I think that actually
this is my first-ever column, where books are the headliners and CDs only supporting
acts. My reviews of two recent biographies on Wilson Pickett and Candi
Staton are followed by two retrospective compilations, so now you can’t
escape the history.
has done a praiseworthy job by travelling to many states following Wilson
Pickett’s (1941-2006) trail and interviewing as many as 67 persons for his
book, In the Midnight Hour – the Life & Soul of Wilson Pickett (Oxford
University Press; ISBN 97801902529426; 324 pages – the very story: 261 p.).
The ever-important index is included and 16 pages are filled with interesting,
historic photos; no discography, though, but all that info is easy to find on
the Internet these days.
With the help of
Wilson’s relatives Tony paints a detailed picture of Wilson’s childhood days in
Prattville, Alabama, with occasional visits to Detroit to see his father. Early
experiments with music in gospel quartets in Alabama are documented, as well as
the 50s record scene in Detroit, where Wilson moved in 1956. His third Detroit
group was the Violinaires and the first recording session with them took
place in late 1957. The secular Falcons followed in 1960, and two years
later the gospel-infused I Found a Love hit the charts. Wilson’s
first-ever solo single was released in early 1962 on the Correc-tone label (My
Heart Belongs to You/Let Me Be Your Boy). “It was an awful record”, Wilson
told me in our 1982 chat (all further quotes derive from this interview).
The intense If
You Need Me followed a year later on Double-L and In the Midnight Hour in
1965 was the start of his lucrative period at Atlantic, both commercially and
music-wise. Big R&B hits kept on coming – Don’t fight it, 634-5789
(Soulsville, U.S.A.), Land of 1000 Dances, Mustang Sally, Funky Broadway... –
after Wilson had visited first Stax in Memphis, then Rick Hall’s Fame
studios in Muscle Shoals. “Rick Hall’s approach to funky music differs a lot
from Steve Cropper’s. Rick Hall was more loose. Cropper was a bit too
tight.” (Rick Hall lost his core rhythm section in 1969, when those musicians
built a new studio at Jackson Highway in a building, which, however, never was
a casket factory, as stated in some sources). When listening to those 60s
albums and looking at credits, you can’t help noticing what a prolific
songwriter Wilson was those days. In the book he even suggests that in some
cases he alone wrote the song but had to share the credits.
profoundly all Wilson’s songs and record releases and uses quotes and
information from those that actually were there at the time. Next Wilson
visits Chips Moman’s American studios and cuts – among others – the impressive
I’m in Love, which in our chat he cited as his own favourite among his
recordings. Those days Wilson also became close friends with Bobby Womack,
who was the one to introduce him not to only his songs, but to cocaine as well.
In late 60s and early 70s, Wilson covered a lot of pop and rock songs and
turned also them into hits – Hey Jude, Hey Joe and Sugar Sugar.
For Wilson the
years of 1970 and 1971 (and 1972) turned out to be another golden period, when
the In Philadelphia album - a collaboration with Gamble & Huff
- spawned such hits as Engine Number 9, Don’t Let the Green Grass Fool You,
followed by still Don’t Knock My Love and Fire and Water from the
next album. For Wilson the most shocking thing about the In Philadelphia LP
was the high production cost. “Those days to cut an album would cost 25,000 –
35,000 dollars, and this became my first 70,000 album. Jerry Wexler asked,
how much I was willing to pay and I said ‘the usual 30,000 dollars’, and he
said ‘okay, I’ll pay the rest’.”
After close to
ten years with Atlantic, Wilson left for RCA in 1973. “Atlantic was a fine
company, but the people who bought it didn’t care for black artists at all...
I stayed for a couple of years with RCA until I decided that I don’t want their
money. I want hit records.” RCA was followed by such labels as Wicked, Erva,
Big Tree, EMI, Catawba and even Motown in 1987. The final album, It’s
Harder Now, was released on Bullseye in 1999.
One thing you
can’t avoid in profiling Wilson is his temper, and with many examples Tony
illustrates also this side of the artist. Wilson was a wild child, but since
the 1970s both drugs and alcohol made things worse, and the most troubled times
fell on the 80s and 90s, until his sentences to prison and rehab calmed things
down a bit. At Atlantic Records Noreen Woods came up with the moniker Wicked
after Wilson had pinched one secretary wearing a miniskirt.
surprisingly, Young Hearts Run Free (Heritage Builders
Publishing; ISBN 978-1-942603-58-0) is the title of Candi Staton’s new
book. Subtitled First Lady of Southern Soul, Dr. Sherman Smith is
the co-writer and editor of this 256-page tome with no index but 16 pages of
photos, which are for the most part recent family pictures. As the book went
into print prior to the election, there are photos of Candi with both Hillary
and Donald included – to be on the safe side. Candi’s previous biography, This
Is My Story, was published in 1994.
about growing up in rural Alabama and tells sweet stories about her relatives,
but reveals also the rougher side, which includes KKK and episodes like “I was
drunk and a gambler at ten years old” – to a degree tongue-in-cheek. Candi
started singing at five, first in the Four Golden Echoes and later with the
Jewel Gospel Trio, which led to her first recording sessions for the
Nashboro label. She tells about the gospel scene in the 1950s and regrets that
the Jewel Gospel Singers never got acknowledged enough as the
forerunners in that field of music.
In this book
Candi concentrates more on her personal life and five marriages, characterized in
the end by jealousy, abuse and violence. As most of you remember, her second
husband was Clarence Carter and they married in 1970. Candi also gives
advice for young girls and – as expected – does a little preaching every now
and then. Halfway through we reach the remarkable Fame spell, and here I would
have loved to read more about the sessions and the music itself – remember I’d
Rather Be an Old Man’s Sweetheart, Sweet Feeling, Stand by Your Man, He Called
Me Baby, Mr. and Mrs. Untrue etc.?. Logically, Candi continues by
describing the rough side of the chitlin’ circuit those days. She also has
mostly fond memories of some of her boyfriends - such as Pervis Staples, Lou
Rawls (both good and bad memories) and Tyrone Davis – but she also
openly deals with suicide attempt and living in poverty with four kids.
Candi got rid of
her addictions in 1982 and focused on gospel music on her Baracah label and
bible studies at Beracah Ministries. In recent years she has released not only
gospel, but also some impressive secular, southern soul music. Let me just add
that extra proofreading to avoid some inaccuracies could have helped. The
Mighty Clouds of Joy came into existence in the mid-1950s, so there was no
such group in the 1940s. Likewise, Cameo could not have performed in
1969, because it was founded only five years later. Also Capital Records
should read Capitol. But let’s finish with one of Candi’s sentences: “I know
this book has been an emotional ride not only for me but for many of you as
Finale (CDKEND 461, www.acerecords.com;
24 tracks, 59 min.) is the last Kent compilation concentrating on Jack
Ashford’s and Shelley Haims’ venture, and only half of the material
on this set was actually released between 1965 and ’67 on seven different labels,
such as Junior, Boss, Sport, Sticky and Sir Rah. The rest 12 tracks were
released either on later compilations, or appear here for the first time. In
his notes Ady Croasdell first tells the overall story of this production
company and then provides annotations on each artist and track.
on this set were the Hesitations on Kapp and the Metros on RCA.
The three Hesitations tracks derive from their 1967 debut album Soul
Superman and the passionate You’ll Never Know has always been one of
my favourites. The other two are You Can’t by Pass Love and the title
track. The Metros’ small hit in 1967, Sweetest One (#
44-r&b, # 88-pop), is paired here with a Spinners sounding
toe-tapper called No Baby.
stream of dancers and stompers and mellower mid-tempo beaters is interrupted
only by two slow songs, the above You’ll Never Know by the Hesitations and
I like Your Style by Freddy Butler. I’m convinced that all the
enthusiasts of the infectious Detroit-based sound and beat salute this CD,
although for me in some cases lesser melodies and vocalists tend to lower the
bar. It leaves you with the impression of routine replacing the excitement. Other
noteworthy artists on the set include Lorraine Chandler and Willie
Kendrick. Of the four instrumental tracks on display, personal favourite
is The Bari Sax, led by Mike Terry.
A Dose of
Soul (BGP, CDBGPD 301; 18 tracks, 67 min.) compiles Chet “Poison”
Ivey’s seven singles on Al Sears’ Sylvia label between 1972 and
’75. As a bonus we still get a few longer alternate takes. On Sylvia with one
exception (a cover of the Fiestas’ So Fine), Chester wrote all of
his own material and most of these tracks were cut at Sigma Sound in
the track Funky Chit Chat, Dean Rudland writes in his notes that “the
groove is pure James Brown” and for the most part that goes for the rest
of the music, too. Every now and then Chet may veer off into semi-psychedelia
(Dose of Soul), light dance music (Party People) or even
mid-tempo, melodic pop music (Been So Long), but James is the main
influence in his Sylvia stint. Unfortunately during his forty-year-long recording
career, starting from 1959, Chet never enjoyed a hit record He passed away in
2007 at the age of 74.