The Hollywood Flames were an American R&B vocal group in the 1950s, best known for their hit "Buzz-Buzz-Buzz".
They formed as The Flames in 1949, in Watts, Los Angeles, at a talent show where members of various high school groups got together. The original members were Bobby Byrd (lead), David Ford, Curlee Dinkins and Willie Ray Rockwell. Rockwell was sometimes replaced by Clyde Tillis, and Ford sometimes sang lead. Their first paying gig was at Johnny Otis's Barrelhouse Club. They first recorded in 1950 for the Selective label, and the following year, billed as The Hollywood Four Flames, released "Tabarin", a song written by Murry Wilson (father of The Beach Boys). They later recorded another Wilson song, "I'll Hide My Tears".
Over the years the group, under various names, is believed to have recorded for about nineteen different record labels, including Aladdin and Specialty. Although they had no big hits for several years, they were a successful local act in the Los Angeles area. The group also had a series of personnel changes, with Rockwell being replaced by Gaynel Hodge, and for a short while Dinkins being replaced by Curtis Williams. Hodge and Williams, with Jesse Belvin, were co-writers of The Penguins' "Earth Angel". In 1953 they released the sketch for this song "I Know" on the label Swing Time. Believed to be the first song to present the 6/8 piano-attacca known from later '50s hits such as "Only You" and "Ain't That a Shame".
By 1954, the group were usually billed as The Hollywood Flames, but also recorded as The Turks, The Jets, and The Sounds. David Ford and Gaynel Hodge recorded with Jesse Belvin and Hodge's brother Alex, as The Tangiers, before Hodge left The Hollywood Flames in 1955 to form a new version of The Turks. He was replaced by Earl Nelson, who had previously recorded with Byrd as The Voices, and with Byrd later formed the duo Bob & Earl.
In 1957, the group - Byrd, Ford, Dinkins and Nelson - signed with Class Records, where Byrd was renamed "Bobby Day". The group recorded as The Hollywood Flames, as Bobby Day & the Satellites, and as Earl Nelson & the Pelicans. In July 1957, Bobby Day & the Satellites recorded "Little Bitty Pretty One", which was covered more successfully by Thurston Harris. Later that year, The Hollywood Flames – with Nelson singing lead – released "Buzz-Buzz-Buzz", co-written by Byrd, which reached #5 on the R&B chart and #11 on the pop chart.
Byrd (alias Day) then left The Hollywood Flames, but continued to release singles, at first as Bobby Day & the Satellites, and then as a solo performer. His greatest success came in 1958 with "Rockin' Robin". On August 4, 1958, the Hollywood Flames appeared at the Apollo Theater, as part of a Dr. Jive show. Others on the show were Larry Williams, The Cadillacs, Little Anthony & the Imperials, The Skyliners, Frankie Lymon, the Clintonian Cubs, and Eugene Church.
After this, Curtis Williams quit. The new members were tenor Eddie Williams (former lead of the Aladdins) and baritone Ray Brewster who joined in 1958. (Ray had been in the Penguins in 1956 and both Eddie and Ray had been in the later Colts/Fortunes with Don Wyatt.) Then, the whole group picked up and moved to New York, after securing a contract with Atlantic Records' Atco subsidiary.
In December 1959, they had their first Atco release: "Every Day, Every Way" (led by Earl Nelson) b/w "If I Thought You Needed Me" (fronted by Eddie Williams). Atco arranged for them to appear at the Apollo Theater to push the record (the week of December 25). Others on the show were: Lloyd Price, Tarheel Slim & Little Ann, and The Five Keys. They were back at the Apollo on February 19, 1960 for another Dr. Jive show. This time they shared the stage with Johnny Nash, The Flamingos, Nappy Brown, Tiny Topsy, The Centurians, Eugene Church, Barrett Strong, Jean Sampson, and The Fidelitys.
In April 1960, Atco released "Ball And Chain" led by Earl Nelson. "I Found A Boy" was sung by Eddie Williams and an unknown female vocalist who recorded this one record with the Hollywood Flames. At the same session with Atco Ray and the Flames also recorded "Devil Or Angel" and "Do You Ever Think of Me".
The Hollywood Flames made one record for Chess out of their Chicago studio "Gee" and "Yes They Do", released in March 1961. In 1962 Ray left the Flames and became lead vocalist of the New York-based Cadillacs.
The Hollywood Flames continued to record for several more years, with a fluctuating line-up, the only constant being David Ford. The last version of the group split up around 1967. Earl Nelson, also known as Jackie Lee, died on July 12, 2008.
The song "Buzz-Buzz-Buzz" was featured in the 2001 film Blow.