Most of this month’s magazine was completed before the end of March but for reasons too trivial to relate it was not complete in time but I didn’t change the front cover artwork so it still reads March. I recently visited the wonderful city of Antwerp for a few days and happened upon the superb ‘Record Collector’ shop at Lange Koepoortstraat 70, 2000 Antwerpen, Belgie – It’s an incredible treasure trove with an amazing amount of vinyl (33 & 45) US and Euro in Soul, R&B and Jazz (and many other genres & formats). If you are ever in that city don’t miss the chance for a visit – You won’t be sorry. You can also reach them at firstname.lastname@example.org James Brown hung up his R&B shoes on Christmas Day 2006. Cliff White wrote the best obit that I saw and he kindly let me publish an edited version, the longer version of which can be found in the Artists section. (peter burns)
drifters in serious car crash
The Drifters were involved in a serious car crash on the M1 in South Yorkshire. The accident happened near Rotherham in the early hours of Monday (12 March ’07) as the group returned from playing a concert at the Journal Tyne Theatre in Newcastle. The Drifters Chrysler Voyager was in a 70 mph collision with a Skoda that had stalled in the fast lane after swerving to avoid a deer crossing the motorway. South Yorkshire Police reported that both vehicles were extensively damaged. Singer Patrick Alan, who first joined the band in 1990, suffered head injuries and was treated at Rotherham hospital. The other three group singers - Rohan Delano Turney, Peter Lamarr and Victor Bynoe escaped with less serious injuries which included cracked ribs and dislocated shoulders and were released after treatment, continuing their journey to London. The Skoda driver, a 21 year old man from Gainsborough, Lincolnshire, suffered airbag injuries and whiplash. He had escaped from his vehicle to the safety of the hard shoulder minutes before the collision occurred. Speaking from his hospital bed on Monday, Patrick Alan said: "I woke up and there was a car stalled in the fast lane and then the airbag exploded. That's when I got knocked out. The next thing I knew the ambulance was there”. Patrick who has a slight concussion said “I'll be all right. I need to be back on stage on Thursday." Their driver manager Phil Luderman suffered cuts to his hand and was treated for a chest injury. Pc John Scruby of South Yorkshire Police said “It is quite astonishing that we were not dealing with a fatal collision given the nature of the incident”.
Though it is indeed fortunate that the incident was less dramatic than it could have been, it is still a reminder of just how dangerous constant touring can be for all those concerned. The
Despite this accident, the Drifters manager Phil Luderman told the BBC they were planning
milton in paris
For longer than anyone can remember Paris has been an international centre for culture, a city famous for inspiring great art – painting, literature, movies, dance and music (especially jazz). Historically this has long been the case so Tony Middleton after making little headway in the ten years he had been recording in New York, decided to try his luck in Europe and moved to Paris, France in mid 1962 hoping to make his breakthrough there.
Tony began to get bookings in small Paris clubs. Reviews were good and the word on the street was positive. He linked up with New York guitarist Mickey Baker, who as a resident had good connections with the Paris studios. Baker was well respected there, due to his own hit records and the great studio work he had recorded in America. R&B and Soul never really took off in Paris (like Rock ‘n’ Roll before them) but Ray Charles’ Atlantic recordings went over well in France, there was enough jazz in his music to intrigue the French record buying public and later in the mid sixties concertgoers. Paris was the home of the French Atlantic label, so most of Charles’ great early work was issued there and they created an appetite for that kind of sound. Entrepreneurs were on the look out for similar sounds and to them Tony fitted the bill perfectly.
Middleton cut his first French session with Michel Legrand, who had written the score for Joseph Losey’s dark movie ‘Eve’ (aka Eva) starring Jeanne Moreau and Stanley Baker. Tony’s contribution to this cult classic was the glorious vocal on ‘Adam & Eve’ that was featured on the movie soundtrack and issued in Europe and the UK on a Phillips EP.
After seeing ‘Eve’ a couple of times when it was shown in 1962, I did some research to try to find out just who Middleton was. Next to nothing had appeared in the British Music press. So I started to piece together a profile of my own, gradually joining the dots back to the Willows and forward to Bacharach and Klaus Ogermann. In early ’68 when I was freelancing for a number of small Soul Music magazines, I got hold of famed French discographer Kurt Mohr’s address and wrote to him enclosing my early Middleton/ Willows discographies. A few months later our combined results were published in ‘Soul Music’ 28 (August ’68). Mohr, who was working for Odeon records at the time, was present at Tony’s three historic Paris sessions and wrote a short piece about his experiences to go with the discographies.
While in Paris, Tony cut a number of well known songs like ‘I Can’t Stop Loving You’ and ‘Comin’ Home Baby’, under the direction of Mickey Baker that were only issued in France. For reasons best known to themselves the folks at Versailles Records (who issued these two EPs) decided to shorten Tony’s surname to Milton, a poetic truncation that was only used in France. Tony himself was a little dismissive about these Versailles recordings. He confessed at a later interview “Yeah, they wanted a Ray Charles kinda thing - so that’s what I tried to give ‘em”. He seemed to have only a sketchy memory of the sessions and couldn’t give me any more of the titles he cut. “I’ve cut a lot of different sessions on different labels, producers y’know like Bacharach, Leiber & Stoller and the others”. I’ve hunted high and low for these two EPs in European record shops and flea markets, contacted Versailles (“Eh, Tiny who?”) and scoured the Internet but they still remain undiscovered.
When Tony had exhausted opportunities in Paris, he returned to New York determined to get a hit at home and nearly acheived this with his very next single the powerful ‘You Spoiled My Reputation’ that was issued by ABC. This self-penned mid tempo ballad was swathed in a sumptuous Johnny Pate arrangement. Burt Bacharach was sufficiently impressed to record Tony on ‘My Little Red Book’ and it became his first UK single. Next came the great and reflective ‘Paris Blues’, one of Tony’s best recordings. Middleton toured America and was constantly working in New York but after years of one shot deals with many small labels things began to slow down and releases were less frequent. ‘Spanish Maiden’ another great side, was issued twice, once on Storm and then on Speed and Tony was rumoured to have cut an album From The Street on Speed in 1970 but if it exists at all, it’s an obscure rarity.
Middleton reformed the Willows to perform a series of ‘oldies’ concerts at the Academy of Music in 1970 and once they began working together again, it rekindled both theirs and their audience’s interest. Along came a golden opportunity for that elusive solo hit in ’72 when he linked up with Klaus Ogermann once again, to cut the superb ‘Don’t Ever Leave Me’. The critics were unanimous in their praise when it was issued by MGM and sales in New York looked promising but it didn’t make it into the charts, even though it was nominated for a Grammy that year. Tony rejoined the Willows once again and toured with them for another decade.
Though Middleton recorded more than 30 solo singles without ever scoring a hit (except ‘Church Bells May Ring’ with the Willows) he made a series of great records. Tony also cut many more demos and commercials. His voice was used on a movie score when he moved to Paris and his name has been linked with some of the biggest names in the business like Burt Bacharach, Michel Legrand, Stan Applebaum, Leiber & Stoller, Johnny Pate and Klaus Ogermann etc. No one has yet represented these Middleton gems in a contemporary setting. His singles (and EPs) are collectable now and are financially out of reach for most fans. Many of the early singles were pressed in small numbers and are rare and almost impossible to find. A few have been reissued on vinyl or bootlegged but still they are not plentiful. No official CD compilation has been issued on Tony Middleton and I have never seen a collection album. With so many different labels it would probably be a licensing nightmare but where there’s vinyl there’s still hope. Some brave compiler should take the trouble because the time is long past due for Tony’s truly great vocal talents to be available on CD for all music lovers to hear. (peter burns)
#5 drown in my own tears
The original studio version of Ray Charles “Drown In My Own Tears” was released as a single by Atlantic in 1956, climbing to No. 2 R & B but failing to even dent the pop charts. It is in many ways a seminal recording, combining as it does the despair of the blues with a chord structure and vocal style lifted straight from the black church. Others of course had already laid the foundation stones, notably the Dominoes, and the Drifters, both with Clyde McPhatter’s stunning gospel styled lead. Ray took it one step further, particularly in his use of the Raelets, who provided the call and response passage that closes the record.
The song “Drown In My Own Tears” was rather surprisingly, not a Charles original. The Henry Glover penned blues ballad had first been recorded by Lula Reed and released on the King label several years earlier. Lula’s version, though admirable in its own way lacks the churchy feel of Ray’s, and has now regrettably been forgotten.
If the studio version was a classic, then the live version is a revelation. Recorded at the Herndon Stadium in Atlanta, Georgia on May 28 1959 it follows hard on the heels of Ray’s ground breaking Newport Jazz Festival live recording from the year before.
The real high point of the performance comes with the entry of the Raelets, who sing the title with such depth and purity that Ray is clearly enthralled. “You sound so sweet tonight”, he adlibs, “let me hear you sing it again”, and they do, dipping to a quite beautiful minor chord, which spurs Ray on to one of his most memorable flights of falsetto. In an extended finale Ray invites the “congregation” to join in and respond to his impassioned “yeahs”, which after a little coaxing they do. Finally, with a clap of the hands, a heartfelt scream, and a parting “don’t it make you feel all right”, Ray brings things to a close. After such a draining experience the listener is brought sharply back to reality by Ray’s bland “thank you folks”, before the band launches into a storming “Tell The Truth”.
Much has been made of Ray’s plundering of gospel music, its melodies, structure and vocal techniques, and comparisons with the great gospel performances of the day only serves to confirm those prejudices. However, in my view Ray uses these techniques with such intelligence and subtlety that such accusations are rendered redundant by a performance such as this. It remains for me one of soul music’s finest moments.
The Newport and Atlanta live performances were released together on a twofer vinyl package on Atlantic in 1973. (mike finbow)
the last goodbye
This month there are yet more great artists to add to the ever-growing list of the recently departed. With quarterly reports it’s difficult to keep up with the number of deaths. So I’ve decided that rather than feature each obituary, I will in future pay respects to them and write features as and when planned for - later. For instance I have a feature mapped out on Ahmet Ertegun and his brother Nesuhi for the ‘Personal Heroes’ series along with Jerry Wexler, Bert Berns etc and will write them all for publication in the near future. (peter burns)
ahmet ertegun – born 31 July 1923 Istanbul, Turkey. He and his elder brother Nesuhi travelled the world with their diplomat father, became teenage Jazz fans and record collectors. Ahmet formed Atlantic Records with Herb Abramson in 1947 and it grew into the greatest Independent label on Planet Earth. He wrote for, produced, mentored and brought to the world many of the greatest recording stars of all time - including R&B & Soulsters - Ruth Brown, Lavern Baker, Clyde McPhatter & the Drifters, Ray Charles, Solomon Burke, Ben E King, - also Jazz greats John Coltrane, the MJQ, Ornette Coleman, Mose Allison & Charlie Mingus - Rockers Led Zeppelin, Yes, Cream & the Rolling Stones. Actors Tayfun Bademsoy and Curtis Armstrong portrayed Ahmet in Bobby Darin and Ray Charles biopics ‘Beyond The Sea’ and ‘Ray’. As a talent spotter writer/producer and raconteur he had few rivals. Ertegun was one of the greatest music pioneers who ever lived, he was loved by many and will be mourned by many more. Ahmet who sustained head injuries in a fall at a Rolling Stones concert on 19 October died – on 14 December 2006 aged 83.
anita o’day – born 18 October 1919 Chicago, Illinois. This iconic songstress appeared in the magical movie Jazz On A Summer’s Day (Bert Stern 1959). She came to US National prominence with the Gene Krupa band. Anita was famous for her inventive scatting but ballads were her forte. I caught her elegant yet forceful act at Ronnie Scott’s in the early 90s on one of her many UK tours. ‘It Never Entered My Mind’ is in my all-time Top 20. died – on 23 November 2006 aged 87.
marshall sehorn – born 1934 Concord, North Carolina – First worked for Bobby Robinson’s New York based Fury/ Fire labels in 1958. He discovered Wilbert Harrison and produced Bobby Marchan, Lee Dorsey and many more. Together with Allen Toussaint he set up a number of New Orleans based labels Sansu etc. Also created Tou-Sea Productions and they co-produced excellent records with Betty Harris, Lou Johnson (who he managed), Zilla Mayes, Benny Spellman, Aaron Neville, the Meters and many others. died – on 5 December 2006 aged 72.
gerald levert – born 13 July 1966 Canton, Ohio. He was the eldest son of veteran O’Jay Eddie Levert. Exposed to high quality soul music from birth, Gerald had formed his own trio with brother Sean and friend Marc Gordon while still in high school. Levert signed to Tempre and then were snapped up by Atlantic in 1986 when they went to #1 R&B with ‘Pop Pop Pop Pop - Goes My Mind’ other big hits included ‘Casanova’, ‘Forever My Love’ and in February ’88 Gerald had a duet hit ‘That’s What Love Is’ with Mikki Howard. Between 1986-97 they had 6 top albums including Big Throwdown & For Real Tho’. He collaborated with Keith Sweat and Johnny Gill in the group LSG in ’97 then he went solo. ‘Private Line’ and ‘Baby Hold On To Me’ both hit #1. Solo albums went large with #1 Private Line, he also cut Father & Son with Eddie Snr. - all on East-West, two others reaching top #2. His songs and production skills were in demand with fellow artists the Winans, James Ingram, Stephanie Mills and others. He won a Grammy nomination in 1994 for Barry White’s ‘Practice What You Preach’. His overweight problems led to work on a reality TV programme but he had returned to the studio working on a new album in mid 2006. died – on 10 November 2006 from a heart attack aged 40.
tony sylvester – born 7 October 1941 in Colon, Panama. Tony was a prominent member of Main Ingredient and an accomplished writer/ producer. He started with the Poets on Red Bird in ’64. Changed their names to the Insiders and then Main Ingredient in ’66 and scored 16 US R&B single hits for RCA between 1970-80. They had a top 20 hit with a cover of the Impressions ‘I’m So Proud’ but Main Ingredient were best known for their international hit ‘Everybody Plays The Fool’ (#2 R&B/ #3 Pop in July ’72) – Most of their early hits were produced by Bert DeCoteaux. ‘Spinning Around’, ‘Just Don’t Want To Be Lonely’, ‘Happiness Is Just Around The Bend’ and ‘Rolling Down The Mountainside’ were all R&B top ten hits that also crossed over to pop. Tony Sylvester went solo, formed the New Ingredient and cut an album The Magic Touch in September ’76. He created a production team with DeCoteaux. Adopting ‘Champagne’ as his monika Tony in partnership with Burt produced Prince's debut album Dirty Mind, as well as Ben E. King’s Supernatural Thing and contributed to the follow up I Had A Love. This team also worked on projects with Sister Sledge, Ace Spectrum, Brenda Russell and others. Sylvester reformed MI in ’79 with Luther Simmons and Cuba Gooding and charted with ‘Think Positive’ and again later in 1976 with ‘Do Me Right’ (Zakia) they cut two further albums Ready For Love and I Only Have Eyes For You. Main Ingredient had 9 hit R&B albums 3 made the top ten and Rolling Down The Mountainside reached #3 in May ’75. There were several reformations and the group performed as a duo or trio into the new millennium. died - on 26 November 2006 aged 65
luther ingram – born 30 November 1944 in Jackson, Tennessee. First sang gospel in a family group with his brothers. Luther signed to Smash in 1965 then moved to Johnny Baylor’s tiny KoKo label which was picked up by Stax in ’69. Luther scored 20 R&B hit singles between 1969-87 many crossing over to pop. Best known for his classic ‘If Loving You Is Wrong (I Don't Want to Be Right)’ (#1 R&B/ #3 Pop in June ’72) he also hit the top ten with ‘Ain’t That Loving You’ and ‘I’ll Always Be Your Shelter’. If Loving You Is Wrong became his biggest album, hitting #5 R&B in October ’72. I’ve Been Here All The Time enjoyed top 20 success in early ’72 and his third hit album Luther Ingram charted in March ’87. Ingram performed on many Stax tours with other label-mates like Isaac Hayes and Johnny Taylor and also worked with Ike Turner and Jimi Hendrix. He recorded through the 1980s and performed until the mid-1990s, when his health went into decline. Luther had suffered for years from diabetes, kidney disease and was partially blind towards the end of his life. died - from heart failure 19 March 2007 in Bellville, Illinois aged 69.
Born 3 May 1933; Died 25 December 2006
Stocky but lithe, like a street brawling puma, James Brown, who has died aged 73 of congested heart failure, was a dominant force in the development of African - American music and culture from 1960s onwards. He was still performing up to his death. The day before he was hospitalised with pneumonia, he was at his annual Christmas toy giveaway in Atlanta, Georgia, and looking forward to giving a New Year’s Eve concert. Brown fiercely drove himself to become an internationally renowned, massively influential icon of his own invention, the Godfather of Soul. GOS was OTT but it was the one that stuck and most befitted the nature of the man and his Taurean charge at life. His career thundered or faltered more in accordance with the strengths and pitfalls of his restless ego and determination to be Somebody than any believable script. The fallout of his monumental drive “to the bridge” is a persistently resonating pulse that informs the dance of opportunity for all of us, of any creed or colour.
Brown’s professional recording career lasted more than 40 years, but it was the decade from 1965 to 1974 that circumscribed his most extraordinary achievements. It was during those 10 years that he and, just as importantly, the changing ensembles of talented musicians he employed, inspired and bullied, created music that was challenging, exhilarating, fuelled with passion and a rhythmic intensity unlike anything before. Of the moment and of the man, it is a substantial legacy of work that remains wholly idiosyncratic and yet is echoed repeatedly around the globe. In January 1986, he was inducted as one of the 10 charter members into the US music industry’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame. The other worthies were either dead or beyond their “best before” that date. Brown was concurrently riding his biggest international hit for more than a decade (Living in America, appropriately soundtracked in the bullish movie Rocky IV) at the very time his back catalogue was being plundered by a new international generation.
Brown was born in the pinewoods outside Barnwell, South Carolina, to parents who soon separated, leaving him in the care of an “aunt” who ran a whorehouse across the Savannah River in nearby Augusta, Georgia. A ragged waif with limited education but street nous, his early focus on sport and music was interrupted by four years in the slammer for petty theft. Paroled in 1952 in Toccoa, Georgia, he was taken in by the family of Bobby Byrd, leader of the Gospel Starlighters. After “wrecking the church” as a fervent gospeller with Sarah Byrd (an innate gift he later parodied in the 1980 movie, the Blues Brothers), he then joined Bobby’s group. With their secular heads on, known as the Avons, their performances drew inspiration from a variety of sources. Byrd’s Avons became the Famous Flames with Brown at the forefront and relocated to Atlanta, Georgia. Brown temporarily emulated Little Richard on stage but eschewed rock ‘n’ roll when the Famous Flames went into the studio in February 1956. Instead, they cut a tortured, gospel-derived personalisation of an Orioles version of the Big Joe Williams’ blues, Baby Please Don’t Go. They called it Please, Please, Please. Syd Nathan, the myopic owner of Cincinnati-based King Records, to whom they were signed by producer Ralph Bass, called it “the worst piece of shit I ever heard”, but released it anyway. It sold millions over the years and remained Brown’s cape-flourishing, knee-dropping homage to his past throughout his career.
Despite their initial territorial success, Brown and a changing vocal group struggled in southern obscurity until a second hit in late 1958 (Try Me, a more romantic supplication).
But by 1975, Brown was being outflanked in the charts by many of the younger acts he himself had inspired, he was on shaky ground with his record company Polydor, some of his leading musicians left him, and the taxman was on his case. Nevertheless, he soldiered on, still toured the world regularly to great acclaim, still came up with a hit from time to time, and seemed to be settling into his establishment-honoured role as a living legend, until 1987. That year saw him back in a southern jail this time throwing a drug fuelled tantrum, brandishing a shotgun and nearly getting himself shot in a Keystone Cops chase around state borders. Released in 1991, a lesser man might have deemed it prudent to retire gracefully. Brown dusted himself off, ordered a new spangled suit, assembled another band and charged forth once again. It was never the same as his heyday, but it remained an audience with a formidable personality. Another car chase in 1998 led to a drug rehabilitation programme, and in 2004 he was arrested on charges of domestic violence against his fourth wife, Tomi Rae Hynie. She survives him, as do their son and at least three other children.
Honours came in the form of a Grammy lifetime achievement award (1992), a Kennedy Center Honor (2003) and an entry into the UK Music Hall of Fame when he was in London for the BBC Electric Proms at the Roundhouse last October. With the spirit of one of his 1973 million-sellers, James Brown kept doing It to Death. (cliff white)
With many thanks to Cliff White who was awarded a Grammy for his previous writings on James Brown and allowed me to edit and re-publish his obituary that originally appeared in the Guardian (27 December 2006). The full version can be found in the Artists section.
personal heroes #2
Jerry Leiber & Mike Stoller
part 2 1956-63
Due to their huge success with Elvis Presley, Billboard magazine announced (in October 1957) that Leiber & Stoller had signed a non-exclusive production contract with RCA (not unlike the one that they already had with Atlantic). But the artists that they were given to work with like Varetta Dillard, Perry Como, Jaye P Morgan, Eddie Fisher, Julius La Rosa etc. just did not click with the duo the way Presley had and within a year they had quit. During ’58 Hill & Range, who had published many of Presley’s songs and L&S both set up offices in the Brill Building and when the publishers started their own Big Top label, Mike & Jerry were asked to write & produce for their artists. In addition to the sessions they cut with Bobby Pedrick Jr, the Knott Sisters and the Notables, they teamed up with arranger Stanley Applebaum to create some great hit sides for Sammy Turner with ‘Lavender Blue’ and ‘Always’ both US Top 20 hits in 1959. When the Clovers left Atlantic, Leiber & Stoller wrote and produced the classic ‘Love Potion No.9’ (US R&B #23/ Pop #23 in December ’59) for United Artists that would lead to future UA collaborations. At this time everyone wanted these dynamic hit-makers to work the magic for them and their artists. Jerry & Mike’s new office in the Brill put them in direct contact with a new wave of young songwriters some of whom they were about to develop close working relationships with.
While Ahmet Ertegun and Jerry Wexler had defined Atlantic R&B in the 50s and laid the foundations for Atlantic Soul, it was Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller’s creative innovation that was about to invent a whole new approach to recording Soul at the turn of the 60s. The Drifters’ ‘There Goes My Baby’ was the milestone recording that rippled into a new wave of Soul music and inspired a whole generation of singers and musicians all over the world. It and the L&S productions that followed served as the blueprint for 60s Soul, just prior to the burgeoning Detroit sounds created by Motown and Stax of Memphis both of which evolved a short time later. So it was not with the Coasters that Mike & Jerry really made the quantum leap as producers, it was with the Drifters and ‘There Goes My Baby’. Since the very first Drifters session in June 1953, when they were a completely different group, Ertegun & Wexler had produced, rehearsed, written songs and nurtured the group. After Johnny Moore had left to do his national service in mid ’57, Ertegun & Wexler thought it time for change and passed them over to Leiber & Stoller. Leiber had worked with the Drifters before, in September ’55, when producer Nesuhi Ertegun invited him to attend their only West Coast session at Master Studios, Los Angeles. Here, the Drifters had cut the iconic Leiber/Stoller classic ‘Ruby Baby’, which put them back high on the R&B charts in May ’56. This infectious song didn’t garner any pop sales at that time but sold a million when Dion reprised it in 1963. The first time Mike & Jerry actually combined on a Drifters session was in November ’56, when they assisted producers Ertegun & Wexler and supplied ‘Fools Fall In Love’. ‘Fools Fall In Love’ went to # 69 on the pop charts, higher than any Drifters single for three years. L&S had it seemed found an equal appeal with the white teenage market as well as the black. When they wrote and produced ‘Drip Drop’ for the Drifters in ’58, it went to #58 pop but despite its success, Mike & Jerry soon realized that the style they had created for the Coasters was not suitable for the Drifters. (Once again it took Dion to turn this song into a million-seller, in late ’63) While L&S were completely at home creating American colloquialisms into action pictures in sound for the Coasters, the ‘Drip Drop' session was a mixed bag. In retrospect ‘Suddenly There’s A Valley’ and ‘Moonlight Bay’ demonstrated that they were not entirely sure what to do with that particular group of Drifters. No it wasn’t until their next session almost a year later in March 1959 with a completely different Drifters group that they discovered the voice and songs of Ben E King.
Leiber & Stoller were in their late 20s by now and personally long past the teenage machinations of the Hot 100. “The songs that we felt were good for the Drifters were not the kind of songs that we wrote,” Jerry explained “and although I lyrically re-wrote a number of the songs that were done, actually I did that as part of a producer’s function, almost like an editor. I think there were one or two instances where the re-write job was so…excessive, that I took credit as a writer. There was a tremendous amount of re-writing on a lot of that material. The basic ideas, melodies, structures, rhythms that we felt were good for the Drifters weren’t really the bag we chose to write in, so I called in the young teams I knew were available at the time. Barry Mann & Cynthia Weil, Gerry Goffin & Carole King and Doc Pomus & Mort Shuman were the three key teams that we used.” The biggest challenge for these young writing teams according to Don Kirshner (who headed Aldon Music at the Brill Building) was to get a soul artist to cut one of their songs. These young writers idolised black artists, because they could express a tune with a soulfulness that few white singers could, and writing for a group like the Drifters meant working with the best, because Leiber & Stoller were in charge. Everybody learned from working with L&S, they were instrumental in a lot of budding careers - Phil Spector, Burt Bacharach, Jeff Barry/ Ellie Greenwich plus those already mentioned and many more. For the ‘new’ Drifters first session however all four songs had been written by Benny Nelson and his song-writing partner of the time Lover Patterson (the recently deposed manager of the Crowns).
Charlie Thomas, who had been lead singer on the road with the Drifters for a year before the ‘There Goes My Baby’ session (on 6 March 1959) choked on a couple of takes in the studio. With valuable time ticking by, L&S turned to baritone Benny Nelson (the song’s author) who hadn’t sung any leads up to that point. Benny had been teaching Charlie the song and took over, laying down a perfect vocal. The finished record not only relaunched the Drifters and gave Ben E King (as he soon became) a stellar solo career, it became one of the most influential singles in R&B/ Soul music history. Nobody at Atlantic liked the record initially but after a slight remix by L&S and Tom Dowd, they released it a couple of months later and it shot to #1 R&B/ #2 US Pop in June 1959. Before it hit, Benny Nelson (who was about to get married) went to manager George Treadwell to negotiate a better wage deal. Treadwell turned him down flat but offered to buy his song-writing credits on all of the four songs the Drifters had just cut. When the folks at Atlantic and L&S heard about this they thought it was despicable behaviour (L&S had contributed much to ‘There Goes My Baby’ but didn’t take a credit until much later) and Ben later said “I know it was a naive move but I was desperate for cash at the time and $200 was a lot of money then”. But when ‘There Goes My Baby’ was such an unexpected hit, it changed everything. Suddenly everybody wanted the Drifters and being on wages didn’t seem such a hot deal to any of them. The group elected Ben to approach Treadwell once again but Mr T was adamant – No new deal! (after all this was why he got rid of the original Drifters). At this point Patterson produced a contract that he had previously drawn up with Ben as a solo artist and Treadwell showed them both the door. As one can imagine, neither Atlantic nor Leiber & Stoller were overjoyed at this situation. In a meeting with Ben and Lover they offered him a solo contract with Atco records on the understanding that he record with the Drifters until a suitable replacement was found. Ben agreed but would not tour with the group again. Thomas sang his songs on future appearances and mimed for TV. Drifters Incorporated - Manager George Treadwell and business cohorts, accountant Louis Lebish and Irv Nahan, put their name on five of the songs (including ‘Dance With Me’). Fortunately for Ben, Wexler who heard about the deal intervened and bought Ben’s credit on ‘There Goes My Baby’ returning it to him after he’d left the group and begun making solo records for Atco. While Treadwell was sharp enough to buy Nelson’s song-writing credit on ‘Dance With Me’, he still hadn’t realised how massive and influential a change had occurred inside the Drifters and had hired Johnny Williams as Ben’s replacement. Williams, a high tenor in the tradition of Clyde McPhatter and Bobby Hendricks, recorded only one issued lead ‘True Love, True Love’. Leiber & Stoller had no part in these dramatic events and were no doubt relieved to continue their creative partnership with Ben E King, once the dust had settled. For ‘Dance With Me’ L&S recreated the Banion beat that they had introduced on ‘There Goes My Baby’ but this time with a more pronounced Latin tinge. Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman’s song ‘True Love, True Love’ was initially the hit single from that session but was soon outsold by the flipside ‘Dance With Me’ - this record was not only a big hit in America but in Europe as well making the Drifters international stars.
Pomus and Shuman not only came up with the next four Drifters hits but they also succeeded Leiber & Stoller as Presley’s most-favoured writing team. He cut 16 of their songs without ever meeting them. They knew the Drifters well and had recorded them previously as the Crowns on their own short lived R&B label. Just before Christmas 1959 this team recorded ‘This Magic Moment’ (which went to #4 R&B/ #16 pop in February 1960) and ‘Lonely Winds’ (#9 R&B/#54 pop in June). Although L&S gave the writers they worked with free rein to rehearse the background singers and the Drifters on their songs, they kept a close ear on developments and would intervene as producers, if things did not progress in the direction that they expected. Leiber & Stoller’s positive attitude encouraged a creative environment, producing a string of hothouse results and in May 1960 Pomus & Shuman peaked with their classic ‘Save The Last Dance For Me’. This amazing session, King’s last for the Drifters, produced three very good potential ‘A’ sides though ‘Nobody But Me’ was thrown away on the flipside of ‘Save The Last Dance For Me’ that topped the charts all over the world and dominated them for six months. ‘I Count The Tears’ the follow up, went to #6 R&B and #17 pop the following January and also became a top 30 hit in the UK. Leiber & Stoller were as hot as it gets.
During the summer of 1960 Leiber/Stoller Productions had taken on an apprentice as a favour to their old friend Lester Sill. His name was Phil Spector and up until then, he’d been in a West Coast group called the Teddy Bears who had been a one hit wonder with ‘To Know Him Is To Love Him’ two years earlier. Mike related “Phil came to New York after Lester called us from California and said ‘He’s very talented but I can’t hold him here because he wants to be in New York and he’s unhappy here’. So Jerry and I sent money, on Lester’s say so, to Phil and we sent him a ticket and he arrived in New York. We gave him an advance for a contract to be an exclusive songwriter/producer and we had him sit in on a number of sessions to see what we were doing, and so on – a training period, and I think he learned a lot there. I wouldn't say that was the basis for Spector's style at all because I think he added something which was very special and very unique that's strictly Phil Spector”. After an unsuccessful session with Ben E King, Jerry Wexler passed him over to Leiber/ Stoller to kick-start his solo career. L&S put their young protégé Phil with Doc Pomus who co-wrote two great songs ‘First Taste Of Love’ and ‘Young Boy Blues’. Leiber worked on a new song with Spector at his Upper West Side town house in mid October 1960. Phil was playing a Latin melody on his guitar while Jerry was making suggestions and pushing him to build the chords. Then Leiber got a literal idea ‘Spanish Harlem’ and wrote the lyric to the song on the spot. Stoller, who was in the kitchen cooking hamburger, suggested the figure of descending triplets that was used but un-credited. With the three songs complete they booked Bell Sound Studios for 27th October, using Stan Applebaum for the arrangements. “Phil had previously sat in on the 'Spanish Harlem' session. Mike confirmed. “…If I remember correctly there were four guitar players on that session. We'd used two acoustic guitars or a Spanish guitar and a combo guitar, acoustic, and electric rhythm playing chops, short chops, one maybe playing a vibrola figure or an ostenato figure going on all alone and Phil joined the line-up on those - we put him on the session." This session went very well, King’s approach was subtly altered, the emotional overloading of the Drifters gave way to a more personal heartfelt style that, if anything, gave his incredible voice an even greater range of expression. With all three scheduled songs in the can, they found that they still had studio time left. So they decided to record a song that Ben E King had originally written for the Drifters but Treadwell had rejected. Jerry & Mike had liked the song but felt it needed some further work. Applebaum and Stoller created a completely new arrangement and they had the sheets complete for the session that ended up running half hour overtime. But they had recorded what grew to be the classic ‘Stand By Me’ in a few takes and it was a word-wide hit on two occasions. Leiber & Stoller initially took a writing credit as Elmo Glick but later both their names appeared with King’s.
In a few short months Spector had broken his contract and left the company. “He disaffirmed his contract with us on the basis that he was not 21 years old yet, that he was only 20 and a half! Now, we could have fought that. In New York it's if you're over 18, but we didn't. We did line him up with one job for Big Top Records for Ray Peterson and he did ‘Corrina, Corrina’, which was his production and which was a hit record – it was a hell of a good record too. After that he did a lot of work for Atlantic. As a matter of fact they signed him and I think – in fact I know – that after this they were unhappy because he made a lot of sessions with almost no success. Immediately upon leaving Atlantic however, he set up Philles with Lester Sill and they had an enormous run of smash records with those girl groups”. Spector’s burning ambition earned him a bad reputation for riding roughshod over his artists and collaborators. He may have learned a lot during his short time with Leiber and Stoller but the way he ultimately worked was diametrically opposite to their approach. While they strove for a clean sound in which every instrumental line was distinct, continually eliminating the extraneous - Spector did the opposite by piling multiple layers of sound upon each other into an overblown cacophony. Even in the early days, he exceeded the studio time on his Gene Pitney session for ‘Every Breath I Take’ running the budget up to four times the normal rate ($14,000) and ended up with a Xerox imitation of ‘This Magic Moment’s’ string arrangement. This was the first brick in his wall of sound.
Mike Stoller, Lester Sill and Jerry Leiber
This was Leiber & Stoller’s most prolific period at Atlantic adding the solo Ben E King hits of ‘Spanish Harlem’ (#10 pop/#15 R&B) and ‘Stand By Me’ that followed in May ’61 to #1 R&B/ #4 pop, to those of the Drifters and the Coasters. ‘First Taste Of Love’ proved a more popular side to ‘Spanish Harlem’ in the UK and Europe where it and ‘Stand By Me’ were both significant pop hits. Despite UK covers the Coasters had also scored well with ‘Searchin’’, ‘Yakety Yak’ and best of all with ‘Charlie Brown’ that had reached #2 on both US charts in February ’59. ‘Along Came Jones’ (whose slow walkin’ character was based on Gary Cooper) missed out in Europe but kept the hits rolling in America. Although a hit, ‘Poison Ivy’ was the last Coasters single to register in the UK (until a reissue of ‘Sorry But I’m Gonna Have To Pass’ in ’94). But ‘Run Red Run’, ‘What About Us’, ‘Wake Me Shake Me’ and ‘Little Egypt’, were all significant American R&B and pop hits. After mid ’61 however, sales of the Coasters records fell away. Other Atlantic sessions worth a mention were made with the departing Clyde McPhatter, who had one of his few movie appearances in the unremarkable ‘Mr Rock & Roll’ singing ‘You’ll Be There’. Rather surprisingly King Curtis only seemed to cut one solo session with L&S that yielded just one single ‘Heavenly Blues’/ ‘Restless Guitar’. Lavern Baker recorded ‘Don Juan’ and ‘You’re The Boss’, a great duet with ex Ravens bass/ lead Jimmy Ricks. She did have some success with ‘Saved’ as well but L&S could not revive her fortunes, for most of her hits were behind her, although a revival of the evergreen ‘See See Rider’ charted for her at the end of ’62. Ruth Brown, Atlantic’s other R&B diva also cut ‘I Can’t Hear A Word You Say’, ‘Pappa Daddy’ and two medium hits ‘Jack O’ Diamonds’ and ‘I Don’t Know’. But their magic didn’t quite work for the Isley Brothers, who recorded four sessions with them between 1960-64 but ‘The Last Girl’ was one of their finest early sides. Jerry & Mike’s production of Lonnie Donegan’s version of ‘Sorry I’m Gonna Have To Pass’ echoed both the Coasters and the Drifters in an unusual mix of skiffle and ballad.
Even if the public’s interest in the Coasters was intermittent, the quality and originality of their records did not waiver, the team made a string of outstandingly original and technically superior records. ‘Yakety Yak’s’ great follow up ‘The Shadow Knows’ flopped but the following three singles all went Top 10. ‘What About Us’ and ‘Run Red Run’ both sold well but split the sales as they were on both sides of the same single. Then disastrously the Coasters tried to broaden their image and cut the One by One album when all four singers took their shots at MOR standards. The next single ‘Besame Mucho’ (parts 1&2) was superb but again different and didn’t chart either. Even ‘Little Egypt’, now recognized as one of their classic signature tracks, while a hit was not as big as their earlier singles. The great ‘Girls, Girls, Girls’ (parts 1&2) and ‘Ain’t That Just Like Me’ should both have been top 10 hits but did not make the charts. ‘Ridin’ Hood’ (Produced by Lester Sill & Lee Hazelwood), ‘The Climb’ and ‘The PTA’ didn’t chart anywhere, neither did any of the other singles put together by Atlantic after L&S had departed - except the great ‘live’ single ‘Tain’t Nothin’ To Me’ that was taken from the Apollo Saturday Night album recorded in November ’63 and went to #64 R&B in March ‘64. The Coasters remained a popular live act but we didn’t see them performing their hits until much later on US TV clips and UK tours (by then with questionable line ups – the most authentic appearing in December 1971).
While ‘I Count The Tears’ was still climbing the US charts the new Drifters lead voice Rudy Lewis (superficially similar enough to King to make a seamless transition and continue the run of Top 10 hit singles) was cutting the group’s next four ‘A’ sides at his first recording session. Their next single, ‘Some Kinda Wonderful’ (#6 R&B/ #32 Pop in April ’61) had been written by Gerry Goffin & Carole King, who were styling their songs for the Drifters and even approached L&S directly (with a demo cut by Tony Orlando). Treadwell had rejected their previous offer ‘Will You Love Me Tomorrow’ that turned out to be a bonus for the Shirelles. Leiber & Stoller tried out a number of different writers at this point including Burt Bacharach and Bob Hilliard who supplied ‘Please Stay’ which went to #13 R&B/14 pop in June ’61. Bacharach who was anxious to work in this area, requested an apprenticeship with L&S who were reticent to offer him a contract after the Spector debacle but nevertheless commissioned more songs and invited him to sit in on a few of their sessions. The first of these on 13 July ’61 was at Bell Sound for which Burt supplied two superb ‘B’ sides ‘Loneliness Or Happiness’ and ‘Mexican Divorce’, where he was introduced to Dionne Warwick who he ‘discovered’ on that occasion. The Drifters next single ‘Sweets For My Sweet’ went to #10 R&B/16 pop in October ’61 but the follow up ‘Room Full Of Tears’/ ’Somebody New Is Dancing With You’ did not impress their fans and missed both charts.
Between March and December ’61 Leiber & Stoller produced Ben’s first solo album, the classic Spanish Harlem. They selected a number of Latin standards ‘Perfidia’, ‘Besame Mucho’, ‘Granada’ etc and blended them with more contemporary sounds like ‘Sway’ (a recent hit for Bobby Rydell), ‘Love Me, Love Me’ and ‘Souvenir Of Mexico’. L&S with Stan Applebaum created a wonderful ‘South of the Border’ atmosphere with sophisticated arrangements that inspired King’s superb and very accomplished vocals - for a debut solo album. Atlantic selected ‘Amor’ for his new single and it became a big international hit in the late summer months. At the peak of their Atlantic success Leiber and Stoller got into a wrangle with the label and temporarily stopped producing. According to Ruth Brown in her autobiography ‘Miss Rhythm’ there was some disagreement over royalties. After careful consideration Mike and Jerry felt that they were being short-changed by Atlantic. Ahmet Ertegun disagreed so Leiber & Stoller commissioned an outside auditor who discovered a shortfall of $18,000. Ertegun agreed to pay up but this dispute soured any future long-term relationship between the label and its stellar production team. Jerry Wexler who considered the shortfall “chump change” remained on good terms with L&S but Ahmet was less conciliatory. During their absence Atlantic issued ‘Here Comes The Night’ as King’s next single and it bombed, missing out on both charts proving too bluesy for mainstream consumption. The following single ‘Ecstasy’ sounded more promising but only dedicated fans found it worthwhile and Ben experienced a 2 single blip. Both of these records were excellent in their own way but fell short of commercial expectations. During 1961 after Ben’s departure from the Drifters, Elsbeary Hobbs and Dock Green quit the group leaving Charles Thomas the only remaining ex Crown. He got another shot at a lead vocal with Goffin & King’s ‘When My Little Girl Is Smiling’ which went to #28 on the Hot 100 by March ’62 but made no impact on the R&B charts at all. But the Drifters sales also began to suffer as their next two singles ‘Stranger On The Shore’ and ‘Sometimes I Wonder’ both flopped.
While Mike & Jerry had been creating a stream of big hits at Atlantic, requests for their talents elsewhere had been piling up and towards the end of ’61 they wrote and/or produced for Babs Tino ‘What’s Wrong With Me And You’, ‘If Only For Tonight’ (Kapp) and Anthony Newley ‘What Kind Of Fool Am I’, ‘My Claire De Lune’ (London). They also cut sessions on Johnny Ray, Kenny Chandler, Jay & the Americans and Annie Williams for United Artists and in early ’62 provided Jack Jones with ‘Pick Up The Pieces’ and ‘Gift Of Love’. More United Artists sessions were booked with Tony Middleton (‘Drifting’/ ‘Memories Are Made Of This’), Jeff Barry, Johnny Maestro, Paul Dino, Mike Clifford and their own Leiber/Stoller Orchestra (‘Café Expresso’). They produced the Exciters on ‘Tell Him’/ ‘Hard Way To Go’ that turned out to be the group’s biggest career hit (#5 R&B/ 4 Pop in December ’62). Good as their work with Marv Johnson was (‘Keep Tellin’ Yourself’ and ‘Everyone Who’s Been In Love With You’) it did not put him back on the charts. These cuts were superb but when you’re hot you’re hot and when you’re not… Scepter/ Wand sessions produced further magic for the Shirelles with ‘It’s Love That Really Counts’, Tommy Hunt ‘I Just Don’t Know What To Do With Myself’, ‘And I Never Knew’ and Chuck Jackson ‘I Keep Forgettin’’ and ‘Who’s Gonna Pick Up The Pieces’.
After the Atlantic settlement Mike & Jerry soon restored the Drifters to the charts with Goffin/ King’s ‘Up On The Roof’ (#4R&B/5 Pop in December ’62) but with the Coasters the damage was lasting. Ertegun and Wexler had some success with Ben E King when ‘Don’t Play That Song’ temporarily re-established him on the charts and gave him a Top 10 hit. But subsequent singles struggled to reach that level of success including Wexler’s reworked gospel ballad ‘I’m Standing By’ and it would be 13 years before Ben would Top 10 again. Ertegun produced King’s second solo album Songs For Soulful Lovers using the L&S blueprint but his next three singles bombed and it wasn’t until Leiber & Stoller produced ‘How Can I Forget’ in February ’63 and ‘I Who Have Nothing’ that things started to show a marked improvement. The Drifters next single ‘On Broadway’ was top of the mark, it was the ultimate proof (as if any were required) that Leiber & Stoller were the premier production team. They took a promising little song (previously recorded by their apprentice Phil Spector) and turned it into a spectacular classic. The flipside ‘Let The Music Play’, written by their second apprentice Burt Bacharach, features lead singer Rudy Lewis at his absolute best. The Drifters were well and truly airborne once again when Mike & Jerry took them into the studio in April ’63, this time with two Cynthia Weil/ Barry Mann songs and two Leiber/ Stoller songs – four potential ‘A’ sides.
The Drifters next single was to be ‘Only In America’ a song originally suggested by Weil/ Mann but like ‘On Broadway’ before it, came in for some significant rewriting by L&S. The end result was an ambitious project – a protest song with an ironic perspective. In 1963 few Americans, black or white, seriously believed that as the lyric suggested, “A kid without a cent could get a break and maybe grow up to be president”. L&S thought that they had made a groundbreaking record with the Drifters. But Atlantic would not release it. Jerry Wexler killed the record, predicting reprisals against the Drifters if it was released. A few months later the civil rights backlash would prove to the rest of the world just how deeply racist much of America still was. Disappointed, Leiber & Stoller opted for ‘Rat Race’ another slice of sociology that was less contentious and this became the next Drifters single. For the first time since their association with the group they made a bad commercial decision and this release went nowhere. They cut ‘Only In America’ with Jay & the Americans (using the Atlantic recording and some lyric changes) and it went to #25 Pop in August ’63. Johnny Moore, who had returned to the Drifters line up, sang lead on their next release ‘I’ll Take You Home’ (a kind of after the last dance song) that had some mid chart success. Jerry & Mike cut just one more session with the Drifters (now a quintet) at Atlantic Studios in August ’63, where two tracks (both later used as flipsides) were completed. ‘In The Land Of Make Believe’ featured both leads and ‘Didn’t It’ used Johnny Moore. Bacharach was in attendance, so were the Warwick sisters and Doris Troy. Arranger Garry Sherman provided the musical charts. It was the end of a creative era that had positively changed the direction of popular music but had just about run its course. Jerry & Mike made their final departure from Atlantic in late ’63.
Besides their historic work for Atlantic in 1962/63 Leiber/ Stoller Productions completed sessions for Jerry Butler, who had previously recorded ‘Make It Easy On Yourself’ with Bacharach in ’62 and now a year later cut ‘Message To Martha’, ‘Where's The Girl’ and ‘How Beautifully You Lie’ for the Need To Belong album. Mike Stoller co-wrote ‘His Kiss’ (with Bert Berns) for Betty Harris and L&S produced sessions for Roy Hamilton (notably ‘Midnight Town, Daybreak City’ - MGM), Ray Peterson (Dunes), Gerri Grainger (Big Top), Maxine Brown and Nancy Wilson. Peggy Lee had more success with ‘I’m A Woman’ than the original cut by Christine Kittrell on VeeJay, when she recorded what turned out to be the classic version of their song, originally written for a show that didn’t materialize. Though their non exclusive contract with Atlantic ended in ’63, L&S did record a few one off sessions for artists such as Ben E King (in February ’66) when he recorded his superb version of ‘Where’s The Girl’ and ‘Getting’ To Me’ that mysteriously disappeared until 2000 when Ace UK issued it.
Mike & Jerry were ready for major change. Since November 1962 they had issued records on their own labels Tiger and Daisy. Releases had been intermittent but now they were ready to get behind their new label Red Bird that was launched in April 1964. (peter burns)
Leiber & Stoller Interview at Brill Building New York office 1&2 October 1972
‘Mike And Jerry’s Looney Tunes’ Norman Jopling & Peter Burns
‘Always Magic In The Air’ by Ken Emerson (Fourth Estate, London 2005)
‘Miss Rhythm’ Ruth Brown & Andrew Yule –( Da Capo Press 1999)
Albums showcasing Leiber & Stoller’s work discussed above:
Reggie Torian, Fred Cash and Sam Gooden
The Impressions will be celebrating their 50th Anniversary in the music business on 5 May 2007 they are playing a concert in Chattanooga with Jerry Butler, Leroy Hutson and the Chattanooga Symphony and Opera will accompany them in their celebration. Eddie Thomas (ex manager) will also be in attendance. It is their only planned anniversary celebration, so don’t miss it if you have an opportunity to go. Recently the Impressions have changed their line up. Reggie Torian, who sang lead for them 25 years ago has rejoined veteran members Sam Gooden and Fred Cash and this trio have just cut a new album, that will (I’m informed) be released in America around April. The group had struggled a bit since the departure of Vandy ‘Smokey’ Hampton in April 2003 (sadly Smokey has died since leaving the Impressions – in February ’05). Willie Kitchens was lead vocalist after Vandy quit but he returned to the Gospel circuit in mid ’06 when Reggie came back on board. Since then their bookings increased dramatically. At Christmas, Sam had a major operation and is recovering well and looking forward to rejoining the group on tour as soon as he is fully fit. He was in fact working with the group from 9 – 18 February when the Impressions played some dates in California and Las Vegas. Sam recently told me in an email “Now that Reggie is back, the group is where it needs to be for future success on stage and for recording. The work is coming in like wildfire – God is blessing us abundantly and we thank all our fans for hanging in there with us – we have bookings through to January 2008”. A recording of ‘Rhythm’ (the old Major Lance hit) by the Impressions (produced by one Jerry Goody of Gad Music) has been getting a lot of airtime in the Carolinas – so I have been told, which rather indicates just how popular the Impressions original sound still remains. Here’s hoping their new album gets a fair hearing when it’s issued and that we get to hear it in the UK where their fan base is still considerable. I am hoping to interview Reggie online soon and will publish an update when I have one. Due to arrangements previously made I won’t be visiting America until later in May this year but I urge any Impressions fans that can make it to their anniversary concert to do so. I’m hoping to receive reports and photos of the event and will write a review as soon as I receive any further information. (peter burns)
reviews – cds
Luther Vandross - Ultimate – j
Arthur Alexander - The Greatest - Ace
Fantasia – Fantasia – j
Olympics - Something Old - Something New – Kent
Olympics – Doin’ The Hully Gully/ Dance By The Light Of The Moon/ Party Time – Ace
Sammy Turner - Very Best Of– Collectables
Terry Callier - Life Lessons (The Best of…) – Music Club 2CD
Ben E King – I’ve Been Around – True Life
Chuck Jackson – Anthology - Tamla Motown 2CD
Solomon Burke – Proud Mary – Rev-Ola
Santana – All That I Am - Arista
Always Magic In The Air – Ken Emerson – Fourth Estate - London
This book is ideal reading for anyone interested in the songwriters that provided many of the classic songs that fuelled the ‘60s soul music and pop booms. Emerson really did his homework, interviewing all the major writing teams Leiber & Stoller, Goffin & King, Pomus & Shuman, Bacharach & David and many others. He provides a fascinating and absorbing portrait of the time when the Brill Building churned out hit after hit. Many of these songs found their way to the UK and were recorded (and covered) by British bands. I found it easy reading and it’s the best book I’ve read on the subject. Keith weaves the various elements expertly together spotlighting many of the great talents that worked tirelessly in the background and only a few of them really got the recognition they deserved for their contributions to popular music. Though many of them tried to cross over as performers only a few like Carole King, Neil Sedaka and Neil Diamond achieved any consistent success but their great songs remain. Many of them have become classics recorded and re-recorded countless times by the generations of artists since their origination. The Brill Building was a hot bed of creative energy for many years and has rightly become an icon of the US music scene. Now Emerson’s book profiles the individuals that made this magic happen and at last we can appreciate what inspired them to write some of the greatest songs of all time.
Allen Toussaint/ Elvis Costello – The River In Reverse – Verve Forecast - CD & DVD
Ben E King – Jazz Channel
Dreamgirls – Directed by Bill Condon – 131 minutes
© earshot (peter burns) april 2007