Deep soul 45 reviews by UK soul connoisseur, collector and writer, John Ridley.
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Roy Lee Johnson - Take Me Back And Try Me (Philips 40558)
Roy Lee Johnson originally came from Georgia, but in his long and meandering career has cut music all over the place. He found success in the 50s and early 60s playing guitar for Dr. Feelgood & the Interns, before going solo. He label-hopped throughout the decade, recording strong soul/blues for Columbia, Okeh, and Josie, as well as cutting 4 sides for Philips in 1968. This was his only Fame session, and both 45s, "Cheer up Daddy's coming home" and this one are both superb examples of Muscle Shoals music at it's most potent. Johnson can't help but shine in this company. His 70s funk work for Stax isn't in this league, and neither is his 80s Gold Thumb sides - but Johnson remains a cult figure whose records are never less than interesting.
Pussycats - You May Be Holding My Baby (Keetch 6003)
This page contains many references to the late great Bert Berns, and this obscure 45 is another of his efforts. Of course it's fluffy and inconsequential - as the group's name suggests it will be - but it has a wonderfully na?ve charm, and the chord changes and arrangement are classic Berns which always demands respect. The flip is "Come On And Ska" which dates it to the USA's brief flirtation with Jamaican music in 1963 but that's about as far as my info on this one goes. Girl groups are a specialist field that rarely touches the deep soul world, but that lead singer sounds awfully familiar. Who is that woman?
Lee Maye & the Zonics - Nothing Means Nothing To You (Gaye 5002)
I don't think this 45 has anything to do with Arthur Lee Maye, the famous baseball star and lead singer with the Crowns in the 50s, this vocalist's register is a good bit lower than Maye's aching tenor. But, nevertheless, this is a fine example of the maxim that less is more. A deceptively simple backing - no horns just a rhythm section behind an arpeggio guitar - brings Mays' pleading, desperate vocal to the fore. Deep soul is often at it's best in these circumstances where the whole disc is focussed on the vocal. Gaye is another of those obscure Georgia labels that often have such good 45s on them - in addition to this disc deep fans should also check out the Ted Ford, Ernie Wheelwright and Shepherd Brothers on the label as well. Interesting to see Johnny Jenkins, Otis Redding's old employer, as a co-writer here - could he be the sympathetic guitarist?
Ronnie Mitchell - A Man Ain't No Stronger Than His Heart - (Spectrum 104) B>
Elsewhere on this page you'll find the late Hoagy Lands' cut of this super fine Big Apple ballad. A good opportunity to compare and contrast. Mitchell has a more robust, harsher tone than Lands, Hoagy has the sweeter approach and clearly a greater range. But the arrangement that Mitchell sings over is taken at an even slower pace, which suits the song better - and those horns! Honours even? Mitchell cut for a variety of labels throughout the 60s including Atlantic, Vistone, Seville, and Columbia. Lands and he were label mates at Laurie and Spectrum - imagine a 2 for CD with both of them. Nearest thing to New York soul heaven I can think of!
Lavorn Smith - Without Your Love I'll Be Nothing (KMC 102)
A change of feel with this one - definitely a 70s recording, better production values, a flute intro, a sweet, jazzy guitar filling around the melody - but still deep soul with a vengeance. Nobody would ever claim that LaVorn Smith was one of the great artists, or even a first class singer, his rather "choked" approach sees to that, but when he cuts loose towards the end, screaming his passionate feelings he jumps into the big league. This is clearly the essence of heartfelt music. I don't know if Smith ever made another record, don't know where he cut this one for that matter, but I get those tell-tale spine tingles listening to him here. And since conveying that emotion was what LaVorn intended to do he has created a minor masterpiece with this track.
Johnny R - It's All Over (Strike 1005)
This is, of course, Johnny Robinson, and this superb deep soul ballad seems to have been his first 45. He was born in Tuskagee, Alabama in 1939 and had the normal gospel training before joining the secular world with this disc in 1966/7. No real info on the location of the recording, but Benny Hall's name on the writing credits would suggest the Big Apple, but what a magnificent display of dramatic emotion Robinson puts on. He went on to cut 3 wonderful 45s for Okeh (the double sided "Poor Man"/"When A Man Cries" being amongst the best deep soul 45s) before trying his hand with Willie Mitchell who leased the famous Memphis High album to Epic. This LP is one of the best of the classic Hi sound sets and Johnny's gruff, committed vocals suit the setting perfectly. A strange final 45 as the lead singer of Que Sunrise on Just Sunshine seems to have rounded off his recording career
Levi John - Heart Of Hearts (WIRL, no number)
Elsewhere on the Soul of the Net, the Reggae Got Soul page is full of examples of Jamaican versions of soul numbers. I'm a huge fan of all of this music, believing that vocalists like Toots Hibbert, Slim Smith, Joe Higgs and other stars of their generation are every bit as soulful as their US counterparts. So it's with real pleasure that this 45 appears here - the first Jamaican-recorded deep soul piece, not a cover of a soul song but an original. No I've never heard of Levi John, got no other 45s by him either, but I just love his whole-hearted approach and deep wailing baritone voice. The JA session players lay down a very competent rhythm for producer/owner/politician Edward Seaga, and those horns, slightly out of tune, are something else! There's a lot more of this sort of music if you look around. Please do, it's well worth it
Sam Williams - Let's Talk It Over (Tower 367)
The other side of this single is the celebrated - and very rare - "Love Slipped Through My Fingers", a big, big record on the Northern soul scene. It's OK, good melody, moves along nicely, but if you want to hear the real deal you have to flip the 45 over. And what a shock! Here's a man almost incoherent in his passion, hoarsely pleading, it sounds like, for his life. He's so into it he's all around the melody, and at times his voice simply cracks up. The bluesy guitar and fat horns give the production weight but this is really all about Sam and his troubles. He cut another excellent 45 for Uptown - but this is the choice of connoisseurs. I wonder how many Northern soul fans realise it?
Bobby Sheen - My Shoes Keep Walking On Back To You (Dimension)
This guy's big hit was "Zip-a-dee-do-dah" for Phil Spector's Philles records as Bob B. Soxx and the Blue Jeans, but his subsequent soul singles showed what a strong voice the guy had - when he wasn't singing novelty pop. Spector always had a good ear for singers. Some of Sheen's Liberty and Capitol 45s have had a run or two on the Northern scene, but for deep fans this is the one to watch out for. Inside a big orchestra, Sheen is fighting for breath, and winning, pleading his love. When he soars above the chorus the effect is exhilarating - he employs some lovely vocal flourishes as well. This is a fine Big Apple sound, more involved and structured than a Southern one but suiting the mood very well indeed. For comparison, check out Sheen's fine Muscle Shoals 45s for Warner and Chelsea in the 70s. More mid-tempo than this one, and generally less intense but more fine music from a man not sufficiently recognised.
Judy White - Save Me (T-Neck)
Judy White was a New York singer who cut some very good 45s without ever really hitting the big time. She cut for Philips in the 60s before recording several singles for Buddah, both as a solo act and as part of Bongi and Judy (they also had a 45 on Epic). The best of these was the superb double header "I'll Cry"/"Satisfaction Guaranteed" cut in Alabama but it failed to get her a hit. She switched to the Isley Brothers T-Neck concern in 1969 and had a couple of 45s issued. The first "Somebody Been Messin'" was rather routine funk, but the other side to this track, "Vacuum Cleaner", has found some favour on that scene. "Save Me" however is a much better vehicle for her talents. At first Judy sounds quite cool about her predicament, but listen more closely and you can hear a suppressed intensity, panic almost in the way she sings the verses. And when this becomes overt towards the end of the disc, the emotional heights she reaches are quite affecting. A stunning performance. Credit too to the Isleys for not drowning her out in wah-wah guitars, percussion and other irrelevancies. That must be them singing background as well - but their own cut to this released a year or so later can't get anywhere near this version.
Johnny Dynamite - Everybody's Clown (Minaret)
As a change from styles from all over the US, it's like a breath of fresh air to hear a classic piece of Muscle Shoals magic. This is in the great tradition of their 6/8 country soul ballads, and the playing of the usual session men remains a complete joy. Check out the interplay of Roger Hawkins drum fills with the bass and guitar. Super horn lines, and a tasteful tenor sax obbligato in the middle as well. The studios at the time this was recorded, 68/9, were described to me as a "hit factory" by an artist who cut there, and he went on to say that if you were ready they could take anybody and turn them into a star. Johnny Dynamite didn't make it but the boys gave him their best shot. And this 45 is a great example of how the "feel" of a piece of music can overcome the limitations of the vocalist. Please ignore the dire pop Northern flip (also recorded by Len Wade), the reason this 45 costs so much.
Smokey 007 - Please Don't Make Me Cry (Birland)
Like several other artists - King Sporty for example - Jamaican Smokey 007 went to live in Miami in the 70s. Although he cut a couple of pop/soul/reggae tunes and has been described as a "purveyor of lounge reggae", he was much more than that - as this astonishing piece of deep soul wailing testifies. And that's the word all right - it's clear that the gospel fire burns within him. His band the Exciters lay down a drop down dead beat behind him as he sobs his heart out - and those throwback horns just about make it a perfect deep soul masterpiece. Love the way he takes it to a climax and then way down again. No doubt at a gig that portion of the song became an extended workout. I don't think you'll find a smaller label than Birland, or Sonesta, the concern that "issued" his other wonder 45 "I'm Sorry Please Accept My Apologies". Are any more gems from this guy?
Gene & Eddie - I Would Cry (Ru-Jac)
Every town in the US had its own cut-price Sam & Dave in the 60s - and Baltimore's were Gene & Eddie. They cut a very strong series of 45s for local label Ru-Jac, ranging in styles from doo-wop to funk. "Its So Hard" and "Darling I Love you" are very good, "Let Me Go Easy" is superb, and "I Would Cry" is a fine example of their church based approach. The guys sing some great harmonies over a big, well arranged horn section and a plodding rhythm, with some nice guitar and organ lines. Passion, power and commitment are all here - with some super ad-libbing at the run out groove. These days the idea of a male soul duo seems quaint, rather charming, but deep fans shouldn't overlook this one of soul's lost arts. There's treasure a-plenty from Pic & Bill, Sam & Bill, Willie & Anthony and all the other soul brothers. Gen & Eddie had a final 45 on Mon'ca that the modern crowd go for.
Little John - My Love Is Gone (Neal)
This is one of a couple of 45s that John Truitt cut for the Huey Meaux linked label Neal before his wonderful quartet of releases for A-Bet. And although this is a crude production - dig those out-of-tune horns - Truitt's great talent shines through very strongly. I'm a sucker for these bluesy ballads, and there's enough good things here in this minor-keyed drone piece to merit closer examination. What about his emotional opening phrase, or the beautifully constructed tenor sax solo, or Truitt's hollering and screaming towards the bridge? I would guess this must have been cut in the mid-60s somewhere in Louisiana or East Texas, and seems to be almost completely unknown. You can pick up most of his A-Bet 45s fairly cheaply but this one will take a lot of searching out. I think it's well worth the effort. Truitt's final 45 appeared on Soul Unlimited.
Annetta - Since There Is No More You (Juggy)
Anette Snell's debut 45 first appeared on Love Hill before Juggy Murray picked it up for his own label. It was cut while Annette and her mentor the great Paul Kelly were staying in New York, and as with most of her other solo discs, he wrote and produced it. His slow burning vocals can be heard on back-up here, behind a typically emotion packed Snell performance. She had started with Miami groups, the Fabulettes and Mar-Vells but her vocal talent was such that it cried out for a solo career. After this 45 Kelly took her back down South and got her signed with Buddy Killen's Dial label, which put out 3 magnificent 45s, of which the almost unbearably intense "Footprints On My Mind" was surely the pick. Killen arranged contracts with Epic for them both as Dial floundered, and Annette cut the brilliant "Its All Over Now"/"Promises Should Never Be Broken" at Muscle Sholas before her tragic death in an air crash on her way back to Alabama. Was she on her way to cut the album? Or to put the finishing touches to the set? If it was the latter will we ever hear those tracks from this wonderful singer, who, along with Tommie Young, was the very best of the female artists to emerge in the 70s? She's still missed by all deep soul fans.
Little Roger Hatcher - I Need You (Dotty's )
Roger Hatcher has had a long career in the music business, making some memorable singles over the years like "Caught Making Love" (Black Soul), "We're Gonna Make It" (Brown Dog) and "I Dedicate My Life To You" (Volt). Most of his releases have been self-produced, often for his own labels, like the ones he cut for Super Bad in the 80s. His high, rather affected singing tone is something you either like or loathe, and this was already present on the bluesy "I Need You" which features some super piano and organ flourishes. It was cut in Detroit, where his musical family moved from their native Alabama. Brother Will cut for Cotillion, among other concerns, and Hatcher remains proud to call Motor City stalwart Edwin Starr his cousin. Roger is a proudly independent man, as his track record in an uncertain business demonstrates, and who is to say that he won't come back with more of his home grown products in the new millennium. I for one would be delighted if he did.
Walter Rhodes - I Worship The Ground You Walk On (Mascot 129)
A friend who's opinion in these matters is very reliable, says that when he saw Walter Rhodes on stage in the 70s he was the most emotionally compelling singer he'd ever heard. Not flashy - just unbearably intense. Sadly his very small recorded output doesn't do justice to that build up. A native New Yorker, he cut straight ahead 12 bar blues as a solo artist as "Walter & Little" and "The Blonde Bomber" in the late 50s as well as group discs as a member of the Memos and Golden Arrows. This 45, cut in '59 was his first under his real name, and is an almost perfect example of the beginnings of soul when elements of blues, doo-wop and R & B were coming together with gospel phrasing to create this new hybrid. Walter's vocal is a masterly slow burn, searing with barely restrained passion, and his phrasing is simply superb. The triplet piano and guitar in the background feel just right too - and the unusual inclusion of an alto sax in the horn section gives the arrangement a lovely poignancy. After this, Walter cut more blues for Le Sage as Little Red Walter, and a crudely fashioned but very moving "A Message To My Woman" for Violet at the end of the 60s. You can find this on the UK Ace CD "Sanctified Soul". Rhodes died in the mid 70s - a neglected figure. If there had been any justice he would have been a big star.
Dee Edwards - I'll Shed No Tears (Premium Stuff 5)
Doris "Dee" Edwards came from Birmingham, Alabama originally but spent virtually her lengthy career in Detroit. First cutting for Tuba around 1962/3, she had a long series of 45s for D-Town in the middle of the decade, one or two of which have had plays on the Northern scene, as has her other Premium Stuff 45, "A girl can't go by what she hears". For deep fans though this is the 45 to watch out for. Dee shows what a strong and committed vocalist she can be when she's allowed to cut loose and be heard over a sympathetic backing. And the playing here is really first class - but it doesn't sound like a Detroit cut to me. The very sparse nature of the arrangement and the guitar, piano and drummer in particular seem to have more in common with the sounds coming from Memphis studios like Sam Phillips and Lyn-Lou than anything recorded in Michigan. I've also never heard a horn section like this North of the Mason-Dixon line either. Whatever - it's a superb slab of emotional soul. Right in the pocket. Dee had other small label 45s in the early 70s and then recorded 2 albums for Cotillion around the turn of the decade. If you search hard in the dance sounds on these sets you can still find traces of the great vocalist on this single.
Charles Burns - I Am A Fool In Love (Gene 310)
Jimmy Braswell's excellent 45 and this one are the 45s to watch out for on this obscure Georgia label. I've said before that soul music from that State has been sadly overlooked and "I am a fool in love" is yet more proof of this. There is an appealing charm about the song, and the R & B touches and arpeggio-led rhythm arrangement hints at an early 60s date. Burns himself has obviously picked up a lot of his vocal nuances from the church, and while he doesn't really let go, there is enough power and aggression to satisfy purists like me. The whole recording has a simple and direct approach that later soul music never quite captured, and for that reason alone it's a well sought after cut. As for Burns - who was he? Did he make any further recordings? There's so many tiny labels from that part of the world that another Charles Burns disc turning up somewhere wouldn't surprise me at all.
Bobby Kimble - I'm Sorry We Had To Part (JAB 1001)
This is apparently the first 45 from Bobby Kimble, who also made some rather less rare ones as Neil Kimble. Cut, like all his discs, on the West Coast, "I'm sorry we had to part" is a splendid blues ballad very much in the Bobby Bland vein. The beautifully timed brass phrases and stinging lead guitar are both straight out of the Joe Scott book. And Kimble himself does a fine job of recreating Bland's gruff, throat-tearing delivery. I'm a sucker for music like this, emotionally charged minor keyed slowies, and as a result of Bland's huge and continuing success in the black market through the 60s there are many people who tried to get in on the act. Not many sold well, so you really have to search to find 45s like this. Kimble cut for large concerns like Tangerine and Venture in the late 60s/early 70s, as well as smaller ones like Creative Producers and Fat Fish but never really recorded anything quite as vocally aggressive as this again - mores the pity.
Timmy Shaw - Thunder In My Heart (Bon 003)
I guess Timmy Shaw is best known for his mini-hit from '64 "I'm gonna send you back to Georgia" on Wand, but before that he recorded several excellent R & B tinged 45s which never made the charts. Check out "Throw it out of your mind" (Reel then Jamie) or "I'm such a lonely guy" (Big Hit). Like "Thunder in my heart" these were all cut in Detroit, and it's a real pleasure to include another Motor City artist in this column, just to show that not all singers from Michigan came on like Diana Ross. This track, though, is his real killer. Over a stunning bluesy guitar and piano, Shaw almost knocks himself out - howling out his despair like a man possessed. There's a backing group of vocalists in there somewhere as well, but they're quite overwhelmed by his rage. And what about the dead stop finish - extraordinary! This remains one of the most sought after deep soul 45s, and no wonder. They simply don't come much better than this.
Oscar Perry - I Found True Love (Lee J) 1902
The excellent magazine "In the Basement" recently carried an interesting interview with Oscar Perry, going over his lengthy but rather disjointed career in his native Texas. With some 50 singles to his credit - often on the most obscure labels - putting together a discography was always going to be a nightmare. Whatever the dates ascribed to it, and my guess would be in the mid-60s, this tender blues ballad is one of his earliest 45s. And like so many performers from the Lone Star State, its clear he was heavily influenced by the great Bobby Bland. Over arpeggio styled guitar, Oscar almost breathes his tale of love, punctuated by lovely horn and brass flourishes. One of his best deep soul discs without a doubt. Perry recorded throughout the decades, always on the edge between blues and soul, without ever getting a national hit. Some great singles, like the Blue Horizon one, some not so good, but all done with pride in his job. His material for Huey Meaux can be found on CDs from Demon UK, and his most recent CD "When love is gone" on his own re-activated Perry-Tone label from last year is worth searching out.
Lloyd Hendricks - Your Cold Cold Heart (Mala 12007)
John Mihelic was one of those all round Southern record men - writer, producer, label owner - that flourished in the 60s and now seem such an endangered species. From his Mississippi base he issued 45s on his logos like Statue and Vee-Eight and leased out other material, like this 45, to larger concerns. Some of them were country, some blues, but in my view the best were soul, and of these his finest performer was Lloyd Hendricks. His Statue 45s like "The harsh white light" and "Don't cry no more" are good, but this one is sensational. Over a subdued organ, piano and guitar accompaniment he just sings his heart out. The tone of his voice is gruff, throaty and totally convincing, and when the horns come in the effect raises the hair on the back of my neck. The cornball lyric becomes something more when Lloyd puts his soul on the line. Many deep fans think country soul is the pinnacle of the genre - and when you listen to a prime example like this you know just what they mean. I can't find any references to Hendricks recording anything for anybody other than Mihelic. So this single may just be his best ever cut.
Hoagy Lands - My Tears Are Dry (MGM 13041)
The only artist to have 2 cuts reviewed on this page - so far - is the redoubtable Hoagy Lands from the Big Apple. This is much earlier than his Spectrum 45 and could best be described as doo-wop soul. The bass voice provides a great counterpoint to Lands as he swoops and soars around the melody. His Sam Cooke influence is so pronounced that it could almost be a parody - except for the sincerity of the rendition. I'd go so far as to say that the way he sings the first verse is among soul's greatest moments. The arrangement, production and writing are by the great Bert Berns and are - it goes without saying - impeccable. One day Lands will be recognised as a great singer. Remember where you read and heard it first.
Johnny Adams - (Sometimes) A Man Will Shed A Few Tears Too (Pacemaker 249)
New Orleans main man Adams is simply one of soul's best vocalists. The Tan Canary, as he was dubbed, sadly passed away recently leaving a rich legacy of recorded music. Although he was at his most expressive in the 60s when his powers were at their height, he recorded mainly for small local concerns then and much of this material has remained outside the scope of the major reissue companies. This is rather sad as his somewhat patchy Rounder LPs and CDs give the impression of Adams as a superb stylist - but without the raw power and emotional commitment of songs like this. He cut this as one of 3 45s for that dreadful Texan Huey Meaux and it ranks as one of his most brilliant performances in a career littered with obscure masterpieces. 1966 was a great year for soul - and this should be added to the list of real winners. If you like Adams in this vein I can also recommend his Watch 45s for fanatics, his SSS International tracks which are easier to find, and his Atlantic singles which show how a major label failed to capitalise on his talent by dreadful promotion.
JIMMY ARMSTRONG "You're Getting Next To Me Baby" (Brothers Three 1001)
Jimmy Armstrong is one of those artists - like say Jimmy Braswell - who cut a handful of fantastic 45s but never got the break which would have set up a career that his vocal abilities warranted. His first 45 was for Zells in '63, but his next ones for Enjoy ("I'm Going To Lock My Heart") and Stop ("Count The Tears") are amongst the rawest soul of 1964, real throat tearing stuff. He then cut for Eddie Singleton's Shrine concern in Washington DC at the end of 1965, and "I'm About To Say Goodbye" is in a similar vein - one of only a couple of that famous label's output of any interest to deep soul fans. He recut the song for sister label Jet Set the next year and I presume that this rarity followed on. Who the Brothers Three were and where they came from remains a mystery - although the names Buddy Scott and Jimmy Radcliffe as writers hint at their involvement and a New York location. Whatever the source this is soul music of the highest class. Armstrong simply screams his way through a wonderful 6/8 ballad, aided by a tasteful and sympathetic arrangement. My copy has an Armstrong autograph - one of my most treasured possessions.
BEN ATKINS & THE NOMADS "I'll Step Aside" (Statue 7001)
Atkins - not to be confused with sweet soul singer Ben Aiken - was another of those Southern blue-eyed soul men. He started recording for Goldwax owners Claunch and Russell who leased a couple of 45s to Josie, and put one out on their main logo. A good pedigree, and the discs especially the lively "Ring of fire" were pretty fine too. A further disc for Youngstown under Dan Penn and Spooner Oldham was disappointingly bland, but his next for John Mihelic's Mississippi based Statue concern was excellent. "I'll step aside" features a chugging rhythm and subdued horns over which Atkins gives his best ever vocal. Gruff, hoarse and full of power, this is soul singing of the highest class - especially the way he uses dynamic changes to such good effect midway through the song. Atkins never reached these heights again, despite cutting in Muscle Shoals for Enterprise in the early 70s. The 2 45s and astonishingly obscure album "Patchouli" were just too country for my taste.
RENE BAILEY "I'm Just Gonna Be Missing You" (Carnival 539)
Although label boss Joe Evans imported some southern productions for release on Carnival such as the excellent Little Royal and Jimmy Jules 45s, the vast majority of his output came from his own efforts. And despite what you might think from a casual hearing, this cut is yet another superb example of hard New York soul. Both before and after her brief stay with Carnival, Bailey seemed more at home singing supper club and torch songs - no doubt reflecting her usual material in the clubs of the Big Apple - but for once she really cuts loose showing real gospel fire. The tasteful backing featuring some lovely chorded guitar (Eric Gale?) is just right too. A great deep disc. Her other Carnival 45 from the following year 1969, a version of "Warm and tender love", is well worth seeking out too.
WILLIE COLLINS "Two Lives" (Geneva 104)
Otis Redding was such an important and successful artist it was inevitable that he would influence other, possibly less talented singers. "Influence" in some cases tripped over into "imitation" of course but singers like Johnny Soul and James Duncan kept mostly to the right side of the line. Willie Collins' "Two lives" walks a difficult tightrope. With a rhythm riff from "These arms of mine" and a horn chart that recalls "I've been loving you too long" the Otis factor scores pretty highly. What makes this a classic though is the depth and conviction that Collins brings to the song - a riveting vocal performance, particularly for '69. Although Geneva is generally recognised as a Chicago label, the address here is New York. Can anyone throw any light on this? Collins certainly seems to be a Windy City man, cutting a good 45 for Panic before becoming part of BW and the Next Edition on Dakar. I guess the Will Collins and Willpower on Mercury etc through the 70s and the Will Collins on Capitol in the 80s are the same guy. If so the producers soon told him to stop singing like this - far too sweaty and black for general acceptance!
BARBARA GEORGE "Leave Me Alone" (Hep Me 159)
Senator Jones ploughed a rather lonely furrow through the 70s and early 80s. His releases on Hep Me, JBs and other tiny New Orleans logos - as well as the material he leased to larger concerns - featured real instruments, strong songs, great singers and virtually no disco fodder. Johnny Adams was his prize asset of course but his superb 45s and albums on Bobby Powell run him close. Jones didn't cut many female singers but his 3 45s on Barbara George are uniformly excellent. She had a long Crescent City heritage of course scoring a huge hit with her first record aged 19, "I know" for AFO in 1961. This R & B smash was followed by a lot of similar records for Sue into the 60s, but her career stalled. "Leave me alone" shows what a mature artist she had become by the mid 70s handling the lyric with passion and a lot of style. In the long run I bet that Hep Me will be seen as one of the last bastions of real music - blues and soul - seriously offered to a black audience in the South. Collect the 45s now before they disappear.
And now for the archives....
Charles (Mr. C C) Carlson - Don't want to sit down - Bold 1002 stream it
Down in the deepest south in Louisiana there's so much undiscovered soul it can take your breath away. New Orleans had a flourishing and well regarded recording scene in the 60s of course but out in the country small labels appeared in large numbers - many of which are now completely forgotten. One of these was Bold, run by Count Rockin' Sydney from the Ville Platte area. Sydney recorded in all the styles the Pelican state recognised - cajun, swamp pop, soul, blues - and for a bewildering array of labels, but is perhaps best known for writing and cutting the original version of "My Toot Toot" in the late 70s. Bold only had a couple of releases but this crudely recorded gem from Charles Carlson is the one to look out for. Not just for the endearingly amateur organist but particularly for the violence of Carlson's delivery. There aren't many more venomous or menacing vocals that I know. Charles Carlson? No I don't know anything about him either.
Jo Armstead has had a long and distinguished career in the music business. She started out as an Ikette in the early 60s before going solo in New York cutting for Infinity in 1965. But she was an expert songwriter as well as singer, penning songs for the great Big Maybelle,Tina Britt, and Betty Everett as well as Ray Charles, including "Let's go get stoned" with Ashford and Simpson. In 67 she moved to Chicago setting up the Giant and Gamma concerns with her husband Mel Collins. They cut some excellent material on Garland Green, Shirley Wahls and Ruby Andrews as well as Armstead herself before personal and professional problems ended the labels and the relationship. When this 45 came out in 1970 she was reported to be back in the Big Apple but the names of Bobby Lexing and Arthur Wright on the production credits mean that this is a West Coast recording. This fierce and bluesy record no doubt reflected her own feelings at the time - and the impassioned vocal clearly shows her gospel roots in Mississippi, but the arrangement, especially the huge horn section and R & B drumming hark back to an earlier time. Whatever it's history, this single and her great Tay-Ster 45 represent the best of Jo Armstead for me. Despite further 45s on labels like Truth in the 70s and her brave attempt at starting labels like Preacher Rose in the 80s Jo's peak was in the 60s when power and feeling meant something. Try to be unmoved by this song - it's very difficult indeed.
James Brown didn't often allow his backing group to step into the spotlight. For some reason he recorded all the members of his revue as single artists, and his close associate - and Flame - Bobby Byrd had a series of hits, but the full sound of the Famous Flames together only appeared on wax a couple of times. This marvelous 45 from 1970 is the best. But the funny thing is that this sanctified classic is really a show case for singer/writer Johnny Terry with the other Flames restricted to a couple of "oohs" and "aahs". However Terry's vocal makes this rather irrelevant, as his lovely high baritone with it's serious Sam Cooke overtones swoops and soars round the melody. The sparse accompaniment only reinforces the church like atmosphere. Interestingly John Rootman Henry cut a version of this for Henry Stone's Dig label in Florida a couple of years later, claiming the writer credit. But his recording, good though it is, isn't really a patch on this.
A real strange one this. The label says the production was by the famous Buck Ram at a Las Vegas address. But the sound of the disc is pure Memphis - if that isn't the Goldwax rhythm section circa 1967/8 I'll eat my hat. Check the drumming, guitar, organ and the horns, not to mention Bobby's best Otis Redding style vocals. The mystery deepens when you consider the address given on his later Raina 45s in the 70s and 80s - Phoenix, Arizona, not a million miles from Vegas. Perhaps the session guys were on vacation. More likely this 45 was cut in Tennessee and then leased out to Ram. Whatever the circumstances this is a single to cherish, as it hits all the bells. The chord structure of the song and the arrangement are just right and Barnes gives it his all - down to some lovely "my my my" fills. His 45 for Cross-tone a couple of years later is a splendid bluesy ballad and his Raina singles are also very fine but "I shed a tear" is the one that really counts for me.
Jimmy Castor's Bunch were, of course, regulars on the soul/disco charts in the 70s and 80s but he's a much more interesting character than those formula discs would suggest. He started his career as the leader of the Juniors doo-wop group in the mid 50s before turning professional as a sax player around 1960. His first big hit was the latin jazz outing "Hey Leroy your Mama's calling you" for Smash at the end of 1966 but he'd already cut for a raft of smaller labels before that, including Jet Set of Washington DC. This 45 was one of 3 he cut for the label, and I would guess the recording dates to be 1965/6 judging by the sound. The other 2 45s are not in the same league at all as this track, but do show the eclectic nature of his output of the time, varying from almost supper club ballads to hard soul. "It's what you give" does though reveal what a superb vocalist he could be when he put his mind to it. There's power and commitment a-plenty here, and when he cuts loose at the end with those Pickett like falsetto screams it makes the hair on the back of my neck rise. The setting of the arrangement, with the mighty horn section, and the gospel feeling of the song make this a deep soul disc to savour. He never made another record like it - no doubt the money in funk was much better.
SSS International affiliate Minaret is a treasury of deep soul. Records by Johnny Dynamite, Double Soul, Genie Brooks, Count Willie and, of course, Doris Allen are rightly celebrated. The most prolific artist on the label was the Florida born "Big" John Hamilton. He cut 8 solo 45s for Minaret in the decade from '67 as well as a couple of super duets with Allen, and this one from 1968 is arguably the finest. He had a voice to match his name, fully throated with a strong bluesy edge and just the right hint of Otis Redding's phrasing. This is a classic deep soul piece in the tried and trusted 6/8 format which Hamilton suits so well, double tracking his voice on the tasty hookline. Most of the Minaret 45s came from writer/arranger RJ "Arjay" Benninghof and producer Finley Duncan from their Valparaiso, Florida base but, despite the label information, rhythm tracks were often cut in Muscle Shoals and Memphis. This cut bears the unmistakable hallmarks of the A Team from Fame, with the rhythm section on good form and the horns enlivened by prominent baritone sax fills. Seeing as you can pick this up quite cheaply every deep fan should have this splendid record.
Great R & B singer that she was, in the grand tradition of Bessie Smith, I never felt that Tina Turner made the transition to the soul era particularly well. In contrast to , say, Etta James, her soul sides were few and far between and her energies seemed to be concentrated on the rock/pop market especially from the end of the 60s. But this track is simply wonderful deep soul. Ike used to fit recording dates around his touring schedule and issued 45s on his many labels as well as hustling major label releases. This track was also issued on Minit in '69, with a co-production credit to Willie Mitchell. And this gives the clue, I think, to this marvellous disc. To the best of my knowledge this is the only 45 Ike & Tina cut in Memphis in the classic soul era and it shows. Papa Willie's influence is clear and strong - if only he could have recorded more on the duo! Favoured by a much more restrained instrumental backing than usual, Tina is given so much room to cut loose - an opportunity she takes with both hands. A tip of the hat, too, to the excellent and tasteful guitarist (Ike himself?). Finally the good news, this 45 shouldn't break the bank either.
There have been several instances of white singers making the highest quality southern soul music - Eddie Hinton, George Soule and Jerry Woodard are names that spring readily to mind. In my view this extraordinary performance from Len Wade is right up there among the very best. Vocally he comes across as totally convincing - gruff, superb gospel phrasing and even one or two spine-chilling falsetto screams - a fantastic effort. There's nothing in his other rather poppy 45s for labels like UA, SSS International and Minaret to compare with this peach from 1966. The backing and "feel" of the song are just right, with the horn charts neatly complementing the classic styling of the rhythm tracks. Most Dial 45s were the work of that master of the country-soul production, label owner Buddy Killen, but it's interesting to note the involvement of old friends Benninghof and Duncan in this disc. Could this have been cut in Florida? It doesn't sound like it - more Memphis than anything else - but wherever it was recorded this is a 45 to marvel over.
The amount of attention paid to recordings from Memphis and Muscle Shoals by deep soul fans is well merited, but other locations like New Orleans, Jackson and Miami also receive their fair share of coverage. But the state of Georgia in general and the city of Atlanta in particular have hardly been noticed. Interest in recordings by Bill Lowery and Bill Haney has risen recently, however, and William Bell's Peachtree concern has some great 45s. Sadly other labels like Tuska remain almost completely unknown. This may be the best 45 from that concern - although others by Buddy Cantrell (thanks Emil), Bill Wright and, reputedly Jimmy Thorpe, are well worth seeking out. Barbara Hall's self-penned ode to despair has captivated all who have heard it - and no wonder as it's a beautifully realised number superbly topped off by her desolate delivery. I guess that this came out early in the 70s from the style of the arrangement but both this and her other Tuska 45 have vanished without trace, unlike her excellent 45s from Innovation 2 later in the decade. Yet another singer of quality whose luck sadly didn't match her talents.
Jimmy Braswell - I can't give you my heart - King 6374 stream it
Georgia singer Jimmy Braswell only made a handful of 45s but their quality was so high that every one is eagerly sought by discerning soul fans. His early single on Gene and the later one on Jar-Val are both fine, and his Quinvy 45 is an acknowledged classic - but this is the best record he ever made. Taken at a funereal pace, with tasteful fills from guitar and piano, and featuring a horn section in the grand manner, it was released in 1971, much too late for widespread commercial success. Particularly in view of the astonishing intensity of the vocal, as Braswell gives a throat-tearing, rasping delivery of great passion, complete with some thrilling screams at the song's climax - a style of performance that went out with Pickett's departure from Alabama studios. The label says that the disc is "A James Brown production" but it's so different from every other JB studio session I've ever heard that I can only assume that this indicates a financial/marketing credit and not a technical one. It may well have been cut in Macon - although there are many similarities of approach with ZZ Hill's Muscle Shoals cut "Home just ain't home at suppertime" - but it really is a record that transcends time and location. My guess is that this disc would figure in the top 10 of every deep soul fan in the world. A truly great single
This unknown 45 is proof once again that soul music is all about the power of emotion rather than studios full of musicians or technical tricks. To call this a simple - even home-made - production would not be out of place at all. I can only distinguish 4 instruments - 2 guitars, bass and drums - behind Claudette, and a producer with more time or money would surely have asked for other takes to try and overcome the obvious difficulties they get into during the song. But despite these limitations "Beauty" is very effective due to the emphasis this very simplicity places on Claudette's heartfelt interpretation of her own lyric. S & H were based in the unfashionable city of Cleveland Ohio and the only other 45 I have on the label comes from bluesman Gene Allison - although judging by the catalogue numbers there may well be other releases. I would think that this was cut in the early 60s but the down home nature of the track makes this an absolute guess. As for Claudette Johnson I know nothing about her whatsoever and have no other recordings by her. Can anyone help with more information about this little gem of a record?
Little Dooley (or Dodley as the label has it here) cut several 45s for a variety of labels before achieving a minor hit as Dooley Silverspoon with "Bump and Grind" in 1975. Despite a pleasant but unremarkable stay with Gamble & Huff on North Bay, his best work was done for the notorious Johnny Baylor. Dooley cut the Northern stormer "You better be ready" for his early Koko logo and the super deep ballad "I love you" for his even earlier Baylor label. But when Baylor went South to offer his dubious array of talents to the Stax company, Dooley followed to cut this superb deep soul masterpiece. A simple Memphis rhythm section and "open" horn arrangements give Dooley's vocals plenty of space. And he grabs the opportunity with both hands, wailing as though his life depended on it - which may not have been far from the truth if some of the stories about Baylor are reliable. Co-production comes from another Southern hero Luther Ingram who had already had a couple of 45s issued by Baylor, and whose knowledge of how to portray a ballad no doubt helped considerably. Don't you just love those "ha ha" frills Dooley throws in?
Tommy Tate is simply the greatest soul unknown - America's best kept secret. Although born in Florida, his career was founded as the featured vocalist in Mississippi's first integrated group, Tim Whitsett's Imperial Showband, and he has lived near Jackson ever since. His reording career hasn't exactly been prolific, but his powerful, impressive baritone makes anything he cuts instantly recognisable. So Andy Chapman (Atco), Tommy Yates (Verve) and the brilliant Nightingales 45 for Stax "Just a little overcome" are all our man. This 45 from 1966 was amongst his earlier efforts, and although I'm not sure that Nashville stalwart Billy Sherrill really knew how to produce southern soul, Tate's sheer class and vocal abilities make this a superb disc. Listen to his phrasing, and the wonderful way he sings round the melody, making a rather corny country number something else. Tate went to Koko after his spell with the Nightingales, scoring some hits and writing some excellent material for stable-mate Luther Ingram among others. He also recorded an excellent LP for Frederick Knight's Juana label in the 70s as well as a number of first rate 45s for Sundance in the early 80s, especially the catchy and beautifully realised "What gives you the right". His recent solo work for Urgent was slightly disappointing as the choice of material wasn't strong enough, but his songs cut by Otis Clay, Johnnie Taylor and Bobby Bland are simply magnificent. And if you think they're good I can assure you they're not a patch on Tate's own Muscle Shoals demos. I would say that he's the best true soul singer still plying his trade - and my first choice for a recording deal when I win the lottery.
Like so many singers of his generation, Willie Hightower was heavily influenced by Sam Cooke. But even on his early discs for Bobby Robinson in New York on Fury, Enjoy and Capitol, it was clear that his throaty, passionate style was his own. By the time he journeyed South to Muscle Shoals in 1970 his phrasing and sense of dynamics were fully matured and the 6 sides he cut for Fame are probably his very best. This ballad, which he wrote himself, is my personal pick of them, not just for Hightower's superb delivery but also for the exemplary playing of the Fame Gang and the wonderfully bluesy horn charts. Certainly one of Rick Hall's very best productions. Hightower had a reputation of being rather wayward and he never recorded as many discs as his talents deserved - even though it is a fact that there's not a bad 45 to his name. Later discs cut in Memphis on Mercury and SS7 are well worth picking up as is his sole 80s issue on Adventure One. I have heard some unissued tracks he cut for the revived Goldwax label in that decade which show his vocal powers are undiminished - perhaps all he needs is a sympathetic producer to give him one more chance.
In 1964/5 Bobby Bland was still the USA's biggest blues star. If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery then Merle Spears was Bland's biggest fan. This song is a subtle and easily rocking blues ballad of the type that Bland made his own - and Spears' vocal nuances are so close to the master's that blindfold you'd be very hard pressed to tell the difference. Spears came from Louisiana and this 45 - like his other Atlantic 45 - was produced and arranged by Baton Rouge based Lionel Whitfield for his own Whit label. This concern is best known for the quality singles by blind Bobby Powell but I think this cut may be the best disc ever from that source. Spears also recorded another superb Bland soundalike "Wisdom of a fool" for his own J-Mer label under the pseudonym "Johnnie Jackson & the Blazers" and an intense version of "When something is wrong with my baby" as "the Herculoids". If you think you know all Bland's 45 try this one.
Bobby Womack spent much of the 60s as a session musician/writer in Memphis and Muscle Shoals. He cut several very good 45s on Minit himself of course, and his expertise was crucial to Wilson Pickett's enduring success. But his productions on other artists were few and far between and this track, apparently a one-off, is arguably the best. The song - Womack's own - is an achingly tender ballad beautifully suited to Taylor's gentle, flexible vocals and the mood is reinforced by a strong horn section and some subdued, classy strings. The playing by the Alabama A-Team of Hawkins, Hood, Johnson and Becket is magnificent as always and this must have been cut shortly before they left Rick Hall to set up on their own. This little known 45 is a perfect gem - a deep soul classic that deserves to be much better known and appreciated. The flip "You got my nose wide open" is an excellent mid-pace song as well. Any information on Gene Taylor would be much appreciated.
Errol Dixon was a piano playing blues singer who spent much of the 60s and early 70s in the UK. He was at his most comfortable in the city blues style popular in the late 40s and early 50s in the US - try Roy Brown or Louis Jordan for example - and cut several enjoyable LPs for Decca and Transatlantic among others. At the time "True love never runs smooth" was recorded - 1967 - the southern soul of Otis Redding and his brethren was becoming very hip in certain UK circles. This one-off 45 is the most effective attempt to achieve the Goldwax sound ever made outside the Memphis/Muscle Shoals axis that I know. Legendary producer Mike Vernon has got the sax-rich horn section and the guitar fills just right, and although Dixon is no James Carr, he does his best to come on like a gospel trained southern soul man. I don't think this was ever issued in the US and so it remains a real obscurity - Britain's best deep soul 45.
Miami based Robinson made several quality 45s for Alston around the turn of the 70s. Some of these like "What can I tell her" and "Please accept my call" were reissued on Atlantic when he signed for the larger company. This process was remarkable and, as far as I know, unique. Pioneer British music historian Charlie Gillett was interviewing Jerry Wexler in his Miami home for his book "Making tracks" and they were discussing Alston's biggest seller Betty Wright's "Clean up woman". Gillett mentioned JP Robinson as he was well liked by Blues and Soul magazine. Wexler asked if he thought Atlantic should sign him and Gillett- thinking the question academic - said "yes". Wexler immediately phoned Alston boss Henry Stone saying "Henry? This is Jerry. What's JP Robinson doing? I'm gonna sign him to Atco, we'll pay you $8000 and 8% OK? Yeah we'll put him with Brad (Shapiro) and Dave (Crawford)". And the deal was done within minutes of the artist's name being raised. Unfortunately despite the 45s on Atco and Atlantic being uniformly good, Robinson's 45s never dented the national charts. I like his version of Solomon Burke's classic "The price" best of all. The Muscle Shoals Swampers are at the height of their considerable powers and Robinson's vocal is wonderfully committed. The flip "How much more can she stand" is almost as good.
Jim and Bob Harrison cut several 45s for the New York Clock concern around 1960. They were clearly looking for a style as the material varied from near doo-wop to frantic rock'n'roll. Despite the claims of the great "Please don't hurt me", I think "Here is my heart" is their best ballad. Backed by some super riffing saxes, the number features an impassioned and almost uncontrolled vocal particularly on the spoken sections. This excellent example of early soul looks back to such screamers as Don and Dewey and forward to the gospel drenched styles of Sam and Dave. Although Jim faded from view, Bob became Bobby Harris, one of the best exponents of Sam Cooke's style of singing and one of the great unknown Big Apple soul men. His 45s for Atlantic ("We can't believe you're gone" - his Sam Cooke tribute) and Shout (like the magnificent "Mr. Success") in particular, under the guidance of Bert Berns, are among the most heartfelt deep soul of the 60s and should be in every collection. Thanks to Dickie for this one.
Hoagy Lands was another New York singer whose career had certain parallels with Bobby Harris. He started with Bert Berns with a 45 for Judy and then cut 2 45s for MGM in 1961 including the lovely Latin-tinged doo-wop ballad "My tears are dry". Already the pronounced Sam Cooke influence to his tenor vocals were quite evident and this persisted through his sole Atlantic single (the superb "Baby come on home") and the excellent series of 45s he cut for Laurie from '66 to '68. The famous track is the Northern "The next in line" but as is so often the case the little known ballads, where Lands has the room to really stretch out, are the ones that have stood the test of time the better. Among the ones to watch out for are "Two years and a thousand tears" and the luscious "Forever in my heart". He cut a further series of 45s for Laurie subsidiary Spectrum in 1971/2 including this gem, under arranger Robert Banks and producer John Bennings. This wonderfully subtle song, featuring outstanding playing from the crack Big Apple crew of Bernard Purdie, Gordon Edwards, Richard Tee et al, is given the wholehearted treatment by Lands. Interesting to compare his version with that cut by his labelmate, another great soulster Ronnie Mitchell. When the story of New York soul comes to be written perhaps these wonderful talents will become more widely appreciated.
Oscar Toney's Bell 45s are rightly considered some of the most impassioned soul of the 60s. His throaty high tenor, with its hints of OV Wright in the delivery, made even the corniest lyric come alive and songs like "For your precious love", "A love that never grows cold" and "Until we meet again" are classics of their type. For some reason, however, his later Capricorn and Contempo singles are not so well known. But titles like "Down on my knees" (his first Capricorn release) and "I've been loving you too long" (possibly his best Contempo number) deserve wider recognition. But I think the brilliant "I wouldn't be a poor boy" the best of his 70s releases. The lengthy spoken intro and screaming climax show Oscar at his anguished peak, and the background arpeggio guitar is pure throwback. And that's the problem - the whole disc was far too heavy for charts full of sophisticated artists like Marvin Gaye and Curtis Mayfield. Almost every single Capricorn soul release is well worth looking for if you like Southern soul - artists of the calibre of Arthur Conley, Sam and Bill, Percy Sledge and Toney himself are not to be sneezed at. Sadly for us label owner Phil Walden made far more money from blues rock acts like the Allman Brothers than soul, and when he ended that side of his business it was another indication that Southern soul had had its day. A titbit for trivia freaks is that the wife of this 45's producer, Jackie Avery, was Ella Brown who cut some serious soul for Adams and Lanor but who like Walden, saw the writing on the wall, joining rock group Wet Willie. I am sure she earned more money from that than from her solo recordings. What a pity.
This is Frederick Knight's first released 45. He cut for Mercury earlier- courtesy of finance from Buddy Killen - but nothing was released and this offering from '69 marked the start of the professional career of one of Southern soul's most underrated talents. After his success with the oddball "I've been lonely for so long" for Stax he wrote/produced and occasionally sang on some of the very best sophisticated deep soul of the 70s. Think of the excellence of the Controllers and the grit of CL Blast, as well as some more obscure artists like True Image and Clarence Mann and you'll recognise the quality. OK so the incredible success of Anita Ward's awful "Ring my bell" went to his head and his Juana label lost its way but that shouldn't obscure the wonderful music that he created. It's been great to see his name on a few recent Malaco albums and his efforts still hit all the right bells - let's hope that he rediscovers the fire. But this 45 - cut for Neal Hemphill's Sound of Birmingham setup - shows most of his good and bad points. A good song beautifully realised and arranged, but a vocal that's musical and well-crafted without being earth-shattering. Frederick "Witness" Knight, one of soul's best back-room artists.
Willie (Hill) and Anthony (Fontain) were one of the last of the great breed of male duos that used to be such a feature of the 60s soul scene. I don't know of an earlier 45 than this superb ballad. Taken at a dead slow pace, the song's structure and arrangement gives the gospel-drenched vocals centre stage. And given the commitment and lack of inhibition Willie & Anthony display that's got to be right - a great performance! I always thought Molly Jo was a Georgia concern but the presence of Simtec and Wylie on the disc label argues a Chicago connection. Whatever - there wasn't much soul as raw as this around the turn of the 70s and they continued to display this uncommercial approach on their 3 Blue Candle 45s later on that decade. The pick of these is "It's never too late", another crude and unpolished record at a time when Southern soul seemed to be losing it's capacity to take listeners straight to the church. They came back with an 80s 45 on Soul-Potion, another tiny Georgia independent and I thought that was it until Ichiban released a CD by Willie Hill, "Leavin' won't be easy", late last year. And how pleased I was that it was really very good indeed. Welcome back Willie we've missed you!
From Miami comes another 60s gem. A ballad with all the classic ingredients - arpeggio guitar, churchy organ, massed horns, 6/8 tempo and an anguished vocalist tearing his lungs out! The splendidly named Mr. Percolator is really Pearstine Badger who had several 45s under the name Perk Badger, perhaps the best being "One Woman Man" (Hit Sound) which could have been cut the next day , it's so similar in feel. Miami soul is always assumed to be TK related and 70s orientated but there was plenty of great soul cut in the previous decade - on labels like Deep City, Saadia, Lloyd, Octavia and Soul Time. But we should always remember the really small operators who made soul music what it was - a vehicle for individual musical expression - and they don't come much smaller than Wax-Wel! If this 45 whets your appetite you should also seek out another Mr. Percolator deep soul marvel "Come on back to me" on the same label. You won't be disappointed.
Freddy Briggs is one of those names that often crops up as a writer or producer of odd soul 45s or LP tracks. He wrote the superbly melodic "Strung out over you" which the Dells cut for example. But if he's known at all to the average soul fan it's as the husband/manager of the wonderful Kim Tolliver whose handful of 45s and 2 albums (one cut as Kimberly Briggs) are amongst the best female soul ever recorded. However it must have been through choice that he spent his career in the back room, so to speak, for on the evidence of this marvelous 45 he could have been one of soul's greatest voices. Listen to the power and authority he brings to the lyrics, not to mention his impeccable timing and good sense of dynamics. I simply can't believe that this disc - which seems to have been a one-off - was cut in Detroit despite producer/label owner Don Davis' involvement. No Motor City organ player or drummer sounded like this and the horn section is pure Memphis. If it was really cut there, despite the aural evidence, then I'd say that this 45 and Eddie Parker's "But if you must go" (Mica) are the 2 best Motown deep soul records ever made. Anybody offer an alternative view?
Group deep soul can be a rather scarce commodity, but this recently discovered gem shows the genre at it's very best. Since it's billed as being produced by the group and Morty Craft it's a fair bet this was cut in New York - the veteran Craft never liked to be out of Manhattan - and is probably therefore the same combo that recorded some lovely Big Apple sides for Arock, Wand and especially Dynamo in the 60s. Judging by the feel of the disc it sounds like an early 70s recording, the label design indicates this as well. But this is all conjecture, what's absolutely certain is the quality of the 45. Over a spare accompaniment featuring a chorded organ and reverb guitar - no horns or strings - the vocals are simply outstanding. The backgrounds harmonies are tight and beautifully arranged, and the hard baritone lead is compelling. Although the melody isn't as memorable as some sweet group records, this is a real grower and a haunting one at that. Anyone wishing to hear more Diplomats recordings at a reasonable price should check out the Collectables CD of their Dynamo tracks, named after their best for the label "Here's my heart". Any further info on the group or the 3rd World label would be most welcome.
Yoni here: Also check out another wonderful track by them, I'm so glad I found you, on Dynamo, featured on Kent's Magic Touch CD (see reviews page).
Willie Clayton is currently the King of the Blues and Soul circuit in the US, playing to packed houses night after night and achieving sales of over 100,000 units on each of his Ace CDs. But to reach this level of success he's had to pay some dues – and they started even before this disc. When he cut it in 1969 he was 13 years old and had been on the road on and off since he was 7, touring with the Soul Blenders out of Greenville Missipssippi. On "Falling in love" his tenor vocals – pitched rather higher than they are now – show an astonishing maturity and an excellent sense of dynamics particularly on the downward trailing cadences at the end of each lyric line. And when he cuts loose on the chorus at the finish the effect is simply exhilarating. The instrumentation is crude (check the out of tune horns!) but the guitarist knows his stuff, and it's mixed to allow the spotlight to fall on Willie. It was probably cut in Arkansas, where label owner Jimmy Liggins was then based, and is arguably the best 45 the itinerant R & B bandleader ever put out. Clayton headed for Chicago shortly after this and didn't cut again till '73 but almost all his subsequent records are worth searching out. Those on Pawn, Complete and Sky Hero are particularly recommended.
Maybelle Smith recorded extensively for Savoy and Okeh in the 50s scoring successes with discs like "Candy". She made the transition to the more gospel-based vocal stylings of the 60s better artistically speaking at least than many of her contemporaries. A superb LP for Wand at the start of the decade was followed by one almost as good for Brunswick, but the cream tracks were cut from 1966 on by Jack Taylor for his New York Rojac concern. By placing her rasping, tortured voice in spare Southern styled arrangements he brought the very best out of her. For deep soul fans the pick of the half dozen 45s and two albums Maybelle cut for Taylor has to be "Old love never dies". Taken at a dead slow pace, the backing of triplet piano and bluesy guitar fills over a big horn section give her plenty of room to work. She delivers the lyrics in a voice filled with despair and her shouts of "Oh Lord" in the bridge are almost too much to take. It seems to me she reflects here and in other performances around this time the pain that her desperate drug dependency was causing her and which brought about her death in 1972. Big Maybelle, the last in the line of classic female blues singers going back to Bessie Smith and Ma Rainey.
New Orleans singer Danny White first hit in 1962 with the enduring blues ballad "Kiss tomorrow goodbye" for the local Frisco label. Subsequent releases didn't sell and he journeyed to Memphis to cut the final releases for the label. And you can tell from the first few bars that this was cut at Stax as well, probably around 1965. "I'm dedicating my life" is a classic Southern deep ballad in the approved 6/8 tempo. Like all the great records from the studio at this time the band support is incomparable, with Steve Cropper's tasteful guitar and the brass especially noteworthy. White puts a splendidly intense vocal over the usual open arangement, but the real winner here is the song. With writer credits reading Hayes/Porter/Cropper you're never going to go far wrong. This 45 can be found on Northern lists under "Keep my woman home" but ignore this rather messy item and flip it for deep heaven. White went on to cut a good 45 for SSS International which is also worth searching for.
Its not often you'll read a soul review where the artists surname is Degraffenreid! But Gas and the Funk Factory hides the identities of Hal and Harold Degraffenreid who are better known as the Soul Twins. Their Northern favourites for Karen like "Quick change artist" are matched in deep circles for cuts like "Mr Independent" for Backbeat. Their long time producer/manager Johnny Griffiths leased this to Brunswick in 1970 and it's a real odditty.At a time when mainstream soul was becoming more sophisticated and production values more opulent, "The goodnight song" is a throwback. The Twins come on like they're officiating at a revival meeting. This is real gospel power! Encouraging each other with hoarse cries Hal and Hatold give it their all over a plodding guitar led slowie with big brass support. If you like Sam and Dave with strings this isn't for you, but if raw emotion is your thing try this – it's a screamer! After this there was nowhere else for the Twins to go but back to church. Listening to this its clear they never really left it.
Another singer hiding a better known name is Junior Lewis. As CL Blast he's a cult figure in Southern and deep soul circles revered for 45s on Stax, Atlantic, Pelican, Clintone and many others. A long association with Frederick "Witness" Knight from the 70s led to wonderful music like "Hard to get the feelin' again" for Juana and marvelous LPs on Cotillion and Park Place. But he started his career in the Big Apple as early as 1953 for the ubiquitous Bobby Robinson and he was still very much in an uptown bag when he cut "Tumbling down" in 1962. This is similarly styled to Solomon Burke's great Atlantic ballad 45s of the period – classic New York soul. Lewis is quite restrained vocally compared to his later uninhibited efforts but the timing is spot on and his sense of dynamics shows just what a quality singer he was even then. The arranger isn't the amazing Bert Berns but it might as well be. There's the same subtlety of organ and piano over measured bass and drums. To make this a 5-star record you'd need to edit out the intrusive chorus but it's still very good indeed. Whether he's billed as Junior Lewis or CL Blast, Mr. Clarence Lewis is a top drawer artist. I don't think he's made a poor record in over 40 years in the business.
This little-known gem is proof positive that great deep soul was still being recorded as late as 1975, smack in the middle of the disco era. I don't think anybody has ever written about Bobby Thomas before, and I only know of one other earlier disc by him – another superb deep piece on another Georgia label Lyndell, "Darling Don't come back" – but he wails his heart out on this minor keyed masterpiece. OK so there's strings rather than horns to back him up but the real feeling is still there. The disc was produced by Bobby Smith for his own label and Boblo was one of the last ventures by this Macon, Ga based soul entrepreneur. Smith had a long and distinguished career and produced a great many fine discs from the late 50s onwards. Check out Mickey and Clarence Murray on SSS International and the great Johnny Duncans on Federal for example. But although there were super discs on Boblo by Vivilore Jordan among others, this was Smith's last throw of the dice. When people like him got out of the business of making soul 45s for the black market it helped to signal the end of an era. The Golden Age of soul music was gone.