Friday, September 29, 2006

Joe Simon - Come On And Get It (Sound Stage 7 2628)


Come On And Get It

When it comes to soul music, the Tennessee city that gets all the press is, of course, Memphis. Now that Solomon Burke's new album has everyone talking about Nashville, I figured we'd take a look at the soul roots of 'music city'.


First of all, it's hard to overestimate the influence of Nashville radio station WLAC. With 50,000 watts of 'clear-channel' power, its broadcast signal could be heard all over North America. By the mid-fifties, the station's format had become an eclectic mix of Blues, Gospel and Rhythm & Blues that was tailored to their mostly black audience. With over 30 states within the range of their transmitter, it was estimated that WLAC was listened to by over 65% of the African-American people in this country. Although the dee-jays on the station were white, their laid-back 'southern drawl' had many people convinced otherwise. They, of course, did nothing to dispel that notion.

The greatest of these dee-jays was one John Richbourg, known on the radio as simply 'John R'. His late night broadcasts from 'way down south in Dixie' developed an almost fanatical following, as people tuned in to hear what was new and happenin' on the R&B scene. He 'broke' many a new record on his show, featuring up and coming artists like Chuck Berry and B.B. King. James Brown has said that John R. was the man who "started his career" by getting behind the Famous Flames' Please, Please, Please at a time when nobody else would play it. He would go on to do the same for Otis Redding, 'staying on' These Arms Of Mine for months until his listeners 'got it'. Above all else, it was his taste in music, his unerring sense of what made a good record, that kept him so popular. For a whole new generation of white kids (like Dan Penn and Phil Walden) who were staying up late and listening to the radio, John R. was their barometer, their window into the taboo world of 'negro music'.

Fred Foster, a former A&R and promotion man for Mercury and ABC-Paramount, came to Nashville and started his MONUMENT label in 1958. Although he initially met with some resistance from the 'local music establishment' (who claimed he was 'polluting Nashville with his bastard music'), his reputation as a man who kept his word (and payed his studio musicians on time) helped him build up the label. When Foster produced Roy Orbison's Only The Lonely for Monument in 1960, the record shot to #2 and put them both on the map. For the next four years, Orbison's records kept them in the top ten, and brought in enough income for Foster to expand his company, and eventually buy his own studio. His focus remained primarily on 'quirky' singer-songwriters like Harlan Howard, Tony Joe White, and Kris Kristofferson, as he stayed true to his motto "Monument Is Artistry".

After he released a few R&B records on Monument, the radio people went nuts. "As it turned out, a lot of jocks would put a Monument record on the air without auditioning it. Some of these country guys - well not really country, 'chicken-rock' I call them, played low-profile music, and suddenly they put on this screaming R&B record... their phones lit up!", Foster said. As a favor to them, he created his Sound Stage 7 label in 1963 to serve as an outlet for his black artists. After The Dixiebelles went top ten with Down At Papa Joe's, and top twenty with the follow-up Southdown U.S.A. in 1964, nothing much else seemed to be happening with the label.

Foster, in a stroke of brilliance, turned to the one man in Nashville that had his finger on the pulse of black music, John R. He gave him 'complete control' of A&R for the label, and free reign in the studio, with production on all Sound Stage 7 releases being handled by J.R. Enterprises.

Joe Simon was born in Louisiana, but grew up in Oakland. As a teenager, he sang with The Golden West Gospel Singers, a group that would later change its name to The Golden Tones and record for the west-coast based Hush label in 1959. Joe had a few releases on the label himself in the early sixties, before being picked up by Vee-Jay in 1964. He had some moderate success with records like Adorable One, before John R met him and suggested to Vee-Jay that they take him down to Muscle Shoals to record. The resulting Let's Do it Over was a smash hit in the Summer of 1965, spending 17 weeks on the charts. When Vee-Jay went bankrupt later that year, John R. wasted no time in signing Simon to Sound Stage 7.

Joe's lush voice was the perfect vehicle for the 'country soul' that John R had in mind, and his records charted consistently for the label. Today's selection was actually used as a B side twice - as the flip for No Sad Songs in early 1968, and monster hit The Chokin' Kind in 1969. I guess John R was trying to tell us something, as it's just about as funky as it gets... with Joe repeating 'come on, come on, come on, come on' there towards the end, while the band just cooks - yeah, baby! The song, co-written with the great Allen Orange, who had left Toussaint back in New Orleans to become John R's in-house composer and arranger, is just pure soul. While the flip was recorded at the fabled Music City studio in Nashville, I'm not sure if today's B side was or not, as it's from a year earlier... it sure has that Muscle Shoals vibe to it, though (...detectives?) [Ed. Note 1/7: Be sure to check out the awesome 'comment' from Bob Wilson (co-writer of today's selection) that gives detailed session information about this great song and confirms that, just as we suspected, it was recorded at FAME in Muscle Shoals].

Anyway, The Chokin' Kind, which had been written by Monument's own Harlan Howard and covered earlier that year by Waylon Jennings, went straight to #1 R&B and won Simon a Grammy that year, becoming forever his 'signature song'. The combination of John R's production and Joe's smokey vocals made for the perfect marriage of Country and Soul, something that people are still trying to get their minds around today (witness all the hooplah surrounding the Solomon Burke record....).

Simon, although remaining virtually a stranger to the 'pop' charts, would become a huge star in the black community, and is ranked #32 of Whitburn's top 500 R&B artists. After 7 more singles with Sound stage 7, John R was instrumental in getting Joe signed with funk powerhouse Spring Records in late 1970. Although John continued to work with him, it was his Gamble & Huff produced sides that would put Simon back at the top of the charts repeatedly throughout the decade.

After a few dissapointing releases on the Posse label in the early eighties, Joe Simon turned his back on popular music and returned to the Church. He continues to record an occasional Gospel album (as Bishop Joe Simon), and by all reports, is still in great voice. Although it is Charley Pride that most people think of when you say 'Black Country', Joe Simon's Nashville records should put him right up there as well.

John R was honored at a Grand Ole Opry benefit to help defray the costs of his lung cancer treatments in 1985. Everyone from B.B. King and James Brown to Rufus Thomas praised him as a giant whose pioneering work in the early days of R&B changed the face of music in this country. Weak and confined to a wheelchair, with his distinctive radio voice reduced to a quiet whisper, all John could do was mumble 'thank you' through his tears. The man who had been described as a 'white cat with a black soul' passed away at age 75 in February of 1986.

As he used to say, "It's all on record!".
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10/19/06

The good ladies at Roya/Chessboy Records dropped me a line to let me know about Bishop Joe Simon's most recent album, Time To Change. It's been released in conjunction with his Community Crusade, and you can listen to a few tracks here.

Check it out!

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Arthur Conley - In The Same Old Way (Fame 1007)


In The Same Old Way

Arthur Conley grew up in Atlanta. By the time he was 12 years old, he was singing Gospel on local radio station WAOK with a group called The Evening Smiles. By age 16 he had formed his own band, Arthur and the Corvets, and began recording some singles for local labels like Moon and NRC.

When he turned 18 in 1964, he joined his father in Baltimore where he hooked up with local promoter and DJ Rufus Mitchell. Rufus was impressed with Conley's talent, and released a song Arthur had written, I'm A Lonely Stranger, on his local RU-JAC label. When Otis Redding rolled into town later that year, Mitchell played the single for him backstage after a show at The Baltimore Theatre. He liked it a lot.

Otis had started his own record label down in Macon with Atlantic Records road manager Joe Galkin (hence the name, JOTIS). He worked out a deal with Rufus, and arranged to re-record Arthur's song at the STAX studio in Memphis, with production help from Jim Stewart and Booker T. The haunting deep soul ballad became the second release on Jotis (470), in September of 1965. Another Conley composition, Who's Fooling Who, was also recorded at Stax and came out as Jotis 472 in early 1966.

For reasons that aren't entirely clear to me, Redding apparently dissolved Jotis at this point, and sent Conley to record with Rick Hall in Muscle Shoals for his FAME label. A July session resulted in the blazing I Can't Stop (No, No, No) (now up on the 'A' side), which was a Dan Penn/Roger Hawkins composition (it would turn up three years later on Solomon Burke's Proud Mary album), and our current B side, a hidden Penn/Oldham gem. With Arthur's cut-like-a-knife vocals and the Muscle Shoals rhythm section in its absolute prime, it just doesn't get much better than this, baby!

Another Fame release (1009) would follow that Fall, I'm Gonna Forget About You Baby (whose Penn/Oldham penned B side Take Me Just As I Am would be taken to #11 R&B by Solomon Burke 8 months later). Although Fame was distributed by ATCO at this time, neither Conley single got much in the way of airplay. All that was about to change.

Both Otis and Arthur were huge fans of Sam Cooke, and they began playing around with a song that first appeared on his Shake album, Yeah Man. What they came up with was Sweet Soul Music, that immortal love song to the groove. Recorded at Fame with Otis Redding handling the production, it's scary how good the record really is. (When Cooke's old business partner J.W. Alexander got wind of it, he demanded that Sam get credit as a co-writer, and that his company handle the publishing. He ironed things out with Redding, and I'm sure it helped that the single was released with Let's Go Steady - a tune Alexander had written for Sam himself - as the flip). Bumped up to the big label now, ATCO 6463 was released in March of 1967 and just took off, spending 15 weeks on the charts, and rising as high as #2 both R&B and Pop (Aretha owned the #1 R&B spot for 17 weeks that year!).

At the height of the record's success, Jerry Wexler and Otis' manager Phil Walden arranged for Arthur to join the Stax-Volt Revue on its historic tour of Europe. Although it was not all sweetness and light (Conley's big hit had already sold more records than any of the others, including Otis himself!), for the most part it was a smash and provided Arthur with his first glimpse of life outside these United States. He returned home long enough to record Shake Rattle & Roll (his follow-up Atco release which would break the R&B top 20), before Atlantic sent him back to Europe with Sam & Dave and Percy Sledge on the "Soul Explosion" tour. He was back at Fame recording in the Fall, but his cover of Joe Turner's Whole Lotta Woman went nowhere.

When Otis Redding's plane went down that fateful night in December of 1967, Arthur "just couldn't believe it". His life and everything he'd worked for seemed shattered and empty. Conley "sobbed inconsolably" at Redding's funeral, and "disintegrated" during a hastily organized tour in early 1968. There were those who said that Arthur was "the invention of Otis Redding", and that he was too "confused" and "naïve" to make it on his own. In any event, his career was now being handled by less than sympathetic people like Walden and Wexler.

Arthur pulled himself together, and entered Chips Moman's American studio in February of 1968 to cut some new material he had written. When Funky Street, a song about his old hometown of Atlanta, was released in March it went straight to the #5 spot R&B. His next two Atco singles were cut at American as well, with People Sure Act Funny breaking the top 20, and Aunt Dora's Love Soul Shack (which started up a whole string of 'shack' records) just missing the top 40.

Don Covay and Bobby Womack had put together the backing tracks for the long-awaited Soul Clan single out in L.A., and Atlantic had each individual artist record his vocals whenever they were available. After Wilson Pickett balked, and Otis Redding went and died on them, they arranged for Ben E. King and Arthur Conley to replace them. Conley recalled that he never even spoke with the other members of the Clan about the record, and that he recorded his part all alone up in New York. The single would go to #34 R&B in the Summer of 1968, and then, according to Solomon Burke, "the record was stopped and banned". He may have been right.

It was Wexler who decided that Arthur should start out 1969 with a cover of Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da (this was right around the same time that he pushed Dusty Springfield into recording Windmills Of Your Mind), and although it broke the top 50, people were really buying it for the B side, the great Otis Sleep On, Conley's tribute to his best friend. The material Atco was selecting for him actually went downhill from there, culminating in an embarassing rendition of Harry Belafonte's Day-O in 1970.

Conley declined to renew his contract with Atlantic and began recording for Phil Walden's Capricorn label in 1971. This arrangement yielded four singles, none of which even dented the charts. Whether it was a lack of promotion, changing times, or the priorities of a record company whose biggest star was The Allman Brothers Band, by 1974 Arthur had had it. He turned his back on the whole industry and moved far, far away.

Reports were that he lived in England for a time, and then moved on to Belgium. By 1980 he had settled just outside of Amsterdam and changed his name to Lee Roberts. I'm not sure why.

In 1988, Blue Shadow records released an album called Soulin', by Lee Roberts & The Sweaters. It was taken from a live recording of an Amsterdam performance from 1980. He would later start his own business, Art-Con, which included several record labels, a music store, publishing company, and even a radio station.

Lee's final performance was in The Netherlands in June of 2002. He died of intestinal cancer in November of 2003.

Sleep on Arthur, sleep on.
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(I'd like to thank B side regular Jean-Francois for schooling me about Lee Roberts...)

Also, as you probably already know, the fantastic Atlantic Unearthed: Soul Brothers contains an unreleased track by Conley that was recorded at Fame in June of 1967 - Rome (Wasn't Built In A Day) - a cover of the song Sam Cooke gave to Johnnie Taylor in 1962. It also includes a remastered copy of That's How It Feels, the B side of the Soul Clan single. Go ahead and buy a copy.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Bobby Womack of the Valentinos - A Lonesome Man (Checker 1122)


A Lonesome Man

Part One Of The Story


Friendly Womack sang Gospel with his brothers down in the coal mining country of West Virginia. They called themselves The Womack Brothers, and Friendly promised the Lord that if he sent him five sons, he would see to it that they would carry on the tradition and sing Gospel under that name. He moved to Cleveland, got work in a steel mill, and before long his prayers had been answered.

Friendly's new group, The Voices Of Love, would rehearse up at the Womack house, and his boys would listen in, doing imitations of the various members later on that kept them in stitches. The middle brother, Bobby, began sneaking around and playing his father's guitar while he was at work. Left handed, he had to figure out his own method, with the strings "upside down". (He still plays that way today...)

By the early fifties, Friendly was keeping his promise, and had his boys singing Gospel at churches around the area. In 1953, he asked S.R. Crain, a senior member of The Soul Stirrers, if they could open up for them at a program held at Cleveland's Friendship Baptist Church. He was in the process of telling them to "stick to Sunday School", when Sam Cooke overheard and pushed Crain to let them do it. The Womack Brothers were a big hit, and Sam made sure that the congregation forked over some "quiet money" to the family to help them with expenses. The $73 they collected seemed like a million bucks to 9 year old Bobby, and, from that moment on, he wanted to be "just like Sam Cooke".

The Brothers career took off from there, and they began traveling the "Gospel Highway", working with groups like The Staple Singers and The Five Blind Boys Of Mississippi. The Blind Boys were impressed with young Bobby's guitar work, and took him on the road with them. When their fabled lead singer Archie Brownlee died of pneumonia in 1960, he was replaced by the great Roscoe Robinson. It was Robinson who believed in the potential of the Womack boys, and called old friend Sam Cooke.

Cooke, who had just started up his own SAR label, was in the market for young talent and agreed to meet the brothers in Detroit. Sam was pushing them to 'cross-over' as he had done, but the Womacks, fearing the wrath of the Father (both the one up in Heaven, and their own back in Cleveland), were reluctant to do so. He made a deal with them; "Okay, fellas, we'll cut you all a Gospel record. But if it don't hit, will you all cut me a pop?" The deal was done, and The Womack Brothers' first single Somebody's Wrong, was released on SAR in 1961.

It flopped. Now it was their turn to make good on a promise. J.W. Alexander, Sam's partner at SAR, changed their name to The Valentinos and they re-worked the lyrics to a Gospel song Bobby had written for their first session (Couldn't Hear Nobody Pray) and came up with the great Lookin' For A Love. It sold two million copies in the summer of 1962, and spent over 3 months on the charts, cracking the top ten R&B and even breaking into the Billboard Hot 100. Friendly wanted no part in any of this, of course, and was just as glad to see his boys take off for California in the car Sam paid for, than to hear them sing 'the devil's music' in his own home.

It was Sam who saw something in Bobby, and made him the lead singer in place of his brother Curtis. "Curtis sings pretty like me." he said, " But now Bobby, he sings with authority. When Bobby sings he demands attention." Cooke sent the Valentinos out on tour with James Brown to school them in the ways of the R&B road, and when they came back all starched, pressed and walking in unison, he knew their 'basic training' had been a success. Sam next took Bobby out with him as a guitar player in his own band (much to his brothers' chagrin), and, in many ways, made him his "protegé". He chose to let Bobby ride in the limo with him (while everyone else in the band was back in the station wagon), and they talked for hours while America rolled on by. Bobby always had his guitar on hand, and Sam, it is said, got quite a few song ideas by listening to him play (when Womack confronted him with this, Sam said, "Okay, I'm taking your shit, but I'm doing you better than James Brown would... "). Suffice it to say that both men got something they needed from the other.

In June of 1964, J.W. Alexander was pulling out all the stops to promote the new Valentinos single, It's All Over Now. Radio stations all over the country were flooded with advance promo copies of the rockin' shout out record with the 'hook' that just couldn't miss (Bobby had written it after hearing his uncle Wes say that about his Aunt Betty about a thousand times). The Rolling Stones heard it in New York while they were in the studio for an interview with Murray The K (aka 'the fifth Beatle'). Their manager, Andrew Loog Oldham, contacted Sam about performing rights, and they recorded the song within a week at the Chess Studios in Chicago. Their record company (Decca/London) got into the act and "rush-released" the single, putting it out on both sides of the big pond the day before the Valentinos' version was officially released. Can you imagine these guys?

It was the Stones' breakthrough record, becoming their first number one hit in the UK, and rising to #26 here in the US. The Valentinos' original didn't stand a chance, spending only two weeks on the charts and stalling at #94 R&B. When they found out Sam had okayed the licensing of the song, they couldn't believe it. "What do I need this Pat Boone shit for?" Bobby said, "Let them get their own songs. They mean nothing to me!" Cooke, always the visionary, tried to explain to them that this was the way things were headed in the the music industry, and that they'd be a "part of history". Although it took him quite a while to get there, Bobby finally admiited "...he was right, man. He was always in the future."

When Sam Cooke wrote A Change Is Gonna Come in late 1963, it scared him. After he had gone into the studio and recorded it, with René Hall's great big arrangement and everything, he called up Bobby. "Come on over, I want you to hear something", he said. He played the song for him on his huge movie theatre speakers, there in the dark. Sam 'looked right through him'... "what do you think, Bobby?", he asked. "It sounds like death... it's just so eerie. It gives me the chills, Sam." Cooke said he had to agree, and told him "I promise I won't ever release that song... not while I'm alive."

When Sam was shot to death On December 11, 1964, Bobby's world was torn apart. He remembered his reaction to the song, how he had told Sam a second time, "It sounds like death, like somebody died or somebody is going to die"... RCA released A Change Is Gonna Come on December 22nd, as the B side of Shake.

On March 5th 1965, Bobby Womack married Sam Cooke's widow, Barbara Campbell at the Los Angeles County Court House (they had been turned away two weeks before because he had not yet turned 21). Whether Barbara was motivated by love, a need for support or some kind of revenge, we'll probably never know. Bobby has said that he married her to protect Sam's family, and to keep Barbara from "doing something crazy". In any event, the record-buying public (as well as Sam's family in Chicago) viewed it as too much too soon. They saw Campbell as a shameless woman who had no respect for their idol, and Womack as a little gold digger who could never fill Sam's shoes. The papers ate it up.

As SAR began to disintegrate around them, the Valentinos signed with Chess Records, but nothing much was happening. Today's selection is the B side of Bobby's first single under his own name, and was released on their Checker subsidiary in 1965 (it's the flip of I Found A True Love, the original version of the tune Wilson Pickett would take to #11 in 1968). They couldn't give the record away. As Bobby has said, at this point disk jockeys were "throwing his records in the garbage", as nobody wanted to hear them. I personally think this is a great song, and shows what a pro Womack had become during his years with Sam. Although it may be a little over-produced (there's no production credits on the label, so I'm not sure by whom), it still cranks along with Bobby's guitar holding down the bottom. I love the vocals, which definitely show Cooke's influence (how could they not)? When he belts out there towards the end that "don't nobody seem to want ol' Bob", it sounds like a wry commentary on what was going down at the time...

We'll pick up the rest of The Womack's unreal story in some future post, but meanwhile let me recommend his recently released autobiography Midnight Mover: The True Story of the Greatest Soul Singer in the World (modest, he's not) as well as the encyclopedic (and indispensable) Dream Boogie: The Triumph of Sam Cooke by our man in the street, Peter Guralnick.

Great stuff.

(to be continued...)

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Roy "C" - I'll Never Leave You Lonely (Alaga 1008)


I'll Never Leave You Lonely

In the 1950s, 16 year old Roy C. Hammond 'left his home in Georgia', and headed for New York City. He had dreams of becoming a professional boxer, and that's where the lights shone the brightest. He learned early on, however (after sparring with the likes of Hurricane "The Animal" Jackson), that prize fighting just wasn't for him.

He began singing tenor with The Genies, a group of guys that sang together every weekend on the boardwalk out in Long Beach. They got to be pretty tight and, after adding second lead singer Claude Johnson, they were offered a recording deal by Bob Shad. Shad had come up with Savoy in the 40s, and was working A&R at Mercury Records with folks like Sarah Vaughan and Dinah Washington at the time. The Genies jumped at the chance to enter the studio with him, and Shad paid them $25 each for the session. When Who's That Knockin' was released, it wasn't on Mercury, as the group had every reason to believe it would be, but on Shad. It would hit the Billboard Hot 100 in 1958 anyway, but Shad never paid them another dime.

Their next stop was Atlantic, where Jerry Wexler decided he liked Roy's voice better than Claude Johnson's (who had handled the lead on their Shad hit). Johnson ended up leaving the group over it, going on to become the "Juan" of Don and Juan fame. To make matters worse, Atlantic never released the sides they had recorded with Roy singing lead due to the "conflict" within the group... a conflict they themselves had created! The Genies went on to release a few more singles on local labels but, when Roy was drafted into the Air Force, that was essentially it for them.

While stationed overseas, Roy had a lot of time to think. He began writing songs, and plotting his return to the airwaves. When he got back home to New York, he got a bunch of "white high school kids" together, took 'em into Broadway Studios in midtown and cut Shotgun Wedding. He put it out on his own Hammond label, but when it began to take off he leased it to Bill Seabrook, a Jamaica (New York) independent, who released it on his Black Hawk imprint. The record, with it's novelty ricochet opening and it's risqué subject matter for the times, was a smash hit, rising to #14 on the national R&B charts in 1965.

When it was released in the UK (on the Island label), it did even better (#6), and led to a much touted British tour (something Roy feels might have hurt his chances at a follow-up hit at home). In any event, Shotgun Wedding has seen at least three subsequent releases (actually breaking the UK top ten again in 1972!), and remains Roy's most requested song.

Bill Seabrook, meanwhile, refused to give Roy free reign in the studio, and released a few singles he felt were "good enough", (over Roy's objections). They weren't. He next signed with Bert Berns' Shout label, but things there were even worse. While he was trying to get a release from his contract with them, Smash picked up a pair of songs he had recorded on his own, and released them under the name "Little Frankie".

At this point, Roy decided to leave the recording end of things alone for awhile, and open up a record store. He kept his eye on what was going on in the industry, and the wheels started turning once again. He figured if he opened his own company, for real this time, and used everything he had learned so far, he could call his own shots...

ALAGA cane syrup (so named for the sovereign states of Alabama and Georgia) was a staple of the Southern diet, and on the table of every 'soul kitchen' in America. What better name for the label that would launch his own brand of down home soul?

In Divorce Court was the first release on the label (in 1970), and also marked the first time that Roy collaborated with guitarist J. Hines (if you've been following case three over at soul detective, you already know the deal...). They would become "like brothers", and despite various ups and downs, combined to make a formidable songwriting and production team that worked together for over 20 years. A song they wrote, Got To Get Enough (Of Your Sweet Love Stuff) would put Roy right back in the charts (#45 R&B) in the summer of 1971. Along with the B side, Open Letter To The President, it showed that Roy "C" wouldn't shy away from controversial lyrics, and was finally his own man.

Today's selection (the flip of I'm Gonna Love Somebody Else's Woman) was released later that year, and captures both men at their soulful best. Roy's just FEELIN' IT here, and J.'s guitar work is absolutely da bomb... Recorded in Manhattan by a record company that was based in Jamaica, Queens, it's as good a case as any for the existence of 'New York Soul'!

In addition to his own publishing company (Johnson-Hammond), Roy started up yet another label, NATION-WIDE as an outlet for recording Hines and a few other local artists (for more on the Nation-Wide story, please visit soul detective). Roy's own back-up band, The Honey Drippers, would remain on Alaga... (more on that in a little while). It wasn't long before the big record companies began to take notice, and in 1973 Roy, along with Nation-Wide artists Mark IV, would sign with Mercury, this time on his own terms.

After his first single for the label, Don't Blame The Man, hit #56 R&B, Mercury packaged it, along with the best of his Alaga masters, as the smash album Sex and Soul. The suggestive title (and cover!), as well as the great music, helped propel the LP to #56 that year as well. Roy would spend five years at the label, waxing 7 more singles (three of which charted), and two more LPs before top Mercury execs tried to reign him in, taking exception to his outspoken political stance in songs like Great, Great Grandson Of A Slave. That, along with poor promotion, convinced him not to re-sign with the label when his contract was up in 1978, and to take his Alaga and Nation-Wide masters with him.

By early 1979 Roy had re-established himself on the corner of Sutphin Boulevard and Jamaica Avenue in Queens with his new label, THREE GEMS. He kept on producing high quality soul and, although changing times would keep him off the national charts, his records continued to find their audience. In the mid-eighties he moved his offices to Freeport, out on Long Island, and by the end of the decade he had decided to transfer the whole operation to Allendale, South Carolina.

Spiraling NY real estate costs (as well as the fact that J. Hines already lived in the area) helped convince Roy to make the move. His records sold well down there, and gigs were plentiful on the 'beach-music' scene. The company has grown to include his own Carolina Record Distributors, and has released over 15 albums by Roy alone (not to mention great LPs by artists like Dennis Edwards and Jonathan Burton).

J. Hines turned his back on secular music in the 1990s, and returned to his roots in Gospel, actually becoming an ordained minister. He passed away, I'm sorry to report, in October of 2004.

Roy, meanwhile, continues to speak to a whole new generation. He released the amazing Impeach The President on Alaga under the name of his band, The Honey Drippers, in the early 70s. It was a great idea then, as now, and has been sampled by any number of Hip Hop artists, the latest being west coast based DJ Shortkut, who actually lists Roy C. Hammond as his co-artist.

Roy was kind enough to speak with me twice during our recent J. Hines investigation over at soul detective. I told him the fact that he was not only the artist, but songwriter, publisher, arranger, producer, and label owner way back in 1970 was just plain amazing. "People like Bobby Shad and Jerry Wexler taught me well," he said, "to take care of my own business".

That's just what he continues to do.