Oscar Toney, Jr. recorded some soulful sides for Bell Records in the late '60s that will forever etch him into soul music lovers' memories. The emotive singer born May 26, 1939, in Selma, AL, was raised in Columbus, GA. He sung gospel in church and high school with a group he called the Sensational Melodies of Joy. After high school he ventured into secular music with the Searchers waxing "Wow Wow Baby" b/w "Ooo-Wee" on Class Records in 1958. They kept searching doing local and regional gigs and in 1961 cut a final recording, "Yvonne" b/w "Little Wanda," on Max Records. Like the first, the public and radio stations ignored it and the Searchers disbanded. Three years later Toney soloed with "Can It All Be Love," produced by Bobby Smith in Macon, GA, but released on Cincinnati's King Records; it too went unnoticed.
He befriended DJ/Producer Papa Don Schroeder in Pensacola, FL, who produced recordings on Mighty Sam McClain and James & Bobby Purify. He kept Toney around to fill in for either James or Bobby when one couldn't make a gig. Overwhelmed by Toney's vocal ability, Papa Don signed him to a production deal with Bell Records in 1967. Not messing around, Schroeder took Toney to legendary producer Chips Morman in Memphis, TN, and hit the first time out with a moving rendition of Jerry Butler & the Impressions' "For Your Precious Love"; it cracked the R&B Top Ten, settling at number four, and the pop Top 40, nesting at number 23. Its success prompted King Records to release the previously unreleased "I Found True Love."
None of his subsequent recordings did as well. A revival of Bobby "Blue" Bland's "Turn on Your Love Light" went to number 37 R&B and number 65 pop late in 1967. Bell released four singles on Toney in 1968; all flopped, except another remake, this time a Clyde McPhatter song, "Without Love (There Is Nothing)," which barely made the charts. Bell dropped one more Toney single in 1969, "Down in Texas" b/w "Ain't That True Love." The association dissolved when Schroeder left the business.
He signed with Phil Walden's Capricorn Records in 1970, which resulted in "Down on My Knees." Capricorn got it played in the South, but couldn't get the sucker aired anywhere else. Three more singles bombed and by 1973 the Capricorn deal was history.
Toney rarely worked a full-time job during his quest for musical fame and fortune. He earned his supper gigging; many times he visited England, where Northern soul fans appreciated his deep soul ballads far better than the fickle fans in the States. Contempo Records' boss John Abbey signed Toney to the label. Abbey also attempted to revitalize the careers of J.J. Barnes, and other American soul singers. Six Contempo 45s and one LP resulted in zilch sales. Before the '80s rolled in, Toney left secular music; 23 years of trying only produced one substantial hit, and the wailing soul singer returned to his first love, gospel music. ~ Andrew Hamilton
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