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From Soul Express 4/1999


  Love Is? was produced by Larry James Hamilton for his own LJH label out of New Orleans in '99. He also wrote all the tunes, with the exception of a speeded-up version of Gamble & Huff's Close The Door (Teddy's #1-soul in '78), and he also does all the playing. The opening track, Magnetic, is a simple but soulful and hypnotic floater with the closing cut, Trust, repeating the formula. On two beaty mid-pacers (Woman Love-Man Money, Where Are You) and four uptempo belters one starts missing real instruments, because Larry is a great singer - at times reminding me of Tommy Tate - and decent orchestration would do his voice justice. But, again, it all comes down to money. Of the slowies Just A Memory and Make Love tend to drag a little, whereas My Woman-Your Man, Love & Relations and The Love Of A Woman are more sparkling - and more pleading - ballads.

  Larry was born on 23.3.1951 in Galveston, Texas, and he has a daughter, 15, who also recently recorded - with a rap group, Warren Mayes, in New Orleans. "I started when I was five years old. I played drums first. When I was seven I had piano lessons. My first influences were Big Joe Turner, James Brown and Ray Charles - I tried to imitate him. That really was the first thing I practised, trying to sound like Ray Charles. Then I covered Otis Redding. One of my cousins had an Otis record, Something Is Worrying Me. I started listening to that and I fell in love with Otis and started imitating him. Still today Otis is my favourite artist."

  In 1965 Larry joined his first group. "I heard Harold Batiste & The Gladiators. They were real popular and used to do all the talent shows. I started hanging around them, at their rehearsals, and one night at a club I got to play with them. I never forget, when I got on stage. I had to close my eyes and my knees were knocking. I just hung around them, until they let me in the band."

  "Then I separated from them because of the other band, the Invaders, about '67 - '68. We went on the road. My first road trip was with Bettye Swann. She was a real nice, quiet lady, sort of shy - not flamboyant, really lady-like. Her husband was her manager, and he was the one who took care of business. He was very dominating. Then we went with Jimmy Hughes. At that time I was the singer for the band. Then I got back with the Gladiators from '68 into the 70s. We were on the road with a bunch of people like Percy Sledge, Z.Z. Hill, Jackie Wilson, Curtis Mayfield and B.B. King."

  At twenty Larry had his first chance to visit the studio. "My first recording in '71 was on Pelican Records, Gossip's Never Been No Good. It was produced by Wardell Quezergue. Then in L.A. a friend of mine told that King Floyd had a hit record, Groove Me. I didn't know King that well, but I knew his producer, Elijah Walker. When I came back to New Orleans I called him and he signed me as a writer. First song I had published was for King Floyd called Let Us Be. The second one I had on King was I Feel Like Dynamite (in '74 climbed to #35-soul on Chimneyville). For Johnny Adams I wrote More Than One Way To Love A Woman (on Atlantic in '71). Then I wrote something for Jean Knight and for Irma Thomas - She's Taken My Part (on Cotillion in '72). I even signed with Malaco Records for a few months around '74."

  "The next step was over by Sea-Saint recording studio. I started hanging around there, and they did a couple of songs on me, but I didn't want to sign the contract they had. So they took my voice off the track and they put Johnny Adams on it. That was a Smokey Robinson cover, My Daughter's Having A Baby and She's Only A Baby Herself and my own tune, Stay With Me And Stay In Love." They both appeared on Johnny Adams' '78 Ariola album, After All The Good Is Gone.

  Since the late 70s Larry played with different bands but only on weekends. He took regular jobs - had his own record shop, worked as a record distributor, sold clothes and was in the car business - but in-between tried his luck with new recordings. "In the late 80s I put a record out, a twelve-inch with three songs - Trust Your Love, Give It Up and My Party, which are on this new CD - on my own label called Unity Records. It sold pretty good, even though I didn't have any distribution."

  "When Allen Toussaint and them opened the label, Nyno Records, I was able to do a CD for them (titled 'Larry Hamilton', in '97; produced by Allen). I've known Allen for a long time from hanging around the studio. I was going to do another CD, but they didn't pick up the option. I wrote four songs for that CD, but - Allen being established like he is - I didn't get credit for a lot of stuff on there."

  "Hopefully I get signed to a record company and find a booking agency to get me out there to work and to tour. I've got much new material and I'm planning to put a band together." For our domestic readers I can further add that some of you might have seen Larry, as in the mid-90s he used to work in a band aboard a ship cruising from Helsinki to Stockholm.

-Heikki Suosalo

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