Imperial Wonders Biography
Talented and flashy, the Imperial Wonders were Cleveland, Ohio’s answer to the Temptations, mimicking the Motor City giants with Lester “Jelly” McKenzie’s Eddie Kendricks-ish falsetto, Avaughn Wells’ deep Melvin Franklin-esque bass, and Leo Green’s rough Paul Williams-ish baritone. A quintet like the Temptations, the other members were Al Boyd, a former Rotation, and Walter Channey. They hit their stride in the early ’70s recording a string of singles, changing labels with virtually every release.
A short-lived local label, Daywood Records owned by Bob Davis and Melvin Wood, released their debut recording in 1969; the bouncy “Just a Dream” had that lilting quality that makes records magic, but Daywood had neither the expertise nor the funds to do anything with it. Their next and arguably most popular recording came out on Tennessee’s Black Prince Records: “Trying to Get to You” displayed McKenzie’s oil-slick falsetto; the tune was similar musically to “Just a Dream” but accented with a spoken part by Wells; the flip was just as good, a remake of the standard “When I Fall in Love,” featured Wells on lead, sounding identical to the Temptations’ Melvin Franklin. It was a big hit on R&B radio in Cleveland and probably picked up some plays in other localities as well, but not nearly enough for the guys to realize any monies for their effort. With former O’Jay Bobby Massey producing, the guys waxed a side for Musicor Records that went unnoticed even in Cleveland. Two last shots on Cleveland’s Solid Foundation Records, produced again by Massey, afforded one minor hit there, “Turned Around Over You.”
After the Imperial Wonders disbanded, Green and Boyd sang with Truth; Lester McKenzie wrote songs for many Cleveland acts including the tender “Son-In-Law” for the Elements, who also recorded as Moving Violation for Atco Records. McKenzie died in the mid-’90s, and Green moved to Atlanta, Georgia; Wells and Channey are believed to be on the West Coast, along with Al Boyd. Boyd got a position as a staff writer for Motown, where he penned such notable tunes as “Shakey Ground,” a hit for the Temptations and Phoebe Snow.