The Contours

The Contours

In the late 1950s in Detroit, two singers named Joe Billingslea and Billy Gordon left their group (The Majestic’s) to create their own vocal group. Joe Billingslea placed an ad in the local paper for other singers and Billy Hoggs answered it and was hired.

Then in 1958 Billy Gordon, Billy Hoggs, Joe Billingslea and Billy Rollins formed a quartet named “The Blenders”. After a short period they replace Billy Rollins with Leroy Fair.

In 1960, the late Hubert Johnson, a cousin of the late Jackie Wilson, and personal friend of Berry Gordy joined the group, making it a quintet. After a visit to a recording studio called "Flick and Contour Records", the group "borrowed" part of the name and changed its name to The Contours.

In late 1960 their first audition with Motown wasn’t a success, the group went to Jackie Wilson's home for some advice. After listening to the group sing, Jackie Wilson telephoned Berry Gordy and persuaded him to take another look at The Contours. This pursued Motown to offer them a seven-year recording contract. Their first released in January 1960 (with no success) was "Whole Lotta Woman" b/side "Come On And Be Mine". Shortly afterward, Leroy Fair left the group replaced him twice before Sylvester Potts became a permanent replacement for Leroy Fair. This group then recorded their second single for Motown "The Stretch" b/side "Funny" which again was not a success.

In 1962, Berry Gordy created a new label for Motown Records called “Gordy” and put The Contours as its first group. In the summer of 1962, the group recorded, "Do You Love Me," by Berry Gordy resulting in the group's (and label's) first hit.

Within two weeks of its release, the song roared to No2 on the Billboard Hot 100, taking the No1 spot on the R&B charts and No3 on the pop charts. It remained on the charts for five months. The record was the “Gordy” label's first million-seller, and it still holds the record as Motown's fastest rising hit of all time.

In 1963, the group charted with another hit, "Shake Sherry" and in 1964, they again charted with "Can You Do It" and that year they recorded a ballad entitled "The Day When She Needed Me". However, by the time this song was released, the group would undergo major changes to the line-up. Citing irreconcilable creative differences with Motown at the meeting with Berry Gordy, Billy Hoggs, Joe Billingslea and Sylvester Potts announced they were quitting. leaving Billy Gordon as the only original member of the group.

Motown reconstructed the group as a quartet, adding Council Gay, Jerry Green and Alvin English. The reconstituted group recorded and released "Can You Jerk Like Me" b/side "The Day When She Needed Me" by the earlier members of The Contours. Both songs charted in 1965. The reconstituted group also charted "First I Look At the Purse" in the same year.

After less than a year, in early 1965 Sylvester Potts returned to the group replacing Alvin English. However, almost immediately afterwards, the only remaining original member, Billy Gordon, resigned and was replaced by Joe Stubbs (former lead singer of the Falcons and brother of the Four Tops' Levi Stubbs).

This “new” set of personnel charted "Just a Little Misunderstanding" in 1966. Joe Stubbs would soon resign and was replaced by Dennis Edwards (who would later replace David Ruffin in The Temptations). With Denis Edwards as lead The Contours charted "It's So Hard Being a Loser" in 1967. After their contract with Motown expired, The Contours disbanded.

In 1971 original member Joe Billingslea revived the group and in July 1988 "Do You Love Me" was included in the movie, "Dirty Dancing", starring Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey. This revived the song and it returned to the pop charts for eight weeks. The movie soundtrack spawned a "Dirty Dancing Concert Tour", which featured The Contours and other artists including Bill Medley, Eric Carmen, Ronnie Spector, Merry Clayton and a set of dancers from the movie.

The Contours played the ten-month "Dirty Dancing Tour," entertaining over two million fans in eight countries. 

In July 1999, yet another Dirty Dancing CD, "Dirty Dancing: More Dirty Dancing” (Original Recording Re-Mastered)" which included "Do You Love Me" was released. In all, re-released version’s contributed to ten million new copies of the song.

On the 20th July 1989, The Contours were inducted into the Rock 'n' Roll Walk of Fame outside Royal Oak's Metropolitan Musicafe in Royal Oak, Michigan. They received the Heroes And Legends Award in 2000 and have been nominated for The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

In March 2010, the Contours were inducted into the Doo-Wop Hall of Fame. The induction show featured a performance by the Contours with Joe Billingslea.

Founding member Billingslea continues to perform with the group, 'The Contours with Joe Billingslea', which is among the acts featured in a DVD released by Motown in January 2007 called “Motown: The Early Years”, featuring appearances on the Public Broadcasting System specials.