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DEEP # 1/2014 (January)

  2013 wasn’t exactly an award-winning year in terms of the quality of new music.  That’s why at the end of this column there’s only My Top-10 in 2013, instead of the customary top-20.  However, the ones that are listed are all real goodies.

  Among deep soul aficionados, O.V. Wright is an almost sacred figure, and below Mr. Johnny Rawls talks about O.V. and the marvellous tribute CD to O.V. that he recently released, with some help from Mr. Otis Clay.

  Our old friend, Abraham “Smooth” Wilson, has released a new CD, aptly named Love, and below Abe sheds some light on this new project.  In addition to a couple of new southern soul CDs and recent retro rhythm & blues and soul compilations, there are also reviews of two very interesting and profound new books – on Southern California and Memphis music history.

Content and quick links:

Johnny Rawls
Abraham "Smooth" Wilson

New CD release, CD reissue & compilation reviews:
Gladys Knight: Another Journey
Abraham "Smooth" Wilson: Love
Lola: Cleaning House
Ms. Jody: It’s all About Me!
George Jackson: Old Friend/The Fame Recordings, volume 3
Various Artists: Dust My Rhythm & Blues/The Flair Records R&B Story 1953-55
Various Artists: Soul in Harmony/Vocal Groups 1965-1977

Book Reviews:
Stephen Propes: Old School/77 Years of Southern California R&B & Vocal Group Harmony Records 1934 – 2011
Robert Gordon: Respect Yourself / Stax Records and the Soul Explosion


  Remembering O.V. (CFR-018; is really a “precious, precious” album, and a must for all the hard-core soul music fans.  The former program director of Bluesville, Sirius XM Satellite Radio, and President of the Blues Foundation, Bill Wax, came up with the idea.  Johnny Rawls: “I had fun making it.  I really don’t know why the idea just never really hit me earlier.”  On the set there are nine songs that’ll always be connected to O.V. Wright – two from the 60s (Poor Boy and Eight Men, Four Women) and the rest seven from the 70s (Ace of Spades, Nickel and a Nail, Don’t Let My Baby Ride, Blind, Crippled and Crazy, I’ve Been Searching, Precious, Precious and Into Something I Can’t Shake Loose).  O.V. recorded them in Memphis under Willie Mitchell’s guidance.  The closing song on this CD is a new one from the pens of Johnny and Bob Trenchard, a fine and captivating tribute called Blaze of Glory.

  During the past five years Johnny had cut three of these songs – Ace of Spades, Blind, Crippled and Crazy and Eight Men, Four Women – for his three preceding albums, but they’re all remixed here.  His first O.V. covers were recorded as early as in 1994 on Rooster Blues with L.C. Luckett, when they cut I Don’t Do Windows and a medley of I’d rather be Blind, Crippled and Crazy and Ace of Spades.  “On most of my CDs I try to do maybe one O.V. Wright song to his honour.”

  Produced by Mr. Rawls himself and recorded in Tornillo, Texas, on this CD Johnny is backed by the Rays, a 4-piece rhythm and a 3-piece horn sections, and as additional sweetening there are still three background ladies called the Iveys.  They are two sisters and their brother – Jessica, Jillian and Arlen. 

  Otis Clay appears as a guest vocalist on three tracks – Into Something, Nickel and a Nail and Blaze of Glory.  “I was visiting Otis at his studio in Chicago three years ago.  I just asked him about singing on this record and he said ‘hey man, anytime.  Just send for me and let’s go ahead with it’.  And now next month we’re going to do a duet CD together, Johnny Rawls and Otis Clay.”  However, this isn’t the first time these two gentlemen have recorded together.  On a 2009 various artists CD called Broadcasting the Blues there’s a track titled I Want to be at the Meeting by Johnny Rawls and Otis Clay.  “About eight or nine years ago we were at the Phoenix Blues Festival and Bob Corritore invited us to his radio show.  I played acoustic guitar and it was recorded at the radio show.”


  Johnny, if any, knows Overton Vertis and his music.  “After I had moved to Milwaukee, I became his band director, although he lived in Memphis.  I was his musical director from 1975 until the day he passed away (in November 1980, at 41), but when I was a teenager I played with him some weekends in Mississippi.  My high school band was the backing band for him.  Those nine songs on the CD are my special favourites that I stood by him every night and watch him sing.  All of his songs are my favourites, but those songs bring back a lot of memories for me.”

  “The ones that really stand out are Eight Men, Four Women and Ace of Spades.  O.V. wanted to make a movie called the Ace of Spades, and we called ourselves the Ace of Spades BandEight Men, Four Women – when we played, people loved to hear him sing that song... and women would cry.  It was such an emotional moment.  On this CD you can tell that it’s not O.V., but I put myself into it, and I tried to recreate O.V. Wright in my way.”

  “He was a great guy.  He was a lot of fun.  He used to joke a lot, be a teaser, and it was just a lot of fun.  Once we were in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.  It was O.V. Wright, Z.Z. Hill and Little Johnny Taylor, and we were coming to this guy named Pie Man.  He was notorious for not paying.  It was a two-night engagement for all of us.  He had a big gambling room in the back, and O.V. loved to gamble all night, like shooting dice.  He told me that the only way we’re going to get our money is to win our money back.  That was his permission to go gamble.  So O.V. was trying to win our money back that the guy owed us.  It was crazy.  When O.V. would lose, he got mad and said ‘give me my damn money, man’.”

  O.V. is also known to have a problem with heroine those days.  “It didn’t affect his performances at all.  He had a lot of respect for what he did.  No-one ever found him doing that.  He respected us and himself enough for not bringing it into our world.  He was very personal with that.”


  Johnny Rawls was born in Columbia, Mississippi, on September the 10th in 1951.  “I moved to Purvis, Mississippi, like three days later.  My dad was there just visiting my grandparents, so my mother had me there.  We were living in Purvis.”  Today Purvis is a small town with a population of a little over 2,000.  Later on Johnny lived with his grandmother during the school year, and then lived in Gulfport, Mississippi, with his mother during the summers.  He moved to Milwaukee in 1971.  Johnny’s brother has fixed up the home they lived in Purvis, so Johnny can still stay there a bit during the winter.  “I spend all year round on the road in the United States and in the world, but when I’m playing down in Mississippi, I may stay in my house there for about a month and a half out of a year, and when I’m in Milwaukee – a month and a half out of a year.”  Johnny was booked every weekend in 2013, and he played altogether 16 or 17 festivals.

  “My early favourite was Sam Cooke and my mentor was Jackie Wilson.  Other influences were O.V. Wright, Bobby Blue Bland, and later on I went to like Marvin Gaye and B.B. King.”  Besides saxophone and clarinet, the young Johnny learned to play guitar as well, inspired by his blind grandfather, John Paul Newson.  “I was twelve years old, when I saw my grandfather playing, and I just couldn’t believe it that he was doing that.  Many years later I ended up with his guitar.  When my mama passed away, his guitar was in the house, and I had a real bad feeling going in the house.  I couldn’t go back in there anymore, not with such overcome with emotions.”

  “When I got the guitar, I started picking up different stuff from different people.  It was just so much fun growing up in Mississippi... everybody’s singing and playing.  I was fourteen, when we formed a high school band.  We would call our band the Sextexs.  Where that came from, I have no idea.  We did really well.  We were the only band within the hundred miles radius in that area.”


  Besides the Sextexs, Johnny’s high school band director had a group that Johnny played in to back the touring artists, when they came through Mississippi.  “I played with Z.Z. Hill a lot as a teenager and as an adult, in 1967-68-69 and all through the 70s.  He was a mild-mannered man, very well dressed at all times.  Joe Tex was the opposite, but I really didn’t know him.  We played with him only a couple of times at the end of his career.  He had his own band, a dynamic band.”

  Alongside O.V.’s band since the mid-70s, Johnny also played with Little Johnny Taylor till about mid-80s.  “I worked with O.V.’s band still about five years after O.V. passed away.  Whenever Little Johnny Taylor had some dates, I would play with him, and when he had no dates I would play with the O.V. Wright Band.  It was back and forth.  Then I still worked with Little Johnny Taylor in the 80s.”

  “Little Johnny Taylor was a dynamic entertainer.  We all believed that Johnnie Taylor took his name.  He was out first with Part Time Love and then Johnnie came out and sang some of his same songs and overwhelmed his career, and people got confused who was who.  Se he was always a little upset about that.”


  The very first record Johnny is on is a love ballad entitled I Wouldn’t Mind (b/w Get on It) released as Rawls & Luckett in 1985 on their own Rainbow label out of Milwaukee.  “L.C. Luckett played bass and we had a keyboard player and a drummer.  L.C. doesn’t stand for anything, just initials.  L.C. was ten years younger than me.  I used to perform with his uncles called the Luckett Brothers.  They’re really good friends still today.  That’s how I met L.C., Jr. and he wanted to play with me.  When we were Rawls & Luckett till the early 90s, we recorded Can’t Sleep at Night for the Rooster Blues Records (released in 1994), and after that record I went on my own.”

  The founder of Rooster Blues Records, Jim O’Neal, wrote in December 2006 on the Southern Soul List on the Internet that “L.C. Luckett (Jr.) was with the Luckett Brothers from Milwaukee.  His father, L.C. Sr. was the elder of the group and was a preacher, who wrote the song Who Made the Mountain on the Rawls & Luckett CD.  Johnny Rawls played with the Luckett Brothers... and he and L.C. Jr. seemed inseparable friends the first few years I knew them, always cracking jokes and going everywhere together, but not long after the CD came out Johnny decided to go on his own.”

  In 1998 Johnny Rawls - while performing with Deitra Farr in Finland in Espoo at the April Jazz Festival - told in an interview, when asked about the split, that those days they used drugs and gambled with L.C., but after getting tired of drinking and pimping he quit it all a few years ago (Blues News 3/98; by Sami Ruokangas, Markku Pyykkönen and Aimo Ollikainen).  Jim O’Neal: “I found out about Rawls & Luckett from Willie Cobbs, who recruited them to play on his Down to Earth CD.  Later they played on other Rooster Blues CDs by Lonnie Shields and Super Chikan.

  Still in 1985, right after the debut single, Rawls & Luckett released a 6-track album on their Touch label called You’re the One, which Johnny classifies as soul-pop.  Johnny: “Those Rainbow and Touch records sold pretty good.  Some guy in Japan bought all the rest of the albums that we had.”  Today L.C. Jr. is back with the Luckett Brothers, who’ve had a long career in gospel.  They actually recorded one gospel album together with O.V. Wright entitled Four & Twenty Elders on Creed in 1980.

  Johnny’s next five solo albums between 1996 and 2002 – Here We Go, Louisiana Woman, My Turn to Win, Put Your Trust in Me and Get up And Go/The Best of the JSP Years – all appeared on the JSP Records out of London, England.  “John Stedman knew of me, and somebody contacted him for me.  That was a great adventure also, because I did five albums and I produced about twenty people for him.”

Johnny, Bob and the Iveys background singers


  Remembering O.V. was jointly released on Catfood Records and Johnny’s Deep South Soul Records.  Bob Trenchard is not only the bassist in the Rays and a songwriter, but also the owner of Catfood.  Bob: “I am the sole owner, but Johnny is involved in everything the company does.  He is like the CEO.  Deep South Soul is Johnny’s record company.  We put his label on our Catfood releases, where he is the producer.  The name ‘Catfood’ comes from my idea that our music is soul food for cats.  But people do not use ‘cats’ to mean cool guys these days, unless they are musicians.  Back in the day men were ‘cats’ and women were ‘chicks’.”

  “Johnny and I met in 1997, when I was in a band called Kay Kay and the Rays, because he had been told by a club owner to check out Kay Kay.  We then started backing him, when he was in Odessa, West Texas area.  He produced our Texas Justice album, released in 2001, that put the band on the national map.  It was on Deep South Sound, his label.  Jim Gaines produced Big Bad Girl in 2003, which was the first Catfood Records album.  The band broke up in 2004 not long after we got back from East Coast Blues and Roots Festival in Australia, because of my wife’s death and I no longer wanted to be the leader or even be in a band.  No-one else wanted to continue with it, including Kay Kay.”

  Johnny Rawls is a prolific songwriter, and usually writes most of his own material.  “In 2005 Johnny persuaded me to have him record songs I had written with the Rays backing him.  That was No Boundaries.  It was the second Catfood album.  It was also shown to additionally be on Topcat label for us to get distribution through Topcat, but Topcat had nothing to do with making the album.”  Johnny: “Bob’s late wife died from breast cancer, and the whole album was written in her honour by Bob Trenchard.  It was dedicated to her, and Bob wrote all the songs from his soul and his heart.” 

  Bob: “Since 2005 we have been songwriting and recording partners with all Catfood albums produced either by Johnny, or Jim Gaines.  The Rays are our studio band.  Our present artists are Johnny, Barbara Carr, James Armstrong, Sandy Carroll and Daunielle, who is a female vocalist with Huey Lewis and the News.  In the past we have recorded Jackie Johnson, Blue Condition and Kay Kay and the Rays.  Kay Kay died in 2012.”

Johnny and Otis Clay


  Johnny’s first albums on his own Deep South Sound were entitled Lucky Man and Live from Montana, released in 2002 and 2004, respectively.  After that he changed the name into Deep South Soul.  Johnny: “I was in partnership with some people and we had a disagreement and didn’t work together anymore, so I changed to the other name.”

  However, there’s one duet album in between, Partners and Friends, by Johnny and Roy Roberts on Rock House in 2004.  “We recorded a song at a studio in Greenwood, North Carolina, and he said ‘hey man, let’s record an album’.  So we recorded one song, and we just went on and did an album.”

  Since 2006 on Deep South Soul, Johnny has released such albums as Heart and Soul, Rockin’ in Rockland (CD & DVD) and jointly with Catfood Red Cadillac, Ace of Spades, Memphis Still Got Soul, Soul Survivor and the current masterpiece, Remembering O.V.  

  Bob: “These days it is not economical to keep a band on the road.  So Johnny has musicians that have played with him and know his music all over the U.S.  He usually travels alone with his guitar and amp or sometimes takes a guitar player or a drummer with him, and then uses the musicians in the area he’s working to complete the band.”

  The receiver of numerous awards in recent years, Johnny isn’t about to slow down.  In addition to the duet CD with Otis Clay “we are going to do another album on Barbara Carr.  We’re getting material to record an album on her again.  I wrote eight songs on her previous CD.  So keep on checking Johnny Rawls out, keep on buying my records and check me out on my website at (interview conducted on January the 11th in 2014; acknowledgements to Johnny, Bob and Randy Olson). 


  How do they get away with it?  How can they give writer credits of I Who Have Nothing to Leon F. Sylvers IV and Gladys Knight?  What happened to Carlo Donida, Giulio “Mogol” Rapetti, Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller?  Or is there something that I just don’t understand?  Anyway, Gladys has recorded this song in a normal, dramatic style already on Columbia in 1979, and that’s the version I still cherish.  Although this new sped-up, hip-hopped and programmed version is, I believe, Gladys’ new single and making some waves (see on YouTube), it turns me off – especially in terms of so-called “instrumentation”; and sound-wise the remix later on the set is simply awful.

  Other tracks in the same category include “J-Dub’s” Searching for the Real Thing and a mid-tempo, machine-driven song ironically titled Old School with even Gladys’ big brother and long-time music partner and a Pip, Bubba Knight, appearing on it and somebody called Sean adding a rap to it.  Why do so many of these long-standing, quality singers fall into the same trap?  Trying desperately to prove how they want to keep up with times, stay contemporary, they lose both ways.  Does the 69-year-old Gladys really think that she can attract younger generations with this kind of urban sound?  Instead, she probably loses many of her old and loyal fans.  Heck, she cut her first record in 1957 (Whistle My Love / Ching Chong), and that was 57 years ago!

  All is not lost on the rest five tracks on the CD entitled Another Journey (Many Roads Records 700261383453), produced for the most part by Leon F. Sylvers III and released already in June 2013.  Executive producers are Gladys and her husband and manager, William McDowell, and - besides Leon - there are four more production units on this record.  The music was almost completely recorded at Gladys’ Many Roads studio in Las Vegas, Nevada.

  All in Due Time is a nice and slow song, somewhat ruined by poor background vocals track, and Settle is a mid-tempo toe-tapper featuring some real instruments, with the exception of programmed drums.  I L-O-V-E Y-O-U is a slow and whispery ballad, and Dream, produced and co-written by Donnie Lyle, is a bit faster but a lot more inspirational.  The cream cut on the CD is the melodic and soulful I Hope You Dance, Lee Ann Womack’s country & pop hit from 2000, produced and arranged by Aaron Zigman and Jerry Hey and hence equipped here with real instruments and a big choir on the background.  Now this is real old school!  This is the way I want my Gladys.

  I liked quite much Gladys’ earlier albums during the past ten years, the jazzy Before Me on Verve and A Christmas Celebration and One Voice on Many Roads Records, and I hope that this temporary loss of sense of musical reality is just a passing phase.  The Empress of Soul still stands at the very top of my list of female singers ( 

Abraham "Smooth" Wilson and his wife Rita with the O'Jays


  Smooth is first and foremost known as a fine balladeer, who in his high tenor voice croons gently beautiful and – yes! – smooth slow songs, which in most cases are self-written.  He has just released his third CD simply called Love, and it contains, both something old, and something new.  The twenty-eight tracks are comprised of fifteen songs and thirteen interludes, six of which are completely new and these instrumental snippets feature different styles and moods, ranging from funk to lush.

  Recorded in New York and backed by real musicians, six songs (Built, Love Is Cool, Orchestral Seduction, Why Can’t We Fall In Love...All Over Again, 29-20 on Jesus and Sweet Memories) derive from Abe’s CD, The Many Facets of...Abraham, from a little over two years back.  You can also read Abe’s earlier career at

  A few of those both new and old songs are uptempo.  “Depending on who’s listening, there are some people who just love the ballads and then there are people, who want to see you go in a little different direction, so I wanted to give a few uptempo songs like Tick Tock.”  The song was written by Abe and Billy Washington.  “Billy Washington is a keyboard player that I met thirty plus years ago in upstate New York, and he lives now in New York City.  I called Billy on the phone one day and told that I have an idea.  I wanted to express how much I loved old school soul and r&b music.  I said I got an idea of a song called Tick Tock, like a clock tick-tocks in a certain way.  Here I’m using a lot of the 70s and 80s funk, and I’m talking about the fact that some of the new music has lost the tick-tock.  We really need to go back and listen to some of that old classic James Brown and Solomon Burke and Wilson Pickett.”

Abraham "Smooth" Wilson and his wife Rita with Russell Thomkins, Jr and the New Stylistics


  A pretty ballad called You was again written by Abe and Billy Washington.  “Russell Thomkins, Jr. has the New Stylistics, because technically there are now two different Stylistics.  Russell is the original lead singer that we know from all those classic love songs from the 70s.  I went to a concert outside of Sacramento and I had an opportunity to meet Russell.  I said to him ‘I want to write a song for you’, and he gave me this look ‘you want to write a song for me’ (laughing).  If you listen to the lyrics, you’ll notice that I’m telling his story.  Russell has been married to the same lady for 42 years.  So I told the story like ‘when I was a younger man, I had sweet dreams and fairy tale plans, God sent me an angel in you’.  I played the song, sent to Russell, he thanked and told me that he’s in the process of working on his new CD and he would give that song a consideration.”

  The melodic That’s All I Need is presented, both as an uptempo, and ballad versions.  “With the ballad version I was trying to incorporate a little bit of that Earth, Wind & Fire type of thing, because they were about as sweet soul as you could get.  They were another one of those groups that I went to see in concerts.”

  The fourth new song on this CD is again a smooth and beautiful ballad titled Lady.  “The person that collaborated and helped me with arranging the song was the former bass player for the Doobie Brothers, Skylark.  I met him in San Francisco.  He’s now living in Las Vegas.  I told him that I have an idea for a song, I sang it to him and he basically helped me with the melody.”  Abe offered him a co-writer credit, but Skylark declined. 


  To a degree, Orchestral Seduction is based on one the instrumental mixes of Sweet Memories from Abe’s previous album.  “I went to San Francisco to a friend, who has a digital tracking, so he can mix the original and change it, multiply and add to it.  I was really looking for a closer Barry White type of a thing.  We did a little more work on it.  It is different, a big lush orchestration, where you get live strings and all those cellos, violins, two bass players, drums, keyboards... just big production.”

  On this new CD Abe has combined his earlier romantic ballad named Sweet Memories with an accapella version of it, which extends the track to close to ten minutes.  “I wanted people to hear that old a cappella sound”.  Another standout song from the previous CD is a lovely country-soul ballad called Why Can’t We Fall in Love...All Over Again, a duet with Veeda Alexander.  “She’s one of the most talented singers and nicest quality-voices you could ever hear.  Her pitch is perfect and her tone is warm.”  Abe found her in a church choir in Monterey, California. 

  At this point you can purchase the Love CD by either emailing to or dialing 1-800-953-3822 or 831-375-2591.  Abe: “Now I want to take this CD and my music to the next level, to show that I still have fire in the furnace.” (Interview conducted on January 15, 2014).



  It has taken six years for Lola Gulley to come up with her second Wilbe album, Cleaning House (WIL2020-2;, but it’s worth the wait.  Almost completely produced, arranged and written by William Bell, Lola and Reginald Jones, the set features a live rhythm section and big-voiced background vocalists, in other words quite a full sound.  You can read my interview with Lola right after her debut Wilbe CD, Give Her What She Wants, at

  On many tracks she portrays an independent, determined and even angry lady and subsequently the music is fervent, energetic and almost aggressive – with occasional sax solos thrown in.  Every now and then she trespasses on jazz field (Leave the Past Behind, Still Standing and Walking Proud), but equally easily she finishes the set with a simple fiesta song, It’s All Good, set to a fast Caribbean beat.  There are four slow songs out of the eleven on display, and I especially like two of them - I Deserve Better and What Goes Around – both with haunting melodies (


  It’s all About Me! (ECD 1151; is Joanne Delapaz’s second CD on Ecko in 2013 and altogether her 9th.  Produced by John Ward, naturally, the songs for the most part were written by John and Joanne, but I see that Henderson Thigpen has joined the ranks, too (please read his short bio at - scroll down a bit).  With John he wrote a soft and relaxed slowie called I’m Not a Cougar and a mid-tempo blues named Another Bad Habit.

  The opening track, The Rock, is a hammering and rocking, modern boogie-woogie type of a roller - present meets old-time - and a southern hit, I bet.  Another interesting up-tempo track is an easy bouncer titled I’m Gonna Keep My Love at Home, a duet with Donnie Ray.  Other worthwhile tracks include I’m Gonna Stand by You, a smooth and melodic mid-pacer, and I Apologize, a plaintive soul ballad.

  A very good source for all the notable SS indie releases is

  I’d also like you to visit The Boogie Report at, where Mr. James Mason is doing a great job in presenting “southern soul style”, not only in music but other walks of life as well.  Besides Music News, Videos, Top 20 Countdown and other categories, he also maintains topicality in his Daily Dispatches.



  After releases on Black Grape/Grapevine/Soulscape and Kent presenting George’s old material and demos, I sometimes called George mainly to find out, who the songs were meant for.  Now that George passed in April 2013, I’m not able to do that anymore.  Please read my tribute to him with earlier interviews at

   Old Friend/The Fame Recordings, volume 3 (CDKEND 408,; 24 tracks, 67 min., notes by Tony Rounce), I believe, is the last set of George’s late 60s/early 70s demos and recordings at Fame in this series.  George wrote all these songs, except four, and many of them together with Raymond Moore.

  Only one fifth of the material here is down-tempo, so now we get to hear many of George’s stompers, rockers and funky numbers.  I’m in the Middle of a Good Thing is an irresistible toe-tapper, If You Ain’t Here is actually pop, Doesn’t It Make Sense to You has a memorable melody to it and the opening song, O.B. McClinton’s It’s up to His Woman, is actually a richly orchestrated, full track.

  On the down-tempo side there are the pleading Just another Day, the gentle All He Can Do Is Love You, the soulful That from the Heart and the title tune, Old Friend (You Ask Me If I Miss Her), a beautiful and finished country-soul gem.  I’m glad that Geoge’s enormous and high-class work mostly behind the scenes is now finally exposed.

R & B with FLAIR

  Dust My Rhythm & Blues/The Flair Records R&B Story 1953-55 (Ace, CDTOP2 1382; 2-CD, 50 tracks, 138 min., notes by Tony Rounce) offers an exhaustive cross-cut of one the Bihari Brothers’ – in this case, Joe Bihari’s - labels out of California.  Starting out with hillbilly music, altogether in three years this subsidiary of Modern Records released 80 singles, and – hooray! – the fifty sides featured here are in chronological order.  The downer is that there are as many as 20 alternate takes.

  Elmore James was Flair’s number one artist, and he’s featured here on seven tracks; all blues, of course, and mostly variations of Dust My Blues and Standing at the Crossroads - both of them are included here – with a couple of slower ones, Sho’ Nuff I Do and Goodbye.  Among other blues acts there are the Royal Hawk - actually Roy Hawkins - James Reed, Baby “Pee Wee” Parham and Mercy Dee.  As a curiosity there’s one novelty number, Sputterin’ Blues by Walter Robertson.

  However, 50s rhythm & blues and doo-wop were the dominating styles.  In that field we have a shouter called Big Duke on three tracks, and here, as well as further below, I quote Stephen Propes – with his kind permission - and his excellent book, 77 Years of Southern California R&B & Vocal Group Harmony Records 1934 – 2011 (see my book review below).  “In 1953 Duke Henderson signed with Flair as Big Duke for the entirely topical Hey, Doctor Kinsey, one of a handful of releases about the controversial pioneer sex study b/w Hello Baby.”

  As a solo artist, Shirley Gunter has two tracks.  Stephen: “Her brother Cornel Gunter attended Jefferson High School where he joined Richard Berry to create the Flairs, which was the first vocal group on the Flair label.  Prior to her career with the Queens, sightless Shirley Gunter came up with Send Him Back, a passable imitation of Faye Adams’ gospel-imbued Shake a Hand.” 

  The very group, the Flairs, has four tracks on this set.  She Wants to Rock is a doo-wop rocker, written by their bass singer, Richard Berry, Gettin’ High, produced by Ike Turner, is quite similar and Let’s Make with Some Love and She Loves to Dance carry on in the same vein.  Stephen: “The Flairs have been referred to as the first teenaged R&B vocal group to emerge from the L.A. scene... they were first known as the Flamingos.  The Flamingos recorded I Had a Love and She Wants to Rock with gunshot sound effects supplied by Leiber-Stoller.

  With the Queens, Shirley Gunter recorded a fast, r&b & pop song called Oop Shoop, written by Shirley and Zola Taylor.  Stephen: “Shirley Gunter & the Queens is one of the two contenders for the first girl-group, that is, an R&B vocal group with no male members.  The other candidate was the New York-based group, the Cookies, that much later became the Raeletts, though they didn’t hit until 1956... Contrary to other biographies, future Platter member Zola Taylor did not record with the Queens because of religious differences, but did rehearse with them.”  Oop Shoop became a # 8 rhythm & blues hit in late 1954.

  A doo-wop group called the Hunters recorded a fast number entitled Down at Hayden’s in 1953.  Stephen: “The Flairs became the Hunters for the bluesy Rabbit on a Log.  The flip, Down at Hayden’s, was about a bar in Dallas, TX... The story about the singer carrying on with the wife of Hayden was similar to the RobinsSmokey Joe’s Cafe, written by Leiber-Stoller, who were involved in the Flairs first session.”

  Ike Turner’s talent hunting brought many artists to the label.  Elmore James was one, and Max Cockrell and Billy Gayles also got a chance to record two scorchers for Flair, Baby Please and Night Howler (a variation of Lawdy Miss Clawdy), respectively.  Ike himself cut a fast instrumental named Loosely and later the guitar-led Cuban Get Away, which in melody bears a resemblance to Jambalaya.  Among the five instrumentals on this set, there’s also the Carroll County Boys’ sax-led, fast shuffle called Dizzy, and that actually is Pee Wee Crayton.

  There are a couple of examples of softer and more elegant “lounge” material by Saunders King and Anna Marie, and also two jazzy tracks – Johnny Ace’s Midnight Hours Journey and a faster shuffle called This Time It’s Real by Ricky & Jennell, who were Richard Berry and Jennel Hawkins.  Jennel recalls in Stephen’s book that “at that time, jazz was the thing.  This made us push a little harder.  Richard and I were sort of underdogs in music class.  Everyone else was into top jazz and everyone said we’d never go any further than high school; we would never make it past the first level.  We just laughed because we were already singing at the Shrine Auditorium and places like that.”

  Bob & Earl fans may be interested in Bobby Relf’s slow and sentimental song in 1955 named Farewell.  Richard Berry together with the Dreamers opened Flair’s last year, 1955, with the fast and catchy Daddy Daddy.  In Stephen’s book Richard tells that “I think Daddy Daddy and Baby Darling was one of the best things we did.  The Dreamers were a damned good group... At that time we had seven girls; it was impossible to get seven girls on the bandstand.  What was so good about the Dreamers was they really could sing, they had beautiful harmony.  It was like going to church singing with the girls.”

  One of the last singles on Flair was Richard Berry’s sentimental and mellow Together.  Stephen: “Richard Berry’s final effort with the non-credited Dreamers was the superb ballad Together... In the opinion of both Gloria Jones of the Dreamers and Charles Wright who was putting together a group at the time, Berry’s Together was his best effort.” 

  Not a short and sharp review, I admit, but I hope that all that’s written above is enough to convince every 50s r&b, doowop and blues fan to grab this double-CD.


  Soul in Harmony/Vocal Groups 1965-1977 (CDKEND 409; 24 tracks, 71 min.; 6 prev. unissued; notes by Ady Croasdell and Tony Rounce) is the third “harmony” compilation in this series that presents sweet and sophisticated music, mainly slow and atmospheric, by groups from all over the U.S.

  This time producers, writers and label owners Joe Evans from New Jersey and Dave Hamilton out of Detroit are featured with seven tracks combined – four from Joe and three from Dave.  I’ve never been a big fan of Dave’s music, because to me his production is too thin and elementary, so I just list the performers here: The Webb People, Nightchill and the Mark-Keys; two first ones are previously unissued, the Mark-Keys came out in 1969.

  Two of Joe Evans’ Carnival cuts went also unissued at the time, and both the Reputations’ remake of the OriginalsWe Can Make It Baby, and the LovettesI’ll Be Waiting are unfinished tracks.  The latter group was named after Winfred “Blue” Lovett out of the Manhattans.  Blue: “They lived in New Jersey.  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 have a hit on them” (The Manhattans Story, part 1).  The other two Joe Evans Productions were nice ballads, an ethereal and angelic interpretation of Just You Wait and See by the Pretenders (1974) and the poignant Need Someone To Love by the Symphonies (1969), written by Blue Lovett.

  Among some obscurities – Waiting for Your Love by the West Coast Love Experience (1971), Be by Your Side by the L.A. Moon & Mars (1967) and Linda by Salt & Pepper (1970), recorded in Bangkok – there are a few familiar recordings, too.  The Joneses released the late-night Baby (There’s nothing you can do) on Spring in 1979, and the virile b-side to the Dramatics’ Volt single in 1969 (Your Love Was Strange), a beat-ballad called Since I’ve Been in Love, was for the most part sung by Elbert Wilkins, but William “Wee Gee” Howard was also there.  The single was produced by Don Davis.  Don: “I had met the Dramatics actually during maybe ’66 or ’67, when they were recording for Golden World and I was working there as a session musicians and a novice producer.  In ’68 I had just come out with Who’s Making Love, when they decided to give me a production agreement with my production company.  I talked to Ron Banks about producing the Dramatics, if they could get an adequate lead singer.  That singer was William Howard.  I heard William and the Dramatics and I thought ‘wow, this ought to be a dynamite group’, because I was always fond of the Dramatics ever since the Golden World days.  This new lead, I thought, added another dimension to the group.  Then I signed the Dramatics to my production company and produced a record on them” (The Dramatics Story, part 1).

  There’s also an alternate take – generally I’m not very fond of them – of the Mad LadsDon’t Have To Shop Around, the richly orchestrated Can’t Get You off My Mind by Brothers of Soul (1967) and a convincing version of Ooh, Baby Baby by the Magnificent 7 (1969).

  Other noteworthy tracks include a heartfelt version of Sam Dees’ and Frederick Knight’s haunting ballad called Boom-A-Rang by the Dynamic Soul Machine (1975) out of Birmingham, Alabama, and a Detroit version of an Italian song named You Don’t Have To Say You Love Me by the Four Sonics (1968).  The InconquerablesWait for Me (1967) is a post-doowop Vietnam ballad, where they have listened closely to Oscar Toney Jr.’s For Your Precious Love, and Love Be Not a Stranger by the Radiations (1972) is a pretty and melodic ballad, skilfully arranged by Bert KeyesI Won’t Stand in Your Way by the Premiers (1970) is a Philly production, a richly orchestrated big ballad.  I enjoyed this compilation packed with smooth and sweet group harmony music.



  Steve Propes certainly knows his music.  You’ll find him in the Wikipedia by typing “Stephen C. Propes”, and there you can see the list of his previous eight books prior to this new one.  I especially value L.A. R&B Vocal Groups 1945-1965, which he co-wrote with Galen Gart.

  Old School/77 Years of Southern California R&B & Vocal Group Harmony Records 1934 – 2011 (ISBN 9781461076926) is a 484-page self-published book with no photos but with the ever-important index at the end.  The book covers over 1400 records and over 850 artists/acts/groups in a chronological order, concentrating on rhythm & blues and soul but touching also other genres such as gospel and pop.  The book has a page of its own in the Facebook. 

  Already on page 21 Steve moves into the 50s, kicks off the 60s on page 252 and moves to the 70s on page 447, which is just fine with me.  He gives a short description of every single he features, and in most cases gives the history of the artist in question, lists the members of the group at that particular time, names the players and gives chart positions in Billboard and placing in national/local radio and record stores charts.  Especially enlightening was to read about early incarnations of many acts, members jumping from one group to another and artists recording under many disguises.  In many cases Steve quotes his own interviews with artist or with someone, who was directly related to that record.  Those inside stories are often quite funny. 

  Equally fascinating was to find out about un-credited or wrongly credited writers, true origins of songs, immaterial stealing, fights over music and ways to push competitors off the market.  Steve exposes numerous original recordings that were connected to bigger stars later and reveals obvious emulations and imitations.

  I was surprised at the amount of influence that certain artists had in the 50s and partially still in the 60s.  Now I’m talking about such names as Jesse Belvin, Richard Berry, Johnny Otis, Bobby Byrd, the Blossoms, Ike Turner, Johnny “Guitar” Watson and Charles Wright.  They were everywhere and wore many hats.

  It was also interesting to read about the origins and early days of the Platters, Esther Phillips, Etta James, Barry White, Jimmy Norman, H.B. Barnum, Sylvester Stewart aka Sly Stone, Brenda Holloway, Phil Spector, Fred Hughes, Jimmy Holiday, Billy Preston, Jimmy Hendrix, Bettye Swann and many, many others.

  There’s also one more explanation to those very first Ray Charles recordings that Henry Stone today claims having cut on Ray, and there’s interesting information about the origins of such songs as Louie Louie, Keep A Knockin’, The Bells of St. Mary and The Jelly Roll, which leads to Hambone which gave birth to the Bo Diddley beat.  The originators of such songs as Koko Joe, Justine, Big Boy Pete, I’m leaving it Up to You and Farmer John, Don & Dewey, were reluctantly accepting of the Righteous Brothers coming to their show and copying their act.

  The book is filled with such piquant details, and as a whole it really is one cornucopia of information.  You can read some quotes from the book in my review of the Flair compilation CD above.  I spent quality time with this book throughout the whole holiday season.


  Right after L.A., I moved to Memphis, in a minute, on my couch.  Respect Yourself / Stax Records and the Soul Explosion (ISBN 978-1-59691-577-0) is written by Robert Gordon, a Memphis resident, and published by Bloomsbury USA in New York.  Foreword by Booker T. Jones, the book has 480 pages - eight of them with colour photos - but there are still 87 black & white photos spread on different pages.  If we exclude acknowledgements, selected bibliography, notes on sources and the index, we have 390 pages for the very story.

  There’s an almost 7-year old and similarly titled DVD to go with this book, and you can read my review on the DVD at  Among Robert’s earlier books there are It Came from Memphis and researches on Elvis and Muddy Waters.  He’s also a producer and director of music documentaries.  This new book has websites of its own at and

  So far our Stax bible has been Rob Bowman’s Soulsville U.S.A., published in 1997, and, I’m sure, for many it also remains such, even after the publication of this new book.  Rob’s book also has over 400 pages, but more densely printed, and it’s crammed with details, facts, figures, quotations from documents and footnotes.  As Rob himself puts it “while I like a good tale as much as anybody else, personally I’m obsessed with accuracy.”  In other words, Rob hates myths, and it shows.

  Robert is more of a story-teller.  At times his book reads live a novel, even detective story, he likes to paint pictures and describe scenes in a more literary way.  His book is suited more for general public and uninitiated, whereas well-informed Stax music fans and aficionados cling to Rob’s book.  There are also a couple of slight differences in putting emphasis on periods: Robert focuses more on the early stages of the company, whereas Rob concentrates a lot on its downhill in the mid-70s.

  In a way Robert has three parallel lines running through his book.  One is music, which means musicians, the making of music in the studio, how the songs came about and very detailed descriptions of early recordings, such as Cause I Love You, Gee Whiz, Last Night and Green Onions.  Later recordings, especially in the 70s, become more like a list.

  Secondly he draws profiles of key persons, both those in charge and running the company – Jim Stewart, Estelle Axton, Chips Moman, Al Bell etc. – and the key artists and musicians, such as Otis Redding, Sam & Dave and Isaac Hayes, among others.  He also writes at length about different characters and conflicts between persons and how in the end the family illusion wears thin.

  Praiseworthy is also his survey on social and political issues in Memphis those days and their reflection on Stax’s music.  He gives detailed reports on incidents of segregation, Memphis sanitation workers’ strikes and school strikes and – the most tragic episode on a national level – the killing of Martin Luther King in Memphis.

  There are many crucial points in Stax’s history and they are profoundly documented in this book.  There were such shocks as the small print in the contract with Atlantic, the plane accident that took the lives of Otis and the Bar-Keys, the acts of Johnny Baylor, deals with Gulf & Western, Deutsche Grammophon and the fatal one with CBS.  Final blows came from many sources, including CBS, the Union Planters Bank, IRS, payola investigations and the overall racist attitude in Memphis generally, and towards the company particularly, where ironically they were living and working in a racial harmony.

  There are some interesting pieces of information in Robert’s book, like Jerry Wexler offering Aretha Franklin’s contract to Jim Stewart, who refused.  He had earlier turned also Gladys Knight down.  There’s also some information on Stax tours in Europe, and we in Finland also had a taste of that, when the Sam & Dave Soul Revue with Lee Dorsey, Arthur Conley and Linda Carr visited Helsinki in 1967.  At one point Stax was even negotiating with Saudi Arabia about financing their operations. All that, however, was brought up in Rob's earlier book, too, which is one of the reasons why I still consider that book as my Stax bible. At the end of the book there’s a “where are they now” list of the main players in the company.

  Respect Yourself is a very well-written book, an easy read, and a good source of information about one of the leading and most influential operators in black music history.  I enjoyed reading this modern-day (in Robert’s words) “Greek tragedy” and I also learned something new.  And let’s not forget that the main thing was and is music.  During the one decade and a half of their existence Stax created awesome music, which has stood the test of time and which is soulful – in the truest meaning of the word.

MY TOP-10 in 2013 *

(Full-length, new official releases)

1.      Otis Clay: Truth Is
2.      Latimore: Remembers Ray Charles
3.      Johnny Rawls: Remembering O.V.
4.      Jeffrey Osborne: A Time For Love
5.      Charles Bradley: Victim Of Love
6.      Vel Omarr: Cookin’ With Vel Omarr
7.      Wendell B: Get To Kno’ Me
8.      Will Downing: Silver
9.      The Mighty Clouds Of Joy: All That I Am, Chapter 1
10.  Lola: Cleaning House

© Heikki Suosalo

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