Origin: Cincinnati, Ohio, 🇺🇸 - Toronto, Ontario, 🇨🇦
'(You Are) Hypnotized' was not the Charmaines' greatest record. Nor was it their best selling. But it was only ever issued in Canada and is thus the one for which collectors fork over the big bucks.
The Charmaines are today barely a footnote in the equally obscure Cincinnati soul scene of the early sixties, forming in the Ohio city around the turn of the decade as a trio of Marian (a.k.a. Gigi) Jackson, Irene Vinegar and Dee Watkins.They were signed to the Fraternity label - allegedly after winning a TV talent show - and issued a pair of singles in 1961, one of which, 'What Kind Of Girl (Do You Think I Am)'; managed to bubble under at #117. It was the closest the girls would ever come to a hit record.
Cincinnati is well known as the home of Syd Nathan and King Records. But dig a little deeper and you'll find Kenny Smith, a local singer who spent the latter half of the 1950s singing doo wop with a group called the Enchanters. Smith had formed a new group and was performing one night at a storied local club called Castle Farms, where he caught the ear of Fraternity Records exec Carl Edmondson. Smith recorded a handful of singles with the label but never met with much success. So Fraternity moved him into the role of writer, producer and arranger, where he worked with a number of acts, including the Charmaines.
The Charmaines would record another four singles for Fraternity right through to 1966. During that time the ladies were making regular runs up to Toronto, where they were a popular act in the city's soul clubs. "We'd had a successful career at Fraternity and were quite happy there," Jackson recalled. "We had a few little hits with 'What Kind Of Girl (Do You Think I Am)', 'On The Wagon' and 'G.I. Joe' and got lots of work, especially in Canada."
Cincinnati is actually an eight-hour drive from Toronto, assuming cooperative customs agents at the border. And the Charmaines were making so many trips up north that in 1963 they actually decided to move to Toronto, just in time to participate in the city's blossoming music scene. "When the British groups first became popular over here, we were living in Canada at that time," Jackson said. "I remember the Dave Clark Five and the Rolling Stones coming up to Canada. They were at Maple Leaf Gardens, and at about four of those shows we were the opening act."
In 1965, the Charmaines hooked up with Stan Klees, a staff writer at RPM magazine and an up-and-coming record exec whose recently established Red Leaf imprint had already issued in just a few months records by David Clayton Thomas, the Paupers, the Allan Sisters, Pat Hervey and Shirley Matthews. Klees had the gals record a couple of songs co-written by Jackson and the Big Town Boys' Tommy Goodings.
'(You Are) Hypnotized' came out in May and seems to have gone pretty well unnoticed at the time. Which is a little surprising given Klees' considerable pull (he was known to plug his own records in his weekly RPM columns). But both sides of the disc are supremely uplifting northern soul, especially '(You Are) Hypnotized' with its infectious beat and those bewitching backing vocals, and are definitely worth searching out.
The Charmaines continued making records throughout the sixties, on other labels like Date, Columbia and Minute, before disappearing altogether. Sooner or later, though, even bottom-of-the-barrel soul music gets unearthed by those obsessives across the pond, and the Charmaines' records have not gone unnoticed. Copies of '(You Are) Hypnotized' seem to pop up for sale fairly frequently, and even scratchy ones can go for a few hundred USDs. There's also a 14-track LP comp on Ace Records out there that is still relatively easy to find, but alas it comes without these two Canadian tracks.