Front Page

The Best Tracks in 2010

CD Shop

Best Selling CDs

Book Store

New Releases

Forthcoming Releases

The latest printed issue

Back Issues

Serious Soul Chart

Quality Time Cream Cuts

Vintage Soul Top 20

Album of the Month

CD Reviews

Editorial Columns

Discographies

Readers' Favourites

Subscribe

Links








THE MANHATTANS – part 1

Part 2: 1964-1970
Part 3: 1971-1979
Part 4 (1980-1989)
Part 5 (1988-2012)

In the words of Bar Mix Master “the blend of the charred oak, spiciness, of Bourbon; the sweet, herbal, and slight caramel flavour of Sweet Vermouth; and the indescribable flavour of bitters combine to make a cocktail like none other.”  This cocktail “is said to have been invented in New York’s Manhattan Club in 1874 at the request of Winston Churchill’s mother, Lady Randolph Churchill to celebrate a newly elected governor” (http://barmixmaster.com). The cocktail still these days is known as the Manhattan.

  This is a multi-part story of one of the greatest and best-loved groups in the history of soul music, the Manhattans, told by its present end ex-members and many other music business figures, who have been dealing with the group throughout the years.  As to the origin of the name of the group, there have been different recollections.  One member is in favour of the skyline they could see right across the water from the Jersey City - “Manhattan was close to New Jersey.  It was easy to remember, and we just felt we wanted to represent class” – but another member, Mr. Winfred “Blue” Lovett, remembers slightly differently: “We collectively came up with the Manhattans, but we referred ourselves to the alcoholic drink.  Everybody thought the name was from the borough of the New York anyway, so we just grabbed on to that.”


(The pic courtesy of Mrs. Jeanie Scott)

The five singers, who became the first members of the Manhattans in the early 60s, went to two Jersey City high schools in the 50s - George Smith and Richard Taylor to Snyder High and Winfred Lovett, Kenneth Kelly and Edward Bivins to Lincoln High.


(Sonny Bivins pic taken from www.themanhattans.net)

EDWARD “SONNY” BIVINS

    Edward Jesse Bivins, Jr. (tenor) is the senior member of the group in terms of his age, as he was born on January 15 in 1936.  Still today he’s best known as “Sonny” - “when I was young, I was always smiling” – but his other nickname used to be “Dip.” Sonny: “I played baseball.  Then I started singing, and I couldn’t sing and play baseball at the same time.”  He played minor league baseball in the Jersey City All-Stars.

  Sonny was born in Macon, Georgia, to Willie and Edward Bivins.  “My father tap-danced, and I got into music through my father.”  Sonny had two brothers, Donald and James, but no sisters.  In Macon he started singing in a school choir and glee club.  “We moved no New Jersey in 1950, and I went to Lincoln High in 1951.  In school I was two years ahead of Kenny Kelly and Blue Lovett, and we all used to sing around school and on the street corners.”

  Sonny’s early idol was Sam Cooke, and of the later acts he puts the Temptations first, but thinks highly of the Dells, the Spinners, the O’Jays and B.B. King, too.  His all-time favourite record is To Each His Own by Nat King Cole.  He has five children – Mark, Pam, Doug, Yvette and Kenny – but they’re not active in music.  “They have their own things they wanted to do in life.”


(On the right: Early Smitty; The pic courtesy of Mrs. Jeanie Scott)

  Sonny reminisces how he met their future lead singer, George Smith, for the first time during a teen dance night at the YMCA in 1953 in Jersey City.  “I heard somebody playing the piano in the adjacent room from the dance hall.  Slowly I opened the door and peeked my head inside and saw a young, teenage guy about my age playing the piano and singing I Cried in my Mother’s Arms.  I walked over to him and started to harmonize with him.  We looked at each other, smiled and we introduced ourselves.  His name was George “Smitty” Smith.  As time went on, our relationship grew closer and we eventually left high school and went into the military vowing to complete our high school education once we got out of the service.”

  In 1954 Sonny joined the NG.  “After the National Guard, I was in the Air Force in Germany till 1957.”


(Smitty at the Apollo; The pic courtesy of Mrs. Jeanie Scott)

GEORGE “SMITTY” SMITH

  The second oldest in the first line-up of the Manhattans is George Hoza Smith (tenor), who was born in Florida on December 18 in 1939.  Jeanie Scott: “His mother couldn’t remember his actual birth date.  It was either supposed to be December the 18th, or December the 28th.”  Mrs. Jeanie Scott, formerly McCarthy, who today is the wife of the legendary Jimmy Scott and handles his business (www.jimmyscottofficialwebsite.org ), lived with Smitty until his untimely passing in December 1970.  “We got together in 1969, so I was with him maybe a year and a half.”


(On the right: Jimmy Scott, The pic courtesy of Mrs. Jeanie Scott)

  “When Smitty was a toddler, perhaps four years old, his mother and his father separated.  The only thing he could remember about his father is him walking with some dogs (laughing).  His mother moved to Jersey City with Smitty and his oldest sister Marion.  Marion has lived her whole adult life in California.  Eventually his mother married another man, whose last name was Smith, and he became Smitty’s stepfather, and that’s how he got his name.  Smitty’s mother had ten children.  After Marion and Smitty – who they all called ‘Brother’ – she had eight other children, so Smitty had three half brothers and five half sisters.  Tommy was Smitty’s youngest brother and he had a group called 8 Mile High.  The other brothers, Bobby and Joe, had a group of their own, too, Out of Limits.”

  “Smitty had three children.  When Smitty was fifteen years old, his girlfriend got pregnant with George, Jr., aka ‘Dewberry’, so they got married.  George, Jr. looked exactly like him.  After he came back from the service, she had another baby while he was away, Michelle, which Smitty took as his own.  Later he had his daughter Paula with a girlfriend.”

  Through his mother, Smitty first sang gospel music in church and then joined his newly-found singing pals, while in Snyder High.  “Smitty and Sonny were close at the time, Blue and Kenny were close”.  After Snyder High, Smitty joined the Air Force and was stationed in California for two years.


(Smitty & Jeanie; The pic courtesy of Mrs. Jeanie Scott)

  Jeanie: “My first memory of the Manhattans would be hearing their records on the radio - I’m the one that Love Forgot, Searchin’ for my Baby...  I had been going to all their shows and I kind of had a crush on Smitty, but I was afraid to talk to him.  I had seen him around, and I was peeking around corners at him.  Eugene Pitt of the Jive Five would tease me and say ‘go on and knock on their dressing room door and talk to Smitty’, but I wouldn’t go over there.  It wasn’t until a couple of years later.  They were about to do a show at the Cheetah in New York on 52nd street.  I sent Smitty a message and he called me up and he came over to my house the next day.  We got together, and we were together ever since, and he moved me in his mother’s house until he passed.  As a matter of fact, I stayed with her for a couple of years after that and I remained close to the family throughout the years, especially with Smitty's Mother, brother Bobby - who was like a brother - and Smitty's children George, Jr., & Paula.”


WINFRED “BLUE “LOVETT

  Winfred Lorenzo Lovett (bass) was born in Jersey City, New Jersey, on November 16 in 1940 to Lovonia and William Lovett.  “My father was a singer in church, and he made it mandatory that I sing in church on every Sunday also.”  Winfred has two sisters, Billie and Gwendolyn, and today he resides in Phoenix, Arizona.

  Most know this bass singer extraordinaire best under the simple moniker of “Blue.”  “It’s my so-called nick-name.  If you hung out on streets - and you’re not necessarily bad or are in gangs and nothing like that - you had a nick-name, and because of my complexion and a long hair and a beard “Blue Jesus” was my name.  I naturally dropped the ’Jesus’ and kept the ‘Blue’.”  During his high-school years he was also called “Bacon” for a short while.

  Blue has seven children: William, Robyn, Tania, Kia, Damon, Marisa and Rico.  “None of them do anything professionally in music, except Rico, who was born in 1986 and who does rapping.  All my kids live on the west coast.”

  Some of Blue’s favourite recordings of all times include Neither One of Us by Gladys Knight & the Pips and Sexual Healing by Marvin Gaye.  “Also Luther Vandross has come up with some magnificent songs that I like.  I think my all-time bass singer would be Melvin Franklin of the Temptations.  The Temptations started us off.  We patterned us after the Temptations and Curtis Mayfield and the Impressions.”

  In Lincoln High, Blue played football and baseball.  “Then I couldn’t play sports because of my asthma.  Baseball was out and football was definitely out, so my third choice was music, and I never thought that I would get an opportunity.  If you were from the New York area, it was very hard back then to get a record deal.  You had to be discovered.”

  “I did locally high school groups, but nothing ever happened.  We just sang to entertain our families, fans, girlfriends... In Lincoln high school Sonny, Kelly and I took part in a singing contest in a variety show and we won.  I forgot the name of our group in high school.”  All five Manhattans boys got to know each other already in the 50s.  “All five of us met during the high school days.  Sonny Bivins, Kenneth Kelly and myself went to Lincoln, and Richard Taylor and George Smith went to Snyder, which were competing high schools in Jersey City.”

  In the late 50s Blue was drafted.  “I was in the Air Force.  I was in France, but they closed that base and I was transferred to Wiesbaden, Germany.  I was discharged in 1960...’61.  There in Germany I had a group of my own called the Statesmen.  It was me and four other guys, but not Sonny and Richard.  They were stationed in the Air Force in Germany, too, but they were stationed elsewhere.”

KENNETH “WALLY” KELLY

  Kenneth Bernard Kelly (tenor) was born on January 9 in 1941 in Jersey City to Eloise and Lloyd Kelly.  Kenny: “My parents are both deceased.  My mother belonged to a chorus, when she was younger.  She sang in a church choir.”  Besides one brother, Adonis, Kenny has three step-brothers and a sister.  His two children are called Kai and Monee.

  Kenny’s last name is spelt both Kelley, and Kelly.  “My father spelt his last name Kelly.  There happened a vocabulary error somewhere along the line, and my last name got changed to Kelley.  As I grew older, according to certain situations I ran in and out of, they assumed it was supposed to be spelt Kelley.  I didn’t go through the corrections, so there exist two spellings of my last name.  Most of my IDs have Kelly, so I mostly use Kelly.”

  Kenny’s nickname is Wally.  “We had a guitar player named Charles Reed and he gave it to me, because I was always telling people different little things and answering to their questions.”  Kenny is the only college graduate among the members of the group, and he graduated from Morgan State University in Baltimore, Maryland, in 1963.

  “Being in a group situation, we idolized a lot of groups – the Spaniels, and later the Temptations and Smokey & the Miracles.  Later I had one idol and that was Ray Charles.”  Kenny’s favourite record is Letter Full of Tears by Gladys Knight & the Pips, and besides singing he plays piano, trumpet and baritone sax.

  “I played in a high school band in Jersey City.  I started messing around with my neighbour next door, which was Sonny.  He played guitar.  We just started singing together, and he introduced me to some guys, who sang.  It was just something we did, because we liked doing it.  Group singing was popular at that point of time.  We all would cross each other at some point.  We formed different groups, and from that we eventually came in contact with each other.”

  “Sonny belonged to this one group, and he brought me in to hear what the group sounded like.  I don’t remember the name of the group, but one member kept missing the rehearsals and I – having been there so frequently and knowing his parts – said ‘okay, I’ll do it’.”

  “I grew up with some of the members of the Manhattans.  We met in the 50s.  I don’t know what groups Richard came out of and I don’t remember what groups Blue was with.  Blue was with several groups.  A lot of the groups didn’t stay together.  They’d form and break up.  One group that I, Sonny, Smitty and somebody else were part of was called the Socialeers.  We sang in local clubs and talent shows.  That group started breaking up, because people had other commitments.”  Right after Lincoln High, Kenny joined the Navy, which was followed by his three-year college period in Baltimore.  He would meet the other fellows again in 1963.

THE DULCETS

  One early incarnation of the Manhattans was as lucky as to even cut a record in 1961.  Smitty, Blue, Sonny, Ethel Samuels and Buddy Bell had formed another group and they called themselves the Dulcets.  This quintet under a misspelt name of the Dorsets released a single on a New York label called Asnes.  The plug side, a slowly and heavily swaying post-doowop, novelty type of a song, was titled Pork Chops (Asnes 101), and in style and interpretation it owes a lot to the Olympics or the Coasters of those days.  Blue: “yes, that’s the flavour we had on that.”

  Smitty is leading on the song that was written by him, Frennie Brooks and John Brown (mistakenly printed as Bowden on the label).  Blue: “I think the owner of Asnes was Frennie Brooks, and those guys, Brooks and Brown, worked at the airport and recorded us.  Nobody heard the record – or perhaps twenty-five people – but nobody bought it.  It didn’t do anything.”  Sonny: “I was laughing, when we did it... but it was okay.”  Backed by an uptempo ditty called Cool It, Pork Chops was re-released four years later in the U.K. on the Sue label (391).

  Some of the other artists on the short-lived Asnes label were Ernie Johnson (You Need Love) and a “Jamaican doowop” outfit named the Jiving Juniors (Moonlight Lover).  Soon after Pork Chops the Dulcets disbanded, so there was no follow-up record.  Sonny: “Everybody decided to go their own ways.  Ethel and Buddy are still around.  I see Buddy every now and then.  They are here in New Jersey.”

THE OTHER MANHATTANS

  Blue: “We had a battle for the name, until I Wanna Be was released.  There was another Manhattans, and the union insisted that whoever came out with the first hit they would be able to maintain the name, and I Wanna Be (Your Everything) came out in ’64 and that was the way we won the name over.”

  Music history knows many groups, who have used the name ‘Manhattans’.  There are Eli & the Manhattans, Ronnie & the Manhattans and several plain Manhattanses.  In the 50s and 60s singles by these groups have appeared on such labels as Dootone, King, Big Mack, Boss, Colpix, Ransom, Web, Piney, Enjoy, Golden World, Atlantic and Avanti, but not any of them is by our group.  Blue: “From ’61 through ’64 we tried desperately to get a recording deal, but it was impossible.”

  There was at least one occasion, when they actually entered the studio and were ready for Danny Robinson (Bobby Robinson’s brother) to record them, but nothing came out of it.  Blue: “He never recorded us.  He pretended to record us, but he never did anything with us.”

  Kenny: “I became a Manhattan as a result of the group I was introduced to.  The members of that group started also not making the rehearsals.  Sonny was part of that group and Smitty was already there.  We wanted this group to come together.  We already knew who we wanted to have as ideal members.  So Sonny brought me in, introduced me to the group and then one of the other members stopped making rehearsals.  He was a truck driver. Then they brought Richie in.  We had to just get a bass voice, and everybody wanted to see if we could get Blue again.  He agreed and that’s how we got together.”


(The pic courtesy of Mrs. Jeanie Scott)

JOE EVANS

  Mr. Joe Evans is a seasoned musician, to say the least.  Throughout decades he has played with a number of jazz, blues and rhythm & blues luminaries, but for the Manhattans he was first and foremost the owner of Carnival Records and the gentleman, who gave them their first record release in 1964.

  Joe Evans, Jr, was born in Pensacola, Florida, on October 7 in 1916, so this year he’ll turn ninety-four.  He started playing the saxophone in the 1930s in the Ray Shep Band, moved to New York in 1938 and has since played with Jay McShann, Charlie Parker, Louis Armstrong, Cab Calloway, Dizzy Gillespie and Lionel Hampton, to name a few.  All this is documented in a fascinating book titled Follow Your Heart (ISBN-13978-0-252-03303-2; University of Illinois Press, http://www.press.uillinois.edu; 180 pages + 22 with photos; 2008), written by Mr. Evans himself and Christopher Brooks.  It’s an interesting read and contains many remarkable stories starting from Joe’s early days as a musician.  He sheds light on touring the south in the 30s, working with such artists as “Ma” Rainey, Billie Holiday, Al Hibbler, Ivory Joe Hunter, Jackie Wilson and Sam Cooke, running record companies in the 60s and 70s and life after an active and many-sided career in music.

  Mr. Evans, who today lives in Richmond, Virginia, was kind enough to talk about the Manhattans, Carnival Records and some other points of his career for this article, too.  In the 50s he belonged to the Apollo Theater house band in New York.  “It was very nice.  It wasn’t tough.  We played five shows a day, and one night a week you played a midnight show.  On Wednesday night they had an Amateur Hour.  A lot of the stars were discouraged in that show at the Apollo.  The audience was very responsive.  On Wednesday night, if you weren’t good, they would boo you.  They had a guy called Porto Rico, who would come out in different costumes chasing you off the stage, if they didn’t like you.  But the audience was very good to you, if they liked you.”

CEE-JAY, TANGERINE, MOTOWN...

  In the late 50s Joe met with Clarence Johnson, and became a partner with him in running a record label.  “Cee Jay – that was initials for Clarence Johnson.  We called him ‘Jack Rags’.  He’s the man that taught me the record business.  He played trombone and had played in several bands.  He talked me into going into the record business.  He knew it, because he was already in it.”

  The roster at Cee Jay in 1960 and 1961 included Mike & the Utopians, Sherman Williams, Jay Dee Bryant & the Magic Knights, Little Roy Little, the Four Kings, Jimmy Spruill & his Band, the Vines, Delroy Green & the Cool Gents and Harry Lewis & his Orchestra... but there wasn’t a hit-making unit.  “Most of those artists just gave up.  Then some of them continued to try to be a success, but they never made it.  A lot of them joined other groups, and some of those groups became famous.”

  “On that label we mostly did r&b stuff.  One big record we had on Cee Jay was a blues record, and it was called I’m a Little Mixed Up by Betty James (583).  Leonard Chess of the Chess Records leased it, took it over and made it a big record.”

  Clarence Johnson passed away in late 1961, the label ceased to exist and Joe proceeded to work for Ray Charles.  “It was very nice.  I was working as a promotion director.  Ray had a label that was distributed by ABC-Paramount called Tangerine.  I did a lot of work coast-to-coast.  He was a very nice man, very nice to work with.”  Since its start in 1962 Tangerine signed many established artists – Percy Mayfield, Lula Reed, Louis Jordan etc. – but hit-wise it wasn’t a very successful company.  “I believe that Ray had an idea what was good, but it was not the same idea what was happening in the business at the time.  This is just my belief.  He could make hits, but other artists that weren’t as strong couldn’t make hits like that.  The material wasn’t as strong as his and they weren’t as dynamic as he was.  Then he had a band on the road for the people to hear him in person and he could influence people that way.  And he was very good at what he did.  Other artists couldn’t get away with that.”

  After Ray, Joe worked for a growing Detroit company called Motown after being approached by another saxophone player and a band leader named Choker Campbell.  “I was working and travelling with their show, the Motown Review.  I was playing mostly background for the artists, but I did a lot of recording with them, too.  I recorded with Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, the Temptations, their girl groups, several artists...”


CARNIVAL RECORDS

  With Cee-Jay Records Joe had become so attached to the record business that in conjunction with his work at Tangerine he launched and started running a label of his own called Carnival, a name he picked up from a billboard ad.  Joe formed the label in 1962 together with Paul “Hucklebuck” Williams, a saxophonist, bandleader and recording artist in his own right that Joe had met in Detroit already in the 40s.  They also formed Bright Star Publishing Company (with BMI), and Paul’s home address – 605 West, 156th Street, New York – became the company and label address.

  The first release, Your Yah-Yah Is Gone (501), was by a girl group called the Tren-Teens, who were scheduled to cut the record already for Cee-Jay.  The song owes some to Lee Dorsey’s Ya Ya, released a year earlier on Fury.  The Tren-Teens’ debut single was followed by Delores Johnson’s big-voiced r&b belter titled What Kind Of Man Are You, (502).  You can listen to some mp3’s at www.westwoodmusicgroup.com -> Carnival Records.

  Joe’s and Paul’s Carnival Records shouldn’t be mixed up with Jerry Moss’ and Herb Albert’s label by the same name in 1961, which turned into A&M a year later.  Also Atlantic’s Herb Abramson’s Carnival is a different label.

  The third artist for the label was Barbara Brown, who cut in ‘63 a pleading r&b ballad named Send Him to Me (b/w a cute toe-tapper, Sometimes I Wonder), but Barbara’s boyfriend wouldn’t allow her to continue show business career and perform in front of other men, so after one more single a year later she dropped out.  She, however, was an important link in Joe and the Manhattans hooking up with each other.

THE MANHATTANS TO MOTOWN

  Barbara told Joe Evans about the group, but there are two slightly different stories as to how the two actually met for the first time.  Sonny: “Richard, Smitty, Kenny, Blue and I felt that we had put in enough time and hard work to compete at Harlem’s famous Apollo Theater’s Amateur Night, which was held every Wednesday night.  So from Jersey City we went to the Apollo and placed 3rd that night.  But as fate would have it, Joe Evans was in the house that night.  And despite coming third, we really won that night, because he signed us to his Carnival Record label.”

  Blue: “A gentleman called Joe Evans was the one who saw us and liked us.  He played alto sax in Choker Campbell’s orchestra that travelled with the Motown acts.  Joe Evans’ vision was to start a “Motown” in the New York area, and Barbara Brown was one of his first artists.  Barbara told him about us and he caught us at the Apollo.”

  Joe: “One of the artists on Carnival, Barbara Brown, was responsible for me meeting them.  She gave them my phone number, they called me and then we set up an appointment at the Theresa Hotel.  I had Paul Williams with me.  If I saw them earlier, I didn’t remember them, but I never met them in person until they came into the Theresa.”

  “The songs that they sang that day were songs that were made popular by other groups during that time.  They sang two or three songs like that.  They sang the songs better than the groups that had recorded them (laughing).  I said to Paul Williams ‘that is a million-dollar group’, and he said ‘oh, you’re crazy’, but later he said ‘you’re right, you knew what you were talking about’.”

  “I asked them ‘do you want a record contract’, and they said ‘yes’, but then they said that ‘everybody promises to record us but they never get around to it’.  Then they told me that they had been approached by Bobby Robinson’s brother, Danny Robinson.  He was in the record business also (Everlast, Enjoy).  They tell them to come to the record session, but when they get there they’re recording someone else and tell them ‘we’ll get around to you’, and when they would finish late at night everybody would pack up and go home.  They said that happened to them two or three times.  I said ‘well, it won’t happen with me, because if I promise to record you and sign you, I will record you’.”

  “The next day they signed the contract and brought it back to me.  I asked them had they gone over the contract with their parents or friends, they said ‘no, we don’t need to do that.  We’re over twenty-one and speak for ourselves’.  So we started from there.”

  Joe was still working for Motown, so he took the first two songs he cut on the Manhattans to Detroit first.  “I put them on tape and I took the recording to Berry Gordy.  He liked it, but he wouldn’t go ahead of Mickey Stevenson.  He put him over that, and I would have to talk to him.  When I spoke with Mickey Stevenson, he wanted to take it over and only put perhaps my name on a record or something like that.  I’ve been in the business too long for that and I wouldn’t go for that, so I didn’t talk to him anymore about them.”  Joe soon left Motown altogether.

MUSICIANS, STUDIOS, MIXING...

  Joe put the Manhattans on his own Carnival label.  For his recording sessions he favoured one particular studio and he used a permanent line-up of rhythm section players.  “For most of the recordings I used Talent Masters in New York, because I worked very well with the engineer there.  His name was Bob Gallo, and he was also a guitarist.”

  “For the rhythm section I had a regular bunch.  There was Bernard Purdie, who was the drummer, and Jimmy Tyrell was the bass player.  Robert Banks was the pianist.  “Snaggs” Allen was the guitarist and Eric Gale was the other guitarist.  They recorded all the Manhattans backgrounds.”

  “I did the mix.  I would record the track first.  When I record the track, I would let the vocals sing along with it, just to give the musicians the feel of the song.  They didn’t have to be good.  They were not for the record.”  As Mr. Evans tells in the book Follow Your Heart, on four-track tapes that he used those days “track one was for the lead singer, two was for the background singers, three was for the rhythm section and the fourth track was for whatever additional instruments were necessary.”

  “When I put the strings down – I think there were five or six of them – in the mix I would double them up.  If I wanted a light sound, I would double them once, and if I wanted something heavier, I would record those five or six in one register and then I make another take of them in another music I wrote.  The horns I didn’t double up much.  I used the trumpets and I used the trombone most of the time, but I would blend the trombone into the bass sound, and that blend had a different sound to it.  When I used the girls in the background, I used the Lovettes, especially with the Manhattans.”

  Kenny: “We used Talent Masters Studios in Manhattan.  Only studios we used in Jersey City was the rehearsal studios.  How many takes we needed?  It all depends on the song.  Some of the songs we did once, and that was it.  We were always told ‘time was money’.  It was no use in going there and not be prepared to go.  So we tried to prepare ourselves as much as we possibly could, before we went in.”


“FOR THE VERY FIRST TIME”

  Those two songs that Joe first took to Berry Gordy were finally put out on the first Carnival single (504) by the Manhattans in March 1964.  Sonny: “Our first single, For the Very First Time, was a hit locally in the tri-city area.”  George Smith, their lead singer, also wrote the song, which is a rather typical dancer of those days and actually sounds like it could have been cut a couple of years earlier.  The flip, a mid-tempo and mellow mover titled I’ve Got Everything but You, was written by Joe and his newlywed wife, Anna Moore.  Anna took care of the company’s bookkeeping and her sister, Louise, became an assistant in the firm.

  Perhaps a local hit, but nationally For the Very First Time didn’t make any waves.  According to Joe, their follow-up, There Goes a Fool/Call Somebody Please (506), did a little better.  Released in August 1964, There Goes a Fool was written by Sonny.  “I had written plenty of songs, but that was the first one recorded.”  It’s an uptempo pop song, which undoubtedly was musically influenced by the British invasion those days.  Smitty is again leading, and you can even hear a short flute solo by the producer himself, Mr. Joe Evans.  Call Somebody Please is a mid-tempo pop ditty, which Blue wrote and he also leads on this side.

  Those days Paul Williams decided to leave the company to pursue other interests such as managing artists, so Joe now had the company all to himself.  He formed a new publishing company called Sanavan – the name comes from Anna and Evans – and the new Carnival address became 350 Chadwick Avenue in Newark, Joe’s home address.

OTHER MERRYMAKERS

  Although the Manhattans eventually became Carnival’s leading act and breadwinner for the company, many other interesting artists had releases on the label, too.  Curly Mayes cut a poppy umptempo ditty called Oh Why (b/w I’m Walkin’ On, Carnival 505) in 1964.  Joe: “He was out west somewhere.  I’m still looking for him now, because I have a chance to put one of the songs on his records on a television movie.”

  Smitty invited his friend, Curby Goggins, to the company.  Curby also cut only one single (Come Home to Daddy/Love Me If You Want to; 510) in 1965.  Harry Caldwell sang in his high tenor voice a teenage anguish ballad named Nobody Loves Me on Carnival 516 in 1966.  It was backed with another yearning song, this time a mid-pacer titled Nobody Loves Me, co-written by Blue Lovett.  Joe: “I haven’t seen Harry for years.  He’s down in North Carolina somewhere.  He was from Charlotte, North Carolina.  He was also a brick mason, and he travelled around.”  Harry’s second single, a sympathetic “hippie” ballad called A New World Is Just Beginning (547), was released as late as in 1970.

  The Lovettes had two single releases and both Little Miss Soul (518 in 1966), and I Need a Guy (530 in 1967) were written by Blue.  Blue: “They lived in Jersey City.  We all grew up together wanting to be recording artists, and Joe Evans loved them.  We used them sometimes as female background singers, and we were looking for that Motown thing that Berry Gordy did.  The idea that Joe had was to record these young ladies and hopefully get a hit on them.”  Indeed, Little Miss Soul is like a standard Motown scorcher, whereas the flip, Lonely Girl, is a downbeat tender song.  I Need a Guy is again a motownish mid-pacer, while I’m Afraid (to Say I Love you) on the flip is a poignant beat-ballad.

  Norma Jenkins recorded Blue’s poignant ballad, Need Someone to Love (528; b/w a stomper called Me, Myself and I) in 1967.  Blue had invited Norma to Carnival.  Blue: “She was very good.”  Male duos were popular throughout the 60s, and one single by Carnival’s own Turner Brothers proved that as singers they were equal to many of their colleagues.  I’m the Man For You Baby (535) is an almost deep soul ballad, while My Love Is Yours Tonight is a more mid-tempo mover.  Joe: “I haven’t seen them recently.  These people are hard to keep up with.  They came from someplace down south.  They were quite active.  They got around.”

  Kenneth Ruffin stayed at Carnival for one single as well.  I’ll Keep Holding On (536) is a pleading soul ballad with a strong support from the horn section, whereas Cry, Cry, Cry is a blues romp.  Joe: “Kenny was basically a writer, but I recorded him, because some things he sang quite well.  I’ve been searching for him, too.  He wrote several songs that other artists did.”

  It’s Too Late and I’m Just Gonna Be Missing You (539 in 1968) by Rene Bailey let you know from the opening bars that here we have one big-voiced blues lady.  Joe: “She lives in upstate New York.  I call to Rene all the time.  She’s partly retired.  She sings on most of the weekends, and she’s teaching the school.”

  In the next part of the story I’ll still feature two other popular Carnival acts – Phil Terrell and Lee Williams and the Cymbals - more in detail and with comments from the artists themselves.  In their roster Carnival also had such familiar names to the fans of genuine soul music as Little Royal, who cut a fine soul ballad titled I Can Tell, and Jimmy Jules, who excelled on an Otis type of a slowie named Nothing Will Ever Change.  Both singles were released in ’67.

LET’S DANCE FIRST...

  So far on all four released Manhattans sides on Carnival Records the songs had been dancers, and we had to wait till the fourth single to hear a ballad.  Joe: “Uptempo things were easier to get played.  If you had a name, they’d play anything, but the best way to get new artists played was play an uptempo record.  When you take it to a deejay, they put it on and they don’t listen to the whole song.  They listen to the introduction and a little bit and tell you ‘I’ll play it’.  If you have a slow song, they don’t listen enough, no matter what it is.  So you had to have a little bit of rhythm to the song for them to give you a break with.”

  The Manhattans’ third Carnival single was also a mover, but it became their first hit and marked the beginning of a remarkable success story.  That song as well as the rest of the Carnival period and DeLuxe period will be covered in the second part of the story.

Heikki Suosalo

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS(so far)

INTERVIEWEES: Gerald Alston, Edward Bivins, Joe Evans, Kenneth Kelly, Winfred Lovett, Jeanie Scott, Phil Terrell, Lee Williams

MY OTHER HELPERS: Christopher A. Brooks, Charles Hardy, Vick Kaply, Toye Kates, Jr.

MAGAZINES:

·        Blues & Soul: John Abbey, David Nathan, Sandra Butler, Dom Foulsham

·        Blues News: Juhani Ritvanen, Osmo Asikainen, Ismo Tenkanen, Aarno Alén

·        Soul Express: Pirkka Kivenheimo

·        Black Music: Denise Hall

·        There’s That Beat!: Dave Moore

·        Vintage Soul: Adrian Croasdell

WEB SITES (besides those mentioned in the article):

-         www.allmusic.com

-         www.soulfulkindamusic.net

BOOKS:

·        Follow Your Heart (Evans-Brooks)

·        Top Rhythm & Blues singles + albums & Pop singles + albums (Whitburn)

·        The R&B Indies, vol. 1 – 4 (McGrath)

·        Soul Harmony Singles 1960-1990 (Beckman-Hunt-Kline)

·        A Touch of Classic Soul (Taylor)

·        Soul Music A-Z (Gregory)

·        The Death of Rhythm & Blues (George)

·        A House on Fire (Jackson)

·        King of the Queen City (Fox)

·        Record Makers and Breakers (Broven)

·        Stars of Soul and Rhythm & Blues (Hildebrand)

·        Number One Rhythm & Blues Hits (White-Bronson)

Part 2: 1964-1970
Part 3: 1971-1979
Part 4 (1980-1989)
Part 5 (1988-2012)


Back to our home page