- When you look up information on the Philly doo wop group, The Dreamlovers, a small paragraph about the group appears in multiple places. A few sites have a discography listing, but very little background information. Fortunately, I was about to connect with one of the two living members of this dynamic group, James Ray Dunn, who happens to be an older cousin of mine. I reached out to him for some information and ended up with a wealth of knowledge.
The Dreamlovers have their origin from the streets of North Philadelphia in the 1950s during and time when neighborhoods had singing groups on each corner who were in competition with each other at community centers, schools, parties and dances.
James Ray Dunn and his best friend, William “Peddy” Johnson formed a singing group while they were both students at Gillespe Jr. High School in 1956. Peddy, who sang lead, was knowledgeable about music. They recruited James Blango and Warren Washington to round out the group, who were then known as The Romancers. (An interesting footnote is that while in school, (James) Ray met another James Dunn who was in a different singing group. Come to find out that they were cousins. That particular James Dunn, also a cousin of mine, is one of the original Stylistics.)
As fate would have it, over time, James and Warren pursued other interests and decided to leave the Romancers. Ray and Peddy didn’t have to look very far for replacements in their group. James had a brother, Conrad Clifton Dunn (also my cousin) and his best friend, Cleveland Hammock Jr. used to listen to the Romancers during their rehearsals. They replaced the newly departed members of the Romancers. At this point, Ray Dunn was a student at what was then known as Northeast High School, renamed Edison HIgh School after Ray graduated in 1958.
Tragedy soon struck the group. Ray and Peddy went to a house party at 15th & Cabot streets in North Philadelphia. Peddy stepped outside for a moment. Ray remained inside enjoying the party. In the meantime, word got out at the party that someone had been shot outside. It was Peddy. An ambulance came and took him away. Ray went home with the knowledge that his best friend was shot. That was all he knew at the time. It wasn’t until the next day that he found out that Peddy had not survived the shooting.
Over time, Peddy was replaced by Tommy “Ricks” Brabham. He dropped his last name and combined his first name and nickname for professional purposes while in entertainment.
The group gained a reputation for having tight harmonies and a beautiful sound. A member of another group, Morris Gardner saw them perform, and although he was in a rival group, he wanted to be part of the Romancers. He asked to join, auditioned, and was accepted into the group.
So now we have the quintet Ray Dunn (bass), Clifton Dunn (baritone), Cleveland Hammock (tenor), Tommy Ricks, and Morris Gardner, who eventually became known as the Dreamlovers.
This grouping met a guitarist and songwriter named Donnie Hogan who is accepted as part of the group. He was the one who wrote a lot of the songs they recorded. He sang with them also, but he was more interested in writing music than performing it.
The Dreamlovers were influenced musically by the popular groups of the day like the Flamingos, Moonglows, 5 Keys and the Dells, all known for outstanding harmonies. Locally, they were influenced by the Turbans, Universals, and the Bluenotes (Yes, Harold Melvin was a part of this group.)
The Dreamlovers recorded sides for a variety of labels. Ray remembers “For the First Time”, a duet between Donnie & Clifton, and “Annabelle Lee”, with Donnie as lead among the first songs they recorded. The Dreamlovers were also sought after background vocalists for the Cameo/Parkway label. They are well known for backing Philadelphia artist Chubby Check on “The Twist” and subsequent recordings. The Dreamlovers are even given a shout out on Chubby’s record, “Dancin’ Party”. They also did background vocals for Bobby Rydel, Dee Dee Sharp, Fabian and other artists in the early 60s.
The Dreamlovers recorded a few sides for a variety of labels (Len and V-Tone records) that were regional hits, but in 1961 they found themselves on the national charts with a Don Hogan composition entitled, “When We Get Married”, with Morris on the lead. This was released on the Heritage records label. As Morris was learning the lead, the rest of the group created the background vocals heard on the record, which is a formula they used for other recordings. Don also used a vibe arpeggio on a few of their recordings as an intro, which would become a trademark on some of their other recordings.
They would ask Don to write songs based on the hit of the day. “When We Get Married” was inspired by “Daddy’s Home” Shep and the Limelights. It jumped on the national charts slightly below the top 40 somewhere between #50-60, but raced up to #10, which was a huge feat at the time because many r&b Philly groups were not in the top ten during that time. The song was a hit for the Intruders in 1970 and again in 1980 by Larry Graham.
The group was then in great demand nationally as well as internationally, They made an appearance on the Bandstand tv show with Dick Clark, which was based in Philadelphia at the time. At the time, they were managed by Jerry Ross who was also Dick Clark’s booth announcer on the tv show. Being on Bandstand was a big boost for the group. You can find a picture of them being interviewed by Dick Clark with a quick internet search.
The only other chart Top 100 hit they had was “If I Should Lose You” in 1962, which went to #62. The group always had a core mixed audience at all of their shows, and as styles of music changed, they adapted to the changing trends, although their harmonic sounds was the core and still found an audience, especially on the east coast.
Ray was drafted into the service from 1963 – 1965, but the rest of the group continued to record and perform without him. Record labels they recorded for during Ray’s absence include Casino, Swan, Columbia, and Cameo. Jesse Gillis Jr. of the Bluenotes sang and recorded with the group during Ray’s leave of absence from the group. Ray rejoined the group when he returned from a tour of duty in Germany, in which he heard the group’s records while serving
The group was dissatisfied with Jerry Ross as their manager. There were some issues involving finances. Tommy Ricks was the first to leave the group. There was also a little tension in the group with Morris who was doing a lot of the lead singing at the time. It’s my understanding that Morris may have wanted to go into a different direction than the rest of the group, and most of the time was the odd man out when voting within the group on group decisions.
The group simply decided to stop dealing with Jerry. They were under the delusion that Jerry had trademarked the group name, yet they continued performing without his guidance.
Meanwhile, Morris left the group and stayed with Jerry. Morris and/or Jerry hired the Bluenotes to go into the studio and record with Morris under the name Dreamlovers, while the original group was still in existence. One of the songs Morris recorded was “You Gave Me Somebody to Love”, on the Mercury label in 1965. It became a popular record in some areas. Most people that hear it today mistake it as a Righteous Brothers song because the style and production is similar to “You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling.” Manfred Mann recorded it in 1966. Their version made it to #36 on the national charts.
The original Dreamlovers researched and found that Jerry did not own the group name and trademarked it for themselves. They also heard the new song by the “Dreamlovers” and liked it. Although they were not on the recording, they added “You Gave Me Somebody to Love” to their repertoire as it was in demand.
The members of the Dreamlovers held day jobs during the week, and booked gigs on the weekends. At one point they recorded as A Brother’s Guiding Light in the early 1970s.
The group broke up in the 70s. They reformed briefly in the 1980s with a couple of new members, Charlie Brown and Earl Worthem, along with Ray and Clifton, but after Clifton’s health started failing, the group retired.
Today Ray and Morris are the only members of the original Dreamlovers with us today.still . I’ve reached out to Morris Gardner, but at the time of this writing, I have not heard back from him.
Ray laughed when I asked him if he would ever get on stage for a one off performance. At this point Ray has no interest in getting back on the road to perform nor reform the group. He has no idea about today’s current popular artists. He rarely listens to music. But he is willing to sit down with me one day and check out some new artists. He is enjoying life with his family and staying healthy, but is delighted in knowing that people still have interest in the group. He recalled no bad experiences on the road and enjoyed all of the stars that he worked with. He’s proud of their success, and is humble and grateful for the experience of being a Dreamlover.
Interviewed, transcribed and written by Kenny Pitt