Track 1 – Pretty Little Girl Next Door Track 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!
“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
Track 1 – I Know How It Feels Track 2 – Wondering If You Miss Me
This heart wrenching soul ballad is an absolute pearl and one I keep very close to my heart. A song to play late at night, with a stiff hard drink, on your own (well maybe with a pet friend), and not one that I play in public too often. A mysterious recording, certainly not an easy one to find particular specs on, so I had to visit my fav’ research web site Soulful Detroit once again for most of the info here.
Laura Johnson, an amateur singer from Detroit, who happened to work in the Correc-tone’s offices, paid for her own studio time and recorded these two stirring tracks at Wilbert Golden’s legendary Correc-tone studios. The self-penned “Wondering If You Miss Me”, and “I Know How It Feels”, which was written by infamous Popcorn Wylie and Motown’s Janie Bradford, and produced by Robert Bateman, were released in ’62 on Bob Shad’s New York Brent label. It’s likely that Correc-tone’s session musicians of that time, bassist James Jamerson, drummer Benny Benjamin and guitarist Robert White recorded on these tracks, but I can’t confirm that. I’m pretty sure that’s the incredibly beautiful “Andantes” backing her up here.
Laura also had a hand in writing a couple of gems cut by Marva Josie, including the excellent “Later For You Baby” which was released on Brent’s sister label,Time, also released in ’62.
“I Know How It Feels” was earlier released by The Satintones on Motown (the first band to ever record for that label) in ’61, then also with The Marvelettes on their Please Mr.Postman LP debut, that same year in November. Both versions are a delight in their own ways, but Johnson gets the badge of honor for me.
Seems not too many people out there really knew much more about this elusive artist and these remarkable isolated recordings. Sadly, it doesn’t look like Johnson was to ever record again, and with that remarkable tone, it’s the greatest shame!