The Spontanes from Gastonia, NC ran initially from 1960 to 1968, with a couple of subtle band title changes at various points to include lead singers Joe Ray Dowell and Harley Hogg. In one form or another they have continued to perform pretty much ever since. The group had more than forty members during its history, including about twenty during their 1960s recording period. They played across the south east including Spartanburg SC, Charlotte and Greensboro NC, and at various college venues including the University of Georgia campus in the late 60s. The Spontanes went on to record for Eclipse, Beaver and Deck in the seventies and eighties, although these are perhaps of lesser interest to rare soul collectors.
The Spontanes put out two 45s and an LP in the 1960s. Their first single, the self-penned mid tempo “Share My Name” was recorded in 1965 and released on the Casino label (4-4797). James Bates took lead vocals, possibly accompanied in parts by Joe Ray Dowell, who provided lead vocals for the ballad flip. Joe Dowell left the band temporarily between 1965 and 1968 to record as The Five Jays with his brother and three others, with “Hey, Hey Girl” (Chant 515) for Bill Haney’s label in Atlanta.
The LP release “The Spontanes Play Solid Soul” appeared in 1966, on Hit Records, the same label as Gene Barbour and the Cavaliers “I Need Love” - both products of Ted Hall’s Hit Attractions booking agency in Charlotte. Tracks included “Ain’t No Big Thing”, “Summertime”, “I’m on the Outside Looking In”, “Reach Out”, “My Girl”, “Thank You John”, “Share My Name”, “Raise Your Hand”, “39-21-46”, “Everything’s Going to Work Out”, “Get Ready” and “Midnight Hour”. Again James Bates and now also Ronnie Owenby provided vocals on this work.
Their second 45 “Where Did I Go Wrong” (UA 50269), was produced by their manager Claude Bailey, around 1967 or 1968. Band members at this time included James Bates (vocals), possibly his brother Jay Dee (guitar), Ronnie Bailey (drums), Bill Stewart (saxophone), Ronnie Owenby (vocals, guitar) Terry Ransome (trumpet) and Ronnie Gittens (keyboards, trumpet). The track was also written by Bates, in his mid twenties by this time, and is a fine example of the kind of mid 60s beach horn-led mid tempo dancer. Bates stayed with the first version of the band until 1969 when he joined The Rivieras, probably at the time Ray Dowell came back into the fold to head up The Spontanes.
“We were doing fraternity parties and high school dances at the time and came across James” says Nat Speir of the Rivieras. “He was extremely soulful. Nobody could do James Brown better. James Bates is in this area still, playing a lot of golf and doing a regular gig with the same partner for years.”
Bates, now in his 70s, reported in the Gaston Gazette that his right to “Where Did I Go Wrong” was sold to an undisclosed New York company by their band manager some years ago. This only came to light in 2011 when organising a reunion and DVD recording in Gaston County of the “Original Spontanes” and other local R&B bands from the 1960s. Bates was inducted into the Carolina Beach Music Hall of Fame in 2011. The group still appears as The Original Spontanes today. Joe Dowell is now deceased.
Copyright E. Mark Windle 2013.
Nat Speir. Personal coms. August 2012.
Pete McKnight. Personal coms. September 2012.