Monday, April 24, 2006

Otis Clay - Brand New Thing (Hi 2206)

Brand New Thing

Otis Clay was born at a wide spot in the road just upriver from Rosedale, Mississippi in 1942. He would begin quartet singing by the time he was 12 years old, becoming a member of the Voices of Hope when his family relocated to Indiana. After finally settling in Chicago in 1957, Otis sang with the Golden Jubilaires before becoming a member of Charles Bridges' Famous Bluejay Singers. He sang briefly with the Pilgrim Harmonizers, and joined Cash McCall in the Holy Wonders around 1960.

He also recorded a few "secular" sides for Carl Davis during his tenure at the Okeh label, but they were never released. He and Cash moved on to the Gospel Songbirds where they would record for Nashboro Gospel, the parent company of Excello. Arthur Crume invited Otis to join The Sensational Nightingales in late 1964, and he jumped at the chance. He toured extensively with them, finally living his dream of going on the road as a professional Gospel singer.

The road wasn't all it was cracked up to be, however, as Otis was kind of catching the tail end of the 'golden age' of quartet Gospel. Money was scarce, and a combination of shady promoters and changing times convinced him to try and 'cross-over' as so many had done before him.

As we mentioned a few posts ago, Otis became good friends with Tyrone Davis, and they began working together with Harold Burrage, who was George Leaner's main man at his One-derful! family of labels. Although he was unable to sign Tyrone, Harold got Otis a contract and became his manager.

His first single for One-derful was a Burrage composition called Flame In Your Heart, and Harold helped take him to the next level. Otis has called him his "big brother in music", and credits him with "teaching him right". When Harold died of a sudden heart attack in November of 1966, Otis and the rest of the One-derful family were hit pretty hard. When That's How It Is (When You're In Love) broke into the top 40 on the R&B charts the following summer, Otis covered Burrage's Got to Find A Way on his next release as a tribute to his friend.

When One-derful went out of business in 1968, Atlantic Records picked up his contract, and sent him down to Muscle Shoals. His crankin' version of Doug Sahm's "She's About A Mover" became the first release on their Cotillion subsidiary and hit #47 R&B. Three more Cotillion singles were to follow including the crankin' "Hard Working Woman" (produced by old Chicago pal Syl Johnson), and "Is It Over", which was produced by good ol' Willie Mitchell. None of them charted, however, and Atlantic declined to renew his contract.

Otis welcomed the opportunity to sign with Hi Records and work with Mitchell full time. Hanging around Royal Studio, he developed a father/son relationship with Willie, much as he had done with George Leaner on 'record row' in Chicago. He felt right at home.

Today's B side (the flip of Home Is Where The Heart Is) was Clay's very first Hi release in 1972. What a great song! Written by Leroy Hodges, Don Bryant, and Pat Barnes, he's already got that Hi thang down! Clay's deep soul voice really gives Mitchell something to work with here, and he would go on to produce some of Hi's most identifiably 'Memphis' sides with him.

Later that year he would release his biggest hit, Trying To Live My Life Without You, which spent 10 weeks on the R&B charts, peaking at #24. Otis would chart again with the incredible If I Could Reach Out (written by George Jackson!) in 1973, and continued to record for Hi until Willie sold the company, releasing his last album for them, I Can't Take It, in 1977.

Later that year, "All Because Of Your Love" (recorded back in Muscle Shoals), would become his last chart entry (#44) and was released on the small Kayvette label, distributed by T.K. down in Miami.

At this point, I think Otis read the handwriting on the wall, so to speak. Unwilling to 'go disco', and faced with the prospect of 'losing his audience', he went out and found another one. In 1978 he traveled to Japan, where a nationwide live broadcast of one of his performances gained him a million fans overnight. The concert was later released as a double live album, and the Japanese just couldn't get enough of him.

Another live album was released in 1983, only this time he had Hi Rhythm backing him up as well. They ate it up. Otis was "Big in Japan"! He still is...

He also has become a much loved figure in his home town , and finds himself sort of an elder statesman of Chicago soul, gospel and rhythm & blues. In 1992, he released the great I'll Treat You Right, on Bullseye, and the following year he reached back to his spiritual roots for The Gospel Truth on Blind Pig. Bullseye also reunited Otis with Willie Mitchell in 1998 on the soulful This Time Around.

Just last year, Clay released another solid live album called Respect Yourself. Recorded at the Lucerne Blues Festival in Switzerland in 2003, Otis just brings down the house! As he's been quoted as saying, "Singing in a studio is like preaching in an empty Church." Tell it, brother!

I know we've spoken of this before, but when Tyrone Davis suffered his debilitating stroke in late 2004, it was Otis, along with fellow deep soul ambassador Willie Clayton, who organized the star-studded benefit to help him with his medical bills. It was Otis who visited him in the hospital and gently sang to his friend...

That's what I call soul.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Etta James - I'm Gonna Take What He's Got (Cadet 5594)

I'm Gonna Take What He's Got

Jamesetta Hawkins was born in South Central Los Angeles in 1938. Her mother, Dorothy, was 14 years old. Her father, she maintains, was celebrated pool hustler Minnesota Fats. Raised by family friends, her vocal abilities were soon noticed at their church, St. Paul Baptist.

The Echoes of Eden Choir at St. Paul's was the "biggest, baddest and hippest" in L.A., and the Church was a favorite with gospel greats such as Sallie Martin and Rosetta Tharpe, as well as with 'slumming' Hollywood types who filled the back pews. The choir director, Professor James Earl Hines, knew talent when he saw it and took the young Jamesetta under his wing. He coached his young vocal student in what he called "dynamic singing", urging her to "never back off those notes... claim those suckers, sing 'em like you own 'em!" (advice she would clearly take to heart!). The choir was broadcast every Sunday on KOWL, and it wasn't long before the little girl soloist up front became famous in her own right.

She went to school with people like Jesse Belvin and Richard Berry, and became a part of the crowd that hung out on Central Avenue. When her adoptive mother, Mama Lu, died in 1950, Dorothy Hawkins took her daughter to live in the projects of San Francisco. She made friends with a girl named Jean Mitchell, and began harmonizing with her and her sister, Abye at the rec center near their apartment. She eventually moved in with them, and they began calling themselves "The Creolettes".

In the summer of 1954, Hank Ballard and The Midnighters had a huge hit with Work With Me Annie, a suggestive rocker that would hold the number one slot on the R&B charts for 7 weeks. Jamesetta re-wrote the lyrics and came up with an 'answer song' she called "Roll With Me Henry". The Creolettes performed the tune all over town, and people ate it up. Abye, who was older than the other girls, got herself introduced to west coast R&B legend Johnny Otis, and talked him into letting her group audition for him. He was duly impressed, and offered to make them a part of his act. Jamesetta forged her mother's signature on a permission form, and headed back to L.A..

Otis renamed the group "The Peaches", and was also the one responsible for switching the syllables around and coming up with 'Etta James'. He landed the group a deal with the Bihari brothers' Modern Records, and they released Roll With Me Henry in the fall of 1954. Radio stations were refusing to play it because of the suggestive title, and King Records, who had released The Midnighter's original hit was threatening to sue Modern. They pulled the record, paid Sid Nathan off, and changed the name of the song to The Wallflower, agreeing to credit Ballard as a co-writer down the line. The song, with old pal Richard Berry playing the part of Henry, went straight to number one, spending 19 weeks on the R&B charts. A follow-up single, Good Rockin' Daddy (with Jessie Belvin on background vocals), would also crack the top ten. Etta James was in the house!

She began traveling the country in package tours like the Top Ten Revue, working with everyone from Little Willie John to Bill Doggett, Bo Diddley, Little Richard and even Clifton Chenier. She forged lifelong friendships with folks like kindred souls Johnny "Guitar" Watson and Larry Williams, and truly 'went to school' on the R&B road ("Man, I saw some stuff", she says).

The Biharis sent Etta down to Cosimo's studio in New Orleans in 1956 and again in 1957 to try and capture some rock & roll magic. Although songs like Tough Lover and The Pick-Up featured Matassa's 'A' team of crack studio musicians like Lee Allen and Earl Palmer, they failed to make the charts.

It was around this time that Etta fell in love with the suave and sophisticated Harvey Fuqua who, along with his group The Moonglows, seemed to own the top ten at the time. They told her that if she wanted to make some real money, she should get herself signed by their record company, Chess. Broke and hungry, she and her old friend (and original 'Peach') Abye made their way to Chicago.

It took three thousand dollars to buy out her contract from Modern (her last Bihari single was actually released on their new label, Kent), and Leonard Chess, who was always on the look-out for female talent, advanced her another five grand. He assigned ace arranger Riley Hampton to work with her on a song written by Billy Davis and Berry Gordy called All I Could Do Was Cry. It was a huge hit, climbing to number 2 R&B, and paving the way for the lush orchestration of most of her early Argo sides.

She and Harvey would appear together on a couple of Chess releases (as Etta and Harvey), and were also living together at The Sutherland Hotel, working on some old songs. Leonard was so impressed by what he heard that he had Hampton work up arrangements for an entire album of standards. At Last was a huge success, and both the title track and Trust In Me would crack the top five in early 1961.

Etta continued to chart regularly, with great songs like Something's Got A Hold On Me and Stop The Wedding showing off her gospel shout. She also managed to become a full-fledged junkie by this time, and problems in her personal life began piling up. Leonard Chess was always there to catch her when she fell, it seemed, and although she found it hard to trust him completely, they basically needed each other.

Leonard was jealous of the success the "New York Jews" were having recording down South, and once Jerry Wexler had his famous falling out with Rick Hall down in Muscle Shoals, Chess was happy to step in. He signed an agreement with Fame Studios that guaranteed them more money, and began by sending new label signees Irma Thomas and Laura Lee to record there. Lee's Dirty Man broke into the top 20, and set the stage for what was to come.

In August of 1967, Etta James arrived in Florence, Alabama with her entourage, trunks of furs and fancy clothes, two french poodles, and Leonard Chess in tow. By her own admission, she was "pregnant and cranky and ready to blow the doors off the studio".

That's just what she did.

Over the course of a 3 day period, "Rick Hall & Staff" (which included Gene "Bowlegs" Miller on trumpet, Spooner Oldham on keyboards and Jimmy Johnson on guitar) produced some of the most powerful soul music to ever rise out of Muscle Shoals. When Tell Mama was released in November, it just ate up the charts, breaking into the top 10 R&B and top 40 pop. The B side of that single was a song Etta had written with old friend Ellington "Fuggie" Jordan while he was in prison. When Leonard Chess first heard her sing I'd Rather Go Blind, he had to leave the room, so nobody would see him cry. It really is that good, man.

They returned to Fame Studios in December to finish recording tracks for the Tell Mama album, which was released in January 1968. Our current B side was the flip of Etta's cover of Otis Redding's Security, and was released as the second single from the record in March, rising as high as #11 R&B. Written by the great Don Covay (who, of course, would soon contribute his Chain Of Fools to Aretha's southern soul legacy), it's the real thing, baby! Recorded at the original August sessions (the same day as I'd Rather Go Blind), it just cooks! Check out the Fender Rhodes, the guitar, Etta just beltin' it out! I'll take it. The original album has been re-packaged with 12 more tracks she recorded in Muscle Shoals on her first two visits, as well as on her last session in 1968. Buy it.

When Leonard Chess died in January of 1969, Etta lost her friend and biggest fan. Within a few weeks. a faceless executive visited Etta with the deed to her house, which Leonard had held for her for years so she wouldn't lose it... she was amazed. Although she stayed with Chess (which was now owned by something called GRT corporation) until it all fell apart in the mid-70s, things were never the same.

Jerry Wexler (who has called James "the greatest of all modern blues singers... the undisputed Earth Mother") produced an album on Etta for Warner Brothers in 1978 called Deep In The Night, with both of them agreeing to steer clear of the "disco bullshit". Although it's a great record, it didn't sell much, and she moved on.

In 1980, she would team up with Allen Toussaint in New Orleans to produce an album for MCA called Changes that featured great Sea-Saint session men like Leo Nocentelli, Sam Henry and Herman Ernest. Once again, it was a great record that didn't sell much, and remains out of print to this day!

Etta continued to perform throughout the eighties, although her recorded output didn't amount to much. MCA, which now owned the Chess masters, started re-issuing her material. Ace Records in the UK, which had the rights to the Modern and Kent catalogues began doing the same with her earlier output. My girlfriend (now my darling wife) became a HUGE fan, and we went to see the great "Miss Peaches" whenever we could. At a show at the Beacon Theater in NYC in 1989, she somehow worked her way backstage, and when she saw Etta she just broke down and cried. The great lady hugged her and said, "I know, honey, I know..." .

She signed with Island Records around this time and her albums were perrenial Grammy nominees. When she returned to Muscle Shoals with Jerry Wexler to record The Right Time, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame finally took notice and she was inducted in 1993. She signed with Private Music in 1994, and finally won her a (long overdue) Grammy for her first album for them, Mystery Lady: Songs of Billie Holiday. She continued to turn out quality records for them for the next ten years.

In 2003, Etta was awarded her own star on Hollywood's Walk of Fame, as well as receiving a Liftetime Acheivement award at the Grammys. She was awarded another Grammy the following year for her Blues To The Bone album. She had become serious about losing weight at this point, and underwent gastric bypass surgery.

This past March 14th, Etta released a critically acclaimed album on RCA Victor called All The Way that has her covering everyone from Sinatra to Prince. She has lost over 200 pounds, and embarked on an ambitious tour in support of the record on April 8th. Reviews of her first shows have been excellent, and she's scheduled to perform everywhere from Jazz Fest in New Orleans to Carnegie Hall in Manhattan.

While doing research for this post, however, I found this (in the Burlington, Vermont Free Press of April 13th); "...the only grim news at the otherwise ebullient news conference came when the Flynn's artistic director, Arnie Malina, announced that blues singer Etta James is too ill to make her scheduled festival-closing show June 11. The cancellation came within the past week..."

Whoa! I next tried to purchase tickets for her performance here on Long Island June 17th, but it has been removed from the "upcoming events" page on the site... I'm not sure what the nature of the illness is. There has been no official announcement as far as I can tell.

Say a prayer.


Well, folks, our prayers have been answered... I saw Etta last night at Carnegie Hall in NYC, and she was absolutely GREAT! Backed by the ultra-tight "Roots Band", which features her eldest son Donto on the drums, she just rocked da house!

Here's a link to her ambitious touring scedule this summer:
Etta James & The Roots Band

Go see her while you still can.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Joe Haywood - I Would If I Could (Enjoy 2013)

I Would If I Could

By now you've gotten used to those exhaustive, long-winded posts of mine, full of witty and incisive commentary complete with pictures, circles and arrows, you know, the whole deal... only what do I do when there is virtually no information available on an awesome record?

There is this like whole level of R&B artists who made great music that never made it onto the charts. They have no listing in the "All" Music Guide, and are not, for the most part, in any of the books people like me are likely to have around. A 'google' on them produces very few hits. Forget about any kind of image search... I mean, the knowledge may be out there someplace (in some mouldering back issue of Blues & Soul, for instance), but basically, I'm in the dark.

Today's B side is a perfect example. Check out the incredible vocals on here - like a cross between Little Willie John, Sam Cooke, and Bobby Bland... the real deal! So how could a great soul artist like this be virtually unkown? What happened to him? Did he make any other cool records?

Well, I've been digging on Joe Haywood for about six months now. Although I did find out a few things, there's certainly a lot more questions than there are answers. What, I thought, if there was a place where all of us could pool our resources and share what we know? What if we could like accumulate more and more information as it became available in some central location, and work together to rescue these great unknowns from obscurity?

That is the concept behind my new 'audioblog', soul detective. While the B side will continue on as usual, I am going to open new 'cases' from time to time at the new site. So click on over and check it out... join in the discussion. Be a part of the team... become a SOUL DETECTIVE!

See ya there!

Monday, April 03, 2006

Tyrone Davis - Just My Way Of Loving You (Dakar 623)

Just My Way Of Loving You

Tyrone Fettson was born in Mississippi (sound familiar?), but grew up in Saginaw, Michigan. By the time he turned 20, he was hanging around Chicago's west side Blues scene. Always the sharp dresser, it wasn't long before he landed a job as a valet for Freddy King. He also held down a steady job at National Castings, where he would meet another young aspiring singer named Otis Clay. They worked the blues clubs on nights and weekends, earning a few extra bucks.

They were noticed by pianist Harold Burrage, who was then a producer and A&R man for the One-Der-Ful and Mar-V-Lus labels, working with Alvin Cash. Burrage had made a name for himself with his Cobra records that featured Otis Rush and Willie Dixon, and gone on to have a number of hits for One-Der-Ful's M-Pac! subsidiary himself.

He produced a few sides on Tyrone in 1965, but was unable to place them with his own company, and so farmed them out to the small Four Brothers label instead. They would release three singles by "Tyrone the Wonder Boy" that didn't cause much of a stir.

When Burrage died in late 1966, the wonder boy was once again on his own. Although there would be a couple of other releases (on Sack and ABC) in 1967, he pretty much "kept his day job" at National Castings.

As the story goes, Tyrone was sitting next to the stage during a Bobby Bland gig at a south side club, dressed to the nines as usual, when Bobby asked him if he wanted to sing. After he got up there and belted it out in his usual rough-edged blues shout style, Bland told him, "Be you son, don't be me". Tyrone would say it was the best career advice he ever recieved...

A force in the Chicago record scene since he produced Gene Chandler's Duke Of Earl in 1962, Carl Davis had gone on to help create the Chicago Soul sound at Okeh Records with artists like Major Lance and Billy Butler recording material written for them by Curtis Mayfield. He had continued to produce Chandler's records 'on the DL' for another label (Constellation), and this practice had gotten him fired by Okeh in 1966.

He was snapped up by Nat Tarnopol over at Brunswick Records, who was trying to inject new life into the career of their biggest star, Jackie Wilson. When the Davis produced Whispers (Getting Louder) - a song written by Brunswick secretary Barbara Acklin - landed at #5 on the R&B charts, Tarnopol made him his new A&R chief and 'executive vice president' of the label by the end of the year.

When Vee Jay Records folded in February of 1967, Brunswick bought up most of their equipment and moved into their former headquarters on South Michigan Avenue's "record row". Davis soon packed the place with the best talent Chicago had to offer. When Jackie Wilson took (Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher and Higher all the way to #1 that summer, it was an affirmation of Davis' vision for the future of the company.

He tapped the music theory classes of James Mack at Crane Junior College for incredible talents like Willie Henderson, Tom Tom Washington and Leo Graham, all of whom (including Mack himself) would wind up working for Davis at one time or another.

This is the door Tyrone found himself knocking on in early 1968. He had been working with New York producer (and former member of Shep and the Limelites) Wally Roker, but wasn't happy with the way things were going. Carl Davis agreed to sign him to his new Dakar subsidiary. When he told him to bill him as "Tyrone the Wonder Boy", Carl said "I ain't putting that crap on the record, what's your real name?". Not too crazy about 'Tyrone Fettson' either, they decided to use Carl's last name instead, and Tyrone Davis was born!

His first release on the label was A Woman Needs To Be Loved, a blues number in the style he had been performing in the clubs for years. It didn't do much. The B side of the record, however, was a song Tyrone had recorded earlier with Wally Roker called Can I Change My Mind. Carl Davis had given it to the young Willie Henderson as his first production assignment. When a DJ down in Houston flipped the record over and started playing it on his station, they just went nuts! It was a million seller within a couple of weeks, going straight to #1 R&B and staying there.

The follow-up record, Is It Something You've Got, would hit #5 and establish Tyrone's sort of 'soap opera' appeal in which each record would tell another part of his lovelorn story. People loved it, sending his next release, Turn Back The Hands Of Time, all the way to #3 on the pop charts in the Spring of 1970.

Today's B side, the flip of 1971 top ten hit Could I Forget You (the sixth episode of the story on Dakar), is like a who's who of Windy City soul. Composed by the crack songwriting team of Jack Daniels and Johnny Moore, produced by Willie Henderson, with arrangements provided by Tom Tom Washington, it just cranks! Like it says on the label, Dakar by this time truly was "The Sound of Chicago", and Tyrone was its shining light.

Davis continued to chart regularly for the label with his tales of blue collar romance, and was a phenomenal success. By 1975, with number one smash Turning Point riding high in the charts, they were calling him "Mr. Chicago".

Brunswick, meanwhile, had nearly bankrupted itself successfully fighting 'payola' lawsuits in court, and had closed its doors by early 1976. Tyrone didn't miss a beat, taking Leo Graham with him and signing with Columbia Records. His first release with them, Give It Up (Turn It Loose), would become one of his biggest hits, spending 16 weeks on the R&B charts, peaking at #2.

Davis, like so many other performers of his day, toured constantly, packing 'chittlin' circuit' clubs wherever he went. In his excellent book Chicago Soul, Robert Pruter called Tyrone's mid-70s touring band "magnificent" and likened them to the mighty JBs in "overall flash and tightness of sound".

He recorded prolifically for Columbia over the next few years, cracking the R&B top forty on a regular basis, and would continue to do so for a variety of labels after he left them in 1981 (most notably with #3 smash Are You Serious on the Highrise label the following year).

Tyrone was one of those incredible forces in the R&B world (like fellow "Four Pack" members Johnny Taylor, Little Milton and Bobby Bland) who stayed immensely popular with black audiences, while remaining almost completely unknown to white ones (in this country, anyway...). I saw him at the Apollo Theater in NYC in like 1988 or something and it brought home to me what a big star he really was. The audience just ate him up! His high energy performance backed by what could only be described as an orchestra was just incredibly powerful stuff. The ladies were weak in the knees... hell, I was too, man! I'll never forget it.

Davis signed with good ol' Malaco Records in 1996, joining Little Milton and Bobby Bland in continuing to produce quality records for the label. He received a Rhythm & Blues Foundation Pioneer Award in 1998, the same year he would beat prostate cancer, and appear at a "roast" attended by over 1000 people in his adopted hometown of Chicago. He kept right on performing.

On September 7th, 2004, Tyrone Davis suffered a severe stroke that landed him in a long-term health care facility. Old friend Otis Clay organized a benefit for him in Chicago that November which featured Gene Chandler, Jerry Butler, Willie Clayton, Buddy Guy, and Koko Taylor.

Otis, who considered "TD" to be his brother, would visit him a few times a week and sing him the old songs.

He was 66 when he died in February, 2005.

I can't believe he's been gone over a year, already...