Crawling back slowly from a bad year that included a couple of weeks in hospital, I must be one of the few people that is expecting a better year in 2009. Gloom and disaster seem to surround the music industry and pretty much everywhere else. The deaths of so many great jazz & soul stars have occurred over the past 9 months - see a last farewell for just a few of them. The dismal economy downturn continued in the latter part of 2008 and is rolling over to the New Year with a vengeance. The company that bought the Virgin megastores and re-branded as Zavvi has closed down with the loss of 3000 jobs. It seems they relied on Woolworth for their distribution and as a result went down with them. Closer to home - after staff cuts and internal changes, Acrobat Music went into administration in November ’08 causing redundancies. Several directors not only lost their jobs but suffered further from broken promises over financial payouts that will cause litigation. A very unfortunate situation for all those concerned who had been struggling for some time to find adequate financing and had invested heavily in the company. In recent months they had established an individual niche in a shrinking re-issue market and it is a shame to see them disappear in this awful financial climate. Future Noise are the company that took over their offices. It’s also goodbye to Budget CD, a price conscious little company that provided classy box sets at affordable prices. The shutters came down on our ebay shop in January 2009. Just recently the major UK distributor Pinnacle has stopped trading and that will incur further knock on effects. Vibrant has also gone under owing £1000s to freelance staff and Proper have cut back staff in an effort to stay afloat but are no longer issuing the great box sets that earned them their good reputation. Upcoming changes in the law will extend UK music licensing from 50 to 75 years. What impact will that have on the remaining CD reissue companies? – Here’s hoping that 2009 will not be as bad for the music business as the forecasts suggest. A genuine if not belated Happy New Year to all earshot readers (peter burns)
Solomon Burke Live at the Barbican
Since his Don’t Give Up On Me album in 2002, Solomon Burke has had a much higher profile in the UK. His back catalogue has gradually become available on CD, he’s made various appearances on TV and has toured here many times. So any fans of his music have had several opportunities to catch the great man and his music. I have long followed his career with interest, buying his singles on London Atlantic and his first UK album Solomon Burke’s Greatest Hits - you know the one with the typographic cover in green and red. Then went backwards to the Apollo album later. I caught his ‘standing room only’ debut UK tour in August ’66. And even after my interest in buying his recordings waned a little (post Proud Mary) I’d pick up the occasional vinyl bargain. Then when Bob Fisher reissued his Atlantic albums on CD via Sequel in ’97 that seemed to reignite an interest in his whole body of recorded work. Many celebrities came out of the woodwork proclaiming his talents including Bono, Pete Townsend etc. He was guest of honour on Jools Holland’s Hootenanny show in 2004 and then documentaries began to appear putting him into a historical music perspective. His first visit to the Barbican in October ‘02 was sensational, so when he returned in July ’08 though the ticket price had doubled I was there ready for more.
The arena was packed and the hum of the audience rose to a roar as the curtain opened to reveal Solomon sitting on his throne surrounded by a nine piece band, that included Simona Mana – Violin, Raffaella Stirpe – Viola, Sophia Perez – vocals (his grandaughter) and Candy Burke - vocals (his daughter, who later sang ‘I Will Survive’). After the introductions Solomon announced “This Is Your Party Tonight!” and went into his 2 hour performance. The band was very tight – the sound was great and ‘Cry To Me’, ‘Down In The Valley,’ ‘Tonight’s The Night’ and ‘Goodbye Baby’ made up the Atlantic segment. He moved on to ‘Dock Of The Bay’ and a powerful version of the show stopping ‘Everybody Needs Somebody To Love’. He talked a little about his time in the Soul Clan (with Ben E King, Arthur Conley, Don Covay and Joe Tex) a springboard to a medley of clan songs that included ‘Stand By Me’ and stretched to ‘The Midnight Hour’. We were also treated to his own versions of Sam Cooke’s ‘A Change Is Gonna Come’ and Ray Charles ‘Georgia’ (that featured a good sax solo). This lead us perfectly to a string of Country Soul hits ‘Just Out Of Reach’ (his first hit in 1961) ‘I Cant Stop Loving You’, ‘I Almost Lost My Mind’ and his inimitable reworking of ‘He’ll Have To Go’. Burke’s first post Atlantic smash ‘Proud Mary’ kept him on course but then he drifted into a Rock ‘n’ Soul medley that included ‘Lucille’, ‘Tutti Frutti’ ‘Only You’ and even ‘The Saints Go Marching In’ but the band stayed right there with him and the audience were on their feet. The girls threw strings of beads into the crowd before the preacher brought us back down to earth for the Contemporary segment of his show with ‘Don’t Give Up On Me’, ‘None Of Us Are Free’, and ‘Diamond In Your Mind’ (all from Don’t Give Up On Me) with ‘‘Til I Get It Right’ (from Nashville). Then all too soon he was sending us home with the Satchmo standard ‘It’s A Wonderful World’ that he’d performed at Glastonbury.
One well known story often repeated over the past 50 years was about that fateful day in May 1958 when manager George Treadwell, who owned the Drifters name/ mark through ‘Drifters Inc.’, dismissed the Drifters and gave their name to a new group he had just signed up called the Crowns. Within a year the ‘new’ Drifters led by Ben E King began a very successful run of international hits that made the quartet big stars. The ‘old’ Drifters struggled on as the Original Drifters under the leadership of Bill Pinkney and though they achieved some status in later years, all but faded from the general public’s memory. Throughout the ‘60s the Drifters grew to become the most prominent black vocal group in the world. When Treadwell died suddenly in May 1967 aged 48, his widow Faye took over management of the group and notarised herself as the Drifters new brand owner. Gradually as the Drifters hits diminished in the States, Atlantic, their record label since 1953 lost interest and when their contract lapsed in late 1972 Faye signed them to a fresh new deal with Cookaway Productions and Bell Records in the UK. The following year the Drifters, who were now Johnny Moore, Bill Fredericks, Butch Leake and Grant Kitchings moved to London with Treadwell to begin the European phase of their career. Over the next three years they scored
It seemed to the Drifters that Faye Treadwell had lost interest in them. Then one day in April 2001 she disappeared without trace. She had returned to America without a word to anyone. Leaving no forwarding address behind her, just a final demand from HM Inspector of Taxes. One possible explanation came via her daughter Tina years later, was that Faye was suffering early, as yet undiagnosed Alzheimer’s. The Drifters unaware of her condition still had some bookings to honour and were just 2 years off their 50th Anniversary. Should they disband or find a new manager. After some discussion Hemmings, Turney and Alan decided on the latter and found new member Vic Bynoe before signing with a UK management team. They began rebuilding their reputation and by 2003 their Golden Anniversary year, they were doing great business and Atlantic UK issued The Definitive Drifters, a 2CD set to mark this unique event. Such was the high level of their popularity this album went high on the charts and eventually hit platinum. They recorded a live album The Legacy Continues and a DVD The Drifters Live in 2006 for Classic Pictures and cut a new song ‘A World Of Love’ with Gary Brooker. Their live show bookings had stabilised and they were playing to between 6 – 8000 fans a week right across the generations. Things were looking really good and for the first time in years there seemed a real possibility that the Drifters might record an album of new material. There were a number of other Drifters groups operating in the UK however - The Billy Lewis Drifters (they eventually changed their name to the Nu Drifters and cut an album for in 2005 for Prestige). Another group formed by x Drifters Roy Hemmings, Butch Leake and Ray Lewis were also touring as ‘The Drifters Live Show’ and there had been some appearances of a group calling themselves the American Drifters. So the road ahead was not exactly a clear one.
Five years later after no contact from the Treadwell family, Faye’s daughter Tina began to lay her claim to the Drifters name/ mark and presumably notarised herself as the new brand owner. She began a press campaign with an article that appeared in the Los Angeles Times (even though the Treadwell’s have had no US rights to perform a Drifters group in America since 1974) stating that she considered the Drifters franchise as her birthright. She formed a ‘Treadwell’ Drifters group that originally included Roy Hemmings and Ray Lewis and began performing them in the UK. In the LA times article (15 March ’07) Ms Treadwell, while acknowledging that Bill Pinkney and Charles Thomas have legal (and moral) rights to perform and record their Original Drifters and Drifters groups in America, she did take out a legal suit against promoter Larry Marshak (who used to be Thomas’ manager but after their split in 2002 continued to run a number of his own unconnected Drifter groups) and apparently won her claim. The article went on to state that Ms Treadwell left a promising career at the Disney Channel to take care of her mother (Faye) whose health had deteriorated due to dementia and pursue her claim to the Drifters name.
Threats of legal actions were made against the Drifters and their UK management, who were accused of diluting the brand name (even though 3 of the 4 present members - Turney, Alan and Lamarr had all been originally employed by Faye Treadwell in the early ‘90s). Then on 10 January 2008 Clintons, Tina Treadwell’s lawyers, issued a writ against the Drifters and their UK management team claiming back performance fees since May 2001. With instructions to terminate the use of the Drifters name/ mark, cease further performances and immediate closure of the Drifters website. At a pre court hearing the Drifters UK management capitulated under considerable legal pressure and agreed to all Treadwell’s terms, paying her an undisclosed sum in an out of court settlement - effective from the end of May 2008.
So in some part Drifters history repeated itself almost 50 years to the day down the line. And direct lineage running through Ben E King, Rudy Lewis, Johnny Moore, Bill Fredericks, Clyde Brown, Rohan Turney, Patrick Alan, Peter Lamarr and Vic Bynoe was severed and a new group of Drifters assumed the next stage of the group’s history - just as the Crowns had in May 1958. As it happened more by luck than judgement for George Treadwell at that time, his ‘new’ Drifters contained the song writing and vocal talents of Ben E King, who came up with ‘There Goes My Baby’ and with the production genius of Leiber & Stroller changed not only the fortunes of the Drifters but the future direction of soul music.
So from the 1 June 2008 it became official - Tina Treadwell legally owns the rights to the Drifters name/ mark and her group Steve V King, Maurice Cannon, Michael Williams and Christophe Richards have picked up the baton and the name, even though not one of them have any historic connection with the Atlantic, Bell, Arista, Epic or Classic Pictures group. So pretenders to the Drifters name watch out! Roy Hemmings and Ray Lewis are long gone from that line-up - Hemmings said to me in a telephone interview “She didn’t honour any of the promises she made to me – so I quit!” According to a press release posted on the Treadwell Drifters website (which TT took over and now runs as her own) - Speaking from Los Angeles Tina Treadwell announced: “We are thrilled by this outcome – for far too many years, The Drifters brand has been diluted. Now fans can be sure they can rely on a consistently high quality and authentic performance every time”. Well that remains to be seen – I haven’t been to one of their concerts myself but from other accounts they are just OK (not a patch on the previous group). If their forthcoming album 5 Decades and Moore is issued and goes on to sell well, then as before the general public will conveniently forget recent Drifters events and they will be able to blaze a new trail of their own and forge a link with the legacy of those who went before them – if not, well who knows. (peter burns)
Nine edits of the ‘new’ Drifters proposed album can be heard on www.thedrifters.co.uk
personal heroes #3
ahmet and nesuhi – the ertegun brothers
“Let me tell you a story…” was often the intro that Atlantic Records founder Ahmet Ertegun famously used when beginning a conversation. Ahmet and brother Nesuhi’s stories began in Turkey 20 years into the 20th century when the Ottoman Empire went into self-destruct. Eldest brother Nesuhi Ertegun was born 26 November 1917 in Istanbul, Turkey and younger brother Ahmet followed six years later on 31 July 1923. In the early ‘30s the Ertegun family first moved to London, where the brothers were introduced to the music of Duke Ellington at a concert. Then in 1939 they all moved on to Washington DC. Their father Munir, had been appointed Turkish Ambassador to the US, which meant that for the next dozen years they would live the life of the privileged. Wife and mother Hayrunisa was very musical and played several instruments. Hers were the talents that provided the influential environment, through records and concerts that would shape the brothers tastes and ambitions. In his autobiography Ahmet Ertegun told us that when he was 14 his mother bought him a record cutting machine (that cut acetate discs) and after some early experimentation, he knew that making records was what he wanted to do with his life. Over the next couple of years the brothers amassed a large collection of Jazz records, by buying and selling second hand and cut out 78's. Jazz fans became Jazz buffs and pretty soon they were promoting the first integrated Jazz concerts at the National Press Club and the Turkish Embassy, where they met and became friends with many of their heroes. These events featured such luminaries as Duke Ellington, Lena Horne, Ella Fitzgerald, Jelly Roll Morton and far too many more to mention.
Their father’s early death in 1944 put the Ertegun family out of diplomatic circles and they returned to Istanbul, leaving Ahmet (21) and Nesuhi (27) to complete their studies before they too would return home. But this was never to happen. Presented with the reality of having to earn a crust to survive, Ahmet faced up to some big decisions and made his dream bid to set up his own record label. He spurned the offers of jobs in journalism and on Wall Street made through his family connections and began trying to raise the capital necessary to launch a record label. This wasn't easy but Ahmet was learning all the time, hustling and trying to inspire confidence, approaching possible investors in the New York Jazz circles in which he now moved. The first to take an interest was friend and fellow Jazzer Herb Abramson, who was at National Records. Herb sold his share in Jubilee Records, put up $2,500 and came in as a partner. This act of faith prompted Ertegun’s dentist Dr Vahdi Sabit to re-mortgage his house, contribute $10,000 and become the third partner in their venture.
Things were looking up but one big fly in the shellac was the Musicians Union strike of 1947 that meant that no new music was being recorded or released. Unperturbed, Ahmet and Herb went to work searching for, auditioning, rehearsing and recording new talent then stockpiling their masters ready for release as soon as the ban was over. The first records cut and issued by Atlantic were by Tiny Grimes, Joe Morris, the Harlemaires, Eddie Safranski and others. New York music critics of the time observed that this music did not really fit into any of the prescribed Jazz, Bebop or Race categories that would within a couple of years be defined by Jerry Wexler of Billboard magazine (and future Atlantic Records guru) as 'Rhythm & Blues'. Meanwhile Nesuhi had concluded his legal studies, moved out to the West Coast, taken a Californian wife, opened a record store and set up his own label Crescent (later Jazzman). Atlantic’s first big hit came from 'Sticks' McGhee (brother of Brownie) when 'Drinking Wine Spo-Dee-O-Dee, Drinking Wine' went to #2 R&B/ 26 Pop in April 1949. ‘Sticks’ only other career hit came two years later, again for Atlantic with 'Tennessee Waltz Blues' (#2 R&B in March '51).
Herb Abramson was drafted into the army in 1951. Ahmet and Herb's wife Miriam spread his workload between them but were soon looking for a temporary replacement. Jerry Wexler, Jazz buddy and journalist at Billboard, was the popular choice and came on board in early '53. The partnership between Jerry and Ahmet was to grow into one of the most creative and productive teamings in record music history. The first session they produced together was for Clyde McPhatter & the Drifters, on which the classic R&B anthem ‘Money Honey’ was recorded. In the early days the whole company consisted of very few staff. There were Ahmet, Jerry, Miriam, Tom Dowd and a couple of office staff. They ran a tight ship. After a full days work where Wexler and Ertegun had been busy writing contracts, preparing the publicity, admin etc, at night they’d cut the records. Tom would set up the makeshift studio, stacking the office furniture at one end of the room and hooking up the recording equipment that he would then engineer. This inauspicious beginning would produce some of the greatest and fundamentally influential R&B and Jazz records of the era. But sometimes they had problems and would have to scratch a session due to heavy rain on the skylight or excessive traffic noise from the street below. As their success grew, Atlantic would soon resolve these kinds of problems. They understood the long-term value of installing their own in house studios and they set about soundproofing, re-equipping and researching the newest technology. All necessary acquisitions, if they were to consistently make the best records they could. Atlantic was the only record company where the owners actually made records.
When Herb returned home from the service, Wexler's contribution had become so invaluable at Atlantic that Abramson’s services were somewhat superfluous and so the partners created ATCO, a second label for him to develop and run. Tom Dowd came to Atlantic full time in 1954 and began to create the famous Atlantic in house studios. On the other side of the continent, in addition to running Crescent and moonlighting for Contemporary Records, Nesuhi also wrote for and edited Record Changer magazine and taught classes in Jazz music at UCLA. He was offered a partnership at Imperial Records by Lew Chudd but Ahmet, determined to bring his brother into Atlantic, offered him a similar deal. With some persuasion Nesuhi agreed and moved to New York in 1955 but was soon back in Los Angeles setting up Atlantic’s West Coast office. With all the major players now in position, things at Atlantic really began to roll. They produced numerous hits with Joe Turner, Lavern Baker, the Clovers, Ruth Brown, Ray Charles and many others but foremost on their roster were their star attraction the Drifters.
As well as producing future Jazz legends John Coltrane, the MJQ, Charles Mingus, Art Blakey, Thelonious Monk and Ornette Coleman, Nesuhi was also responsible for finding Jerry Leiber as he prepared to mastermind the famous West Coast session that brought the Drifters, who had been struggling since Clyde McPhatter’s departure, back to the charts with ‘Adorable’ and ‘Ruby Baby’, after new lead singer Johnny Moore had joined the group. Nesuhi also oversaw Atlantics mid 50s move onto Long Playing albums. In New York, Atlantic moved from 234 West 56th Street to 156 West 57th Street, in May 1956. They built new studios, increased their support staff and took their roster to bigger and more international success. Ahmet began to develop the songs he had written (under his own name and his nom de plume A. Nugertre) especially for the Clovers (‘Don’t You Know I Love You’, ‘Middle Of The Night’, ‘Ting A Ling’, ‘Hey Miss Fannie’, ‘Fool Fool Fool’, ‘Lovey Dovey’). The Drifters (‘Warm You Heart’ and ‘What’Cha Gonna Do’), Ray Charles (‘Mess Around’), Ruth Brown (‘Wild Wild Young Men’, ‘Somebody Touched Me’), Joe Turner (‘Chains Of Love’ and ‘Sweet Sixteen’) plus many other artists on the Atlantic roster. He brought the mighty talents of Jerry Leiber & Mike Stroller in a historic production deal to Atlantic in 1956 when the labels fortunes had taken a dip, he realised that their company needed new blood. After working for a couple of years with the Coasters and other roster artists L&S became designated writer/ producers for the Drifters and the hits that they produced put Atlantic back high on the charts. Bobby Darin was the first white Pop artist to join Atco 1958 as the label began to break new ground (though they had been unable to sign Presley in 1956). Abramson signed Darin but unable to create any hits was ready to let him go - but Ahmet stepped in and produced ‘Splish Splash’ that kicked off Bobby’s career. However it was the end for Herb who was bought out of the company at his own request. Slowly the evolution began from an all black Jazz and R&B label extending it’s range to take in a wide selection of mainstream musical genres. In the early ‘60s Atlantic began to sign some of the most exciting Soul artists Ben E King, Solomon Burke, King Curtis, Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett, Esther Phillips, Don Covay and Joe Tex etc. Ahmet met Phil Spector (who was apprenticed to Leiber & Stroller Productions) at a Ben E King session and was impressed by his emerging talents that he encouraged and helped him to develop. He married Ioana (Mica) Maria Banu in April 1961 a prominent interior designer.
Meanwhile Nesuhi Ertegun's production career extended beyond Jazz, he also produced recordings with Lavern Baker, Ray Charles, and Bobby Darin and signed Roberta Flack to the label on Joel Dorn’s recommendation. Sonny & Cher’s huge international hit ‘I Got You Babe’ was another milestone in Atlantics evolution and was pretty soon followed by more big hits from the Young Rascals, Cream and Buffalo Springfield who Ahmet signed when he was on the West Coast scouting for talent. The Stax connection opened the door for recording sessions in the south with Aretha Franklin and Wilson Pickett and brought a host of talented southern Soul artists within the label’s scope. As the decade rolled on, Atco signed the Bee Gees and Mary Wells and then in 1967, Atlantic was sold to Warner Brothers for $17 Million. All the major players at the label stayed in place and as the ‘60s turned into the ‘70s, Rock acts like Crosby, Stills & Nash, Iron Butterfly, Vanilla Fudge, Led Zeppelin and The Rolling Stones all began to make their mark on Atlantic. Ahmet helped finance Asylum, David Geffins’ first Label in 1970. Always absorbed and enthused by what he was doing, Ahmet’s talents as a natural negotiator really came into play. He came to England to check out the explosion of musical talent on the scene and in the London clubs. While at a birthday party being thrown at the Scotch of St. James for Wilson Pickett he heard Eric Clapton rehearsing - this event would have a huge impact on the future of Cream and Eric.
When I first visited New York with Norman Jopling in September 1972, we spent a lot of time with the folks at Atlantic, who made us very welcome. They arranged interviews, took us to concerts and supplied endless amounts of information, music and photographs. We met Ahmet and Jerry Wexler, Leiber & Stroller and many more of the talented people in residence at that time. Those offices seemed like a magnet, attracting all sorts of interesting characters like John Prine and Danny O’Keefe, who were among the Folk/ Rock genus that brought in Delaney & Bonnie, Derek & the Dominoes, and Crosby, Nash, Stills & Young and other acts signed around that time were the Allman Brothers and Velvet Underground. In this extravagant atmosphere Nesuhi pressed on recording the developmental Jazz of Herbie Mann, Roland Kirk, Les McCann and Eddie Harris at Atlantics Studios on both coasts. In 1971 he spearheaded the creation of WEA International, the worlds largest record company with sales in excess of $1 Billion and was their CEO until 1987. He created a new Jazz label East-West in 1987 and was the first president of NARA (National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences – that presents Grammy Awards). Nesuhi was also chairman of the IFPI (International Federation of Phonographic Industries) that fight record piracy on a worldwide basis. Atlantic also celebrated their 40th anniversary in 1987 with a huge concert and box set reissues. With the reissues, especially when the CD format really came on line, many of their early artists, whose hits had built the original label, began to campaign for some of the back royalties they felt they had been deprived of. In 1988 Ahmet contributed $2 million dollars towards the formation of the Rhythm & Blues Foundation, who’s major remit was to correct such oversights.
In New York, Ahmet signed the talents of Bette Midler and Manhattan Transfer, Daryl Hall & John Oates. Average White Band were nurtured and given the opportunity to develop more big hits. While many of their ‘60s Soul artists left the label, a few were able to co-exist with the Rock/ Folk and Super groups like the Detroit Spinners, Donny Hathaway, Sister Sledge and returnees like Ben E King and Esther Phillips. Jerry Wexler, while praising Ahmet’s ability to adapt to the changes in the music marketplace took his leave in 1975. Ahmet was still signing even more groups - Foreigner, AC/ DC, Emerson, Lake & Palmer and the deals that he made to issue the recordings of Abba, Roxy Music, Bad Company, Genesis, Island Records etc in America bought the label even more success and wealth. As dance music slipped into Disco the Bee Gees moved onto RSO but were still produced by Atlantic guru Arif Mardin. Ahmet was a face at Studio 54 when it was the place to be. Throughout the ‘80s and ‘90s Chic, Boney M, INXS, Pete Townsend, Phil Collins and the Nu Soul of Levert and En Vogue kept Atlantic on the Hot 100 and the R&B charts in America and around the world.
The death of Nesuhi Ertegun on 15 July 1989, at the age of 71 (due to complications following cancer surgery) was a great shock to many at Atlantic, especially his brother Ahmet who said “He was my mentor, not only in music but in the fine arts and literature, guiding me towards a sound education in the classics of the Western world. He was a great man and my greatest influence. I owe everything to Nesuhi”. There were many musicians who also honoured Nesuhi after his death. John Lewis, who wrote a eulogy in Ahmet’s biography - said “He was just about the only producer I worked with, and without him, the Modern Jazz Quartet wouldn’t have happened.” Yusef Lateef said that he would not have won his Grammy without Nesuhi’s production skills and council. Many of the Jazz musicians fortunate enough to work with Nesuhi praised his ability to communicate with them in their universal language – music. He was both inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and given a Lifetime Achievement Award in 1991.
While Ahmet loved and respected his elder brother, he never languished in his shadow. Over a 60-year period he recognised, discovered, tutored, composed songs for, produced, encouraged and advised many hundreds of talented musicians, writers and producers. It was his extraordinary skills that brought them to fruition through his brainchild Atlantic Records. He was long appreciated by those that passed through his influence before the music industry began rewarding him with honours such as his induction into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame in 1987. Berklee Music College of Boston awarded him a doctorate in 1991 and 2 years later he received a Lifetime Achievement Grammy. The Library of Congress recognised Ahmet as a Living Legend in the year 2000. His heart bypass surgery in 2001 didn’t slow him down for long and he was soon back in circulation hitting the clubs and concerts, making deals and signing new artists to the label. He was also given a Lifetime Achievement Award at Montreaux, which he received on crutches in 2006. He acknowledged the great past hits from Atlantic but proffered “It is the great talent for tomorrow that really counts”. At that time Kid Rock was an artist in development. As ever, he was the man who really knew what was going on. Loving the life as he did he rarely took time off for a holiday but when he did he could be found at one of his four houses – two in America, one in Paris and one in Turkey.
Atlantic Records was the best record company in the world and released hundreds of units by many stars in the R&B, Soul, Jazz, Rock ‘n’ Roll, Folk and Pop fields. It was a fountain of talent that drew a select group of executives, producers and engineers, into the company. A company that still survives and is functioning globally over 60 years later. Sadly many of the unique talents that built this great label are no longer living. Herb Abramson, Jesse Stone, and more recently Tom Dowd and Jerry Wexler have all departed. However the legacy of great music that they all helped create will never die. Every year the label renews its influence, issuing classic music to be discovered and re discovered by generation after generation of enlightened music fans. The Brothers Ertegun will not be forgotten either, for it was their creative energy that drove the huge triumph of Atlantic’s success. Ahmet sustained head injuries in a fall at a Rolling Stones concert on 19 October, slipped into a coma and died on 14 December 2006 at New York-Presbyterian Hospital, Weill Cornell Medical Centre aged 83. While Nesuhi was content to create his many achievements out of the spotlight, most of his life Ahmet was a party animal, a high profile mover who sparkled with the stars. Actors Tayfun Bademsoy and Curtis Armstrong portrayed Ahmet in Bobby Darin and Ray Charles biopics ‘Beyond The Sea’ and ‘Ray’. As a talent spotter writer/ producer and raconteur he had few rivals. He was one of the greatest music pioneers that ever lived - loved by many and will be mourned by many more. Ahmet created the Jazz Hall of Fame at the Lincoln Centre that he dedicated to Nesuhi in 2004. Together the Ertegun brothers set the benchmark for creative achievement in the record business, they were pioneers and two of my personal heroes. Last word from Ahmet - who as well as being proud of what the partners and producers at Atlantic accomplished in 60 years he said “I’m most proud of the artists that helped us do it.”
Sources 'What'd I Say' - The Atlantic Story, Ahmet Ertegun (published by Orion '01)
Recommended viewing –‘ Atlantic Records - The House that Ahmet Built’ – Warner DVD, (2hr rt)
eddie & ernie – time waits for no one
Although both were highly respected and knowledgeable music enthusiasts, it is fair to say that Dave Godin and John Peel did not always see eye to eye. One thing they did have in common though was an admiration for the work of soul duo Eddie & Ernie. For Dave Godin they embodied everything that made his beloved deep soul so special, whilst for John Peel it was their individuality and their ability to constantly delight and astonish that made them so appealing. After John’s death it was revealed that he had kept a small wooden box containing a precious selection of 7-inch singles that meant more to him than any others. Out of a total of 142 singles covering every musical style imaginable, no less than 3 were by Eddie & Ernie - “Time Waits For No One”; “I’m Gonna Always Love You”, and “I Believe She Will”. So why this fascination with what in essence were a relatively obscure and not notably successful soul act?
The era of the male soul duo reached its peak of popularity in the mid to late sixties with the success both on record and in live performance of Sam & Dave. Fifties R & B acts such as Don & Dewey had already paved the way, but with the onset of soul in the early sixties many more male duos joined their ranks. For soul fans that favour the deeper, more serious side of the genre William Edgar Campbell (Eddie) & Ernest Johnson (Ernie) were THE male duo. They wrote most of their own material and both often sang in a high vocal register, giving their records a distinctive and highly individual quality quite unlike anything else in soul. Many of their recordings have acquired classic status in deep soul circles, so picking a single example of their work is no easy task. Although I have nominally picked their first and only chart entry – “Time Waits For No-One”, I’ll also be looking at another of their early efforts, the equally memorable “I’m Going For Myself”.
“Time Waits For No One” was my first introduction to Eddie & Ernie way back in 1965 and I vividly recall the impact it had on me. With its exotic chord changes, high pitched harmonies and quirky guitar and piano fills it sounded like nothing else I’d heard before, and like Dave Godin and John Peel I was both captivated and fascinated. Unlike most soul duos who either had vocalists of a different pitch and timbre such as the Righteous Brothers and Maurice & Mac, or one dominant singer such as Sam Moore of Sam & Dave, Eddie & Ernie were equals, a fact born out by their two solo recordings for the Artco label, “Why Do You Treat Me Like You Do” (Eddie) and “I Can’t Stop The Pain” (Ernie). In fact, so uncannily together were their harmonies that they often sounded like a subtle variation of the same voice.
“Time Waits For No One” was in fact the duo’s second recording as Eddie & Ernie, the first being “It’s A Weak Man That Cries”, which appeared twice, initially on the tiny South Carolina based Nightingale label, before being picked up for general release by Checker. Whilst their initial offering clearly signalled the duo’s musical intentions, it was the second release, cut in Los Angeles that pressed all the right buttons. Rather confusingly it appeared on no less than three different labels, Tomorrow, Checker, and the New York based Sue subsidiary, Eastern. It turned out to be the duo’s only chart entry, peaking at a modest No.34 R &B in 1964.
Although at the time the record sounded totally original, with the benefit of hindsight it can now be seen to have followed a tried and tested formula that takes its inspiration directly from the material being performed by the male gospel quartets of the day. In fact even the song title and the general message of the lyric (secular references aside) would not have sounded out of place in a gospel recording. According to the booklet notes for the Kent compilation “Lost Friends”, Ernie Johnson’s father had suggested that his son listen to the work of Sam Cooke & the Soul Stirrers for inspiration. Listening now to the Soul Stirrers 1962 recording “Time Brings About A Change”, cut for Sam’s own SAR label, with its key line “Time Waits On No Man”, the link becomes clear. However, one important factor places Eddie & Ernie’s performance outside that of the Soul Stirrers, or any other gospel group for that matter: those incredible harmonies. “Time Waits For No One” is sung entirely in harmony with just a scattering of solo ad-libs thrown in for good measure. The harmonies reach a highpoint at the start of the minor key middle eight; the line “You Might Have Silver And Gold” being delivered in a high tenor register that sends chills down the spine. Also evident is the duo’s penchant for emphasising the vowel sounds over and above the consonants – a characteristic noted by Dave Godin in the booklet notes for Kent’s Birth Of Soul Vol. 2 compilation. Interestingly, the song found its way back into the gospel field when top New York quartet the Brooklyn All Stars with Hardie Clifton on lead cut it in 1967 for one of their Nashboro albums. Agreeable enough though it was, it failed to recapture the atmosphere and sheer beauty of the original.
In total Eddie & Ernie had five releases on Eastern, all featuring at least one classic side. Of them all “I’m Going For Myself” is perhaps the most extraordinary. Produced in 1965 by Juggy Murray, and arranged by Bert Keyes it was the first of their sides to feature strings. Taken at a snail’s pace the beautiful guitar work on the intro is worth the admission price alone. Their vocal performance though is simply astonishing. Sung partly in unison, partly in hauntingly beautiful harmony, this is soul vocalising of the highest order. The key line “don’t play me cheap” for instance is given emphasis by the duo soaring into falsetto, Impressions style, while the lengthy and musically complex middle eight has the pair chanting and wailing over quasi-classical strings. By the fade the whole affair has taken on an almost ethereal quality also evident on some of the duo’s other recordings, most notably at the close of the John Peel favourite “I’m Gonna Always Love You.” It as if both singers are so enthralled by the sound they are creating that, in the words of Dave Godin they simply “drift away into their own private reverie.”
Eddie & Ernie continued to make fascinating and highly individual records, however, lack of commercial success coupled with various personal problems saw them slowly drift apart. A reunion in the early seventies was regrettably short lived, brought to an end by the untimely death of Edgar Campbell from cirrhosis of the liver.
And finally I think it would be appropriate to let Dave Godin have the last word on the subject –
“Eddie & Ernie came together at a specific time and place, and this fortuitous encounter produced some of the most sublime soul records ever, demonstrating their ability to sing harmonies that were both magical and, on occasion, almost unsettling.”
It is these qualities that endeared them to both John Peel, and of course, Dave himself.
“Time Waits For No One” can be found on the Kent CD titled “Birth Of Soul Vol. 2”. “I’m Going For Myself” appeared on “Dave Godin’s Deep Soul Treasures Vol. 1”, also on Kent.
leonard cohen at the albert hall
Having already seen the price of the tickets earlier this year I thought my wife might be going a little crazy when she booked the Albert Hall (2 extra nights were added to the tour). But I was the one who would have been crazy to miss Leonard Cohen’s World Tour 2008. The show was sensational. And we all definitely got value for money. Len and his superb international band played immaculate music for 3 hours plus (with a 15 minute intermission). Len’s critics of yesteryear have long since been thrown out with the rest of the empties so there was none of that “…music to commit suicide by…” nonsense – some of this audience of mid term freewheelers non spontaneously clapped over his hushed verbal announcements and drowned out his poetry more than once. Len just smiled and let it wash over him, after all they were probably applauding themselves for just being there, before rushing to the bar while the band were still taking their acknowledgements – they may not know what they like but they know what they want.
I’m Your Man – the classic Cohen album provided the core of this set, all but one track (Jazz Police) was performed. ‘Tower Of Song’ a personal favourite, kicked the second act into play. Well my friends are gone and my hair is grey. I ache in the places where I used to play. And I’m crazy for love but I’m not coming on. I’m just paying my rent everyday in the Tower of Song. ‘First We Take Manhattan’ initially announced a positive change in presentation and collaboration (excluding Phil Spector) when it was first issued in 1988. They sentenced me to 20 years of boredom for trying to change the system from within. ’Ain’t No Cure For Love’ was about as commercial as Cohen got - The doctors working day and night, but they’ll never ever find that cure for love. There ain’t no drink, no drug, there’s nothing pure enough to be a cure for love. Len’s inspirational pairing with Sharon Robinson, who is still working with him 20 years later, sparked with the superb ‘Everybody Knows’
After many years in his individual pursuit of the truth, then more recently as a bullet proof monk, at long last Cohen found the ultimate answer to everything in Do Dum Dum Diddy Do Dum Dum. For those of you who still believe in Do Wah Diddy – try to keep up, that St Clements ringtone just don’t cut it no more. Transparent honesty demands the Happy Till trill on your phone. Download today! And in that jingle jangle morning we’ll come following you. The whole thing about being a great poet is that your lyrics don’t have to rhyme and they easily up date with new arrangements taking on a timeless quality in the process. Folk oldies like ‘Bird On A Wire’ and ‘So Long Marianne’ got ecstatic responses, knowing nods and sighs for long reflections preserved by the perspective of time. An early fascination with Lorca came through in ‘Take This Waltz’ although gypsy’s were to feature in a few of his songs. ‘I Can’t Forget’ I stumbled out of bed. I got ready for the struggle. I smoked a cigarette and I tightened up my gut. I said this can’t be me, must be my double. And I can’t forget. I can’t forget. I can’t forget but I don’t remember what. Yes Len we know the feeling. I’m Your Man had a big influence on other artists as well as his audience and quite a few recorded his songs. ‘Hallelujah’ - one of his best loved songs, got a swell of adulation It all went wrong I’ll stand before the Lord of Song - With nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah. Jeff Buckley’s (definitive) version is often hailed as a classic, some even think he wrote it - But surely X factor winner Alexandra Burke is the author or was it JLS? Anyway I’m sure Len is thankful for her million selling Christmas single of 2008.
While he was highly thought of in folk/ poetry circles Cohen was never big in America. Some of his albums haven’t even been issued there. His largest and most consistent success has been in the UK, where his debut album went to #13 and all of his subsequent albums except Best Of Leonard Cohen (75) and Recent Songs (79) hit the UK album charts. (see list below for various positions). Four volumes of his poetry had been published in Canada before his 1967 debut album Songs Of Leonard Cohen was issued. His early confessions about writing poetry and learning to play the guitar to get girls interested in his mind, earned him the moniker ‘Ladies Man’ and this became part of the title for his 1977 album Death of A Ladies Man produced by Phil Spector in his usual grandiose manner. But it was an early indication that Cohen would not be tied to any one musical genre.
On stage Leonard was the perfect gentleman, he looked trim and elegant in his double breasted suit and grey hat – even agile at times. He respectfully removed his hat when Sharon Robinson went solo on ‘Boogie Street’ and the graceful, talented Webb sisters sang ‘If It Be Your Will’ – even for the instrumental solos. Cohen’s 1992 tour de force album The Future was also well represented, the title tracks predictive lyric rang out across the auditorium - And now the wheels of heaven stop you feel the devils riding crop Get ready for the future: it is murder - we sat there resigned to our fate, knowing the concert would end sooner than the future. ‘Anthem’ gave little hope for improvement Ring the bells that still can ring Forget your perfect offering There is a crack in everything That’s how the light gets in. In between songs a deadpan Cohen told us that he had to give up the drugs and spiritual endeavours because cheerfulness kept breaking through. “I was last here 14 years ago when just 60 - with a crazy dream”.
The recent US elections gave a fresh twist to Leonard’s parting refrain ‘Democracy’, though one couldn’t help but reflect on Obama’s fate and the fact that he is going to be shovelling a mountain of shit, left behind by Bush, before he can begin to make any change to something better > I’m sentimental, if you know what I mean: I love the country but I can’t stand the scene. And I’m neither left or right I’m just staying home tonight, getting lost in that hopeless little screen. But I’m stubborn as those garbage bags that Time cannot decay, I’m junk but I’m still holding up this little wild bouquet: Democracy is coming to the USA. Perhaps sometime it might reach a few other places – but don’t hold your breath. Cohen and the band took their departure but returned for three encores and much deserved extended applause. (peter burns)
Roscoe Beck – MD, bass (background vocals).
Cohen’s Studio Albums
Live Songs (73)
Watch out for this tour album and DVD in early 2009
photo by Lorca Cohen
Soul Music, performed by Anthony Hamilton, was released as the title track from Malcolm D. Lee’s Soul Men, opening nationwide November 7. Written for the film by Frank Fitzpatrick, Soul Music is available on the soundtrack from Concord/Stax Records and with additional mixes exclusively on iTunes.
When award-winning writer/ producer Frank Fitzpatrick was asked to create a classic hit representing the signature Memphis Soul era for Samuel L. Jackson and Bernie Mac to sing in their upcoming film, he knew exactly what to do. Soul Men director Malcolm D. Lee needed a song that sounded like it could have been the Real Deal’s (the film’s fictitious band featuring Jackson, Mac and Grammy-winning John Legend) number one song from the height of their career - 1969. In a line up of unforgettable classics like I’m Your Puppet, Memphis Train (Rufus Thomas), Do Your Thing (Isaac Hayes), Soul Dressing (Booker T & the MG’s) and I Take What I Want (Sam & Dave), the request might have been a tall order.
But Malcolm loved the song and the filmmakers decided to make Soul Music the title track. Fitzpatrick then brought in six-time Grammy nominated Anthony Hamilton to record the song for the film and for the first single off the soundtrack album on Concord/Stax Records.
"I really felt Anthony was the perfect artist to bring that classic feel and still give an original voice to the song. I had wanted to work with Anthony for some time, so this was the perfect opportunity. He is a great artist and a beautiful human being," commented Fitzpatrick.
the last goodbye
oscar peterson – born 15 August 1925, Peterson was a Canadian jazz pianist /composer who made over 200 recordings, won 7 Grammys, and received numerous awards over the course of his 65 year career. Oscar grew up in the predominantly black neighbourhood of Little Burgundy, Montreal. He began to learn both trumpet and piano aged 5 but dropped the horn after a bout of TB. His father Daniel and sister Daisy taught young Oscar classical piano but early on he showed a keen interest in Jazz. Peterson won a national music competition staged by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation aged 14. He dropped out of school in 1940 and played piano on a weekly radio show, and at hotels and clubs. His main influences were Nat ‘King’ Cole, Art Tatum and Teddy Wilson. Long periods of daily practice helped Peterson develop a reputation as an inventive and technically brilliant jazz pianist who played 1000s of concerts worldwide. He is considered to have been one of the greatest pianists ever and played with many of the major jazz artists of the time. Oscar cancelled a number of live concerts in 2007 and his health began a decline. He died of renal failure at home in Mississauga, Ontario on 23 December 2007 aged 82.
larry levine – born 8 May 1928 in New York but grew up in LA. Levine toiled away as a recording engineer at Gold Star studios that became famous for its concrete lined echo chambers after Eddie Cochran recorded his biggest hits “Summertime Blues’, ‘C’Mon Everybody’ and ‘3 Steps To Heaven’ there. When Phil Spector quit New York and returned to the West Coast, he went to Gold Star with his masterplan to build the Wall of Sound for his new Philles label that he’d recently set up with partner Lester Sill. Due to a misunderstanding Phil thought that Stan Ross (the studios co-owner) was scheduled to engineer the Crystals ‘He’s A Rebel’ session. When he arrived Spector found out that Levine had been assigned to do the session instead but from this awkward intro a fruitful partnership evolved. Larry became an invaluable asset and engineered every record Spector made for the following 7 years. Hits by Bobb B Soxx & the Bluejeans, the Crystals, Darlene Love, the Ronettes, Righteous Brothers, Sonny Charles & the Checkmates and Ike & Tina Turner among others, all came from their collaboration. Levine won a Grammy for his involvement with Spector in Herb Alpert’s hit version of ‘A Taste Of Honey’ in 1965 after which he was invited to become the staff engineer at A&M. Levine remained a Spector believer until the end and worked with him again in 1977 on Leonard Cohen’s Death Of A Ladies Man album and a year later on the Ramones End Of The Century. He died at his home in Encino 8 May 2008 aged 80.
jimmy mcgriff – born 3 April 1936 in Philadelphia Defined by many as a blues organist, his audience crossed many musical lines. Jimmy began playing the piano when he was 5 years old, both his parents also played. In church basic ideas moved him over to the organ. He trained at Combe College of Music in Philadelphia as well as Juilliard and in 1962 McGriff was playing his instrumental arrangement of Ray Charles' hit ‘I've Got a Woman’ at a Trenton, N.J., club when Juggy Murray of Sue Records NY discovered him and offered him a recording contract. This record became his first major hit. He also had single releases on Jell during this period. Over the next few years he had a further 3 R&B hit singles with ‘All About My Girl’ (’63), ‘Kiko’ (’64) on Sue and ‘The Worm’ (’68) a reissued Jell side on Solid State. McGriff’s reputation grew in stature to become one of a few distinguished organists that included Brother Jack McDuff (died in 2001), Bill Doggett (died in 1996), Richard "Groove" Holmes (died 1991) who he was influenced by and most notably Jimmy Smith (died in 2007) of whom McGriff once said "Jimmy Smith is the jazz king on the organ, but when it comes to blues, I can do things where he can't touch me." Jimmy was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis many years ago and died 24 May 2008 in a New Jersey nursing home aged 72.
bo diddley – born Otha Elas Bates McDaniel on 30 December 1928 in McComb, Mississippi but raised in Chicago he became the legendary Bo Diddley an R&B icon who’s repetitious songs were so influential in the early 60s that they were included in every upcoming UK pop groups repertoire. The way I remember it Bo Diddley had colourful album covers – his hair was close cropped, he wore a black and red tartan jacket (presumably of the McDaniel clan) with thick black-rimmed glasses, sporting an oblong box guitar with a rocket ship logo. At his side was the mysterious Duchess sewn into a gold lamé dress and sidekick Jerome Green. When you first heard his music instinctively you knew this was the real bedrock. His lyrics didn’t seem that important, the sound was a primeval mantra that bypassed the brain and jacked directly into the central nervous system causing involuntary twitching and unconditional surrender. The Diddley beat came straight from Africa via the cotton plantations of the south where it was known as ‘hambone’. Even his name came from a single string violin played there called a diddley bow. Bo brought this exciting sound to the western world through his music, he wrote and created his own soundtrack, a driving repeat guitar riff with tom tom beats that seemed to have very few variations at first. Many of his songs used himself as the subject ‘Bo Diddley’, ‘Diddley Daddy’, ‘Bo’s A Lumber Jack’, ‘Hey Bo Diddley’ etc but perhaps more memorable were ‘Mona’, ‘Who Do You Love’, ‘Road Runner’, ‘Hush Your Mouth’ and the Willie Dixon classic ‘You Can’t Judge A Book By Looking At The Cover’. His musical career spanned 50 years but like so many other great black musicians Bo did not reap his just rewards, he scored just one US Top 40 hit ‘Say Man’ (#20 Oct ‘59) but had more success on the R&B charts with 11 entries on Checker - between May ’55 and January ’67. Diddley’s music inspired 1000s, he was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1987, added to the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1989 and awarded a Lifetime Grammy by the R&B Foundation in 1998. But he made it clear to anyone who would listen while it was good to receive awards he would have been happier to be paid his royalties down the years. He suffered a stroke in May 2007. Bo died of heart failure in Florida on 2 June 2008 aged 79.
earl nelson – born 8 September 1928 in Lake Charles, LA. Half of the Bob & Earl duo that recorded the dancefloor/ chart smash ‘Harlem Shuffle’ in 1963. Earl Lee Nelson came up through the West Coast ‘50s music scene from gospel roots to form the Voices with Bobby Day, then moved on to the Hollywood Flames (lead vocal on Buzz, Buzz, Buzz – Ebb ’57) and Bob & Earl. Both Bob and Earl appeared in many different groups as well as having solo careers. But they went their separate ways in 1962 then Earl found a new Bob (Relf) who was previously with the Laurels. They signed to Tempe then Marc Records where they scored their classic hit ‘Harlem Shuffle.’ A series of one shots on Tip, Chene and Loma didn’t provide any further chart success so Earl reinvented himself as Jackie Lee in 1965 and scored a #4 R&B hit with ‘The Duck’ but also continued with the duo who had some success with ‘Baby It’s Over’ the following year. Nelson then continued solo and had 2 more R&B hits as Jackie on Keymen (‘African Boogaloo’ in April ’68) and on Uni (‘The Chicken’ in August 1970) but nothing came from his Capitol sides. He continued performing until Alzheimer’s prevented further performances and Earl died 12 July 2008 at home in Los Angeles aged 79.
isaac hayes – born 20 August 1942 in Covington, Ten. Isaac was a larger than life character who not only became very influential in the soul/ pop music fields but was a successful actor on TV and in the movies. His childhood was one of grinding poverty, orphaned at 6 he moved to Memphis with his grandparents and worked as a dishwasher and a bus boy before winning a talent show after which he discovered his true career path. He first came to prominence working at Stax records as a writer/ musician/ producer with partner David Porter in the mid ‘60’s where he wrote for a number of artists on their roster but is primarily known for the big hits he produced for Sam & Dave – ‘You Don’t Know Like I Know’, ‘Hold On I’m Comin’, ‘When Something Is Wrong With My Baby’ and ‘Soul Man’ among many others. Initially his solo career faltered when his first album Presenting Isaac Hayes flopped. The second Hot Buttered Soul was the iconic album (and cover) that launched him as a solo star. He began recording not only his own songs but his original makeovers of previous hits ‘By The Time I Get To Phoenix’ ‘I Stand Accused’ and ‘Walk On By’. In 1971 Isaac wrote, sang and produced the music for Gordon Parks historic blaxsploitation movie ‘Shaft’ that won him an Oscar for the soundtrack and gave him his one and only Pop #1. He told me in a Memphis interview in 1972 that he only did the score for ‘Shaft’ because he had been promised the lead acting role but only ended up with a small part. This huge success brought more movie work with ‘Shaft’s Big Score’(72), ‘3 Tough Guys’ (74) and ‘Truck Turner’ (74) (part of his score was used by Quentin Tarantino 30 years later in ‘Kill Bill’). He also appeared in America’s greatest TV detective series ‘The Rockford Files’ on a couple of occasions as Gandolf Fitch. Despite the OTT theatrical personas that he created for himself – The Grammy winner Black Moses, the chains and the hype, Ike had a great sense of humour and was a genuine, unassuming guy, not at all like his professional image. Hayes moved into the realms of superstardom scoring R&B#1 with 7 of his albums and charting with 17 more. He launched his own Hot Buttered Soul label in 1975, filed for bankruptcy 1977, received a Pioneer Award from the R&B Foundation in 1997 (the year Ike became famous with a new generation as the voice of Chef on the South Park TV series) was inducted into the R&R Hall of Fame in 2002 and suffered a stroke in 2006. Hayes Donated his gold plated Cadillac Eldorado to the Stax museum where he was a much-loved family member and one of the biggest influences in the creation of the Memphis Sound. Isaac died 10 August 2008 at his home in Memphis aged 65.
norman whitfield – born 12 May 1941 in Harlem NY. The Whitfield family moved west and Norman set up in Detroit and cut his teeth writing and producing for Thelma Records who issued a couple of dozen singles in the mid ‘60s. He hung out at the Motown Studios until he began to get some work in quality control listening to proposed releases by the label. He began writing for the Motown acts and early successes included the Velvelettes ‘Needle In A Haystack’ and the Marvelettes ‘Too Many Fish In The Sea’ then moved on to write and produce for the Temptations under the wing of Smokey Robinson. In 1968 Norman teamed up with Barrett Strong writing songs and developing his unique in studio production techniques. During a 6 year purple period he wrote and produced a string of classic songs ‘I Wish It Would Rain’, ‘I Heard It Through The Grapevine’, ‘Cloud Nine’. ‘Psychedelic Shack’, ‘Ball Of Confusion’ and ‘Papa Was A Rolling Stone’. Whitfield pioneered an acid soul/socio-political mix that provided the Temptations, Marvin Gaye and Undisputed Truth with some of their biggest hits. When Motown moved from Detroit to the West Coast in the mid ‘70s Norman was part of the exodus of artists that quit to set up their own companies. Through Warner Bros. he set up Whitfield Records with Undisputed Truth, Rose Royce and Spyder Turner but despite a five year run with later releases by Junior Walker, Willie Hutch and Masterpiece the label scored few hits. Normans’ biggest post Motown success came with the Soundtrack to ‘Car Wash’ in 1976. He took Rose Royce into the US Top 40 with ‘Dance Your Dance pt 1’ and ‘Love Don’t Live Here Anymore’ but they had a far lengthier Pop success in the UK with additional hits ‘Wishing On A Star’ (#3 Jan ’78), ‘It Makes You Feel Like Dancin’’ (#16), ‘Is It Love That You’re After’ (#13) and 3 more Top 50 singles. Whitfield retired in the early ‘80s but was busted by the IRS for tax evasion in 2005. He had not declared his re-issue earnings from the ‘90s that were considerable. He was sentenced to a 6 month prison term and fined $25,000. Due to ill health the sentence was served as home detention. Norman died 16 September 2008 from diabetes complications.
levi stubbs – born 6 June 1936 as Levi Stubbles in Detroit. He was one of 8 children including brother Joe, who sang with the Falcons, the Contours and 100 Proof Aged In Soul (died in Feb 1998). Formed the Aims with Billy ‘Roquel’ Davis, Abdul ‘Duke’ Fakir, Lawrence Payton and Renaldo ‘Obie’ Benson (after Davis left to manage and write for them they became the 4 Aims). Changed their name to the 4 Tops in ’56 and cut records for Chess, Columbia and Riverside with no success. Signed to Motown in 1963 where they cut some of the best and biggest hits in the companies history beginning with ‘Baby I Need Your Loving’ then ‘I Can’t Help Myself’, ‘The Same Old Song’, ‘Reach Out I’ll Be There’, ‘Standing In The Shadows Of Love’, ‘Bernadette’ and ‘Walk Away Renee’. Levi’s powerful lead vocals oozed a unique raw energy and the Tops unmistakable sound won them 18 Top 40 hits for Motown and half a dozen more for Dunhill, Casablanca and Arista between 1964–88. After Holland Dozier Holland left Motown in 1967 their hits were not quite as big, though more mainstream with a recut of Tommy Edward’s ‘It’s All In The Game’ Tim Hardin’s ‘If I Were A Carpenter’ and Jimmy Webb’s ‘MacArthur Park’ – they also remade Ike & Tina‘s ‘River Deep – Mountain High’ with the Supremes that went to #14 on the Hot 100. When they moved to Dunhill in 1972 they scored 2 big hits with ‘Keeper Of The Castle’ and ‘Ain’t No Woman’ (which went gold). ‘When She Was My Girl’ hit top 10 on Casablanca in 1981. Levi was famously the voice of the killer plant in ‘The Little Shop of Horrors’ movie remake in 1986. When Payton died in 1997, they didn’t replace him and toured on as the Tops, later ex Temptation Theo Peoples took his place. The 4 Tops were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1990 and the Vocal Group Hall of Fame in 1999. A year later Stubbs had a heart attack, was diagnosed with cancer and reluctantly retired. The Tops kept on going recruiting Roquel Payton (son of Lawrence). Levi came out of retirement to appear in the PBS televised concert celebrating the 4 Tops 50th Anniversary in 2004. The following year Benson died of cancer leaving Fakir as the last original member of the group. Levi died 17 October 2008 from cancer at his home aged 72.
dee dee warwick – born 25 September 1945 as Delia Mae Warrick in East Orange NJ. Like the Franklin sisters Dee Dee always rather struggled under the shadow of superstar sibling Dionne who had a massive career via Bacharach & David and on after that. But baby sister had her moments. Both were born into a family of Gospel singers. Their mother managed the Drinkard Singers an all female gospel group. who made records for Savoy, Verve and RCA during the ‘50s. The Drinkards also contained Dee Dee’s aunt Cissy Houston (sister of Thelma and mother of Whitney). When they came of age Dee Dee and Dionne formed their own trio the Gospelaires who sang in church and on secular recording sessions during the late 50s. As well as singing in a later line up of the Drinkards the girls became much in demand as backup singers on the New York soul/ pop recordings of Garnet Mimms, Wilson Pickett, Chuck Jackson and the Drifters plus
jimmy giuffre – born 26 April1921 in Dallas, Texas. As a youngster he was fascinated by the Big Band sounds that he heard on the radio and began studying and playing clarinet and tenor/ baritone saxophones, performing first in the army and then served his apprenticeship with the bands of Jimmy Dorsey, Buddy Rich and Woody Herman amongst others. In the early ‘50s he moved into smaller West Coast groups like Howard Rumsey and Shorty Rogers then went on to form his own Jimmy Giuffre 3 with Ralph Pena (bass) and Jim Hall (guitar). As the trio evolved Jim Atlas (bs) Bob Brookmeyer (valve tbone), Paul Bley (pno), Steve Swallow (bs) moved through the ranks. Biggest success came with ‘Four Brothers’ in 1948 that he wrote and arranged for Woody Herman and which later won him a lifetime Grammy. Also worth remembering were the great collaborations with Jim Hall on Atlantic that provided ‘Train & The River’, ‘Crazy She Calls Me’ and ‘Gotta Dance’. Taught at NYU in the ‘70s and New England Conservatory of Music in the early ‘90s. Though highly respected, much of his experimental music was judged ahead of its time though he maintained a personal quest for contemporary simplicity. Jimmy suffered Parkinson’s disease in later years and died 24 April 2008 of pneumonia in Pittsfield, Massachusetts two days short of his 87th birthday.
Johnny ‘Dizzy’ Moore of Skatalites 5 October 1938 > 16 August 2008
Alton Ellis Rock Steady star 1 September 1938 > 11 October 2008
2nd Kingston Trio member to die this year Nick Reynolds 27 July 1933 > 12 October 2008
Ray Topping, record collector, album/ CD compiler, researcher, discographer and Rock ‘n’ Roll specialist broadened his musical range to include Rockabilly, Country, Blues, R&B, Soul and Gospel music genres. He was born in Chalk Farm, London on 10 January 1943 and left school early to work for the Evening New as a messenger. Ray attended the Slade School of Art as a day release student but within a couple of years his interests in selected music history eclipsed his passion for drawing and he took a better paid job with a City based paper merchant. An avid record collector, he hunted the many shops and suppliers and I rubbed shoulders with him at Imhofs and Transat Imports on a couple of occasions. He moved to Post Office Telecom in 1977 and also began working as a consultant for top reissue label Ace Records. In addition to his music compilations, Ray contributed label listings, session and discographies to many specialist publications. He travelled the USA extensively researching and discovering unreleased masters on behalf of Ace, often in the company of label executives, securing deals with many independents and often liberating unheard gems from the vaults of Modern, Old Town, Murco, J&M, Bandera and many more that had lain undiscovered for years. His record collection became so vast that it took over his house and filled every room. Topping died after a long illness on 3 January 2009 a week before his 66th birthday from diabetes complications. His funeral was held on 19 January and was attended by 50 mourners from the music industry, among them his many friends from Ace Records. (peter burns)
tragic triple killing in jennifer hudson’s family
The brutal murders of Oscar winning actress and recording artist Jennifer Hudson’s mother Darnell, her brother Jason and her nephew Julian in October 2008, soon after the debut of her first Arista album and launch of her singing career must have been devastating for the Hudson family. Heaven only knows what agony it must have been for Jennifer and the remaining members of her family while Julian’s kidnap played out, until his body was recovered by Chicago police. Though the facts are not absolutely clear as to what actually happened yet, Jennifer’s sister (and mother of Julian) Julia’s estranged husband William Balfour is considered the only known suspect in the slayings and was arrested 1 December and charged with three homicides.
Jennifer thanked the public for their support following the shootings on her My/Space web page - “I want to thank each and every one of you for your thoughts and prayers during this difficult time,” Hudson said on her site Thursday. “My sister and I take great comfort and strength from your love and concern.”
It’s hard to imagine how difficult it is for Jennifer and her family to recover from the shock and personal loss of such an event. I would like to send my best wishes to her and hope that she can find the strength and personal resolve to put these tragic events behind her. And at some time in the not too distant future, after all the effects of this case are over, she can find peace and that her life can gradually return to some kind of normality. (peter burns)
photo by David Blank
Various- Take Me To The River - A Southern Soul Story 1961-1977. 3CD - Kent
Chicago duo Maurice & Mac begin CD2 with ‘You Left The Water Running’ and pitch us into another marvellous mixture of classics and rare gems like Don Bryant’s ‘I’ll Go Crazy’ and Bill Brandon’s ‘Rainbow Road’, perhaps better known by Arthur Alexander, who it was written for. But Bill’s sensitive version gives the song a different dimension. Shirley Walton was a Stax siren that many people didn’t hear – only two singles then she disappeared, pity because judging by ‘The One You Can’t Have’ she may have gone further, given the opportunity. Paul Kelly sounds like someone I should know more about if ‘Stealing In The Name Of The Lord’ is anything to go by. That the song caused a whiplash from religious circles is no surprise. A singer who writes this well deserves success and I for one will be surfing in search of his Happy Tiger and Warner sides. Chuck Brooks ‘Love’s Gonna Tear Your Playhouse Down’ reminds me of a Temps/ Whitfield track in flashes but was cut at Stax and written by We Three – though I’ve never heard it before. Great tracks worth a mention (though there are no poor ones) are Ollie & the Nightingales ‘A Smile Can’t Hide A Broken Heart’, and James Carr’s beautiful ‘That’s The Way Love Turned Out For Me’, ‘Buying A Book’ by Joe Tex is another of the wry dialogues that made him famous and gave him so many hits. ‘To The Other Woman’ was Doris Duke’s only big hit but she cut some other great sides tho’ not nearly enough of ‘em. Another Volt artist that seemed to get lost in the shuffle was Paul Thompson who only had one single there and as so often the B side was the side - ‘What I Don’t Know Won’t Hurt Me’. Still with Stax (tho’ cut at Muscle Shoals) one of Johnnie Taylor’s biggest hits that still moves it today - ‘Jody’s Got Your Girl And Gone’.
CD3 of Kent’s Southern Soul epistle opens with the obscure Marcell Strong’s ‘Mumble In My Ear’ a hot Muscle Shoals production from 1971 and rolls on with the infectious Denise LaSalle’s ‘Breaking Up Somebody’s Home’ – catch it if you can. Freddie North is a singer who doesn’t seem to have made as many records as he should have, ‘She’s All I’ve Got’ was his biggest and there were other Mankind singles plus an album or two (A-Bet) but he seemed to disappear after the ‘70s like a few other great talents. The respected Sam Dees (a very talented songwriter) had half a dozen hit singles in the mid ‘70s but his success since then, hasn’t matched his ability. ‘We Always Come Back Strong’ was the lead track on his ’96 Kent album. Written by his wife Posie, Frederick Knight’s ‘I’ve Been Lonely For So Long’ became his career hit and after struggling for years he went on to lengthy success with Stax, Truth, Juana and Malaco. ‘I’m Gonna Tear Your Playhouse Down’ by Ann Peebles was a hit just before her mega international smash ‘I Can’t Stand The Rain’ in mid 1973. Undoubtedly the song was influenced by Chuck Brooks 1970 Volt single (on CD2). When your talking Southern Soul, Muscle Shoals Studios has to be a major feature – So many great tracks were cut there and here are two in a row, first Bobby Womack with what Tony Rounce calls the quiet power of ‘I’m Through Trying To Prove My Love To You’ and the sassy Millie Jackson with one of her biggest US hits ‘It Hurts So Good’ a song featured in the Blaxploitation flick ‘Cleopatra Jones’. There are so many great tracks on this superb Kent trilogy and those I haven’t mentioned are just as likely to entertain and delight you as those I have. Al Green’s iconic ‘Take Me To The River’ though never a hit for him, is the perfect vehicle to transport us down south - you’ve heard about Northern Soul for more years than I care to mention, now feast your ears on Take Me To The River – A Southern Soul Story 1961-1977 mature music for soul men and women.
Turbans vs Nutmegs – Acrobat
An interesting 30-track combo from Acrobat featuring two of the great Herald mid ‘50s vocal groups the Turbans and the Nutmegs. The Turbans were as good if not better than many of their contemporaries. The quartets lead was Al Banks and their bassman Andrew ‘Chet’ Jones wrote many of their best sides. The Turbans only big hit was ‘When You Dance’, their first record that went to #3 R&B singles and #33 Hot 100 in November 1955. The style they created was way before it’s time and may well have been an influence on Ben E King when he wrote ‘Dance With Me’ 4 years later. They created a promising sound that might have taken them a lot further had they persisted with the style rather than reverting to the more conventional Do-Wop approach. Still the later singles were also good. The high tenor McPhatter influenced ballads ‘Let Me Show You’, ‘Valley Of Love’ and ‘Farewell To Arms’ were very good sides and the Uptempo ‘BINGO’, ‘Bye & Bye’ and ‘The Wadda Do’ cut a very commercial R’n’R groove for the time. The group disbanded in 1961 but Al Banks resurfaced in 1973 when he joined the Charlie Thomas Drifters and cut ‘Peace Of Mind’ with them on Steeltown.
Leona Lewis – Spirit – j
Various – Classic Detroit Style R&B – Soul Sounds/ My Town
Various – The Jerry Ragavoy Story 1953 –2003 – Ace
Solomon Burke – This Is It – Shout
Solomon Burke is one of the few superstars of soul who is still touring and recording at the highest level. After his comeback in 2002 many of the UK labels took the opportunity to reissue some of his great back catalogue. And now UK Shout have released his earliest recordings on CD, making them available to many collectors who couldn’t obtain them on vinyl. Originally cut for Apollo in the mid –50s these tracks bear little resemblance to his recent recordings but even at such an early age Solly oozes a soulful magic few of his contemporaries achieved. ‘Christmas Presents’ is one of the earliest songs that he wrote, for his grandmother after she bought him his first guitar and this record started his illustrious singing career. This Is It is a fine collection of Solomon’s early singles that are all worth a listen - these sessions produced ‘Why Do Me That Way’, ‘No Man Walks Alone’, ‘I Need You Tonight’, ‘For You And You Alone’ and ‘You Are My One Love’ and featured the added talents of the Ray Charles Singers, King Curtis and Mickey Baker. This even mixture of R&B, Rock ‘n’ Roll, Country and Gospel makes good listening, even 50+ years later and though he had to wait another five years for his first hit, you can hear the star potential clearly in these 16 debut cuts. My only complaint is that the other half a dozen Apollo tracks that were not included, it’s a great pity not to have them all in one place. A worthy reissue nevertheless.
Solomon Burke – Like A Fire – Shout
Various – The Big Top Records Story – Ace
Aretha Franklin – Jewels In The Crown – Arista
I yi yi yi yi I it‘s the Queen Matriarch of Soul givin’ it to us as only she can, this time with a host of superstar guests. ‘Jumpin’ Jack Flash’ w/ Keith sizzles at the start and rolls onto ‘Sisters Are Doin’ It For Themselves’ where she swops larynx’s with Annie Lennox on their hit single from 1985. George Michael’s up next with ‘I Knew You Were Waiting’ and Aretha coo’s her relaxed way through this one onto ‘What Now My Love’ and can you believe it they even dug up old grey eyes for this album. ‘What Y’All Came To Do’ w/ John Legend is a lot of fun and contains a sample from Sam & Dave’s ‘I Thank You’ then Aretha gets serious with Mary J. on ‘Never Gonna Break My Faith’. I thought it might be one Queen too many on ‘Through The Storm’ but the duet works very well – as does ‘Natural Woman’ a live cut with Bonnie Raitt and Gloria Estefan that provides an interesting alternative to her classic original. Silk on silk with Luther has them disobeying ‘Doctors Orders’ and giving the best to each other making this an album highlight. Different folks will like different tracks but most will appeal to many of us who enjoy great vocalists in a duet. Not everyone can sing a duet convincingly but historically R&B duets have proved popular down the years. Donny Hathaway, Marvin Gaye, Dionne Warwick, Peabo Bryson and Dinah Washington all had big success in duet and this album sits Aretha comfortably alongside them. Listen to ‘Love All The Hurt Away’ w/ George Benson and I’m sure you’ll agree. But I’m not talking about Nessun Dorma. 15 Tracks from Arista boss producer Clive Davis leaves us all in a good mood and some of us - a little breathless.
Dominoes – Juke Box Hits 1951-57– Acrobat
Drifters – Juke Box Hits 1953-57– Acrobat
McPhatter left the Dominoes and famously created one of the greatest vocal groups of all time - the Drifters, initially as his back up group and found even bigger success. They cut a string of very influential hit singles that lit up the R&B charts almost continuously for two decades. Starting with ‘Money Honey’ Clyde’s hi-tenor influenced a legion of aspiring vocalists Smokey Robinson, Dee Clark, Sammy Turner etc among them and Elvis developed his early style and covered some of the Drifters initial hits citing McPhatter as his favourite singer. Eight of Clyde’s best Drifters sides are here including ‘Such A Night’, ‘Honey Love’ (which despite a Radio ban crossed over to the Pop Top 20) ‘White Christmas’ and ‘What You Gonna Do’ (the melody line which Hank Ballard pinched for ‘The Twist’). After a periodic splutter the Drifters found Johnny Moore to replace Clyde and the hits continued with ‘Adorable’, ‘Ruby Baby’ and ‘Fools Fall In Love’. Once McPhatter finished his military service he opted for a solo career and the hits continued with ‘Love Has Joined Us Together’, ‘Seven Days’, Treasure Of Love’, ‘Without Love’ and several all more included here.
Wynonie ‘Mr Blues’ Harris toured and recorded with great Jazz and R&B legends like Illinois Jacquet, Bill Doggett, Charlie Mingus and many others. Described by Roger Dopson in his informative liner notes as a mighty, mighty man, Wynonie blazed an impressive trail on the US R&B charts from the mid 40s to the early 50s scoring 15 Top 10 hits on the Apollo and King labels. Though blues shouter Wynonie cut some covers himself, many of his recordings were influential and versions were later released by luminaries like Witherspoon, Eddie ‘Cleanhead’ Vinson, Little Willie Littlefield and James Brown among others. This excellent compilation contains all his hits in chronological order plus bonus hot items ‘Teardrops From My Eyes’, ‘Keep On Churnin’, ‘Night Train’, ‘Greyhound’ and ‘Quiet Whiskey’.
Little Milton – If Walls Could Talk – Shout
Shout reissue Little Milton’s If Walls Could Talk, the album many Blues fans consider his best plus six extra bonus tracks two of which ‘Let Me Down Easy’ and ‘Grits Ain’t Groceries’ were hit singles both reaching #13 on the R&B singles chart of the late 60s. This gutsy album was produced by none other than Chicago’s ‘The Ear’ Calvin Carter who bought in Gene Barge to arrange the sessions cut at Ter Mat Studios. The results were nothing less sensational. Milton at his best, a strong selection of songs, excellent musicians (Donny Hathaway on piano) and first rate production gave him his last great farewell album from Checker. ‘If Walls Could Talk’ the opening title track gives every indication of what’s to come. As a single it went to #10 R&B in December ’69 giving Milton his first top ten record in 2 years. ‘Baby I Love You’ written and previously recorded by the superb Jimmy Holiday became his biggest single since ‘Who’s Cheating Who’ in July ’65. Milton keeps his foot on the gas with ‘Let’s Get Together’ (#13 R&B August ’69) before taking a breather with ‘Things I Used To Do’. Other highlights include ‘Blues Get Off My Shoulder’, ‘I Play Dirty’, Aretha Franklin‘s ‘Good To Me As Am To You’ and Brook Benton’s ‘I Don’t Know’. Bonus tracks not already mentioned include an OK Bluesy version of the much recorded soul classic ‘Dark End Of The Street’, a reworked ‘I (Who Have Nothing) and the intriguing ‘Driftin’ Drifter’. Like Bobby Bland, Little Milton Campbell’s music was mid blues and soul and this album has him at his best. Good informative notes from Clive Richardson as usual.
Various – A Goffin & King Song Collection 1961-67 – Ace
Gerry Goffin & Carole King were one of the greatest and most famous songwriting teams of all time. Their songs were and continue to be recorded by so many artists across the world. Carole looked like having an early pop singing career when ‘It Might As Well Rain Until September’ hit the Hot 100 in 1962 but follow-ups didn’t register on the charts. It was also a big hit in the UK and again 10 years later on re-issue. Gerry & Carole married early but when their marriage ended so did their song writing partnership and Carole launched her own very successful solo career with the Tapestry album in 1971. This collection contains some of their greatest hits like ‘Halfway to Paradise’ (in the USA Tony Orlando - UK Billy Fury), ‘I Can’t Hear You No More’ (USA Betty Everett – UK Lulu) and ‘Natural Woman’ Aretha Franklin but doesn’t contain the song that started it all for them ‘Will You Love Me Tomorrow’ or ‘Up On The Roof’ and too many others to mention. But tends, like others in this series, to concentrate on the rarer recordings, the most worthy being ‘A Man Without A Dream’ – Righteous Brothers (marginally better by Ben E King), ‘Another Night With The Boys’ the Drifters lead by the incomparable Rudy Lewis, ‘Love Eyes’ Bertell Dache, ‘Don’t You Ever Change’ the Crickets, ‘I Was There’ Lenny Welch, ‘Yours Until Tomorrow’ the superb Dee Dee Warwick. Other great tracks included were the superb ‘He’s In Town’ which just missed the US top 40 but the UK cover by the Rockin’ Berries went to #3 in October ’64. The recently departed Richard ‘Popcorn’ Wylie cut one of G&K’s more obscure songs ‘Brand New Man’ in 1963 and other relatively unknown tracks include ‘I Can’t Make It Alone’ (later a hit for minor hit for Bill Medley) and ‘Some Of Your Lovin’’ by the Honey Bees (who also doubled as the Cookies - with different leads). Carole King also cut this song a short time later. – once again too many great tracks to cover here, 26 to be accurate
Various - Always Something There – Burt Bacharach 1952-69 – Ace
Recommended Further Listening
Also Connoisseur issued collection in 1998
Jennifer Hudson – Arista
Various - James Brown’s Productions 1962-67 - BGP
Esther Phillips - Mistrustin’ & Deceivin’ – Acrobat
In my opinion Esther Phillips was one of the greatest female singers of all time. She cut such fine music right from her earliest beginnings on Modern and Savoy with the Johnny Otis band, who featured her as a vocalist from 1949-51. During that time she scored 8 top 10 US R&B hit singles (7 for Savoy and 1 for Federal). The Savoy tracks have been impossible to find for many years and remained unissued on CD until Bob Fisher put this fine compilation together for Acrobat. This desirable 25 tracker entitled Mistrustin’ and Deceivin’ it contains all seven of the Savoy hits plus 10 Federal tracks, also pretty rare since their first CD issue by Charly compiler Cliff White on two early Esther albums Baad Girl and Better Beware back in 1987 at the digital dawning. Esther fans like myself greatly appreciate Bob Fisher’s efforts but a second volume featuring the 5 Modern tracks and the remaining 7 or more Savoy cuts seems unlikely to find digital liberation anytime soon, since Acrobats recent and unfortunate demise.
Esther Phillips – Release Me – Acrobat
Another great Esther album that Acrobat has liberated from vinyl is the classic Release Me (originally issued in the UK as Reflections of Country & Western Greats by ‘Little’ Esther Phillips on Ember in 1961). While the cover by Engelbert Humperdink went on to establish a huge international career for him, Esther still enjoyed a big US hit (#1 R&B/ #8 Pop) with it in late ’62 with the title track but was not heard elsewhere in the world. This album was cut in the early ‘60s and may have inspired Ray Charles to record Modern Sounds In Country & Western Music and the R&B/Soul interest in Country songs by the likes of Solomon Burke and Joe Tex. ‘Just Out Of Reach’ and ‘I Really Don’t Want To Know’ and other songs on this album were later cut by several artists. ‘Release Me’ also marked a brief return to the charts for Esther after a decade in the wilderness struggling with a heroin addiction that would plague her life. If you want either of the Esther albums reviewed here get them soon as they won’t be around long.
Various - The Jazz Hits - Ace
Linda Hopkins – Rock & Roll Blues – Shout
Various – Do-Wah-Diddy - Ellie Greenwich & Jeff Barry – Ace
R.Crumb’s Heroes of Blues, Jazz & Country – Published by Abrams New York 2006
Movin’ On Up
Directors: David Peck, Phillip Galloway & Tom Gulotta
This is a great package featuring a 28-page booklet that includes a good mixture of known and previously unseen photos. Breaking down the 3 hour running time runs as follows - Hour 1 Curtis Mayfield & the Impressions. Hour 2 – Curtis solo. Hour 3 - Bonus Features. There were 2 editions issued - Deluxe (colour pack) & regular (black & white)
The main factor that puts this DVD compilation above the documentaries made previously is that the Impressions are given their due recognition. While Curtis Mayfield was their lead vocalist/ writer/ producer, Sam Gooden and Fred Cash contributed a great deal to the Impressions sound and have been rather overlooked in the past, even though they have continued to record and work for nearly 40 years since his departure. After the intro, Sam & Fred tell the early story of the Impressions formation and the period when they struggled to find a follow-up to their big VeeJay hit ‘For Your Precious Love’, though there is not much early musical reference on the soundtrack. They skip ‘Gypsy Woman’ and the first Impressions performance is ‘It’s All Right’ cut after their years in New York as a quintet, when they had returned to Chicago as a trio. Also the great Johnny Pate’s input gives the story a dimension not previously available. For the first time the fans are able to understand in detail just what a big part Pate played in the creation and development of the Impressions unique sound. The other talking heads are also particularly good and feature guitar hero Carlos Santana, rapper Chuck D, Civil Rights activist Ambassador Andrew Young and Altheida Mayfield in addition to Curtis, Sam, Fed and Johnny. Performances run through many of their singles, the civil rights anthem ‘People Get Ready’, Meeting Over Yonder’, ‘We’re A Winner’ - the record many radio stations banned because they thought it too militant, ‘This Is My Country’ with Clifton Davis’ poetic recitation over an Impressions performance, using quotes from Mayfield’s lyrics as part of it’s message. ‘Check Out Your Mind’ flagged the change that was about to come with Curtis’ departure from the group, though he still used their voices on some of his early solo records ‘Move On Up’ etc. After the first hour the story moves into Mayfield’s solo career with an interesting video of ‘If There’s A Hell Below We’re’ All Gonna Go’. This DVD covers Curtis’ story with a much more rounded perspective than before making use of those closest to him – namely Sam, Fred and Johnny.
I have no truck with this fine DVD but unless they have a sequel in the pipeline 1973 seems a very strange time to stop talking about Curtis and though his future was mentioned by him and his wife, the interviews were recorded much later and did not refer to the missing 17 years of Curtis Mayfield’s recording career not featured here. We all know how important sales and hits are but these issues should not eclipse art and anyway he had more than 20 hit R&B singles on the charts between 1973-85. The story told here is very far from complete. Not counting the compilations, Curtis recorded 33 solo albums during his career and only the first 5 were covered in this documentary. OK even if you leave out the 7 live albums he cut for various labels, that still leaves 21 albums, more than 70% of his recorded output (between 1973–90) is missing. Then we have to consider the years after his tragic accident leading up to his final album the superb New World Order in 1996. Also the five movie soundtracks Claudine, Let’s Do It Again, Sparkle, Short Eyes and A Piece Of The Action and then he scored and the made further contributions to I Mo Git U Sucka, Return Of Superfly, Get On The Bus, Mod Squad and Eve’s Bayou. The Impressions also continued to make wonderful music and are still recording and touring. Their history with a number of lead singers produced a dozen more albums on Curtom, Cotillion, Chi Sound, Edel/ Pie and ReBirth. So clearly there is plenty of material left to make a second DVD - ‘Mayfield & the Impressions – The Missing Years’ perhaps. There are other major players not interviewed this time like Jerry Butler, Carl Davis and Eddie Thomas - plus it would be good to discover the music of the Mayfield children and their views on Curtis’ legacy.
Back to Movin’ On Up - The Bonus Features include German TV performances (with German subtitles) of ‘Move On Up’, ‘Mighty Mighty, Spade & Whitey’, ‘We’re A Winner’, ‘Darker Than Blue’ and ‘Freddie’s Dead’. Interviews to camera are intercut between tracks and Cutis speaks about his songs, his intentions and the presentation of his message. He relates that his records were censored by the US media but welcomes the positive changes that were happening in the mid 70’s, when this was shot. The bonus interviews with those contributors mentioned earlier are important because they highlight Mayfield’s inspirational brilliance that has earned him much respect and genuine affection from his contemporaries in a wide sweep of opinion. Johnny Pate’s and the Impressions recollections were particularly interesting and informative and for fans like me who crave the detail, fill in a lot of gaps. Incidentally you can select the music videos as you choose from a menu (under Just The Music) rather than wade through the documentary every time you want to watch a track and that goes for the Bonus Features as well. This is a thoroughly well crafted DVD and a must for all Impressions and Curtis fans – I look forward to the sequel.
© earshot (peter burns) february 2009