Process & the Doo Rags

Process & the Doo Rags

BMHOF Class of 2015

Preparing a musician and entertainer requires more than raw talent. There is a grooming that takes place. A readying. A method of teaching the way to handle the variety of audiences an entertainer will face throughout their careers.

Not every musician is fully prepared to navigate the personalities, the offers and temptations of illicit substances and “nights out” with the opposite sex. Certainly, traveling in the company of funk master Rick James immediately pushes any musician into the limelight. But when a group is ready to branch out on their own, it helps to have the cachet provided by a superstar such as James.

Process & the Doo Rags came to be when James enlisted his back-up singer James  “Bunty” Hawkins (aka Process), the brother of the funk legend’s guitarist and musical director Kenny Hawkins. He wanted to begin preparing some of his male backup singers to form a stand-alone act, much like the Mary Jane Girls.

James and Hawkins picked out Stacey “Wave” Lattimore, Henry “Gumps” Graham, Dennis “Shorty” Andrews and Michael “Smooth” Gibson. Process and the Doo Rags were born.

The group was almost a quartet. Over 400 singers auditioned for the group and Lattimore, Graham and Gibson were picked to join Hawkins. Then Andrews asked for a late audition.

“I'm a little guy," Andrews said at the time. “But I have a big voice." And he was in.

Process and the Doo Rags offered a retro 1950s fashion style with a modern R&B sound for their time. The way it was described in their record company bio was to “bring back the lost art of a cappella harmony and to bridge the gap between the doo-wop of the 1950s and the serious funk of the ‘80s.”

The group was known for its monster-wave hair styles, skinny ties, baggy zoot suits and Stacey Adams two-toned shoes, but also for its vocal skills.

"What the Doo Rags have to offer,” said James Hawkins, "nobody else has." Mr. Hawkins arranged the a cappella vocal harmonies for the group and collaborated with Rick James on the harmonies for the funk songs.

The 45 “Stomp and Shout” made its way onto the Billboard R&B charts. The group cut a video that was featured on MTV, VH-1 and BET.
 
Process & the Doo Rags performed with a full band at showcases and sold out six shows at the Cotton Club in Buffalo. They went a cappella to play Studio 54 and Trax in New York City.

They worked on their choreography with Chollyl Atkins, the legendary choreographer known best for his work with Motown stars such as the Temptations and the Supremes.

“'We're very serious about what we're doing,” said James Hawkins as the second album was coming out. “One thing I've learned working with Rick James and that's you can't fake the funk. Many have tried and haven't been heard from since.”

The group traveled extensively and released that second album, “Colorful Changes,” just a few years later. “I Promise to Remember,” a cover of a Frankie Lymon& the Teenagers 1950s doo-wop song was the single. It also saw some Billboard chart action.

One side of the album was produced by James in Buffalo, with the Stone City Band providing backup. The other was produced in Boston by the Aleem Brothers, twins Tunde-Ra and Taharqa, who were also James associates.

The song “Call Me Up” also made the Billboard dance charts.

Overall, the second album failed to take off commercially, but the group’s harmonies can also be heard backing up Rick James on several of his albums – “Reflections,” “Glow,” “Freak Flag” and “Wonderful.”

So in spite of rave reviews, Process and the Doo Rags were nearly relegated to the “rare and obscure music” files. But after an absence of over 20 years, three of the four surviving members reunited in 2013 to record “No Age in Love” with Hall of Fame member Tom Lorentz for the theme song for the Special Olympics at the University at Buffalo.

Lattimore died in 1996, and Process lives in Atlanta these days, but Kenny Hawkins reunited Graham, Andrews and Gibson with Diggs, along with legendary bass player, Jerry Livingston and piano player Bobby Jones, for the Lorentz recording  and performances.

“The event was spectacular and I will forever be grateful for this experience,” said Lorentz. “They are colorful, talented, controversial, trend setting, demanding with attitude … every ingredient needed to be a true artist.”

And now, with their induction into the Buffalo Music Hall of Fame, their place in history is assured.

(Profile by Melissa Kate and Elmer Ploetz)

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