Born Harold Kenneth Dorman, 23 December 1931, Drew, Mississippi
Harold Dorman was one of many one-hit wonders during the first wave of rock and roll. Whilst not a raving rocker, he made consistently good records and possessed an expressive, typically southern voice. Up until now, his legacy has been largely neglected by the reissue companies and he deserves a CD release that contains an overview of his best work.
Dorman was born in Drew, Mississippi, in 1931, not in 1926, as is alleged by many sources. He grew up in Sledge, also in Mississippi. Upon his discharge from the US Army, where he saw active service in the Korean War, he and his wife Peggy relocated to Memphis in 1955, just in time for the rocking explosion that was about to shake the world. Dorman cut four audition sessions for Sun Records in March-June 1957, but Sam Phillips chose not to release anything. Three of the tracks would eventually appear on three different CDs in Charly’s “Essential Sun Rockabillies” series in the 1990s. Later in 1957 he recorded for Fernwood Records and cut “Soda Pop Baby”, “Sweet Sweet Love” and “Lonely Nights” under the supervision of Roland Janes (Jerry Lee Lewis’s former guitarist) at the latter’s Sonic Studio. These three titles were also shelved, but were included on a Bear Family compilation LP of Harold’s work in 1988.
In 1959 Dorman - then working as a car park attendant - did another session organized by Janes, this time at Hi’s Royal Studio in Memphis. This resulted in the now classic “Mountain of Love” (Dorman’s own composition), which Roland Janes tried unsuccessfully to lease to various labels. Janes then decided to launch his own label, Rita Records, in partnership with Billy Riley. He still had faith in Dorman and signed him to the label. “Mountain of Love” was overdubbed with a vocal chorus and released on Rita 1003 in December 1959. Strong southern sales prompted interest from several larger labels and Janes sought the help of Bill Lowery, a music publisher / label owner from Atlanta, whose NRC label distributed Rita. Lowery thought that the record would get more airplay in the Northern and Eastern states if it was overdubbed with strings. This proved to be a sound prediction and the adjusted version of “Mountain of Love” soon entered the charts, peaking at # 21 pop and # 7 R&B. It would remain Dorman’s only hit, but it turned out to be a perennial source of income, as there have been many cover versions over the years. Johnny Rivers had a # 9 pop hit with the song in 1964, Ronnie Dove’s recording went to # 67 in 1968 and Charley Pride scored a number one country hit with “Mountain of Love” in 1982. Others who have recorded the song include Narvel Felts, Faron Young, the Beach Boys, Bill Black’s Combo, Shakin’ Stevens and Bruce Springsteen.
The follow-up was the similar sounding “River Of Tears”, which got no higher than a “bubbling under” position in Billboard at # 111. There was a dispute between NRC and Rita, with the result that Lowery discontinued distribution of Rita. “River of Tears” was also released on the California label Tince (# 1002), credited to the “Roland James (sic) Orch.”, with "Harold Dorman - vocal” in smaller print. A third Rita single, “Moved To Kansas City” (later covered by Tony Rossini on Sun), was leased to American Top Rank, but did nothing. After fifteen singles releases, Janes and Riley decided to cease the operation of Rita Records in 1961.
Next Dorman returned to Sun Records and this time has recordings did get a release. Three quality singles were issued between May 1961 and April 1962, “There They Go”/“I’ll Stick By You” (Sun 362), “Uncle Jonah’s Place”/“Just One Step” (Sun 370) and “In the Beginning”/“Wait Til’ Saturday Night” (Sun 377). On the first of these he was backed by some Nashville heavyweights : Hank Garland, Floyd Cramer and Buddy Harman. Good as these records were, commercial success was not forthcoming.
After Sun, Dorman went back to Fernwood and recorded two singles for their Santo subsidiary in 1962-63. He gave up touring in 1962 and took a job as a leather tooler, but he continued to write songs. Moon Mullican recorded three of his compositions and Charley Pride (also from Sledge, Mississippi) had a # 3 country hit in 1974 with Harold’s “Mississippi Cotton Picking Delta Town”, before taking a remake of “Mountain of Love” to the top of the country charts.
Harold Dorman suffered two strokes in 1984 and died in 1988, before he was able to visit Europe and perhaps gain some long overdue fame. In the year of his death Bear Family released his unissued Rita and Fernwood recordings on a vinyl album, which also included “Mountain of Love” (the title of the LP).
Discography : http://countrydiscography.blogspot.nl/2011/02/harold-dorman.html
Apart from the hard-to-get Bear Family LP, there exists no album exclusively devoted to Harold Dorman. For the availability of his recordings on various compilation albums see http://rcs-discography.com/rcs/artist.php?key=dorm5000
Acknowledgements : Tony Wilkinson, Hank Davis.
Dik, October 2017
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