When I first started working in radio, it was at an oldies station. My dad, who was my biggest musical influence, took advantage of the fact that we had an extensive library and asked me to throw some of his favorites on a cassette for him. This was how I was introduced to the music of Roy Hamilton.
Roy Hamilton would have been 90 today. He started singing in his church choir and eventually landed a record deal at Columbia Records, which quickly sent him to their new subsidiary label, Epic. He recorded You’ll Never Walk Alone from the musical Carousel, Ebb Tide, and an amazing version of Unchained Melody (which reached number 1 on the R&B charts).
In mid-1956, he developed a lung condition which forced him to announce that he was retiring from the music business. When was well enough, he got back into show business, but there had been quite a change in music – rock and roll music was big and the standards he was recording before his retirement were on the way out. In 1957, Epic Records coaxed him into recording “Don’t Let Go”. The song was produced by Otis Blackwell, who had just produced “Don’t Be Cruel” and “All Shook Up” for Elvis Presley. It became a top 15 record for him and the song is said to be the first Top 40 record recorded in stereo.
He was Epic’s first major star and they treated him very well. He released 16 albums for them. He was a big influence to singers like Sam Cooke and Elvis. In 1969, while at home, he suffered a massive cerebral hemorrhage. He spent a week in a coma before his family took him off life support. He passed away at the young age of 40.
Working at WHND Honey Radio, we played music exclusively from the first decade of Rock and Roll. I got to play quite a bit of Roy Hamilton’s music. You Can Have Her and Don’t Let Go still sound fresh and fun today. His voice is powerful and even though it shined on ballads, I am partial to his uptempo stuff. In honor of his 90th, birthday, here’s Don’t Let Go….