earshot 17

editorial

So here it is another bumper issue of earshot. I hope that the lengthy periods between issues has not been too irritating but… There are moves afoot to change the format of this website slightly, that will allow the collating, editing and future additions to be a more flexible process for me to operate. I have long wanted to add audio/ video music to the webzine, it seems absurd not to have actual music within a webzine like earshot. I look forward to the possibility of getting back to my original intention of publishing future issues on a more regular basis. Sadly I learned this week of the projected demise of ‘In the Basement’ magazine (in it’s present form). I’ve heard from editor David Cole who said “I have in mind continuation certainly of certain aspects in an expanded website and I will detail this more fully over the coming issues”. He also said that he fully  intends to publish a further three magazines (up to and including #65). I’m sure many of earshot’s readers will acknowledge that ITB is and has been the consistently best magazine of it’s kind since it first appeared. I’m sure I won’t be alone in missing it’s quarterly publication and thank David for his tireless dedication to Soul Music. It seems there are just not enough soul music fans out there left to support a printed specialist magazine of this kind any more. It’s tragic to see ITB disappear as so many have before it. I will be devoting a special feature to Mr. Cole and his magazine in a future earshot issue.

the impressions ‘Soul of Curtis Mayfield’ UK tour

The Impressions are soon to appear in the UK!  This time, due to the demand for tickets at their previous UK appearance (Northampton – 24 May ’08) they will be playing in larger venues at the Barbican, London (Friday 10 June) and the Bridgewater Hall, Manchester (Saturday 11 June) with possible other dates yet to be added. Their show ‘The Soul Of Curtis Mayfield’ backed by the Curtom Orchestra and MD the excellent Mr. David Woods will feature many of Curtis’ biggest hits like ‘Superfly’, ‘We’re A Winner’ and ‘Move On Up’. This superb programme will be packed with soulful music delivered as only the Impressions can.

Impressions

Be in no doubt these Impressions are the genuine article, still at the top of their form featuring Fred Cash, Sam Gooden and Reggie Torian. Recently speaking about their new show Fred said “Most of those songs that we recorded back then really speak to what’s happening today. You know they’re inspirational and they’re givin’ people hope and that’s the reason why we cannot stop singing these songs. The foundations that we laid back then - well that’s what’s keeping us out there today.” – 50 years later.  Bass man Sam was reminded of a concert back in early 1965.  “We started getting a lot of encores and we began to run out of songs. So the only thing we could think to do was to sing something that we had only rehearsed just after Curtis had finished writing it – that was ‘People Get Ready’.” Reggie, the youngest member of the group with a mere 18 years in the line up told me “I'm really looking forward to our return to the UK fully recognizing the tremendous energy our fans there transmit. We hope to provide a great show for those who may only get to see us this one time. Get ready to have good memories of times gone by.”  In a recent email Sam confirmed that the trio will only be in the UK from June 8 to 13 - so book now to avoid disappointment there are tickets left and they may not be back again.

This time don’t miss your chance to see the fabulous Impressions in a show that will stay in your memory long into the future. In these austere times when all we hear is the fat cats telling us to cut back and how much in debt their greed has put us - just listen to what the Impressions still say “Hum a little soul, make life your goal and have a good time ‘cause It’s Alright.” (peter burns)

tony middleton sessions 3

Tony Middleton is a distinctive and stylish vocalist who has performed and recorded with Burt Bacharach, Quincy Jones, Teacho Wiltshire, Johnny Pate, Leiber & Stoller and Claus Ogermann and has been long admired by many other world-class performers. He has headlined the Harlem Apollo alongside Smokey Robinson and the Miracles and Della Reese at Birdland with the Willows, toured the world as a solo performer, had doo-wop hits with the Willows and recorded duets with Ketty Lester, Cissy Houston, Nell Carter and Rosetta LeNoire (he also managed Nell and Rosetta). Until now Tony’s commercial success has been limited and has created a relatively small but passionate fanbase but through his recorded catalogue his impact on contemporary music has been great, so he still has not yet fully reaped the high level of recognition that he deserves. But his reputation is growing all the time and recently as lead singer with the Willows, Tony has been inducted into the Doo-Wop Hall of Fame. This prestigious event took place on 27 March at the Symphony Hall in Boston. I’m certain that this is just the beginning of a stream of righteous recognition that Mr. Middleton will be due in the not too distant future. Other artists also honoured that night were the Ink Spots, the Soul Stirrers and the 5 Royales (this award is posthumous as there are no living members or a performing group).

Willows

MGM records had released a superb collaboration between Tony Middleton and top arranger/ producer Claus Ogermann with ‘To The Ends Of The Earth/ Don’t Ever Leave Me’ by the spring of 1966. The reviews were more than positive, in some cases they were ecstatic and the general prediction was one of long awaited success. The single is a double-sided classic and today it is recognized as such, clocking up many thousand plays on YouTube it is celebrated as one of the top five recordings that Tony has ever made. However it created little public interest at the time and even though when it was reissued six years later in 1972 it was nominated for a Grammy, though it sold well in New York it still didn’t make the national charts. But Tony was stoic about success and though he continued to record demos and write songs, there wasn’t another single release for the next two years when he linked up with another great arranger Teacho Wiltshire who produced two singles ‘Let Me Down Easy’ and ‘Good Morning World’ for Mr. G Records. These two fine ballads are easy on the ear but as singles they were out of step with the charts of the time. The following year he tried again with A&M where he worked with arranger Sammy Lowe and Producer Jerry Love. ‘Angela’ like so many of Middleton’s singles is something of a rarity, it’s a lazy ballad swamped with violins – not one of his best but the self explanatory flipside ‘Keep On Dancing’ cuts a more catchy groove. The second A&M single ‘Sounds Of Goodbye/ Harlem Lady’ the more interesting of the two, also passed virtually unnoticed. Tony’s next two releases were on the short lived Maggie label who’s numerical sequence was all over the place and only ‘If You Had To Break Somebody’s Heart’ has been reissued on CD. ‘Tombstones For Three’ is an interesting twist featuring a rock guitar fronting a contemporary theme over a three way ancient saga of love, deception and revenge. No one could accuse Tony of getting stuck in one groove. ‘I’m Jack & I’m Back’ sounds like it might be interesting but I haven’t heard it or B side ‘Days Of Joy’ yet. Arrangements for these four tracks were by Sampson Horton.

Tony Middleton

Middleton returned to A&M to cut a series of tracks in 1969 that included ‘Love College’, and also a song written by Mrs. Betty E King that was a big hit for hubby Ben, then later even bigger for Aretha Franklin – ‘Don’t Play That Song’ and two others associated with Chuck Jackson ‘I Wake Up Crying’ and ‘Tell Him I’m Not Home’. None of these recordings have been issued – a pity, because I’m sure that they would have been of great interest. Tony once again was reacquainted with multi label owner Morty Craft in 1970 who produced three stunning latino soul tracks that featured percussionist Bobby Matos and were cut at New York’s famous Bell Studios. The first ‘Spanish Maiden’ is a superb mid-tempo torch song issued on Croft’s Storm label as Tony Middleton with Chuito & the Latin Uniques. ‘Return To Spanish Harlem’, another great underrated cut, was apparently issued twice via another Craft logo Speed Records, firstly with ‘Aqui Llego’ (that doesn’t feature Tony but was recorded at the same session) and secondly with a powerful Middleton song ‘Already Satisfied’ that was reissued in the UK in 2009 on an exciting Ace CD compilation The Soul Of Spanish Harlem. ‘Return…’ was remixed for Disco later on but the original is still the best version, in fact this session provided three great soulful sides that all deserve better appreciation. Due to popular demand Tony reformed the Willows to play a series of Oldies concerts at the Academy of Music in New York. He has remained great friends with the other Willows since they originally worked together from early 1953 to 1958 and has reformed and performed with them on many occasions down the years right up until the present day, even though some other members have fallen along the way. His next wax offering came on the Scepter label in late 1970 this time it was a version of Elton John’s ‘Border Song’ backed with Melanie’s oddly titled ‘Sitiest People’ (Tony also sings all the background voices in background on both sides of this single). At this time Tony was back on Broadway in a production of Gary Geld (music) & Peter Udel’s (lyrics) ’Purlie’ (based on the play ‘Purlie Victorious’) that also starred Ray Pollard. The New York theatre crowd rediscovered Middleton, who was no stranger to the boards and joined the cast of Joseph M. Kookolis, Scott Fagan, and Martin Duberman’s production of ‘Soon’ through 1971. Toy Records issued Tony’s recording of Carole King’s ‘Sittin’ In The Sunshine’ backed the Jagger/ Richards ballad ‘Ruby Tuesday’ in mid 1972. It seems this single was also issued twice with ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll Lullabye’ on the second B side, a fourth track from this session ‘Spellbinder’ remains unissued. By this time Tony was starring in yet another Broadway show ‘Don’t Play Us Cheap’ that was written and produced by Melvin Van Peebles and had also been nominated for a Grammy for his masterful recording of ‘To The Ends Of The Earth/ Don’t Ever Leave Me’.

Tony Middleton

The Jazz label Mainstream was broadening it’s original remit by 1973 and this time Tony took the lead vocal for a group called Chubukos who also included Paul Jeffrey, Charles Kynard, Chuck Rainey, David T Walker, Arthur Wright and Paul Humphrey all of whom had previously made records on Mainstream. The ‘A’ side ‘Witch Doctor Bump’ features a Middleton vocal speeded up to sound like the Chipmunks and strays into the realm of novelty but the B-side is a pure funk instrumental appropriately entitled ‘House Of The Rising Funk’. Burt Bacharach was recording a new album for A&M at A&R Studios in 1974. Most of the songs were written with Hal David and included ‘Something Big’ and ‘The Balance Of Nature’ but tucked away between the instrumentals was the beautiful ballad duet ‘I Come To You’ with vocals by Cissy Houston and Tony Middleton. Burt can be a bit overly dramatic from time to time but he’s at his best on this track and so are Cissy and Tony with their sensitive rendition of Hal David’s understated lyric. It’s a little known gem. After a long period in the theatre Tony rejoined the Willows again in 1974 and performed a number of Oldies tours with the group over the next decade. Between tours he recorded the occasional single, though a little less frequently than before. Some of the songs reflected more the perceived musical tastes of the time rather than the quality music that Tony had earned a quiet reputation for recording. He cut a one shot deal with Cotton Records in 1975 who only issued two singles before disappearing. Rota Roota Grind was written by friend and songwriter Jimmy Steward Jr. (who was a singer with the Ravens) and was issued with the backing track as the flipside. I haven’t heard the record but it’s available for silly money on the internet. Royal Flush a short-lived Florida label owned by Henry Stone (who also had many other companies including Glades, Alston and Marlin) issued the next Middleton single in 1976 that was ‘Lady Fingers’ written by arranger Phil Medley and producer Buddy Scott, who also wrote many fine songs with the late great Jimmy Radcliffe. ‘Lady Fingers’ is an uptempo atmospheric dancer that was later remixed and reissued for the 12” Disco market by Royal Flush’s distributor TK Productions Inc. ‘Garden In The Ghetto’ on the other hand is a less frantic ballad aimed at the beautiful people of the time who had their love together if little else.

Tony Middleton

Up until now Tony Middleton’s recorded catalogue in America had consisted of singles – some 78’s with the Willows but mainly 45s. There were three EPs (Extended Play) issued in France but there were not even any compilations released until 2008 when Tony issued a CD himself on Fable. After 26 years in the music business he cut Swingin’ For Hamp his first album,an homage to the great Lionel Hampton envisioned and produced by Ruby Fisher, who worked with Hamp for many years. All of the songs were written by Fisher with a number of different collaborators including Hampton himself and recorded at Soundmixers Studios in New York City. Tony shared album billing with the Ellis Larkins Trio, who consisted of Ellis on piano - he also did all the arrangements, Billy Pop on bass and Jack McAllister on drums. Together this talented quartet cut seven distinctive tracks (the remaining three ‘Jazz At The Fair’, ‘Ski Party’ and ‘Sunday In Soho’ are instrumentals).  ‘Jazzland’ kicks off the set with a brief excursion into the genre and neatly intros Tony with a new sound, at least on record, a departure at the time for him but as he’s proved so often he can sing in any genre - a quality that few singers attain. He’s an acquired taste like ‘Thai Silk’, the second cut on the album - smooth and stylish. ‘Riverboat’ could have been a show song as it conjures visions of the Mississippi with Proud Mary steaming on down to New Orleans. We’re more than a minute into ‘Twilight In The City’ before Mr. Ms pipes come into play, laying out an urban tale of relaxation before the fade into night. ‘The Ingénue’ - I had to look ingénue up in the dictionary to understand it’s meaning, which is an innocent or unsophisticated young woman, and then of course it all made perfect sense– it’s a great song if a little eclectic but when you know ... y’know.  This album is an elegant collection, the way too cool keys of Ellis shift into perfect counterpoint as Tony’s subtle mood changes and his resilient vocals capture the atmosphere of the ‘Hot Spot’ he describes so graphically. You can almost hear in the background ice tinkling in the glasses and observe the cigarette smoke hanging from the ceiling – and who were that group - Noodle Soup?  ‘Lonely Lights’ the final vocal on the album is the perfect so long, after an evening of great jazz you head home in the wee small hours and your thoughts drift to your ideal love, hoping you’ll meet soon in another dawn. This fine set was issued by Concord Jazz in 1979 and remains Middleton’s only album so far. It laid down the tempo for a musical style that he developed and enriched later. Needless to say it’s as fresh as the day it was recorded 30 years ago and it is long overdue for reissue. Later that year Tony cut his last single of that era which was a remake of Brian Hyland’s big 1960 hit ‘Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini’ backed with ‘Queen Of The Disco’. Middleton’s name did nor appear on the Blue Star label only his initials because it went out as TM & Heat that Tony tells me would have gone ahead if the single had been a hit.

There are a number of demos Tony has managed to keep in his personal collection that few people have heard and also twenty or so tracks that have not yet been reissued on CD. These will be listed in earshot 18. But over a long and eventful career that spans more than half a century there’s bound to have been a few that the great man has forgotten – a few that were sneaked out or bootlegged without him being aware of their release. This is the way of many in the music business and always has been. Next time the concluding part of this series will examine the past 30 years of Tony Middleton’s career – the journey that has bought him here today. (peter burns)

Tony Middleton

Tony Middleton Sessions 3 compiled by Peter Burns

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