Old school soul superstars The Hesitations
Long before Bone Thugs-N-Harmony put Northeast Ohio on the hip-hop map, there was an up-and-coming Cleveland outfit that epitomized the ’60s soul sound. Known for its harmonies, The Hesitations made a splash early on with its 1968 version of the theme song for feature film Born Free. Over the next few years, the outfit recorded four albums – Soul Superman, Born Free, That’s Where It’s At and Solid Gold – and scored other notable tracks such as “The Impossible Dream” and “Who Will Answer.”
The success of the group led to performing at the famed Apollo Theater and sharing the stage with the likes of Gladys Knight and the Pips, Stevie Wonder, The O’Jays, Sly and the Family Stone and more.
While the act disbanded in the early ’70s, in 2006 its singer Art Blakely reformed The Hesitations for a special Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum concert celebrating the doo-wop era with The Skyliners, US Bonds, The Reflections and The Edsels. Considering he couldn’t get any original Hesitations members interested in the reunion, Blakely turned to members of his old singing act The Sahibs to relive the music. So far, the vocal group has found renewed interest overseas, including a U.K. tour last year. CoolCleveland talked to lifelong Cleveland resident Blakely, 69, about The Hesitations’ Sat 1/22 show at the Beachland Ballroom.
Cool Cleveland: Let’s start at the beginning. How did The Hesitations get together?
Art Blakely: Some of us were going to go sing for a new company in Detroit. But the day before, the company went out of business and some of the guys quit. The rest of us went to Detroit and sang for some people and they liked us. I have no idea why because we couldn’t sing, not as a group. But they sent us to see (Funk Brothers percussionist) Jack Ashford. We sang again for him, he liked us and the next week we were in the recording studio, but our sound wasn’t right. That’s when we returned back to Cleveland and we rehearsed night and day for a week. We went back and sang for Ashford and that’s when we cut our first couple of songs with the Funk Brothers.
You were part of the Motown machine; however, you didn’t stay in Detroit very long. What happened?
We were on Kapp Records but we weren’t in Detroit anymore. We started cutting our albums out of RCA Victory in Chicago with a 21-piece orchestra. Our style changed between first and second and third albums. The first album was more of a Motown kind of style. The second was a Chicago sound and was more fleshier on the arrangement end. We had an entire different vibe going on. They were still rhythm and blues but mostly at the end we were a message group.
Why did the group break up?
At our last label, things started happening detrimental to the group. We found out we were not getting what we were making. We had four albums before we broke up. I ended up working in nursing and driving trucks. As a matter of fact, I would be singing while I was driving. There’s something wrong with that picture.
So what will people see at the upcoming Beachland show?
It’s R&B and some pop. It’s oldies but goodies, that kind of stuff. You’re going to see a mixture of your old favorites and the classic stuff. It’s for people who know harmony and enjoy the oldies. We’re a throwback group, you could say.
Finally, it sounds like seeing The Hesitations live is like seeing a living history lesson of a time gone by.
Yes, yes it is.
The Hesitations are scheduled to play at 9PM on Sat 1/22 @ the Beachland Ballroom, 15711 Waterloo Rd., Cleveland. Tickets are $10. Call 216-383-1124 for info. http://TheHesitations.com.
When he’s not writing about music or entertainment, he can be found coaching his two boys in basketball, football and baseball or watching movies with his lovely wife, Maria.