DEEP # 2/2012 (June)
Due to my other
obligations, close to six months have passed since my last column and a lot of
records have piled up, so I had to cut some of my reviews shorter this time to
keep the length of the whole article bearable. I also had plans to interview both
some upcoming artists, and “come-back” veterans, but, again, that would have
been excessive, so I narrowed my interviews down to Mr. Ron Tyson of the
Temptations, who has released a new solo CD a few months ago, and Mr. Mickey
McGill of the Dells to discuss the early days of the group and a bit
of the current situation, too.
These days there’s actually a drama going on within the Dramatics, and I talked to
two leading stars in it, Messrs L.J. Reynolds and Willie Ford. I
also introduce a new member in the group, Mr. Leon Franklin.
In addition to almost thirty CDs – some of which have been around for quite awhile -
also a new DVD by Wilson Meadows. Let’s start with Mr. Tyson,
then move on to retrospect records and further ahead to numerous new Southern and
mainstream soul indie releases.
Content and quick links:
Ron Tyson (The Temptations)
The Dramatics: L.J. Reynolds, Willie Ford
Introducing new Dramatics member Leon Franklin
Mickey McGill of the Dells
New CD reviews:
Ron Tyson: Recipe 4 Love
Vel Omarr: The Greatest Song I Ever Sang
Garland Green: I Should’ve Been the One
Frank-O Johnson: Only Time Will Tell
O.B. Buchana: Let Me Knock the Dust Off
Jaye Hammer: Hammer
Joy: Gotta Find a Good Love
Dave Morris: In & Out Of Love
Mel Waiters: Got No Curfew
Jerry L: Let’s Do It All Over
Lee Fields: Faithful Man
Andre´ Lee: Stories of Life
The Revelations feat. Tre Williams: Concrete Blues
Betty Wright & The Roots: The Movie
Clonda Brittman: A Man in Love with Love
Jesse James: Do Not Disturb
CD soul reissue albums or compilations:
Eddie Holland: It Moves Me/The Complete Recordings 1958-1964
Shorty Long: Here Comes...Shorty Long/The Complete Motown Stereo Masters
Various: Memphis Boys/The Story of American Studios/a>
Various: Hall of Fame – Rare and unreleased gems from the Fame vaults
Various: New Breed R&B, volume 2
Fats Domino: The Imperial Singles, volume 5, 1962-1964
Various: Masterpieces of Modern Soul, vol. 3
Darondo: Listen to my Songs/The Music City Sessions
Bill Doggett: Honky Tonk Popcorn
Martha Bass: I’m So Grateful
The Dells: Time Makes You Change, 1964-1961
Wilson Meadows: Live at the 15th Annual Old School & Blues Festival DVD
RON TYSON *
Musically a most
delightful and smooth CD was released earlier this year, entitled Recipe
4 Love. It’s Ron Tyson’s second solo CD and it was released by LA Bay
Entertainment and R & P Global Music. Ron: “LA Bay is a label out of Los Angeles. They’re a couple of guys, who used to work with bigger record companies. R
& P Global Music is Preston Glass’ and my label (Ron & Preston).
Preston is my partner, and we’ve known each other for a few years.” Produced
by Preston and Ron, who are also the main writers, the set was recorded in Los Angeles. The subtle background music is quite skilfully programmed. “The strings and
all of that is pretty much keyboard instruments. It’s that modern technology,
used by Bob Farrell. He’s a friend of mine since the 60s. He’s the
conductor for the Temptations.” Preston Glass is for the most part in charge
of the rest of the instruments.
dreamy ballad called All the Good Ones is followed by a very catchy
dancer named Got My Swagger Back, which evolved into a small hit for
Ron. “It did pretty good. We did a video on it (you can watch it both on
Ron’s website, and on YouTube). It’s a cute little song. A lot of people call
me now King Swagger (laughing). It has that Philly flavour.” Indeed, you can
almost picture Blue Magic or the Stylistics doing this light
ditty back in the 70s.
A soft and sweet
serenade called My Sweet Lady was written and produced by Sheldon
Reynolds, who is best known as the lead guitarist, first in the
Commodores and later with Earth, Wind & Fire. “I’ve known
Sheldon for a long time, and so has Preston. Actually Preston ran into
Sheldon, and Sheldon presented a song and Preston brought it to me. I was a
little hesitant at first, but, once we started working on it, it caught me more
Love is a nice mid-tempo bouncer written by Vinnie Barrett and Jay
King. “I’ve known Vinnie since the 70s in Philly. I had a box of cassettes
and I saw her name on one cassette, and I played it. Vinnie had sent me the
cassette in the 80s. I found two songs on there, and I was absolutely crazy
about them. I told Preston that we got to put these songs on the CD. I called
Vinnie and said ‘Vinnie, we’re using two of your songs’. She said ‘what’! She
had almost forgotten about them.” Vinnie (www.vinniebarrett.com) is famous for
co-writing such ageless songs as I Just Don’t Want To Be Lonely, Sideshow and
Love Won’t Let Me Wait, all together with Bobby Eli.
Too Far is a sweet and truly beautiful ballad and elegantly interpreted by
Ron. The Spinners could have cut this song in the 70s. “That’s a Preston creation. He’s a great writer and he has a good ear. I call that ‘my movie theme
song’.” Guessing Game, on the contrary, echoes some of those
psychedelic items the Temptations used to cut in the late 60s and early 70s.
“We decided to put a dance song on there. I got a friend of mine, Caramel
– who’s a Belizian – to do a little rap on there.” Back to ballads, Lonely
Doesn’t Live Here Anymore is a laid-back, atmospheric song that again has
that Philly flavour, whereas the second Vinnie song, Before the Real Hurting
Starts, has a jazzy feel to it. Here Ron sings with Freda Payne. “I’ve
been knowing Freda for a long time. She’s a great person and she was more than
happy to do it. I just feel that it’s the kind of a song that if jazz stations
ever get a hold of it, the song will be big on those stations.”
The slow You
Are, You Are is cut in a more urban style, while the mellow Bluer Shade
of Blue is a Philly type of floater. “Bluer Shade of Blue is a song
that we actually did for Preston. I did the vocal on it, and we put it on his
CD, and then we put it on mine, too. His album is called Colors of Life (on
Expansion in 2010), and each song has something to do with certain colours.” Newfound
Treasure is another beautiful, heartfelt slow song. “That’s the song Preston brought to the table. His daughter got married and I sang that song at her
wedding.” On this track Eban Brown is playing the guitar solo.
toe-tapper and the third uptempo track on the album, Love of a Woman, we
reach the final song on this sophisticated and very recommended CD, a delicate
ballad with minimal backing named When I Fall in Love, sort of “chamber
soul”, written by Ron and Oji Pierce. “Oji Pierce is one of my partners
that I had the pleasure of writing and producing with. He passed away. It’s
such a great song that I did it in his honour. It’s a very touching and moving
Presson was born in Philadelphia on February 8th in 1948, but moved
to Monroe, North Carolina, at about six months old. Ron got drifted into music
through his grandfather’s gospel group, Southern Gospel Six. “The
guitar player in that group and my grandfather, Horace Presson, taught
me how to sing. I travelled with them, we went to different churches and they
gave me the opportunity to sing some background or they’d teach me how to sing
one of the lead songs.” With that group, at the tender age of seven Ron
recorded his first single. “It was just local stuff in Monroe, North Carolina. It was called Working for My Jesus. I had a copy of it years ago,
but then I misplaced it.”
Ron returned to Philadelphia at the age of twelve, where he even took opera classes. “Actually I went to
Granoff School of Music in Philly, and Billy Paul went there also. It
was about three years, and it was very good training for me. I’m glad I had
Ron formed his
first more widely known group, the Ethics, in 1967. “The Ethics came
from school, so that was pretty much the early days in high school. Before the
Ethics I was just singing with the guys, who sang in the neighbourhood. It
wasn’t really a group.”
Besides Ron, the
other members of the Ethics were Carl Enlow, Andrew Collins and Joe
Freeman. “Joe is still one of my best friends. He’s a minister now. Carl
and Andrew – I haven’t seen or talked to them in probably 30 years, maybe even
more. I haven’t talked to them since we actually disbanded.”
A gentleman by
the name of Thaddeus Wales became their manager. “He kind of found me.
He knew Norman Harris, and we became acquainted through him. That’s
when I was getting the Ethics started. We met and we went on to record.” The
first single – That’s the Way Love Goes/There’s Still a Sweet Tomorrow,
produced by Thaddeus – was released on Wale in 1967. The other group on the
label was The Springers.
The next five
singles in ’68 and ’69 came out on Vent Records, and of them Farewell (#
32) and Tell Me (# 43) became small hits. More importantly the group
had a chance to work with such producers and arrangers as Thom Bell, Bobby Martin
and Vince Montana at that point. “I was a pioneer back then
(laughing). They were young guys, and everybody in Philly was hungry, so
everybody was willing to help each other hoping that somebody would take off,
which would pave the path for everybody else. A few acts came along and their
breaks happened quicker than mine. We never had that breakout record. I had
all the Philly musicians and producers around me, like Norman Harris. He was
my best friend. Thom Bell was the first guy to take me, when I was 17, to a
lawyer and told him to sign me up as a client, because I was going to be a
pretty good songwriter. Thom gave me a lot of advice, and I learned a lot from
guys like Bobby Martin. Then Gamble & Huff were friends of mine,
and they still are today.”
The Ethics never
got to the point of releasing an album in the late 60s or early 70s, but nine
years ago a compilation CD titled Best of the Ethics was released.
“Some people can take on management and can go no farther than the city they live
in. Then you have people that have wordly connections and know how to do the
management. Mr. Wales wasn’t one of those people.”
“There were so
many groups back in those days, but now the groups have almost disappeared.
It’s almost a solo society of singers. There was a lot of competition. There
were groups in every city, and you were known for that city - The Temptations
from Detroit, Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes from Philly, the
Chi-Lites from Chicago, the Mad Lads from Memphis... Every
city had its groups, but you don’t have that today.”
In 1973 the
group had to change its name to Love Committee, because Thaddeus Wales
owned the name ‘the Ethics’ and Ron cut ties with him. There was one more
Ethics single released still in 1974 on Golden Fleece (Good Luck/Who in the
World, produced by Gamble & Huff), but already the next Golden Fleece
single (One Day of Peace/One Dozen Roses, produced by the late Weldon
McDougal) carried the name Love Committee.
Also the line-up
changed. “Carl and Andrew didn’t quit. I kind of disbanded the group, because
the chemistry wasn’t working.” The new members were Norman Frazier and Larry
Richardson, who, however, passed in the late 70s and was replaced by Michael
Between 1973 and
’80 the group released two albums – Law and Order on Gold Mind in 1978
and Love Committee on MCA in 1980 – and as many as 9 singles on Golden
Fleece, TSOP, Ariola, Gold Mind and T-Electric. The charted ones were Heaven
Only Knows (# 32), Cheaters Never Win (# 57) and Law and Order (#
97). Those days there was also a possibility for the group to sign with Casablanca, but Ron was too hesitant at the time. “I kicked myself in the butt later on,
because it was an opportunity that I kind of missed.”
Ron is a prolific
songwriter, and throughout the years he has written lots of songs for a number
of artists, like the O’Jays, Blue Magic, the Four Tops, Eddie
Kendricks, Gloria Gaynor, Loleatta Holloway, the Dells, Joe Simon etc.
You can check out the list of those songs on Ron’s website at www.rontyson.com -> Ron’s discography.
Later his work has been sampled at least by Jay-Z, 50 Cent, Madonna and
Mariah Carey. Ron also wrote some songs for the Temptations’ Atlantic
album in ‘77, Here to Tempt You.
himself joined the Temptations in 1983, replacing Glenn Leonard, who
today is fronting Glenn Leonard’s Temptations Revue (www.glennleonardpromo.com). Prior
to that, Glenn spent many years in the ministry. Ron’s close to 30-year period
in the Temptations covers 15 new albums, excluding compilations (see www.soulexpress.net/thetemptations_discography.htm),
starting from Back to Basics through to Still Here two years ago.
Ron also found
their current lead singer, Bruce Williamson. “He’s been around me,
since he was about seventeen. He would be singing in Vegas, and he was brought
to my house one day and we listened to him. At the time he had a group that I
was more interested in. He just hung around and developed himself as a
singer.” Once the Temptations thought he was ready - and toying with the idea
that “the songs were bigger than the people” - they took Bruce in.
Prior to Recipe
4 Love, Ron had released one solo CD eight years earlier, Christmas...My
Favourite Holiday. “I figured, while I’m still alive, I’ll do a Christmas
album, because that’ll be something that will always be around forever,
although your regular CD might come and go. Holiday albums seem to for some
reason hang around. ‘Let me do one now, and get it out of the way’. It’s
still doing fairly decently. I didn’t have a major distribution. It was
pretty much Internet, but every year we’re doing good profit on it.”
Still a while
ago Ron was in charge of the uniforms for the Temptations. “I don’t do it
anymore. Otis does it again now.” A new Temptations CD is in the pipeline,
perhaps already this year. “Gigs we will probably be doing 35-40 weeks a year,
so we’re still pretty active. I’m probably going to do another CD, maybe
starting later this year. Music is just a big part of my life, something I
enjoy doing.” (Interview conducted on June 12; acknowledgements to Marva
EDDIE HOLLAND *
Me/The Complete Recordings 1958-1964 (Ace, CDTOP2 1331; 56 tracks, 2 h 24 min.; www.acerecords.com) is a double-CD, which
is put together from Eddie’s sixteen singles and tracks from his sole album
(Motown 604 in ’62) plus “18 unissued masters from the Motown vaults.” Besides
Tamla and Motown, the compilation draws from the Mercury, Kudo and U.A. labels.
For the liners, an interview with Eddie is conducted by Keith Hughes,
and he also wrote the profound annotations.
Eddie is mostly
compared to Jackie Wilson, which becomes evident if you listen to
an uptempo ’59 ditty here called Everybody’s Going. On certain tracks,
however, there’s a resemblance in voices with Clyde McPhatter (Magic
Mirror), Roy Hamilton (Will You Love Me) and Sam Cooke
(Just a Few More Days), too. Berry Gordy produced and wrote some
of Eddie’s early efforts, such as a rocking pop song titled Little Miss Ruby
(in ’58), a big ballad named Merry-Go-Round (’59) and a “r&b
styled rock-a-cha” called Why Do You Want To Let Me Go (’61).
singles charted. The first and biggest hit was Jamie in ’61, which was
originally meant for Barrett Strong. The rest three were the storming Leaving
Here (’63), the mid-paced Just Ain’t Enough Love (’64) and the
hand-clapping Candy to Me (’64), but by now Eddie was already deeply involved
in writing and producing for other artists and putting his singing career
Almost all the
rest of Eddie’s uptempo single sides in the early 60s are bubbly and fully
orchestrated (You Deserve What You Got, If Cleopatra Took a Chance, If It’s
Love, Baby Shake) until the more pounding beat becomes a dominant element (I’m
on the Outside Looking In) around 1963. Take a Chance On Me (’61)
is the personal favourite among Eddie’s big beat-ballads those days.
The driving Take
Me in Your Arms (Rock Me a Little While) from 1964 is a full demo
and, although among those unissued tracks there are a couple of “guideline”
demos, too, for the most part they are finished. They are either nice and
pulsating, poppy songs - Bashful Kind, Love Is What You Make It, Day
Dreamer, Happy Go Lucky – or pretty ballads (It’s Best To Be Sure,
Action Speaks Louder Than Words). There’s also a slowed-down ’64 version
of (Loneliness Made Me Realize) It’s You That I Need. This is a very
worthwhile compilation by a soulful but underrated singer, who returned to
recording only in the 70s and 80s.
Comes...Shorty Long/The Complete Motown Stereo Masters (Kent, CDTOP
369; 26 tracks, 71 min.; liners by Keith Hughes and Tony Rounce) pairs
Frederick Long’s two albums on the Soul label from the late 60s. Squeezed in
between there are the two bonus tracks, a somewhat messy funk number called Mobile
Lil the Dancing Witch and a cheerful and popular old piece named Chantilly Lace.
The two albums
differ a lot from each other. Here Comes the Judge (1968) is full of
funky, hammering beaters. Some of them charted – Here Comes the Judge,
Function at the Junction (in ’66), Devil with the Blue Dress (bubbling
under already in ’64) and Night Fo’ Last. Two scorchers were familiar
songs from the past, Stranded in the Jungle by the Jayhawks and Titus
Turner’s People Sure Act Funny. Frederick himself wrote and
produced some of his material and one example was the only slow song on the
album, Another Hurt like This.
on many tracks on the second album, The Prime of Shorty Long (1969),
were created by Paul Riser, and altogether this is a smoother LP, with a
lot of cover songs. Three tunes were tested as singles - a fascinating new ballad
with a social message called I Had a Dream, co-written and produced by
Shorty, a gentle remake of A Whiter Shade of Pale, with Shorty’s trumpet
solo at the end, and a melodic ballad named When You Are Available.
Two Dave Bartholomew’s
tunes, I’m Walkin’ and Blue Monday, are both laid-back
toe-tappers, as well as the mid-tempo Memories Are Made Of This. Cross
My Heart is a sentimental ballad, produced by Clarence Paul. Towards
the end of the decade Shorty was showing more and more creativity, but that
came to an abrupt end, when he drowned in 1969 at the age of only 29.
MEMPHIS BOYS *
Boys/The Story of American Studios (Ace, CDCHD 1330; 24 tracks, 66
min.; liners by John Broven, Roben Jones and Tony Rounce) is a various
artists CD that goes together with a fine book by the same title. You can read
my two-year old review of the book at http://www.soulexpress.net/deep110.htm#memphisboys.
The tracks derive from the latter half of the 60s and early 70s, and any Memphis music fan knows most of them by heart. Sixteen of them represent soul music and eight
belong to the pop and country categories. Among such big pop hits as The
Letter by the Box Tops, Born a Woman by Sandy Posey, Angel
of the Morning by Merrilee Rush and Keep on Dancing by the
Gentrys – sounding a lot like the Beach Boys - there are such
interesting items as the original Suspicious Minds by Mark James.
Also on the soul
side a lot of roof-raisers are included (Memphis Soul Stew, Shake a Tail
Feather, Funky Street, Skinny Legs and All), but my focus is on many
magnificent deep soul tracks. The list of these immortal gems speaks for
itself: You’ve Got My Mind Messed Up by James Carr, Nine Pound
Steel by Joe Simon, I’m in Love by Wilson Pickett, For
Your Precious Love by Oscar Toney Jr., Shame on Me by Solomon
Burke, Let’s Do It Over by L.C. Cooke, The Power of a
Woman by Spencer Wiggins and I Don’t Know What You’ve Got by Percy
Milem. Should there be readers, who for some reason are not acquainted
with the music of this area and era, then I urge you to purchase this CD.
HALL OF FAME *
Moving from Memphis, Tennessee, about 220 km to the east, we reach Muscle Shoals and the Fame Studios.
Our able detectives at Kent Records have unearthed there on the spot piles of
unreleased material and compiled the first volume of Hall of Fame – Rare
and unreleased gems from the Fame vaults (CDKEND 371; 24 tracks, 20
prev. unreleased; 62 min.).
written by Spooner Oldham and Dan Penn, there are many well-known
artists featured on this set, such as Jimmy Hughes with the waltz-time I
Worship the Ground you walk on and another version of Steal Away, or
Clarence Carter with early, unfinished takes of Tell Daddy and Too
Weak to Fight. Joe Simon hurries through a hand-clapper called When
It Comes to Dancing, Prince Phillips (Mitchell) still increases the
drive on Keep on Talking, whereas Otis Clay brings it down a bit
to the stomping I’m Qualified. His strong, soulful singing comes better
through, though, on a deep ballad titled Your Helping Hand.
impressive are certain tracks by more obscure artists, viz. an energetic cover
of You’re So Fine by James Barnett, and June Conquest’s
easy beater named I Do, which has a Motown feel to it as Tony Rounce aptly
writes in his detailed sleeve-notes. Little Milton could have cut the
infectious Tell It like It Is in the 60s, but here Big Ben Atkins sings
it. Moving on to ballads, George Byrd & the Dominoes perform a
pleading bluesoul number called It Ain’t No Harm.
See by Richard Earl & the Corvettes is a gem of a deep
ballad, while the driving Hand Shakin’ by Ben (Moore) & Spence
(James) is a gem of a mover with truly inspired singing. I began losing
interest in this set only at the very end with such acts as O.B. McClinton,
Bobby Moore & the Rhythm Aces and Travis Wammack emerging, and
even George Jackson’s primitive, homemade demo of For You couldn’t
excite me anymore. But now we’re talking about the last few tracks only, and
they weigh little in comparison with the overall program.
All the lovers
of vintage jungle music must be happy with the release of King New Breed
R&B, volume 2 (Kent, CDKEND 373; 24 tracks, 60 min., liners by Ady
Croasdell). To be more precise, the CD is a compilation of driving “jump”
rhythm & blues numbers from the King/Federal/DeLuxe/Hollywood group of labels,
covering the period of 1955 – ’67.
obscurities there are a few hit records too. Freddy King storms through
I’m Tore Down and Little Willie John rocks All around the
World. There are a lot of other familiar names, but they are presented by non-charted
records. Lee “Shot” Williams’s fiery r&b scorcher is called When
You Move, You Lose (’64), whereas the “5” Royales’ mover
titled It Hurts Inside (’59) is less significant and inspiring. Johnny
Watson’s mid-tempo Gangster of Love derives from 1963, and shoutress
Lula Reed’s throaty Say Hey Pretty Lady came out a year earlier.
Donnie Elbert sings Wild Child (’57) with his recognizable
high-pitched “Little Johnny” voice.
Those days it
was only natural that some of the artists had been listening very closely to Ray
Charles (Guitar Crusher and Teddy Humphries), and doowop, of
course, was still among dominating genres (the Hi Tones, the King Pins, El
Pauling & the Royalton and Lee Williams & the Moonrays). In
the early 60s we could avoid neither pop sound (the Five Fabulous Demons and
Billy Conn), nor dance novelties (Bobby & the Expressions and
For me the
number of poor tracks on this comp was surprisingly small... and I openly admit
that I was prejudiced. I was quite happy to hear such new songs for me as Mel
Williams’ rock-a-cha number Send Me a Picture, Baby – with merry
whistling and all - and a fascinating fast scorcher with a big orchestra
backing called Your Letter by Willie Wright & his Sparklers.
No doubt, the followers of the 50s and early 60s rhythm & blues will latch
onto this CD.
Imperial Singles, volume 5, 1962-1964 by Fats Domino (Ace, CDCHD
1323; 26 tracks, 54 min.) gives us the both sides of Antoine Domino’s twelve
singles plus two album tracks. Five songs reached Billboard’s Hot-100 (I
Hear You Knocking, Ida Jane, My Real Name, Dance with Mr. Domino and Nothing
New) and five remained bubbling under (Stop the Clock, Hum Diddy Doo,
You Always Hurt the One You Love, I Can’t Give You Anything But Love and Your
The music is
either joyous “walk-a-rhythm” and sing-along type of ditties, or more “fiesta”
rolling boogie-woogie numbers - with some MOR, blues and even waltz thrown in.
Brian Nevill’s interesting liners tell, among other things, about
eventful European tours and gambling in Las Vegas.
of Modern Soul, vol. 3 (Kent, CDKEND 364; 23 tracks, 74 min., liners by
Ady Croasdell) is in terms of quality of music a strange mix of indifferent,
even poor tracks (one third of the repertoire) and fascinating goodies or
pleasant floaters. There are only six downtempo songs on display, which should
please devoted NS fans. Twelve tracks were officially released in the late 60s
and the 70s, the rest were released from the can.
On the uptempo
front there are quite a few interesting items, such as the unreleased at the
time Go Away by the Hesitations, the bouncy Any Fool Can Feel
It by Marshall McQueen Jr., the mid-paced If You Got to Love
Somebody by Tommy Tate, the Philly-sounding It Ain’t Easy by Charles
Russell and One More Hurt by Candi Staton.
On the slow side we can enjoy The
Feeling Is Gone by Rose Batiste, the melodic I Am So Thankful by
Eddie Hill and the impassioned This Man’s Arms by Loleatta
Holloway. Instead of obvious choices, they’ve picked up more obscure and
rare tracks for this comp, which makes it all the more interesting.
my Songs/The Music City Sessions by Darondo (BGP Records, CDBGPD
233; 16 tracks, 61 min.) introduces us to a Bay Area artist, who had only three
singles released in the early 70s but whose lost album, cut in 1973 and ’74,
they’ve now unearthed for this CD. In the liners Alec Palao tells the
whole story in detail. Some of Darondo’s music was already earlier available
on a ’06 CD titled Let My People Go (on Lun N’ Haight).
A small cult
figure, this Al Green sounding singer was born in 1946 and is still
performing. I admit that the music is of acquired taste, varying from funk (Luscious
Lady) to melodic pop (Saving My Love), to jazzy floaters (Do You
Really Love Me) and to ethereal slowies (Listen to my Song). One of
his ballads, Qualified, was already featured on the above Masterpieces
of Modern Soul CD.
wizard was born in Philadelphia in 1916, and he started performing in combos
and recording already in the 1930s. His golden hit, Honky Tonk, was
released on King in 1956, and he remained active till his passing in 1996, at
Popcorn (CDBGPD 249; 18 tracks, 51 min.; liners by Dean Rudland)
features Bill’s 1969 King album by the same name plus six bonus tracks. Mainly
uptempo instrumental tracks, Bill wrote most of the songs, but there are a few
outside ones, too, such as Twenty Five Miles, Mr. Pitiful and For
Once in My Life. James Brown wrote and produced the title track.
Some funky, some sax-driven, some slightly jazzy and even one slowie (Cozy
Corner), for me this sound hasn’t really stood the test of time, but, of
course, some of you Doggett fans may disagree.
Grateful (Righteous Records Psalm 23:61; www.cherryred.co.uk; 22 tracks, 65 min.) was
Martha’s breakthrough gospel album on Checker in 1966. Produced by Gene
Barge and cut in Chicago, the eleven tracks are offered here both in stereo
and mono mixes.
The most rousing
songs among the four fast hand-clappers, “holy ghost hops”, are Everybody
Will Be Happy and What Manner of Man is this, whereas among the five
slow sermons the most intense ones are There’s a Fountain and I’m So
Grateful. There are even two mid-tempo sing-along type of pop songs called
Jesus Gave Me and Be Still.
Contralto and almost
like a gospel shoutress, Martha has a traditional church-type, organ-led rhythm
section backing her up... and a loud choir. She cut two more albums for
Checker in the 60s, and still in 1991 she sang together with her daughter, Fontella
Bass, and her son, the late David Peaston, on an album titled Promises,
a Family Portrait of Faith on Selah Records.
THE DELLS *
You Change, 1964-1961 (JASCD 186; www.jasmine-records.co.uk; 2-CD, 44
tracks, 114 min.) takes you to a nostalgic trip back to the 50s, when the
premier soul group, the Dells, cut its first sides for the Chicago label, Vee-Jay. Fourteen of these tracks were not released at the time, but some
of them became available later on various compilations and bootleg records.
Now we have all of them officially released.
We talked about
many of these songs with different members of the group in my 16-page Dells
story (in our printed magazines: http://shop.soulexpress.net/index.php?cat=magazines),
but with the release of this double-CD I decided to discuss some of them once
more with Mr. Michael McGill. The liner-notes to the CD were written by
David Yeats. Mickey: “This man has done so much for the Dells. Behind
the scenes, he’s working so hard for the Dells. He’s a great guy. If David
Yeats had been in our lives at the height of our career, we would have gone to
the moon. We really appreciate him.” Incidentally, one worthwhile CD that is
overlooked in all the Dells features and discographies is Open up My Heart –
the 9/11 Suite on Devine Records in 2002.
DARLING I KNOW
In the line-up
of Verne Allison, Chuck Barksdale, Johnny Funches, Marvin Junior, Lucius
McGill and Mickey McGill, the group cut its very first single as the El
Rays for Checker in early 1954, Darling I Know b/w Christine.
On the jump side, Christine, we can hear some inconsolable crying.
“That was Johnny Funches. He’s deceased. He was one of the lead singers with
the Dells, along with Marvin Junior.” On this CD we can also listen to the
faster, unreleased cut of Darling I Know.
After that one
flop of a single, the group changed its name into the Dells and went over to
Vee-Jay for the next twelve singles between 1955 and ’60. At that point also
Mickey’s brother, Lucius, quit. “Lucius is doing fine these days. He’ll be 77
years old on July 20th. He really didn’t want to sing. He got out
and joined the Marine Corps in ’55. After that he worked in the post office
for about 37-38 years, and he’s retired now. He lives in Chicago, and he’s
The group had
its first taste of success with a tender ballad called Dreams of Contentment
in ’55. “It was a territorial hit. Vee-Jay never really promoted it, but
it did pretty well in Chicago, Milwaukee, South Haven, Michigan...” The first
really big hit, Oh What a Night (# 4-r&b), arrived a year later.
One of the
unreleased songs those days was a slow swayer named She’s Just an Angel.
“It was really a copy of Goodnite Sweetheart (# 5-r&b on Vee-Jay in
’54). The Spaniels were so popular. When we were young, Johnny Funches
was always trying to imitate Pookie Hudson. Pookie was his idol.” Teddy
Twiggs wrote the fast Jo-Jo. “He also wrote (the powerful) Someone
to Call Me Darling. He was a songwriter that hung around Vee-Jay and Calvin
Carter, who was the A&R man over there, let him come in and write a
couple of songs. Jo-Jo, which was on the flip side of the original Oh
What a Night, was sort of taken off from Priscilla Bowman’s Hands
Off.” Priscilla was the vocalist in Jay McShann’s Orchestra, who
scored that # 1 r&b hit in 1955 on Vee-Jay.
Baby Do is
another fast, fun song, which remained in the can. “These were Verne Allison’s
creations. He also wrote Dreams of Contentment and (the slow) I
Can’t Help Myself. Baby Do was sort of one of those Hank Ballard
and the Midnighters songs. A pleading ballad called Pain in My Heart was
actually released in 1957. “That was written by Marvin Junior and Johnny
Funches. I love it. It’s one of my favourites – a beautiful song.”
MY BEST GIRL
What You Say
Baby is a ’58 fast shuffle. “Chuck Barksdale is leading on that one. The
writer was our guitar player. His first name was Kirk. I can’t remember his
last name. We met him in New York. He was kind of down on his luck, and we
took him with us.” I’m Calling is a ballad that Mickey wrote. “When I
heard Been So Long by the Pastels (# 4-r&b in ’58), it
sounded so much like the Dells to me, so I wrote I’m Calling, and Marvin
did it. I wrote a lot of things for Marvin, because I knew how Marvin likes to
sing and rest. Marvin doesn’t like too many words, so you have to let him sing
and rest and then sing again. That song didn’t get promoted. Vee-Jay didn’t
promote the Dells.”
My Best Girl is
another pleading ballad. “It’s a song that Marvin wrote. He told me that when
he was young, he had a dream that his mother had passed and he wrote ‘my best
girl is gone’. Then we took it and turned it into a love song so that it
wouldn’t be so morbid. Marvin is a good songwriter – I Wanna Go Home and
Oh What a Night – and he could write quickly. The Dells were very, very
good songwriters. At that time we wrote all of our own material. Of course,
at Vee-Jay they put their names on some of our songs, especially on Verne
Allison’s songs. This was the way they did things back then.”
Calvin Carter found out that the Dells could sing vocal background, he decided
that he was really going to make us his background vocal group. When Calvin
would go to New York to these publishing houses and get these great songs for Jerry
Butler, Betty Everett and Dee Clark, he wasn’t shopping for the
Dells. He wanted us to do a lot of vocal background at Vee-Jay. The Opals that
we trained was the girl group that he used.”
The Coasters type
of Swingin’ Teens was released as late as in 1961. “Vern and Chuck
wrote it, and I think Calvin Carter may have put his name on it. Calvin really
wasn’t a songwriter. Vern, Chuck, Dallas Taylor and Lawrence Brown sang
it. I was recuperating at home (after a serious auto accident in 1958) and
Marvin and Johnny were working at the factory.”
unreleased cuts there was My Dreams. “Verne wrote it. It was really
like Oh What a Night.” The mid-tempo Come on Baby bears a
resemblance to the Twist. “Verne was writing like for Hank Ballard and
the Midnighters. We used to hear Sexy Ways and Work with Me
Annie, and we were imitating the Midnighters there. Until you find
yourself, you’re shooting in the breeze. The Moonglows taught us how to
sing. When we had gone over to Chess Records (in 1962), Leonard Chess told Harvey
Fuqua to ‘take these guys and make them a group’. Harvey and Bobby
Lester actually taught us how to sing.”
mid-tempo song called Restless Days Sleepless Nights also went
unreleased. “I wrote it, but when Carl Davis was with Columbia he took
the Opals and produced that on them.” The tender Rain has those
familiar drip-drop effects. “It was written by Verne and arranged by Riley
Hampton, who was our arranger at Vee-Jay. He probably did later Dee
Clark’s Raindrops (# 2-pop and # 3-r&b in 1961 on Vee-Jay). He
used strings back then.” A pretty song named You’re Still in My Heart was
composed by all the members of the group.
bonus tracks are lifted from Dinah Washington’s 1961 Mercury album Tears
& Laughter, with the group joining her on such jazzy standards as Am
I Blue, Mood Indigo and Wake the Town and Tell the People. “Dinah Washington came here and we auditioned for her. We all had day jobs. We worked at the
Regal Theater. One guy out of the group the Four Steps got us to
audition for Dinah. At that time there was a guy named Kirk Stewart (aka
Curt Stuart), who was a keyboard player and a musical director. Kirk was –
what we called – into modern harmony then. He was crazy about the Hi-Lo’s and
the Four Freshmen. He took us and taught us, so when we went to
audition for Dinah she fell in love with the Dells, because we could sing.”
Two days before
going on tour with Dinah, Johnny Funches announced he wouldn’t go and was
leaving the group, but fortunately he was quickly replaced by Johnny Carter.
“Dinah was tough, but she was nice too. One day she’s good and the next day
she’s bad. She’d buy us all kinds of diamond rings, new uniforms and things,
and then she’d tell us we’re fired... and the whole bit. But she was more good
to the Dells than bad. We learned a lot from her. She also taught us the
other side of show business. She knew all the movie stars, and all the
gangsters. We met everybody. But we knew in case we wanted to get out there
and become stars ourselves, we’d have to leave Dinah – which we did. He
wouldn’t let us record. She didn’t want us to leave her. We had become an integral
part of her show.”
today? A couple of months ago there was still talk about the Dells doing one
more farewell concert in June. “There will be no more tours for the Dells.
I’m 75 and I’m the youngest. Verne and Marvin are 76, Chuck is 77 and Johnny
has passed. Father Time has stepped in, and he is never defeated. We were
supposed to officially retire at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in June, but we
couldn’t make it. Chuck and Marvin are sick. I and Verne are still fairly
sixty years ago, in 1952. I’m very happy that people love the Dells and have
supported us all these years, and we love our fans. I’m also very proud of the
type of music that we put out there. We tried to uplift everybody with our
songs.” (Interview conducted on June 14; www.themightydells.com).
SOUTHERN SOUL STEW
VEL OMARR *
Music is a new subsidiary of CDS Records (www.cdsrecords.com),
and on their CD covers it says “100 % Organic, Real Musicians, Real Instruments,
Real Soul.” And indeed, on Vel Omarr’s The Greatest Song I Ever Sang (SPSO
2) they present a real live rhythm section and even a 4-piece horn section.
Produced by Carl Marshall, he’s also the main writer with some help from
Dylann DeAnna and Robert Conerly.
Vel’s idol is Sam
Cooke, and there’s a strong vocal resemblance, too. He’s perhaps closest
to Sam of all the artists I’ve heard in recent years. Vel is also an industry
veteran having sung in the latter-day’s Robins and Olympics, and
- as far as I know - The Greatest Song is Vel’s fourth solo album
so far (www.vel-omarr.com).
song, Everybody’s Dancin’, is like Sam’s Having a Party introduced
to us all over again after fifty years with its laid-back beat and infectious
melody. Happy People is another merry melody along the lines of Another
I Love you and
A Woman’s Love Is Greater are both mid-tempo beaters, whereas Don’t
Give More Than You Feel and Joanna could almost be categorized as
novelties. The former is somewhere between a circus tune and a nursery rhyme
with accordion and everything, and the latter one is built on a Caribbean beat. Lonesome Joe, on the contrary, is closest to the funk you’ll get on
joyous and light-hearted as all those mid- and up-tempo tracks are I still
prefer the five slow songs on this CD. Still My Love Grows is a tender
love serenade, and The Greatest Song I Ever Sang is charged with a lot
of passion in Vel’s delivery. I’ll Be There for Ya and Everybody
Needs Somebody Sometime are both melodic and wistful beat-ballads, while
the very slow Give Me Your Love has a pleading Marvin Gaye feel
on it. Although nothing earth-shattering, I thoroughly enjoyed and keep
enjoying this Vel’s CD. It’ll certainly find its way into my top-ten this
I’m not as
overly excited about the latest CD by another long-standing soul hero, Garland
Green, who recently turned seventy. Again, produced by Carl Marshall and
featuring mostly the same musicians as on Vel’s CD, for these ears the mixing
between back-up musicians and Garland isn’t balanced in the best possible way.
Garland still is in a good voice, but - once we have authentic
instrumentation - its role could have been emphasized more, brought more to the
front. This, of course, isn’t a very serious problem, but that thinness of the
sound – plus dominating drums on some tracks - was just something that kept
bothering me throughout the CD.
Should’ve Been the One (Special Soul, SPSO 1) actually is Garland’s first full-length album for almost thirty years, after his Ocean-Front LP in
1983. It kicks off with a touching, poignant soul ballad named I’m the One
that Should’ve Been, written by Dylann DeAnna and peppered with Gary
Brown’s saxophone solo. There are altogether seven slow songs on this
eleven-tracker. Alongside that opener the most noteworthy ones are a
beat-ballad called When You Got It Home, co-written by Harvey Scales
- Garland first cut this song for a maxi-single in 1990 on his own Love L.A.
Music label (T 101) - and a slowed-down remake of Garland’s biggest hit in
1969, Jealous Kind of Fella, which leaves a lot of room for vocal
improvisation. Also I Wake up Crying is dramatic enough, although this
song, as a rule, calls for a richer orchestration.
groove, nor in instrumentation See You When I Get There is on a par with
Lou Rawls’ 1977 hit, but Johnnie Dollar’s sunny and jolly
finger-snapper titled Happy Street is easily the most memorable one of
the four movers here. I found five good tracks on this CD, perhaps you’ll
Frank-O is one
of the unsung heroes of southern soul music... or soul music in general. Not
only has he written countless touching and memorable songs for over forty years
by now, but his own albums on Traction, Ace and Phat Sound are highly esteemed
among deep soul aficionados.
I must admit
that I’d given up hope of hearing new music from Frank-O anymore, since his
last CD was released already ten years ago, but – surprise, surprise! – all of
a sudden he appears on CDS Records with a new album. Only Time Will Tell
(CDC 5) is produced by Carl Marshall, arranged by Carl, Frank-O and Harrison
Calloway and most of the songs are written by Frank-O and Bob Devore.
Once more we
have real live musicians playing on these sessions, but again on many tracks
the sound is strangely thin. I can’t help comparing these tracks to the rich
sound on Frank-O’s earlier albums, and his songs usually require a fuller
background, a more dramatic impact. But that is the only drawback, and Frank’s
melodies and song-structures are as fascinating as ever.
The opening ballad,
Only Time Will Tell, is a really beautiful country-soul swayer, written
by Frank and Carl. Other strongly country-tinged songs are a melancholic
ballad called I’m Just Laying Here and a poppy mid-pacer named Ruby
Red Ring. Another melodic and happy-go-lucky, poppy ditty is She’s the
Right Girl for Me, which even Sam Cooke might have written in his heyday.
In terms of
deeper soul, Frank doesn’t let us down this time either. Sexy Feeling,
Leaving You and H-u-r-t are all timeless quality ballads, and
actually the last one slightly reminds me of Johnnie Taylor’s ’72
recording of Stop Doggin’ Me. The last three songs form an
inspirational closing to this CD – the slow Heavenly Father, the
uplifting Praise the Lord (Victory) and a stepper called By His
Stripes, which Joe Simon could have recorded. I really am delighted
to be able to listen to new material from Frank-O.
Ecko CD, Let Me Knock the Dust Off (ECD 1137; www.eckorecords.com), concentrates this
time on faster material. Produced by John Ward, for this scribe the
most irresistible dancers are the title tune, Mr. Telephone Man and the
mid-tempo Mind Your Own Business. There are two down-tempo songs, the
romantic (in a two-timing way) Hurry and a beautiful tribute to Aubles’
father called Moon Over Clarksdale, written by William “Sonny Mack”
Norris and O.B., and also known under the title of Moon Over Memphis.
As much as I like O.B., I can’t help looking at this CD as a run-of-the-mill
My first Jay’e
Hammer CD was Work It on Me on Blues River Records, and now after a
few years I meet Jaye again on Ecko Records. About thirty years old today, I
think, Jeremy George’s name appears as a co-writer on five songs on Hammer
(ECD 1138). Produced by John Ward, again there are only two slower
songs, I Can Love You Like That and Party Mood.
You - in spite of the message - is a lively and easily rolling dancer,
whereas Strawberry Ice Cream Woman is a mellower floater. Those two
plus I Can Love You Like That are actually the only tracks that caught
my ear on first listening. There’s nothing unpleasant in the music, and Jaye’s
high-pitched voice suits these tracks fine. These songs are just more or less
forgettable and they have neither instant impact, nor lasting quality. But I’m
in the minority here, since this CD has turned into a small SS hit and one of
those “forgettable” songs, Mississippi Slide, has been in heavy
I think Ecko is
distributing Joy’s sophomore CD, Gotta Find a Good Love (West
City Records, WCR 02). You can read about Joy’s earlier career and debut album
Similarly to Jaye Hammer, also Joy’s first CD was released on Blues River
Records, in 2006.
Many of Joyce
Glaspie’s producers, writers and players on that first album, A Woman
Can Feel – viz. Percy T. Friends, Morris J. Williams, John Cummings,
Ricky White and Henderson Thigpen – have worked on this follow-up,
The two dancers
– Party Till the Break of Dawn and If You Like It – are both mellow
and effortless, but I like even more the two soothing, mid-tempo numbers called
What Do the Lonely Do (When the Lights Go Out) and Better than That.
Among the ten songs there are four down-tempo ones, and the dreamy and tender I
Ain’t Going Nowhere and the bluesoulful I Ain’t Gonna Be Alone are
the highlights for me.
Joy has a
refined voice and her occasional gospel-style wailing bears a resemblance to
that of her sister, Shirley Brown. My only complaint concerns sound
quality, because at least on my copy there’s distortion on many tracks.
With his latest protégé, Dave Morris, Mr. William
Bell is targeting a younger audience than with the rest of his roster. Now
we hear rapping, lazy and heavy beat – a short sonic description: just like cow
shit landing on a shed floor - and I think I can distinguish also autotune here
and there. By all this I’m trying to say that I’m really not the right person
to review this CD.
Out Of Love (Wilbe, WIL2017-2; www.williambell.com)
is produced and songs mostly written by William and Dave. Dave’s “Babyface”
tenor and urban style of singing take us through fourteen tracks, mostly downtempo
and dreamy material, with the mid-tempo She’s Gone, the tender Lady,
the tuneful I’ll Never Love Again and the first single release, Tears
of Joy, standing out. If you wish to read about William Bell’s career and
his other protégés, you’ll find the article at http://www.soulexpress.net/williambell.htm
Hot on the heels
of Say What’s on Your Mind comes Mel’s next CD, Got No Curfew
(Brittney Records, BR5696; www.melwaiterslive.com),
and I’m glad to report that now we’re back to normal, sharp sound from Mel.
Produced by Mel and for the most part songs written by him and Aaron L
Spaulding IV, the two most powerful and hard-hitting cuts are the title
tune and My Check Is Spent. It’s Not Yours and Bag of Ice are
more mellow and melodic mid-pacers, whereas Your Use to be and Being
a Fool for You are the most soulful ballads with a highly emotional
delivery. And don’t worry... the saxophone is there, too.
Let’s Do It All Over (MI Jay/R. White Records; http://jerryl.net) is Jerry’s 7th album
with new music during his 31-year recording career. Produced by Jerry
Minnis, Simeo Overall and Ricky White, there are at least three songs
that Jerry has cut earlier - an easy, slow floater called Do Me, a
cheating ballad named Backstreet Love Affair and another downtempo
number titled She Lied on Me, which remotely reminds me of Ronnie
Lovejoy’s hit, Sho Wasn’t Me.
Jerry wrote all
the songs on this 14-tracker, except the three that Simeo produced. The
overall programming is quite skilfully done, except – again – on those Simeo
tracks. I think on the mid-tempo opening track, When the Ladies Are Happy,
I can even detect autotune.
It’s Good to
See You Again is a lively, quick-tempo dancer, while the pleading Do It
all Over is a mellower mid-pacer. Most of the material, however, is downtempo
music, including such touching and melancholy songs as I Still Love You, You
Chose Me and Give Me Some More, or – on a still higher emotional
level – the desperate She Got Papers on Me and I Can’t Let Go.
On those two tracks Jerry’s delivery bears a slight resemblance to Gerald
Levert’s interpretations. Let’s Do It All Over is a strong
SS release with emphasis on good songs and soulful singing.
LEE FIELDS *
This is today’s
deep soul to my liking. After the highly-acclaimed My World CD, Lee
sidetracked himself with Treacherous but is now on the right track again
with Faithful Man (TS018-CD; www.truthandsoulrecords.com).
Lee is backed by a real rhythm section, and strings and horns only add to the
delightfully rich orchestration. Produced by the label owners, Jeff
Silverman and Leon Michels, and recorded in Brooklyn NY, these new
songs were for the most part written by the members of Lee’s band, the
Expressions, with the exception of Jagger’s & Richard’s Moonlight
and rasping voice – inevitably compared to James Brown – and his gutsy, loud
singing style are as soulful as it gets, in an old-fashioned, rootsy way. With
only two mid-tempo cuts on display – the rolling You’re the Kinda Girl and
the plain and simple dancer, Who Do You Love – this is a cavalcade of
impressive and strong soul ballads, such as the overwhelming Faithful Man,
the poignant and haunting Still Hanging On, the big-voiced and deep Wish
You Were Here and the grandiose finale, Walk on Thru That Door. The
two beat-ballads, I Still Got It and It’s All Over (but the Crying),
also deserve a mention.
This album could
have been released in the 60s or 70s and now it would be hailed as a
masterpiece. But it’s 2012, and for me this CD represents the best new music
so far this year.
solo CD is released on Coday Records (www.bandjrecords.com)
out of Memphis, Tennessee. Karen Wolfe and James Smith are the
other artists on the label, which initially started out as B&J Records and
was co-founded by the late Bill Coday. Today the CEO of the company is Anna
Coday. In the sleeve-notes to Stories of Life (AC848) it
says that “all the tracks produced, recorded, engineered, mixed and mastered by
Andrew Lee Caples”, and he’s also the main writer with some help from
three other co-writers. His voice is as soft, soothing and intimate as always,
with an occasional resemblance to Jeffrey Osborne and also Will Downing.
The only element that here and there breaks the harmonious sound is too sharply
André’s music is
more dancefloor-orientated than usual. I guess the main attraction is the
opener, a light and easy bouncer called Half Loving Me, but the two
quick-tempo cuts – the “Tyronish” Man in the Drawer and the
party-booster Back in the Day Café – are very close in style, as well as
the brisk Tell Me What I’ve Got to Do and Shake What You Got,
where the title really says it all.
The two mid-tempo
steppers are the slightly melancholy 4 Way Love Affair and, emotionally
at the opposite end, the positive Stepping with You. André’s ballads
are usually smooth and sentimental, and the three examples here make no
exception. Never Been Hurt is a quite delicate song, Shoes off First
is a slow plodder and finally I Wanna Be Loved Forever is a romantic and
sweet duet with Miz Goldie aka Trina Caples, André’s wife. André
has come up with another enjoyable set, only with a heavier dose of party
THE REVELATIONS feat. TRE WILLIAMS
I definitely am
late with this one, because Concrete Blues (Decision Records/NIA
Music, NIM-CD-2) was released already last year, but I’ll have a brief look at
it anyway. Produced by Bob Perry and Lawrence “Boo” Mitchell
and cut for the most part at the Royal Studios in Memphis, Tennessee, this
13-tracker offers eight new songs by the group. Personal favourites are a
“repenting” ballad called Behind These Bars, cut in New York and a
convincing vocal performance by Tre’ Williams, and a mid-tempo jogger titled I
Gotta Have It, co-written and co-led by Vick Allen.
Also the two
outside tunes are covered in a convincing way, although in both cases I still
prefer the original recordings. Until You Get Enough of Me is the
haunting title tune to the great, late Ronnie Lovejoy’s 4th
album in 1998 on Avanti and Don’t Wait, here turned into a big ballad,
derives from Johnnie Taylor’s ’82 Beverly Glen album.
impressive downtempo bonus tracks – Everybody Knows, Let’s Straighten It Out
and I Don’t Want To Know – are lifted from the group’s preceding,
debut album, The Bleeding Edge, in 2009 (www.therevelations.net).
site to purchase all the indie CDs above is www.intodeepmusic.com.
latest CD is a 2011 release, but it’s such an interesting set that I just
couldn’t ignore it. Her preceding album, Fit for a King, came out as
far back as ten years earlier, and now she has joined forces with the Roots for
a CD entitled The Movie (S-Curve Rec. 0731519012), which means
that we are treated to real instruments... and the total playing time of this
14-tracker is 78 minutes! Produced by Ahmir Thompson, Betty and Angelo
Morris, Betty and Angelo are the main writers, which isn’t surprising
considering how far they go back together.
With guests like
Lil Wayne on a rock-infused slow beater called Grapes on a Vine, Snoop
Dogg on a mid-tempo shuffle titled Real Woman and Robert Bozeman on
the dragging Hollywould, we can naturally expect some rapping. I,
however, rather tilt my ear on the fast and storming In the Middle of the
Game (Don’t Change the Play) or on the laid-back, mid-tempo Old Songs or
on another relaxed floater, Tonight Again. On the ballad front, the
tender and mellow The One and the jazzy Go! (Live) make an
impression. Especially the latter one is a thought-provoking number about
domestic violence. It runs close to ten minutes and turns into quite a
hurricane towards the end.
the Wind is a duet with Joss Stone, and this enjoyable and melodic
mover owes a lot to the classic Philly sound. Baby Come Back, a duet
with Lenny Williams, is also a tuneful, mid-tempo song, but this time Marvin
Gaye is the closest comparison. The Movie is an ambitious
project with mainly mid-tempo, melodic songs with messages and stories and
strong singing from Betty.
Clonda is an
up-and-coming young talent, who originally hails from Chicago but who now
resides in Las Vegas (www.facebook.com/clondamusic).
Having earlier fronted a band called Up from the Bottom, he has now gone
solo and released his debut CD, A Man in Love with Love, with
nine new songs on it. His tenor voice is well suited for the current urban
r&b style, but he’s able to occasionally switch over to classic soul
singing, too. Actually Clonda reminds me of Calvin Richardson.
Produced by Pierre Jovan and James Dockery, they also wrote most
of the songs on display; especially Pierre has been active.
The opener, By
Your Side, is a Peabo Bryson type of ballad, whereas another slowie,
Take My Breath Away, almost does just that towards the thunderous end.
The “steviewonderish” I’m in Love experiments with a jazzy arrangement.
Heaven, co-written by Clonda, is a rolling, mid-tempo number along with Steppin
Out, which features a full choir. Of the four dance tracks, Love Ain’t
Supposed to Hurt is the most tuneful and compelling one. Mellow but
ambitious music, the future looks bright ahead for Clonda.
Jackson is the leading lady on James McClelland’s latest CD, Do
Not Disturb (Gunsmoke, GUN-6427), as she’s Jesse’s duet partner on
three tracks. The mid-tempo hit song, Let’s Get a Room Somewhere, has
an irresistible groove, and Millie, Jesse and Harvey Scales really let
loose on the humorous, 7:28-long “live xxxx” version of the song. Millie is
also quite convincing and even sturdy when arguing on Jesse’s cover of It
Just Don’t Feel the Same.
Jesse’s long-time partner, Felton Pilate, Jesse himself, Harvey Scales
and Kevin Ross, my quick research showed that out of the eleven songs on
display Jesse has cut at least seven earlier. His latest version of At Last
is a tribute to the late Etta James, and this time Jesse’s intense
and improvised delivery stretches the song over the 6-minute mark. Synethia
is the co-lead on I Can Do Bad by Myself – You Were Doing Bad When I Met
You, and here the two records are glued together in a rather sloppy way.
Synethia’s answer single on Gold Key in 1981 was produced by Harvey and Felate,
and this “medley” was first released over twenty years ago.
The anguished, big-voiced
Jesse asks once more Are You Gonna Leave Me, and another dramatic ballad
with a big orchestration that is recycled here is called I Never Meant to
Love Her. If He Can’t Hold His Pants up, How Can He Hold You up is
lifted from the preceding CD, whereas Can You Picture Us came out
already fifteen years ago.
Harvey Scales’ God
Got Your Back is an easy inspirational jogger, whereas “Wild Wild Forest” Nelson’s Where Do Lonely Lovers Go is a melodic pop ditty from
eight years back. On many tracks on this CD there are real instruments backing
Jesse up, but on this particular track artificial sounds dominate. The same
applies to A Change Is Gonna Come, too, where Jesse’s passionate singing
is intertwined with Martin Luther King’s speech. The concluding track
is an 8-minute interview with Jessie, conducted, I guess, three years ago.
Only in my
previous column in January I talked at length with Mr. L.J. Reynolds and
introduced two new members of the Dramatics, Donald Albert and Ivory
Bell, but because of the recent turbulence in the group I now have to
return to its current status. In April it was reported that “L.J. Reynolds out
of the Dramatics, estate of Ron Banks now in charge, Willie Ford
Ford quit. He wasn’t put out of the group. I don’t know why he quit. He said
he had to do his own thing and run the business, but he’s never ran any
business. They said he formed his own group. I’ve been on the road working,
and all I can tell you about is the group I’m in, which is the group that has
been together for 39 years. Significant people are the Dramatics. Winzell
Kelly has been with us for 25 years. Willie decided to walk away, and we
haven’t got a bass singer.”
“We still got
the band, the whole organization. Everybody is still with me... the musicians,
who have been there for 25-30 years. We will probably need a bass singer
eventually, but I don’t think it’s totally necessary right now. We’ve been
working with four since Ron died (in March in 2010). My thing was to find a
replacement for Ron (see later), but right after the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame
in Cleveland (on February 10) Willie left.” In April we had that surprising
announcement. “The public outcry was ‘no’! How can you put L.J. Reynolds out
of the group? He’s been singing there for 39 years.”
solo CD, Get to This, is doing quite well. “I get the opportunity to do
a variety of different things. I can do my solo stuff. I haven’t had a big
record like this, Come Get to This, in 27 years. I do my own gospel
stuff, too, but my main focus and number one concern is the Dramatics. I never
let anything get in the way of that. If somebody calls me and says ‘I want the
Dramatics or you’, I’ll give them the Dramatics. ‘You can get me later. If
you get the Dramatics, you get me anyway’. I have to work with the Dramatics.
It’s a lot of people involved in that.” (www.motorcityhits.com;
Interview conducted on June 11).
In order to get
a clearer picture I called the other party of this incident, too. Willie: “Mr.
Reynolds and myself just couldn’t see eye to eye. We had irreconcilable
differences. After Ron Banks passed, he left Mr. Reynolds kind of in charge of
the business, and I didn’t agree with the way he was taking care of the
business and I just couldn’t continue to work with them. It turned really
bad. It affected me and my family and the group, and I couldn’t continue like
that. I think he really wants to be a solo artist, because he changed the show
to doing his solo stuff. I’ve been in the group for 42 years, so the common
law gives me the right to own the name. He says he owns the name ‘the
Dramatics’. We’ll go to Federal Court in Detroit and find out what the judge
has to say about this.”
“I have my own
group, and we’re looking to performing in the very near future. Steve Boyd is
with me. All this time he’s been travelling and working with Mr. George
Clinton, but he’s back with me. And I had Michael Brock, who’s
doing solo.” Steve Boyd was in the group for five years between 1989 and ’94,
after which he was replaced by Winzell Kelly. Michael Brock worked with the
group for six years between 2005 and 2011, and was replaced last fall by Donald
Albert. My interview with Donald is available at www.soulexpress.net/deep2_2012.htm#donaldalbert.
“I have two young guys from here in Detroit, Robert Carter and Bennie
Taylor. Also I have a young man that I’ve been knowing for years, Harley
“I’m sorry that
it happened. Mr. Reynolds is a great talent and it’s unfortunate that we had
this misunderstanding and couldn’t compromise, but it is what it is.” (Interview
conducted on June 15; acknowledgements to Sandra Banks).
INTRODUCING... LEON FRANKLIN
Mr. Ivery Bell,
who was introduced in my previous column, didn’t officially become a member of
the Dramatics after all. L.J.: “He couldn’t sound like Ron Banks. The guy
that I got now sounds like Ron Banks. We just did San Francisco, and that was
the first show he did. He’s stayed with us now for maybe about three months.”
You can watch clips of that San Francisco show on May 23-26 on YouTube by
typing in “RRAZZ ROOM, the Dramatics.”
The “new Ron” is
Mr. Leon Franklin. Leon: “I was born in Detroit in 1959, June 7th.
I tried to emulate Jackie Wilson in our family quartet with my parents
and brothers.” Besides Jackie, Leon names James Brown, Jackson 5 and
the Temptations his biggest favourites. “After that I and my brother and my
two nieces developed a group called Four Ounces of Soul. That was
probably in 1972. We just performed around the city.”
“After that I
formed a group called the Admirations. It was me, my brother Charles
Franklin, Douglas Gaddy and Craig D. White, and we all are residing
in Detroit today. We travelled a lot and we opened for a lot of acts, like the
Dramatics, Enchantment, Aretha Franklin, Anita Baker, a lot of groups...
That was in 1978. It lasted about ten years, and we made three dance records
in 1988.” Two of those singles – Groove Town/Live Wire and When you
and Me Became Lovers/instr., produced by M.Moy & D.Wasson –
came out on Great Lakes International and the third one (You Know It) on
the DDA label.
“After that I
went with a group called New Anxiety Band. We travelled locally around Michigan. I was in that group for about five years.” This band didn’t cut any records.
“After that I started singing in Al Hudson’s One Way (see www.soulexpress.net/oneway_discography.htm).
I took Cortez Harris’ place. He died. It was me and Al Hudson singing
lead. Al is still performing. I was with him for about four years. We didn’t
make any new recordings (in the 90s). We were just singing the hits they had.”
“After that I
went to a group called Serieux. I joined them in 2000.” The group
released one CD, I Can Give You Love, but only as late as in 2009
(www.serieux-music.com). “We were
just doing local stuff, and I kept demanding that we need to put a CD out. The
drummer of Otis Williams’ Temptations, Buster Marbury - who’s now
deceased – had a studio and he decided to record us. There was also G.C.
Cameron singing on that CD.”
L.J.’s cousin, called me one night. I’ve been knowing Donald, since I was
16-17 years old. He asked me, if I wanted to be a Dramatic. I said ‘yeah, who
wouldn’t want to be a Dramatic’? Donald gave me the songs L.J. wanted me to
do, the Ron Banks stuff, so I studied those songs. When I went to the
audition, he didn’t have me to do any of those songs. He had me to do a song
I’ve never heard in my life (laughing). He said ‘you sound pretty good’. That
was in April.”
line-up of the group is L.J. Reynolds, Winzell Kelly, Donald Albert and Leon
(Interview conducted on June 12; acknowledgements to Jenice Smith and Iris
over the phone with Mr. Wilson Meadows a couple of times I can confirm
that he really is “the gentleman of soul.” He is a very likeable person.
That’s why I was hoping to be able to watch a good and entertaining DVD of his
show, but, alas, my wish didn’t come true.
the 15th Annual Old School & Blues Festival (MUI-DV-10063)
took place in Huntsville, Alabama, and on stage Wilson is backed by a
four-piece rhythm section and two background singers. There’s no other info
whatsoever in the case, no extras on the disc and the one-camera shooting is
amateurish, to say the least. Pointing at Wilson, then the audience and back
to Wilson, even the sound level changes drastically depending on the direction
the cameraman is shooting in at that particular moment.
Starting with Levert’s
Casanova, the main body of this 7-song program, however, consists of Wilson’s own hits, such as I Wanna Get Witcha Baby, It Is What It Is, Personal Matter and
Still My Love. With the running time of only 31 minutes, Wilson really deserves better.
I’m sure that
all serious soul music collectors have already purchased the second volume of Bob
McGrath’s Soul Discography, covering the letters G-M (ISBN
This is just a reminder for the rest of the readers that such an inevitable
book exists. Here I can only refer to my review of the first volume at www.soulexpress.net/deep410.htm#souldiscography.
Bob tells me
that “the third volume is still in the finishing process and it will be a few
months before it comes out. Meanwhile the new second edition of the Blues
Discography 1943-1970 is at the printers and will be out in a week or so.”
© Heikki Suosalo
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