By Bob “The Record Guy” Paxon
Following our recent Donnie Elbert posts, here’s a record that shot up the national charts in 1966 – and embroiled Donnie in a court case with his former friend, the singer!
Darrell Banks (Eubanks) was born in Ohio to an unwed teenage mother who gave him his surname and left him in the care of his grandparents. He followed the usual path of learning to sing in the local church. After high school he sought out his father in Buffalo where he began singing with local bands. I don’t know much about his local work and I’d love to find out more.
Banks eventually met up with a club owner named Doc Watson. Doc put him on stage at his Club Revilot. Darrell also crossed paths with Donnie Elbert, already a legend due to his membership in The Vibraharps and his early solo success. Donnie acted as something of a mentor to the young singer.
Donnie had written a song he titled “Baby Walk Right In” which he gave to Darrell, who made some changes and then pit it in his back pocket for possible future use.
Meanwhile in Detroit, LeBaron Taylor was trying to compete with Motown’s dominance of the Motor City at Golden World Records, a label with Buffalo connections. Golden World’s studio equipment was formerly Tom Shannon’s Buffalo studio and it had been used to make many records locally, including the hit “Wild Weekend”! Tommy had moved to Detroit where he was becoming a power in the radio business, and he brought with him some of the WNY recording artists he managed as well as some associates trying to break into the record production business.
Detroit at that time was the epicenter of the Soul / R&B music world. The Motown SOUND was dominating the charts and influencing others. The Motown business model was attracting attention as well: a Black-owned company recording Black artists that was able to cross over to pop radio mega-success, with its own studios and studio musicians.
Golden World Records copied that model in every way. They even utilized moonlighting Motown session players. They did it so well that in 1966 Motown bought out the company and the studios. There was money to be made copying Motown either way, selling your own records or selling out to Berry Gordy. Another label of the Golden World partners, Ric-Tic Records, similarly sold out to Motown in 1968.
Some Golden World employees together with Don Davis and George White of Detroit’s WXYZ had formed a production company, Solid Hitbound Productions, which similarly made perfect faux-Motown recordings. They had several record labels but their first was Revilot Records.
Darrell Banks was apparently singing “Open The Door” in Cleveland when talent scouts for Don Davis heard him. By some accounts it was a chance meeting, by others Doc Watson’s Detroit connections made it happen. For what it’s worth, Davis signed Banks to be the first artist on a new label and since it was apparently named for Watson’s Club Revilot in Buffalo, you can draw your own conclusion!
A major reason Darrell was signed was the potential hit song he brought with him. “Baby Walk Right In” was now titled “Open The Door To Your Heart” and after successfully auditioning with it at Solid Hitbound, Darrell apparently claimed sole composing credit.
“Open The Door To Your Heart” featured Motown session stalwarts like Dennis Coffey. The flip side “Our Love Is In The Pocket” was co-written by George Clinton (later of Parliament/Funkadelic), whose Parliaments were also signed to Revilot.
The record peaked at #2 R&B and #27 on the Billboard Hot 100. When Donnie Elbert saw that he’d been cut from the credits (a valuable copyright, considering that it was a million-seller), he went ballistic. A protracted legal battle ensued but the courts ultimately found in Elbert’s favor.
It was immediately covered by The Capitols on Atco Records. Atco was a home for many Buffalo R&B artists over the years, including Donnie Elbert, Lenny O’Henry and The Vibraharps, and soon Darrell would find himself there too. Jackie Wilson covered also it, in 1967, and Betty Wright in 1976, among others.
Banks’ second single on Revilot placed high on the charts. On to Atco Records, he released some singles which didn’t chart and his first album, which included his Revilot singles. After one more single on Atco subsidiary Cotillion Records, he signed to Stax Records. It released another full-length album of his material in 1969 and two more non-charting singles. Don Davis produced the Stax Records; his mandate at Stax was to make Motown-sounding records.
Darrell continued performing, mostly in Detroit, at places like the Pink Pussy Cat. His sister recalls her last meeting with him there; he had a large white ankle cast as a result of a stage injury.
In February 1970, Banks was shot and killed by policeman Aaron Bullock in a dispute over Marjorie Bozeman, a West Side lounge barmaid with whom Banks had also been involved. Bullock was dropping Miss Bozeman off at her home on the West Side when Banks approached and grabbed her by the coat. Bullock identified himself as a police officer, Banks then pulled out a .22 revolver and Officer Bullock fired one shot, striking Banks in the neck.
The killing shocked Detroit, and the Soul music world in general. Banks was considered a humble, friendly but reserved, non-violent man. Soul music royalty of the Motor City gathered for a Banks family benefit at Watts Club Mozambique on Detroit’s West Side. Isaac Hayes, The Spinners and Martha Reeves & the Vandellas turned out to support the family and a trust fund for Banks’ children.
Life went on and before very long Banks’ memory was left behind in the USA. He was buried in an unmarked grave.
Meanwhile, Northern Soul fans in the UK had never forgotten. Bank’s records, particularly “Open The Door To Your Heart.” It went from initial 1960s chart popularity to “classic” status after regular spins at influential clubs like the Wigan Casino and the Twisted Wheel in the early 1970s.
Once a Northern Soul classic, forever a Northern Soul classic (their motto is Keep The Faith). In 2003, a Scottish fan who hadn’t forgotten traveled to Detroit searching information concerning Banks’ death. Shocked to discover the unmarked burial site, he gathered fellow Northern Soul fans and raised $2,000 to give Banks a solid marble grave marker. Fans from around the world gathered to honor Banks with a party followed by memorial service.
Grave marker #539 now has a beautiful bench inscribed with both Darrell’s name and “Open the Door to Your Heart”.