April 4: Major Lance - The Monkey Time" and "Um, Um, Um, Um, Um, Um," was born on this date in 1939...

... he died on September 3, 1994.

Major Lance was born in Winterville, Mississippi. 'Major' was his real name; not a stage name. As a child, he relocated with his family to Chicago, attending Wells High School - the same school as Curtis Mayfield and Jerry Butler - taking up boxing and also singing as a member of the Five Gospel Harmonaires.

In the mid-1950s, he and singer Otis Leavill formed a group, the Floats, who broke up before recording any material. Lance became a featured dancer on a local TV show, and presenter Jim Lounsbury secured him a one-off record deal with Mercury Records, who released his single "I Got a Girl," written and produced by Curtis Mayfield, in 1959. The record was not successful.

In 1962 he signed with OKeh Records. His first single, "Delilah," also was not successful, but established his partnership with a writing and arranging team of Mayfield, Carl Davis, and Johnny Pate, often with members of Mayfield's group The Impressions on backing vocals. Together they developed a distinctive, Latin-tinged sound which epitomised "Chicago soul."

The second Okeh single, "The Monkey Time," became a #2 Billboard R&B chart and #8 pop hit in 1963. A succession of hits followed quickly, including "Hey Little Girl," "Um, Um, Um, Um, Um, Um" - which was his biggest hit, reaching #5 in the US pop chart and #40 in the UK. "The Matador" - his only hit not written by Mayfield - "Rhythm," "Sometimes I Wonder," "Come See," and "Ain't It A Shame."

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Very Best of Major Lance

In 1965, Pate left OKeh and Mayfield began to concentrate on working with his own group. Lance and Davis continued to work together, and "Too Hot To Hold" was a minor hit, but they had diminishing success before Davis in turn departed. During this period, Lance toured in the UK, where he was supported by Bluesology, a band including pianist Reggie Dwight, later known as Elton John.

Lance then worked with country music producer Billy Sherrill in Nashville, producing another minor hit, "It's the Beat." Over the next two years he worked with several producers, with only "Without a Doubt" becoming a minor hit in 1968.

Soon afterwards Lance left OKeh and moved to Dakar Records, where he had the Top 40 R&B hit "Follow the Leader." He then moved to Mayfield's Curtom label, which resulted in his last two Top 40 R&B hits, "Stay Away From Me (I Love You too Much)" and "Must Be Love Coming Down." He left Curtom in 1971, and recorded briefly for the Volt and Columbia labels.

In 1972, he relocated to England, because of the success of his earlier records there among fans of Northern Soul who were fans of mostly rare and obscure American soul and R&B records. While in England he recorded an album, Live at the Torch, a club in Stoke on Trent, which has been described as "perhaps the best Northern Soul album ever made."

Lance returned to Atlanta in 1974, and recorded an updated disco version of "Um, Um, Um, Um, Um, Um" for Playboy Records. He set up a new label, Osiris, with former Booker T and the MG's drummer Al Jackson, but again with little success, and his career hit a downward spiral.

After recording briefly for the Motown Records subsidiary label Soul, he was convicted of cocaine possession in 1978 and served a four year prison term. On his release, he found that his recordings had become popular on the beach music circuit in the Carolinas, where he continued to undertake live performances. He recorded a comeback album, The Major's Back, and several tracks for the Kat Family label.

However, his attempts to revive his career were thwarted by a heart attack in 1987, and he made no recordings thereafter. In 1994, he gave his final triumphant performance at the Chicago Blues Festival. He died later that year at the age of 55, as a result of heart disease, in Decatur, Georgia.



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