If great modern jazz is your thing, you may want to check out a series of 2CD sets issued by Avid Jazz currently available on Amazon for just £3.46 each. It seemed too good to be true to me but I bought - Jimmy Giuffre (4 classic albums plus) that includes the amazing Atlantic album The Jimmy Giuffre 3. I also picked up Count Basie & his Orchestra (4 classic albums), Thelonious Monk (4 classic albums) and the MJQ (4 classic albums). They’ve all been digitally re-mastered and are the bonafide recordings. Inside you’ll also find all the line ups and original LP notes. It’s a great chance to put together a serious jazz collection for not much money at all. Others in the series at that price include: - Chico Hamilton, Clifford Brown, Barney Kessel, Anita O’Day, Al Cohn, Sonny Rollins, Art Pepper, and at a higher price range (between £7-8.00) Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie, Milt Jackson, John Lewis and Blossom Dearie. Hopefully there’s more to come before they change the law and Public Domain is no more. (peter burns)
tony middleton on CD
In my last Tony Middleton feature I complained that there was very little of his music available on CD or download. Most of the vinyl issued over the past 50 years has become rare and collectable and so prohibit ably expensive. It seems Tony got tired of waiting for the reissue companies to get round to it, so in 2003 he issued a CD himself. He has a big voice in the tradition of Roy Hamilton and Billy Eckstine and now more fans can hear him to greater effect on the sensational Paris Blues. ‘Let Me Down Easy’ ‘Sitiest People’, ‘A Garden In The Ghetto’, pick any track you like from the 20 song scan from his catalogue and you won’t be disappointed. ‘Blackjack’ was Cash Box record of the week when it was issued in late 1958. The song examines the downside of gambling with a storyline in the tradition of ‘Stagger Lee’. ‘The Universe’ covers much the same ground as ‘Unchained Melody’ that Tony cut for Big Top and is also included here. Of course he’s worked with many great producers, writers and arrangers during his long career and both sides of his 1962 United Artists single ‘Drifting’ (that has a flavour of the sides cut by Ben E King at that time) and ‘Memories Are Made Of This’ a Leiber & Stoller production and an interesting remake of Dean Martin’s hit that also found favour with the Drifters in 1966. One track here that is also available as a download is ‘Count Your Blessings’ was cut in New York on the Triumph label in 1958 and features King Curtis. It’s a song that’s reminiscent of Tony’s best early work with the Willows. As a longtime Tony Middleton fan I was delighted to be able to buy this CD and finally obtain some of his earliest solo recordings. This is an unofficial collection dubbed from vinyl onto CDR and it’s not available everywhere. I got my copy from www.cdbaby.com
Tony’s only other previous CD was the Broadway soundtrack recording of Cabin In The Sky a theatrical production that also starred Rosetta LeNoire and Ketty Lester from 1963. Middleton is featured on 4 (of the 17) songs, the title track ‘Cabin In The Sky’ and ‘Not A Care In The World’ (w/ Rosetta LeNoire) plus ‘Love Me Tomorrow’ and ‘Living It Up’ (w/ Ketty Lester) issued in the USA on Angel Records (1993). This was just one of the many hit Broadway productions Tony starred in, others being ‘Little Augie’, ‘Porgy & Bess’, ‘Purlie’ etc. A recent email from Middleton fan Linda Kofstad told me about another unofficial TM CD Memories Are Made Of This (Cat King Cole 1009) that I rapidly obtained from email@example.com This compilation features 29 tracks including ‘Sweet Baby Of Mine’ (that’s not listed on the cover). Even accounting for 8 duplications it still leaves us with 21 previously unavailable tracks. His solo work has such a rich variety and on this compilation is ‘My Little Red Book’ (a hit for Manfred Mann but cut first by Tony) made with Bacharach, ‘You Spoiled My Reputation’ and ‘If I Could Write A Song’ were made with Johnny Pate and ‘Don’t Ever Leave Me/ To The Ends Of The Earth’ with Klaus Ogermann, that sold well in New York and was nominated for a Grammy in 1972. These were 3 of his greatest singles and other fine tracks include ‘Spanish Maiden’, ‘My Home Town’, ‘Return To Spanish Harlem’, ‘Harlem Lady’, ‘If You Had To Break Somebody’s Heart’ - Tony Middleton is one of the unsung greats, a completely original singer with a voice like a husky baritone sax. All these tracks stand up well today and it‘s great to finally have the chance to listen to them when I choose to.
Having gone this far with the liberation of Middleton’s long lost catalogue, let’s push for the gems still awaiting CD issue like his very first solo outing ‘I'm On My Way/ Lover, Lover’ (issued on Saxony in 1956) and perhaps the rarest are the recordings made in France on 3 EPs ‘Adam & Eve’ a song from the soundtrack of ‘Eva’ Joseph Losey’s dark drama set in Venice, with a great score by Michel Legrand (issued in the UK on Phillips in 1962). The two other EPs were released only in France on Versailles Records in 1963 and 1964. The first contained ‘Meet Me At Madison Square’, ‘I Can't Stop Loving You’, ‘Well I Told You’ and ‘Oh Yeah Ah Ah’. The second featured 4 more songs, the Mel Torme classic ‘Comin’ Home Baby’, ‘Feel So Bad’, ‘Listen To My Heart’ and ‘Night After Night’. The American singles often cut on small independent labels were pressed in small runs like ‘Ruby Tuesday’ (Toy 1972), ‘Rooter, Rooter Grind’ (Cotton 1975), ‘Since I Found You’ (Joker) added to ‘Angela’ (A&M 1969), ‘It Wouldn’t Have Made Any Difference/ Lovelight’ (Columbia 1973). Tony recorded with Burt Bacharach again in 1972 this time in a duet with Cissy Houston when they cut ‘I Come To You’ and issued on Burt’s Living Together album (A&M). I may have missed a couple down the years but to my reckoning these 17 tracks would complete the Middleton singles catalogue. The only vinyl album that Tony actually cut in his long career was Swingin’ For Hamp, recorded for Concord in 1979 with the great jazz pianist Ellis Larkins and his Trio. This album was dedicated to Lionel Hampton and produced by Ruby Fisher, who co-wrote most of the songs. Tony sings on 7 of the 10 tracks in a style that comes remarkably close to the ‘live’ performances that he’s made and is still currently making at a number of New York clubs and venues. His dates at Destino Restaurant, 891 First Avenue and the Metropolitan Room, 34 West 22nd Street with pianist Jesse Elder have proved very popular. The Middleton magic is now in constant demand and in the past few months he’s appeared at Sunday Brunch Blue Note on 131 West 3rd Street, The Anderson Centre for Performing Arts, Binghamton University, NY. The Landmark Theatre Syracuse, Enzo's Jazz @ The Jolly Madison Tower, 22 East 38th Street, and occasionally plays a date with the Willows, such as the Westbury Music Fair. Private functions like a Valentine's Day Private Party, Long Island. Another highlight was at Long Island University in March, where Tony performed songs from his Doo-Wop past in a show entitled ‘Clay Cole & the Rock ‘n’ Roll Years at the Brooklyn Paramount (1954-1967)’. His program might feature any of the superb songs he’s recorded in the past but Tony’s performances have never been restricted specifically to his recorded catalogue. At a recent gig at the Metropolitan Room in ’Feelin’ Good’, a new menu featured ‘Stardust’, ‘Cabin In The Sky’, ‘When It’s Sleepy Time Down South’, ‘I Got Love’, ‘Georgia On My Mind’, ‘Lady’, ’Route 66’, ’You Turned Your Back On Me’, ‘Yesterday’, ‘New York, New York’, ‘Wonderful World’, ‘All The Things You Are’ and ‘Church Bells May Ring’. Reviewer Oscar E Moore, who was in attendance, described the show as an “…amazing musical journey” and reported “Tony sang with a warmth, passion and sensitivity that showed off his smooth, lower sultry range, his belting top notes and easy going, velvety, thick as molasses tones. And his back up trio is one of the best I have ever heard. A classic Billy Kaye on drums, Rob Adkins on bass and the exceptionally talented, 25 year old Jesse Elder on piano”. Similar levels of praise came from Faith Aarons who went to Destino with her son, J Records Urban Promotion Manager Russell Jones to celebrate her birthday that by all reports was a very busy night, as Tony’s manager Phyllis Cortese was also belatedly celebrating her birthday. Faith described Tony as Mr Conviviality as well as being a great singer he took time out to talk to her between sets. “He had the room tapped”. She intends to return on a quieter night to listen closer to Tony’s set. Ms Cortese is also a gracious lady and it seems that she has recently brought Tony into the limelight once again. So if you’re travelling to the Big Apple or are lucky enough to live near or in New York catch him ‘live’ if you can, it’s a unique experience. Check out the dates and venues on his website firstname.lastname@example.org
Unfortunately some of us can’t get to see Mr Middleton perform, even though he is clearly at a peak as both fans and music critics have testified. The Manhattan Cabaret Association nominated Tony for the 2009 Mac Award as Male Jazz/ R&B Vocalist of the Year and but sadly the honour went to Jack Donahue. So for those of us unable to make the journey to New York in the near future, more of his wonderful music is available on CD than ever before. In addition to the music discussed above, his earliest recordings with the Willows - The Best Of The Five Willows (Allen SCD 6000) is still available and a number of compilations feature single tracks - Keeping The Faith 4CD, Castle (Paris Blues), The Doo Wop Box 1 4CD, Rhino (Church Bells May Ring), Rockin’ Doo Wop, Sequel (Let’s Fall In Love), Festival Of Groups, Sequel (Earth Cousins), Big City Soul – The MGM Story, Goldmine (To The Ends Of The Earth) and most recently an interesting collection of Latin/ soul tracks The Soul Of Spanish Harlem (BGP) features ‘Already Satisfied’ a great track that Tony cut with percussionist Bobby Matos on Speed in 1969. Also another way to hear/ see our hero in action is on YouTube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X0wkKBIARao where there are several versions of ‘Paris Blues’ to view, ‘To The Ends Of The Earth’, ‘Spanish Maiden’. ‘My Little Red Book’ and a few with the Willows ‘Love Bells’, ‘Church Bells May Ring’, and ‘Let’s Fall In Love’ among them, with new videos coming on line all the time. From 11 May 2009 five new songs have been posted on You Tube, all recorded at the Metropolitan Rooms in New York with the Jesse Elder trio. Check out ‘Lady’ on http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2GZNsMERigk and thereabouts you’ll also find ‘Georgia’, ‘Yesterday’, ‘Evil Eye’ and ‘At Last’. After a long career working in the soulmine both with the Willows and as a solo performer, Tony Middleton is at last getting some of the long overdue recognition due to him and there’s never been a better time to obtain his back catalogue or to catch him live. (peter burns)
jerry wexler - merlin of soulful music
It was Rolling Stone Magazine who dubbed Jerry Wexler the ‘Godfather Of Rhythm & Blues’ in their 1980 feature and interview by Timothy White. By then he had ‘retired’ from Atlantic Records, was operating as an independent producer and had already completed projects with Etta James, Bob Crewe, Dire Straits and Bob Dylan and was working as Vice President at Warner.Gerald Wexler was born on 10 January 1917 into an orthodox Jewish family from the Bronx, New York, and grew up in the Washington Heights neighborhood of Upper Manhattan after moving there when he was six. He struggled with academia and spent more time out of school than in, preferring the company of his friends at Artie’s Poolroom during the depression of the ‘30s. Through his mother’s persistence he tried college but it didn’t last. Then she somehow found the money to send him to Kansas University to study journalism but after a promising start, he failed to complete the course. Jerry’s major interest had always been in music since his childhood and add to his love of 30’s Harlem as a teen, where he and his friends went to see all the big bands Fletcher Henderson and the likes of Jimmie Lunceford at the dance halls. Then in Kansas City he’d really been bitten by the Jazz bug on 12th Street, where so many great musicians filled the after hours clubs, jamming into the dawn. He spent many happy hours searching for second hand 78 rpm records in junk shops and market stalls where he could buy them for a few pennies. In New York, using his knowledge of Jazz, he began to deal records to make some cash and add to his collection. He met and married local girl Shirley Kampf and the changes this brought about forced him to work for his father as a window washer. Within a year Jerry was called up and served in the US Army during World War II and luckily for him, he wasn’t sent to Europe. His tour of duty however really turned Wexler’s life around and provided him with the structure, order and discipline that he had so far lacked. He was posted to Florida and Shirley joined him there in married quarters - they fell in love with the place. He had always been a reader but now it was such a passion that it created a desire in him to become a writer. After demob he was sufficiently motivated to return to Kansas State University where he completed his studies. Following his graduation in journalism, he went to work for BMI. Wexler, the Ertegun brothers and Herb Abramson had all become friends through their mutual interest in Jazz music. All of them built large record collections and hung out together in the after hours New York clubs. Their mutual love of jazz blossomed into a desire to make and market the music they admired. Jerry landed a job at Billboard Magazine in 1948, where he famously coined the phrase ‘Rhythm & Blues’ to replace the ‘Race’, ‘Ebony’ and ‘Sepia’ categories previously used in their chart listings. After Ahmet Ertegun set up Atlantic Records with Herb Abramson in 1947 their dreams gradually became a reality. When Abramson was called up in 1953, Wexler got his chance to follow his dream when Ertegun invited him to join the company as a junior partner.
The very first records Jerry made with Ahmet as co-producer were at the historic Clyde McPhatter & the Drifters ‘Money Honey’ Session in August 1953. This seminal production partnership would grow to create some of the finest R&B/ Soul music over the next 20 years. Their body of work, both together and independently would shape and inspire much of the black music of the mid 20th Century. With their united enthusiasm to discover authentic R&B music and put it on record, Wexler & Ertegun became groundbreaking music pioneers. They would travel south together in the mid ‘50s in search of exciting sounds, arriving in a towns and cities, searching out the segregated black clubs where the best music was happening, they would discover raw urban R&B Music and when possible sign artists to their label. Then unlike any of the other label owners, they would become a vital part of the creative process, finding or writing songs for their artists, rehearsing and shaping their performances so they ensured the best possible results in their, at first, makeshift studio. They would push the furniture to one side of their combined office space and the young engineer Tom Dowd would set about getting it all down on tape. This is how the early hits of Ruth Brown ‘(Mama) He Treats Your Daughter Mean’, ‘Oh What A Dream’ and ‘Mambo Baby’ and Big Joe Turner’s ‘Honey Hush’, ‘TV Mama’ and the classic ‘Shake Rattle & Roll’ were born. The same formulae worked for LaVern Baker with ‘Tweedle Dee’, ‘Play It Fair’ and ‘Jim Dandy’, the Clovers ‘Lovey Dovey’, ‘Your Cash Ain’t Nothin’ But Trash’ and ’Devil Or Angel’ and many other of the artists on their 50s roster. This team also pioneered a revolution in record production and marketing, participating in the evolution of the modern music business as Atlantic set the benchmark that few other labels managed to achieve. Wexler was one of the guys that created a brand of music that set a generation free from Tin Pan Alley’s neutered music - R&B music was real, it meant something to those that heard it. Atlantic’s mission was to bring black R&B/ Soul and Jazz music to the Hot 100 long before the independent black labels sprang up in the ‘60s - Motown etc. that sanitized black music and directed it at the larger white market. Before any of that happened Jerry and Ahmet had already bought genuine R&B and Soul Music into the mainstream. As Wex said in 1980 “Nobody really knew how to make records when we first started, that all came later with experience, at first I relied on my instincts (and later found his instincts were good). We put the artists through many hours of rehearsal before bringing them to the studio. Most other labels did not do this at the time.” But Atlantic paid attention to every detail and this is why their early product still sounds so good today. “Somehow we always kept things loose but professional. A lot of critics, writers and people who are not involved with the recording process stress the improvisation of rock and soul music, and totally overlook the preparation and rehearsal. The way you achieve the illusion of spontaneity - which is what we are dealing with, because a record is an illusion - is through careful preparation.”
Atlantic missed out on signing Elvis Presley in 1956 but they had managed to ink Ray Charles and the label moved up a click or two when the dynamic duo began to record and release ‘It Should Have Been Me’, ‘I Got A Woman’ and the sensational ‘What’d I Say’. As part of an inspired deal they signed Jerry Leiber & Mike Stoller to Atlantic in 1957 as Independent Producer/ Writers but they didn’t move to New York for a year or so bringing new ideas and the Coasters (who were signed to Atco) with them. Wex and Ahmet produced Bobby Darin’s fourth hit single ‘Plain Jane’ who was the first white artist to sign to the company. Another big record that they also produced that year was ‘A Lover’s Question’ with Clyde McPhatter that was to prove his career hit. As the workload increased in 1959 when the label crossed over to the Hot 100 scoring big pop hits with ‘What’d I Say’ and ‘I’m Movin’ On’ (Ray Charles), ‘I Waited Too Long‘ (LaVern Baker), ‘There Goes My Baby’, ‘True Love, ‘True Love’ and ‘Dance With Me’ (Drifters), ‘I Don’t Know’ (Ruth Brown), ‘Charlie Brown’ and Poison Ivy’ (Coasters) Wex and Ertegun took on separate production duties. R&B made way for Soul and Atlantic led the way into a new decade. Wexler signed and produced Solomon Burke’s first hit in 1961 ‘Just Out Of Reach’ and promptly passed him over to Bert Berns who wrote and produced ‘Cry To Me’. Wex intermittently worked with Burke, who he considered the greatest soul singer ever, over the next seven years. Jerry cut the very first session with Ben E King where they cut 4 tracks but none were used as singles. Three were used on the Don’t Play That Song album and one ‘Hearts Of Stone’ was never issued. He briefly teamed up again with Ertegun to produce (and write) ‘I’m Standing By’ (actually it was a straight pinch from a Gospel song) for Ben E King on the ‘Don’t Play That Song’ session in March ’62. He also found ‘Under The Boardwalk’ for the Drifters in ’64 and co-wrote ‘That’s When It Hurts’ and ‘Si Senor’ for Ben E King. Because of a slip up by Atlantic not signing Wilson Pickett he’d sent them his demo of ‘If You Need Me’ Jerry had missed out, so he and Bert Berns produced the song with Solomon Burke and it became the bigger hit due to superior production. He finally signed Pickett in 1964 and looking for a new sound he took him down to Stax Records in Memphis. Wex had him working closely with Steve Cropper and the MGs on ‘The Midnight Hour’, ‘Don’t Fight It‘ and ‘634 5789’ and the hit album that followed. But after a few sessions because of Pickett’s caustic attitude, they didn’t want him back, so Wexler moved on to Muscle Shoals in Alabama where they cut ‘Mustang Sally’, ‘Funky Broadway’, ‘Hey Jude’ etc. Incidentally, he also provided the loan to allow the Muscle Shoals band to leave Fame and set up on their own, which didn't endear him to Rick Hall at the time! Despite the problems with Pickett, Wexler went on to form a lasting relationship with Stax and it was he who negotiated the distribution deal that broke Stax worldwide and signed Otis Redding to Atco. These early solo successes kept Atlantic at the forefront of Soul Music.
By the mid sixties Wexler began to record wonder session saxman King Curtis as a solo in his own right. These sides were issued on Atco and progressed through a number of early covers to some very innovative and original music. However it was the huge success he created with Aretha Franklin that brought Jerry Wexler’s name to mainstream attention. Franklin had languished at Columbia for 7 years, scoring relatively few hits before Wex signed her to Atlantic and dramatically turned her career around with their first (and only) session at Muscle Shoals. Accompanying Aretha and Wex down south to the studios was her truculent husband Ted White. Planning to stay there a week, Wexler had asked Rick Hall to book the Memphis Horns to work with the all white Muscle Shoals rhythm section. He didn’t want to present Aretha and Ted with a wall to wall white studio. That didn’t come off, but the first session went pretty well and they got down ‘I Never Loved A Man’ and had begun work on a second track ‘Do Right Woman - Do Right Man’ by the end of the first day. A couple of the brass section were sharing a bottle during the session and White joined them later in what Wex called “Dangerous Camaraderie.” Anyhow during that night he was woken by the sound of heavy footsteps, shouting and what sounded like gunshots. At 6 o’clock in the morning Aretha called him from a diner to say she and Ted had a fight and she had run away. White had got into a brawl with the musicians and Rick Hall had tried to stop it escalating, but could not. Jerry ended up in the middle of a very sticky domestic conflict with accusations of racism etc. “It was pretty heavy. So they split and I went back to New York.” Wexler only had a song and a half on the master tape. Not even enough to release a single. He ran off some ‘A’ side DJ demos and immediately began to get some incredible feedback. He couldn’t find Aretha anywhere because she and White had split and nobody knew where she was. So he couldn’t finish the single and get it released. Eventually 2 weeks later Aretha got in touch. He got the musicians up from Muscle Shoals, plus the Memphis Horns and put them into Atlantic Studios with King Curtis and Aretha’s sisters. They finished the ‘B’ side and cut some more tracks. ‘I Never Loved A Man (The Way I Loved You)’ went gold and the flipside also went Top 40 R&B in mid ’67, launching Franklin’s career to a higher level. She never went back to Muscle Shoals, from now on the musicians would fly up to New York for future sessions. A reworking of Otis Redding’s ‘Respect’ won her the Best R&B vocal Grammy for 1967 and Jerry Wexler was named Record Executive of the Year. He was, as many Soul music fans already knew, now being praised as a visionary, a guru and now everybody wanted to know who he was. Wexler had arrived. Atlantic’s profile and record sales were at an all time high and the big majors were looking for a piece of the action. The partners sold Atlantic to Seven Arts for $17.5 M in 1967. Why? Jerry explained - ”The American Dream: capital gains. You want to realize something big after a lifetime of work. We spoke to all kinds of people. Seven Arts came up with a deal we thought was all right. In retrospect, we sold it too cheap, but that’s okay. We all stayed on in various capacities.”
While Jerry had been taking care of Soul business Ahmet had taken Atlantic in a completely different direction signing Folk Rock, Rock and Pop artists the Rolling Stones, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, Sonny & Cher, Cream, the Bee Gees and many others. Wexler signed one of their biggest Rock acts Led Zeppelin. The hits rolled on with Aretha and ‘Chain of Fools’, ‘(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman’, written by Carole King and Gerry Goffin from a suggestion by Wexler. ‘Think’, ‘I Say A Little Prayer’ ‘See Saw’ all hugely successful, winning gold records "From the start," said Wexler, "I saw Aretha had raised the ante and upgraded the art form." Aretha Franklin was first dubbed Lady Soul then elevated to the Queen of Soul. Female artists had seen what Wex had done for Aretha and he became first choice for the Sweet Inspirations, Cher on 3614 Jackson Highway, Lulu and New Routes, he even cut a few sessions with Esther Phillips in her second Atlantic period, that were finally issued on the Set Me Free album. A famous album he cut during the late ‘60s was with Dusty Springfield, Dusty In Memphis. Wex and Dusty hand picked 11 great songs from the 100 initially earmarked for the project and he put her in the hands of the best from Memphis with Tom Dowd the master engineer and arranger Arif Mardin. She seemed right at home with ‘So Much Love’ (Ben E King), ‘I Don't Want To Hear It Anymore’,(Jerry Butler), ‘In The Land Of Make Believe’ (Drifters) and ‘No Easy Way Down’ (Walter Jackson). Chips Moman and his band were ready to roll but Dusty wasn’t and didn’t put a single track down at in that Studio. So Wex took her back to New York where they cut the vocals with the Sweet Inspirations. Although ‘Son Of A Preacher Man’ was an international hit, this classic album, viewed now as iconic was not rated highly at the time. When asked by Timothy White of Rolling Stone magazine “Who do you think is the most insecure artist you’ve worked with?” Jerry replied “Dusty Springfield, without a doubt. No competition. There’s nobody close.” The tragic death of Otis Redding robbed the music world of a huge star who was still rising. Though Wex was influential in getting Otis Redding on the bill at the New York Apollo with Ben E King, the Coasters, Doris Troy and Rufus Thomas, that broke him to the city and via the Apollo Saturday Night album to the wider world. He didn’t actually produce Otis, who took care of that side of things himself but did remix ‘Dock Of The Bay’.
In the ‘70s Wexler continued to broaden his areas of music production. His organic approach allowed him to experiment in blending the genres. He wrote in his autobiography that he had sold his house in Great Neck and bought two others, one in East Marion on the north fork of Long Island, where he kept a boat and the other in Miami Beach where he kept a second boat. Both boats had powerful engines so he could move in and out quickly. In Miami he also had ‘Big A’ 46 footer that he kept for the serious fishing trips. Dr John who had previously made several albums for Atco had a nervous breakdown at the end of a European Tour and long story short, Jerry became his caretaker, finding him and his family lodgings in Miami. Wexler had moved his operations to Criteria Studios, “Atlantic South” his recording HQ in Miami, it was his new Muscle Shoals and Stax rolled into one. He began putting Atlantic artists like Esther Phillips and Aretha together with the session band the Dixie Flyers and got some great results. Now he hooked them up with Dr John and they began work on his next album Gumbo. I met Jerry briefly a couple of times during the week or so Norman Jopling and I spent at Atlantic Records in September ’72. We shared a large table at a restaurant next door to the Bitter End with other guests among them Danny O’Keefe, Ahmet and Ernie Isley. In the space of a few days we interviewed John Prine, Ben E King, the Drifters, Donny Hathaway, Danny O’Keefe, Leiber & Stoller and others, then writing up our interviews in the hotel room at night and mailing them back to the UK for publication. Atlantic treated us very well, they took us to concerts, recording sessions, clubs and generally gave us the run of the place. Through the goodwill of Pat Mulligan, Noreen Woods and Barbara Harris we got access to master tapes, interviews and performances, records, photos, they even took us to a midnight performance of the James Brown Revue at the Apollo in Harlem.
Jerry’s first marriage had unravelled by 1972, his wife Shirley had enough. Wexler had already taken up with Renee Pappas who he had met while recording Dr John’s album in Miami. Wex was 30 years her senior but she knew what she was getting into and Shirley knew she was getting out. Wex and Renee were married a few days after his divorce came through and they moved to an apartment in Park Avenue, New York. He lost both houses in the divorce settlement and had been feeling out of the New York Atlantic loop for sometime. It was also Atlantic’s 25th Anniversary in 1972 and Ahmet went all out, chartering a 747 to fly them all to Paris where they were booked into luxury hotels and spent a few days celebrating with the best that money could buy. The company also made a documentary to commemorate the labels many achievements. Wex had first heard Duane Allman playing guitar on Pickett’s ‘Hey Jude’ and started booking him for his New York sessions and Tom Dowd, who engineered most Atlantic recordings, introduced him to Eric Clapton, who had recently signed to Atco and Derek & the Dominos was born. They hit the charts with ‘Layla’ and their album followed suit. Jerry had produced (and co produced) albums on Lulu (Melody Fair), Donny Hathaway (The Collection), Delaney & Bonnie, who everybody from George Harrison to Clapton and Ginger Baker wanted to play ‘live’ with (From Delaney to Bonnie) but in his words, he didn’t quite capture the fire. Back in New York Jerry felt like a fish out of water. He wanted to get into Country Music and so he opened an Atlantic office in Nashville and signed Willie Nelson, who nobody wanted at the time. They cut Shotgun Willie that contained ‘Whiskey River’ and ‘Sad Songs And Waltzes’ which became Nelson classics. People at Atlantic and in Nashville thought Wex was crazy when he took Willie to Muscle Shoals to cut Phases and Stages that contained ‘Bloody Mary Morning’ and ‘I Still Can’t Believe You’re Gone’. Neither album were big sellers, though later they were both well regarded.With no new Country artists in the pipeline, Atlantic were losing money and so the budgets were cut. Wex closed up the Nashville office and gave Willie his freedom. It turned his whole life around and he made his own deal with Columbia and never looked back. However Jerry had slowly become less involved in the running of the New York office over time, preferring to work with the music makers, which was always his first love. Jerry Greenberg had taken over many of the duties he had previously fulfilled and Wexler felt surplus to requirements. Even Aretha’s recent albums Let Me Into Your Life, With Everything I Feel In Me and You had still done well on the R&B album charts, but Pop sales had really fallen off. By then she was very much her own woman but one thing Wexler would pick her up on was over soulin‘ a bad trait that she and many other singers would indulge in after he was no longer influential. Over the past 20 years as a writer, raconteur and producer he had assumed an almost mythical status within the industry and not without good reason but now his projects seemed to be missing the mark. Except for his production of the music for the original cast recording of ‘The Wiz’ that won Jerry his second Grammy. It was time for a change. Jerry cashed in his chips at Atlantic in 1975 and left the company.
Wexler’s first hit as a independent producer was Ed Townsend’s ‘Smoke From A Distant Fire’ it was the first time he teamed up with Barry Beckett who had outgrown the Muscle Shoals rhythm section. Warners offered Wexler a job as Vice- President heading up the New York A&R department with his own office and staff in midtown Manhattan. He had a remit to hire new acts and immediately signed Dire Straits, the B 52s and the Gang of Four. The magic didn’t happen on his first two projects when he took Ronnie Blakely and then Kim Carnes down to American Studios, for no hits came from either album. However it did when Etta James came to Wex to produce her next album Deep In The Night that was cut at Cherokee in LA. Wex had always been an Etta fan and considered her a pioneer. Larry Carlton laid down the rhythm with Cornell Dupree, Richard Tee and Chuck Rainey in the band. Wexler picked ‘Take It To The Limit’,‘Only Women Bleed’ and ‘Lovesick Blues’ among others, for the sessions. “It didn’t sell like I wanted” said Etta “...but I consider it my best album.” Allen Toussaint despite his genius, has never had a solo hit, even though he has written and produced them for many other artists. So in ’78 he gave it another try with Motion on Warner. Jerry took him to Cherokee using Bonnie Raitt, Etta James and Rosemary Butler on backing vocals . All tracks were written by Allen, sometimes using his Naomi Neville moniker. They featured ’Night People’, ‘With You In Mind’, ‘Lover Of Love’ and ‘Optimism Blues’. It wasn’t a hit but was issued on CD in 2000 and is now selling for silly prices. Jerry and Allen bonded with their shared enthusiasm for New Orleans music. Wex had gone there in the ‘50s looking for Professor Longhair and had recently visited the Crescent City 6 times while working on the soundtrack for Louis Malle’s ‘Pretty Baby’. The soundtrack was nominated for an Oscar but lost out to ‘The Buddy Holly Story’. Then he took Dire Straits to Compass Point in Nassau to cut Communique produced with Barry Beckett. All the songs were Knopfler’s but Wex and Barry supplied a bluesy edge and a big hit. Wexler produced Bob Dylan's controversial first Christian album, Slow Train Coming at Muscle Shoals in 1979. He had described Dylan’s music as “Root American Music with a Western Swing.” When he asked Jerry to produce the album, Bob new what he wanted, It was just Wexler’s job to get it down and realise his intention. Co-producer Barry Beckett played keyboards and added to the usual Muscle Shoals suspects were guitar hero Mark Knopfler and drummer Pick Withers from Dire Straits, who Wex had suggested for the gig. Of Bob Jerry said “When he started to evangelize me. I said, 'Bob, you're dealing with a 62 year-old confirmed Jewish atheist. I'm hopeless. Let's just make an album.” Knopfler (who was asked to play like Albert King) gives the album some wonderful riffs and the band lay down a series of grooves that raise Dylan’s vocals out of pulpit. The single ‘Gotta Serve Somebody,’ hit Top 10 and this album won Dylan his first Grammy in 1980. ‘Precious Angel’,‘I Believe In You’, ‘Slow Train’,‘Gonna Change My Way Of Thinking’, ‘Do Right To Me Baby (Do Unto Others)’ are all strong songs and ‘Man Gave Names To All The Animals’ provides a humorous interlude. Wexler’s policy of less is more, gave this album just what it needed.
The following year in 1980 Dylan’s band had been out on the road with the songs that would make up his next album, they had worked out all the arrangements, then came in to Muscle Shoals Sound Studios to put them down in 4 days. Wex and Barry Beckett hired another tight group of musicians that included Spooner Oldham, Fred Tackett and Jim Keltner. The Gospel vocals of Clydie King & Co give great emphasis to Dylan’s message and the band keep the groove on track. Dylan’s second Christian album Saved celebrates the message just as confidently as Slow Train Coming did before it. Title track ‘Saved’ is his song not the Leiber/ Stoller classic in fact all the songs are Dylan’s except for the rousing lead track ‘A Satisfied Mind’. ‘What Can I Do For You’ and ‘In The Garden’ pose some interesting questions. Wex made sure of vocal clarity (for Dylan) for what good is the word if you can’t understand it. ‘Are You Ready’ closeth the lesson with Spooner’s wailing organ and amazing backing vocals. It wasn’t as big a hit as the first but gave Dylan another fine album. Two more albums cut in succession at Muscle Shoals Sound Studios were with Mavis Staples in 1979 Oh What A Feeling and the Staples Unlock Your Mind both for Warner and both with Barry Beckett. Mavis of course sang the lead vocals on both albums which were cut in at the Hit Factory, New York. The band featured David Hood (bass), Roger Hawkins (drums), Jimmy Johnson (guitar) and Beckett on keyboards. Tracks featured ‘Tonight I Feel Like Dancing’, ‘I Don’t Want To Lose My Good Thing’, ‘Oh What A Feeling’ and ‘We Got Love’. It couldn’t miss but it did and has not been reissued on CD. Mavis was as usual in rip roaring form fronting the Staples on Unlock Your Heart using much the same set up as before. This album sizzles from start to finish ‘Don’t Burn Me’, ‘Showdown’ ‘Unlock Your Mind’ and a superb reworking of ‘Mystery Train’. The production matched the vocals and the album went to #34 on R&B albums but didn’t convert to the Hot 100.
When Glenn Frey and Linda Ronstadt were a dinner guests at the Wexlers house in East Hampton, Jerry was talking about Lou Ann Barton, a great singer that he’d heard in Austin, Texas. He thought that together they could make a great album. He played them some rough demos and Glenn was convinced enough to set up a deal with Elektra for him and Jerry to produce her. Wex thought that she could be a new Janis Joplin. They all went down to Muscle Shoals and cut the Old Enough album with the full rhythm section and the MS horns plus Frey on guitar. Lou Ann’s smokey voice and gritty style captivated all those in the studio and she made the most of Wexler’s excellent song choices, that included ‘Sudden Stop’ (Percy Sledge), Little Walter's original ‘It Ain't Right’, Irma Thomas ‘It’s Raining’ (written by Allen Toussaint), Marshall Crenshaw's ‘Brand New Cowboy’ 10 great tracks in all. It was released on Asylum in 1982 and despite critical acclaim and MTV appearances it just disappeared. Antone reissued it on CD in 1997 and it was issued again on American Beat Records but it could still only manage to achieve cult status, as many of the greatest albums do. According to his autobiography Wex was disappointed with the end result and even more so with his next project. Linda Ronstadt and he decided to make a different kind of album together. She had some doubts and about what so initially they cut 3 tracks with old school musicians Tommy Flanagan (piano) and George Mraz (bass) ‘I’ve Got A Crush On You’, ‘Someone To Watch Over Me’ and ‘‘What’ll I Do’. She played them to her inner circle who were positive and thought she should go ahead. So Jerry put the sessions together recruiting Al Cohn (sax), Ira Sullivan (trumpet) and Tal Farlow (guitar) at Village Recorders in LA. The tracks they cut were ‘Lover Man’, ‘Ghost Of A Chance’, ‘Never Will I Marry’, ‘Keeping Out Of Mischief’, ‘Falling In Love Again’ and ‘Crazy He Calls Me’. They had it down, a 40s jazz album of timeless sophistication. Jerry and Renee had sold their house in the Hamptons and were at a rented a house in Greece when the bad news came - Ronstadt’s manager Peter Asher wasn’t happy with the results and Linda had decided to shelve the sessions. Jerry was devastated. Not long afterwards she cut a series of albums with Nelson Riddle using the same kind of material. But not nearly as subtle and clean. His second marriage collapsed Renee had found a younger man.
Wexler kept on going, music was his life and the next album he produced was Havana Moon for guitar hero Carlos Santana. Wex and Beckett went out to the Automatt San Francisco to record the album. For the session they hired Booker T Jones (keyboards), Flaco Jiminez (accordion), David Hood (bass), the Tower of Power (horns) and the Fabulous Thunderbirds featuring Jimmy Vaughn and Kim Wilson. It was destined to be a wild time and in the middle of the sessions they all flew off in somebody’s plane to Austin, Texas where they ran into Willie Nelson who’s vocal they taped for ‘They All Went To Mexico’ and Armando Peraza who they brought back to record on the album. Tracks included Lightnin’ an instrumental homage to Lightning Hopkins, Bo Diddley’s ‘Who Do You Love’, and the title track Chuck Berry’s ‘Havana Moon’. Carlos wrote two instrumentals including ‘Tales Of Kilimanjaro’. When the album was done the party began. Before his big comeback in ’99 with Supernatural this was his last album to chart R&B at #55. Back in New York Jerry co-produced the musical One Mo’ Time: An Evening of 1920‘s Black Vaudeville (Warner) with Village Gate owners Art & Burt D’Lugoff. The show enjoyed a 4 year run at the Gate and toured the US and Europe. Shout Hallelujah the Gospel revue he also produced however, did not receive such wide acclaim. Their next recording project was with ex-Byrds Roger McGuinn and Chris Hillman. Beckett & Wex produced McGuinn/ Hillman and were accused of trying to turn them into Sam & Dave. The producers were staying busy but albums with Jose Feliciano, Donovan and Tony Orlando were not well received either. Billy Vera, singer, actor and Soul music scholar had been signed to Atlantic by Jerry in 1967, who teamed him up with Dionne Warwick’s cousin Judy Clay and they scored hits with ‘Storybook Children’ and ‘Country Girl-City Man’. Vera came to Wex to produce a new album when he had just signed to a small Japanese financed label and they cut a fine sessions with Jimmy Johnson that contained some very good self penned songs including ‘Hopeless Romantic’. Unfortunately the label went under just after they had finished recording, so none of it was released at that time. The songs were issued later but I don’t know if they were recuts or what. Things were winding down with Warner but a late success was the Blues evening that Wex produced at the Montreux Festival, he arranged for the guys from Muscle Shoals to fly over and back Luther Allison, Johnny Marrs, Johnny Copeland and BB King. That night the Swiss atmosphere crackled with excitement. Before he left, Wexler brought Sire Records into the Warner fold, just before Madonna signed with them. While he was still with Wham in 1983, Wexler recorded with UK pop star George Michael. They cut the strings in Nashville and ‘Careless Whisper’ was recorded at Muscle Shoals. Unfortunately, the UK label decided to release an earlier version instead and Jerry’s was only issued in Japan. Wexler’s son Paul assisted him in putting together the soundtrack for Richard Pryor’s autobiographical movie ‘Jo Jo Dancer, Your Life Calling’ (Warner). He hired Herbie Hancock to do the score and flew out to California to meet with Pryor. On its release the critics ravaged Richard unfairly and the movie bombed. Jerry met and married his third wife novelist and playwright Jean Arnold in 1985 and they set up home in Sarasota, Florida. Jerry Wexler was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987.
As the music scene spiraled into Heavy Metal, Rap, Garage House & Hip Hop Wexler lost interest. His daughter eldest Anita had long struggled against heroin addiction and had finally kicked it but sadly died from Aids in 1989 aged 38. Before she died Anita produced a documentary ‘Aids Alive: A Portrait of Hope’ and appeared on the Oprah Winfrey Show to discuss her former addiction. She was buried on Long Island overlooking the bay. Though officially retired Wex took on the occasional job if it appealed to him. He had a minor heart attack but completely recovered and really got back into listening to the Jazz that had inspired him all those years ago. He wrote a very good autobiography with David Ritz that was published in 1993. For any Wexler fans who haven’t yet read it, I highly recommend the book that’s better than any other written by his Atlantic contemporaries. In the early ‘90s he was involved in finding the music for two Broadway musicals ‘Jelly’s Last Stand’ and ‘The High Rollers Social & Pleasure Club’. He kept his hand in at record production cutting an album with Kenny Drew in the early ‘90s but the last thing he enthused about in his book, was the album he made with Etta James in 1992. The Right Time required a return visit to Muscle Shoals. In addition to the MS musicians Hood, Johnson, and Hawkins, Wex got Steve Winwood to fly over from the UK to cut a duet with Etta ‘Give It Up’. Hank Crawford did the arrangements and Steve Ferrone (of Average White Band) was on drums, Clayton Ivey and Lucky Peterson keyboards, Willie Weeks on bass and Steve Cropper on guitar. As usual Wex created just the right environment and they put down 11 magical tracks including ‘You're Taking Up Another Man's Place’, ’99 and a Half (Won’t Do)’, ‘You've Got Me’ and ‘Evening of Love’. This great album revitalized her career. The Blues Foundation threw a benefit honouring Wexler in 1997 with a ‘Lifetime Achievement Award’ in Hollywood's House of Blues. A who's who of the music business turned out to honour the great man that included J. W. Alexander, Al Bell, Spooner Oldham, Solomon Burke, Jerry Moss, Billy Vera, Tony Joe White, Bob Crewe as well as the usual Atlantic suspects, even the reclusive Howard Hughes of the music business Phil Spector was there. There were performances from Etta James, Koko Taylor, Solomon Burke and family and an unscheduled song from Bonnie Bramlett and the celebrations went on into the early hours.
In his later years Jerry became the perfect choice as a talking head on many a music documentary and came up with some great quotes such as “They repackaged black R&B to create white Rock ‘n’ Roll and gave us Pat Boone etc.” “They called them covers but they were just copying our records – note for note.” ‘My philosophy for making records was, “Miss ‘em quick. Don’t Agonize.” Numerous - Interviews and archive footage of Wexler is featured in the ‘Immaculate Funk’ (2000) documentary, that examines the roots of R&B and Soul music. Many years in journalism had made Jerry a very good writer and talker, self expression was not his problem. Some called him opinionated. He certainly had many opinions about the music he had given his life to and the ability to be passionate about it and to laugh at himself at the same time. He was both artist and craftsman, on one hand he could acknowledge the ability of someone like Phil Spector but disapproved of his excesses. He said in 1980 “Since making music has become such a business, making a record is now so laboured. A lot of joy of music has gone out of the whole process.” In ‘Ray’ (2004), the Ray Charles biopic, one of Jerry’s all time favourite artists, Wexler was portrayed by Richard Schiff, best known for his role of Toby Ziegler on the acclaimed TV series ‘The West Wing’.
Jerry Wexler died at his home in Sarasota, Florida, on 15 August 2008, from congestive heart failure.
Wexler’s contribution to contemporary music is and always will be immeasurable. He found the the artist, the songs, the arranger, the studio with the engineer who could really put it down and the musicians who could play better than anyone else. He was meticulous in his choices - then he performed his magic. Jerry always had the gift of making those around him feel good, those he worked with comfortable, at ease and able to give their best. Besides the many accomplishments Jerry made on his own, he mentored many rising talents - the likes of Bob Crewe, and Bert Berns. Jerry Wexler like his partners Ahmet, Nesuhi, Arif Mardin and Tom Dowd at Atlantic will remain immortal as long as people listen to great music. (peter burns)
Timothy White - Rolling Stone Magazine
randy newman cancels europe
I was just one among the 1000s to be disappointed by the cancellation on 30th October 2008 of Randy Newman’s European Tour due to ill health (stenosis of the neck and lower back). Randy said “I deeply regret not being able to come. I like it so much in Europe and I’ve always been treated so well”. Let’s hope that his health improves and a UK return is in the not too distant future. The Oscar winning singer/ songwriter/ pianist/ composer recently released Harps & Angelshis first album for many a year and Ace Records compiled On Vine Street an agreeable collection of his early songs performed by other artists.
Harps & Angels is a typically refreshing collection of Newman songs, piano led, amusing and illuminating. He certainly is a one off and I find he always inspires me when I listen to his music. Randy examines his own mortality (and ours too) in another conversation with the voice on the title track - When they lay you on the table you better keep your business clean - It’s not easy to cherry pick the tracks, each one appeals to a different mood. Observations and advice, wry jokes a historical reflection, ‘A Few Words In Defence Of Our Country’ will stand alongside his generally respected classics ‘Sail Away’, ‘Short People’, ‘Political Science’ etc - And no one gives a shit except Jackson Browne - He revisits ‘Yellow Man’ on ‘Korean Parents’ with a social twist that no teenager will want to hear. Stick it ‘em Randy, while they stick it to each other. ‘Only A Girl’ and ‘Potholes’ examine female conditions and the unconditional love. A window breaks down a long dark street and a siren wails in the night. Feels like home to me.
Randy’s songs were recorded by a wide variety of artists from Harpers Bizarre to Lorraine Ellison but most resisted the temptation to deadpan the way Newman did and several tried to rephrase the songs in a more harmonious way, often disastrously. Scott Walker does pretty well with ‘I Don’t Want To Hear It Anymore’ but listen to Jerry Butler’s version if you want the best. The O’Jays in their mid ‘60s Drifters phase make ‘Friday Night’ the loneliest night of the week, Irma Thomas lurks in the shadows ‘While The City Sleeps’ and Frankie Laine sounds too much like Bobby Vee for comfort on ‘Take Her’. Newman’s bluesy ‘Love Is Blind’ suits Erma Franklin well with all that gospel in her background. You can hear Randy singing many of these songs but some it’s no surprise that ‘They Tell Me It’s Summer’, ‘Looking For Me’ and ‘Somebody’s Waiting’ don’t make it into his repertoire and they probably never did. All in all On Vine Street (The Early Songs Of Randy Newman) is an interesting album with some surprisingly good versions of Newman songs that always have something going for them - the very reason so many artists were queuing up to record them.
Newman had apologised for his lack of his recorded output on Desert Island Discs (UK Radio 4 19/10/08) looking back he felt that he should have issued more albums in recent years and I’m sure quite a few people would agree with that but they kept offering him lucrative soundtracks to score in Hollywood - what can you do? Listening to his disc selection didn’t illuminate or give me any insights anymore than his interview with Cat Deely on ITV did but questions make the interview and she gave me the impression she’d googled Randy the night before their July ’08 interview and knew little about his illustrious achievements and many successes.
Some slight recompense for the cancelled tour came with the BBC4 sessions at St Luke’s with the BBC Concert Orchestra, aired Friday 7 November ’08 on UK TV. Newman has always skewered hypocrisy and been economic with words (except for the occasional song title) his satirical, bittersweet renditions, humour and sharp wit keeps a wry smile on your face, as he flicks through a photo album of daily life. His observations, domestic details, social studies and political transparency keep many of us entertained. At this concert the songs included ‘Rollin’’, ‘Mama Told Me Not To Come’, ‘I Always Will Love You Marie’, ‘God’s Song’, ‘The World Isn’t Fair’, ‘Louisiana 1927’, ‘You Can Keep Your Hat On’, ‘I Miss You’, ‘Laugh & Be Happy’, ‘Political Science’, ‘Love Story‘, ‘A Few Words In Defence Of Our Country’, ‘Sail Away’ and ‘I Think It’s Going To Rain Today’
The audience hung on every word, laughed and clapped with generous appreciation, they liked the better known songs best and no doubt understood the various oblique references and tongue-in-cheek innuendoes. They may have been hoping for ‘Short People’ or ‘Simon Smith...’ but were too polite to request them, instead they simply enjoyed the subtle mix of solo piano and faithful arrangements, they laughed at Randy’s quips as the camera soared above them revealing one quarter Orchestra to three quarters audience packed into the church hall. Hard to say but the sound seemed good in the venue. It was a good gig. Pity about the tour but he probably wasn’t going to play ‘Baltimore’ anyway (peter burns)
roy hamilton 40/40
This year marks the 40th anniversary of Roy Hamilton’s death on 20 July 1969 (see earshot 2 for obituary) not something I want to celebrate exactly, but to honour. Though Roy was regarded as a ballad singer, he’s still remembered for the big hit power ballads ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’, ‘Unchained Melody’ and his last chart success ‘You Can Have Her’ he was in at the birth of Soul music and well regarded as one of its pioneers. He worked with many of the great arrangers Bert Keyes, Jimmy Wisner and Jesse Stone and producers Jerry Leiber & Mike Stroller, Chips Moman & Tommy Cogbill. Just listen to ‘Let The Music Play’, ‘It’s Only Make Believe’, ‘Hang Ups’, ‘Angelica‘, ‘Dark End Of The Street’ or ‘Reach Out For Me’, and I’m sure that you’ll agree. Somehow Hamilton missed out on the ‘60s soul boom when he was cutting most of his records at major labels like Epic and RCA, who at that time didn’t really have much idea about promoting soul music, that to be fair was still in its infancy. Many ‘60s soul fans consider him old school and dismiss without really listening to that rich tenor/ baritone. His influence was subtle but you can hear him through the music of Jackie Wilson, Brook Benton, Walter Jackson even Elvis, all big stars in their own right but they all acknowledged their debt to his influence.
UK Shout Records, a label run by Clive Richardson, issued the first of 2 volumes of Roy’s back catalogue Don’t Let Go showcasing the early Epic singles with 26 tracks from that era. This is a fine selection that captures his move from big ballads to R&B. The second compilation came 2 years later in 2008 with Tore Up and follows his move into Soul containing 22 tracks including ‘Crackin’ Up Over You’, Ain’t It The Truth’ and ‘Tore Up Over You’ that found popularity on the Northern Soul scene. After his move to MGM in ’63 Roy mellowed into a more soulful groove with sides like ‘Midnight Town, Daybreak City’, and ‘The Panic Is On’ then at the very end of his recording career aged just 40 he linked up with Chips Moman & Tommy Cogbill to record some really great tracks on AGP in late 1968 but sadly all too soon this great partnership ceased with Roy’s sudden death and was no more. I read somewhere that there were enough AGP tracks cut for an album so maybe they might see the light of day sometime soon. Typically none of his really great later tracks had any chart success but listen to them now and you will no doubt scratch your head and wonder why. The greatest part of Hamilton’s musical legacy has been reissued on CD by Collectables, who have a dozen CDs online that cover the majority of his catalogue. And I hear a rumour that UK re-issue label Rhapsody are planning to issue his complete discography on CD at a budget price in the near future. For now, the best snapshot of Roy’s recorded work can be found on the two Shout CDs - but take my advice and buy them from Amazon because recent problems with their distributors have temporarily made ordering direct from Shout/ Cherry Red problematic. No doubt these delivery problems will sort themselves out soon. Clive assures me this will be the case and he’s a man of his word. Their catalogue has a wide selection of great soul reissues worth checking out Ted Taylor, Joe Tex, Don Covay, Allen Toussaint, Oscar Toney Jr, the Vibrations, Jerry Butler & Joe Hinton among many others.
If like me you believe that Roy Hamilton was one of the great voices of all time and made a significant contribution to soul music please go to www.royhamilton.net and register your vote to have Roy inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame. Roy has also been nominated for the newly created Hit Parade Hall of Fame! He was a great talent who does not deserve to be forgotten, like many of the voices in soul music history - Sam Cooke, Otis Redding and Curtis Mayfield he may have passed but his spirit lives on through his timeless musical heritage. (peter burns)
BBC TV and the British media in general seem to have given Motown 50 a fair amount of exposure in recent months in a quite enthusiastic celebration of their 50th year in the music business. Of course UK TV don’t need an excuse to repeat programmes, in fact repeats seem to have become the main driving force of their programming. They have a whole raft of channels the +1‘s that run 1 hour after, in case you missed the beginning of your programme or want to see it all over again - that, it seems is progress. But here’s an excellent opportunity to dust off the many Motown documentaries on Marvin, etc and show them again. So make sure you record them this time, just in case you want a personal ‘digital’ copy and it will save you hours of future viewing time when its repeated again, and again. I don’t listen much to the radio unless there’s something specific I want to record or I’m in the car. But I expect they have been spinning the core artists though most national radio & TV stations ignored Motown when the records were first released in the UK. It’s a different world now. All that choice. Mojo magazine devoted 40 pages to their version of the ‘100 Greatest Motown songs’ in their February issue and ‘gave away’ a nifty Motown Nuggets CD. The CD contained 15 Motown names, 2 hits (‘Do You Love Me’ - The Contours and ‘Come To Me’ - Marv Johnson, that I think was issued before the icon had actually been invented by Berry Gordy. But I’m sure he’d thought of it by then.) The other 13 were obscure tracks by big names that are worth having if you’re a Motown collector. Record Collector (Feb 09) looked at the success of Holland Dozier Holland over XX pages with Ken Sharp. I don’t expect that the celebrations will last all year but I could be wrong. At least 20 or so of the acts are being honoured unlike in 1965 when the first Motown Review appeared on our shores for a nationwide tour and only a handful of fans went to see them. That tour could not get any kind of media coverage at all. Their scattered fans were unaware of their imminent arrival on their doorstep and many missed their chance to see and support their idols. Why? well perhaps it had something to do with the fact that pirate radio were the only stations playing Motown music. It was 44 years ago, nowadays you wouldn’t get the Miracles, Martha & the Vandellas, Stevie Wonder, Earl Van Dyke and Jr Walker all on one bill, especially at 2/6 a ticket (12.5 new pence). They only played 2 London dates and set off in a coach around the UK in March, when winters went on until the end of June. The artists called it the Ghost Tour. After a couple of gigs they drafted in Georgie Fame & the Blue Flames in an effort to boost ticket sales. Smart move.
The tour was an unmitigated disaster and they made a black & white documentary about it. Some people tried to blame Dave Godin, who as the secretary of the Tamla-Motown Appreciation Society had been over to Detroit and oversold the number of UK Motown fans to Berry Gordy. They even showed pictures of a bearded man in the doc - it wasn’t Dave, not even close (you couldn’t get the researchers even then). Back then advanced publicity hadn’t been invented at least in Blighty. It took 10 years for American trends to catch on in the UK, especially music - the Musicians Union wouldn’t hear of it. So when the poor Motown artists wandered back from Leeds, Newcastle even Scotland, they were frozen to the bone, under nourished - but were they discouraged? Waiting for them was Dusty Springfield and she’d had an idea (not the kind of thing you talked about in those days) she had persuaded Vicky Wickham, the producer of ‘Ready Steady Go’ to record a 1 Hour Motown Special that served as an outro rather than an intro, things might have been a lot different if they’d got it the right way around. Time for another black & white documentary and all was forgiven. The disappointment of the failed tour soon faded and when the 4 Tops came over the following year they got a much better reception. A few years later Northern soul was born. Quite a lot of NS was based on Motown spin offs, the rarer labels from the Detroit area rather than the real thing – of course like any movements it broadened as time went by but still concentrates on the obscure rather than the great. I have to admit though that NS has kept Soul music alive and handed a lifeline to many of the great singers/ groups that might have sunk into obscurity without it. The Motown logo moved out to the West Coast and left many of its artists, writers, producers and musicians back in Detroit to fend for themselves. The artists from that first Motown tour never forgot their experiences in the UK. For many it was the making of them. They went back to the relative comfort of the Detroit projects and eventually some of them came back to the UK where they found that they were much better received and treated like stars. Respect. (peter burns)
maxine brown – all in my mind I have always been somewhat baffled by some music enthusiasts obsession with attempting to identify the first soul record or the first rock and roll record. I guess it’s all just harmless speculation, but it has always struck me as a rather pointless exercise. All musical styles develop and progress gradually, and are not suddenly born overnight. Having said that, I believe there are certain landmark recordings in all musical fields which in hindsight can be seen to have marked a step forward in that music’s natural progression. In what later became labelled as “soul music”, one such record was Maxine Brown’s “All In My Mind”.
In his booklet notes to the Kent CD “Birth Of Soul” Vol. 2 the late Dave Godin, in his own inimitable way takes it a step further, and even dares to suggest that Maxine’s record…….
“…….. might well merit the accolade of being the first, true soul record, because artistically it represented a whole new vista, a long journey; a gateway to a fascinating new, and as yet uncharted territory that was beckoning…….”
Dave clearly adored the record from the moment he’d first heard it, which maybe made it difficult for him (as he acknowledged) to stand back and write about it dispassionately. So what exactly is it about “All In My Mind” that makes it so special to so many people? Maybe I should begin by setting the scene………
Maxine Brown originally hailed from South Carolina, but while still in her teens cut her singing teeth in various gospel groups around New York. As with so many of the great soul artists it was this initial gospel training which gave Maxine the considerable vocal armoury and the confidence in her own ability needed to launch a successful career in popular music.
“All In My Mind” was Maxine’s first record, cut in 1960 for the small Nomar label. It was an immediate success, rising to No.2 on the R & B charts in 1961, and even hitting No.19 pop. She followed it up with “Funny” which peaked at No.3 R & B, before switching labels to ABC-Paramount, a move which sadly did little to further her career. A further switch in 1963 to Florence Greenberg’s New York based Wand label proved to be a much better move, and the rest, as they say, is history. What was clear from the outset was that Maxine Brown was a very convincing and versatile vocalist, who could handle everything from pop-slanted teen angst through tough R & B to deep, thoughtful ballads like “All In My Mind”, all with equal aplomb.
One thing that has always struck me about “All In My Mind” is its relative simplicity. It is not a musically complex song, nor does it take its direction from any one dominant source or style. I don’t hear an obvious doo-wop, blues, country or gospel structure, nor do I hear a straightforward pop song. Like Buddy Holly’s music, it uses a simple formula to produce something that sounds fresh and original. The unfussy arrangement with its use of brass instead of strings gives it an earthy, rootsy feel which I suspect would have appealed to listeners south of the Mason - Dixon line. In fact a lot of early Southern soul music such as Otis Redding’s “These Arms Of Mine” were to take a similar musical direction.
The lyrics too set it apart from the usual pop fluff of the day. With its adult theme of obsessive love, perceived cheating and jealousy it must have struck a familiar if uncomfortable chord with a lot of the older record buyers. It may have had pop appeal, but this was primarily serious music for grown ups.
And finally, and perhaps most importantly we have Maxine’s own interpretation. If she’s not tugging at your heart strings by the second line then I suggest that soul singing just ain’t your bag. Before “All In My Mind” the majority of successful black female solo singers either took their cue from the established blues and gospel shouters, or took the potentially more lucrative route into mainstream or supper club jazz. Maxine can take a lot of the credit for breaking that mould. One of the prime reasons for the record’s success and longevity is that Maxine’s delivery is not just totally convincing, it also contains so many subtle touches and variations in tone that it never becomes stale. Each time you listen you will hear something new, and its hold over you will become that much stronger. The breadth of emotions Maxine manages to convey range from a palpable sadness and regret to an almost coy acceptance of her own fragility, through to a barely concealed anger. Then finally, as the record fades her tone becomes conversational and apologetic. How dare she judge her man so harshly when she has no proof whatsoever that he’s done anything wrong. Probably all in her mind……..
Serious stuff indeed, yet it is made acceptable and commercially viable by the simple beauty of the melody and the sheer quality of Maxine’s voice. The blue notes, the melismatic gospel touches, the moans and the Sam Cookisms are all there, but they are used sparingly and are never allowed to dominate.
Three years later the style would have a label. “Soul” had arrived.
Over the years “All In My Mind” has appeared on several collections of Maxine’s work, notably the 1990 Kent CD “Oh No Not My Baby” and on the excellent Kent compilation “Birth Of Soul” Vol.2. (mike finbow)
Sources ACE records and the late Dave Godin
claude jeter - born 26 October 1914 in Montgomery, Alabama. Claude became the influential falsetto lead with Dixie Hummingbirds and Swan Silvertones gospel groups. His father died when he was 8 and Claude worked in the West Virginia coal mines before founding the Four Harmony Kings with his brother and two other miners. They later changed their name to the Silvertone Singers and after being sponsored on the Radio by the Swan Bakery to the Swan Silvertones. They recorded for King, Specialty and Vee-Jay. Many high tenor Soul greats like Al Green, Curtis Mayfield and Eddie Kendricks acknowledged Jeter’s influence. He sang with the Dixie Hummingbirds from the early ‘70s, made an appearance on Paul Simon’s There Goes Rhymin’ Simon celebrated album in 1973 and cut a solo album Yesterday & Today in 1991 – died 6 January 2009 aged 94.
richard ‘popcorn’ wylie - born 6 June 1939 in Detroit. Richard formed his first band Popcorn & the Mohawks with Norman Whitfield, James Jamerson and Clifford Mack while still at school and when they appeared at local venues he would wear an Indian head dress. They cut ‘Pretty Girl/ You’re The One’ for the tiny Northern label in 1959 and a year later Richard and the band joined Motown after being spotted by Berry Gordy performing at the 20 Grand Club. James and Clifford became the nucleus of the Funk Brothers, who created the foundation sound for Motown. Richard played piano on ‘Shop Around’ and ‘Please Mr Postman’ and worked with the Contours, Marv Johnson, Mary Wells, Marvin Gaye, the Supremes and Martha & the Vandellas. But Popcorn & the Mohawks records for Motown failed to create any interest and Richard signed to Epic while moonlighting as a producer and studio musician (keyboards) at Golden World, Ric-Tic and SonBert linking up with Edwin Starr and JJ Barnes. Later he set up Pameline with Palmer James and Soulwax labels but neither lasted long. Though most of his early records found little success in the States but they later found favour on the Northern Soul scene and in Europe where ‘Popcorn’ became a music genre. He co-wrote ‘With This Ring’ that put Sonny Turner & the Platters back on the charts in 1967 and Jamo Thomas big hit ‘I Spy For The FBI’ before he briefly returned to Motown in 1971 and cut his biggest hit ‘Funky Rubber Band’ before moving on to ABC. He toured and was active in the ‘80s and returned to the studio for Ian Levine’s Motor City label in the ‘90s. A CD compilation of his collected works were issued Detroit A-Go-Go and Richard appeared in the TV documentary ‘The Strange World of Northern Soul’. In 2002 another collection of his rare tracks were issued as Popcorn’s Detroit Soul Party - died 8 September 2008 aged 69 of heart failure.
blossom dearie - born Marguerite Blossom Dearie on 29 April 1926 in East Durham, New York State was one of the unique singer/ pianists of any time and was more popular than might be expected. Especially loved by other musicians and singers. Dearie started learning piano aged 10 in Washington DC. She sang with the Blue Flames and Woody Herman’s band to start with then moved on to the Blue Reys. She played piano and sung on a record with King Pleasure. In the early ‘50s she moved to Paris and signed to Barclay Records where she roomed with Annie Ross. They formed an octet called the Blue Stars (who later evolved into the Swingle Singers) and cut Shearing’s ‘Lullaby Of Birdland’ in French with arrangement’s by Michel Legrand. She toured Europe with Ross, met and married the Belgian Tenor Sax player Bobby Jaspar. Blossom stayed in Paris for 5 years then signed to Norman Graz Verve Records in 1956 and returned to New York to cut her debut solo album Blossom Dearie (1957). She cut 5 more albums for Verve performing in the New York and LA jazz clubs and made quite a splash on TV. Signed to Capitol in ’64. She came to the UK in the early ‘60s and became a regular at Annie’s Room and Ronnie Scott’s, settled in London and cut 4 albums on Fontana. Often appeared on UK TV and was a favoured by Peter Cook & Dudley Moore. Formed her own Daffodil label in 1974. Dearie recorded another 15 albums up until 2000. She toured the world, appeared on movie soundtracks and performed many great and original songs such as ‘Peel Me A Grape’ and ‘I’m Hip’. Then returned to New York and in the last 7 years she performed, could often be found at Danny’s Skylight Room on West 46th Street, Manhattan. died 7 February 2009 aged 82
randy cain - born 2 May 1945 in Philadelphia, Randy was in at the formation of the Four Gents with classmates William & Wilbur Hart and Richie Daniels their name evolved to the Orphonics and then after Daniels quit the Delfonics. He sang backgrounds on all their major hits, he was replaced by Major Harris in 1971 after a falling out with lead singer William. Cain went on to form (but not sing with) Blue Magic who had hit’s with ‘Sideshow’ and ‘3 Ring Circus’ with his production company. He later joined Wilbur in the Delphonics and they both successfully sued William (owner of the Delfonics name/mark) for back royalties. Then in 2008 he joined William in the Delfonics once again. The Delfonics experienced a resurgence in popularity after their music was used on soundtrack for Quentin Tarantino’s hit movie ‘Jackie Brown’ in 1997. - died at his home in Maple Shade 9 April 2009 aged 63.
david ‘fathead’ newman – born 24 February 1933 in Corsicana, Texas and raised in Dallas. Tenor sax jazz man David ‘Fathead’ Newman was best known for his 12 year association with Ray Charles. Fathead joined Ray’s first band in 1954. Most celebrated for his superb intro to ‘The Night Time Is The Right Time’ and the great break on ‘I Got A Woman’ he made his solo debut on Atlantic in 1958 with Fathead: Ray Charles presents David Newman. Post RC he moved to Dallas to run various line ups of his own bands then returned to NYC and was in demand for studio work with the likes of Aretha Franklin, Donny Hathaway and BB King. He returned briefly to play for Charles in 1970 then moved on to work with Red Garland and Herbie Mann. In the early ‘80s David began recording a number of solo albums for Muse, Kokopelli, Atlantic and High Note. He often appeared on late night TV shows ‘Saturday Night Live’, ‘Night Music’ and ‘Letterman’. His I Remember Brother Ray CD was hailed as the Most Played Album of 2005. Newman died 20 January 2009 from pancreatic cancer aged 75.
koko taylor - born Cora Walton 28 September 1928 in Bartlettt, Tennessee. Her parents were sharecroppers, they both died young and KoKo received very little formal education. She moved to Memphis where she worked as a cleaner. Then married truck driver Robert ‘Pops’ Taylor and they moved to Chicago. Koko began singing in the Blues clubs she recorded with JB Lenoir on USA in 1963. Koko met Howlin’ Wolf, Jimmy Reed, Muddy Waters and Willie Dixon in 1964. Dixon signed her to Chess Records and wrote and produced her sessions. Her spectacular version of Willie’s ‘Wang Dang Doodle’ went to #4 on the US R&B charts in April ’66. She toured the States playing most of the major cities often backed by Buddy Guy and other notable Chessmen. Did a European tour in 1967. She made two albums with Dixon but only scored the single hit. Won a Grammy in the mid ‘90s. died aged 80 3 June 2009 from complications following surgery.
freddie hubbard - born 7 April 1938 in Indianapolis. Youngest of six children, all with musical abilities. Freddie played several brass instruments and studied under Max Woodberry at the Arthur Jordan Conservatory of Music. He started playing trumpet with the Montgomery Brothers Group and after his move to New York he played alongside Quincy Jones, Philly Joe Jones and Sonny Rollins. He was soon winning Down Beat Awards and recording with Eric Dolphy, Ornette Coleman, John Coltrane and Oliver Nelson. He was often compared to and regarded by many as the natural heir to Clifford Brown, who died early in a car wreck. Freddie was also compared to Miles Davis, he won Grammys for his solo albums First Light and Straight Life on CTI. He was awarded Jazz Masters National Endowment for the Arts in 2006 and recorded his final work with David Weiss and the Jazz Composers Octet in 2007. Freddie died 29 December 2008 aged 70
estelle bennett born in New York on 22 July 1941 and grew up in Spanish Harlem. Estelle was elder sister to Ronettes lead singer Ronnie (Veronica) and cousin to Nedra Tally their 3rd member. The girls started out as the Darling Sisters on Colpix in 1961. Renamed the Ronettes they cultivated a stylish, sexy, beehive look that has been much imitated since and Estelle was particularly popular with pop stars Jagger and Harrison when the trio toured the UK in the early 60s. They backed Bobby Rydell and Del Shannon on record dates and were allegedly discovered by Phil Spector at New York’s Peppermint Lounge who signed them to his Philles label. ‘Be My Baby’ relaunched their career and Ronnie became Mrs Spector. Estelle married Ronettes road manager Joe Dong and left the group in 1966 opting for a solo career on Laurie with ‘The Year 2000/ The Naked Boy’. Like many of his artists she was locked into a long running but unresolved royalties dispute with Spector. Reported mental health problems of schizophrenia and anorexia forced an early retirement. Estelle was homeless in New York for a period. She attended the Ronettes induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2007. Estelle died 11 February 2009 from colon cancer aged 67.
johnny griffin – born 24 April 1928 in Chicago studied saxophone under Walter Dyatt. At 17 he was already playing with the Lionel Hampton Big Band. Here he met Joe Morris who formed his own band in 1947 which Johnny joined and stayed with for 3 years. He then worked with Jo Jones moving onto Arnett Cobb then after 3 years in the Army he joined Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers in New York. Johnny played with Thelonious Monk for a few months then began his solo recordings with Blue Note and John Coltrane with Hank Mobley. When I worked my first job in central London at the Wellcome Foundation in Euston Road circa 1961 I met a photographer/ Jazzer Steve Fletcher who introduced me to Ronnie Scotts (the old place) in Chinatown and pretty soon I was a frequent visitor, experiencing all kinds of exciting musicians. One who really impressed me was Johnny Griffin, a little guy with a big sound, buzzing with enthusiasm riffing at lightning speed, going in all directions and getting there fast. By 1958 he had his own sextet that included Donald Byrd and Kenny Drew. Later incarnations included Clark Terry and Bobby Timmons. His tribute to Billie Holiday White Gardenia was highly rated and ‘God Bless The Child’ especially eloquent. Following the trail blazed by Dexter Gordon, Johnny toured Europe and moved to Paris in ’63 alternating between France and Holland linking up with many touring Americans like Eddie ‘Lockjaw’ Davis, Art Taylor and Arnett Cobb. He teamed up with Francy Boland and Kenny Clarke. He toured the States but spent most of his time in Europe playing until the end died 25 July 2008 aged 80.
viola wills - born Viola Mae Wilkinson 30 December 1939 in Watts, Los Angeles. Won local singing contests. Studied piano at Los Angeles Conservatory of Music on a scholarship. Started out singing backup for Barry White then signed to Bronco as a solo where she cut several singles including ‘Lost Without The Love Of My Guy’, ‘Together Forever’ and ‘You’re Out Of My Mind’. Moved onto BEM but scored on stateside hits. Toured with Joe Cocker and moved to London in 1971 as a member of the Sanctified Sisters. Recorded her debut album Soft Centres in 1974. Ariola issued ‘Gonna Get Along Without You Now’ and it went to #8 on the UK charts in October 1979. ‘Both Sides Now/ Dare To Dream’ reached #35 on Streetwave in March ’86. Viola wrote and performed Willpower a one woman show. She cut a number of covers like ‘I Can See Clearly Now’ and ‘There’s Always Something There To Remind Me’. Lived in Brighton for a period played with Jazzspel and had a regular spot at the Joogleberry Playhouse. She cut a version of ‘What Now My Love?’ in 2005 and followed it up with ‘Enjoy Yourself’ after which she returned to the US. died from cancer in Phoenix, Arizona 6 May 2009.
Freddie Scott - Mr Heartache - Kent
3 Central - A Feelin’ Inside - www.threecentral.com
Mekiel Reuben - Hangin’ In The Moonlight - Mek Muse - email@example.com
Glitter & Gold – Words & music by Barry Mann & Cynthia Weil - Ace
Jimmy Radcliffe – Where There’s Smoke There’s Fire - MCM
Vibrations – OKeh & Epic Singles 1963-68 – Kent
Garland Green - The Very Best Of … - Kent
Denise LaSalle –A Little Bit Naughty - ABC & MCA Years - Shout
Unifics - Return – Somodo
Delfonics – The Delfonics/ Tell Me This Is A Dream – Kent
Shirelles - Tonight’s The Night/ Sing To Trumpets & Strings - Ace
Shirelles – Baby It’s You/ …& King Curtis Give A Twist Party – Ace
Darlene Love - So Much Love – Ace
Joe Tex – First On The Dial – Shout
Various - Honey & Wine - Goffin & King Vol 2 - Ace
Linda Hayes – Atomic Baby - Shout
Johnny Mathis - A Certain Smile - 50 Golden Greats - Night Owl Music - 3CD
Various - Masterpieces In Modern Soul Vol 2 - Kent
Garnet Mimms - Is Anybody Out There - Evidence
Various - The Soul Of Spanish Harlem - BGP
Maxine Brown - Best Of The Wand Years - Kent
Terry Callier - About Time - BGP
Various - Goldwax Northern Soul - Kent
Hound Dog -The Leiber & Stoller Autobiography - Jerry Leiber, Mike Stoller and David Ritz
I had this book on order for a few months, as soon as Amazon flagged it up for publication. Having spent a lengthy period writing my own version of their musical life, I was looking forward to learning much more about the best writer/ producers of their generation - from a different perspective. Initially I was disappointed when I discovered that the book was no more than a series of quotes from Jerry & Mike, with no observations by Ritz at all – not even a forward. But as I got used to the format it grew on me. After all who better to tell their story than the two great men themselves. Having been lucky enough to spend a few hours with them in New York (1972) and seen/ read and been present at a number of interviews since, I was already aware how well they spoke about their adventures in and out of music. The huge contributions that they have made to modern song and on and on - What can I tell you I’m a big fan.
Respect Yourself The Stax Records Story
A grainy black & white opening photo montage gets things started and then between narrator Samuel L Jackson and numerous talking heads, filmed in interview over a long period, we get the Stax story as it happened. From the conception, when brother and sister Jim Stewart and Estelle Axton became business partners and put together the first two letters of their surnames to form the Stax Record Company that was set up in a disused cinema on E. McLemore Avenue. The journey starts with the Mar-Keys and their offshoot Booker T & the MGs that became the Stax/ Volt houseband. When they recorded ‘Green Onions’ it was released as a ‘B’ side. Estelle ran the Satellite Record store, she was in touch with what people wanted. It became a neighbourhood hang out where Steve Cropper originally worked as a clerk. Otis went to Stax by chance as the driver and roadie for Johnny Jenkins. He asked to sing there, at the end of the session and that’s when the MGs discovered him. While Stax were making great records and Atlantic were distributing their product, no one at the company had much idea about business until Al Bell joined then they began to get on the right track. Local guys Isaac Hayes & David Porter became the first production team and from humble beginnings, when Jerry Wexler sent Sam & Dave, who he’d just signed to Atlantic, down to record there (much against their will) the magic really happened. The two dynamic duos made a chemical connection and the resulting fall out created a series of super hits starting with ‘You Don’t Know Like I Know’ and over the next three years hitting the R&B Top 20 no less than 10 times. Soulsville was born. Big hits came for other artists besides Otis and Sam & Dave including Eddie Floyd, Carla Thomas, Rufus Thomas and others. Then when Stax did their European Tour it opened all their eyes and they realised that they were not a small town outfit and that people loved them and their music worldwide. In the UK we got our first real taste of Southern Soul and the tour was an unqualified success. Unlike the earlier Motown tour. Otis went onto take the Monterey Pop Festival by storm and rolled into a meteoric year in 1967. The last images of him in that green double breasted suit were all we were left with after his tragic death when his plane crashed into a lake. Stax lost his biggest star and then things really began to go wrong. When your at a peak of success, there’s no easy way down, the company discovered that they had lost all their masters to Atlantic. Stewart hadn’t read the small print when he signed a distribution deal. Sam & Dave, who were only on loan to Stax from Atlantic also went downhill. Disaster followed disaster and Martin Luther King was assassinated at the Lorraine Motel where Stax people often stayed and spent much of their time in the summer months, when it was too hot to work in the studios. For everyone in Memphis everything changed.
Then after a longtime in the wilderness they began to make a comeback, a rebirth began with Johnnie Taylor’s ‘Who’s Making Love’ when it became the biggest hit in their history.
The music never died however even though the company went bankrupt and after many years of anonymity Stax re-emerged as a Museum and Music Academy with a new label and roster of music stars that include Angie Stone, Lalah Hathaway, Leon Ware and Joss Stone. The bonus feature is an All Star Rehearsal featuring William Bell and Booker & the MGs ‘You Don’t Miss Your Water’ and Eddie Floyd doing ‘The Wood’.
© earshot (peter burns) june 2009