What Is Soul?
'WHAT IS SOUL?'
That was the question posed by Ben E King back in 1967. In reply he posited, " A soul is somethin' that comes from deep inside...... But a soul is a somethin' that you can't hide". Meanwhile, Rock and Rolls Hall of Fame went slightly over the top with " soul music...arose out of the black experience in America through the transmutation of gospel and rhythm & blues into a form of funky, secular testifying". Well, that's one way to try to explain and/or demystify a genre which can encapsulate the growl of, say, Wilson Pickett, the velvet tones of Sam Cooke, the sheer exuberance of a young Stevie Wonder, the passion of Aretha or Otis or the innocence of the early Supremes. Most of these artists would 'find their voice' with particular producers and studio musicians, as a listen to Aretha's early Columbia recordings in comparison to her later Atlantic recordings would confirm. However, even bearing that in mind, the raw material itself (i.e. the artist) has to have that indefinable something which the musicians, studio and producer can only help to mould into a form of music which can embody joy, sadness, longing and many of the other human emotions in a 'meaningful' manner to the record buying public, irrespective of race, creed or colour. Even then, are we saying that only 'black' artists can produce 'soul' music? For starters, that archetypal soul group Booker T and the MG's, hit makers themselves as well as backing most of the Atlantic label stars, were exactly evenly split between black and white members. When they first appeared in London's clubs, attendees thought they were what is now termed a 'tribute' band because of the presence of Steve Cropper and Lewie Steinberg, a situation the Righteous Brothers encountered in reverse when they appeared in black clubs in the US! Furthermore, looking across some of the differing musical styles, when Pavarotti sang 'Nessun Dorma', did he invest as much of his 'soul' as, say, Otis? Do the Taureg tribesmen Tinariwen and Rasta musicians such as Bob Marley and the Wailers not channel their religious beliefs (i.e. 'Soul') into their performances? Of course they do..... in different ways. Presented below are a selection of 60's 'soul' singles (with one exception, natch!) from my vinyl singles collection which encompass as many differing 'styles' (ballads, up-tempo, girl groups, instrumentals, duo's etc) as I can from the 16 I've selected. Over half of these discs are from what I would call the 'prime' mod-era which, at 1964 to 1967, was perhaps a little later in Doncaster than, say, London, and there are a fair number of ballads included. My recollections of that time is that 'soul', as far as we Northerner's were concerned, was generally defined as highly emotional ballads such as Otis' 'Pain in my heart' or Picketts 'If you need me' and not the more 'dance' orientated discs more commonly associated with 'Northern Soul'. Certainly, the juke box in Doncaster's main mod hang outs, The Salutation Inn and the wonderful Glory Hole under the Top Rank, seemed to resound much more to Atlantic/Stax/Volt style discs than the more 'poppy' Tamla, which was also borne out on the dance floor too I seem to remember. That's no slight on Motown, I love many of their artists and some of my favourite songs are on Motown but (I'll whisper this quietly) 'is it soul music'? Of course it is.... and, as such, they may well feature more prominently if/when I prepare another 'soul' article. In the meantime, enjoy...……. and as usual, it's the exception first so, not from the sixties, here's.....
Dave 'Baby' Cortez: 'Love me as I love you'. Recorded December 1958. Released February 1959. Clock label (US). London American single (UK).
Here's a guy who set a couple of firsts in the US charts. Not only was the top side to this disc ('The Happy Organ') the first 'pop' record to feature an electric organ as the lead instrument, it was also the first instrumental to top the Billboard 100. Tucked away on the b-side was this 'proto soul' ballad, which does bear more than a passing resemblance to The Platters 1956 number one single 'My Prayer'. The essential difference, however, is Cortez's more emotional delivery when contrasted with Tony Williams smoother, but no less dramatic tenor vocal backed by the rest of the Platters impeccable harmonies. Detroit born Dave's full name was Dave Cortez Clowney, the son of a clubland pianist who encouraged Dave into a musical career. His first singles were released under his given name but, following stints as a pianist/vocalist with, amongst others, the Pearls and the Valentines and various other solo single releases, he was signed to Clock Records. After a couple of false starts and backed by an un-named saxophonist, drummer Gary Hammond and guitarist Wild Jimmy Spruill, he released 'The Happy Organ' in February 1959. However, that ain't what was supposed to happen! Cortez had been booked into the studio to record the vocal track 'The Cat and the Dog' but, having lost his voice that morning, the band were sat around jamming 'Shortening Bread' on piano and, after extemporising around the tune, studio owner and producer Doug (Wally) Moody called out to 'try the organ'. The Hammond B3 was fired up and the track was laid down in just one take. Even before this fine b-side could be recorded the track was being promoted on WLLY Richmond and advance orders for over 1000 copies had been received. When the record was released, Cortez was on tour with Little Anthony and the Imperials, earning $200 per night but, when it started its climb to No1, he withdrew from the tour to strike out solo (and make more money!). Over the next 6 years he would place a further six singles in the Top 100, with only 'Rinky Dink' hitting the top ten (that's the tune which introduced Kent Walton and Saturday Wrestling on ITV by the way fact fans!). He returned to the US charts in 1973 with the soulful ballad double sider 'Unaddressed Letter/Someone has taken your place' on All Platinum Records (check it out on YouTube if you like 'smooth' soul). He has released around a dozen albums with 2011's collaboration '...With Lonnie Youngblood and his Bloodhounds' being the latest.
The Raelets: 'A lovers blues'. Recorded early 1967. Released July 1967. Tangerine Record Corporation label single b-side (US issue)
Ray Charles had first issued this song on his Tangerine imprint by Margie Hendrix and the Vocals in 1964, a rawer, blues-ier version but, unfortunately, one I can't lay my hands on. However, here's a great re-recording featuring Merry(lee) Clayton on lead vocals, ably backed up by Clydie King with Ray on piano from 1967. The top side, 'Into something fine', is a corker, a 'jump-blues' style number with a great sax solo probably by David 'Fathead' Newman. Here though, Merry really pours her soul into the song, composed by Charles around the time that he and Hendrix were not only co-dependent on drugs and/or alcohol, but also in the process of a rancorous break-up following Hendrix becoming pregnant with Charles' child. The Raelets (AKA Raelettes) career had started in the early 1950's when, as the Cookies, they were signed to Atlantic Records as both a standalone vocal group and the 'go to' back up for many of the label's artists. Margie Hendrix, Dorothy Jones, and Darlene McCrea had formed the first line-up but, by the time of their tenure (and re-naming) with Charles, the latter two had been replaced by Pat Lyles and Gwen Berry. They only released around a dozen singles, with five of the first six charting in the R&B Charts, the exception being (strangely) 'Into....', and just a couple of albums in the early 70's. There is, apparently, a rather fine compilation entitled 'Hits and Rarities' from 1993 and, although the Raelets, in one form or another, continued to back Charles until his retirement, it appears they disbanded in 2003. In addition to Clayton (famously out wailing Jagger on 'Gimme Shelter') and Clydie King, Marilyn McCoo, Minnie Ripperton and Mable John (Tamla's first female signing) were amongst those who also served. But now... the one that got away.........
And a bonus track:
Margie Hendrix: Restless. Recorded mid 1967. Released September 1967. Mercury Records single. UK release late 1967
Not only did Charles rate Hendrix a better vocalist than Aretha (gasp, splutter!!!), he also regularly performed a song, first recorded by the Original Dixieland Jazz Band back in 1920 entitled '(My little) Margey' as a tender tribute to this vastly under-rated (and under recorded) artist. After an early single on NYC's Lamp label in 1954 Margie joined the Cookies in 1956. The girls signed to Atlantic soon after and had a Top Ten R&B hit with 'In Paradise' before effectively being 'transferred' to Charles as his back-up singers. The 'new' Cookies then became a separate entity and, in the sixties, became synonymous with the girl group/Brill Building sound scoring a hit with 'Don't say nothing bad about my baby' and 'Chains' as well as backing Neil Sedaka, Carole King and many others. Around the same time, Hendrix left the Raelets and embarked on a solo career, initially signing to the Tangerine label for a lone single before inking a contract with Mercury. Her recordings were sporadic, two in 1965 and a further three in 1967, including this monster double sided pounder. Her drug dependency probably accounted for the time lapse between recordings and those problems were only exacerbated when a car driven by her husband collided with a lumber truck, resulting in severe injuries to both. Back to the single, 'Restless' features an intro that Ahmet Ertegun and the crew at Atlantic would have been proud of and, when Margie charges in, you just know this ain't a woman to mess with! Her man may be a 'good man' but 'there's only so much a woman can stand' so... beware!! And then there's the flip, 'On the right track', composed by Margie, which is faster 'n funkier with some fine guitar licks and great brass parts, topped by an, in parts, almost uncontrolled vocal from Margie and the girls. Both tracks were recorded at the Hi/Goldwax Studios in Memphis and feature the Memphis Horns, familiar names to all 60's soul fans surely and, as a result it's little wonder that there is a definite Stax/Atlantic vibe to the single. Her life ended rather predictably in July 1973, living in abject poverty, she was found dead following a heroin overdose. Although the original US pressing of this superb disc can be picked up for around £10-12, the UK Mercury issue I possess seems to go for between £40-70! One of my all-time favourite soul singles.... just wish I could find some of the other Mercury releases....
(James Brown presents) Vickie Anderson. 'Think'. Recorded Early 1967. Released May 1967(US) King label. Sonoplay picture sleeve. Spanish 1967 release.
Browsing in the back room of an antique shop in Pineda de Mar a couple of years ago, my eyes alighted on an intriguing sleeve proclaiming 'James Brown presenta a Vickie Anderson' with the featured track being a cover of James Browns 'Think'. This was Browns first ever US 'Pop' hit in 1960 which was itself a radically reworked cover of the 5 Royales 1957 US R&B hit. Adding this to several EP's by Sylvie Vartan, Jacques Dutronc and Wilson Pickett, I proffered the required 12 Euros and looked forward to my return to the UK to listen to my latest hoard. The Sylvie was OK, but not her most essential tracks. Jacques EP contained his 'controversial' L'Idol which I had been seeking for some time and the Pickett EP contained his reworking of the much-covered r&b and garage classic 'OOH POO PAH DOO'. On to the Anderson disc and, what a surprise. Despite a very 'compressed' sound (which seems better on the US issue) and backed by what is probably the classic 60's Famous Flames, Vickie wails away convincingly on this duet with the 'Godfather' himself. All in all, an excellent top side, somewhat marred by the production of the Sonobeat issue. The b-side, a great ballad in 'Nobody Cares' (first issued in 1965), suffers from none of the sound deficiencies and, as a result, is perhaps more 'enjoyable' as a listening experience. Vickie was born Myra Barnes in 1939 and, after singing in various clubs, she was signed by Brown as a back-up singer in 1965. She left following this single's release in 1968, returning in 1969 for a further three years until a dispute arose between her husband, Bobby Byrd, and Brown led to them both leaving the band. Byrd, of course, can be seen as the discoverer of Brown. They met in a Juvenile Correction Centre when Byrd's band, the Gospel Starlighters, played a gig there. Byrd stood Browns bail and invited him to join the band, by now rechristened The Flames, as a drummer. Pretty soon, Brown realised that the lead singer stood more chance with the ladies and, following a request to Byrd, began to display his unique stage presence as a vocalist. The rest, as they say, is history. Brown is on record as acknowledging Anderson as his finest vocalist.... no small praise from the world’s hardest taskmaster! Following their split, Byrd went on to front his own funk outfit and Anderson gained some publicity when she recorded the 'feminist anthem' 'The message from the Soul Sisters' in 1970. There have been further sporadic releases, including a cover of Gil Scott Heron's 'Home is where the hatred is' in 1994, returns to both Brown and Byrds outfits before their deaths and, also, the occasional live gigs on the UK Northern Soul circuit.
Here's the 'clean' US pressing: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kRbFFAj5A4Q
Otis Redding. 'Just one more day'. Recorded Late 1965. Stax/Volt US single December 1965. UK Atlantic label b-side August 1966.
The lead off track on Otis' fourth album, cunningly entitled 'The Soul Album' released in April 1966. As if, for one moment, Otis could have issued anything less than 'soul' music! Included amongst the reworkings (I'm not even going to call them 'cover versions' as they are all total transformations of the original versions) there's even an update of Bessie Smiths 1929 immortal recording 'Nobody knows you when you're down and out'. This album has, since its release following 1965's 'Otis Blue...', suffered somewhat in comparison, perhaps because of the relatively few Redding (co)compositions but, in my opinion, the problem may lie in the fact that four months were allowed to pass between this single and the parent albums release. However, critical and public acclaim seems to be burgeoning as it's powerful renditions of, presumably, some of Otis' favourite songs mature with the passage of time. In the US, Volt/Stax decided to release this as the first (and only) single and what a beauty it is. As a ballad singer Otis was, in my opinion, almost unsurpassed with only Aretha being able to tug my heart strings in the same way. Sure, it has echoes of 'I've been loving you too long' (perhaps my all-time favourite... well, maybe!!) but the performance here is slightly more controlled and the arrangements are truly superb from Booker T and the MG's and the Memphis Horns. However, Volt/Stax must have been disappointed with the public’s reaction to the single, although it did achieve a respectable number 15 placing in the US R&B chart, it only hit number 85 on Billboard. Putting that into perspective, although Otis had not achieved the same commercial breakthrough in the US as he had in mod-era Britain, his two previous singles taken from 'Otis Blue...' had achieved US Top 40 places (numbers 21 and 35 respectively). How strange, therefore, that they decided to follow 'Just One More Day' with '(I can't get no) Satisfaction', again from 'Otis Blue...' in the US. Over here, the company wisely took the opportunity to flip the single so that we were treated to the churning R&B of 'I can't turn you loose' as the top side (a track not issued on album until the posthumous 'History of...' album) which enjoyed an eight week run in the UK, peaking at 29 (his second highest at that time) and instantly becoming a highlight of Otis' stage-act until his very sad demise. February 3rd 1959 may well have been 'the day the music died'.... but December 10th 1967 was a pretty heart stopping moment too.
Jelly Beans-'I'm hip to you'. Recorded mid-1965. Released November 1965. Eskee label single (US). This copy an 'unofficial' Red Bird label single, release date unknown.
Time for a couple of 'girl group' sounds, and here's one of my favourites from a group who were criminally overlooked by their label (Red Bird) in 1964. The five-piece (4 girls, one guy) Jelly Beans had hit number 9 in the Billboard chart in August that year, despite the plethora of 'British Invasion' groups, with the innocent sounding 'I wanna love him so bad'. Red Bird put the girls back in the studio for another single and to commence recording an album with renowned composers Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich to be released early 1965. The ballad 'Baby be mine' was released in early December 1964 and, perhaps because of the high volume of Christmas releases and Red Birds tight budget probably supporting the Shangri Las 'Leader of the pack' top tenner, it stalled at number 51. As a result, work on the planned album immediately ground to a halt, despite eight tracks being 'complete' including mixing. A strange decision as at least two of the recorded tracks would have made fine single releases and possibly re-established the girls to the charts. However, it soon transpired that label part-owner George Goldner had copious gambling debts owed to the Mafia. Label founders and co-owners Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller immediately sold Red Bird to Goldner for $1 who then handed the label over to the Mafia's representatives. As a result Red Bird lost its initiative which had seen the label chart 11 times with their first forty releases, not a bad average!! The new owners dropped the Jelly Beans in early 1965 and the now depleted (just three) girls had their contract picked up by Eskee, who proceeded to issue 'I'm hip to you'/'You don't mean me no good' in November 1965. And that was it!!! Even the album tracks were allowed to gather dust in the Red Bird vaults until the splendid 'Red Bird Story Volume 2' was released in 1987, with both volumes being pretty essential collections, as is the comprehensive CD compilation issued a few years ago. The 'Red Bird' unofficial release I have probably stems from its regular plays on the UK 'Northern Soul' scene where 'white label/scratched' copies were proving popular.
Chiffons. 'Only my friend'. Recorded September 1963. Released 18th October 1963 US. B-side to 'Love so fine' Laurie Records. UK issue Stateside label November 1963.
Jeez... not another b-side? Yep..... and it's another cracker! The Chiffons were actually signed by Bronx entrepreneur Ronnie Mack for a sole purpose. Having had a hit with 'Puppy Love' by Little Jimmy and the Tops in August 1960, he heard a demo of the Shirelles next release, 'Tonight's the night', and decided to try to steal some of it's expected sales by signing a girl group as competition. Step forward three very young girls (thirteen, fourteen and sixteen years old) who he spotted singing in the James Munro High School gym. Pulling their name out of a selection put in a hat, the girls were signed to the appropriately (or ironically) named Big Deal Records and issued their single on September 12th, the same date as the Shirelles version. A chart battle ensued (hardly Beatles v Stones or Oasis v Blur though) which saw the Shirelles hit 39 and the Chiffons a respectable 76. And that could have been the end for the Chiffons.... except Mack not only showed some loyalty to the girls, he expanded the line up with the vocal prowess of school mate Sylvia Peterson who had also sung with Little Jimmy and the Tops. In late 1962 Mack journeyed in to NYC to pitch some songs to Bright Tunes, the publishing arm to the then hot vocal group the Tokens and they expressed interest in a song called 'He's so fine'. However, the Tokens asked if he had a girl group who could record the song and, fearing rejection, Mack said he had. The Chiffons had returned to school, playing occasional local dates but had learned the song as part of their act so it was no surprise when, in late 1962, the girls were placed in the studio, with the Tokens producing, to record what would be a number one single in the US by the end of December. The follow up ('Lucky Me') failed dismally but the next release, 'One Fine Day', returned them to Number 5. Strange choices then followed.... the girls next few releases were split between the Chiffons nomenclature and, curiously, the Four Pennies (NOT the 'Juliet' UK outfit) which, despite some chart action, did dilute their impact. In fact, perhaps their best ever release, 'My Block', would probably have given them a Top 10 placing if it had been issued as by the Chiffons as opposed to the Four Pennies... an opportunity lost. However, September saw the release of 'Love so fine' (their third 'fine' record title) with this goodie on the reverse, and a fine (oops), emotive song it is. The top side is rather anemic and didn't register but this song features a much 'earthier' lead vocal and some wonderful close harmonies giving it a rawer edge than normal to the girls’ sound. By the end of 1963 the girls had issued eight singles, two albums and toured on a Dion/Shirelles/Dionne Warwick package tour as well as appearing with James Brown at the Apollo Theatre. I suppose the two months relative inactivity until February 1964 would have been welcome, especially as their 'come back' gigs were as support on the first Beatles US tour and, to follow that, a June tour supporting the Rolling Stones!!! By that time the writing was on the wall for 'girl groups' and, despite several other 'fine' releases it would be mid 1966 before the girls hit the chart again with the classic 'Sweet Talkin' Guy'.
Johnny Nash. 'Let's move and groove together'. Recorded Mid 1965. US Release Aug 1965. JoDa single. UK 'Hold me tight' b-side. Aug 1968 Regal Zonophone label.
And the bees keep on coming!!! Nash was born in Houston, Texas (a surprise to me) in 1940. He started his musical career in the mid-fifties, signed to ABC/Paramount in 1958 and released over 20 singles and 4 albums during the next six years. In addition, he appeared in the movie 'Take a giant step' and, in 1965, formed his own record label (JoDa) with Danny Simms. Their first signing was a young bunch of guys called the Cowsills who, after a couple of releases, signed up their Mother and sister, moved to MGM and had a succession of million selling US hit singles. Nash, meanwhile, relocated temporarily to Jamaica where his girlfriend had contacts within the local sound system and live music scene. Whilst there he befriended a local group called Bob Marley and the Wailing Wailers, signed them to a publishing deal, recorded them in the studio and paid them a weekly retainer. As such, he probably became the first person outside Jamaica to recognise the talents of Bob and the Wailers, several years before they signed to Island. Nash then placed eight singles in the UK charts in the following six years, starting with the UK and US number 5 'Hold Me tight' and hitting the top spot with 'Tears on my pillow' in the UK charts in 1975. His 'reggae-lite' hits of the mid to late 70's coincided with the emergence of 'lovers rock' in the UK and the 'floaters' style soul in the US, two genres perfectly suited to his Marvin Gaye/Sam Cooke style of vocals. 'Let's move....' however, shows a slightly tougher side to his voice and would probably have suited a release in the UK at the time of its initial recording. It seems like Pye International toyed with the idea as they did release some 'promo' copies in early 1966 but no full release appears to have followed. Also, quite how or why EMI/ Regal Zonophone , better known for Procol Harum, The Move, Joe Cocker and Tyrannosaurus Rex amongst others, came to release this one-off Nash single seems to be a mystery, especially as some discs appear to be Philips '3 prong' pressings. Previous Nash recordings had been on Pye (a Philips company) whilst all following releases were on the independent Irish Major Minor label, perhaps best known for hits by the Dubliners and fellow Irishman David McWilliams. As a postscript, it should be remembered that Nash's US Top 30 album 'I can see clearly now' released July 1972, included no less than four Marley (co)compositions and was released a full nine months before the Wailers debut UK album 'Catch a fire'.
Wilson Pickett. 'I'm a midnight mover'. Recorded 4th March 1968. Released July 1968 (US&UK). Atlantic single
A single from just after his run of hits in the mid-sixties, and showing a more 'funk' orientated rhythm section, but with Wilson still in great voice on this explicit tale of (his?) sexual prowess. The product of a broken home, at the age of 14 Pickett ran away from his abusive mother to join his father in Detroit and was soon a member of the gospel group The Violinaires. In 1959 he teamed up with future label mate Eddie Floyd in the Falcons where he began his recording career with the minor hit 'I found a love'. Pickett then teamed up with Don Covay on a demo for Atlantic Records producer Jerry Wexler of 'If you need me'. Instead of signing Pickett, the demo was handed over to the labels then biggest star, Solomon Burke, who promptly placed it in the Billboard Top 40. When Pickett confronted Wexler regarding the release he was asked if he was upset, to which Pickett reportedly (and rather magnanimously) answered 'It's over'...… hmmmm! Signing to the Double L label, Pickett released his version, which reached a credible number 40 on Billboard's pop chart and a thumping number 7 on the R&B chart. Further small hits followed during 1963 until, in mid 1964, Atlantic bought out Double L and Pickett became a label mate to (and competitor of) Solomon Burke. His career started with a couple of misses (a much kinder word than 'flop' I think) until his first visit to the Stax Studio in Memphis in 1965 where, as his initial release with Wexler producing and the MG's (without Booker T) as back up, he recorded a new song he had co-written with Steve Cropper entitled 'In the midnight hour'. This release was a worldwide smash (number 21 in the US and number 12 in the more receptive UK) and resulted in sales of over one million copies. As the influence of 'funk' made itself felt, so Pickett changed his style, thanks to a change in studio, from Stax to Fame and then to American Studios, Memphis and also his producer (bringing in the man responsible for the innovation of the 'multi-tracking' of vocals, Tom Dowd) and back up musicians, most notably Bobby Womack. It's co-composer Womack who supplies the fine guitar licks on 'I'm a midnight mover' and, on drums, it's Roger Hawkins from the Muscle Shoals studio band. This track is backed by the (perhaps) overly dramatic mid-tempo-ed 'Deborah' which, disappointingly, is not a cover of the similarly titled Marc Bolan tune and, as most of the YouTube videos seem to suggest, must have been incredibly popular in Italy.
Homer Banks. 'Sixty minutes of your love'. Recorded Mid 1966. Released September 1966. Minit label single. UK release 6th January 1967. Liberty label single.
Here's a strange story..... If you were the person in charge at Stax in 1965, why would you refuse to sign an acknowledged and respected soul singer as a vocalist, preferring instead to sign him on a songwriting contract? Banks had formed the Soul Consolidators in 1957, aged just 16, and toured extensively through the southern US states, singing original material from Banks' pen for around seven years until he was drafted into the army. When he returned to Memphis in1964 he signed with local label Genie Records whose staff writers were Isaac Hayes and Dave Porter, later to become the leading songwriters in the Stax/Volt/Atlantic heyday. At Genie he released a couple of singles and, as he became more popular around Memphis, he was approached by Stax founder Estelle Axton who, eventually, not only offered him a songwriting contract but also... offered him a job in the record shop attached to the Satellite Studios, where he remained for three years!!!! Having been refused a contract, he signed a recording deal with Minit Records where he recorded just five singles. First up was 'A lot of love' (April 1966) which was pinched wholesale by the Spencer Davis Group and turned into 'Gimme some lovin'', his third single was 'Hooked by love' which again gained both favour and cover versions here in the UK, and this second single, 'Sixty minutes....' which became a 'turntable' hit in the UK and, later, a staple on the Northern Soul scene. Starting with a pounding intro and a spiky guitar figure, the song soon includes many of the familiar Stax brass figures, excellent drumming and the added bonus of some great female back-up singers. Moreover, it's a great Hayes/Porter comp (as is the flip 'Do you know what') and, bearing all that in mind, it wouldn't surprise me if this featured the Memphis Horns/MG's personnel and, also, the Sweet Inspirations too. On the other hand, as Stax rarely allowed non-Stax artists to record in their studio (even Pickett was refused entry after 1967) this may have been recorded at Fame studios where their studio band, later to feature a young upstart guitarist named Duane Allman, was being increasingly utilised by Atlantic Records artists such as Percy Sledge and Aretha Franklin. Perhaps Estelle's hunch to sign Banks on a songwriter contract proved correct however when, over the next few years, he penned many of Sam and Dave's songs including 'I can't stand up...', gave the Staple Singers their first chart entry as well as their biggest hit too ('If you're ready, come go with me'), provided Stax with their highest ever chart position (Johnnie Taylor's 'Whose makin' love', No 3 on Billboard), co-composed 'If loving you is wrong, I don't wanna be right', which has been covered many times and, finally, signed off with Stax's last ever chart entry, Shirley Browns 'Woman to woman'. I still think it was an opportunity lost though!!
Time for a couple of instrumentals now...
Willie Mitchell. 'Soul Serenade'. Recorded January 1968. Released March 1968. Hi Records. UK released 29th March 1968. London label
Steering clear of yet another great b-side (1965's 'Buster Brown'), here's a King Curtis composition, whose original version appeared on his 1964 'Soul Serenade' album. Willie Mitchell recorded this version at his Royal Studios in Memphis and it probably featured the Mar-Keys and (at least) the MG's Al Jackson Jnr on drums. The Mar-keys and the MG's were well known 'moonlighters' (see The Packers 'Hole in the wall' for example) around Memphis and, despite the Royal Studio's having a superb studio drummer, Jackson is known to feature on many Hi Label recordings. In the fifties, Mitchell ran a small jazz combo which included Al Jackson Senior before landing a job as a producer at the Home of the Blues studio. He was then signed as a producer and recording artist to Hi Records and started to release singles under his own name. Hi had been founded in the fifties by record store owner and juke box record provider Joe Cuoghi who saw a gap in the market in the early sixties as rock and roll became mired in the 'payola' scandal and instrumental records began to chart. The Hi labels first hit was (the similarly titled) 'Sunrise Serenade' by Elvis Presley's original bassist Bill Black in 1962. Mitchell, meanwhile, had to wait until 1964 for his first brush with fame, a respectable No 31 with '20-75'. Hard work gigging, producing and recording kept him busy for the next few years with only four of his next six singles reaching the lower nineties in the US charts. As 1968 swung into gear, however, 'Soul Serenade' began to climb the US and UK charts, finally reaching a peak of 23 in the US and number 43 in the UK. There were further (lower) hits in the US but it would be 1976 (again thanks to Northern Soul fans) before Mitchell broached the UK charts again with 'The Champion'. Of course, Mitchell's main claim to fame was his protegee, The Reverend Al Green. Mitchell had been touring following the success of 'Soul Serenade' and, at a small club in Midland, Texas, the support was Albert Greene, formally of local charters The Greene Brothers (with 'Back up train') who had recently broken up. Looking past Greene's Otis Redding/Sam Cooke mannerisms, Mitchell phoned Cuoghi and, after a brief audition, Greene was invited back to Hi to record a demo session which, as its very last number, featured a Greene composition, 'Tired of being alone'. For this disc (and subsequent Greene recordings) the Greene became Green whilst Mitchell honed his recording techniques and musicians into a new style, adding choral backing vocals, slippery guitar and a punching, staccato horn ensemble and watched as it soared to number 11 in the US and sell over a million worldwide. Following that success, Mitchell concentrated on production (For Hi and, later, freelance and his own Wayco label) until his death in 2010.
Billy Preston-'Billys Bag'. Recorded September 1964. Released August 1965. US VeeJay label single. UK Sue label single. Released early 1966
By the time he was twelve, self-taught organist Billy Preston had been the onstage keyboard player backing Mahalia Jackson, appeared on an episode of Nat King Coles controversial and ground-breaking NBC TV series (playing 'Blueberry Hill') and featured as a young W.C. Handy in the film 'St Louise Blues'. In 1961 he recorded two stand-alone singles for the Mercury and Contract labels and then, in 1962, after recording a gospel album backing the preacher James Cleveland he joined Little Richards band just in time for his dates at the famed Star Club in Hamburg. Whilst there he met, and befriended, the Beatles when they shared the bill. Back in the US in 1963 he signed on as organist for Sam Cooke, appeared on his 'Night Beat' album and recorded his debut album for Cooke's SAR label entitled '16 Yr Old Soul'. 1965 saw the release of 'The most exciting organ ever' album (wonder what the Smith's Jimmy and Lonnie and Jack McDuff thought of that?), from which this cracking single is taken, and it was an immediate hit around the London clubs. After a stint as featured organist in the Ray Charles Band in 1967, much of Billy's time was taken up on sessions for other artists. An incomplete list includes The Beatles (of course!), Rolling Stones, Eric Burdon, Sly Stone (who was famously discovered in bed with Preston's fiancé and later married her on stage), Aretha Franklin, Bob Dylan and the Red Hot Chilli Peppers to name a few. Preston is also, famously, one of only two people to be credited as a featured musician on a Beatles release. The other, of course, was Norwich's finest... Tony Sheridan.
Marvin Gaye. 'Baby don't you do it'. Recorded Mid 1964. Released 4th September 1964.Tamla label. UK 'Originals from.... ' EP. Released March 1967. Tamla Motown.
Own up time, this is not a single BUT.... it is from a 7" Extended Play.
I love Tamla Motown but, to my mind, it was always aimed more towards the dance floor than the heart. That's not to say that there were not the vocalists on the label with the same emotional tug as Aretha, Otis, Sam Cooke and many others. The Four Tops lead vocalist Levi Stubbs voice was exceptional and could carry both tenderness and passion with ease. Gladys Knight was another exceptional voice but was allowed to wander in to almost 'easy listening' after her first few singles. Martha Reeves and the Vandellas were never promoted in the way that Berry Gordy, ahem, helped the Supremes. The treatment of Mary Wells, Brenda Holloway and others was disgraceful, fine voices allowed to wither and/or leave the label. Gaye, however, proved to be the prodigal son.... or should that be brother in law as he married Berry Gordy's sister in 1963. Gay (before the 'e' was added after some teasing by label mates) had sung in several doo-wop groups in the mid-fifties and, after dropping out of high school to join the USAF (from which he was discharged after feigning mental illness) he joined The Marquees, a band who regularly supported Bo Diddley. Just one single was released before the band were hired by Harvey Farqua as his back up singers the Moonglows. 1960 saw the Moonglows disband and Gaye and Farqua relocate to Detroit where Gaye performed a solo spot at a Christmas party at Gordy's house. So impressed was Gordy that he bought Gaye's contract out and signed him to Tamla. However, Gaye's musical tastes were for 'standards' and jazz tunes and he resisted initial attempts to market him as an r&b/soul singer. His first single released in mid 1961, the atypical 'Let your conscience be your guide', reflected his choice of style but did not achieve any considerable sales and, as a result, Gaye was 'demoted' to session drummer on various sessions for the princely wage of $5 PER WEEK!! Gaye's continued reluctance to accept guidance regarding his musical style and stage presentation saw him virtually idle for most of the following twelve months but by September 1962 he had seen his composition 'Beechwood 4-5789' hit the charts via the Marvelettes before, at long last, he started to record in the r&b/soul style with his first effort 'Stubborn kind of fellow' broaching the Billboard Top 50. Following that release his career took an upward curve which, in 1964, included this single (one of my favourite Gaye tracks). The track hit number 27 on the charts and featured, for the first time on a HDH composition, the new go-to Tamla back-up singers, the Andantes. Theirs is a strange story of substitution for group members, recording under other names as well as recording as back up for all and sundry on various sessions for both Tamla and other labels. Back to Gaye, and 'Baby, don't you do it' became a regular stage number for many mod-era UK bands with the Who, Small Faces, and the Poets recording versions in the UK and The Band placing a version on their 'Rock of ages' album as well as regularly featuring it in concert. Gaye's chart history in the UK was sporadic over the mid-late sixties with his debut entry ('Once upon a time' with Mary Wells) coming in early 1964 and, over the next four years, he only broached the charts a further eight times, peaking with his mighty cover of 'I heard it through the grapevine' of course. Between those two hits his highest charter was 'It takes two', another duet, this time with Kim Weston which peaked at number 16 and probably shows that, throughout the period of his most 'soulful' recordings (1964-68) he still remained something of a 'cult' artist in the UK. Quite why 'Pride and Joy', 'Can I get a witness', 'You're a wonderful one', 'I'll be doggone', 'Ain't that peculiar' and (my favourite) 'One more heartache' failed to register is still something of a mystery to me.
Fontella Bass. 'Soul of the man'. Recorded mid 1965. Released September 1965. Chess Label B-side to 'Rescue Me'. UK release 5th November 1965 . Chess label.
OK, back to the b-sides and, quite possibly one of the greatest ever!!! The top side made Fontella one of the best known (in UK Top 30 chart terms) 'one hit wonders' but that shouldn't detract from her limited output (again, in UK terms) between 1965 and 1969. This b-side, however, see's Fontella moving into Aretha mode, albeit in a slightly more relaxed mood. In common with Aretha, gospel was her entrée into music, starting at the age of five she was already providing piano accompaniment to her grandmother singing at funerals and, by the age of nine, she was touring the southern states of America with her mother. Moving over to secular music in 1962, she was soon playing the clubs around St Louis before enlisting with a travelling carnival in 1963 which played her home town for two weeks. Despite earning $175 per week for those two weeks, her mother refused to let her travel but, whilst appearing, she had been spotted by Little Milton and his bandleader Oliver Sain. This time Fontella's mother allowed her to sign on the dotted line and head out on tour as pianist and back-up vocals. When Milton was indisposed for one night, Fontella stepped up to the mike and, soon after, she was allowed her own solo spot. When Sain and Milton split up, Fontella went with Sain and, alongside Bobby McClure, they became the featured artists on his revue. Whilst touring, she signed to the Bobbins label where she released several singles, at least one produced by Ike Turner and featuring Tina on back up before splitting with Sain and signing to Chess in 1964. Initially, she recorded as a duo with McClure, having several small chart hits before, in mid 1965, she went in to the studio with drummer Maurice White (later the leader of Earth, Wind, & Fire), bassist Louis Satterfield and tenor saxophonist Gene Barge and a young Minnie Riperton among the background singers to record her first solo release for Chess. The song, 'Rescue Me', was an immediate hit in the States reaching No 11 in the charts and achieving Chess' first million selling disc since the Chuck Berry hey-days ten years previously. The follow up singles all showed diminishing positions and, although 'The New Look' album was well received, Bass became involved in an ongoing fractious disagreement with Chess which, some say, had her labelled as a 'trouble maker' for many years. A dispute had arisen over the credits to 'Rescue Me' and it took until the eighties for the dispute to be settled in her favour. However, even then American Express used the song in the 1990's without permission which led to more disputes. As a result, Bass became something of a cult artist, appearing infrequently as a guest vocalist on diverse recordings by (ex) husband Lester Bowie, The Art Ensemble of Chicago and the Cinematic Orchestra as well as gospel recordings with her mother and brother. Back to 'Soul of the man', and here's a composition by her ex manager Oliver Sain tucked away on the back of 'Rescue Me' which, in my mind, would have made a much better a-side than 'Recovery' ( as 'sound-a-like' to the previous hit as the title suggests!!). 'Soul of the man' is a great ballad, perhaps not hitting the same emotional highs as Aretha (but then, few could) but certainly deserving more than a mere b-side surely. At the time of this release, Aretha was still signed to Columbia and her concurrent releases were 'Little Miss Raggedy Ann', 'You made me love you' and 'Tighten up your tie, Button up your jacket'..... all decidedly middle of the road and a far cry from both her later work with Atlantic and, more pertinently this fine ballad. Check out the 'New Look' album for several good cover versions of familiar soul songs and wonder why Atlantic/Stax didn't pick up Bass' contract.
Inez (and Charlie) Foxx. 'He's the one you love'. Recorded mid 1963. Released September 1963. US Symbol label. This from US release single.
Here's my favourite duo with a great track from 1963, around a year prior to when I saw them on the Rolling Stones package tour at Doncaster Gaumont on September 24th 1964. What a night, but not one of the most 'essential' package line ups ever unfortunately. Along with the Stones (current release 'It's all over now') and the Foxx's were the then hot Mojo's, recent arrival from Pakistan, and new signing to Robert Stigwoods 'empire' Simon Scott (who he you ask?), Mike Berry (steady girls!!), the ever dependent Le Roys and the Innocents (who always seemed to tour together, recorded a 'split' EP and backed many solo artists on tour between 1964 and 1967) and all MC'd by Don Spencer who, as well as being a chauffeur, barman, receptionist and ships helmsman (presumably that's how he got to the UK from Australia), had also placed the TV cartoon theme 'Fireball' in the charts with sales of 100,000!! Anyway, Inez and Charlie, brother and sister.... not husband and wife, again came through the gospel circuit, this time the North Carolina's, before moving to NYC in 1960. Inez was offered a solo deal with Brunswick but, after several failures, the duo introduced themselves to Juggy Murray at the (US) Sue label. At their initial meeting they sang an acapella version of 'Hush Little baby' which was then recorded and re-titled as 'Mockingbird' and released on the Symbol subsidiary label. Perhaps because 'Mockingbird was viewed by the public as a 'novelty' record, the label had the duo record further 'nursery rhyme' type songs and, as a result, several less 'frivolous' follow-up singles were largely ignored. Symbol started to release their singles as sole Inez recordings, despite Charlies vocals being prominent and this probably hastened their departure from Sue/Symbol in 1966 to the more receptive Musicor/Dynamo label where they were produced by Inez's husband to be, Luther Dixon. Some great singles followed, (1,2,3,4,5,6,7 Count the days', 'Tightrope' and the brilliant 'I stand accused') and both of their albums are chock full of great tracks but, strangely, it all seemed to grind to a halt in the late sixties. Charlie moved over to producing and Inez, after a few solo issues on Dynamo, moved to Atlantic where, apparently dissatisfied with the rigours of the recording techniques at the label, she soon left with only one album in the can. One of soul’s great lost voices, and brilliant live too!!!
Percy Sledge. 'When a man loves a woman'. Recorded early 1966. Released 14th March 1966 US. Released 4th May 1966 UK. Atlantic label.
Perhaps the greatest soul ballad ever? Well, maybe. One thing for certain, this is the best soul ballad I have in my 7" singles collection. Back in 1964 I had holidayed in Ostend, then a 'weekender' for some of London's mod fraternity and, due to its plethora of clubs (the Djin, Blue Room and Le Kilt were the most popular) it was also an 'R and R' destination for US Army servicemen. Thanks to the US guys I started listening to AFN and by 1966 I had been listening to the 'Underground' show in particular for a couple of years in order to catch stateside music before it's release over here. The show, ostensibly for American servicemen overseas, was seen to be a way to keep them up to date with what was happening 'back home' but, thanks to the remarkably 'catholic' taste of the DJ's, I heard many tracks before their release over here and, in some cases, others which were never released here at all. One of the tracks I heard in early 1966 was 'When a man loves a woman' and, for several weeks I raved about this to friends at the Glory Hole and The 'Sal'. Released here at the beginning of May, by the 18th May, the single had crept into the UK charts at number 49. It wended its way upwards over the next few weeks, finally achieving a very respectable peak at number 4. It's total stay in the UK charts was four months and, coupled with its success in the States (and most everywhere else too) it went on to sell over one million copies and, as such, achieved Atlantic Records first ever gold disc. Sledge had worked as a hospital porter in Sheffield.... Alabama whilst performing as a member of the Esquires Combo and, in late 1965, a former hospital patient recommended Sledge to record producer Quin Ivy who quickly arranged his signing to Atlantic. Although Sledge 'wrote' the song following a break up with his girlfriend, he 'graciously' gave the sole composer credits to the Muscle Shoals studio bassist Calvin Lewis and organist Andrew Wright citing that they 'helped him with the song'. Further emotional ballads followed including 'Warm and Tender Love', 'It Tears Me Up', 'Take Time To Know Her' and, later, 'True Love Travels A Gravel Road' plus some fine albums too but, despite these, Sledge could almost be classed as a one hit wonder, such is the continuing popularity of 'When....'. Indeed, that popularity saw the single achieved an incredible number 2 in the UK following it's use in an advertisement for Levi 501's in February 1987 and, also, a plethora of cover versions. No one, though, has come near to the aching voice of Sledge. A true classic......