“She earned the moniker ‘High Priestess of Soul’ for she could weave a spell so seductive and hypnotic that the listener lost track of time and space as they became absorbed in the moment.” Official ninasimone.com.
As we all know, she was arguably one of the most important and influential women of the soul, blues and jazz genre, and I think the only real place to start a 45 collective journey is at the beginning. And it was in the early 60’s, a time when Nina was singing some of her most intimate and bluesy compositions of her career, when this little fiery monster surfaced amongst it all!
But first a little bit about Eunice Kathleen Waymon. She was born in Tryon, North Carolina on February 21st, 1933, the sixth child to a Methodist minister mother and a handyman and preacher father, and started playing piano by ear at the age of three. Her parents taught her right from wrong, to carry herself with dignity, and to work hard, which would in time mold her into the incredibly strong woman she grew up to be. She played piano in her mother’s church, displaying remarkable talent early in her life, but didn’t sing at that time.
Able to play virtually anything by ear, she was soon studying classical music with an Englishwoman named Muriel Mazzanovich, and quickly developed a lifelong love of Bach, Chopin, Brahms and Beethoven. After graduating from her high school, her local community raised money for a scholarship to study at Julliard in New York City before applying to the prestigious Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia. Eunice’s hopes for a career as a pioneering African American classical pianist were dashed when the school denied her admission. To the end, she herself would claim that racism was the reason she did not attend.
To survive, she began teaching music to local students, and also began singing in bars, which Eunice’s mother would refer that practice as “working in the fires of hell”. But quickly she attracted club goers up and down the East Coast with her unique jazz-blues renditions of Gershwin, Porter and Rodgers standards. And then Eunice Waymon became Nina Simone, taking the nickname “Nina” meaning “little one” in Spanish and “Simone” after the actress Simone Signoret.
At the age of 24, Nina came to the attention of Syd Nathan, owner of the Ohio-based King Records, and was signed to his Jazz imprint, Bethlehem Records. While at first Nathan had insisted on choosing songs for her debut set, he eventually relented and allowed Nina to delve in the repertoire she had been performing at clubs and was well known for. What I think is one of her most outstanding jazz compositions on Bethlehem is the B sided African Mailman released in 1960, and one you really need to check out!
Nina’s stay with Bethlehem Records was short lived and in 1959, after moving to New York City, she was signed by Joyce Selznik, the eastern talent scout for Colpix Records, a division of Columbia Pictures, founded in 1958. Her stay with Colpix resulted in some incredible recordings, including 9 albums, and some mighty fine 45’s including Forbidden Fruit and her beautiful version of I Got It Bad.
Produced by big band legend Stu Phillips, Come On Back, Jack is Nina’s response to Ray Charles dance floor bomb Hit The Road Jack, (written by rhythm and bluesman Percy Mayfield) which was released that same year! But while it does share a similar riff and beat, I have to say it’s Nina’s jam that has got Jack running the fastest and packs as much, if not more, dance floor impact. Unavailable on LP, this is a prized diamond hidden amongst so many jewels in Nina’s treasure trove that’s worth hunting for!
Finally, this post is only a very small chapter of this remarkable woman’s life and her recording career, but please stay tuned for future Simone posts here, as there’s certainly a few more 45’s that deserve to be spotlighted!
To find out so much more on this incredible woman’s highly influential life and music visit ninasimone.com.
And also….I Put A Spell On You: The Autobiography Of Nina Simone
Jacklyn Records 1006 US Year 1967The first time I heard Darrow Fletcher, which was a few years ago now, was one of those life changing experiences. An instant connection and a desire for his records and his sound. A man with an active 7″ soul catalogue, however somehow still quite unknown and mysterious as far as main stream popularity goes. Wasn’t really too sure what to present for my first DF post, but why not go with one of his very best on Jackyln. But first a little history on this great man, and the best place for that lesson is to dig over at Soul Source.
Darrow, born 23 January 1951, moved with his family to Chicago when he was 3, from the Detroit suburb of Inkster. It seems even as a young 6 year old, he was never uncertain about his stage and singing destiny. His love and enthusiasm for song and performance was a gift he must have truly accepted without any hesitance. Whilst he was a freshman in high school in December, 1965, he recorded “The Pain Gets A Little Deeper”, written by himself and producer Ted Daniels, and cut with the help of his stepfather-motivated business man, Johnny Haygood. Is this really the voice and heart of a young 14 year old school kid !? An impressive debut to say the very least! The record was leased to Groovy, a small New York label owned by Sam and George Goldner and Kal Rudman. They got the record on the national R&B charts for seven weeks in early 1966, and was also released on London in the UK.
Soon Darrow was touring the “chitlin” circuit, playing venues like The Apollo, The Uptown and the Regal, where, in July ’66 he shared the bill with B B King, Lee Dorsey and Stevie Wonder. Following three not so successful follow-ups on Groovy, Darrow’s stepfather formed Jacklyn Records in 1966, named after one of his daughters. Darrow cut three singles on Jacklyn, “Sitting There That Night” scored immediately, 2,500 sales for the record in Chicago alone. Darrow co wrote it with his stepfather, and is also providing one of the sweetest guitar solos here, still at the age of 14! The flip “What Have I Got Now” is an insanely beautifully tempo-ed soul track and makes that a 7″ monster must have!
What Good Am I Without You was penned by Don Mancha and produced and arranged by horn player Mike Terry a year later. Again, this is a very big song and arrangement. The pace is high, just as the heart is beating. The strings and backing vocals are stuffed with passion and the chorus is an out pour! To tell you the truth, I’m really not sure if it can ever get better than this! The flip’s Little Girl is a sweet ballad Darrow co-wrote again with his stepfather.
I think it’s fair to say that Darrow had two very distinctive periods to his career. The first part were the records he made in Chicago between 1965 and 1970, and then the handful of singles cut in Los Angeles in the 70s, which had quite a different more modern soul feel, which I’ll dig deeper into in related future posts. But I love them all. There’s an honesty in his voice that I find so compelling and desirable and I hold him up high in praise as one of my all time favourite artists.
A must read is this recent enlightening interview by Boxy from Soul Source…Darrow Fletcher – The Interview – The Full Story
Jubilee 45-5459 US Year 1963
Track 1 – You’re No Good Track 2 – Don’t Call Me Anymore
If there’s ever a 7″ that deserves an A for “attitude”, then this is it!
Jersey gal Delia Mae “Dee Dee” Warwick (sister of Dionne Warwick, niece of Cissy Houston and cousin of Whitney Houston) brings us this dizzying monster two-sider from way back in the early 60’s on Jubilee.
A young Dee Dee sang with her sister and their aunt in the New Hope Baptist Church Choir in Newark, New Jersey. Eventually the three women formed the gospel trio the Gospelaires, and at a performance with the Drinkard Singers at the Apollo Theater in 1959, the Warwick sisters were recruited by a record producer for session work and, along with Doris Troy, subsequently became a prolific New York City area session singing team.
Dee Dee began her solo career in 1963 cutting You’re No Good, produced by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, then in ’64 on the Tiger Label, releasing the lovely ballad Don’t Think My Baby’s Coming Back, before signing with Mercury in 65.
Vee-Jay’s head a&r man Calvin Carter found You’re No Good while visiting New York City in search of material for his label’s roster and he originally intended to cut it with Dee Dee, but as he recalls, “when I went to rehearsal with the tune, it was so negative, I said, ‘Hey, guys don’t talk negative about girls, because girls are the record buyers. No, I better pass on that.’ So I gave the song to Betty Everett”. Still uncertain as to why there’s an exception when Betty sings it however, maybe it was her more “acceptable” feminine approach she gave it?
Dee Dee’s delivery and conviction is nasty on this little gem. The tempo is scathing, the backing vocals are damn sassy! The song hits you in the head like on old piece of hard timber….she’s letting you know! And just as you think you can’t take anymore, you soon discover the rusty nail in the form of some serious fuzz tone delivered by a short but intimidating guitar rant.
While this tune proved to be much more successful for Everett, which she released only 2 months later in November, (the single peaked at number fifty-one on the Hot 100, and at number five on “Cashbox’s R&B Locations” chart), I’m definitely a lot more infatuated with this dirty raw punchier version of Dee Dee’s from what I like to call her “early punk” R&B days. I don’t wish to ever take anything away from Betty’s take, which really is something special (it may start off quite sweet and slick, but it builds up and gets swinging, and she does finally get a bit worked up towards the end).
There’s only one thing better than a two-sider, and as in this case, two tracks that you could say relate to each other in subject (another great example is Ann Sexton’s You’re Losing Me flipped with You’re Gonna Miss Me). The flip Don’t Call Me Any More is simply great and again, hard hitting, and makes this 7″ release quite an interesting one, when in a time most soul songs were about love and sorrow in relationships, and not so much about attitude and angst.
On a sad note…
The more I research about these wonderful artist’s that gave us these incredible songs, too often I find that there’s another darker side to their story. Dee Dee Warwick struggled with narcotics addiction for many years and was in failing health for some time. Her sister was with her when she died on October 18, 2008 in a nursing home in Essex County, New Jersey, aged 66.
Other Dee Dee recommendations!
Dee Dee Warwick – Foolish Fool – Mercury 72880 Year 1969
Dee Dee Warwick – Cold Night In Georgia – Atlantic 2091-057 Year 1971
Just criminal that this here dance floor monster was not the hit it deserved to be back in ’73 for K-Doe!!
Born in New Orleans on February 22, 1936, Ernest Kador Jr.’s first public singing was in church choirs at the age of nine, and went on to sing with such spiritual groups as the Golden Choir Jubilees and the Divine Traveler. Not able to resist the pull of doo wop and R&B, he advanced his career by briefly singing with The Flamingos and the Moonglows in Chicago in the early fifties.
K-Doe began hanging out at the famed Dew Drop Inn and other New Orleans clubs like the Sho-Bar, and also sang briefly with a local group, The Blue Diamonds, with whom he recorded on the Savoy label. As a solo artist he signed with Herald and Specialty and released a few hits, but it was the release of Mother-In-Law in ’61 on Minit that gave him his first real taste of sucess! It reached number one on Billboard‘s R&B chart during May of 1961, and it was the young 23 year old songwriter/producer Allen Toussaint who arranged the song, with backing vocals by the great Benny Spellma. Ironically, K-Doe abandoned Mother-in-Law during rehearsal because it had not gone well. However, as Toussaint recollected in K-Doe’s obituary in the New Orleans Times-Picayune: “It found its way back out of the trash can and into my hands, so we could try again. I’m so glad we did.” Mother-In-Law was one of the biggest records to come out of New Orleans in the 60’s, selling in the millions!
The now successful and flamboyant K-Doe went on to release a string of great tracks there after, include Dancing Man, Popeye Joe, the self penned Te-Ta-Te-Ta-Ta, and one I highly recommend A Certain Girl, which was very nicely covered by The Yardbirds in ’64 with a truly big sound.
It’s 1973…K-Doe is on a new label Janus, and teams up once again with Toussaint, but this time releasing something a lot more funkier than ever before (well it was the 70’s!). Releasing a brilliant self titled LP, with Toussaint’s session hipsters, The Meters as his recording band, and it’s the dynamite Here Come The Girls that gets the single release (the flip being A Long Way Back From Home). The moment the distinctive military intro kicks in, you are forced to attention, and quickly that melodic verse sweeps you in. Driven with that tight rhythmic Meters strumming, along with that catchy bridge and chorus, you soon realise that this is more the funk that’s definitely derived from good R&B and soul roots! It’s snappy, tight and the pace is perfect!
Although this mighty tune may not have reached the success or attention of his hey day 61′ classic, or whether it even made the charts at all at the time, it’s hard to believe that it wasn’t the soundtrack to plenty of dance floor lovers of the time. It just must have been! While the great man is no longer with us, the good news is today, it’s a tune certainly on many dj’s set lists (or wish lists), and still gets a whole lot of people jivin’ 40 years later!
Lots of info online on this great artist and here’s some I referenced and recommend!
Well I’m going to start off by saying that this here, has to be one of my favourite examples of crossover R&B and Ska! It moves, and it shuffles, and oh just so nicely!
Tenor Sax extraordinaire Earl Swanson and his Trini-dads are killing it here on this one off 1964 recording, but actually this band of merry men is one of many incarnations of producer Frank Guida and his Legrand Records house band, The Church Street Five.
Guida owned a number of record labels, including Le Monde (distributed by Atlantic), then Legrand (home to many early sixties hits by Gary U.S.Bonds) and finally sister label S.P.Q.R. (distributed by London). Guida was of Italian extraction and while stationed in Trinidad during the Second World War, he fell under the influence of calypso, an obvious influence passed on in many of his productions. Much of the Gary U.S. Bonds sound was created by the Church Street Five (based in Virginia), featuring Gene “Daddy G” Barge and Earl Swanson on the earlier cuts. The Church Street Five also featured Ron “Junior” Fairley on bass, Willie Burnell on piano, Leonard Barks on trombone, Eric Sauls and Wayne Beckner on guitar, and Melvin Glover and Nabs Shields on drums.
Everybody Do The Ska is the flip, and it’s a much more traditional ska-reggae composition that really is out shined by Back Slop!
While Jamaican ska was originally influenced by the sound of American R&B and jazz picked up in Kingston from radio broadcasts in New Orleans and Miami, the sound of early 60’s ska also had an impact on American pop music of the same era. And here is the what can happen when both these beautiful styles marry. This uptempo instrumental is really hot stuff. The ripping guitar blues solo, the Baby Earl grooves, the constant but addictive rhythms, mixing boogaloo with soulful ska, it’s made strictly for the dance floor!
Other facts: Guida opened a record store in Norfolk, Virginia, named Frankie’s Got It in 1953 (it’s motto was Shakespeare’s “If music be the food of love, play on!”, which later became a song on a Bonds B-side).
SPQR is the abbreviation for the Latin, Senate and Citizens of Rome, emblem of the Roman Empire (Senatus Populesque Romanus) and may have been a nod to Guida’s family’s original home, but it may have also stood for Sound Proof Quality Records.
In 1955, Ruth Brown met Swanson on the Griffin Brothers Orchestra tour and soon married, but sadly Swanson was not a nice husband at all! He was a womanizer, drug user and a wife beater, and made Brown’s life hell (you can read in more detail of the relationship here Icons of R&B).
Not a lot of information can be found on this massive Daniels recording, but I have to say it’s up there in my top favs to spin and not an easy one to find.
Daniels’ (born in Jacksonville, Florida, 1915) most recognised and popular recording That Old Black Magic is what you’ll find on the A side here. First recorded back in around 1948 for Apollo records (1101), it had quite a few successful releases on Mercury (5721 10″ Shellac where it was released as That Ol’ Black Magic, Mercury 5721×45 7″ 1950, a UK picture sleeve EP and also on Oriele) so it’s is obviously a re-release. On this Liberty release, over a decade later however, we have the almighty Jack Nitzsche reworking the Mercer-Arlen composition, and the production is what you’d expect from this great “Nitzsche era” of recordings. It’s smooth and it’s cool, and the overall sound is far more “hip” than the earlier recordings, but it’s on the flip where the real black magic happens!
Woe Woe Woe is the one you want to drop on this 45, and I’m not sure what really happens here to Daniels, but I can only assume that he was somehow possessed by the devil in that studio session! Maybe it was all the fame and those late nights in Vegas, after all it was 1964, what a place to be! Maybe after all his success with ballads and standards, he wanted to finally just give it all…and he certainly does here, come that short monstrous chorus line. The sax solo here is so, so very slinky and sexy, and I really want to know who is responsible! The percussion is slick, the tempo is dangerous, and the sound is big and nasty! Then adding those sultry, foxy backing vocals…well, it just makes this the most thrilling 2 minutes of soulful rocking R&B you’re likely to ever experience!
As always, I’m keen to find out more about this recording, especially the recording artists! The promo – audition cream copies seems to appear more often than the regular liberty copies, but still not an easy one to get your hands on, and well worth the hunt!
Track 1: Let Me Be Your Boy Track 2: My Heart Belongs To You
This has to be my favourite track from Alabama soul whiz, Wilson Pickett. Released in March 1962, after departing from his former vocal group The Falcons (fellow band members included Bonnie Mack Rice, Eddie Floyd and Joe Stubbs) to pursue a solo career, it seems that this song didn’t reach the success it well and truly deserved!
Research is telling me that this was the one and only recording he did with CORREC-TONE, but the track was also picked up that same year by (independent) CUB Records of New York. Pickett wrote the sweet flip “My Heart Belongs To You”, however the studio’s keyboardist Wilbert Harbert penned the electrifying A-side, “Let Me Be Your Boy”, while Sonny Sanders and Robert Bateman oversaw the sessions.
Pickett’s CORREC-TONE and CUB experience was short lived, moving on a few years later to Atlantic Records, where history was made with huge successful hits such as Mustang Sally, Land of 1000 Dances and so many more. There were two re-releases of this recording a few years later on M.G.M (UK-1965) and also on Verve, (www.45cat.com) and I’m guessing sparked on as a “cash in”, due to his success with the hit “In The Midnight Hour” that same year. There also seems to be a Spanish EMI-Verve picture sleeve out there.
Pickett must have been around 21 at this time, and the maturity in his technique and the overall song composition is truly astounding and obviously ahead of it’s time. The blue beat-ska rhythm and dynamics here, is what really made me fall so in love with this track. That, along with the upbeat tempo, and of course those familiar and incredible backing vocals by none other than The Supremes (aka The Primettes) makes it a dance floor filler!
I have the beautiful deep red Cub issue, which doesn’t seem to surface very often, and would love to know any other artist’s involvement with this recording!
Highly recommended reading about the Correc-tone Wilson experience can be found here…
Also check out Pickett’s very smooth Hey Joe 1969 Atlantic