SHIRLEY BROWN Part 1 (1972-75)
Shirley Brown Part 2
Shirley Brown Part 3
Complete Shirley Brown Discography
Woman to Woman is one of the milestones in the history of southern soul music.
Starting with a dramatic rap, it tells of a woman determined to hold on to her man and tell
it over the phone to her rival, too, and it touches a subject people still today strongly
respond to. Although the story was intriguing enough, it was, however, the magnificent
vocal performance by Shirley Brown, which lifted this record to a level of its own.
Shirley is anything but a one-hit wonder, but an icon, a superb southern soul songstress
with a strong gospel overtone in her interpretation. Fans of more moderate and mainstream
soul may find her wailing too extreme, too overblown and twisty, and vocally she is said
to be too close to Aretha Franklin for comfort, but those, who have loyally followed
her recording career during the past thirty-five years, know better.
I AIN'T GONNA TELL
Shirley was born on January 6 in 1947, in West Memphis, Arkansas. In 1956 her family moved
to St. Louis, Missouri, and soon after that across the river to Madison, Illinois, a small
town with a population only about 4,500. It was located five miles north of East St. Louis.
Albert King, a premier blues guitarist and singer, was born Albert Nelson
in Mississippi in 1923 (passed away in Memphis in 1992), but since the mid-50s he had
been residing in the St. Louis area and worked there alongside Ike Turner and
Little Milton, among others. In 1966 he moved to Memphis and signed with Stax,
cut numerous albums for them and stayed with them till the demise of the company in
Shirley hooked up with Albert in the early 60s, and this is what she told to
Denise Hall (for the # 2/75 issue of Black Music): "When I was about fourteen,
I would play hookey from school to rehearse with Albert's band… Prior to that, the only
singing I had done was in church." Albert became Shirley's manager, and she worked
not only with Albert's band, but also with such names as Little Milton and Johnnie Taylor.
After nine years with Albert, in the early 70s Shirley switched from the Albert King
Revue to Oliver Sain's Revue. Oliver was born in 1932 in Mississippi (passed away
in St. Louis in 2003) and after working in many cities he finally settled down in the
St. Louis region in 1959. A producer and a recognized saxophone player, he was also
known for discovering new talent, such as Fontella Bass, Bobby McClure, Ann Peebles and
Barbara Carr. Oliver scored biggest hits under his own name on Abet around mid-70s
with such numbers as Bus Stop and Party Hearty.
Oliver leased records to Ernest L. Young's "abet" out of Nashville, Tennessee.
Abet belonged to the group of labels consisting of Nashboro, Excello, Mankind etc., and
some of the artists that had releases on that imprint included Little Johnny Truitt,
Freddie North, Percy Wiggins, Bettye Swann, Skip Mahoney & the Casuals and
Oliver Sain himself.
Shirley's first single in 1972, I Ain't Gonna Tell (written by James Ross and
Phillip Westmoreland) was a mid-tempo funky item, produced and arranged by Oliver Sain.
On this horn-heavy but otherwise not very spectacular number Shirley gets a couple of
chances to show her vocal prowess. The flip, a mid-tempo finger-snapper called
Love Is Built on a Strong Foundation, was also written by Oliver.
Those days Shirley cut some other sides, too - actually, far better than the released
single - but they were left in the can for over twenty years. You'll Never Ever Know
(by Oliver Sain) is a slow soul & gospel swayer, which was originally recorded in 1964
by Shirley's good friend in St. Louis, Fontella Bass.
It was released on an U.K. Ace compilation titled The Heart of Southern Soul
(in 1994), and another goodie, Even If The Signs Are Wrong, came out on U.K. Kent's
Uptown Down South a year later.
Although licensed for a U.K. release, too (on Mojo and Contempo), I Ain't Gonna Tell
didn't make any waves, and soon after that Shirley became Albert King's protégé again…
and then it didn't take long before the big one dropped!
At this point I'd like to introduce some of the characters that'll play important roles
in our story as we get along. With the first part of this story we also want to celebrate
the 50th Anniversary of Stax Records (
Woman to Woman was written by a team of three writers, James Banks, Henderson Thigpen
and Eddie Marion. Henderson: “I was born in Lake Cormorant, Mississippi
(about 15 miles southwest of Memphis), on March 8, in 1948. I started writing songs,
when I was in high school, and from there on started writing lyrics. I lived in Mississippi
in a little place called Holly Springs (about 30 miles southeast of Memphis),
and I went to Memphis, where I had relatives. They took me to Stax Records, and
that's how I got involved.”
“James Banks is a twin-brother of Homer Banks. He was already writing at Stax,
and I met Homer first before meeting James. We started writing together with James.
Eddie worked at the demo studio, and we needed a place to put demos out, so we all
three kind of started up from there. Eddie died about five years ago.”
“Right now we are developing new artists. My company is called On The Money Entertainment,
Inc. (www.otmentertainment.com). A gospel label I have is called Hamm Records.
We did a Christian rap duo called NonFiction (www.nonfictionnet.com), which is doing
'holy hip-hop'. We partner up with Ardent Records in Memphis. We're also getting ready
to release a couple of new artists this year.”
Henderson has in recent years, besides the Bar-Kays boys, worked also with such
southern veterans as J. Blackfoot and Willie Clayton, and also newcomers like
Shirley's sister, Joy (you can read her recent interview
James: “I was born in Memphis, Tennessee, in 1941, August 2nd. When I was in great
high school, we had a gospel group. We used to go around and sing from church to church,
also talent shows and things like that. After I got out from military service, I went
to a record company in Memphis at the time, Stax Records. They hadn't been open too long,
so I started there to write trying to get songs on artists.”
“"Actually we wrote with different people first, but then we became friends and we founded a
group - Eddie, Henderson and James - and we stayed together until Stax closed down.
We wrote a song for 'Pop' Staples of the Staple Singers, and we wrote for
many different people.”
Before Woman to Woman they had written some songs for the Bar-Kays
(It Ain't Easy, You're Still My Brother) and the Soul Children (Don't
Take My Kindness for Weakness) in 1972, and after Shirley's hit they - either in
pairs, or all three together - continued to write not only for the Bar-Kays (Spellbound,
Cozy, Holy Ghost, '76-'78), but also for the Jerry Garcia Band (That's What
Love Will Make You Do, '74) and William Bell (I Don't Want to Wake up Feelin'
Guilty, '86). In later years their songs have been recorded by Shae Jones, Cee-Lo
and Christina Milian, among others. In the late 90s James still worked with the
jazz-funk group called Plunky & the Oneness of Juju.
“I got out of trying to write directly for people. I would just write.
It wasn't directed to any particular artist. Eddie went into other things, so that left
Henderson and I. We formed a publishing company, Swelka Music. Still recently I've
been writing a few things, but nothing that I was satisfied with and I'm not trying
to place them on anybody.”
WOMAN TO WOMAN
“James and I used to get together every day, and we were at a studio one day trying to
come up with some ideas, something different. When people get serious, they say 'hey,
let's talk man to man'. So we came up with a concept. We thought it would be
interesting to have a song with somebody coming up 'hey, let's talk woman to woman'.
I had overheard my wife at the time arguing over the phone with a friend of hers about
a man with another woman, so we - James, myself and Eddie - came up with the monologue.
But no females were doing it. Isaac Hayes was doing long monologues at the time.
Whenever we came up with an idea, we demoed it to give the rough idea of the whole song.
In the demo studio they first cut the rhythm track for Woman to Woman, after awhile
came up with the monologue and the rest of the song. It was offered to Inez Foxx first.
James: “She didn't want to do it. She felt like the rap part in the beginning of the
song was for a male artist, and a song like that with a rap would be better for a person
like Isaac Hayes. Randy Stewart was her manager at the time and he loved the song,
but he couldn't make her like it. The song laid idle for about two weeks. We went to do
a session in Detroit, and when we came back Shirley Brown had been introduced to
the label and to the staff around Stax. We tried it on her. She did the song in one cut”,
Henderson: “Albert King brought Shirley Brown to Stax, and she sounded so much like
Aretha at the time, and that was a no-no those days. You couldn't do that. Now
everybody's trying to sound like somebody else. Nobody had any material for her,
so we presented the song.”
The chief at Stax, Jim Stewart, who signed Shirley to the company in early '74,
was so impressed by her demo - which included Stay with Me - that he decided to
produce the session himself, with the help of Al Jackson. This was the first time
for him in two years; after the Soul Children's Genesis album.
While the writers were still in Detroit, Jim cut the final rhythm track with such musicians
as Al Jackson (drums), Bobby Manuel (guitar), Donald "Duck" Dunn (bass),
Marvell Thomas (piano)and Lester Snell (organ). Later the
Memphis Horns, the Memphis Symphony Orchestra and Charles Chalmers Singers
(Chalmers-Rhodes-Chalmers) on background vocals provided the final sweetening.
Lester not only played organ, but he was one of the arrangers, too, alongside James Mitchell.
Lester was born in Memphis, Tennessee, in 1946. Lester: “I first started taking piano lessons.
Then I played in a high school band and went to a college band in Arkansas.
While in college I started playing with some local groups there, playing for different events,
dances, different high school things.”
“After I did that for awhile, I taught the school for awhile. Then I came back to
Memphis and started working with some of the local groups here. I said 'hey, all you
need is a bass player, I go learn to play bass', 'hey, you need a drummer, I go learn
to play the drums and I come back and play'.”
“Then I started getting with some local groups at Stax. I played keyboards with
Ollie & the Nightingales. Then, I think, Eddie Floyd needed a keyboard player,
so I went with them. By this time David Porter had recorded his first album and he
was putting a band together, and he needed a bass player. So, of course, I say 'yes,
I play bass, I play anything you want me to play'… just whatever it takes.”
“I started playing with David Porter, and, as he was recording different things, I would
be recording for Stax with him, which mainly got me in. I started meeting other people
and I started doing sessions, and started doing other things with other people… and, hey,
one thing leads to another.”
Since those days Lester's name has appeared on dozens and dozens of albums either as an
arranger, or a producer, conductor, musician or a composer. He has worked with J. Blackfoot,
Albert King, Isaac Hayes, the Staple Singers, Lynn White, Al Green, the Emotions, the Temprees,
Toni Green, Rufus Thomas, Marva Wright, Barbara Mason, Joe Simon and Margie Joseph,
to name a few. “I'm still recording for different people. There are still a lot of things
Some of the recent assignments include his work with Marti Pellow, a Scot and a
lead singer with Wet Wet Wet (e.g. Smile on Polygram in 2001; arranger and organist),
Axelle Red from Brussels (www.axelle-red.com; Jardin Secret on EMI in 2006; arranger
and keyboardist; rec. at Willie Mitchell's Royal Studios), a blues harmonica player
named Jean Jacques Milteau from Paris (http://jjmilteau.free.fr; Memphis on Sunnyside
in 2003; arranger & keys), Zucchero from Italy (www.zucchero.it; Zucchero & Co on Concord in
2005; arranger & director) and Buddy Guy (Now You're Gone on Jive in 2005;
“I remember doing the strings on Woman to Woman. We recorded the rhythm track, and
I remember I had to go out of the town, so I wrote the string parts on the expressway
while my wife is driving. When we got back in town, I recorded the strings.
I met Shirley for the first time at the recording date.”
Larry Nix used to master all the Stax records, including Woman to Woman. Larry:
“I was born in 1947 in Ripley, Mississippi. I was introduced to music through my brother, Don.”
Don Nix was a renowned saxophone player, producer, writer and recording artist in Memphis and
also on the West Coast for awhile. “I started in 1968 at the original Ardent studio, and
went to work in Stax in 1970. After Stax I came directly from there to the present Ardent
studios. Now I have my own mastering company here” (L. Nix and Son Mastering).
“Shirley had a tremendous voice. I remember being in the studio, when she was recording,
and I was just really impressed with her voice. I mastered Woman to Woman.
Being produced by Jim Stewart, he always took personal interest in everything,
but he had a high priority for that particular project. He kind of hovered over it.
Those were special days.”
“The actual session was not in one time. We would start working on it and do a reference,
which we would make for Jim and the writers to listen to, and one for Shirley.
Any changes that were made would probably take a couple of days to do.
The whole thing may be over a week or two, but two whole days in the mastering lab itself.”
Bobby played guitar on the session. Bobby: “I was born in Memphis in 1945, November 13.
I used to tap-dance as a kid. Then I got interested in a guitar, because I heard guitar
players … that and Elvis. I would pick up some things from the guys in the neighbourhood,
and then eventually I was old enough to go to some of the clubs around Memphis,
when I was about fourteen-fifteen.”
“I went to Stax right after Otis' death, in December 1967, I think. I was playing in a club
called Club Paradise. That's where all the shows used to come through - Tina Turner, B.B. King -
it was the hot black club in Memphis. I met Allen Jones there. He played bass.
At that time he was working with Stax. I believe he was the audition manager.
He would take me over to hear some of the things they were writing and doing, and I fell
in love with it. It was the first opportunity to get in there. There was an engineering
job opening up. Ronnie Capone was chief engineer, and he became real busy.
Jim had to start engineering. Allen told me about the job, and I took it for $ 75 a week.
I was newly married. Between that I was still playing the Paradise and teaching some,
but I made it. That was a major breakthrough.”
“From there I just started to learn how to engineer, write and produce. I wrote with
Bettye Crutcher. We wrote seventy-eighty songs together. Then in '72, when I
believe Steve Cropper left, I went in the MG's, when they reformed that,
and became part of that rhythm section, and that's when we cut Shirley's first record.”
“Later I started producing. I did a girl singer called Catherine Chase. I was still
Jim's partner. In '76, when Stax had just folded, Estelle Axton called me up and said she
had a DJ she wanted to cut. I was hesitant. But it was work, so I went in and that was the
Disco Duck deal." Disco Duck by Rick Dees and His Cast of Idiots
became a # 1 pop hit
and a platinum record in 1976 on RSO. "That really saved my life financially and in every way.
It was really a tough time in Memphis. Everybody was floundering.”
“From there Jim Stewart approached me about building a studio and starting a company together.
It was mainly a production company. We were doing outside productions for different people.
We did that for four-five years.”
Then in '83 I convinced him to try to start a company again. Jim didn't want to get back
into business. He just wanted to produce stuff. At that time we hooked up with a guy in
Houston, Harvey Lynch. I believe he's a program director at WLOK.
We started a record label called Houston Records, and we did really good.
Within six months we had a # 2 record in the country. It was Knockout by
Margie Joseph. There were a couple of other acts we did, too.”
“Right after that the old business just bottomed down, and we were doing mainly production
things, in the late 80s for Malaco. Soon after that Jim retired. I went on and tried
to get my own label going. Maybe four or five years I did High Stacks, till about 2001-02.
I had about ten releases under that; mainly gospel, but I did do a Stax reunion record
(926 East McLemore) and some other things.”
“In 2003 I had a heart attack, so I just really retired. John Ward bought my studio.
I've done a few things with him, played some guitar and mixed up a few albums.
At this point - feeling a lot better - I might do two or three records a year.
I'm kind of looking forward to the Stax revival… to get busy a little bit.”
Bobby remembers well, how Shirley came to Stax in the first place. “First time Albert King
brought her to the studio. The word was out he had this young girl, just a killer of a singer,
so we were trying to cut some demos and stuff on her.”
“Albert was trying to get her do blues kind of stuff … and here's a funny story.
He was trying to tell her something, to stay with the blues, and Jim says to him
'Albert, why don't we go out of here and get a cup of coffee'. The first record we
cut on her was Woman to Woman, so she was very, very fortunate right from the start.”
The son of Rufus Thomas and the brother of Carla Thomas played piano on
Shirley's session. Marvell: “I was born in Memphis, Tennessee, in 1941. I started taking
piano lessons, when I was about nine, I think, and I played my very first professional
gig at a club here called Tropicana, when I was sixteen. I was doing a lot of clubs
around Memphis. There were two or three bandleaders here in town, who had house bands
in clubs. One was a guy named Gene "Bowlegs" Miller. I worked with him a lot at
the Flamingo Room and the Rosewood Club. I worked with Ben Branch at Curry's Club and
with Willie Mitchell in a few other places.”
“Jim Stewart had decided he wanted to have a country & western label. When it started and it
didn't work, with the urging of his sister, Estelle Axton, he changed it to a rhythm & blues
label, which was called Satellite at the time, and later became Stax. My first recording
session was with my father and sister in 1960. It was called Cause I Love You.”
In the 60s Marvell worked mainly as a session musician - he also organized a band in the
mid-60s that toured military bases in Europe - but later he became to known also as a writer
and producer. “With each one of those you have to bring different assets to the table.
They're different projects, and I like doing all of them.”
“Professionally my main achievement has been the success of Isaac Hayes' first hit album.”
Isaac's Hot Buttered Soul turned gold on Enterprise in 1969, and it was produced by
Al Bell, Marvell Thomas and Allen Jones. "Lately there was a song Dan Penn and
I wrote together for Irma Thomas on her album in 2000 (My Heart's in Memphis)
called If You Want It, Come and Get It. I really liked the song. I was proud of it.”
In-between Marvell has worked a lot with Denise LaSalle, the Staple Singers, his
sister Carla and many, many others; even with such names as Michael Jackson, the Temptations
and Sammy Davis, Jr.
“Lately, for the last nine-ten months I've been doing a lot of writing. I've got a computer
work station here in my house. I have a young lady - she's nineteen - that I've discovered
and who's a phenomenal singer. Hopefully in a year or less, I'm able to introduce her
to the public.”
“Shirley Brown is very talented and she has an extraordinaire voice.
I remember when she was brought in by Albert King. We had a group of musicians there at Stax.
There are a lot of people, who have written that Booker T & the MG's was the rhythm
section for all of the Stax recording sessions, which was not anywhere close to be true.
I mean, all of these guys were wonderful, and they played on a lot of stuff, but there
were plenty of other people, who played on a lot of stuff, too - one of which was me.”
“Hello, may I speak to Barbara. Barbara, this is Shirley. You might not know who I am,
but the reason I'm calling you is because I was going through my old man's pockets
this morning and I just happened to find your name and number. So, woman to woman,
I don't think it's being any more than fair than to call you and let you know where
I'm coming from.”
“Now, Barbara, I don't know how you're gonna take this, but whether you be cool or
come out of a bag on me, you see it really doesn't make any difference.
But it's only fair that I let you know that the man you're in love with - he's mine,
from the top of his head to the bottom of his feet. The bed he sleeps in and every
piece of food he eats - you see, I make it possible.
The clothes on his back, ha ha, I buy them. The car he drives, I pay the note every month.
So I'm telling you these things to let you know, how much I love that man, and, woman to woman,
and I'll think you'll understand how much I'll do to keep him.”
Bobby Manuel: “There wasn't any Barbara in real life, but that was Al Jackson's wife's name.
That was a joke there.”
Also referred to as "soul soap opera", Woman to Woman was released in August 1974,
it charted the last week of September and on November 16 topped the Billboard soul charts
for two weeks. Its soul chart run lasted 16 weeks. On the pop side it peaked at # 22,
and stayed on the charts for 14 weeks. It allegedly sold close to two million,
although officially it wasn't certified by RIAA. Shirley was nominated for a Grammy for
Best R&B Performance, Female, but Aretha Franklin and Ain't Nothing like a Real Thing
won that year. (Woman to Woman was later reissued as Stax 1000A).
The song was released on the Truth subsidiary (b/w a mid-tempo song called
Yes Sir Brother, written by Al Jackson, Jr. and Carl William Smith).
Bobby Manuel: “It was because we were fighting the bankruptcy thing at that point. CBS and
everybody was coming down on us, so we couldn't put it on Stax, because maybe the funds
would be tied up. There would be a lot of litigation and stuff, so we were really kind
of starting over in a sense. We had that and Rance Allen, who also had a hit
(Ain't No Need of Crying) on Truth. It really kept us floating until they just
shut us down. We were really cutting hits again.” Also Johnnie Taylor
(We're Getting Careless with Our Love and I've Been Born Again) and the
Staple Singers (Touch a Hand, Make a Friend and City in the Sky) on the parent
Stax label were still commercially successful, but the final death blow came about a
year and a half later.
Bobby: “The recording session (for Woman to Woman) was magical. We all knew it was a hit record.
Everybody was really excited. We had a chance to keep company going here.
That record was a hit from day one. I used the Echoplex thing on it. That was relatively new.”
Henderson Thigpen: “This came out in '74, and the company was struggling at the time.
That one record was enough to keep the mother label going. Related to James, Eddie and
myself, it was the first million-seller we had and the biggest thing we had done at that point.
It really put us on the map.”
The hit spawned answer songs. Barbara Mason came up with From His Woman to You
on Buddah still the same year (# 3-soul, # 28-pop) and Lonnie Youngblood talks to
Barbara and blows his horn on a more mid-tempo beater titled Man to Woman
(on Shakat in 1974; # 39-soul). Shirley herself liked Barbara's version, but wasn't
too keen on Lonnie's. Barbara Mandrell covered Shirley's song for country music
fans on ABC/Dot in 1978 (# 92-pop), and lately Jewell has found the song, too.
On the pic above: Tim Whitsett and the writer at Malaco in 2000
Tim Whitsett, who today works as a manager at Malaco, has a musical history going back
to the 50s. His first band was actually called Tim and the Tomcats.
(His history is told in detail as an insert to our Tommy Tate story in our # 3/2001 printed
magazine). Tim worked with Stax from 1970 through 1976. Tim: “Shirley came to the label
after things started falling apart. The bank took ownership of the publishing company
and moved us into a penthouse suite overlooking the Mississippi River in a building next
to their headquarters downtown. So we were far away from the studio and the writers,
artists and producers, from then on. And about 18 months later, I moved to England
to manage Chrysalis Music, which was maybe 8 or 10 months before Stax finally went out
“About Shirley's Woman to Woman I can say that I was very pleased that Stax was able
to get another hit. Of course, I was pleased that it was a song I published (East Memphis Music).
I was particularly happy for the writers, James Banks, Eddie Marion and Henderson Thigpen.
They had been writing together for a year or so, working very hard, and this was their first hit.
Also, James was the twin brother of Homer Banks, who was one of our greatest writers and who
had been writing hits for years by then. So it made me happy to see James get a hit,
and I know Homer was happy, too. It was a big hit for Barbara Mandrell, too, and she sang
it on her television show, which must have earned the writers nice money.”
Woman to Woman was also the title of the album, which hit the pop charts on January 25
in 1975 (climbing to # 98) and soul charts a week later (peaking at # 11).
This 40-minute opus on Truth is simply one of the best albums in the history of soul music,
and also Shirley herself loved it.
The opening cut is a pleading "pain" ballad, mourning and slow, called It Ain't No Fun
(reissued as Stax 1000B). At 7:15, it also has a monologue, but this time in the middle.
It was released as the follow-up single to Woman to Woman in the spring of 1975
(# 32-soul / # 94-pop), and it was written by Frederick Knight.
Soul music lovers know his musical achievements on such labels as Juana
(e.g. the Controllers, Anita Ward, Fern Kinney) and Park Place (C.L. Blast, Keisa Brown);
not to mention his solo career (I've Been Lonely for so Long on Stax plus four solo albums).
Frederick's latest masterpiece is the new album by
(Also Frederick's career is shortly featured in the Tommy Tate story mentioned above).
Frederick: “Jim Stewart called me - I was in Birmingham, Alabama, at the time - and said he
needed some songs for Shirley that he wanted me to come up with.
I flew up to Memphis, and that was one of the songs I did for her. I first met her right
during the period she recorded Woman to Woman, back in 1974.” Frederick's own
version of the song is floating around, too. “That was a demo. It wasn't released,
unless somebody released it and I didn't know anything about it.”
Frederick's other song, I Can't Give You Up, is actually the only dancer on the album,
and the third one is a slow bluesy beater called Between You and Me.
“That was a song that, I think, Mack Rice and Al Jackson wrote with me, and all of
us collaborated on that one.”
Bettye co-wrote three songs for the album. Bettye: “I was born in Memphis. I guess I
was writing, when I was about seven or eight. I wrote little poems, and that was kind of
an outlet for me. I was never an athlete kid, so writing has always been a friend of mine.
As I got older, I wrote just as a hobby, and a friend of mine came by one day and said
'I can't believe you're writing like this and you're not doing anything with it'.
I said 'when the stack pile gets too high, I just throw it out'. 'I dare you to take some
of this material to the audition', and that was like the last thing you want to hear,
“I set an appointment at Stax, and David Porter auditioned. He said 'are you sure you're not
already signed with anybody', and I said 'no'. They had this guy there, and his name was
Raymond Moore, and David said to him 'we've been trying to get you to write like
this for a year' (laughing). My songs at the time were very sweet and pretty,
because the artists I listened to most were Nancy Wilson, Dionne Warwick, and I loved
Sam Cooke. David said 'I really like the way your songs are structured, but
you're gonna have to write songs that work for our artists here at Stax.
Well, he shouldn't have told me that (laughing), because I went and wrote a song for
Johnnie Taylor. They had been looking for songs for him, but nobody could come
up with anything that really suited him or his style… so I wrote this song,
Somebody's Sleeping in My Bed” (in '67).
Bettye was part of a writing team called We Three. "There were two young writers,
Homer Banks and Raymond Jackson, who were kind of writing together. Homer is like a
think-tank and he's the idea man. He would always come to me to finish the song,
because he always wanted a female point of view, which I really liked about him.
Finally we just kind of started writing together, the three of us. Then Raymond Jackson
got burned up in a fire, so that was the end of We Three, but we did a lot of writing.
There was a time, when East Memphis Music separated from Atlantic, when we released
twenty-seven albums in one year. During that time we wrote so many songs.
Every artist in the roster had to have songs. We didn't have a publishing catalogue,
so that was the year that restarted the East Memphis catalogue.”
Among the hundreds of songs Bettye has written or co-written there are releases on
Albert King, Barbara Mason (From His Woman to You), Carla Thomas, William Bell
(My Whole World Is Falling Down, A Penny For Your Thoughts), the Temprees,
J. Blackfoot, Etta James, Ann Peebles, the Mad Lads, the Staple Singers
(Love Is Plentiful), Little Sonny, the Sweet Inspirations, Delaney & Bonnie, Otis Clay,
Ted Taylor (I'm Gonna Hate Myself In the Morning), Sammy Davis Jr., Brenton Wood,
Sam & Dave, Darrell Banks and, of course… Johnnie Taylor (
Who's Making Love, I Could Never Be President, Stop Doggin' Me).
But Bettye has an album of her own, too, Long as You Love Me (on Enterprise/Stax in '74).
“That's the only one I've ever done. Everybody had been encouraging me to do an album,
and I really love that song, Long as You Love Me. Mack Rice said he wanted to work
with me, and we got together. I basically had written the songs, and Mack came along
and worked with me on the album, so I just kind of gave him writers on those songs.”
After Stax, Bettye went into another venture. “Actually I had a small antique business.
I came to England and everywhere else and got antique. Actually I still did an album on
Ben E. King. Then I did material for B.B. King and some others.
I still love antiques today, but I don't have a shop here anymore, but I'm always fond of
looking at something wonderful.”
IT'S WORTH A WHIPPIN'
“I've been knowing Shirley for a long time. I met her before Woman to Woman.”
Long as You Love Me is one of Bettye's songs that appeared on Shirley's debut album.
It's a sunny and light, slow-to-mid-tempo song with a Caribbean feel to it. “
They wanted some material from everybody to put on her album, and that was one of the songs
they chose. I wrote it at the time, when I was really in love.”
A mid-paced funk called So Glad to Have You is credited to Bettye, Mack and A. Wheatonn.
Wheatonn? “I don't know who he is, but I know he didn't write that song.”
Passion is an atmospheric, almost tender slowie, which Shirley sings in high register,
but restrained. “That song was written the same time as Long as You Love Me.
They were love songs.”
During that time they also cut Bettye's intense deep soul song titled It's worth a Whippin',
which didn't make the album, but was released as Shirley's third single on Truth, but,
alas, to no chart action. Later Margie Alexander covered the song for Chi-Sound/U.A.
They still included on the album the song that was Shirley's demo when approaching
Stax, Stay with Me Baby. Vocally Shirley is impressive, but even she can't touch
the majesty of Lorraine Ellison's original. A slow beater named I've Got to Go on
without You was put out by William Bell a year earlier, and as opposed to William's
laid-back style Shirley takes us to church. Finally, Greg Dempsey's song
I Need You Tonight is another impressive soul deepie.
Besides Woman to Woman, there are, however, no other songs from the team of
Banks-Thigpen-Marion. Henderson: “At that particular time politics set in.
Everybody realised that she was hot, she was selling. Homer Banks and Carl Hampton
didn't present anything, because they said that we gave birth with our song so they're
going to step aside. But all the other people, who didn't present anything in
the first place, came up.”
Shirley sang Amazing Grace at Al Jackson's funeral in late 1975. Al was shot on
October 1, in 1975. Soon after that Stax closed down, but Shirley was able to work for
Woman to Woman, until she signed her next recording deal in 1976.
Acknowledgements to Tim Whitsett, Wolf Stephenson, Henderson Thigpen, James Banks, Lester Snell, Larry Nix, Bobby Manuel, Marvell Thomas, Frederick Knight, Bettye Crutcher, John Ward, Joy, Cherrie Holden, Willie Oats, Rose Banks, Mike Ward and Juhani Ritvanen.
Sources: Rob Bowman's excellent book, Soulsville, U.S.A.; Blues & Soul and Black Music magazines; Whitburn's Billboard chart books
Shirley Brown Part 2
Shirley Brown Part 3
Complete Shirley Brown Discography
(label # / titles / Billboard # soul/pop / year)
9444) I Ain't Gonna Tell / Love Is Built On A Strong Foundation (1972)
3206) Woman To Woman (# 1 / 22) / Yes Sir Brother (1974)
3223) It Ain't No Fun (# 32 / 94) / I've Got To Go On Without You (1975)
3231) It's Worth A Whippin' / Between You And Me
(title / label # / Billboard placing & chart run - soul/pop / year)
WOMAN TO WOMAN (Truth, TRS-4206); # 11 (18 weeks) / # 98 (11 weeks), 1974
It Ain't No Fun / Long As You Love Me / Stay With Me Baby / I've Got To Go On Without You // Woman To Woman / So Glad To Have You / Passion / I Can't Give You Up / I Need You Tonight / Between You And Me
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