Monday, July 31, 2006

Yusef Lateef's Detroit: The Monroe Theater District & Woodward Avenue

The previous installments of this virtual tour can be found here at the Eastern Market, and here at Bishop School, and here at Belle Isle.

Onwards with our tour of Detroit with Yusef Lateef...

"Stage Show! Arcade, Dunbar, Castle, Willis and Warfield - potatoes for admission on Saturday between 12:30 and 4:00pm. Fifteen cents, otherwise. Freedom of action, unrestricted. Thirteen Spirits of Swing - Matthew Rucker, Milt Buckner. The Duke, The Count, The King, The Prince, The Earl. Royalty at its BEST! Sessions at the West End . . . Joe Brazil's basement ...
... Woodward Avenue. Big parades. The library, the museum, Wayne University, the Toddle House - BEST pecan waffles; cheap ... Paradise Theatre ... The Zephers, Moms Mabley, Patterson and Jackson, and Willie Lewis - "Somebody spit like a dime!" The old Mirror Ballroom, echoes of the giants. World Stage ... New Music Society. The State Fairgrounds - Detroit Symphony and guest artists. Latitude."

- Saeeda Lateef, 1969

The theatres that Saeeda describes are in mostly a parlous state, or long gone. The Madison Theater has been demolished after serving time as the more exotic sort of cinema, and the site is under redevelopment today for a new entertainment complex. The Arcade Theater still stands at 2416 Hastings Ave. It was open from 1913-1949. The Castle Theater stands at 3412 Hastings Ave. It was open from 1915-1939. A combination of new forms of entertainment and music, economic troubles in the city, the flight of middle-class residents, and regeneration schemes have changed Detroit in many ways.

However, there is one story of hope and renewal amongst the ghosts. In 1919, the Detroit Symphony Orchestra build Orchestra Hall on Woodward Avenue and played there until 1939, when they left under financial pressures. Thus began the buildings second and more celebrated life as the Paradise Theater. It was a premier jazz venue, Duke Ellington famously playing there. But the venue closed for the last time in 1951, and in 1970 was slated for demolition.

The community rallied together over the next few months to prevent demolition and raise funds to buy the building in 1972. They started to reopen it for a few fundraising concerts to help continue renovation. By 1989, after $7 million had been raised for repairs, the hall was readopted as the home of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra.

It helped to inspire numerous other community projects to revitalise the area around Woodward Avenue.

Orchestra Hall now promotes the development of the talents of young people via the addition of a new Detroit High School for the Fine, Performing & Communications Arts.

Yusef Lateef's Detroit (Atlantic SD 1525) 1969

Find out more about Orchestra Hall at the Detroit Symphony Orchestra website. To learn more about the local area, why not visit Hamtramck News. Great snippets of local history from the Paradise Valley and Black Bottom districts can be found with Detroit News.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Billy Young: You Left The Water Running

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Individuals can make a difference, and Billy Young was one of those individuals. Not only did he produce some fine southern soul records, he served his community in Macon Georgia selflessly, donating his musical talents to causes and devoting his time to work with children in need.

Billy Young began his musical career in Macon, playing the venues of Broadway such as the Two Spot, and got his first chance to record in 1961 with Glendora b/w Are You For Me.

Billy came to the notice of local legends Otis Redding and Phil Walden, who both recognised a kindred musical spirit. Billy's voice had a similar gutsy and countrified delivery, although his voice was not quite as raw or his delivery quite as strident as Otis'. Otis took Billy down to Muscle Shoals for a session at Fame Studios recording for Otis's Jotis label. The single was Do the Sloopy b/w Same Thing All Over (Jotis 469), and was distributed by Atlantic.

Billy was invited to Chess Records to record a single for them in 1966, Have Pity On Me b/w You Left the Water Running (Chess 1961).

Otis Redding took Billy to record next at the Mercury label in 1966 and '67. Nothing's Too Much (Nothing's Too Good) b/w Too Much (Mercury 72693) and A Year, A Month, A Day b/w Let Them Talk (Mercury 72669) were both produced and arranged by Otis Redding, who was a conscientous mentor.
Billy Young - Nothing's Too Much (Nothing's Too Good) / Too Much

None of these singles took off nationally, but Billy continued to work through his own Joyja label(Georgia Soul! explained that this is a play on the pronunciation of Georgia out in the country), cutting songs such as Surviving With A Hangover, and the Grotto label in Macon, on which he recorded songs such as How Much Longer (Can You Hold Out) under the moniker Billy "Country Boy" Young. It was in the early 1970s that Billy began to see how he could actively contribute to the needs of his community.

Billy released a song called "Sickle Cell Anaemia" recorded purely to raise awareness among parents to have their children's blood checked, and vaccinations handled early.

In the 1980s, Billy was involved in a local chapter of the Rev. Jesse Jackson's Rainbow Coalition. The Rainbow Coalition commissioned Billy Young to cut a single for the vanity Rane-Bow label called Jesse Jackson (For President) (Rane-Bow R-001) in 1984, but neither Jesse or the single had the success they had hoped for.

Billy Young also became a well-known figure at the Rosa Jackson Community Center working with disadvantaged children. According to the director of the center,

"The children at the center rushed to meet and hug him when he came to the center to provide active recreational outlets for them. The center staff was also overjoyed to see Mr Young on his regular visits to help provide assistance for these children. To many kids at the center he was the father they had always wished for but never had. He was instrumental in keeping them on the right path."

Billy also enjoyed writing poetry in later years, his most popular poem being one about Martin Luther King Jr, while for the children he read to regularly at the center, their favourite was titled "The Apple".

Billy Young died on 18th August 1999, but he was far from forgotten by the people of Macon. Since then, The Billy Young Memorial Tribute has been held annually at the Rosa Jackson Community Center on 1211 Maynard St, in Macon, Georgia. 31217. Over the years since this celebration started it has been attended by many city officials including members of the Macon City Council and the Mayor of Macon. The Annual Billy Young Tribute is sponsored by Reverend Frank Ray of Brothers Keeper Inc. This organization provides meals for the children who attend the Rosa Jackson Center on a daily basis. Reverend Ray also sponsors other community activities for children and young adults in and around the City of Macon, Georgia. The Rosa Jackson Center Staff co-sponsors this event every year. In 2002, the event was well attended by over 150 people.

Today's track is from Billy's Chess single, written by Dann Penn and Rick Hall, You Left All The Water Running, a reminder that sometimes, when you've got a good thing going with someone like Billy Young, you oughta stick around and appreciate things.

Billy Young - You Left All The Water Running (Chess 1961) 1966

London Lee at No1 Songs In Heaven was recently tracking down the many versions of this song, which has been sung by James & Bobby Purify, Wilson Pickett, Otis Redding, Maurice & Mac, Geno Washington, bluesman W.C. Clark, in the 90s by Dan Penn himself, numerous country singers, even Huey Lewis...

Invaluable information for this post was found from the Georgia Soul! Blog, and from the Billy Young Memorial website. Today's song is currently unavailable on CD, but Billy Young appears on several compilations such as Dave Godin's Deep Soul Treasures Vol. 1, and Lost Deep Soul Treasures Vol. 1.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Having Fun With The Bobbettes...

This post is brought to you jointly by the people at Brown Eyed Handsome Man and Get On Down With The Stepfather Of Soul...
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Jason Stone, The Stepfather of Soul, was hunting for a copy of I've Gotta Face The World by long-running girl group The Bobbettes. I was in a record-buying mood, cash card in hand, innocently perusing the Rare Soul Man website, and came away a little while later with one 45 and £30 lighter... and this is the first my girlfriend will know about it! What, have you lost yer marbles, you can't run with the northern soulers, I told myself, soon you'll be taking out a mortgage to fund your habit, I knew that, but then... Go on, said the voice...

The best praisie of The Bobbettes that I can find is by Marv Goldberg as part of his R&B Notebook series, based upon interviews with surviving members of hundreds of vocal groups of the 50s and 60s. For The Bobbettes, he was able to speak to surviving member Reather Dixon Turner.

In brief, The Bobbettes began as teen group the Harlem Queens, comprising Emma Pought, Jannie Pought, Reather Dixon, Laura Webb and Helen Gathers. Their first hit was the song Mr Lee in 1957 for Atlantic Records. When the relationship with Atlantic began to sour in 1959, they went on to record elsewhere for two more decades. Some of the most popular tracks include I Shot Mr Lee (based loosely on a teacher they didn't like -"shot him in the head, boom, boom.”- gangsta style in chiffon), and I Don't Like It Like That, an answer song to Chris Kenner's I Like It Like That. After a long career in which they created many classic records, tragedy struck in 1980, when Jannie Pought was killed in a random shooting, a victim of the gun culture they had once satirised. Yet, even today, the remaining members continue to perform.

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The track featured today is the b-side to a single recorded in May 1966. It's called Having Fun, and that you will have, if you are past sixteen and fancy free. Oh, so long ago... A thumping bassline, punchy horns that suddenly break into a little nod to the Otis signature riff, and lots of attitude.

The Bobbettes - Having Fun (RCA Victor 47-8832) 1966

Now, if you haven't already, jump over to the Stepfather of Soul, who has another Bobbettes treat for you...

Information in this article taken from Marv Goldberg interviewing Reather Dixon Turner for the R&B Notebooks. Another source on the Bobbettes' career can be found at The Doo-Wop Society of Southern California.

You can buy the Bobbettes Ultimate Collection on CD from doo-wop and vocal group specialists Dead Dog Records, which contains all of their hits up until 1964.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Johnny Jenkins: Walking On Gilded Splinters

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After a short weekend trip to France, I came back to read some sad news for soul fans. Agent 45 at Georgia Soul! Blog reports that Johnny Jenkins, leader of the Pinetoppers and recording artist at Capricorn Records, died on Sunday June 25th 2006, aged 67. I had been reading about him and telling my girlfriend about him on the plane home...

Johnny Jenkins was born in Macon, Georgia in 1939. At age 9, he made his first guitar out of a cigar box and rubber bands; as a left-hander, he learned to play it upside down and entertained people at a local gas station.

Phil Walden signed Jenkins in 1958, while he was a high school president looking for a way to book r&b shows for fraternities. Johnny began to tour around the South, playing fraternity parties and various venues, first with Pat T Cake & The Mighty Panthers, and then with his own band, the Pinetoppers.

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Paul Hornsby of the Capricorn Rhythm Section, who played with Johnny on his key albums, recalls:

"He was legendary playing at college fraternities at the University of Alabama. I always heard about the left-handed guitar player who was doing all these acrobatics."

Phil Walden talked about Johnny in a 1996 interview with the Macon Telegraph:

"I have a great deal of sentiment attached to Johnny Jenkins. He was my first client, and it was through him that I met Otis Redding. ... I was still a teenager when I met him, and I thought my entire world rotated around Johnny Jenkins' guitar. I was convinced he could have been the greatest thing in rock 'n' roll. He had all the earmarks of stardom. He looked the part, he played the part, he acted the part. ... He made a major impression on my entire career. This was my first relationship with an African-American musician, and what made that unusual was the time of the relationship (the late '50s). I learned so much about life from Johnny Jenkins and Otis Redding during those early years. It was exhilarating, to say the least."

At the Douglass Theatre in Macon, an amateur talent show was held every week and broadcast as The Teenage Party. Otis Redding sang regularly in 1958, and won week after week. One night, Johnny went to watch. Jenkins described what happened to Peter Guralnick:

"I heard Otis at the Douglass, and the group behind him just wasn't making it. So I went up to him, and I said, 'Do you mind if I play behind you?' And he looked at me like, 'Who are you?' 'Cause he didn't know me. And I say, 'I can make you sound good.' ... And you know how the guitar can make a singer sound good by covering up his weaknesses? Well, he sounded great with me playing behind him - and he knowed it. I say, 'How much you pay me?' He say, '25 cents.' I say, 'Well, that be all right, maybe you better pay me 15 cents now, 10 cents at the gig.'"

The Pinetoppers, now with Otis singing, got a chance to record a single, Shout Bamalama, for Confederate Records, but the excitement was short-lived,a nd money became tight. Phil Walden set up Phil Walden & Associates, and booked the members of the band in various guises and combinations under assumed names to try to eke out more gigs - once they performed just as Johnny & Otis, with Otis playing the drums.

Johnny Jenkins then recorded a regional hit instrumental, Love Twist, released on Tifco, and then distributed by Atlantic thanks to record promoter Joe Galkin, who took a cut, and Phil Walden got a follow-up session booked at Stax Records. The confusion over Otis' role at the session stems from the fact that while Otis was an integral part of the band, they were there to record an instrumental follow-up to capitalise on Love Twist. But when the tunes didn't come together for the Pinetoppers, the remaining half-hour went over to trying some vocal tracks. Johnny Jenkins was there playing guitar on Hey Hey Baby and These Arms Of Mine, happily supporting his friend. Rogers Redding said that the original idea had been to promote These Arms Of Mine as a duo, Johnny & Otis.

But Johnny decided not to tour, disliking air travel, and perhaps more nervous, or more wary, about the prospect of fame than he liked to admit. He was suspicious of the Stax set-up, and like those black artists such as Gilbert Caple who played on Last Night but received no credit, believed that his contribution was being appropriated:

"They [Jim Stewart and Stax] had me in the motherfucking studio, and I played the best I knowed how... [then got Steve Cropper to study it]"

Johnny released just one 45 on Volt, Spunky bw Bashful Guitar. Johnny preferred to stick with Phil and those whom he trusted from Macon, and despite some portrayals of Johnny as a bitter man, others recall him quite differently. Joseph Johnson, curator of the Georgia Music Hall of Fame, recalls:
"I listened to an interview in which he said he never really wanted to become famous, he just wanted to play guitar. ... He was happy playing guitar, playing with a band and going home."

Paul Hornsby worked as a producer at Phil Walden's Capricorn Records when Jenkins recorded his most well-known album, Ton Ton Macoute, in 1970. He believes that Jenkins didn't try to get the fame and attention the other artists on the label such as the Allman Brothers, were receiving:

"Capricorn wanted him to be something special. They wanted him to be another Hendrix. But that just wasn't him."

Jenkins' guitar style is more familiar than you might think. Jimi Hendrix, whose aunt lived in Macon, saw Jenkins perform and fell in love with his signature acrobatic left-handed guitar style. Johnny was light-hearted about his possible influence:

"He used to see me at Sawyer Lake. The next thing you know, he's jumping around like me, but he had his own stuff."

The death of his best friend Otis Redding in 1967 had a profound impact upon Johnny. He could not bring himself to go to the funeral in Macon, unable to hold back his distress, and filled with suspicions that something more sinister might lay behind the plane crash. He feared also that Zelma and the family might be upset by his presence; and that Stax associates might not want him there, a reminder of Otis' younger, wilder days, rather than as a pop idol.

Johnny's career petered out with the fall of Capricorn Records. In 1996, Phil Walden produced Jenkins' comeback album, Blessed Blues. He performed at the first concert at the Douglass Theatre after it was renovated in 1997. Jenkins continued to perform sporadically, including a 2000 show at the Georgia Music Hall of Fame. His last two albums, Handle with Care (1999) and All in Good Time (2000), were produced by Mean Old World Records.

The singer Arthur Ponder sums up Johnny Jenkins as a character:

"I learned a lot from him... If you sang or played, you would go find Johnny. He would give you a chance."

The first track today comes from Ton Ton Macoute, and is a funky blues titled Walking On Gilded Splinters. Yes, Paul Weller once chewed this one up... Then, on his 2003 album, Johnny sings the William Bell penned tribute to his old friend Otis:

Johnny Jenkins - Walking On Gilded Splinters ('Ton Ton Macoute' 1970 Capricorn Records)

Johnny Jenkins - A Tribute To a King ('All In Good Time' 2003 Mean Old World)

Information and quotes from the Macon Telegraph, and from Sweet Soul Music by Peter Guralnick. Photos by Mark Pucci, and by the Capricorn Rhythm Section.