earshot 4
Online November ’05

earshot 4 cover


digitising sam cooke
peter burns

Allen Klein’s ABKCO label have gradually been remastering and reissuing Sam Cooke’s catalogue for more than a decade. To mark the 30th anniversary of Sam’s death in 1994, ABKCO issued a 2CD Box set entitled Sam Cooke’s SAR Records Story that contained an excellent 84 page book written by Peter Guralnick, that’s packed with great unseen photos of Sam, his label mates and musicians. It features 67 tracks taken from the SAR and Derby vaults with many fine records from the Soul Stirrers, Valentinos, Billy Preston, Simms Twins, Johnnie Morisette and Johnnie Taylor etc. Night Beat was remastered and reissued on CD by ABKCO the following year and despite good reviews it didn’t cause a ripple. Then the first biography dedicated to him You Send Me –The Life And Times Of Sam Cooke, written by Daniel Wolff was published in 1996.
After the new millennium ABKCO issued Keep Movin’ On a CD compilation that featured the previously unreleased title track, long spoken of as an indicator to the direction Sam was beginning go. After his obsession with ‘Blowin’ In The Wind’, a song he felt he should have written, Sam wanted to experiment with message songs. ‘Keep Movin’ On’ and ‘A Change Is Gonna Come’ were the only two that he recorded in ’64, just before his death. The other 21 tracks are cherry picked from his back catalogue as with Portrait Of A Legend issued with Tribute To A Lady his album of Billie Holiday songs in 2003. Could this mean that there are no plans to reissue all the albums as they were originally released on vinyl? Perhaps that’s hoping for too much. All of his gospel tracks have been issued on CD, the most complete being the excellent Sam Cooke –With The Soul Stirrers 3CD Box on Specialty, with notes by biographer Daniel Wolff. Pre-empting Sam’s 40th anniversary ABKCO also issued a remastered CD of Ain’t That Good News, one of the few albums to have been recorded and issued by Sam’s own production company Tracey.
It’s great to be able to get these remastered gems but for me the highlight of their reissue programme so far has been the Sam Cooke Legend DVD issued in late ’03. This is a superb expanded version of the documentary made by VH1 and screened on US TV (and later on some cable UK TV stations). It features many added interviews with members of the Cooke family and friends that include Lou Rawls, Bobby Womack, Aretha Franklin, Lloyd Price, Lou Adler and many more. This is the perfect vehicle to communicate the full extent of Sam’s talent, influence and demonstrates just how highly regarded he was (and still is) by his peers. One can only hope that other companies take a lead from ABKCO and issue similar DVDs of other great soul artists in the future.
The latest chapter in the Sam Cooke story is the long awaited biography Dream Boogie - The Triumph of Sam Cooke by Peter Guralnick who has been involved at all stages of the Cooke renaissance. This latest book was published in November ’05 and I haven’t read it yet so I’ll have to review it later. So what have ABKCO got in store for us in the future? It’s hard to say and rather depends on the success levels of the reissues so far, I imagine. We all have our favourites and there is still much more music remaining to be rescued from the vaults. My suggestion would be Mr Soul, in my opinion Sam’s finest album and precursor to Night Beat. When I first heard it –it was then I knew that Sam was more than just a good singer, he was equal to anyone out there. And as for soul music well he started it all didn’t he?

sam cooke 'legend' dvd cover

Cited in the text
Sam Cooke Legend ABKCO 1004-9 - 2003
Runs for over 3 hours (with interviews)

Sam Cooke – With The Soul Stirrers – 3CD Box – Specialty 3SPCD-4437-2
(available in the UK through Ace Records). Front Cover earshot 4
Sam Cooke’s SAR Records Story - 2002
Night Beat – ABKCO 528 567-2 - 1995
Keep Movin’ On – ABKCO 0602498077061 -2001
Ain’t That Good News – ABKCO - 2003
Tribute To A Lady – ABKCO 0602498074459 – 2003
Portrait Of A Legend – ABKCO – 2003
Sam Cooke At The Copa – ABKCO 0602498074473 –2003

‘You Send Me –The Life And Times Of Sam Cooke’, written by Daniel Wolff
Published in UK by Virgin Books 1996.
‘Dream Boogie - The Triumph of Sam Cook’ by Peter Guralnick
Published by Little Brown & Co in USA, November 2005


rufus thomas

walking the dog
peter burns

A few nights ago I had a dream about Rufus Thomas. It was an embellished version of events that actually happened in a leafy North London suburb called Brent Cross in the early 60s. The dream brought a lot of forgotten memories flooding back. I had gone over there on the tube to pick up my girlfriend at her parents house one Friday night - destination unknown. When I turned up feeling pretty sharp in my mod duds, on my arrival I was informed that Rufus was appearing locally and a group of her friends were due to call round anytime soon, to see if we wanted to go. It was the best offer I’d had all day, so of course we went. When I met the crowd they were a quartet of mid-teens made up to look eighteen, with a couple of reluctant guys in tow. About half an hour later we arrived at this Church Hall (or a School Hall) with a hand drawn poster outside and the strains of some pretty funky music coming from inside. We all stumped up our florin and filed into the arena (a small hall with a stage at one end and a makeshift bar selling soft drinks at the other). I moved over to check out the DJ, who turned out to be a geeky kid with milk bottle glasses, clutching a box of OK 45’s. As soon as we had purchased our cokes and taken up our position, the curtains swung open to reveal the band, who were in the process of setting up. There were about a hundred people in the hall, all standing or dancing, most of them talking over the last remaining few bars of ‘Green Onions’. There was quite a buzz of anticipation and after a brief introduction, the group went into their opening number. They were pretty good, especially the rhythm section. The crowd were up for it and things looked promising. On bounded Rufus wearing a pink cloak and pink satin shorts, brandishing a gold topped cane – he too was obviously up for it. I can’t remember exactly what the songs were but by the end of the second number, the whole place was really jumpin’.
When the guitarist laid down the first few bars of the Wedding March, the crowd went into a roar that almost drowned out the first couple of lines from Rufus’ best song (in my opinion) ‘Walkin’ The Dog’. “…Silver buttons all down her back…” he growled - it was an outstanding performance. Rufus was strutting his stuff, shouting and whistling above the roar of this small but enthusiastic audience. Suddenly the curtains swung closed and a middle-aged man came on from the side of the stage and made an announcement, that went something like this – “Sorry – we must stop this performance now, due to complaints of obscene and lewd behaviour on the part of Mr Thomas…” I was incensed and ready to throw my (now empty) coke bottle at him when he continued “… the police have been called – your money will be refunded at the entrance – please leave in an orderly manner etc, etc.” There was very little adverse reaction and the crowd seemed to turn as one and head for the door as if this happened every week – maybe it did. I said “I’m going to find Rufus!” And made hasty arrangements to meet back at the girlfriend’s place. Everybody else was focused in the opposite direction, so I sprinted up onto the stage, behind the curtains and walked in a business like way through the backstage area towards the dressing rooms. Most of the band were still on stage extracting their instruments but I could see Rufus sitting, talking to some official looking types. I asked one of the band what was going on and he said “Search me”.
When the others had left. I walked over to Rufus and enthused about his performance. Rather surprisingly he was in a great mood, ushered me in, shook my hand and closed the door. We sat and talked for about twenty minutes in this make shift dressing room, he joked, seemed happy to answer my questions and was unperturbed by the incident. “It’s happened before…” he confessed “…some folks find it easy to misunderstan’ some of my lyrics”. He said with a rye smile. “The sexual connotations of ‘Walking The Dog’” I suggested “Somethin’ like that” he said in mock surprise. “What’s your understandin’ then?” “Well …” I said “I see you with a black dog on a lead and this dog represents your discography – your back catalogue.” He looked hard into my face for a moment and we both burst into laughter. “You better give me some of what you been smokin’” Rufus said and we laughed some more.

Quite why I should dream about Rufus almost forty-five years after meeting him I can’t say but from that day to this, my pet name for discographies has always been DOGs. When you come to write a biographical piece on any recording artist, the first piece of background research you need (in my opinion) is a good discography, better still a sessionography. These two terms generally have an elastic definition. It depends on who you talk to. My understanding of discography is a chronological list of discs (singles and /or LPs and CDs) as they were issued (UK and US Nos. dates etc. optional). These days you are lucky to get a well-researched discography published in books or magazines. Nobody it seems has the time or the inclination to keep them going. A good sessionography should read like a story, listing each recording session in order with matrix numbers (that indicate in which order the songs were recorded) the original issue number, the label of issue, all the people involved at the session of importance i.e. the Producer, Arranger, Musicians, Engineers, Background singers and all that. The City, Studio and date of the session are also required. A discography is never complete, even after the artist is no longer working or is dead, the DOG keeps on living and growling. So the compilation can take many years and is ongoing. This is why many collectors and the like, consider this activity an anorak pursuit (and they should know). The discographies to be published here in earshot over the next few months, began life as some of my earliest efforts back in the late days of the ‘60s for ‘Blues & Soul’, ‘Shout’ and ‘Hot Buttered Soul’ magazines and have been growing ever since, especially since the addition of the CD format.

It’s not perhaps until you actually go to Memphis that you realise just what an influence Rufus Thomas really had. As you visit the various musical landmarks, the dots begin to join up, as if by magic. You become aware of his early radio work as a DJ on WDIA-Memphis between 1953-74, interviewing and campaigning to establish and promote black music to a national level. He had previously sung with the Rabbit Foot Minstrels and came to solo recording quite late. His earliest solo waxings were cut in 1950 for Chess but soon he was making novelty songs for Sun like ‘Bear Cat Woman’, an answer record to Big Mama Thornton’s ‘Hound Dog’ in 1953. Though this gave him his first hit, it also got him in hot water with Jerry Leiber & Mike Stoller (Hound Dog’s writers), who sued Sun for plagiarism. Their lawsuit and the publicity that ensued, took Rufus to #3 on the US R&B charts giving him an even bigger hit than expected. His other Sun and Meteor records didn’t sell as well but in 1960, he joined Stax and he and his daughter Carla were the first act to record (as a duet) in the new Stax studios, which were set up in that year. Hits started coming again in ’63 when Rufus found ‘The Dog’ and as he often said “That Dog’s been this man’s best friend over the years.” Next came the classic ‘Walking The Dog’ and the following year, two more dog records put him back on the charts again. Rufus was successful with many a dance format side but he was more versatile than his hits would indicate. “I take my music seriously but at the same time, I’ve got to have fun as well” he told me. It was a combination that worked well for him, between April ’53 and September ’76 he scored twenty hits in America. ‘Jump Back’ was a hit that deserved bigger success but a dalliance with poultry in 1970 gave him ‘Do The Funky Chicken’. ‘(Do The) Pull & Push’ went to #1 later that year and ‘The Breakdown’ also scored big at #2 in July ’71. ‘Do The Funky Penguin’ was his last top ten hit in December ’71 but the fun hits continued with ‘The Funky Bird’, ‘Boogie Ain’t Nuttin’ and ‘Do The Double Bump’. After a minor success with ‘If There Were No Music’ in mid ’76 the hits ran dry but he kept on writing and making good records, moving closer to the Blues in later years - right up until his death in December 2001 aged 84.
Rufus wrote many of his hits himself and remained with Stax until late ’75 when the label shut down and he moved over to Art of America. He also cut some great duets with daughter Carla but only one - ‘Night Time Is The Right Time’, a good reworking of the classic Ray Charles ’59 hit, achieved chart status. I caught his live act a couple of times in later years and he was as always, highly entertaining. As an artist he was totally unique, as a performer (depending on the backup band) he rarely disappointed. His energy, humour and showmanship provided him with a lengthy and successful recording career that spanned all the genres of Black American Music.

I have been to Memphis a couple of times with a 30 year gap between visits, once in the early 70’s when the original Stax building (a converted cinema) was still in operation – and I had the good luck to meet and interview some of the legendary names still in residence such as Isaac Hayes, Steve Cropper, Carla Thomas etc – and behind the scenes talents like Jim Stewart, Estelle Axton, Donna Breakstone and Al Bell. At that time Elvis still lived at Graceland and Sun Studios had been sold to a dry cleaning company. Beale Street swarmed with music fans of every denomination. The clubs and bars were packed and the whole area had the atmosphere of a festival. Live music and great records blared from every venue. Memphis was a magnet for the music fans of all kinds. By 2003 many of the original features still survived but some remodelling and urban renewal had taken place, which changed the feel of the town. Not surprisingly Graceland was now a resort, with its own coach station, plane museum, car and cycle museum and many franchises, etc. Elvis memorabilia oozes out of every franchise. 1000s of fans troup through the house and grounds every day, listening to their recorded guides and photographing everything in sight.
A few blocks north the newly established Stax museum, located at 926 E. McLemore Avenue had yet to establish itself and business was slow. It’s a great new complex that is larger than you imagined. The tour starts and ends with a documentary about the label’s history, achievements etc and leads you to a well-designed interior. The museum itself is beautifully laid out to take you through the history and development of the company. The original studios have been recreated and each display is full of interesting costumes, photos, instruments, albums and all kinds of collectables etc. There are many wall mounted plasma screens, constantly showing tailor made specials about the different artists, concerts and other happenings that have occurred over the labels brilliant history. The Stax-Volt European tour of ’67 provided a great opportunity for the artists themselves to shoot plenty of 8mm film, that has been carefully restored for posterity. A dedicated fan could easily spend all day in there, looking at and listening to all the multi various media that goes to make up this impressive and entertaining collection - which includes Isaac Hayes’ golden Cadillac.
The Memphis of today is well worth a visit, other than the music there are the high street trams, the famous Peabody ducks (the new Peabody Mall) and much more besides. Whatever you do though, don’t miss a visit to Sun Studios, it was a highlight of my trip.

Now rescued from dry cleaner hell, it has been faithfully restored. According to legend, the cleaners panelled the walls and ceilings, leaving all the original features in tact. Sun bought it back and now it’s a national treasure. When you arrive, it looks like a diner from the outside. Downstairs, the Sun Records gift shop surrounds the café. Upstairs it was like stepping back in history. I found it spooky, that Elvis or any of the Million Dollar quartet stood on that particular spot, sang into that mike, pulled a Pepsi from that alien machine. The young monks, in their 20s had put the Elvis style through a David Lynch blender – but that was OK – everything in the museum was unmistakably authentic and they knew their stuff, even if they had learned it parrot fashion in another time zone. Back downstairs, the coffee shop and Elvis emporium awaited, stuffed full of memorabilia - Elvis adorning just about anything you could think of. I bought a coffee, sat in the middle of the space systematically clocking the wares on sale all around me and smoked a slow cigarette. His master’s voice oozed from the jukebox “B-aby I love you too much.” I listened with interest to the guitar break, recalling the time that Scotty told me and Norman Jopling, that even he couldn’t duplicate that solo. “I just can’t remember what I did ‘n that moment – good job they got it down on vinyl”. As I stood outside looking up at the building, I wondered what He would have made of it all (including Graceland).

In the early ‘70s when everybody was celebrating the 10th anniversary of Motown, earshot co-editor Roy Simonds and myself were trying to keep a little perspective and wrote about the Stax 10th anniversary (for ‘Music Now’ a long defunct music journal) which though acknowledged, got far less coverage than Motown. But Stax and its artists have stood up well in the years since then. When they tour the UK, as Booker T & the MGs did in April ‘05, they always receive an amazingly enthusiastic reception. And so the turntable brings us neatly back to my first ever interview with Rufus, who along with Otis, William, Eddie, Carla, Johnnie and many more, made Stax Records what it was and still is today – great.

Credits. With thanks to Stacey Berry of the Stax Museum

why not visit

otis redding

otis redding
peter burns

No one knows what Otis would have become had his plane not dived into Lake Monona in December ’67. Ignoring the hype, indications were promising, with five solid years of hits behind him and the changes in direction indicated by ‘Dock Of The Bay’ - It all looked extremely positive and that maybe he was big enough to weather the ever changing tastes of the record buying public. Those of us that bought his records at the time, were initially attracted to him by his early ballads like ‘These Arms Of Mine’ and ‘Pain In My Heart’, first heard by most of us on the ‘Live’ album ‘Apollo Saturday Night’ issued in the UK in ’64. When he was introduced to the Apollo crowd for the first time and they instantly took him to their hearts.
Critics - he had a few but these were mainly from the people who never saw his live shows, only the TV spots. After his initial success, Otis’ stage act became much more in yer face. The Stax strut projected an energy that audiences tuned into. After his death, his televised performances have rather dictated the way he has been seen by most fans. But the few clips that have been shown and re-shown, were edited for their excitement and power value, they don’t really give us an accurate picture of what the man was like at all. Otis was not at all like his stage image. He spoke quietly, was modest about his success and listened to a wide variety of music, other than soul. As a writer he borrowed from others (who doesn’t) but he was growing, improving, changing direction. While he was iconised as the King of Soul, he would not have been limited by a single genre. These were his roots but he was always looking to expand his experience, he had an enquiring nature. Let’s face it (in volume) Otis had greater success on the pop charts than he did on the soul charts. He was one of the singers that brought Soul music into the mainstream.
Research reveals that he hit the US R&B singles chart - 31 times between March ’63 and August ‘69, scoring 3 #1s. UK Soul singles charts are less easy to research and less reliable in a continuous sense but we know he did well there too. He hit the US Billboard Pop chart (Hot 40) with 11 singles between June ’65 and December ’68. ‘Dock Of The Bay’ was his only pop #1 in America. None of the others hit top ten but the volume of sales together was considerable. On the UK pop charts he had 16 hit singles starting with ‘My Girl’ in November ’65, which on reissue scored again in early ’68. This wasn’t issued as a single in the States. The other 15 singles hit the top 50 - so again high volume pop sales here too. But unlike many early soul singers Otis also had huge success on the album charts in America and in Europe, especially the UK where ‘Dock Of The Bay’ went to #1 pop and ‘Otis Blue’ hit the top ten on two separate occasions once in ’66 and again in ’67. ‘History Of Otis Redding’ went to #2 in February ’68 and the other six albums all went onto the Top 30. US R&B clocked 14 hit albums with 3 topping the charts. All of the others hit the Hot 100 except ‘Tell The Truth’ that came in at #200. When you consider that Otis was only recording solo for 5 years between ‘62 and ‘67 that is an amazing success rate.
So we’ve established that Otis crossed over to pop (very soulfully) but was he, as he was dubbed, the ‘King of Soul’ or was he, after he ousted the undisputed King - Elvis Presley as best vocalist of the year -the King of Pop? Once a King always a King but personally I think that this tag came about because of the album that he made with Carla Thomas - ‘King & Queen’. Great as Carla is, I doubt even she believes that she’s the ‘Queen of Soul’. No, that title has been with Aretha Franklin as long as I can remember. Many have been proclaimed King since Otis’ death, James Brown (perhaps he’s happy with ‘The Godfather’ or ‘Soul Brother No.1’), Solomon Burke (‘King of Rock & Soul’), Al Green, Jerry Butler, the Drifters, the Temptations on and on, all hugely successful. What about Sam Cooke (who invented soul) and those other black stars who are no longer with us like Marvin Gaye, Jackie Wilson, Ray Charles, James Carr, were not these (and many others) all contenders as well. Or is ‘King’ just a marketing tool and we should leave it at that.
Reading and writing seem to be old hat (or back to front cap) in the music world of today but even so, it’s kind of surprising that there haven’t been more books on this great man. According to a report (In The Basement, Issue 29, February ‘03) Scott Freeman, the writer of an Otis Redding biography ‘Otis –The Otis Redding Story’ had his publication halted. He was in court fighting a $15M libel case brought by Redding’s widow Zelma and former manager Phil Walden Sr. Despite this hic-cup this book is now available. Also listed on Amazon and the like are ‘From Memphis to the Mainstream’ by C. Belwin. The only Otis book that I have read so far is Geoff Brown’s ‘Otis Redding –Try A Little Tenderness’ (Mojo Books 2001) that tells the story well enough and is a good read. It’s a pity however that one of the American heavyweights like Peter Guralnick or David Ritz doesn’t get together with those folks at Stax (while there are still enough of them around to interview) and produce a big, colourful, well illustrated (with full sessionography) volume commensurate with Otis Redding’s great achievement and success.

Further Reading:
‘Otis Redding –Try A Little Tenderness’ by Geoff Brown (Mojo Books 2001)

Due to David Cole (In The Basement), Peter Gibbon (Ace Records)

otis redding discography 2 compiled by peter burns

Otis Redding

Rhino info: www.rhino.com

© pwb 05/68, 10/69, 11/05



the first ever soul record
peter burns

An article in the Guardian (16 April ’04) by Alexis Petridis resurrected the long ongoing dispute of just who made the first ever Rock ‘n’ Roll record. It’s now over 50 years since Bill Haley & the Comets worldwide hit ‘Rock Around The Clock’ introduced this teenage phenomenon to the rest of the world and changed the sound of popular music from that day onward. But still the argument rumbles on and it seems to get no closer to any definitive conclusion as to just which was the particular recording. Petridis rolled out some of the same old suspects Roy Brown ‘s ‘Good Rocking Tonight’ (DeLuxe ’48), Jackie Brenston’s ‘Rocket 88’ (Chess ’51) and others but alas came to no conclusion. This subject was first discussed at length (and in depth) by Jim Dawson and Steve Probes thirteen years ago in their book ‘What Was The First Rock ‘n’ Roll Record?’ (Faber & Faber ’92). Now Alan Freed the DJ most acknowledged for his introduction of Rock ’n’ Roll in America through his radio programmes and star studded roadshows, once said “Rock ‘n’ Roll is a great river with many tributaries running into it”. Perhaps with this in mind Dawson & Probes concluded that Rock ’n’ Roll did not start with a single record but evolved over a period of time beginning with “Blues Part 2” by Jazz at the Philharmonic, recorded in LA in July ’44. In their book they listed fifty records that included almost all the major contenders with quite a few surprises. Most Soul historians would surely include the following records not as examples of Rock ‘n’ Roll but those of early Soul: - ‘It’s Too Soon To Know’ the Orioles (Natural ’48), ‘One Mint Julep’ the Clovers (Atlantic ’52), ‘Have Mercy Baby’ the Dominoes (Federal ’52), ‘Gee’ the Crows (Rama ’53), ‘Work With Me Annie’ the Royals (Federal ’54), ‘Sh-Boom’ the Chords (Cat ’54), ‘Riot In Cell Block #9’ the Robins (Spark ’54), ‘Earth Angel’ the Penguins (DooTone ’54), ‘Pledging My Love’ Johnny Ace (Duke ’54) and ‘I Got A Woman’ Ray Charles (Atlantic ’54) all of which featured in Dawson & Probes’ Rock ’n’ Roll 50 listing.

As far as I’m aware no similar discussion as to the origins of the first Soul record has been so widely circulated in magazines or the press (Internet excluded). People have always talked about 60s Soul but the genre evolved earlier than that. Sam Cooke, Clyde McPhatter, Jackie Wilson, Ray Charles and James Brown have often been among those cited as the pioneers who brought Soul to a wider audience. Like Rock ‘n’ Roll, Soul music has absorbed many influences in half a century but its roots are easier to chart than Rock ’n’ Roll, they lead directly to black church music - better known as Gospel (previously Spirituals). Most Soul music artists come from a Gospel background, how much of their later music was influenced by Jazz, R&B, Blues and other contributory genres must vary with the individual. Classification and identification can be tricky, the record companies and Soul charts can’t be entirely relied upon. Sales are their key factor, so the genres are often blurred and of course great non-hits were not featured. Once a genre has been identified and deemed commercial, the brand is more generally marketed and often applied to music with similarities, sometimes slight (example - many recent Northern Soul compilations).

Bluesman Son House said “Blues is the roots and ev’rythin’ else is the fruits”. As a generalisation of American music this is OK but the Blues was initially a mixture of slave work songs, African beats and Christian church forms imported with the slaves themselves. Every musical form was influenced by something else. Because America is so vast and seemed even more so in the 40s and 50s, music styles could be regional for quite some time before they went national hitting the big cities and hence the rest of the world but the music always took much longer to reach us in the UK. Popular music was always second hand in Britain until we started creating our own popular music forms instead of Xeroxing US originals with the cover version. There were only a few radio stations like Radio Luxembourg and AFN that played authentic American music. If you take a look at the UK Pop charts of the time (reliable Soul charts were not published until the late ‘60s) you can see that a few black recording artists had hits from time to time – Nat King Cole ‘52, Mills Brothers ‘53, Four Knights ‘54, Billy Eckstine ‘54, Ink Spots ‘55, Platters ‘56, Fats Domino ’56, Deep River Boys ’56, Billy Ward’s Dominoes ’57, Johnny Otis Show ’57, Jackie Wilson ’57, Sam Cooke ’58, Coasters ’58, Tommy Edwards ’58, Olympics ’58, Lloyd Price ’59, Brook Benton ’59, Sammy Turner ’59. Many of them were novelty records like ‘Reet Petite’ and ‘Yakety Yak’, ‘Mama (He’s Making Eyes At Me), others were big band/ Jazz singers or balladeers but most of it was MOR made for the charts - but some had soulful hues. ‘Western Movies’ was novelty but had a very soulful vocal, ‘You Send Me’, ‘To Be Loved’, ‘Always’, ‘It’s All In The Game’ and others were definitely getting there. But was this kind of music paving the way for Soul or like Rock ’n’ Roll in the mid 50s did the UK record buying public get Soul pre-packaged in the early 60s? By then DJs in the clubs were playing imported singles and that was where you could hear the latest releases. The generation that first embraced Soul in the UK were generally unaware of its origins. Most of them had not been able to hear the Orioles, the Dominoes, the Clovers, the Chords or even the early Drifters etc. They may have heard the songs but not the original versions (until later in retrospect).

Ben E King asked ‘What Is Soul?’ in early ’67 but his answer was rather inconclusive and boiled down to - that it is a feeling deep down inside that you either do or don’t get in touch with. For the purposes of defining the very first Soul record a few clues might be helpful. The word soul has spiritual and religious connotations in its own literal definition. Its musical roots are in the black American church music - Spirituals, Gospel (various forms Baptist, Jubilee, etc). If the singer is singing about He or My Lord you should take that as Gospel. In the States Gospel had many TV and radio shows, even their own charts. Soul music was aimed at the R&B/Soul charts and at the Hot 100. R&B (Rhythm & Blues) was as a term invented by Jerry Wexler (when he wrote for Billboard magazine in the early 50s) to describe a black musical form that was often blurred into Rock ’n’ Roll. It was one of the tributaries that ran into that big ole Rock ’n’ Roll river and had been around a lot longer. During my research for this column, I found lots of vocals that were soulful but the accompanying music was either Jazz, R&B, Jump or black Pop orientated ie - the music of the Ink Spots, the Ravens, Joe Turner, Ruth Brown, Nat King Cole – to be sure these artists were very influential on all black music forms including Soul. So are we talking about the lyrics, the vocal, the music or the perfect combination of all these elements? You decide, I would be interested to hear your views on soulmusichq@yahoo.co.uk

The objective of this article is to compile a list of 50 (perhaps less) records that chart the birth and establishment of Soul, with a probable time span between the mid ‘40s and the late ‘50s. Below are a few suggestions to get things rolling.

‘It’s Too Soon To Know’ the Orioles (Natural ’48)
‘Please, Please, Please’ James Brown (Federal ’56)
‘Drown In My Own Tears’ Ray Charles (Atlantic ’56)
‘I Need You Now’ Sam Cooke (Specialty ’56)
‘For Your Precious Love’ the Impressions (VJ ’58)
‘There Goes My Baby’ the Drifters (Atlantic ’59)

Previously published in ‘Soul Up North’ magazine (May ’04)


the royals

soul albums reviewed

The Royals - Federal Singles – Ace CD
While there are obvious similarities between the Royals and the 5 Royales, both performed during the same period, with the same label (group) etc. their records were quite different (see below). They hailed originally from Detroit and prior to Hank Ballard joining in late ’52, they cut some beautiful ballads behind lead singer Charles Sutton. After Hank co-wrote their first chart hit ‘Get It’ the Royals records showed a marked change of direction towards R&B dance oriented records. The softer tones of Sutton were replaced by the harder edge of Ballard’s vocal approach (that was closer to the popular sound created by McPhatter with the Dominoes and the Drifters). The sexually coded lyrics of his songs kept them off the Pop charts but even so, Annie made a couple of top 30 appearances. After Ballard created Annie and had two #1s on the US R&B singles charts, he was firmly in the Royals drivers seat. Guitarist and arranger Alonzo Tucker persisted with his song writing creating great songs like ‘Someone Like You’ but the record buying public preferred the uptempo sides. After some personnel changes, the Royals became Hank Ballard & the Midnighters and had their first hit single in March ’59 with ‘Teardrops On Your Letter’. John Broven’s great compilation illustrates the Royals development perfectly, laying out all the important tracks for us all to hear and enjoy.

The 5 Royales – King Hits & Rarities –Ace CD
The 5 Royales left Apollo for King in 1954 because they wanted the big label advantages in distribution and production. They had 7 US R&B hit singles between 1953-57 but only two of them ‘Tears Of Joy’ and ‘Think’ were cut with King. So things didn’t work out quite as they planned. Despite that the group cut some very good tracks for the label. Though the popularity of many R&B acts like the 5 Royales didn’t really make it past Rock ‘n’ Roll into soul, the development of their music is a true barometer of the time and they had the vocal and musical talent within their ranks to make the change – sadly it didn’t happen. Steve Cropper admits to being influenced by their guitarist and songwriter Lowman Pauling, who lays down some great licks right throughout this album. ‘One Mistake’, ‘Behave Yourself’, ‘Think’, ‘Tell The Truth’ (a big hit for Ray Charles) and ‘Dedicated To The One I Love’ (better known by the Shirelles) are the outstanding cuts but most of them are pretty good. This CD gets better as it progresses.

Fantasia – Free Yourself – J Records CD
To compare other J records artists to Alicia Keys is unfair I know but somehow it’s inevitable and leaves new artists like Fantasia at a distinct disadvantage. From what I gather, she was a fairly recent winner on US TVs Pop Idol – so she’s already a celebrity that’s been through some changes to get this far. Her first album ‘Free Yourself’ didn’t really move me but will probably appeal more to nu soul fans.

Various - Old Town & Barry – Soul Survey – Kent CD
Ady Croasdell creates another selection of great tracks from the Old Town & Barry labels. Along the way he unearths an unissued gem, the oddly titled Charlie Thomas track ‘No One At Home To Come Home To’, cut in ’66 on his first solo attempt after leaving the Drifters. The single issued ‘Good Good Lovin’/ ‘You Don’t Live Twice’ became an instant rarity. Six years later he set up his own Drifters, who are still performing today in the US. Spotlight tracks from Donald Height, the Gypsies, Peggy Scott and Jesse Gee. Dancers will dig these tracks from Billys Profit and Bland.

Various - Old Town & Barry – Heavy Soul – Kent CD
The second in this series from Old Town, put together this time by John Ridley, concentrates on soul ballads and tracks in a slower groove. Jesse Gee’s ‘She’s A Woman’ in the Solomon Burke/Joe Tex bag, should appeal to the dancers. Also contained here are some interesting and relatively unheard tracks from Bobby Long & the Dealers, Irene Reid and Peggy Scott. Donald Height moves from Chuck to Sam for his Cooke homage ‘A Tribute To Sam’, made the year after his death. Some very bluesy and soulful tracks are included in this package.

Swan Silvertones – 1916-’51 – Acrobat 2CD
Gospel music is the cornerstone of soul and these guys were one of the earliest groups on record. Their history stretches back almost a century. Listening to them now, it becomes clear just what a tremendous influence they have been. A lot of good gospel is gradually becoming more available I’m glad to see let’s all hope it sells well enough to continue to be so. This classic 2CD set goes some way to addressing the mystery of just who the Swan Silvertones were and these 45 tracks illustrate what great music they made.

Various – Ace 30 – Soul & Funk – Ace CD
This is just one of four CDs issued by Ace to celebrate their first 30 years as a record label. For a long time they have been and continue to be, the best re-issue label - bar none. Here are a selection of 20 of soulful and funky struts compiled by Messer’s Croasdell and Rudland, featuring James Carr, ZZ Hill, the Ikettes etc
It’s a celebratory cocktail of classics and rarities - just drink it in and check out the other three. Look out for an Ace Records special in the coming months.

Various – Hot Harmony Groups Volume 3 – Acrobat CD
Acrobat’s Hot Harmony Groups series rolls on into volume 3 with more great tracks from the 4 Vagabonds, Cats & Jammer Three, Syncopators and many more. It’s easy to see the various gospel, jazz and big band influences that guided vocal groups of this period. Vocal group buffs heaven - backed up by some of the great musicians of the era like Hines, Lunceford etc. Good informative notes throw some light on the individuals involved.

Various - Early Soul 1960-64 – Acrobat CD
Another worthy issue from Acrobat Early Soul 1960-64 features 19 great tracks from the early 60s – the dawn of the soul music era. As singles, many of these were never generally available, collectors had to seek them out. Now they are here all on one budget priced CD. I was particularly pleased to get the Esther Phillips and Chuck Jackson tracks after all these years.

Chuck Jackson – On Tour/ Dedicated To The King – Kent CD 2fer
Anyone lucky enough to see Chuck perform live will have this one already. He is still among the very best performers around today. The voice is still as expressive and powerful as ever and in case you missed him ‘live’ take a listen to …On Tour.
He’s best on his own stuff but his medley of other people’s hits like Ben.E, James and Rays are equally well received by the audience. Dedicated To The King is a tribute to Elvis. I didn’t fancy it when issued in ’67 but now it sounds pretty good. It proves he can sing just about anything well. But still this one’s for the Chuck Jackson completists - I think. ‘Don’t’ and ‘I Forgot To Remember’ are the highlights.

Chuck Jackson –Tribute To R&B Volumes 1 & 2 – Kent CD 2fer
The hugely influential Chuck Jackson should have been a superstar but his success like so many others, was restricted to the soul charts, where in America he scored 23 R&B hit singles. In 1966 he and the Bobby Scott band cut two Tribute to R&B albums, both of which are now together on this one CD.
Chuck re-examines ‘Change Is Gonna Come’, ‘All In My Mind’, ‘Sunny’, ‘I’ve Got To Be Strong’ and ‘Blowin’ In The Wind’ besides many others, giving us his particular take on them all. In his long and fruitful career he’s tested all the vocal genres.

Little Willie John – The King Sessions – Ace CD
Though Little Willie John is a legendry and influential character, I must confess I’ve never really listened to more than half a dozen of his more popular sides. His death in prison, at such a young age, kind of overshadowed his importance for me. Coupled with the fact that most of his US hits (between ’55-’61) came before a time when US artists got much exposure in the UK. ‘Fever’ and ‘Talk To Me’ were his biggest hits and I knew about ‘Leave My Kitten Alone’ but that was covered in the UK and I doubt that his version got much radio play here. This fine album now gives us a chance to expand our appreciation of Willie and delve a little deeper into his music. It spans the King years between 1958-’60 and is a masterful John Broven compilation, with superb notes (as always) by Bill Dahl. This is the kind of album that built Ace into the well-respected company they are today.

Various - More Perfect Harmony – Sweet Soul Groups ’67-’75 – Kent CD
Sister volume to In Perfect Harmony issued in 2003 – More Perfect Harmony cuts a similar groove. There are more previously un-issued gems than on volume one, including great tracks from the Notations, Newcomers and Dynamic Tints. Other perhaps more familiar tracks that might also catch your ear are ‘You’re Gonna Make It’ by the Festivals (a contender for Impressed II)
and other smooth grooves from the Sequins, Channel 3, Mylestones and the Fantastic 4. Beautiful Leiber /Stoller production on the Insiders ‘Chapel Bells Are Calling’ make an OK song much more appealing. This is the kind of stuff that grows on you after a couple of plays. Interesting compilations from Tony Rounce and informative notes by John Ridley make both the CDs very enjoyable albums.

Checkers – Complete King Recordings- Ace CD
I was always interested in the Checkers because of their connections to the Drifters and the Dominoes. Their singers ranged between high tenor and bass leads.
Bill Brown had been the star bassman of the Dominoes and sang the unforgettable lead on their biggest hit the influential 'Sixty Minute Man'. The kind of fame and celebrity that he received in the wake of this milestone led him to believe that he could do better with his own group the Checkers. King records, parent company of the Dominoes' Federal label, thought that he might be right and signed the group. Bill sang lead on most the Checkers records but Charlie White and David Baughan also got their turn and while their records were good and attained some popularity in New York and on the East Coast, none of their singles had any kind of national chart success. They didn’t last for long and the best of what they recorded is here on this excellent CD compilation.

© earshot magazine 11/05



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