I came to Jimmy Holiday late. I’d heard ‘How Can I Forget’ but always preferred the Ben E King version, which was tighter, better produced and had Ben singing at his peak. Say no more. Listening to the original later, that too began to grow on me – but I still have a preference for Ben’s version. Holiday’s name cropped up now and again especially after he had moved to Minit and began writing his own songs. He co-wrote the great ‘Girls From Texas’ with Jimmy Lewis who made a couple of records at Minit and was at a similar stage of creative development.
Jimmy Holiday was born 24 July 1934 in Durant, Mississippi and raised in Waterloo, Iowa. Early experience of him singing in school, church and vocal groups are sketchy but he signed to Everest Records as a solo artist in early ‘63. His debut single ‘How Can I Forget’, a strong song that Ed Townsend had written and produced was a big success when it went to #8 on the US R&B singles chart (#57 Pop) in March ’63. It would have been a much larger hit but for Ben E King’s cover, which though a smaller hit (#23 R&B/85 pop) still cut into Holiday’s sales. When I quizzed Ben about that situation in ‘64 he was almost apologetic about it. “I hadn’t heard Jimmy’s version. I came off a European tour straight into the studio and Jerry & Mike (Leiber & Stoller) had this great song ‘How Can I Forget’. I’d assumed it came out of the Brill or somewhere. I didn’t hear Jimmy’s version until I’d cut mine. I’ve lost out to a number of covers of my records by other singers in the past. So I know how that feels”. Holiday’s other Everest sides were all produced by Townsend but didn’t find the commercial success of the initial release. In the UK we didn’t hear many Jimmy Holiday records. Few of his early sides were issued here. Recently however Acrobat have issued all 12 of them on the ‘How Can I Forget’ budget
Holiday’s next recording was ‘Shield All Around’ for the small KT label. Despite the interesting title it’s a fairly ordinary song. It scored nil point on the US charts and wasn’t issued in the UK at all. His third move was to Diplomacy where he cut a dance item ‘The New Breed’ which despite TV appearances on ‘Shindig’ and the like, also missed its mark. James Brown picked up the idea and did better with it a year later bubbling under the Hot 100 but it didn’t impact on the R&B charts. The Diplomacy follow up ‘I Can’t Stand It’ didn’t cause much of a stir either but both ‘A’ sides were reissued by US Kent later.
When he moved over to Minit Jimmy’s situation improved. His releases seemed to be infused with a new level of desperation, his passion turned on a notch or two and the resulting ‘The Turning Point’ and ‘Baby I Love You’ were among his finest records. ‘Baby I Love You’ was a US hit and did quite well on the UK soul charts. But good as his other Minit recordings were, they didn’t sell sufficiently well to put him high on the charts. ‘Spread Your Love’ received mid US R&B chart sales in June ’68 and his duets with Clydie King were critically acclaimed but neither brought him much sustained success. I’m sure those of you that have listened closely to Jimmy’s recordings will agree that as a lyricist/poet he was woefully underrated. A closer examination of records like ‘Everybody Needs Help’, ‘Everything Is Love’ and my particular favourite ‘The Turning Point’ reveal layers of emotional sensitivity, observation and plotline clarity that only great writers achieve. Famed Chicago producer Calvin Carter worked on the West Coast in ’66 after the demise of VJ Records. He scored a big hit with the Players and ‘He’ll Be Back’ on Minit and also produced a few of Holiday’s best sides around that same time.
Though Holiday didn’t create a very high profile within the music industry and his catalogue appears a little chequered at times – his best was great. Personally I think that his vocal was rarely recorded properly, Jimmy’s diction was not as good as say Solomon Burke, Ben E King or Sam Cooke and sometimes his vocal struggled with well produced accompaniment for absolute clarity. Though his records didn’t consistently have the instant appeal that create big hits, artistically they were pure and consequently they stand up better than most to closer examination now. I’ve never seen a major article about him or many PR photos. He had his moments in the spotlight but he will probably be best remembered for his behind the scenes activities of production and song writing for other artists. Holiday’s songs were recorded by Sonny & Cher, Kenny Rogers & Dottie West, Dolly Parton, Ella Fitzgerald, Jackie DeShannon, Al Green & Annie Lennox, the Raelets, Jimmy Lewis, Little Milton and Ray Charles.
In the latter part of his career Holiday seemed to spend much of his time writing and working with Ray Charles rather than pushing his own recording career. His only Dial issue ‘Save Me’ sank without trace in ’71 and the great single for Ray’s label Crossover ‘When I’m Loving You’ released in ’74 should have found much greater acceptance. Listening to his music now it’s hard to understand why he is not more widely appreciated, even among the soul music fraternity. Jimmy Holiday’s heart gave out 15 February 1987 when he was just 52. Since then, Minit have reissued various compilations on vinyl and CD in America and Stateside did issue ‘Everybody Needs Help’, a 16 track CD in the UK four years ago (now deleted). Almost all of the Minit tracks are top rate ‘I Don’t Want To Hear It’, ‘In The Eyes Of My Girl’, ‘We Forgot About Love’ and those already mentioned should be standards. Let’s hope a reissue label will make his complete Minit catalogue available on one CD soon (allowing for a couple of unissued tracks there seem to be 25 Minit tracks) and perhaps Jimmy Holiday might gain some of the recognition he has long deserved.
Over the many years that I’ve been listening to black vocal music I’ve had the privilege to hear singers whose range and technique have delighted and amazed me. There are moments of vocal brilliance in soul and its close relative gospel that are peculiar to those musical styles, and it is my intention in this and forthcoming pieces to highlight some individual examples. I’d like to begin with a gospel recording, as it is gospel that gave soul its voice and its passion. We need to go back to what is considered by the experts to be gospel’s golden age - the late forties and early fifties.
By 1951, the Dixie Hummingbirds had twelve years of recording experience behind them, and were considered to be one of the most outstanding and progressive of all the male gospel quartets. It should be pointed out that all male groups were called “quartets” even though most of them contained five members. The Hummingbirds were later to become a big influence on emerging soul groups such as the Temptations, who, legend has it, once missed a recording session to catch their idols perform. For a number of their recordings in the late forties the Hummingbirds were paired with a female group, the Angelic Gospel Singers. Their final session together took place in New York in December 1951 and the resulting sides were released on the Okeh label. The song “One Day” is a fine example of their work and contains a vocal passage of such extraordinary inventiveness and complexity that it sets it apart from the rest of the field. As the song reaches it’s climax the Hummingbirds two leads, Ira Tucker and Paul Owens take it in turns to sing the word “One” at a seemingly impossible speed, thereby creating an hypnotic rhythmic effect over which the Angelics lead singer Bernice Cole takes the song to new heights. It is a feat of vocal improvisation performed with such apparent ease that the listener can only sit back and marvel. It is I believe moments such as this that elevate black vocal music to an altogether higher plane than its counterparts.
The recording of “One Day” appeared on a 1975 double album titled “The Gospel Sound”, which was released on U.S. Columbia (G 31086) to tie in with the revised second edition of Tony Heilbet’s book of the same name. The book is an essential read for anyone interested in the history of black vocal music.
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Unless you’ve heard the song before - even if you know a singer well, it might take a short while to realise just who it is singing, when you hear them on the radio. But with Lou Rawls that doesn’t happen – you know it’s him at once. So distinctive is his voice and style, there’s no mistaking Lou – he was one of a kind.
The first time I really became aware of Lou was through his Capitol recordings ‘Love Is A Hurtin’ Thing’ and ‘Dead End Street’ and after that I began to buy his albums. (I understand that he made records on SharDee and Candix but I never actually heard any of them). I played the early stuff a lot. I liked the monologues, the jazz with Les McCann and thought Lou was a very cool dude. He laid down some evocative images of Chicago, long before I got the chance to visit there and experience the ‘almighty hawk’ for myself. He tried on a number of styles and settled down with a steady stream of US hits on both the R&B and the Pop charts from the mid 60’s right through to ’87. Being a bit of a genre snob at the time, I dropped him when he went MOR in 1968. But still the occasional thing caught my ear from time to time like ‘Your Good Thing’ on Capitol in July ’69, which reached #3 R&B/18 pop and ‘Natural Man’ on MGM in October ’71 that went to #17 US pop. But the biggest and most quoted international hit Lou had was ‘You’ll Never Find Another Love Like Mine’ on Philadelphia International, that went to #1 R&B and # 2 pop in America in May ’76. He also topped the UK Soul singles chart and went to #10 UK pop charts in July ’76. Though he continued to score hits on the US R&B charts only a few more singles went pop like ‘See You When I Git There’ and ‘Lady Love’.
Lou Rawls was diagnosed with lung cancer in December 2004 and brain cancer the following May. He died in Los Angeles on 6 January 2006. During a distinguished 50-year career he won three Grammys and sold more than 40 million albums. He was a unique artist and his velvet baritone will long be remembered and often celebrated in the years to come.
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In a world where far too many do as little as they can for more rewards than they deserve and micro talents are blown up to become mega celebrities that fill our screens and dominate our media because sponsorship and PR have priced real talent out of the marketplace, Gordon Parks seems like a legend whose achievements are just too great to adequately acknowledge. No amount of praise or recognition can do his deeds real justice when compared to what passes for art, music and literature these days. So here goes – and I’ll try not to gush.
Every bit of the considerable success Parks achieved in his life was purely through his own endeavour and it wasn’t just the height of his success but the breath that is so amazing. Gordon Roger Alexander Buchanan Parks was truly a self made man, not in the financial sense but artistically. He was born on 30 November 1912 in Fort Scott Kansas, the youngest of 15 children and grew up in abject poverty. After his mother died, Gordon aged 15, found himself homeless and had to move from school to work for survival. He took a number of manual jobs, was a hotel bellboy for a period and even played piano in a bordello. Like everything in Gordon’s life, he had to teach himself piano but he got good enough to form a small group, in which he played and sang. With little practice the group went on the road. But things didn’t work out, they broke up on tour and Parks found himself marooned with no money or prospects. So he took to rural work and spent some time working the land in forestry. But it was in 1937, when he was a waiter on a trans-continental train that he became inspired by a set of photos that he saw in a discarded magazine and it was then that he knew he wanted to be a photographer. When the train stopped in Seattle, Gordon went into the nearest pawn-shop and bought his first camera.
Parks began a quest to photograph poverty across the USA, initially with finance that he acquired through the FSA (Farm Security Council). Subjected to racism, bigotry and intolerance himself, he chose to reflect these aspects of American life, consistently ignored in the mainstream by creating his own intimate images to highlight the black experience. Beginning with ‘American Gothic’ in 1942, taken in Washington, DC, he shot a series of photos in the ghetto that graphically depicted the harshness of black family life in America. The fresh new world that Parks discovered through his camera lens gradually broadened to cover a wide range of other subjects from fashion to sport. At first he found jobs and commissions hard to get because of the colour bar but occasionally his unique situation would work to his favour. He was the first black photographer to be published in ‘Life’ and ‘Vogue’ magazines and began his 20-year association with ‘Life’.
Gradually Parks built a reputation as one of the leading photo-journalists of the period and his unique position gave magazines access to black themes unavailable to them before. The first of his total 300 commissions for ‘Life’ was a profile of gang leader Red Jackson and the troubled world of the Harlem streets of the late ‘40s. He was sent to Paris for a fashion shoot in 1949. He supplied graphic photos for a nationwide US Crime series and visually interpreted the work of leading American poets. Parks also became famous for his iconic photo portraits of such legends as Duke Ellington, Muhammad Ali and Malcolm X. As he travelled America, Parks began to document his observations and experiences and out of his journals grew a number of books that were published from the early sixties including ‘Shannon’, ‘A Choice of Weapons’ (’66), ‘Born Black’ (’71), ‘To Smile In Autumn’ (’79), ‘Voices In The Mirror’ and others as well as several volumes of his own poetry with accompanying photographs.
For Gordon Parks the concept of creative boundaries did not exist and because he didn’t understand his own limitations, there simply were none. He wrote a symphony in 1967 and created his ballet ‘Martin’ dedicated to Martin Luther King in 1989. In his studio where he painted, sculptured, he began work on his first movie, a documentary ‘Flavio’ in 1962. His first Hollywood movie ‘The Learning Tree’ (’68) came five years later and was taken from his own autobiographical novel (published in ’63). Parks wrote the script, scored the music, filmed, and directed the complete project with some help from actor and cult movie maker John Cassavetes and finance from Warner Bros. Two years later in 1971 he produced and directed ‘Shaft’ a movie that set the whole Blaxploitation movement rolling and was so successful that it rescued the ailing MGM studios of the time. He followed on with ‘Shaft’s Big Score’ (’72) ‘Super Cops’ (’74) and ‘Leadbelly’ (’76). Gordon created a body of filmic work that pioneered black movie-making. But it wasn’t all plain sailing even then, Parks got into a dispute with Paramount, who were distributing ‘Leadbelly’ his biopic of the legendary Blues/Folk singer. They refused to premiere the movie in New York and misrepresented it as Blaxploitation. This angered Parks who never worked in Hollywood again. PBS TV showed future projects like ‘Solomon Northrup's Odyssey’ (’84), ‘The World of Piri Thomas’ (’68), ‘Diary of a Harlem Family’, ‘Mean Streets’ and ‘Moments Without Proper Names’.
On a personal note Gordon was married three times. He had three children with his first wife Sally. Gordon Parks Jr, who directed the blaxploitation classics ‘Superfly’ (’72) and ‘Three the Hard Way (’74) was tragically killed in an airplane crash in Kenya at the end of the 70s. He also had a daughter Toni and a second son David. By the mid nineties Gordon was taking things a little slower than he had and in 1995 he donated his complete archive of films, photographs, and writings to the Library of Congress. Three years later he published ‘Half Past Autumn: A Retrospective’. In 2002 his 90th year, he was inducted into the International Photography Hall of Fame and received the Jackie Robinson Foundation Lifetime Achievement Award. Parks’ expansive talents won him a lorry load of awards during his lengthy career.
So with little formal education, a background of poverty and racial inequality, Gordon Parks learned to rely on no one. He taught himself to become a competent musician, a widely respected photo-journalist, a published writer and poet. He moved into movies in the late sixties and pioneered black film-making and documentary work. He went from a survivor to a well-respected commentator on many aspects of American society. He redefined the concept of just what can be achieved in one man’s lifetime. What a guy! - he was an object lesson to us all. Gordon died from cancer 7 March 2006 but his many achievements in the visual and musical arts will be recognised and celebrated for many years to come.
From Left Dizzy Gillespie, Arif Mardin, Quincy Jones III, Ahmet Ertegun,
personal heroes 1 - arif mardin
After a chance meeting with Jazz greats Dizzy Gillespie & Quincy Jones in 1956, Arif Mardin abandoned his plans for a career in economics in Istanbul and set his sights on America and one in music. Arif’s early jazz compositions had so impressed Quincy Jones that they won him a scholarship to Berklee College of Music in Boston. After graduation Arif taught at Berklee for a year before he began his illustrious career at Atlantic Records in 1963, where he worked primarily as an arranger, then as a producer and remained involved with them until 2001. He joined the Ertegun brothers, Ahmet and Nesuhi and Jerry Wexler in what to him must have seemed like Jazz heaven. True, Atlantic was more famous for the R&B, Blues and Soul records as well as the Jazz hits it had created since its inception in 1947 but the label was initially built on the avid enthusiasm that its founders had for Jazz. Nesuhi joined to set up the Modern Jazz arm for Atlantic in 1956 after co-founder Herb Abramson quit and Arif was assigned work in that genre. This wasn’t the career path that Arif’s parents had planned for him (nor indeed what the Erteguns had in mind for their sons before him). But after these young Turks had formed their own ideas of what they wanted to devote their lives to – creating and promoting authentic black music.
Starting in 1956 Atlantic/Jazz recorded and issued some of the most creative, progressive and classic Jazz albums ever conceived. The label recorded John Coltrane, Charlie Mingus, Jimmy Guiffree, Jim Hall, the MJQ, Ornette Coleman and many more. Mardin made significant contributions to albums by Charles Lloyd, Sonny Stitt, Max Roach, Eddie Harris, Freddie Hubbard and Herbie Mann and their jazz line was quickly established, increasing Atlantic’s influence in the growing album market. Once you find yourself in such talented and progressive company (which also included ace studio genius Tom Dowd) horizons expand and anything is possible. Mardin’s next move was a surprise to many – he combined with an unknown pop group the Young Rascals to produce their debut album and huge US pop hit Groovin’- which also gave them a worldwide hit single. Mardin was a team player and often co-produced with the artist involved or other Atlantic luminaries the Erteguns, Wexler, Dowd etc.
Arif went on to record numerous soul artists like Ben E King (Benny & Us), King Curtis (Sweet Soul), Aretha Franklin (Young Gifted & Black, Spirit In The Dark), Donny Hathaway (Donny Hathaway, Extensions of a Man), Roberta Flack (Roberta Flack & Donny Hathaway, Where Is The Love), Margie Joseph (Debut, Sweet Surrender), Brook Benton (Rainy Night In Georgia, The Gospel Truth), Diana Ross (Every Day Is A New Day), Chaka Khan (Chaka, Whatcha Gonna Do For Me) Dionne Warwick (…Sings Cole Porter) Stevie Wonder (Seasons Of Love) among others. He wasn’t restricted by any genre however and once this fact had dawned on others he was besieged with requests to produce and/or arrange for Dusty Springfield (Dusty in Memphis) andJackie DeShannon (Jackie). Such was the level of his success that by 1969 he had become vice-president of Atlantic. Folk-Rock triumphs were achieved with Danny O’Keefe (Debut, Breezy Stories), John Prine (Debut, Diamonds In The Rough), Laura Nyro (Christmas and the Beads of Sweat), Judy Collins (Bread & Roses), Steve Goodman (Somebody Else’s Troubles), Carly Simon (Boys In The Trees, You Belong To Me). Mardin also touched Country with Willie Nelson (Shotgun Willie) and he bought out the best in Hall & Oates (Abandoned Luncheonette), Bette Midler (Debut, Thighs & Whispers, Wind Beneath My Wings) and Average White Band (Pick Up The Pieces, Person To Person) and even found time to record his own albums Glass Onion and Journey.
In 1975 the Bee Gees desperate to re-establish themselves after three years in the wilderness began a working partnership with Arif and he helped them develop a new persona through the huge success worldwide of ‘Jive Talkin’ and ‘Nights On Broadway’ singles and the hit albums Main Course, ESP and You Win Again, by creating a soul inspired strain of disco that was to dominate popular music for many years. Mardin continued his winning streak with George Benson (In Your Eyes), Culture Club (From Luxury To Heartache), Phil Collins (Face Value, No Jacket Required, Against All Odds), Ringo Starr (Rotogravure, Ringo the 4th), Barbara Streisand (Higher Ground), Patti LaBelle (You Saved My Life), Leo Sayer (Have You Ever Been In Love) andDavid Bowie (Labyrinth Soundtrack) amongst many others. His success rate was phenomenal and twenty years later many of the singers he had worked with in the early years returned to have the magic work one more time. In 1996 he was linked with two of the greatest songwriter/producers of all time Leiber & Stoller to produce the Broadway cast of the hit musical ‘Smokey Joe’s Café’.
One year into the new millennium Atlantic, now in the hands of the Time/Warner giant, forced Arif into early retirement but at 69 he wasn’t ready to quit yet and so he joined his long-time friend Ian Ralfini as Co Vice President of the re-created Manhattan Records. During a 50-year career in music, Mardin had been showered with numerous awards including Producer of the Year 1975 (his first Grammy) and A Lifetime Achievement Grammy, just two of the 12 Grammys he received for his 40 plus Gold & Platinum albums. He worked through a variety of new projects that included the South Park soundtrack, orchestral arrangements for ‘Let Me Love You’ and ‘Come Rain Or Come Shine’ for Eric Clapton & BB King and Come Away With Me, Nora Jones’ Grammy winning debut for Blue Note. He also found more success with Diane Reeves’ A Little Moonlight, Melissa Errico’s Blue Like That and linked up once more with Willie Nelson for Please Come Home For Christmas (Special Olympics May 2003). That same year he was presented with a UN Peace Award. There was clearly little in the musical sphere that was beyond his talents and as if to underline this realisation he wrote an opera ‘I Will Wait’. Those that worked with and alongside Arif had nothing but good things to say about him as an arranger, writer, producer and gentleman. He died at his New York home aged 74 on Sunday 25 June ’06 from pancreatic cancer. He lived a long and fruitful life and leaves a huge legacy of superb music for all of us who recognised his many talents to enjoy and learn from.
It is gratifying to see the late James Carr finally receive some of the recognition he so richly deserves. Carr was one of the leading exponents of the Southern soul ballad style, and it is from one of his many memorable Goldwax 45s that I have picked my second great vocal moment. The O. B. McClinton penned “Forgetting You” first appeared as the b-side of the more obviously commercial “Pouring Water On A Drowning Man” back in 1966, and it is one of the finest examples of a “climax” record that I have heard. The song itself has a straightforward country-slanted melody line interspersed with some bluesy guitar fills (Clarence Nelson?), which add an air of underlying menace. Towards the end of the middle eight things move up a gear as Carr signals his intentions with a warning squeal and the record begins to build to a raging climax. The song now switches from it’s basic major chord country changes to a gospel based major / minor sequence, urging Carr on and giving him the space and freedom to improvise. This for me is one of the great moments in soul as Carr, his voice taking on it’s rough edged preacher’s roar finally breaks into a drawn out falsetto cry, perfectly controlled yet giving the impression of impassioned abandon. As the record fades, Carr’s cries take on an air of desperation as if the effort of conveying his loss has simply proved too much for him. It is a moment of high drama, and it is interesting to speculate how much of Carr’s performance is genuine involvement, and how much is church derived theatre. It is tempting to conclude that Carr quite simply gets carried away and that the guys at American Sound respond to the moment and the let the tapes roll. Although Carr’s fragile temperament may have played a part I would argue that it is his solid gospel background and declared affection for the work of the Rev. Julius Cheeks & The Sensational Nightingales that are the prime factors at work here. Not that this in any way lessens Carr’s achievement, but merely underlines the fact that this is a “performance” which gains its emotional power primarily from the rich musical heritage that inspired it. But then it could be argued that this holds true for all great soul performances.
James Carr has been well served by Ace over the last few years, and “Forgetting You” appears on two excellent Kent collections - “You Got My Mind Messed Up” and “The Complete Goldwax Singles”.
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Born on 9 September 1946 in Houston, Texas, Billy Preston moved to LA at an early age. An amazing keyboard child prodigy, he played piano, then organ with his mother Robbi’s gospel choir at the age of five. He went on the road with gospel diva Mahalia Jackson in 1956 aged 10 but his intro to show business came two years later when he played piano and acted as the young WC Handy in the movie ‘St Louis Blues’ (‘58). In the early sixties Preston returned to the gospel trail performing with Rev. AA Allen, James Cleveland and Andre Crouch. He was invited to tour Europe with Little Richard in late ’62 and in Hamburg he ran into the as yet virtually unknown Beatles. Also headlining the same tour was Sam Cooke, who signed him to his Derby label in 1963 where he cut ‘Greazee Pts 1&2’ and the album 16 Year Old Soul. Sam also used Billy’s considerable talents on his own recording sessions for the excellent Night Beat album and he even got a name check on ‘Little Red Rooster’.
Preston was a regular on the US ABC TV Show ‘Shindig’ in the mid sixties, when he was also cutting records for VeeJay (The Most Exciting Organ Ever - #5 R&B Albums, June ’65) and Capitol (Wildest Organ In Town - #9 R&B Albums, July ’66). Ray Charles heard him on ‘Shindig’ and hired him to play on ‘Let’s Go Get Stoned’. George Harrison invited him to record with the Beatles when he toured the UK with Charles in January ’69. Billy made contributions to Let It Be (album & movie) and Abbey Road and he later went on to work with George after the Beatles split on Concert For Bangladesh (‘72). He was there at the famous last Beatles appearances on the roof of Apple Corps, Savile Row. Despite their personal differences all Beatles agreed that Billy’s work on ‘Get Back’ deserved a label credit. He became the ‘fifth’ Beatle for a short while and they offered him a solo deal with Apple Records, the first artist to be signed to the label. His connections with the Fab Four launched his solo career onto a higher level and in his 3 years with them he recorded ‘My Sweet Lord’ before George cut his mega hit version. Then ‘That's The Way God Planned It’ went to #11 UK Pop in July ’69 and he recorded an album under the same title. Billy and George continued a fruitful working relationship after the Beatles parted company and he backed George on four of his solo albums All Things Must Pass, Extra Texture, Dark Horse and 33 1/3. He toured with Harrison on the Dark Horse Tour of ’74 and also worked with John and Ringo on their early solo projects
Billy signed to A&M in 1972 and over the next six years he enjoyed his most sustained period of solo commercial success. His debut single ‘Outa-Space’ sold high into the US charts reaching #2 (#1R&B) by May ’72 eventually hitting the Euro/UK charts and winning him a Grammy. ‘Will It Go Round In Circles’ /’Blackbird’ sold even better reaching #1 US Pop (#10 USR&B) in May ’73. The follow up ‘Space Race’ went to #4 Pop (#1R&B) in October ’73 and in August ’74 ‘Nothing From Nothing’ gave him his second US #1. On the back of this kind of exposure Preston became a prominent session musician, in constant demand by stars like the Stones (Sticky Fingers, Exile On Main Street), Aretha Franklin (Young, Gifted & Black), Bob Dylan (Blood On The Tracks), and many others. He rediscovered the Stairsteps through bassist Keni Burke, who were signed through his influence, to Harrison’s Dark Horse label and cut their superb Second Resurrection album – which Billy produced. Preston played Sgt Pepper in the 1978 movie ‘Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Heart Club Band’ and his keyboard skills were featured on Sly & Family Stone hits (and their There’s A Riot Goin’ On album) and toured the States extensively with the Stones in the mid 70s. During this period he developed a cocaine addiction. He went back to his roots for a while towards the end of the 70s and cut a couple of gospel singles for Myrrh records. Then in ’79 he signed with Motown and the following year he hit the charts with ‘With You I'm Born Again’ a duet with Syreeta (Wright) that went to #4 US Pop and reached #2 on the UK charts. But none of his other Motown records became significant hits and the remainder of his output after 1980 was released on smaller independent labels like Megatone, Flying and Clash.
In addition to acting in the movies, Billy wrote for and had his music used on many soundtracks. He co scored with Quincy Jones ‘They Call Me Mr Tibbs’ (’70) the sequel to ‘In The Heat Of The Night’ (’67) and wrote the ‘Slaughter’ (’72) movie theme. ‘You Are So Beautiful’ a song taken from Preston’s The Kids & Me album (’74) was a big hit for Joe Cocker and went on to be featured on three more movie soundtracks (Modern Romance (‘81), Wired (’89), Carlito's Way (‘93)) before being covered by several other artists. In addition to these, Billy and his music appeared on the soundtracks of ‘Mother, Jugs & Speed’ (’76), ‘Fastbreak’ (’79), ‘Loving Couples’ (’80), ‘Blame It On The Night’ (’84), ‘Muppets from Space’(’99) and ‘The Derby Stallion’(’02).
Energy flowed through him like a conduit and what emerged was supercharged excitement and enthusiasm. Added to his many recordings, tours and movie work, Billy was highly visible on the box from time to time, in the US, UK and Europe. But Billy disappeared off the radar in the mid ‘80s and fell from grace in the early 90s. He hit a low when cocaine led him into hot water with the law and he got a suspended jail sentence. Further misdemeanours put him behind bars for three years but after a lengthy drug rehab program Billy remerged and made an appearance in the ‘Blues Brothers 2000’ movie. The following year he toured with Eric Clapton on the ‘One More Car, One More Rider’ Tour 2001. Further appearances followed with ‘Concert For George’ (‘02) and he was invited to join Ray Charles on his final album Genius Loves Company and Mavis Staples Have A Little Faith. In 2004 he appeared on Eric Clapton’s ‘Sessions for Robert J’ (DVD) and issued Billy Preston’s Beatles Salute album in 2005. That same year he contributed to Neil Diamond’s 12 Songs and the Red Hot Chilli Peppers Stadium Arcadian.
Preston scored single and album hits all around the globe, worked with some of the most exciting and famous musicians of all time. But years of drug abuse had damaged his kidneys beyond repair. His body never successfully accepted an attempted transplant in 2002 and in November 2005 Billy went into a coma from which he never returned. Billy Preston finally died on 6 June 2006 aged 59.
soul album reviews
Walter Jackson – It’s All Over (OKeh Recordings Vol. 1) - Kent CD
Twenty years ago I tried to get a couple of UK reissue labels interested in a Walter Jackson OKeh compilation, sadly to no avail - but now I’m delighted to see that Tony Rounce (who seems on a worthy quest to issue Walter’s complete catalogue, having already released 6 of his albums on Westside plus two great compilations) has compiled the first of 3 volumes on this the initial period of Jackson’s recording career. Now we can appreciate a broader sweep of Jackson’s early catalogue. Once Carl Davis had signed Walter to Columbia/ OKeh he seemed a little uncertain on the best choice of material to release. They cut three Columbia singles, which though eminently listenable, made no impact on any of the charts. Then along came Curtis Mayfield, who had returned home to Chicago after 2 years in New York. Curtis provided Walter with ‘That’s What Mama Say’ a song that was a sequel to his earlier success with Jan Bradley and ‘Mama Didn’t Lie’. Though this single didn’t chart either, it clearly showed that a more contemporary style suited Jackson’s vocal approach perfectly. While the standards worked well enough, Walter needed the challenge of new songs to really excel. He was a big ballad singer with a difference. Mayfield’s ‘It’s All Over’ gave Jackson his first US hit and Van McCoy’s ‘Suddenly I’m All Alone’, took him high into the R&B top 20 and then only then - was he rolling. ‘It’s All Over’ became the title of Jackson’s first album, a blend of the classic and contemporary. It also had a visually powerful sleeve with strong typography and Saul Lambert’s great portrait of Jackson. In addition to this collectable album there are 10 bonus tracks, 9 of which are previously unissued. For me this is what makes this CD a must. There are two versions of ‘The Heartbreak Hour’ (version 2 is marginally better) and ‘It’s Hard To Believe’ (better known by the Impressions and more difficult to choose between). It’s difficult to understand why ‘Blue Rose’ was not originally issued - this was one that could have appealed to many of his fans at the time. ‘Starting Tomorrow’ was a hard to find ‘B’ side, recorded at a time when Jackson & Davis had yet to establish their Chicago Sound and were still imitating the New York hits of the moment. Other early tracks had a similar lilt like ‘You Gotta Give’ (the first track Walter ever cut -solo), ‘Anything Can Happen’, and ‘Don’t Play With Love’. ‘Tell The World’ is a slightly deconstructed Mayfield song that the Impressions cut later in 1967. This is superb compilation. I hope that it sells well and that Walter makes some new converts with his unique stylings of some great songs. Presumably Tony has plans for ‘Special Love’ and ‘Suddenly I’m All Alone’ on Volume two, which should be available around November time.
Various - R&B Jukebox Hits of 1955 Vol 1 – Acrobat CD
Acrobat issue yet more R&B, Doo Wop and Early Soul gems, this time from the year 1955. Volume 1 contains 25 of the best tracks ever recorded, some of which laid down the foundations for Rock ‘n’ Roll. Here you’ll find Arthur Gunter’s ‘Baby Let’s Play House’ - covered later by Elvis. ‘Whatcha Gonna Do’ was the Clyde & the Drifters track that inspired the Twist and Little Walter’s ‘My Babe’ a Xerox of which kicked off Ricky Nelson’s career. Great group tracks included here too from the 5 Keys, Moonglows, Charms, Hearts, Clovers and Danderliers – it’s a very promising start to the series.
Various - R&B Jukebox Hits of 1955 Vol 2 – Acrobat CD
Volume 2 rolls out 25 more inspirational cuts from 1955.
Etta James – Complete Modern – Ace 2CD
Etta James has been one of the most enduring female soulsters of all time.
Various - A Story Untold 1955 The Year Of Doo Wop – Acrobat 2CD
What a great Doo Wop collection this is! 50 of the most memorable tracks from the era. Here are classic cuts from the Moonglows, Nutmegs, Cardinals, 5 Keys, as well as better known crossover hits from the Platters, Drifters (with a spread of different leads), Penguins and the Robins (soon to be the Coasters). The second CD begins with ‘Speedo’ by the Cadillacs led by Earl ‘Speedo’ Carroll, who is still moonlighting between the Cadillacs and Coasters in New York today. More unusual highlights are here from the Diablos, Empires, Heartbeats, Harptones and the Cleftones. In fact there’s not one dud amongst ‘em. Listen out for great Spaniels, Penguins and Flamingos sides - it’s a vocal group fest. Acrobat provide a beefy booklet with lots of background info, photos and fascinating facts to give a deeper profile to the compilation. Great Stuff!
Carolyn Franklin – Sister Soul – Kent CD
While there must have been some advantages to having an incredibly famous sister like Aretha Franklin, there must also have been a downside or two. Carolyn sure thought so because her earliest solo efforts were recorded in 1963 for Double L as Candy Carroll. But the two singles issued made no impact on the charts. Her first album (under her real name) The First Time I Cried was only issued in the UK (1970) and didn’t make her famous either – but is probably a collectable these days. As singers, neither Carolyn or Erma ever really got out from under elder sister Aretha’s oversized shadow. Both of them had two hit singles each on the US R&B charts of the late 60s but Erma did record the definitive version of ‘Piece Of My Heart’ - that after re-issues and cover versions, established itself as a classic soul standard. Carolyn spent most of her career singing behind Aretha both on record and on tour but in 1969 she signed to RCA and during the following seven years recorded four albums for the label. The best 22 of these tracks are now available here. Kent include her two hit singles ‘It’s True I’m Gonna Miss You’ (US R&B #23, August ’69) and ‘All I Want To Be Is You Woman’ (US R&B #46, October ’70). Others worth a mention are ‘On A Back Street’ which covers the same kind of territory as ‘Dark End Of The Street’ or ‘Like Sister & Brother’. ‘There I Go’ is an interesting departure and of Carolyn’s own songs ‘Boxer’, I Won’t Let You Go’, and ‘If You Want Me’ all work well. Without listening for it, one hears reminders of Aretha and Erma but even with such strong influences Carolyn managed to find her own distinct voice, which is kind of surprising. I prefer her mid tempo items to the ballads generally and was reminded of Dusty at times especially uptempo. Good informative notes by David Cole.
Hotlanta Soul 3 – Kent CD
This third Hotlanta Soul volume was long-time coming and it’s almost a Sam Dees special. His dozen songs, productions and vocals make the most valuable contributions here. Two previously unissued Dees mid tempo ballads ‘I Know Where You’re Coming From’ and ‘Everybody’s Trying To Get Over’ are most agreeable. For his ‘Claim Jumping’ single Sam turns up the intensity a few notches which puts him in the same zone as Bill Brandon, CL Blast, King Hannibal - all also here in forceful mode. Frederick Knight still rolls in a Stax groove with ‘We’ve Got To Sing Together’ and Deep Velvet have an O’Jays Philly sound on ‘Hanna Mae’. Personal highlights are the late great Jimmy Lewis on his own song ‘That’s How Long I’ll Be Loving You’, that has a slight country groove. ‘A Better Way’ written by Dees for the Johnny Smith Congregation and ‘Johnnie Mae Wright’ written and produced for Bill Brandon are both compelling. Also well worth a mention are ‘Personal Woman’, ‘Holding The Losing Hand’ and ‘Early Morning Love’ by Roszetta Johnson who sounds better play by play.
Solomon Burke Best Of MGM Years 1971-73 – Raven CD
This Australian compilation uses the title track from Solomon’s Pride debut album (Electronic Magnetism - ‘That’s Heavy Baby’) to repackage the best tracks from that period. As an intro it’s the perfect place to start with a positive, medium rolling beat that combines with his relaxed vocal approach and draws you into the album. Many of the cuts are easy on the ear, country tinged, self-penned songs with other family members. Solomon is one of the genuine greats, still touring the world and performing at the top of his game. Often hailed as the ‘King of ‘Rock & Soul’, he‘s a unique singer who can turn most songs around and fashion an individual twist of his own. In 1969 he had a big hit with Creedence Clearwater’s ‘Proud Mary’, so here he gives another nod to John Fogarty and ‘Looking Out My Backdoor’ and it suits him fine. ‘PSR – 1983’ is a rare foray into social comment and our man makes his point forcefully (in case you’re wondering, he’s talkin’ Pollution, Sex and Revolution). A minute into ‘Drown In My Own Tears’ you begin to wonder whether he’s going start singing and at 1:52 he does. It’s a rambling, unplugged version of the Ray Charles evergreen that takes a little getting used to but as usual, Burke manages to adjust your perspective and give a new slant to the song. Highlights include ‘Everybody Wants To Fall In Love’, ‘Love Street and Fool’s Road’, ‘It Must Be Love’, ‘We’re Almost Home’ other than those already mentioned. There’s an interesting interpretation of the Erroll Garner/ Johnny Burke classic ‘Misty’, - complete with an Eastwood ref. on the outro. I suppose fans of Johnny Mathis and versions of that ilk might hate this track - but I like it fine. For his final departure his vehicle of choice is the train - He’s not movin’ on up, he’s not going to Georgia or pre-booked on the Freedom Train, there’s no mystery - he’s just movin’ on and like Hank Snow before him, he’s not comin’ back. Shortly after issuing these records Pride folded, leaving Burke and other roster artists like Billy Butler & Infinity etc high and dry. Up until now most of the tracks recorded there have been unavailable on CD. I’ll forgo the opportunity to compare this music to his highlights at Atlantic or anywhere else that Solomon really laid it down. You could never lock him into a single format – Just sit back, relax and enjoy his inventiveness and incredible delivery. He’s a master.
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Irma Thomas – A Woman’s Viewpoint – Kent CD
Baby Washington –J&S Years – Ace CD
Concise notes by Mick Patrick guide us through the complicated Hearts/ J&S story. The group features lead vocals by Baby Washington, Betty Harris, Lezli Valentine, Hartsy Maye and more. You can hear just how influential they were on the later femme vocal groups but for me the Hearts seemed to develop a more interesting sound after Jeanette ‘Baby ‘ Washington went solo. ‘Dear Abby’ sounds like the blueprint for the Jaynettes ‘Sally Go ‘Round The Roses’.
Drifters – The Legacy Continues – Classic Pictures CD
For those of you that have not seen the current Drifters lineup ‘live’ here’s your chance to enjoy the golden quartet of the moment - Peter Lamarr, Rohan Delano Turney, Patrick Alan and Vic Bynoe (as pictured on the disc cover). These guys are all superb, seasoned lead singers with many years Driftin’ under their belts – consequently as a quartet they harmonize and support each other beautifully in turn, as they weave their own magic into an incredible programme of Drifters standards – all big hits over the past fifty years of the Drifters exceptional career. All the favourites are included plus a few other worthy songs not as often performed up until now like ‘Baby What I Mean’ lead by Peter and ‘The Way I Feel’ lead by Patrick. Victor can be heard leading on ‘Love Games’ and Rohan sings lead on ‘Sweet Caroline’ and ‘Like Sister & Brother’. The Drifters play to thousands of loyal fans each week and though they are still plagued by copyists and many bogus Drifter CDs, they endure to sell well (the previous album ‘Definitive Drifters’ went platinum and is still selling well three years after issue). Some soul fans have neglected the Drifters since they have been based in the UK. Some complain they’re too pop – They prefer the King years - the Lewis years or mid 60s Atlantic (the Moore years). But I have seen them perform many times down the years and I think they are easily as good as they ever were and what’s more I’m convinced that if they teamed with a creative producer and with the right songs, they could be on top all over again – such is the high standard of singing within their ranks today. Once you’ve heard this new ‘live’ album, you’ll be left in no doubt as to the authenticity of these Drifters (the true inheritors of groups lead by Clyde McPhatter, Ben E King and Johnny Moore) as opposed to any other bogus Drifters heard on cheap CDs or making sporadic club appearances in the UK. Quite a lot of live albums don’t always work but the Classic Pictures team has done a great job capturing the energy and enthusiasm that happens day in, day out on Drifters tours in the UK and Europe. If you haven’t been to see them yet, I urge you to go next time they are in your part of the world. You won’t be disappointed. Until then this is the CD to put you back in touch with the Drifters as they sound today.
Various - UK Sue Story Volume 4 – Kent CD
A round up of perhaps some of the most familiar and least familiar Sue singles of the time, complete the 4 CD set, issued by Kent over the past few months. Some of these tracks were London club anthems when first released in the early 60s, others are more obscure but nevertheless of interest. It’s a varied mixture of 26 Soul, Blues and Jazzy cuts by artists as famous as Ike & Tina, Patti LaBelle, Gladys Knight, Jerry Butler and Little Richard or as infamous as Screaming Jay Hawkins, the Anglos or Hank Jacobs. It’s a virtual Guy Stevens compilation that might’ve but probably wouldn’t have got issued elsewhere.
Billy Jones –I’m So Glad - 2CD - No label info
If you go for sweet soul with Chicago hues in an Uptown groove, this one’s probably for you. I have to confess to knowing nothing about Billy Jones, who according to his discography and this 2CD set, has been recording since 1969 for small labels like Catfish, Blue Elephant, Stanpico etc. There’s a nice version of Archie Bell’s ‘Love Is Gonna Rain On You’ and though Jones writes the majority of his own material, it’s obvious just who his major influences are - from Curtis Mayfield to Billy Butler, the Chi-Lites, etc but given that he makes most agreeable music. The highlite cuts are ‘My Baby’s Gone’, ‘Save All My Lovin’’, ‘She’s Coming Home’, and ‘Hold On’. This 2CD set is a 30 track anthology of Billy’s catalogue and features pretty good covers of Barbara Mason’s ‘Yes I’m Ready’, the Impressions ‘I’ve Been Trying’ and ‘I Made A Mistake’, the Stylistics ‘Betcha By Golly Wow’ and the Chi-Lites ‘A Letter To Myself’ in addition to his own songs. I don’t know if Billy Jones went onto make more similar or different music. Maybe if someone out there knows they can tell me and I’ll pass the info on.
Various - Kent’s Cellar of Soul - Volume 2 – Kent CD
Various - Kent’s Cellar of Soul - Volume 1 – Kent CD
These two excellent compilations of soul classics are packed with great tracks guaranteed to satisfy nocturnal underground dwellers. Dee Dee Warwick kicks off with the much-covered ‘We’re Doing Fine’ and the great groove rolls on through as Bobbi Lynn samples Motown with ‘Earthquake’ and the Olympics sizzle on ‘Mine Exclusively’. Mellow Chicago, Detroit and Philly sounds from Billy Butler, Leon Haywood, Otis Leavill, the Holidays and the Intrigues pepper the dance tracks to good effect. The last word is the perfect but mournful ‘Beginning Of My End’ by the Unifics, who made a few great records and should have found much greater success. Volume 1 of this series was issued back in 2003 but is still available and features great tracks like ‘My Elusive Dreams’ by Moses & Joshua Dillard, ‘A Lot Of Love’ Homer Banks, ‘…I Must Love You’ the Falcons, ‘You Gave Me Somebody To Love’ the Dreamlovers to mention just a few and so is also a worthy acquisition.
Dream Boogie – The Triumph of Sam Cooke
Otis! The Otis Redding Story
© earshot magazine 08/06