The Fresando’s (sic) and The
Five Masters were the same five singers: Robert Barksdale, Cleo
“Sonny” Barksdale, Jesse Ledbetter, Aaron Little and James
Holland. Bandleader Eddie Bartell gigged at the Rondevoo with
The Falcons in February 1957 and backed Della Reese that April.
Although the above 1950s Star-X and Bumble Bee records
don’t bear the name “Holidays”, they are the first recordings by
some of the singers who would later go by that name: the
triumvirate of the Barksdale brothers and James Holland.
The group got their first professional break when they sang
background on Bunny Paul’s Dash 45 – “Baby Sitter Blues”.
Bunny’s husband, Saul Rapapaort, knew the owner of a garage
studio where the group used to hang out, which is where they
recorded the Marx-X sides.
Leo Parks, who Robert Barksdale remembers as being the group’s
“so-called manager at the time”, is credited as the writer of
“Your Last Goodbye”, but it was chiefly penned by lead singer
Aaron Little. This rare 1957 disc is a wonderful piece of
seductive doo-wop, with Eddie Bartell and his Dukes of Rhythm
providing minimalist accompaniment - allowing the harmony of
group to shine.
“Your Last Goodbye”
“ We Are Like One”
CLICK^ TO LISTEN
Our love is so beautiful
We are together
Seems like a miracle
(We Are Like One)
These two songs were recorded in a garage at 9060 Joseph Campau
in Hamtramck - a district of Detroit – and Robert Barksdale
recalled the group’s formative days there:
“We used to rehearse with one of The Midnighters (Sonny Woods)
at the studio, which was a garage. We sang background for Bunny
Paul and met Berry Gordy - who had a partner called Carlo -
during the time we were going to Joseph Campau. At the time
groups would come over there to rehearse and that’s where you’d
meet all the people at.” A bit of pre-Motown trivia: Berry Gordy
and Tyrone Carlo wrote two songs for The Five Stars that were
released on the Mark-X label.
The Fresando’s record wasn’t a hit and in 1958 they changed
their name to The Five Masters and hooked up with Robert West,
one of the first of Detroit’s recording pioneers to taste
success - most notably with The Falcons: you can see above that
the group appeared at the Rondevoo in 1957. Mr. West also recorded Marv Johnson and Brian Holland in the late 50s for the Kudo
label – one of his stable that included Silhouette, Flick and
Contour - before they both found fame at Motown. Some more
Motown trivia: The Motown group The Contours – who are mentioned
later - took their name from the sign on the company’s door,
although they never recorded for Mr. West’s labels.
Mr. West’s Flick/Contour Record Company was based at 65 East
Forrest, but he used WJLB disk jockey Bristoe Bryant’s Music
City Record Store to record. It was just four blocks away. In
the 50s, Bristoe would rent his rudimentary gear housed at 93
East Alexandrine when he wasn’t using it to pre-record his
gospel radio shows. He had a two-track tape recorder in his
basement and singers would usually go into the bathroom to sing
- the tiled surfaces added echo. Another bit of Motown trivia:
Berry Gordy later bought Bristoe’s recording equipment to use in
his own Hitsville USA studio on West Grand Boulevard.
Robert Barksdale remembers singing “We Are Like One” in
Bristoe’s basement. The Five Masters wrote this gorgeous song,
but their new manager, Clyde Clemons, took the credit.
The Fresando’s were only credited on one side of the Star-X 45,
even though they sang on both. The record was also released as a
After their Bumble Bee disc failed to create much of a buzz,
the teenagers hit on the idea of enlisting in the army. In
September 1959 their buddy plan came totally unstuck when Jimmy
went off to France, Robert to Alaska and Cleo to Korea. They
arrived back to Detroit in ‘62, where things had changed. It was
the dawn of a new era, for music and the group.