My column focuses this time on two soul singers, one an internationally well-known and highly respected and the second one with only one album under his belt, and that album was released 46 years ago in Finland. Eric Ingram is reviving the legacy of his father, Luther Ingram, and that one in-demand Finnish album by Charles Williams has now been re-released as a gatefold vinyl LP.
There were fifteen short film nominees at the Ocktober Film Festival in New York this year, and on the second of October it was announced that a 16-minute movie titled Birth of a Song had won “The Audience Choice” Award, four days after it premiered at a movie theatre called Stuart Cinema & Cafe in Brooklyn, NY.
For classic soul music fans the most significant interconnection in this case is that the film tells about a song we all know by the name of (If Loving You Is Wrong) I Don’t Want to Be Right, which turned into a #1 soul and a #3 pop hit for Luther Ingram in 1972. The executive producer of this film was Luther’s son, Eric Luther Ingram. The script was written by him, Brian Randant and Lenny Mink. Luther is portrayed by Zachary Clark, and among other character roles in the film there’s Luther’s brother, Archie Ingram, and “The Muscle” and “The Mouth”, alias Dino Woodard and Johnny Baylor.
ERIC LUTHER INGRAM TRYING TO SNEAK OUT
Eric: “It’s a passion project, a legacy project and I’m not getting any younger. I’m one person among many that think that my Pops didn’t get the recognition he deserved and that his story and the relationships he built through his career need to be known. This short film was financed with my own skin, on my personal savings. This was a three-day shoot, 14 hours a day.”
OFF - Ocktober Film Festival - was launched ten years ago and all screenings are free of charge to everyone. Eric: “There were seven or eight categories: best full-length feature, best documentary etc... We were nominated for best short against 14 other films. We didn’t win, so my girl Leah and I looked at each other and we were like ‘let’s beat the crowd’, because we had to get to the airport. We were trying to be unnoticed but were sitting in the back, so it was going to be tough not being noticed. After the final three categories we were going to try sneaking out during final words. The final words from the host were ‘there’s one last award that’s not on the itinerary. It’s the viewers’ choice award, the award that you the audience chose as the best film project of the festival.’ We were going to make a break for it once they announced the winner and the applause start. Only thing was they announced my film and Leah with her eyes wide open looked at me as though she just saw someone get shot! I couldn’t believe it! I was shocked! The applause began as they immediately went into the trailer! I had to speak after that and just think - we tried to leave early! I just thought to myself: another lesson learned.”
Birth of a Song is a riveting film, both action-packed – but only lightly - and also filled with humour. Eric as an executive producer and other writers take some artistic liberties in terms of dates and order of events, but it’s easy to see why it captivates audiences. Eric: “I’m using this short as a tool to attract investors and financing the full-length feature. It’s not something you can stream or download. It’s strictly a tool used to get the big picture made.”
“I have a few other film and TV projects on the burner, some in pre-production and others that are script-ready. I have two published books out: The Unwatered Rose (A Khmer Woman’s Journey to Freedom), which has a script attached to it, and The Breakthrough, which includes motivational and inspirational stories from me and many of my author friends.”
Eric: “I was born in St. Louis, MO., and raised in Centreville/East St. Louis, IL. Today I’m living in Belleville, IL, and operating a brand new production company called Muscle Shoals Midwest. One of the entities under this umbrella is a music label called Blue Lotus Recordings. It’s operated by Paul Niehaus and Kevin O’Conner. Paul, a soul music connoisseur and gracious enough to bring me on as a partner, has welcomed my ideas and strategies in order to move Blue Lotus forward. We have some of the greatest artists and singer/songwriters the world has yet to hear. Stay tuned, as they say.”
Eric: “My relationship with my Pops was a close one. I learned a lot under his tutelage including how to make a hit record as well as how to treat your artist and the people that work for you. His teachings that I can still recall as young as age 7 still reside within me till this day. My goal is to continue my Pop’s legacy, introduce to the world, new content, new music, and to use whatever platform I have to make this world a better place.”
LUTHER – LEAD SINGER IN THE GARDENIAS
For the printed issue of our Soul Express magazine #2/2004 I wrote an 11-page feature on Luther with interviews with not only Luther himself, but also his sister Daisy
- “Sister Daze” - brother Archie, Randy Stewart, “Mr. Boom Boom” aka Dino Woodard, Sir Mack Rice, Jimmy Johnson and Tim Whitsett. Below I repeat in a nutshell the main points of Luther’s career from that feature article, and there’s also a complete discography included at the very end.
Luther Thomas Ingram was born on November 30, 1937, in Jackson, Tennessee. In his childhood church music filled the house. Luther: “Mother made us blue and white suits and put me along with Archie and Richard on program at the family church.” Altogether in the Ingram family, which has Blackfoot Indian heritage, there were seven children. The family moved via Chicago to Alton, Illinois, when Luther was almost ten years old, and a couple of years later they formed a 6-piece gospel group called the Midwest Crusaders, with Luther singing lead. The five-piece secular modification of the group was called the Gardenias, and in 1956 they landed a recording contract with Federal Records, hooked up with Ike Turner, and of the seven songs cut in a session withIke and his Kings of Rhythm, one single was released with Luther on lead, My Baby’s Tops. After the single flopped, the group went back to gospel and resumed being the Crusaders.
Luther was back and forth to the group but mostly he continued working with Ike. Luther: “I guess I worked with him for about two or three years. I was performing with his band, and then Tina started to work with him.” Luther left after Ike didn’t have any time to concentrate on him, married Jacqueline in 1961 and moved to the St. Clair County, Illinois. Luther and Jacqueline had two boys, Kenneth and Eric Luther. Daisy Ingram: “Archie, Richard and Luther were employed at McDonnell Aircraft located in St. Louis, Missouri - - Luther kept on doing music. He sang in clubs after work and weekends.”
ROBERT BATEMAN’S PROTÉGÉ
Luther: “I first met Robert in my home town, Alton. He was with Motown at the time. He later wanted me to come to New York, and he made himself a part of me making a record.” Robert’s father would sing in a gospel quartet called the Spirit of Alton, which used to perform on the same programs as Luther and the Midwest Crusaders. Daisy: “Luther left for New York in 1965 from Illinois. He spent lots of time in New York during his career, which is why so many probably think he lived in New York, but he never actually changed his residence to New York.”
Luther’s first solo singles on Decca, Smash, HIB in 1965 and ’66 and later also on Hurdy-Gurdy were cut in New York. Next Luther ran into two infamous men originally from the boxing circles, Johnny Baylor and Dino Woodard. Luther: “I met Johnny Baylor in New York. I was writing songs - - and he wanted me to write a song for his artist, who was named Little Dooley. So I had written a song, he liked it and he wanted to record it. I believe it was around ’66. Johnny was a kind of an underworld guy. He was in the fight business, the price fighting games, he was shady and his nickname ‘Koko’ came from there – knockout.” Randy Stewart: “I have been knowing Johnny Baylor a might, mighty long time, ever since he was working with Sugar Ray Robinson.” DinoWoodard: “I formerly was a boxer, before I entered the recording industry, when I became a record promoter – I worked at the Apollo Theater, starting as an usher and as a doorman.”
SOUL GEMS ON KOKO
Johnny Baylor had established his KoKo label in 1962 and revived it five years later with a stomper called You Got to Give Love to Get Love, sung by Luther. Randy: “Those first singles were cut by Willie Mitchell in his studio.” Co-written by Luther, his second KoKo single, Missing You, already made some waves in 1967. Luther: “I many cases I produced them, but Johnny put his name on them, because they were potential hits.” Also for the next four years Randy Stewart put a 12-piece band called A Different Bag for Luther as well as a three-piece background group named A Chosen One.
Stax Records became the distributor for KoKo starting from October 1968, and after two charted singles – Pity for the Lonely and My Honey and Me – Luther hit for the first time top 10 on Billboard’s soul charts with a cover of Johnnie Taylor’s recording three years earlier, Ain’t That Loving You (For More Ways Than One) in 1970. Luther’s own early musical influences
outside gospel include Sam Cooke – “he was my number one” – Clyde McPhatter and Jackie Wilson. For Luther’s debut album in 1971, I’ve Been Here All the Time, they practically gathered previous single sides with a couple of re-recordings and remixes, plus Sam Cooke’s You Were Made for Me. Luther: “I chose it, because it was such an intimate song.”
In 1971 Luther also co-wrote with Mack Rice a song titled Respect Yourself, which turned into a big hit for the Staple Singers. Bettye Crutcher and Tommy Tate took part in the writing process, and Tommy cut the demo of the song.
Homer Banks, Raymond Jackson and Carl Hampton wrote a song about infidelity and consequent qualm in 1970, first with the Emotions in mind. Homer did the demo, the group cut it, but then thought that it was too risqué for their “sweet young ladies” image. Veda Brown recorded it, but the result wasn’t satisfactory enough, and both Don Davis and Isaac Hayes turned the song down. Luther: “I was in the room with Isaac and David Porter and I heard this demo, and it was about a woman. I decided to change it and put it on a man, and they liked it. I had my family – my sister and brothers – do the musical arrangement. Then I went to Muscle Shoals, they gave me the perfect arrangement and I recorded it. It took less than half an hour.” Jimmy Johnson: “I played rhythm guitar on that project. In fact the first song we recorded was If Loving You Is Wrong. I was very impressed with his singing ability.” Randy: “Luther really produced the song on himself in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, but because of Johnny Baylor owning the company his name went down there as a producer. But Luther and Pete Carr, the guitar player in Muscle Shoals, did all the work.”
Released in May 1972, Luther’s reading of (If Loving You Is Wrong) I Don’t Want to Be Right hit #1 on Billboard’s soul charts and #3 pop. Among numerous covers soul-wise the most remarkable ones are by Millie Jackson, David Ruffin, Isaac Hayes, Bobby Bland and Percy Sledge. Ironically, the Emotions also recorded it in 2004.
Luther’s second album in 1972 was named after the hit single and it is one of the cream albums in the classic soul genre and generally in the history of soul music. It contains such enchanting songs as I’ll Be Your Shelter, the melancholy Always, the pleading Dying & Crying, the thought-provoking I’m Trying to Sing a Message to You, the poignant I’ll Love You Until the End and the mid-paced Help Me Love, which its co-writer Tommy Tate had recorded earlier. Luther: “With Tommy we worked some together. Tommy would sing a song and I would sing a song, and we would always challenge each other to who could sing the song stronger than the other. Johnny Baylor chose the one that felt better.”
In 1973 KoKo ceased its operations for three years, partially due to IRS investigations, and Luther moved with his family to Overland, Missouri, and went into a semi-retirement. In 1976 they bounced back with an album titled Let’s Steal Away to the Hideaway, which contained a couple of songs written by the family members, although it doesn’t show in the credits. Luther: “My brother Tommy wrote Let’s Steal Away to the Hideaway, and my brother Richard came up with the song I Like the Feeling.” Daisy wrote It’s Too Much.Daisy: “We thought nothing of giving Luther songs to aid whatever endeavour he was involved in. This is something we grew up doing. We had always functioned this way.”
The album, however, wasn’t a very successful one. Dino: “I was working with Johnny Baylor, when he tried to come back, but nothing too much happened really. After Stax closed down, most of the recording was done here in New York City and a few of those tracks in Muscle Shoals also.”
The follow-up album next year, Do You Love Somebody, fared even less well, and KoKo closed its doors in 1978. Randy: “Johnny closed the company down because Luther walked away from KoKo Records. They had just recorded another album, and it had Johnny Baylor’s name on everything. He created songs, he produced, he published, he did this and he did that. His name was on the whole album.” Johnny died of stomach cancer in 1986, and Dino became a reverend at The Abyssinian Baptist Church in New York.
SEEING YOU AGAIN
After one single on Platinum Plus in 1984, the mellow and poignant Seeing You Again, Luther released one more eponymous album on Profile in 1986, and you can hear real live instruments only on three tracks, which were produced by Jimmy Johnson, Roger Hawkins and Luther himself. Formost of the time on the album Luther got lost in the pop and rock territory. Luther: “It shot past my audience. It wasn’t my style.”
Luther still did a re-recording of How Sweet It Would Be for Bobby Manuel’s High Stacks compilation called 926 East McLemore / A Reunion of Former Stax Artists, vol.1 in 1998. That same year Luther suffered from failure of both kidneys as a result of complications from diabetes. In December he received a transplant, and to compensate the high cost of medication in order to keep the body from rejecting the new kidney on July 25 in 1999 they organized the Luther Ingram Kidney Fund Benefit Show in Memphis. Rufus Thomas, J. Blackfoot, the Masqueraders, the Bar-Kays and Sir Mack Rice were among the artists that performed that night. Luther died of heart failure in Belleville, Illinois, on March 19, 2007. (Acknowledgements to Eric Luther Ingram).
I still remember how Charles Williams visited my home a couple of times in the city of Rauma here in Finland in 1976. We discussed music and I played him my favourite vinyl records, and I enjoyed the chats with him. Charles is a musician and singer out of the USA, and love brought him to Finland. I also conducted an interview with him for our local Blues News magazine, and now that article is the basis for liner notes (although the author is uncredited - smile) in the re-released vinyl album of his 1976 LP, Love Is a Very Special Thing (Svart, SRE495LP; https://svartrecords.com/en).
I tried to find Charles for yet another interview, but unfortunately nobody could locate him in California, where he’s supposed to reside these days, but according to the latest reports he’s still in music business. Thank you to everybody for trying. Charles was born in Columbus, Georgia in 1952, and after church and classical music periods he formed a group called the Sensations in San Bernardino, California, and later a five-piece jazz group. His first soft rock & soul group in the early 1970s was called Manna.
His Finnish debut and only album was recorded in the USA (rhythm and vocals), Sweden and Finland. Besides singing, Charles is on keys, and the rest of the musicians are his friends from the US group called Psalm 15, with the exception of one song, Reason to Make You Smile, which was cut in Finland and which has Heikki Laurila on guitar and Heikki Virtanen on bass.
Charles’ biggest influences those days were Marvin Gaye and Barry White, and that really shows on this soft and string-laden soul record. Love genuinely is the message. Produced and co-arranged by Charles, he wrote all eight songs, which are atmospheric and soothing with the exception of the first single, the funky Change It, and that song has a strong social message. Charles’ own favourite among these high-pitched ballads is the title tune, with a Chi-Lites type of a feeling. “Here I wanted to say something.” Another key ballad is the concluding Your Life.
We must give props to Svart Records for re-releasing this LP, which is accompanied by Charles’ post-album funky single, Just As Long / Funky Music. The in-demand Love Is a Very Special Thing was released in the CD format in 2013, but now we have it again in vinyl pressing. Although Charles’ shows turned more into rock after this smooth soul album, I would love to hear his shelved material, which was supposed to be his second album. (Acknowledgements to Jukka Taskinen of Svart Records and Jorma Riihikoski).