The sole release by Rochester’s sweet-soul quartet the Darling Dears became a holy grail
The Darling Dears’ only release, 1972’s “I Don’t Think I’ll Ever Love Another” b/w “And I Love You,” is the archetypal sweet-with-a-beat: a lo-fi mix of delicate soul vocals, funky guitars, and heavy drums that are not simply the back-beat, but the main event.
Consisting of high school friends, Kim McFadden, Helen McGowen, and sisters Beverly and Salena Howard, the group originated in Rochester, New York. They took their name from the B-side to the Jackson 5’s Top 5 hit single “Mama’s Pearl,” and throughout James Madison High School they were well known for their synchronized dance routines. “Everybody used to love our choreography,” beams Helen, fondly remembering her high school days. They eventually paired up with local R&B group Funky Heavy Productions.
They were “discovered” by Kim’s older sister, Mary Ann Bradford. She introduced them to Alvin Lofton, a Rochester resident and record promoter who was working for Cap City Records, the D.C.-based label that released a handful of 7-inch singles in the late ’60s, the funkiest undoubtedly being “Crazy Thing” by the enigmatic funk group the Jaguars.
One of Cap City’s producers was Joe Tate, and following moderate success producing the short-lived female soul trio the Fuzz, in 1970, he wrote “I Don’t Think I’ll Ever Love Another” for the relatively unknown Rock Candy, which was recorded and released in 1971. As Rock Candy’s version of “I Don’t Think” struggled, however, to obtain much airplay, Tate offered the song to Alvin to cut with his new discovery, the Darling Dears.
The resultant 7-inch single, which backed Tate’s “I Don’t Think” with a song written by Alvin and Funky Heavy, was released on the Fine Records offshoot, Flower City Records. Alvin recalls that a thousand copies were pressed, some of which made their way into the racks of Rochester record stores; some into the hands of those reliable champions of regional talent, local and college radio DJs.
“The only real station which played the record was WCMF,” remembers Alvin, referring to the Rochester-based broadcaster. “I think we got a little airplay from the college stations.”
“[At school] they were amazed that we’d cut a hit record,” recalls Helen with a smile. “[Our peers] had always looked at us like, [adopts mocking tone] ‘Oh, they’re just doing the Jackson 5,’ but when we came out with the record we had our own name.”
When quizzed about the record’s main attraction, Alvin takes a second to think back to the recording session: “I actually wanted to turn [the drums] down but we couldn’t,” he reveals. “We had an eight-track [tape machine], so there wasn’t too much we could do. [The singers] had one or two mics; the band had their mics; the drummer had a mic; and that was it.”
“I just played what I felt,” remembers Funky Heavy’s drummer, Bruce Pitts. “I was sixteen years old, and I was just trying to be dynamic and forceful. That’s all.”
Following the release of the record, Alvin carried on promoting soul artists until the late ’80s—the Montclairs, Curtis Mayfield, and Black Ivory being just some of the acts he worked with. Bruce Pitts and Funky Heavy played the Rochester club circuit for a number of years before leaving the city and evolving into the successful disco-jazz-funk outfit the Voltage Brothers.
Helen, Beverly, Salena, and Kim, who still proudly, from time to time, go by the name the Darling Dears, continue to live in Rochester.
The songs have been reissued a few times, including on the 2012 Now-Again compilation Loving On the Flipside.
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