Sunday, February 19, 2012

Mildred Again (It was About Time, Too)

It's almost eight months ago that you could hear the powerhouse voice of Mildred Lane on this blog ... and I thought it is about time to have her on again. Tonight, two songs from the 1968 album Give Him A Chance by the Robert Patterson Singers (Veep Gospel LP # VP-13532, mono), released sometime in or before December '68.

This LP was recorded at the A&R Studios in Los Angeles, on 22 & 29 June 1968. Apart from Mildred Lane (lead vcl) and Robert Patterson (piano, organ), the rest of the group reportedly consisted of Mary Stephens, Barbara White and Barbara Appling. Now I'm not about to ascertain this; it is presumably correct anyway. The history of the Patterson group is fraught with difficulties because there were a lot of changes over the years and the group had a long history, going back into the early '50s. As far as I can see nobody ever tried to sort out this mess. What we know is that the Patterson Singers were over in Germany in autumn 1967 and back there again a year later. In 1967, when in Germany, the group consisted of Mildred Lane, Elaine Davis, Everlena Miles, Mary Stephens and Irene Leader; same more or less for the 1968 outfit (there is some confusion about one person being replaced, though; can't go into the details here). In 1970, once again in Germany, we know the group consisted of the same personnel as we have it for the '68 Veep Gospel LP. So a good guess is that in 1968 there was a »U.S.«-group and a »tour«-group, both featuring Miss Lane, and later, around 1970, the U.S.-group took over.

The 1968 Veep LP features eleven songs, and not too much diversity. A number of songs were written by Robert Patterson and they tend to sound, I am sorry to say, much alike. However, there still are several good songs here, and most (not all, because there is at least one song with another female lead singer) are dominated by Mildred Lane's forceful lead vocals. More precisely, they are two songs which bear out Mildred's voice even stronger than the others, and it is these two you can hear in the following. The first tune has a stunning finale;  the second tune has her singing in a lower register and, wow!, she's killing me. Happy Sunday all!

The Robert Patterson Singers (feat. Mildred Lane):
»Trouble Don't Last Always« / »I've Been Born Again« from the Veep Gospel LP # 13532 (1968):

Friday, February 17, 2012

Watch the Radio

In the little sparetime I recently had I was, once again, reading here and there in John Broven's marvelous Record Makers and Breakers. This is a book always worth your while. I came across the pages where Boven speaks about Shelby Singleton's SSS Int'l Records (p. 293 ff.).
Shelby Singleton (c.) in a Mercury studio, spring 1963
Now, Singleton has always, for as much as I know about him, struck me as the entrepreneur in the independent record business during the later '60s; Broven calls him »a real record man«. He had been ten years with Mercury (see left) before setting up, in Nashville, his own SSS Int'l Records in early 1967. He immed- iately spent a lot of money on ads and promotion and soon after became a darling with Billboard where every move of his was announced with some fanfare. First he concentrated on Southern Soul, but in 1968 he set up Plantation for C&W and hit it big with Jeannie Riley's memorable »Harper Valley P.T.A.«; 7 million singles sold of that one. He bought Red Bird and Sun with that money, and other labels besides. In 1970, he dealt with 18 labels, 15 of which he owned. Before that, in 1968, he had set up a movie and TV production company.

Singleton (r.) with friends, Aug. 1970
His chief secret in the beginning was monitor- ing the radio stations of the South: Whenever a song started getting airplay, he would try to get it for distribution or, better still, he would buy the master. One of the earliest cases he did just that was Big John Hamilton's »The Train«, out on Minaret # 124 in spring 1967 (the often found notice that the 45 was released as early as 1964 is not correct). Minaret was the label of Finley Duncan in Valparaiso, Florida, and Singleton purchased the master of # 124 in May. By September, he had become the »exclusive distributor« of Minaret and actually owned the label. To Billboard, Singleton explained his strategy: The truth is that Southern radio stations are more likely to pick up on a good r&b record faster than stations in the North or the East and West Coasts (issue of Oct. 7, 1967, p. 6). His aim was »cracking the Mason-Dixon Line«, the radio programming barrier which, according to Singleton, prevented new r&b records of getting much airplay outside the South. He finally cracked this barrier first with Mickey Murray's cover of »Shout Bamalama«. Big John Hamilton never charted.

But in the end, he made more money with Jeannie Riley than any of his black artists, and after purchasing Sun in 1969, Singleton lost interest in the black market. And the late 1960's were the time when »concept albums« and LPs in general got an ever larger share of the market. But the black records during those years sold absolutely no LPs, Singleton said to Broven. So he gave up on it. Before doing so, however, SSS Int'l released an anthology of (more or less) r&b flavored songs called Soul Gold (LP # 3). It has featured on this blog before (see here), so I don't need to present it again. This LP features two songs by Big John Hamilton, the before-mentioned »The Train« and »I Have No One« (orig. released in autumn 1967 on Minaret # 129). I am happy that the first of these songs enhances the bluesy side of this blog ... dig it here:

Big John Hamilton: »The Train« / »I Have No One« from the SSS Int'l LP # 3 (1969; recorded in 1967):

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P.S.As we are into Big John Hamilton tonight, you might also like to hear one of his fine & funky early 70's duets with Doris Allen. You can do so over at the Groovy Rotations blogspot: BJH & Doris Allen with their version of  »Them Changes«!

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Dedicated to ...

... the memory of Whitney Houston

Another great voice has fallen silent.

This is her mom Cissy singing.
Whitney was 4 years old when the songs were recorded in April '68.

The Sweet Inspirations feat. Cissy Houston (lead vc):
»What A Friend« / »I Shall Know Him« from the Atlantic LP # SD-8182 (1968):

(Whitney Houston, 1979)

Saturday, February 04, 2012

Nina ... Champale?

Recently there were musings in the blogosphere about the possible connections between acquiring a taste for a certain singer and the gustatory sensation created by high-quality (and, incidentally, high percentage) brewings (read more here). I've been thinking a little bit further along these lines and was hit, while doing so, by the following ad, published in the December 1967 issue of Ebony magazine:

At first, I tried to submit the message of this ad to the ongoing state of my reflec- tions about the subject outlined above ... but I didn't find it helpful after all. While the first note and you know it's Nina is most certainly true (and the first sip and you know it's Champale might be as well, even in the negative and not intended sense!), I can't bring myself to see any connection between Nina and the advertised bever- age except one of complete antagonism: Champale is sort of a beer made to look like wine and tasting like neither of them; to dazzle the customer it is sold in a champagne-like bottle. Nina, on the contrary, is the original songstress of the 20th century, not a mixture of anything, never appearing differently from what she is, and certainly not sold in a deceiving package. I guess she's the very opposite of everything Champale evokes in my mind. (I can add, for the sake of pedantry, that the ad shown above is missing from the Champale advertisement webpage.)

So this thread leads nowhere, really. At least not as long as I don't switch to thinking about which beverage makes for the most unlikely comparison with a singer's art and being. Which maybe, only maybe, could be the winning strategy in the case of Nina, for she can't be compared with anyone or anything! So like in modern theologi- cal reflection about God, which for want of applicable affirmative terms ended up as a negative theology (being only able to say what God is not), we might, in Nina's (less than divine but still out-of-this-world) case appreciate the idea of a wholly negative admiration by affirming what she is not. To conclude this, she certainly isn't anything like Champale.

But of course Nina had her own negative theology! And this is brought out in perfection by Nina's medley of George Harrison's (well, sort of) »My Sweet Lord« and her adaption of David Nelson's poem »Today (Is A Killer)«. The piece fills the entire side 1 of her LP Emer- gency Ward! (RCA # LSP-4757, out in Oct. '72). It was recorded live in concert, the exact locality and date are unknown (at least to me); the choir you hear in the recording is the Bethany Baptist Church Junior Choir of South Jamaica, New York. The entire medley being too long to be played here in full, you can hear an extract of about half its length, basically the centre piece:

Nina Simone: »My Sweet Lord« / »Today Is A Killer« (extract !) from the RCA LP # 4757 (1972):

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

West Virginia Goes Illinois

mid-week gospel

Hmm, soul into gospel, gospel into soul alright. But there are some curious examples of turning pop- or folk-country into gospel as well. (And I'm speaking here of black gospel, obviously.) You probably have heard of the East St. Louis Gospelettes and her energetic lead singer Frances Moore (she's gifted with a voice that recalls the timbre and the power of Mavis Staples's). In about 1977 (I am not sure about the exact date), the group released a single on Birthright (# BR-45-601), »Have A Talk With God« w/ »Glory Road«. The first is of course Stevie Wonder's tune, and the second is ... wait a moment.

The East St. Louis Gospelettes did some tough, funky gospel music, and many a soulful tune. There'll be more of them on this blog, God willing. But sometimes, the Gospelettes switched genre, as on the B-side of Birthright # 601. (Birthright, based in Los Angeles, was one of the oldest black-owned gospel music labels; their '70s business is well-covered in Billboard, see e.g. the article in the Oct. 16, 1976, issue page 47). If you listen to the B-side below, it takes only a few seconds to immedia- tely recognize the tune. Funny thing is that on the label of the 45, lead singer Frances Moore is credited with both the lyrics and the music! Well, it took some courage to do so, at least for the musical part; the lyrics are, of course, hers (mostly) and not those of the original. Listen here:

The East St. Louis Gospelettes: »Glory Road« on Birthright # 601B (1977, I believe):

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