The Masqueraders were one of the longest-lived yet little-known groups in soul music history. According to an interview with soul collector and historian Greg Tormo, their origins date back to Dallas, Texas in 1958 -- middle-schoolers Charlie Moore (lead vocals) and Robert Tex Wrightsil (first tenor) formed the earliest incarnation of the group, then dubbed "the Stairs," with brothers Johnny and Lawrence Davis in the second and third tenor slots and "Little" Charlie Gibson singing bass. Circa 1959, the Stairs recorded at least three singles for the local South Town label -- "Brown-Eyed Handsome Man," "Caveman Love," and "Flossie Mae" -- before the Davis brothers left the group and Gibson enlisted in the U.S. Army. Moore and Wrightsil scrambled to find replacements, with Moore eventually moving to baritone to accommodate new lead vocalist Lee Wesley Jones; tenor Harold Thomas, and bass David Sanders filled out the new lineup, which toured relentlessly throughout Texas. They often appeared in small towns under the guise of national chart groups, easily emulating the style of any act they so chose -- as a result, they officially renamed themselves the Masqueraders, making their recorded debut under that name with 1963's "A Man's Temptation."
After cutting 1965's "Talk About a Woman" for the Houston label Soultown, the Masqueraders traveled to Detroit to audition for Motown -- informed that their style and approach were too similar to that of the Temptations, the group found themselves stuck in the Motor City with no money to return home, hatching a plan to perform at the local Twenty Grand Club to earn enough cash for return fare. En route they stumbled on a recording studio owned by La Beat label owner Lou Beatty, who would go on to release five Masqueraders singles ("The Family," "I'm Gonna Make It," "Together That's the Only Way," "Be Happy for Me" and "I Got the Power") spread across 1966 and 1967. None of their La Beat singles made a commercial impact, however, and the Masqueraders next traveled to Memphis to audition for producer Chips Moman. The group would proceed to record a total of eight singles at Moman's American Studios beginning with 1967's "I Don't Want Nobody to Lead Me On" -- licensed to the New York label Wand, the song was a minor regional hit, and was later recorded by both former NFL star Rosey Grier and the Gentlemen Four.
To avoid contractual snafus, Moman credited the Masqueraders as Lee Jones & the Sounds of Soul for the 1968 follow-up "This Heart Is Haunted," which he licensed to the Amy label. After "Do You Love Me Baby" failed to generate much interest, Wand dropped the Masqueraders, and Moman negotiated a new deal with Amy's parent label, Bell -- the three singles that resulted (the minor hit "I Ain't Got Nobody Else," "How Big Is Big," and "Steamroller") represent the creative zenith of the group's career, boasting a gospel-influenced deep soul sound gilded by American Studios' crack session crew. During this time, the Masqueraders also contributed backing vocals to sessions by blue-eyed soul combo the Box Tops. Their next single as headliners, 1968's "I'm Just an Average Guy," was their first true national hit -- released via Moman's AGP label, the record reached the number 24 spot on the national R&B charts. "The Grass Is Green" closed out the year, and in 1969 the Masqueraders swelled to a six-piece with the addition of vocalist Sammie Hutchins; when Lee Evans failed to show up for performances, Hutchins assumed his lead vocal spot, a position he assumed full-time when Evans ultimately left the group altogether.
After one final AGP single, "Love, Peace and Understanding," the Masqueraders finally left Memphis and returned home to Dallas, establishing their own Stairway label to release 1971's "Let Me Show the World I Love You"; with little promotion and no national distribution deals to speak of, neither the single nor its 1972 follow-up "The Truth Is Free" attracted any notice outside of Texas, and in 1973 the group returned to Memphis, this time landing with Willie Mitchell's famed Hi label. After two Darryl Carter-produced singles -- "Let the Love Bells Ring" and "Wake Up, Fool" -- Hi terminated the Masqueraders contract; after a quarter century with the group, he co-founded, Charlie Moore decided he'd had enough and resigned in 1974, paving the way for Lee Evans to return. In 1975 they signed with Isaac Hayes' HBS label, soon releasing their first-ever full-length album, Everybody Wanna Live On. Love Anonymous appeared later that same year, but HBS then declared bankruptcy and the Masqueraders spent the remainder of the decade without a recording contract, although they cut a series of still-unreleased demo sessions in addition to maintaining a relentless touring schedule. After signing with the Atlanta-based Bang label, in 1980 the Masqueraders released a self-titled LP that remains their final recorded work to date; Moore eventually returned to the lineup, however, and as of this writing, the group remains a going concern some four decades beyond its inception. ~ Jason Ankeny