Tuesday, January 20, 2015
Monday, December 29, 2014
Gone But Not Forgotten
One of eleven children, LeRoy Crume was the son of a Missouri sharecropper who would relocate with his family to Chicago when LeRoy was ten years old. Living in 'Bronzeville', he attended grammar school with a kid named Sam Cook. Both of their fathers were preachers, and before long both boys were out there singing in family Gospel groups. LeRoy saved up enough money from his paper route to buy a guitar, and was soon playing it with the group, becoming one of the first to introduce the instrument to Gospel Music.
Sam went on to become somewhat of a teen sensation as the lead singer of the popular Highway Q.C.'s, who would develop a friendly rivalry with The Crume Brothers, each trying to 'cut' the other in area appearances. Shortly after founding father R.H. Harris left The Soul Stirrers in 1950, he recruited LeRoy to play guitar for his new group, The Christland Singers. The Soul Stirrers, meanwhile, had chosen Sam to replace the highly regarded Harris, which was considered quite a bold move at the time. As the guitar began to become an essential component of Quartet Gospel (thanks, in large part, to LeRoy), The Stirrers hired a Philadelphian named Bob King away from The Southern Tones to accompany them on the road. When King became too ill to travel, Sam convinced the group to ask LeRoy to join them.
Against his better judgement, Crume left his 'day job' in Chicago and accepted their offer. Two 'young bucks' in what had essentially been an old man's game, the pair soon became inseparable, and their late night exploits raised eyebrows up and down the Gospel Highway.
later call "the biggest mistake I would ever make... I allowed friendship to overrule my business sense." Be that as it may, LeRoy remained out there on the road backing up a series of Sam's successors, like Johnny Jones, Johnnie Taylor and the extremely 'bad' Jimmy Outler:
Just positively amazing stuff, I don't think you can say enough about LeRoy's driving guitar work, and just how great The Stirrers continued to be after Sam departed. He and Leroy remained very close and, in his mind, I don't think Cooke ever really left. "Sam was a Soul Stirrer until the night somebody murdered him," Leroy said.
Leroy eventually wound up back in Chicago where, in addition to getting a job driving a bus for the CTA, he would become a member of the Jubilee Showcase house band. He began performing some secular material with a friend of his from The Clefs of Calvary named Calvin April, and somehow they wound up recording at American for Sound Stage 7 in 1968.
I'm Alright Now
"We recorded that in Memphis. It was just before the assassination of Martin Luther King, in fact, they were checking into The Lorraine Motel as Calvin and I were checking out. We even talked for awhile to some of the people with him, like Jessie Jackson, The Staple Singers, and some of the others. The following night after getting back to Chicago, I turned on the TV, and it had just happened. That's how I first heard about it... by the way, Soul X 2, was NOT my favorite name, it was given to us by the DJ from, WLAC radio in Nashville, Hoss Allen. I later renamed us Branding Iron, and that's the way that story goes!"
Willie Dixon who had recorded a demo he wanted Bell to hear.
Willie had written Right Tight and Out of Sight with a soul duo like Sam & Dave in mind. Bell liked the song, but was more interested in signing the guys who were singing it... Leroy and Calvin - now known as Branding Iron.
Soul Train. Things were definitely looking up! The flip of that first Volt release, Slave For Love was written by another legendary Blues figure, J.B. Lenoir. Arranged by Gene Barge, the 45 was about as Chicago as you could get. Despite Bell's assurance that "you guys are going to make so much money, you won't be able to count it all!," the record never made the national charts and, after one more Volt release, they were let go. Although Branding Iron would cut another 45 for the tiny Stag label (produced by Leroy's brother Dillard), by then he was back on the road with The Soul Stirrers, where he would remain for the rest of his life.
"I thank God for allowing me to hang around as long as I have, after literally taking away all of those that once walked along with me when this journey started... they're all gone. Now that's the scary part, because I know the next soldier to fall will definitely be me. Sometimes I wonder why was I left as the last Soul Stirrer standing, and then something seems to say, it's not yours to reason why. It's not for any man to understand God's plan."
Leroy Crume was called home on October 20th.
JO JO BENSON
After Huey Meaux was hauled off to prison in 1968, his friend Shelby Singleton brought the duo he had been cutting hits on at Grits 'n' Gravy to Music Row to record what has to be the only Soul song ever to feature both an electric sitar and a pedal steel guitar! Peggy and Jo Jo are just belting it out, while top shelf 'Nashville Cats' Jerry Kennedy, Pete Drake, Chip Young, Wayne Moss, Kenny Buttrey, Charlie McCoy, David Briggs and Bob Wilson burn down the house! One of my favorite records, they don't come much better than this.
Chip Young left us on December 20th,
Jo Jo Benson on December 23rd.
I don't think we knew it at the time, but for a lot of American kids going to high school in the 1970s, Joe Cocker was as close as we got to Soul Music. When Mad Dogs & Englishmen was released in 1970, it featured covers of Ray Charles, Otis Redding and Sam & Dave tunes, alongside the Beatles, Traffic and Stones. With an all-star band put together by Leon Russell, we would soon recognize the name of every artist on there, especially that of the saxophone player, Bobby Keys, who would be cutting Sticky Fingers with The Stones within a month of those initial Fillmore East dates. This great tune we have here never fails to bring me back...
Bobby Keys passed December 2nd,
Joe Cocker on December 22nd.
Please join me in bidding farewell to these others who left us in 2014:
May Perpetual Light Shine Upon Them.
Wednesday, December 17, 2014
Jimmy McGriff - Soul Song of Christmas (Silent Nite) (Jell 503)
Soul Song of Christmas
Jimmy McGriff and cut a smokin' two-sided version of Ray Charles' I've Got A Woman in late 1961. Whenever WNJR played it the phones lit up, and it wasn't long before infamous record man Juggy Murray took notice across the river.
All About My Girl, which narrowly missed the R&B top ten in early 1963. Jimmy was on a roll, and that December Sue issued the now legendary LP Christmas with McGriff, along with a 45 of the title track.
Christmastime for the Holidays in 1964. This laid back take on Silent Night we have here was released as a single from the album, and is interesting because, except for that one flourish from the organ early on, it apparently features our man McGriff on the piano! Sleep in Heavenly Peace, my brother!
Merry Christmas to you and yours from all of us here at The B Side Ranch... Ho-Ho-Ho!
Wednesday, October 29, 2014
Floyd Newman - Sassy (Stax 143)
Floyd Newman is a national treasure.
Besides B.B. himself, Floyd is the only person pictured in the iconic Ernest C. Withers photograph above that is still with us. As the baritone man in B.B.'s mid fifties Memphis outfit, that bus served as his second home as it rolled countless miles on the Chitlin' Circuit.
In the early sixties, Floyd would form his own group with some of the younger members of Ben Branch's band, including a couple of kids named Howard Grimes and Isaac Hayes. The Floyd Newman Orchestra would become the house band at the fabled Plantation Inn, and they were there on McElmore Avenue with Chips Moman at the very dawn of the Stax era.
Black Moses, he never forgot his mentor, and took Floyd with him on his way to Super Stardom. He was an integral part of Hayes' triumphal appearance at Wattstax, and remained with him on the road until Isaac decided to 'take a break' and open his own studio and label that he would name after his monster 1969 LP, Hot Buttered Soul (HBS).
Mining the same territory, this cool B Side we have here was issued as the flip of the only 45 Stax would press under Floyd's name, released shortly after he helped propel another Stax classic into the top ten, Rufus Thomas' Walking The Dog. It was that baritone heavy Stax sound that Jerry Wexler dubbed 'those Memphis horns' and, along with folks like Wayne Jackson, Andrew Love, Bowlegs Miller, Jack Hale, James Mitchell and Joe Arnold, Floyd began to deliver that big fat sound to Muscle Shoals and beyond, playing on scores of hit records in the process.
Stephen Stills 2, Stephen took him on tour with him. This was back when Stills' phone was still ringing, and being 'on tour' included the full rock-star magilla of private jets to Europe, limos, red carpets and the finest hotels. Quite a different experience than riding on the B.B. King bus!
Preston Lauterbach and I were scheming and plotting to put Hi Rhythm back together with Otis Clay for the O.V. Wright benefit and tribute concert in Memphis in 2008, we left the recruitment of the horn section up to them. I'm not sure if it was Floyd's former Plantation Inn bandmate Howard Grimes who made the call that brought Floyd out of retirement to anchor 'those Memphis horns' for us that night, but it was an experience I'll never forget. "If you think you're the Soul Detective," Howard said, "you ought to talk to Floyd..."
Got To Get Back, Floyd had tucked it away in a closet, and we had to convince him to dig it out...
FLOYD S. NEWMAN III
NOVEMBER 1st 2014, 1pm
BLUES CITY BAND BOX
BEALE STREET, MEMPHIS, TN
Monday, September 15, 2014
Fats Domino - Good Hearted Man (Imperial 5764)
Good Hearted Man
By now you all know how I feel about Cosimo Matassa and the importance of his contributions to American music. He was a genuine Giant.
Since he passed away last week, there's been quite a lot written about him in the press, but it all seems to focus (understandably so) on the atom-bomb like explosion of Rock & Roll that emanated from his J&M Studio in the early fifties, but there's a lot more to the story...
The Cosimo Code is to demonstrate that Cos played just as large a role in the big fat sound of the 'second wave' of New Orleans chart domination - the period I like to call 'The Mother-In-Law Era'. Starting roughly with Jessie Hill's Ooh Poo Pah Doo in May of 1960 and continuing on through Barbara Lynn's You're Gonna Need Me in December of '62, records cut at Cosimo Recording on Governor Nicholls (not, as is widely reported, at J&M, which had closed it's doors in late 1956) spent an incredible 477 weeks on the Billboard Charts, including 14 weeks at #1 R&B. Wow!
Let The Four Winds Blow, which would climb all the way to #2 R&B in the Summer of 1961 (kept from the top slot by Bobby Lewis' monster Tossin' and Turnin'), and become Fats' last appearance in the top ten. Both sides are great, and a testimony to the depth and variety of material that Cosimo was cutting at his studio in the early sixties... a period which is often overlooked.
The A Side), and the music he had a hand in creating will live on forever. It is hard to imagine what the world might have been like without him... I am honored to have met him and shook his hand, and I am proud of the small part I play in preserving his legacy.
Let The Four Winds Blow!
Sunday, August 10, 2014
Sam Hutchins - Dang Me (AGP 106)
Dark End of The Street and Everyday I Have To Cry Some on everyone who walked through the door, I suppose that's true to a certain extent, but there is another side (literally) to the story...
Skinny Legs And All, Funky Street, I Found A True Love and Broadway Walk come to mind right off the bat... or how about cooking instrumentals like Memphis Soul Stew, Memphis Underground or In The Pocket? These guys were not crying in their beer, man. They were making great music, and having a great time doing it.
Sam Hutchins had come to American from Dallas at the urging of his friends The Masqueraders in 1968, and cut one Tommy Cogbill produced 45 for Mala before being signed to the house label, AGP. This rocking little number we have here is one more illustration of American's fun side. Although the flip (erroneously posted on The A Side back in 2008), is an awesomely wistful deep soul record, Chips and Cogbill let it rip on this side, and Sam is really belting it out! Check out those punchy horn charts and Ed Kollis blowing that way cool harmonica while the 'Moman Tabernacle Choir' takes it to Church and 'The Boys' drive it the rest of the way home.
Big D Breakdown), and remain a part of the crew at American till the end, even making the ill-fated move to Atlanta with Chips in 1972. When Lee Jones left The Masqueraders, Sam joined the group, and that's him singing lead vocal on great Darryl Carter produced Hi 45s like Wake Up Fool. He has remained with them to this day, and still sounds as great as ever.
In 1985, Chips told Jim Dickerson of The Commercial Appeal: "Memphis should be Music City, not Nashville... At the time when Memphis was the hottest thing going, the city didn't seem to really care... I said 'You know this place doesn't seem to like us too much, why don't we just tear this studio down and leave?'... and we left, every one of us. We pulled the kids out of school and left... I've always considered that a mistake. Not in the sense that we didn't do better when we left. We did. But if we had done the right thing, and stayed there... who knows, we might have done more there than we did away from there."
As The City of Memphis' complicated love-hate relationship with Chips Moman continues, at first glance it may seem that the historical marker dedication at 827 Thomas Street next Wednesday is too little, too late... When asked by music historian Keith Abel a few years ago about his lack of recognition by institutions like The Grammys and the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, Chips replied, "We made hits before they had those clubs." Ever the outlaw, ever the rebel, ever the industry outsider, that's precisely what makes him so great.
Maybe a plaque in front of a Family Dollar says it all...
Chips Moman stands alone.
Monday, June 30, 2014
Bobby Womack of the Valentinos - A Lonesome Man (Checker 1122)
A Lonesome Man
Part One Of The Story - first posted in 2006
Friendly Womack sang Gospel with his brothers down in the coal mining country of West Virginia. They called themselves The Womack Brothers, and Friendly promised the Lord that if he sent him five sons, he would see to it that they would carry on the tradition and sing Gospel under that name. He moved to Cleveland, got work in a steel mill, and before long his prayers had been answered.
Friendly's new group, The Voices Of Love, would rehearse up at the Womack house, and his boys would listen in, doing imitations of the various members later on that kept them in stitches. The middle brother, Bobby, began sneaking around and playing his father's guitar while he was at work. Left handed, he had to figure out his own method, with the strings "upside down". (He still plays that way today...)
By the early fifties, Friendly was keeping his promise, and had his boys singing Gospel at churches around the area. In 1953, he asked S.R. Crain, a senior member of The Soul Stirrers, if they could open up for them at a program held at Cleveland's Friendship Baptist Church. He was in the process of telling them to "stick to Sunday School", when Sam Cooke overheard and pushed Crain to let them do it. The Womack Brothers were a big hit, and Sam made sure that the congregation forked over some "quiet money" to the family to help them with expenses. The $73 they collected seemed like a million bucks to 9 year old Bobby, and, from that moment on, he wanted to be "just like Sam Cooke".
The Brothers career took off from there, and they began traveling the "Gospel Highway", working with groups like The Staple Singers and The Five Blind Boys Of Mississippi. The Blind Boys were impressed with young Bobby's guitar work, and took him on the road with them. When their fabled lead singer Archie Brownlee died of pneumonia in 1960, he was replaced by the great Roscoe Robinson. It was Robinson who believed in the potential of the Womack boys, and called old friend Sam Cooke.
Cooke, who had just started up his own SAR label, was in the market for young talent and agreed to meet the brothers in Detroit. Sam was pushing them to 'cross-over' as he had done, but the Womacks, fearing the wrath of the Father (both the one up in Heaven, and their own back in Cleveland), were reluctant to do so. He made a deal with them; "Okay, fellas, we'll cut you all a Gospel record. But if it don't hit, will you all cut me a pop?" The deal was done, and The Womack Brothers' first single Somebody's Wrong, was released on SAR in 1961.
It flopped. Now it was their turn to make good on a promise. J.W. Alexander, Sam's partner at SAR, changed their name to The Valentinos and they re-worked the lyrics to a Gospel song Bobby had written for their first session (Couldn't Hear Nobody Pray) and came up with the great Lookin' For A Love. It sold two million copies in the summer of 1962, and spent over 3 months on the charts, cracking the top ten R&B and even breaking into the Billboard Hot 100. Friendly wanted no part in any of this, of course, and was just as glad to see his boys take off for California in the car Sam paid for, than to hear them sing 'the devil's music' in his own home.
It was Sam who saw something in Bobby, and made him the lead singer in place of his brother Curtis. "Curtis sings pretty like me." he said, " But now Bobby, he sings with authority. When Bobby sings he demands attention." Cooke sent the Valentinos out on tour with James Brown to school them in the ways of the R&B road, and when they came back all starched, pressed and walking in unison, he knew their 'basic training' had been a success. Sam next took Bobby out with him as a guitar player in his own band (much to his brothers' chagrin), and, in many ways, made him his "protegé". He chose to let Bobby ride in the limo with him (while everyone else in the band was back in the station wagon), and they talked for hours while America rolled on by. Bobby always had his guitar on hand, and Sam, it is said, got quite a few song ideas by listening to him play (when Womack confronted him with this, Sam said, "Okay, I'm taking your shit, but I'm doing you better than James Brown would... "). Suffice it to say that both men got something they needed from the other.
In June of 1964, J.W. Alexander was pulling out all the stops to promote the new Valentinos single, It's All Over Now. Radio stations all over the country were flooded with advance promo copies of the rockin' shout out record with the 'hook' that just couldn't miss (Bobby had written it after hearing his uncle Wes say that about his Aunt Betty about a thousand times). The Rolling Stones heard it in New York while they were in the studio for an interview with Murray The K (aka 'the fifth Beatle'). Their manager, Andrew Loog Oldham, contacted Sam about performing rights, and they recorded the song within a week at the Chess Studios in Chicago. Their record company (Decca/London) got into the act and "rush-released" the single, putting it out on both sides of the big pond the day before the Valentinos' version was officially released. Can you imagine these guys?
It was the Stones' breakthrough record, becoming their first number one hit in the UK, and rising to #26 here in the US. The Valentinos' original didn't stand a chance, spending only two weeks on the charts and stalling at #94 R&B. When they found out Sam had okayed the licensing of the song, they couldn't believe it. "What do I need this Pat Boone shit for?" Bobby said, "Let them get their own songs. They mean nothing to me!" Cooke, always the visionary, tried to explain to them that this was the way things were headed in the the music industry, and that they'd be a "part of history". Although it took him quite a while to get there, Bobby finally admiited "...he was right, man. He was always in the future."
When Sam Cooke wrote A Change Is Gonna Come in late 1963, it scared him. After he had gone into the studio and recorded it, with René Hall's great big arrangement and everything, he called up Bobby. "Come on over, I want you to hear something", he said. He played the song for him on his huge movie theatre speakers, there in the dark. Sam 'looked right through him'... "what do you think, Bobby?", he asked. "It sounds like death... it's just so eerie. It gives me the chills, Sam." Cooke said he had to agree, and told him "I promise I won't ever release that song... not while I'm alive."
When Sam was shot to death On December 11, 1964, Bobby's world was torn apart. He remembered his reaction to the song, how he had told Sam a second time, "It sounds like death, like somebody died or somebody is going to die"... RCA released A Change Is Gonna Come on December 22nd, as the B side of Shake.
On March 5th 1965, Bobby Womack married Sam Cooke's widow, Barbara Campbell at the Los Angeles County Court House (they had been turned away two weeks before because he had not yet turned 21). Whether Barbara was motivated by love, a need for support or some kind of revenge, we'll probably never know. Bobby has said that he married her to protect Sam's family, and to keep Barbara from "doing something crazy". In any event, the record-buying public (as well as Sam's family in Chicago) viewed it as too much too soon. They saw Campbell as a shameless woman who had no respect for their idol, and Womack as a little gold digger who could never fill Sam's shoes. The papers ate it up.
As SAR began to disintegrate around them, the Valentinos signed with Chess Records, but nothing much was happening. Today's selection is the B side of Bobby's first single under his own name, and was released on their Checker subsidiary in 1965 (it's the flip of I Found A True Love, the original version of the tune Wilson Pickett would take to #11 in 1968). They couldn't give the record away. As Bobby has said, at this point disk jockeys were "throwing his records in the garbage", as nobody wanted to hear them. I personally think this is a great song, and shows what a pro Womack had become during his years with Sam. Although it may be a little over-produced (there's no production credits on the label, so I'm not sure by whom), it still cranks along with Bobby's guitar holding down the bottom. I love the vocals, which definitely show Cooke's influence (how could they not)? When he belts out there towards the end that "don't nobody seem to want ol' Bob", it sounds like a wry commentary on what was going down at the time...
We'll pick up the rest of The Womack's unreal story in some future post, but meanwhile let me recommend his recently released autobiography Midnight Mover: The True Story of the Greatest Soul Singer in the World (modest, he's not) as well as the encyclopedic (and indispensable) Dream Boogie: The Triumph of Sam Cooke by our man in the street, Peter Guralnick.
(to be continued...)