Here’s a new way to have a hit record, join the Marines. There have been other groups who were in the military when they recorded a hit song (the Dell-Vikings were all in the Air Force when they recorded “Come Go With Me (#4) in 1957.) But, no group has had a number one while being in the military until The Essex came along.
All five members of the Essex were on active duty in the Marines when they met and found out that they could all sing. They were all stationed at Camp LeJeune, North Carolina when the song hit the top of the charts. The Essex is made up of five people, four guys and a girl. The girl, and lead singer, was Anita Humes and her friends were Walter Vickers, Rodney Taylor, Rudy Johnson and Billie Hill.
Vickers and Taylor met while serving in Okinawa, Japan and started singing together. When they were both transferred to Camp LeJeune, they decided it was time to form a group. They enlisted Rudy Johnson and Billie Hill and then thinking that a female voice would make the group sound that much better, they brought in Anita Humes. I’m not sure they realized at the time that Anita would become the voice of the entire group.
They submitted a demo to Roulette Records and the company brought them in to record a record. The demo must have been a ballad, as Roulette asked them to bring some more upbeat music. So, they approached a friend of theirs, William Linton, who was also a marine at LeJeune and Linton, along with a friend of his, Larry Huff, wrote “Easier Said Than Done.” Linton says he worked in an office where there were a lot of teletype machines. Linton said that when they were all running, they produced something of a beat and it was that beat that he incorporated into “Easier Said Than Done.”
The Essex recorded the song, but didn’t really like it that much. They liked another song they recorded that day, “Are You Going My Way” much better and considered that as the A-side of their record. “Easier Said Than Done” was the B-side. Things don’t always work out the way you plan and the disc jockeys played the B-side. “Easier..” entered the Billboard Hot 100 at number 88 and four weeks later, it was number one.
The Essex tried to stay together and record more songs, but just couldn’t make it work. They had one follow-up single called “A Walkin’ Miracle” which hit number twelve, but that was the end of their career.
One problem was they all were discharged from the Marines at different times and staying together was tough. Anita tried a solo career, but that didn’t go anywhere. She died in 2010 at the age of 69. The others drifted into non-music occupations. Rudy Johnson was sent back to Okinawa and left the group. After the Marines, he went to work as a police officer, but was killed in 1966 during an attempted mugging. Billie Hill is still alive today, working for a university much of his life. William Vickers died a few years ago of diabetic shock.
“Easier Said Than Done” entered the pop charts on June 22, 1963 and spent two weeks at number one. It also spent two weeks at the top of the R&B chart.