When describing the music of The Dells, their baritone Chuck Barksdale said that they practised "fish harmony": "Fish go everywhere, and that's how our voices went when we sang." The vocal group were formed in high school in 1953 by founding members Marvin Junior, Verne Allison, Johnny Funches, Chuck Barksdale and Mickey and Lucius McGill, and were originally called the El-Rays. They released their first recording in 1954 and two years later had their first R&B hit with "Oh What a Night". After disbanding due to a near-fatal car crash in 1958, the band reformed in 1960 with Funches being replaced by Johnny Carter. This line-up remained together until Carter's death in 2009.