Earshot 7 continues with the remodelling of the SoulMusicHQ website and other changes will gradually be made over the next couple of months. I am now compiling earshot 8 which will appear in early 2007. The Leiber & Stoller series is still growing and part 2 will also be included. I also plan to add a couple more profiles to the ‘artists’ section and am currently building the Impressions and Drifters sections with input from both groups. Thanks to you for the emails and encouragement received so far this year, they are much appreciated.
Recently, Smokey Robinson was getting just recognition for his historically influential
The venue was comfortably full with Toussaint fans of all ages, eager to see their hero. They suddenly burst into life, applauding as he appeared at the top of the gallery and descended down the steps onto the stage where a shiny black grand piano awaited him. Toussaint looked dapper in his black and white pinstripe suit, acknowledging the enthusiastic applause that greeted him. Ahead he faced two hours solo at the piano - but he was looking forward to it and he appeared relaxed and delighted to be there. With no other accompaniment, Allen easily struck up a dialogue with the audience and told us his story between individual songs and medleys like ‘Working In A Coalmine’, ‘Mother In Law’, ‘Liberty Bell’, ‘Lipstick Traces’ and ‘Fortune Teller’. He gave us the background to New Orleans soul – Professor Longhair, illustrating with a number of piano styles and sketched in his own family background and personal influences like Ernest Pinn (Penn?). He described his idyllic life growing up in the environs of Crescent City. This made the concert that more fascinating for the audience, who were with him all the way with their requests and questions. He talked about the River In Reverse album he cut with Elvis Costello and played ‘Freedom – Oh Lord’, ‘How Come My Dog Don’t Bark At You’ and ‘Soul Sister’.
Toussaint described himself as a seller of medleys and gave us some brief snatches of his earliest - ‘Java’ (Al Hirt) and ‘Whipped Cream’ (Herb Alpert). Allen told us that like a lot of writers, he always has his hat on. He’d already been inspired by this brief European trip and had some new ideas in incubation. Two numbers that he included without much reference to were ‘Wrong Number’ and ‘With You In Mind’ both written for an album project with Lou Johnson, recorded at Jazz City Studios in New Orleans for Volt in 1971. Toussaint attained no chart success as a solo vocalist but he did receive critical acclaim and was much admired by other writers and singers who sought him out for songs and his studio skills - Little Feat, the Band, Paul Simon, Etta James, Albert King, Elvis Costello, Labelle, Dr John, the Pointer Sisters, Joe Cocker, Robert Palmer, Three Dog Night, Frankie Miller among them. Toussaint has only cut half a dozen solo albums in a 50-year career starting with the instrumental The Wild Side of New Orleans for RCA in 1958. One of the best was From A Whisper To A Scream on Sansu (1970, issued by Ace in the UK in ’85) a song he did not perform, perhaps best leaving it to Esther Phillips, who cut a sensational version for Kudu in December ’71. His comment on message songs was “Ignore him if he whispers - kill him if he shouts”. The Scepter issue of Toussaint in 1971 passed almost unnoticed but in ‘72 Reprise released Southern Nights perhaps his most celebrated solo album (the title song a big hit for Glen Campbell) this performance bought roars of approval from this audience. In 1978 the album Motion for Warner Bros. was also a non-starter but the CD The Allen Toussaint Collection did bring him a little more recognition, when issued in 1991. Five years later he started a new label NYNO that issued A Taste Of New Orleans, a compilation of artists on the label and a collection of his solo performances on Connected. Allen Toussaint was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1998. Towards the end of the show, Toussaint took some requests that prompted ‘Holy Cow’, ‘Hard Act To Follow’ and ‘Sweet Memories’ and even after what must have been close to 2 hours, they still didn’t want to let him go. So, one curtain call brought his final performance of the night - Dylan’s ‘Mama, You’ve Been On My Mind’, which rounded off a perfect evening.
Without Allen Toussaint, New Orleans Soul as we know it would not have existed. As a writer and producer he has been prolific. As a musician, Allen has continued and developed the traditional New Orleans piano sound that Atlantic Records introduced to the rest of the world through Professor Longhair (originally recorded in 1949 & ‘53). His contributions to other artists recordings has been considerable Irma Thomas, Lou Johnson, Lee Dorsey, Betty Harris, Zilla Mayes, Aaron Neville, Benny Spellman, Ernie K-Doe, Jessie Hill, Chris Kenner, the Meters and many more besides, all benefited from his songs and record production. Since ‘Katrina’, Toussaint has travelled the world as an ambassador for New Orleans music, raising money towards the reconstruction of the Crescent City. He has been keeping people in touch with a disaster that will take many years to completely overcome.
oh brother, brother
Like many artists before him Ronald Isley, renowned lead voice with his family group the Isley Brothers for more than half a century, has been sentenced to three years in jail for failing to pay his income taxes. Apparently Ronnie’s been ducking and diving the IRS for years – and nobody’s luck lasts forever, especially when they’re as highly visible as he. Things were apparently going well for him until in mid August ’04 when the Isleys had to cut short their summer tour of the UK because Ron suffered a stroke. It happened during the build up to their headline performance at ‘Soul on a Summers Eve’, a concert staged before a 7000 crowd at Penshurst Place, near Tonbridge Kent. Up to the last minute Ronnie was insistent that he was going on but doctors finally convinced him to check into a London hospital for a few days. The concert went ahead as planned with supporting acts Kool & the Gang and Amy Winehouse. The announcement of Ronnie’s condition was met with some disappointment but the Isley Brothers Band with brother Ernie taking on all the vocals and lead guitar parts gave a surprisingly good performance. It should not have been such a surprise as Ernie, since joining his brothers in the early 70s had sung on several hits with Isley-Jasper-Isley and as a solo artist. Nevertheless Ronnie was sorely missed, not even Ernie could quite match that superb vocal style. Ron returned to his home in St. Louis, to recover and recuperate. Fortunately his speech was unimpaired by the stroke and he soon resumed performing and recording. Then the IRS came knocking and to make things even worse, Ron was diagnosed with kidney cancer.
The Isley Brothers are survivors and even though over the years they’ve had more than their share of bad times, deaths in the family, retirements, group splits, reformations etc. they kept on working. They have recorded many classics like ‘Shout’, ‘Twist & Shout’, ‘This Old Heart Of Mine’, ‘It’s Your Thing’, ‘That Lady’, ‘Summer Breeze’, ‘Harvest Of The World’, ‘Between The Sheets’, ‘Smooth Sailin’ Tonight’, ‘Contagious’, ‘Body Kiss’. After working through many labels like RCA, Atlantic, Wand, United Artists and a few smaller outlets, they formed their own T-Neck label in 1964. T-Neck was also intermittently used as a production company that allowed them the artistic freedom to write and record what and when they wanted. They signed to Tamla in 1966 and though they cut many memorable sides and had four hit singles, the Motown sound became a straight jacket for them, restricting their personal expression. Three years later they produced a career hit with ‘It’s Your Thing’ and really put T-Neck on the musical map. Between 1969-83 the Isley’s had 47 US R&B hit singles on T-Neck, almost all crossing over to pop. Internationally they also achieved high-level chart success. The Tamla records faired better in the UK than at home and the Isleys scored 15 pop single chart entries in a 20 year period.
When they signed to Warner’s in the mid ‘80s the Isleys cut a series of great albums maintaining full artistic control on ‘Masterpiece’ (’85), ‘Smooth Sailin’’(’87), ‘Spend The Night’ (’89) and after Ernie returned from his period with Isley/ Jasper/ Isley and a solo album ‘Tracks Of Life’ (’92). Since then, their output has been intermittent, distributed by different companies but still featuring truly great tracks. ‘Mission To Please’ came through Island in ’96, ‘Eternal’ through Dreamworks in 2001. Production moved between Ron’s wife Angela Winbush and R.Kelly and though sometimes Mr Big (as Ronnie likes to be known) sang songs that lacked maturity - importantly they still gave him significant hits – so what you gonna do? The T-Neck logo was still visible when they issued ‘Body Kiss’ (Dreamworks 2003) but isn’t to be found on their latest album ‘Baby Makin’ Music’ (Def Jam 2006). In between Isley Brothers albums, Ron recorded a number of solo projects with the likes of Rod Stewart and Burt Bacharach. He had worked with many great producers down the years like Hugo & Luigi, Leiber & Stoller, Luther Dixon, Bert Berns, Holland-Dozier-Holland, Norman Whitfield and more recently Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis. But I was really intrigued when I read about the ‘Isley Meets Bacharach’ (Dreamworks 2003) CD project a few months before issue and promised myself a copy on release. Ron has long been stylistically individual and a personal favourite, so the idea of an album with the great Burt Bacharach sounded like a winner to me. But I had a few reservations. The album was recorded at Capitol studios in Hollywood June ‘03 in just two sessions. Bacharach had completed superb new arrangements beforehand and according to the notes, most of the tracks were recorded with few overdubs. The trouble is, that so many of these songs have already been cut by other singers (good and bad) and we all have our favourite versions. So it’s perhaps a good idea to listen to this set a few times before making any judgements. One of the problems with Bacharach songs (for me) is that they often stray into the realms of saccharine torture when recorded by certain artists. In the hands of Jerry Butler, Dionne Warwick, Lou Johnson etc they are classic but the more sentimental treatments tend to put my teeth on edge. I think my main complaint here is with the choice of songs. With so many available why would one chose ‘Alfie’, (link with the new version of the movie of the time - perhaps?) ‘Raindrops…’, ‘Close To You’ and ‘This Guy’s In Love With You’. Though there are a few disappointments on this album, the best tracks are ‘Love’s (Still The Answer)’, ‘Here I Am’, ‘Anyone Who Had A Heart’. ‘In Between The Heartaches’, ‘A House Is Not A Home’, and ‘Count On Me’ are also pretty good. But too often Ron’s vocalising is just a tad too heartfelt and elaborate for my liking. I can’t help wondering whether Mr Biggs thinks that his alter ego’s gone soft on this album.
When it comes to ‘Baby Makin’ Music’ (Def Jam 2006), the Isleys most recent album, I have even more reservations. The sound is generally great – Ronnie’s voice and Ernie’s guitar are still top of the mark. So OK we’ve had ‘Between The Sheets’, ‘Bedroom Eyes’, ‘Body Kiss’ but do we really need ‘Baby Makin’ Music’. We can forgive Ronnie a lot, he’s made such great music for 50 years and rarely has he got much wrong (except in the late ‘70s – early ‘80s) The Isleys have endured (as sometimes so have we). We can ignore the excesses, the posturing, the alter ego, the raven hair rinse – but really Ron, we do understand that there’s still sex after 60 (even though it’s not as we knew it) but there are other things in life too – occasionally Mr Big should keep it in his pants. Remember ‘Harvest of the World’, ‘Summer Breeze’ and so many great Isley records. I don’t mean give it up entirely - your love songs and ballads have been like no others and we understand that one can’t ignore the teenage market etc. But there’s no need to obsess man! With so much going down in the world today, there are other subjects. So let’s have less on the teenage female body and more on the body of work. Less on substances and more songs of substance. I can understand steering clear of politics (what more can one say about that) and perhaps you don’t want to antagonise the man more than you already have. I consider myself a huge Isley Brothers fan and it’s great to hear that Ron’s recent stroke has not adversely affected his vocal magic - He still sounds fantastic. But please! - let’s have a little less R.Kelly -a little more Ernie -Bring back the balance, the harmony and lyrical content.
Ronald Isley was found guilty of 5 counts of tax evasion and the judge described him as
David Cole - ‘In The Basement’
The song “For Your Precious Love” can in retrospect be seen as a landmark in the history of black popular music and has arguably attracted more cover versions than any other soul ballad. Yet the original recording by Jerry Butler & The Impressions has a rich, haunting, devotional quality which other artists have found elusive. In consequence we have had versions that have sought to upstage the original with undeniably impressive but often vacuous vocal performances that fall short of recapturing the beauty and feel of the original.
I believe that one of the reasons that the song has become so attractive to black vocalists is it’s loose, wide-open structure. This leaves a lot of space to fill, and gives singers (such as the late Linda Jones for example) ample opportunity to indulge in a spot of vocal showboating. Jerry Butler however relies on subtlety, and exploits the space by merely floating his voice and extending certain key words whilst delaying over others. This devise had been used to great effect in gospel for many years, particularly by the great quartet leads such as R. H. Harris of the Soul Stirrers. There are moments too when Jerry appears almost to be ad-libbing the lyric, giving his vocal an air of credibility and honesty. And behind him, adding to the overall spiritual feel are the Impressions, harmonizing with the warmth and precision of the finest gospel quartet. It is all achieved with the minimum of fuss, but with obvious intelligence and impeccable timing. No overwrought theatrics or showboating here. It is these qualities that make the recording so hard to replicate, and might explain why it has attracted so few cover versions by white singers.
Whilst “For Your Precious Love” has often been described as a secular prayer, its simple structure owes more to the popular music styles of the fifties than to gospel. It is in fact that rare thing – a black pop record that sounds like a gospel recording but is not directly lifted from one. For this reason it has often been hailed as the first true soul record. Curtis Mayfield continued the tradition with songs such as “People Get Ready”, which has often been reworked by gospel artists, as has “For Your Precious Love”. The influence of these recordings on the development of black music, whether spiritual or secular, can never be underestimated.
Jerry Butler’s Vee Jay recordings including “For Your Precious Love” are readily available on several competitively priced CDs including “The Sweetest Soul” on RPM.
Jerry Leiber & Mike Stoller
part 1 1950-56
Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller are arguably the greatest record producers/ songwriters of all time. In fact they were the first credited independent record producers and so legend has it, the very term was invented for them when they moved to Atlantic Records in the mid fifties. Before Leiber & Stoller were established, very few producers got a mention on the records they made, let alone a fee for making them. They were both born in the same year –1933 and grew up in very different circumstances from each other. Leiber lived adjacent to a black neighbourhood in Baltimore, soaking up the music of that culture. Stoller grew up in an exclusively white Long Island community but mixed and jammed with the brothers when he was at summer camp. It was in these East Coast locations where they both developed their earliest taste for the Blues.
In 1950 Jerry was a struggling lyricist who had tried writing songs with a number of different people before he found the perfect partner. Mike had studied classical piano and wasn’t a fan of the kind of songs he’d heard on the radio. So when Leiber phoned to try to interest him in teaming up to write songs, he wasn’t very interested. Leiber persisted however and turned up on Stoller’s doorstep. Jerry said “I had a hard time even getting in to see him… when he first opened the door I talked to him and he shut the door and left me standing in the hall!” “Now, now the reason I had him standing in the hall,” interrupted Mike “…was because I opened the door and I saw somebody staring at me with one blue eye and one brown eye and my jaw opened up. He’s got one blue and one brown eye, you know. I was just…staring at him, and then I told him to come in”. Despite being initially dubious, Stoller soon changed his mind once he began reading the songs in Leiber’s notebook. “I looked at the lyrics he’d written down and there were repeats and ditto marks that were apparently blues, and I liked the blues. We began working together and we got our first song recorded about six months after we started writing.” At first Mike wasn’t really convinced that they would ever make any money writing songs. They struggled through their apprenticeship, learning to work together and for months they scraped by. But young as they were, they were both committed to writing ‘authentic’ music. They wrote their blues songs fast, sometimes four or five numbers in one day. Once the idea came, Leiber would strut around the room shouting lyrics, Stoller would knock out chords on the piano and together they would create the mood, tempo and lyric – often using basic primitive expressions until the final words materialized. Working this way ‘Hound Dog’, an early hit, took them 12 minutes to complete. Leiber & Stoller became known as the boogie-woogie kids. They were both quick-witted and very competitive. Wrangles, bordering on sibling rivalry were common, as they arm wrestled for a creative solution that satisfied them both. Soon they were two perfect parts of a unique unit. Working every day at Stoller’s home on an old upright piano and when the day was over, they might call each other several times in the evening with new ideas, additions or alternatives. Though their inspiration was the blues, their heroes were Porter, Gershwin, Mercer & Ellington but initially Mike & Jerry articulated their enthusiasm through songs aimed at black audience.
Leiber & Stoller’s earliest songwriting/ productions successes came from working with the R&B artists in and around Los Angeles between 1951-56. The first artist to cut one of their songs was Jimmy Witherspoon who recorded ‘Real Ugly Woman’ live at the Shrine Auditorium, Los Angeles in December 1950. It wasn’t issued for a couple of years and in the meantime Jerry & Mike approached Modern Records salesman Lester Sill in ’51. Sill was impressed with their earliest efforts and got them an audition with the Robins who cut ‘That’s What The Good Book Says’. Later that year Roy Hawkins recorded ‘Gloom And Misery All Around’ (Ray Charles cut this song in ’52 for Swingtime as ‘The Snow Is Falling’). Leiber & Stoller’s first hit came with Charles Brown when they recorded ‘Hard Times’ (#7 US R&B singles chart in March ’52) on Aladdin. Sessions with Amos Milburn (‘Flying Home’ - Liberty) and Little Esther (Hollerin’ & Screamin’, ‘Saturday Night Daddy’, ‘Mainliner’, ‘Last Laugh Blues’, ‘Flesh Blood & Bones’, ‘Turn The Lamps Down Low’, ‘Street Lights’ and ‘Hound Dog’) were cut in 1952 on Federal. Little Willie Littlefield recorded the first version of the R&B standard ‘Kansas City’ (as ‘KC Lovin’) also on Federal but it became a much bigger hit for Wilber Harrison on Fury when it topped both the R&B and the pop charts in April 1959. Many of Leiber/ Stoller’s great early recordings have been compiled for the excellent CD series ‘The Leiber & Stoller Story’. Many of these rare singles have been virtually unobtainable for years. Young Jessie (‘Hot Dog’) and Etta James (‘Tears Of Joy’ also cut by Linda Hopkins) are included and an early Drifter’s hit (‘Ruby Baby’) amongst many others. This superb collection liberates 28 rare R&B/blues tracks created by the dynamic duo during their first five years as a team. It’s a history lesson on the birth of R&B/Soul music and pays long overdue recognition to their unique and groundbreaking work that has been so creative and influential. These two incredible talents masterminded some of the greatest records of all time and are still not as widely celebrated, as they should be. All of their classic tracks have something to recommend them including ‘Too Bad Sweet Mama’ – Sam ‘Highpockets’ Henderson (Shorty Rogers) Vocal Billy Black (Jerry Leiber) and the obscure version of the Cheers ‘Black Denim Trousers and Motorcycle Boots’ by Edith Piaf.
It was the royalties dispute that followed their #1 R&B hit ‘Hound Dog’ by Willie Mae
After Atlantic acquired Spark, Leiber & Stoller worked on in Los Angeles finishing up a couple of sessions with the Coasters before their move to New York. Between his coast to coast move, Mike Stoller had taken the opportunity for a lengthy holiday abroad and was on his way back from his 3 month European vacation when 200 miles from their destination, his ship the ‘Andrea Doria’ collided with the ice-breaker ‘Stockholm’. 56 people lost their lives in this disaster and 11 hours later on 26 July 1956, it sank but not before 1660 passengers were rescued by 15 ships that had answered their SOS. The freighter ‘Cape Ann’ delivered Stoller to New York, where Leiber was waiting when he disembarked with the news that ‘Hound Dog’ was #1 on the pop charts by Elvis Presley. For the first (and probably last) time Mike enquired “Who’s Elvis Presley?” Elvis had based his ‘Hound Dog’ cover on Freddie Bell version on Teen. Legend has it that Elvis saw Freddie Bell & the Bellboys performing the song in a lounge tour. Bell had desexed Leiber’s lyric and added a few of his own. These changes trivialised and made nonsense of the song. I’m sure Mike & Jerry thought so but hey…this was the hit record that perhaps more than any other turned their fortunes around.
Joining Atlantic must have been a little daunting even for the dynamic duo but the many opportunities that were about to open up for them neither they or the folks at Atlantic could have predicted. Even though they both originally hailed from the East Coast, neither Mike nor Jerry had ever lived or worked in New York before. The Atlantic ‘old guard’ writers and producers Ahmet Ertegun, Jerry Wexler and Herb Abramson had created one of the great independent labels during the early fifties and had much success on the R&B Charts. They had amassed an enviable roster that included Clyde McPhatter, Ruth Brown, Lavern Baker, Joe Turner, The Drifters, Clovers, Ray Charles and many more - all established stars in the R&B market and ready to cross over to the pop charts bigtime. After Abramson returned from his national service in 1955, he’d set up the subsidiary Atco – the Coasters were one of the earliest artists to sign to Atco. ‘Down In Mexico’ had gone straight into the R&B charts at #8 in March ’56 and the follow up ‘One Kiss Led To Another’ had reached #11 in September also scooping up some pop sales. But it was the double-A side ‘Searchin’/ Young Blood’ that really put the group on the map when it climbed to #1 R&B and #2 Pop in America in May ’57 and was their first single to be issued in the UK and Europe where it broke the quartet to the wider world (‘Young Blood’ also charted at #2 US R&B/ #8 pop). All these Coasters tracks had been recorded back in LA in early ’56. When it came to their first East Coast session in Chicago, the tracks cut there ‘Idol With The Golden Head’ and ‘What Is The Secret Of Your Success’ were issued as two following singles but they both missed their mark. (along with ‘Gee Golly’). Perhaps these two were a little esoteric for ‘…Success’ is certainly among their finest recordings. Nevertheless L&S got back on the international hit trail with ‘Yakety Yak’ which flew to #1 on all US charts and went top twenty in the UK and Europe. This was the first hit that King Curtis played on and he was to make considerable input to most Coaster sessions thereafter.
During this period Leiber & Stoller cut sessions with a selection of established Atlantic stars like Ruth Brown (‘I Wanna Do More’ #3 R&B, and ‘Lucky Lips’ #6 R&B / #25 Pop, ‘I Still Love You’ and ‘Here He Comes’), Joe Turner (‘Chicken & the Hawk’), Lavern Baker (‘Whipper Snapper’) and a few newer faces like Young Jessie (‘Shuffle The Gravel’) Frankie Marshall (‘If It’s The Last Thing I Do’) but they were not always credited. “Even after we made the arrangement with Atlantic we didn’t get any credit immediately. I don’t think we got credit as producers on the first Coasters records in Los Angeles. Later on we did. I remember we had a discussion with somebody at Atlantic Records who said “Why do you want your names on as producers? You already have them on as writers!” But the point was finally brought out when we started producing things we didn’t write.” Jerry Leiber said in October ’72.
Atlantic were among the record labels who had made an unsuccessful bid to sign Presley in 1956, when his manager Col. Tom Parker was toting his contract around the US majors. Atlantic bid $25,000 for the contract but it was not enough and Elvis finally signed to RCA for £45,000. Soon after the new deal was done, Presley’s A&R man Freddy Beinstock approached Jerry & Mike for some songs for the Kings upcoming movie and they came up with ‘Loving You’ which gave the film it’s title. After ‘Hound Dog’ the first Leiber/Stoller song that Presley actually cut was ‘Love Me’ originally written as a spoof country song by the duo for Willy & Ruth in ’54. Elvis gave the ballad a whole new dimension and by November ’56 it had reached #2 on the Hot 100. ‘Loving You’ had gone to #20 by the following August but it was ‘Jailhouse Rock’ the title song from Presley’s third movie that really crashed all the charts at #1 in October ’57. L&S first met Elvis at Radio Recorders studios in LA where they produced their songs for ‘Loving You’ and ‘Jailhouse Rock’. They said they were surprised that Presley booked the studios for whole days at a time. They were used to the 3-hour industry slots and trying to cut four or five tracks in that time span. After they had worked together, he invited them to some of his later sessions. He enjoyed their company. They’d mess around on the piano between takes and Elvis would sing gospel and show tunes. On the set of ‘Jailhouse Rock’ they wanted Jerry to take a small part as a piano player – however on the day of the shoot, he was absent at the dentist, so Mike stepped in, shaved off his goatee – but still looked a little uncomfortable. “Did I not look funny with the rest of the band?” Mike enquired. Beinstock who shared offices with L&S at the time of interview, nodded in agreement. “Yes we worked with Elvis in the studio” Mike confirmed “…again, we never had any credit. Steve Sholes was nominally his producer at the time, but we were on a number of sides. We were in the studio with him when they recorded and I played piano on ‘Treat Me Nice’. Well, it had two pianos on it. There was a pianist named Beverly…a black guy. I had forgotten about that and I recently played the record on an old Elvis LP and I said “That sounded like me!” We used to see Elvis quite a bit in the studios and especially on the film projects he was working on.”
Perhaps Leiber & Stoller were just a little too hip for the Colonel’s liking. These guys knew what they were talking about when it came to music and seemed to have a lot in common musically with the King – R&B and the Blues. Rumour has it that Elvis’ favourite singer was Clyde McPhatter, he loved the early Drifters and R&B influences were strong in his early work. The Colonel protected his investment very closely. He had a failsafe set up, where no one could talk to Elvis directly about writing or recording a song for or with him. You had to go through Freddy Beinstock or Jean or Julian Aberbach. Mike ran into trouble over this, even when as in the case of ‘Don’t’, it was Elvis who made the approach. This annoyed the Colonel, who regarded those who didn’t follow his code with suspicion. In the early years he didn’t even like anyone outside the circle fraternising with Elvis off set or out of the studio, without his approval. This way he controlled any unwanted influences on his impressionable boy. Parker may have been an illegal immigrant but compared to the Presley’s he was streetwise and had long learned how to manipulate country folks to get exactly what he wanted. He had played the part of old dependable with Presley’s parents, promising them that he would protect their boy from the unknown horrors of show business. Once the Hollywood bandwagon was rolling between the Colonel and Tinseltown, Elvis’ long-term ambitions didn’t stand a chance. The most creative the Colonel got was in the construction of his own false identity - phoney name, phoney rank. He had spent years in the Carneys on the fringes of Middle America learning how to fool the public. Perfect training, you might think, for the pop music management of the time. He wasn’t interested in Elvis’s artistic development, he wanted him right where he could make the most money out of him, for the least amount of effort. He kept tight control of the PR and publicity machine around his star, as one might expect but later such tight controls put severe limitations on Presley’s creative development.
Elvis found inspiration in the songs that L&S wrote for ‘Jailhouse Rock’ as with the title song
Mike & Jerry soon found that the musical and social restrictions in place suppressed their creativity and even before boredom set in, they’d lost interest. Before ‘King Creole’ had finished shooting they returned to NY. Shortly after their return, Jerry fell ill but Mike received a number of disagreeable West Coast calls from the Presley people, wanting more songs and them back on the lot. Despite further requests, Stoller declined all offers and that was that. Elvis did record more of their songs later but without their involvement at the recording stage. Some say Presley reached his peak on Sun, others will tell you he didn’t make a record worth spit after he came out of the Army. Certainly his movie career went downhill after ‘King Creole’ but let’s not throw baby out with the bathwater. Though Presley was the first superstar music ever created, hugely successful and influential, his management was without creative vision. Just think what he might have achieved with the closer involvement of Leiber & Stoller or other writers of their calibre.
Leiber & Stoller Interview in their New York office 1&2 October ’72
‘Elvis - The Illustrated Discography’ by Martin Hawkins & Colin Escott, Omnibus Press 1981
Roy Simonds – ‘King Curtis Sessions’
Albums showcasing Leiber & Stoller’s work:
the last goodbye
Ruth Brown was one of a handful of artists who’s R&B hits laid the foundations for Atlantic Records in the early 50’s. Ruth Alston Weston was born in Portsmouth, Virginia on 12 January 1928 and died 17 November 2006 in a Las Vegas hospital, aged 78.
Herb Abramson had signed Ruth to Atlantic in 1948 after hearing her sing in a Washington club at the suggestion of Duke Ellington. Ahmet Ertegun persuaded her to sing R&B rather than the ballads she was used to. These songs had sassier lyrics and due to the censorship of the time relied on innuendo and slang to convey their message. Ruth revelled in her bad girl image and many of her songs were charged with sexual innuendo, which she emphasised rather than played down. She sizzled in her live performances at New York’s Apollo and other comparable venues throughout America, teasing her audiences with songs like ‘Teardrops From My Eyes’, ‘5-10-15 Hours’, ‘Somebody Touched Me’ and ‘Wild Wild Young Men’. Brown packed the houses on tour for Atlantic, who fashioned packages around her with their other roster artists like Clyde McPhatter, Joe Turner, the Drifters and the Clovers.
Ruth’s early audience was black and most of her hits were on the R&B charts, with the exception of ‘Mama He Treats Your Daughter Mean’ a #1 that crossed over to the Hot 100 and scored #23 in February ’53. She had 24 big US R&B hits between August 1949 and April 1960. All on the Atlantic label. Besides ‘Mama…’ she notched up 4 more #1 records, 16 top tens and none hit below #23. She was a red-hot mama and more. Had TV been the predominant medium rather than radio, ‘Miss Rhythm’ might have been a huge star. But along with many other black artists, Ruth suffered from the ‘cover version’ by the likes of Patti Page and Georgia Gibbs and the ‘common practice’ of the music business, conspired to deprive her of her rightful rewards and royalties. Because her success ranged from the late 40s to the late 50s it was too early to impact on the UK soul music audience of the 60s. She was respected as an R&B pioneer and her greatest hits were included on Atlantic compilations but were regarded as from an earlier era and didn’t mean much to soul fans. Later Atlantic cuts like ‘As Long As I’m Moving’, ‘I Wanna Do More’, ‘Lucky Lips’ (covered by Cliff Richard) and ‘This Little Girl's Gone Rockin',’ (co-written by Bobby Darin) strayed into Rock 'n' Roll and were swept away with the 60’s new wave of soul music. After leaving Atlantic she toured with Billy Eckstine, Jackie Wilson and Little Richard. Then in the mid 60s, Ruth retired to bring up her family. She worked at a number of non-musical jobs while raising her two sons Ron and Earl Jr on her own. Brown’s outspoken criticisms of her poor treatment were passed off as high spirits when she was young but later on they made her enemies of some music middle-men. The music biz has always been a financial shark pool - full of lawyers and other legalised cheats (that’s all most middlemen do after all) managers and accountants etc carving up the cash to suit themselves. While there was no colour bar exactly – they cheated everyone with an even hand – black artists were always bottom of the list, when it came to getting paid. Later in life Ruth Brown made a stand for artists like her, who had been cheated by the Music Business. After a long struggle she recovered her royalties due from Atlantic. Her success highlighted similar cases and led to the formation of the Rhythm & Blues Foundation.
Ruth made her comeback in the mid 70s recording Blues and Jazz songs for different labels.
I have to confess that I’m not too familiar with her later recorded work, most of which is still available on CD. But if you want to listen to the Atlantic era, the best compilation I’ve heard is
salute to soul citizen No. 1 – dave godin
Dave Godin, who championed Soul Music in it’s various guises for more than 40 years died in October 2004. Godin coined the terms ‘Northern Soul’ and ‘Deep Soul’ and was a constant ambassador of the soul music genre through his journalism in music magazines and CD compilations. Dave, who had been ill with lung cancer for some time died on Friday 15 October in his sleep. I first met Dave Godin through his Soul City music shops in Deptford and Monmouth Street. He launched his own Soul City label in March ’68, and then later introduced his more esoteric logo Deep Soul. Dave had first come to my attention when he ran the UK office of the Detroit based Tamla group of record labels in the mid sixties (as secretary of the Tamla-Motown appreciation Society). In early ’68, we both became regular freelance contributors to ‘Blues & Soul’ magazine through its founder and original editor John E Abbey. When Roy Simonds and I launched our own initially short-lived magazine ‘earshot’, Dave came on board as film reviewer. His column in ‘Blues & Soul’ ran for many years and reached a lot of soul fans. After he moved north to Sheffield in the late ‘70s, Dave enrolled as a mature student and received a degree in the History of Art, Design and Film. This led him to a new career as Film Officer and the creation of the Anvil Film Theatre. Dave Godin had a lot of interests and was passionate about every one of them but he will be best remembered for his dedication to and his promotion of soul music. One hundred of his personal favourites can be heard on the four Kent CD volumes of ‘Dave Godin’s Deep Soul Treasures’.
Dave Godins’s Deep Soul Treasures Vol 1 (1997)
In at the deep end with Godin’s first volume as it brings us a double dose of Knight Brothers magic with ‘I’m Never Gonna Live It Down’ produced by the late great Billy Davis in 1965. Another classic recorded at Mercury three years later ‘Tried So Hard To Please Her’ was produced by Jerry Butler. The Knight’s were only active for a few short years but they sure made some superb records. Good to hear Irma Thomas ‘Anyone Who Knows What Love Is’ again. She also made so many great sides that have too long been absent from turntables and the airwaves. Jimmy Holiday’s classic ‘The Turning Point’ has been in my top 20 for many a year. He was a prolific writer whose songs were recorded by a surprisingly wide range of significant artists, who recognised his talents even if the public didn’t. Van and Titus are another duo that deserved better recognition, they like the Knight Bros had too few releases but ‘Cry Baby Cry’ was first issued in the UK on ‘Bell’s Cellar Of Soul’ Vol. 2 in the mid 60s. From the sociology of Raw Spitt through the strains of Otis clone Billy Young to the desperation of Jaibi, each track of this collection reveals another aspect of this genre. The distinctive vocals of Sam & Bill, who only made a couple of memorable tracks of which ‘I Feel Like Cryin’’ is definitely one - jogs the memory. Due to great selections by Dave and Ady Croasdell these all but forgotten tracks were once again liberated by the popularity of this compilation. Deep Soul got a finer definition and opened up an opportunity of three further volumes for a closer study.
Dave Godins’s Deep Soul Treasures Vol 2 (1999)
Eddie Holman only scored one major US hit with ‘Hey There Lonely Girl’, which also went to #4 on the UK pop charts but he looked destined for very big things in the late ‘60s. Sadly he didn’t take off in the way many expected, his high tenor ballads just didn’t catch on and ‘I’m Not Gonna Give Up’ didn’t even register - heaven knows why. ‘Bell’s Cellar 2’ makes another reappearance through Holman and the curious Jimmy & Louise Tigg (and Company) ‘A Love That Never Grows Cold’ cut by hot producer of the time Papa Don Schroeder. We didn’t hear much more from them again. Irma Thomas’ ‘These Four Walls’ graphically describes the daily struggle that many black Americans made to survive in the worlds No1 nation. We all expect some of these tracks to be pretty obscure but it’s also good to see more popular cuts have not been excluded completely, there’s room here for Betty Banks ‘Go Now’, Otis’ ‘Just One More Day’, Arthur Conley’s ‘Let Nobody Separate Us’ and even Ben E Kings ‘It’s All Over’ all very good sides. One cut I missed at the time was ‘Anyone But You’ written by Brill Building escapee Jeff Barry for Barbara West. But as I‘ve said before, every track bears close examination, this second collection is equal to the first.
Dave Godins’s Deep Soul Treasures Vol 3 (2000)
Easy on the ear grooves from Toussaint McCall, Baby Washington and Dee Clark intro chapter three of Godin’s Deep Soul Treasures and soon we’re marvelling at the unselfish love of Bessie Banks on ‘It Sounds Like My Baby’ and the mature disappointment of Eddie & Ernie’s (a cut that didn’t make it onto their great ‘Lost Friends’ CD) ‘Thanks For Yesterday’. Prolific Chicago producer and writer Syl Johnson poses the unanswerable question ‘Is It Because I’m Black’ his voice a wailing siren of distress and suppressed frustration. No satisfactory answer yet. Betty Lavette pleas for separation with civility on ‘Let Me Down Easy’ but it’s doubtful her prayers were answered either and a hard lesson was learned.
Dave Godins’s Deep Soul Treasures Vol 4 (2004)
So here it is, Godin’s 4th Chapter from his Book of the Deep. Twenty-five sometimes obscure tracks that make up the first hundred of his recommendations to the soul nation. According to what I’ve read these volumes have remained at the very top of Ace’s best sellers list since the introduction of the series seven years ago. Their success has done much to persuade other more conservative record labels to delve a little deeper than Stax, Motown and Atlantic for their reissue compilations. As with the first volume our old pals Richard and James, the Knight Bros start the proceedings this time with their only chart entry ‘Temptation ‘Bout To Get Me’ a classic loser ballad that grows with each confession. Some of the Deep Soul regulars reappear like Eddie & Ernie, Arthur Conley, Irma Thomas and Jaibi who is outstanding both on the duet with Lawrence and ‘It Was Like A Nightmare’. She deserved a much higher profile but then that could be said of many of the artists showcased here. There are some great relatively unheard songs here like ‘The Day After Forever’ and ‘I Don’t Care Anymore’ and sensitive performances a plenty. We will all have our favourites from these 4CD compilations, every track included here is deserving of our attention. Once again our intrepid soul miners Dave and Ady have unearthed some wonderful rarities that will continue to delight soul buffs for quite sometime to come.