When it comes to music on TV the British show “Ready, Steady Go” has been #1 in my heart for so long that it now holds the title belt in perpetuity. In 1966, while the just turned teenage me was waiting for the monochromatic Mod Mistress of Ceremonies Cathy McGowan to introduce the latest from Zoot Money & his Big Roll Band, half a world away in Dallas Texas, Bill “Hoss” Allen, a Nashville DJ, was rolling out some great acts, backed by a great band to make some great music (seems to be an adjective shortage around here). “The !!!! Beat” showcased Soul, Rhythm, Blues, Rhythm & Blues, artists who needed a crossover hit before the networks helped out. The show did this in that new fandangled televisual gimmick…colour.
I’ve mined this seam before both here & there. “There” has a Garnett Mimms clip which, if we could get enough people to watch, could quite possibly bring about world peace. I’m back around “The !!!! Beat” because these nuggets are pure Platonic gold giving “a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination and life to everything.” Seriously, that good. On the final show of the series, which ran for just one year, Otis Redding came down from Memphis to host & perform on the show. He brought along some of the outstanding Southern Soul acts which the Atlantic label were promoting as an earthier, more raw alternative to the Motown hits.
In 1966 the esteemed critic Dave Marsh listed his favoured songs of the year. After “Reach Out & I’ll Be There” #s 2, 3 & 4 were all by Atlantic artists. “When A Man Loves A Woman” by Percy Sledge was one of these 3. Just months before the song’s March release Percy was still a part-time singer.His impassioned pleading, backed by the patiently building Muscle Shoals arrangement (no horns until the very end, Spooner Oldham’s perfect organ) was a nailed on, unstoppable hit. Here the horns drive the song & young Percy gives it the full soul belter treatment but he tries a little tenderness & this is how it was done in 1966. Surely there has never been a deeper soul sound at #1 in the charts. “When A Man Loves A Woman” is a classic, has become a standard but no-one has ever improved on this Sledge’s original. (He, unfortunately, gave the publishing rights to a couple of musicians who helped with the song).
Percy kept on chooglin’ with his yelping songs of heartbreak. He got some fine Dan Penn songs to record including the original of the heart-rending “It Tears Me Up”. Like many soul artists Percy re-recorded his catalogue for CD release. I have a feeling that on my Greatest Hits that the drums are not being played by Roger Hawkins, that the Shoals are less Muscular. Now, as a rule, this would, at least, irk my not so inner purist. Y’know’ the songs & the vocals are so good, Percy Sledge never just goes through the motions. It’s a fine, well used collection.
Well ! Just look at these moving pictures of Carla Thomas, the Queen of Memphis Soul. Her Daddy, Rufus, when he was not walking the dog, was a DJ & mentor of local black talent.His beautiful teenage daughter was recording for Satellite Records before it became Stax. It was her Top 10 hit “Gee Whizz (Look At His Eyes)” in 1961, when she was 18 years old, which alerted Atlantic Records to the talent to be found at East McLemore Ave in South Memphis.
“Comfort Me”, a 45 & the title track of her 1966 LP is a product of some of that talent. Steve Cropper, Eddie Floyd & Al Bell are the writers. The Stax houseband, the MG’s/Mar-Keys the players &, surprisingly, the backing vocals courtesy of Motown’s Gladys Knight & the Pips. This is a Pip-free performance but it lacks nothing else. This is a Carla Thomas thing, a Stax Records joint, an every which way slice of enjoyable.
The record was not a hit but Carla had a good 1966. Paired with the David Porter/Isaac Hayes team she hit with the Tamla-ish “B-A-B-Y”. The next year Stax looked to cut into the Marvin/Tammi duet action. Carla made an LP with Otis Redding, “King & Queen”, which is as light, as pop, as anything the label recorded. It stands as an entertaining one-off, the final LP recorded by Otis. The stand out track, “Tramp” crackles & fizzes with chemistry & wit. I loved it on the radio in 1967, still do. Aretha was the undisputed “Queen Of Soul” but when she came to Memphis there was r-e-s-p-e-c-t & fealty to be paid to Rufus Thomas’ little girl Carla.
There is great footage, some of the greatest, of Sam & Dave. Their 2 European tours were filmed, audiences, unused to such uninhibited physical & vocal gymnastics, were transfixed then transported. We know what a great live act the duo were but who knew that their suits were red ? Sam Moore & Dave Prater joined Stax in 1965, Hayes/Porter delivered the tailor-made songs. I’ve checked for their singles discography, the quality keeps on coming right into 1969. ( The 3rd wheel on “I Take What I Want” was Mabon Hodges who co-wrote “Take Me To The River” & “Love & Happiness” with the Reverend Green…bloody hell !). The great house band on “The !!!! Beat!, led by Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown raise thir already considerable game. The go-go dancers have an extra shake in their tail feathers. Man, Otis is having to stop himself making the act a trio. It is what these men did.
I bought a Greatest Hits of Sam & Dave which gave me no indication that I was not handing over my hard earned for the Atlantic classics. On my first listen I knew that Booker T & his Memphis Group had not been involved in this CD’s production. In the case of Percy Sledge I could bite it, accept the odd false step. Now I even became convinced that one or other of the most successful soul duo ever could be different blokes. These revisions were cut in 1978. It was the same guys but it was impossible to reproduce the energy, the Double Dynamite of the Stax originals. “Soul Man”, you know it, has a drum track by Al Jackson which convinced me that I was listening to the greatest exponent of the instrument ever. This was missing from my new purchase…I binned it…pronto.