Lead singer with the Olympics
Saturday 23 December 2006
Walter Ward, singer: born Jackson, Mississippi 28 August 1940; (one son); died Las Vegas 11 December 2006.
One of the most dynamic vocal groups of the late Fifties and early Sixties, the Olympics are best known for the irresistible novelty number "(My Baby Loves the) Western Movies" - complete with shotgun and ricochet sound effects - which made the charts on both sides of the Atlantic in 1958.
Walter Ward was the founder of the Los Angeles-based group and his rasping lead vocals became a trademark of the Olympics, along with their pompadour hairstyles and energetic dance routines. Other singles included "I Wish I Could Shimmy Like My Sister Kate", a UK chart entry in 1961, "(I Wanna) Dance With the Teacher" and "(Baby) Hully Gully" (both 1959), "The Bounce" (1963) and "Good Lovin' " (1965).
Born in Mississippi in 1940, Ward sang gospel as a boy. In the Fifties, the family moved to Los Angeles and Ward and his cousin Eddie Lewis attended high school together, where they formed the Challengers. At a talent contest for doo-wop groups, they met and joined forces with Charles Fizer and Walter Hammond. After an appearance on local television in 1956, they cut "I Can Tell", a ballad, for the Melatone label but, since another group was already calling itself the Challengers, they changed their name to the Olympics.
Two years later, they were introduced to the blues singer Effie Smith and her husband, the songwriter and comedian John L. Criner, who became their managers. They got the Olympics a deal with Demon Records and arranged for them to record "Western Movies", a song written by Fred Smith - Effie's son - and his friend Cliff Goldsmith. The single tapped into the craze for western series on television and became an instant smash.
Smith and Goldsmith wrote several of the Olympics' follow-up singles, including "Private Eye" (1959) - about TV detective shows with a snatch of the Peter Gunn theme thrown in for good measure - and "Little Pedro" (1961), but, despite starting or attempting to cash in on several dance crazes, most notably the Hully Gully, the group never recaptured the heady heights of their first success.
The Olympics recorded for a variety of labels until 1973 and remained active on the live circuit, with Ward still as the helm, until last month.
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