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SHIRLEY BROWN Part 2 (1976-89)

Shirley Brown Part 1 (1972-75)
Shirley Brown Part 3 (1989-2008)
Complete Shirley Brown Discography

  In the latter part of 1974 Shirley Brown had achieved a number one soul hit with her intense rendition of a deep ballad, Woman to Woman.  However, due to the fact that it was the last big hit for Stax and the company was able to operate for only about a year after that, Shirley was to lose her recording outlet.  There were still one magnificent album (also titled Woman to Woman) and two follow-up singles on the Truth subsidiary. 

  In the first part of this story ( I listed some answer songs to Woman to Woman, too, but there was one I missed – Tammy FlowersFrom Barbara to Shirley on Ultra International 11032 (thanks to Michael R. Lee Shue on

  Woman to Woman, however, was such a distinctive and unforgettable song that Shirley could work for it for the whole year she was without a recording contract.  She next signed with Arista in September 1976, and she was one of Clive Davis’ first new signings.  After CBS had fired Clive in May 1973 due to payola and other suspicions, his next step was to form Arista Records - and ironically under the umbrella of Columbia Pictures.  “Mr. Clive Davis, Arista’s president, really felt I was one of the best female vocalists he had ever heard”, Shirley commented those days.  No stranger to Stax and its talent, already in 1972 Clive had been engaged in negotiations with Al Bell about a distribution deal between CBS and Stax.


  In early 1977 they released Shirley’s first Arista single, a soul ballad called Blessed Is the Woman (With a Man like Mine).  Although it starts softly and gently, Shirley in a typical gospel-infused manner lets loose towards the end.  This beautiful song reached # 14 in Billboard’s soul charts (# 102-pop), and it was written by Bettye Crutcher.  Bettye: “It was a song really based on how I felt about the man I loved.”  The non-album b-side was a funky scorcher titled Lowdown, Dirty, Good Lover, also composed by Bettye.  “That was probably written earlier, and was just thrown in as one of the songs Shirley wanted to do.”

  Bobby Manuel played guitar in those sessions, although he’s not listed among the musicians.  Bobby: “Yes, I was on it.  I don’t know how that happened.  I was surprised to find out about it.  In fact, I even did some strings on the record in L.A.  I don’t have a clue, why I’m not listed on there, because I certainly did it all.”

  “Clive wanted to make Shirley like Whitney.  He wanted to take somebody that had those chops, who could sing like that… and take them pop.  The marriage really didn’t work.  He was sending us pop songs, and she just wasn’t into them.”

  “We released a single first, and the record started happening.  Then he said ‘I got to have an album in six weeks’.  We said ‘man, that’s crazy, we can barely get the songs by then’.  We just had some problems as far as the direction and concept and all that.  We were trying to find songs for her that she would be comfortable with, what she was into.  It was kind of tough, and he kept sending the pop songs down, kind of almost demanding that we get those cut.  We did some of them, but she didn’t sing them well.  She didn’t feel them.”

  Shirley Brown, a self-titled album, was released later in 1977, but commercially it didn’t take off.  It was produced by Bettye Crutcher and Jeff Stuart (sic).  Bobby: “Jeff was Jim Stewart’s son.  I guess Jim couldn’t put his name on it, because of litigation.”  Bettye: “That is Jim Stewart’s son.  Actually the producer was Jim, and Jeff was more like an engineer… probably a little bit both.”

  The album was recorded at Shoe Productions and Ardent studios in Memphis, Tennessee, with Marvell Thomas and Lester Snell taking care of the arrangements.  Marvell also plays acoustic piano on the set and Lester is on electric keyboards, but still neither one of them seems to have been fully aware of the master or the direction of the project.  Lester: “I worked on that album, but a lot of times, when we’re cutting things… if you’re cutting a rhythm track, there’s not even a name on it.  You only have the chord chart.  You don’t even know what it is… not until they actually put a voice on it later.  And by that time I’m gone anyway.  I’ve done the rhythm arrangement on some songs I didn’t even know, until I heard them.”

  Marvell: “In some of those projects sometimes you don’t know, what the label is.  The producer might come in, you work with the stuff, do the arrangements… and find out about it, when it’s released.  I remember the Shoe Studios.  They’re actually still here.  They’ve changed ownership a few times.  Originally there were two different studios.  Shoe itself was tiny.  It would not accommodate a string section – not even a small one - so that’s why the post-production was done elsewhere.”

  Bobby: “Shoe Productions and Studios – it was the same company.  It was actually a studio first, but when they started producing jingles and things like that they just used the name ‘Shoe Productions’ for producing them.  They even may have released one record.  That started probably in 1975.  The studio was just a small room, and the control room was separate.  There was no glass.”

  Sessions were engineered by William Brown, and other musicians included Donald “Duck” Dunn on bass and Willie Hall on drums.  Considering that Rhodes-Chalmers-Rhodes were on background vocals, we can conclude that for the most part the personnel is the same as on Shirley’s debut album, Woman to Woman.


  There’s one notable exception, though.  An impressive soul ballad called I Need Somebody to Love Me was written and produced by Harvey Mason and arranged by D.J. Rogers.  It was picked up for the second single and in the summer of 1977 it peaked at # 50-soul.  Bobby: “The guy was a hot producer at that time.  They just wanted to see what he would do with it.”  Lester: “That would have come in from the record company.  They wanted Shirley to record that.”  Harvey (on the pic right) is a renowned drummer and percussionist – also a producer, arranger and writer - who has worked since the late 60s with a number of jazz and r&b celebrities and is, of course, a recording artist in his own right, too.  He actually scored some small hits on Arista between 1976 and ’81.

  On the single release, Harvey’s song was backed with Shirley’s slowed-down interpretation of the Gladys Knight gem, Givin’ Up; done here in a Donny Hathaway style.  On the album jacket, next to Givin’ Up, it reads “in memory of Al Jackson, Jr.”

  The third single from the album was comprised of two fast songs from the pen of Bettye Crutcher.  A Mighty Good Feeling is a disco type of a mover, clocking at 5:30.  Bettye: “We were trying to bring her to some uptempo feel.  Shirley is a natural ballad singer, but we wanted to get something uptempo on the album, too.”  Long on Lovin’ is a toe-tapping, cheerful dancer, which Shirley later re-recorded for her Joy & Pain album.  Bettye: “there are some songs that you remember, because you immediately go back in time and remember how much fun we had in the studio while we were recording it.”  The single, however, didn’t chart.


  To avoid the “pop attack” from Arista and Clive Davis, Bettye wrote as many as six songs out of nine for the album.  Said I Wasn’t Gonna Give You No More Love is a funky beater, whereas both (I’ll be Right Here) Lovin’ You, and When You Really Love Somebody are classy soul deepies.  Bettye: “When You Really Love Somebody is a very good song.  That was an original song for Shirley.”

  The remaining song, Midnight Rendezvous, is a lingering slowie in a “midnight mood”, written by such country men as Mentor Williams, Barry Goldberg and Troy Seals.

  Lester: “I believe the first album was better.”  Bettye: “I didn’t work with Shirley after Arista.  By 1978 I had moved from Memphis, and I really didn’t know what was happening with Shirley that much.  I found her to be a high-spirited, jovial person… full of life, full of fun.  And she is a most amazing artist.  Actually one day we were recording in the studio, at Ardent, and Shirley hit a note, and I threw out my legs and the chair just went all the way back down.  She has that kind of power.  She really is a strong artist.”

  Just to prove that Arista was taking Shirley in the wrong direction, one year later – early summer in 1978 – they released a busy disco ditty titled I Can’t Move No Mountains (# 92-soul), written by two pop artists, Michael Gately and Robert John, and cut earlier, among others, by Blood, Sweat & Tears and Margie Joseph.  A storming dancer called Honey Babe on the flip wasn’t much to brag about, either.

  Both songs were cut in Chicago by Eugene Record, and allegedly there’s more material produced by Eugene in the can, still.  Those days there was also talk about General Johnson producing the Arista sessions and Maurice White being involved in them, too.  Bobby: “We kind of lost contact with General at that time.  I don’t think that the deal worked out.”

  Soon after I Can’t Move No Mountains, Arista dropped Shirley.  Her complete Arista output, twelve songs, has recently been released on Soul Brother Records (Shirley Brown, CD SBCS 28;

Buy the Shirley Brown album from our CD Shop


  Fantasy Records out of California had purchased the Stax catalogue in June 1977, and by the end of that year they decided to revive the label itself.  They asked David Porter to run a new Stax office in Memphis, issue old material and sign new artists.  Alongside new acts - such as Fat Larry’s Band (Peaceful Journey) and Sho-Nuff (I live Across the Street) – David signed also ex-Stax hit-makers like The Soul Children (Can’t Give up a Good Thing), Rance Allen Group (I Belong to You and Smile) and… Shirley Brown.

  The resulting album with Shirley called For the Real Feeling (Stax 4126) was put out in May 1979 (and re-released on CD in 1999 on Stax, SCD-4126-2), but it didn’t even scrape the bottom of the charts.  Recorded at Ardent Studios, the album was produced by David Porter and Lester Snell, Jr, who also did the arrangements and played keyboards.  Other musicians included Carl Marsh and Donald O’Conner on synthesizers (for the first time for Shirley), Jimmy McGhee and Michael Toles on guitars, Ray Griffin on bass, Blair Cunningham on drums and Terry Johnson, Walter Person, Jr. and Michael Beard on percussion.  The Memphis Horns, The Memphis Symphony, Hot, Buttered & Soul plus The Newcomers on background vocals and Marvell Thomas were also contributing.

  Out of the eight tracks on the album, as many as four were aimed at the disco market.  When, Where, and What Time, Move Me – Move Me and Crowding in on My Mind (the latter co-written by Shirley) were quite formulaic, whereas Hang on Louie had more sparks to it.

  Fortunately the first single was an intense soul ballad titled After A Night Like This (# 73-soul), written by Ted Jarrett and Carl Marshall.  Most of the songs on the album were composed by Porter-Snell, but the second single, a beat ballad called Dirty Feelin’ (no show on charts), was created by Henderson Thigpen, James Banks and David Weatherspoon.  Henderson and James were known for writing Woman to Woman together with Eddie Marion.  Henderson: “Yes, we did that.  David Porter was kind of trying to resurrect the Stax thing at that time.”

  On the flip of Dirty Feelin’ there was an impressive soul slowie titled Eyes Can’t See, which again offered an opening monologue; or as it says in the notes “the creation of the rap on ‘Eyes Can’t See’ came from the heart and mind of Ms. Shirley Brown.”  According to Shirley, the song at that time was popular in East St. Louis, where she was residing those days.  Shirley’s name appears as a co-writer also on a beat ballad named Love Starved.

  Lester Snell: “I believe not long after that album Stax closed down.”  Due to the lack of hits, the new Stax didn’t last but close to two years.


  In 1980 Shirley recorded two songs for 20th Century Fox, which were produced by Allen Jones, Henderson Thigpen and James Banks.  You’ve Got to like What You Do (by James Banks-Henderson Thigpen-David Weatherspoon) was a fast disco ditty, while Same Time, Same Place by the same producers and writers was a more downtempo, pleasant and melodic song.  You’ve Got to like What You Do peaked at # 73-soul at the end of 1980, and interestingly it was re-released next year, only this time as a flip to Same Time, Same Place, but to no avail anymore.

  James Banks: “Shirley was in Memphis, and she was using the Bar-Kays’ studio.  Allen Jones was one of my best friends and we hung out together a lot.  He had this project, and we had these two songs.  We never said it was for Shirley, but she was looking for material.  We thought that ‘actually she doesn’t have any direction out there right now.  Let’s try it on her rather than leave the song in the can’.  We just went into the studio, cut the tracks, brought her in and tried it out on her.  She liked it, but we didn’t feel it had much potential on Shirley.”

  Henderson Thigpen: “Allen Jones, who’s deceased, came to us, because he knew we had written her something in the past.  He produced those songs, and the Bar-Kays at the time did the track on them.  They were recorded at Ardent Studios.  They didn’t do what the company thought they would do.”


  Shirley’s 20th Century career was cut short, but the lowest point in her recording history took place three years later.  Shirley told Peter Lewis (for the Blues & Soul magazine in 1984) that “right before I signed with Sound Town I recorded Urgent, the Foreigner tune with a guy called Robert Johnson producing in Memphis… definitely not me!”

  With Allen A. Jones (d. in 1987) in the capacity of executive producer, Urgent is an inferior, monotonous and repetitive disco dancer, with a rock guitar break in the middle.  It was classified as electro disco and released on Mercury in 1983 (club mix b/w composite mix) to practically no response.  Shirley is right.  It’s definitely not her.  It’s not anybody.

  The pop group Foreigner had enjoyed a # 4 pop hit with the song two years earlier, and on that record Jr. Walker blows the sax solo.  Actually, Walker recorded it himself, too.


  Homer Banks’ singing history goes back to his early gospel days in the 50s and prolific recording and writing history to the 60s.  By early 80s he had returned from California back home to Memphis, founded Sound Town Records with another Memphis recording artist/producer/writer/musician (guitarist), Chuck Brooks, and had a sizeable hit in late ’83 with J. Blackfoot’s Taxi, a song originally written for Johnnie Taylor.  Their discs were manufactured and distributed by Allegiance Records out of Hollywood, CA.

  Homer contacted Shirley, who was living in O’Fallon, Illinois, those days and expressed his interest in producing her for Sound Town.  Eventually they signed a four-year contract.  Other artists on the label were Randy Brown and David Alexander.

  The resulting album, Intimate Storm (Sound Town 8008; in 1984), was produced, partly arranged and for the most part written by Homer Banks and Chuck Brooks.  It was recorded, mixed and mastered at Ardent Studios, and among the players there were Lester Snell, Marvell Thomas, Willie Hall and Robert Russel (bass guitar); plus Ben Cauley, Andrew Love and Jack Holden on horns. 

  Lester Snell: “That album has good songs on it.  Homer Banks is a great writer.”

  Larry Nix: “Really a good album, one of her best.  I love that album.  I did go in, when they were actually doing a lot of those vocals, when it was recorded here with Chuck and Homer, but Shirley did not attend the mastering anymore.”

  Five out of the eight songs on the album were put out on four different singles, and they all appeared on Billboard’s Black charts, albeit not very high.  In early ’84 Leave the Bridges Standing, a touching soul deepie, peaked at # 73.  The song was written by Homer, Chuck and Marvell Thomas, and it was first cut by Randy Brown for Chocolate City in 1981.  The b-side, Looking for the Real Thing, was a pulsating dancer, also lifted from Randy’s recording three years earlier.

  Marvell: “I thought it was a very good album.  I remember working with Homer and Chuck Brooks, and that particular song (Leave the Bridges Standing) was one that the three of us co-wrote.  We knew each other from other recording sessions and from writing situations.  We were friends, and we worked together a lot.  I sat with Homer at his bedside just about an hour before he died (in April 2003), and that was a very sad day for me.”


  On a catchy mid-tempo mover titled I don’t play that (# 68-black) Shirley makes another call to Barbara, after ten years.  Shirley’s own opinion was that it sounded “so dated, like seventy-four…seventy-five.”  This Used To Be Your House (…now it’s another man’s home) is an energetic slow-to-mid-tempo swayer (# 70-black), while Boyfriend (# 69-black) is a melodic pop tune, almost like sing-along type of a lilting song.  The song was written by James Banks, Henderson Thigpen and Ranches Lee Hall

  Henderson: “Homer and James, they were twins.  One night we were working on a song, Boyfriend, and when they heard the song, they really wanted to record it on the album.  It was pretty big in Europe, I believe.  I think that was the best thing we did for Shirley.”

  James: “They were trying to complete an album on Shirley.  We had Boyfriend, and it was kind of popish, and I know Shirley liked a song that she could open up, put a lot of emotion into it, too, and I don’t think that was one of those kind of songs, because it would restrict her… because of the melody.  But we tried it on her, and it came off good.  I loved it.  But Sound Town was a small label, and they were going through distribution problems.”

  Non-single sides on the album included still This Love, a dead-slow testimony, whereas I’m up To No Good was a loud mid-tempo beat ballad, almost like a rock song.  A disco dancer called Love Fever was penned James and Henderson together with David Weatherspoon and Preston Shannon.  James: “We were in the disco era at that time, and we were trying to produce and place songs at the time.  We played them to people, and if they liked them, it’s alright too” (laughing).  Love Fever was released in the U.K. by Island Records as a remix, where horns were replaced by synths, and partially due to the success of that twelve-inch Shirley visited Britain in the summer of 1985.

  Bobby Manuel: “I know there were investors involved in Sound Town, but nobody got paid on the deal.  They had found some local money here, but it just didn’t work out.”  Marvell: “I know Sound Town had some problems with its distributor, Allegiance in California.  Allegiance was keeping their money and not paying them, so they had a lot of problems having cash-flow to be able to record and promote new projects.  J. Blackfoot’s single Taxi sold very, very well and his album sold, but Allegiance wouldn’t pay the money they owed them, primarily from Taxi.  I played on Taxi.  And Allegiance not paying them caused them to go out of business.”


  Of the three Sound Town albums, only J. Blackfoot’s City Slicker charted (# 16-black).  The third album was also by J. Blackfoot and titled Physical Attraction.  Sound Town went bankrupt in 1986, but already that same year Shirley had a single release on a tiny Memphis label, Chelsea Avenue.  The other artist in its roster was Lee Shot WilliamsShootin’ a Blank was a Chaka Khan type of a big-voiced beater, gloomy and heavy on machines; far from typical Shirley.  It was written by Shirley and Ken Bolden, produced by Shirley together with William Brown III for B & B Productions and, although Ichiban took it under its distribution, it sank without a trace.


  A much better effort was Shirley’s next single three years later on Black Diamond.  If This Is Goodbye is a plaintive soul ballad, written by Shirley and Winston Stewart (of the Bar-Kays fame), and it’s only ruined by a few-second vocoder horror midway.  After Tonight on the flip is a mediocre beater. 

  Bobby Manuel: “Winston is super-talented.  We did a lot of records together – Shirley’s records and some Bar-Kays stuff.  He did all the music for all those records, when they were really hot.  He’s out of the business now.  He’s doing computer programming.”

  Bobby: “We started really getting a good reaction on that record, but Jim Stewart at that time really didn’t want to go in the record business.  Mainly he was trying to get some attention so that we could get Shirley a deal.  That record broke out.  Somebody in North Carolina called and ordered a couple of thousand of that record, so we got a shot with it.”

  The single was produced by Shirley, Winston Stewart and Jim Stewart, and recorded at a 24-track studio called Daily Planet.  Bobby Manuel: “It was my and Jim Stewart’s studio.  We had recently formed a company called Black Diamond Productions and the recording label, Black Diamond.”

  “The studio was called Daily Planet.  Jim had approached me about starting and building a studio in late ’76.  Then we made a deal with Shoe to build a studio right next door.  I liked the building, and there was a whole other side to it to build a studio.  I named that Daily Planet.” 

  “It was Daily Planet studio and productions at that point.  The name is still on the glass wall over there.  Why I had to let the name eventually go is that there was a local lawyer that represented the Warner Brothers.  One way or another he found out that we were using that name.  That was the name of the newspaper in the Superman.”

  “When we went to Black Diamond, I don’t think we renamed the studio then.  We never called it Black Diamond studios.  Later it became High Stacks Studios and now it’s Ecko Studios.  It’s the same room, everything about it.”

  The only other release on Black Diamond was a single by Teddy Greene (I’m in Trouble/Execatimers), but Shirley’s record, after all, got so much attention that still the same year, in 1989, she launched her still on-going Malaco career, and I’ll cover that era in the final part of the story.  Marvell Thomas has played on a lot of Shirley’s Malaco stuff, and occasionally still gigs with her.  Marvell: “She’s wonderful.  There are very few voices around that can barely touch her.  She has a phenomenal voice.”



(label # / titles / Billboard # soul or black/pop / year)


0231) Blessed Is The Woman (With A Man Like Mine) (# 14 / 102) / Lowdown, Dirty, Good Lover (1977)

0254) I Need Somebody To Love Me (# 50 / -) / Givin’ Up

0270) A Mighty Good Feeling / Long On Lovin’

0334) I Can’t Move No Mountains (# 92 / -) / Honey Babe (1978)


3222) After A Night Like This (# 73 / -) / Crowding In On My Mind (1979)

3224) Dirty Feelin’ / Eyes Can’t See

20th Century Fox

2473) You’ve Got To Like What You Do (# 73 / -) / Same Time, Same Place (1980)

2483) Same Time, Same Place / You’ve Got To Like What You Do (1981)


812989-1) Urgent (club mix) / Urgent (composite mix), 12” (1983)

Sound Town

0005) Leave The Bridges Standing (# 73 / -) / Looking For The Real Thing (1984)

0007) I Don’t Play That (# 68 / -) / Looking For The Real Thing

0009) This Used To Be Your House (# 70 / -) / I Don’t Play That

0012) Boyfriend (# 69 / -) / I Don’t Play That (1985)

Chelsea Avenue

8600) Shootin’ A Blank / Shootin’ A Blank (rap) (1986)

                      Note: released also on Ichiban 86-109

Black Diamond

1000) If This Is Goodbye / After Tonight (1989)


(title / label # / Billboard placing & chart run – soul or black/pop / year)

SHIRLEY BROWN (Arista, AL 4129) 1977

Blessed Is The Woman (With A Man Like Mine) / When You Really Love Somebody / Said I Wasn’t Gonna Give You No More Love / I Need Somebody To Love Me / Givin’ Up // Long On Lovin’ / Midnight Rendezvous / (I’ll Be Right Here) Lovin’ You / A Mighty Good Feeling

The bonus tracks on the reissue CD (Soul Brother SBCS 28, 2007):
Lowdown, Dirty, Good Lover / Honey Babe / I Can't Move No Mountains

FOR THE REAL FEELING (Stax, STX-4126) 1979

When, Where, And What Time / Crowding In On My Mind / After A Night Like This / Dirty Feelin’ // Hang On Louie / Eyes Can’t See / Move Me – Move Me / Love Starved

INTIMATE STORM (Sound Town 8008) 1984

Boyfriend / I Don’t Play That / Looking For The Real Thing / This Love // I’m Up To No Good / Love Fever / This Used To Be Your House / Leave The Bridges Standing

Heikki Suosalo

Shirley Brown Part 1
Shirley Brown Part 3
Complete Shirley Brown Discography
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