Track 1 Hercules Track 2 Going Home
Aaron Neville has a gentle voice that could bring the hardest man down to his knees. A distinctive voice that closes the eyes and opens the soul. Hercules is his lost gem that deserved to outshine so many popular soul hits of the time, but it was never even given the chance. However today this elusive humble masterpiece WILL stand up high above any rival counterpart with the strongest respect and heroic vengeance.
Aaron Neville was born January 24, 1941 in New Orleans, Louisiana, and is brother to Art, Charles, Cyril, and sister Athelgra. Before the children were around, Aaron’s mother and her brother were in what is said to be the best dance team in New Orleans. They were once offered to go on the road with Louis Prima, but their fearful mother didn’t allow it due to awful Jim Crow laws of the time (state and local laws enforcing racial segregation in the Southern United States). Aaron met his first wife Joel in 1957, and were married on January 10, 1959 when both were only 18 years old.
Aaron grew up in the centre of the Calliope Projects, a neighbourhood-housing estate built between 1939 and 1941, and which boasted 690 apartments in the original development. Although it was considered a means for working-class families to live comfortably while saving up the funds to purchase their own homes, the area gained nationwide fame/infamy for its extremely high violent crime rate. But for Aaron, who had lived there ‘til he was thirteen, his turf was a modern structure of family hope and happiness, a place that actually sheltered the surrounding evils away from his innocent years.
As a boy, Aaron liked to wander on over to the glorious Gem Theatre, where he would use his voice to bride innocent box office ladies into free admission to film screenings. While it must have been evident for Aaron, that segregation was an awful and ugly monster lurking behind every corner of his hometown, his love of musical artists had no colour prejudices. Those westerns that the wide eyed young boy was privileged to see, were pivotal to his voice development. Aaron credits the likes of heroes Roy Rodgers and Gene Auntry for shaping his yodeling technique and vocal range he was so proud to share among friends at that young age. Aaron singing took him to a safe place, and away from the horrible race discrimination and other negative ghosts that were breeding in his hometown, be it for just a short time. Aaron was open for inspiration by from all styles of music of the time, from R&B to country (he was a huge Hank Williams and Nat King Cole fan as a kid) but at the age of 13, Aaron first heard Sam Cooke’s song called Any Day Now, a moving and gentle song that must have had a real impact oh him. Aaron recalls that at that time, fellow gospel singers were more commonly singing strong, loud up-praising songs. Aaron was so moved by this song, and knew from that moment on, that he was placed on the earth to be a singer.
When Aaron moved out from “Kal-ee-ope” he was exposed to a harsh side of reality and in turn “traveled some crooked roads”. Stealing cars was an easy thing to do back then, especially in the company of mutually wild encouraging mates. He was caught one day when he was returning a car to a nearby location (as they did back then once the criminal task had served it’s course) and as a consequence the eighteen year old was thrown into the New Orleans Parish Prison where he served a 6 month sentence. But maybe the demon that lead him on this wayward path was an angel in disguise, for it was in this dark isolated institution where Aaron would find a light, and write his first song Every Day.
Every Day is harrowing and delicate at the same time, as he takes us through one day, yet everyday, of prison life, and how every hour reminds him of his past freedom and that now lost companionship with his lover. The song was released in 1960 on the Minit label, which was only formed the year before in ‘59 in New Orleans, Louisiana, by Joe Banashak and Larry McKinley. The man responsible for most of the hits on Minit was Allen Toussaint, who wrote, played piano, arranged, and produced. The first Minit hit was with Toussaint’s production of Jessie Hill’s Ooh Poo Pah Doo, which reached No. 28 in the summer of 1960. Toussaint had a part in Aaron’s debut flip recording, the rhythm and blues mover Over You, but this wouldn’t be the last time the two collaborated. That same year Aaron released another single that included Out Of My Life, another Toussaint creation, but this time credited with the pseudonym Naomi Neville, which was commonly used by Toussaint, mostly for songwriting credits at the time (this was his mother’s maiden name…she’s not related to the famous Neville brothers though).
Aaron would continue to release a handful of 7’s on Minit in the next year or two with moderate success. A standout is the ‘62 release How Could I Help But Love You, flipped with Wrong Number (I’m Sorry, Goodbye), again writing credits for both songs to “Naomi Neville”. It’s a truly sincere love song with a melody to match, that really should have been a smash for Aaron! When Allen Toussaint went into the Army in 1963, the hits stopped coming and the Minit Record Label was sold to Imperial.
But Aaron would have his breakthrough hit finally in 1966, this time released on a small New Orleans label Par-Lo, co-owned by local musician/arranger and school friend George Davis, and band-leader Lee Diamond. That song was Tell It Like It Is, it topped Billboard’s R&B chart for five weeks and also reached #2 on the Billboard Hot 100, AND it sold over one million copies! Aaron who was working hard on the docks at the time, tells of his surprise and shock when he learned that the single had sold close to 40,000 copies in the first week in New Orleans alone. Contributors to this successful release included George Davis arranging and playing Baritone Sax, Emory Thomas on trumpet, Deacon John on guitar, Alvin Red Tyler on tenor sax, Willie Tee played piano and June Gardner on drums.
One would think that this must have been a life changing time for Aaron. Unfortunately his well earnt success was short lived, and soon after, Aaron would find himself arrested again, this time on drug charges. Fortunate to be let off with 3 months probation, Aaron saw the short sentence as a blessing, and promised himself to never walk that dark path again, and even reassured the prison guard on the way out, of his last final parting. Neville would continue to release singles from the mid sixties to the early seventies, jumping from label to label, including Bell, Safari and Mercury. He had two LP releases also, the 1966 Tell It Like It Is, and a year later the similarly title Like It Is, on Minit. It is on a 1973 Mercury label, where this featured lonesome giant sleeps.
Hercules – Nowadays, that opening bass line is famous and well recognised to most soul lovers, but as simple and gentle as it may be, it’s strength is insurmountable. With arranging and writing credits to Toussaint (as well as a shared producer credit to Marshall E. Sehorn), as far as I’m concerned, among so many of his great and now historic compositions, this has to be one of, if not his most finest moment! Sung with such genuine yet unlarboured compassion by Aaron, here is another song about the downs and out of society, and having the strength and will power to stand tall up against it all. Aaron is invincible. Again I find it quite unbelievable that songs of this calibre never achieved any major recognition. Perhaps similar to Dusty’s Haunted, or Cappani’s I Believe In Miracles, the world just wasn’t ready. Or maybe promoters just couldn’t comprehend the beauty and significance, blinded because they didn’t fall into those “popular radio” or “smash hit” pigeon holes.
There lies some mystery and myth behind Hercules, as it is believed that due to production problems at the plant with the pressing of the 7”, meant they were all deemed faulty. Therefore it is also believed the record never received an official release, and were likely all destroyed just after production. Well I can’t tell you how much truth is in that, but it is rare for either the promo or red label to turn up these days.
My promo copy is styrene, (these are produced with injection mold as opposed to the vinyl counterpart which are heat pressed) which sources say wears out a lot faster than a vinyl record. My copy plays beautifully, and only on special occasions, but I have never had the opportunity to play a red label and would love to know if these are actual “vinyl” pressings. A common reissue label, who dare to call the originals “nasty”, released their edited “unreleased full length version” recently, and to tell you the truth, I hear no improvement in this mix at all. I stand by the original, which has a nicer vocal harmony mix and those distant keyboards are slightly more prominent, making it even sweeter. Sadly the single never appeared on an Aaron Neville LP, so it’s future seemed destined to be a lonely one. It did however appear on a soul funk compilation LP Get Up And Get Down (Philips E– 9299 160), along with other “disco delights”, but haven’t been able to track a release date on that one yet. If you want to hear an amazing alternate version, well in 1974 Boz Scaggs released his version on his Slow Dancer LP. I often wonder about that Scaggs link, just a year later, and how he discovered the track, or how it was it offered to him?
There’s also something pretty wonderful on the flip of this 7”…a slow deep gospel song called Going Home. Here’s a song of death, but not of misery. As sad as it may make you feel to get through this meaningful song, it’s message is beautiful and uplifting. The song is not just about departing, but more importantly, it’s about belief and faith, and being reunited with those loved ones that left before you. Obviously a song with deep meaning for Aaron.
Aaron’s brother Art formed Art Neville and the Neville Sounds, in the early 1960s which included brothers Aaron and Cyril, as well as George Porter (bass) and Leo Nocentelli (lead guitarist). Shortly after, Aaron and Cyril left the group to form their own band Soul Machine. In the late 1960s Art changed the name of his band to The Meters, which at that time included Joseph “Ziggy” Modeliste on drums. Considered by many to be the founding fathers of funk, The Meters would release a series of albums that today are infamous classics that should be standard in all dj collections. In 1975, Cyril became the fifth Meter as a percussionist and vocalist for three of their albums for Reprise/Warner Brothers, but by the mid-Seventies, the four Neville brothers had not still recorded as a unit.
In 1976, the four brothers Art, Charles, Cyril and Aaron got together to take part in the recording session of The Wild Tchoupitoulas, a Mardi Gras Indian group led by their uncle, George Landry (“Big Chief Jolly”). The self titled result produced by Toussaint may not have been a financial success, but the effort was well received critically and the recording experience encouraged the four Neville brothers to perform together for the first time as a group. Paul Howrilla created Neville Productions, Inc., serving as president and CEO with all four Neville brothers as members of the board of directors. The newly formed business covered the entire Neville family, designed to protect them from the music business abuse they had previously endured in their individual careers. In 1978, The Neville Brothers self titled debut album was released from Capitol Records, and it was the beginning of solid recording run for the group for the next decade or so. Due to the health problems of Art Neville, the band kept low profile in the late 1990s onto the early 2000s. They made a comeback in 2004, however, with the album, Walkin’ In The Shadow Of Life, from Back Porch Records.
In 1989, Aaron would find that second big solo hit, well actually in the form of a duet with Linda Ronstadt, with the song Don’t Know Much. It reached #2 on the Hot 100, and was certified Gold for selling a million copies! This duet with Ronstadt would win Aaron his first of four Grammys! The album which was titled Cry Like a Rainstorm, Howl Like the Wind, was certified Triple Platinum for US sales of more than 3 million. And ever since Aaron has pretty much been a household name, and has shared more success from following albums.
Neville’s longtime partner Joel was diagnosed with lung cancer in late 2004 and died on January 5, 2007. She was 66, and needless to say, this must have been a sorrowful time for Aaron. In 2008, during a People magazine photo shoot, Neville met photographer Sarah A. Friedman, who had been hired to take a portrait of the Neville Brothers. From that first meeting Aaron sensed something deep in his heart towards Friedman, and they were married November 13, 2010 in New York City. In 2016, Neville announced a 75th birthday show at the Apollo Theater that also marked the 50th anniversary of the release of Tell It Like It Is.
Today Neville sister Athelgra is part of the current line up of The Dixie Cups (known for their hits Chapel of Love and Iko Iko) alongside original members, sisters Barbara Ann and Rosa Lee Hawkins.
Nolan Porter’s If I Could Only Be Sure is one of my absolute favourite soul 45’s, and while it gets copiousness amounts of rotations around the house, that fervor it holds to me has never dwindled. But once again, it’s a little sad to discover that the man behind this big soul track, never really received the accolades he well and truly deserved! His discography is brief, recording only two albums and six singles in the early 1970’s. If you know and love this giant but gentle tune, you may also feel a little cheated, and wonder why we couldn’t have had more artistry from the beautifully voiced man! Well maybe we can.
Nolan Frederick Porter was born 1949 in Los Angeles and started singing at around 12 years old, for local churches and choirs, and even in classical and madrigal styles. He believes he received his gift of singing from his mother, who had in fact auditioned for the Count Basie Orchestra at one time, but had to refuse due to her pregnancy. His musical “career” started when Porter meet Gabriel Mekler when he was performing alongside his sister in a classical group at the Los Angeles city college when he was around 19. She was keen for the two to meet, knowing with Porter’s voice, and her brother’s production knowledge, something great could come of it. Mekler was at the time producing some big bands like Blue Cheer, Steppenwolf and also Janis Joplin, and after Porter’s audition, the potential was evident for Mekler, who would spend the next year or two trying to help develop and adapt his vocal skills for the studio and the current scenes.
His first recorded release was in fact an LP in 1970 called No Apologies, and was release on Gabriel Mekler’s Lizard label. It included a handful of pretty smooth covers, including a really nice version of Van Morrison’s Crazy Love. He also tries on with comfort Randy Newman’s Let’s Burn Down The Cornfield and Don Convay & the Good Timers great Iron Out The Rough Spot. Also appearing on the LP was the track Don’t Make Me Color My Black Face Blue, which would turn up as a flip on a particular big classic soul 45 the next year. The track Somebody’s Cryin’ would also show up as another 7” flip, this time to I Like What You Give, also in ‘71.
Porter had some big session players by his side on this debut delight, including former members of Zappa’s Mothers Of Invention, Roy Estrada (bass), Jimmy Carl Black (drums), and Lowell George (guitar). Also sharing studio space with Nolan were members of Little Feat, Bill Payne and Ritchie Hayward, who were at the time supposedly working on their debut album (along with George and Estrada). Lowell George and Bill Payne contribute an original song called Somebody’s Gone.
In August 1972, Porter returned to the studio to record his second album, simply titled Nolan, this time distributed on the ABC label, and again Porter was gifted with a handful of incredible session performers to lay down these tracks. Crossfire Publications lists Clarence McDonald (keyboards), Jim Gordon (drums), Ray Pohlman (bass), Larry Carlton (guitar), Ron Elliott (guitar), Charles Owens (sax), Oscar Brashear (trumpet), and The Blackberries (backing vocals) as the studio line-up. The album contained four new songs and re-recorded mixes of older songs such as Groovin (Out On Life), which was released on a Vulture 7″ the year before, with Porter under the alias of Federick II. This album also contains Porter’s best known song Keep On Keepin’ On, which was written by Richard Flowers, and it’s a huge tune likely more popular on the world wide soul scenes of today, rather than of the time. It had a single release on Lizard label in ’71, with Nolan credited as N.F. Porter, as a white promo label and with two red variations.
Without any doubt If I Could Only Be Sure is the shining diamond of Porter’s catalogue, a composition of true genuine soul that has stood the test of time. One most notable player at these sessions was Johnny “Guitar” Watson, and when he plays Porter’s melodic guitar line, he threads the perfect foundation from the very beginning. The production breathes clearly, the keyboard has a minor but lustful distant howl, and Porters desirable voice sews all the components into a beautiful web of pure devotion. A simple progression with just a handful of poetic lines of love, like many of my favourite soul songs, it’s the simplicity that’s so astounding. The single was released on ABC then had a re-release on the subsidiary label Probe the year after in France, Japan, Brazil, and even Peru. All sharing the same flip with the Bryan Ferry sounding Work It Out In The Morning, quite a surprising jux’ed to the big soul sider!
Porter was around 23 when If I Could Only be Sure hit the Top 100, and the prospect of a successful music career must have seemed inevitable. But by some cruel fate, the anchor holding his aspiration and hope, and Mekler’s record company, broke away, and that dream drifted away into a sea of disappointment. It’s evident that the implosion of the his good friends Lizard label was a complete debacle, and Porter, who generally found the whole business side of things too difficult to deal with at the best of times, found it all very discouraging. Mekler had licensed Nolan’s previous Lizard/Vulture recordings and his new Nolan Porter material to ABC, but ABC never signed Nolan Porter as an artist, although his recordings appeared on the label in 1972 and 1973. With alternate record divisions putting different songs under different labels and under different artist names, it was all just a calamity!
With no intentions of suing helpful friends or playing any sly business games, Porter decided to depart the record business in 1974, but never got away from music. Porter returned to the studio in 1978 with the sessions producing the tracks, Bird Without A Song, Only A Thought Away, It’s Alright To Dream, City Lights, and a cover of Paul Simon’s Cloudy. He returned again to the studio in 1980, and re-recorded his 2nd LP cracker I Like What You Give, this time with a bit of a modern polish, but resulting with a more tame version than it’s predecessor. He also re-recorded Oh Baby, a new original titled Every Little Move, and also covered The Doobie Brothers’ What A Fool Believes, and quite nicely may I add. But alas, nothing eventuated with these recordings, and it would be two decades before he took another opportunity to record again. In 1999, Nolan was asked by co-producer Jeffery Ward to do a cover of Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’ I Put A Spell On You, or the film The Quickie, but after the film was completed in 2001, it went directly to DVD.
Nolan has had a live and recording resurgence of late with contemporary soul group Stone Foundation to thank for. Founders and Porter fans Neil Jones and Neil Sheasby, were able to track their legend down around 2010 and grouped together for a show. A tour followed from the north to the south of England in 2012, and in between, the band even shared some beneficial time in the recording studios. The outcome was a pressed 7” titled Tracing Paper (Heavy Soul ROR015HS3), a duet in fact with singer Neil Jones, who I’m sure must have been pinching himself more than a few times throughout that session. A follow up single in 2013 followed, this time resulting with a tight and snappy reworking of Porter’s Fe Fi Fo Fum (Heavy Soul ROR044), taken from his No Apologies Lp. Nolan and the “foundations” also recorded a very cool and moody track titled The Right Track, which was apparently featured in a detective show, but I couldn’t track down the details (my detective skills failing here) but I’m almost certain it had no official vinyl release.
In 1999 Nolan Porter met Patrice, and by coincidence, little sister to Frank Zappa, and as Porter quotes, a “far better” R & B singer than himself. The couple fell in love and married, and now sing together. Porter never had the opportunity to meet Frank himself, even back when key members of the Mothers Of Invention were hired to record on his debut LP, but he does feel close to him and holds him tight with the strong family bond. Today Porter is still both excited and surprised to discover that today’s soul scene holds him in such high regard, and that his tunes are been danced to all over the globe. But it is us that should be truly grateful!
Gabriel Mekler passed away in September 1977, leaving the entire Lizard/Vulture catalogue unguarded. This has led to numerous unauthorized and/or unlicensed releases of Nolan Porter’s material.
Photo by Lee Cogswell. More great Porter photos from Lee here… Lee Cogswell
Referencing and recommendations…
Track 1: Defrost 1963 Track 1: Thaw – Out 1964
Albert Collins was born on 1 October 1933, and was raised by two farming parents in Leona, Texas, approx. 100 miles north of Houston. He was introduced to the guitar at an early age through his cousin Lightnin’ Hopkins, also a Leona resident, who frequently played at family reunions. In 1938 his family relocated to the third ward district in Marquez, eventually settling in Houston in 1941, where he later attended Jack Yates High School. Collins initially took piano on lessons when he was young, but during periods when his piano tutor was unavailable, his cousin Willow Young would loan him his guitar and taught him the altered tuning (that he used throughout his career). His idol when he was a teen was Hammond B-3 organist Jimmy McGriff, but the growing teenager made the decision to concentrate on learning the guitar after hearing Boogie Chillen‘ by John Lee Hooker.
Aged 18, Collins started his own group called the Rhythm Rockers (a seven-piece group consisting of alto, tenor, trumpet, keyboards, bass, and drums) in which he honed his craft. But Collins would still hold his jobs which around this time, included working on a ranch in Normangee, Texas for four years, followed by twelve years of driving a truck for various companies. In 1954 Collins, then aged 22 and still without a record release, was joined in by the 17-year-old Johnny Copeland who had just left the Dukes of Rhythm (a band he had started with Houston blues musician Joe “Guitar” Hughes). Collins started to play regularly in Houston, most notably at Shady’s Playhouse, where James “Widemouth” Brown (brother of Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown) and other well-known Houston blues musicians would meet for the Blue Monday jams.
By the mid 1950s he had established his reputation as a local guitarist of note and had started to appear regularly at a Fifth Ward club called Walter’s Lounge with the group Big Tiny and The Thunderbirds. The saxophonist and music teacher Henry Hayes had heard about Collins from Joe “Guitar” Hughes. After seeing him perform live, Hayes encouraged Collins to record a single for Kangaroo Records, a label he had started with his friend M. L. Young. Collins recorded his debut single The Freeze b/w Collins Shuffle, for Kangaroo Records at Gold Star Studios, Houston, in the spring of 1958, with Henry Hayes on saxophone. Shuffle is an upbeat rippin R & B groover while Freeze, in contrast, is a slow but deadly creeper with sharp plucking knife cries that Collins is so now renown for. What an incredible wax debut, and a sure definite sign of things to come from this master!
That debut 7″ really was just the begins of a long run of singles which Collins would release the next few years, for regional labels. Conflicting research is telling me that he’s big million seller Frosty (though it apparently never landed on any national chart, so it’s not easy to check that claim’s veracity), happened for him in ’62. However it looks like the release date for that one was in fact in ’64, after being recorded at Gulf Coast Recording Studio, Beaumont, Texas, for Hall Records. Owner Bill Hall, had signed Collins on the recommendation of Cowboy Jack Clement, a songwriter and producer who had engineered sessions for Jerry Lee Lewis and Johnny Cash at Sun Records. Possibly there’s an earlier pressing that I can’t find any info on?
In 1963 he recorded De-Frost, a low grinding icy cool instro that burns like cold fire. With driving percussion, keyboards and horns, it’s embodies and slowly devours the listener. From that very first guitar note, most blues lovers will pick that technique and sound, and call out “The Master of the Telecaster”. The following year in 1964 he recorded Thaw-Out, which is likely a reworking of De-frost, but this time the driving is now the ploughing! The shards are deadlier and sharper, and let me tell you that this is one for the early keen dance floor, who are eager to warm up the bones.
During this period, even more of Collins’ song titles were uniquely associated with freezing temperatures, like Tremble (1964), Sno-Cone and Dyin’ Flu (1965), Don’t Lose Your Cool and Frost Bite (1966). These singles, along with his cold, crisp guitar technique, earned Collins his nickname “The Iceman.”
In ’65 Collins’ debut LP, The Cool Sound of Albert Collins (TCF-8002), was released by Hall. Mainly a collection of his singles with the exception of some label additions, Kool Aide (another De frost reworking?) Shiver N’ Shake the very sophisticated Icy Blue. In ’69 the Blue Thumb imprint repressed it with a new title and cover upgrade as Truckin’ with Albert Collins. Through the rest of the 1960s, Collins pursued his music with short regional tours and recordings for other small Texas labels while continuing with his work day jobs. In 1968, Canned Heat’s Bob “The Bear” Hite, had a very strong interest in the guitarist’s music, and took Collins to California, where he was immediately signed to Imperial Records. By later 1968 and 1969, the ’60s blues revival was still going on, and Collins got wider exposure opening for groups like The Allman Brothers at the Fillmore West in San Francisco, and playing the San Francisco psychedelic circuit.
Collins didn’t have a lot of success in the most part of the seventies and actually hid into retirement as a result. It was his wife that pushed him back up on his feet and just as well! In 1977 he was offered a record deal by Bruce Iglauer of Alligator records in Chicago, which led to his most successful release Ice Pickin’. It won the Best Blues Album of the Year Award from the Montreux Jazz Festival, and was nominated for a Grammy. Finally it was time for Collins to receive some of that overdue and so well deserved success. With his new signature backing band the Ice Breakers, he would release successful “cool” themed LP’s, and take home a bunch of awards. In 1987 he won his first Grammy Award for Showdown, an impressive three-way guitar duel with Johnny Copeland and the newcomer Robert Cray.
Collins’ technique, his “attack” guitar style, and his minor tunings, were incredibly influential. In the live setting he was known for his showmanship, and his stage presence was legendary, with his famous “guitar walks” into the crowd. It was not unusual for Collins to conclude his concerts with a grandiose exit from the stage by walking straight through the crowd (with the use of his legendary 150 foot guitar cord) and out the front door of the venue, to stand in the middle of the street wailing on his guitar while bringing the city traffic to a halt.
The Iceman was robbed of his best years as a blues performer, after a three-month battle with liver cancer that ended with his premature death on November 24, 1993. He was just 61 years old.
References and recommendations…
Track 1 – Can’t Hardly Stand It Track 2 – Everybody’s Lovin’ My Baby
In the music world, earning a legendary status doesn’t necessarily stem from hits, success and riches. Such is the case with the highly influential and respected rockabilly wonder, Charles Feathers. Yet this unique talent who was there in the Sun sound booth spurring on a young Elvis, never even saw a billboard credit.
Charles Arthur Feathers was born in Slayden, Mississippi, just outside of Holly Springs, on June 12, 1932. Growing up on his parents farm, he became interested in music at a young age, singing in church and regularly tuning in to WSM’s ‘Grand Ole Opry’. The Opry was where young Charlie would find his earlier influences like Bill Monroe, but he’d was also picking up on the sounds of the Negro sharecropper’s who worked the fields in the Mississippi backwoods. One field hand in particular, Junior Kimbrough, introduced him to the acoustic guitar, providing him with valuable lessons which he eagerly absorbed.
By the age of nine, Feathers had become an adept guitarist and was beginning to develop his unique vocal style, which likely was patterned after that of his hero Bill Monroe. Honky tonk great Hank Williams’ MGM recordings of the period also impressed Charlie greatly. He could understand and appreciate the feeling in Hank’s lonesome hillbilly whine, and it soon rubbed off on him.
Charlie left school at a very early age, after the second or third grade, likely around 1948. He struggled finding any employment, so he traveled to Cairo, Illinois to work the oil pipeline’s with his father. This work later took him to Texas where Charlie, guitar in hand, hit the honky-tonks and juke joints in his spare time, providing him with valuable experience in playing the live circuit. In 1950, 18 year old Feathers moved back to Memphis where he got hitched. He also started working for a box manufacturer until a bout with spinal meningitis left him hospitalized. While bed ridden, he listened to the radio incessantly, and would emerged from his stay with drive and determination to become a professional singer.
By 1954, Feathers was working his way into the confines of Sam Phillips’ Memphis Recording Service, with an eye toward getting something released on Sun Records. He filled in whenever and wherever he could, helping with arrangement ideas, even playing spoons on a Miller Sisters recording, Someday You Will Pay. He soon scored a very important writing credit along with engineer-steel guitarist Stan Kesler on the Elvis 7″, I Forgot to Remember to Forget. Released on August 20, 1955, this Sun 7″ is flipped with the gorgeous Junior Parker song (billed as “Little Junior’s Blue Flames” on the Nov. 1953 Sun release) Mystery Train!
Phillips decided to start up a non-union label called Flip to test out new local artists. He paired up Feathers with country session songwriter-musicians Bill Cantrell and Quinton Claunch, and released Charlie’s first single on that label, Peepin’ Eyes, flipped with I’ve Been Deceived. Released in April 1955, the record did reasonably well on regional charts, selling approximately 2585 copies in that first month (1). An eager Phillips brought Feathers back into the studio on November 1, 1955 for a second session.
January ’56 saw the release of titles from that session, Defrost Your Heart and Wedding Gown Of White (Sun 231). Phillips had complete faith with Feather’s latest release, but obviously disappointingly surprised with the unexpected low amount of units sold (approx. 919) this time around. The lack of success was certainly a unjust mystery, as some would say the two tracks were just as strong as Charlie’s Sun predecessor. As Feather’s contract was due to expire soon, Phillips was unwilling to renew his commitment to him for a second term, as he was now devoting much of his time to Sun’s latest stars, Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash, whose flames were shining far more brightly than Feathers’.
But the artist had bigger visions. Now tired of being cast in the hillbilly mould, and eager to record rockabilly, Charlie set about reforming his band in order to cut this new sound (2). Booking studio time for January 31st, the band headed to 706 Union where they cut four proto-rockabilly styled numbers, Honky Tonk Mind, So Ashamed, Frankie And Johnny and Charlie’s own Bottle To The Baby. But the shackles tying Feathers to a hillbilly stereotype proved difficult to break and the hope to convince Phillips to extend his contract with Sun for another term, seemed hopeless. But luckily for Feathers, his talent had not passed completely unnoticed.
Les Bihari, head of Sun’s cross-town rival Meteor Records, who had become aware of Charlie’s rockabilly intentions and unique talent, invited him to visit his studio on Chelsea Avenue to cut a demo session. Along with lead guitar player Jerry Huffman and Jody Chastain, who had switched from steel guitar to string bass, they laid down the two-sided rockers Tongue-Tied Jill and Get With It. Acetates of the two songs were sent back to Phillips who was, by all accounts, uninterested in either song but, particularly Tongue-Tied Jill, which he considered degrading to the vocally impaired. But Bihari on the other hand, showed a keen interest, and coupled both songs for release in June (Meteor 5032), both on a 10″ and a 7″ in 1956. Despite the quality of the record and the surprisingly good sales, royalty statements were poor, prompting Huffman to state “The first check was such a pittance. We told him (Bihari) what he could do with it”. Now, with no contract, the trio began to flounder. That is, until they were approached by Syd Nathan’s strong Ohio based independent label, King Records. Alerted by a Memphis based distributor for King who had heard the Meteor disc, Nathan dispatched King’s country division A&R head, Louis Innis, to the southern locale to audition Charlie and his band. An immediate contract was organised, and with the ink barely dry, a refreshed group were in King’s Cincinnati studio to cut their first session for the label on August 18. Four tracks were laid down with dirt and authority, and it is here that Charlie Feathers’ rockabilly flame burns best.
His gift was apparent from the beginnings, and his 1956 King releases were all shine from the get go! The first King release for Charlie is my standout Feather’s 45, with the flaming echo laden Everybody’s Lovin’ My Baby on the A side, and the infamous flipped out flip, Can’t Hardly Stand It (King 4971 October 1956).
Well, the sun’s gone down
And you’re uptown
And you’re just out runnin’ around
I can’t hardly stand it
You’re troublin’ me
I can’t hardly stand
It just can’t be
Well, you don’t know, a-babe I love you so
You got me all tore up, all tore up…
The lines are simple, but the infatuation is deep. Feathers sings this broken ballad while drunk on love, and I can’t help but feel, that if that little lady could only hear this howling call out on his six string, she would have him back in a smack! God I love this! Even his guitar feels sadness, like that of a loyal dog when he knows his master is feeling lost. One bass, one guitar and one bruised man, and you have an iconic Feathers classic. Again, many years later covered by The Cramps, and with that great electrifying shock wave manner that The Cramps do so well, but this song belongs to Feathers, and it’s him inside and out! From that same one day session, One Hand Loose and a reworked Bottle To The Baby (King 4997 December 1956) was released and is another two sider, filled with hot twangy stuttering goodness!
Very soon after, another four titles (3*) were cut in the studios on January 6th, 1957. Louis Innis oversaw the session and attempted to polish Charlie’s sound, by adding a vocal group fronted by Johnny Bragg. This cleaner “country pop” result I think it’s fair to say, didn’t really complement Feather’s style nor did it improve Charlie’s rockabilly reputation. In an attempt to expose Charlie to a wider audience and possibly sell more records, he was booked to play gigs with Sun label luminaries such as Warren Smith, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash and Roy Orbison. Record sales were a defining factor to a performers success, so when Feather’s King records were still selling poorly, he was dropped from the company’s roster later that year.
Feathers had signed a one-off deal with Charlie Kahn’s Kay label in Memphis late in ’58, and traveled to the WHBQ radio studio in Memphis to lay down four sides in December. After eighteen months away from a recording studio, Charlie’s originality had not worn away, and his fire was still well and alive, as the wild and glorious Jungle Fever proves (Kay 1001). But this searing rocker, along with the other 3 tracks recorded (4*) would not see the light the of day until June 1960. Kahn did not seem to appreciate the originality of the recordings, deciding to leave them in the can for almost two years.
Maybe it was an itch, or maybe built from frustration, but Feathers took a sharp turn off the rockabilly highway in ’59, when he teamed up with former Sun session men Bill Cantrell and Quinton Claunch, to record two folk inspired numbers Dinky John and South Of Chicago. These refreshing songs harked back to Feathers’ Bill Monroe influence and out shone the bland, typecast folk material of the day, yet Hi label boss Joe Cuoghi declined to push the recordings. Not to be easily thwarted, Charlie hawked the songs to Walter Maynard, who eventually put the record out in July 1960 on his Wal-May label under the pseudonym of Charlie Morgan.
Feather’s would continue to release a handful more 7’s, with various willing labels. Some notables are Wild Wild Party, released in December 1961, Johnny Burnette’s Tear It Up flipped with the fab Stutterin’ Cindy, was released in ’71, and Uh Huh Honey in 1973. But by this stage of his career he was performing to ever dwindling crowds, and his priorities shifted elsewhere, like car racing and softball. As Billy Millar illustrated, “…Charlie gained such a rep around town as a top fast pitch hurler that many of his teammates were unaware of his musical exploits”. But Charlie was never far from his guitar and tape recorder. He would continue to record and perform throughout the 70’s and 80’s and even release a bunch of 7’s on his own private Feathers label, which were sold at his concerts. And in ’91 he released a self titled album, his final recording.
On August 25, 1998 Feathers suffered a stroke and was admitted to the St. Francis I.C.U in Memphis. Falling into a coma a day later, his condition deteriorated and he passed away on August 29. His passing was of course a sad loss to his family and friends, but also to his many admirers worldwide.While he may never have achieved the chart success that he well deserved, his legacy is concrete and will continue to spread tomorrow and the days after.
“Rockabilly is different. Nothin’ can touch it, man; and it don’t take a big band to do it…a lead man and a good acoustic rhythm and a big slap bass. Can’t beat it, man!” Feathers was a true die hard believer of the “religion” til the last day.
1* Shortly after the Flip disc was launched onto the market, Phillips was forced to re-release the record on Sun proper (Sun 503), as he was threatened with legal action from one Ed Wells (owner of the Flip label) over improper use of label name.
2* With steel guitarist Jody Chastain brought into the fold, and very likely Jerry Huffman as the guitarist and one Shorty Torrance as string bassist.
3* Too Much Alike, When You Come Around, When You Decide and Nobody’s Woman.
4* Why Don’t You, and Jody Chastain’s release My My with instrumental flip Jody’s Beat (Kay 1001).
Rockabilly The Twang Heard ‘Round the World – Robert Gordon
Tip Top Daddy – Charlie Feathers, His Life and his Music by Shane Hughes
Jerry Lott a.k.a. Marty Lott, was born 30 January 1938, near Mobile, Alabama, and grew up in rural Leaksville, Mississippi near the Alabama border. As a kid he played country music on the school stage, which progressed to playing at Paynas Furniture Store in Lucedale, Mississippi. Jerry started entering and winning local performing contests, which led to touring, a familiar pattern to so many other artists on this blog.
But in 1956 when Elvis Presley came along, Lott’s eyes were pried opened, and his soul was charged with rock and roll. Country music was now the yesterday sound.
But Lott had written a simple yet sweet country love song, Whisper Your Love, which he says he spent a good 3 months putting it together. In the summer of ’58, Lott’s manager Johnny Blackburn, rented some studio time over at Gulf Coast Studios in Mobile, Alabama. Lott told Derek Glenister of New Commotion magazine in 1980, that someone had asked “What you gonna put on the flipside?”. Such was the naivete and innocence of the times, Lott had honestly never even thought about it. So he and the band shot form the hip on the B side! “Someone suggested I wrote something like Elvis ’cause he was just a little on the wane and everybody was beginning to turn against rock ‘n’ roll. They said, ‘See if you spark rock ‘n’ roll a little bit.’ It wasn’t any problem at all, and I wrote Love Me in about ten minutes”.
Lott continues with his story…”Me and Johnny Blackburn worked the controls in the studio, as we didn’t want it to sound like a commercial record, that was for sure. I put all the fire and fury I could utter into. I was satisfied with the first take, but everybody said, ‘let’s try it one more time’. I didn’t yell on the first take, but I yelled on the second, and blew one of the controls off the wall. I’m telling ya, it was wild. The drummer lost one of his sticks, the piano player screamed and knocked his stool over, the guitar player’s glasses were hanging sideways over his eyes, he looked like he was hypnotized”.
The result is a lusty explosion of animalistic energy, and if it had been 20 years later, you’d call hard punk! A monster was born on that day in ’58, and to this day, it still hasn’t lost any of that almighty fury! Clocking in at around 1.30 min., it’s a fast roller coaster ride through to the depths of rock ‘n roll hell, and it feels even with the frantic energy that Lott releases here, he is struggling to keep up with the manic “full steam ahead” drive the rest of the band are pushing out. But back then, wild got you nowhere without a record deal in your hands. Manager Blackburn sat on the tapes for more than a year, unable to clench any label interest.
Lott, known at this time as The Gulf Coast Fireball, left Mobile for Los Angeles to shop his master tape around. Then one day, on a truly bizarre impulse, he trailed pop crooner Pat Boone to church one Sunday morning and convinced him to give the tape a listen. It sounds like Boone had now been converted or had some kind of other spiritual awakening soon after. It was Boone’s idea to rename Lott The Phantom, and even agreeing to issue the record on his own Cooga Mooga label (an euphemism for God, as in Great Cooga Mooga). Eventually Lott signed a contract with Boone’s management but the single Love Me b/w Whisper Your Love was released on the label Boone recorded for, Dot Records in 1960 (apparently Lott never even met anyone at Dot). It was also released with a nifty picture sleeve, which normally was reserved only for the really big stars, and which I still have to get my hands by the way.
The song Love Me was appropriately covered by The Cramps in the late 70’s and released on both the Drug Train 7″ in ’80, and on the Bad Music For Bad People Lp in 84. The raucous romp is so very suited for Lux and Co., as can be seen in early footage from June of 1978, when they played at the California State Mental Hospital in Napa, CA.
But the deserved success story never really amounted for Lott, and in fact life instead, would soon drag him down into a darker chapter. Sadly in 1965, Jerry’s wife took her own life, and shortly thereafter, in 1966, while still attempting to tour, The Phantom was involved in a near fatal auto accident in York, South Carolina. After his car tumbled 600 feet down a mountainside he was left paralyzed below the neck. Lott continued to write songs, but he never recorded again.
But you know what…plenty of “rockers” since, have been signed and have had deals, have hit the big stages and have recorded hundreds of hours of material, yet the majority, if not all of those songs, would crumble in fear if they came up against the wild young reckless animal that is Love Me! Jerry Lott passed away on September 4th, 1983 at the age of 45.
Jerry Lott (The Phantom) – Vocals
Frank Holmes – Electric Guitar
Pete McCord – Bass Guitar
H.H. Brooks – Drums
Bill Yates – Piano
Referencing and interests…
Rockabilly – The Twang Heard ‘Round The World – published 2011, Voyageur Press.
Track 1 – Number 9 Train Track 2 – Wildcat Tamer
Alden Bunn, aka Allen Bunn, Tarheel Slim, was born in the country side outside of Rocky Mount, North Carolina in 1924, and grew up working in the tobacco fields and listening to his mom’s Blind Boy Fuller 78’s. Eventually he learned to play guitar, and by around 20, was singing and playing in church right by Thurman Ruth, the leader of a local gospel quartet called the Selah Jubilee Singers. But before we ride on the Number 9 Train, there was quite a journey that “Slim” lead, with other groups and ventures, that we should know about.
THE JUBILATORS – THE LARKS
The story of The Larks begins sometime around 1927, when singer Thermon Ruth founded the Selah Jubilee Singers in Brooklyn, New York. Later in the 40’s, The Selah’s based themselves in North Carolina where they had a radio show…a daily program of jubilee music that aired over WPTF in Raleigh. In 1945, Ruth tried to persuade Eugene Mumford (from The Four Interns) to join the Selah Jubilee Singers, but before he could do so, Mumford was falsely charged and convicted with quite an ugly crime (1*). His incarceration would put his life on an unpleasant hold.
Allen Bunn who had joined The Southern Harmonaires in 1945, soon joined Thermon Ruth in the Selah Jubilee Singers as the group’s guitarist and second lead singer. The group recorded for Decca from 1939 to ’44, with their most well remembered recording I Want Jesus To Walk Around. Three years later, Ruth and Bunn decided to break away to form a new group, The Jubilators. They linked up with Mumford, now released from prison, and with three members of The Southern Harmonaires, David McNeil, Hadie Rowe Jr., and Raymond “Pee Wee” Barnes.
Thermon hired two teachers to get them into shape according to his standards, and for a few months they were taught how to sing together and also got a few lessons on stage presence. The Jubilators then competed against other gospel and jubilee groups in the state, even winning a 50 pound cake in a contest with the Selah Jubilee Singers!
Finally, the Jubilators decided it was time to get on record. So all six of them piled into Bunn’s car and drove up to New York. They stayed with some of Ruth’s relatives on 143rd Street in Harlem and for about a week they rehearsed constantly. Then, on October 5, 1950, they were ready, and they set out for what was possibly the most amazing day of recording in history. In one single day, they recorded 17 songs for four different labels, under four different names (2*). Apollo owner Bess Berman recognised the realm of possibilities, and signed them to a contract which allowed the other companies to release the other recordings, but wanted to promote them as an expansive R&B group rather than a gospel group. So the Jubilators faded into history (at least for several years), and “The Five Larks” emerged (even though there were still six of them). Thermon Ruth deliberately selected the name to fit in with the Ravens and Orioles, as a “bird group.”
The Larks were then booked on their first tour, and drove down to Washington, D.C., when they lost Hadie Rowe to the army (after receiving his draft notice, he was no longer able to continue on with the group…this probably is the reason why the “5” was dropped from the group’s name). In December 1950, they had their first session for Apollo, featuring Mumford on lead vocals. The session produced two masters, Coffee, Cigarettes And Tears and a cover of My Heart Cries For You (3*), but in the end, the recording didn’t even hint at the greatness inherent in the group. But on January 18, 1951, they returned to the studios to cut a couple of new tracks, which would prove far more successful and are really now Larks “classics”. With Gene on the lead once again, they laid down It’s Breaking My Heart (a pretty ballad that Apollo chose never to issue), When I Leave These Prison Walls, and Hopefully Yours. The latter two songs had been written by Gene when he was in jail and show a certain hope for the future.
On February 14, 1951, they got national exposure by singing Lucy Brown on the Perry Como TV show, a Norfolk Jazz Quartet original, which was recorded in 1938 and known as Suntan Baby Brown. Their take is a much more upbeat snappier version, and it’s dynamite! While Thermon would sing lead on the recorded version, it’s Gene out in front on the Como show. Please I beg you, look it up on you tube…Allen Bunn plays the guitar, but rarely opens his mouth to sing. If you’re into 78’s, try and get Lucy Brown as it has the great I Ain’t Fattening Frogs For Snakes on the flip.
Finally chart success would come later in 1951, with the bluesy Eyesight To The Blind, with Bunn on lead vocals and guitar… it made # 5 on the R&B charts. This was followed up by another R&B top ten hit Little Side Car, a reworking of Smokey Hogg’s Too Many Drivers, and again with Bunn on lead vocals. This is one sweet 45 and has the drifting Hey, Little Girl on the flip.
Another standout track that has to be mentioned is Shadrack written by Robert MacGimsey in 1938. While Louis Prima, Louis Armstrong and even The Wanderers all do amazing versions of this biblical classic, The Lark’s jiving version is so super! Again live footage out there with Allen Bunn singing lead! This period was the height of The Larks’ popularity, however, Bunn decided this was also the right time to go out own his own.
Going Solo – His first solo sessions were for Apollo in ’51 where he recorded two sessions that produced four singles, and were issued under the name Allen Bunn (accompanied by Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee). Amongst the recordings were The Guy With The .45, Wine, Discouraged, Baby I´m Going to Throw You Out and the very down and dirty Two Time Loser. He was still touring with The Larks when he cut his first session for Bobby Robinson Red Robin label. One of these tracks is the amazing Too Much Competition (reissued in ’73), which stands mighty and tall, and you could call it the big brother to Betty James’ I’m a Little Mixed Up (it really makes me wonder sometimes, if that is in fact Bunn on that killer Betty James track).
The Lovers – Around 1955, Bunn married his sweetheart Lee Sanford, who were intertwined with deep love and affection for one another, but they also shared a strong musical chemistry. “Little Ann” and Bunn sang and recorded together, first as The Lovers, for Lamp, Aladdin’s subsidiary in 1957. Together the tight partnership would go on to release a string of 45’s for other labels including Fire, Fury and Port. They’d also have name variations on some releases, and while Bunn was now pretty much going by the name “Tarheel Slim”, his writing credits were mainly represented as Bunn. The earlier Lovers tracks were slow dancers and appropriately very cutesy love songs. Once they ditched the “Lovers” tag, I feel it was then, that they got a bit more “down with it” so to speak. Can’t Stay Away and the charming dancer Security, proved they both could let their hair down some and get a bit shakey. The heart wrenching 1959 It’s Too Late, is a stunning blues ballad with a broken hearted poor little Ann weeping hysterically… literally (this song would get a reworking as Two Time Loser a few years later, only this time it’s Slim who breaks down). I Submit To You is also high on recommendation.
Bunn also released a couple of 45’s with a group called The Wheels whom he evidently managed. Let’s Have A Ball was on Premium in 1956 and the upbeat Clap Your Hands was released on Folly in 1959.
Tarheel Slim – So now to the real reason why we’re here reading all this. While “Slim” made his official entrance in 1958 with his wife Little Ann, it was the next year when he would release his solo and most desired red hot screamin’ 45 on Fury. The A side Wildcat Tamer is a perfect rhythm and blues dancer. Nice and raw and perfectly tempo-ed. But despite the track name, it’s more of a tempting entree of what’s to come steaming your way when you journey to the flipside. And the monster that awaits is named Number 9 Train. Tarheel’s vocals and rhythm here is sharp and classic blues rocker material. But there’s another element going on here underneath, that’s adding even more to the fire, and the name of that wild spark is Wild Jimmy Spruill. Although session guitarist Spruill is best known as a sideman (4*), he was a wild and sought after guitar player. His sound was unconventional, notable for its hard attack and sense of freedom, unexpectedly going from assertive lead parts to rhythmically dynamic, scratching rhythms. At no time did Spruill use picks or any effects on his guitar – his sound was solely the result of his fingers. You can hear more of his impeccable finger work on his solo recordings, notably Hard Grind from ’59, The Rooster and Cut and Dried from ’64 and I believe he also played on Tarheel Slim’s Security. Together these two cats mix up a storm, and make both sides of this 45 hard to pass. Train really does come to life when it’s up loud on a worthy amplifier…and preferably with a dance floor close by!
Unfortunately Taheel Slim and Little Ann’s career seemed to fade away around the early 60’s and nothing was heard from them until the early 70’s when blues researcher Peter Lowery dug up Tarheel Slim to play a few gigs where he performed with an acoustic guitar in the style of “folk blues”. Slim played a few festivals in 1974 and was well received, and even got back into the studio and would release a couple albums for Pete Lowry’s Trix label, which harked back to Bunn’s Carolina blues heritage. The 1972 single release No Time At All is a beautiful melon collie finger picking instrumental which I believe was his last 45. These later sessions would prove his last. In 1977 he was diagnosed with throat cancer and died from pneumonia brought on by the chemotherapy.
(1*) On July 1945, Mumford had been arrested and jailed by the army Military Police who were rousting people looking for marijuana. They turned him over to civilian authorities, whom he satisfied of his innocence. But just as he was leaving police headquarters, a white woman pointed him out as a recogniseable criminal. Subsequently re-arrested, he was charged with attempted rape, housebreaking, and assault. The case took a year to come to trial and, in spite of an alibi, he was found guilty, a conviction that was upheld in the subsequent appeal. Sent to prison, Mumford spent two and a half years on a prison work gang. Finally, enough evidence came to light that he was granted a full pardon from the governor of North Carolina. (This was treated as a miracle; a black man in the 1940s South being pardoned after having been accused by a white woman.) On June 1949, after having served 29 months in jail, Gene Mumford was a free man. For a more detailed account of his sentence, click onto Marv Goldberg’s in-depth Larks entry below.
(2*) Initially, billing themselves as the Selah Jubilee Singers, they recorded four gospel songs for Jubilee Records, before moving on to record as The Jubilators for Regal Records in New Jersey. Then they drove to Newark, recording four secular blues songs, including Lemon Squeezer, as The 4 Barons for Savoy Records. Finally, they drove back to Apollo Records in Manhattan, where, as The Southern Harmonaires, they recorded four more gospel tracks. For a more detailed account of this day, click onto Marv Goldberg’s in-depth Larks entry below.
(3*) My Heart Cries For You was a hit for Guy Mitchell, Dinah Shore and Vic Damone.
(4*) Other notable Wild Jimmy Spruill moments are The Happy Organ by Dave “Baby” Cortez, Wilbert Harrison’s Kansas City, and Bobby Lewis’s no.1 hit Tossin’ and Turnin, which by the way, Peter Criss from KISS covered on his solo album! Also check out Dale Hawkins version of Number 9 Train!
Referencing and recommendations…
The Larks photo from top left clockwise…Allen Bunn, Gene Mumford, Raymond Barnes, Thermon Ruth and David McNeil
Tower Cat# 190 US – Year 1966
Joe (Meek) Versus The Volcano!
I have to say, Chills And Fever is one of my favourite R&B songs of all time. It’s had a handful of great and worthy interpretations, from reputable artists including Jet Harris, Allen Wayne and of course the unsurpassed Ron Dunbar. But being the Meek Geek that I am, it’s this delectable elusive cut that intrigues me the most, and in which I chosen to share.
But first…a bit about this Mr. Jones.
Tom began singing at a very early age, and wasn’t really into sports or even school. But he was a kid who would receive far more fulfillment when singing at family gatherings, weddings and in his school choir. At 12 he was diagnosed with tuberculosis, causing him to spend 2 years in bed recovering. While he does describe it as the worst time of his life, it did give him the opportunity to do nothing other than sing and draw. In his teens he was becoming something of a tearaway, missing school, drinking and chasing girls.
By the late 1950s Tom had become entranced by the new rock ‘n’ roll sounds coming from the radio, and was big on the sound of American soul music, with early influences including blues and R&B singers Little Richard, Solomon Burke, Jackie Wilson and Brook Benton, as well as Elvis Presley, whom Jones idolised and would later become good friends with.
Tommy Scott and the Senators – In March 1957, Tom married his high school catholic girlfriend, Melinda Trenchard, when they were expecting a child together, both aged 16. The couple’s son, Mark, was born in the month following their wedding. To support his young family, Tom took a job working in a glove factory and was later employed in construction. His big full-throated, robust baritone voice first became apparent when he became the frontman for Tommy Scott and the Senators, a Welsh beat group, in 1963. The band’s leader Vernon Hopkins, lured Tom away from his usual drinking spot after Tommy Redman (their current singer) failed to show up one night. Hopkins persuaded him to perform with the Senators at the local YMCA (with the help of a crate of beer). It was only meant to be a one-off, but Tom was bitten by the bug.
They soon gained a local following and reputation in South Wales. In 1964 the group recorded several solo tracks with producer Joe Meek, who took them to various labels, but they had little success. Later that year Decca producer Peter Sullivan saw The Senators performing in a club and directed them to manager Phil Solomon, but the partnership was short-lived.
The group continued to play gigs at dance halls and working men’s clubs in South Wales, and one night, at the Top Hat in Cwmtillery (which only just burnt down a couple of years ago), Tom was spotted by London-based manager, Gordon Mills. He became Tom’s manager and took the young singer to London, and renamed him Tom Jones, to exploit the popularity of the Academy Award winning 1963 film.
Now I’m only going to touch on the genius that is Joe Meek here. This complicated yet marvelous man definitely deserves a much more in depth write up, and I can assure you that this will not be the only Meek production I will cover here on Seven45. This pioneering record producer and songwriter, is most likely known for the that Tornados instrumental Telstar, (which became the first record by a British group to reach No.1 in the “Billboard Hot 100” in 1962), but his life story is truly fascinating, be it too short. A wiz kid with electronics, Meek had a unique sense of adventure when it came to music production.
Meek was born on April 5, 1929, at 1 Market Square, Newent, Gloucestershire. His early upbringing was rather bizarre, as apparently, the first four years of his life, he was raised as a girl thanks to his mother’s intense desire to have a daughter. As a child, Meek had performed theater plays of his own making with the neighbour’s children, and whenever possible, he himself would play the princess. Of course his classmates bantered him about that, as well as his brothers did. More than likely, this is perhaps why Meek more and more, backed out into his own isolated fantasy world.
He acquired an adventurous passion for performance art and sound experimentation, from a very early age, filling his parents garden shed with begged and borrowed electronic components, building circuits and what is believed to be the region’s first working television. By the age of ten he had built a crystal radio set, a microphone, and a tube amplifier.
At age 14, he expanded his rig, working dance parties as a mobile DJ. And at 16 he acted as a musical supervisor, providing sound effects for local theater groups, that he had recorded on a homemade tape machine. (He built a disc cutter when he was 24 and used it to cut his first record – a sound-effects library).
When he grew up, he did a stint doing his National service in the Royal Air Force as a technician, which only escalated his lifelong interest in electronics and outer space. From 1953 he worked for the Midlands Electricity Board. He used the resources of the company to develop his interest in electronic music production, including acquiring a disc cutter and producing his first record.
Meek In London…
Meek first arrived in London in 1954 after landing a job as a sound engineer for Stones; a popular radio and record shop on Edgware Road. After spending time working at Stones, Meek progressed to a new job, becoming a producer at Lansdowne Recording Studios, moments away from his home on Arundel Gardens in Notting Hill.
At Lansdowne, Meek proved to be quite the maverick, frequently ignoring his superiors in order to pursue his quest to develop new sound techniques. He maintained a strictly guarded “secret box of sounds”…a container kept under lock and key which held all manner of unusual objects for creating unorthodox audio effects. Confident in his new role, he wrote a letter home to his mother stating, “I’m sure your son is going to be famous one day, Mum.”
But before long, Meek became tired of working within a large organisation and decided to go it alone as an independent record producer and established his own label, RGM Records (Joe’s full birth name actually being Robert George Meek).
Between 1961 and 1967, the accommodation above 304 Holloway Road was rented out by Meek, where he set about creating a makeshift but innovative studio. Back then, such a move was revolutionary, as it was a time when pop records were the domain of big corporations, tightly controlled by cigar-puffing businessmen. The sound engineers who worked for these companies did so in strict, clinical environments, armed with clipboards and donned in white lab coats.
Joe Meek’s way of working was the complete opposite to the traditional methods. From the stairway to the bathroom, all rooms were made available for recording sessions. Joe would also use seemingly every day domestic items to create all manner of new sounds, the flat itself more or less becoming an instrument in its own right. He was particularly fond of stamping on the upper floors to enhance drumming effects.
As his experiments developed, Joe Meek’s work took on an eerie, futuristic sound; one which he hoped would define an era as the space-age began to grip the 1960s.
The first major hit to be produced at Holloway Road was John Leyton’s Johnny Remember Me, a song about a young man haunted by his dead lover. The single reached UK number one in July 1961. But that success was followed by an even bigger hit in August 1962, with Telstar, an instrumental track created to celebrate the success of the radical new communications satellite which had been launched in July 1962. Played by Meek’s (other) backing group, The Tornados, the ode to space technology featured all manner of sci-fi sounds which had been concocted in the unlikely setting of the north London studio. The record was an instant success. It became the first record by a British group to reach No.1 in the Billboard Hot 100 in the United States, which was a massive achievement!
Telstar’s popularity should have set Meek up financially for life. However, a French composer by the name of Jean Ledrut claimed that the tune was pinched from a score he’d written for the Napoleonic film, Austerlitz. This led to a lengthy legal battle which prevented Joe Meek and the Tornados receiving any royalties from their hit.
In 1963, Meek had himself another band to record, a bunch of fairly unknowns who went by the name Tommy Scott & the Senators. They recorded seven tracks with Meek, who then used Ritchie Blackmore (and The Outlaws) to enhance some of those RGM recordings which were done in a single day session. Meek took them to various labels in an attempt to get a record deal, with no success.
But soon Jones, who had had a name change and a fresh signing to Decca, would score that worldwide hit with It’s Not Unusual in 1965, and shot to mega stardom. With this sudden popularity, Meek, who had always refused to release his “Jones” recordings, now decided to cash in and sold the tapes to Tower (USA) and Columbia (UK)…releasing Little Lonely One – That’s What We’ll All Do. This was all done much to the singer’s annoyance. Jones -“We really pinned our hopes on that recording session. Meek said it was going to be released but we never heard anymore…I want to disassociate myself from it”. Meek released another single in October, Lonely Joe – I Was a Fool, then finally Chills And Fever – Baby I’m In Love.
Chills And Fever fever!
The first and original release of Chills and Fever was on the Detroit label Startime (Cat# 45-5001), who credited the track to Johnny Love and his Orchestra. But when it was picked up for national distribution by Dot Records (a label that licensed a huge array of records including some of my most treasured gems) Johnny was changed to Ronnie Love…and it signaled the beginning of one man’s incredible career in music.
Turns out the man behind the record was neither the earlier personas, but instead one Ron Dunbar. A man of talents who ended up becoming one of the most prolific writers in Detroit this side of Holland-Dozier-Holland, and his name appears on a mind-boggling assortment of writing credits, including Patches, Give Me Just a Little More Time and Band Of Gold. Ron also had a hand in A&R work, most notably with Holland-Dozier-Holland when they split from Motown in ’68 to form their Invictus/Hot Wax production company.
Love laid down Chills and Fever, which was penned by Bobby Rackep and Billy Ness, in 1960, and managed to make it to #15 in R&B and #72 in Pop.
Tom Jones & The Squires did finally make it into the Decca studios in the summer of ’64, to re-record Ronnie Love’s hit for a second time. While the band were comfortable with the “demoed” version, the label wasn’t happy with quality, and took the opportunity to augment the arrangements with experienced session musos. The result is a go-go stomping version with classy backing gals and sharp horns, but some would say, all too over produced. To me this version sounds more like a session studio band, and not so much a closely bonded band, but either way, a far turn from Meek’s production. It was Tom Jones’ official first single, and it failed to chart when it was released in late 1964 through Decca.
I just adore Love’s version, and it’s the one that I like to play out the most…the kids love it! But when I first found out that Meek had a version with Jones, I just had to find it. I love the meek sound. It’s really grown on me over the years, and I love the man and his story. As I said, there’s just too much Meek to write about in one post, and I have to encourage you all to read up more on him (there’s some amazing posts mentioned below, and even a movie was made about him recently called Telstar: The Joe Meek Story). He had a tragic ending to his short life and obviously he had his issues and faults. But he left us some very cool and diverse yet Meek typical tunes. The Rondos, Little Baby is one of my favourites, driving and dreamy. The Honeycombs Can’t Get Through To You is fab raw pop punk garage and The Moontrekkers spooky Night Of The Vampire is a hoot! But when I listen to The Cryin Shames Please Stay…well…there’s proof that this “tone deaf” sensitive genius, had an incredible talent that should have made him far, far more recognised.
The Outlaws, who’s name was originally conceived by Meek , were the house band that did all the session work for his productions. As such, they were used for recordings,”Demo (music)” and Audition. Many of the The Outlaws’ songs were written by Meek and credited to his pseudonym Robert Duke.
The Cryin Shames Please Stay is a cover version of The Drifters’ 1961 release, written by Burt Bacharach and Bob Hilliard.
Ron Dunbar’s Grammy for Patches was recently pawned on an episode of “Pawn Star”. Rick admits to not having a clue about the song or even Dundar. He ends up with it for $2350 (thinks he can get $5000 for it). News is from Dunbar’s facebook page, it is now back with it’s rightful owner.
Tower Records was a subsidiary of Capitol Records from 1964 to 1970. A label that often released music by artists who were relatively low profile in comparison to those released on the parent label, including a number of artists such as The Standells and The Chocolate Watch Band. For this reason Tower is often associated with the “garage” rock phenomenon of the 1960s. Freddie and the Dreamers‘ I’m Telling You Now, became Tower’s only #1 hit on Billboard. Tom Jones’ only 6 songs recorded in 1963 by Meek, were released by Tower two years later in 1965, while he was actually signed to London subsidiary, Parrot. Four of those singles were released in the U.K. (Columbia – Meeksville Sound) but Meek’s version of Chills wasn’t, making it very much “in demand”.
Track 1 – My Babe Written By – Willie Dixon Track 2 – I Got To Go written by Marion Walter Jacobs Track 3 – Roller Coaster Written By – E. McDaniels
Marion Walter Jacobs was born in Marksville, Louisiana, on May 1, 1930 and picked up the Harmonica at a very early age.
By the age of 12, the “unruly” but vastly talented youth decided to quit school and head for the Chicago, to become an itinerant street musician. On his travels, he would stop for the bright lights of New Orleans where he would pick up on odd jobs and busking. He would proceed to Memphis Tennessee, and then over to Helena Alabama, and also Arkansas and St. Louis Missouri, and then finally grounding down into the Windy City in around 1946. The thriving Maxwell Street strip clubs offered a spot for the still-teenaged phenom to hawk his wares, where he played with Tampa Red, Bill Broonzy, and Memphis Slim.
During this time, he also honed his musical skills on guitar performing with much older bluesmen such as Sonny Boy Williamson II, Sunnyland Slim, and Honeyboy Edwards, but garnered more attention for his already highly developed harmonica work.
Ora-Nelle. Little Walter would have been around 17 when made his first debut recording for Bernard Abrams’ tiny Ora-Nelle label in 1947. The label was set up out of the back room of Abrams’ Maxwell Radio and Records store and only operated for a year or two. In that time the label only managed two releases, although 10 sides of alternate takes and unreleased material have since been discovered. Ora Nelle was named after a female relative, and the release series began at 711, not for numerological reasons, but on account of the winning combinations when shooting dice.
Ora Nelle was the first label to record Little Walter, although according to fellow Chicago bluesman Floyd Jones, who suggests Walter’s first recording was an unreleased demo recorded soon after he arrived in Chicago on which Walter played guitar backing Jones. Ora Nelle was the only label to record guitarist Othum Brown, and the second to record guitarist Jimmy Rogers. On the debut 771A side we have the hard and heavy Ora-Nelle Blues, with Othum Brown accompanying Walter’s harp skills. Lovely stuff! And on the 711b flip, there’s the much faster foot stomping tune called I Just Keep Loving Her. Incredible! Still trying to confirm whether Othum or Walter sang on these tracks.
Note that the label never had distribution; Ora Nelles were sold out of the store, where copies were still in stock 20 years later, or resold by people who had bought them there. Good luck finding this original 78!
Little Walter joined Muddy Waters’ band in 1948, and by 1950, he was playing acoustic (unamplified) harmonica on Muddy’s recordings for Chess Records. In October of that year, they recorded the Waters classic Louisiana Blues. Nearly a year after Little Walter used an amplified harmonica for the first time on a groundbreaking July 1951 session that yielded She Moves Me.
Little Walter reportedly grew frustrated with having his harmonica drowned out by the electric guitars, but would soon find a way to attack that problem. He adopted a simple yet effective method…he cupped a small microphone in his hands along with his harmonica, and plugged the microphone into a public address system or guitar amplifier. And now he could compete with any guitarist’s volume. There were other contemporary blues harp players such as Sonny Boy Williamson I and Snooky Pryor, who had also begun using the newly available amplifier technology for added volume, however Walter purposely pushed his amplifiers beyond their intended technical limitations, using the amplification to explore and develop radical new timbres and sonic effects previously unheard from a harmonica, or any other instrument. Madison Deniro wrote a small biographical piece on Little Walter stating that “He was the first musician of any kind to purposely use electronic distortion.”
Waters was among the earliest to recognize that blues possessed a formidable power when electrified, and along with Jimmy Rogers on electric guitar, Muddy had himself the hottest blues band in Chicago.
Little Walter And His Jukes – Walter had put his career as a bandleader on hold when he joined Muddy’s band, but stepped back out front once and for all when he recorded as a bandleader for Chess’s subsidiary label Checker Records on 12 May 1952. The first completed take of the first song attempted at his debut session became his first release. The cracking instrumental was called Juke (the retitled Your Cat Will Play), and it was the first real success for him. Deservedly, it topped the R&B charts for eight weeks, and is still the only harmonica instrumental ever to be a number-one hit on the charts, securing Walter’s position on the Chess artist roster for the next decade.
Walter’s now had a pretty impressive band to himself, recruiting a young backing band that was already working steadily in Chicago backing Junior Wells, The Aces. They consisted of brothers David Myers and Louis Myers on guitars, and drummer Fred Below, and were re-christened “The Jukes” on most of the Little Walter records on which they appeared. Their first recordings were for the Checker subsidiary of Chess in 1952.
Some great stomping 45’s were to follow in the next couple of years including Crazy Legs which was released in ’53, Rocker from ’54, and Hate To See You Go, released in ’55. But for this post I’ve decided to showcase this fab Little Walter And His Jukes EP for a couple reasons! Firstly, that packaging! The art is eye popping and graphic, and the label itself with the gold text on the deep red, is just class in it’s purist form. Secondly, here’s a few of what I think are Little Walters’ best tracks, all one the one 7″!
My Babe, which was written by Willie Dixon, who also wrote (Little Red Rooster and I Just Want to Make Love to You), was originally released in 1955 on Checker Records. This composition was based on the traditional gospel song This Train (Is Bound For Glory), a hit when recorded by recorded by Sister Rosetta Tharpe in 1939. Dixon reworked the arrangement and lyrics from the sacred (the procession of saints into Heaven) into the secular (a story about a woman that won’t stand for her cheating man). The song was the only Dixon composition ever to become a #1 R&B single. (Note that Ray Charles had famously, and controversially, pioneered the gospel-song-to-secular-song approach also, and just prior to Walter’s release, with his reworking of the gospel hymn It Must Be Jesus into I Got A Woman,which hit #1 on the Billboard R&B).
Backing Little Walter’s vocals and harmonica were Robert Lockwood and Leon Caston on guitars, Willie Dixon on double bass and Fred Below on drums. Guitarist Luther Tucker, then a member of Walter’s band, was absent from the recording session that day. My Babe was re-issued in 1961 with an overdubbed female vocal backing chorus and briefly crossed over to the pop charts. Ricky Nelson would release a far more pop version in 1958, while Dale Hawkins released a pretty fiery rockabilly version that same year.
I Got To Go is an up-tempo rocker reminiscent of his earlier 1953 Tell Me Mama…and this really is a rocker in it’s full glory. His playing of minor key scales over the major chord guitar backing adds, to a tension and energy to the piece as does his slightly fuzzed out vocal! Wild blues!
Roller Coaster, I have to say, is one of my favourite Walter tracks, and it’s the tasty icing on this sort after EP! His take on Diddley’s groover is quite sneaky, before it takes off with electrifying force. One glorious minor chord arpeggio throughout, nice and low and slithering, and it’s not long before Walter’s expressive tones really start to howl up a nice, maybe even gentle storm. With Diddley himself providing some rattling fretwork alongside the snappy kick and snare, it is just nothing but a blues dance floor masterpiece!
Thunderbird, the fourth track on this Ep, shouldn’t be ignored either, with it’s strong hustling locomotive rhythm. A more mild tempo possibly, but that does not deter Little Walter for a moment, as he burns up his harmonica skills quite feverishly and cleverly. Originally flipped to the 10″ My Babe, I’m almost certain this is the only 45 it was released on. Even another reason why you must seek this 7″ down!
Between 1952 and 1958, Little Walter on his own, charted 14 Top Ten R&B hits for the Chess label’s Checker subsidiary, including two number one hits, a level of commercial success never achieved by his former boss Waters, nor by his fellow Chess blues artists Howlin’ Wolf & Sonny Boy Williamson II. In the first part of the sixties he traveled to England winning over a new audience of white blues fans, and in 1964 he toured with the Rolling Stones (although this seems to have recently been refuted by Keith Richards). But Walter’s once phenomenal instrumental skills also diminished during the 1960s, plagued by alcohol abuse, a quick temper, and the bluesman’s penchant for barroom brawls. He did have a mean streak, and would never back down from a fight…and it was this belligerent attitude which lead to his death, after suffering head injuries from a street brawl. On Feb 1968, in Chicago, he sadly passed away at only 38 years old, a victim of his own indulgence.
Of all the great bluesmans who were part of Chicago blues school, he is the only one that has never been imitated. He’s solos were carefully constructed masterpieces of energy that were never self indulgent. With his precision and control he was able to regulate the length power and sharpness of every note he played with furious yet calculated speed. His influence remains inescapable to this day, and it’s unlikely that a blues harpist exists on the face of this earth who doesn’t worship Marion “Little Walter” Jacobs. He was a skilled guitarist, and hell of a singer and songwriter, and is widely considered the greatest blues harmonica player ever. From the outset, he was a true original, a visionary musician and his influence goes beyond harmonica players.
Little Walter was inducted to the The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2008 in the “sideman” category, making him the first and only artist ever inducted specifically as a harmonica player. His grave remained unmarked until 1991, when fans Scott Dirks and Eomot Rasun respectfully had a marker designed and installed.
photo credits: Don Bronstein, Jim O’Neal
Ora Nelle reord is from the collection of George Paulus
Essential reading by George Paulus & Robert L. Campbell
Blues Singers: Biographies of 50 Legendary Artists of the Early 20th Century By David Dicaire
Footage of Little Walter backing the great Hound Dog Taylor and Koko Taylor on a television program in Copenhagen, Denmark on 11 October 1967 was released on DVD in 2004 (performing Wang Dang Doodle). Further video of another recently discovered TV appearance in Germany during this same tour, showing Little Walter performing his songs My Babe, Mean Old World, and others were released on DVD in Europe in January 2009, and is the only known footage of Little Walter singing. Try and find it…sometimes some clips appear on you tube for brief moments. Amazing!
Track 1 – Pretty Little Girl Next DoorTrack 2 – Buzz Buzz Buzz
Okay, first thing’s first…Robert Byrd, alias Bobby Day, of the Hollywood Flames, who were formerly The Flames, is not to be confused with Bobby Byrd of the Famous Flames, who were formerly…The Flames…got that? Good!
Robert James Byrd was born July 1, 1928, in Fort Worth Texas, and moved to Los Angeles in 1947. His first vocal group, The Flames, originated in 1949, when all members were in there teens. They all met at the Largo Theater in Watts at a talent show given by the theater’s owner, which brought together many singers from various high schools in Los Angeles.
Bobby strung together tenor David Ford, second tenor Willie Ray Rockwell and eventually Curlee Dinkins, who sang baritone and bass (Byrd would sing bass, baritone, tenor). They quickly learned how to sound pretty darn good together, and as they all needed to earn some dosh, they decided to brave up to an audition they had heard about at the Johnny Otis owned Barrelhouse. They started winning a few prizes here and there and were offered a few little jobs, sometimes making five dollars each.
The Flames existed from 1949 to 1966. In that time, they recorded under a bewildering variety of names (Four Flames, Hollywood Four Flames, the Jets, the Ebbtides and the Satellites), for a bewildering number of labels, with a bewildering cast of personnel.
In ’57, Byrd penned and recorded the great, Buzz Buzz Buzz, (Earl Nelson on lead) as The Hollywood Flames on Ebb. When the song became a hit, Bobby found out that he didn’t have any publishing rights and only half the writer credit…and never received any money owed to him. That same year with his back up group the Satellites, he also wrote and recorded (as Bobby Day) the fab foot tapping hand clapping Little Bitty Pretty One, released by Class in August. Popularized with success for Thurston Harris, whose release beat Bobby’s out the gate, it reached No. 6 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 and No. 2 on the R&B chart…but I much prefer Bobby’s!
But the next year Day was the first to record Leon Rene’s (under the pseudonym of Jimmie Thomas) Rock-in’ Robin…the perfect counter attack, and Day’s most recognize and successful recording, which became Number 2 hit on the Billboard charts! Its flip, “Over and Over,” was a hit in its own right, and a cover by Dave Clark Five in ’65, brought a much more hip, modern youthful version back to the dance floors!
Bobby Day went on to partner with Earl Nelson and recorded as Bob & Earl from 1957 to 1959 on Class.
Moving on to 1963, and Bobby releases the incredibly uplifting Pretty Little Girl Next Door on RCA. I’m sure everyone reading this, has one song that they can rely on, that will always bring themselves a big damn smile, no matter what life is throwing at you! This is mine! From beginning to end, it’s a quite the pleasant build up. With it’s sweet caterpillar like beginnings, it quickly sprouts it’s wings and soars! The slinky groove grows, and it soon smothers you. And I’ve proved that this song can and will draw everyone within a kilometer radius of your turntable, onto your dance floor. Day gives it his all…he really shines in this one, and of course those gorgeous female backing vocals brings it all into perfect harmony! Imagine seeing this performed live by Mr.Day in ’63!
And on the flip, what a delight to have a revisit of his early Buzz Buzz Buzz! Just as great as the original, however this version may have a slower tempo, but certainly holds a stronger groove…and much more developed for the early sixties hipster dancers. Both tracks produced by genius Jack Nitzsche!
Bobby Day died from cancer on July 27, 1990, in Los Angeles and was buried in Holy Cross Cemetery in Culver City, California. He was survived by his wife, Jackie, and four children. He may not have had the successive chart success he very well deserved (he never achieved another Top 40 Hit apart from Rock-in’ Robin), but in my book, he was just as important as the best of them, especially with his major part in the early days of doo wop! He always lifts me, and Pretty Little Girl just makes me drunk with happiness!
Essential reading for a very in-depth and thorough journey with Bobby Day and his Hollywood Flames, by Marv Goldberg…The Hollywood Flames.
Caprice 120 US Year 1963
Born Alonzo W. Lucas, 16 August 1914, Pritchard, Alabama, Buddy moved to Stamford, Connecticut, at the age of three. In years to come, a good neighbour noticed the young 11 year old’s interest in music and gave him a clarinet. This kind act must have been the true begins of where it all really started for Buddy! In the late 1940s he went to New York City, where he met drummer Herman Bradley, who helped him get his gigs and record dates.
But it wasn’t until ’51, when Lucas would make his first vocal recording on Soppin’ Molasses, for Jerry Blaine’s Jubilee label. Jubilee specialized in rhythm and blues and was the first independent record label to reach the white market with a black vocal group, when The Orioles recording of Crying in the Chapel reached the Top Twenty on the Pop charts in 1953. Lucas became leader of the house band and renamed his combo “The Band Of Tomorrow”. Scoring a #2 hit on the R&B charts in 1952 with the slow revived Diane, may have given the saxophonist some attention, but the flip Undecided is far more foot tapping and exciting! This set the pattern for most of his following Jubilee singles : a lush ballad on the A-side and an R&B sax led instrumental on the flip.
Lucas had one other hit on Jubilee, Heavenly Father (I Love You is the much preferred flip), sung by Edna McGriff (# 4 R&B in 1952), before moving on to RCA and its subsidiary Groove. Releasing a handful of 45’s, including the raw Greedy Pig, my pick of this bunch would have to be the Groove two sider My Pinch Hitter (along side Almeta Stewart, who I honestly have to say, I do not know enough about) and of course the great flip I Got Drunk! The title alone tells you that this here track was always going to be good! Also No Dice (flip to High Low Jack), should NOT be ignored, as Buddy really gets the opportunity to have some sexy fun with his sax and harmonica skills here!
From ’56 to ’57, Buddy had seven 45’s released on Bell Records, a budget label specializing in covers of the big hits of the day, including Hound Dog….okay stuff. BUT also in ’57, he comes out with the hammering Bo-Lee, on the Luniverse Records label. Established in 1956 by struggling songwriters Bill Buchanan and Dickie Goodma, but ceasing production in 1959, this label, with a few exceptions, were nearly all Buchanan-Goodman titles. As much as I admire Budy’s instrumentals, I think his vocal releases are just the bomb, as is the case with Bo-Lee!
in 1958, he became the nucleus of the Gone All Stars, George Goldner’s session band for his Gone Label. Fun stuff, but no real earth shaking releases, well especially compared to the previous Luniverse monster.
Carlton released Beulah in ’59…fantastic stuff, but incredibly similar, if slightly more bizarre, to Bo-lee!
Many more releases were to come in the next few years from Lucas on various labels including Vim, Tru-Sound and Pioneer (I recommend Get Away Fly on the latter label), but let’s move to 1963 and this mind blowing Caprice release!
At just age 28, Gerry Granahan became the youngest record executive in the music biz to that time, when he formed his own company, Caprice Records. He was a former disc jockey at WPTS in Pittston and in 1957, he was the first white artist on the Atlantic’s subsidiary label, Atco. He had a lot of success with numerous solo and group projects (including as pseudonym Dicky Doo and the Don’ts and group The Fireflies), but in 1960, he found being a performer, composer and producer for all his different acts, was too much to handle and realized his future success would come from sitting on the other side of the desk. Granahan had used Buddy’s talents on some of his own previous recordings, so it’s no surprise he brought him over to his new label. I can’t really find out much about the Gerry Granahan Orchestra that accompanies Buddy’s composition. While the label did have some major successes (and why this track wasn’t one of those I’ll never understand…although I have to suspect poor marketing perhaps?), the label folded in ’63 due to some dodgy “off the books sales” from a business partner.
I Can’t Go is an absolute Big Buddy gem! He writes about finding love and fame, and not holding onto to either tight enough. It’s blues…I guess…but so contradictorily upbeat! The cheeky keyboards, the wriggling bass and the outstanding dry production are all perfectly synced. Sometimes I really struggle to understand how music can be this great! And I’d love to find out who is responsible for the fabulous backing vocals…perhaps again former Granahan collaborators?
After researching this great musician, it seems evident that Buddy is much more known and credited for his prolific tenor sax and harmonica contributions, than as the cool cat vocalist that he certainly was. And he did put down some mean grooves with plenty of talent. In the 50’s he worked with Frankie Lymon & The Teenagers on Why Do Fools Fall In Love, and also with Little Willie John on his remarkable Fever take! He would work with blues and soul queens Big Maybelle, Big Mama Thornton, Aretha Franklin, Roberta Flack and Nina Simone! He would also get wild with Bernard “Pretty” Purdie, Yusef Lateef, Jimmy Smith and Count Basie. It’s obvious that here was a man with incredible talent to share, and I’m sure many friendships were made in his lifetime. And while his recording credits can be all laid out to a point without too much unraveling, it kinda saddens me that I can’t seem to find out much more about the man himself, behind those great notes, with such an important historic relevance to soul and blues. There must be interviews out there somewhere with either himself or collaborators. Even some photos?!
Buddy would continue to work with countless more musicians including Hendricks and George Benson, offering his harp and sax skills. In 1980, Buddy had his right lung removed after cancer was discovered, but continued to play alongside his old friend Herman Bradley, that he meet back in the ’40’s. In December 1982, due to ill-health, he finally had to give up doing what he loved most. He passed away on March 18th, 1983.
Referencing Dik from Black Cat Rockabilly
Also great Buddy discography here at Hallelujah Rock ‘n’ Roll
…and here at WangDangDula
And some definitive reading on Caprice Executive Gerry Granahan