain unreleased: "Faith Is The Word," "Lights Out," and "Where Did I Go Wrong."

On February 23, 1962, they were part of a Hal Jackson oldies show at the Apollo. Others on the bill were the Clovers, the Cadillacs (with Ray Brewster), the Imperials, Charlie & Ray, the Charts, the Kodoks, the Turbans, Tiny Topsy, and the Reuben Phillips Orchestra. The Apollo's notes for the show indicate that they "Have added girl. Looked and sounded good." Could this have been the same woman who'd been lead on "I Found A Boy"? We'll probably never know.

In 1962, they (David Ford, John Berry, Donald Height, and Curtis Williams) recorded "Believe In Me" (led by Donald Height), "I Can't Get A Hit Record" (Donald), and "Elizabeth" (Curtis) for Aaron "Goldie" Goldmark, a New York songwriter/publisher. "Believe In Me"/"Elizabeth" (a song about Elizabeth Taylor that Billboard rated "excellent") were released on Goldmark's own Goldie label in July.

Goldmark leased all these sides to Phil Landwehr's Coronet Records (another New York company; it was a subsidiary of Premier Records). "Believe In Me," backed with "I Can't Get A Hit Record," was released on a Coronet single in late 1962 or early 1963. A budget Coronet album (were there any other kind?), with an August 1963 date in the wax, credits the three named sides to "Charlie Francis and his group." ["Charlie Francis" was one of the all-purpose names used by Coronet and Premier for any artist whom they wanted to disguise for some reason.] A fourth "Charlie Francis" tune, called "Mountain Of A Man," was actually by some other group.)

Tony Middleton ad for Drop Me A Line After this, Donald Height and Curtis Williams left. By the time the dust settled, the new Flames were: David Ford (tenor), John Berry (tenor), Reggie Jackson (first tenor and baritone), and Tony Middleton (yes, the Tony Middleton who had been the lead of the Willows). This group recorded two songs for Goldmark: "Letter To My Love" (led by John Berry) and "Drop Me A Line" (led by Tony Middleton, doing his best Brook Benton imitation). Goldmark placed the tunes with Vee-Jay, where they were released in April 1963. Tony Middleton was only present for the one session, but said he'd stay if the record took off (it didn't).

By 1965, the Hollywood Flames were near the end of their career. January 1, 1965 found them at an oldies show at the Apollo Theater along with Sonny Til & the Orioles, the 5 Keys, the Solitaires, the Bobbettes, Charlie & Ray, Screamin' Jay Hawkins, the Clovers, Jackie & the Starlites, and Paul Winley.

Juggy Murray The Hollywood Flames' final records were made for Juggy Murray's Symbol label, a subsidiary of Sue Records. The group on these was: David Ford (tenor), John Berry (tenor), George Watson (second tenor), and Joe Thompson (baritone/bass). "Dance Senorita" and "Annie Don't Love Me No More" were both led by George Watson and came out in late 1965. The final Flames record was "I'm Coming Home" (George Watson)/"I'm Gonna Stand By You" (John Berry), released April 1966.

In spite of everything winding down, David Ford actually had two simultaneous Hollywood Flames groups! The group he used for appearances had Reggie Jackson (first tenor, second tenor, baritone) and two girls, Toni and Jean, whose last names he couldn't remember.

In 1967 The Hollywood Flames broke up for good as Dave returned to California. Thus ended the 18-year history of one of the most famous West Coast groups.

So many people sang with the Flames over the years that it's difficult to keep track of them all. Of the original four (David Ford, Bobby Byrd, Curlee Dinkins, and Willie Ray Rockwell), only Curlee is still alive (and performing), as are Gaynel Hodge, Tony Middleton, and John Berry (this was written in November 2006). Curtis Williams is deceased and Earl Nelson passed away on July 12, 2008 after years of deteriorating health. Gaynel Hodge passed away on June 2, 2020 in Holland. I don't know about any of the others.

Considering the length of time the Hollywood Flames were around, they probably should have had a greater impact on the music scene. Only "Buzz-Buzz-Buzz" and "Rockin' Robin" were hits, but they were biggies.

Special thanks to Victor Pearlin, Frank Gengaro, Neil Hirsch, Mark Lamarr, and Billy Vera. Ads are from Galen Gart's First Pressings series. Discography mainly from Ferdie Gonzalez and Disco-File.


113 Please Tell Me Now (BB)/Young Girl (BB) - 1/50
113 Please Tell Me Now (BB)/See See Rider (DF) - 50
118 Sugar Man, Part 1/Sugar Man, Part 2 - Peppy Prince & His Sugar Men (voc: Flames) - 3/50

UNIQUE (Hollywood's Four Flames)
003 Dividend Blues (BB)/W-I-N-E (BB) - 11/51

FIDELITY (Four Flames; all Unique masters)
3001 Tabarin (DF)/W-I-N-E (BB) - 11/51
3002 The Bounce (Pt 1)/The Bounce (Pt 2) - Sherman Williams Orchestra (voc: 4 Flames) - 12/51

SPECIALTY (Four Flames; Unique masters)
423 The Wheel Of Fortune (DF)/Later (WR) - 1/52

UNIQUE (Hollywood Four Flames)
005 Tabarin (DF)/Cryin' For My Baby (BB) - 1/52   (Hollywood's Four Flames)
015 Please Say I'm Wrong (DF)/The Masquerade Is Over (CD) - ca. 4/52   (Hollywood Four Flames)

RECORDED IN HOLLYWOOD (Hollywood Four Flames)
164 I'll Always Be A Fool (DF)/She's Got Something (BB) - 8/52
165 Young Girl (BB) /Baby Please (WR/BB) - 8/52
            ("Young Girl" is a different version than Selective)

SPIN (Flames)
101 Strange Land Blues (WR)/Cryin' For My Baby (BB) - ca. 8/52
            ("Cryin' For My Baby" is a different version than Unique)

RECORDED IN HOLLYWOOD (Hollywood Four Flames)
165 Young Girl (BB)/The Glory Of Love (DF; recitation by DJ Robin "King" Bruin) - 9/52

ALADDIN (Patty Anne [Mesner] & the Flames)
3162 My Heart Is Free Again (PA)/Midnight (PA) - 12/52

7-11 (Flames & Jets)
2102 Volcano (DF)/Gomen Nasai (DF) [Jets] - 3/53
2106 Keep On Smiling (DF)/Baby, Baby, Baby (BB) [Flames] - 7/53
2107 Together (BB)/Baby, Pretty Baby (BB) [Flames] - 8/53

ALADDIN (Patti Anne, backed up by the uncredited Flames)
3198 Sorrowful Heart (PA)/[Beginning To Miss You - Patti Anne] - 8/53

      Let's Talk It Over (DF)
      Tears Keep Tumbling Down (ALL)

SWING TIME (Hollywood Flames & Question Marks)
345 Let's Talk It Over (DF)/I Know (GH) - Hollywood Flames - 12/53
346 Go And Get Some More (BB)/[Another Soldier Gone (Violinaires)] - Question Marks - 2/54

   UNRELEASED SWING TIME (practice tapes)
      Marie (DF)
      Mellow As A Man Can Be (BB)
      Rose Ann Of Charing Cross (DF)

LUCKY (Hollywood Flames)
001 One Night With A Fool (DF)/Ride Helen Ride (BB) - 3/54

3247 I'll Hide My Tears (DF)/Got A Little Shadow (BB) - 5/54

LUCKY (Hollywood Flames)
006 Peggy (GH)/Ooh La La (DF & BB duet lead) - 7/54
009 Let's Talk It Over (DF)/I Know (GH) [the Swing Time masters] - 9/54

MONEY (Hollywood Flames)
202 Fare Thee Well (DF)/Clickety Clack I'm Leaving (DF & BB duet lead) - 9/54

DECCA (Hollywood Flames; Lucky masters)
29285 Peggy (GH)/Oooh-La La (DF & BB duet lead) - 10/54
48331 Let's Talk It Over (DF)/I Know (GH) - 1/55)

104 Cat Music For Teenagers - best guess is early to mid-1955
      Ooh La La - Hollywood Flames; Barbecue - Chuck Higgins; Blow, Jimmie, Blow - Jimmy Wright Band;
      Pom Pom - Memo Mata; J.H. Boogie - Joe Houston // Blowin' Crazy - Joe Houston; Peggy - Hollywood Flames;
      Sweet Potato - Chuck Higgins; Bin Berri Ho - Memo Mata; Punch Bowl - Maurice Simon

MONEY (Turks; but recorded as Hollywood Flames)
211 Emily (GH)/[When I Return - Turbans] - 2/55

ALADDIN (Patty Anne, supposedly backed by the Flames; but see text)
3280 Shtiggy Boom (PA)/[Baby Baby, I'm In Love With You - Patty Anne] - 2/55

MODERN (Sounds; are they the Hollywood Flames? - my feeling is no; see the text)
975 Cold Chills (BB)/So Unnecessary (BB) - 11/55
981 Sweet Sixteen (BB)/Anything For You (BB) - 1/56

CASH (Turks; had been recorded as Hollywood Flames)
1042 Wagon Wheels (BB) - Original Turks/[It Can't Be True - the actual Turks] - 7/56

ALADDIN (Flames; no one has ever seen this record)
3349 So Alone (BB)/Flam [Flame?] Mambo (PA) - 10/56

SPECIALTY (David Ford & Ebbtides)
588 The Sound Of Your Voice (DF)/My Confession (BB) - 11/56

CLASS (Earl Nelson & Pelicans)
209 I Bow To You (EN)/Oh Gee, Oh Golly (EN&CW) - 4/57

CLASS (Bobby Day & Satellites)
211 Little Bitty Pretty One (BB)/When The Swallows Come Back To Capistrano (BB) - 7/57

EBB (Hollywood Flames)
119 Buzz-Buzz-Buzz (EN)/Crazy (EN; this is a 1955 Voices cut) - 10/57

CLASS (Bobby Day & Satellites)
215 Beep-Beep-Beep (BB)/[Darling If I Had You - Bobby Day solo] - 11/57
220 Honeysuckle Baby (BB)/Sweet Little Thing (BB) - 12/57

EBB (Hollywood Flames)
131 Give Me Back My Heart (DF)/A Little Bird (EN) - 1/58
143 Two Little Bees (EN)/It's Love (EN) - 2/58 (unclear if ever issued)
144 Strollin' On The Beach (EN)/Frankenstein's Den (DW & CT) - 3/58

CLASS (Tangiers)
224 Don't Try (JJ)/(School Days Will Be Over (JJ & ??, with a girl group) - 3/58

CLASS (Bobby Day & Satellites)
225 Little Turtle Dove (BB)/Saving My Love For You (BB) - 3/58
229 Rockin' Robin (BB)/Over And Over (BB) - 5/58

EBB (Hollywood Flames)
146 Chains Of Love (BB & EN)/Let's Talk It Over (DF) - 6/58
            ("Chains" is a different take of a Bob & Earl recording issued that same month on Class)

CLASS (Satellites; misspelled "Satelittes" on the label)
234 Heavenly Angel (CW)/You Ain't Sayin' Nothin' (EN) - 7/58
            (reissued on Malynn 234 later that year)

EBB (Hollywood Flames)
149 I'll Get By (EN)/A Star Fell (EN) - 10/58
153 I'll Be Seeing You (EN)/Just For You (EN) - 11/58

CLASS (Bobby Day & Satellites)
241 The Bluebird, The Buzzard, And The Oriole (BB)/Alone Too Long (BB) - 12/58

EBB (Hollywood Flames)
158 So Good (EN)/There Is Something On Your Mind (EN) - 2/59
162 Now That You're Gone (EN)/Hawaiian Dream (DF) - 5/59
163 Much Too Much (EN)/In The Dark (EN) - 6/59

      This Heart Of Mine (EN)
      Ooh Baby Ooh (BB) (but some copies of Ebb 158 have this; see text)
      Your Love (EN)

ATCO (Hollywood Flames)
6155 Every Day, Every Way (EN/EW)/If I Thought You Needed Me (EW) - 12/59
6164 Ball And Chain (EN)/I Found A Boy (UFV) - 4/60
6171 Devil Or Angel (EW)/Do You Ever Think Of Me (UFV & EW) - 7/60
6180 Money Honey (EW)/My Heart's On Fire (CW/DF) - 10/60

      This Heart Of Mine [recorded 11/4/59]
      I Need You Baby [recorded 9/5/60]
      Every Day [recorded 9/5/60]
      Faith Is The Word [recorded 10/11/61]
      Lights Out [recorded 10/11/61]
      Where Did I Go Wrong [recorded 10/11/61]

CHESS (Hollywood Flames)
1787 Gee (DH)/Yes They Do (DH) - 3/61

      Dear One
      Don't Mess With The Messer

GOLDIE (Hollywood Flames)
1101 Believe In Me (DH)/Elizabeth (CW) - 7/62

CORONET (Hollywood Flames)
7025 Believe In Me (DH)/I Can't Get A Hit Record (DH) - ca. late 62

VEE-JAY (Hollywood Flames)
515 Letter To My Love (JB)/Drop Me A Line (TM) - 4/63

CORONET (as "Charlie Francis and his group")
CX198 Brook Benton Sings (the A side has four Brook Benton songs) - 8/63
        Elizabeth (CW)
        Believe In Me (DH)
        I Can't Get A Hit (DH) [note that the word "Record" was omitted from the title]
        Mountain Of A Man [although credited to "Charlie Francis," this track is not by the Hollywood Flames]

SYMBOL (Hollywood Flames)
211 Dance Senorita (GW)/Annie Don't Love Me No More (GW) - 65
215 I'm Coming Home (GW)/I'm Gonna Stand By You (JB) - 4/66

      BB = Bobby Byrd (Bobby Day)
      CD = Curlee Dinkins
      CT = Clyde "Thin Man" Tillis
      CW = Curtis Williams
      DF = David Ford
      DH = Donald Height
      DW = Don Wyatt
      EN = Earl Nelson
      EW = Eddie Williams
      GH = Gaynel Hodge
      GW = George Watson
      JB = John Berry
      JJ = Jody Jefferson, backed by the Hwd Flames
      PA = Patty [or Patti] Anne [Mesner], backed by the Flames
      TM = Tony Middleton
      UFV = Unknown female voice
      WR = Willie Ray Rockwell


CASH (Voices)
[Bobby Byrd, Earl Nelson, and sometimes Jules Castron]
1011 Two Things I Love (BB & EN)/Why (BB) - 5/55
1014 Hey Now (BB)/My Love Grows Stronger (BB) - 8/55
1015 Takes Two To Make A Home (EN)/I Want To Be Ready (BB) - 10/55
1016 Santa Claus Boogie (BB)/Santa Claus Baby (ALL) - 11/55

MILLION $ (Ravon Darnell & Voices)
2015 One Of These Mornings (RD)/I'll Be Back (RD) - ca. 7/55

CASH (Bobby "Baby Face" Byrd & Birds)
1031 Let's Live Together As One (BB)/The Truth Hurts (BB) - 4/56

DECCA (Tangiers)
[David Ford, Gaynel Hodge, Alex Hodge, and Jesse Belvin]
29603 Tabarin (DF)/I Won't Be Around (??) - 8/55
29973 Remember Me (DF)/Oh Baby (GH) - 7/56

ATLANTIC (Crescendos)
[Bobby Byrd, Bobby Relf, Prentice Moreland, Earl Nelson, and Mitchell Alexander]
1109 Sweet Dreams (BB)/Finders Keepers (BB) - 9/56
2014 Sweet Dreams (BB)/I'll Be Seeing You (BB) - 1/59

SPARK (Robert Byrd & His Birdies)
501 Bippin' And Boppin' (Over You)/Strawberry Stomp - late 56
      (No group on "Bippin And Boppin". "Strawberry Stomp" is a Gil Bernal instrumental)

JAMIE (Robert Byrd & Orchestra)
1039 Bippin' And Boppin' (Over You)/Strawberry Stomp - 2/57

CLASS (Bobby Day & Satellites)
207 Come Seven (BB)/So Long Baby (BB) - 3/57

CLASS (Bob & Earl)
[Bobby Byrd & Earl Nelson; all other "Bob & Earl" are Bobby Relf and Earl Nelson]
213 That's My Desire/You Made A Boo-Boo - 8/57
231 Gee Whiz/When She Walks - 6/58
232 Sweet Pea/Chains Of Love - 6/58
247 That's My Desire/You Made A Boo-Boo - 3/59
      (reissued on Malynn 232 later that year)

      BB = Bobby Byrd (Bobby Day)
      DF = David Ford
      EN = Earl Nelson
      GH = Gaynel Hodge
      RD = Ravon Darnell, backed by the Voices

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