*Millions of fans around the globe have enjoyed the smooth stylings of the R&B group The Dramatics, but little do they know the backstage drama that may soon be chronicled in a book and brought to life on the big screen.
According to long-time member LJ Reynolds, the most recognized leader of the group, the late Ron Banks, grappled with a personal tragedy that has remained secret until now.
“Ron Banks lost his first tenor singing voice,” recalls Reynolds. “This is something that is going to come out in the book, possibly in the movie that we plan to do. I always told Ron, ‘Ron, you just stay here, man, and I’ll look out for you.’ So he dropped down to baritone. He had another guy singing tenor.”
Pausing, he said, “Some people knew it, but Ron Banks was such a beloved figure in the group until people just accepted it.”
Reynolds, speaking to EUR’s Lee Bailey about his new CD – Get to This – said that Banks suffered from a medical condition that few of his friends and fans knew about.
“Ron kind of kept it to himself and was taking this medicine to try to get his voice back, but he had some kind of lesion on his throat that prohibited him from singing falsetto. He didn’t have a falsetto for five years.”
Pausing, Reynolds continued, “Right up until the Dramatics’ Christmas album, Ron kept losing his voice. I said, ‘Ron, we’ve been together for too long. I’m not going to ask you to leave this group, that would have to be your choice. I said, ‘Other than that, you can sing with me until the day you die.”
Reynolds said that when Banks lost his voice, it “destroyed” him.
“I mean, he was devastated and it caused him to drink more and to try to seek other ways of performing on stage. I think he got deeper into a depression. I think it was just a horrible struggle for him to realize that (his voice) was gone.”
A little known fact, according to Reynolds, is that Banks only sang lead or co-lead on several Dramatics songs: “Me And Mrs. Jones”, “Welcome Back Home,” “Oceans of Thoughts and Dreams” and the beginning of “Just Shopping, Not Buying.”
“I sang lead on 90% of the songs, including “In The Rain,” “What You See,” “Can’t Get Over You,” “Stars In Your Eyes,” “Me and Mrs. Jones,” and “I Panicked and Cried.” We had 38 top ten singles,” Reynolds recalled.
Then Reynolds said the group came out with “The Devil is Dope” album. “The first time it came out, the album didn’t have much impact. But then we did it a second time and ‘Me and Mrs. Jones’ came out-and that made Ron Banks a star. They put Ron’s name out front of the group and it became ‘Ron Banks featuring The Dramatics.’”
Reynolds said that fame had an effect on Banks. “I believe if they hadn’t put Ron’s name out front, he would still be alive today,” he reflected. “Fame will kill you if you let it, because everything comes to you and goes through you first. By that time, the damage was done.”
Reynolds said he left the Dramatics for eight years to establish his own solo career.
“I had to get away,” he recalled. “I wrote a song called ‘Key to the World’ that is still going strong right now.”
Reynolds said Banks continued with the group, but his health problems eventually caught up with him.
“I don’t think Ron liked to go to the doctor that much and he just ignored it. He had all the symptoms of hypertension as I remember now. On our final DVD, called “Dramatics – Biggest Hits Live,” Ron is on that DVD, but if you look at it closely, you’ll see that Ron is not singing first tenor.”
Reynolds said group members were shocked when Banks passed away last year. “Ron died of hypertension, high blood pressure, which is the silent killer,” said Reynolds. “The high blood pressure gave him a stroke which damaged his heart.
“When Ron Banks died, things changed,” reflected Reynolds. “People had different concepts of how they thought Dramatics business should be run, and I’m talking about Ron’s wife. When somebody dies, people get bitter in a sense … I think it’s nothing different than what the Chi-Lites went through and Otis Williams of the Temptations went through. Their wives don’t understand that when you do live performances, you have to be alive before you can be compensated for those performances. It was almost like I killed Ron. I didn’t kill him.”
“There were also other people I had to deal with. After Ron’s death, things got kind of shady, but I had all my paperwork in control and in the right order, because I did a lot of the Dramatics’ business. A lot of people didn’t know that. I basically did most of the paperwork for us and kept things going.
“People started to go against me about this Dramatic business, and I mean people that had never done any business with us at all,” Reynolds continued. “I had been doing Dramatic business for 25 years talking to agents and dealing with promoters.”
Reynolds said that since Bank’s death, he has tried to smooth over things with Bank’s wife.
“I did reach out to her and try to help her. Hopefully, she has toned it down with the attorneys and hopefully they explained to her that she had to have an operating agreement which states that upon someone’s death, you still have to pay the family. For live performances, you have to be alive. Ron has got his last record on the Dramatics that he did with us and she’ll be very well compensated for it. I’ll make sure I can do whatever I can do for his kids.”
Pausing, he added, “I’m not mad at her, I’m not mad at anybody. I love Ron’s kids and I’ve reached out to her financially, but apparently, she wanted more.”
Reynolds said that Banks’ death caused many in the entertainment industry to think the group had dissolved and gone its separate ways.
“I had to restructure this group and rebuild confidence out there in the field and let everybody know that the Dramatics were still working. People just weren’t booking the Dramatics. And I understand that it wasn’t appropriate at the time, but those guys (in the group) needed to work.”
LJ says the group still performs to sell-out crowds across the country.
“We just did a show in Ohio and the people loved it: The Dramatics and The Stylistics show. We go out and we do a great show. I do a tribute in the show to Ron and say, ‘This is the way he would have sung this part.’”
As for the unforgettable Ron Banks, Reynolds isn’t sure if he can ever be replaced.
“I haven’t yet found a replacement for Ron. There’s a lot of knuckleheads out there and you have to watch these people. I’m 59 years old and I’m kind of fed up with the bullsh*t.”
Reynolds eventually hopes to pen a book called “After Death” to chronicle the life of the Dramatics before and after Banks’ death.
“I’ve been approached by several people to do a DVD movie of the Dramatic story and, believe me, it would be a very interesting story. I just didn’t want to do another Temptation type of movie. Our life story is different than theirs, anyway. We had different things happen,” Reynolds recalled.
And Reynolds said that although he will always remain a member of the Dramatics, his solo career is going strong.
“Now, in the last quarter of my life, I’ve decided to do a little more of LJ Reynolds and focus on things that I wanted to do other than things that other people wanted me to do,” said Reynolds, who co-owns Motor City Hits with partner Herb Strather. “I’ve got a show I do called ‘LJ Sings It All’ in which I sing Dramatic songs and songs from my gospel album called “The Message,” which features the singles “I Believe You Can Make It” and “Sunday Morning,” he said.
And of course, as we mentioned above, Reynolds’ newest solo effort, Get to This is now out on his Motor City Hits label featuring the smash “Come Get To This (Stepping Out Tonight.” Watch and groove to the video below.