The Rhythm And The Blues (Soul July 2nd 1972)

It’s been a while since I took a look at the Cash Box R&B Top 60 from 50 years ago this week so let’s see what was new & what was hot on the chart for the 1st of July 1972. The Top 10 was pretty static, the Top 3 unchanged from last week. One we all know, “Lean On Me” by Bill Withers remained at #1 & was on its way to the same pinnacle on the Pop 100. Luther Ingram had been around the R&B Top 20 before & “(If Loving You Is Wrong) I Don’t Want To Be Right”, rising from #9 to #4, was to be his biggest hit, on the way to the top spot & becoming a much-covered Soul standard. The one new entry was by an artist who had been pretty much guaranteed a high placing for any of her singles since her four R&B #1s in 1967.

That’s Aretha Franklin, the Queen of Soul. “All The King’s Horses” may not be as well remembered as hits like “Respect”, “Think”, “I Say A Little Prayer” & about 10 others but it’s a little beauty, a slow burner with a couple of crescendos where Aretha raises the temperature. She’s backed by New York’s finest, Cornell Dupree’s guitar, Donny Hathaway’s piano, a strong string arrangement, bringing it home sweetly with her sisters Carolyn & Erma. The song is one of the four self-penned tracks on the “Young, Gifted & Black” album, as strong & consistent a studio collection as Aretha ever released. It was the fifth track from the record to be released as a single, all of them entering the R&B Top 10, With this following the monumental “Live At Fillmore West” (1971) & the release, in June 1972, of “Amazing Grace” recorded at the New Temple Missionary Baptist Church in Los Angeles, a great Aretha album & the highest selling Gospel record of all-time the Queen of Soul was at one of the highpoints during a long, glorious contribution to contemporary music.

Cousins Mel Hardin & Tim McPherson went North from Holly Springs, Mississippi & in 1969 were signed by Chicago Soul legend Gene Chandler to his Bamboo label. Mel’s mum Yolanda & a bunch of other family were involved with Bamboo too & the self-penned “Backfield In Motion” hit the spot, selling over a million copies. Unfortunately after just the one album, “Good Guys Only Win In The Movies” (1969) the label folded & it would be three years before the duo released another record. This time around they were taken to 3614 Jackson Highway in Sheffield, Alabama to be produced by Barry Beckett at the Muscle Shoals Sound Studio. The results were passed to the Stax label in Memphis who had a Sam & Dave sized vacancy on their roster since the departure of the Soul Men. The ballad “Starting All Over Again”, written by Shoals staff writer Phillip Mitchell, an arrangement nodding towards the sweet Philadelphia sound, is at #46 on this week’s chart. It continued to rise steadily becoming a big Summer R&B & Pop hit, giving Mel & Tim their second gold record.

None of the songs on the subsequent two albums Mel & Tim recorded for Stax registered as strongly as “Starting All Over Again”. Of course, like everything that came out of the Shoals at this time, they were strong, punchy as heck & well worth a listen but lacked that something to get them noticed. Meanwhile just across town in another Sheffield studio they were trying to find that something too.

Z.Z. (Arzell) Hill moved from Texas to Los Angeles in 1963, the singles & two LPs released in the next 5 years by Kent Records of a quality that was not reflected in commercial success. Try his version of Tim Hardin’s “Don’t Make Promises”. A move to Capricorn Records in Georgia was unsatisfactory for both sides & Z.Z’s contract was sold to Jerry Williams who in 1970, sick of being told what to do by labels who then didn’t pay him properly for his records & compositions, had started his own production company, his own label & re-invented himself as Swamp Dogg. His album “Total Destruction of the Mind” is an Acid-Soul attempt to achieve exactly that, the price of Swamp’s new independence was he lacked a promo budget to get the record heard. It’s wild, ambitious fearless ranked alongside Sly, Curtis, Funkadelic (even Frank Zappa) in 1970 & still a classic now.

Swamp Dogg had plans for Z.Z. Hill too but the singer was unhappy about his new contractual arrangements. Apparently he showed up at Quinvy Studios for three days, laid down his vocal tracks, leaving the rest to his new producer. “The Brand New Z.Z. Hill” is a concept album concerning a man’s relationships with two women, the tracks linked by conversational interludes. The concept is loose, the chat at first confusing & the gender politics absolutely of its time but the Blues-Soul tracks written by Mr Dogg & former rock & roller Gary U.S. Bonds have quality & individuality, familiarity adds a cohesion to the record & the musicians, on furlough from the other two more well-known local studios, particularly guitarist Pete Carr, revel in the space given to them. “Second Chance”, Z.Z’s response to a plea for just such a thing, is at #56 on this week’s chart. In the 1980s Hill found a home at Malaco Records, recording a number of accomplished, acclaimed & appreciated Blues records. In my opinion none of them bettered “The Brand New Z.Z. Hill”, a particular favourite of mine & one of the great Southern Soul albums.


The Woman’s Got Soul (Soul 30th April 1972)

When Holland-Dozier-Holland, the songwriting/production wizards behind so many of the label’s great hits, left Tamla Motown to start up their own operation they knew that they would need a girl group on their roster. Their songs for Martha & the Vandellas & the Supremes had moved the sound along from Phil Spector’s work with the Crystals & the Ronettes (not forgetting the Shirelles, the Chiffons & the Shangri-Las) maintaining the female vocal group’s importance in American R&B/Soul. The first release on H-D-H’s Hot Wax label in 1969 was by Honey Cone, a trio from Los Angeles, by the 30th April 1972 the group were the girl group of the day, enjoying their fifth entry into the Top 10 of the Cash Box R&B Top 60.

Honey Cone had connections, lead singer Edna Wright was the sister of Darlene Love, the go-to vocalist on many of Phil Spector recordings. She & Carolyn Willis had sung on many sessions, Shelly Clark had been an Ikette. It was when Darlene was unable to fulfill a TV date on “The Andy Williams Show” that the stand-in trio were seen by Eddie Holland, signed up & brought to Detroit to record. The majority of their debut album were songs credited to “Ronald Dunbar & Edythe Wayne”, H-D-H had not yet settled their publishing independence from Motown so could not us their own names. Ron worked for them, Edythe was a friend. It was Honey Cone’s fifth single “Want Ads” that really broke them out, #1 in the Pop & R&B charts, they looked good on TV in their hot pants, sounded good too. “Stick Up”, the follow up, put them back at the top of the R&B list, both bright, strong & driving like the Vandellas tunes, based on the new hit sound of Jackson 5’s “I Want You Back”, a good sound & who cares when it was done so well.

The hits were both written by Greg Perry, producer & Edna’s boyfriend, & General Johnson, frontman of Chairman of the Board, flourishing with the encouragement of his new employers. On “Soulful Tapestry” (1971) Holland-Dozier-Holland stepped back from Honey Cone as it was apparent this pair knew what they were doing. Along with label mate Laura Lee, Millie Jackson & Ann Peebles, the album’s songs of female empowerment were part of a new thing. One of the three tracks H-D-H did provide, “The Day I Found Myself”, #26 this week was sliding down from the R&B Top 10. It’s a really good one bringing to mind the Marvelettes & the Velvelettes from Motown’s mid-60s. It’s also a change from the pure Pop-Soul of the previous hits, an indicator of the way Honey Cone could be progressing. Unfortunately H-D-H were discovering that there was more to the business of music than making hits, getting paid by their distributors was more important. With the label in financial trouble Honey Cone’s “Love, Peace & Soul” (1972) was their least successful album, a dissatisfied Carolyn left the group & there were to be no more recordings by the original trio. Honey Cone burned bright for a short time, their confidence & sass influential on future girl groups.

#26 down from 19

Barry White spent much of the 1960s in Los Angeles writing, producing, recording the odd overlooked solo record. His biggest success was with Felice Taylor whose “I Feel Love Coming On” made the UK Top 20 in 1967 – there’s a story about why I like that song so much but I don’t know you well enough to share it. White’s ambitions as an independent producer stalled until he assembled a girl group. He worked with sisters Glodean & Linda James & their cousin Diane Taylor for a year before launching them as Love Unlimited & 50 years ago this week their debut 45 “Walking In The Rain With The One I Love” was a big mover on the R&B chart, rising 14 places to #16 before crossing over to the Pop Top 20 in the US & the UK. “Walking…”, with Barry growling to Glo on the telephone, is from an album full of mid-tempo Love ballads, the Motown girl group sound with any sharp edges smoothed, the songs drenched in orchestration, the sweet, sweeping string arrangements of Gene Page making it distinctive.

Having discovered how to do it Barry did it better next time & “I’m Under the Influence of…Love Unlimited” (1973) was a Top 3 Pop & R&B album though I’m surprised that the title track & “It May Be Winter Outside (But In My Heart it’s Spring)”, both dusted down from the Felice Taylor times, were not bigger hits. He was looking for a male singer & found one at home – himself. In 1973 his debut was the first of four successive chart-topping R&B albums, the following year “Love’s Theme”, an instrumental originally included on L.U.’s “Influence…” was released by the Love Unlimited Orchestra & hit #1 on the US Pop listing. Barry married Glodean & Love Unlimited became an important part of the international superstar Barry White Show, still recording & heading the R&B chart in 1974 with his song”I Belong To You”. Disco was coming & Barry White was leading the way.

Honey Cone may have been carrying the girl group swing in 1972 but the long-time title belt holders were not about to hand it over yet. The group had not been “Diana Ross & the Supremes” since 1970 when their lead vocalist left for a solo career & Jean Terrell joined Mary Wilson (that’s the lovely…) & Cindy Birdsong. Frank Wilson had been one of “The Clan” assembled by Tamla Motown to fill the gap left by Holland-Dozier-Holland’s departure & had co-written hits for the Supremes when Diana was still around. Now, as sole producer, hits like “Up The Ladder To The Roof”, “Nathan Jones” & the sublime “Stoned Love” showed that there was still life in & love for a group who since there breakthrough in 1963 had established themselves as the most popular female group in the world. In 1971 “Touch” did well on the R&B chart but tanked on the Pop albums list, other producers were tried but a planned follow-up “Promises Kept” was shelved. The next man up for the job was label stalwart, vice-president & legend Smokey Robinson.

Smokey wrote all nine songs on the “Floy Joy” album. They’re not of the same quality as “Ooh Baby Baby” or “Tracks of My Tears” but it’s a smooth, sweet, consistent record, Jean being the featured lead voice with Mary & Cindy having their moments while the Funk Brothers (guitarist Marv Taplin had played with the pre-Supreme Primettes before joining Smokey & the Miracles) hit all the right notes. The two uptempo tunes were released as singles, the title track making the US Pop 20 & “Automatically Sunshine”, a new entry at #44 on this week’s R&B chart, James Jamerson’s bass leading in Mary & Jean’s shared vocals, was more successful in the UK than in the US. Cindy’s pregnancy was showing, her maternity leave replacement Lynda Lawrence is on the album sleeve & sings on “The Supremes Produced & Arranged by Jimmy Webb”, released later in 1972. It’s an interesting record, check out Joni Mitchell’s “All I Want”, that failed to connect with record buyers. With more line-up adjustments, disputes with Motown & changing tastes it would be four years before the trio, by then Mary, Scherrie & Susaye, returned to the Top 40 when Eddie & Brian Holland returned to produce an act they had helped to make the greatest,the dream girls, the most successful girl group ever.

Soul Instrumentals (16th April 1972)

On my first look at these Cash Box R&B charts I am initially drawn to the many great Soul singers. There are always instrumentals on the list & 50 years ago with the success of Isaac Hayes & increased interest in movie soundtracks maybe a few more stood a chance of being heard. Here are three selections from the chart of April 1972.

One conclusion that viewers of “Get Back”, Peter Jackson’s lengthy Beatles documentary, must (or should) have made was that Billy Preston was not only a great keyboard player but a bloody good bloke too. The fractious Fabs, had grown up, become wealthy & grown apart. They were musicians who had not played on a stage for over two years & muddling about in a studio seemed like the last thing they wanted to be doing. When Billy arrived to help out the respect for their guest’s ability & personality is clear, the band were never more unified or happier than when running through the Rock & Roll standards they had played back in Hamburg. Billy played with them on the Apple Corps rooftop, the single “Get Back” had “with Billy Preston” on the label, a unique credit for a non-Beatle. In 1970 Billy played on his first Rolling Stones record, that became a regular thing & by 73 he was touring with the band. It was around this time that Miles Davis named a tune in his honour but Billy Preston was more than a sideman to his heavy friends & 50 years ago this week “Outa-Space” from “I Wrote A Simple Song”, his eighth studio album & his most successful yet, was a new entry at #48 on the R&B chart.

Billy Preston, a self-taught child prodigy, was backing Little Richard at 15 (where he met the Beatles), recorded his first album the following year, had a gig in the house band for the “Shindig” TV show then, still just 20, joined Ray Charles’ group. There were a lot of cover versions on his sometimes quickly recorded releases but his own “Billy’s Bag”, a Mod classic, justifies the album title “The Most Exciting Organ Ever” (1965). His two records for Apple are a fine mix of Gospel, Rock & Soul, Billy tore up the Concert For Bangladesh with his enraptured single “That’s The Way God Planned It”, a bigger hit in the UK than in the US. The self-produced “I Wrote A Simple Song” is more of the same & “Outa-Space”, Billy trying out a clavinet played through a wah-wah pedal for the first time, is a Funk outlier that the record company were less sure about than the million people who bought the record. This was the first of four successive albums to make the R&B Top 10, Billy’s lyrical spirituality may have seemed a little simplistic but it was direct & honest, when he was playing some irresistible Funk or, as on the title track, organ swirls along with George Harrison’s Dobro you knew that he was a special talent.

In Houston, Texas, Joe Sample (piano), Wilton Felder (saxophone) & Stix Hooper (drums), fellow pupils at Phillis Wheatley High School, hooked up with Wayne Henderson (trombone) to form the Swingsters then the Modern Jazz Sextet. After a move to the West Coast in 1960 they were the Nite Hawks for a while before settling on the Jazz Crusaders. From 1961-70, across 17 albums, they bopped hard, their versions of contemporary hits were tight & sophisticated. Stevie Wonder’s “Uptight” caught deserved attention, Sample’s piano similar to the Jazz-R&B of Cannonball Adderley’s group, the dual horns assertive, still melodic & very impressive. Both Sample & Felder, who had become more than proficient on bass guitar, were in demand as session players for a wide variety of artists. “Old Socks New Shoes…New Socks Old Shoes” (1970), Joe on the Fender Rhodes piano, with a couple of electric guitarists, opens with a “Hell Yeah!” version of Sly Stone’s “Thank You Falettin Me Be Mice Elf Agin”, it was their most popular record yet & the last to feature “Jazz” in the group’s name, from now on they were The Crusaders.

I don’t know whether the Crusaders played Soul-Jazz or Jazz Fusion or whatever, they had got it going on. Great musicians who had grown up together with a shared vision for the power of the unit, sympathetic support for each other’s parts. “Crusaders 1”, the third album with their abbreviated name still had plenty of Jazz with the added ingredient of young lead guitarist Larry Carlton. He shines on “Put It Where You Want It”, #55 on this week’s chart, a forerunner of the cool, insistent groove , gently but firmly propelled by Stix, the Crusaders favoured on their succeeding albums, records that, for the discerning listener (that would be me & my friends), fitted right in with the likes of Steely Dan, Grover Washington & Weather Report. In 1979 I spent the Summer away from the UK & away from music. I was surprised to find that on my return the Crusaders were only in the British Top 10 with “Street Life”, a collaboration with singer Randy Crawford. By this time Henderson & Carlton had moved on & it wasn’t the same after Stix left in 1983. Surely he, Joe & Wilton, Houston high school boys, could not have imagined that their musical journey would take them so far.

Crusaders #55

Dennis Coffey was born in the right place at the right time. The guitarist was just 15 years old when he played on his first Detroit recording session. His passion, like millions of teenagers, was rockabilly but on his return after a stint in the military he found session work on the burgeoning Motor City Soul scene. Backing artists like Edwin Starr, J.J. Barnes & Darrell Banks (Dennis is a Northern Soul Legend in the UK) it was at the Ric-Tic/Golden World studio that he met the moonlighting from Motown Funk Brothers (they were fined by the label). When Ric-Tic merged with Tamla Motown ($1 million changing hands) he moved over to 2648 West Grand Boulevard, Hitsville USA, his first session spent adding the guitar effects to “Cloud Nine” for Norman Whitfield & the Temptations. Dennis became part of the crew who played on more hits than they can remember, he & his effects pedals always in demand. The wah-wah guitar on “In The Rain” by the Dramatics, #2 in this week’s chart, Dennis Coffey is that guy.

With Motown making plans to move to the West Coast & Dennis ambitious to see what he could do with himself & after a slow start with a 1969 album signed a solo deal with Sussex Records. “Evolution” (1971) by Dennis Coffey & the Detroit Guitar Band featured a whole load of multi-tracked guitars & help from his Funk Brother friends including Jack Ashford on tambourine because, well, this is Motown. “Scorpio”. from the soundtrack of a blaxploitation movie that really should have been made hit the Top 10 of the Pop & R&B charts & sold a million. “Goin’ For Myself” (1972) was a little more reflective with horns & strings, covers of “Bridge Over Troubled Water” & Carole King’s “It’s Too Late”. “Taurus”, #23 on the chart of 50 years ago, became a sizeable follow-up hit. The next album, “Electric Coffey” (1972) had a bunch of songs with more star signs in the title but sales were not as high. These are all good, interesting records, Dennis is a tasty & tasteful player. By this time he had re-located to Los Angeles & was in the Mowest studio making hits for Berry Gordy’s label & it is for his contribution to so many records we know that he will be best remembered.

Howard, Frederick, New Temptations (Soul 16th April 1972)

Another good week on the Cash Box R&B Top 60 from 50 years ago. Roberta Flack’s stunning version of “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face”, a Folk song written by Brit Ewen MacColl, swapped places at the top with “In The Rain” by the Dramatics while the rest of the Top 10 included Michael Jackson, Aretha Franklin, Isaac Hayes, Al Green & Joe Tex who makes the cover of this week’s issue. There are plenty of good records further down the list, so many that a double post is justified. We will see – here are three selections for a start.

First up it’s a surprise, a good one, to find Howard Tate, one of my favourite R&B vocalists, on the chart with “She’s A Burglar”, steady at #58 on the Top 60. Born in Georgia, raised in Philadelphia Howard had spent three years singing with keyboard player Bill Doggett before returning to Philly & finding that his teenage Gospel/Doo Wop group, the Gainors, re-named Garnett Mimms & the Enchanters had a hit 45 with “Cry Baby”. Mimms recommended Tate to his producer Jerry Ragovoy & from 1966-68 they made some of the best R&B records to come out of New York studios. Highlighting Howard’s vocal range, lighter on the producer’s liking for orchestration the effervescent “Ain’t Nobody Home” & “Look At Granny Run” made the Top 20 R&B chart while the smouldering “Get It While You Can”, surely now recognised as a Soul masterwork, failed to trouble the compilers. The album resulting from these sessions, also titled “Get It While…” (1967) is a wonderful Blues-Soul thing – essential. Ragovoy was using the royalties from Janis Joplin’s hits with his songs to build his Hit Factory studio while Howard, frustrated by a lack of success, moved to another label for “Howard Tate’s Reaction” (1970), an album with a terrible sleeve, a fine voice & less distinctive, sympathetic production.

In 1972 the gang, Tate, Ragovoy & the best NY session men available, got back together. Like they had never been gone the eponymous record has it all there, Howard’s great voice, Jerry’s songs & production, great playing. There’s the fine single, covers of Dylan’s “Girl From The North Country”, the Band’s “Jemima Surrender”, I don’t think it’s possible to do a bad version of “You Don’t Know Nothing About Love” & the album was pretty much ignored. There were a few more singles before Howard retired from music, took a day job before a family tragedy led to addiction & homelessness then his religion helped his recovery. In 2001 a New Jersey DJ tracked Howard down, reunited him with his old producer &, with his voice wonderfully preserved, “Rediscovered” (2003) introduced Howard to a new audience & to new opportunities in music which he followed until his death in 2011. The record included a new version of “Get It While You Can”, simpler, just piano, Howard’s voice. In Paris in 2003 the great Soul singer was joined onstage by the writer/producer for a performance that I have enjoyed many times & now it’s your turn.

At #46 there was a new entry, another good one. Frederick Knight studied music at Alabama A&M University before an unsuccessful spell in New York, returning home & signing to Stax. “I’ve Been Lonely For So Long”, his first 45 for the label, was distinctive enough to get radio airplay, good & then popular enough to make the R&B Top 10, the US Pop 30 & even the Top 30 here in the UK where we knew absolutely nothing about this new singer. Frederick was independent, wanting to handle his own business. He recorded his album at the Sound of Birmingham studio in his hometown & it’s quality Southern Soul all the way. Some of the session crew from Muscle Shoals came down from Florence to help out but there’s a lighter touch than their usual sound & guitarist Pete Carr gets to shine on not only the hit single. “I’ve Been Lonely…” was co-written by Frederick’s wife Posie, he wrote the majority of the rest of the record which closes with a funky cover of the Supremes’ “Someday We’ll Be Together” which brings to mind Bobby Womack. The excellent follow up “Trouble” (later covered by Ry Cooder) failed to connect & Frederick is remembered as a one hit wonder. Of course there was more to come.

Knight appeared at the Stax showcase “Wattstax” & while there were no more albums stuck with the label until its bankruptcy in 1975. He then started his own label, Juana, & publishing companies to look after his own songs which were recorded by many artists. In 1979 he wrote & produced “Ring My Bell” for Anita Ward, a massive international Disco smash. Frederick Knight was, still is, a smart dude.

“Take A Look Around”, falling nine places to #19 this week is probably not one of the Temptations records that come to mind as being among the greatest of ther hits. By 1972 there had already been 11 R&B #1 singles with more to come & I’m not going to count others that made the R&B Top 10 in a decade of success that established the Tempts as the leading vocal group in the US. The times they were a changing for the Temptations, in 1968 the “Classic Five” era ended when David Ruffin was replaced by Dennis Edwards then Paul Williams’ serious illness meant that on live gigs, when he was able, he would lip-synch while Richard Street would sing his parts from behind a curtain. After Ruffin’s departure Eddie Kendricks, the glorious falsetto voice, became more disaffected & in 1970 he signed a solo contract with Motown. The “Sky’s The Limit” album (1971) included more ballads alongside the now Tempts trademark Psychedelic Soul & Eddie’s parting gift was his lead on “Just My Imagination (Running Away From Me)”, as sweet & perfect as a single could be, a hit as big as the group had ever had – & that’s big.

“It’s Summer” a track for the “Solid Rock” record (1972), was recorded by the four remaining Temptations before Paul Williams was unable to continue as a member. Richard Street stepped out from behind the curtain, Damien Harris brought his own falsetto joining Edwards, Otis Williams & Melvin Franklin, the two remaining from the 1960s quintet. Producer Norman Whitfield & his writing partner Barrett Strong kept the quality high, the arrangements with his expected flourishes though less psych. It is perhaps a sign of greater inner-group democracy that on the two singles from the album both feature all five voices. “Superstar (Remember How You Got Where You Are)” is a reply to criticism by their departed colleagues & “Take A Look Around” a more subtle social commentary than the “Stop The War Now” track. It’s a lovely song, the live performance showing that these new Temptations were still a world class act. By the end of 1972 they released “Papa Was A Rolling Stone” & we all know how that one goes.

Brothers And Sisters (Soul 2nd April 1972)

There are a lot of good & interesting R&B entries in the Cash Box album chart for the first day of April 1972. Some, Al Green, Denise La Salle, Honey Cone, were selling on the back of their smash hit singles, “Pain” by the Ohio Players was eventually to become the first of a run of big-selling collections & Stevie Wonder had the significant “Music of My Mind”, a coming-of-age record that we had all been waiting for. Oh look, there’s a Bobby Womack album & anything Quincy Jones released under his own name is surely worth checking out. But wait this is Cash Box R&B Top 60 week not albums,& a new entry at #57 on that chart is the lead 45 from a very high class 33 and a third .

“Little Esther” Phillips, mentored by bandleader Johnny Otis, had her first R&B #1 in 1950 when she was just 14 years old. It was a momentous year for the teenager, two more chart-toppers in a run of seven Top 10s ended when a dispute over royalties led to Esther leaving the Otis band & signing to Federal where there was just one more R&B hit two years later. The singer’s addiction to heroin meant that recording & performing was sporadic for the next decade before “Release Me”, a Country Soul ballad in the current style of Ray Charles, found her high in the Hot 100. In a couple of spells at Atlantic Records they couldn’t decide if Esther was a Blues, Jazz or Soul singer. “And I Love Her”, a classy cabaret Beatles cover attracted deserved attention & for “Burnin'” (1970) King Curtis brought along his saxophone & his band for a live album that consistently showcased her mature range & ability to sing the heck out of her set of chosen songs. It was Esther’s last album for Atlantic but Creed Taylor, boss of CTI Records, had plans for her.

“Home Is Where The Hatred Is” had been written & recorded in 1971 by rap-poet Gil Scott-Heron. It’s a harrowing story of ghetto addiction, unflinching & the truth, a brave, inspired choice for Esther who sings it like she knows it – because she does. Creed Taylor was a Jazz guy who, with his new Kudo imprint, wanted to set a standard for a new, polished Jazz-Funk sound. He had access to the finest New York session men & had hired the saxophonist Pee Wee Ellis, former musical director with James Brown, as arranger & conductor. Pee Wee is a Jazz guy with a co-writer’s credit on, among others, “Cold Sweat” & “Say It Loud, I’m Black & I’m Proud”, he was around when Funk was invented. The combination of Esther’s voice, great playing, well-chosen songs matched to sumptuous, empathic arrangements made “From A Whisper To A Scream”, the atmospheric title track one of two songs by Allen Toussaint, an outstanding album. Esther & Pee Wee were involved in some fine, fine music in their long careers & this is a highlight for both of them. The story goes that at the following year’s Grammy Awards Aretha Franklin, winner of Best Female R&B Performance for “Bridge Over Troubled Water”, handed over her trophy to the also nominated, deserving Esther. You know that I hope this story is true.

The Isley Brothers in two paragraphs – that’s not gonna happen! Ronald, Rudolph & O’Kelly made their first record in 1957, had their first hit “Shout” two years later. The mid-60s were spent at Tamla Motown where the quality of releases like “This Old Heart Of Mine”, “I Guess I’ll Always Love You”, “Behind A Painted Smile” & others was not reflected in higher chart placings. In 1969 the trio’s first post-Motown 45, “It’s Your Thing”, an influential Funk anthem, established their independence & them as a force in the new music. With full control over their recordings for their own T-Neck label “Giving It Back” (1971), a collection of contemporary covers, had included a hit version of Stephen Stills’ “Love The One Your With”. “Lay Away”, the first single from their upcoming record rose a healthy 12 places to #29 in the R&B chart this week.

“Brother, Brother, Brother” has its share of Soft Rock covers too, three from Carole King (a 10 minute take on “It’s Too Late”) & Jackie DeShannon’s “Put A Little Love In Your Heart”. It’s the three self-written tracks that stand out, “Work To Do” an insistent classic, the rumbling “Pop That Thang” & the Soul-Rock of “Lay Away”, performed on “Soul Train” by a group who don’t have dance moves – they just groove. “Brother…” is a significant progression of a long-held, well thought out strategy by the Isleys. Two younger brothers, guitarist Ernie & bass player Marvin, along with brother-in-law Chris Jasper had been more involved in the studio, the young guns had probably put the older guys on to the more current songs they had covered. Now, for the first time, these three appeared on the sleeve credits of a record that still featured Ronald, Rudolph & O’Kelly on the cover. Chris had one of his songs on the album. Everything was in place for a big move, T-Neck’s distribution was moved from Buddah to the bigger Epic & the expanded group recorded “3+3” (1973) with the smash hit “That Lady”. It was the first of a run of 12 LPs to make the R&B Top 3, eight of them in the Pop Top20. For the rest of the decade it was gold & platinum albums all the way for one of the most popular, most enduring groups in the world.

We didn’t get to see “Soul Train” here in the UK. Starting in Chicago in October 1971, shown in just eight cities, a black music programme produced by black people quickly proved to be something to see. It was also a great opportunity for artists to get the kind of national TV exposure they had never had before. So here’s Millie Jackson promoting “Ask Me What You Want”, her second single taken from her eponymous debut album, rising 11 places to #18 on this week’s chart & on its way to the Top 10. Working with producer Raeford Gerard there’s a variety of styles on Millie’s record, “Ask…” & the next hit “My Man, A Sweet Man” both have more than a touch of Motown melodicism & danceability. After a fine start the following year she recorded “It Hurts So Good”, included in the blaxploitation movie “Cleopatra Jones” & her biggest hit yet, crossing over to the Pop chart.

Millie had always talked to her audience between songs. Initially it helped her nervousness but she was good at it, she would say what she liked & people liked what she said. The chat, about how women were treated, how they expected & deserved to be treated, became a bigger part of her show. After three quality albums that tended to follow current styles, with “Caught Up” (1974) Ms Jackson played to her strengths & hit her stride. The songs suited this strong, opinionated woman, a side from the other woman’s viewpoint, another from the wife’s, both of them taking no crap from their man. The Muscle Shoals crew were as strong or as silky as necessary & Millie had the first of her gold records. More were to follow, her tours were a sell out, she was a Soul superstar. I may not be the biggest fan of Millie Jackson though plenty were, anyway she wasn’t talking to me she was talking about me!

Back On The Stax (Soul 19th March 1972)

The travails of the great Memphis Soul label Stax in the late 1960s could have been enough to have brought an end to a run of success that had begun in 1961. The death of Otis Redding, its most consistent & successful hit maker, in December 1967 was a great shock & sadness for the Stax community already finding themselves at the wrong end of a deal with distributors Atlantic who, as part of a sale to Warner Brothers, retained the rights to all recordings made between 1960 & 1967. Johnnie Taylor’s best selling single “Who’s Making Love” kept the label afloat in the following year then a risky, imaginative strategy to create an instant catalogue saw the release of 27 albums in mid-69. One of these sold millions & ensured the label continued as a force in Soul music. This week 50 years ago there were four Stax 45s on the Cash Box R&B Top 60 & that artist was responsible for two of them.

“Hot Buttered Soul” by Isaac Hayes is a ground-breaking landmark album, just four tracks, lush, stately, insistent orchestration epically stretching Bacharach & David’s “Walk On By” to 12 minutes, Jimmy Webb’s “By the Time I Got To Phoenix” to 18. From valued studio hand producing & writing along with partner David Porter, the great Sam & Dave hits, sitting in on sessions when Booker T Jones was away at his musical studies, Isaac was now a leading man, “Black Moses”. His monumental soundtrack to “Shaft” (1971) reaching #1 in the US album chart, staying at that position for three months on the R&B listing & the natural headliner for the upcoming “Wattstax”, a showcase for the label in Los Angeles which would attract 112,000 spectators in August 1972. “If talking is the only way – Rap On!”, “Do Your Thing”, a radio version cut down to less than four minutes from the 19 on “Shaft” (there’s a 33 minute version out there) rose seven places to #5 on the R&B chart for 19th of March 1972 but you know that one don’t you so here’s one that was in the charts too.

Isaac Hayes had it together, his groove so creative, confident, effective, prolific & popular. Together with arranger down from Detroit Johnny Allen & his Movement, the group of musicians now working in the Stax studio, a new pulsebeat was found in melodic songs from the Bacharach & David & Soul catalogues while covers of the Beatles & Kris Kristofferson were impressively & successfully “Hayes-ified”. Ike’s latest treatment was possibly a surprise as the original was still on the chart at #12. “Let’s Stay Together” was a new entry on the R&B chart at #41 this week, a mega hit for Al Green from Willie Mitchell’s Hi Studios in Memphis, less than a mile away from the Stax operation at 926 East McLemore Avenue. It may have been a quickly put together & recorded instrumental but its leisurely jazzy course is very, very cool. Paired with the rich “Soulsville”, a vocal track from “Shaft”, that is one hot 7″ vinyl disc. Isaac Hayes changed how Soul music was viewed & consumed, “Shaft” had been the first double album released by an R&B artist. Such renown & success was difficult to maintain but there were gold records to follow from a man deservedly held in the highest regard.


n order to make the deadline for their new catalogue Stax needed to recruit new talent & producer Don Davis quickly established his credentials with his work on the “Who’s Making Love” hit. Don produced albums with Johnnie Taylor, Darrell Banks & Carla Thomas for the expansion, he had been working in Detroit for small labels like Ric-Tic & Golden World, both now bought out by the Tamla Motown giant. It was his contacts in the Motor City that led him to bring former Golden World alumni the Dramatics along with young songwriter Tony Hester into the Stax orbit, allowing them a creative freedom that they would never have received from Motown. The Sensations became the Dramatics in 1965 experiencing line-up changes particularly after an involvement in the 1967 Algiers Motel tragedy when, after a night of rioting in Detroit, three young men including the group’s 18 year old valet, were killed by police. By 1971 the Dramatics were original members Ron Banks, Larry Demps, Elbert Wilkins with William Howard & Willie Ford – the Classic Five.

The group, produced by Hester, supervised by Davis, certainly brought a touch of Motown to Memphis, with five capable lead voices the Dramatics could be compared to the Temptations. Their debut album “What You See Is What You Get” (1971) yielded a title track that became a breakout crossover hit followed by the theatrical, sound-effect laden “In The Rain” (seen here on “Soul Train”), an even bigger success’ another big mover on this week’s chart from 18 to #7. The flourishes of Hester/Davis & arranger Johnnie Allen were less predominant than those of Norman Whitfield, a romantic sweetness was a tip to the new group sound from Philadelphia & the Dramatics had their own thing going on. Further personnel disruption meant that there was no group photo on the second album, again completely written by Hester, & the following one was released as Ron Banks & the Dramatics to differentiate them from a breakaway unit. It is more than ironic that two standout tracks on “A Dramatic Experience” (1973) were the eerie “The Devil Is Dope” & “Beware of the Man (With the Candy in His Hand)” as Tony Hester’s increasingly debilitating drug habit led to less involvement with the group & his death by gunshot at just 34 years of age in 1980. The Dramatics abided, their records had a consistent quality throughout the next decade while other vocal groups faltered. They certainly deserve to be considered in the top rank of 1970s US vocal combos.

Little Milton (James Milton Campbell Jr) had a 20 year long recording career when he found himself at Stax Records though he had been to Memphis before. Raised in Greenville, Mississippi, his first solo tracks were recorded for Sam Phillips’ Sun Records, backed by Ike Turner’s band. On moving to St Louis he & a partner started their own label Bobbin which did well enough to get a deal with the famous Chess organisation in Chicago. It was on Chess’ R&B subsidiary, Checker, that, in 1965, “We’re Gonna Make It”, lovely bit of Blues-Soul positivity, became an R&B #1, Top 30 on the Hot 100. Milton was versatile & popular, there were to be six more R&B Top 20 records (“Grits Ain’t Groceries”, “If Walls Could Talk”), four albums, in the decade but the death of founder Leonard Chess left his label in disarray & Stax were pleased to provide a home for an already established artist.

“That’s What Love Will Make You Do”, Little Milton’s second Stax 45 is at #33 on this week’s chart. The label had previous with Blues players when Albert King was matched with Booker T & the M.G.’s & the Memphis Horns on influential records. This time around Milton’s strong vocal attack was complimented by the production of Don Davis (busy guy!), employing those new studio guys including Lester Snell on keys, drummer Willie Hall & the distinctive punchy horns. There were to be some following 45s before the”Waiting For Little Milton” came around in 1973, a self-produced selection of his own songs & Blues classics that absolutely rocks. “Grits Ain’t Groceries”, a six track live set, recorded in 1972, not released until 1984, makes that night at the Summit Club L.A. seem like the place to be. In 1975 a poor distribution deal with CBS & fewer hits as Disco carried the swing led to Stax declaring bankruptcy. There was, of course a long queue of men with contracts outside Isaac Hayes’ yard, the Dramatics remained under the mentorship of Don Davis while Little Milton recorded more sporadically before, in the 1980s finding himself back in Mississippi with the Malaco label until his passing in 2005. A Bluesman, a Soul man, a showman, a survivor.

The Blues Are The Roots (Soul February 26th 1972)

This week’s selections from the Cash Box R&B Top 60 of 50 years ago are from the higher numbers. For the past 10 years the prevailing trends of Rock & Soul, despite it’s influence on both, the Blues had been moved to the sidelines, given a comfy chair & told to take it easy grandpa. In the late-60s young white musicians often checked for the Blues greats who had inspired & influenced them & there was greater interest in & revival of these artists. Anyway, a good record is just that however it is labelled & Blues acts still broke into the lower half of the R&B chart they just weren’t selling in the Motown millions. Here are three from the 26th of February 1972 listing.

B.B. King, the Beale Street Blues Boy, was at first a trailblazer then pretty soon a legend of modern electric Blues. His fluid, string-bending guitar style & strong vocals brought R&B hits throughout the 1950s & 60s leading a busy life on the road, 342 shows in 1956, for himself, his guitar Lucille & his band. In the late 1960s a young producer, Bill Szymczyk, compensated for a lack of vowels in his surname with enthusiasm & creativity. In the studios of London, Los Angeles & New York young musicians who had been inspired & influenced by B.B. were invited to join the sessions. The “Completely Well” album (1969) contained “The Thrill Is Gone”, his only Top 20 Pop hit & awarded the 1970 Grammy Award for Best R&B Male Vocal Performance, “Live In Cook County Jail” (1971) has an intensity & command to rival B.B.’s landmark 1965 live recording at Chicago’s Regal Theatre.

By 1972 Szymczyk had moved on to eventual fame & fortune with the James Gang, J. Geils band, the Eagles & er, Wishbone Ash. B.B’s current LP “L.A. Midnight” was sometimes uneven, always interesting. Joe Walsh & Jesse Ed Davis are happy to join such an iconic player, Taj Mahal’s guitar & harmonica can be heard & Red Callender, from ace sessioneers the Wrecking Crew, adds a distinctive tuba to three tracks. It’s a more experienced unit playing on the record’s standout track which placed at #50 on the chart this week. “Sweet Sixteen” was a hit for B.B. in 1959, a mainstay of his live set there are several versions on his records & this updated version (“I just got back from Vietnam baby & I’m a long way from New Orleans”) sounds to me like the best of a good lot. Starting calmly with B.B.’s strong vocal & precise picking the entry of a propulsive horn section stirs the King of the Blues to a powerful, wailing crescendo. The chart 45 was just less than four minutes long, the full seven minutes of the album track has been included here, I know that the screen is black but it’s there. There were many more years of great music from B.B. King & many accolades to come his way, all of them becoming of a true legend.

In 1971 Albert Collins was working in construction because playing his guitar wasn’t paying too well. Born in 1932 in Leona, Texas Albert made the Blues scene in Houston where the guitar solo was the thing. His 1965 debut, “The Cool Sound of…” consolidated the nickname “Iceman” & in 1968 with the encouragement & connections of Canned Heat he signed to their label Imperial & moved to Los Angeles. A couple of albums later & Albert was again looking for a day job just as he had back in Texas. Things were looking up when he was signed to the new Tumbleweed label, a start-up by B.B. King’s erstwhile producer, that man again, busy Bill Szymczyk.

“There’s Gotta Be A Change” employs a similar modus operandi that was a success for Bill with Mr King. Jesse Ed Davis & drummer Jim Keltner show out as does a full horn section & the versatile, always interesting, Dr John on piano. Albert Collins, “The Master of the Telecaster”, was no shrinking violet, his voice & his guitar are always out front. With a capo low on the neck Albert’s fiery, vibrant tone stung like a bee, seven of the nine tracks, including “Get Your Business Straight (#41 on the chart), are written by his wife Gwendolyn. They had their act together, “There’s Gotta …” is a great example of early 1970s Blues, but Tumbleweed folded the following year & it was five years before renewed interest & Gwendolyn’s encouragement brought him back to the studio. This time around there was more recognition for an individual Blues stylist who could put on quite a show, his 100 foot long lead taking him into the audience & sometimes out of the club to order a pizza! Albert got to play at Live Aid with George Thorogood, with Gary Moore & Robert Cray, both strongly influenced by him & on “Underground”, David Bowie’s theme for “Labyrinth” (“a savage, rough, aggressive sound” – D.B.) . In 1993, the year of his passing, he joined B.B. King onstage at the “Blues Summit” to duet on “Call It Stormy Monday”, the classic by T Bone Walker, a player who influenced both great guitarists. Someone had brought along a camera that night so here it is.

Higher up the chart “Standing In For Jody”, the 11th consecutive R&B Top 20 for Johnnie Taylor was sliding down slowly to #21 while Little Johnny Taylor, a different guy, had a new entry at #58 with “It’s My Fault Darlin'”. Little Johnny got his name when he was the smallest member of the Gospel group the Mighty Clouds of Joy, still a teenager when singers like Little Willie John & Bobby Bland attracted him to secular music.In a move to Galaxy Records he became thir biggest selling act when, in 1963, the slow Blues burn “Part Time Love” became a #1 R&B hit. His following records were not as successful & 1968’s “Soul Full Of Blues, Little Johnny Taylor’s Greatest Hits” though a fine collection was perhaps an exaggeration.

Ronn r#Records released a lot of now obscure R&B singles- (Little Duck & the Quackers – anyone?) & it was with them that “Everybody Knows About My Good Thing Pt.1”, the title track of a subsequent LP, returned Little Johnny to the R&B Top 10. A cut from this record “It’s My Fault Darling” just made it at #58 this week. There’s a large helping of Soul served with LJT’s Blues but it was the slower songs of yearning with a dry humour in the lyrics (wieners for lunch, a Joe Louis punch in “It’s My Fault…”, intimate knowledge of bunions & bedsheets as signs of infidelity in another hit “Open House At My House”) that makes him distinct. Listening to these three artists it’s clear that a horn section was now a feature of Blues records. Little Johnny recorded two good albums at Ronn then another with his namesake & label mate Ted Taylor There were less releases though he still performed & in 2016 no less than the Rolling Stones revived “Everybody Knows About My Good Thing”.

Pass The Peace (Soul February 12th 1972)

There was not much movement in the Top 10 Cash Box R&B Top 60 this week 50 years ago. Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together” remained at #1 followed by Bobby Womack & Wilson Pickett who had both moved up one place. One of the two new entries was “Talking Loud & Saying Nothing”, the latest in a long run of non-stop success for James Brown. “The Hardest Working Man in Show Business”, “The Minister of the New New Super Heavy Funk”, had a new big label deal with Polydor & his own People imprint for releases by the singers & musicians in his circle. This week his backing band stood at #24 on the chart.

Funk Classic 1: Soul Power – James Brown, Jabo Starks, drums — Jim Payne
James & Jabo

Mr Brown was a tough boss, people got along with him as long as they let him be right. In 1970 his band, tired of the fines & low pay, left him & James hired a bunch of young guns from Cincinnati. This new group, including guitarist Phelps “Catfish” Collins, his teenage brother, bassist William “Bootsy” Collins & holdover drummer Jabo Starks – the J.B.’s – brought new energy, new new Super Heavy Funk, to the music & it was this unit who is heard on “Talking Loud…”. The arrangement was short-lived, by the end of 1971 the Collins Brothers headed off to Funkadelic & trombonist Fred Wesley, who had already returned, became musical director of the new J.B.’s. “Gimme Some More”, featuring this new line-up, was their latest 45 rising nine places this week.


With an augmented brass section, from three to five, this band were a little less gutbucket than its’ predecessor. Jabo & bassist Frank Thomas, who would stay for 30 years, hold down an awesome groove & I don’t know if it’s Frank’s friend “Cheese” Martin or Robert Coleman on rhythm guitar but it’s a great, state of the art job. The six 45s released by the J.B.’s, both groups, were assembled on “Food For Thought” later in 1972. The album shows that with only a shout & the skeleton of a riff from producer/keyboard player James (enough to get a composing credit) this powerhouse band could conjure up the most joyous, unrelenting Funk. Mr Brown demanded that you had to be the best to share the stage with “Soul Brother #1” & the J.B.’s were up to the job.

Curtis Mayfield – We Got To Have Peace (1971, Vinyl) - Discogs

Curtis Mayfield’s solo career was going well – very well. After a decade with his group the Impressions, moving from his Gospel roots, creating the sweetest, most harmonious Chicago Soul which matured into commentary on & affirmations for the Civil Rights Movement. Curtis had laid the ground carefully for his big move & “(Don’t Worry) If There’s Hell Below, We’re All Going To Go”, the opening track on his 1970 debut was a manifesto for a new lyrical militancy & a wider musical ambition. The new breed of harder Funk, even psychedelia, was embraced but Chicago Soul was about melody, enhanced & energised by brass & strings, Curtis & his veteran arranger Riley Hampton took these flourishes to a new level of ingenuity. An artistic & commercial success it remains a 50 year old mystery that “Move On Up”, a classic song & a Top 20 UK hit, failed to make the US chart.

Curtis - Curtis Mayfield - T-Shirt | TeePublic UK

In 1971 “Curtis/Live!” stretched new songs, ones from his debut & from the Impressions songbook across a double album before “Roots”, another collection of original material was released. The record perhaps lacks the shock of the new of his debut but all seven songs are confidently & beautifully realised whether songs of affirmation (Keep On Keeping On”) or the gliding Soul of sweet romance (Love To Keep You In My Mind”). “We Got To Have Peace”, a new entry at #49 this week, an idealistic, pacifist plea from a time when the number of casualties on both sides of the Vietnam War was becoming more unacceptable to the US public is a perfect example of just how Curtis did things. Simple, direct lyrics (And the soldiers who are dead and gone, if only we could bring back one” – ah man!), a complex arrangement propelled by the percussion of “Master” Henry Gibson. In July 1972 Curtis’ soundtrack for “Superfly” came around, the perfect enhancement to the Blaxploitation hit. the record hit #1 in the Pop & R&B charts, “Freddie’s Dead” & the title track were hit 45s. Curtis was already a legend for his work with the Impressions & others, his solo work only consolidated his reputation as a great American artist. You need a more considered view? Don’t ask me, I have the T shirt!.

mp3] Denise LaSalle all the albums and all the songs listen free online,  download an album or song in mp3

When Denise Lasalle (Ora Denise Allen) was just 13 years old she left Mississippi to live with her older brother in Chicago, “All them folks killing all the black folks, I wanted to get out of there, and I made up my mind that I’m leaving Mississippi if it’s the last thing I do…I can’t live in this place, because I would be dead next summer. I’m not taking this stuff. I got out.” From this comfortable British white man’s life it’s sad & shocking that a young girl should have felt so threatened because of her race. Denise’s independence & determination were apparent in her long career as a singer of Gospel, R&B & Blues. In Chicago she was mentored by the great Billy “the Kid” Emerson (“Red Hot”, “Crazy ‘Bout An Automobile”) but felt that local session men, insistent on playing the charts in front of them, were not finding the best in her songs. After hearing an Al Perkins disc on the Hi label she approached producer Willie Mitchell, his guys in Memphis said “you hum it, we’ll play it” & that suited Denise just fine.

Denise LaSalle – Now Run And Tell That / The Deeper I Go (The Better It  Gets) (Vinyl) - Discogs

Ms Lasalle wrote the majority of the songs on the subsequent “Trapped By A Thing Called Love” album (1972) & the title track was an R&B #1 & a crossover hit. The follow up 45, “Now Run & Tell That” is at #24 this week, on its way to the Top 5 & Denise’s performance on “Soul Train” certainly has the afroed audience moving. She & her husband had their own production company & label, Crajon, & signed a deal with Detroit’s Westbound Records. The record is a great example of Mitchell’s smoother,still punchy, take on Memphis Southern Soul, Denise’s personality apparent in her voice & maintaining an input into the work that she continued on have on the later albums that put her in the Blues Hall of Fame. In 1972 Willie Mitchell & his band at Royal Studios were having hits with Al Green, Ann Peebles & Syl Johnson, they were making the In sound. There’s a record coming up soon by Otis Clay that will feature in one of my posts whether it makes the R&B chart or not. We will always have time to come back to Willie Mitchell.

What We Like To Play (Soul January 29th 1972)

It was Al Green’s second week at the top of the Cash Box R&B Top 60 on January 29th 1972. “Let’s Stay Together” was the star’s first chart-topper & there were to be five more ( four of his 45s “only” reached #2). Al was to be a major force in Soul music in the early 1970s, it’s certain that he will be a feature selection here in the near future just not right now. Let’s look a little further down the chart to see what catches the ear.


Eric Burdon was a big figure in the 1960s British Invasion, first as vocalist with the Animals then maintaining his popularity with his name at the front of a new pack of Animals. Five LPs in less than two years provided hit singles but was a hectic workload leading to burnout & leaving Eric without a band. Bringing along Danish harmonica player Lee Oskar, Eric hooked up with Night Shift, a backing group from Long Beach, California. A name change & the “Eric Burdon Declares War” record (1970) confirmed a surprising & serendipitous union, War’s Afro-Funk-Jazz-Latin grooves proving to be a great foil to Eric’s stoned Geordie Beat poetry. “Spill the Wine” became a Top 3 US Pop hit, the highest for the singer since 1964’s “House of the Rising Sun”. There was another album, a double, before personal troubles led to him leaving in the middle of a European tour. War, a seven piece band, were travelling the world, playing to bigger audiences, getting their name around. They also had a better record deal than their former front man ever had, with the tunes & the chops to rule out a return to the L.A. clubs.

Classic 70s Music Ads: WAR, '11 Million Records' (1974) | Bionic Disco

There’s a subtle texture to War’s music, resonances of the ensemble groove revealed by repeated listening & not enough people wanted to play their first LP again. They needed a track that would be played on daytime radio & “Slippin’ Into Darkness”, at #11 on this week’s R&B chart was that very thing. Playing live on “Soul Train” they unite around that bassline, sing great harmonies & you just wish they were playing the full six minutes rather than the shorter single version. The closer on the “All Day Music” album, “Baby Brother”, a live & loud Blues jam, later re-tooled into a hit 45, indicates a strong stage presence. Having got their crossover hit War seized the opportunity & there were to be two more Top 10 singles by the end of 1972, starting a decade of great rhythms & gold records. Lee Oskar was recognisable, he was the white guy with the afro, the other six did their thing, made their contribution & it is to the band’s credit that the line up was unchanged through all this success. War were an important, influential, individual group whose records sound as cool & fresh today as they did 50 years ago.

Deceit, Duplicity, and Despair: The Controversial Career of the Late, Great  Donnie Elbert | REBEAT Magazine

Donnie Elbert, a singer from Buffalo, New York had been recording since the mid-1950s, having his first R&B hit in 1957. With a career interrupted by a stint in the Army his releases met with little commercial success. In 1965 he recorded “A Little Piece of Leather”, highlighting the falsetto end of his three octave range. Picked up in the UK by Sue Records, a label jam-packed with great American R&B overseen by DJ Guy Stevens (later producer of Mott the Hoople & the Clash) for Island Records. A Mod club favourite Donnie moved across the Atlantic, recording a tribute to Otis Redding & a Rock Steady 45, “Without You”, a #1 in Jamaica. He returned to the US & the R&B chart in 1970 then, something he brought with him from England, a cover of the Supremes’ “Where Did I Love Go” crossed over to the Pop Top 20. Things were going well for Donnie 50 years ago today, only he & Sly & the Family Stone had two records on the R&B listing.

Donnie Elbert - Modus House of Soul

Another Motown cover, “I Can’t Help Myself” (the 4 Tops, “sugar pie honey bunch”, you know it) rose a healthy 11 places to #30 & “Sweet Baby” moved from #34 to 32. Both are perfect for all-night dancing in the Soul clubs of Northern England, if Donnie was well-liked in the US he was loved over here & in 1972 the re-released “A Little Piece of Leather” made the UK Top 30. The records were on different labels & Avco, the bigger one, had the idea that more covers were the way to go. Donnie had been burned by bigger companies before, he had worked hard to find his own place & his independence. At All Platinum he had sung, written, produced, played everything but the strings & that’s where he chose to stay until he was on the wrong end of a dispute with boss Sylvia Robinson over the composing credit for Shirley & Company’s hit “Shame, Shame, Shame” (now that’s a good tune) had him looking for a way out of a business where his talents were perhaps never fully appreciated & promoted.

Otis Redding / Joe Tex Columbia 16" x 12" Photo Repro Concert Poster | eBay

At #39 this week, up 10 places pop pickers, was a record that was on its way to the top of the R&B chart & #2 Pop, 3 million copies sold. I’ve written about Joe Tex here & some of his regular hits have featured in earlier Soul Selections. “I Gotcha” was Joe’s first R&B #1 since 1965, his biggest crossover hit since “Skinny Legs & All” five years previously. Joe & his dancers give an energetic, er thrusting, performance of an insistent, confident gold record rap. After a sojourn at Atlantic Records where he was rather awkwardly given other people’s songs to record Joe was back with the Dial label, with producer Buddy Killen, the songs all his own work. On the LP that came with “I Gotcha” he sticks with what he’s good at, the sharp Memphis Funk sweetened by homespun homilies backed by Nashville session cats, both delivered with Joe’s good humour. Not as consistent as the compilations of his great singles the record still has its moments like “Takin’ A Chance”, always a favourite.

Joe, now Yusuf Hazziez, stepped away for a while to preach & fund raise for the Nation of Islam. bBy the middle of the decade Disco was the current thing & Joe, receptive to new styles & dances since Sam Cooke was twisting the night away had something to add. “Ain’t Gonna Bump No More (With No Big Fat Woman)” put him back in the R&B Top 10, the US Pop 20 & even some long-overdue attention here in the UK.

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." / 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.