top of page

Love Me Now or Let Me Go - Billy Ward and his Dominoes

In 1953 Clyde McPhatter left the Dominoes to form his own group, the Drifters. He was fed up with the autocratic leadership of Billy Ward. He was the star of the group and yet was paid a pittance compared to Ward himself. Also, because of the group's name, people often thought that the lead vocalist (ie Clyde) was Billy Ward. He was replaced by his protege Jackie Wilson; I say protege because McPhatter was kind enough to give his replacement a bit of valuable vocal coaching before he moved on. This didn't stop the brash Wilson from bragging that he could outsing McPhatter any day as soon as the latter had left the group. It must have rankled that Ward had enough McPhatter recordings in the can to keep releasing them for over a year after he left.

But when he did get his chance, he had a point to prove, as this slow burner from 1954 shows. The vocal range and supreme confidence of Wilson is astonishing for a 20 year old singer, even though by now he was a father twice over and had served two spells in a juveniles detention prison. Or maybe because.

A year later, Elvis Presley saw the group performing in Las Vegas, and caught Jackie doing an impersonation of the great man singing "Don't Be Cruel" . Elvis later was recorded saying:

"There was this guy in Los Angeles - Billy Ward and his Dominoes - .....there was a guy up there who was doing a take-off of me - "Don't Be Cruel" - he tried so hard until he got much better boy, much better than that record of mine......I went back four nights straight and heard that guy do it...."

Later, when Elvis was told Wilson had been described as "the black Elvis Presley" he countered "I guess that makes me the white Jackie Wilson".

bottom of page