Bob & Earl star and ‘Harlem Shuffle’ co-writer Earl Nelson dead at 79

 

Earl Lee Nelson – half of the singing duo Bob & Earl, who wrote and sang the classic Sixties soul hit ‘Harlem Shuffle’ – has died in Los Angeles, two months before his 80th birthday.

 

Nelson originally shot to fame in the late Fifties when he joined the West Coast doo-wop group the Hollywood Flames and sang lead on their 1958 hit ‘Buzz Buzz Buzz’.

 

He eventually quit his job in a toy factory and started recording with Hollywood Flames founder Bobby Byrd, who had built a parallel solo career under the name Bobby Day. Under this pseudonym, Byrd wrote ’Little Bitty Pretty One’ and had a solo hit with ‘Rockin’ Robin’.

 

In 1960, Earl Nelson and Bobby Day started recording together as Bob & Earl, on the Class Records label. However, these early releases had relatively little success, and Day/Byrd decided to resume his solo career in the early 1960s.

 

In 1962, Nelson teamed up with another Bobby – Bobby Relf – and they started recording and performing together as Bob & Earl. The new duo’s harmonies had a special quality – a smooth yet powerful sound that reflected Earl Nelson’s background in gospel music.

 

They found success after writing and recording ‘Harlem Shuffle’ with arranger/producer Barry White. The track was a minor hit in the US in 1963, but it reached the top 10 in the UK when it was re-released in 1969. The Rolling Stones even released a cover version of the song in 1986.

 

Nelson and Bobby Relf continued performing as Bob & Earl well into the 1970s before splitting up. Relf died in November 2007.

 

Nelson also enjoyed US chart success in the late-Sixties under the name Jackie Lee with dance novelty hits such as ‘The Duck’, ‘African Boo-Ga-Loo’ and ‘The Chicken’.

 

Earl Nelson was divorced twice and had 11 children. He suffered from Alzheimer’s Disease towards the end of his life.

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