Bill Reed

Bass singer with the doo-wop group the Diamonds on such hits as 'Little Darlin' '

Bill Reed sang the distinctive bass parts which made the clean-cut Canadian doo-wop group the Diamonds such a smash on both sides of the Atlantic.

William Reed, singer: born Toronto, Ontario 11 January 1936; twice married (four sons); died Port St Lucie, Florida 22 October 2004.

Bill Reed sang the distinctive bass parts which made the clean-cut Canadian doo-wop group the Diamonds such a smash on both sides of the Atlantic.

In 1957, their cover of "Little Darlin' " reached No 2 in the US charts and 3 in the UK. The group had an impressive sequence of 14 consecutive singles in the US Top Forty, of which "The Stroll", another of their signature tunes, was used to great effect on the soundtrack to the 1973 film American Graffiti.

Born in 1936 in Toronto, William Reed followed in the footsteps of his father, Harry, who owned a barber's and sang on the radio when he wasn't harmonising with his customers. At university in 1954, Bill formed a singing quartet with his fellow students Stan Fisher (lead), Ted Kowalski (tenor) and Phil Levitt (baritone), and they were talent-spotted by the CBC radio technician Dave Sommerville.

Fisher couldn't make their first gig because of an exam the following morning, so Sommerville took over lead vocals for the newly christened Four Diamonds. When they decided to turn professional Fisher opted to finish his law degree and the quartet carried on singing in supper clubs as the Diamonds.

That summer, they signed to Coral, the Decca subsidiary, but both sides of their début single, "Black Denim Trousers and Motorcycle Boots" and "Nip Sip", were competing with the original versions, respectively by the Cheers and the Clovers - and the Diamonds lost out on both counts.

However, while on a trip to Cleveland, they met up with a local disc-jockey, Bill Randle, who had championed the Crew-Cuts, another Canadian vocal group. The Diamonds sang a cappella for Randle who was so impressed he recommended them to the Mercury label and also suggested they cover "Why Do Fools Fall in Love", the Frankie Lymon & the Teenagers song then climbing up the R&B charts. Competition was fierce between the different versions but, opening with Reed's basslines, the Diamonds adaptation reached No 12 on the pop charts in 1956, behind Frankie Lymon at No 6 and Gale Storm's version at 9.

They carried on covering R&B smashes - "Church Bells May Ring" by the Willows, "Love Love Love" by the Clovers, "Ka-Ding-Dong" by the G-Clefs - and crossing them over to the pop charts. Their biggest success came in 1957 when their manager Nat Goodman spotted "Little Darlin' " - written by Maurice Williams and originally recorded with his group the Gladiolas. Reed turned the talking bridge into a basso profundo tour de force worthy of the Inkspots. Only "All Shook Up" by Elvis Presley kept them off the No 1 spot in the US and "Little Darlin' " eventually sold four million copies worldwide.

The follow-up single, a version of Buddy Holly's "Words of Love", opened with Reed's smooth bass and also featured the singer on another talking bridge. In 1958 the Diamonds' convincing vocals propelled the infectious song "The Stroll" into the US Top Five. After three more singles - "High Sign", the title song from the Patty McCormack film Kathy O' (1958) and "Walking Along" - both Kowalski and Reed left the group.

Reed moved to Florida, where he became a record promoter.

Pierre Perrone



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