Monday, April 17, 2006

Jamo Thomas: Must I Holler, Must I Let Myself Go?

Here is the first post on classic soul singers that deserves wider attention. It's Jamo Thomas, who made the journey from the Bahamas to Chicago and recorded at Chess, Decca and Thomas in the 1960s. Jamo recorded tracks such as Stop The Baby, Arrest Me, Jamo's Soul, a good version of I Spy For The FBI, Bahama Mama and Nassau Daddy, but my personal favourite is Must I Holler? It was recorded around 1966 for Chess Records, and while it is ostensibly a story of unrequited desire, it also feels like a plaintive cry of anguish that a life that looks so good is so far from the reach of African-Americans, and yet no matter how hard he tries to tell white America about the disparity, nobody is listening ...

I came across some more information about Jamo Thomas' early career in the late 50s, working with Bobby Peterson.

In 1958 Bobby teamed up with sax player Joe Pyatt, who needed a singer and key- board player for his new combo and the Bobby Peterson Quintet was born. The other members were David Butler (drums), Chico Green (bass) and Jamo Thomas (congas and bongo). They made six remarkable singles for Buddy Caldwell's Philly-based V-Tone label between 1959 and 1961, before disbanding permanently in 1962.

The band started to play in clubs with a mixed repertoire of current R&B hits, Ray Charles favourites and a few originals, when Lawrence Kerrin, a local talent scout and promoter, heard them at the Skyway Inn in southwest Philadelphia. Kerrin and Joe Pyatt collaborated writing the Quintet's first single, a simple sax/piano instrumental called The Hunch. Kerrin introduced the combo to Buddy Caldwell, who operated his new V-Tone and Len labels out of the back of his upholstery store on Ridge Avenue. The Hunch (c/w the vocal track Love You Pretty Baby) managed to climb to # 71 on Billboard's national pop charts, but a note-for-note cover by Paul Gayten on the Gordy family's embryonic Anna imprint did slightly better, peaking at # 68 in November 1959.

The quintet followed this up with a powerful two-part instrumental, Rockin' Charlie, which was used as a theme by ace deejay Jocko Henderson. They began doing one-nighters up and down the eastern seaboard, and were brought to Chicago by Buddy Caldwell to record their third single, the great Irresistible You (written by Luther Dixon), coupled with a wild instrumental, Piano Rock. "Irresistible You" went to # 15 R&B and # 96 pop in the autumn of 1960 ; Bobby Darin would record the song a year later and take it to # 15 pop. The group was now touring all over the country, with stars like Jackie Wilson, Jerry Butler and Smokey Robinson.

Been Saving My Love For You/Three Street was the fourth V-Tone single for the Bobby Peterson Quintet. Released in early 1961, it was not as strong as the first three, but still sold quite well. One Day/ Mama Get Your Hammer probably got the least airplay of all six singles. This was followed by another great instrumental, Smooth Sailin', Parts 1 & 2, which sold a fair amount. But the young musicians were already tiring of the hard road life and drummer David Butler chose to settle down and get steady work. Joe Pyatt, the real leader of the group, joined Dave "Baby" Cortez's combo as sax man in 1962, while Chico Green went on to work with Hank Ballard and the Midnighters.

Bobby Peterson himself recorded two further singles under his own name for Atlantic and Centaur, and returned to the rounds of Chester's clubs. In the 1980s he was playing in a funky aggregation called Self-Destruct.

Jamo Thomas came to Chicago during the early '60s and cut his first single Stop the Baby for the Conlo label, produced by Jerry Butler. He moved to the Sound Stage 7 label in 1965, which led to the recording of Bahama Mama in Memphis, which became a hit. In 1966, he met Eddie Thomas, Butler's former driver and now an executive with ABC-Paramount, who was starting to cut records for his own Thomas label.

In 1966, Jamo Thomas recorded I Spy For the FBI. It was recorded a couple of months after Luther Ingrams & The G-Men had recorded the original version of the song for Smash Records, but it was Jamo's version that had more success, reaching No.98 on the pop chart. Luther Ingrams has said that he believed there had been some sort of a deal between Jamo and the Impressions concerning the record, perhaps something to do with its double release on two separate labels. Jamo's version first came out on St. Lawrence Records in Chicago, before it was released on the Curtom subsidiary label Thomas. Jamo himself was based in Chicago. He worked with Monk Higgins Burgess Gardner and a host of Chicago people associated with Craig-Vee Productions, on St. Lawrence, Satellite, Sack and Thomas Records, Chess and Decca, before moving to Philadelphia, where he recorded for the Perception label, including Shake What You Brought With You and You Just Ain't Ready. Later, Jamo recorded for MCA and Nassau Records.

Jamo stopped recording his own material after 1976, but in 1979, he provided the introduction to Scream by Graham Central Station on the Star Walk album (Warner Bros.). In the 1980s he turned to gospel music and worked as an arranger for Ella Washington.

You can buy a great CD complilation of Chess hits, called Chess Club Rhythm & Soul, including Must I Holler, at

A CD of the Bobby Petersen Quartet was released (Relic CD 7138) in 1999 under the title "Irresistible You - Piano Rock".

Information for this article was gathered from unnamed internet sources, from message board comments by Heikki Suosalo of Soul Express magazine, and Bruce Eder of All Music Guide.

No comments: