Track 1: I’m A Believer
Track 2: Rhythm
Leo Morris was born on November 13, 1939 in New Orleans, Louisiana. His father was a banjo player (his family originated from Nigeria), and his mother was French, and he had three brothers and a sister that played drums, so it was inevitable that he would follow the same path. Leo remembers his first day at school and the moment his teacher gave him a drum instantly when she had learnt this kid was another “Morris”. And he can also recall his mother’s reaction when he walked in with yet another drum for the house.
Leo knew at a young age that music was going to be his life. One Mardi Gras day, some Dixieland guys came by seeking a drummer, and asked his mother if he could play on the back of this truck with these old musicians. Some how they convinced her to let the 9 year old go with them. They had a big bass drum and one snare drum and a symbol, and they built up some beer cases for a seat for him. “This kid can play” acknowledged one of the musicians, and after about six hours of touring through the streets of New Orleans, they started passing out money and gave the surprised kid two $5 bills.
In his early teens Leo was snatched up by Arthur Neville who had band The Hawkettes, and believes he was only chosen because all his other brothers were already working at that time. That was the launching of his professional playing career…playing rhythm and blues. They would back up all of the important artists that would come to New Orleans, including Big Joe Turner and Muddy Waters, and would go on the road with people like Fats Domino, Eddie Bo, Earl King, and Lloyd Price. Thanks to Joe Jones recommendation (who had the hit You Talk Too Much) he scored his first trip to New York as Sam Cooke’s personal drummer, and that was certainly an eye opener!
For a time Leo became Jerry Butler’s musical director, along with Curtis Mayfield (who was the guitarist) and was recording a lot of music in Chicago. Curtis put The Impressions back together (between 1958 and 1960 they performed as Jerry Butler & The Impressions) and made Leo an offer he couldn’t refuse, so he joined up. After about three and a half years, deciding that the Chicago winters were too cold, and the fact that his wife, who was the lead singer with The Crystals, was living in New York, he moved back to the big city. Working the Apollo Theatre at nights, Leo would cross over afterwards to the jazz clubs like Birdland, “just to hear something else”. This music was jazz, and he was experiencing it by watching Miles Davis and Coltrane, Cannonball and the likes. In an interview with allaboutjazz.com, he says…”I’d just be hanging around, listenin’ at what they were sayin.’ I was too young to have a drink in Birdland. They had a space in the club they called the Peanut Gallery. That’s where all the young people used to go and have a Coca Cola and listen to the music”.
One night he wandered over to the Five Spot to hear a guy that all the members in the band were talking about, who played three horns at one time…a cat called Rahsaan Roland Kirk. Completely amazed, Leo asked the drummer if he could step in and play one tune with Kirk. After the song had finished, Kirk turned around and said, “Who’s that on them drums? Keep that beat! Keep that beat!” Leo ended up playing the whole set. Night after night, he kept on attracting he right attention. American jazz trumpeter, singer, and composer Kenny Dorham spotted him and asked if he could do concert with him. After a couple rehearsals, he played the concert at Town Hall with Dorham’s band. Also on he bill on the same night were Freddie Hubbard’s band and Lee Morgan’s band who also wanted to know who this new young New Orleans “jazz” drummer was and how do we get him? “I had this rhythm no one else could play”.
Never playing jazz before, he was now “the” drummer to have. After playing in Betty Carter’s band with (George Coleman, John Hicks and Paul Chambers) he joined up with Lou Donaldson in 1967, who started as a sideman in more or less straight ahead jazz settings, but now had begun experimenting with more bluesy beat-heavy styles, and recorded a string of influential albums on the Blue Note label. The first LP (recorded April 7, 1967 and released August 1967 ) was Alligator Boogaloo, a classic jazz masterpiece that also included Lonnie Smith on organ George Benson on guitar. Leo record a dozen or so LP’s with Donaldson and Blue note in the sixties, and would continue to work with a barrage of other Jazz “gods” at this time. His collaboration with jazz saxophonist Rusty Bryant is standout for me (by this time Leo Morris had changed his name to Idris Muhammad upon his conversion to Islam). In 1971 he recorded on the Fire Eater LP for the Prestige label, releasing that killer 7″ edited version of Fire Eater which includes that furious break, and is always sort by collectors. He also recorded on the Soul Liberation and Wild Fire LP’s.
In 1971 Prestige released Black Rhythm Revolution!, Muhammad’s debut album in the driver’s seat, and would be accompanied by a double funk 7″ which include two strong covers, Charles Wright’s Express Yourself and James Brown’s Super Bad! Although perhaps considered less intense than the title might lead one to believe, the LP is the opportunity for Muhammad to express and reveal just what this man is capable of, a taste test of what is to come. Peace and Rhythm was released later that same year, and this one comes with far more praise from the enthusiasts. A dynamic LP with more of everything and everyone, it includes his regular line up of greats (Melvin Sparks, Kenny Barron, Ron Carter, Jimmy Lewis and others) but also in came with the new addition of his wife Sakinah Muhammad.
Sakinah Muhammad was a former member of The Crystals and back then was known as Dolores “LaLa” Brooks (she also converted to Islam with Idris). Brooks was the second youngest of 11 children, and first displayed her talent by singing gospel music in church. At age seven, she took part in her siblings’ gospel group called the Little Gospel Tears, where they sang in Brooklyn. She was discovered in an after-school program by Crystals member Dolores “Dee Dee” Kenniebrew and her mother, who invited her to join the girl group as a replacement for a departing member. The youngest member of the group, she joined when she was just 13 years old and only after 2 years she became the lead singer. Coupling La La’s strong voice with Phil Spector’s (pictured) Wall of Sound, the Crystals would become one of the defining girl groups of the 1960s. Her first hit as lead singer was Da Doo Ron Ron, a top 5 hit in both the United States and United Kingdom, and then was soon followed by Then He Kissed Me. The 7″ to track down in my opinion is the post Spector uptempo R&B killer I Got A Man, released in 1966 on United (flipped to Are You Trying To Get Rid Of Me Baby). There are a handful of versions of this song and all great, and I’m guessing the Sugar N Spice version as it has a 1964 release, is the original (although song credits differ on each release). There is a rare issue by Barbara Harris of The Toys released in 1965, which I’m almost certain is the same version officially released by The Toys the next year. Again, all nifty versions worth tracking down.
So back to the featured track I’m A Believer, in which I question, is even possible to find a more spiritually uplifting song ever? You have to realise when listening to this, the strength and bond Idris and Sakinah must have shared together. The chemistry between every band member is exhilarating. Idris’ complex rhythms somehow come across with such nimbleness and feels so unconfined. Melvin Sparks on guitar and Jimmy Lewis on bass, together collaborate as the backbone that allows Sakinah to express her beautiful vocal lines and melodies. As in many cases, the 7″ has a cut down version and only runs at just over 2.30 mins, where as the longer LP version is where the horn sections of Virgil Jones and Clarence Thomas have the opportunity to fly gracefully between the song’s blissful arrangements. It’s a song about belief in the Lord, but I also think it’s a song about having faith and hope when your life is falling into pieces, and maybe that strength will come through friends or family or perhaps something else. The very contrasting flip side to this moving soulful masterpiece, is Rhythm, a fiery Latin dance floor jumper, and a rowdy neighbour to I’m A Believer, but a welcomed partner that you like to visit on many occasions.
Sakinah would also contribute as lead on Brother You Know You’re Doing Wrong, a more uptempo song, again about standing up and dusting yourself off, when you’ve fallen down that wrong path. I’m almost certain this would be the last time she would appear on any Idris Muhammad solo recording, and I believe this is because of her decision to devote more time to their family around that time (she was also touring and recording for various artists such as the Neville Brothers, Bobby Womack and Isaac Hayes, and guest starred on movies and soundtracks including the 1970 film Cotton Comes to Harlem).
In 1974 Idris released the respected Power of Soul LP. In a Modern Drummer 1996 issue, he himself called it his greatest record. “It’s only four tracks,” he said, “but the intensity of the rhythms I’m playing and how settled, and how swinging, and how hard it grooves is what makes it.” The Beastie Boys album “Paul’s Boutique” opens with a lengthy sample of Loran’s Dance, from that LP. Asked in an interview how he felt about other people using his music, he told Wax Poetics magazine, “It don’t really belong to me, man,” adding: “The gift the Creator has given me, I can’t be selfish with. If I keep it in my pocket, it’s not going to go anyplace.”
Idris Muhammad would ease nicely and successfully into the disco and boogie genres with following LP releases. As far a 7″s go, Turn This Mutha Out, taken from the 1977 LP of the same title, is a nice disco 45 to have, and can be found either as a flip to the great Could Heaven Ever Be Like This, or as a two sided Part A and B solo track. Beyond that, a few more releases into the early 80’s, but personally, not the era I really move in to.
I’m A Believer is a very treasured single, and I’m incredibly thankful that Sakinah and Idris joined together in a studio, to produce this jewel. When Sakinah sings a song about faith, love and worship, it is a true genuine piece of artistry that only this true believer could deliver. And regardless of your beliefs, you have to agree that with this kind of strong faith in music history, we have been gifted with some of the most beautiful and purest songs that soul music has to offer. I for one am very grateful for that, and I feel very honoured to have this much revered record in my collection.
Idris and Sakinah Muhammad had had two sons and two daughters together, and lived in London and Vienna before their marriage ended in 1999. Idris Muhammad died on July 29 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida in 2014, at the age of 74. His cause of death was not immediately known, but Muhammad had been receiving dialysis since retiring to his native New Orleans in 2011. La La Brooks (as she now goes by publicly) also moved back to the United States and resides in the East Village and is a grandmother of seven. She released an album containing 14 new original songs in 2013, titled All Or Nothing and continues to perform across the world.
Referencing, researching and recommendations…
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…
Mary Isabel Catherine Bernadette O’Brien was born on 16 April 1939, in West Hampstead, London, and grew up in a very influential music loving family. She learnt how to sing at home, and it was her childhood friends that first gave the young rough ‘n’ tumble tomboy her more suited name, Dusty.
By the late 50’s, Dusty had obviously been influenced with the music scene that was getting around town, and had grown into quite a fashionable and stylish young lady, ditching her glasses and finding her own look. She also was very keen to get out there and sing, and by 17 she had made her professional debut as a singer at a small club near Sloane Square. While she would continue to perform folk music as a solo artist, at small London clubs (apparently she was paid less than £10 a night), in ’58 she spotted an advert in The Stage from an established sister singing act, who were looking for a third member.
They were called the Lana Sisters, and was formed by Riss Chantelle along with Lynne Abrams. Under the management of the Joe Collins agency, the trio secured bookings on television’s Six-Five Special and Drumbeat, and scored big with tours alongside Cliff Richard and Adam Faith. They also signed a contract with the U.K.’s Fontana Records, and between 1958 and 1960, they released seven singles…but it was all short lived for Dusty. In 1960 she left the group to join her brother Dion O’Brien and his friend Tim Feild, who had been working as a duo, The Kensington Squares. Dion became Tom Springfield, and Mary became Dusty Springfield, and the folk-pop trio The Springfields, was born. The Lana Sisters’ Riss Long, who had been calling herself Riss Lana, became Riss Chantelle and formed The Chantelles, and had some moderately successful records in the mid-60s.
Tom Springfield was a very knowledgeable folk singer, songwriter and arranger, and with the groups strong vocal harmonies as well as Dusty’s powerful lead, the mix was to prove perfect for success. They were signed to Philips Records in London and released their first single, Dear John, in 1961, followed by two UK chart hits with Breakaway and Bambino. They scored numerous television appearances and quickly the trio soon became very popular in the UK. Feild would be soon replaced by Mike Hurst, but the Springfields became even more successful. In 1962, their version of “Silver Threads and Golden Needles” reached the US Top 20 (Billboard), the first single by a British group ever to do so. The record also reached #1 in Australia!
The Springfields would go on to sell millions of records and score big on the charts, however Dusty felt limited by the group’s folksy act and Tom’s lead role within the trio, and also a shared frustration towards their growing American audience that mistook them for a country western group. At the end of 1963, Dusty decided to leave for a solo career, at which point the group disbanded.
In November 1963 Springfield released her first solo single, I Only Want to Be with You, which was was produced by Johnny Franz in a manner similar to Phil Spector’s “Wall of Sound”. Co-written and arranged by Ivor Raymonde, the instant smash hit rose to No. 4 on the UK charts, remained on the Billboard Hot 100 for 10 weeks, and it sold over one million copies! And on 1 January 1964, it was one of the first songs played on Top of the Pops, BBC-TV’s new music programme.
On 17 April 1964 Dusty issued her debut album A Girl Called Dusty which included mostly cover versions of her favourite songs including Lesley Gore’s You Don’t Own Me, The Shirelles’ Mama Said, and the Burt Bacharach song Wishin’ and Hopin‘, which became a US Top 10 hit. She also released an incredible Italian version entitled Stupido Stupido on a 7 picture sleeve was is just ridiculously awesome!
In December 1964 Dusty’s tour of South Africa was controversially terminated, and she was deported, after she performed for an integrated audience at a theatre near Cape Town, which was against the then government’s segregation policy. That same year, she was voted the Top Female British Artist of the year in the New Musical Express poll, topping Lulu, Sandie Shaw, and Cilla Black. Springfield received the award again for the next three years.
Dusty would go on to release a string of successful 45’s and lp’s in the next few years, but lets touch on some of the really great stuff…well at least my 45 picks. Firstly in ’67, there’s the Philips release, What’s It Gonna Be…killer dusty stuff! Then there’s the spine tingling Am I the same Girl from ’69…um…wow! And then of course, from 1970, there is Spooky! As if saxophonist Mike Sharpe’s original version wasn’t fantastic enough, Dusty sprinkles her soul over it like haunting seductive icing…her voice dripping like warm honey all over the lyrics taken thank-you very much from the Classic IV’s ’67 release.
The Memphis Sessions: In ’69, Dusty who was now signed to Atlantic, was hoping to reinvigorate her career and boost her credibility as a soul artist, and turned to the roots of soul music. Although she had sung R&B songs before, she had never released an entire album solely of R&B songs, but was about to release in my opinion, her strongest and most important album, entitled Dusty in Memphis. She began recording the Memphis sessions at the infamous American Sound Studios which were recorded by the A team of Atlantic Records. It included producers Jerry Wexler (who coined the term “Rhythm and Blues”), Tom Dowd and Arif Mardin, the back-up singers Sweet Inspirations and the instrumental band Memphis Cats, (who had in the past backed Wilson Pickett, King Curtis and Elvis Presley), led by guitarist Reggie Young and bassist Tommy Cogbill. It sounds like these recordings were a challenge for Wexler, who was not used to working with an artist who was in such habitual pursuit of perfection.
To say yes to one song was seen as a lifetime commitment for Dusty, who claims that she actually did approve of Son of a Preacher Man and Just a Little Lovin. Wexler was surprised, given Dusty’s talent, by her apparent insecurity, but she herself later attributed her initial unease to a very real anxiety about being compared with the soul greats who had recorded in the very same studios. Eventually Dusty’s final vocals were recorded in New York.
While Memphis did include the now absolute Dusty classic Top 10 UK hit, Son of a Preacher Man, this powerful and incredible album did not garner significant commercial success upon its original release, and remained out of print for many years!
Faithful would have been the title of Dusty’s third album for Atlantic Records, which was entirely recorded in the first half of 1971. Two singles from the planned album, I Believe In You (flipped with Someone Who Cares), and Haunted (flipped with Nothing Is Forever, a track that supposedly was never intended for the album) were released in the U.S. in the fall of ’71, but both releases failed to chart nationally. Due to poor response (although how hard they were promoted I don’t know), and a rumoured falling out with Atlantic executives, Springfield’s contract with the company was not renewed, and the planned album was never given an official release, catalogue number, or title. Apparently a third single was planned I’ll Be Faithful, where the title Faithful was taken…but that never surfaced either.
For years it was believed that a fire in the mid-seventies at one of Atlantic’s storage sites was thought to have destroyed the Faithful session tapes, leaving only the two singles (and the possible third single) from the sessions intact. However, in the nineties the album’s producer, Jeff Barry, was asked about the sessions and revealed he had kept completed stereo mixes of all the tracks. Most were released as bonus tracks on the Rhino Records/Atlantic deluxe remastered edition of Dusty in Memphis in 1999.
Haunted is a profoundly beautiful soulful composition, and probably way to mature for commercial pop success. Dusty wasn’t the kind of gal to write for the only purpose of seeking sales and chart success, although she probably would have been grateful for the recognition. She was an incredible musician only interested in moving forward into new challenging territories…with no interest at all in recording the same song over and over, regardless of the success she may have received from past hits. Here she’s giving us that warm pure tone (that’s unmatched by any), as we would expect from her, but there’s also a new sound here…and that, she must have found exciting. I love this song. Loved it the first time I heard it…and I love it even more, every time I’ve heard it since…and believe you me…that’s a lot of times! Dusty would admit to be very demanding and standing her ground when it came to her art. But how could anyone question her talent and vision, or stand in her path of exploration…it’s just mind blowing.
After the release of Dusty in Memphis, Springfield struggled to find musical compatibility with record labels, producers and musicians who all either misunderstood her vision or wanted her to be something other than herself. This resulted in a string of standard albums that achieved nominal success, but I can’t help but think that this path Dusty was on, was a path that she was given and not one that she chose, or was searching for.
She had some tough times…her alcoholism and drug dependency affected her musical career.She was hospitalised several times for self-harm, by cutting herself, and was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder. She was constantly be “accused” about her sexual preferences and couldn’t understand the prying interest into her personal life. “Many people say I’m bent, and I’ve heard it so many times… I know I’m perfectly as capable of being swayed by a girl as by a boy. More and more people feel that way and I don’t see why I shouldn’t”.
In January 1994 while recording her final album, A Very Fine Love, in Nashville, Dusty Springfield felt ill. When she returned to England a few months later, her physicians diagnosed breast cancer. She received months of radiation treatment and the cancer was in temporary remission. The next year, in apparent good health, Springfield set about promoting the album. In mid-1996 the cancer had returned, and in spite of vigorous treatments, she died on 2 March 1999. Her induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio, had been scheduled two weeks after her death.
Note…During the Memphis sessions in November 1968, Dusty suggested to the heads of Atlantic Records to sign the newly formed Led Zeppelin. She knew the band’s bass player John Paul Jones, who had backed her in concerts before. Without having ever seen them and largely on Dusty’s advice, the record company signed a deal of $200,000 with them. For the time being, that was the biggest deal of its kind for a new band.
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.
Okeh 4-7147 US Year 1962 Marie Roach was born June 1, 1925, in Sanford, Florida, and grew up in Newark. At the sweet little age of 5, she impressed the congregation at her parents church by singing the gospel song Doing All the Good We Can, and of course later became a soloist in her church’s youth choir.
In 1939, the young lady first toured with Evangelist Frances Robinson, touring the national gospel circuit (she married preacher Albert Knight in ’41 but divorced later).
In 1946, she made her first recordings as a member of The Sunset Four (aka Sunset Jubilee Singers) for Signature and Haven (these labels would merge, but became defunct at the end of 1960 after being purchased earlier in the year by Roulette Records), and released a mighty fine handful of spiritual releases.
The now legendary guitar playing Sister Rosetta Tharpe, who was a major recording artist on the Decca Records label, and who many would say, brought gospel music to a broad audience, first heard Knight sing at a Mahalia Jackson concert in New York in 1946. Tharpe recognized “something special” in Marie’s contralto voice, and two weeks later, she showed up at Knight’s house in Newark, N.J., to invite her to go on the road with her.
Tharpe and Knight toured through the late ’40s, appearing in clubs, arenas, churches and auditoriums, sometimes acting out the parts of “the Saint and the Sinner”, with Tharpe as the saint and Knight as the sinner.
Together they had plenty of successes, including Up Above My Head, credited jointly to both singers, and reached # 6 on the US R&B at the end of 1948. The great Didn’t It Rain also did well and Knight’s solo version of Gospel Train reached # 9 on the R&B chart in 1949.
Knight left Tharpe to go solo around 1951, and released further more gospel recordings on Decca. But around April 1954, Marie Knight makes a change as she records straight ahead R & B songs I Know Every Move You Make and You Got A Way Of Making Love. These Rhythm & Blues tunes may have turned away a great many of Knight’s gospel fans, but she continues this move with a release during July of This Old Soul Of Mine and I Tell It Wherever I Go, and a November release of Trouble In Mind and What More Can I Do.
Both Knight and Tharpe’s friendship has stayed very strong and close, and in ’55, they get back into the recording studio together and release Stand and Storm on Decca, and together they score a two week stand at Chicago’s Black Orchid. In October, Knight lands a part of the lineup of the “Lucky Seven Blues Tour” along with Earl King, Little Willie John and other greats! Soon after the tour is over, she signs on for another all star touring show called the Rock ‘n’ Roll Jubilee which kicks off at L.A.’s Shrine Auditorium and again features star players including B.B. King, the classy Shirley Gunter, and sax cat Hal Singer.
In the spring of ’56, Knight follows her close friend Tharpe, from Decca to Mercury Records. While a couple more gospel releases sprouted once again, Knight decides to release another R&B beauty Grasshopper Baby (flip to Look At Me). In march of 1957 Mercury brings out the doo-wopping Am I Reaching For The Moon? and I’m The Little Fooler. In ’59, Knight and Tharpe record together again, and release Shadrack on Decca, which has to be one of my top picks from their almighty strong partnership!
1961 saw the release of the Knight bomb To Be Loved By You on Addit…you need to hear this if you don’t know it…amazing! That same year she recorded Come Tomorrow, released on Okeh, a tune which became much more famous after it was covered four years later by British rockers Manfred Mann.
And in ’62, she hits us with this…Come On Baby (hold my hand), again on the Okeh label. Quite slinky for Miss Knight, and you can’t help but feel this kinda tune has been waiting to burst out from her for some time. Another heart felt sound about love, but much more personal here than say spiritual. Not a lot can be found about this Roy Glover arranged session, and why this track is very rarely mentioned when reading up on Knight is a mystery to me, but it is well respected in the R&B community and on many collector’s want list for good reason.
Knight recorded and released a bunch more 45’s with various labels up til about 65, then slowly faded away from the scene. Her ripping version of Cry Me a River reached # 35 on the U.S. Billboard R&B charts in ’65, and was a powerful stamp to close an important chapter.
Knight remained friends with Tharpe, and helped arrange her funeral in 1973. In 1975, having given up performing secular music, she recorded another gospel album, Marie Knight: Today.
In 2002, Knight made a comeback in the gospel world, recording for a tribute album to Tharpe. She also released a full-length album, Let Us Get Together, on her manager’s label in 2007. She died in Harlem of complications from Pneumonia on August 30, 2009, but her legacy will live on…no doubt about it!
As I’m researching this fabulous piece of R&B dance floor femme gem, I quickly discover that there is actually a lot of conflicting and confusing information (again!) out there, regarding this 5 pc. Miller Sisters vocal group and Sun’s Rockabilly sibling partnership that were around at a similar time, with the same name. Two completely different groups yet both so brilliant. I will be posting on the Elsie Jo and Mildred Miller sisters soon I promise!
The Miller Sisters (from Long Island, NY) are Jeanette, Maxine, Nina, Sandy and Vernel, and were the talented daughters of music entrepreneur William Miller, A&R director for Hull Records.
They first recorded Hippity Ha with the adorable flip Until You’re Mine for Herald back in 1955, the same year they also scored a starring role in Fritz Pollar’s R&B picture Rockin’ the Blues, which also included the Harptones, Hurricanes, Wanderers and the great Lula Reed.
In ’56, after releasing Guess Who / How Am I To Know on Ember, they moved to Hull Records, which was the label former Herald Records executive Blanche (Bea) Kaslin’s established along with Billy Dawn and Mr. Miller (apparently Kaslin had just had enough of seeing artists being mistreated, not paid appropriately, and being taken advantage of with contracts). The label had some great R&B success with their very first release from The Heartbeats Crazy For You / Rockin-‘n-Rollin-‘n-Rhythm-‘n-Blues-‘n in ’55. While the sisters were at Herald records, their father obtained their release from an exclusive contract that they held with the label and would thereafter freelance for Hull, ACME, Onyx, Riverside, Roulette, Capri and others.
Moving forward to ’61, and it was hully gully fever that was scuffing the dance floors, and the Glodis release Pop Your Finger (flip to You Got To Reap What You Sow) certainly would have been getting some heavy rotations around the dance halls.
1962 brought some crackers for the girls, firstly Rayna’s superb release Dance Little Sister (flipped with I Miss You So), and this is the stuff that just thrills me. Slow and swinging, but heavy on the rhythm, and brutally charming vocals with more sass than one can handle. Then on Riverside, the dizzyingly beautiful ballad Tell Him (flipped with Dance Close).
But the year also brought out this beast…The Hully Gully Reel! It’s a mass of rhythm delivered by a thundering steam train. A good one to drop when the dance floor is all warmed up and salivating. Feels very Eddie Bo…it’s got that empowering rhythm, but it’s the legendary Big Joe Burrell with his big Sax driving the orchestration with full pelt. Burrell would work with the Sisters on tour and other recordings for a big part of their career, and it’s obvious a match made in heaven. If 2.15 minutes of non stop frantic hully gullying rocks your boat, then you’re getting you money’s worth here on this 45! Not for the faint hearted! And by the way, how good is that electric organ?! It’s on fire!
In ’64, Big Joe and the ladies struck again with Cooncha – Hey You which they recorded in Quebec for Capri in ’64, supposedly while on tour together…driving stuff! (Their father was credited as “Pop Miller” on the label). The Sisters weren’t done though as far as killer 45’s go. A much more soulful I’m Telling It Like It Is on GMC from ’65 is also very desirable!
The Miller Sisters recorded around 22 singles for various labels, and as is the case with this one, some are not easy to find. I feel very fortunate to have my hands on this one, and have made an oath to share it on as many dance floors as I can!
Discography : (as far as I can make out from Goldmine and other sources)
1955 – Hipetty Ha / Until you’r mine (Herald 455)
1956 – Guess Who / How am i to know (Ember 1004)
1956 – Please Don’t Leave / Do You Wanna Go (Hull 718)
1957 – Sugar Candy / My Own (Onyx 507)
1957 – Let’s Start Anew / The Flip Skip (Acme 111)
1957 – You Made Me A Promise / Crazy Billboard Song (Acme 717)
1958 – Let’s Start Anew / The Flip Skip (Acme 721)
1960 – Oh Lover / Remember that (Miller 1140)
1960 – Pony Dance / Give me some old-Fashioned love (Miller 1141)
1960 – Just Wait And See / Black Pepper (Instrumental) (Hull 736)
1961 – You got to reap what you sow / Pop your finger (Glodis 1003)
1962 – I miss you so / Dance little sister (Rayna 5001)
1962 – Walk on / Oh Why (Rayna 5004)
1962 – Roll Back The Rug (And Twist) / Don’t You Forget (Hull 750)
1962 – Cried All Night / Hully Gully Reel (Hull 752)
1962 – Dance Close / Tell him (Riverside 4535)
1963 – Baby your Baby / Silly girl (Rolette 4491)
1964 – Cooncha / Feel good (Stardust 3001)
1964 – Cooncha / Hey You (Capri 950) Quebec
1965 – Looking over my life / Si Senor (Yorktown 75)
1965 – Your Love / Please Don’t Say Goodbye Dear (GMC 10003)
1965 – I’m telling it like it is / Until you comme home, I’ll walk alone (GMC 10006)
I thought researching this extremely beautiful and soulful New Holidays composition (and one of my top ten I must add) was either going to be fairly easy (such an outstanding recording from them…surely credit and facts should be well documented)…or quite difficult, (other than collector’s of fine soul records, it’s existence is fairly unknown).
But after only a few hours of researching, did I realise that the information on the “Holidays” was so mixed up and jumbled, and to make any sense of it all may just prove to be too overwhelming! THANKFULLY, good ol’ Soul Detroit has saved me again! Well in fact researcher Graham Finch is responsible for exposing what must have been an incredibly difficult ordeal, to sort through facts, lies and myths, that makes up the real story behind the Holidays!
And even with all the facts …it’s still a real brain trip to decipher, so I’m going to try and map out the path that will eventually get us to this one great song, with Holland at the wheel!
The New Holidays are James Holland, Jack Holland and Maurice Wise (and possibly Joe Billingslea).
The Fresando’s – James Holland first recorded with the The Fresando’s in 1957 with the release I Mean Really on the Star label. The absolutely astounding flip Your Last Goodbye holds up a writing credit to Leo Parks (so-called manager at the time) but the truth is, it was chiefly penned by lead singer Aaron Little. The harmony group really shines here, up along side Eddie Bartell and his Dukes of Rhythm minimalist accompaniment.
The Five Masters -The Fresando’s record wasn’t a hit and in 1958 the five singers changed their name to The Five Masters and hooked up with Robert West, one of the first of Detroit’s recording pioneers to taste success – most notably with The Falcons. Their next release was We Are Like One (flipped with Cheap Skate) on the Bumble Bee label, and although it was the Master’s who were responsible for writing this beautiful song, this time it was new manager Clyde Clemons, that took the credit. Their Bumble Bee disc failed to create much of a buzz, and in September ’59, the teenagers enlisted in the army, separating to different corners of the globe, from France to Korea and to even Alaska. When they arrived back to Detroit in ‘62, things had changed and it was the dawn of a new era, for music and the group.
The Four Hollidays – Once James Holland and the Barksdale brothers returned to Detroit from their military service, they immediately set about resurrecting their musical careers. They were joined by Johnny Mitchell, a friend of theirs who just had recorded with The Majestics for the local Chex label. They decided to call themselves The Four Hollidays.
Detroit now offered more opportunities than when The Five Masters had disbanded in ‘59, with the success of Motown Records, however there seemed to be some unfair play going on around town, leaving artists with no money regardless of their sucessful recordings, so the decision was to instead head to Chicago and audition for Vee Jay Records. It was the great Andre Williams who introduced them to Lenny Luffman, who signed them up to Markie.
The Four Hollidays first released the dance-fad song Grandma Bird in ’62, but it was the great flip Step By Step that became the seller, especially in Chicago where popular WYNR radio jock “Wild Child” Dick Kemp dubbed it the “47th Street Stomp”. This was reference to the street in Chicago’s Near South Side where Black American’s had created a vibrant community. It was also where Markie Records was based.
The follow up was in September ‘63 with I’ll Walk Right Out The Door (which seem to exist only as promotional copies), and although the group did their best to push the great tune, it didn’t do as well as their previous hit. Thankfully the success of Step kept them going on the club circuit for quite some time.
The 4 Hollidays – The group headed back to Detroit and scored a session at United Sound where they recorded Deep Down I My Heart with Jimmy leading, and He Can’t Love You in ’64. It was the maiden 45 for The Master Recording Company, but the fledgling company wasn’t really set up to properly promote and distribute the disc and consequently sales never materialized.
Jimmy and the Barksdale brothers now decided they should take charge of their recordings and start a business. Johnny Mitchell left the group to team up with the re-formed Majestics , James Shorter was recruited as the new fourth Holliday. Somehow they managed to pull together the $200 they needed to pay the studio and musicians, and recorded Set Me On My Feet Right / Happy Young Man but without hardheaded promotion and slick marketing, the company wasn’t able to push the first and what proved to be last 45 on the Holliday label.
By spring ‘65, The Four Hollidays had shrunk to one member: Holland. The two Barksdale brothers had taken regular jobs and James Shorter had signed with Lou Beatty’s La Beat Records. Jimmy decided to head back to Chicago, an soon recorded with Andre Williams the upbeat Baby Don’t Leave Me on Blue Rock (with a rippa’ punchy female-led intro’ and backing). Unfortunately this release didn’t take off and again only seems to have been pressed as a promotional 45.
It’s 1969, James returned to Detroit and formed a new group of “Holidays” with younger brother Jack, and Maurice Wise and the trio got a deal with LeBaron Taylor’s fast-fading Solid Hitbound Productions. He teamed up with George Clinton (who had already left LeBaron for Westbound Records and now had renamed himself and band, Funkadelic) and together penned All That Is Required Is You. It was released on LeBaron’s Revilot label that same year. Now do not get confused with the The Holidays that had the previous two releases on the label…Holland’s group had nothing to do with that, and eventually the courts decided that due to the earlier success of Holland’s group, he would win the lawsuit that would allow ownership of the title.
Finally, in ’69, Holland hooked up with the mighty songwriting partnership duo Richard “Popcorn” Wylie and Tony Hester, and recorded the unbelievable Maybe So Maybe No. The flip side If I Only Knew, is a version of a song that Jimmy ‘Soul’ Clark had a recorded a year earlier. Note that on the Westbound release, you will find My Baby Ain’t No Plaything on the flip, Popcorn could sense the potential for a the hit and decided to put a stronger B-side which is actually not at all the New Holidays, but was in fact sung by a different group that included Bobby Martin, Herschel Hunter (both former Martiniques from the early 1960s), and guy named Fletcher, and Willie Harvey.
For some reason or another, the Westbound or Soul Hawk release didn’t takeoff…and I’ll never understand why!
So a journey of amazing talents and more than a fair share mighty fine bad luck and missed opportunities.
The Holiday story goes even further on, and the holes I’ve avoided are sometimes creators! But I highly recommend reading the full (?) breakdown of the compositions, band members and “sidestreets” here at Soulful Detroit!
Music City USA Cat#45-894 Year 1972 Upon learning of the recent loss of the great and mighty Darondo, I thought it an appropriate time to praise what I think, is one of the most beautiful and soulful songs you will ever hear in your lifetime, by this unknown master.
Born October 5, 1946, William Daron Pulliam was raised in Berkeley, California, where his mother bought him his first guitar when he was around eight. When Darondo hit his later teens, he and a bunch of high-school friends formed The Witnesses, who became the house band for a strict early night “teenage nightclub” in Albany called the Lucky 13 Club. He fell in love with the R&B and rock that was popular at the time, but it wasn’t until he picked up Kenny Burrell’s 1963 album Midnight Blue that he found his niche. “I learned guitar from listening to Kenny Burrell,” Darondo says. “Him and Wes Montgomery. I got my chords from them. Kenny Burrell was cold“.
Darondo may have trained to be an electrician in his twenties, perhaps doubting his abilities to reach a professional music career, but obviously there was a light within him that needed to rise up and out into the world…and indeed, there certainly was an incredible and important voice that needed to be heard.
His friends may have treated his determination for releasing his own record with skepticism, however he insisted “I’m going to show you suckers something. I don’t care if I have to do it myself; I’m going to put this thing out.”
Darondo’s big break came when he met experienced jazz pianist Al Tanner, who was impressed with Darondo’s style and suggested that he should go into the studio. That session produced the great “Darondo Pulliam” two-sider, I Want Your Love So Bad, flipped with the mover How I Got Over, on Leroy Smith’s Ocampo label. Although the song didn’t exactly light up the charts, it caught the attention of Ray Dobard, who owned the record label Music City.
Darondo and Tanner recorded nearly an entire LP in one session at Dobard’s studio. The session produced the fat funk Black Power anthem Let My People Go and the killer jam Legs, but it was the soul pouring “Didn’t I” that became Darondo’s 7″ release in ’72. Local radio put the song into heavy rotation, and the single went on to sell 35,000 copies. Unfortunately, no LP ever came out of that session. “We did about ten tracks,” says Darondo. “I think [Dobard] stole the records. I don’t know what happened to those songs, I don’t know what he did with it.”
But in ’74, there was a third and final single to come out from those sessions, his rarest 7″, recorded for the uber-obscure Af-Fa World imprint (Let My People Go/Legs). By this time, Darondo’s voice had matured, settling in with a refined falsetto that harkened to his years listening to and singing gospel, or what he calls, “spiritual things.” “Spiritual and rhythm and blues—it’s two different things,” he explains. “If you can sing a spiritual thing, you can mostly sing anything, because you are hitting so many more…high pretty notes.”
During his early-’70s run, Darondo opened up for James Brown, became a close acquaintance with Sly, and by all accounts, lived the high life. He’d purchased his signature Rolls Royce from a “cold” car dealer. “This Rolls had racing lights,” he recalls. “It had a bar in the back …I put all the scanners and other mess up in it, so that if the police pulled up behind you, you could hear everything they say. It was too cold. At that time, I had mink coats, diamond rings. I stayed sharp.”
While it may have seemed Darondo was living a little too well for a fledgling regional star, it is rumoured he had other sources of income, as a successful pimp, though it’s a topic he himself refused to speak about, neither confirming nor denying, though he did elliptically refer to it as his “fast life” days. “When people see something, they’re going to think one way or they’re going to think another way,” he muses. “When they saw a chauffeur driving me around in a Rolls, they said, ‘That boy is a pimp.’ I made money, but I was working. I had a job … I was a janitor. I drove up [to the hospital] in the back of my Rolls with my mink coat on … and I’d take the elevator down and change in [the janitor’s locker].”
But back to Didn’t I. It only takes one listen to this haunting, down-tempo breakup ballad to realise that there is something pretty special happening here. And to tell you the truth, I actually don’t play this very often, even in the company of no one else but me and my dog…and it’s a 45 that’s never left the house. Darondo’s wiry falsetto, his lonely guitar chords and understated, melancholic orchestration makes it all just too personal and devastatingly beautiful. I don’t know really what else to say, only that this composition deserves respect. This means if I’m going to play this record, I’m doing nothing else but sitting back with your eyes closed and my soul wide open.
Ubiquity Records put together 2006’s Let My People Go, a collection of reissued classics and unearthed demos. The album won praise in the national press, and Darondo after so many years away in another life, was once again performing live shows. “I never imagined this,” he told SF Weekly in 2007 about his return to the stage.
Darondo died of heart failure on Sunday June 9, 2013.
Be sure to read the following references from Sam Chennault and Oliver Wang.
The Stovall Sisters may have come from a strong gospel upbringing, but this thumpin’ delivery is a hymn praising winged angels with halos of fiery funk!
Born in Kentucky and raised in Indianapolis, Indiana, sisters Nettie, Lillian, and Rejoyce, were three of ten children of James and Della Stovall. Their mother was keen to lay down a musical path for her children, by kick-starting their singing voices from around the age of two, and as they grew up, they would tour the roads of the Midwest and South with the family gospel groups.
The first family group was known as the Four Loving Sisters (the name was later changed to the Valley Wonders) and consisted of the four eldest sisters, Billie, Dorothy, Frances, and Georgia. Prior to joining the Valley Wonders, Wayne, Nettie, Lillian, and Joyce performed in a separate family act known as God’s Little Wonders for as long as their childhood held out. When they grew too big to persist as ‘Little Wonders they inherited the mantle of the Valley Wonders from the four older sisters whose careers had succumbed to marriages. Della managed and negotiated recording contracts for them, who also recorded as The Stovall Family (accompanied by two brothers).
In 1964 the family moved to Oakland where the already seasoned performers finished high school and began worrying about economic survival. They continued to sing in church but the Stovall sisters had to support themselves with weekday jobs. During this period they broadened their repertoire to include rock ‘n’ roll and rhythm and blues which gained them entrance to Oakland area night clubs, sometimes under the name of Sister Three.
In 1968 the three girls decided to go for it, a full time professional rock n’ roll career. Their initial step in this direction was naive but direct. According to Lillian “We put an ad in the Oakland Tribune – Three black girls looking for a Caucasian band to sing with”. The only serious response was from a man named William Tuckway. “He came right in and sat on the floor like we’d be knowing him for years”. Tuckway would soon co-produced their debut album on Reprise along with Erik Jacobsen.
Hang On In There is the funk standout on their sole Warner/Reprise gospel/R&B crossover album and I’m so damn thankful that it was issued on a beautiful and loud 45. It looks like it was only released as a promo two same-sided track, in mono and stereo. It’s a big groove song…and a wildly uptempo-ed journey! The band is hot, tight and super sharp…going from album credits-Bass: Doug Killmer, Drums: Bill Meeker, Guitar: Dennis Geyer and on Horns: Ron Stallings, John Wilmeth, Hart McNee, David Ginsburg and Neil Kantor. Too good not to share and deserves far more attention than it gets!
The three sisters maintained a successful career as studio professionals and touring backup singers for an impressive list of well-known artists that include The Staple Singers, Bobby Womack, Ray Charles & The Blind Boys, BB King, Big Mama Thornton, Etta James, Jackie Wilson, Joe Tex, Parliament-Funkadelic and briefly performed as the Ikettes with Ike & Tina Turner, 1967.
The Stovall Sisters would go on to record unreleased tracks for an album with Earth, Wind & Fire’s Philip Bailey and Maurice White but would disband before its release. The Stovall Sisters currently reside in Oakland, Calif.
Recommended reading Opal Louis Nations