Thursday, September 29, 2011

The Soul of a Woman

Hi there! Today is another »Fontella day« ... don't know why, but it feels like it to me. First of all, I wanted to share a wonderful rare picture with you. I took it from the St. Louis Blues Society's »Bluesletter« (autumn 2004, vol. 14, no. 46). It shows a very young Fontella Bass with the Oliver Sain Revue, probably in late 1961 or early 1962 (Oliver Sain is 3rd from left). This was right at the onset of her career when she performed mainly in the St. Louis area. Oliver Sain was then for many years the main responsible for Fontella's career, and in 1963 he teamed her up, for some few recordings, with Ike & Tina Turner (read more here).

In June 1964, Sain had Fontella audition at Chess Records, and this eventually resulted in a contract. As is known, the first Chess (actually Checker) recordings issued in late '64 and spring '65 were two singles by Fontella Bass together with Bobby McClure. The first single (A-side »Don't Mess Up A Good Thing«) was an unexpected success and reached #5 r&b; Oliver Sain and his Orchestra was still involved at this point.

However, Fontella hit it big with her first solo effort: »Soul Of The Man« / »Rescue Me« (Checker # 1120), released in September 1965. Today, »Rescue Me« ranks as one of the most popular r&b classics of the '60s. At the time, however, »Rescue Me« was at first not per- ceived as the charting song of that single. Billboard in the Sept. 4, 1965, issue listed »Rescue Me« as the flipside and only reviewed »Soul Of The Man«. Now, this song was penned by noone else but Oliver Sain; you can hear it below in the album version.

The extraordinary success of »Rescue Me« (r&b #1, pop #4), making it one of the most popular tunes of winter '65, prompted Chess to rush an album out, looking for the quick buck in the wake of Fontella's stellar rise in the charts. Now, this album was recorded in Chicago's Ter Mar Studios in November 1965 and released some three months later in Feb. 1966. I'm speaking of Checker LP # 2997 The 'New' Look, of which I'm lucky enough to possess the original mono pressing, with the rare red and black »checkered« label (this label was used for only about five Checker LPs).

If ever there was an album built around one hit then this is it. Without any pretence at putting it somewhat diplomatically, the notes on the back cover of the LP (written by Marshall Paul of Chess) state this fact quite clearly:
One Saturday, in August, 1965, Fontella Bass was sitting in the Chess rehear- sal studio along with two of Chess's top writer-producers, Carl Smith and Reynard Miner. They were 'fooling around' with some new material when Phil Wright, one of the Chess arrangers, happened to drop in, and the result of this four-way jam session was the birth and finalization of Fontella's top hit, "Rescue Me".
    When an artist has a hit single record, it is common practice in the record business to rush an album containing the hit tune into production. After the great success of "Rescue Me", it was decided that Fontella Bass should record an album. We took some of the great songs of the last few years and added Fontella's fantastic style along with the Chess Sound.
    What is the Chess Sound? The Chess Sound is - Reynard Miner and Leonard Casten on piano, Maurice White on drums, Louis Satterfield on bass, Pete Cosey and Bryce Roberson on guitar, Sonny Thompson on organ, and Gene Barge as leader of the horn section, along with the production of Carl Smith and Reynard Miner under the supervision of A&R Director, Billy Davis, and Phil Wright's arrangements.
    We knew that the combination of Fontella's great voice and soulful style with the fantastic Chess Sound that the above musicians, producers and arrangers make possible would jell into an 'out of sight' album.
[Note: Names as spelled on the original back cover]
If you wanted to have an album out fast, this was the obvious thing to do. Just look for proven standards that are easy to come by, put up some new arrangements and on you go. In Fontella's case, her first album thus contained the two songs of her most successful single (»Rescue Me« and »Soul Of The Man«) plus ten bonus songs, as it were. Among these, we have Maxine Brown's »Oh No Not My Baby«, Martha & The Vandellas' »Come And Get These Memories«, Ruby & The Romantics' »Our Day Will Come«, Carla Thomas's »Gee Whiz« and Barbara George's »I Know (You Don't Love Me No More)«. All of them nice songs, certainly, and rigorously on the pop-side of r&b. Fontella performs these tunes nicely, and they've been nicely arranged as well, even though I wouldn't say that Fontella's cover versions justify the album's title A New Look because, after all, the tunes sound in all cases very similar to the origi- nal versions. Fontella's voice does make a difference but the instrumental arrange- ments are conventional throughout and the arrangers didn't dare to really come up with truly novelty versions. However, the LP proved a success, reaching #6 of the top selling r&b albums charts in April 1966. In the US, the LP was sold with a whip- slinging Fontella on the cover (I don't know what the significance behind this is), while the UK issue actually shows a very beautiful, close-up portrait shot. Would that I had the UK issue as well!

Checker LP # 2997 (1966, mono)
Among all the poppish tunes on the album there are two songs that come closer to the earlier Chess recordings by Fontella because they are on the bluesy side. They highlight the fact that this was the kind of music Fontella's style was best-suited for. Chess didn't care about that much, as this LP amply demonstra- tes, and I think it has done Fontella's career no good in the long run. Only when she returned to gospel in the '70s she finally came back to what she should have continued back in the mid-'60s: putting her formidable vocal artistry to work in slower, soulful, bluesy tunes. And I am not alone in thinking this, because several others have singled out »Soul Of The Man« and »I'm A Woman« (along with »Rescue Me«) as the outstanding tracks on Fontella's Checker LP. I won't disagree.
As said above, »Soul Of The Man« is an Oliver Sain-composition, so it's one of two »Fontella originals« on this album; »I'm A Woman« was penned by Leiber & Stoller and merely covered by Fontella. Yet both admirably performed ... listen:

Fontella Bass: »Soul Of The Man« / »I'm A Woman« from the Checker LP # 2997 (1966, mono):

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Not the Usual

One week ago you could hear something from the LP »The Soul Of .... James Cleveland« (Savoy LP # MG-14068), released in 1962.
This is, by all standards, an interesting album, especially as it contains several unusual ver- sions of very popular songs. I had promised to post some of these, and that's what I do today. In the following, you can listen to »Joshua« and »When The Saints Go Marching In«. Cleveland is innovative here: »Joshua« actually is not the known tune »Joshua Fit The Battle«, but only adapts some of the latter's basic harmonies and key passages from the lyrics. Cleve- land then adds lyrics of his own which stress the relevance of this song for his own time. So, it's really a new song here, inspired by an old tune, and the feel is almost jazzy throughout. The same is true for »When The Saints ...«. Again some liberty, albeit less, with the lyrics and again much jazzy feel. And remember, there is Billy Preston at the organ. Happy Sunday!

James Cleveland: »Joshua« / »When The Saints Go Marching In« from the Savoy LP »The Soul Of James Cleveland« (1962):

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Thursday, September 22, 2011

For the Road

... days are passing by me right now, with me barely noticing. Got so many things on my mind and more to do. I'm also movin' around fairly much and it's no fun, really. So best I can do today is posting two more songs from the 1971 GWP LP »Soul, Black & Beautiful, Vol. II«. You could already hear two instrumentals from this album on this blog, both by the Pazant Bro- thers. Now, today's songs belong to two funk sistas, Little Rose Little and Betty Barney; Betty recorded most of her stuff (and perform- ed in NYC together) with the Pazant Brothers, notably »Momma, Momma«.

Little Rose Little's tune »Family Tree« is much loved by rare-&-early-funk aficiona- dos. And, yes, I agree, it could have been a nice song, and Little Rose certainly had the voice for it. Unfortunately, the bass line in the song is completely fucked up, the piano doesn't fare much better and it's about one of the worst funk recordings I know of. Sorry to say this. Feel free to think otherwise. You can also listen to the song on Ace # CDBGPD 170. The second song is Betty Barney's »You Want My Lovin'«, first released in 1969 on GWP # 502, then on the 1971 LP. It's been included on another Ace/Kent CD, CDKEND 249. Well, it's a nice song, just so you know.

Little Rose Little: »Family Tree« / Betty Barney: »You Want My Lovin'« from the GWP LP # ST 2041 (1971):

Monday, September 19, 2011

Press Item of the Week

... not strictly a press item, today, but still curious. »The Ole Mummers Strut« explained in 12 instructive photos ... that's the idea at least. Ehm, proved not very instructive to me, though. Maybe it takes a professional dance teacher to make sense of it. Looks a bit they're stepping upon thumbtacks strewn all over the floor ... or else on some floor heater that wasn't switched off in time. Pity I don't know the said Strut by the Nu Tornados, could've helped.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Radical Departure

Another name that needs no introduction: James Cleveland. However, not all of his albums may be equally known, and those from the early '60s are in generally less remembered today.

Savoy LP # MG-14068 (1962)
One of those albums was released in 1962, entitled »The Soul Of .... James Cleveland« (Savoy LP # MG-14068). Yes, another of those »Soul of ...« gospel LPs which abounded during the '60s, quite obviously called thus in order to cash in on the success of soul music in the secular market. No »soul« on this LP, though, at least not soul in the conventional sense. But still this LP stands out in the gospel field of the early '60s: four instrumentalists playing together, and several instrumentals among the songs. What is more, several well-known tunes (»When the Saints ...«, »Down By The Riverside«, »Joshua Fit ...«) are here inter- preted in a very original and pleasing fashion. And the liner notes on the back cover tell it correctly:
This album is a radical departure from anything James Cleveland has ever attempted before. Besides being a great singer and writer, James is also one of the finest religious pianists in the world, and here he displays his virtuos- ity in a most interesting and entertaining experiment. Along with James at the piano, is the sensational Billy Preston at the organ, Joe Marshall at the drums and Barney Richmond on the bass volin. ... Thanks to the imagination of James Cleveland, This is a first in the field of gospel recordings which opens more avenues in which the word of God can be expressed.
Quite an assembly of talents here! As said above, one strength of the album are the original and unconventional versions of various old gospel standards. I'll post some of them soon. After all, it's hard to listen to such tunes as »When The Saints Go Marching In« today, having heard them countless times in ever-the-same versions. Cleveland's version therefore really comes as a delight, because he offers the song in a new garb, so to speak, and some of those over-popular gospel standards are in dire need of this.

Another strength of the album are the instru- mentals, and it's one of these you can listen to below. As summer is about to end, I thought it fitting to select a song two vocal versions of which I posted back in May: »In The Garden«. Now, on Cleveland's 1962 LP we have an instrumental version of it, here entitled (after the first line) »I Come To The Garden«. This tune very much embodies the idea behind Cleveland's album: Doing something different with commonly-known material. And he certainly did: Together with Barney Richmond on violin and Billy Preston at the organ, Cleveland created an impressionistic 5-minute pastiche losely based on the harmonies of that tune, with the violin being the dominant instrument in the most remarkable passages. If at all, the overall effect is, to my mind, only marred by a slight overdose of the snare drum in the second part. Well, judge for yourself:

James Cleveland (feat. Billy Preston): »I Come To The Garden« from the Savoy LP # 14068 (1962):

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P.S. The cover art is, as so often on Savoy albums, by Harvey. Check out the website devoted to his art.
Happy Sunday y'all.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Locomoted & Mashed Up

Ren Grevatt was ranting, in April '61, about the girl singers who so much as dared to put their names on the Hot 100 list while even enjoying, »interestingly enough«, their first hits (see previous post).  He singled out some of those phenomena and mentioned Carla Thomas and Mary Wells, among others. Now, he couldn't have in- cluded Barbara Lewis in his list, because her first-hit chart entry was still two years away (famously enough, it was »Hello Stranger« in spring 1963).
And Barbara Lewis certainly was a phenomenon! Her hobbies were drawing, painting, writing and singing folk songs (!), according to Billboard's »Artists' Biographies« (May 18, 1963, page 12), and she composed numerous songs and played several instru- ments, guitar and piano among them. (Billboard got that much right but gave a wrong birth date, the correct one being Feb. 9, 1943 ...). However, in her versatility and in being an instrumentalist and composer besides being a singer Barbara Lewis reminds me much of another »chick artist« who made herself a name at around the same time: Barbara Lynn. (Ask the higher powers whether the similarities of their respective names are pure coincidence!). Although Lynn, Texas-born, was the grittier singer, both her and Lewis started their promising careers on one huge hit and were never again able to repeat that initial success. And Lewis was taken over by Atlantic from a local Detroit label right at the beginning, while the New York label invested in Lynn only from 1967 onwards. However, similarities aplenty!

Lynn first climbed the charts in June '62 with her classic »You'll Lose A Good Thing« shortly after Lewis had her first single out on Atlantic (# 2141: »My Heart Went Do Dat Da« / »The Longest Night Of The Year«); Atlantic had bought the master from Karen (owned by Lewis's manager Ollie McLaughlin) when the original 45rpm (Karen # 313) sold strongly in Detroit. In July '62, Barbara Lewis recorded another single in Chicago, »Gonna Love You Till The End Of Time« w/ »My Mamma Told Me« (Atlantic # 2159). Her second single didn't chart either, but the next one would: »Hello Stranger«, Lewis's signature tune and arguably one of the best-known songs of the '60s. The exceptional success of this song (r&b # 1, pop # 3) then prompted Atlantic to release Lewis's first album in July '63. It was the classic trick of putting an album out in the wake of one big hit, and the cover does advertise this fact in desirable clarity.

Yet this LP is not the typical »first album« and it does not offer one hit plus eleven fillers. For once, all twelve songs on the album are self-penned (»This album could easily be called Barbara Lewis sings Barbara Lewis, but we are calling it Hello Stranger since this was the smash hit which so recently made the name of Barbara Lewis known from coast to coast« wrote Ollie McLaughlin on the back cover. And, he goes on to say, »All of the songs in this album were written by Barbara Lewis, which is unusual for someone at the age of nineteen ... Barbara was inspired at a very early age and began writing songs at the age of nine. She now has more than thirty to her credit«). Moreover, the LP does include her former singles released in '62.

Side 1 contains, therefore, her second Atlantic single, »Gonna Love You Till The End Of Time« w/ »My Mamma Told Me«. When it was first released, Billboard (Sept. 8, '62) awarded it only a 3-star review and saw but »moderate sales potential« in these tunes. When the LP was out, however, »My Mama (!) Told Me« was listed among the »top tracks«. »The album is filled with much ... soft, lyric quality with a dash of beat here and there as well« (Billboard, Aug. 3, '63).

Well, there is more than just a »dash of beat« in »Gonna Love You Till The End Of Time« and »My Mamma Told Me«. They are no great songs, admittedly, but they are not near as »poppy« as many others of Barbara's tunes; Atlantic would soon push her towards pop-soul but it's not yet evident in these songs. Instead, they sound conspic- ously like several other dance tunes of the epoch. Little Eva's »Loco-motion«, Dee Dee Sharp's »Mashed Potato Time« (and follow-up songs like »Gravy (For My Mashed Potatoes)« or the Marvelettes' »Too Strong To Be Strung« and »I'm Hooked« come to mind, all from 1962. »The Loco-motion« and »Mashed Potato Time« were big hits in early summer '62, and Lewis's own songs were recorded in July '62 in Chicago ... But I don't want to insinuate plagiarism here, far from it. It was this music that was in the air. And that's exactly what I like so much about Barbara's songs: if ever you were looking for signature tunes for the summer months of '62 you can't go wrong with these two:

Barbara Lewis: »My Mamma Told Me« / »Gonna Love You Till The End Of Time« from the Atlantic LP # 8086
(1963, mono, songs orig. released in 1962):

Monday, September 12, 2011

Press Item of the Week

... ehm, well, today with another slummy piece of »did-they-really-print-that?«-Billboard prose. It comes from the issue of April 17, 1961, page 2. Responsible for this »if-it's-not-satire-then-what-is-it?«-gem of musical writing
columnist and Billboard associate editor Ren Grevatt:

To tell the truth, I have no idea of what he meant. Is there a racist slant in it? ... you couldn't even call it a mere slant if it were true, though. WTF is he trying to say?
Is there some innocouos joke I didn't get? From the rest of his article it becomes clear that he didn't like »chick artists«. (Due to Freudian aberration and assonance
I was about to type »he didn't lick chick artists«, but that might be quite wrong.) There are several »chicks« mentioned by name, so who are the »sickly variety« among them? What a shit!
      However, in the continuation of the same article, on page 35, there is another remarkable passage which I'd like to share with you. Grevatt (who seems to have been obsessed with that argument) writes:
For a long time now, many rocking pop discs have been noted for what has been called the "yeah yeah"  girl's chorus chant, usually backing up a male vocal. This has also been called the hormonal sound.
Hmm. Hormonal sound. Finely said, I should remember it.

Mary Wells is among those mentioned by our brave »hey-I'm-funny-why's-nobody-laughing?«-Billboard staff writer. Truly funny thing is that hers was a female voice backed up by a male chorus chant. Call that a hormonal sound. And she gives it right back at him:

Mary Wells: »Laughing Boy« from the Motown LP # 611 (Recorded Live On Stage) (1963):

Friday, September 09, 2011


Otis Redding would have been 70 today. He was born in born in Dawson, in Terrell County, and moved to Macon, Ga., when still a child. Check out the Otis Redding timeline at
Of today's artists, [Jerry] Wexler felt that Otis Redding has the potential to become the next Ray Charles. (Billboard, Oct. 15, 1966, p. RC-6)
*** *** ***
O t i s   R e d d i n g   i n   m e m o r i a m

»Holding a Yule message on the brand new car he gave his dad, the Rev. Otis Redding Sr. (r), rhythm and blues singer Otis Redding Jr. (l) and son, Otis III, greet the minister, the singer's mother and sister, Linda,
4, in Macon, Ga.« (JET Jan. 21, 1965, p. 61)

*** *** ***
T R I B U T E    S O N G

»These Arms Of Mine« (1962) was Otis's first recording for Stax / Volt and the first single of his that charted. It's one of his many signature songs and has been covered many times. Here is Bettye Swann's version, from 1969:

Bettye Swann: »These Arms Of Mine« from the Capitol LP »The Soul View Now!« (1969):

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Thursday, September 08, 2011

Gritty New York Funk

GWP LP 2041, tracklist on back cover
Tonight goin' on down with the New York Pazant Brothers ... and two hot funky instrumentals. The way I knew them first was via GWP's 1971 compil- ation Soul, Black And Beautiful Volume 2 (GWP LP # ST 2041). The LP was released towards the end of '71 and was, together with »Volume 1«, the last output by GWP before the label folded (some time in '72, I am not sure about the later developments at GWP ... needs some further research). In any case it's one of the more important compilations of late '60s/early '70s soul & funk.

The album was produced by Ed Bland, a composer, arranger and A&R man of the GWP New York-based label (masterminded by Gerald »Jerry« W. Purcell). See them both on the photo below. Bland wrote a lot of songs for the Pazant Brothers, Eddie (sax) and Al (trumpet), including the two instrumentals you can hear below. The LP is considered a rare item, and this may be so. What is certain is that most of the (few) late '60s and early '70s recordings by the Pazant Brothers were known only to a chosen few before Ace Records / BGP issued the stuff on CD.

From BILLBOARD, April 26, 1969, page 8

Both instrumentals, »A Gritty Nitty« and »Chicken Scratch«, were actually recorded (and released on GWP singles) in 1969. And don't be fooled if on the back cover of GWP LP 2041 they are billed as »The Pazant Brothers« for one song and as »The Chili Peppers« for the other; both are identical (for the late-born: and of course not related to their »Red Hot« namesakes). Both tunes have since long been favorites in funk circles, and justly so. And forgive me the nerdy footnote that I've always wond- ered why the story of GWP and the Pazant Brothers in particular didn't make it in the otherwise instructive study Funk. The Music, The People, and The Rhythm of The One by Rickey Vincent (New York 1995).

»A Gritty Nitty« is as forceful a funk instrum- ental as you could ever imagine. Much more famous, however, is »Chicken Scratch«, and there's a reason for it: The tune was first released as the B-side of GWP single # 502 (much sought-after and insanely rare, it fetches many hundred dollars if on the market). The A-side features Betty Barney (with the Pazant Brothers aka Chili Peppers) and her monster sister funk song »Momma Momma«. Now, »Chicken Scratch« is the instrumental version of Betty's »Momma Momma«, and although the version feat. Betty can't be easily topped the instrumental version is just as hot. If it don't make you move nothing will.
                                                                                             The Pazant Brothers / »The Chili Peppers«:
»A Gritty Nitty« / »Chicken Scratch« from the GWP LP # ST 2041 (1971):

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

The Third Sweet Inspiration

Before the Inspirations, Part II

Welcome back to my little (hi)story of the Sweet Inspirations! We have reached the third part ... and are still far away from the actual story of the Inspirations, that is, the Inspirations as they became known to the world from 1967 onwards. But as their history is deep-rooted, there is history before history here. And the story I am continuing here does concern one member of the Inspirations-to-be, namely Emily »Cissy« Drinkard, better known as Cissy Houston (and mother of Whitney).

RCA Victor # LPM 1856 (1958)
I am sorry to say that also today we won't proceed much and the story of the Inspirations will cover many future installments. The reason for that is that today's post features, again, the Drinkard Singers. There is little else to tell you apart from what I said in another post, so you've got to look it up there. But the Drinkards well merit a second post. Last time you could hear them as recorded at the 1957 Newport Jazz Festival. As the story goes, their performance impressed RCA's Herman Diaz Jr. enough to offer them a contract. In April 1958, the Drinkards thus recorded the first studio album of their own. It was given the (from an outsider's perspective) slightly disturbing title »A Joyful Noise«; on the other hand, the term »joyful noise« was (and still is) a common metaphor for sacred music and thus more than fitting. In addition, the LP was graced with a joyous cover: You can see the whole group in action and full attire, with Judy Guions (who sang lead on most songs) up front. (Cissy Drinkard [Houston] is second from left.)

It is a very accomplished gospel album, though, and somehow you feel that here is a family singing. The LP, released in November '58, received a benevolent, if as usual generic-sounding, review in Billboard (Nov. 24, p. 30): The Drinkards are seven - five fems [!] and two men, who know their way around gospel material ... wonder- ful selections, all of which are offered with great zest, verve and devotion. Judy Guions takes the driving lead in many cases and she's highly effective. ... A fine entry for the market. (A nice example of Billboard-prose!) However, in general this is correct, and Judy Guions deserved to be singled out.

More interesting, and to the point, is what we are offered on the back cover of the album. The back cover notes were written by Joe Bostic who had taken the Drinkards under his wing, mainly at the instigation of Mahalia Jackson; Bostic was at the time (i.e. in 1958) gospel music director of WEVD radio and WNTA-TV, New York. Here is the gist of what he wrote for the RCA album:
The seven singers and musicians who comprise the Drinkard Singers are, with one exception, all brothers and sisters. The exception is hard-driving Judy Guions, the youngest member of the troupe. Judy is the adopted daughter of Lee Warrick, oldest sister and leader of the group.
     The hallmark of this exceptional singing ensemble is tremendous power and drive coupled with infectious, bouncy rhythmic ideas. The group's versa- tility enables it to sing many types of songs, but their forte is novel arrange- ments of standard spirituals. ...
     In gospel music circles the Drinkard Singers are recognized as "singers' singers." Although they live all in Newark, New Jersey and are products of that city's Southside High School, their deep feeling for folk music and their religious conviction can be traced to their family heritage. ... The Drinkard Singers enjoyed a modest popularity in their New Jersey environs, until they were discovered by the great Mahalia Jackson when she heard them on a small Newark radio station. Miss Jackson immediately brought them to my attention and I promptly engaged them as regular fixtures of my weekly TV gospel show. They were later presented at Carnegie Hall along with Miss Jackson, and it was at her suggestion that the Drinkards were invited to participate at the 1957 music festival in Newport. Their instantaneous suc- cess at the festival resulted in their being signed on the spot by Herman Diaz, Jr., for RCA Victor. This album is the outcome of that action and Mahalia Jackson's continuing co-sponsorship.
The songs were recorded in Webster Hall, NYC, April 1958. And Bostic was right in many a respect: The songs on this album are infectious and well-arranged, and the Drinkards certainly are versatile. Therefore it was hard to select two songs from this album. In the end I opted for two spirituals. The first, »One Day«, because it is unknown to me except from this LP. There are other tunes called »One Day« but they are not identical with the song the Drinkards recorded as far as I could establish; also the lyrics are plainly different. I am grateful to any of you for more information about this song. I chose the second song, »After It's All Over«, because it shows most clearly how the Drinkard Singers were able to render known standards in a fresh way and make these songs their own. This second tune was composed by Alex Bradford in 1953 and recorded by several other known gospel groups, e.g. the Roberta Martin Singers. The Drinkard Singers, in any case, did a great job with both songs! Listen here:

The Drinkard Singers: »One Day« / »After It's All Over« from the RCA LP »A Joyful Noise« (1958):

To be continued ...

Sunday, September 04, 2011


Yesterday, this record was sold in an ebay auction:

From 1962. The first album of the Crystals, the first LP out on the Philles label, plus a D.J. copy, in very good condition. And yes, it is certainly a rare item.

The winning bid was  $ 2,600 . Phew! ... gotta find some new source of income ...

Saturday, September 03, 2011

Swann Song

Some days ago I posted the 1967 NATRA award winners list. One name on the list was that of Bettye Swann. Hers is not a household name today and, alas, not many remember her. In 1967, at any rate, she was judged »Most Promising Female Vocalist«. What really happened was that in 1967 her career had already peaked. We can see this easily when looking back; it was not obvious at the time. In Feb- ruary 1965, her first single (Money # 108) entered the charts when her self-penned »Don't Wait Too Long« made it into the r&b Top 30. Roughly two years later, she contributed one of the summer hits of '67 with the song »Make Me Yours«, recorded in February 1967 and released on Money in May. The single reached r&b # 1 (pop # 21) and was later listed as the 4th top r&b single of 1967, only topped by »Respect«, »Soul Man« and »I Never Loved A Man«. Calling »Make Me Yours« a »minor hit« is thus definitely a crude understate- ment. What is true, though, is that the tune has a Motowny sound, and indeed Motown wooed her in 1968 before she opted for Capitol.

The Louisiana-born singer (real name Betty Jean Champion) had recorded for Money Records since 1964 (see also here). Her Money sides are, to this day, the best-loved recordings of Bettye Swann (buy them here) and those most appreciated by later critics; in fact, it's only her Money recordings that receive substantial treatment in the AMG to Soul or in Pruter's Blackwell Guide to Soul Recordings. However, in 1968 she got a contract with Capitol, thus switching from a small label to one of the giants of the music industry. As for her career, it did her no good, and she never charted again in the top 10 of either r&b or pop charts. But Capitol did try to develop her career; Bettye had two albums and 11 singles out on Capitol. What is more, she was teamed up with experienced producer Wayne Shuler who was to be the true mastermind behind Bettye's first LP for Capitol, »The Soul View Now!« (LP # ST 190), recorded in October '68 and released in early '69.

The first song on this LP, »Don't Touch Me«, was Bettye's greatest success for Capitol; the song was also released on Capitol # 2382 (Jan. 1969) and reached r&b 14 in March. And this tune is not the only country song on the LP, albeit arranged, by Tank Jernigan, in a somewhat soulful mood. Wayne Shuler, likewise from Louisiana, »says he was the only one at Capitol who understood R&B. ... He longed to have Swann sing tunes like Stand By Your Man ... Shuler wanted to make Swann a crossover artist, bridging the gap between country and soul« (read more here). It is noteworthy that Bettye, as a black female singer, broke some ground here, though she is reported to have been reluctant at first to tackle material with country flavor (see here). But she did (after all, she had already recorded tunes such as »I Can't Stop Loving You« while at Moneys Records!), and others would follow her: Carla Thomas, in her later albums, would include many country songs, and so did Maxine Weldon, Denise LaSalle or Ann Peebles. (And not to mention Esther Phillips in this context who always had country tunes in her repertoire!) Thus this LP is an impor- tant step in the delevopment of Southern Soul inasmuch this style is, among other things, characterized by its great affinity to Country harmonies.

Apart from »Don't Touch Me«, the second song of this LP which is still cherished by many today is »I'm Lonely For You«, one of Bettye's original compositions. Both these tunes are familiar, I guess. So I thought you might like to hear two other songs from the album. The first of these, another of Betty's originals, is the self-penned »No Faith, No Love«, also released as B-side on Capitol # 2515 in May 1969. It's a mid-tempo ballad with a strong horn section and beautiful background vocals (don't know who the singers were, unfortunately). The second song, J. Loudermilk's »Then You Can Tell Me Goodbye«, is on the country-ish side. It is, to my mind, the highlight of the album, with Bettye giving a lushous performance of soft and tender, yet also furtively determined vocal longing. It's probably the tune where you can hear best what the beauty of Bettye Swann's art is all about. What a song, what a singer!

She didn't have the success she deserved. Her name loomed large in 1967, but it lost currency afterwards. Her 1969 LP reached # 48 on the r&b album charts, but in some sense it went nowhere. »Bettye Swann is one of the great underrated talents of our time. Her contribution to country-soul should be duly noted greatly and appreciated not only by underground soul fans only but by music fans in general.« (Mike Boone)

Bettye Swann: »No Faith, No Love« / »Then You Can Tell Me Goodbye« from the Capitol LP # ST 190 (1969):

In 2005, Bettye Swann (by then living in Las Vegas) granted an interview to Jarret Keene; you can read it here.
     Here are some passages from this remarkable interview:
Growing Up in Shreveport, La. »I remember being with my mother at times as a young person singing at church ... I remember the work that we did - the sharecropping, working for the landowners in the cotton field - I remember singing anything by Sam Cooke, Booker T. and the MG's. And I remember my sisters listening to Little Richard and Chuck Berry. I remember going to see my first movie in Arcadia. My brothers dropped me off at the movie theater so that I could watch Elvis Presley in Love Me Tender. I went up to the bal- cony; you couldn't go downstairs if you were black. It didn't bother me; I was just a little kid. I sat there all day long. I saw that movie over and over and over again.«
Her Stage Name. She chose the stage name Bettye Swann, because she always thought swans were »lovely.« Later on, it would cause tension among her family. »I had a fight with someone in the family over the name Swann. 'What are you trying to do, disown the family?' they said. 'Well,' I said, 'I never thought about it until you said something. Does it bother you?'«
Music Business. »So why did you quit the music industry anyway?« Swann sighs, then looks out the window. »I love music and I love people,« she says, finally. »But I hate show and I hate business. I couldn't feel it, the show or the business.«
Hmm ... what exactly of Booker T. & the MG's might she have been singing ... ?