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From Soul Express 2/1997


CHARLIE JONES

  Belated congratulations to one of our indie veterans, making now a recording come-back, as Charlie Jones turned fifty this year, February the 4th. He was born in Florida, in a small town called Quincy, about twenty miles from Tallahassee. His early years were filled with church music, as his father is a minister, who did and does singing and guitar playing, and his mother plus four sisters and one brother all doing some singing, too. Charlie actually continued in that field by being a member in several gospel groups, and didn't make the transition into r&b, until he became thirty. But let the man tell about it in his own words.

  “When I was about seven or eight, we started a little gospel group and we used to sing in church a lot. It was just me and my brothers and cousins. When I got ten years old, I started singing with grown men. I was playing guitar and singing a part, but I was singing background, of course. I never got out of music, so next I stayed, until when I was fifteen, with the group out of Quincy, Florida, called The Gadsden Harmonizers. After that, till I was eighteen, I worked with another group called The Faithful Five, from Chattahoochee, Florida. Then I moved to Winston Salem, North Carolina, in '65, where I met The Mighty Wonders, and I got with them.”

  Charlie stayed with The Mighty Wonders for about five years, and with them he also made his first ever forty-five, which was to remain the only recording before his debut album in the early eighties. ”I made a single called What It Means To Have A Friend with The Mighty Wonders, probably in '69. It was on a very small label out of Baltimore.

  After I left The Mighty Wonders, I, in that area, started my own group, The Gospel Stylistics. I was still with them, when I joined The Gospel Keynotes (out of Texas) in '74 for about six months. They heard about me, and they wanted me to take a guy's place for a few months, as Paul Beasley went to another group. When they called me, I told them I would come, but I couldn't stay out there, because it wasn't really what I wanted to do. I told them I just go help them out until they can find somebody.”

  Charlie points out that the simple reason for switching over to r&b in '77 - while still in North Carolina - was money. ”Then I went to California. I stayed in Los Angeles for about two months, and it was kinda like that 'doggy dog' thing. So I left there, went up towards San Francisco area, stayed there for about five or six years. During that period I didn't do anything but just write and play music, because the disco era was in, and I couldn't do disco. I just wouldn't do it.”

  After being a member in at least six gospel groups and then switching over to secular sounds, Charlie has remained solo. ”Under r&b thing I've never been actually a part of a band. I've always had a band, though. I just hire them for back-up. I normally use four.”

  In San Francisco in '82 Charlie wrote and produced - also played piano and guitar - his debut album, Love, Life And Reality, on Sum-ma label. ”That's the record label I own. I got the name out of dictionary. It means a person that really goes after what he wants.

  I was just testing my songwriting ability. See, I couldn't get no help from anybody, so I couldn't get songwriters or producers to help me out. I just tried to learn as much as I could by myself. It really was my first time. I just stepped out and did it. I just don't believe in sitting back and waiting on people to help you, if they don't wanna do it. So I just gave it a try, and finally I think I've got to the point now, when I can produce music pretty good.”

  The album is extremely hard-to-find now, but three tracks found their way to a later Timeless release. For me the best one is Troubles Is Troubling Me, a sad and soulful slowie, very much in a Joe Simon style, whereas Woo - Baby You're So Sweet is a swaying beat ballad and Just A Smile represents more old-fashioned soul balladry. There were no single releases, and altogether the album sold about 8 - 9000 copies. ”It never was promoted on a national level. To me it was good music, but it wasn't hit quality material.”

  Seems that those days Charlie was a somewhat restless soul changing frequently his residence. ”When I left California (in '83), I went to Cleveland for a few months, trying to get together with some people, playing what they wanted, to help me out. But that didn't work out. That's when I ended up in New York. I stayed there a couple of months with Roy C. I signed a contract with him to get me a single out. The single never was pushed. It was a good record, I think.”

  The single was called I Almost Gave Up, and it was released on Roy's Three Gems Records in '85. The next release was an eight-tracker, Charlie L. Jones ('L' stands for Lee), again produced and written by Charlie and recorded in Camden, South Carolina, in '87. It was released only in the U.K. on the Timeless (TRLP 117) label.

  The highlights included I Thought I Was Over You, a beautiful William Bell type of ballad, on which there is a female duetist. ”That was a young Caucasian girl. I can't remember her name. The studio people set that up. I just paid her a small fee.”

  A relaxed mid-pacer, Crazy Over You, is Charlie's most famous song so far, as Johnnie Taylor opens his '91 CD, ...Just Can't Do Right, with that tune. ”I put it out on a Sum-ma label on me as a single, and it got doing pretty good. I didn't have the money to keep up with it, but Malaco heard it. Their president called me saying he wanted it for Johnnie. So, naturally, I let Johnnie have it, because that would get my name out there as a writer.”

  It's How Love Should Be is a beautiful country & soul ballad with Charlie sounding incredibly like Joe Simon. ”That's what people say, I sound like him, ever since I started singing rhythm & blues. I didn't pay much attention to it till they told me, but I guess it's true.” Joe is also one of Charlie's favourite artists along with Sam Cooke, Nat Cole and Frank Sinatra! ”After the album I was just doing a lot of shows, and now I'm working on a regular basis, about three weeks a month.”

  On the recording front Charlie came back at the end of last year, after an almost ten year's lapse, on Kon-Kord Records out of Hollywood, California. Charlie himself, however, is now living permanently in Sumter, South Carolina. Choking Kind Of Love (KK27100) was produced by Charlie and one of the owners of the label, the other half of the Patterson twins, Estus. The only player on the set is Charlie.

  ”I was in Charleston. Mr. Patterson was down there with one of his artists, Rue Davis. They hired me to be the back-up band, to play for them and open up the show. They heard me sing, doing the sound-check, and Estus came and said 'I want to sign you up'. Just like that.”

  The set opens with a re-recording of Charlie's signature song, Crazy Over You. He also re-does a quick-tempoed, light dancer, Let's Have A Good Time, and a bluesy bouncer, Blues All Over, which he first did for the Timeless album. ”I think I've done a better job on recording them this time, plus they've never really been exposed like I think they should have.”

  Finders Keepers is a slowly swaying soul ballad and also my personal favourite. Charlie wrote everything on this twelve-tracker except four cover tunes, first of which is Lloyd Price's gold record from '52, Lordy Miss Clawdy. ”I always like Lawdy, but I didn't like it the way Lloyd had it. I just speeded it up a little bit, put a danceable type of beat to it.”

  Curtis Mayfield's melody, Need To Belong To Someone, is perhaps best known as Jerry Butler's Vee Jay hit in '63. ”I always did love that song. I didn't think I could do it no better, but I tried to do it as good as the original artist. As you know, a lot of kids are doing those remakes, but they just don't come up to a par.” Naturally, Joe Simon is also remembered, this time by two covers, Choking Kind (a gold one on SS7 in '69) and Nine Pound Steel ('67).

 ˙Daddy's Little Boy is a softening `father-to-son' song. ”I wrote it for my little boy. He's close to seven now.” I Don't Hurt Like I Use To is a bouncy mid-pacer. ”That comes from a personal experience, like most of what I write about. Crazy Over You came from a personal experience, too.” Hurt also is the first single, coupled with Crazy Over You.

  You Can Feel Your Love is a light lilter, on which Charlie's daddy assisted a bit, and finally there's a nice soul ballad called Love Can Be A Nuisance (without finance). ”It's something I've heard all my life, people talking about it, but I never heard a song actually written about it. I think such things are probably a hit, if it gets circulated enough.”

  Charlie still has his Sum-ma, and pushing the label is one of his main tasks now. ”I have several artists signed to my label that we already have products on. We just have to press them up and get them out there. I probably go to a bigger distributor, but we know how to do it ourselves, really. I just want this record to give me the finance I need to do it with.”


-Heikki Suosalo

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