' biggest hits were the L.A.-area hit "Please (Say You Love Me)" and "The Jerk" for
's Money label, which came not only with dance steps of its own, but Julian's encouraging lyrical instructions. Unlike many teenagers, Julian grew up in a non-musical family, and didn't sing in the church choir or have any formal vocal training to speak of. He was a high-school track star, and it was during school that he met up with the first group of Meadowlark singers:
, and Billy Pruett. The group's lineup changed numerous times over the years, however, with Julian being the only constant member. Around 1952, the foursome formed a vocal group, originally calling themselves the Soulinaires, but they later decided that the name was too "church-sounding" and changed it to
, this at a time when many of the popular vocal groups of the day had "bird" names.
Cornel Gunter of the Flairs (and later one of the Coasters
) introduced the group to Modern Records' Bihari brothers in 1957, who subsequently released two singles on their RPM subsidiary. Despite the fact that Maxwell Davis
, Modern's legendary producer, was working with the group and writing all of their vocal arrangements, Julian felt the label wasn't promoting them and he began looking for a new label.
After auditioning for Dootone label owner "Dootsie" Williams, the Meadowlarks
earned a recording contract; Julian also ended up working for Dootone as a shipping clerk and learned even more about the record business. In early 1954, the success of Don Julian & the Meadowlarks
' first single "Heaven and Paradise" -- while the group was still in high school -- changed their lives forever. The song became a hit with R&B fans and the burgeoning Mexican-American audience. In all, the Meadowlarks
issued five more Dootone singles before Julian and the group left the label in 1957. They moved over to DJ Art Laboe
's Original Sound label briefly; their first single, "Please (Say You Love Me)" did well locally. Julian also recorded "Slauson Shuffle" for DJ Rudy Harvey's Dynamite label before eventually ending up with a Central Avenue legend named John Dolphin
, a local mini-mogul who had nearly every facet of the record business covered.
Dolphin operated a group of record stores -- each was named Dolphin's of Hollywood (despite the fact that the main store, and the first to use the name, was actually located on East Vernon Ave., near the corner of Central Avenue). Dolphin also owned his own radio station, KRKD, which broadcast late-night programs from the store's shop window, and he ran several small "black" record labels, a few with appropriately inspired names revealing Dolphin's penchant for making money above all else: Cash, Money, Lucky, and Recorded in Hollywood Records (which they weren't!).
Three months after leaving Dynamite, Julian's single "The Jerk" was released on Money. It was the first to be credited to the Larks
(not to be confused with other groups who also used the name, including Eugene Mumford's Larks
). By now, the Larks' new lineup featured Ted Walters
(who had been friends with Julian since the two graduated from high school), Charlie Morris
and Julian. They continued touring and recording; Money also released an album by the group. Julian continued to stay with the label through the '60s and into the early '70s. Don Julian
went on to cut albums for several additional labels, including Amazon and Magnum, and for his own label, called (appropriately enough) Jerk Records. He and the Larks also recorded the soundtrack to the 1973 blaxploitation film Shorty the Pimp, but the movie was never released and the soundtrack foundered as well (it was finally issued in the '90s). He passed away in 1998.