Thursday, February 13, 2014

John Williams & The Tick Tocks - Operation Heartache (Sansu 459)

Operation Heartache

Back in 1976, I experienced my first Mardi Gras in New Orleans. I would never be the same.

As I've mentioned before, The Meters' They All Ask'd For You was the Carnival Song that year, and you heard it everywhere you went. As soon as I got back home to New York, I went out and bought the album that single was taken from, Fire On The Bayou. When I saw the Meters live at The Bottom Line shortly after that, there was no turning back, I was hooked on 'Dat Fonk!.

My friend Bernie (all-knowing and all-wise) then turned me on to an album called The Wild Tchoupitoulas, which featured The Meters along with Aaron, Charles and Cyril Neville (an album that would foreshadow the formation of The Neville Brothers a year later). The phenomenal opening cut on that record was about a slain Mardi Gras Indian Chief who 'died on the battlefield', Brother John.

Now seriously on the trail of all things New Orleans, a few years later I bought an import LP named Sehorn's Soul Farm. I don't think I can adequately explain what that record did to me. It cracked me open like an egg... I never knew this kind of music existed, man. The album focused on Allen Toussaint (who had produced the two aforementioned albums) and the mid-sixties Sansu, Deesu and Tou-Sea 45s he produced (according to a guy named John Broven, who had written the liner notes) " Cosimo Matassa's now defunct studio in the French Quarter."

One of the best tracks on that album, Blues, Tears and Sorrow, was by someone I had never heard of named John Williams. I played it over and over...

When the selfsame John Broven asked me to work with him on The Cosimo Code Project many years later, it was the sheer power of that music that convinced me I had to accept. There are those that say "Oh, that Cosimo Code thing ate Red Kelly..." and maybe they're right. I have devoted countless hours to the site (just ask my wife!) but, in many ways, it has been its own reward. Never more so than when we were asked to host John Williams' life story as told by his daughter Deborah. Talk about the interconnectedness of all things!

I don't want to spoil the story for you (I'd much rather that you read it for yourself), but as it turns out, John was adopted by a street-performing Gospel singer named Adelle Williams when he was only five days old. Steeped in the music, his mother told him "You are meant to sing!" While still a teenager, he was picked up by Huey 'Piano' Smith to lead his Clowns on the eternal Rocking Pneumonia & The Boogie Woogie Flu. Once The Clowns broke up (for one reason or another) John formed his own group out of the ashes and called them The Tick Tocks. An absolute fixture at The Dew Drop Inn, they were wildly popular for their antics on stage. After a couple of 45s in the early sixties for Bobby Robinson that withered on the vine, Bobby's erstwhile partner Marshall Sehorn signed them to Sansu, a new venture he had formed with Allen Toussaint. According to Mr. Fine Wine, Toussaint and Williams were old friends, who had some kind of 'trampoline and high-diving acrobatic act together...' Imagine?

When this great B Side we have here was cut in 1966, it was prime time at Cosimo's down on Governor Nicholls, and Toussaint was firing on all burners. He had used Tick Tock Walter Washington's guitar the year before to help propel Lee Dorsey's Ride Your Pony into the Top 40, and uses it here to great effect as well. Love that baritone sax, baby! Toussaint liked the track so much that he used it as the flip of Dorsey's top ten R&B smash Holy Cow (with Lee's vocals taking the place of John's) later that year. As the Louisiana Weekly article at left from early 1967 shows, Williams and The Tick Tocks were right there in the thick of things during 'The Soul Era' in New Orleans, and part and parcel of one of Allen Toussaint's most creative periods.

To hear from his daughter that John Williams was also 'Big Chief' of the Mardi Gras Indian tribe he founded, The Apache Hunters, was amazing enough, but to find out (after 38 years) that 'Brother John' was written about his tragic death just floored me... incredible! (Please be sure to check out Deborah's great retrospective of her father over on The Cosimo Code...)

Looking back, it had been Williams' tenacious spirit and personality that had run like a thread through my ongoing love affair with New Orleans, a city I have visited so many times that I've lost count. That ineffable aura of hoodoo and mystery... the quivering sensation of centuries of ghosts walking beside me on unknown streets - it still grabs me every time.

My oldest daughter is turning eighteen next month. I offered to take her on vacation during the upcoming 'Presidents Week' school holiday. "Where do you want to go?" I asked her. "New Orleans," she replied without hesitation.

My work here is done...

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Gone To Glory

It's hard to imagine a more pivotal figure in the history of American music than Joe Bihari. His courageous road trips with Ike Turner in the deep South in the early fifties changed the World. He and his brothers were the first to cut B.B. King and Etta James and, from their base out in Los Angeles, they left their mark on the history of R&B and Rock & Roll for decades.

I Want You

This great B Side we have here (the flip of 1956 top 5 R&B hit, Stranded In The Jungle) demonstrates, I think, the quality of the music they produced. The Cadets (who the Biharis also cut as The Jacks), came up out of the same West Coast Doo-Wop scene as The Robins... the group Lieber & Stoller reinvented as The Coasters - as a matter of fact, the lead singer on here, Will 'Dub' Jones, would go on to join The Coasters himself and become one of the most recognizable voices in early Rock & Roll.

Despite repeated efforts to influence the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame to induct Joe Bihari while he was still alive, it didn't happen. Joe died on November 28th. The list of 'inductees' was released on December 17th... Joe wasn't on it.

Cleotha 'Cleedi' Staples who, as a founding member of The Staple Singers, lent her beautiful voice to the soundtrack of our lives for years, passed on February 28th. "We will keep on," her sister Mavis said, "and I will continue singing to keep our legacy alive."

It's Too Late

Here's Cleotha paired up with Eddie Floyd for an ambitious 1969 double Stax LP, Boy Meets Girl - released as part of Al Bell's quest to restructure the company. Cleedi's stunning vocals on here highlight what a great talent she was.
May God rest her Soul.

Shelbra Bennett, second from right in the photo above, was a founding member of The Soul Children. She would sing the lead on their biggest hit, I'll Be The Other Woman, which soared to #3 R&B in early 1974, and remains every bit as powerful today.

Love Makes It Right

Here's the follow-up single, with Shelbra once again handling the emotional lead vocals. Just great stuff, man. For whatever reason, this one struggled to make it into the top fifty, and she left the group 1n 1975. As Shelbra Deane, she would chart a couple of times in the late seventies, and make some disco singles for Henry Stone after that, but I think it's her towering work with The Soul Children that will live on forever. Shelbra left us on May 31st.

When I heard that Richie Havens died on April 22nd, I couldn't really take it in. I had seen him any number of times over the years (the last one being a mind-blowing performance at Jazz Fest in 2009), and I guess I kind of took him for granted... his music had lived inside of me for so long.


Mixed Bag is just such an important record. I cherished it and played it over and over in my high school days. In so many ways, it defined who I was, and who I would become. This utterly fantastic tune is ripped from my original mono copy of the LP, and I know every pop and crackle in the vinyl like an old friend... "Don't mind me 'cause I ain't nothing but a dream."

Please join this sentimental old fool in saying goodbye to these other greats who have passed on before us here in 2013:

May they Rest in Peace.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Bubber Johnson - It's Christmas Time (King 4855)

It's Christmas Time

Yes, folks, hard as it is to believe, it's that time of year again...

Bubber Johnson led a varied career that included recording for Mercury with The Dreamers, and appearing in the 1952 film Red Ball Express. In 1955 he showed up at the New York offices of King Records to pitch some songs he had written to legendary A&R man Henry Glover.

Glover was so impressed with his piano playing and vocal delivery that he signed him as an artist on the spot. His confidence in Johnson's abilities soon paid off, as only his second single for the label, the self-penned Come Home, would crack the R&B top ten that November. This sweet little Christmas B-Side we have here was no doubt cut while Bubber was still riding the charts, and King obviously pulled out all the stops...

"Hang some stockings by the fireplace, cut a fruitcake aged with wine..."

I'm not too sure about the fruitcake but, hey, you get the idea - Merry Christmas, Everybody!

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Tommy Ridgley - Heavenly (Ric 993)


It's funny how things happen.

Twenty Five years ago, I was in the midst of a major New Orleans period. I had read John Broven's books, and bought Jeff Hannusch's I Hear You Knockin' in a record store down there on one of my semi-annual forays into town shortly after it was published. Luckily for me, Rounder Records was undergoing the same kind of Louisiana renaissance, and I bought every record they put out. I loved the new material from folks like Irma Thomas, Walter Washington and Johnny Adams, and it was through them that I first got acquainted with the music of my friend and partner, Nathan Williams. They had hired Hannusch as a sort of A&R man and talent scout down there, and he was instrumental in making all of this happen.

It was Jeff's friendship with New Orleans R&B legend Tommy Ridgley that led him, and Rounder, to the missing Ric and Ron masters. Previously thought to have been lost forever, it was Ridgley who helped to uncover them tucked in a closet in a small town just outside of New Orleans. To Rounder's eternal credit, they appreciated what they had, and began an ambitious re-issue campaign that included 'best of' compilations on both Ric and Ron, and full LPs on the labels' biggest stars, Ridgley and Eddie Bo. I bought them all, and played them to death. I made tapes for the car, the whole deal.

Right about then I met the woman who was to become my wife... at Fenway Park in Boston (but that's a whole other story). By sheer osmosis, she couldn't help but become immersed in this incredible music I was listening to, and through it all she latched on to one song, this amazing record we have here today. She would rewind the cassette and play it over and over... years later, when my second daughter was born, she wanted to name her 'Heavenly' (although cooler heads prevailed, and she was named after my Grandmother - something I swear she holds against me to this day!). What I'm getting at here is that this B-side is one that has remained central to our life together, and never fails to bring me back to those sunny days. I had looked for the actual 45 for many years on my trips to New Orleans and elsewhere, but I never found one.

As you may know, I've recently become involved in the Cosimo Code project and, as fate would have it, so have both Broven and Hannusch, the guys who paved the way for me all those years ago. At Broven's request, Jeff was working up a page for the site about the Ric and Ron labels, and how he and Tommy Ridgley found the tapes. He had 'Xeroxed' the tape boxes back then, he said, but Katrina came and washed all of that away. All he had left was some notes he had made on the original recording dates of some of the tracks. When he sent them to me, I noticed 'Ric 993 - December 8, 1962'... unreal. On a whim, I punched 'Ric 993' into Google, and lo and behold, there was a copy available as a 'buy it now' on Ebay for ten bucks. After all these years, somehow it seemed the record had found me.

One thing led to another, and with the Summer upon us, it was taking me just short of forever to get that Ric and Ron page coded and ready for the site. In the meantime, unbeknownst to me, Jeff had been tracking down the whereabouts of those original master tapes, and through Scott Billington and Adam Taylor at Rounder he had been able to find them. Out of the blue, Jeff sent me a forwarded email from Adam that read; "Sounds like an awesome project! I'm sending you a zip of the images I scanned a few years back. When I was going through the tapes I scanned all the boxes..."

I really couldn't believe it. Not only had I miraculously stumbled across the 45, but there among the scans Jeff had sent me was the original 1962 master tape! It's stuff like this that keeps me believing that somehow it's all connected and, as Sir Lattimore used to say, "If you move forward with Faith in your Heart, anything is possible..."

God is always on time!

Friday, June 28, 2013

Bobby Bland - You're The One (That I Need) (Duke 344)

You're The One (That I Need)

Somehow, even though we all knew it was coming, it doesn't seem possible that Bobby Bland is no longer with us. He was there in Memphis at Sunbeam Mitchell's Club Handy when it all began, and he lived there in Memphis until the day he died, same as he ever was. An absolute giant of R&B, his was one of the last great voices at the heart of Black American Music. His name was a mainstay on the R&B charts for four decades, and he never stopped performing, working wherever and whenever he got the chance.

The music he created was deep, in every sense of the word. This awesome record we have here, the flip of 1961 monster hit Turn On Your Love Light, just knocks me out. Bobby's smoke-filled velvet vocals fill the room while Wayne Bennett's impeccable guitar work and Joe Scott's mournful arrangement bring it on home. A contemporary of Sam Cooke and Ray Charles, he contributed as much (if not more) to the evolution of Soul music as either one of them. So much more than a 'Blues' singer, I don't think mainstream America ever truly appreciated how great he really was.

Maybe now they will.

...reprinted below are a couple of other posts I did on Bobby over the years:


I've Just Got To Forget About You

This past January 22nd would have been Sam Cooke's 75th birthday. January 27th was Bobby Bland's 76th.

Bobby was born in the small town of Rosemark, Tennessee, where he grew up surrounded by the sounds of spiritual music as well as The Grand Ol' Opry broadcasts on WLAC. He actually picked cotton in the fields, and didn't bother going to school much.

When the family moved to Memphis in 1947, he joined a local Gospel group called The Miniatures that sang in area churches. It wasn't long, however, before the young Bland was drawn in by the whole blues scene that was happening down on Beale Street. In addition to working in a local garage, he began parking cars down behind the Palace Theatre, and soon became a regular fixture. He would compete in the amateur shows staged by Rufus Thomas most every Wednesday, and came to be known as one of the Beale Streeters, a loose collection of local guys that would include B.B. King, Johnny Ace, Junior Parker, Roscoe Gordon, and Earl Forest at one time or another.

They took work where they could get it, often performing at local brothels or upstairs at Sunbeam Mitchell's legendary Club Handy for little more than a bowl of chili. It was Mitchell that got Bobby a spot on Rufus Thomas' radio show on WDIA. This got him noticed by Sam Phillips, who had just started recording local acts at his Memphis Recording Service. He did a session on Bobby for Chess Records in 1951, and early the next year, Ike Turner produced four sides for Modern Records at the studio, none of which made much of a splash.

Later in 1952, Bobby signed with Duke Records, a new label that had been started up by WDIA DJ Dave Mattis. They would release one single, Lovin' Blues, before Bobby was drafted into the Army. The record became somewhat of a regional hit while he was away, and Duke recorded his Army Blues in 1953 while he was home on leave.

Don Robey, meanwhile, was busy building his own little empire. He had opened a club called The Bronze Peacock in Houston, Texas in 1945 that became the premier showcase for Jazz and R&B in the region. He began managing local artists like Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown, and would open a record store in 1947. It wasn't long before he realized there was real money to be made in the record business, and in 1949 he formed Peacock Records, building his own recording studio and record pressing plant adjacent to the club. He began building an impressive roster of Gospel and Blues talent, and his records became huge sellers in the Southern market. Robey had the reputation of running his business "like a plantation", often making his point with a pistol he kept strapped to his leg. In addition to recording and pressing his own records, he would pay writers a few dollars up front, then claim songwriting credit and publishing rights for himself. He also made sure his artists were represented by his own Buffalo Booking Agency, run by partner Evelyn Johnson (pictured here with Robey). He had all the angles covered. Ever on the lookout for a new source of income, Don had his eye on Memphis.

He made a deal with Dave Mattis, giving Duke a much needed infusion of cash, and by late 1953 Robey had forced him out, becoming sole proprietor of Duke-Peacock Records. When Bobby was discharged from the service in 1955, the Memphis he knew was no more. Sam Phillip's own Sun Records had found its fair haired boy, and his contract with Duke was now owned by someone he'd never met somewhere in Texas.

He and Robey actually got along well together (he often said it was better than pushing a plow...), and he rejoined old friend Junior Parker as part of a package called Blues Consolidated that Buffalo Booking had put together. Playing more than 300 gigs a year, they criss-crossed the country, just smokin' it up! Duke would record them whenever they came through Houston, and so kept a steady stream of "product" out there for sale. Most of these early sides featured the great Clarence Hollimon on guitar, but it was his old Memphis homeboy Pat Hare (who would later go on to become a member of Muddy Waters' band before being sentenced to 99 years in prison for killing his girlfriend and the cop she called on him...!) that drove his first national hit Farther Up The Road all the way to number one on the R&B charts in 1957.

The success of this record (as well as his subsequent top ten hit, Little Boy Blue) enabled Bobby to set out on his own, forming the incredible band that would stay with him for the next ten years. It would include Wayne Bennett on the guitar, Teddy Reynolds on the piano, Hamp Simmons on bass, Jabo Starks (future funky drummer for The JBs) on the drums, along with a fat horn section led by trumpeter Joe Scott. It was Scott's arrangements that brought Bobby's music to the next level, essentially creating his unique sound.

He continued to top the R&B charts, while staying out on the road 50 weeks of every year. The band was playing all the popular package shows of the day alongside people like Sam Cooke and Jackie Wilson. Bobby understood, as they did, the power of the female audience, and each night was like a contest to just "take 'em out"!

The release of the absolutely amazing Two Steps From The Blues in 1961 collected much of his work from this period into a cohesive whole that still stands as one of the greatest albums ever. Songs like I Pity The Fool and I'll Take Care Of You reveal the two sides of Bland's genius... rough and gravelly Gospel shouting (reportedly inspired by C.L. Franklin, Aretha's dad), coupled with a smooth and intimate vulnerability that just drove the ladies wild. Today's B side, a track from this album, was actually released as the flip of the Don Davis produced Keep On Loving Me (You'll See The Change) in 1970, nine years later! The mood it creates, that late night lonesome highway feeling... wow. (You might notice that one D. Malone is listed as the songwriter... a pseudonym Robey had created for himself when his scam became too obvious... )

Bobby continued to top the R&B charts with records like Turn On Your Lovelight and Yield Not To Temptation, and in 1962 would score his only top 40 pop hit (#28) with T-Bone Walker's Stormy Monday Blues, powered by Wayne Bennett's phenomenal guitar work.

1964's Ain't Nothing You Can Do was an absolute monster hit that literally defined the southern "soul-blues" style of which he was the king. It is this very designation (thought up by us genre-driven white people) that, in my opinion, has tended to marginalize people like Bobby, Little Milton, and Z.Z. Hill. I mean, he's like "too soul" to be taken seriously by the blues "purists", while being often overlooked by the soul crowd as having too much "blues"... or something. Whatever. His own people know the deal. He has entered the R&B charts an incredible 63 times, placing no less than 25 records in the top ten.

By the end of the 1960s, Bobby's drinking (over two quarts a day) caught up with him, and his band split up. The loss of Joe Scott as his arranger took its toll, and his early seventies output was inconsistent. In 1973, Robey sold Duke to ABC Records, which was later taken over by MCA. He would re-unite with former Beale Streeter B.B. King for a few mid-70s outings but, for the most part, a combination of record company indifference and changing times led to some truly middle-of-the-road material.

Bobby signed with good ol' Malaco Records in 1984 and got back to his southern soul roots. The release of Members Only the following year put him right back in the R&B top 20 where he belonged. He would go on to release over 15 albums for them over the next twenty years, highlighted by great songs like Take Off Your Shoes and I Just Tripped On A Piece Of Your Broken Heart.

Throughout all of this, Bobby continued to tour constantly, playing the same "chitlin' circuit" clubs he always had. I was lucky enough to experience this first hand during Carnival in New Orleans in 1989. My brother and I, two dumb white guys festooned in Mardi-Gras beads, stumbled into the Benz Lounge on Louisiana Avenue and were just blown away! Bobby and his band (with Wayne Bennett back on the guitar), just brought the house down around us... The sheer energy of this performance, with Bobby working the crowd in a small club setting, was an experience I'll never forget...

I saw him again about two weeks ago, opening for Dr. John at a theatre in New Jersey. About half the crowd was made up of well-dressed African-Americans in their sixties and seventies... Bobby's audience that has grown old along with him. People that remember Sam Cooke... that were a part of the struggle for civil rights. A generation that is passing before our very eyes.

Bobby's amazing voice, still a powerful instrument, spoke to the soul of everyone in the room. He had us in the palm of his hand.

Talk about a living legend, man.



Loan A Helping Hand

In 1984 Dan Greer and Fred Ford got together and formed an organization named 'Friends United To Preserve Musical Heritage International'. The idea, Dan told me, was to relate the rich history of Memphis music in the words of the people who made it in the first place. They created an event called the Music Pioneer Awards and Ford, the go-to baritone man in Memphis for generations, became their first honoree (once Dan convinced him it was alright). Fred has since left us, but the organization (now called simply United Music Heritage, Inc.) continues on with a board that includes folks like Percy Wiggins and Earl Randle.

I met Dan Greer at the Willie Mitchell Memorial Celebration in January, which is where he started thinking about putting together the incredible Twenty Fifth Anniversary Music Pioneer Awards that will be held at The New Daisy Theater on Beale Street this Thursday, August 12th. "Too many of us are passing," he said, "it's time to do something." The event will honor Carla Thomas, Don Bryant, Ann Peebles, The Mad Lads, The Temprees, Ruby Wilson and The Lee Twins among many others all backed by the incomparable Hi Rhythm, along with a horn section led by Ben Cauley.

In a word, Wow!

As if that weren't enough, the centerpiece of this year's awards will be a tribute to one of the cornerstones of Memphis music, Bobby "Blue" Bland. Bobby, who turned eighty this past January, was one of the original Beale-Streeters, and his absolute giant of a voice has influenced all those who came after him. The show will feature killer vocalists like J. Blackfoot and Percy Wiggins performing his music... can you imagine?

As Greer told the Commercial Appeal; "You won't find another show like this, you couldn't pay these people enough to come in and do this. But they come in and do it out of love for the city and the music."

This is one of those many, many times I wish I lived in Memphis.

Monday, April 15, 2013

George Jackson - I'm Gonna Wait (Hi 2212)

I'm Gonna Wait

George Jackson, in so many ways the pure essence of Southern Soul, has left us. I don't think you can say enough about this man's importance in the development of this music. Known primarily for his incredible songwriting skills, his career as a performer is often forgotten. This emotional gem we have here was released by Willie Mitchell as a B Side twice, once 1n 1967 and again in 1972... that's how good it is. You can feel George put his heart and soul on the line, just as he did with everything he touched. From Memphis and Muscle Shoals, to his longstanding position as the poet-laureate of Malaco Music, George Jackson's gentle genius defined what it meant to be a Soul Man.

He will never be replaced.

There is an excellent overview of George's recording career over at Deep Soul Heaven, and re-printed below is an appreciation of him I wrote back in 2006:

My Desires Are Getting The Best Of Me

As the final installment of our 'fame fest', I thought we'd focus on the quiet genius behind so much great southern soul, George Jackson.

Born in B.B. King's Indianola, George grew up on the river in Greenville, Mississippi. When Ike Turner rumbled down Highway 61 from Clarksdale, the teenaged Jackson went to see him and showed him some of the songs he'd been writing. Ike was impressed, and brought George downriver to New Orleans to record at Cosimo Matassa's studio in 1963. His idol was Sam Cooke (as he was for most every other aspiring singer in those days), and the record they cut Won't Nobody Cha-Cha With Me was an attempt to cash in on the recent Cooke-inspired 'cha-cha' craze. Released on Turner's Prann label, the single sank like a stone.

Jackson next moved to Memphis, and placed a couple of novelty type singles with the Dot and Doro labels through local impresarios Dorothy and John Hester. Also around this time, he recorded under the first of many pseudonyms, Louie Palmer, for Earl Forrest's Bootheel label in 1965. George's best friend in Memphis, Dan Greer, soon became his songwriting partner, and they formed their own short-lived label, Gre-Jac the following year. The label's only release, You Didn't Know It But You Had Me, was by 'George & Greer', and didn't sell much.

As legend has it, George lived in a big old house in Memphis and the landlady let him use her broken-down piano to write songs. He and Dan would spend most of every day working on material, and they were soon noticed by Quinton Claunch and 'Doc' Russell over at Goldwax Records. Claunch offered Jackson a contract as a songwriter for Goldwax, and one of the first tunes he contributed to the label, Old Friend (You Asked Me If I Miss Her) (Goldwax 312) became a local hit for the great Spencer Wiggins in 1966. In what was apparently part of the deal, Goldwax 313 was a re-release of the George & Greer single. It didn't sell this time either.

George (and Dan) took to their duties at Goldwax, and soon had artists like Wiggins, James Carr, Willie Walker, and The Ovations gathered around the old piano as well, rehearsing the songs they wrote for them. George was a particular fan of Ovations' lead singer Louis Williams, and worked with the group often (although it remains unclear to me if he was ever actually a member). Goldwax didn't have its own studio, and would record whenever and wherever they could get the best deal. It was Dan and George's job to drive the singers to the recording dates, armed with whatever it took (like a bottle) to get the best performance. Jackson became the de-facto producer as well, often running through take after take until he was satisfied with the song. If George was happy, Quinton Claunch was happy too.

George began working with Memphis legend Willie Mitchell around this time, and released So Good to Me on Hi in 1967. Mitchell was able to place a single with Decca the following year, under yet another name - 'Bart' Jackson. A demo George had recorded, Cold Cold Love was released on the Public label in 1968, but he had nothing to do with it.

Fame was one of the studios that Claunch had been using off and on, ever since James Carr's earliest sides for Goldwax in 1964. He began sending Jackson down there as well, along with Spencer Wiggins and his brother Percy. They recorded some great material, but Claunch folded the label before it was released. Rick Hall wasted no time, and signed George up as the new staff songwriter at Fame in 1969. Rick also recorded him as an artist for the house label, and today's cool record is The B side of his first Fame single, Find 'Em, Fool 'Em, And Forget 'Em (now up on the A side). Recorded right around the time the 'second' rhythm section left, I'm not sure if it's them or the 'Fame Gang' backing him up, all I know is that it's great! Co-written with his new running partner Raymond Moore, George is at his best here spinning yet another tale of the vagaries of love. His next (and last) single for the label, That's How Much You Mean To Me, would result in his first chart appearance when it cracked the R&B top 50 in the summer of 1970. Hall had secured the rights to the unreleased Goldwax recordings at this point, and when he put out Spencer Wiggins' rendition of Jackson composition Double Lovin' later that year it broke the top 50 as well (Spencer's only chart hit).

When MGM sent floundering boy band The Osmonds down to Fame in 1971, they took a song George had originally written with the Jackson 5 in mind, One Bad Apple, all the way to number one on the pop charts. The record would spend five weeks there, and become an international success (it even made #6 R&B!). The Osmonds were on top. Ironically, their follow-up single would be a cover of Double Lovin', which would make it to #14 pop (Wiggins' original hadn't even 'bubbled under' the Hot 100). MGM would release a George Jackon single on their Verve subsidiary, I Found What I Wanted, later that year, but nothing much came of it.

1972 saw George back in Memphis, working with Willie Mitchell at his Royal Studio. Top 40 R&B hit Aretha, Sing One For Me would become his second Hi release, and George's last chart entry. Another great record, Let Them Know You Care would follow in 1973, but it didn't sell. the B sides of both of these singles, I'm Gonna Wait and Patricia, respectively, are simply wonderful in their own right, and reflective of the phenomenal work that was going on at Royal in those days.

Although George's main focus remained on his songwriting (George Soulé's Get Involved and Clarence Carter's Too Weak To Fight are but two examples of the great work he was doing at the time), MGM continued to release singles on him through 1974. The company also backed a label he had formed with his old partner Dan Greer, Sounds Of Memphis. Back recording former Goldwax artists like The Ovations and Spencer Wiggins, they were producing some great music, but times had changed, and the records weren't selling. MGM promo man Eddie Ray believed in George's talent (even after his employer had moved on), and in addition to placing one single with Chess in 1975, he put out what many consider to be George's finest record, Talking About The Love I Have For You/I Don't Need You No More on his own ER label in 1976.

By the late seventies, George had left Fame and began working with cross-town rivals Muscle Shoals Sound. There was one 'disco' single released on the studio's short lived record label, but the main work was going on behind the scenes. Unknown to the general public, Jackson was hunkered down with what may just have been the best band in the world recording demos of the songs he was writing. The resulting tapes became legendary, and remained unheard for over twenty years (more on that in a moment). His work from this period included blockbusters like Bob Seger's Old Time Rock & Roll in 1978, and James Brown's It's Too Funky In Here in '79.

As we've mentioned before, Tommy Couch and Wolf Stephenson up at Malaco heard George's demos and selected a couple of tunes for their new signee Z.Z. Hill's second album, Down Home in 1981. Jackson composition Down Home Blues, which Malaco refused to release as a single, was just huge and helped make the record the largest selling 'blues' album in history. When they released George's Cheatin' In The Next Room as a single from the album in early 1982, it took off, spending five months on the R&B charts. On the basis of such unprecedented sales, Malaco hired Jackson as their new staff songwriter later that year. He still holds that position today, and has written countless fantastic songs for the label's soul stalwarts like Denise LaSalle, Little Milton, Bobby Bland and Johnnie Taylor (the Jackson penned Last Two Dollars was a gigantic hit in 1996, and helped make Taylor's album Good Love Malaco's biggest seller ever).

George himself hadn't recorded much in the eighties, except for a few singles on local southern labels like Crosstown and Washataw. He recorded a duet with old favorite Louis Williams for Happy Hooker in 1985, and did some work with good ol' Senator Jones, who had moved his Hep' Me operation to friendlier quarters in Jackson, Mississippi in the early nineties. The Hep' Me material has been made available again on a Black Grape CD, Heart To Heart Collect.

Malaco had bought Muscle Shoals Sound lock, stock and barrel in 1985. George's demo tapes were included in the sale along with hundreds of other items. When Grapevine Music became the UK licensee for Malaco around the turn of the century, they began an ambitious search of their 'vaults'. Finding Jackson's Muscle Shoals demos intact and sounding just as good as the day they were recorded must have been like finding the Holy Grail. They have released two excellent CDs of the material so far, and you should buy them. They are superb.

George Jackson is truly a living legend, and one of the most 'unsung' of the heroes of southern soul. The BMI Reperoire database lists him as the writer or co-writer of 435 songs.

He's A Man And A Half.

May He Rest In Peace.