Records labels come about in many ways. In East St. Louis In the
late sixties as with many regions in America, urban poverty,
social & racial unrest were commonplace.
As one of the more impoverished communities in Illinois, East
St. Louis struggled, but where there is struggle there is always
the opportunity for expression.
The Young Disciples was a collective formed around a local
community project called the ‘South End Center’ located at 1501
Russell, E. St Louis. Allan Merry a successful
Musician and Recreational Director joined in partnership with a
serving Vista Volunteer
(Volunteers In Service To America) called
Mark Swansa, to use their combined
how to help kids in the local community. Both men shared a
theory that one-way to help was to teach through music. To this
end they formed ‘The Young Disciples’, the
idea being local kids could use the experience to improve their
own lives as well as earning additional money for themselves.
By 1967 Allan was already an accomplished musician, he was lucky
enough to be taught at high school by Curtis Amy who happened to
be with Ray Charles’s band. Curtis
remembered Allan as a young pupil and persuaded Allan’s parents
to allow him to join Ray’s Band. Naturally with the Young
Disciples Allan took care of all things Musical
leaving Mark to become business manager, booker, sound and
lighting man, in fact just about everything that wasn’t musical
Mark did it!
The Young Disciples band or ‘the big band’ as it was also known
originally comprised of around 22 members who either sang or
played an instrument, which turned into small
combos or groups. I was lucky to talk with Gus Thornton an
original member who attended Lincoln High School E. St Louis.
Around 66-67 Gus hung out with a High School
band called the Stimulations comprising of Daphine Williams
(lead Vocals), Charles Berkley, Brently Gillespie, and Aulander
Grey. Gus, Daphine and Charles lived near to
each other and met Allan Merry through the community center and
joined as an already formed rhythm section.
As the Young Disciples they performed their first concert on
Halloween night 1968 at the South End Center. That night all 22
members performed 13 numbers in front of 800
people, which Mark related to me went down so well when they got
to the end of their show they simply had to perform the 13
numbers over again, its all they knew!
Proceedings on the night were kicked of by the Young Disciples
troop of Black Afro Dancers comprising of four boys and six
girls. They boasted a comedy act as well as at
vocal groups. There were the Primes, the Primettes (after the
Motown groups), the Debonaires and the Debonettes, The
Georgettes, the Gents and the Meditations.
Allan told me that every one was playing somebody else, so you
got the Meditations or the Gents who could have been the Jackson
Five, and the Primes who were the
Temptations and so on.
With the success of their first concert the Young Disciples
started to get regular gigs at community centers around the
local area, until Mark secured bookings on university
campuses in Illinois and Memphis performing for College
students. They made appearances at the local State Fair, the
Mississippi River Festival and various free concerts
sharing the bill with the Chi-Lites and O.C Smith. Allan told me
“they loved us, everybody loved the Young Disciples”.
Later that year Allan and Mark made the decision to change the
name Young Disciples to YODI proper, Allan had used the
abbreviation on the first release on Daphine
Williams, but as there was a militant political group in Chicago
called the ’Black Disciples’ and they didn’t want the Label
associated with such groups especially as they
had both been harassed by local gangs due to growing popularity.
Mark added it was also beneficial from a commercial point of
view as YODI was far more marketable name,
they thought the
Young Disciples had too many gospel overtones. Mark’s
involvement with YODI drew to an end in 1971, the same year the
first release on the recognizable yellow, pink and
orange swirl label design was released, which incidentally had
been designed by Mark.
YODI went on to release 10 more singles over the next year or
so, some of which are very obscure.
Here’s what I know about those releases and the artists:
Allan Merry remembers Daphine as a kid of 15 years, a tenor who
could not hold pitch; and although I’ve heard various stories
about his waywardness I’ve got to say he
probably recorded one
of the best tracks on the label as well as some nifty ad-lib on
the beginning of The Young Disciples ‘Crumbs under the Table’
released on the local Gateway label.
Sharon Clark & the Product of Time
Sharon Clark was from East St. Louis and was brought to YODI by
one of the girls in either one of the female groups. Having sung
locally with Oliver Sain one of the biggest
Band leaders in St Louis, her first single ‘I’m Not Afraid Of
Love‘ was recorded at the Fame studio’s in Memphis and got to No
8 in Memphis and New Orleans R&B
charts receiving a fair amount
According to Allan, having had the single picked up by Apt / ABC
through his ‘on the road’ contacts he thinks Sharon was
sidelined at ABC due to them having just signed
the Four Tops. YODI persisted with Sharon and sent them out on
the road, they toured in Illinois and played in Detroit but the
single eventually died. Luckily for us they did
release a second single, which was recorded at Sam Philip’s Sun
Studio’s in Memphis.
Also brought in to help on the production side of the first
release and subsequent releases was Gene “Bowlegs” Miller who
was a very successful trumpet player as well as
having being heavily involved in Hi Records in Memphis. Gene got
involved in allot of small projects such as YODI at this time,
stuff like Horns on Bobby Fosters- Building up
for a let down on Sound Plus and production, writing and
arrangement credits on the classic ‘I don’t know why I love you’
by Ollie Nightingale on Memphis records.
Funk Collectable that’s a sought after track! Bobby McNutt was a
male vocalist and original Young Disciple. Also released ‘I'm
Getting' Ready’ for Roulette records post
YODI as well having writing credits on a small string of
releases in Chicago, most notably on USA records. His
one and only release on YODI was recorded at Fame studios in
From E. St Louis, Third flight comprised of Belgian Conrad (lead
singer), Bobby Waters, Mike Leigh and a guy called ‘Funny’
obviously his nickname! They were said to be
very influenced by
the black militant movement of the time and as a teenage
‘Gangster Group’ they recorded just one single for YODI before
their influence was deemed counter productive; ‘Love, Love,
Love’ is very much a psychedelic soul sound of the late 60’s
with ‘Third Flight’ more of a driving funk track, very much
influenced by George Clinton, Parliament and Funkadelic.
Eddie Fisher, Dealth Merry & the Yodi Gang
Without doubt the rarest of the Yodi releases. Allan Merry told
me it never came out and in my conversations with collectors and
members of the Young Disciples
I have only come across one copy
in the collection of Kurt Alt, although Sharon Clarke remembered
it straight away; the track also shares a release number with
the third Flight single.
Eddie Fisher has been an established Jazz Guitar player for over
a quarter of a century, and I’m told also owned his own
recording studio, as well as being heavily involved with the
local Jazz in St Louis regularly playing at the Blue Note Club.
Allan remembered having some extra funds in the YODI coffers
allowing them to record, according to him “this was the YODI
teachers ‘doing their thing!” Dealth was Allan’s nickname from
his college days.
De De Turner
De De was a male singer that came to Yodi via a famous football
player who played for the Kansas City Chiefs. YODI at the time
were trying to reach out to various areas
looking for new singers and groups to record, reflected in their
release ‘Outside of Memphis’ perhaps? Sonny Craver also cut the
track on the west coast.
Very little is known about Lavel Moore, but I’m told he had his
own group ‘The Meditations’ which was a baby group like Michael
Jackson / Jackson Five. Lavel
was the lead singer. His one and
only release on YODI was recorded at Universal studios in
Ames Harris Dessert Waterbag
Again I know very little about this release, but
one item that every vehicle needed during the 1930s was a trusty
waterbag. These were often seen dangling from the front
bumper where they could be reached at anytime that water was
needed should they overheat. The Desert Water bag was made by
the Ames Harris Nevelle Company in San
Francisco, who used the name Ames Harris, said to be the first
Black Cowboy. Its fare to say this was another in house track
featuring varied Young Disciples.
One of many vocal groups to be formed from within the Young
Disciples, After their YODI release Eddy Harris took them to
Atlantic Records but they were
told to come back after some work
on their intonation. There seems to be a couple of releases by
varied groups called the Georgettes, I’d assume they
connected but who knows?
In October 2005 the remaining members of the Young Disciples
held a reunion in East St Louis. I can report that Gus Thornton
is working on a new CD of Blues numbers
which he is looking to complete, he’s also scheduled to do some
touring with Bo Diddly this coming September.
Eddie Fisher is very prominent in St Louis and has just released
an LP entitled “Eddie Fisher, the next hundred years” having
weathered decades of changing styles in music
Sharon is still alive today and occasionally sings on the Jazz
circuit, she is in regular contact with Allan Merry and Gus
Thornton and we can only dream of the chance of her
re-recording her YODI material.
Mark is now a successful attorney living in Atlanta Georgia.
Allan, he teaches Music at a Mill school in East St Louis and
told me he would love to re-record some of
the YODI material for future release. I must say one thing I did
pick up from our conversation was his continuing belief in Young
Disciples and what that stands for. As far as
he’s concerned after all these years, he’s still teaching Young
Disciples! And long may he continue.
Soon after the above was feature was published I was contacted
by the Numero Group of labels in Chicago who went onto release a
full CD of the Yodi records catalogue of
songs on their ‘Eccentric’ record label. They really did a
brilliant job, you can find out more about the Young Disciples’
and order the CD direct from Numero records here
The Young Disciples’