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.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Night Train To Nashville: Christine Kittrell

BUY Night Train To Nashville here...

This week I'm going to post on a few artists to be found on the compilation Night Train To Nashville: Music City Rhythm & Blues 1945-1970 - Vols 1& 2, from Lost Highway/Universal. This compilation was devised to accompany an exhibition at the Country Music Hall Of Fame in 2004-5, and brings together songs recorded at 25 Nashville labels, by dozens of artists, some of whom were regularly featured on the TV shows Night Train and The!!!!Beat, which featured Nashville r&b. You can actually hear a stream of all the tracks on the Commotion PR website - who promote Night Train To Nashville , and buy the CDs (or vinyl!) at the Night Train to Nashville website.
Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

Christine Kittrell is featured several times on the CDs. Christine Kittrell was born on August 11, 1929, into a musical family in Nashville, and decided that singing would be her life's work after singing in church, and listening to records by Vela Johnson, Dinah Washington, Billie Holliday and Bessie Smith. Ann Bishop, a friend, remembers when she first heard her sing:

"When I met her she was singing at Tony Morone's Cadillac Club on North 20th Street. She had stage presence, personality and an unforgettable voice."

During the 1940s and early 50s, Kittrell toured extensively, and recorded for Tennessee, Republic, Federal, King and Vee-Jay Records over her career. During the summer of 1952, a little independent label based in Nashville called Tennessee Records released a blues recording called Sittin' Here Drinkin' /I Ain't Nothing But A Fool (Tennessee 128). In 1952, Little Richard played piano on one of her songs, Lord Have Mercy. In 1953, Christine moved to Republic Records, also in Nashville, and recorded with the Gay Crosse Band, who had in their number a young tenor player called John Cole Trane. Christine was starting to rack up sales of over 20,000 per single.

In 1954, she toured regularly. DJ Gene Norman organised a show with The Robins, Christine Kittrell, Earl Bostic, and The Flairs at the Embassy Ballroom in LA, and to tour California in March. Other West Coast tours would follow, with "Fats" Domino, Earl Bostic, Paul Williams, John Coltrane and more. She did other shows with Johnny Otis, The Lamplighters, Ruth Brown and Count Basie. Success as a national r&b artist seemed imminent.

At this point in 1954, Christine decided to return to gospel music. She moved to Columbus Ohio in 1962, to make a new home. Around this time, Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller sought her out and wrote the song I'm a Woman for her, which she recorded on Vee-Jay along with some other, but none of them sold well, and she returned to her gospel once more.

In the early 60s, she toured Japan performing with Louis Armstrong and Paul Williams. Then, in the mid 1960s, promoter David Moore, who knew her from her r&b shows on the West Coast, booked her on a Southeast Asian tour where she sang for the troops in Vietnam. She stayed on tour in Vietnam for 8 1/2 months, intending to stay longer. The tour was terminated, almost literally, when Christine was wounded by shrapnel in a Viet-Cong incident.

In 1986 a fan of Kittrells' called Bruce Bastian, suggested recording an album, titled Krazy Kat, returning to the blues. Continuing to perform with local Columbus blues group The Night Owlz, she became a mentor for Ohio artist Teeny Tucker (daughter of Tommy 'High Heel Sneakers' Tucker), and sang on Tucker's album First Class Woman.

Kittrell spent her remaining few years working with a beautification group, the Linden Community in Action, and was inducted into the Columbus Senior Musicians Hall of Fame in 1998. Christine Kitrell died on 19th December 2001 from emphysema, aged 72.

You can hear an interview with Christine Kittrell, on Ohio University Radio in 1994, and hear her sing a number of her songs with the Night Owlz, including Evil Eyed Woman and Mr Big Wheel. In addition, this track below is being offered by Commotion PR, who run promotion for the Night Train To Nashville CDs.

Christine Kittrell - L&N Special (Republic) (June 1953)

Information from an article by Ann Bishop, the Night Train To Nashville exhibition, Bad Dog Blues, and the most comprehensive article by J C Marion, which contains a detailed discography. Link to free promotional download provided by Commotion PR.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Dante Carfagna & Memphix Records

Just time for a post on general stuff. While researching Memphis gospel label Designer Records, and reading an article about Memphix Records, I noticed the name of Dante Carfagna on the same webpage. I knew only that Dante Carfagna is behind the creation of Ohio Soul Recordings. However, it seems that this is merely the tip of the iceberg.

Those of you who are a bit more hip than I may well know that Mr Carfagna is also writer of the website Wax Poetics, and a renowned DJ and recording artist under the name of Express Rising, who's debut album jeux de ficelles (on Memphix Records) in 2003 is a much-sought after, limited edition, modern-day collectors item. Or as one site described it:

"...just about the most peaceful and folkily psychedelic instrumental breakbeat funk-soul-hop you ever heard."

Dante began his recording career by designing beats for Professor Griff of Public Enemy. He is one of the founders, with Luke Sexton and Chad Weekley, of the hip-hop/rare beats label Memphix Records, and also involved with Now-Again Records, who release both modern hip-hop and numerous compilations of rare soul and funk.

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting
You can hear some clips of Dante Carfagna's work at Boomkat's CD site, although, due to their popularity, copies are rare as hen's teeth. eBay has some listings.

A discography of Memphix Records can be found here.