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OVER THE past two years, the Dramatics have become established as one of the most consistently successful vocal groups in America. The success streak began with their million-seller, "Whatcha See Is Whatcha Get", and has continued ever since and reached a point where, today, they have two albums and a single on the American charts.

Lead by co-lead vocalist, Ron Banks, the group now consists of L.J. Reynolds, of Chocolate Syrup fame and who is the other lead singer; Lenny Mays, Willie Ford and Larry Demps. L.J. and Lenny Mays are the group's latest acquisitions with the former replacing William Howard who left to pursue a solo career under his nickname of Wee Gee and who will be debuting soon on Mercury, we understand.

Lenny replaced Elbert Wilkins, who has recently caused the Dramatics a good deal of aggravation by touring certain parts of America with his own Dramatics'. That explains why the current Volt album by the group bears the name of Ron Banks and the Dramatics. This will underline to the public that the real group is the one that is built around Ron and that no substitute is legitimate. The whole change business took place almost eighteen months ago now at the time when L. J. was leaving his post as lead singer with Chocolate Syrup.

"The present group is by far the best group of Dramatics of them all," boasts Ron Banks. "We are more closely knitted both vocally and personally. We were already having problems with Wee Gee wanting to go solo when we met with L.J. during a week at the Apollo and that was where it was all agreed.

"It's also given us more variety and allowed us to progress — and that is a necessity today because the public is so much more educated to music. There was a time when you only had to be in the right groove and you could sell records. Now they want to hear and then understand everything that's happening on the record.''

In this country, the group isn't that well known and the nearest they have ever come to being a household name was via a year-old record they made for the Wingate label called "Inky Dinky Wang Dang Doo ". Their "Whatcha See Is Whatcha Get" was a big R&B record but it never went pop'. However, their album of "A Dramatic Experience" has just been released in this country and it's selling enough to warrant its release.

In the States, the album had a hideous double sleeve and was originally going to be called "The Devil Is Dope" as a tribute to their hit single of the same name. Ron explains: "But it all came at the time when there was a scandal in the States about record companies paying payola in the form of drugs and so the company decided that it would be bad timing to call our album that so they changed it.

"Yes, the sleeve is pretty scary but it does say what we feel and that is that drugs is a scary business. The whole thing is meant as a warning to kids because we hate to see them subjected to the corruption that narcotics always brings. It's a genuine feeling that we all have and my personal belief is that an individual should dominate himself and not allow himself to be dominated by any materialistic thing.

"It's also the belief of our producer, Tony Hester, and of the guy who painted the sleeve originals, a young man called Elliot Chappell I suppose that you would have to say that the sleeve is a concept of what the artist thinks a drugs trip would be like and it certainly sums up my own impression.

"There's a track on the album that sums the whole situation up so well. It's the one called "Beware Of The Man With The Candy In His Hand". It illustrates how a child would take candy from a man and the parallel is between the candy and drugs. If you listen to that track, you'll understand exactly where we're coming from." An admirable belief.

The major experience for the group during the last year, though, was the successful album that they recorded with the Dells. "It's the most enjoyable experience we've ever had," claims Ron, still excited about the scope that it has offered his group. "It came at a time when we were in between contacts at Stax and so we did it as an interim thing to keep our names in the market and that's how the legalities of it all were overcome. But it was also one of the things that we had always wanted to do and to be able to record an album with the Dells was quite the highest compliment that we've ever been accorded. "You see, the Dells have been like big brothers to us. They've helped us around so many corners! And they're such nice guys. They're also a tightly-knit group and they've been together for twenty years now. Man, that's fantastic when you think about it — twenty years!

"The actual idea came about six months before we did the recording. The Dells had been coming into Detroit to record since our producer, Don Davis, had started recording them, too. He cut "Give Your Baby A Standing Ovation" in the adjoining studio to the one we were recording in. So, with them staying over in Detroit so much — that's our home town — we got to know them even better and one night we were talking and Chuck of the Dells came up with the idea. No, I'd already mentioned it before to our guys but we hadn't mentioned it to anyone else outside but when Chuck brought it up, we jumped on it.

"We were negotiating our new contract with Stax and so we decided to go ahead with it in between signing a new deal. But the experience was fantastic, all ten of us in the studio at the same time and it was also the quickest we have ever recorded in our entire lives. We cut our whole contribution in four hours — that's the four we do solo and the two that we did together. "It also proved that two groups can work in harmony and has been a shot in the arm to the business, we believe. There's too much of this talk that groups are always competing with each other and it's good that we should be able to show the other side of it all to people.

"The whole thing was planned by Tony Hester, who produces for both groups and who is a young and highly talented man. We'd love to do it again with the Dells or even with other groups — such as the Temptations, Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes, the Spinners or Stylistics.''

So I turned to L.J. to get a little information on his career background prior to Chocolate Syrup It seems that he was a solo singer years before he even joined the group and had come to New York from his native Saginaw, Michigan, to find his fame and fortune. On coming to the city, he joined the Chocolate Syrup but left because he felt the atmosphere with the group left a lot to be desired. That's when he met Ron at the Apollo.

The five Dramatics have just made their first Atlantic crossing to entertain the American troops and they spent four days in England before they left to do the major part of their work in Germany.

"It's an honour for us to come and entertain the troops," Ron said seriously,'' because they miss so much by not being at home. It's been a trip that we've looked forward to ever since we knew we'd be coming. Now we're looking forward to being able to come back and play for the people, too. But everything is so different here — right from the time you get out at the airport and find the cars driving on the other side of the street!"

On returning to Detroit, the group intend to get more involved with their new project of being a production company. "We've formed a company called T.E.A.R. Productions — Tell Everybody About Us," laughs Ron "Right now we're only producing outside artists and not even thinkin' about recording ourselves.

"We are basically a production company, though, as opposed to a record company. That means we'll be producing for other companies. The first work we'll be doing is on two girl singers — Renee Williams and L.J.'s sister, Jeannie."

Meanwhile, back in the States, the group has a Volt single that is climbing rapidly to the top, entitled "And I Panicked", and Chess are about to release a solo single, too, from the "Dells vs. the Dramatics" album. Bearing in mind the success of the two albums, life is sweet right now for the Dramatics and it looks as though the blue skies will continue for an indefinite period.

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