Peter Burns, November 2005
originally published July ’69
the intruders and gamble records
In an extremely short time, a group called the Intruders have risen from obscurity to become recognised as an extraordinary and gifted singing group. Vocalists in the more gentle soul mode, stemming from the Impressions example, they have put some nice subtle sounds on wax.
The group consists of four boys, all from Philadelphia, and their ages range from the teens to the early twenties.
Lead singer with the group is Sam ‘Little Sonny’ Brown. His idol somewhat surprisingly, is fellow Philly man, Chubby Checker. Influences from Checker are hard to detect in his style I might add however! Eugene ‘Bird’ Daughtry is apparently labelled ‘Bird’ because he sings like one! As long as its nothing to do with high flying, then we’re all happy! His musical attributes include being a self-taught bass player. Coming out of the gospel field is Robert ‘Big Sonny’ Edwards. The publicity hand-outs say perhaps he inspired ‘Cowboys To Girls’ because he’s an avid horseback rider! The group’s spokesman is Phillip Terry. His musical experience came via school glee clubs and choirs.
The group got together initially through a common interest in singing, and began with the usual imitation of established groups. In 1961, they began singing as a group at local dances presided over by local radio station personalities. The reception they received at these ‘hops’ led them to being noticed and to the inevitable recording contract. They had their first release on a new label started by producing-writing team Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff, Excel Records; which of course shortly changed to Gamble Records. This disc was ‘Gonna Be Strong’ which began paving the way up to their massive ‘Cowboys To Girls’ hit, which saw their first release in Britain, via Ember.
The success of this group has enabled the Gamble/ Huff combine to expand their record label, and sign many new artists such as new names like Frank Beverly and the Butlers, The Brothers Of Hope, Scorpia and the Ascendants etc., plus older names like Bobby Marchan, who used to do vocals on Huey Smith’s Ace sides; Dee Dee Sharp, ex- Cameo songstress, hot around the time of the Twist craze; and so on.
But of course the Intruders have been and are the backbone of the company – and their releases so far are as follows:
Acknowledgements: Sam Goldner; Gamble Records
Dewey ‘Pigmeat’ Markham was 65 this April.
“This thing happen to me rather late in life”, he says, “and I’m kinda tired. One thing I learn is that home’s the place to go after work. Get that bed and get some rest. That’s the key to bein’ an old man: rest.”
He’s been working as an entertainer for at least 40 years.
“Yeah, this ‘judge’ thing is pretty hot right now. I wrote ‘Here Comes The Judge’ in 1928 when I was workin’ at the Alhambra. We kicked it around through burlesque. I did it on the Ed Sullivan show in 1947 when he had his programme at maxim’s Theatre, corner of 39th and 7th. Ed didn’t have a sponsor then and didn’t pay much money – about $400 for the five of us.”
“Ed came to Harlem lookin’ for me – I was in hospital. I had a sketch – I’d see a ghost, yell ‘WOW’ and get pulled through the roof on a piano wire. The piano wire broke and I broke my legs. I did the ‘judge’ a lot of times for Ed. Sammy Davis saw me do it at the Apollo. Sammy tells me one night he run out of words on TV and so he says ‘Here come duh judge’. The kids grabbed it and we had 18 weeks on Rowan & Martin, and Ed brought me back.”
Pigmeat currently has around 18 albums out, and is writing a book. He came up from Durham, North Carolina, and now lives in the Bronx with his wife and two children. He says he’s keeping his nose to the grindstone to get his kids through college. “I’m holdin’ my money tighter than ever now”, he says, “if a man threw it away now he’s really a fool. Oh, I threw it away plenty in my younger days.” On stage, with his review, he serves up an hour and twenty minutes of steady laughs. His best three album sellers are his recordings made in the nations soul territory – The Apollo Theatre, Harlem; The Howard Theatre in Washington D.C.; and the Royal Theatre in Baltimore.
So with the addition of the Chess soul sound led by Daddy G. (Gene Barge), to his routine, which is aimed mainly at the down-home facets of the Negro audience, Pigmeat Markham has become a nationwide hit. Something surely, that is unlikely to be repeated in a long while.
Pigmeat Markham appears on the following Chess albums:-
Credits: acknowledgements to Dick Alen, and Earl Wilson.
richie havens/blind faith
London didn’t exist in Hyde Park on June 7th. Lorries/ work/ money/
People climbed trees and watched Richie Havens, drowned only occasionally by some high-flying (man made) bird.
No word from the ghettoes but one cries for them. A smokey voice clears our heads of all the city’s asphyxiation. A thief-singing he can steal man’s crumbling country from automation clutches, replace it with well-being, and spill nothing but tears of joy. Perpetrating nothing of the past save the hope of the future; but one man can’t make it more than a dream…
Blind Faith blew cooler than the hurricane Cream/Traffic mergence foretold.
From Ulysses and a paper sun came a joyous return to soft blues/soul riffs;
a clipped intro which could herald Barbara Acklin as much as Steve Winwood
– a gentle lyricism without a word being sung. Some were disappointed
– others’ faith saw something else.
Richie Havens was born in Brooklyn 21 January 1941, in the poorer part of New York City. From an early age he had the desire as well as the ability to sing. At the age of 14 Richie joined the McCrae Gospel Singers who toured the Brooklyn churches. His singing took up the major part of his time and interest and at the age of 18 he dropped out of school. He bummed around odd jobs for a couple of years and 1958 found him in Greenwich Village, where he worked serving and later performing in the local cafes. He built up quite an underground following during this time, which eventually led to some recording, initially unissued but later made available through the Douglas label. After the interest Richie received from his first Verve-Folkways album ‘Mixed Bag’, Douglas released two albums (available on Transatlantic in the UK) of his earlier material. Sadly for Havens he received no royalties from his songs as observant fans and collectors might have noticed - no composer credits appeared on either album. After the success of ‘Mixed Bag’ Richie’s fame grew and he was on his way. He toured the States playing bigger venues than before making many media appearances, which eventually led to his historic rock movie appearance in ‘Woodstock’ where he got the ball well and truly rolling.
Richie is an interested observer of all things around him and many of his songs report on how he sees the world. His voice reflects the gospel influences from his past and among many other things it communicates genuine understanding portrayed with great sincerity. The listener is involved because he makes it easy to identify with the related experiences that unfold with honesty and compassion. Havens has been able to combine all these qualities without sounding at all pretentious. His singing voice and guitar style are quite individual and in his way Richie has become quite successful. Later this year Verve will distribute his own label Stormy Forest that will devote itself to furthering the development of not only the extensive talents of Richie Havens but also that of others as yet unknown.
Revised since original publication
richard p havens – live
Thursday 5 June at the Albert Hall. It was the interval, behind us were the performances by Poet One Man Band, Eclection and Caravan. In front of us were 60 minutes of Richie Havens. As I returned from the dressing room I overheard someone say “The warm up sounds great probably better than the real thing” fortunately this prediction was far from right.
Richie ambled on with his two companions, Paul Williams (guitar) and
Daniel Ben Zegbulon (congas) to a very enthusiastic welcome that seemed
to overwhelm him somewhat. He sat on a high stool and soon transformed
the immense and impersonal Albert Hall into a small intimate club. As
he introduced all of his songs with an entertaining monologue, or a few
chosen remarks he delighted the audience. At times Richie appeared a little
hesitant but this only seemed to create an easy natural atmosphere. He
lisped his way through ‘High Flyin’ Bird’, gave a fresh
rendering to ‘Just like A Woman’ and the hitherto unperformed
original ‘Mona There’s A Hole’. Next came ‘Motherless
Child’ which evolved into a chant of ‘Freedom’ and then
incredibly - still playing, the trio slowly left the stage. The audience
was on its feet by now and the noise was tremendous. Of course they came
back and performed ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’ to our delight
but again all three left the stage this time with no encore, although
the audience stood and applauded for ten minutes. Richie did briefly return
looking rather naked without his guitar and thanked everyone for coming
etc. but there was no more music. He was better than I thought possible,
still I think one or two more songs would have sent the audience home
soul – the means to an end?
The function of a pop record both artistically and commercially should be to evoke emotion in the listener and the quicker and more powerful the emotion is, the more chance the record has of becoming a hit. Successful records evoke nearly all of the basic emotions: excitement, desire, happiness, dejection, pleasure, self-pity, all can quickly be conjured up by shrewd producers and talented or appealing artistes.
These emotions are usually aimed by the listener in several directions, either towards another person (desire, resentment), inside him or herself (self-pity, excitement, happiness), or towards a variation on the first target – towards the artiste himself (desire, hate, identification). It doesn’t take a particularly deep or searching analysis of the charts to categorise almost every hit in this way, although naturally certain sounds affect us all differently: subjectivity may well be the cause of all our problems but it is the backbone of the pop industry nevertheless.
The higher forms of these emotions are used logically enough, by many artistes with higher status: Dylan’s initial appeal through social conscience, James Brown and Nina Simone currently brandishing the pride in their own race, and the Mothers of Invention through cynicism towards modern life and modern pop music. Often, whole cults and waves of pop culture are based on these higher forms of the basic emotions, which soon degenerate. In the early fifties there arose a whole school of successful songs based on a wallowy form of romantic teenage self-pity: ‘They try to tell us we’re too young’, ‘Too young to go steady’, ‘They say that we’re too young to know the meaning of a ring’ (sic), etc. It is interesting to compare this banal phenomenon with the comparable negro attitude of the same period, which had Don and Bob lusting after their ‘Little Schoolgirl’ and Ray Charles pleas to his teasing bobbysoxer in ‘Heartbreaker’ – these were typical of the franker lyrical attitudes without the smacking of Tin Pan Alley which the R&B sounds had over contemporary white music. It is quite feasible that sometime in the future an astute musician will trade on a hitherto untapped emotion to make a fortune – fear of the dentist, worrying if one is somehow abnormal, fear of certain school lessons etc.
If the song and the singer are strong, then it follows that the performance should be able to stand without superfluities whereas conversely a weaker song and singer may need a superb arrangement and fringe benefits such as a mammoth publicity campaign built around the sex appeal or ‘talent’ of the artiste concerned. An example of the first instance, of a good song and singer, would be the early Dylan LP’s which often featured crude and sometimes hideous musical qualities and no arrangements, yet this did not prevent the powerful lyrics and the impassioned vocals coming through with the utmost clarity – in some ways the crude simplicity was a key factor. Examples of the second instance are constantly obvious. It follows also that bad songs would not have been able to stand up to the early Dylan treatment, for instance if ‘I’m Living in Shame’ had been on an early Dylan LP it is doubtful if Bob would have ever been able to afford his first electric backing group.
What then, makes songs like ‘I’m Living in Shame’, ‘Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa’, or ‘I Got You’ not only into viable commercial hits, but memorable performances? It is a vocal quality which transcends the material it performs. This element – call it ‘soul’ if you like labels – can squeeze not only whatever potential may exist in the lyric but somehow ADD A LOT MORE besides. It is this very quality, this element, that has propped up popular music for most of this century.
The great soul singers of the past thirty years have all recorded standards and both the best and worst of their contemporary material, giving each song a life of its own. No-one minds Frank Sinatra’s bad songs and one can be thankful to Billie Holiday for the banality of some of her lyrics which gave her the chance to show off a vocal genius that would not have been needed with more lyrically explicit phrasing. After all, very little soul is needed to sing today’s great songs – that is why so many people have recorded ‘Yesterday’, ‘Blowing In The Wind’ and ‘Suzanne’ and many more.
Bad songs and simple good songs need good singers. More poetic songs do too, but not necessarily the same type of singers, and they CAN sound good by a bad singer.
But the next time you’re in the bath, try singing ‘Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa’ or ‘I Got You’ out loud and proud, and take a careful listen to yourself….