Just A Shot Away (Soul January 15th 1972)

Joe Simon had the new #1 on the Cash Box R&B Top 60 (they seem to have dropped the “in R&B Locations” – I’ll miss it) of 50 years ago this week with “Drowning In the Sea of Love”. Just one place below Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together” was his first R&B Top 3 placing & by no means his last. There was 5 years of all-round greatness & success to come, the Reverend Al will surely feature in my future selections, probably before this year is done. Not this time though, the last post was exclusively male so this week it’s only fair to balance it out.

ᓰᓰᑫᐧᓯᐢ on Twitter: "Never forget Merry Clayton. She took Gimme Shelter from  classic to timeless. https://t.co/OAwRxmCe4f" / Twitter

In late 1969 singer Merry Clayton took a midnight phone call from her friend, producer Jack Nitzsche, asking her to come down to Sunset Sound Studio to help out his old friends the Rolling Stones. Merry, four months pregnant, got out of bed & in just three takes added a ferocious, full-throated vocal, absolutely appropriate for the apocalyptic “Gimme Shelter”, an already substantial observation on end-of-the-decade tumult. Ms Clayton had been recording since her school days, first with Bobby Darin, as a Raelette & providing backing vocals on records you have heard. This new significant credit brought a solo contract with producer Lou Adler, the title track of her debut in 1970 being “Gimme Shelter”. No Jagger this time, just Merry

Merry Clayton – After All This Time / Steamroller (1970, Vinyl) - Discogs

Merry had provided backing vocals for Carole King’s record “Tapestry”, a major success, & the hottest songwriter around returned the favour by passing over three of her unrecorded songs for the “Merry Clayton” album. Of course the singer could still take it to church, it’s what she did, both Neil Young’s “Southern Man” & James Taylor’s “Steamroller” are tours of force. It’s King’s songs, “After All This Time” is #22 on this week’s chart, & a couple of well-chosen others that bring a pleasing restraint to the collection. So does a studio full of all-star Soul-Jazz players, Billy Preston, the eighth Beatle, was a friend from the Ray Charles days, Wilton Felder & Joe Semple off of the Crusaders, David T Walker, Motown’s guitar man on the West Coast & Merry’s husband Curtis Amy do great work on the Funky grooves. Over the years Merry worked with an impressive list of musicians yet remained 20 feet from stardom. In 2014 both her legs were amputated at the knee after a car accident but she could still sing. With a little help from her talented friends 2021’s Gospel record “Beautiful Scars” is a lovely thing. It’s not a comeback album, Merry Clayton has always been around.

Martha & The Vandellas 1967 Vancouver, B.C. Nightclub Concert | Lot #89805  | Heritage Auctions

“In & Out of My Life” is the highest new entry on the list at #48. There was a time when Martha & the Vandellas were the premier group on the Tamla Motown roster. In 1963 “Heat Wave” & “Quicksand” made the US Top 10, helping to establish the company as “The Sound of Young America”. The following year “Dancing in the Street”, monumental Motor City Soul, was kept from the #1 spot by Manfred Mann’s “Do Wah Diddy Diddy” while rising fast was “Baby Love”, the second of the Supremes’ phenomenal run of 5 successive chart toppers & it appeared that Motown’s star-making machinery would only support one superstar female trio. There were still some great 45s, “Jimmy Mack” is irresistible, “I’m Ready For Love”, a fine example of the strong, urgent Vandellas sound while the instant attraction I felt towards “Honey Chile”, the first credit to Martha Reeves & the Vandellas, is now permanent. The departures of first producer/writer Mickey Stevenson, co-writer of “Dancing…” with Marvin Gaye & Ivy Joe Hunter, then Holland-Dozier-Holland, providers of 8 of the 12 tracks on 1966’s “Greatest Hits”, along with Martha’s debilitating addiction to painkillers, were barriers to maintaining a high quality output.

76 Martha Reeves (The Vandellas Years) ideas | martha reeves, martha, motown

By 1972 Martha Reeves’ Vandellas were sister Lois & Sandra Tilley & there hadn’t been a Top 20 Pop or R&B it since 1967’s “Honey Chile”. “Black Magic”, the soon to be released album, credited six production teams for just 11 tracks, giving the impression that if there was a spare afternoon with a song that perhaps Diana Ross had passed on then Martha & the Vandellas were called in. “In & Out of My Life” is a fine track, as is “Bless You” & a couple of the others but covers of songs by the Beatles, Jackson 5 & Dionne Warwick not so much. Motown were moving their operation from Detroit to Los Angeles & the group did not go with them. “Black Magic” was to be the trio’s final record & Martha Reeves was a solo singer before the end of 1972. MCA spent a good deal of money on Martha but she was never matched with the same quality of material as that which made Gladys Knight such a star after she left the label at the same time. Still, Martha is loved for a decade of hits & whether she is performing or showing up on “Celebrity Master Chef” it’s always a pleasure.

Ronettes Newcastle UK Club A Go Go 33 X 23 Inches Aporox | Etsy

I’m sorry to interrupt our normal programming but tribute must be paid to Veronica “Ronnie” Spector who unfortunately died this week. In late 1963, when I was hoping that Santa would show up with a piece of kit that could play those highly desirable, intoxicating 7 inch vinyl discs (he really came through – a brand new Dansette), the UK Top 10 was packed with the Mersey Beat, two guitars, bass & drum, yeah, yeah, yeah. In the middle of this noise from North West England was something from the USA, two sisters, Veronica & Estelle, with their cousin Nedra, from Spanish Harlem who had moved to Los Angeles to make records with “The First Tycoon of Teen” Phil Spector. I knew very little about the Wall of Sound, of Spector’s alchemy in Gold Star Studios but “Be My Baby” by the Ronettes, with its boom-ba-boom-pah drum intro, orchestration & backing vocals a gathering storm under a siren’s call lead, strong, emotional, alluring, by Ronnie (“for every kiss you give me, I’ll give you three” – oh my!) was a perfect Pop song, more iconic with every homage, echo & attempt to emulate its precise excellence.

The Ronettes promo ad for Baby I Love You. January 1964 | The ronettes,  Wall of sound, 70s music

With “Be My Baby” & the following “Baby I Love You” the Ronettes toured the UK in 1964, topping a bill including the Rolling Stones. If you saw that tour then you are both lucky & old. When we did see photos & then moving pictures of the trio they proved to be sharp, stylish & flipping gorgeous. Their subsequent 45s were not as commercially successful, perhaps the Motown girl groups became the current sound. Spector’s productions, arranged by Jack Nitzsche who made that call to Merry Clayton, all featuring Ronnie’s distinctive, beguiling voice, endure as atmospheric “little symphonies for the kids”, often imitated, never equalled, undoubtedly the Ronettes.

Ronnie Spector

It took Ronnie some time to extricate herself from an abusive marriage to Spector & a new generation of music fans had heard little from her. Singles made with George Harrison & the E Street Band, a 1980 album with Genya Ravan were well received as were later records where she covered the likes of the Ramones & Johnny Thunders but these were too individual to revive any major success. Ronnie continued to tour, happy to perform her timeless hits to audiences who were happy to hear them. People I know who saw these shows tell me that it was a great night. Ronnie Spector made her mark, she was a legend & oh, did I mention she was flipping gorgeous.

1964, the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium, an all star bill for the T.A.M.I. Show. The Ronettes have just performed a wonderful live “Be My Baby” & the girls go a little off-script for their take on the Isley Brothers’ “Shout”. It’s wild, it’s free, fun & as Mod as heck. It certainly didn’t need all those Go-Go dancers cluttering up the stage.

Almost But Not Quite There (January 8th 1972)

I do love a list & also have a liking for musical ephemera preserved on the Internet so when the all-encompassing treasure trove that is the archive.org website turned up a full set of Cash Box magazines, allowing my regular selections from the US R&B chart of 50 years ago to continue, my eye was caught by the listing for the LPs 101 – 150 for January 8 1972. It’s a varied collection of classic hit records, “Sticky Fingers”, “The Allman Brothers Band at Fillmore East” (“Eat A Peach” was due in February) slipping from higher positions, of “Best of” & “Greatest Hits”, including Iron Butterfly (really!) & B J Thomas who was on to “Volume Two”. There are outliers like the latest from Mantovani, a conductor of light orchestral music, & the soundtrack to the Disney film “Bedknobs & Broomsticks” then there are those records that didn’t quite sell enough to make the big Top 100. I know, I’m easily pleased but there’s some pretty good music to be found here.

Richie Havens on Opening Woodstock '69 - Rolling Stone

At 5 pm on the 15th of August 1969 the Woodstock Festival wasn’t ready to go. The stage hadn’t been finished & Sweetwater, the opening act, were caught in congestion of people & vehicles travelling to the site. Richie Havens, still waiting for his bass player, was asked to step in, closing an extended set with “Freedom”, an improvisation based on the spiritual “Motherless Child”. The song was included in the 1970 festival documentary, the fifth highest grossing film of the year, & a lot more people knew about Richie, already a successful artist, three albums in, than had previously been the case. That was a good thing for everyone, Richie’s deep smokey voice, his rhythmic strumming, open chord tuning, thumb hooked over the guitar fretboard & refreshing Soul-Folk interpretations of familiar songs gave him an individual place in music. “Alarm Clock” (1971), the first post-movie collection, released on his own Stormy Forest label, reached #29 & the lead track, the Beatles’ “Here Comes the Sun”, entered the Top 20, the biggest commercial successes of his career.

Fat Angel Magazine/Fanzine No 12 1973 Richie Havens Leo Kottke Jefferson  Airplane

“The Great Blind Degree”, down three slots to #105 this week, included a number of soft rock cover versions, songs by Graham Nash, Cat Stevens, James Taylor’s “Fire & Rain” that everybody was doing & Pete Townshend’s “Tommy” that no-one was, getting Havens-ised. The jewel of the record is “What About Me”, a powerful state of the nation song from when the nation was in an absolute state, written by Dino Valenti. Dino was an enigmatic wild one, making the Greenwich Village folk scene before moving to the West Coast & joining Quicksilver Messenger Service. In the mid-60s he sold the rights to “Get Together”, soon to be a Hippie anthem, for $100 to pay for the defence of a marijuana bust & for a while he held the copyright to “Hey Joe”, gifted to Dino, it is claimed, when an inmate at Folsom Prison. “What About Me” is a lyrical triumph & Richie Havens did it more than credit (see above). He may not have had the big hits but he was always welcome through a long career, constant in his support for ecological action, for civil rights & freedom. In 1982 Richie Havens was the closing act at the Glastonbury Festival, it was an occasion, a stunning, inimitable performance.

Mitch Ryder And The Detroit Wheels – Breakout…!!! (1966, Vinyl) - Discogs

Mitch Ryder (born William Levise) was singing in Detroit clubs as Billy Lee & the Rivieras when the group was signed by Bob Crewe, the writer-producer behind the Four Seasons whose successful run of hits had continued in the face of 1964’s British Invasion. Together Crewe & the re-named Mitch Ryder & the Detroit Wheels recorded three LPs & five Top 30 singles, exciting, precipitous rushes of Garage Soul, an influence on young Bruce Springsteen & many others who wanted to make music that got people out of their seats. The band worked hard, Crewe re-packaged the hits three times in two years & only he got paid. The producer’s idea of solo Mitch as a singer of standards for “What Now My Love” (1967) was a bad one, “The Detroit-Memphis Experiment” (1969), a record with Booker T & the M.G.s, produced by Steve Cropper, is much more interesting but failed to attract attention. The times they were a-changing & Mitch Ryder was a golden oldie, all the way back from two years ago!

Mitch Ryder

“Detroit”, #137 from 142 this week, is the eponymous debut by Mitch’s new combo, only drummer John Badenjek was a former Detroit Wheel. It’s a straight ahead Rock & Blues record, as resolute as the hard-working city that gave the group its name &, after closer listening this week, Mitch is in great form & the best tracks hit the spot. These are when guitarist Steve Hunter, recommended by bass player John Sauter, is let loose. The record is produced by Bob Ezrin, just 21 years old,& when Alice Cooper was no longer a group he brought Steve along to help Alice the solo singer out. When Ezrin worked with Lou Reed he played him Detroit’s version of Lou’s “Rock & Roll”, a minor hit (see above) & Steve was hired to make some noise on the Rock & Roll Animal tour. A hard living lifestyle took its toll on Mitch’s voice & on a couple of band members. Detroit made just the one record, Mitch took a job in a warehouse before returning to make some fine, fine music with the help of friends who were fans. Mitch Ryder & the D.W.s may be less rated than some 1960s acts but if you are having a party then their “Breakout” album will bring a smile to faces & a tap to toes.

Emitt Rhodes Photos (5 of 18) | Last.fm

When Emitt Rhodes’ teenage band, the Merry-Go-Round disbanded in 1969 after just the one LP of Pop with a light psychedelic seasoning his own recordings were rejected by the label. Undeterred his parents’ garage became a studio & the subsequent tracks, all written, sung & played by him, gained him a contract. “Emitt Rhodes” (1970) attracted much critical acclaim & dedication from fans reaching the Top 30 of the US charts. Here in the UK his name would be checked in plenty of journals but there was little radio support & that’s how we heard new music back then. Perhaps, due to Emitt’s obvious influences, the “one-man Beatles” tag didn’t help, our own Fab Four may have called it a day but their first solo records were selling by the lorry load. Similarly Mirror” (1971) didn’t include a hit single that would have raised interest. It stayed at #131 this week 50 years ago & would not get much higher.

Emitt Rhodes’ music is undoubtedly McCartneyesque, it is still now as fresh as a daisy, imaginatively arranged, natural, melodic, perfect crafted three minute Pop songs. Many artists have had similar aspirations & succeeded, few have shown the facility & talent of Emitt Rhodes. It was obvious that the two albums a year deal he had signed was to prove too heavy a load for a one-man operation & there would be just one more release before his royalties were withheld & he was sued for $250,000. “Farewell To Paradise” (his third record) indeed. Emitt continued to write, still thwarted by the business of music, releases were sporadic. It would be 2016, 43 years later, before another Emitt Rhodes record, interest in his work has always endured, fans remain devoted but isn’t it a pity.

Keep On (Soul January 1st 1972)

OK, it’s been a month since my last selections from the Cash Box Top 60 in R&B Locations of 50 years ago because y’know, Life. Right so, a New Year, new energy & a whole bunch of new entries on the chart. Let me at them & for sure it’s going to be another year of nothing but the real thing & there ain’t nothing like that.

There’s a brand new Top 3 for 1972 & the #1 on the R&B list is also at the top of the Pop chart. The Jackson 5 were the teen sensation of the day & “Got To Be There” was the debut solo 45 by 13 year old Michael. A more serious song, the boy with the prodigious voice & moves was growing up, a nailed on international hit while the family band were rising to #9 with “Sugar Daddy”, a more typical Pop-Soul confection. At #2 19 year old Betty Wright’s “Clean Up Woman” didn’t crossover to become a Pop hit but its fresh Miami sound, that guitar riff by Little Beaver, makes it still recognisable 50 years later. Joe Simon had moved from Nashville to Philly, getting an update to his sound from producers Gamble & Huff, still making the Top 3 with “Drowning In the Sea of Love”. That’s a pretty good selection right there

Bobby Womack: The Greatest Soulman – Echoes Magazine

In 1965 Bobby Womack’s marriage to Sam Cooke’s widow just 77 days after the star’s death brought criticism from family, fans & the music business. Leaving his own family group, the Valentinos, his first solo efforts were badly received. Bobby found a place in Memphis as a session guitarist at American Sound Studio where his songwriting talent provided hits for Wilson Pickett & led to a new recording contract. After a couple of albums he was picked up by United Artists, a bigger label, moved to Los Angeles where he became Sly Stone’s drug buddy & contributed to “There’s A Riot Goin’ On”. Staying in L.A. to record his third solo record, with better promotion & a growing reputation, it was time for Bobby Womack to break on through.

Bobby Womack: Communication 8 Track Tape Cartridge for Sale

“Communication” matches spare, modern Funk to Bobby’s Old Soul voice & it’s the three of his own songs that are, in my opinion, the highlights of the collection. “That’s the Way I Feel About Cha”, #12 this week, up from 16, is a sweet Soul-Blues with his brothers on backing vocals & the Muscle Shoals band. The title track & “If You Don’t Want My Love) Give It Back” cut it too. Bobby always had a taste for a monologue & a trademark spoken intro & I have always found them engaging, it’s the easy listening covers, present on all his early records, that I find to be less successful. This time around it’s James Taylor’s “Fire & Rain” & Ray Stevens’ “Everything Is Beautiful”. No matter, Bobby Womack was building an impressive catalogue & there was an upcoming LP, “Understanding” in May 1972 that really is a classic Soul album.

A poster for the 'Soul To Soul' Independence day concert held in... News  Photo - Getty Images

It was out on the youth club dancefloor, dancing awkwardly with the girls (well, near the girls) to the exciting Atlantic singles recorded by Wilson Pickett in 1965-66, a list that starts with “In the Midnight Hour” & ends with “Mustang Sally”, that made this too young to be a Mod a Soul Boy. The Wicked Pickett was my gateway to Southern Soul, to Otis Redding, Sam & Dave, that Stax sound with a little more grit than those Motown sensations that were calling out around the world. I’ll admit that after voting for Wilson as the World’s Top Vocalist in the NME’s end of year poll 12 months later my choice was Otis but Pickett’s gruff & ready soul-shouting & shrieks were a Soul wonder & the hits kept on coming & he was such an international star that in 1971 when Soul went to Africa it was his name at the top of a star-studded bill. “15 continuous hours” of music in Black Star Square, Accra, Ghana, you know it, by the Kwame Nkrumah Memorial Park. Well maybe not but my workmate Manny does & it was a very big deal when Soul Brother #2 (after James) performed in his home city. The light in his eyes was brighter when he told me his stories about that day over a decade later.

Soul Serenade: Wilson Pickett, “Ninety-Nine And A Half (Won't Do)” – Popdose

In 1969 the wicked one recorded a coruscating cover of the Fabs’ “Hey Jude”, sparks flying between Wilson & that new guitar-slinger, young Duane Allman, the Muscle Shoals band giving it loads. The 45’s success led to other covers from the Pop/Rock catalogue & this week 50 years ago, up a healthy 10 spots to #22 was “Fire and Water” written by Andy Fraser & Paul Rogers, half of the band Free, the young ones of the British Blues boom. Free were a tight unit with a great live show & a growing reputation when a track from “Fire & Water”, their third album, the anthemic Rock classic “All Right Now”, made the Top 10 on both sides of the Atlantic. The songwriters, Fraser, a melodic bassist, & Rogers, a forceful vocalist & frontman, were up to the job of reinforcing this success but the unreliability & increasing heroin dependency of ace guitarist Paul Kossoff destabilised a great band that coulda been a contender. Wilson Pickett did a great job on “Fire & Water”, an imaginative choice, looking fly on “Soul Train” in his silver lame suit. He perhaps missed a trick by not picking up on “The Stealer”, another fine Blues-Soul song from Free.

Nolan Porter | Discography | Discogs

It”s a last chance to include this great tune in my selections as this week “Keep On Keeping On” by Nolan Porter had slipped from #36 to #54. Nolan’s first LP, “No Apologies” (1970) had been recorded in Hollywood with Little Feat, the band adding an attractive rockier edge to the singer’s soulful interpretations of songs by Van Morrison, Don Covay, Randy Newman & others. Released on producer Gabriel Mekler’s small label Lizard the record received little promotion & failed to gain attention. When a new recording, a reggae version of “Groovin’ Out On Life”, a song by the great Bobby Charles, was a small R&B hit it was under the name Frederick II so did little to raise Nolan’s profile. An eponymous second album included remixes from the debut along with four new tracks though, as can seen from the label above, “Keep On Keeping On” is by N.F. Porter. So few recordings so many names for Nolan Porter.

Stone Foundation mini UK/Spain tour with Nolan Porter | Stone Foundation  Blog

Both this 45 & the following “If I Could Only Be Sure” featured distinctive, almost eerie, lead playing by Johnnie “Guitar” Watson, different enough to attract attention from the Northern Soul scene in the UK. The quality of these records & that there would be no more releases by Nolan until 1980 added to their reputation. The riff for “Keep On…” being incorporated into Joy Division’s “Interzone”, Paul Weller covering “If I Could Only…”. A new generation of British Soul fans knew about Nolan Porter & he received a great welcome from fans & musicians when he visited. Unfortunately Nolan died last February, just two albums, less than 20 tracks. It really won’t take long to check him out & it will be worth it. More than anything, at the beginning of another uncertain year, we have to “Keep On Keeping On”. HNY.