The powers-that-be at Philadelphia's Cameo-Parkway Records couldn't visualize The Dreamlovers (named after Bobby Darin's 1959 smash Dream Lover) as anything but background singers for Chubby Checker, so they went elsewhere to score their own smash. Pretty soon they were up in the same rarified chart air as the Twist king.
Formed as The Romancers in 1956 at Philly's Northeast High School, they originally consisted of lead tenor William Johnson, tenors Tommy Ricks and Cleveland Hammock, Jr., baritone Clifton Dunn, and his brother James Ray Dunn as bass. Johnson was shot and killed outside a party, but they recruited Morris Gardner as his replacement and changed their name to The Dream Lovers (two words on their earliest sides). Don Hogan came in as an alternate lead, and they hooked up with Venton 'Buddy' Caldwell's Len logo in 1960 for their debut, For The First Time (Take It From A Fool was the flip). Caldwell moved the group over to his V-Tone logo for a rocking Annabelle Lee and the violin-enriched May I Kiss The Bride.
Parkway recruited the group to sing behind Checker on his epochal cover of Hank Ballard's The Twist and the hit followups Pony Time and Let's Twist Again without mentioning them on the labels. "My offices were across the street from Cameo-Parkway. I was in the Schubert Theater Building, which was the Tin Pan Alley of Philadelphia," says Jerry Ross. "The group used to come by every afternoon, and we used to shoot the breeze and talk. And I used to say to them, 'Well, when's your record coming out?' And they'd say, 'Well, we don't have a record contract. They give us lunch and they give us carfare, and that's about it.'"
Rock’n’roll’s first generation of fans was growing up and thinking about serious stuff like marriage, so songs about walking down the aisle were more popular than ever. Hogan had a beautiful Gardner-led ballad, When We GetMarried, set to go. "I took them into a studio," says Ross. "My rhythm section was Bobby Martin on vibes, Bobby Eli on guitar, Thom Bell on keyboards, Joe Macho on bass. This was the nucleus of what would soon become the sound of Philadelphia." Martin doubled as arranger. "I immediately took the master to all of my shaker and mover friends in New York and played it for all of the guys at Columbia and RCA and Decca in their ivory towers. And they didn't hear it," says Jerry. "So I took it to my good friend Jocko Henderson, who was the top R&B deejay at WDAS. And I played it for the Jock, and he looked at me and said, 'Ooh-tiddly-op, take it to the bank!'"
With Hogan's Just Because on the B-side, Ross released The Dreamlovers' When We Get Married as the second single on his fledgling Heritage Records. It was a #10 pop smash in the summer of '61; another Philly group, The Intruders, would revive it in 1970 and enjoy a #8 R&B seller. The Dreamlovers didn't have Chubby's chart endurance. Hogan's Let Them Love (And Be Loved) bubbled under the Hot 100; a remake of The Collegians' Zoom Zoom Zoom bombed. Moving to George Goldner's End Records resulted in If I Should Lose You, the work of lead singer Hogan, producer Ross, and his partner Murray Wecht, making a #62 pop impact in 1962. Ross remained at the helm for The Dreamlovers' subsequent output on Swan, Columbia, Cameo, and Warner Bros., taking them into 1966 and the soul era with You Gave Me Somebody To Love on Mercury.