Due to the time I spent in America this summer and preparations for the Ben E King biography, earshot publication has taken a back seat and the completion of each magazine has been a bit of a struggle. I haven’t been able to devote as much time as usual to this pursuit but I am putting issue issue 11 together now. This issue will complete the Leiber & Stoller story and I will also be adding to the artist and Drifters/ Impressions pages. The magazine should appear in early April. Since visiting the Stax museum in June, I have received a number of interesting emails from them publicising their 50th Anniversary events, the most recent being “Otis Redding: From Macon to Memphis - An Exhibit from the Private Collection of Zelma Redding” which I’ve reproduced below. For me Memphis is one of the best cities on the planet there’s so much to see and do especially for music fans – so if you’re an Otis fan and who isn’t,now might be a good time to go. Time to raise a glass and wish all you earshot readers good fortune for the new-year. (peter burns)
otis at the stax museum
His rise in the music industry was nothing short of meteoric.
He arrived at Stax Records in 1962 as the driver and equipment handler for Johnny Jenkins & the Pinetoppers, a band with whom he had occasionally performed in and around his native Macon, Georgia. At the end of the evening, after having asked all day for a chance to sing, Stax Records founder Jim Stewart and Booker T. & the MGs guitarist and songwriter Steve Cropper gave him that chance. There in the famed Studio A, when Otis Redding began singing "These Arms of Mine," the world changed forever.
The Stax Museum of American Soul Music, located at the site of Stax Records in Memphis, Tennessee, where Redding recorded the songs that captured the hearts of millions, will be home to a very special exhibit to pay homage to the singer, loving husband, and father. “Otis Redding: From Macon to Memphis - An Exhibit from the Private Collection of Zelma Redding” opens on Monday, 10 December 2007 in commemoration of Redding's passing, and will be on display through 30 April 2008.
With items on loan from Otis Redding's widow and daughter, Zelma and Karla Redding-Andrews, the exhibit features a collection of never-before-shown family photographs taken on the Reddings' 300-acre ranch outside Macon, and shows more than Otis Redding the singer and entertainer. Redding is seen petting his cattle, holding his son Otis Redding III, pitching hay from his barn, and engaged in other activities that portray him at home.
The exhibit also includes personal mementos from Mrs. Redding such as telegrams of condolence from Booker T. & the MGs, then-Georgia Governor Jimmy Carter, Nina Simone, the Staple Singers, the Stax Records "family," and others.
"Stax Records was like a second home for Otis," stated Zelma Redding. "He recorded some of his biggest hits there and worked with some of the world's best musicians. We are pleased to be able to share some of our personal family moments in this exhibit."
In addition to the artifacts on loan from Zelma Redding and Karla Redding-Andrews “Otis Redding: From Macon to Memphis” contains several items on loan from private collector Bob Grady and never-before-shown artifacts from the Stax Museum archives.
“Otis Redding: From Macon to Memphis” is hosted with the assistance of Arts Memphis, the Georgia Music Hall of Fame, and the Big "O" Youth Educational Dream Foundation, which the Redding family founded in 2007 in an effort to continue Redding's dream of encouraging and assisting youth by enhancing their lives through education and the arts. The exhibit will open to the public on Monday, 10 December and a special celebration with Zelma and Karla is being planned for early 2008.
For more information on “Otis Redding: From Macon to Memphis” and to share your favourite Otis memory, please visit our blog! (memphis 50 years of soul)
926 East McLemore Avenue at College, Memphis, TN 38106
blind boys of alabama
The Blind Boys of Alabama have been performing since 1939, when founding members Jimmy Carter and Clarence Fountain formed the group at the Alabama Institute for the Negro Blind. The Boys have had a long hard climb to get to where they are today, they performed on the US Gospel circuit at meeting halls and churches for 40 years and it was not until the 80s that they began to achieve wider recognition. At that time they set out on a mission to expand their repertoire to include contemporary songs and bring a wider audience to the God. Today they are world famous and on 17 July they shared a superb double header with Mavis Staples in the shiny new Indigo2 venue at the Dome in North Greenwich.
Ignoring the pre-flight indignities that one has to suffer these days at any major venue, the build up to the concert was comfortable. Our seats were right at the back of the circle, just a few steps from the bar that runs the width of the theatre. Slowly it began to fill up and the Blind Boys came on first led by Jimmy, who stood centre stage. I don’t think that Clarence Fountain was present this time out, such is the groups vintage that they have suffered recently from death and illness and have (like many other mature groups) more members on call than they need for any one concert. They wasted no time and launched into their first number. Bishop Billy Bower’s roaring baritone was to Jimmy’s right, Ben Moore’s deep tenor to his left, Joey Williams lead guitar was far left, Caleb Butler’s rhythm guitar was far right, behind him Tracey Pierce was on electric bass and providing the drum sound behind them all was Eric (Ricky) McKinnie.
Their combined harmony and presentation was glorious. All the boys sang, but mainly it was the central three who sang most leads, often alternating with Carter’s rasping tenor out front. We were treated to a ‘People Get Ready’ medley, a reverse thrust on ‘Spirit In The Sky’, an impassioned plea ‘Way Down In The Hole’ - The spotlights reflected off those black glasses - Jimmy reaching out with his hands to the audience, using the mike stand to establish distance. In no time at all they had us, turning a quite passive audience into a full-blown congregation. The spirit that they engendered in that vast auditorium was electric. Even an old agnostic such as I was rocked by their magnetic performance. Jimmy MC’d between songs plugging their Grammy winning albums: - Deep River (1992) (produced by Booker T Jones), Spirit Of The Century (2001), Higher Ground (2002), Go Tell It On The Mountain (2003) and Atom Bomb and why not - you have to spread the word to spread the word. The concert rolled on with ‘Down By The Riverside’, a haunting version of ‘Amazing Grace’ sung to the tune of ‘House Of The Rising Sun’ and the rousing ‘Go Tell It On The Mountain’. The boys were superb, endearing and nothing short of sensational with impeccable timing – they were slick but nothing was phoney or put on here. We were out of our seats as often as not - on our feet clapping and singing ourselves hoarse as they overwhelmed us with their enthusiastic spirit. There was a little showboating towards the end but they should leave out the James Brown antics – they don’t need to spice up their show with gimmicks when it’s as potent and powerful as it is.
I heard someone complain that the spotlights were not always on the singer at a given moment – almost an impossible task, given the spontaneous nature of gospel call and response. I thought the lighting combined with the two huge colour flat-screens hanging high in the auditorium was superb and added to the experience. The colour floods varying through reds, blues and purples complimented the boys in their matching brown suits and yellow shirts and was, I thought, very effective.
Jimmy went down into the audience during their final number his voice ringing out like a clarion even though he was visually lost to us in the circle. But he slowly made his way back to his brethren just as the show reached its climatic finish and the hands on the shoulder train left the stage to an enthusiastic roar of applause. I’m a little embarrassed to admit that this was the first time that I have seen the Blind Boys live but I’ll be going again in the near future
good god almighty it’s mavis staples
She’s the most soulful diva of them all. And even though she sang at the centre of the Staple Singers for most of her life, Mavis has also been a solo performer for more than 30 years. So she’s well equipped – more than capable and when she’s out on that stage – no matter who she’s got behind her, she sings up a storm - right from the start.
Though Mavis has a broad catalogue of Staples and her own solo work to choose from, this time the songs came from her most recent Ry Cooder produced album We’ll Never Turn Back (Anti-Records). Supercharged versions of mid tempo numbers ‘On My Way’, ‘This Little Light’, ‘Keep Your Eyes On The Prize’, and JB Lenoir’s ‘Down In The Mississippi’ sizzled with soulful spirit. The secular song conversion’s of Buffalo Springfield’s ‘Love The One You’re With’ and the Band’s ‘The Weight’ also worked very well. ‘I’ll Take You There’ The Staples Stax anthem had the audience on their feet but burning brightest among these highlights was Pop’s civil rights classic ‘Why Am I Treated So Bad’. Her backing group contained sister Yvonne and the band were hot. Lead guitarist Rick Holmstrom sensibly declined an attempt to duplicate ‘Pops’ licks but played a parallel course that echoed his sound and gave Mavis great support.
The Indigo2 venue is impressive and a good size, it contains two good bars and is manned by courteous staff which topped off a great evening. At 68 Mavis’ faultless delivery was tireless and though many in the audience were pooped, you felt she could have gone on much longer. She wowed us with her great harmonies, spontaneous vocal delivery, poetic expression and contagious enthusiasm. Surely their roads must have arched on the Gospel trail many times down the years but it was inspirational to match these two variations of the gospel strands - but a pity they didn’t perform one song together at the handover – though an intermission was necessary and it might have been logistically problematic to do so. (peter burns)
What’s a quarter of a century between friends – it has slipped by in no time at all and before we knew it was Kent’s 25th anniversary extravaganza! So authentic was the invite and press Ad that it took me a second glance to realise just what was going on. I arrived later than planned, so you’ll have to find reviews for Winfield Parker & Mary Love from elsewhere. Somebody told me that the Forum had not been open for quite some time and this was the first use of the venue for ages. “What a waste” was my reaction. Though in truth I hadn’t been for years myself and was trying to remember who I’d last seen there was it Dion? Curtis? Anyway it was just the same inside - So we got our refreshments at the guest bar before heading out into the circle to watch the Flirtations – laying down a few of their dancin’ grooves from the 60s.I was rather surprised to see these trim ladies, still together considering how little commercial success they’ve achieved in the past 40 years. Their line up looked pretty genuine as far as I could see. Last time I interviewed them was for ‘Blues & Soul’ - must have been 30 odd years ago in ’73 just after they’d cut a great ‘Dirty Work’ single with Peter Anders and Kenny Laguna (for ALI productions). Sadly they didn’t include it in this evening’s fine selection. Ace boss Trevor Churchill was working with ALI productions at Mowest back in the day just before he joined Ace Records in 1977. The trio were going down a storm with the audience and before long the NS anthem ‘Nothing But A Heartache’ was ringing around the auditorium. The girls have made something of a comeback up north in 2007, cutting two new sides ‘Resist the Temptation’ and ‘Run for the Exit’ and judging by this performance they are still looking and sounding remarkably good. I thought the evenings entertainment was well paced, presenting half a dozen songs from each artist and preventing the celebrations from becoming a marathon as sometimes happens. There was time for a refill and a chance to catch up with some of the faces before the sounds of Tommy Hunt lured us back to our seats in the circle. Tommy looking better than he should - is another American who prefers to live and work in the UK, like the Flirtations, Drifters etc. Immediately he made himself at home with the mature crowd. He told us not to worry about the advancing years, that “Age is just a number!” He laid out a superb selection from his catalogue including ‘Human’, ‘I Just Don’t Know What To Do With Myself’ and his alternative to Chuck Jackson’s ‘Any Day Now’ – ‘Lover’. Legend has it that Kent wanted Chuck for this anniversary show. After all they have reissued most of his back catalogue – But he wanted too much money so Tommy stepped in and did a superb set. He really made such an audience connection with his wonderful stagecraft and a magnetic enthusiasm that frankly I doubt Jackson could have matched it.
After another short break Scepter/Wand stablemate the delightful Maxine Brown drew us all back to our seats. She soon had many of us mesmerized as she swayed centre stage in that full-length sunshine yellow dress, her satin voice oozing into the atmosphere and captivating our senses. Maxine’s stellar contributions included two of her classics ‘All In My Mind’ and ‘Oh No Not My Baby’ - - her performance was exquisite. I’ve never quite grasped just why she hasn’t become a big star it certainly has nothing to do with talent. The urbane Mr Hunt appeared alongside for the ‘Chuck & Maxine’ number, not their biggest hit ‘Something You Got’ as perhaps expected but ‘Hold On I’m Comin’‘ a great revival that went down particularly well. And here it suddenly was - the Grand Finale as one by one, the highlights of the evening joined Tommy and Maxine on stage – the Flirtations, Mary Love and Winfield Parker, acknowledging the appreciative applause and making their exit left in turn, to a near ecstatic farewell. Acid Jazzman Eddie Pillar who had been our MC for the evening, did the outros and intro for Kent label manager and DJ extraordinaire Ady Croasdell, who would and had been turning the tables for us along with Ian Clark and Mick Smith. The Ace/Kent team had begun to collect in the circle as the stars also emerged in the upstairs bar signing autographs, mixing with the guests as the music accompanied us into the early hours.
The first CD I ever compiled/ annotated/ designed was for Kent Records through Trevor Churchill and it became one of their best selling issues – Definitive Impressions in 1988. It’s not around anymore in its original form because it underwent a makeover in 2002 (at which point volume 2 was compiled). I then went on to produce five more Impressions 2fers for Kent and the ‘ABC Rarities’ CD between 1995-99 that just about covered all the Impressions ABC Paramount recordings. They didn’t pick up any of my other suggestions for re-issues though Ady did use my notes for his Impressed album in 2002. That one didn’t sell so well and the others we planned for the series, didn’t happen. But American writer Craig Werner went so far as to suggest that Impressed was Grammy worthy in his 2004 book ‘Higher Ground’ - so somebody liked it. I’ve written a few reviews for their excellent ‘right track’ magazine and would like to thank Trevor for the many review copies he’s been generous enough to supply me with down the years. Ace/Kent are simply the best re-issue label ever and Trevor, Roger, Ted, Ady, Tony, Peter and company consistently get it right, as they have for the past quarter century and will I hope, continue to produce their uniquely superior creations long after I’m around to appreciate them. (peter burns)
drifters – the name game
In recent months I have received a number of emails through my website and magazine (also In The Basement magazine) about the true identity of the Drifters, asking just who are and who are not legally allowed to use the name. Down the years, there has long been a lot of inaccurate information written about the Drifters. Some intentionally misleading by record labels and management, some just poorly researched and copied from earlier inaccurate reports. This is further exasperated by the Drifters ‘pretender’ groups, who often lie about their true identity or claim false connections that never existed. And in true newsgathering tradition the Internet carries this on. Try doing a little research yourself – Google in The Drifters and follow a few clues. Pretty soon you’ll find that many of the bios presented, will read substantially similarly if not contain exactly the same info – some of it accurate some not – all originating from much the same sources. I can see how it might be very confusing for some younger fans but most of the older fans will have accepted their version of events by now.
I’ve been a Drifters fan since 1959 when I first heard ‘There Goes My Baby’ as a newly released single and I’ve been writing and researching them since the mid ‘60s, when my
12-part series was published by ‘Blues & Soul’ magazine. In the early 70s I began to write a Drifters book at Johnny Moore and Bill Fredericks’ request but gave up after a few months because of Faye Treadwell’s interference. Over the years, I have seen many Drifters line-ups and groups perform both in Europe and the USA and I have interviewed most of the principal artists, writers and producers connected with the group and the majority of their members. In 2005 I completed my Drifters book but due to the UK/US legal situation and the general lack of interest shown by publishers on the subject, it as yet, remains unpublished. So here is the short, unbiased version of the Drifters history.
Today the Drifters are Rohan Delano Turney, Patrick Alan, Peter Lamarr and Victor Bynoe. They are based in the UK (as they have been since 1972) and are managed by Phil Luderman and exclusively presented by Mark Lundquist Management and Concert Promotions. The Drifters UK Ltd., and its Directors Mark Lundquist and Phil Luderman own the Community Trade Mark (Application No. 3684677) for The Drifters. This application covers live performances for all European countries. Lundquist also arranged all the Drifters legal protection, work permits etc. The Drifters website is available at www.thedrifters.co.uk if you want to research them further.
In the beginning, Clyde McPhatter formed the Drifters in early 1953 when he signed to Atlantic Records. However there were other Drifters groups on record in the USA before that date. At that time because of the poor treatment Clyde had experienced as lead singer with Billy Ward’s Dominoes, he formed a company called ‘Drifters Incorporated’ to protect himself against similar manipulation in future. When McPhatter went solo in early 1955, he sold his interests in Drifters Inc. to the other shareholder George Treadwell, who was the Drifters manager. Treadwell took on some new partners and reorganised Drifters Inc. so that the shareholders would receive the major share of the Drifters recording and performance earnings, while the group would earn a weekly wage. In effect he turned the Drifters into a franchise. While this was a legal business move, it was a morally dubious one. It was the beginning of many the group’s troubles and it caused no end of walkouts and sackings over the next five years. After a disastrous few months with David Baughan as Clyde’s replacement, Johnny Moore became the new lead in 1955. Johnny was called up in late 1957 and was replaced by Bobby Hendricks in early 1958. Treadwell had enough of the Drifters demands for higher wages by mid ’58 and judged, as he owned the Drifters name mark, he could employ any four black guys he liked and call them the Drifters. So he sacked the whole group and gave the name to the Crowns (a New York group - Charlie Thomas, Benjamin Nelson, Dock Green and Elsbeary Hobbs) who he also had recently put under contract.
Bill Pinkney and the rest of the original Drifters struggled for a few years under various names until eventually they were able to legally register the ‘Original Drifters’ around 1960 but had to fight several court cases with Treadwell to continue. The ‘new’ Drifters picked up the Atlantic recording contract and the annual tours, media appearances etc. Ben E King (as Nelson became) told me they had quite a bad time for a year or so because the old Drifters were well known in New York and Philadelphia. But ‘There Goes My Baby’ changed all that. As Ben wrote and sung ’There Goes My Baby’ he wanted better than a wages deal and so he too was sacked. He didn’t appear with the Drifters again (until later) and Charles Thomas took his place on tour and mimed on TV. Atlantic and Leiber & Stoller negotiated a deal for Ben to carry on recording for the Drifters by offering him a solo contract on Atco. The next five singles made the Drifters international stars. Though McPhatter’s Drifters had more than a dozen hits in the US they were not really known outside America – until the Original Drifters first appeared in the UK in 1966. So after their huge international hit ‘Save The Last Dance For Me’ – Rudy Lewis then became the Drifters new lead singer. Johnny Moore rejoined in ’63 in anticipation of Lewis going solo (which never happened as he died before he could). Moore led the group for the next 45 years (with a couple of short breaks). There were quite a few bogus Drifters groups that reformed under ex members but Treadwell saw most of them off with lawsuits. The Drifters toured the UK and Europe for the first time in mid ’65 and two years later George Treadwell died but unfortunately for the Drifters, Drifters Inc. didn’t and his widow Faye Treadwell ‘inherited’ the deal and became their new manager. At the end of the Drifters Atlantic contract she negotiated the Bell/ Cookaway deal which brought them all to a UK residence. At that time their line up was Moore, Bill Fredericks, Grant Kitchings and Butch Leake.
Once the Drifters had quit America, Charlie Thomas, who had been sacked in 1967, formed a Drifters group after his unsuccessful solo launch. Another ex member, Rick Sheppard who left in 1970 also put together his Drifters group. Sheppard set up in Canada when Dock Green’s Drifters broke up after his death. Faye Treadwell sued Thomas in ’73 but the US court ruled that Thomas’ Drifters could record and tour in America and the Drifters had all other worldwide rights. There were several line-up changes down the years as the Drifters enjoyed hits on Bell and Arista. Johnny left for a couple of short periods and recorded solo and with Slightly Adrift. The Drifters cut a couple of singles for Epic (with Clyde Brown lead) that went nowhere. In 1993 when the line up was Johnny Moore, Rohan Delano Turney, Joe Cofie and Roy Hemmings they were invited to play at the White House by Bill Clinton. Clinton booked them again in 1998 for a performance in Miami, Florida when the line up was Turney, Hemmings, Patrick Alan and Peter Lamarr. Moore tutored Rohan, Patrick and Peter until his death in December ’98.
After a falling out with Faye Treadwell in the early ‘80s, Moore went back to live in New York and the Drifters temporarily disintegrated. Seizing this opportunity Ben E King and Bill Fredericks formed a Drifters group from ex members including Ray Lewis and Louis Price. They got a deal with Atlantic UK in 1982 and cut a great revival of Arthur Alexander’s ‘You Better Move On’. An outraged Treadwell, who still maintained that she owned the Drifters trademark (but had no group) sued and won her lawsuit. King & Co’s single was withdrawn and they had to quit. After restoring control, she offered them a deal and so she had her group back under her terms. Then she persuaded Moore back from the US and he also rejoined. That was quite a line up. But a new hit record was lost in the process.
I’m no legal eagle but surely it is clear that until the Drifters break up or retire from performing, they and only they have the right to use their name (irrespective of the 1953 Drifters Inc trademark deal) and any other Drifters set up has no legitimate claim to the back catalogue even if they were on the recordings. The true Drifters line up is a process of evolution - and historically stretches back through its members and fanbase for more than 50 years. Like any other professional team, individual members have joined and left but the Drifters continue with their legacy intact.
When Faye Treadwell quit the group and returned to New York abandoning the Drifters without so much as a word in April 2001. She may have taken her documents with her but she left the Drifters themselves - here in the UK. Understandably perhaps, Treadwell had lost interest since the death of Johnny Moore (but she was among many who shared that emotion), bookings had dwindled and though the group were on the point of disbanding they stuck together and worked through their disappointments. She thought it was over and without Johnny Moore the Drifters would not survive. It’s true they were at a low ebb and did not know if they wanted to continue or how to contact her but eventually, with professional commitments to fulfil, they signed a new management deal with Phil Luderman and Mark Lundquist. Luderman (who had been their road manager for more than 30 years) and Lundquist worked hard to put them back in touch with their considerable fanbase and within a year they had restored their bookings. Gradually performance business in the UK and Europe grew back even stronger than it had been for many years. Victor Bynoe had joined the Drifters in February '02, a year prior to the group’s Golden Anniversary Tour in 2003 and Peter returned once again in January 2004, completing the current line up who have performed as four lead singers since that date. The Drifters confirmed their renewed popularity in July 2003 when they received a gold record for the Definitive Drifters album sales from UK Atlantic. Mark Lundquist (who has initiated their last three CD and DVD releases) through his business/ friendship with Gary Brooker contributed further to the enhancement of the Drifters profile by securing performances with Brooker and Procul Harum, Eric Clapton, Ringo Starr, Paul Carrick and Katie Melua. Since that low point in 2001 the Drifters had proved many sceptics wrong and survived Johnny Moore’s unfortunate demise. They recorded a live album The Legacy Continues and a DVD The Drifters Live in 2006 and cut a new song ‘A World Of Love’ with Gary Brooker. The downside of this renewed success (unfortunately for them) is that it’s a legacy that is so well established once more, that everybody even remotely connected wants a piece of the action now that the Drifters have worked hard during the last 6 years to bring about their revival.
Since 1953 the Drifters have been an entity to themselves and as I’ve mentioned before a vocal group is like a team, a company. While you will always remember the great voices/ players of yesteryear who have contributed so much to the success and reputation of the team, if you are a true fan, you equally embrace the stars of today and tomorrow, who carry their legacy into the future. So it is with the Drifters. They continue their great tradition as the world’s favourite vocal group. But when Joe Bloggs joins the Drifters – he’s a Drifter. When he leaves, or is sacked, no matter how famous he’s become as a Drifter or how many hit records he sang for them, or how aggrieved or short-changed he feels, he cannot take their name with him and set up his own Drifters. He can set up his own group but he can’t call them the Drifters. He signed a contract that stipulated this. And even if we put the legal situation to one side (as ex-members have often done), the other three Drifters still exist and will continue to perform with a new member. In the UK and Ireland, America and the rest of the world many groups illegally tour as the Drifters. A few feature one or two ex Drifters, many have no connection with the Drifters at all other than they have stolen their name. It is well to point out that those who claim legal ownership to the Drifters name mark, are not interested in the artists themselves. No, they merely want to disinherit them in order to use their well-earned reputation to promote another group of their own. Surely no UK court can justify this action.
Recently Faye Treadwell’s daughter Tina was trying to reclaim the Drifters name with a group she formed around ex Drifter Roy Hemmings. She’s been quoted in the press as saying that she now owns the Drifters name/ mark and can put any four singers together that she wants to. She has been winding up the US and UK press, issuing law suits and threatening promoters who have booked the Drifters for years. The law doesn’t always deliver justice to the true, or pass morally acceptable judgements as we know. It often falls foul to manipulation and greed - to the power play of slick lawyers. So there are some concerns for the real Drifters future, if these proceedings go ahead. But many of us hope that the manipulation of Drifters group members is over at last and that there will be no return to the bad old days when through the use of an ill conceived 50 year old legal document, management took the majority of their earnings and they struggled for years to survive on unfairly low wages.
The Drifters history is a long and complicated story that some ex Drifters and their fans find hard to accept. Somehow either having met or followed spin off artists or spin off groups seems to distort their perspective. Some ex members continue to insist that they are the rightful Drifters. But in the end it usually comes back to the money they can earn using the Drifters name. The Drifters are incredibly popular with millions of fans worldwide and right across the generations. I believe a major reason that they have struggled to re-establish themselves on record in the past ten years is that there are too many bogus groups out there dissipating their reputation. Rohan, Patrick, Peter and Victor are the genuine Drifters back through a direct lineage to Johnny Moore, Bill Fredericks, Rudy Lewis, Ben E King then Bobby Hendricks, David Baughan and Clyde McPhatter. If you are one of the many thousand that have seen them perform during the past six years you will understand why they remain so popular.
The ‘Original Drifters’, were fronted by the longest surviving member of the Clyde McPhatter group, Bill Pinkney - until he died on 4 July 2007. He had the legal rights to perform under that name – there have been a number of bogus Original Drifters groups too! At present Ron McPhatter (son of Clyde & Ruth Brown) is lead voice with this group and other members include Richard ‘Knight’ Dunbar and Chuck Cockerham. Bobby Hendricks is now the only surviving ex Drifter from the pre-Crowns group and runs his own Drifters who contain Russell Watts, Ronnie Merriman and Russell Henry. Charles Thomas’ Drifters have won legal battles to perform only in the USA as the American Drifters and at present feature Steven Brown, Louis Bailey and Jerome Manning. Other groups also use the ‘American Drifters’ name. Rick Sheppard and his Drifters have cut a couple of CDs and perform in Canada as a quintet containing Wolf Johnson, Dawud Shabazz, Marc Vanclagget and David McRae. These are just a few groups using the Drifters name, without even going into the complicated UK situation. But the real Drifters (Turney, Alan, Lamarr and Bynoe) remain the only genuine direct line descendants. I have no personal axe to grind in this matter; these are just the facts that I have established as a Drifters historian over 40 years of research and interview. I know that no matter how well (or badly) I have explained this saga, there will always be several other points of view. However I hope that I have brought some clarity to their complicated history. So it goes. (peter burns)
photo Drifters ’90 by Phyllis Allan
#7 i’ve got my own hell to raise
It is always gratifying to see a soul artist whose work has consistently given pleasure over the years finally get the recognition they deserve. Bettye LaVette’s album “I’ve Got My Own Hell To Raise” released in 2005 on Anti brought a flood of positive reviews from mainstream music critics, and won her many new fans. Many of those purchasing her album were probably hearing the lady for the first time and would have been surprised to learn that her recording career dated back over forty years, and included a record that frequently appears in soul fans all time top tens, the remarkable “Let Me Down Easy”. This 1965 recording falls into the category of “deep soul”, a term coined by the late Dave Godin to describe records that were highly emotive and intense, and had the power to move the listener. Hardly surprising then that Dave included the track on Volume 3 of his highly rated Deep Soul Treasures series on Kent.
“Let Me Down Easy” came relatively early on in Bettye’s recording career, when she was still plain Betty without the “e”, and listening to it now it seems inconceivable that she was still only 19 years of age when it was cut. The song was penned by Dee Dee Ford under her real name Wrecia Holloway, confusingly misspelled Wreich on the record label. Don Gardner & Dee Dee Ford had earlier enjoyed a massive U.S. hit with the raucous “I Need Your Loving”, and Bettye had secured a position as featured vocalist with their revue. Another crucial step came with her signing to the Cameo-Parkway distributed Calla label, and Bettye’s initial session, arranged by Dale Warren produced the sublime “Let Me Down Easy.” It is in many ways an extraordinary record, combining as it does several disparate elements that somehow gel into a cohesive whole. Set in a minor key, with a slowish tango rhythm it features a simple but effective string motif, which puts in an appearance in the second verse. At the midway point the mood lightens with a tastefully bluesy guitar break, before Bettye rounds off proceedings with an adlibbed finale that is amongst the most riveting in the whole of soul music. Played out on two repeated minor chords, the strings take on the haunting quality of a Jewish air, as Bettye’s vocal reaches ever-increasing levels of desperation. The final word “please” is repeated with such anguish that it is tempting to accept at face value the apocryphal tale that the studio crew were moved to tears by her performance. It is moments such as this that lift soul music onto an altogether higher plane than its contemporaries.
Bettye is one of an elite band of female soul singers whose voice is immediately recognisable. Even before “Let Me Down Easy”, when at the tender age of 16 she had two excellent R & B singles released on Atlantic, there was an edgy world-weary vulnerability to her voice that was both fascinating and compelling. In many ways she stands in an illustrious line that can be traced back through Etta James and Billie Holiday to Bessie Smith. Listen for example to the opening lines of Bettye’s classic take on Joe Simon’s “Your Time To Cry” re-titled “Your Turn To Cry” (Atco 1972) and hear the pain and weariness in her voice so characteristic of Billie Holiday’s later work. Or check out her reworking of the Dolly Parton song “Little Sparrow” for a vocal as raw and bluesy as Koko Taylor.
Let us hope that future releases from the lady will continue to surprise and delight. As Bonnie Raitt so aptly put it in her thoughts on the “I’ve Got My Own Hell To Raise” album -
“Weary, wise, defiant and vulnerable, Bettye’s a force of nature……….” (mike finbow)
Sources: Malcolm Baumgart - booklet notes accompanying the Westside CD titled “Bluesoul Belles,
Betty Lavette & Carol Fran”. Malcolm’s own sources are listed in the booklet.
“Let Me Down Easy” can be heard both on the aforementioned Westside compilation and on
Dave Godin’s Deep Soul Treasurers Vol. 3 on Kent.
Jerry Leiber & Mike Stoller
part 3 1962-‘66
When Jerry Leiber & Mike Stoller returned to Atlantic after their royalties dispute with Ahmet Ertegun, they soon realised that things would never be the same again and they began to plan for their future, after their present contracts expired. In November 1962 they launched their own label Tiger, with as it turned out one single release ‘Bossa Nova Baby’ by Tippie and the Clovers. Mike & Jerry had worked with the Clovers before on UA but they had broken up and reformed since then. Stan Getz & Charlie Byrd were currently riding high with their big hit ‘Desafinado’ on the Hot 100 and the Bossa Nova was the dance at everyone’s feet. L&S created a light-hearted dance groove that featured King Curtis on sax and would have suited the Coasters fine. ‘Bossa Nova Baby’ had all the ingredients for a hit record but with little promotion it flopped, though it sold enough copies to be issued in the UK on Stateside. A year later, it was cut by Elvis for his movie ‘Fun In Acapulco’ (’63) and went to #8 on the national charts. But Tippie & the Clovers original became a collector’s item. So Leiber & Stoller regrouped and tried again in January ’64 with the moody ‘He Ain’t No Angel’ by Leola & the Lovejoys. This record smacked of writers Ellie Greenwich and Jeff Barry’s girl group sound but was in fact produced by songsmith Clint Ballard. It was another flop but pointed clearly to what was to come later on Red Bird. Billboard Magazine announced 2 November 1963 – “New York: Leiber & Stoller open a new diskery here. The new firm will involve two labels Daisy and Tiger. Initially signed artists include Cathy Saint on Daisy and the Lovejoys on Tiger. Leiber & Stoller will continue their indie-producing activities for Jubilee, United Artists, and Atlantic among others. Involved with the new Leiber & Stoller organisation as writer-producers are such teams as Jeff Barry & Ellie Greenwich, David & Bacharach, Van McCoy & Buddy Smith, Norman Rubin will be in charge of sales & promotion”.
In February ’64, Tiger issued ‘Go Now’ by Bessie Banks, now recognised as a bonafide classic this L&S production didn’t take off in the US. The almost operatic, emotional tear jerker featured Dee Dee Warwick on backing vocals and was covered by the Moody Blues a year later when it topped the UK listings and sparked some interest in Bessie’s original (which was later to reach Top Ten on the UK Soul singles chart). Mike & Jerry had faith in ‘Go Now’ though - because they re-issued it on Tiger and then again on Blue Cat - but all to no avail. Next came Dee Dee Warwick’s ‘Don’t Think My Baby’s Coming Back’ on which the L&S production echoed big sister Dionne’s hit sound - but not her success. Despite cutting a number of good and great records on various labels Dee Dee never quite made the bigtime but she did score ten R&B hit singles, unfortunately this wasn’t one of them. Jerry & Mike also produced the leisurely Alvin Robinson revival of Chris Kenner’s ‘Something You Got’ that ambled into the US R&B charts in June ’64, the only Tiger single to chart. Chuck Jackson & Maxine Brown had greater success with their duet a year or so later. After three more releases they wound down operations on both Tiger and Daisy labels. Daisy’s four releases had been even more obscure and had all disappeared without trace. The quality of their product had been as high as ever but like Spark, their first label - the records suffered from lack of exposure. They signed a number of talented artists with the intention of producing R&B/ soul classics in the tradition they had already created but this time for themselves. As Jerry Leiber famously enquired “Why should we settle for 2 cents when we could have our own record company and get 21 cents?”
Leiber & Stoller were creative songwriters and producers, they had little interest in the marketing side of the music business and perhaps they believed that if a record was good enough it’s reputation would grow and then it would sell itself. Occasionally this did happen but it was no way to run a record company in mid-60s New York. You had to grease it. Pay the pluggers and the DJs, advertise and promote. It was a jungle out there and if you didn’t want to do the selling yourself, you had to find a pusherman to do it for you. Their years with Atlantic should have taught them just how important the underside of the business was. Ertegun & Wexler had made it look easy but it had taken them many years of hard graft and personal input to learn their craft and build the Atlantic empire. They realised that they needed someone with that special kind of experience, contacts and drive to get behind their product to succeed.
George Goldner had created and run several record companies – Tico. Rama, Gee, Roulette, Luniverse, Gone and End. He’d had a lot of success in the Doo-Wop era with Frankie Lymon & the Teenagers, Little Anthony & the Imperials, the Flamingos, Essex, Cleftones, Heartbeats, and issued great recordings by the Chantels, Crows, Willows and many others. His entrepreneurial skills had made him a millionaire but he gambled it all away at the racetrack, losing several fortunes and ending up heavily in debt to the bookies. Legend has it that his partner at Roulette Morris Levy had paid him peanuts for his empire in mid ’57 and left him out on the street with nothing. Jerry Leiber ran into Goldner and Hy Weiss (of Old Town records) in a 54th street steakhouse and recalled how “Hymie was baiting George (about his gambling habit) and in his good natured way George was taking it… I was having a drink, listening to the conversation… They were arguing about the $200 salary that Hy was going to pay George to go to work for him at Old Town. George kept insisting – he was wearing these very elegant clothes (now well past their best) – and trying to impress upon Hymie that he couldn’t get his shirts done for that kind of money. Hy was telling George that he’d have to live a little more modestly – and at that point I offered George a partnership. Hy thought it was a great joke, but I was dead serious. For a moment George couldn’t believe it. But I was looking for someone who could sell, who knew how to merchandise and promote records”. Leiber took Goldner back to their office and they worked out a deal. He hired George to promote and market Red Bird records - against the advice of Hy Weiss. Jerry gave him a dozen acetates of unissued masters and the keys to the office with the promise that if he could find a hit for their first release L&S would make George a partner in their new company. Goldner promised to stay up all night – and if there was a hit there - he’d find it. When Jerry arrived the following morning George was waiting at his desk, a little bleary eyed but excited “This is it – I’ll bet my life on it!” was his greeting. His choice was ‘Chapel Of Love’ by the Mel-tones, who Mike Stoller had just rechristened the Dixie Cups. The group were trio from New Orleans and the song had been co-written by Phil Spector and previously recorded by the Ronettes and Darlene Love but Greenwich & Barry (the songs co-authors) had not been entirely happy with either version and had cut it again. Jerry Leiber hated it but it became Red Birds first release, hit #1 (in May ’64) and sold upwards of 1.2 million copies (it also went to #22 in the UK).
George Goldner was made a partner and set about putting Red Bird on the map. ‘Chapel Of Love’ set the tone for Red Bird and was followed by the Jelly Beans ‘I Wanna Love Him So Bad’ into the top 10 (#9 Pop/9 R&B). The Shangri-Las scored their two biggest hits ‘Remember (Walking In The Sand)’ and ‘Leader Of The Pack’ that same year, both produced by the mysterious Shadow Morton. In the following 2 years both Leiber/ Stoller labels scored 25 hits on the Hot 100. L&S brought in other writer/producers they had worked with before. In addition to Greenwich/ Barry, who ran the A&R for their labels and found George ‘Shadow’ Morton, were Cynthia Weil/ Barry Mann, Nick Venet, Artie Ripp and others but it left Jerry & Mike very little songwriting and producing to do and they found themselves in the role of supervising editors, rather than creators (which was why they’d set the labels up in the first place). Of the music that Red Bird became famous for Leiber said “I didn’t dig it – I didn’t understand it. It was the forerunner of bubblegum music – teenage ballads. Jeff and Ellie wrote most of it. They were like super-aces at making this type of material”.
So a few months later they set up a second label Blue Cat on which they intended to issue the more R&B and soul orientated sides. The Ad-Libs launched Blue Cat in February ’65 with Jerry & Mike’s production of ‘The Boy From New York City’, a very infectious hit on both charts that sadly this talented group could not quite duplicate again. Alvin Robinson transferred to Red Bird then to Blue Cat with ‘Down Home Girl’ but neither issue sold many copies. The Rolling Stones covered it, so someone was listening. Steve Rossi cut a version of ‘Where’s The Girl’ a great song which Mike & Jerry had already produced for Jerry Butler and were still to record with Ben E King (The Walker Brothers also covered this one). ‘I’m Stuck On You’ was written by the Poets (Donald McPherson, Tony Sylvester, Luther Simmons Jr) and refined by Jerry who also took a credit. With a nod to the Impressions sound ‘I’m Stuck On You’ was essentially a New York track and a pretty good one at that. Another Poets group had a big hit with ‘She Blew a Good Thing’ a few months later, so they changed their name - first to the Insiders, but they didn’t break through commercially until 1970 as the Main Ingredient. Other Leiber/Stoller songs/productions fell to the Soul Brothers (‘Keep It Up/ I Got A Dream’), Ronnie Mitchell (‘Having A Party/ I'm Loving You More’) and Sidney Barnes (‘I Hurt On The Other Side’) and great as most of these records were, they didn’t attract the record buying public of the time but ‘I Got A Dream’ was covered by the Moody Blues.
The Tradewinds’ ‘New York’s A Lonely Town’ was a pastiche on the surf sounds of California and proved to be their only big hit when it went Top 40 in February ’65. The Tradewinds contained the talented singer/ writer/ producer duo Peter Anders & Vinnie Poncia who hailed from Rhode Island where they had some early success as the Videls. They worked in New York with the Mystics, then linked up with Phil Spector and wrote (for the Ronettes, Darlene Love and the Crystals) and recorded in California as the Treasures for Shirley a subsidiary of Philles, before re-emerging back in New York as the Tradewinds on Red Bird. Their second and third singles ‘The Girl From Greenwich Village’ and ‘Summertime Girl’ didn’t take off but they were snapped up by the Kama Sutra label, where they cut records as the Tradewinds, the Innocence (scoring their second Top 40 hit with ‘There’s Got To Be a Word’), the Mulberry Fruit Band and Anders & Poncia. Most of the Tiger, Daisy, Red Bird & Blue Cat sides were cut at Mira Sound studios but Bell and A&R were also used. Core studio personnel varied on availability but included King Curtis (sax), Ellie Greenwich (keyboards/percussion), Artie Butler (keyboards/arranger), Irving Spice (strings), Artie Kaplan (horns) and Brooks Arthur (engineer).
Blue Cat could not commercially match the success of Red Bird and Leiber & Stoller became increasingly disenchanted with their executive producer roles. They had also discovered that Goldner’s degenerative gambling had put him back in the hands of the bookies and furthermore that he had been bootlegging their Red Bird product and shipping it out to the West Coast under the cover of George Goldner Enterprises in an effort to pay them off. More worrying developments occurred when mobsters began to turn up at their offices claiming that they now owned Goldner’s stock and were Leiber & Stoller new partners. As a last ditch attempt to save their company from disaster, they hired music attorney Lee Eastman to try to broker a partnership deal with Atlantic that would force Goldner and his new partners out. A business lunch was set up at the Plaza Hotel between Leiber/ Stoller and Atlantic owners Ahmet Ertegun and Jerry Wexler that due to Goldner’s drunken insults only further damaged relations between the interested parties. The situation set into a deep spiral as it became clear that Goldner had gambled everything away, including their pension plans. As Leiber & Stoller began to disengage, Barry/ Greenwich followed suit and by then everyone knew it was too late to save Red Bird. Leiber & Stoller wanted out, so they signed the remains of the company over to Goldner. They gave him everything but the publishing for just one dollar and walked away. An announcement in Billboard magazine on 16 April 1966 confirmed that Leiber & Stoller had indeed sold Goldner their interest in Red Bird and Blue Cat Records. It took just a few months more for Goldner to run the company into the ground. Four years later in 1970, Goldner launched his final venture into the record business when he formed Firebird Records. But the label hardly got started when George died on 15 April, aged 52.
For Leiber & Stoller the demise of Red Bird was a major downturn. But they had weathered big disappointments before. They had certainly been foolhardy hiring Goldner, given his reputation but he had played his part in the creation of an amazingly successful label. Mike & Jerry had to move on and put it all down to experience. The musical environment of the mid sixties was in metomorphis - way beyond anyone’s expectations and the American Music Industry was beginning to face up to new world order. (peter burns)
Leiber & Stoller Interview at Brill Building New York office 1&2 October 1972
‘Mike And Jerry’s Looney Tunes’ Norman Jopling & Peter Burns - Cream Magazine January 1973
‘Always Magic In The Air’ by Ken Emerson (Fourth Estate, London 2005)
‘The Red Bird Story’ 2CD set Charly CD LAB 105 1996 notes by Roger Dopson
Albums showcasing Leiber & Stoller’s work discussed above:
‘The Leiber & Stoller Story’ Volume 3 (Ace CDCHD 1156) 2007
compiled by Mick Patrick & Tony Rounce with notes by Mick Patrick
the last goodbye
walter ward – born 28 August 1940 in Jackson, Mississippi. Began singing as a child in family group the Ward Brothers. His family moved to LA and Walter formed the Challengers, a duo with his cousin Eddie Lewis at high school in the mid 50s. They linked up with another duo Walter Hammond and Charles Fizor and cut records with Melatone in ’56. After changing their name to the Olympics and signing to Demon they scored their career hit with ‘Western Movies’ (#7 R&B/ 7 Pop) in August 1958. Walter had become their energetic lead voice and they had more hits on Arvee, Tri Disc and Mirwood in the early 60s with ‘Big Boy Pete’, ‘The Bounce’, ‘Mine Exclusively’ and ‘Baby, Do The Philly Dog’. Fizor was killed in the Watts riots and former lead with the Paragons Julius ‘Mack Starr’ McMichael replaced him. They cut many dance-orientated sides while with Mirwood but scored no further hits. More line up changes occurred but Lewis and Ward persevered performing up until Walter’s death – died 11 December 2006 in Northridge, California aged 66.
june pointer – born 30 November 1953 in Oakland California was the youngest member of her family group the Pointer Sisters formed in 1971. They recorded first for Atlantic but began their amazing run of 28 hit singles from mid ’73 until mid ’88. Their biggest hits included ‘How Long’ (#1 R&B July ’75, Blue Thumb), ‘He’s So Shy’ (#10 R&B/ #3 Pop August ’80), ‘Slow Hand’ (#7 R&B/#2 Pop June ‘81), followed by ‘Automatic’ and ‘Jump’ both top 5 on both R&B and Pop, all for Planet. After moving to RCA, the hits kept coming, ‘Dare Me’ being the largest in mid 1985. The Pointers’ were also in much demand for studio work with many West Coast artists including Boz Scaggs, Elvin Bishop and Grace Slick. June began performing in the late ‘60s with sister Bonnie as a duo then gradually their other sisters joined the line up, Anita in ’69 and Ruth in ’72. They won a Grammy in ’74 with ‘Fairytale’, a country hit that took them to the Grand Ole Opry. Drugs and Booze took their toll on the quartet during the 70s. June had solo hits on Planet from ’83 and cut two albums ‘Baby Sister’ (Planet ’83) and ‘June Pointer’ (Columbia ’89). The Pointers appeared in ‘Car Wash’ (’76) and June posed for `Playboy’ magazine. Serious drug addiction caused her to leave the group by 2000 after which she faced court charges and rehab. June was hospitalised in 2006 after suffering a heart attack and died from cancer on 11 April 2006 in Santa Monica, California.
bobby byrd – born 15 August 1934 in Toccoa GA. Bobby founded and sang initially with his family group the Gospel Starlighters. He met James Brown, who was doing a stretch in 1952 at the Toccoa Juvenile Detention Centre, when his basketball side played against the prison team. They became friends and at Bobby’s family’s intervention Brown got an early release. The Byrds took him in and he also joined the Gospel Starlighters. The Starlighters morphed into the Famous Flames who were signed to King in 1956. The Flames were a collective and created, wrote and performed as a group. But Brown hi-jacked them and put his name out in front which led to problems when ‘Please, Please, Please’ was issued. Nevertheless Bobby remained as part of the James Brown Revue for many years and he married Vicki Anderson who was also a performer with the company. Byrd cut several solo singles for Smash, King, Brownstone, Kwanza and Int. Bros. His biggest hit was ‘I Need Help’ (#14 R&B/#69 Pop, Sept ’70) with shared vocals by Brown, Gigi Kinard and Roberta Dubois. Constant disagreements over royalties with Brown led to court action but no satisfactory settlement. Solo album ‘Finally Getting Paid’ issued in 1990 - died 12 September 2007 in Loganville GA, aged 73 a victim to lung cancer.
tom terrell – Music Journalist and Scholar - born 16 July 1950, in Summit, NJ, Terrell was among the first US music industry insiders to focus attention on reggae and world music. Began his journalistic career at Howard University became a DJ at local stations and wrote for the Unicorn Times, the Washington City Paper and other publications. In the late 1970s early 1980s, he was house DJ at dc space and the 9:30 Club, spinning soul, jazz, New Wave, reggae and African music. In 2006 after 16 years in New York, he returned to Washington as program director for XM Satellite Radio. He also wrote for Vibe, Essence, Jazz Times, the Village Voice, MTV magazine and for the past 3 years, was a frequent music commentator on National Public Radio. "He loved bringing new music to all kinds of people" (matt schudel, washington post) died – 29 November 2007 of prostate cancer at the Community Hospice of Washington. He was 57 and lived in the District.
max roach – born 10 January 1924 in Newland NC, Max was to drumming what Paul Klee was to painting. He made his reputation at the height of Be Bop, recording with all the greats including Miles, Parker & Dizzy. Got his start at 16 with the Duke Ellington orchestra and made his first records with Benny Carter in 1943. He appeared in ‘Carmen Jones’ (‘54) and formed Roach-Brown quintet with trumpet supremeo Clifford Brown. After Brown’s car crash death in June1956, Roach spiralled down into depression and drug addiction. But he re emerged to create his own quintets playing with Art Blakey, Sonny Rollins and Horace Silver. He was married singer Abbey Lincoln and collaborated with Oscar Brown Jr. on Freedom Now Suite. Further experimentation withCharles Mingus created cutting edge modern jazz. Roach never looked back, inspiring many young hopefuls like Stanley Turrentine, Eric Dolphy and others. Another highlight album was Percussion Bitter Suite. Max lectured at the University of Massachusetts and cut his last record with Clark Terry in 2002 - died 16 August 2007.
reviews - cd
Walter Jackson – Speak Her Name – Kent CD
Between March 1966 and September ‘68 Walter Jackson was at his peak and he recorded a series of exceptional singles – hits or no, they were all just great records. After ‘Welcome Home’ (title track of the previous album) Walter’s new producer Ted Cooper cut their next four sessions in New York. This change of venue produced immediate results and ‘It’s An Uphill Climb To The Bottom’ became Walter’s biggest R&B chart hit so far when it reached #11 in mid 1966. The follow up ‘After You There Can Be Nothing’, co-written by Cooper, didn’t match the sales but continued the high quality of his previous records. Herb Bernstein’s arrangements were subtly different on ‘…Nothing’ and they featured again on the classic ‘A Corner In The Sun’. Riley Hampton was back on hand for ‘Speak Her Name’ the superb hit that became the title for this most potent third album. From the same session came the best version of Bacharach’s ‘They Don’t Give Medals To Yesterday’s Heroes’ cut by a few others including Ben E King, Lou Rawls and Chuck Jackson - but none got it down quite as well as Walter. It was used as the flipside to ‘Speak Her Name’ that was issued in America with a picture sleeve.
Though the following OKeh singles included here made no impression on the charts, these atmospheric sides are still as powerful today as they were 40 years ago when they were first issued. ‘My Ship Is Coming In’ had been a UK hit for the Walker Brothers two years earlier but hadn’t taken in the States and Jackson’s version did no better – though it was an improvement. ‘Road To Ruin’ was a surprising single choice – just too depressing for mass consumption as it turned out but always a personal favourite of mine. It was the final OKeh single as he switched to Epic for his last two Columbia outings – First came the offbeat production of Bacharach & David’s ‘The Look Of Love’ a song that spawned a 100 sugary versions, to which Jackson offers a sour alternative that’s more palatable than most. ‘No Butterflies’ his last single for the label was an absolute triumph. An ironic slice of sociology cut back in Chicago with Cooper and Hampton, that for me has long been right up there with the very best records he ever made. From the street soul beginning, the story rolls out poetically as Jackson relates the sham of urban politics, the broken promises, the lies and deception - “And the mayor he’s on vacation – gee he’s a wonderful skier”. Absolute perfection!
This great trilogy has unearthed 13 wonderful previously unissued gems, all surprisingly good and these two included here – both taken from the ‘No Butterflies’ session are also beautiful ballads well worth acquiring. ‘Forget The Girl’ has been superbly reconstructed and Randy Newman’s ‘Just One Smile’ is also great if a tad over produced. Hats off to Tony Rounce, who not only put this series together but has been responsible for the re-issue of almost all Walter’s recorded work onto CD. For the completists among us there’s just one more album to go Tony, Walter Jackson – The Missing Years and you will have issued the lot.
So here it is at last – Volume three of the very excellent Walter Jackson Okeh trilogy! If this album does not convince you that Walter was one of the greatest and most soulful vocalists of all time, nothing will.
Various – The Birth Of Soul - Volume 4 – Kent CD
Volume 4 of this excellent series compiles more great tracks that heralded the early 60s soul explosion. Track one the superb pre Motown Marv Johnson ‘Come On & Stop’ written and produced by the legendary Bert Berns – shades of ‘Twist & Shout’. Track 2 by the 5 Royales ‘Catch That Teardrop’(’62) is seen by some as a contender for the first Soul record of all time – not me. The Clovers (Tippie & ) make an appearance from Leiber & Stoller’s lost label Tiger Records that only had a few issues in the early ‘60s – This being the most memorable. ‘Irresistible You’ first came to me as the flipside of Bobby Darin’s ‘Multiplication’ – but that’s no surprise. UK funny man Kenny Lynch had some soul cred, he wrote for the Drifters as well as covering their hits in the UK. ‘Puff’ was a superb Giant/ Baum/ Kaye song that might have found it’s way to Lou Johnson, Jimmy Radcliffe or Johnny Nash, who they also wrote for - but Kenny did it proud. Great tracks by the Matadors, The Fiestas - ‘The Gypsy Said’ (took much from Smokey’s ‘Shop Around’) and Luchi De Jesus sampled the Drifters arrangements for Wade Flemon’s excellent ‘I Came Running (Back From The Party)’ have been unearthed here. The Charmaines sound quite like the Shirelles on ‘Where Is The Boy Tonight’ but nevertheless turn in a good track plus the classy cuts from Ketty Lester, Billy Bland and Mr Tears make this compilation very desirable.
Various – Keeping The Faith – Castle 4CD
A 100 more Northern Soul classics in a very well produced package celebrating 40 years of NS issued under the cult sign-off “Keep The Faith” popularised by Dave Godin in his long running ‘Blues & Soul’ column. Though many of these tracks from ‘House Party’ on were popular in UK clubland before NS – who’s counting. There are millions of obscure tracks by unsung artists that some DJ might have played on a blanked out label once or twice, still waiting to be vacuumed up into the over-inflated zeppelin NS has become. This excellent compilation is already selling well and may well become a benchmark of the genre in time. Many tracks by established soul stars like Chuck Jackson, James Carr, Darrell Banks, Fascinations, Major Lance, Johnnie Taylor, Tony Middleton and Bobby Womack sit easily alongside many more by the obscure. It’s a soul fest and many more tracks than you’d ever get in your singles box. I knew Cliff Clifford ‘the man who invented the Northern Soul term’ way back in the day and was saddened to learn from these notes of his death by his son Paul. With the demise of Castle Records this set could quickly become a sought after item.
Various – Change Is Gonna Come – The Voice Of Black America – Kent CD
The music represented here was made in the ten years between 1963-73 when the voice of the Civil Rights movement was articulated through popular music. At that time the struggle for equal opportunity and equal rights was on many peoples lips and in the effort to be heard it created some wonderful music. Track 1 is the classic Sam Cooke ballad ‘A Change Is Gonna Come’, inspired by Dylan’s ‘Blowin’ In The Wind’ and retold forcefully by Otis Redding in 1965. Curtis Mayfield’s ‘We’re A Winner’ was banned from many US radio stations playlists but nevertheless became a huge hit for the Impressions in ’67. And of course the Staples Singers, Pops and his daughters Mavis, Cleotha and Yvonne asked that important question ‘When Will I Be Paid’. The Drifters ‘Only In America’ was withdrawn by Atlantic who perceived adverse reaction to the song’s message. A cover by Jay & the Americans was hastily cut using the same music track and they had the hit. Homer Bank’s ‘The Ghetto’ was recorded by Bonnie & Delaney and the Staple Singers in 1968 but this is the first time his demo has been issued. Some of these tracks by James Brown, Oscar Brown Jr, Donny Hathaway, Gil Scott-Heron and Nina Simone have earned classic status down the years but even the less well-known cuts are well worth acquiring.
Peggy Lee Sings Leiber & Stoller – Hip-o Select CD – Limited Edition
Brainchild of Mike Stoller’s son Peter, this superb album is only available from the Hip-o website. The compilation of 15 tracks includes most of the ‘Mirrors’ album that Peggy cut with L&S in 1975. Also included are some previously unissued cuts from that session ‘Don Juan’ and ‘I Ain’t Here’, two of her career hits ‘I’m A Woman’ and ‘Is That All There Is?’ plus their great versions of ‘Kansas City’ and ‘Some Cats Know’. If like me you’ve been waiting patiently for the digital liberation of the ‘Mirrors’ album, this is a very welcome release. It was first issued in late 2005 - 3 years after Peggy Lee died and there could be no better memorial to her talent and enduring vocal influence. The Limited Edition credits go to L&S (production) and Johnny Mandel (arranged and conducted) and the album can be obtained from www.hip-oselect.com
Various – 5000 Volts Of Stax – Unreleased Tracks from the Golden Era Of Soul – Stax CD
Ace certainly put together some great Stax compilations before the label moved UK distributors to Universal. This album contains 20 rare and many previously unissued tracks from Stax later period. Starting with the Bar-Kay’s ‘Sissy’ and rolling on with great cuts from Carla, the Newcomers and plenty others great & good. One very talented guy who never managed to fulfil his potential as an artist was David Porter, so successful as co writer with Isaac Hayes - but he couldn’t crossover like Ike did. ‘Come Get From Me’ Parts 1 & 2 shows just how good he was though. William Bell’s ‘There’s Something About You Baby’ was good enough to be a single and the Soul Children provide an excellent alternative to Bill Withers ‘Who Is She And What Is She To You? There are good performances from the less well-known Stax stars John Edwards, Chuck Brooks and Little Sonny. A couple of surprises were - to hear the Staples do Laura Nyro’s druggy ‘Stoned Soul Picnic’ and Rufus do a straight version of ‘Who’s Making Love’ which I expected him to have more fun with. My only disappointment was to hear Ike not murder the classic ‘First Time Ever Saw Your Face’ and still get away with it as only he could – which turns out to be an instrumental.
Various – The Leiber & Stoller Story - Volume 3 – Shake ‘Em Up & Let ‘Em Roll – Ace CD
The 3rd and final volume in this great Ace series The Leiber & Stoller Story – personally I just wish Ace would keep on going, because I never get tired of their amazing work, no matter how obscure it happens to be. So each one of these tracks are of interest to me and it’s nice to have them all in one place. Ben E King’s ‘Where’s The Girl’ was always a favourite. I never really understood why it was thrown away on a flipside. Even though L&S were out of favour at Atlantic at that time. It was easily the best version, though Jerry Butler cut the original and there were many other good versions recorded later. The delicious ‘Hiss Kiss’ by Betty Harris brought together Stoller and Bert Berns in a rare teaming that really clicked. The big voice of Roy Hamilton soars with the L&S song
‘Midnight Town, Daybreak City’ and their faultless production with Garry Sherman’s superb arrangement worked so well for him – but it was probably created with the Drifters or Ben E King in mind. The Coasters too, would have been well served by ‘Brother Bill’ (Honeyman), ‘Keep It Up’ (Soul Bros) or ‘Bull Frog’ (Shangri-Las), just a few of the great tracks that represent the Red Bird/ Blue Cat era here. As you can hear, many of Jerry & Mike’s songs were popular with artists of all kinds, spawning many versions - ‘On Broadway’ by Jimmy Scott was one of those. Scott’s ponderous approach is unique and reveals yet one more inspired take on the classic. ‘You’ll Never Leave Him’ Freddie Scott (who also did ‘Where’s The Girl’) is one of the lost Shout tracks that this great CD has liberated for us all to enjoy – thanks for that. Leiber & Stoller were a duo like no other, their body of work is stunning in it’s variety and consistent genius. Even if you don’t dig the genre or the style they were working in there is so much to appreciate in their songwriting and production values.
Bettye LaVette – The Scene Of The Crime – Anti CD
The highly acclaimed Scene Of The Crime album is a collection of 10 songs that explore a variety of emotions in the murky depths of the soul that include heartache, desperation, loneliness, and survival. No this is no superficial collection of lightweight songs designed to entertain and pacify. Bettye makes you believe that she’s lived in emotional low places that most of us don’t want to go. Maybe don’t even want to visit. So there’s little chance that this excellent album will cross over to any pop-top 10, though it’s considerable success has probably given LaVette more money and exposure than she’s had anytime in her 40-year career. ‘Before The Money Came’ is a biographical review of rear view mirror recognition, on the road to eventual success that has put her in the same league as contemporary Mavis Staples. The Drive-By Truckers provide a potent soundtrack to Bettye’s blistering vocals, and this dynamic atmosphere was captured perfectly by the Fame Studios, in Muscle Shoals (May 2007). Since she’s signed to Anti Records Bettye’s career has taken a significant upturn and I’ve Got My Own Hell To Raise (2005) has been her most successful album yet. Though songs like ‘They Call It Love’ and ‘The Last Time’ have some commercial appeal, I just hope that this fine album is not too real to achieve a wider acceptance and build on the success of the previous one. The doom of such an album has certain gravitas with soul and blues fans, hopefully its allure is not to be limited to such specialist genres - They call it love but I don’t know.
Lonely Avenue – The unlikely Life & Times of Doc Pomus
Alex Halberstadt – Da Capo 2007 (Cape UK)
Since discovering that he was the author of ‘Save The Last Dance For Me’, Doc Pomus has always been one of my heroes. This pop classic was inspired by Doc’s own wedding reception, as he sat in his wheelchair and watched his bride - Willi Burke service a continuous queue of dancing partners – it seemed to him that every man there wanted to dance with his beautiful bride – but she was saving the last dance for him. 3 years later he put down his lyrics to Shuman’s latin tune and created a universal hit. Pomus, who wrote more than 1000 songs, was crippled by polio at the age of 10. Determined to have a normal life Doc tried to ignore the limitations of his physical condition. He wanted to be a blues singer and struggled to become one - a Jew in an all black world. The way he saw it “To the world a fat crippled Jewish kid was a nigger” Halberstadt tells Pomus story with clarity and compassion, the book is written with such assured confidence. For any one of us it’s a struggle to achieve our dreams, sure sometimes when our aspirations for life, love, success etc. fall short and we all walk that lonely avenue – depressed and dejected but hell, who wants to live in the lobby of ‘Heartbreak Hotel’ – as he did for long periods of his life. So much of his struggle for life was heartbreaking and the clues are all there in his music. It was only when you play a number of his songs in sequence that you realise so many of them have a double edge. As the gambler wins one hand, he instantly loses something of greater value. The duality of the situation slowly dawns on him as he desperately tries to reverse the course he’s on - but can’t redirect his skitzoid fate. Elevated by his imagination Doc takes us all with him on his journeys into song, we can share in the bittersweet appreciation, almost feel the fragility of the human spirit. At some points in our lives each one of us feels a bit like an emotional cripple – but few of us are so unfortunate to suffer the dimension of physical reality the way Doc did. His condition and spirit of achievement were a beacon to those around him. On his own, with Morty Shuman and Dr John, Doc Pomus wrote some of the greatest and most memorable pop and blues songs of all time. He was a legend.
Charlie Thomas Drifters – The Legendary Drifter Live! - DVD
L&T Sound Productions – Produced by Paul Kahley for www.CTDrifters.com
As Charlie Thomas often said “All I ever wanted to be was a Drifter” and he was with them on Atlantic from 1958 - 67. Many of his fans feel that he had a bit of a raw deal from Drifters management because he sang lead for a year on stage before the Drifters cut ‘There Goes My Baby’. Then he sang all Ben E Kings leads on stage and mimed on TV when Ben recorded for but did not tour with the group. Charlie did cut some leads of his own however, there was ‘Baltimore’, ‘A Room Full Of Tears’, ‘Sweets For My Sweet’, ‘When My Little Girl Is Smiling’. Then later came ‘I Feel Good All Over’. ‘I Don’t Want To Go On Without You’, ‘Night Shift’, ‘Chains Of Love’, ‘The Outside World’, ‘You Can’t Love Them All’ and ‘It Takes A Good Woman’. But Ben, Rudy Lewis, Johnny Moore and Bill Fredericks were always preferred by Atlantic and after a row in mid 1967 Thomas was sacked. He tried it solo for a while on Old Town, who issued two singles ‘Good Good Lovin’’ and ‘Let It Fall On My Shoulders’. Neither release created much interest and Charlie quit the music business altogether to set up his own taxi company. But he couldn’t stay away for long and by mid '71 he was back fronting his own Drifters with Dock Green, Elsbeary Hobbs and Rick Sheppard. “At first, I only intended to do the one concert..." Thomas confessed later "...but I realised that I had missed the life so much and I really didn't want to do anything else.” Two years later they cut 'The Struggler' for Steeltown Records but their best chance came in ’74 when Musicor signed them and issued the stunning 'Midsummer Night In Harlem'. During this period Charlie won a US court case for his Drifters to perform in America but the Musicor deal went sour and Thomas Drifters made endless, substandard recuts of the Drifters past hits, for numerous small record labels. But they have been consistently performing on the nostalgia circuit for nearly 40 years.
Charlie’s had his ups and downs and the line up has changed as many times as the real Drifters. Now in his 70th year he’s singing with a trio of much younger guys - Steven Brown, Louis Bailey and Jerome Manning but he still looks and sounds as good as he ever did. The 17 songs performed on this DVD yield no surprises ‘On Broadway’, ‘Save The Last Dance’, ‘Under The Boardwalk’ and a few other Drifters evergreens. Thomas plunders Sam Cooke, as he has done for years, reworking ‘Cupid’, ‘Chain Gang’ and even ‘A Change Is Gonna Come’ and he’s still taking bows for ‘Spanish Harlem’ and ‘Stand By Me’. But somehow we can’t blame him for that - he gives us all he’s got and works hard singing all the leads himself. Charlie and his three amigos have marginally more right to perform than many bogus Drifter groups out there today and tragically theirs are currently the only Drifters tracks available on i-Tunes. From the reviews that I have read, this DVD is typical of their shows. The quartet put on a solid performance with a few edits towards the end where Charlie reminisces about past experiences but there are no bonus features – just the show. The audience were on their feet wanting more as the group exit with ‘Shout’. But this DVD is only of interest to hard line Drifters fans. The Charlie Thomas Drifters are good and they deliver a professional show but they lack the energy, variety and sparkle of Rohan, Patrick, Victor and Peter – the Drifters.
© earshot (peter burns) december 2007