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DEEP # 2/2017 (March)

  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.

Content and quick links:

Book Reviews:
Tony Fletcher: In the Midnight Hour – the Life & Soul of Wilson Pickett
Candi Staton & Dr. Sherman Smith: Young Hearts Run Free - First Lady of Southern Soul

Compilation/Reissue CD reviews:
Various Artists: Pied Piper Finale
Chet "Poison" Ivey: A Dose of Soul



  Tony Fletcher 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. 

  Tony analyzes 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. 


  Not 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.

  Candi writes 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 well.”



  Pied Piper Finale (CDKEND 461,; 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.

  The money-makers 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.

  The constant 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 FiestasSo Fine), Chester wrote all of his own material and most of these tracks were cut at Sigma Sound in Philadelphia.

  When reviewing 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.

© Heikki Suosalo

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