NORMAN FOX AND THE ROBROYS - HISTORY
One of the earliest interracial quintets, Norman Fox & The Robroys were one of the most underrated and overlooked groups ever to cut a 45. With his distinctive lead voice, Norman Fox of the Bronx hooked up with DeWitt Clinton High School friends Robert Thierer (Baritone), Marshall Buzzy Helfand (Bass), Bob Trotman (First Tenor), and Andre Lilly (Second Tenor) in 1956 to form a dynamic vocal mix. They practiced in the school’s bathroom, at Norman’s house on Henry Hudson Parkway, and at Robert’s Knolls crescent address, sharpening their sound on songs like The Channel’s “The Closer You Are” and their own “Tell Me Why.”
Influenced by other groups like The Harptones, The Eldorados, The Cleftones, The Teenagers, and The Heartbeats, the Bronx quintet developed their own unique sound, at the same time the racially mixed Del-Vikings were getting it all together in Pittsburgh.
Early in 1957 Bob Trotman met Don Carter, a New York agent for the Duke/Peacock organization, at Buddy’s record shop at 167st in the Bronx, and told him of their group. After a live audition in that very record store, the Bronx boys found themselves contracted to the Texas based record label. Originally called the Velvetones, they changed their name to the Robroys after the drink and recorded the first single for Peacock’s new Backbeat affiliate in April 1957 at Bell Sound Studios in New York.
“Tell Me Why” was written by Buzzy Helfand and Norman Fox. Fox, falling victim to Carter and common industry practices at the time, never got writing credit for the song or any royalties. The group was made up of kids that wanted to sing and make records. They were less concerned with the money and did not have the legal protection that is more widely available in the industry today.
“Tell Me Why” came out in the summer of 1957. The single was well received at the East Coast radio stations--particularly in New York and Philadelphia. But it was obvious that the Gospel record company had no idea how to market a Rock n Roll record.
The Rob Roys turned out to be Backbeat’s first integrated group. Fox, Helfand, and Thierer were white, and Trotman and Lilly were black. They performed in some Harlem clubs to the surprise and delight of their patrons who were lucky enough to see them. For the most part they played New York area record hops with disc jockeys like Jocko Henderson, while waiting for their next record, “Dance Girl Dance,” to be released.
In two singles Norman established himself as one of rocks most excitingly identifiable leads. Unfortunately, few people had the chance to concur thanks to Backbeats unwillingness to market another classic.
In 1958, now weary of lost royalties and poor merchandising, the group brought two Norman Fox originals to Capitol Records. The group released Pizza Pie and Dream Girl with the new label. In January of 1959 Paul Schneller replaced Helfand just before the Capitol sides were recorded. As soon as the record was released Don Roby of Backbeat showed up waiving a still valid contract. Capitol chose to pull the single before it reached most radio stations.
In 1962 Fox and company did two more sides for Bob Shads Time label, “Aggravation” and “Lonely Boy.” They were never issued, and Fox left for the army the afternoon after the session.
At the request of the legendary disc jockey Gus Gossett, the group did another show at Hunter College (Beacon Theater) in 1971.
In the late 80s a couple of ardent collector dealers happened upon two sides the group had cut for Capitol that were never released, “Lover Doll” and “That’s Love,” and one that the Rob Roys had done in 1974, “Rainy Day Bells.” They turned them into singles on bogus Backbeat labels. A third Backbeat issue, “Do Re Mi,” which was spirited from the Rob Roy sides came out in 1990 in the collector’s market.
The members of the original Rob Roys all went their separate ways and into different careers. In 1961, The Belmonts covered “Tell Me Why,” and it was a moderate success on the charts. Because of this, The Rob Roys had a resurgence in popularity.
Over the years the group has gotten together to do shows. Norman Fox and Bob Thierer were the mainstays and continued to sing. The different slots were filled by some of the most talented people in the music business.
Warren Tesoro (Second Tenor)
Nelson Tino Alverez (First Tenor)
Stuart Morgan (First Tenor)
Alex Augustine (Second Tenor)
Paul Schneller (Bass)
Less Levine (Bass)
Leon McClain (Bass)
Bernard Jones (Bass)
Tom McManus (Bass)
Jay McKnight (Bass)
In late 1991 the group recorded four songs acapella for Starlight records. “Dream Girl,” “Pizza Pie,” “Tell Me Why,” and The Heartbeats’ “Your Way.” Later that year four more songs were recorded acapella: “Dance Girl Dance,” “Lover Doll,” and Kim Fox singing lead on “Oh Gee Oh Gosh,” and “Why Do Fools Fall In Love.”
In May of 1992 The Rob Roys appeared at Radio City Music Hall, Celebrating the 20th anniversary of WCBS FM. They were showered with great acclaim by the fans and the many disc jockeys that were at the event. “It was like they came out of obscurity and blew them all away,” said cousin Brucie, Bruce Marrow.
Norman Fox continues to sing and write music. During the pandemic he is making home videos to entertain his fans on social media. He is planning to record a new album as soon as he can get back into the studio.