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.

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Taking Care Of Business (Jerry Ragovoy)

It took Jerry Ragovoy 10 years to find a place where his talents as a songwriter, arranger & record producer were appreciated & put to proper use. In 1963 Ragovoy, initially an R&B guy, was working in Philadelphia for Chancellor Records, a label struggling to replace anodyne fading teen idols with novelty dance records.After contacting Bert Berns, a dynamic freelance producer working in New York. he helped Berns finish “Cry Baby”, a song which sold a million copies when recorded by Garnet Mimms & the Enchanters.The following year another of Ragovoy’s songs, “Time Is On My Side”, gave the Rolling Stones their first US Top 10 success. A man’s reputation can be secured by such a double whammy. New York gave Jerry his ticket to ride. As you know, if you can make it there…

Jerry was set to work with Garnet Mimms & the partnership recorded a string of emotional soul-gospel ballads which kept the singer around the R&B charts until 1966. Garnet was a  proper talent. In this fantastic clip he is introduced by Otis Redding to sing “I’ll Take Good Care of You”, a Berns-Ragovoy tune that crossed over to the Top 30…this is pure soul satisfaction, enchanting.

For the rest of the decade Jerry spent a lot of time in a recording studio making a lot of music. His trademark was a slow fuse balladry, solid songs with lush imaginative orchestration. He brought gospel Uptown but he liked his vocalists to be impassioned rather than overwrought. For some time it was his records that defined New York soul music. He was hooked up with the right guy. Bert Berns was a real Record Man whose street smarts got songs written, recorded, released & knew that the music business was as much about the business as the…you get me. He got deals made where he got paid. Bert replaced the legendary Leiber & Stoller as staff producer at Atlantic Records before making a mark running Bang, an Atlantic subsidiary. That first hit, “Cry Baby”, was credited to Bert Russell (Berns) & Neville Meade (Ragovoy). Sometimes, when big money is being made fast, it is better to cover your tracks.

Jerry made his own move in 1965 when he took over Warner Brothers’ East Coast operations releasing tracks on the Loma label. He recorded with Mimms, now solo, his old backing group the Enchanters, Lorraine Ellison. With  Howard Tate the partnership created a run of bright, bluesy R&B hits. Ragevoy’s artists benefitted from his arranging talents & the use of the best of the New York session players including Richard Tee, Eric Gale & Chuck Rainey. On one fortuitous occasion a Frank Sinatra no-show left a full orchestra at a loose end. Our man put them on to “Stay With Me” by Lorraine Ellison for a one take, all guns blazing, instant classic. It is not my favourite of his productions, epic Spectoresque ballads may have been the current thing but…I’m being too critical. It’s the histrionics of less talented singers that have clouded my view of this great record.

There was some great work for Loma. Check for the 3 singles by Carl Hall. Listening to “You Don’t Know Nothing About Love” is a great way to spend 3 minutes & 15 seconds. Deep Soul that doesn’t quite let it all hang out & is probably the better for it. In 1967 he produced a Top 20 hit for South African singer Miriam Makeba. “Pata Pata”, sung in the Xhosa language, was originally recorded by Makeba 10 years earlier. The writing credit was now Makeba/Ragovoy, so it went in the music industry.

Dusty Springfield, the Queen of British Pop, was sent to New York to record with the master. It was an idea before its time. “What’s It Gonna Be” was released as a single by Phillips but not before smearing the song in some incongruous orchestral additions. When Dusty signed for Atlantic she was back in a US studio, smashing it with “Dusty In Memphis”. Most of her LPs had included a song by Jerry & this cover of a Garnet Mimms song from 1965’s “Ev’rything’s Coming Up Dusty” is the best example I have seen of just why this woman was a cut above.

One of Ragovoy’s songs, “Piece Of My Heart” failed to hit with Erma Franklin, Aretha’s sister, then became a stand-out track for Big Brother & the Holding Company. When singer, Janis Joplin, left for a solo career her music moved from hard rock to blues-soul. Janis’ individual voice provided the blues, the soul came from the 5 Jerry Ragovoy’s songs she recorded. 3 are on “Pearl”, the posthumous LP, 4 on the “Greatest Hits” which sold 7 million copies. The Ragovoy Music Corporation received some serious royalty cheques in the early 1970s as poor Janis’ small body of work was re-hashed & re-released.

In 1969 the CEO of RMC  built his own studio, the Hit Factory, in New York. There were 2 more facilities opened the next year. Me & Karl Marx guess that when the ownership of the means of production is in the hands of the producers then things are both hunky & dory. Jerry Ragovoy was his own boss now, he stepped away from that day-to-day recording process & took some time to enjoy his new circumstances. He kept his hand in, working with the Staple Singers, Bonnie Raitt & Dionne Warwick.His reputation was made by the durability of his work in the 1960s. Anyone with any interest in soul music could not avoid his name on so many great records. It was 30 years later that an opportunity arose for closure on some unfinished business.

Ragevoy & Howard Tate were a fine partnership. The singer’s ability to handle emotion & wit brought the best out of the arranger. The 1966 LP “Get It While You Can” is as good a soul collection as there was at the time. The pair worked together in 1972 when Jerry’s songs were less sharp though the Dylan & The Band covers were interesting. Tate never found his audience, struggled with personal tragedy before drifting out of music into addiction & homelessness. After his recovery he was preaching around Philadelphia then found in 2001 by a DJ. Howard’s legend had grown &, wonderfully, his agile voice was intact. In 2003 Jerry Ragevoy joined with his old favourite for the LP “Rediscovered”.

This new version of “Get It While You Can” is so, so great. Not even the Reverend Green’s pipes were in this shape at 64 years old. Howard is doing what he was born to do & it’s a beautiful thing. Behind him, unseen until the end, is the veteran producer/songwriter, now 72. That piano progression strips the song to a solid foundation. The little push before the last chorus is all you need, a horn section would be cool, the song stands up without it. Jerry Ragovoy, who passed away in 2011, as did Howard Tate, was a great American songwriter.

Ry Cooder Was Here First

I am on a Ry Cooder roll now. He recorded songs from throughout the 20th century & found a new audience for many of them. One LP “Jazz” contains transpositions to the guitar of the 1920s compositions for trumpet of Bix Beiderbecke, a jazz legend. This time round I want to showcase three R & B songs from the late 50s & the 60s that I did not previously know. It was not as if I had not been listening but Ry certainly had a good ear for potential in a neglected song.

Howard Tate’s music did not make it over to the UK in the 60s. Motown & Stax were established enough to get a release  and a hearing for anything that came with those labels’ endorsement. Tate recorded for Verve in New York a label with less clout. In fact on You Tube there are no American TV clips of him despite having several R & B chart hits. Tate, from Macon, Georgia (the hometown of Otis Redding) moved north to record with Jerry Ragovoy the noted writer/producer. Ragovoy wrote the songs for Tate and wrote many other notable songs. He was Janis Joplin’s go-to man & she recorded 5 of his songs.

“Look At Granny Run Run” is, indeed, a little (just 2min 16 secs) gem of a song. It is a pre-Viagra story of a re-vitalised pensioner & the necessary action taken by his perturbed wife. Ry Cooder hammed up the sit -com nature of this making it more of a breathless and funny rush than the original. I love the underplayed humour of Tate’s version. If there is any sexual innuendo then the listener has to find it for his or herself. The playing, by the New York studio stalwarts including Richard Tee, Chuck Rainey & Eric Gale is nothing else but exemplary. The song reminds me of  those coming out of New Orleans with a similar restraint &  humour. I think that I prefer the short &  oh so sweet version of Tate to that which led me to it.

Arthur Alexander is possibly the least known of the artists who influenced the creative rush of the 60s which laid the foundation for the rock & indeed the roll which has enchanted us for almost 50 years. He is the only songwriter to have had his songs covered by the Beatles, the Rolling Stones & Bob Dylan. He recorded the first hit to come from the legendary Fame studios in Muscle Shoals. His simple and very effective style encouraged those British beat boys to emulate him and write their own songs.

“Go Home Girl” tells a simple story very simply. Ry Cooder recorded this tale of the impossible love of a best friend’s girl on “Bop Till You Drop”. He did a fine job of it too, adding flourishes of arrangement but retaining the emotional directness of the original. When Arthur was recording in the early 60s “soul music” had not really developed yet. His vocal may not entreat & implore like those who succeeded him but , boy, this is a good song. I knew he had written “Anna” & “You Better Move On” but he was not around by the time Mersey Beat changed the music. Now I can hear the influence he had on John Lennon in the almost conversational openings to, say “Help” & “No Reply”. The first Jagger/Richard composition, “Tell Me” also bears his mark. I have checked for Arthur more in the last 10 years than I did the previous 30. It’s been a rewarding time, he was just great.

Wow, Wow & again Wow! ” Ev’ry woman I know is crazy ’bout automobiles & here I am standing with nothing but rubber heels”. This is a great record & was not a success on release in 1955. Maybe it was ahead of it’s time. It is not just urban it is urbane. African Americans maybe didn’t get aspirant until some time later. Rather than this sophisticated Chicago sound it was the Detroit Motown sound that reflected this new mood in the early 60s. I hear the progression from Louis Jordan, from Big Joe Turner, an assured self-deprecating R & B with elements of Chuck Berry’s lyrical knowingness. I think this record is just brilliant. It was Ry Cooder’s version on “Borderline” which put me on it. Thank you Ry.

Billy “the Kid” Emerson is still alive, a preacher in his 80s. I would like to shake his hand for writing this song. However he also wrote “my gal is red hot. Your gal ain’t doodly squat”. A rockabilly classic. I would like to give the man a hug.