Singing Sweet And Soulful (Dusty Springfield)

A double whammy here. A win-win combo of two things I will never get tired of, Dusty Springfield, the Queen of British Pop & the emotional Soul ballads written & produced by Bert Berns & Jerry Ragovoy. “It Was Easier to Hurt Her” was originally recorded in New York in March 1965 by Garnett Mimms. The song was picked up as the debut solo single for Wayne Fontana, a British Invasion hitmaker fronting the Mindbenders who never repeated that group’s international success. Later in the same year Dusty’s version was included on her 2nd UK LP “Ev’rything’s Coming Up Dusty” (US releases get a little complicated). This clip, from her BBC TV show in September 1967, matches Soul & elegant inspiration, that thing that Dusty did better than anyone & I love it.

 

 

Image result for dusty springfield 1966Ms Springfield’s transition from the prim, pre-Beatle Pop-Folk of her group the Springfields to Beat Boom aristocrat was seamless. Her continuing relationship with producer Johnny Franz & orchestra director Ivor Raymonde at Phillips records kept the hits coming. Whether it was the pure Pop of  “I Only Want to be With You” & “Stay Awhile”, the sophisticated interpretations of Bacharach & David (“Wishin’ & Hopin'” & “I Just Don’t Know What To Do With Myself”) or the big ballads, a little syrupy & overwrought for my taste but very popular, there was a string of UK Top 20 entries beginning in 1963. If this wasn’t enough Dusty was an early adopter & supporter of Soul music. There’s a Holland-Dozier-Holland track on her first LP, another on an early EP (ask your grandma). She was always in our telly in the Sixties & never looked happier than when duetting with Martha Reeves (“Wishin’ & Hopin'”) on the “Ready Steady Go” showcase which introduced Tamla Motown to a prime time TV audience.

 

A hook up with Atlantic Records seemed to be a natural move. Changes in the music scene meant that Dusty was becoming a cabaret act, gigging in working men’s clubs. A re-invigoration was needed & her new heavyweight producers took her to American Sound Studios to make the classic “Dusty In Memphis” LP. “Son of a Preacher Man”, you know it, it’s in “Pulp Fiction”, was an international success but the album was not the sure-fire breakout smash it deserved to be. It is her masterpiece, makes it on to the all-time lists but Dusty continued to make some blue-eyed, blonde-wigged Soul that didn’t get the same exposure.

 

 

 

Related imageThe follow up 1970 LP wasn’t, but could have been, called Dusty In Philadelphia. “A Brand New Me” (US title), “From Dusty With Love” in the UK (this fractured marketing didn’t really help) was recorded at Sigma Sound Studios with producers Kenny Gamble & Leon Huff, a team who were honing their own hit sound which would soon flood the charts on their Philadelphia International label. G&H had a terrific 4 album Pop-Soul streak with “The Ice Man” Jerry Butler. The title track & “Lost” were both taken from that catalogue & Dusty’s record has the same uptown smooth quality. If anything her assured, husky voice is more suited to these songs than to swampy Memphis Soul. “A Brand New Me” was a hit 45 but album sales disappointed both artist & label. It’s a very classy record, a forewarning that Sigma would become a new Hit Factory.

 

 

Image result for dusty springfield magazine coverAnother year another producer for Dusty. This time around she was in New York with Jeff Barry, a stalwart of American Pop through the Sixties. Barry, with his wife Ellie Greenwich & producer Phil Spector pretty much defined the Girl Group sound. “Da Doo Ron Ron”, “Be My Baby”, Baby I Love You”, “Then He Kissed Me”, It’s a list & an impressive one so let’s add “River Deep Mountain High” & hits for the Dixie Cups & the Shangri-Las. Later he produced the Monkees’ “I’m A Believer” then wrote & produced “Sugar Sugar” for the Archies. “Faithful” was recorded in the first half of of 1971. Dusty, never the most confident person, was unhappy in both her private & professional situations. The 2 lead singles from the LP sold poorly & Dusty chose to end her contract with Atlantic. The album was shelved, the tapes were thought to have been destroyed in a fire before Barry he still had the mixes. “Faithful” was finally released in 2015 & that’s a great pity because, don’t you just know it, it’s a damn fine record.

 

“Faithful” does steer Dusty back towards the middle of the road, she was probably just as comfortable there, singing the standards of the day (“You’ve Got A Friend”, “Make It With You”) than she was accentuating the Soul Sensation angle. Of course there are still uptempo tracks like the single “Haunted” but the album has a little more variety, brings back the drama & is beautifully arranged & played. “Faithful” would have completed Dusty’s trilogy of Atlantic LPs, it seems crazy that we never got to hear it at the time.

 

 

In 1968 Bert Berns was dead & Jerry Ragovoy was making big plans to put his royalties towards ownership of the means of production with his own studio. Berns had provided Atlantic with one of their first big Soul hits, “Cry To Me” by Solomon Burke, Ragovoy, a master of emotion & drama, did great work with female vocalists like Erma Franklin & Lorraine Ellison. Imagine if Dusty could have worked with those 2 New York mavericks. There’s a record I would liked to have heard. Ah well, let’s finish with one of the clips from “Dusty In Germany” a TV show shot in 1969 just after the release of “…In Memphis”. Dusty is back to performing her repertoire in a confusing clutter of faux-psychedelic effects. The song is her cover of the Sand Pebbles’ rambunctious “Love Power”. Dusty Springfield looks great, moves better than the gyrating dancers &, as always, delivers the goods. The best of the British girl singers.

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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.