FORTUNE RECORDS - was an American family operated, independent record label located at 3942 Third Street, Detroit, Michigan from 1946 to 1995. The label owners were Jack and Devora Brown, their son Sheldon Brown recorded for the label. Original releases tapered off after 1972 aside from a few albums in the mid-1980s.
Fortune specialized in rhythm and blues, blues, soul and doo-wop music, although the label also released pop, big band, hillbilly, gospel, rock and roll, and polka records. Fortune released some doo-wop tunes by Nolan Strong & The Diablos, such as "The Wind" (Fortune 511, 1954), "The Way You Dog Me Around" (Fortune 518, 1955), and "Mind Over Matter" (Fortune 546, 1962). Other notable artists on Fortune included John Lee Hooker, Doctor Ross, Andre Williams, and Nathaniel Mayer & The Fabulous Twilights (whose release, "Village of Love," on both Fortune 545 and United Artists 449 in the spring of 1962, was perhaps its most popular release; it reached number 22 pop and number 16 Rhythm & Blues on the Billboard chart). "Village of Love" also made the Top Ten in local radio station surveys in New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago. It was number 1 in Detroit.
Prior to "Village Of Love," Fortune's biggest-selling record was likely "Bacon Fat" (Fortune 831 and Epic 9196, late 1956) by Andre Williams and His New Group (Which was 5 Dollars on Fortune not Epic), which featured Williams' proto-rap over a sleazy, bluesy arrangement. "Bacon Fat" (the name of the song refers to a dance) reached number 9 Rhythm & Blues on the Billboard chart in early 1957 after it was leased to Columbia's Epic subsidiary for national distribution.
The Five Dollars were from Detroit and were originally known as The Shamrocks and The Del Torros. The members of the group were lead singer Eddie Hurt, tenors Lonnie Heard and Richard Lawrence, baritone James Drayton, and bass Charles Evans. After working on their music and stage presence, they picked up a manager named Sandy Amour and began to sing at area clubs and talent shows. What they were looking for most at the time was a chance to record, and soon in 1955 that goal was realized with a session at home town independent Fortune Records. On August 20, 1955 Dorothy Brown of Fortune announced the signing of the group along with Andre Williams (who was related through marriage to Eddie Hurt) who would also record with the Five Dollars.
The newly renamed Five Dollars recorded some songs for Fortune and in the late summer of 1955 the label released "Doctor Baby" and "Harmony Of Love" on number 821. Richard Lawrence was soon drafted into the military and so the Five Dollars became a vocal quartet. In October Fortune released "Going Down To Tijuana" and Jump, Shake, And Move" by Andre Williams and the group which was billed on the label as Andre Williams & The Don Juans which was released on number 824. In December 1955, Fortune Records announces the release of The Five Dollars with "So Strange" and "You Know I Can't Refuse" on number 826. However, the record was not actually released until March 1956.
Early in 1956 the group recorded again as The Don Juans this time behind vocalist Joe Weaver on "Baby I Love You So" and "It Must Be Love" on number 825. During the spring the group once again as The Don Juans provided backup vocals - this time for vocalist Don Lake on the tunes "Oh Oh Those Eyes" and "Cha Cha Of Love" on Fortune number 520. In August 1956, an interesting bill was put together for a stage show in Windsor, Canada (right across the river from Detroit). Featured on the bill was Stan Kenton and his Progressive Jazz Orchestra, The Nite Caps, Diabolos, and the group now called The Four Dollars. That same month Fortune re-released "Going Down To Tia Juana" by Andre Williams & The Don Juans. In September "Bobby Jean" and "It's All Over" by Andre & The Don Juans is issued by Fortune on number 828, quickly followed by "Cool As A Cucumber" and "Going Back To Chicago" on number 829. In October back as The Five Dollars recorded "Hard Workin' Mama" and "I Will Wait" on number 830. Late in the year Andre Williams with The Don Juans hit with "Bacon Fat" and "Just Because Of A Kiss" on number 831. This time the record gets a lot of attention and generates sales especially in the Midwest.
In January 1957, Joe Weaver on vocals with The Don Juans records "Looka Here Pretty Baby" and "Baby Chile" on number 832. In April The group as The Five Dollars records the sequel called "How To Do The Bacon Fat" on number 833 with Fortune Records pushing the record as part of the dance craze with DJ radio contests as a tie in. The flip side is "You Fool". In May "You Are My Sunshine" and "Mean Jean" by Andre Williams & The Don Juans is released on number 834. In August Fortune releases "This Is A Miracle" and "Calypso Beat" on number 836 as by Little Eddie (Hurt) & The Don Juans. Andre Williams was back fronting the group on "My Tears" with Andre as a solo on "Jail Bait" on number 837. The group had one last record in 1957 with Andre on lead on "Come On Baby" and "The Greasy Chicken" on Fortune number 839.
In 1958 Andre & The Don Juans recorded "My Last Dance With You" and "Hey! Country Girl" on number 842. The Five Dollars record with Jim Sands on lead on the Hi-Q label with "We're Gonna Rock" and "You Don't Know My Mind" on number 5010. In December 1959, Andre Williams and Gino Parks with the Walter Hamilton Combo recorded "Georgia May Is Movin" with The Diabolos, and "Andre Williams Is Movin" with The Five Dollars on Fortune number 851. In 1960 there were two last records by the group. "That's The Way It Goes" and "My baby-Oh" on Fortune number 854, and as The Don Juans - "It's Nice" and "Our Chalypso Of Love" behind the lead vocals of Marsha Renay.
That is the varied, involved, and sometimes confusing history of the Detroit vocal group that never had a history of hit makers, but for many years stood on the periphery of the music coming out of the motor city. A CD called "Motor City Doo Wop" on the Regency label from Germany contains 23 tracks including most of the essential history of the roup. As The Don Juans, there is a CD called "Mr. Rhythm" also from Regency which headlines Andre Williams and contains a lot of the group sides from Fortune.
Record collectors often find Fortune's numbering system confusing because there were several series issued at once, and also because some particular record numbers were used more than once. From the early 1950s to fall 1956 Fortune had a storefront at 11629 Linwood (now demolished). However, Fortune's bestknown location was at 3942 Third Avenue in a small concrete block building. Fortune moved there in the fall of 1956 and stayed there until the mid-1990s, when the building was sold and vacated. (The landmark building was demolished late in 2001.) The storefront contained a record shop in the front (the Browns sold their product direct to the public) and the crude 18-by-40 studio in the rear (which originally had a dirt floor).
Whereas its far bigger Detroit rival, Motown Records, perfected a highly polished pop sound, releases on Fortune Records were often characterized by raw, unrestrained vocal performances and relatively simple instrumental arrangements, recorded without excessive care for production values. Recording was accomplished via a few microphones to an Ampex one-track tape deck. As a result, the label's records have a distinctively direct sound and often packed considerable emotional power. It is estimated that Fortune Records and its subsidiaries, Hi-Q Records and Strate-8, released approximately 400 45-RPM vinyl records, as well as long-playing albums, during its existence.
© - 706 UNION AVENUE SESSIONS - ©