Like Thunder, Lightning (Eddie Floyd)

When Eddie Floyd formed a Doo Wop vocal group, the Falcons, in mid-1950s Detroit he could not have imagined that almost 60 years later he would be invited to participate in a celebration of Memphis Soul at the White House with a Black President & his wife front & centre of the audience. In 1966 Eddie had recorded a song that encapsulated the robust energy of the music being created in the Stax studios in Memphis. “Knock On Wood”, you know it, everybody does, has been recorded by over 150 other artists but there ain’t nothing like the real thing & if that’s what you need then, even when he’s over 70 years old, you send for Eddie.

eddie floyd knock on wood

Everything you read about Eddie Floyd confirms that he is a thoroughly good & unassuming man. The Falcons sold a million in 1959 with “You’re So Fine” then again three years later when “I Found A Love”, featuring an extraordinary vocal by Wilson Pickett, was an R&B smash. The lead singer went solo, the Falcons disbanded, passing their name to another group, & Eddie recorded for his uncle’s label in Detroit then, relocating to Washington, for a label he started with local DJ Al Bell. When Bell was head hunted by the Stax label Eddie went along as a songwriter & found he had an immediate rapport with guitarist Steve Cropper. The former Falcon Wicked Pickett was around too with his hit “In the Midnight Hour”. The Floyd/Cropper combo provided “634-5789” & “Ninety Nine & a Half (Won’t Do)”, tailor-made for the new star.

“Knock On Wood” was intended for Otis Redding but on hearing the demo Atlantic thought that Eddie had already done it right & so he had. The international success of the single may have been a surprise to the label because the track chosen for the b-side sounds like a perfectly good hit to me. “Got To Make A Comeback”, another track from a very fresh debut LP, is written by Eddie & Joe Shamwell, another friend from Washington who had made the move to Memphis. Starting slowly as a duet between the vocals & Cropper’s guitar, building with ascending horns & backing vocals the song displays Eddie’s range more successfully than subsequent attempts to re-create the success of the A-side.

Otis Redding/Stax Records

In 1967 Eddie was part of the Stax revue that introduced European audiences to real Soul Power. His performance, backed by Booker T & the M.G.’s & the Mar-Keys, of “Raise Your Hand” seems to have been mislaid by the Internet which is a shame because it would be a certainty for inclusion here. The death of Otis Redding in December of that year shook the label to its foundations. It was on Eddie’s delayed flight from London back to the funeral that the idea for “Big Bird” originated. Back home the song was completed with Booker T Jones who produced & played guitar on the record. The finished product is a clap of thunderous Power Soul which, on release in 1968, felt like I was hearing the future of music. This absolute gem is recognised now but at the time it was the least successful of any of Eddie’s singles. How could that have happened?

Eddie Floyd | Memphis Music Hall of Fame

Still, Eddie was becoming one of Stax’s most consistent performers & his next two singles, “I Never Found A Girl” & a cover of Sam Cooke’s “Bring It On Home To Me” both made Top 5 R&B, his biggest hits since the big one. In 1968, through a shady deal with Atlantic, the label lost the rights to their back catalogue. A rapid reloading programme saw the release of 28 albums with the new finger-popping logo in May 1969. “You’ve Got to Have Eddie” may have been hurriedly recorded, there are only two of his songs included, but on a curation of his singles “Rare Stamps” he had written 11 of the 12 tracks & it’s some collection. With his friend Al Bell now co-owner of Stax Eddie remained loyal to the label right to the end in 1975. Other major players were pursuing further opportunities but were still ready to work with Eddie. 1970’s “California Girl” was a more restrained collaboration with Booker T & the following year he moved across town to the new TMI studio set up by Steve Cropper.

Eddie Floyd and Steve Cropper at a Stax recording session [1968] :  OldSchoolCool

After over five years of Steve & Eddie working together on a classic Memphis sound “Down To Earth” is a very interesting departure. It’s an album that is influenced by not only the new Psychedelic Soul but there’s plenty of Rock in there too. It’s certainly different to hear Eddie singing songs like “Linda Sue Dixon” (L.S.D.) & “My Mind Was Messed Around At The Time” & Cropper’s guitar goes to places we hadn’t heard him visit before. It’s a heavy (in a good way) record, closing with the rather epic “Changing Love”. Maybe Stax couldn’t handle all this changing, perhaps they were not inclined to promote a record made in a rival studio but there was no single released from the record & “Down To Earth” remains an album unfairly overlooked at the time & still worth checking out.

Introduction to Eddie Floyd – Mental Itch

Eddie continued to record without repeating his success of the previous decade but his reputation was made, his name remembered. Any compilation, every celebration of Memphis Soul had to include him. Any Soul weekender in Europe would be happy to have Eddie Floyd, still in fine voice, as a respected headliner. Of course he would have to sing “Knock On Wood”, it enabled him to live a life in music & still does. There was so much more to his music & his contribution to the music of fellow Stax artists. I have to end with this track that begins “Eddie Floyd wrote this song”, “Oh yes he did brother”. In 1968, around the same time as “Big Bird”, the double dynamite duo Sam & Dave took a break from the string of hits written for them by David Porter & Isaac Hayes to record “You Don’t Know What You Mean To Me”. Yes “Soul Man” & “Hold On I’m Comin'”, yes “When Something Is Wrong With My Baby” but when I hear this song I still get the same thrill, have the same silly smile on my face as that 15 year old Soul fan who thought it was just the greatest thing when he first heard it. Keep the faith!

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.

What Is It Good For? (Soul August 29th 1970)

OK, is this thing on? I took a break from these reviews of the 1970 Cash Box Top 60 in R&B Locations (didn’t it used to be Top 50?) because the groundhog days of shielding was good for isolation, not so great for imagination & inspiration. Now I’m getting back in the world, unseen & invisible thanks to the camouflage mask so kindly provided by my lovely sister. You know something, it ain’t so bad out there, I may go again.

 

On my last look at the R&B listings from 50 years ago the Jackson 5 were toppermost of the poppermost with “The Love You Save” & Tamla Motown continued their incredible run of quality & success with #1 records for the Temptations & Stevie Wonder with “Ball of Confusion (That’s What the World is Today)” & “Signed, Sealed, Delivered I’m Yours” respectively. You know them both, great singles. At the beginning of August James Brown broke the Detroit dominance with “Get Up (I Feel Like Being Like A) Sex Machine), his first chart-topper of the year. For the week of August 29th though half of the Top 10 were from the Motown stable & the order of things was restored with the first #1 hit, a truly resonant, even significant song, for a less celebrated member of the label’s roster.

 

 

Edwin Starr, singer, (1970 US No.1 and UK No.3 single 'War') More Info : Edwin  Starr was an American singer and so… | Number one hits, Edwin starr,  American singers“War HUH! YEAH! What is it good for? Absolutely nothing!” Enough said yeah. Edwin Starr, born Charles Hatcher in Nashville Tennessee, raised in Cleveland Ohio, left the army in 1962 & moved to Detroit to do the music thing. His first three hit records, all R&B Top 10, “Agent Double-O-Soul”, “Headline News” & “Stop Her On Sight (S.O.S.)” are Motor City classics, co-written by Edwin & released on the Ric-Tic label whose artists were expensively bought out by Motown in 1968. The LP “Soul Master” combines these hits with early Motown 45s (check out his boisterous version of Smokey Robinson’s “Way Over There”) to concoct a pretty damn good collection. In the UK both “Headline…” & “S.O.S.” were dancefloor favourites which just entered our Top 40. In 1968 Tamla re-issued them as a double A-side which made the #11 spot. Edwin Starr was a name on both sides of the Atlantic, he just needed the right material to see this reflected in record sales. The pulsating “25 Miles”, a Top 10 US Pop hit, was certainly a start & in 1970 bigger things were to come.

 

Edwin Starr Discography Belgium - Gallery - 45cat“War” had first appeared earlier in the year on the Temptations’ “Psychedelic Shack” LP. The Tempts were recording tracks with a social commentary & “War” attracted attention but the label & perhaps even the group themselves thought that the its lyrics were too extreme for the sizeable part of their audience who knew them from Ed Sullivan’s show & prime-time TV specials with the Supremes.  Motown, never a company to neglect a commercial opportunity, put writer/producer Norman Whitfield together with Edwin Starr to re-record the song. Whitfield boosted the intense, anthemic quality complimented by Edwin’s emphatic, robust vocals. This classic remodel, an obvious commentary on the USA’s involvement in Vietnam but also one for the ages, sold 3 million copies. The partnership brought more R&B success then, when the hits got smaller, Edwin found love, respect & plenty of work entertaining Soul fans in the UK. Settled in Nottingham he continued to record & in 1979 enjoyed two Top 10 hits with songs he had written & produced. Edwin, always popular here, continued to perform until his death in 2003. Buried in his adopted home town, his headstone says “Our Agent 00 Soul”

 

 

The incomparable Soul Diva Mavis Staples!!In 1968 the Staple Singers signed to Stax Records in Memphis. The family group were already established established as preeminent in Gospel-Folk circles & through father Pops’ close relationship with Martin Luther King their music promoted spirituality & morality through the Civil Rights Movement. The voice of Mavis Staples was recognised as a talent ranked alongside the best in the R&B/Soul field. It was perhaps a plan for Mavis to record her first solo, secular records & this week “Since I Fell For You”, a standard written in 1945, a hit again in 1963, stood at #28 on the R&B chart. The track is taken from “Only For the Lonely”, her upcoming second solo release, smoother than the 1969 eponymous debut produced by guitar ace Steve Cropper. Both albums unite the talents of Memphis, Muscle Shoals & Mavis but a rather unimaginative choice of material didn’t always help. They are good records, listening to Ms Staples is always a particular pleasure, which fail to capture the unique warmth & emotion of a very special voice. Back with her family the world was soon to recognise this about Mavis.

 

Hot Music News - KEYS AND CHORDSIn 1971 the Staple Singers released their third LP on Stax. Steve Cropper had left the company & the co-owner, Al Bell, took over production, The single from “The Staple Swingers” (geddit?), “Heavy Makes You Happy (Sha-Na-Boom-Boom)” began a 5 year long unbroken run of Top 20 R&B hits. Bell provided a rich framing for Mavis to blossom ahead of the backing harmonies of her father & sisters. The lyrics were positive & uplifting, the sound warm, often based on the simple Blues inflected rhythm guitar of Pops, undoubtedly rooted in Gospel but, moving to the Funk & thoroughly modern. It has become a cliche to reference the enduring relevance of the message of old music. Just as “War” is a great record & war is still good for absolutely nothing, in these turbulent times when a change surely must come the music of the Staple Singers provides a context for an understanding & a moving forward. Remember “If you don’t respect yourself
ain’t nobody gonna give a good cahoot”. Mavis Staples has continued to perform & to make great records & has achieved a deserved legendary status. When a new collection of hers arrives I’ll be listening.

 

 

 

 

THE VANDALS / IN MY OPINION (45's) - Breakwell RecordsThe Isley Brothers’ latest 45, “Girls Will Be Girls, Boys Will Be Boys”, not one of their best, was at #19 in this week’s chart. A distribution deal with Buddah for their label T-Neck meant that through 1970-71 the brothers were able to record & release a number of other artists. One of these groups was, making use of the extended Cash Box listing, a new entry at #53. The Isleys had signed a high school band from Baltimore calling themselves The Young Tempts after their idols the Temptations. The Y.T.s recorded a couple of Motown covers, including “Too Busy Thinking About My Baby”, before the Detroit label put their legal department on to the kids. “Too Busy…” was re-released under the name the Young Vandals. The Y.V.s were still in their teens but the next records were credited to just the Vandals. “In My Opinion” is written & produced by Ronald, Rudolph & O’Kelly Isley & it’s a predecessor of the slow jams, the “Quiet Storm” that provided contrast to the mighty Funk on the brothers subsequent, massively successful, albums. The lovely falsetto lead for the Vandals was provided by Damon Harris.

 

The Vandals broke up when Damon was looking to college as an alternative to music. The following year, 1971, his role model Eddie Kendricks left the Temptations & was replaced by Ricky Owens who, it was soon discovered, ha problems remembering the words in live performance. Damon Harris auditioned for the group & for the next five years worked in the job he had dreamt about as a kid. The Vandals may be as new to you as they are to myself but you have heard Damon’s falsetto on “Papa Was A Rolling Stone”.  Well’ I was aiming for a varied selection this time around now I’m back with “The Sound of Young America”. On the 1970 R&B scene Tamla Motown ran the game.

Got To Have It (Sixties Soul Power)

OK, I’ll take a break from the 1970 R&B chart & dial it back just a few years to the Sixties…I know, I just can’t stop it…These three clips, recently arrived on the Y-tube are of such good songs, of such good quality &, in the case of two of them, can justifiably be categorised as “rare”, a much overused term on that website. I am working on a couple on non-Soul posts I promise but I love this music. What else could I do?

 

 

Bar-Kays - Soul Finger | Releases, Reviews, Credits | DiscogsWay, way back when I was just old enough to go to the weekend Youth Club disco it was the first time that the exciting Stax Soul records I had heard on the radio were played at a serious volume with other people in the room. Wilson Pickett’s “In the Midnight Hour” & Eddie Floyd’s “Knock On Wood, every week or questions would be asked & “Soul Finger” by the Bar-Kays, the soundtrack to my first attempts at dancing in public. I was not a Mod, my mother still bought my clothes but I would have been if I could have been. This wonderful record was as Mod as it got for this 13 year old boy. Man, I even missed Emma Peel in “The Avengers” to be out on the floor on a Saturday night.

 

We remember...Otis Redding - 50BOLD“Soul Finger”, with its nursery rhyme intro, blaring horns, stinging guitar & the neighbourhood kids, hyped on sugary drinks, chanting the title, still sounds immediate & thrilling. Things were happening quickly for the Bar-Kays in 1967. Memphis boys recruited & groomed as the back up studio band for when Booker T & the M.G.s were not around, selected by Otis Redding to be his backing band for live shows & they had written a hit record of their own. Here they are in all their optimism & glory on the US TV show “Upbeat”  that has been around the Y-tube for some time but never in such clarity. Of course there’s an unavoidable poignancy to this clip. On the 10th of December 1967 Otis & four of these young men, friends from high school, still in their teens, were killed when their plane crashed into Lake Monona, Wisconsin. Trumpeter Ben Cauley survived the crash, bass player James Alexander was not on the flight but Jimmie King (guitar), Ronnie Caldwell (organ), Phalon Jones (sax) & drummer Carl Cunningham were lost & their memory, young, fine & Funky, will be eternal.

 

 

28 Best Motown Adverts images | Motown, Tamla motown, Berry gordyBack to the beginning of 1965 now & the marvelous Marvelettes, the girl group who, in 1961, had achieved the first #1 for the new Tamla Motown organisation with “Please Mr Postman” a song that became part of the Beatles’ live set & was included on their second album “With the Beatles”. There were other R&B hits before first Martha & the Vandellas & then the Supremes claimed the position of Motown’s premier girl group. Originally a quintet, the Marvelettes had recently become a trio, before this promotion of “Too Many Fish In the Sea”. Georgeanna Tillman had sung on the record but illness had forced her departure. Still Gladys, Wanda & Kathy, their dress & dance moves courtesy of the Motown charm school are as sharp & as energetic as the song, written by Norman Whitfield & Eddie Holland & the Marvelettes’ biggest hit for a couple of years. There are not many clips of The Marvelettes, what a treat this is.

 

Story Behind The Image - Classic MotownIn 1966 Smokey Robinson took over production/songwriting duties. “Don’t Mess With Bill”, “The Hunter Gets Captured By the Game” & “My Baby Must Be a Magician” were distinctive, a little idiosyncratic & brilliant. A non-Smokey track, the emotional, dramatically  produced “When You’re Young & In Love” was equally successful & the Marvelettes only UK hit. In 1980 there were plenty of white men in Hammersmith Palais to see Graham Parker & the Rumour on “The Up Escalator” tour & the Marvelettes were the support act. I have no idea how many of the three African-American women of a certain age were original members of the group & I didn’t care as we were treated to a set packed with Greatest Hits that made us dance, sing along & glad to be out of the house on a chilly October evening. (Remember going out to gigs? Ah well, someday).

 

 

The Sweet Inspirations (album) - WikipediaWell known in Gospel circles, Cissy Houston, mother of Whitney, had been so wary of secular music that she continued her factory employment while nieces Dionne & Dee Dee Warwick progressed from backing vocals to solo recording contracts. Helping out when Dionne was otherwise engaged Cissy discovered that two days in a New York studio paid better than a week assembling tubes for TVs so…y’know. These women were the classic “20 Feet From Stardom”. If it was recorded in New York & had female backing singers (& they all did) then that was the Sweet Inspirations. They were there on Van Morrison’s “Brown Eyed Girl” & for “Burning of the Midnight Lamp” when Jimi Hendrix came to town. Atlantic gave a settled line-up, Cissy, Sylvia Shermwell, Estelle Brown & Myrna Smith a chance to record & two singles put their name out there. In 1967 they went to American Sound Studios in Memphis to make an album.

 

The Sweet Inspirations - Sweet Inspiration (1968, Vinyl) | DiscogsThe eponymous debut LP is heavy on covers of the hits of the day but Cissy’s lead & the natural interaction of all four voices bring a vivacity & originality to songs you know well. The exception is “Sweet Inspiration”, written by Dan Penn & Spooner Oldham, regulars at American & onlookers at the session it was quickly recorded & became a Top 20 Pop hit. The Sweets continued to record, for themselves & for others then in 1969 Elvis Presley, a fan of the single, returning to the stage after 9 years away, engaged them as his opening act & as part of his backing singers for a run of Vegas shows. Cissy left for a solo career while the remaining Sweet Inspirations toured & recorded with Elvis until his death in 1977. That gig & the occasional concert tour with Aretha Franklin maintained their reputation as the best support singers in the business.  In 1968 Motown seemed to have the girl group scene, such a big deal in the early years of the Sixties, to themselves. I have no idea where the above promo for their big song comes from, I just know that it’s flipping brilliant to see the Sweet Inspirations, an essential female group of the time, as well as hear them.

Coming To Ya On A Dusty Road (Soul May 16th 1970)

The highest new entry on the Cash Box Top 50 in R&B Locations for May 16th 1970 was by a singer who was better known as a songwriter. When I say “better known” I’m talking one of Rolling Stone’s Greatest Songwriters of All Time, Songwriters’ Hall of Fame, having a street in Memphis named after you better. David Porter, you know him, well maybe not.

Isaac Hayes and David Porter | Isaac hayes, Music poster, SongwritingDavid Porter was a teenager hanging out at Satellite Records in Memphis when it changed its name to Stax in 1961. Apart from his songwriting talent he introduced high school friends Booker T Jones, William Bell & saxophonist Andrew Love to the label. It was in partnership with Isaac Hayes where he made the most impact. In 1969 Sam & Dave released a glorious “Best Of…”, 14 tracks & the Hayes/Porter team were responsible for 11 of them. Carla Thomas’ “B-A-B-Y”, that was one of theirs, in fact most every Stax artist recorded their songs. In 1968, still reeling from the premature death of its major star Otis Redding, Stax found themselves on the wrong end of a distribution deal with Atlantic Records & lost control of their back catalogue. Hayes & Porter were kept busy in the studio as the label, desperate to have something to sell, released 27 LPs & 30 singles in mid-1969. When the dust settled it was Isaac Hayes’ “Hot Buttered Soul” setting new standards in Orchestral Soul, selling millions & saving the company. “Black Moses” had the road to international stardom to follow so David Porter finally got down to making his own solo album.

Featured Album: Stax Legend David Porter enlightens on "The ...“Can’t See You When I Want To”, straight in at #37, is taken from “Gritty, Groovy & Gettin’ It” (1970). A plea from “the other man” in a love triangle & over 7 minutes long on the LP the song most resembles his former partner in its drama & scope. It’s also the only track composed by David & then it’s a serious remodel of a 45 he had recorded in 1965. On other tracks he takes Curtis Mayfield & a couple of Motown tracks to Memphis & the transposition is enjoyable. Subsequently “…Into a Real Thing”, issued later in the year, is more Hayes-like though the Garage-Pop classic “Hang On Sloopy” can hardly carry the weight of the 11 minute treatment it receives. 1971’s “Victim of the Joke…an Opera” is an ambitious conceptual mix of music & dialogue. David Porter’s solo work is worthy of consideration. “When Something is Wrong With My Baby”, “Hold On I’m Coming” & “Soul Man” contributed to the dignity of Soul music & for that “I Thank You”.

Whitney Houston: film alleges singer sexually abused as a child by ...At the beginning of the 1960’s a New York recording session was not complete without the backing vocals of the Gospelaires, a group started by the Warrick sisters Dionne & Dee Dee. The older sister’s gig singing on demos for Burt Bacharach & Hal David led to Dionne Warwick becoming the interpreter, even muse, for the great songwriters. Young Dee Dee’s early career was guided by Jerry Leiber & Mike Stoller, a more experienced & established partnership. While Dee Dee lacked the smooth, rich, Pop sophistication of Dionne the girl could certainly sing. Her R&B hits released by Mercury display a great range. In 1966 “I Want to Be with You” was a big production of a number from a Broadway show & “I’m Gonna Make You Love Me”, later a hit for Diana Ross & the Supremes & the Temptations, was cool & possibly ahead of its time. In 1969 “Foolish Fool” displayed Dee Dee’s power, earning her another chart placing & a first Grammy nomination.

Dee Dee Warwick - She Didn't Know (She Kept On Talking) / Make ...When Dee Dee signed for Atlantic she was sent down to Florida where, at Miami’s Criteria Studios where the label were setting up a new operation. Keyboard player Jim Dickinson assembled a band of Memphis session aces & the Dixie Flyers, guitarist Charlie Freeman, bassist Tommy McClure & drummer Sammy Creason  moved in. With stellar backing & well chosen material “Turning Around” (1970) is a very fine showcase for Dee Dee’s talent. Her Gospel grounding is undeniable but her forceful voice is no Soul shout, comfortable with songs that require a touch of Country or a shot of Blues. “She Didn’t Know (She Kept On Talking)” is the flipside of the David Porter record, a wife finding out that her husband is cheating. It was written by Swamp Dogg & Gary “U.S.” Bonds who were getting developing a knack for dramatic lyrics that were almost conversational & certainly distinctive. A Top 10 R&B hit, “She Didn’t Know…”was nominated for a Grammy in the Best R&B Vocal Performance-Female category. Others in the frame were winner Aretha Franklin, Nina Simone, Candi Staton & Esther Phillips. Dee Dee Warwick was keeping good company & was by no means out of place.

I am aware of & not ignoring the allegations made against Dee Dee in Kevin McDonald’s movie “Whitney” (2018). My take is that both parties are no longer around to either confirm the events or to defend themselves. I am more sure that Dee Dee Warwick’s openness about her sexuality, the lack of promotion of her records & possibly just being the little sister of a major star prevented greater recognition than she is given.

The Five Stairsteps – O-o-h Child (1970) | SamuelsoundsAnother new entry this week, in at #45, gets the nod because I will never tire of this great clip. In 1970 the five Burke siblings’ title as “The First Family of Soul” was under threat from Motown’s new contenders the Jackson 5. Chicago’s Five Stairsteps were all teenagers in 1966 when Curtis Mayfield produced their debut album, released on his own Windy C label. There were four R&B Top 20 hits on the record & while there are distinct Curtis touches the songs were mainly co-written by Clarence Jr. The partnership continued for two more records, with a mix of sweet ballads, funky uptempo tunes & a sprinkling of Mayfield songs the Five Stairsteps (& Cubie as they were known when the very youngest brother joined them) always proved to be popular. By 1970 Curtis was busy with his own plans, the Stairsteps signed to Buddah & were put under the care of the label’s house producer Stan Vincent. The first 45 “Because I Love You” missed the chart but “Ooh Child”, written by Vincent, was their first crossover to the Pop listing & the song for which they are mainly remembered.

The 5 Stairsteps* - O-O-H Child (1970, Vinyl) | Discogs“Ooh Child” has found it’s way into popular culture now. It was immediately covered by by the Spinners & Nina Simone, reggaefied by Bruce Ruffin & many versions have followed. Featured in “Boyz n the Hood” & “The Simpsons”, Spike Lee used the song in his movie “Crooklyn”, & it’s Peter Quill’s choice when offering a dance-off to Ronan the Accuser in “Guardians of the Galaxy”. It’s this original version & this “Soul Train” appearance that keeps me coming back. The group are growing up, Alohe, the eldest steps to the front sounding (& it has to be said, looking) as fine as her name. Clarence Jr & James take their turn & all the boys, ditching their lounge suits & straight out of the Superfly boutique, look confident & hip. In the backline drummer Jerome “Bigfoot” Brailey, later of Funkadelic, drives the thing along. “Ooh Child” is such an optimistic song, the one I turn to when I need a little pick-me-up, a sharpener. In strange days like these we all need reminding of better days to come. “Some day, yeah we’ll walk in the rays of a beautiful sun. Some day when the world is much brighter”. That’s right!

Plant Love Seeds (Soul April 11th 1970)

My last post, on new records by Daniel Romano, could have been chiselled on to stone tablets & wouldn’t have been any slower to write. I’m three weeks into this isolation rigmarole, my age & health situation puts me in the “so long, it was nice knowing you” bracket so I’m doing it right. With any anxiety about that thing being usurped by an unease that the world has finally jumped the shark (it was coming) I found the usual flow wasn’t forthcoming. That’s not good & has to be nipped in the bud because I like doing this. So for the duration of this craziness my monthly missives about the great Soul music of 50 years ago from the “Cash Box Top 50 in R&B Locations” will now be a weekly word. Fine, fine music, that’s what I need. I’m feeling better already & here’s some now.

 

 

 

Cryin' In The Streets by George Perkins on SpotifyThe Number 1 R&B record on April 11th 1970 was by the teen sensation of the day. The Jackson 5’s “ABC” was the quintet’s second chart topper of the year & there would be two more before 1970 was done with. We must get to them later. The youthful vivacity of “ABC” is a perfect modern fusion of Pop & Soul while just behind it, at #4 in the Cash Box chart, is a song that, but for it’s subject & inspiration, could be at least 20 years old. The Silver Stars were a popular Gospel group from Louisiana whose 2 45s “They Call Him Jesus” & “Father Don’t Forget Me.” had been released locally in 1968. Things were changing & 2 years later leader George Perkins, inspired by the civil rights movement & the assassination of Dr Martin Luther King, wrote “Crying in the Streets”.

 

What a beautiful record it is. Backed by the most basic of instrumentation (though that’s some fancy drumming) it’s the quality & emotion of a Gospel quartet that makes it right. There’s an essential playlist of significant songs concerned with the shift in American society at this time & “Crying in the Streets” rightfully takes its place on it. Released on the Golden label “Crying…” was successful in the Southern states before being picked up for wider distribution by Silver Fox in Nashville. George & the Silver Stars were surprised to have a national hit on their hands & delighted to have a week-long booking at New York’s Apollo Theatre. The follow up “How Can A Broke Man Survive” was back on Golden & failed to register as did subsequent records released while George combined music & a job in insurance. George Perkins was always “the Crying in the Streets man”, there are worse things to be known as.

 

 

 

Live with Otis, Janis & Jimi | Documentary of the Week | WNYCAt #34 on the chart “Wicked” Wilson Pickett commemorated three musical icons who had died in the past decade. “Cole, Cooke & Redding” is a sincere tribute to Nat “King”, Sam & Otis set to the tune of “Abraham, Martin & John”, a Top 10 US Pop hit for Dion in 1968 & a UK best seller for Marvin Gaye in 1970. Just two places below, at #36, was a posthumous release by one of these stars. In July 1967 Otis Redding’s performance at the Monterey Pop Festival had electrified “the Love Crowd” & showed him the possibility of reaching a new audience. Otis’ response was to write & record “(Sitting On) The Dock of the Bay”, a song with a more restrained approach which was finished at Stax’ Memphis studios on December 7th. Just three days later Otis, his valet, four members of the Bar-Kays & the pilot were killed when their plane crashed near Madison, Wisconsin. Before this tragedy Otis had already confirmed his status as an outstanding talent in American music. That the fatal accident occurred just before his development & potential would surely have led to greater success make the event even more poignant.

 

Otis Redding - Tell The Truth [White Label Promo] (Vinyl LP ...“Demonstration” is one of Otis’ final posthumous single releases. It’s taken from the LP “Tell the Truth”, the 4th studio collection since his death. There were no more tracks like “Dock of the Bay” in the vaults, this is the old-school Otis & while these records may not sit alongside “Otis Blue” or, my favourite, “The Otis Redding Dictionary of Soul” every one of them, indeed every song has its moments. These may have been unfinished tracking vocals but the heartfelt soulfulness still excites as does the inimitable groove of Booker T & the M.G.s & the gritty power of the Memphis Horns. “Demonstration” is not an Otis Redding single that comes immediately to mind but it’s a great example of how they did it in Memphis in the1960s when no-one was doing it better.

 

 

MARVIN GAYE DISCOGRAPHYThe pairing by Tamla Motown of Marvin Gaye, the label’s biggest male star with young Tammi Terrell was a great call. Marvin had previously recorded with Kim Weston & Mary Wells & Tammi proved to be the perfect foil. Their first release “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” was a smash & it began a run of success with, mostly, songs tailor-made for the duo by husband & wife writer/producer team Nickolas Ashford & Valerie Simpson. “The Onion Song”, a new entry on the Cash Box chart at #39 was their 9th & final Top 20 R&B hit. The single had a US release on March 20th 1970 just 4 days after Tammi succumbed to brain cancer at the age of 24. She had not had an easy life & I’m not about to summarise the abuses she suffered as a child & at the hands of her male partners which surely contributed to her early death. Tammi Terrell’s obvious affinity with Marvin had established her as a vivacious talent & personality, holding her own with a much bigger name. This, allied to the efficiency of the Motown star-making machinery, would undoubtedly have led to greater things had she lived longer.

 

marvin gaye & tammi terrell - Google Search | Marvin gaye, Tammi ...“The Onion Song” had been released in the UK in October 1969 & became Marvin & Tammi’s biggest hit here. At the time it was not my favourite of their singles. I found the lyric a little clumsy compared to the more delicate “You’re All I Need to Get By” & the charm of “You Ain’t Livin’ Till You’re Lovin'”. Yeah, I was so much older then, I was wrong. I don’t really care that Tammi’s illness prevented her recording & that Valerie Simpson’s vocals were used on the later songs. The three albums that Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell released together are full of romance, spirit & optimism & we could all use those things in these trying times, I know that I could.

Different Strokes For Different Folks (Soul February 1969)

Last month’s post on the Billboard R&B chart of 50 years ago was such a blast to write & hang about with. Spoilt (or is it spoiled?) for choice there were songs that had been favourites for all that time, other winners that I had discovered later & ones that had been forgotten or missed. I’m sure that moving it forward a month to February will prove to be just as rewarding. (Spoiler – it does, or I would be wasting our time here).

Tyrone Davis had his moment at #1 at the beginning of the month before being overtaken by Sly & the Family Stone’s “Everyday People”, the first of 3 of that multi-talented group’s songs to top both the Pop & the R&B charts. When I listen to them I’m still delighted & now a little surprised that such immaculate, innovative, positive music, up there with the best of its time, became so widely popular. The attraction of this archive is more than nostalgia, something was happening, Soul music knew what was going on & each chart, all the way down to number 50, is packed with creative, exciting records.

Image result for johnnie taylor take care of your homeworkAt #2 is Johnnie Taylor, the wonderfully named “Philosopher of Soul”, with “Take Care Of Your Homework”. 1968 had been a terrible year for his Stax record label & its hometown Memphis. The death in a plane crash of its major star Otis Redding hit the company & the music world hard. The Lorraine Motel was used by artists visiting the studio, in April the assassination there of Martin Luther King was a tragedy that shook the world. The sale of their distributor/supporter Atlantic Records got messy & Stax lost control of their back catalogue. The 3 million copies sold by Isaac Hayes’ “Hot Buttered Soul” album was a major boost to a label that needed one but before that Johnnie’s hit single “Who’s Making Love” kept the label in the game & showed that there was still talent at the East McLemore Avenue studio.

Related imageTaylor had made some great 45’s with the team of Isaac Hayes & Dave Porter. They were busy with their own albums & a new trio of writers calling themselves We Three provided Johnnie with “Who’s Making Love” a story of playing away & paying the price, his biggest hit yet & the first of 17 straight Top 20 R&B hits. “Take Care of Your Homework” is more of the same, a forceful vocal with a classic Stax backline of the immaculate Booker T & the MG’s with the blaring Memphis Horns…tasty! Johnnie kept up with changing styles & tastes & was back at #1 in 1976 with “Disco Lady. He never really made much impression in the UK but any “Best of…” selection will include a couple of songs you know & a whole lot more that you should know.

“Cissy Strut”, the only instrumental in the Top 10 (at #9),  is the opening track from the debut album by the Meters, a glorious gumbo of rhythm & groove by the house band on so much good music from down south in New Orleans. Further down, in the lower reaches of the Top 30 there are 4 non-vocal tracks in succession. Young-Holt Unlimited had their last week on the chart with “Soulful Strut” as had Jimmy McGriff whose Hammond organisation Soul-Jazz was straight from the fridge. Cliff Nobles & Co were an odd one. “Switch It On” was a galloping variation on their big hit “The Horse”, Cliff was the group’s singer & didn’t feature on the songs that sold. Then there was this little beauty.

Image result for hugh masekela riotHugh Masekela’s coming to America, from South Africa via London, was ostensibly to further his musical education. Already a prominent musician back home the deteriorating political situation after the massacre of 69 people in Sharpeville led to his friends & supporters getting him the flip out of Joburg. At the start of 1967 his trumpet solo for the Byrds on “So You Want to be a Rock & Roll Star” was as cool as it gets. As his own music assimilated his new environs he incorporated R&B & Pop into his African Jazz rhythms. A partnership with his producer/friend Stewart Levine brought, in 1968, “Grazing in the Grass” to #1 on the Pop charts.

Image result for hugh masekela 1969With such a background Masekela was bound to be affected by the struggle for civil rights in the USA. Throughout his life there was always a political dimension to his music whether instrumental or vocal. 1969’s album “Masekela” included a “Blues For Huey”, at the time Huey P Newton, a founder of the Black Panther Party, was imprisoned on charges which were later dismissed. “Mace & Grenades” & “Riot”, released together as a single, were commentaries on events in Vietnam & the USA. What a rhythm “Riot” is, the repeated guitar motif underpinning Hugh’s distinctive trumpet playing. In Jamaica Keith Hudson produced a fine Reggae version while just last year Earl Sweatshirt’s dense & personal “Some Rap Songs” finds some resolution with a song by a man close enough to his family to be “Uncle” Hugh. “Riot”, built to last.

The highest new entry of the week is “My Whole World Ended (the Moment You Left Me)” the debut solo single by David Ruffin, the former Temptation. Another time for David, maybe next month. In at #47 was Edwin Starr, another from the Motown roster, who was enjoying his return to the chart after 3 years away. “25 Miles” retains its impact 50 years on & plays over the opening scene of “Bad Times at El Royale”, a smart move to get you interested in a smart new movie.

Image result for edwin starr 25 milesEdwin’s early records with the Detroit label Ric-Tic were so much part of that city’s trademark sound that I could not have been the only one to have assumed that he was already with the Tamla Motown organisation. “S.O.S.” & “Headline News” were essentials in any DJ’s  set in mid-60’s UK. “25 Miles” took such liberties with Wilsoon Pickett’s 1967 track “Mojo Mama” that the songwriting credits were adjusted accordingly. Edwin’s forceful vocal matched to that driving Motown beat made for an irresistible mix. While this mini-skirt packed clip is as Mod As F… the audio isn’t the best. You can hear the full power of the song by clicking this. “25 Miles” put Edwin’s name back in the frame & he took his chance. On the opening track of his next record he asked a question, gave the answer that we all knew was the right one & found himself an enduring worldwide hit. “War! What is it good for ? Absolutely Nothing! Say it again y’all”.

Midnight Teaser Real Soul Pleaser (Wilson Pickett)

Our summer holiday of 1966, on the intermittently sunny North Yorkshire Riviera, extended that year’s effervescent English exhilaration. Our national football team had given us all the World Cup willies for 3 weeks in July but they had only gone & won the thing (never again). The seaside sojourn’s soundtrack, coming through loud & clear from Radio 270, Yorkshire’s own pirate radio station, was headed by The Beatles’  current double whammy, the ground-breaking “Eleanor Rigby” & the psych-nursery rhyme “Yellow Submarine”. Each week brought a rush & a push of bright shiny new music that demanded your attention. We didn’t know yet that this was a classic time for pop music but we had an idea that it was. Here’s one that was picked to click in August 1966.

Oh Yeah ! 1-2-3 ! Still does it. For the 2nd week of the holiday I was joined by my best friend, brand new teenagers given a pass that we didn’t get at home.(Back then I thought my parents were like, old people, looking back they were pretty cool). We hijacked the family transistor radio, headed for the cliffs, just the two of us, the North Sea & Emperor Rosko’s drive-time show, a little bit of Wolfman Jack, on Radio Caroline. Summer evenings had never been better …up to now. Wilson Pickett’s “Land of a 1000 Dances” consolidated a whole bunch of future possibilities, power, passion, abandon. I didn’t know how to Pony, let alone like Bony Maronie but I sure intended to learn.

It was a familiar path for Wilson Pickett, from Detroit via Alabama. A gospel grounding, hits with the Falcons, his vocal group, before a solo career. An approach to Atlantic Records did not go his way when his song “I Found a Love” was given to Solomon Burke but his talent, his raw, impassioned testification, meant that Atlantic signed him. After a couple of releases recorded in New York Pickett was sent down to Memphis where, at Stax studios, an abrasive, modern soul sound was forged between the singer & musicians.

While we had not yet heard Cannibal & the Headhunters earlier version of  “Land…” we did know about Wilson. The 1st 45 he recorded at Stax was “In the Midnight Hour”, a flawless Pickett/Steve Cropper tune, an instant, enduring soul standard . I think that a law was passed that it had to be played any place anyone danced. Maybe…it was a long time ago. The succeeding run of singles, “Don’t Fight It”, “634-5789” & “99 & a Half (Won’t Do)” established him as a major star. “Land…” was Wilson’s 3rd R&B #1 & it was followed by “Mustang Sally”. Good God Y’all !

Wilson Pickett was officially “Wicked”. His, let’s say, headstrong attitude ruffled the feathers of the tight knit group at Stax but Atlantic (that would be Jerry Wexler) were cultivating another talented coterie at FAME studios in Muscle Shoals. The hits just kept on coming. He was never a prolific songwriter, Bobby Womack was around at FAME at this time & had some good songs for Pickett. In September 1967 a cover of Dyke & the Blazers “Funky Broadway” was another R&B #1 between James Brown’s “Cold Sweat” & “Higher & Higher” by Jackie Wilson. It was Soul’s Golden Age & Wilson Pickett was right up there with all this great music. In person, live, well click on the “99 & a Half” clip…it’s nuts in the best way.

His final single of 1968 was a cover of “Hey Jude”, the Beatles’ current smash, an epic, shrieking vocal, an incendiary guitar solo by young Southern longhair Duane Allman. “Funky Broadway” had been the first chart record to include this new adjective & the leading lights of Soul were introducing innovatory sounds as the 60s ended. Pickett’s muscular cover versions of rock classics, “Born To Be Wild”, “Hey Joe”, seemed a little obvious at the time. Now they sound like psycho-soul juggernauts, heck even “Sugar Sugar”, a bubblegum song I really do not like, sounds good.

Of course Wilson Pickett was still amongst the biggest names. In 1971 he headlined “Soul to Soul”, a major concert in Accra, Ghana which included Santana, the Staples Singers & Ike & Tina Turner. In Africa he was “Soul Brother #2” only headed by James Brown. A workmate of mine, Emmanuel, was at that gig. I loved to hear his stories of a momentous day in that young country’s cultural history. In the same year “Don’t Knock My Love” was his 5th & final #1 R&B hit & in 1972 he recorded “Fire & Water” an imaginative & appropriate version of Free’s British Blues belter. On “Soul Train”, wearing the brightest suit ever made, he gives it plenty. The Midnight Movers, his backing band, are pretty good too. Pickett kept on keeping on even though public taste was for a smoother Soul than his rugged sound. There were still a Grammy award & many accolades before his death in 2006.

In 1966 I voted in the New Musical Express end-of-year poll. Best Group the Beatles, Best Single “Good Vibrations”, Best Male Singer Wilson Pickett. As I said up there music was moving fast back then. The more subtle supplications of Otis Redding, the relentless dedication to the funk by James Brown & Aretha’s unmatched quality were irresistible. In 1968 Atlantic released “This Is Soul”, a ready made collection of super music for just 62.5p ($1). The LP opened with “Mustang Sally”, closed with “Land of a 1000 Dances”. I was glad to have these songs around. Now I’m discovering LP tracks that I’ve not heard before while I’m still dancing to “…Midnight Hour” & still marvelling at the energy of “Land of a 1000 Dances”.

Sweet Soul Music (William Bell)

William Bell never achieved the success of some of his Memphis contemporaries but his contribution as a singer & a songwriter places him at the heart of the enduring soul music created in that city throughout the 1960s. In 1961 Bell, just 21 years old, stepped away from his vocal group, the Del Rios, to record a self-written solo debut for his hometown label Stax Records. “You Don’t Miss Your Water” is a smooth sliver of country soul before that was even a thing. In 1967 the song was  recorded by Stax’ shining star, Otis Redding & included on his “Otis Blue” LP. The following year The Byrds released their version on “Sweetheart of the Rodeo” & Taj Mahal his for “The Natch’l Blues”. 3 distinctive records linked by this immaculate song.

“You Don’t…” made a small dent on the US charts, the following 45, “Any Other Way”, was picked up by established R&B singer Chuck Jackson. For a small label this was a big enough deal for Stax to release a number of  William’s singles. He was away for 2 years in the armed forces which didn’t help with promotion & publicity. On his return to Memphis he began a string of recordings which were R&B hits but which never really matched the crossover success of other studio colleagues. In this golden time the Memphis Soul stew was cooking on gas. Now, over 45 years later, William Bell’s best records take a place alongside all those other Stax solid senders.

Bell’s stock in trade ballads had a sweet gospel tinge. Booker T’s sympathetic productions allowed a lightness not always associated with the trademark attack in the sound of Stax. “The Soul of a Bell” (1967) marked the beginning of a songwriting partnership between the pair. The opening track “Everybody Loves A Winner” is a tragic song of life, a lovely example of the thing that William Bell did so well…”but when you lose, you lose alone”. Ah, Gram Parsons should have gotten hold of this song with the Byrds or the Flying Burrito Brothers. “Eloise (Hang On In There)”, a soul stomp, Motown urgency filtered through the layers of Memphis grit, had to be the one to break on through. Like another muscular Stax release, “Big Bird” by Eddie Floyd, “Eloise” made no impression on the charts but it shook my radio whenever it came around. A hit 45 that just never was one.

It was around this time that guitarist Albert King was signed by Stax. Bell & Jones provided a song that captured all the bad luck & trouble of the Blues while putting this folk music on Soul Time. “Born Under A Bad Sign” was an instant classic. Eric Clapton had always checked for Albert & a year later Cream, with encouragement from Atlantic Records, covered the song on their #1 LP “Wheels Of Fire”. King found a new audience for the Blues in America’s concert halls. Up in Chicago the Chess label encouraged Muddy Waters & Howlin’ Wolf to update their sound. “Born Under A Bad Sign” is a landmark song.

When Stax tragically lost it’s greatest star in December 1967 William Bell marked Otis Redding’s death with “A Tribute To A King”. Only a B-side in the US, we Brits were more receptive to this heartfelt elegy from his musical family & it dented the charts. Another Bell- Jones composition, “Private Number”, a sweet, smooth dialogue with Judy Clay, less raucous than the Otis & Carla Thomas duets, made the UK Top 10 with no transatlantic promotion trip (so unfortunately no black & white Top of the Pops clip) & is still a sure fire winner to my ears. The follow up, “My Baby Specializes” (mostly Judy) was an Isaac Hayes-David Porter song. There was an LP of “Duets” with Clay, Carla Thomas & Mavis Staples. William Bell was a busy man in 1968.

He began to produce records for Peachtree Productions. I have a version of “Purple Haze” by Johnny Jones & the King Casuals, a crazy collision of soul & psychedelia. I did not know that it was Bell’s debut production for the company. It’s on the Y-tube, treat yourself. It was in 1968 that he had his biggest hit so far. “I Forgot To Be Your Lover” is a gorgeous tender gem. Steve Cropper’s guitar, a cascade of strings, the Memphis Horns…oh yeah ! Down in Jamaica Lee “Scratch” Perry was creating all manner of wonderful dub reggae strangeness at his Black Ark studio. Scratch always had an ear for a well-written song. Through 1976/77 he recorded a number of soul classics with singer George Faith & that’s how William Bell & Booker T Jones’ “To Be A Lover” stands as a reggae classic. The almost 20 minute long version, including Augustus Pablo’s mellifluous melodica, is a desert island disc of mine but, hey, you are busy people.

William Bell moved to Atlanta but stayed with Stax to the end in 1974. Public taste had changed but there are some classy songs from this time. A move to Mercury finally brought him a gold record in 1977 with “Trying To Love Two”, a disco-fication of his trademark ballad sound. Despite the song reaching the top of the R&B charts there seems to be contemporary clip of him performing the song on “Soul Train…if only.

With the formation of Wilbe Records he has continued to record himself & others.There was never the one big breakthrough song for Bell. No “Knock On Wood”, “Sweet Soul Music” Or “When A Man Loves A Woman” that put faces to the names of other singers. He was not on the bill for the momentous Stax/Volt tours of Europe & there is no film of the young William Bell. So this clip, from 2013, gets me buzzing. It’s from a Memphis Soul special, after dinner entertainment at the White House for the Obama’s & a few close friends.  There was a stellar line-up, Sam Moore, Mavis Staples, Cyndi Lauper (Huh !) for the audience to rattle their jewellery to. Seeing 70-odd year old William Bell singing “You Don’t Miss Your Water”, knocking the song that started it all for him out of the park & sharing the stage with Booker T Jones, his songwriting partner who shared in the inception of so much fine music, just makes me smile.

 

 

Coming To You On A Dust Road (Sam and Dave Double Dynamite)

So where the heck did this come from ? The Y-tube clips of Sam & Dave’s turbo-charged live act are just the greatest thing. The dynamic duo’s great run of hit singles received plenty of exposure at the time which we are lucky enough to still have around. Then there’s this gem, a promo for a song that was never actually promoted.

As Mod as anything ! “I Don’t Need Nobody (To Tell Me About My Baby)” is a track from “Double Dynamite”,  Sam & Dave’s 2nd LP for Stax Records. The record was not as successful as their debut “Hold On  I’m Coming” or the succeeding “Soul Men” but it included 3  high quality 45s (“When Something Is Wrong With My Baby”…oh my !) which kept their name in the frame. This track was not 1 of the 3, not even, I think, a B-side. Written by Randle Catron, a Memphis personality, a future king of the local Cotton Jubilee, it’s not the usual dynamic call & response belter rather a sweet soul swinger. The guys look as sharp as a winter’s morning & the girls, dancing barefoot, are just the epitome of 1966/67 chic. 6 months later there would be dashikis, afros & a liquid light show. I think that I prefer this cool, casual look. Straight from the fridge.

Sam Moore & Dave Prater hooked up in Miami & were recording for Roulette Records before they were signed to Atlantic Records by Jerry Wexler who already had a connection to Stax Records in Memphis. The duo, like most every R&B act in the early 1960s, were on that Jackie Wilson, Sam Cooke, Little Willie John thing but Atlantic wanted the raw, harder recipe that Booker T & the M.Gs were cooking up. They were lloaned to Stax,  assigned to the young staff songwriters Isaac Hayes & David Porter & once the 3rd single, “Hold On I’m Coming” reached the Top 30 there was a string of thoroughbred hit songs tailored to their new distinctive, urgent style.

Of course “Soul Man” was the big one in 1967. I would play that 45 on repeat. There’s a little drum break in there that still rocks me, so that’s Al Jackson. As the song says “Play it Steve !”, so that’s Steve Cropper. Earlier that year the Stax Volt Review had toured Europe & thrilled audiences. Similarly the artists were galvanized by an exposure to a, mostly white, audience they had previously been unaware of. After “Soul Man” Sam & Dave were in the major league back home. Here they bring the soul revue experience to the Ed Sullivan Show & how much fun is this ? “I Thank You”, the most basic of their singles was another big hit. Prime time TV could never capture the lightning of their live show but the fanciest horn section, all 9 of them, give it plenty & make their appearance special.

The loss of Stax’ superstar Otis Redding hit the label hard. Musicians & writers, especially Steve Cropper & Booker T Jones, were less content to live in the studio at East Macklemore Avenue, judged by the quantity of records sold rather than the quality of the music. The next  year, 1968, the “gentleman’s agreement” between Stax & Atlantic was revealed to be weighed against the good guys. As a consequence  Sam & Dave’s loan period ended . They returned to Atlantic & were never as popular with a wider audience again. The Sullivan Show gig was to promote “Soul Sister, Brown Sugar” which, despite being their biggest UK hit, always seemed to me to be one of the weakest of their releases. Still, what do I know ? The storming 1968 single “You Don’t Know What You Mean To Me” , written by Cropper & Eddie Floyd, was#1 in my heart in a time when there were plenty of rivals for my affections. The song came nowhere in Britain & just made Top 50 in the US.

This story does not have a happy ending. The duo’s records made in New York never recaptured the Memphis magic. Their often volatile relationship led to a temporary split, the punters wanted Sam & Dave not Sam OR Dave. Sam Moore’s affection for heroin didn’t help. When he added coke to the mix his $400 dollar a day habit meant that he was working for the monkey on his back. There was always work. They opened for the Clash on a 1979 tour, Jake & Elwood Blues, a Sam & Dave tribute act revived interest too. By the time Sam did clean up Dave had hired another Sam & a lot of lawyers became involved. Dave was prematurely killed in a car accident in 1988. Sam has stuck around & he is just great.

I’m going to end this with something I found on like page 9 of a “Sam & Dave live” Y-tube trawl (you have got to go deep, just in case). It’s film of the most successful soul duo ever doing what they did better than anyone else, performing live. It is shot, I think, on that first Stax tour of Europe when the acts were backed by Booker T & the M.Gs & the Mar Keys, Stax’ A-team. I’ve never seen this before (33 views…that’s nuts !). A small sweaty club, the cameraman apparently sat in Booker T’s lap.  “Of all the R & B cats, nobody steams up a place like Sam & Dave ” (Time). “Unless my body reaches a certain temperature, starts to liquefy, I just don’t feel right without it.” (Sam Moore). The clip is 10 minutes long & I know that you are all busy people but it’s “You Don’t Know Like I Know”, “Hold On I’m Coming” & it really is a wonderful, relentless & irresistible thing.