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DEEP # 1/2017 (February)

Two debutants are the leading acts in this column.  I interviewed both Johnny “Flash” Ware and Stan Butler to find out more about their past, present and future.  More established artists you’ll find among other southern soul and retro compilation CD reviews.

Content and quick links:

Interviews:
Introducing Johnny Flash
Introducing Stan Butler

New CD release reviews:
Johnny Flash: I Wanna Do It to You
Don (Juan) Ward: Saxing with the Ladies of Society Hill
Cherrill Rae: I’m Doing Fine
Stan Butler: Back to Basics
Wendell B.: The Next 1
JJ Thames: Raw Sugar

Compilation CD reviews:
Various Artists: Manhattan Soul 3
Screamin' Jay Hawkins: The Planet Sessions



MAINSTREAM MAGIC


INTRODUCING... JOHNNY FLASH

“I used to sing with a group called David Beasley’s Fabulous Ebonys and that’s when I first met Butch Ingram.  We went to record and did a whole album, but then things went sour with me and the group on accounts of misunderstandings and other things, but we’re still good friends.  I left the group and I got a call from Butch a couple of months later, ‘why don’t you come down and start your own album’.  I was like ‘well, I wouldn’t mind doing that’, so I came in and worked with Butch, and that’s how this album came about.  We worked on it in June and July and released it in November 2016.”

Johnny “Flash” Ware is talking about his recent solo album titled I Wanna Do It to You (Society Hill/EMG 942 326 502-2), produced by Butch and recorded at Society Hill Studios in Philadelphia, PA.  Accustomedly, the Ingram Family is in charge of the background music with Butch on bass, Jimmy on keyboards, Billy on guitar, Johnny on drums and Timmy on percussion, plus Charles Lundy still on keys and Sharon and Cindy Ingram together with Toni Richards on background vocals.

On the set Johnny covers ten well-known soul hits and – surprise, surprise! – many of them have Philly connections.  “Butch really picked the songs out according to my voice.  We did a number of songs, and I was satisfied with the CD.  I’ve always enjoyed these songs we went through.  I used to do these songs on stage anyway, except I Wanna Do It to You.  I’ve never done that before, but it appealed to me.”

Butch must have thought that Johnny’s baritone voice suits Teddy Pendergrass’ music well, as the first single off the album is a smooth cover of Teddy’s ’81 hit, You’re My Latest, Greatest Inspiration.  Teddy also sang lead on Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes’ original recording of the monumental Don’t Leave Me This Way six years earlier, and that song is also included here – although, of course, in a slightly less magnetizing form. 

Jerry Butler is another artist that is well covered on this album.  The title tune – I Wanna Do It to You - is Johnny’s laid-back cover of Jerry’s ’77 slow jam on Motown, and What’s the Use of Breaking Up is a memorable dancer that Gamble & Huff produced on Jerry in 1969.  “I grew up on Jerry Butler sound.”  

Ain’t Understanding Mellow turned into a gold record for Jerry and Brenda Lee Eager in 1971 and on this mellow and romantic cover Johnny’s partner is Sherena Khan.  “I never thought in a million years that I’d be recording that song.  When I first heard it, I was very, very young.  Sherena is Butch’s sister-in-law.  What’s crazy about that is that we did not even do it together.  She had laid her vocals before, and I laid my vocals later.”  Sherena had actually cut the same song already with Tony Strong in 2012 on Tony’s It Ain’t Over CD.  Butch himself had recorded duets with Sherena one year earlier on the Deuces/Duets with Friends CD, released again on Butch’s Society Hill label.  The songs they covered were Reunited and Ain’t No Mountain High enough.

David Ruffin is the third source of inspiration.  I believe that especially in his case – as in fact on all the tracks of this CD – the fans hold the original recordings in high regard and insurmountable, and of course these covers to a degree pale beside them.  They are a bit sterile and lack in power and in instrumentation, but due to the fact that in arrangements they remain quite true to the ones we’ve grown used to there’s a valuable dose of nostalgia embedded in them.  And Johnny, of course, is a good and soulful vocalist.

Walk Away From Love was David’s number one soul hit in 1975 on Motown and his voice is dominant also on the Temptations’ Beauty Is Only Skin Deep, which was another # 1 record nine years earlier.  “Butch thought that I could capture so much of the David Ruffin image in my voice... not exactly David Ruffin, of course, but he thought I was there.”  Sorry to say, but - along with the cover of Slow Motion, Johnny Williams’ single on Gamble & Huff’s Philadelphia International Records in 1972 - Beauty Is Only Skin Deep are for me two of the least satisfactory tracks on this set.  They are simply not dynamic enough.  Instead they sound somewhat artificial and forced and lack the energy and natural flow that these songs require.

A disco dancer called Stop and Think by the Trammps was a big club favourite in 1975.  “That was Butch’s choice.  He said that was a very successful song overseas.  Again he picked everything according to my voice, my vocals.  Butch knew exactly, what and how he wanted me to be, and I was really satisfied working with him.”

Finally we are treated even to a softened version of one Stax song, Eddie Floyd’s I’ve never found a Girl (to Love Me like you do) from 1968.  “I never thought I’d be doing anything like that.  I heard it from time to time, when I was young, and – like I said – I was willing to do whatever Butch wanted me to try, and that song was pretty good for me anyway.”


HAND MASTER FLASH

Johnny Ware was born in West Philadelphia in 1964.  “I was a deejay once.  I used to listen to other deejays and things rubbed off on me, and I became so fast with the turntables that they gave me the nickname ‘Flash’.”  Johnny’s mother, Delores Ware, was also a well-known DJ in the area.  “She had all the records.  Without my mom’s records, it wasn’t a party.  Actually Brenda Lee Eager is friends with my mama.”

Besides deejaying, Johnny also tested singing in the 80s.  “Living in Philadelphia you can’t help but hear the sounds of Gamble & Huff everywhere.  I enjoyed seeing people like Teddy and the Blue Notes and the O’Jays and I always wanted to do something like that, because through that music I liked to capture the crowd by deejaying or singing.  As a side note I noticed that I had a little something in me, so I decided to take part in talent shows.” 

“I started deejaying in1979.  My older brother David Ware aka Disco Dave started a group called BCS, which stood for Big City Sounds and later became the Mighty B-Force.  The B stood for bottom, because we live in the bottom of West Philly.”  On Mantua Records in 1987 the Mighty B-Force featuring Hand Master Flash released a hip-hop single comprising of two Johnny’s compositions, We Got You Rockin It and Is It Real Flash?  That Hand Master Flash was in fact Johnny.

“I graduated in 1985 from University City High School, located in West Philly.  I would never sing in front of anyone in high school – I was so shy – until I was the only male out of 39, who landed a solo part in the song We Are the World.  That broke me out of being shy.”

“In mid-80s I recorded a rap record with a friend named MC Breeze.”  MC Breeze was Joey B Ellis.  On Breeze Records in 1986 Joey and Johnny as “The Singing MC Breeze & Hand Master Flash” released three songs, arranged and produced by MC Breeze.  Two of them – Discombobulatorbubalator and It Ain’t New York - were orthodox rap tracks, whereas the third one, Another Sad Song, is a smooth ballad.  That was Johnny’s first record and it was put out one year prior to the Mighty B Force release above.  You’ll find all those songs on YouTube.


In the 90s Johnny also tested singing in groups.  “Worth the Wait was a neighbourhood group.  It was me and three friends of mine.  We never recorded.  We did a couple of talent shows, but it really didn’t work out for us.  We’re still friends, though.  As a matter of fact, when Boyz II Men became popular that’s when we were doing our thing.  We worked for about a year.  Second to None is just like Worth the Wait, but two other members were new, so we decided to change the name.  That lasted for six months, and then I thought that I’m going to do what I like to do and decided to go by myself.”

“I made my way over to Camden, New Jersey, deejaying and singing in karaoke, doing the Ebonys covers like It’s Forever and You’re the Reason Why.”  You can read the complete Ebonys story at www.soulexpress.net/ebonys_interview.htm.   “A lot of people would tell me that I sound a lot like the Ebonys’ lead singer, Booty Tuten.  I was deejaying at one club and Smoke Howard came in.  It was his birthday.  He gave me his card and I decided to call him later, but it didn’t last long.  I guess Smoke was sick at the time, but I didn’t even get a chance to perform, because Smoke soon returned.”  As explained in the Ebonys story (the link above), Smoke was the lead singer of one set of the Ebonys, while the originator of the group in the 60s, David Beasley, was in charge of another set.

“David Beasley found me on YouTube and that’s how I became their lead singer in 2014.  I went with them in July and I was with the group till about December.  There were some controversial things.  When it comes to singing and performing, I’m a perfectionist.  We had little problems with some members showing up a little late or not showing up at all.  When I complained about that, they kind of voted me out of the group... but we’re still good friends.”

“That’s when I met Butch Ingram.  I recorded with David Beasley’s Ebonys about seven songs... only for us to part ways.  They went back to the old lead singer.  Later I got a call from Butch asking me, would I be interested in a solo project - so here I am.”  To make everything more comprehensible, our Johnny Flash has a new CD out called I Wanna Do It to You, David Beasley’s Fabulous Ebonys have a CD out titled Anything That You Want, but Johnny is not singing on that CD.  Instead there are about seven tracks in the can by Johnny singing with Beasley’s Ebonys.  Got it?

Today Johnny’s desire is possibly to be signed up by a major group and perform overseas.  “I’m also working on a solo CD with some of my own music and maybe a couple of covers.”

(Interview conducted on January the 7th in 2017; acknowledgements to Johnny and Butch).


DON (JUAN) WARD

Butch Ingram is a prolific producer and there’s a constant stream of new releases on his Society Hill label.  I’ll shortly examine still two other CDs, although they were put out already last spring.

Don Ward is a saxophone player, who grew up in New Jersey, graduated from the University of Miami, performed regularly on cruises, returned to the Philadelphia area and has since played with numerous luminaries, also on various TV shows.  His first solo CD, Dreaming, was released on Sunset Jazz in 2009 and the inspirational Broken came out two years later.

Don is a smooth jazz player and his Saxing with the Ladies of Society Hill (942 326 354-2) is actually a compilation drawn from such Society Hill CDs in recent years, where Don plays sax on the background.  Five of the eleven songs were written by Butch, and the rest include such familiar tunes as Autumn Leaves and I Wish You Love (by Charles Trenet in 1942).  The leading ladies are Carla Benson, Jean Carne, Cherrill Rae, Coretta Davis and Marki Fields.  Glenn Leonard of the Temptations fame is dueting with Jean on two tracks.  The overall sound is soft and smooth, at times smoky and jazzy, and Don’s undertone playing is cool and classy and no way intrusive.




CHERRILL RAE

Cherrill was one of the vocalists on the above Don’s CD, and on I’m Doing Fine (942 326 286-2) is her 10-track solo collection.  Cherrill was born in England, moved to Canada, back to the U.K., where she met a boy out of Wales by the name of Robbie Rae, married him and after a while they both moved – you guessed it! – to Canada and formed a duo called the Raes.  In the late 70s and early 80s they released three albums on A&M and became local disco favourites with such songs as Que Sera Sera, I Only Wanna Get up and Dance and A Little Lovin’ (Keeps the Doctor Away).  This last dancer is remade on this new CD.  After divorce in the early 80s, Cherrill has kept performing both as a solo act, and in different groups and these days she lives in Parkland, Florida, under the name of Cherrill Rae Yates.

Another remake from the Raes stint 38 years back on this new CD is a busy disco dancer called Don’t Turn Around.  Besides altogether four disco cuts, Cherrill covers such ballads as Through the Fire (Chaka Khan in 1984), Hurt (Christina Aquilera in 2006), Take it to the Limit (the Eagles in 1975) and the punchier Son of a Preacher Man (Dusty Springfield in 1969).  Of the two self-written tunes, Last Goodbye is a poppy ballad, while I’m Doing Fine is an after-hours, jazzy smoothie.


SOUTHERN SOUL STEW

INTRODUCING... STAN BUTLER *

It’s not an unwritten rule or necessity for an artist to first struggle through chitlin’ circuit venues, juke joints and restless holes in the wall or to perform in wedding bands or at country fairs, before he has paid his dues and is ready to reach the next level and perhaps one day – after years or decades - have his talent exposed to a wider audience.  It can happen also by pure chance, all of a sudden.  Almost overnight a singing truck-driver can turn into a household name.  And if we listeners are lucky, he doesn’t need any autotune and his music gives us pure pleasure. 

Back to Basics (Stan Butler Productions/Stantavio Butler; 2016) is an impressive debut CD by a newcomer named Stan Butler.  Produced by Stan himself, the seven tracks on the set were recorded in Macon, Georgia.  Stan: “I wrote all of the songs, except for Got Me a Woman, which was written by Ron G.  He’s the lead guitarist in my band.” 

Got Me a Woman is one of the three quality ballads on the CD, and on this soft song you may hear distant echoes of Johnnie Taylor in Stan’s voice and style.  “I have a few idols of my own: Reverend Al Green – I’m one of his biggest fans; Tyrone Davis and Johnnie Taylor – I love both of them; and of the groups, K-Ci & JoJo.  Respect Your Woman is another soothing, soulful floater – “a lot of people like it” – whereas a cheating ballad titled Caught Up is the very first song Stan ever recorded.  “Caught Up basically talks about my life – having a good wife at home and getting caught up on the outside.” 

 No matter how mellow and touching the ballads are, the biggest draws, however, are the four irresistible dancers.  “Took My Grandma to the Club is the biggest hit in Georgia... actually, a big hit all around right now.  On the video a cousin of mine, Judy Brown, plays the grandma.”  Tootie Boot is a line soul dancer, if such things even exist.  “Everybody loves Tootie Boot.  We’re ready to shoot a video for it, probably in the next few months.”

3rd of the Month is another easy, quick-tempo dancer, while Woman Must Be Cheating is more like a routine uptempo number.  “Most of the guys like that song, more so than the women do.  That’s the second song I recorded after Caught Up.”  Interestingly, in downloads you’ll get Woman, whereas on the physical CD it’s replaced by a pleading ballad named Trust Me Baby, but there’s a perfectly logical explanation for it:  “I didn’t have MP3 available at that time.” 

There are still four more songs that are not on the album but are getting a lot of airplay.  Preacher Was a Home Wrecker is a fine, churchy ballad with interesting lyrics, I Left My Woman is a mid-tempo ditty with a “Miami beat” (remember Rockin’ Chair?), whereas Take Me to the Bootlegger is a routine dancer with a wiggle beat and finally Juke Joint Shack is a laid-back stepper.  “All those came about maybe five-six months ago.” 

“The album is doing great, but there’s one funny thing about it.  A lot of people haven’t still heard the CD, but every time new people come about and hear the music they instantly become fans, so I think that this album is going to do much greater than what it’s doing now once people start hearing it.  My own favourites are 3rf of the Month, Took My Grandma to the Club and Tootie Boot, but I also love Preacher Was a Home Wrecker.”  As an example of a positive reaction to Stan’s music, please have a look at how “nicely” Daddy B. Nice recently wrote about him, at http://www.southernsoulrnb.com/newcds2009.cfm (please scroll down the page a bit).

“The members of the band that’s playing and touring with me are Dawn Keys, my lead vocalist; Otis Poole, bass guitarist; Ron G, which is my guitar player; Charles Walker, he’s my keyboard player and John Mills, my drummer and also my musical director.”


SOULJAMMING IN MACON, GEORGIA

“I was born on April 17th in 1979 in Macon, Georgia, but I grew up in Jeffersonville, Georgia, and that’s where I’ve been for all of my life.  My musical background comes from my mother.  Her name is Louise Butler, and she’s a pastor.  My daddy’s name is Willie C. Butler.  I grew up in Pentecostal Holiness Church in Jeffersonville and that’s where I picked up all of my musical talent.  At the age of five I was big enough to pick up the pair of sticks and able to master the keys on the keyboard, and I self-taught myself to play the instruments.  Later I went to Twiggs County High School.”

“When I reached adulthood, I had regular factory jobs, drove semi-trucks and played music for the church.  I’m 37 now, and about five years ago I decided to broaden my musical career and get into writing, to put all the talent that I had into southern soulblues and r&b.  It all started on January 22nd in 2015.  That’s when I started writing the Back to Basics album.”

“I had done all of my music in a studio with this guy named Quent Johnson.  Then out of nowhere the senator of Macon, Georgia, David Lucas, called me and said ‘I’m having a big blues festival (SoulJam in May 2016) and I want you to come and perform.  I wish you could actually bring a band with you’.  I contacted John Mills and I told him I was looking for a band and he agreed that I could use his band, the Unit.  We did the show together, and they loved our music so much that John Mills made the decision to actually drop the name ‘the Unit’ and made it the Stan Butler Band.”

“I hope that one day my music takes me all around the world for me to share it.  I must conclude that I made a promise to myself and God that, if I ever become successful, I want to come back to Jeffersonville and build my mom, pastor Louise Butler, a church with some of my future earnings.”  (Interview conducted on January 30, 2017).


WENDELL B

You just got to give it to Mr. Wendell Brown.  He has created a unique style and sound of his own, which isn’t an everyday phenomenon in recent times.  In my review of his previous CD, Get to Kno’ Me, in 2013 I described his music as chequered audio mosaic consisting of his multi-layered vocals, distinctive masculine baritone voice, overdubs and lively background vocal interplay.  You can read about Wendell’s earlier career at http://www.soulexpress.net/deep3_2011.htm#wendellb.

The Next 1 (Smoothway Music) is Wendell B.’s 8th album and again the music is produced, arranged and written by himself and his long-standing partner, Mike 360 Brooks.  The 15 tracks on the set are like episodes from a continuous stream of soul soap opera from separation to a new relationship, lasting about 70 minutes.  The down-tempo songs are quite similar in structure and melodies and they are all smooth and velvety, perfect aphrodisiacs for late-night romantic moments.  Personal favourites include Confusion, If You Don’t Know, The Day that I met You and Do You Think about Me, a duet with LaceeI’mon Put it down Tonight is the first single.  The Next 1 has turned into a big seller and I believe that especially the ladies find it irresistible.


JJ THAMES

Joelynn is often quoted as saying that she’s “a woman of the 1950’s and 60’s trapped in a young woman’s body”, and her music perfectly fits that description.  Raw Sugar (DCH 30003) was released already six months ago and it’s Jj’s sophomore album after Tell You What I Know from three years back.  They were both released on www.dechamprecords.com, (distributed by www.malaco.com) and Grady Champion actually is the executive producer on the set. 

All 13 songs were produced, written and mostly arranged by Jj and Eddie Cotton, Jr., and the group of musicians that forms both the rhythm and horn sections is called the Pheromones.  The late Harrison Calloway is in charge of all horn arrangements.  Jj’s fondness for the old-time r&b and blues shines through on such aggressive belters as I’m Leavin’, Hattie Pearl and I Don’t Feel Nothing, whereas Bad Man, Don’t Stop My Shine and Raw Sugar are slower blues numbers.

On the soul side you can enjoy such toe-tappers as the light Leftovers and the swinging I Wanna Fall in Love, while Hold Me is a slightly jazzy, show tune type of a ballad and Only Fool Was Me is a more melancholic, hurting song.  Jj was born in Detroit, Michigan, moved to Jackson, Mississippi, at an early age and now resides in Atlanta, Georgia.  You can read more about this promising “modern-day shoutress” at www.iamjjthames.com.



COMP-ART-ment

UPTOWN SPECTRUM

Manhattan Soul 3 (CDKEND 459; www.acerecords.com; 24 tracks, 62 min., notes by Ady Croasdell) focuses on Scepter & Wand labels, but Musicor, Dynamo and Bunky get their share, too.  The earliest tracks derive from 1962 and they are both poppy ditties.  That Same Old Song by the Fabulous Dinos is a mid-pacer written by Joe South and You Picked Me by the Soldier Boys is a fast and cheerful number.

Among the four previously unissued tracks there’s one Chips Moman song, a toe-tapper called Every Little Bit Helps, sung by Helen HenryTwo Stupid Feel is a familiar tune, but this time we are introduced to the Shirelles’ shelved version.  I wonder if I’m the only one who hears similarities in melodies between Van McCoy’s What’s the Matter Baby - on this comp - and Timi Yuro’s hit in 1962, What’s a Matter Baby (Is It Hurting You).  The fourth delayed debutant here is a Mother-in-Law clone titled The Landlord by the Tabs.

Three tracks were not released at the time but only on later Kent compilations, and one of them is Tommy Hunt’s Lover, which utilizes the same backing track as Any Day Now.  Van McCoy wrote Giving Up for Gladys Knight & the Pips, and here Junior Lewis aka C.L. Blast renders his interpretation of the song.  Finally, it’s always a pleasure to listen to Big Maybelle, this time on a mellow mid-tempo song named If I Had You.

Four soulful ballads attract attention.  Open up Your Heart (and Let Me in) by Dan and the Cleancuts is a sweet harmony song, the emotive Now That You’re Gone is sung by a former Platters vocalist, Sonny Turner, the uneven Earl King has one of his better moments on A Part of Me and Melba Moore’s debut in 1966 called Does Love Believe in Me is a sweet slow floater.  There are still two noteworthy toe-tappers - Maurice Williams’ Nobody Knows and Brenton Wood’s Mr Schemer.


SINGIN’ JAY HAWKINS

If you’re looking for another I Put a Spell on You, Constipation Blues or I Hear Voices, you won’t find them on The Planet Sessions (Ace, CDCHD 1493; 24 tracks, 66 min.).  Instead on this CD the singer concentrates more on his rhythm & blues and even operatic style than theatrical comedy tricks.  At times, however, he still goes back to some of his trademarks, like burbling on Stone Crazy.

The first twelve tracks on the set form Jalacy’s second album called The Night and Day of Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, which was released in the U.K. in 1966.  In the notes Alec Palao tells commendably the history of the album in detail.  With the exception of the above Stone Crazy and a big-voiced ballad named I’m Lonely, the rest of the tracks are either different takes or later re-recordings.

Backed by a big band, Screamin’ Jay (1929-2000) jazzies things up on the bossa nova inspired version of Night and Day and the swinging I Wanna Know.  Jalacy wrote all these songs, except Night and Day and Ella Johnson’s uproarious Alright, O.K. You Win.  Majority of the music is rooted in the 1950s rhythm & blues, either in pathos-laden or bluesy ballads - In My Dream, Change Your Ways, My Marion and the cover of Please Forgive Me, - or rolling romps and rockers like Your Kind of Love, Move Me, I’m so Glad and All Night.  For instance, a song like Serving Time you could describe as ‘the Coasters meet Ray Charles.’  The Planet Sessions is an interesting sidenote in the history of r&b.

© Heikki Suosalo


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