Groovin’ With The King (Soul September 11th 1971)

The Top 10 of the Cash Box Top 60 in R&B Locations for 50 years ago this week can take a backseat this time around. The highest of the 10 new entries on the chart is such a great record that we will get straight to that then it really should be no problem to to select another two of the higher numbers from lower down the page.

How much do I love the voice of Overton Vertis Wright? Flipping loads! 50 years ago I was just 18, you know what I mean. Young & in love, leaving my parent’s home for new adventures in a town 150 miles away, dumb as a box of hair. Everything was new, that’s the way I liked it & Marvin Gaye, Sly & the Family Stone, Stevie Wonder, the Soul innovators, were the soundtrack to the excitement & anticipation. The deep Southern Soul of O.V. Wright seemed, I’ll admit, a little staid. I knew nothing about the pain of loss, heartbreak & the tribulations Life brings. Now I’m almost grown (huh!) & have a greater experience of all that tricky stuff, I believe that O.V. is one of the singers (it’s a short list) who is able to communicate & illuminate these feelings most honestly & convincingly.

O.V. Wright 1970 Detroit, MI Jumbo Globe Concert Poster.... Music | Lot  #89880 | Heritage Auctions

“A Nickel & A Nail” entered the chart at #45, O.V. had started his recording career with two R&B Top 10 hits but, while popular in the southern states, he never emulated the success of some of his contemporaries. His Gospel group, the Sunset Travellers also included James Carr (blimey!). The pair went to Goldwax Records together but O.V. had signed a contract with the smaller Back Beat label whose owner Don Robey always (as Deadric Malone) seemed to have songwriting credit. A run of fine 45s brought the involvement in the late 1960s of producer Willie Mitchell & when Willie got his own thing going at Royal Studio in Memphis he brought O.V. along. With the Hi (Records) Rhythm Section & the Memphis Horns the backing was sweeter & stronger though never overpowering his intense, immaculate vocals. Yeah, there have now been times when all I’ve had in my pocket was a nickel & a nail & O.V. Wright sounds like he has too. That’s the Blues.

O.V. Wright (Overton Vertis Wright) | Facebook

O.V.’s run at Hi Records was interrupted by his involvement with narcotics leading to jail time. After a 4 year break he resumed recording in 1977. Such were the times that the music was now Disco-inflected but O.V. still sang it like it was. His take on Percy Sledge’s “When A Man Loves A Woman”, part of a 10 minute long medley, is spine-tingling & “Into Something (Can’t Shake Loose)” is just too much. In September 1979 the Hi band (with the three Hodges brothers) got together with O.V. for a tour of Japan. Looking frail, a little sick & tired of being sick & tired, his voice is still a wonder, the resulting live album is a run through his career & a triumph of Memphis Soul, O.V.’s testification made all the more poignant by his fatal heart attack, at the age of 41, in the following year. O. V., you’re gonna make me cry.

Now this is an odd one. Just making the chart at #59 this week is “Groovin’ Out On Life” by Frederick II. I know the song from the original Jamaican hit by Hopeton Lewis, a lovely version by Dennis Brown, recorded at Studio One with Coxsone Dodd when the singer was just 14 years old & its inclusion on Nolan Porter’s 1972 album “Nolan” but Frederick II, you got me there. It turns out that there’s not a long-lost recording by the briefly King of Prussia (March 1888 – June 1888) but that this is the Nolan Porter track issued under a different name & that’s nothing but a good thing!

Nolan Porter | Discography | Discogs

If Nolan Porter was not in with the In Crowd of Los Angeles then he was certainly in with an In Crowd. His producer Gabriel Melker had been responsible for records by Steppenwolf (“Born To Be Wild”!), Three Dog Night, Janis Joplin & others. Married to Frank Zappa’s, off of the Mothers of Invention, sister Candy, Nolan was able to recruit the assistance of the members of Little Feat, soon to be the coolest band on this planet. Subsequently a little more Rock innovation was added to the Soul, well-chosen cover versions (Booker T Jones, Randy Newman, a Little Feat song) were mixed with his own compositions. It was a prescription that served Rod Stewart pretty well in 1971. A 45, “I Like What You Give”, was a small R&B hit but the LP “No Apologies” by simply “Nolan” failed to register. Anyway there was always Frederick II.

Stone Foundation on Twitter: "There aren't enough words on here to express  our sadness in the passing today of our dear friend and brother Nolan Porter.  You taught us so much in

In 1968 Desmond Dekker’s sensational “The Israelites”, a #1 in the UK, reached the US Pop Top 10 but Jamaican music had not made the same impression there as it had on this side of the Atlantic. There were two Reggae songs on Nolan’s re-mixed, re-shuffled (four new tracks) & re-released album & “Groovin’…” is a pretty sweet tune even if the L.A. boys don’t totally re-create the depth & feel that the JA studio cats could play all day, every day. Is this the first US Reggae record to make the R&B chart? Nolan’s record company went bust & that was it from him. His music was distinctive & good enough to attract devotion in UK Northern Soul clubs then enthusiasm from younger listeners. “If I Could Only Be Sure” & “Keep On Keeping On” (the riff borrowed by Joy Division for “Interzone”) are the “hits” but all of Nolan Porter is worth checking out.

Funkadelic : Live At Meadowbrook 1971 (Vinyl Reissue) : Aquarium Drunkard

Just sneaking on to this week’s chart at #60 is a track taken from “Maggot Brain”, the third album released by Funkadelic in 14 months. George Clinton’s vocal group, the Parliaments had integrated with its backing band to create an amalgamation who set off on a lysergically-fuelled magical mystery expedition, where the rules are that there are none, in search of that “way back yonder Funk”. The group’s first two records laid the foundation of the Funkadelic P-Funk credo, “Free Your Mind & Your Ass Will Follow”, psychedelia energetically & free spiritedly combined with many Black & Rock influences, always music you could dance to. George encouraged the talented musicians he had assembled to express themselves & “Maggot Brain” is the realisation of their ideas about forging something modern, different & individual. It’s a landmark record.

Funkadelic & The Parliament gig flyer, 1971: OldSchoolCool

The acoustic guitar intro to “Can You Get To That” is pretty calming after the opening title track, a 10 minute long intense mind-melting instrumental led with rare skill & emotion by guitarist Eddie Hazel who knew that the talent of Jimi Hendrix was as much from the heart as well as the hands. “Can You…” is Gospel reinforced by Funk,the vocals by Isaac Hayes’ backing singers Hot Buttered Soul,& it’s as catchy as heck. Funkadelic enjoyed modest success with their records & it would be their ninth studio album, in 1978, before a platinum disc arrived. George was ready with a stadium-filling space spectacular based around some Mothership craziness & innovative, inspired music. “One Nation Under A Groove” is undoubtedly a great, still influential album. I prefer Funkadelic from 1971 when they had “rusty ankles and ashy kneecaps”.

In 2013 Jeff Tweedy, off of Wilco, got back together with Mavis Staples to record a successor to the album “You Are Not Alone” from three years earlier. Mavis, a Queen of Soul with her family band, can make any song better with her presence & passion & “Can You Get To That”, from “One True Vine” was a perfect candidate for revival. I try not to post phone clips but I will never get enough moving pictures of Mavis & her fine touring band. She takes you there!

All The Way From Memphis (Soul March 20th 1971)

The Cash Box Top 60 in R&B Locations for 50 years ago this week was rammed with great records by great artists. The four Tamla Motown singles in the Top 10 by the Temptations, Marvin Gaye, the Jackson 5 & the Four Tops, were joined by Wilson Pickett, Ike & Tina Turner, Aretha Franklin & James Brown. The remaining two, Johnnie Taylor & Z.Z. Hill, are probably not regarded with the same elevation but they were pretty good too. Let’s see what other fine, fine music we can find from the lower reaches of the chart.

The Staple Singers – The Staple Swingers (1970, Vinyl) - Discogs

A good start & how about this clip? For some years the Staple Singers, a family group from Chicago, had been moving towards the mainstream with little success. A reverence for their distinction in the Gospel field had led to a little timidity in both production & choice of material. Their final two records for Epic & those made with Steve Cropper at Stax were interesting but tended to undervalue the rich, emotive voice of Mavis & the individual guitar style of patriarch Pops, reaching back to the Country Blues he heard in Mississippi as a youth, that could distinguish them from the pack. There were some changes in 1970, brother Pervis left to be replaced by sister Yvonne while Al Bell, co-owner of the label, a man with an ear for what got played on the radio, took over production duties.

Press Advert 10x5 The Staple Singers : Be What You Are Album: Amazon.co.uk:  NewspaperClipping: Books

For “The Staple Swingers” LP (1971) Bell, looking to toughen up the testifying, moved the operation to Muscle Shoals. His song choice from the staff writers at Stax was considered. Their lyrics were more socially conscious, more compatible with Pops’ aim of telling it like it should be. On “You’re Gonna Make Me Cry”, an R&B hit in 1965 for O. V. Wright, Mavis sang the Blues & oh my, my. There are songs by Smokey Robinson & the Bee Gees & there is “Heavy Makes You Happy (Sha-Na-Boom Boom)”, co-written by Pop vet Jeff Barry & Bobby Bloom, lifted from Bloom’s debut album. It’s a surprisingly light choice benefitting greatly from its Stapleised treatment & it achieved just what was intended. Rising 6 places to #19 on the chart “Heavy..” was the first of an unbroken run of R&B Top 20 hits that stretched to 1976. Here on an Anne Murray special for Canadian TV, not yet the major stars they would become, they perform that first hit with the joy & affirmation that gave the Staple Singers a very particular, significant place in 1970s Soul.

Booker T. and the MG's – 64 Quartets

Just as Stax were welcoming new stars on their roster at #33 on the chart, up a lucky 13 places, was the final 45 from a group of musicians who had been absolutely pivotal to the extraordinary success of the label. In 1962 17 year old organist Booker T Jones, 20 year old guitarist Steve Cropper & bassist Lewie Steinberg, all already fixtures of the fledgling Memphis label’s house band, took advantage of a session break to jam on a track that was considered good enough to release. A B-side was needed so, with drummer Al Jackson, they quickly came up with “Green Onions”, a Top 3 US Pop hit, one of the most popular, enduring instrumentals of all time. The record made Booker T & the M.G.’s reputation, they continued to record throughout the decade though it would be 1967 before a photo of the racially integrated group appeared on an album cover. Back in the studio at 926 East McLemore Avenue both Jones, while studying music at Indiana U, & Cropper became indispensable as musicians, writers & producers. Their credits are too long to list here, Steve co-wrote “In the Midnight Hour”, “Knock On Wood” & “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay” along with many others. With bassist Donald “Duck” Dunn joining in 1965 the sound of Booker T & the M.G.’s was the sound of Stax.

Booker T. and the MG's | Members, Songs, & Facts | Britannica

That was then this is 1971, the group were no longer young kids happy to be making music. Just as up in Detroit at Hitsville USA key players at Soulsville USA demanded more autonomy & probably a bigger cut of the money they were making for the company. Booker T left for California in 1969, Steve Cropper formed his own production company in the following year. When time came to record the “Melting Pot” album Booker T refused to return to the Memphis studio, the band travelled to New York between gigs. The title track, abbreviated as a 45, is 8.15 of alchemy between Jones, Cropper, Dunn & Jackson. I can’t pick a man of the match, these guys knew when to step forward when to lay off, just how good they sounded when they played together. The track surges, swells & is as funky as anything. An outstanding instrumental & what a way to finish. In the words of Duck Dunn “we had a band powerful enough to turn goat’s piss into gasoline”.

O. V. Wright – When You Took Your Love From Me / I Was Born All Over (1970,  Vinyl) - Discogs

Less than a mile down the road from the Stax set-up is Royal Studios. It’s on Willie Mitchell Boulevard, the name changed in 2004 to honour to honour the trumpeter turned producer who did so much to maintain Memphis as the Southern Soul capital through the 1970s. Further down the chart at #55 “When You Took Your Love From Me” was the latest 45 from O.V. (Overton Vertis) Wright a singer who made a string of albums of the highest quality with Mitchell. O.V.’s first recording “That’s How Strong My Love Is” was withdrawn when a contract signed while with his Gospel group, the Sunset Travellers turned up. That contract was with Don Robey, gambler turned booking agent turned label boss & not a man to be crossed. There are many R&B songs credited to Deadric Malone (a.k.a. Don Robey) that he probably didn’t write. Whoever did when O.V. sang the outcome was often startling. It’s a sad & beautiful world, other singers like Aretha & Mavis gave us joy but no one did yearning & loss like O.V. pouring it all out.

O.V. Wright | Spotify

As a youth I had yet to have my heart broken, I had never walked around with no more than a nickel & a nail in my pocket. I have now & the voice of O.V. Wright articulates these Blues. Like his contemporary Bobby “Blue” Bland, life experiences are an aid to appreciation of the music. Willie Mitchell called O.V. the most honest Blues singer he ever worked with. He had that gliding, still powerful Hi sound, the rhythm section, the horns, Rhodes, Chalmers & Rhodes on backing vocals but the magic was in waiting for the spirit to move the singer & to capture that special take. “When You Took Your Love…” is one of those records. Have Mercy! O.V. Wright was a troubled man, his career was interrupted by a stretch for narcotics offences then rehab. He returned to recording, his health & his voice affected but not his passion. In 1980, just 41 years old, he died from a heart attack.

This week’s live clip goes back to the Oakland Coliseum on the 31st of January 1970 & inspired by the watching Creedence Clearwater Revival, Booker T & the M.G.’s play, in the opinion of the organist, as well as they had ever done. “Time Is Tight” was written for the film “Up Tight” & a slower single version became their biggest commercial success since the debut hit. Here they have four guns blazing & they are the best band in the world. It’s a great performance underpinned by the metronomic drumming of Al Jackson Jr. Al was older than the rest of the M.G’s. He took a weekly salary from Stax & played sessions for Willie Mitchell where he used a different kit for a lighter touch. For just a moment back then I thought it a coincidence that two great drummers had the same name! His violent death in 1975 was a great loss to Soul music.

We Got To Have It, Soul Power

I discovered this weekend’s top tune while listening to a selection by Arthur Alexander, a favourite of mine from those pre-Motown days. Times when Sam Cooke & Jackie Wilson carried the R&B swing. I posted some of Arthur’s great songs here but “If It’s Really Got To Be This Way” was written & recorded in 1992, 30 years after his effective & affecting ballads had influenced young Lennon, McCartney, Jagger & Richard to record their own cover versions. His biggest song “You Better Move On” was the first hit to be recorded at FAME studios in Muscle Shoals & it was his friends from back in that day, Dan Penn, Spooner Oldham & Donnie Fritts (who co-wrote “If It’s…”) who helped him make his first LP for 21 years. I hope that our man saw some of the money which is surely generated when the Beatles & the Stones use your songs but Arthur had been driving a bus for a living. It was only a matter of months after the release of the LP “Lonely Just Like Me” (1993) & his return to performing that he suffered a fatal heart attack. The world would be a better place with more beautiful country-soul songs like this one from an innovative & influential man.

There is a generation of performers who never made it in front of the movie or TV cameras so are not around the Y-tube for our (OK, my) enjoyment.  No tape around of Arthur Alexander performing live or even lip-synching any of his songs. Another Muscle Shoals master, Clarence Carter, was only filmed when he had a worldwide hit with “Patches” in 1970 even though there was a run of R&B hits spanning 1968-71. Some of these crossed over, 2 of them sold a million & “Slip Away” was one of that golden pair.

Clarence, who was blind from birth, is remembered for that big hit but “Patches” has always seemed a little extravagant, too heavy on the schmaltz for my taste. A Greatest Hits collection captures the liquified, flexuous pulse that places the Muscle Shoals sound firmly on the soul side of country-soul & is a very good thing. His rich baritone incorporates a salacious chuckle which adds a pleasant humour to his testifying. The hits stopped coming when African-American music started on the path that ended up in Disco but he continued to perform & you know you will have a good night, with some good songs, at a Clarence Carter show.

This wonderful clip is from a hometown gig at the Shoals Theatre in Florence Alabama in 2011. Clarence is 75 years old here…really. “Too Weak To Fight”, the follow up to “Slip Away,” was another big seller & another great song. It’s not just the song & the ribald showmanship which makes this performance a delight. Mr Carter’s exhibition of how a Southern Soul rhythm guitar part is played is just immaculate & splendid. I love this music.

OK…are you ready for Star Time ?…I  said…We move to Memphis in the meantime to check for my Uncle Overton. O.V.Wright was a nonpareil of brooding, impassioned soul singing. He may have said that the difference between his gospel & his secular music was no more than the substitution of the word “Jesus” by the word “baby” but O.V. never really came to terms with his choice of the profane over the sacred. In Tennessee in the mid-60s a musician had to be wholly holy, Rock & Roll was still the Devil’s music. O.V. Wright’s blues are right there on his records.

“Eight Men & Four Women” was one of the first songs O.V.  recorded with producer Willie Mitchell. An earlier contract meant that the records were released through a Texan label, Backbeat but the music is pure Memphis, home of the Blues. Mitchell’s set-up at Hi Records flourished with the brilliant success of Al Green & his partnership with Wright lasted for 10 years. There was no great commercial success as public taste moved to a sweeter, slicker sound which did not always complement the singer’s more traditional style. He remained though, a star in the Southern states & those earlier Backbeat records are something to hear. Unfortunately O.V. Wright’s taste for the high life got him into something that he couldn’t shake loose.

This amazing film is from May 1979 when O.V. visited Japan where he was still a big deal. Heroin addiction had wrecked his health & his finances, had put him in hospital & in jail. This frail man is just 40 years old. There’s a short excerpt from a 1975 show of his on the Y-tube where he is a stocky, smart-dressed man singing & dancing up a storm. He can’t do that anymore, those last 4 years must have seemed like 20.  O.V.Wright’s medley of “God Blessed Our Love” & “When A Man Loves A Woman”, performed with Teenie Hodges , Teenie’s 2 brothers & the rest of the Hi Rhythm section is stunning & chilling. His control, his delivery…ah, man, just watch & then watch again Within 18 months O.V. was dead from a heart attack. We are lucky that this great artist, this great piece of American art is here for us to watch & admire.