Holland, Dozier, Holland – After Motown

Tamla Motown’s modus operandi has been compared to the mass production lines of the auto factories of the company’s home city, Detroit. Such was the expertise & efficiency of all aspects of Motown that their bright & shiny product, “The Sound of Young America” had soon sold exactly 2.5 gazillion records.  Previously both singers & songs were here today, gone tomorrow but a new industry was being forged. The young creative artists saw that this music thing could be a career. The rules were being  made up as they went along but , somewhere, there was a big pile of money.  In the Summer of 1967 the Motor City was burning after 5 days of riots. Around the same time there were members of Berry Gordy’s Tamla tribe who were looking to get their share & to get paid.

The composers/producers, Lamont Dozier & brothers Eddie & Brian Holland were a very potent triple threat. They wrote an incredible 25 #1 hits & in 1967 were disputing the royalties they had received. The split with Motown was a messy one. The trio staged a work slowdown & left in 1968 to work for Holland-Dozier-Holland Productions Inc. By 1969 their 2 labels, Hot Wax & Invictus, were back on the charts.

And that’s why they were called HOT pants !(Ah, Warner Chappell have removed the clip from the Tube) In 1970 the beautiful Freda Payne hit the Top 3 in the US with “Band of Gold”. HDH had sued Motown & had been met by a counter suit which took almost 10 years to unscramble. “Band of Gold” is credited to Ronald Dunbar & Edythe Wayne…yeah right. Ms Wayne was a pseudonym adopted by HDH as they were prevented from using their own names in the dispute. The record was a UK #1 hit for 6 weeks & I remember getting a little tired of it at the time. Not now, it’s a floor-filling stomper of an absolute Motown vintage. The Supremes must have been thinking “Hey, that should be our song !”

In a converted Detroit cinema HDH & other talented writers attempted to replicate Motown’s success. Freda Payne had another US Top 20 hit with the anti-Vietnam war song “Bring The Boys  Home”, banned by American Forces Network at the time & still rarely heard, it’s that good. The record was made by a team which included General Johnson, a man who was getting a second chance with Invictus & was giving it his best shot.

General, I have just discovered, was writer & singer on “It Will Stand” a 1961 hit for the Showmen. Listening back it’s “Well, of course he was”. It’s a truly uplifting song…this or Jonathan Richman’s cover will set you right up for any day you start with it. He hooked up with producer Greg Perry & brought his new band to the new label. The Chairmen of the Board had some hits, more in the UK than the US, but were around in the years between those 60s TV pop shows & “Soul Train”. Surprisingly this odd clip of “(You’ve Got Me) Dangling On A String” is the only one I can find of them on the Y-tube. It’s a good song but the film is funny rather than funky, cheesy when it needs to be greasy. Hell, it’s a proper single, another irresistible call to do the funky chicken or whatever elese was the current thing.

Their first & biggest hit was “Give Me Just A Little More Time” , an Edythe Wayne original (I do hope that there is a real Ms Wayne) produced by HDH  & recorded using the Funk Brothers who were moonlighting from Motown for their old buddies. There were successes over on the sister label Hot Wax. In 1971 the hottest female group in the US were a trio from Los Angeles & the first signing to the label.

Hmm-hmm…”Want Ads” by Honey Cone. Well hello Ms Jackie Browns ! “Wanted, young man single and free. Experience in love preferred, But will accept a young trainee”. Well I was in that, presumably long, line…still waiting. The trio, Edna, Carolyn & Shelly, had experience in Los Angeles girl groups (Edna Wright is the sister of the incomparable Darlene Love, Phil Spector’s voice of choice on many songs). They got together in 1969 & were the first signing to Hot Wax. 1971 was their year, gold records & “Want Ads” at #1. It is a perfect update of the Motown pop-soul formula, sparring with “I Want You Back” by the Jackson 5 as the twin peaks of a turn of the decade, feelgood hit. Not quite disco yet but you know that a change is gonna come. The song was written by Perry, Johnson & engineer Barney Perkins, I would be surprised if Ms Edythe Wayne did not contribute. By 1973 the Honey Cone hits has stopped but so had Holland, Dozier, Holland’s plans for their own independent label.

It must have been difficult for the artists to become businessmen. HDH could hire capable people to manage their affairs but a hit single generates a heap of money very quickly. Getting & keeping a share of this heap can be a difficult thing. In 1973 Hot Wax folded with debt & cash flow problems while Invictus signed a distribution deal with Columbia. Of course we know now that Columbia’s fortune tellers had presciently predicted that pop music would come to be dominated & shaped by music made by black artists. HDH joined the other 2 prominent black independent labels, Stax & Philadelphia International as lambs lying down with the lion. By 1976 the entertainment titan, motivated by the dollar bill rather than creativity, had pressurised & controlled distribution, subsumed or cherry picked from the 3 famous labels. Conspiracy theory ? Hey sue me…I have no money.

For some time the Tamla triumvirate separated when Lamont Dozier pursued a solo career. He was replaced but Holland, Beattie, Holland ?…Nah. When Invictus finally folded in 1977 HDH Records came around & control over the valuable back catalogue was established. As Pop left behind its juvenescence there was a rush to bestow lifetime awards & to establish Halls of Fame. Not a one, Rock, Soul, any kind of music you got, was able to overlook the lasting, still amazing, contribution made by these 3 outstanding talents.

 

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Some Thoughts On Politricks

While I am chipping away, tying myself in knots trying to make a little sense of  some lovely old soul music, Life & indeed Death is passing me by. There have been too many times this month that I have been reading too many obituaries. Anyway we have lost some noteworthy people in April & it is only right that I check for some of those who have meant the most to me.

Of course the one who had the most effect on my life was our first female Prime Minister, er, that bloody woman ! The avalanche of hoo-ha & fol-de-rol generated by her death brought into focus a couple of issues that I already knew but perhaps I tried to ignore. First, history is written by the winners. A cavalcade of the not-so-great & the certainly not good passed across our TV screens to assign her a place alongside other British heroes. Any dissenting voice was smeared as being disrespectful of both the deceased & the bereaved & thus emanating from someone who was not a very nice person…Same as it ever was ! I was also reminded just how comprehensively the Left were defeated by Thatcher. The catch-all idealism of the Sixties had splintered in the Seventies into often separate groups (women, homosexuals, people of colour, drug activists) attempting to further their own agenda. This atomisation of activism allowed the forces of reaction to roll back much of the progress made. Our arses were not only firmly kicked & handed back to us but, in the prevailing spirit of putting a dollar sign on to everything, we were expected to pay to get them back.

This decimation of any opposition was complete when New Labour under Tony Blair determined to renounce the party’s traditional social democratic base in favour of policies which bribed those who voted on the basis of what was in it for them. I am afraid that I found the fragmentary, scattergun critique of her political career to be a mirror & a consequence of that defeat. The most visible protest was to download a song from “The Wizard Of Oz” so that it would be on the charts…yeah right, that’ll show ’em. The most eloquent were often those who had confronted the Tories & had proved to not be up to the job. At least they did so with an ideological commitment &  a sense of representing more than their own narrow interests. Now, not even as blatant a crime as our country’s involvement in an illegal & ill-judged war produced a unified opposition. Ideology ? Is that a real word ?

For myself, I hated her more than I have hated any other person in my lifetime. Her policies of de-industrialisation were class war masquerading as good housekeeping. She was either unaware of any social consequences of her actions or, frighteningly, knew exactly what she was doing and did not care. Thatcher & her party abandoned a strata of British society by whose labours, resolve & sense of fairness World Wars were won, an Empire built, an Industrial Revolution achieved without a revolution. There are many ills in our society which have their genesis in the economic free-for-all, “there is no such thing as society” fallacy which she instigated in place of the post-war consensus. Thatcher is dead but Thatcherism …ah man, the apolitical blues is the meanest blues I know.

I am not the sort of person who would do something as lame as prepare a “bucket list”, things to do before I die. Keep the door & the mind open to all experience all the time. There is just one thing I really, really do intend to do. I WILL dance on that fucking woman’s grave. I just have to.

It’s Okeh Because It’s Alright. (More Curtis)

In 1920 a New York independent record label had a surprise super solid smash hit with “Crazy Blues” by Marnie Smith. Here was a new little-tapped market for discs by African-American artists & Okeh Records hired musical directors in N.Y. & in Chicago to supervise the 8000 series of “Race” records released between 1921 & 1934. This all-star catalogue is now legendary & in 1926 Columbia bought a controlling interest in the company. Okeh’s light flickered intermittently over the years & in 1953 it became exclusively an R&B outlet. Then, in 1962 Carl Davis (that’s the “legendary”…), a Chicago producer, was employed as the head of the label. Davis was a talented & successful man himself. He assembled a group of singers, musicians & writers who, until 1965, made Okeh a creative & commercial hub for Chicagoan soul music.

OH-OH ! What’s that sound ? That’s “Rhythm” by Major Lance. “The Monkey Time” was a simple R&B dance record (in 1963 just everyone was Twisting the night away) which gave Okeh its first hit record for 10 years. Major had 4 Top 20 hits with this sweet soul which took that Brazilian baion rhythm off of the Drifters  & added a little cha-cha shuffle. The good Major, a former boxer & dancer, had the moves & was able to sell the crap out of these songs when he appeared on”Shindig”, “Bandstand” or whatever the black & white TV pop show of the day was called. I could have chosen any one of 5 clips of these hits.”Rhythm” gets the shout because I get to pick & I love this track. The “Best Of” is a cracking, dance around the house thing. The expanded 40 track, 2 CD collection maintains the quality. “The Monkey Time” was created by the team of Davis, Johnny Pate & Curtis Mayfield. “That was my introduction with working with Carl Davis” Pate said, ” We had a ball, making some very great music.” And so they did.

All but one of Lance’s 45s were written by his friend Curtis Mayfield. Curtis’ own group, the Impressions, were signed to ABC but it was at Okeh where he served his apprenticeship. With his school friends the Butler brothers, Jerry & Billy, he worked out how the simple gospel tunes from their church worked just fine when transposed to idealized teen romance or imagined dances. From the more experienced Davis & Pate he learned stuff, music stuff & business stuff. He was provided with an environment where he did not have to tout his songs around, where he got paid & where he had to sell some records. The glorious “Rhythm” was Okeh 7203 & here is #7204.

Now I don’t want to overstate my case here but Walter Jackson has never failed to hit the spot since that first Okeh selection I bought in the olden days. In the 60s alone there were so many outstanding voices, those obvious ones you take for granted like Otis, Marvin, Aretha & Al Green. Walter Jackson’s smooth, dramatic & powerful vocals are distinctive &, in these golden Okeh years, were of a quality to match the greats. Walter was a crooner with soul. When I first heard his version of “My Ship Is Comin’ In” (a hit for the Walker Brothers) it was like…so that’s how that song goes…perfect. His later work does drift to the middle of the road but the Okeh team ensured that his ballads had balls & while the songs were not hits they are classics. “Welcome Home”, a best of collection from these years will make your life better.

I did not know that Walter had suffered polio as a child & had to use crutches. The only Y-Tube clip is from the late-70s & has no sound. At a time when Chicago soul was young & quite wonderfully gauche he brought a polish & authority to songs like “It’s All Over” while the budding “Iceman”, Jerry Butler, was watching carefully & taking notes.

Billy Butler & the Enchanters were the Junior Impressions of the label. Billy was signed as a teenager. While his older brother was over at Vee Jay Records, recording a mix of Mayfield & standards, he was happy to go with the sweet harmonies, the uptempo, punchy Latin touches that were coming to be recognised as the trademarks of Chicago soul. “I Can’t Work No Longer” was the biggest of a number of releases that were almost trial runs for Curtis, checking out what worked & what didn’t. However successful you can dance to every second of every one of them.

Okeh was never going to be a true rival to Motown or Stax because the major players were on contract & had an eye on their futures. In 1965 Carl Davis, who had continued to work with Gene Chandler, another Chicago great, joined Brunswick where he orchestrated the comeback of Jackie Wilson (Davis produced “Higher & Higher”) & had other hits. Curtis & Pate were now confident that the Impressions were ready for prime time. They concentrated on & succeeded in making the band one of the most influential African American acts of the decade. Later both Davis & Mayfield ran their own labels out of their home city.

Okeh survived for a couple of more years. Walter Jackson hung around & there was a new infusion of energy from rock and roller Larry Williams. Williams, writer of some classic songs brought old hand Little Richard along with young gun Johnny Guitar Watson. The Williams/Watson collaborations are fine examples of energetic soul. It was though, impossible to emulate that short, special period when young men with music on their minds created the soul sound we now associate with their sweet home Chicago.

Punk’s Not Dead (It Just Smells Funny)

Adrian Edmondson can make as many lame-ass tea-time TV programmes about nothing much at all (I don’t hang around long enough to ever find out if they are about anything) as he likes. His work as a Dangerous Brother, in “The Young Ones”,  “Bottom” & “The Comic Strip” gives him more than enough of a goodwill stash. Being married to Jennifer Saunders so that we don’t have to be…more brownie points there. So, wandering around talking to old people about cheese or whatever he does. We like the guy & we let him off. Ade doesn’t do the comedy any more. There are plenty of his generation who think that they still do…but don’t. Surely there is a great sit-com yet to come when he & Rik Mayall get properly old. So, for fun he has a band. The Bad Shepherds’ thing is to folk about with the Punk/New Wave Greatest Hits. Vyvyan, Ade’s character from the Young Ones. would probably not be amused by such liberties while we are diverted for about a song and a half. Last week I caught Ade on the radio talking about his great life to people who have nothing better to do than listen to the radio in the late afternoon. It was this evocative cover of The Members’ “Sound Of The Suburbs” that got played to promote an upcoming tour & very good it sounded too. It’s a grand song sympathetically treated. Mind, you know what comes after, a finger-in-the-ear for “London Calling”, a rum-ti-tum “Anarchy”. If Mumford & his awful mates even think about folking about with the punk classics they will get my bony elbow straight to their gap year…I promise. Great new to Y-tube stuff from my great old friends Bam Bam & The Calling during their whirlwind tour of Summer 2012. I love to post things by people I know on this thing & what else could I do when it is as good as this. “Ca Plane Pour Moi” was a 1978 hit for plastic punk Plastic Bertrand. Mr Bertrand was a Milli Vanilli deal. He stretched this 3 minutes of novelty nothingness into 4 LPs, on none of which he sang or played anything ! Punk or what ? It is though funny & fun like “Jilted John” & “2 Pints of Lager & a Packet of Crisps” were. Lighten up yeah, fun was good in 1978 & it’s still not so bad. The Bam Bam boys give the song precisely the respect it deserves, not a lot, & wring its bloody neck for a totally terrific closing to their set. Props to Paul PJ McCartney for making up the Belgian lyrics as he goes along, to John McCloskey for giving it some big-style guitar & to Joe Brown for the Ramones tribute intro & the same old Hank T-shirt. Oh, & to Tom Doherty for being a mean motor scooter & a bad go-getter.

Having become the self-appointed blogger of the Derry music scene I have a totally romantic view of it as one big creative love-in. One thing these bands do is to keep it nice on the social media. Having hung out with a lot of musicians I am pretty sure that that guitarist can’t stand that singer & that everyone hates that drummer but…not even an odd sock of dirty laundry is waved around. Bam Bam & the Calling are filmed here playing at Boylestock, an annual shindig held in what seems to be someone’s large garden. From the clips & pics I have seen it’s a band of brothers & sisters getting together for beer, barbecue, banter & the brilliant live music like the Bam Bam’s. Even the most cynical of visitors to these parts must agree that this is the best & most correct thinking around. Every town & city everywhere should be lucky enough to have folks around who want to have such a grand day out. One Love !

From The Soul Train To The Hippie Highway

The bands who played the Saturday afternoon “Teen Beat” club were loud, the first live amplified music I heard. They were also. looking back all the way from here, straight from the fridge. The template was both the Rhythm & indeed the Blues, the first Stones LP. They all, as best I can remember included “You Can’t Judge A Book By It’s Cover” & the brilliant Phil Upchurch groove “You Can’t Sit Down”. Man, I was young, the big boys took me, watched out for me, showed me how to lift 45s from the back of the jukebox. The talk was of the latest groups who had appeared on the previous night’s “Ready Steady Go”. A TV show I was not yet allowed to stay up & watch. Good times.

Fast forward just a couple of years to youth clubs & the odd night that we were able to blag our way into a gig on licensed premises (You need to look 18 to get a beer in the UK). The bands now played soul, Southern Stax soul because Motown could not only get a bit complicated at times but often needs James Jamerson around to funk it right up. “Knock On Wood”, “Hold On I’m Coming”, “Mr Pitiful”, they all did those because it was what the Mods wanted to hear. Our local boys were called The Dimples after a John Lee Hooker jam but it was all that was left of the bluesy times. They were on the soul train now. Then, in 1967, it all went a bit nuts. Kaftans & love beads, weed instead of speed. Flowers in your hair & scuse me while I kiss the sky. What can a poor boy do ?

So Dean Ford & the Gaylords (well…OK), “Scotland’s Top Group” became Marmalade, moved to that London & got some new duds from Carnaby St. “I See The Rain” is a classy piece of psych-pop with a great guitar sound. Written by 2 of the band it was a hit in Holland but not in the UK. A further single failed & CBS insisted on choosing the band’s material. 1968’s “Lovin’ Things” is a piece of stinky cheese-pop which went into the Top 10. In the same year a cover of “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da”, the Beatles fluffy faux-reggae nursery rhyme gave the band their only #1 record.

A generation of British pop people were moving right along with Jimi & the Beatles & there was a gap in the market for pretty-boy, custom made bubblegum pop, y’know…for the kids. Marmalade, smiling & mugging for the cameras like former Gaylords, fitted the bill. For all their claims to be serious musicians & some later inoffensive soft rock they were there with the Tremeloes, Love Affair & Amen Corner, grinning & singing other people’s songs. It’s a pity that “I See The Rain” was not a smash because it was as good as the band got & is up there with the Move’s early acid pop singles.

Wow ! & again Wow ! There is no more classic development through the 1960s than that of the Alan Bown Set. Trumpet player Bown was appointed leader of the jazzy John Barry Seven when Barry left to concentrate on Bond scores & other lucrative movie work. In 1965 he & 3 others of the 7 formed the aforementioned Set to play the R&B that was getting the gigs at this time. Despite a bit of a revolving door for members they were proper players, had a great horn section. They hired singer Jess Roden & became an outstanding live soul attraction who did not sell records. In 1967 the band recorded the soundtrack for a French movie “Jeu de Massacre” &, I assume, this is the French-only single from the film.

It is great, the band are still Mod suited & Chelsea booted but seem to be on a stoned weekend jaunt to Paris & ready to go with the Summer of Love flow. What a smashing mess of a promo & of a song. The band was between labels in the UK, they were leaving behind the soul & swapping the “Set” for an exclamation mark. The Alan Bown ! went for psychedelic whimsy, pleasant enough but not outstanding when there was a lot of that about. So between covers of Edwin Starr & the first time around Nirvana came this crazy racket which was never released in the UK & is the best thing you will ever hear either by the Set or the !

This time I have to choose the track just before the switch to the hippie high road. Simon Dupree & the Big Sound, formerly the Howling Wolves (R&B name) & the Road Runners (Soul name), were the kings of Portsmouth pop. The 3 Shulman brothers had a good thing going live but, there’s a pattern here yeah, the record label, Parlophone, wanted to sell more discs (as if all the Beatle money was not enough). The debut single was a spirited cover of the 5 Americans garage-pop “I See The Light”. “Day Time Night Time” from 1967, was the third to miss out. Is it blue-eyed soul ? Is it freakbeat? Like I give a flying one ! It is a cracking 45 which still has that 60s freshness about it plus a dude playing French horn on-stage.

The next 45 was the big one for Simon Dupree & the rest. They were encouraged to “go psychedelic” & “Kites” was the result. Man it was pretty lame which is why “Day Time Night Time” gets the nod from me. There were diminishing returns from the follow-ups & the Shulmans had one last re-launch left. Gentle Giant made an LP a year through the 1980s. I have not heard one of them & have no intention of starting now. British prog-rock…bag of shite. Me, I’ll stick with the Big Sound of Simon Dupree.

If It Wasn’t For Bad Luck (Albert King)

Well…being ill for 3 weeks really sucked. Spending the Easter Holiday in hospital was a shock but the wonderful members of the National Health Service prodded & probed, gave care & consideration & reassured me that I was receiving the best attention. Any time your body gives out then self-absorption is, I suppose, inevitable. Perfect for some crappy blog post about me, me. me. So… fuck that noise ! I have heard too much of it & there are others who have it worse. The hospital has helped me to recover & the nicotine withdrawal, after 40 years of addiction, is too dull to write about. Man ! it is good to be well enough to be writing this thing again. Back to the music.

Albert King is known as one of the “3 Kings of the Blues”. B.B., the most established of the 3 had many hits in the 1950s, enough to claim the title for himself. Freddie was selling records too though “Freddie King Goes Surfin” was hardly for the purist. By the mid-1960s Albert was in his 40s, had some success with 45s but had released just the one LP.All 3 had worked the “chitlin circuit” for years but the Blues was hardly the current thing. If it was then it was the Blues as interpreted by the young long-haired British boys. Albert had  a fine reputation, a lovely Gibson Flying V & the killer nickname of “The Velvet Bulldozer”. In 1966 he made a very smart though surprising career move when he signed with the Stax label in Memphis.

The resulting LP was many things, every one of them good. “Born Under A Bad Sign” is recorded with the Stax house band Booker T & the MGs, young men who were proving to have a facility for writing, producing & playing on records which had a heart full of soul & sold by the truck load. They rose to the challenge of making a Blues LP & I am sure that Albert King knew that these guys intended to do his music right. The title track, written by William Bell & Booker T Jones, is either Soul/Blues or Blues/Soul. No matter…it is a stone dead monster classic of a track, a solid slab of rhythm which moved Blues music into 1967. The sessions were originally recorded as singles, “Bad Sign” was the 4th to be released, It was this concentration on quality along with a respectful & inspired selection of standards which made the LP a breakthrough in electric Blues & really made Albert King’s career.

By 1969 the Blues were back in the foreground of popular music. There was a new “Blues Boom” in Great Britain as the graduates of John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers began to form their own bands. Cream, Jimi Hendrix (honorary Brit…no doubt !) & the wonderful Free all made their own stabs at Albert’s songs. In the US Canned Heat were listening while Led Zeppelin lifted a chunk of the lyrics from “The Hunter” for “How Many More Times”. Record labels contorted themselves to position their bluesmen in to the youth market. “Electric Mud” (1968) is a startling re-imagining of Muddy Waters as a psychedelic musician. The records made when players were sent to London to play with the young guys were less successful.

Albert King was already there with a cool label & the best studio band in the world. This gig at the Fillmore East shows his confidence, his great touring band &, above all, the style of the man as a singer & player. He was probably happy to be with a label which got his records into the shops & could even get radio play. He certainly stayed with Stax until the final financial meltdown of 1975.

He was not immune to the “let’s make this shit modern” syndrome (Rick Rubin did not invent this lame-ass notion). There’s a “King Plays the King” LP of Elvis covers. The early R&B hits at least, not the post-Army awfulness. Don Nix produced a record at Muscle Shoals with new songs, Taj Mahal covers & such. It was, however, when Albert played the blues straight that it really came together. In 1972 “I’ll Play The Blues For You”, a record made with the Movement, the studio band on the massive hits of Isaac Hayes, he made his other essential record & enjoyed his biggest hit. This clip of the title track is from the momentous 1972 Wattstax concert when the entire Stax roster played in L.A. for just $1 entrance fee.

So, this “Velvet Bulldozer” tag ? Wiki claims that Albert drove such a vehicle in the 1950s when the music was not full-time. I am just not buying that. Albert King just played his Blues. He did not, as Bill Graham said, jive & shuck his audience with tricks & showmanship. His smooth runs, a beautiful tone & technique,  kept on coming & would get to you inevitably. Albert kept on doing it until his passing in 1992 & there were always young guitarists willing to collaborate & to pay tribute to his influence. It is these records he made for Stax which stand as the first time the Blues met the 1960s head-on & produced some serious relevance to match these young white boys who were stealing their shit.