Slow Jams And Stevie (Soul March 6th 1971)

The Cash Box Top 60 in R&B Locations for 50 years ago this week was headed this week by “Mama’s Pearl”, the fifth of six consecutive #1 records by Motown’s teenage sensations the Jackson 5. Family bands were all the rage in 1971 & at #3, down from the second spot on the chart were the Osmonds, five Mormon brothers with an age range from 21 year old Alan to Donny, just 13, whose toothy wholesomeness had made them familiar faces on prime time TV shows starring Andy Williams & Jerry Lewis. Reportedly the song “Guess Who’s Making Whoopie (With Your Girlfriend)” was considered to be too racy for young Michael Jackson so new lyrics were provided by a team of Motown writers. Conversely the Osmonds needed to toughen up if they wanted a share of that teenage heartthrob dollar. Sent to FAME Studios at Muscle Shoals they liked “One Bad Apple”, a George Jackson (no relation) song written with the Jackson 5 in mind. The result was a crossover success on the Pop & R&B charts. Anyway, if you think that the Osmond Brothers are making my selection of Classic Soul then think again.

Down in Alabama they may have been expanding their range into Teen Pop but at #16 on the chart, after three weeks in the Top

Candi Staton – He Called Me Baby / What Would Become Of Me (1970, Vinyl) -  Discogs

10, was a great example of the Muscle Shoals Sound. Candi Staton had sung in a teenage Gospel group before spending most of the Sixties raising her four children. She was in her late-twenties when, in 1968, her husband-to-be Clarence Carter introduced her to FAME. Candi was instantly successful, her first album “I’m Just A Prisoner” (1970) came off the back of two Top Twenty R&B hits & displayed a strong, rich, mature voice to handle the emotional songs, comfortable with the innuendo of the women getting together to talk about men ones. The following year’s “Stand By Your Man” repeated two from her debut while for the new tracks producer/arranger Rick Hall did exactly the job that was needed to establish Candi as “The First Lady of Southern Soul”. The title track, a hit for Tammy Wynette, had been covered by most of Country’s female royalty, only Bettye Swann had added a little bit of Soul. Candi’s take has an insistent bass foundation for the string & brass flourishes & earned her a Grammy nomination.

candi staton and Clarence Carter

He Called Me Baby” is another Country standard . Written by the great Harlan Howard the most well known interpretation was by Patsy Cline for whom Howard had also written “I Fall To Pieces”. Candi’s Gospel, Blues & Country ingredients, flavoured with a classy, building arrangement makes for a plaintive, gorgeous dish of Soul. “Stand By…” is not a record full of Country covers. Once again the studio’s staff writers, George Jackson most prominent, provided strong varied material for their new star. The new FAME gang of studio musicians were finding their feet too, it really is a fine collection. In 1976 Candi’s “Young Hearts Run Free” was a feelgood hit of the summer & other dance floor favourites followed. She may have returned to her Gospel beginnings but young British groups like the Source & Groove Armada were happy to have her guest on their dance records leading to compilations of her earlier work bringing a deserved higher visibility & reputation.

Finding the 'Real' Marvin — Adam White

At #14 on the chart was a vocal quartet who had sung with various Detroit groups before signing to Tamla Motown in 1966 as The Originals. Joe Stubbs, briefly a member was the brother of the more famous Levi of the Four Tops while Freddie Gorman, in 1961 & working as a mailman, had co-written “Please Mr Postman” by the Marvelettes, the label’s first #1 record. With few of their own recordings they provided studio backing vocals to many hits & remained 20 feet from stardom until, in 1969, their friend Marvin Gaye intervened. Marvin wrote & produced “Baby I’m For Real”, a song that would not be out place on “Let’s Get It On”. He showcased all four Originals’ voices & the record was a #1 R&B , Pop Top 20 hit. “The Bells” was a follow up success & the early 1970’s became a very productive period for the Originals.

The Originals – God Bless Whoever Sent You (1972, Vinyl) - Discogs

“God Bless Whoever Sent You” is taken from “Naturally Together”, their second album of 1970. That driving Motown beat may not have been apparent, it’s a slow jam in the smooth romantic style becoming more popular with the success of groups like the Delfonics & the Chi-Lites. Producer Clay McMurray, along with British woman Pam Sawyer provided the songs & the Originals all had fine, strong voices without perhaps a distinctive lead voice to make them discernible from other groups. “The Only Time You Love Me Is When You’re Losing Me” sure sounds like a hit but was not released on 45. The Originals made 8 albums with Motown, surviving, reduced success & line up changes before “Down In Love Town” topped the new Disco chart in 1976 ensuring that they left the label on a high. The group is not always considered in the front rank of the Motown roster but they made good records & they made their mark.

Paul McCartney with Stevie Wonder in London, February 3rd, 1966. : beatles

The highest new entry of the week at #44 is one of my favourite Beatles cover versions. This was Stevie Wonder’s first 45 of 1971, the fourth track to be lifted from his “Signed, Sealed & Delivered” LP. Like the title track from that record “We Can…” is sparkling, imaginative & wonderfully sung. Still only 20 years old Stevie was enjoying a fantastic run of great singles & was established as a major artist. More of his own songs were included on the album & he was taking greater control in the studio. His Motown contract came up for renewal on his 21st birthday & he was already recording the more expansive music with an expression of his social conscience that greater independence would allow. In April 1971 the release of “Where I’m Coming From”, produced by Stevie, written by himself & Syreeta Wright, marked that coming of age. It seems that most of Stevie Wonder’s singles are included in these selections of mine. His records certainly all made the R&B chart, they still sound fresh & we know them all. There was much more great music to come & it’s a sure bet that I wont be able to resist those either.

This week’s live bonus is not a contemporary clip. As part of the 2011 Americana Music Awards show Candi Staton stepped out in front of an All-Star band including Don Was, Spooner Oldham & some faces I should be able to put names to & gave a lovely performance of “Heart On A String”. It’s a song from 1969, the B-side no less of “I’m Just A Prisoner (Of Your Good Lovin’)” that never made it on to her albums of the time. Co-written by, here’s that name again, George Jackson, it’s a perfect slice of Pop Soul that has deservedly been resurrected. The blissful smile of ace guitarist Buddy Miller betrays how happy he is to be playing that Muscle Shoals sound, sharing the stage with the effervescent, still gorgeous at 70, legendary Ms Staton. This makes me happy too.

Sweet Home Alabama (Soul May 23rd 1970)

In my weekly reviews of the Cash Box Top 50 in R&B Locations from 50 years ago it has been inevitable that the records coming from the Soul music production lines of Detroit, Chicago & Memphis have predominated. This week my three selections were all recorded at a much more unlikely,  smaller operation. FAME (Florence Alabama Music Enterprises) had moved their studio just across the Tennessee River to Muscle Shoals (population around 10,000) in 1961 & when the money came in from the first hit, Arthur Alexander’s “You Better Move On”, they were able to upgrade to a place on Avalon Avenue. The word was out that something was going on. The New York bosses of Atlantic Records sent Aretha Franklin down to record while the “hippie cat who’s been living in our parking lot” turned out to be Duane Allman who had come up from Florida hoping to get a gig. By 1970 there had been changes but that “Muscle Shoals Sound” picked me up when I’m feeling blue, now how ’bout you?

 

 

 

Rick Hall, Muscle Shoals soul music pioneer – obituary

Rick Hall & Clarence

Clarence Carter, blind from his birth in Montgomery, Alabama, came up to FAME in 1965 to record his song “Tell Daddy”, an inspiration for Etta James’ answer “Tell Mama” & successful enough to gain him a contract with Atlantic. This week his latest 45, “I Can’t Leave Your Love Alone”, entered the R&B Top 10, the sixth time a song of his had achieved this mark. It’s not one of Clarence’s most remembered songs but his strong, gritty voice & his lascivious laugh when the innuendo got close to the bone complemented by the swampy, mid-tempo rhythms & the punchy Memphis Horns always got you in the end. The three albums Clarence had already recorded at FAME are sprinkled with hit singles & plenty of songs that you know given the Muscle Shoals treatment.

 

Clarence Carter - I Can't Leave Your Love Alone (1970, Vinyl ...“I Can’t Leave Your Love Alone” is the lead single from Clarence’s newest record. The title track “Patches” was a track from the debut LP by Chairmen of the Board. Written by General Johnson, the main Chairman & Ron Dunbar, who may or may not have been a pseudonym for Holland-Dozier-Holland, it’s a story/song about a tough upbringing in rural Alabama which Clarence certainly identified with as did others at FAME. “Patches was everywhere, his biggest hit in the US, his only one here in the UK. At the time I thought that it was over-sentimental (tough guy eh?), that he had made better records. Millions of others didn’t, Clarence deservedly (I think now) got a gold record & a Grammy nomination. As public tastes changed Clarence was less in the public eye but he continued to record, he’s still around & his great music always will be.

 

The group of young Alabaman musicians, inspired to fuse their Rock & Roll, R&B & Country influences, who first assembled in their local studio soon dispersed to either Chips Moman’s American Studios in Memphis or to Nashville where FAME co-founder Billy Sherrill was establishing himself as a major Country producer. Two local men, bassist David Hood & Jimmy Johnson (guitar) together with Barry Beckett (keyboards) & drummer Roger Hawkins stepped up & became the celebrated & in-demand Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section. In 1969 the quartet left FAME to open their own set-up less than a mile away. The guy who started it all & stayed was owner/producer Rick Hall, who integrated the fluid, funky rhythm section with the brass swagger, added strings when a little sweetness was needed & captured the brightness of it all. Hall recruited a new unit & to get them into the groove recorded an album of covers of the hits of the day. “Sweet Caroline” & “Sugar Sugar” are songs that will never make my favourites playlist but “Solid Gold From Muscle Shoals” by the Fame Gang is my kind of middle of the road Pop-Soul.

 

 

45cat - Candi Staton - Sweet Feeling / Evidence - Capitol - France ... Staton married Clarence Carter in 1970 so was a natural to be signed to the relaunched FAME label. Already 30, with four children from her first marriage, Canzetta (lovely name) was prepared for the switch from backing singer to being out at the front & her work at Muscle Shoals soon justified claims to the title “First Lady of Southern Soul”. “Sweet Feeling”, #25 on the chart & rising fast, with producer Hall, husband Clarence & Candi herself sharing a composing credit, was the fourth in a run of 8 R&B Top 30 hits & it was included on both of her first two LPs issued by the label. There are four albums recorded at the Shoals before Warner Brothers & “Young Hearts Run Free” (1976) made Candi a Disco Queen. Candi is a Soul survivor, still around she had hit records across four decades, whatever she sang she did it with class & style.

 

In 1970 Rick Hall received a Grammy nomination for Producer of the Year & in 1971, when of all people the Osmonds called in to FAME to record “Crazy Horses”, he was awarded that accolade by Billboard magazine. He achieved this with a lot of new people around the studio & mention must be made of Harrison Calloway Jr whose trumpet playing & arrangements for the Muscle Shoals Horns made them so distinctive & such a pleasure.

 

 

Willie Hightower - Walk A Mile In My Shoes / You Used Me Baby ...Well, thanks to a Swedish documentary crew, here’s  how they did it a FAME in 1970. Rick Hall is running a session where Willie Hightower is recording “Walk A Mile In My Shoes”, already a hit that year for Joe South, & at #45 on the R&B chart this week, while the Fame Gang, most notably Clayton Ivey on keys, do their thing. Willie, an Alabaman had grown up with Gospel, a meeting with his idol Sam Cooke inspiring him to make music his business. A couple of local hits brought him to the attention of Capitol Records where he made the “If I Had A Hammer” album (1969) where he’s not as smooth as Sam but the influence is clear. He came to FAME & released just three 45s, “Walk A Mile…” was the most successful though “Back Road Into Town” sounds to me like a better record. A planned LP never came around & Willie returned to shows around the South where he was still known before he did a 15 year stretch singing with a revived line-up of the Drifters.

 

In 2016 producer Quinton Claunch, a Shoals resident as a teenager before moving to Memphis & starting Goldwax Records (James Carr, O.V. Wright), called up Willie & asked if he was interested in recording again. QC got some of the old gang back together, including Clayton Ivey & guitarist Travis Wammack, at his Wishbone studio in…where else?. The resulting LP “Out of the Blue” is a fine example of retro Southern Soul, Willie may be over 75 but his voice still strong, more experienced & controlled while Claunch, over 90, still knows his way around. The last week in May 1970 was a good one for FAME with three records on the chart. They probably didn’t know then that 50 years later people would still want to hear that Muscle Shoals sound & that musicians would still want to emulate it.

 

 

Here’s a little lockdown bonus. In 2014 Candi Staton returned to FAME to record three tracks with Rick Hall for her “Life Happens”. Here Ms Staton, 74 years old , looking & sounding fine on it, performs a stripped down version of  one of those songs, “I Ain’t Easy To Love”, & all I have to say is Flipping Heck

Looking For Sugar (Soul July 1969)

After 6 weeks at the top of the Billboard R&B chart Marvin Gaye’s “Too Busy Thinking About My Baby” was replaced by yet another #1 hit from the Tamla Motown stable. Junior Walker & the All Stars were the most old-school at the Detroit label, Walker’s raspy saxophone & throaty vocal interjections backed by that driving R&B beat always hit the spot. The rough edges were smoothed a little for “What Does It Take (To Win Your Love)” & the group had their biggest hit since 1965’s “Shotgun”. The Top 10 was packed with great artists, James Brown, the Isley Brothers, Stevie Wonder. Climbing up to #10 was something new by someone new, another hit out of FAME Studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama.

 

 

Image result for candi staton i'd rather be an old man's sweetheartAs a teenager Candi Staton toured & recorded with her sister in the Jewell Gospel Trio. Married with four children, it was 1968 before she was ready to begin her solo career. Singer Clarence Carter, well established in Muscle Shoals & who was to become her second husband, introduced Candi to FAME. The studio pulled out all the Funky stops & a run of R&B hits, many written by Carter & George Jackson, earned her the title of “The First Lady of Southern Soul”. “I’d Rather Be An Old Man’s Sweetheart (Than A Young Man’s Fool)” absolutely fizzes along & Candi could slow it down too. I definitely prefer her version of “Stand By Your Man” to Tammy Wynette’s original.

 

Related imageCandi moved to Warner Brothers in 1974. She stayed with producer Rick Hall for another LP before hooking up with Dave Crawford. Out of these sessions came “Young Hearts Run Free”, a #1 R&B hit, #2 in the UK, an enduring Disco smash. 1976 was the year that all my friends seemed to be getting married, the DJ spins “Young Hearts…”, everyone’s out on the floor & these are the good times. The Bee Gees’ “Nights On Broadway” returned Ms Staton to the UK Top 10 the following year. In 1991 she was back when a remix by the Source of “You Got The Love”, a great lost track, became a party anthem. Whether it was Soul, Disco, Gospel or Dance music, Candi’s strong recognisable vocals always delivered.

 

 

Image result for honey cone while you're out looking for sugarRising to #41 is another debut release, this time on a brand new label. By 1968 Pop’s greatest writing/production team, Holland-Dozier-Holland, had become dissatisfied with their position at Tamla Motown records. Responsible for over 20 #1 hits & countless other chart entries there’s not a chance that they saw all the royalties that they were due. The trio got themselves an office in downtown Detroit, converted a movie theatre into a studio & started Hot Wax records. The Honey Cone, a female trio, were the first act signed to the label & “While You’re Out Looking For Sugar” their first record. As you see from the above disc there’s no mention of H-D-H. Ongoing litigation, particularly with Jobete, Motown’s publishing company, meant that sole production credit was given to A&R man Ron Dunbar who shared the writing with “Edith Wayne”, an adopted pseudonym. No-one was fooled, take a listen to the track, that’s how a Holland-Dozier-Holland song goes.

 

 

Image result for honey coneHoney Cone, Carolyn Willis, Shelly Clark & Edna Wright, were brought to the Motor City from Los Angeles where Shelly had been an Ikette & Edna had sung with her sister Darlene Love, a favourite of Phil Spector. The record buying public took some time to become accustomed to this urgent, energetic sound that wasn’t Diana Ross & the Supremes, “While You’re Out…”, “Girls It Ain’t Easy”, “Take Me With You” & the Funktastic “When Will It End” all should have been bigger hits. It was “Want Ads” that finally sold a million in 1971 & succeeding records followed it into the Billboard Pop Top 30. Their star was on the wane by 1973 when Holland-Dozier-Holland proved to be better record men than label executives & Hot Wax folded due to financial problems. That was it for Honey Cone which was a pity as they were not only well-liked but were a worthy part of the American girl group lineage.

 

 

This is where I love being the boss of this thing. The chart was crammed with great songs worthy of our consideration but at #45 was a single by one of my all-time favourite vocalists. So, my final selection for July has to be Howard Tate.

 

Image result for howard tate these are the thingsTate, born in Georgia, raised in Philadelphia, sang Gospel then R&B with Garnett Mimms. His friend brought Howard along to writer/producer Jerry Ragovoy & between 1966-68 the pair created a blend of Tate’s emotional Bluesy lamentations with a sophisticated Uptown New York Soul that was as good as it gets. Jerry liked a touch of drama in his arrangements, with Howard a lighter touch allowed a great singer to shine, never more so than with “Get It While You Can”, the title track of the one LP they made together & a song that has been equalled but rarely bettered. “These Are the Things That Make Me Know You’re Gone” was recorded, without Ragovoy, for Lloyd Price’s Turntable label. (Lloyd had major hits in the 1950’s with songs that you’ve heard of. That’s his photo on the above disc, well it was his company!) The LP “Howard Tate’s Reaction” is not as strong as his previous output but Howard sings the all heck out of the songs & there are not too many of his records about.

 

By the late-70’s Howard had quit the music business & got a real job. A family tragedy led to addiction & homelessness. He was back on the right track when in 2001 a disc jockey discovered him & encouraged him to return to performing. That wonderful voice had endured & there was an acclaimed new LP made with his old producer. Other records followed, the old ones were re-released & the renewal of interest allowed Tate to sing for a new international audience. Plenty of artists, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Ry Cooder & others have covered his songs but, as Soul fans know, there ain’t nothing like the real thing & Howard Tate is certainly that.