Saturday, December 30, 2006

We Feel Good: James Brown 1933-2006

James Brown 1928-2006
James Brown 3rd May 1933 - 25th Dec 2006

I have been away on holiday for a week in France, and have had no idea what a loss we have felt this week, until a friend mentioned it in passing when I arrived home this evening.

On Christmas Eve, I left Solomon Burke wearing the crown of the King Of Rock N' Soul and a message of goodwill. At a famous concert back in 1965, Solomon was booked and handsomely paid $10,000 to perform, but was kept waiting for hours to get on stage until he was brought on just to be announced as 'deposed' by the headlining performer. I am sure that Mr Burke would again, for this moment, profer his crown, kingly robes and title to his friendly 'rival' of that night, Mr James Brown.

I chose the title for today's memorial post from an article that I read from Metro Beat, the local newspaper for James Brown's hometown of Augusta, Georgia. Faced with several recent scandals and blows that have knocked the reputation and the economy of the city, the council looked for inspiration from a local boy, and came up with an inspirational slogan and campaign, called We Feel Good:

Charles Walker Jr, a prominent local figure in politics made the proposal last year:

“We Feel Good’ says something about us. And I think the more we say it, the more we feel it.”

Pro Tem Mayor Marion Williams said:

“When you say, ‘I Feel Good,’ it just sounds right... I understand ‘We Feel Good’ includes a more collective group and we ought to be inclusive, so I’m all for it...”

Interim Mayor Willie Mays said of the suggestion:

"Let me say, that as a resident and business owner who just happens to live on James Brown Boulevard, I don’t have a vote anymore on this commission, but the gentlemen you’re talking about is a longtime personal and family friend. I had seven engagements that I had to speak at this week, and at least four of them, James Brown’s name was invoked and I didn’t see anyone with a frown on their face when we talked about him.”

James Brown came to represent a lot of things to many people. Musical pioneer, inventor of funk, the original rapper, icon of self-belief, black capitalist; he was determined in all things; rarely suffered fools; expected the same standards of professionalism from others that he exhibited; believed in competition to bring out the best in people; and made his own chances, having started with next to nothing to call his own. These were some of the things we admired about Mr James Brown, and emulating at least some of those qualities one would hope would bring some measure of the success and acheivement of Soul Brother Number One.

We Feel Good

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Presents For Christmas

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting
Merry Christmas!

I particularly chose today's song because it was written by Solomon Burke with his own son Solomon Burke Jr. It was released as the b-side to A Tear Fell in November 1966, and on the album King Solomon in 1969.

Solomon Burke - Presents For Christmas

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Nugetre's Nuggets, Part Three: Joe Turner Ties Chains Of Love To You...

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

Today's nugget of Nugetre songwriting is Chains Of Love, written for Big Joe Turner.

Joe Turner had already had a long career working with big bands as a vocalist, and alongside friend and fellow bluesman Pete Johnson. By the 1950s, Joe was a veteran of the vocal jazz scene, but his popularity was limited outside this audience.

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

The big opportunity for Joe to revitalize his career came in spring 1951, when singer Jimmy Rushing left the Count Basie Band. Ahmet Ertegun heard that Joe was being called in to replace him, so he went to the show at the Apollo Theater. Ahmet signed Joe to a one-year contract with Atlantic. On April 19, 1951, he recorded the first song, written by Ahmet himself with pianist Harry 'Van' Walls, who play behind Joe on the song.

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

Chains Of Love b/w After My Laughter Came Tears was the first single in May 1951. It reached No.2, and stayed on the r&b chart for 25 weeks, and became the number four best-selling record of the year. Joe toured with Helen Humes and The Hal Singer Orchestra, then as part of Atlantic's "Cavalcade of Blues" tour traveling throughout Louisiana and Texas.

Atlantic released a follow-up while Chains Of Love was still in the charts. The Chill Is On reached No.3 on the R&B charts. In the meantime, material he had recorded earlier for other labels surfaced on the radio. Joe recorded another Nugetre song, Sweet Sixteen , in January 1952. Up to this point in his career, Joe had written most of his songs, and he continued to write material, including the 1953 No.1 hit Honey Hush. Back in New York in December 1953, Joe recorded his biggest hit of all. Shake, Rattle, And Roll reached No.1 on the R&B charts. While this song wasn't written by Ahmet Ertegun, you can hear Ahmet, Jerry Wexler and Jesse Stone making the noise and doing the backing vocals!

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

Oddly, despite the version by Bill Haley and The Comets being heard on the radio, it was Joe's version that remained on the charts for over six months! Such popularity for the original black artist dictated some alteration of the traditional pattern of promotion, and Joe was a rock n' roll star! Joe and Bill ended up bizarrely on a tour together, and became friends. After reinventing himself as an r&b star, Joe now was introduced into the crossover world of rock n' roll, and promoted by DJ Alan Freed as part of his tour, even starring in two rock n'roll movies: Harlem Rock And Roll and Shake, Rattle And Roll.

Pete Johnson watches J.C. Higginbotham win the table-tennis competition at the Turkish Embassy...
Pete Johnson watches in awe as J.C. Higginbotham takes on all-comers at a table-tennis tournament at the Turkish Embassy.

After a string of successful hits after that, Joe teamed up once again with his old friend Pete Johnson to record the Boss Of The Blues album, and they played together at The Newport Jazz Festival in 1958 before going off to tour successfully in Europe.

Big Joe Turner - Chains Of Love (1951)

Information from a BluesNotes Magazine article by Terry Currier, of the Cascade Blues Association. Photos from various and What'd I Say: The Atlantic Story.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Nugetre's Nuggets, Part Two: Carla And Otis Get Lovey, Dovey

BUY King & Queen Of Soul (March '67) on Vinyl Reissue!

Some more Nugetre magic, with some Stax sorcery added to the mix. Lovey Dovey was written by Ahmet Ertegun (Nugetre) and King Curtis for The Clovers (see Sunday's post). Carla Thomas and Otis Redding recorded Lovey, Dovey for their King & Queen of Soul album in January 1967. They replace the jazzy piano line and sultry saxophone accompaniment of the Clovers' original with Al Jackson's thumping drumbeat, and the sharp blasts of Memphis horns. I love how the horns build up and up towards the end, like when you start up on a rollercoaster, then we go over the top into the final fade out.

Carla, Otis and Isaac Hayes recording in Jan 1967

Carla Thomas & Otis Redding - Lovey, Dovey (Stax 244) Jan 1967

POSTSCRIPT: If you are an Otis Redding fan (you're not?!?!...), incidentally, the photo was featured on a great website devoted to Otis albums, with lyrics and liner notes, called The Otis Redding French Site. The text is in French but its got great features on hundreds of Otis items. And I am learning the French lyrics to Tramp at the moment! Clochard! (transl. Tramp!)

P.P.S. : I've been trying to buy a Clovers track Little Miss Fannie (by Nugetre) on my friend iTunes, and have discovered to my annoyance that it is only listed on US iTunes, and that as a Brit, I am forbidden from purchasing it! AHHH! WHY! (... take a deep breath, there will be other soul music, remember the 12 steps...) Ok, feeling better. I hope they never find out how many 'gift/hobby' parcels of rare vinyl history leave the New World for my door every month...

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Nugetre's Nuggets, Part One: Ahmet's Days In Clover...

Ahmet Ertegun was given a small acetate recording machine at the age of fourteen, and began his own songwriting career by writing lyrics to Cootie William's West End Blues and singing them over the top of the instrumental track playing on a Magnavox record player in the background. His friends would not believe that it was his voice singing!

Being part of the creative process, not just as a producer but as a songwriter, delighted Ahmet, and over the years as president of the company, Ahmet wrote material for numerous artists, under the pseudonym Nugetre (Ertegun spelled backwards). The pseudonym has never been satisfactorily explained for me; after all, everybody knew that the Turkish Ambassador's son ran an r&b and jazz record company. Perhaps it was more that it would look bad for the company to admit that the company president sometimes had to help out at the studio. Ahmet wrote "head" melodies since he couldn't play an instrument or write music. He would record his songs in Times Square recording booths, then take the paper discs and give them to musicians to reproduce.

The Clovers

One of the first groups to benefit from Ahmet's songwriting talents were The Clovers. The Clovers were a local Washington group who often played in Washington's Old Rose Social Club, an old bootleg joint dating back to the 20s. In a way The Clovers were perfect for the place, since their repertoire was locked into that era also, with songs such as Yes Sir, That's My Baby, That Old Black Magic, and Pennies From Heaven. They were paid nothing, and were also responsible for looking after the building. Their singing was beautiful, but more barbershop and crooner than doo-wop, and when his old partner Max Silvermann from the "Waxie Maxie" record shop tipped Ahmet Ertegun to them , he was unsure that they could make it in the r&b market. Unimpressed with much of the syrupy material they were recording for Rainbow Records, Ahmet wrote a song himself on the plane ride down from NYC to his old haunt of Washington D.C. that had a quite different style.

Clovers poster discovered by Marv Goldberg at Marv Goldberg's R&B Notebooks

On February 22, 1951 the Clovers recorded Don't You Know I Love You (Atlantic 934), a mid-tempo, choppy-rhythmed shuffle with Buddy Bailey's blues-tinged vocal leading the group. The surprising use of a sax solo (one of the first on a vocal group record) came about when bandleader Frank Culley demanded to be paid even though he and his sax were not suppose to play on the record. Since Ertegun had to pay Frank as a leader anyway, he let him play and Culley winged it from there. The song sold over 250,00 copies. Ironically, The Clovers themselves preferred the flip-side Skylark, which was more in the pop ballad vein they were used to singing!

The song was later covered by both Fats Domino and Shirley & Lee, but neither do the song full justice - the one overexciting the rock n'roll without the feeling; the other transforming it into pretty kitsch, nasal, bubblegum pop (strange, since normally, I enjoy their songs - I guess the prior knowledge of the Clovers spoiled it for me...)

Clovers poster discovered by Marv Goldberg at Marv Goldberg's R&B Notebooks

Ahmet Ertegun wrote eight songs for the Clovers out of their first nine singles, including their first two number one R&B chart records, the second No.1 being Fool, Fool, Fool. The next year, Kay Starr had a big hit with this song with white pop audiences. The other stand-out songs were In The Middle Of The Night, with its distinctive heavy beat and walking bass line woven into a bluesy ballad, and Lovey Dovey, later covered in the Memphis style by the King & Queen of Soul, Carla Thomas and Otis. Don't You Know I Love You, Fool, Fool, Fool, and Lovey Dovey were each on the charts for over 20 weeks. Five of the Clovers' records during this Nugetre-penned period were double-sided hits, with 3 of them in a row.

Nugetre could write a hit or two!

The Clovers - Don't You Know I Love You? (1951)
The Clovers - Fool, Fool, Fool (1951)
The Clovers - Lovey, Dovey (1953)

BUY The Clovers' Greatest Hits
You can buy all of these and many other classic Clovers tracks on the excellent compilation Your Cash Ain't Nothing But Trash - Their Greatest Hits 1951-55 by Rev-Ola Records. Most Clovers tracks are also easily found on iTunes.

Information from What'd I Say: 50 Years Of Atlantic Records, and the copious research gathered from interviews with numerous members of the Clovers for Marv Goldberg's R&B Notebooks.

POSTSCRIPT: Has anyone ever heard that Cootie Williams/Ahmet Ertegun recording? I wonder if it survived somewhere in the Atlantic vaults?...

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Living In A Hopeful Future: Ahmet Ertegun 1923-2006

Ahmet Ertegün 1923-2006
Ahmet Ertegün, 31st July 1923 – 14th December 2006

Ahmet Ertegün, who along with Herb Abramson founded Atlantic Records, died this week.

"Ahmet Ertegün was injured after a fall at a Rolling Stones performance on October 29, 2006. Ertegun, 83, slipped and hit his head backstage while the band were playing at former US President Bill Clinton's 60th birthday party in New York Sunday 29 October 2006. After being in a positive stable situation, he slipped into a coma and died with his family by his side on December 14, 2006 at New York Presbyterian Hospital-Weill Cornell Medical Center. He will be buried in his native Turkey, and a memorial service will be held in New York in the New Year, an Atlantic Records spokesman said."

Nesuhi & Ahmet in London 1920s

It was a tragic end to the life of a man who from the age of five had dreamed of being a part of the jazz and blues world he was introduced to by his elder brother Nesuhi, listening to records snuck into their bedroom into the early hours at the Turkish Embassy in Washington D.C. The Ertegun family name means 'living in a hopeful future', and Ahmet and Nesuhi's went out to live theirs as soon as they could, going out to see the great names of jazz; walking from door to door in the black neighbourhoods of Washington asking around to buy old records; and getting to befriend some of those same artists they had worshipped - Duke Ellington, Lena Horne and Jelly Roll Morton, J.C. Higginbotham and Pete Johnson.

Ahmet M. Ertegun, Duke Ellington, William P. Gottlieb, Nesuhi Ertegun, and Dave Stewart, William P. Gottlieb's home, Maryland, 1941

It wasn't just about music. From the moment he heard jazz as a boy in London in the early 30s, Ahmet felt an affinity with black Americans. He was shocked by the treatment they had to contend with in their own country, and felt something similar in a Europe where their muslim faith set Turks apart despite their modernising new government:

"As I grew up, I began to discover a little bit about the situation of black people in America, and experienced an immediate empathy with the victims of such senseless discrimination. Because although the Turks were never slaves, they were regarded as enemies within Europe because of their Muslim beliefs."

The hopeful future would in Ahmet's dreams include understanding and co-operation between races. As a boy, Ahmet gravitated towards the embassy's black janitor, Cleo Payne, who became a mentor to him, taking him on trips around the black neighbourhoods of Washington and Georgetown, and introducing him to the local musicians, who would then come to play at Ahmet's parties at the embassy.

Ahmet in the 1940s

Nesuhi and Ahmet decided to put on the first ever integrated concert in Washington D.C., the nation's capital being a segregated Jim Crow town back in those years. The Jewish Community Center was the only place that would allow both a mixed audience and mixed band. Later they would be allowed to use the National Press Club's auditorium for other shows.

In 1946 Ahmet became friends with Herb Abramson, a dental student and A&R man for National Records. Deciding to start a label together they talked Max Silverstein into backing them. There was to be two labels Jubilee for Gospel and Quality for jazz and R&B. When things didn't start off well, Silverstein got out, and the two were left to raise some more cash to start a new label, Atlantic Records in the autumn of 1947, working out of a condemned Jefferson Hotel on Fifty-Six between Sixth and Broadway. Sleeping in the bedroom the living room was used as a office, and the office was used as a recording studio through the night. In order to help with the rent Ahmet rented a bed to his cousin Sadi Koylan a poet. With an upcoming recording strike declared by Caesar Petrillo to commence January 1, 1948 they began recording as much material as possible. The first sides were recorded November 21, 1947 by the Harlemaires with The Rose of the Rio Grande. By the end of December a total of sixty-five songs had been recorded.

The Harlemaires

The early recordings, well-written and sophisticated, didn't sell, and searching for inspiration, Ahmet and Herb travelled south to listen to what people were dancing to. The missing ingredient was the danceable rhythm, and with that added to the mix, Atlantic had their first hit with Sticks McGhee's Wine Spo-Dee-O-Dee, an Army drinking song with ribald lyrics heavily toned-down for the pop market. It would not be the last time that Ahmet and Atlantic would be willing to seek out and pick up new inspirations and new ideas, particularly from the South, in their quest for great music. It was one of the qualities that put Ahmet Ertegun apart from other record executives of the time, who relied upon talent scouts and A&R men to do the searching. Ahmet was involved with his artists, and loved the music they made:

"From the moment an artist walks through the door at Atlantic, they are already a star to us."

In r&b, Ahmet would sign up and treat like stars such talents as Professor Longhair, The Clovers, Big Joe Turner, LaVern Baker, Ruth Brown, Clyde McPhatter, The Drifters, Ray Charles, Sam & Dave, Aretha Franklin. Later, he would pioneer the move into rock music that allowed the label to offer itself up for sale in the late 60s and guaranteed its continued survival as an imprint. Ironically that change allowed for the continued support of r&b acts and rerelease of the Atlantic r&b catalogues.

To be fair to the whole man, Ahmet was of course a businessman as well as a music lover. Over the years, several artists would have differences with Ahmet and Atlantic over the business of music, and the payment of royalties. Fred Wilhelms, lawyer involved in royalties work for artists such as LaVern Baker, had this to say this week:

"I had a much harder time than most people reconciling what Ahmet Ertegun accomplished with what he knew was being done to artists with his full complicity."

Unlike some other outfits such as King Records, Atlantic had in fact paid music publishing royalties and also royalties to their performers from the start, but while the contracts were considered standard for the time, as the popularity of the music grew, the deals began to appear less than generous. When disagreements emerged over accounting and collection of royalties due, splits occured, Ruth Brown, Ray Charles and LaVern Baker amongst the well-known. To his credit, in recent years Ahmet and the other old executives of Atlantic were amongst those willing to contribute to the foundation of the Rhythm & Blues Foundation, and other artist benevolent funds, as well as reconciling several outstanding royalties disputes out of their own fortunes.

Now the adventure in search of "cowboys, indians, beautiful brown-skinned women and jazz" , which Ahmet dreamed of as a nine-year old boy collecting and treasuring old 78s has ended with his return to rest in his native Turkey. Ahmet once explained it all, in a slightly tongue in cheek way:

"If it hadn't been for the fall of the Ottoman Empire ..."

I certainly had never really considered the contribution of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk to the spread of black American music into the homes of all Americans and on across the Atlantic into the consciousness of the whole world, but it is impossible to forget the part that Ahmet and his brother Nesuhi played in that. Ahmet and Nesuhi didn't treat r&b as 'race music' in the way so many others had done previously, but as music at the forefront of creativity and genius. Quincy Jones made a similar comment in one of many tributes in the press this week:

"[Ahmet was] one of the pioneering visionaries in this whole scene. He was a very 360-degree person. He loved to have a good time. He knew how to party, which is my kind of guy, and he knew how to work. He knew how to look into the future and how to execute to bring it to fruition.”

The music Ahmet brought to the world made us think about living in a more hopeful future.

To read about Ahmet's life and Atlantic Records in his own words, read What'd I Say: 50 Years of Atlantic Records, from which much of the information and quotes here are to be found. Another good read is the biography Music Man. Fred Wilhelms article at CounterPunch offers another interesting perspective on Ahmet.
BUY What'd I Say: 50 Years Of Atlantic Records
BUY Music Man: Ahmet Ertegun & Atlantic Records

Saturday, December 09, 2006

There's Got To Be (some)One For Me: The Suemi Sessions of Lou Pride...

Hopefully, some of you have gotten a taste for more Lou Pride. But what about those of us who want to hear the crackle of vinyl but can't afford to sell out £1000 for the privilege of an original. Well thank Gerald Short, the Jazzman Gerald of Jazzman Records, who last year released Lou Pride The Suemi Sessions as a set of 3 reissued 45s! With detailed liner notes complied by Gerald and Kym Fuller, it recreates three singles recorded in the early 70s in El Paso and in Willie Mitchell's Royal Studio in Memphis. Well worth checking out!

BUY Lou Pride: The Suemi Sessions direct from Jazzman Records, and get hooked on 1000s of other reissues and sound clips!
Jazzman Records

Friday, December 01, 2006

Love Will Make It All Right: Lou Pride In Concert

As promised, here is my description of the show by Lou Pride last Sunday night at the Komedia in Brighton...

Lou Pride @ The Komedia Sunday 26th November

Arriving just in time, I found a side table, and settled down to watch the band, Mo'Indigo, tune up. They began to play some blues entitled Fleetwood Cadillac and Kisses Like Fire, before introducing the syncopated notes of the WattSoul Horns.

Terry of Mo'Indigo plays some licks...

Barely had the horns blared out their fanfare, when guitarist Terry announced,"Ladies and Gentlemen - Lou Pride!", and Lou Pride was on stage, wearing a fine white linen suit.

Catching the audience by surprise, he built up the audience by asking:
"When he said LOU PRIDE, I didn't hear no noise!"

He got what he was after this time, and then Lou kept us clapping and responding each time he called out All Night Long, a variation on the Hoochie Coochie Man lyric.

Lou introduced himself:
"It's my last night her in your country, so we're gonna do two sets for you... and by the time we're through, you'll just be in time for work tomorrow!"

From the back of the room the DJ, I assume local resident Little Rik, could no longer contain his enthusiasm, and holler: "Yeah! I'm Comun Home in the Morn'un!"

Lou smiled and soothed him down a little:
"Hold on, we'll come to that later on, I promise! We've only just begun..."

Lou Pride and the band lauched into a powerful funky blues titled Beware Of The Dog, and then another powerful number, but in a more regretful mood, Heavy Load All Over My Soul. The next number was a slower lament as Lou feels like he 'saw the sky fall down this morning', and looks for his 'broken down white woman' and asks us, does Somebody Know About My Baby?

Time for some more interaction with the crowd:
"I've played a lot of places in this world, and I'm blessed to do so.", says Lou.
The DJ cries: "You're Wigan's favourite, and always will be!"
Lou answers affirmatively:
"You know, I tell everybody I meet in this business, you've got to come here to this country to learn how to be a real fan! Yeah, I'll have upset some people now, but I don't care!"
It is unusual and cathartic to hear an english crowd roar and call out in approval.

Next up Lou introduces his rendition of Waiting In Vain, telling us a lighthertedly:
"I told Bob I was gonna do this song, but I had to tell him I couldn't sing it the way he does, I'm gonna have to do it my way."
It allows the organist Frazier to display his soloing talents during this one. The horns are tight, the rythmn focused and soulful.

Lou next does on of his classic numbers Bringing Me Back Home, and when I look around, there is a line of women who have got up on their feet and are dancing, and on into the final number of the set, an upbeat I Had A Talk With My Baby.

Back after the interval to hear Mo'Indigo go Spencer Davis Group with My Babe. Then Lou was back, having mopped the sweat from his brow and now dressed in blue, and starts to Twist The Knife in. Then he makes us realise that when Love Is Running Away From Me, it's more a case of "I never lost you, because you were never mine."

A change of pace for the next slow country waltz ballad, I Wanna Hold Your Hand, nothing to do with the Beatles number, which reminded me more of That's How Strong My Love Is. in some ways, and evoked a very simple and honest expression of human tenderness. Lou had won over the emotional sympathy of the crowd, and made the next song a personal choice:

"I want to introduce the next song, which is very personal to me... I have children, and I see the children growing up in this world of ours, surrounded by poverty and war and violence... and it's about time we made a change, we've got to do a little bit better in EVERYTHING!... I wrote this song for that reason, to show that we all know that a little Love Will Make It All Right."

It's a theme that has been close to Lou Pride's writing throughout his career in other songs like Message To The People, and while we know that the emotion of soul is an art form and performance, it is nice to know how the music can be inspired by the real feelings of the performer, to bring it to a higher level. Lou sings the line, "Love Will Make It All Right", and we sing it three times back, chorus after chorus, until he is sure everybody is together on this one and part of the communion...

Then the bassist kicks up a driving funky rhythm, and the WattSoul Horns hit a complex jazz-bop trill, Terry plays an F sharp chord, and for a moment few catch on, then my face lights up, as I realise we are about to hear a classic song from the writer and singer, and Lou Pride, staring out perhaps in my direction (ok, I was getting excited by the whole thing) grasps the microphone to sing, "I'm Comun Home In The Morn'un"...

Lou Pride - I'm Com'un Home In The Morn'un (Suemi ST4567) (1972)

Please come back we cry, and he does for an encore, light going up and Lou hitting the floor ot shake the hand of a boy in the front row: "Put it there, son!" His parents are dancing and are in seventh heaven by now. Lou tours the floor shaking hands singing a reprise of All Night Long. The blurry snaps were taken at this time, as I had forgotten how to set the flash in my haste.

A special night that I'm glad I was there for, and to see a performer who should be praised to the rooftops...

POSTSCRIPT: All of you who were at the show in Stamford - you bought up every CD and souvenir Lou had! Nothing left for us poor southerners!

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Tomorrow is Promised to the People... Lou Pride

Here is a Message To The People: "Hold On To Your Dream, because I'm Not Through Loving You", and if Your Love is Fading, then I've got to Work for Love. So I'm quitting my Lonely Room tomorrow evening, because if we think soul is over, We're Only Fooling Ourselves. Sure, there are Phony People; sure, This is a Man's World, but Tomorrow is Promised to the People! Look Out Love, There's Got to Be Someone for Me! His name is Lou Pride, so don't be Waiting In Vain! 'Coz whoever is Bringing Me Back Home, I'm Com'un Home in the Morn'un...

Lou Pride, by Kurt Swanson 2005

I'm getting a little excited, in anticipation of seeing and hearing the fantastic soulman George 'Lou' Pride with The WattSoul Horns tomorrow night at the Komedia in Brighton! Tickets are still available, so get one if you can. I will try to make dutiful notes to share with you soon. And if anyone reading this happens to be going too, look around, and if you find me, I'll happily buy you a pint or two! That's the Real Deal!

Sunday, November 19, 2006

The House That Ruth Built: Ruth Brown 1928-2006

Ruth Brown
This post began a few days ago as a continuation of my series of Nashville linked songs. Already in this month, we have mourned the loss of Mr Buddy Killen. However, as I went back to researching yesterday, the sad news began to appear that Ms Ruth Brown has passed away also at the age of 78. Red Kelly at The B Side has produced a memorial post, to which a friend of Ms Brown, Mr Stanley Behrens, has contributed a personal message of condolence. Link to them here. Read an article in the Virginian-Pilot newspaper here.

Born Ruth Weston in Portsmouth, Virginia on January 30th 1928, she began to sing at Emanuel AME Zion Church in Olde Towne, Portsmouth. After tasting the limelight while singing (unbeknownst to her parents!) in local USO shows during the war, and even going up to New York City and winning the Harlem Apollo Amateur Night on another secret trip, she finally ran away for good to Washington D.C. aged 17, in 1945, to live the life she had dreamed about listening to the jazz singers and orchestras of the 1940s. When she began to lose her way in 1947, Blanche Calloway took her under her wing and began to manage her, getting her an audition with a small new label called Atlantic Records. After recovering from a broken leg brought about by a serious car accident in 1948, Ruth Brown finally began her first Atlantic recording session eleven months late in May 1949.

Ruth Brown at Memphis Hippodrome 1950
Ruth Brown at The Hippodrome Memphis 1950, photograph by Ernest Withers.

So Long reached No. 4 on the R&B chart, and began a string of hits, with her next song, Teardrops from My Eyes, becoming her first No.1 record in 1950, and staying at the top for 11 weeks. Next was I'll Wait For You in 1951, reaching No.3; in 1952 there were 5-10-15 Hours, reaching No.1 R&B, and Daddy, Daddy at No.3; Atlantic Records came to be dubbed "The House That Ruth Built".

I have linked to a performance by Ruth Brown singing Mama, He Treats Your Daughter Mean on television in 1953, which marked her appearance in the national Pop charts and wider recognition.

This track was in fact recorded twice by Ruth Brown, the first time in New York City in 1953. Ruth Brown wasn't impressed with the 1953 demo, feeling it was too crude, and suggested that it not be released. However, Ahmet Ertegun was adamant that it was a potential hit. He was proved correct when it reached No.1 on the R&B chart, and No.23 on the Pop chart. White entertainers such as Frankie Laine became vocal admirers, and it was Frankie who dubbed Ruth Miss Rhythm.

The hits continued with Wild Wild Young Men, and in 1954 with two more No. 1s, Oh What a Dream and Mambo Baby. In 1955 she dueted with Clyde McPhatter on Love Has Joined Us Together. She was the star of the television broadcast Showtime At The Apollo that same year. Ruth Brown recorded with Atlantic up to 1960, before parting ways in order to spend more time with her young family. In addition, she had fallen out of love with the company. While she was being paid advances of up to $350 for each song she recorded, and selling millions of records, the accounts of Atlantic Records always showed her owing the company for recording costs, touring and promotions!

Ruth Brown performing in 1960

However, she never lost the desire to sing and record, and continued to be involved in music even during this hiatus. In 1962, Ruth Brown was signed by Shelby Singleton to the Nashville-based Phillips label. He persuaded her to re-record Mama, He Treats Your Daughter Mean, featured on Night Train To Nashville, and this time Ruth herself was pleased with the results:

"Going down there and working with these great musicians ... there's a different feeling. Just a whole wonderful feeling... I think it's one of the best things that I have ever done."

Ruth Brown decided to return to music in the 1970s, and even branched out into TV, film, the stage, and radio; in the sitcom Hello, Larry; the film Hairspray; the Broadway show Black And Blue; and as a host on NPR radio. As well as a desire to perform, urged on by her friend the comedian Redd Foxx, another motivation was spurring Ruth Brown to work and to promote black musical heritage.

I first heard about The Rhythm And Blues Foundation when I saw a TV interview with Sam Moore of Sam & Dave, and I discovered that simply because you made the music, it did not necessarily mean that you were getting paid for it. In the late 1970s, Ruth Brown discovered that the same situation was affecting her, with less and less royalties monies actually arriving, and having to take on other jobs to support her family. Ruth Brown's greatest endeavour perhaps was her battle with Warner, new owners of Atlantic Records, and former owners Ahmet Ertegun and Jerry Wexler, to recover her royalties due since the start of her career, and to establish a fund to support other artists who had not profited by their work in music. After discussions with Ms Brown about the way deals were done in the early years, and paying her $20,000 in back royalties, former Atlantic owner Ahmet Ertegun, to his credit, agreed to personally donate $1.5 million to set up the Foundation to acheive this goal in 1987.

Ruth Brown had been on life support since Oct. 29 after suffering a heart attack and stroke. She died at a hospital in Henderson, Nevada, near Las Vegas, where she lived with family. Amongst the memories close friends and relatives shared was this one from cousin Mae Breckenridge-Haywood:

"We've lost another pearl...She was just a beautiful person with a very warm spirit, especially for her hometown, her school and also her family..."

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting
Ruth Brown in Portsmouth, VA, in May 2006. (Photo courtesy of Virginian-Pilot newspaper.)

Information for this post from, and Malcolm Venables and Steven Stone of The Virginian-Pilot newspaper, who give a moving and in-depth account of Ruth Browns life and acheivements. Video performance provided by innercalm.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Buddy Killen: 1932 -2006

Buddy Killen 1932 - 2006

Buddy Killen, born Nov 13th 1932, Florence, Alabama; died Nov 1st 2006.

William Doyce Killen, born in Florence, not far from Muscle Shoals, moved to Nashville in 1950 aged 18 to start a career as a double bass player in the country music capital. It was here that he became involved in Tree Music, a song publishing company. In 1953, the manager of the radio station, Jack Stapp, asked him to work at his new publishing company. He would assess would-be songwriters and offer potential hits to performers. Buddy proved to be a great success.

In 1956 he was captivated when a schoolteacher, Mae Boren Axton showed him a song, Heartbreak Hotel, which he considered suitable for Elvis Presley. It established Tree Music as a major player and a grateful Stapp made Killen an executive vice-president. In the early 1960s, he discovered and recorded 15 year old Dolly Parton, before letting her leave her contract in 1964.

Killen was also a successful songwriter. In 1960, Killen wrote the US Top Ten hit Forever for the Little Dippers (an offshoot of the Anita Kerr Singers), and his compositions would include several country hits: Open Up Your Heart (for Buck Owens, 1966), I Can't Wait Any Longer (Bill Anderson, 1978), I May Never Get to Heaven (Conway Twitty, 1979), Watchin' the Girls Go By (Ronnie McDowell, 1981) and All Tied Up (Ronnie McDowell, 1986).

In 1960 he was introduced to Joe Tex. Buddy decided to move into rhythm and blues music. He admitted that he knew nothing about it when he made the decision, but it was his belief in the talent of Joe which confirmed his choice. Buddy Killen formed Dial Records in 1963, to promote Joe Tex as a recording artist. Four years of struggling to come up with a hit formula led Killen to look towards his Alabama home, and to book the Fame Studio in Muscle Shoals, to work with Rick Hall and his band. The session produced Hold What You've Got, which after Buddy had taken the reels for splicing and post-production, started a trail of hits up until Joe's retirment in 1970. They remained close friends up until Joe's death. Buddy Killen wrote Joe's comeback disco hit Ain't Gonna Bump No More (With No Big Fat Woman) in 1977.

Buddy and Tree Music continued to thrive, becoming the President and owner on Stapp's death in 1980. Eventually, in 1989, he sold the company, and set up his own agency called Killen Enterprises. He continued to work successfully with new artists such as OutKast up until his death.

Buddy Killen & Jerry Rivers backing Martha Carson at the Grand Ole Opry

Buddy Killen & Bill Anderson - I May Never Get To Heaven (Sample)

Friday, November 10, 2006

The Commanders of The Beat!!!

Many of the Nashville r&b clubs featured house acts who might play on a weekly basis for months or years on end, when not performing out of town. Indeed there's is a street-level story of fame and musical impact rarely reflected in the charts and record sales to which music history is often reduced. Earl Gaines held forth at Nashville's Sugar Hill; Johnny Jones and the Imperial 7, or a jobbing Jimmy Hendrix with the King Kasuals, would be playing at the very popular Club Del Morocco (once frequented by Jackie Robinson and Joe Louis when they were in town.); while at Club Stealaway, Frank Howard and the Commanders, vocal trio, sang Wednesday nights from 9 until 1 in the morning.

"I never saw any of the money we made off of our records, but I made a lot of money from personal appearances. Pee Wee Johnson ran a club called the House On the Hill. We would play at the Seal-A-Way or the New Era or with Hendrix at the Del Morocco, then we would leave during the intermission and go to Pee Wee's and play there..."

Frank Howard, Charlie Fite and Herschel Carter at Club Stealaway, 1964

Charlie Fite, Frank Howard, Herschel Carter at Club Stealaway, in 1964, celebrating their release of their first single, Just Like Him.

Originally known as The Marquees, and originally including Frank's older brother Bruce, they had been singing around Nashville since 1957, but Frank, Charlie and Hershel grouped up in 1961. It was DJ and manager 'Hoss' Allen who renamed them The Commanders in early 1964, ready to promote their first 45, recorded at Fame Studios.

Bill 'Hoss' Allen, WLAC DJ
Bill "Hoss" Allen, WLAC DJ

Frank Howard had a great friendship with legendary WLAC DJ and promoter Bill ''Hoss'' Allen, who was to hire The Commanders to be regulars alongside the band of Clarence Gatemouth Brown and Johnny Jones on his r&b TV show The!!!!Beat, made in Texas but featuring Nashville musicians. However he was less happy when Allen decided to change The Commanders into Frank Howard & The Commanders...

'''Horse [Hoss] was like my brother....[but] I was very upset with my name out front. . . . But Horse said 'I want you to be out there by yourself.' Horse wanted me to be a Johnny Mathis-type singer. . . . I guess it all worked out.''

Hoss had connections and the means to promote acts like The Commanders onto a bigger stage. R&B star Earl Gaines had formed a partnership with 'Hoss' Allen in 1965. They recorded an LP, Best Of Luck To You in late 1965 to early 1966. The album featured Johnny Jones & The Imperial Seven and Frank Howard & The Commanders, and was released by HBR Records in 1966. While Earl Gaines gained the most publicity from the album, with his name prominent and scoring a No.28 r&b hit, it convinced Hoss and his backers to hire the Commanders and the Imperial Seven for the musical backbone of Allen’s syndicated television show The !!! Beat.

The cream of the Nashville r&b scene continued to flourish for a few years thanks to Night Train and The!!!!Beat, but the death of a blues club scene made it harder in the city itself. In 1967, Frank recorded a solo record, Judy, which was later covered by Al Green. After that, Frank Howard left music to pursue careers as a banker (eventually rising to senior vice president), repo man and car dealership owner.

Frank Howard helped the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum researchers with their work on the Night Train To Nashville exhibit, providing videotapes, records and reminiscences of the period. Such eyewitnesses and their oral history are all the more valuable in a rapidly changing society and urban environment, where Interstate 40 altered the landscape of north Nashville forever in the mid 1960s. Frank used to go to see Joe Tex at the Legion Club, which once stood next to the current NES headquarters:

''We would always go hear Joe when he was in town because he was a top-notch entertainer. . . . We were there when he did his first split. His pants split. We had to lend him a pair of pants so he could get back on the stage.''

Michael Gray, curator at the Country Music Hall Of Fame:

''Museums count on people like Frank. We couldn't tell the story without someone like him stepping forward and loaning us photos and artifacts.''

''I never throw anything out,'' Howard admits!

Frank Howard is now a minister at Patterson Memorial United Methodist Church in Nashville's Flat Rock, and he puts his soul into the gospel music. But he still looks back with fondness on his younger self, and was persuaded to participate in a number of r&b reunion concerts for the Night Train exhibition, which, while the participants are a little older and the audience younger, have given Nashvillians a reprise of how things used to be. Watching The Commanders slip and slide and perform flying splits while singing (You Make Me Wanna) Shout on a video, Frank says:

''Man, I was about 300 pounds lighter back then! Look at that guy!''

The Commanders on The!!!!Beat, 1966

Watch The Commanders on The!!!!Beat singing I'm So Glad:

Listen to Frank Howard & The Commanders sing their first record Just Like Him:

Frank Howard & The Commanders - Just Like Him (Hermitage 870) 1964

Just Like Him

Information and quotes taken from a fascinating interview with Frank Howard in March 2004 by Tim Ghianni at The Tennessean website. The interview is far, far longer than these excerpts, and includes lots more personal details and insights...

Other information from the Night Train To Nashville exhibit booklet. Photographs from the personal collection of Frank Howard. Archive of The!!!!Beat provided by innercalm. Mp3 link hosted by Commotion PR, Night Train To Nashville public relations. You can buy the CD Night Train To Nashville at this link...

Buy Night Train To Nashville: Vol 1

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Red Kelly Rides The Night Train To Nashville!

Red Kelly's the b side...

Red Kelly's the b side...

In case you haven't come from there, Red Kelly at soul blog the b side has been featuring some amazing soul artists who recorded in Nashville, from Joe Tex to Slim Harpo to Joe Simon, with extensive histories the way I would like to be able to write them! The Joe Simon article in particular goes into the career of WLAC and of DJs such as John Richbourg.

Required reading (and listening!) for anyone intrigued by Nashville soul!

Red Kelly on Joe Tex
Red Kelly on Ted Taylor
Red Kelly on Slim Harpo
Red Kelly on Joe Simon, John Richbourg and WLAC Radio

Night Train Memories...

WLAC and the Night Train! have reentered the collective consciousness of soul fans around the world in the last two years thanks to the Night Train To Nashville phenomenon. However, for some Nashvillians, they found it a memory that endured.

Rodney Jones, a jazz guitarist who has performed with James Brown and now teaches music in a Manhattan conservatory, thinks back to his early childhood in the 60s:

"As a kid growing up in Nashville, TN you would probably think that I was exposed to a lot of country music and I do remember some, like Roger Miller’s “King of the Road”. My father used to really play a lot of Negro Spirituals in the house and I remember hearing them and really feeling something from that music. There was a heart and soul, a resonance that I really felt. My parents used to watch a TV show that came on late at night called, “Night Train”. It featured many of the southern Rhythm and Blues stars of the day like ”Dyke and the Blazers” and “Ironing Board Sam”. I used to sneak out of bed to watch and listen to them. "

Elaine Speed Neeley, a artist who grew up in Nashville, has created a comprehensive site of local histories and collective memories of the 50s and 60s in Nashville. Night Train! defined Friday nights for a teenager like her:

"Friday night with Night Train and host Noble Blackwell, featuring artists like: Ironing Board Sam, James Brown, The Van Trease Trio, Good Rockin' Hoppy and a very young Jimmy Hendrix. Friday night also featured Shock Theatre where the creepy organ intro music was usually more scary than the movie. Shock, Jr. came on Sunday afternoons."

And when she wasn't waiting for Noble's TV show, it seems Elaine was staying up late to listen to WLAC on the radio...:

"WLAC-AM had late night DJs "John R" (John Richbourg), Hoss Allen, Herman Grizzard and Gene Nobles who played rhythm & blues for an audience all over the Southeast, sponsored by Ernie's Record Mart or Randy's Records in Gallatin. "

Elaine isn't the only person to want to celebrate her memories of the music and DJs travelling the 50,000 watt signal beaming WLAC out across the continent to over 15 million listeners in 38 states and overseas. Independent screenwriter/director Nashvillian Don Boner and screenwriter Chera Federle have written a screenplay called WLAC Nashville, and have picked up the praise and endorsement of numerous local r&b artists and music historians.

WLAC NASHVILLE is said to be a fictional dramatization of the late night WLAC disc jockeys who played rhythm & blues during the 50’s through the early 1970’s. These deejays influenced a new generation of young men and women, black and white and launched the careers of many R & B legends, paving the way for Rock and Roll. Sounds like an interesting project.

It will never play even on TV in the UK, so if anyone sees it appear in the US, shout out!

Information and quotes found at Nashville Memories, a webpage run by Elaine Neeley, and from Information about the screenplay WLAC Nashville from various sites including

Night Train With The Neptunes!

Among the other clips being hosted by innercalm at the moment is this one featuring Hal Hardy of vocal group The Neptunes.

The Neptunes c.1963: Paul Hendricks,Hal Hardy, Robert Dixon, Joe Wade, James Porter Box

The Neptunes began in the 1950s, founded by Tom Holbert and Paul Hendricks, to whom they added Hal as the lead singer, with Robert 'Dickey' Dixon (a professional boxer), Joe Wade (nephew of singer Johnny Bragg), James Porter Box and Henry 'Sonny' Short. On this episode of Night Train!, Hal sang his version of the Ray Charles song What'd I Say?, with his own local Tennessean adlib:

"Tell your momma! tell your brother!
I'm gonna take you back to Murfreesboro'!"
Watch Hal Hardy on Night Train!
Paul Hendricks may be the guitarist playing the distinctive opening riff, and Joe Wade is centre of the backing trio. Later, Hal had a solo hit with House Of Broken Hearts b/w Love Man.
Information from the Night Train To Nashville liner notes. Neptunes photo courtesy of Carissa Dixon-Malone. Video clip of Hal Hardy archived by innercalm. One website that offers the NIght Train! shows on DVD or video (NTSC-VHS?) is The Video Beat. Leave me a copy, I don't get paid 'til the end of the month!...

Sunday, October 22, 2006

New Soul Legends: British Soul Contenders Part 2

Here is the second heat in the British Soul contenders competition thing. All these artists appeared in the Observer newspaper on Sunday. I would like to know, what do you think? You can base your comments on comparison with classic soul, or from a modern perspective. I leave that up to you. Then, pick a favourite, and I will collate the comments and declare a winner of the Complete And Unbelievable imaginary BEHM Awards! Yay!

I have an idea who I would vote for from yesterday, but it was a hard decision! What about today? Click on their name and you'll go to a myspace page, where you can listen to tracks. Don't forget to leave a message for them if you like it! Then come back here and tell me what you thought?

Natalie Williams was born in Berlin, and moved to London for college. She listened to Sarah Vaughan and Aretha Franklin as a child. She formed an 11-piece band to tour, and likes to try for a classic soul sound.

Bembe Segue, was born in Staines near Chertsey. She has been described as 'the queen of broken beat'. She brings in soul, drum and bass, jazz, Latin, hip-hop and afrobeat influences. She was inspired to enter music by seeing George Clinton and the funkadelic Parliament.

Terri Walker I have heard of before, having been nominated for the Mercury Awards a few yeras ago. She is rebelling against the mainstream rnb she was encouraged to record, and has joined a minor label to take a new direction. Quoting the Staple Singers, she pleads jokingly, "This is the real Terri. Don't leave me! Stay with me!"

Eska Mtungwazi has no record deal, but sells out her gigs. She doesn't consider herself a soul singer: "I don't want to be stuck in academic terms like soul and jazz. I just want to make good music... Is Jamelia soul? Why? Because she's black? Her music doesn't sound very soulful." She has worked with Courtney Pine, Nitin Sawney and Soweto Kinch. She is also a Mathematics MA!

Vote vote vote! Don't be shy! There is no wrong answer!

New Soul Legends: British Soul Contenders Part 1

I'm busy preparing to start a new job, but time for a post about an article in the British Observer newspaper today, on new British soul talents. I've never heard any of them before, but there are some links to check them out, and there is much to praise. The journalist Elle J Small describes them as, "They're loud, they're proud - and they're not interested in what the major labels have to say!" Bless their little cotton socks. Why do journalists write these things?...

But do they have that certain little something that makes you forget all that you've been through? What do you think? Here are the first contenders, for my own unbelieveably imaginary BEHM Awards 2006. You are the voters. Vote in the all-new computerised Poll in the sidebar!

Alice Russell, was born in Framlingham, soon to work with Massive Attack, performed at the top of Mount Fuji, and sings with Brighton's Quantic Soul Orchestra. She would most like to visit Al Green's church.

Mpho Skeef, born in Cape Town to a white mother and black father. Her mother was jailed during the Soweto Riots, and she had to stay there too during the sentence. Now based in south London.

L-Marie, or Lisa Marie O'Hagan, is from Glasgow, Scotland. "I get stick for being a white Scot singing soul", she chuckles. She made a soul style by singing her own lyrics over 50 Cent and Kanye West instrumentals.

Tawiah is from Battersea, London. "People always say they love the fact that I've got a soulful voice but sound British." She has impressed DJ Mark Ronson, singer Bilal, and producer IG Culture.

More soon. Once all the comments have been counted, once all the contenders have been posted, I'll declare some kind of winner.

More Nashville soul coming soon also...

Monday, October 16, 2006

Night Train To Nashville!: Avons Calling!

Yes, I've spent the last few days obsessed with this new-fangled youtube thingy...

I'm watching these shows from Night Train! and The Beat!!! for the first time, and its mesmerising to see great artists who I've heard on my speakers since I was small, up on the screen. If only we'd had shows like these in the UK, Craig David would never have existed...

I'm going to keep posting some more of this stuff!

Today on the show, we get a call from The Avons. Not the Bobby Byrd and James Brown group, later to become the Famous Flames. Nor the Suffolk/Jersey duo from Blighty's swinging 60s. Instead a female group who met at Pearl High School in Nashville, who recorded the song Tell Me Baby at Sound Stage 7 and Since I Met You Baby on Excello. Paula Hester, Beverley Bard and Fran Bard were managed by Bob Holmes, who also wrote and produced their songs. In the UK, the single was released as by The Novas, so as not to confuse with the British group. On todays clip from Night Train! in 1966, The Avons sing Everybody Loves A Lover. A happy song, catchy and upbeat.

Watch The Avons on Night Train! at youtube...
Watch The Avons on Night Train!

Thanks to innercalm for posting so many great clips from Night Train! and The Beat!!! He is also posting some more info about some of the the clips on the Soul Source forums (under Pete-S) Why not also visit his website at Planet Records! A record dealer who loves soul AND the VU is all right by me!

22.10.06: This post was edited to add a little more information :)

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Highway Chile Takes The Night Train!

From the same episode of Night Train!, on WLAC-TV Channel 5, we have the opening credits for that episode in June/July 1965, listing the evening's performers, and then a rendition of Shotgun by Buddy and Stacey, supported by the show's backing band, The Royal Company, here with a young James Hendrix.
Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting
It was not the first visit to Nashville for Jimi Hendrix. Jimi Hendrix had been demobbed from Fort Campbell, an army base in Kentucky in July 1962 after breaking his ankle in parachute training. After wasting his money, Jimi hung around in Clarksville and then, with an army friend Billy Cox, later came to Nashville to find some work in clubs with their band, now called the King Kasuals. After travelling to New York City and winning the Apollo Amateur Night, but failing to make any bigger impression, he returned. Nashville would become one of several regular places to which Jimi would return in times of need.

Eventually getting a break, he toured with the Isley Brothers in 1963/4, before quitting their band on a stop in Nashville once more. This time he hung around for a while, before joining several mid-western tours organised by DJ Georgeous George Odell:

"So then I quit, I quit them [The Isleys] in Nashville somewhere. And eh, ??? this guy, he was on a tour with B.B.King, Jackie Wilson and Sam Cooke, and all these people Chuck Jackson. So I played, eh, I was playing guitar behind a lot of the acts on the tour."

Jimi worked like this for over a year, basing himself in Atlanta this time when his money ran out and Georgeous George couldn't get enough bookings, offering to work as a valet for acts if they didn't need musicians. Here, he was spotted by Little Richard who hired him for his band:

"I guess about, I guess I played with him for about 6 months, I guess. About 5 or 6 months. And I got tired of all that, played some shows with Ike and Tina Turner, and I went back to New York and played with King Curtis and Joey Dee"

Jimi was being a little reticent. Many people credit his time with Little Richard as an important influence for Jimi, giving him the chance to experiment with his stage persona and play with seasoned musicians. Richard told him once:

"Look. Don't be ashamed to do whatever you feel. The people can tell if your a phony. They can feel it out in the audience. I don't care if you're wild, I don't care if you're quiet. They'll know if your putting yourself into it, whatever it is."

Others remember Jimi on that tour:

"Richard didn't hide Jimi. He used to allow him to do that playing with his teeth onstage and take solos. It became a part of the act, all that playing behind his back and stuff."

However, it became clear that Jimi was not comfortable with the tough life on the road, travelling by bus on a gruelling schedule. He was unnerved by some of the racially-charged scenes he saw in towns and venues in the South, and while he continued to develop his playing, his moodiness led to lateness for shows and rehearsals.

Returning to Nashville once more to regroup and earn some money, Jimi got work on the Night Train! with the backing band. Also around June - July 1965, at the Starday Studio, on Dickerson Road in Nashville, Jimi played rhythm guitar on Frank Howard & the Commanders' record I'm So Glad. Frank Howard and The Commanders were also regular performers on Night Train and on its successor The Beat !!!!

Soon after, Jimi left Nashville and returned to New York, and began to think about how he could break out on his own...

Buddy & Stacey with The Royal Company - Shotgun

Information found from Early Hendrix website, and the Life And Times of Little Richard: Quasar Of Rock by Charles White. The most detailed biography of the early career of Jimi Hendrix on the internet that I've found can be read at the Soul-Patrol, titled Jimi Hendrix And The Chitlin' Circuit by Oscar J Jordan III.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

All Aboard The Night Train!

This week's post is a brief introduction into a radio station, WLAC, and a TV show, Night Train, that helped to promote and sustain the r&b scene in Nashville, Tennessee during the 1960s. Then sit back to watch the show!...

courtesy of Billy Lockridge

Two Nashville radio stations played a huge role in establishing Nashville's reputation. With WSM broadcasting the Grand Ole Opry and WLAC's late night disc jockeys such as the legendary John Richbourg (better known as John R) and Hoss Allen catering to R&B fans, the two stations blasted 50,000-watt nighttime signals to music fans throughout the U.S. Micael Gray, curator at the Country Music hall Of Fame, comments:

"In a lot of ways, WLAC is to R&B music what WSM was to country music. WLAC started playing R&B at night in 1946. The deejays who were playing the music were white, so there's another example of how the race barriers were tested... Just about every R&B star came through Nashville. There's all kinds of stories about people like James Brown and Little Richard stopping by WLAC. Just like today, artists were wanting to know the deejays who were playing the records."

Night Train premiered in 1964 as one of the first music series to feature an all-black cast, presented by WVOL executive Noble Blackwell, and a house band led by musical director Bob Holmes. Produced in Nashville at WLAC-TV, Night Train predates the Chicago-based Soul Train by five years. Jimi Hendrix, swaggering in a backing band called the King Kasuals, is believed to have made his very first TV appearance. Noble Blackwell was particularly proud of the contribution he feels the show made reaching out to and working with local people:

"It was a period of the 60s, you had demonstrations going on in Nashville, but Night Train offered ... [more than] ... a good entertainment vehicle. We had very good artists, and of course it highlighted the local artists, who were very talented, and a lot of hard work went into it because we would practise at various community centers in Nashville. The Nashville Housing Authority allowed us to use the community centers where we would practise..."
Noble Blackwell - photo courtesy of Frank Howard

In 1966, Nashville's TV studios still didn't have the equipment needed to produce programs in color. As a result, Show Biz Inc., which syndicated the Wilburn Brothers and Porter Wagoner's country TV shows, took WLAC disc jockey Hoss Allen and an entire cast of Nashville musicians to Houston to produce The!!!! Beat, an all-too-brief series that featured all the national acts such as Otis Redding, Freddy King and Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown.

Watch a clip of The Spidells performing Lookin' For Love (a hit for the Valentinos) on Night Train!

Watch The Spidells on Night Train!

Wait! The Train's not stoppin'!!!!

Watch Freddie North performing Good Times, introduced by host Noble Blackwell,
and Pamela Releford perform He's All Right With Me here on Night Train in 1966!

Information from an article from, and the Night Train To Nashville booklet. Videos posted on youtube by innercalm. Photos from Frank Howard and Billy Lockridge.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

French Soul At Royal Studios: Axelle Red

BUY Jardin Secret by Axelle Red
Belgian soul songstress Axelle Red (real name Fabienne Demal) has released her new album, jardin secret, on October 2nd. It was recorded at Royal Studios, produced by Boo Mitchell, with father Willie Mitchell dropping by to oversee the sessions. I guarantee that if you have been waiting for that new Marti Pellow CD, expecting the next great soulful album, its time to spend your money on this instead.
Axelle & Willie Mitchell
Axelle sings mostly in french on this album, but its worth persevering even if you are not linguistically gifted. You don't need to know all the words to know that this is seriously good music, and a masterful songwriter. Axelle started out as another teen pop sensation in her native Belgium, but quickly proved to her agents that she had her own agenda, and it included exploration of her own musical direction. She travelled to Muscle Shoals in 1995 to record the album a tâtons, and impressed producer Isaac Hayes, Steve Cropper, Richard Hawkins, Willie Weeks and Lester Snell with her talent and committment when she recorded with them. Sadly, Axelle is considering throwing in the towel after this album, disappointed that record companies the world over still only seem to want to promote the 'pretty girl shaking her r&b lite booty' format. Beyoncé and others of talent, take notes.

Listen to a sample of the first single, Temp Pour Nous (Time For Us), and buy it online at i-tunes, or at the link below. It's about people needing more time to love each other more. There are samples of other tracks from the album at Axelle's website here. They range from Fruit Défendu, a funky come hither number in English, to Changer ma vie, a more classically French song, and it is the fusion of soul instrumentation and musical themes with French conventions which makes Axelle's songwriting work so interesting. Yesterday, I watched Axelle live on a webconcert from Belgium, playing with her touring band, including Bar-Kays (and now MGs) drummer Steve Potts and once again Lester Snell on keyboards. She isn't a soul shouter by any means, but tries to inject her vocals with soul feeling while retaining the lyrical, poetic bent that is integral to French pop. The result sounds like few other French songs do. As a rough idea, Carole King is one songwriting reference that Axelle herself alludes to.

For a limited time, the blog filles souries is hosting the song Papillion (Butterfly) from the album, which you can also hear a clip of here. A soft and sweet ballad about intimacy, it stunned me into silence!

All of Axelle Red's more soulful albums are available on i-tunes, and at her website, including jardin secret, a tâtons, and French Soul: The Best Of Axelle Red. Information used here from Willie Mitchell's Royal Studios website, Axelle Red's website and the Belgian Pop & Rock Archives.

P.S. Ma copine (soul transl. 'My Cherie Amour') has reminded me that Axelle sang a song, Manhattan-Kaboul, with French folk pop star Renaud, who is her favourite songwriter. I think she wants you to buy Renaud records too now you all love French pop. That would be a good thing.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Night Train To Nashville: Arthur Gunter

Arthur Gunter
Arthur Gunter was born on the 23rd May 1926 in Nashville, Tennessee. Gunter was a musician from an early age; as a child, he was in a gospel group with his brothers and cousins called the Gunter Brothers Quartet. In the early 1950s he played guitar in various blues groups around Nashville. Gunter was a regular at the record shop owned by Excello chief Ernie Young and the association led to a recording contract in 1954. In 1955, Gunter recorded Baby Let's Play House for Excello, which became a local hit. It became nationally known later that year when Elvis Presley recorded a version for Sun Records. His first royalty check, received that same year, was for $6500. Gunter was less than impressed, however, with the attitude of the rock n'roll kid and his management:

"Elvis got that number and made it famous. But I didn't get a chance to shake his hand."

Arthur Gunter continued to record for Excello until 1961. His regular band broke up in 1966 and he moved to Pontiac, Michigan, performing only occasionally thereafter. He died of pneumonia on March 16th 1976 at his home in Port Huron, Michigan.

Arthur Gunter - Baby, Let's Play House (Excello) 1955

Buy the CDs Night Train To Nashville Vols 1 & 2 here:

Information from articles by Steve Kurutz, All Music Guide, and Fred Reif, from his liner notes to Baby Let's Play House: the Best of Arthur Gunter (Excello 1995). Thanks to Kay Clary and Donica Christensen of Commotion PR for allowing links to downloads from the CD.