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…
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.
Caprice 120 US Year 1963
Born Alonzo W. Lucas, 16 August 1914, Pritchard, Alabama, Buddy moved to Stamford, Connecticut, at the age of three. In years to come, a good neighbour noticed the young 11 year old’s interest in music and gave him a clarinet. This kind act must have been the true begins of where it all really started for Buddy! In the late 1940s he went to New York City, where he met drummer Herman Bradley, who helped him get his gigs and record dates.
But it wasn’t until ’51, when Lucas would make his first vocal recording on Soppin’ Molasses, for Jerry Blaine’s Jubilee label. Jubilee specialized in rhythm and blues and was the first independent record label to reach the white market with a black vocal group, when The Orioles recording of Crying in the Chapel reached the Top Twenty on the Pop charts in 1953. Lucas became leader of the house band and renamed his combo “The Band Of Tomorrow”. Scoring a #2 hit on the R&B charts in 1952 with the slow revived Diane, may have given the saxophonist some attention, but the flip Undecided is far more foot tapping and exciting! This set the pattern for most of his following Jubilee singles : a lush ballad on the A-side and an R&B sax led instrumental on the flip.
Lucas had one other hit on Jubilee, Heavenly Father (I Love You is the much preferred flip), sung by Edna McGriff (# 4 R&B in 1952), before moving on to RCA and its subsidiary Groove. Releasing a handful of 45’s, including the raw Greedy Pig, my pick of this bunch would have to be the Groove two sider My Pinch Hitter (along side Almeta Stewart, who I honestly have to say, I do not know enough about) and of course the great flip I Got Drunk! The title alone tells you that this here track was always going to be good! Also No Dice (flip to High Low Jack), should NOT be ignored, as Buddy really gets the opportunity to have some sexy fun with his sax and harmonica skills here!
From ’56 to ’57, Buddy had seven 45’s released on Bell Records, a budget label specializing in covers of the big hits of the day, including Hound Dog….okay stuff. BUT also in ’57, he comes out with the hammering Bo-Lee, on the Luniverse Records label. Established in 1956 by struggling songwriters Bill Buchanan and Dickie Goodma, but ceasing production in 1959, this label, with a few exceptions, were nearly all Buchanan-Goodman titles. As much as I admire Budy’s instrumentals, I think his vocal releases are just the bomb, as is the case with Bo-Lee!
in 1958, he became the nucleus of the Gone All Stars, George Goldner’s session band for his Gone Label. Fun stuff, but no real earth shaking releases, well especially compared to the previous Luniverse monster.
Carlton released Beulah in ’59…fantastic stuff, but incredibly similar, if slightly more bizarre, to Bo-lee!
Many more releases were to come in the next few years from Lucas on various labels including Vim, Tru-Sound and Pioneer (I recommend Get Away Fly on the latter label), but let’s move to 1963 and this mind blowing Caprice release!
At just age 28, Gerry Granahan became the youngest record executive in the music biz to that time, when he formed his own company, Caprice Records. He was a former disc jockey at WPTS in Pittston and in 1957, he was the first white artist on the Atlantic’s subsidiary label, Atco. He had a lot of success with numerous solo and group projects (including as pseudonym Dicky Doo and the Don’ts and group The Fireflies), but in 1960, he found being a performer, composer and producer for all his different acts, was too much to handle and realized his future success would come from sitting on the other side of the desk. Granahan had used Buddy’s talents on some of his own previous recordings, so it’s no surprise he brought him over to his new label. I can’t really find out much about the Gerry Granahan Orchestra that accompanies Buddy’s composition. While the label did have some major successes (and why this track wasn’t one of those I’ll never understand…although I have to suspect poor marketing perhaps?), the label folded in ’63 due to some dodgy “off the books sales” from a business partner.
I Can’t Go is an absolute Big Buddy gem! He writes about finding love and fame, and not holding onto to either tight enough. It’s blues…I guess…but so contradictorily upbeat! The cheeky keyboards, the wriggling bass and the outstanding dry production are all perfectly synced. Sometimes I really struggle to understand how music can be this great! And I’d love to find out who is responsible for the fabulous backing vocals…perhaps again former Granahan collaborators?
After researching this great musician, it seems evident that Buddy is much more known and credited for his prolific tenor sax and harmonica contributions, than as the cool cat vocalist that he certainly was. And he did put down some mean grooves with plenty of talent. In the 50’s he worked with Frankie Lymon & The Teenagers on Why Do Fools Fall In Love, and also with Little Willie John on his remarkable Fever take! He would work with blues and soul queens Big Maybelle, Big Mama Thornton, Aretha Franklin, Roberta Flack and Nina Simone! He would also get wild with Bernard “Pretty” Purdie, Yusef Lateef, Jimmy Smith and Count Basie. It’s obvious that here was a man with incredible talent to share, and I’m sure many friendships were made in his lifetime. And while his recording credits can be all laid out to a point without too much unraveling, it kinda saddens me that I can’t seem to find out much more about the man himself, behind those great notes, with such an important historic relevance to soul and blues. There must be interviews out there somewhere with either himself or collaborators. Even some photos?!
Buddy would continue to work with countless more musicians including Hendricks and George Benson, offering his harp and sax skills. In 1980, Buddy had his right lung removed after cancer was discovered, but continued to play alongside his old friend Herman Bradley, that he meet back in the ’40’s. In December 1982, due to ill-health, he finally had to give up doing what he loved most. He passed away on March 18th, 1983.
Referencing Dik from Black Cat Rockabilly
Also great Buddy discography here at Hallelujah Rock ‘n’ Roll
…and here at WangDangDula
And some definitive reading on Caprice Executive Gerry Granahan
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!
Track 1 – You’ve Been Gone Too Long Track 2 – You’re Letting Me Down Mary Ann Sexton was born In Greenville, South Carolina and was yet another child raised by a family heavily influenced by gospel music (a time it seems when heavenly angels were certainly handing out some great voices to their young followers). Her path was always going to be singing amongst her church choir, but she was also open to talents shows on the side, which by no surprise ,she won more than a few times.
In 1967, Ann had her first recording experience as a featured singer on Elijah and the Ebonies’ I Confess on Gitana (credited as Mary Sexton). A beautiful soul ballad that’s hard to come by, and a track that really demonstrates the beginnings of her talent…a teasing taste of things to come from Sexton. The Ebonies’ Tenor and Alto sax player, Melvin Burton (who gained notoriety as a youth playing for Mosses Dillard), must have shared a certain spark with Ann, falling in love, they married soon after and started their own group, Ann Sexton and the Masters of Soul.
Soon song writer David Lee would discover the dynamic soul group while performing at a club in North Carolina in 1970. He had the small label Impel at the time and had to have them on board, so he penned the ballad You’re Letting Me Down, and also with the coloration of Ann and Melvin, what must be the most incredible soul B side ever…You’ve Been Gone Too Long. I’m not evening going to try and explain the purity and greatness of this track. If you don’t feel it, then there’s nothing I can do to help you…although I’ve never know anyone not to love this track. And the A side is a little monster ballad too.
Now I usually strive with all my might, to sort first pressings whenever I can, but this red Impel 1971 pressing has eluded me for some time. It rarely surfaces around the collectors market although a little while back, a handful did show up briefly. And it is rumored that this was due to a freak find someone was fortunate to discover…a box of mint jukebox 45’s, including a nice handful of these pressings. While they did prove to be way over my budget, maybe it’s a regret I may now have to live with.
The Impel release gave Ann the recognition she needed and soon after, was signed to Nashville’s soul DJ and label owner John Richbourg’s Seventy Seven Records. In 72, this killer double sider was thankfully re-released, (Richbourg must have realised how deserving and worthy these two great compositions would be for his label) but even this first Seventy Seven pressing for Sexton isn’t an easy one to find. There is an alternate label press also, with a later more graphic, brighter label, and while I do believe it is a slightly later press, I’m not sure what the time frame between each pressing is (anyone out there know?)
1972-74 were busy years for Sexton, releasing five 7’s, including the must have You’re Losing Me (penned by Ann and Melvin) flipped with the great You’re Gonna Miss Me. Recording in Nashville and Memphis, she also released her first album Loving You, Loving Me produced by Lee and Richbourg (Ann and Melvin penned six of the songs)….to this day, a much sorted LP.
1977 saw the release of Ann’s 2nd studio album The Beginnings (Sound Stage 7)… now a classic album with some beautiful ballads like Be Serious and I Want To Be Loved, but it also included the very danceable You Can’t Lose With The Stuff I Use and the soulie I Had A Fight With Love. Unfortunately there was only one single release from the album, I’m His Wife.
After her second album, Ann decided to leave the music industry and relocate to New York. Looking to escape the stressful politics of the music industry, she embraced a career change. Her desire to help the community inspired her to become a school teacher.
I am pleased to report that today, Sexton has been rediscovered, and due to popular demand, she is now on the occasion performing back on the stage, where she can once again share that incredibly beautiful voice. But I believe Ann has never needed a stage to shine, she has warmed many turntables and dance floors around the world for many years, whether she has been aware of it or not.
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)