Saturday, June 20, 2015

Patience Valentine - Woman In A Man's World (SAR 157)



Woman In A Man's World

Harold Battiste had 'the touch'.

After studying music at Dillard University, he found work as a music teacher in New Orleans' public schools. In 1956, Harold and fellow Dillard graduate Ellis Marsalis travelled to Los Angeles to jam with Ornette Coleman. In love with the concept of 'modern' jazz, he made some demo recordings while he was out there, hoping to shop them around to some west coast labels.

When he knocked on the door of Specialty Records, Bumps Blackwell was getting ready to cut a session on the recently 'crossed-over' Sam Cooke. Blackwell had big plans for Sam, and had pulled out all the stops, going so far as to hire the decidedly whitebread Lee Gotch Singers to sing background vocals. "Sam had this song called You Send Me," Battiste told John Sinclair, "it was a nice little thing but it didn't say nothing, so he told me to change the words, and make this verse the second verse and something like that... we had some singers there in the studio, and they didn't have anything to sing, so I wrote out some parts for them... at the session, man, Art Rupe came in, and he wigged! He didn't go for that. 'What you got Sam doing here? It sounds like white folks on there!'"

Blackwell had been delivering red hot R&B chart toppers to Specialty on Little Richard, and Rupe expected more of the same. Rock 'n' Roll was where the money was to be made, he thought, not this middle-of-the-road crap. By all accounts, Rupe really went off at the session, making it virtually impossible for Bumps (and Sam) to continue to record for the label. When the smoke cleared, Rupe hammered out a deal that essentially released them from their contracts, and allowed Blackwell to hold on to the tapes from what he considered a worthless session. Released as a B side on the fledgling Keen label, it wasn't long before the dee-jays flipped it over, and the 'white folks' ate it up, sending 'You Send Me' to the top of the Billboard Top 100 for three weeks in December of 1957.

With Johnny Vincent gone, Rupe put Battiste in charge of his New Orleans operation. "I came back down here and set up an office on North Claiborne, he told Sinclair, "...I would audition people here, and then Art would listen to the tapes and decide what they wanted me to record. Man, I had Chris Kenner, they turned him down. I had Toussaint - him and a cat named Allen Orange came and auditioned, and they turned them down. I had Irma Thomas - I mean, everybody around here, I had a shot at. Because I did auditions on them and sent them off to Art Rupe, and he passed on them." (Imagine?) The requisite Rock 'n' Roll records Battiste did produce for the label on folks like Art Neville and Jerry Byrne went nowhere, fast.

By 1959, Rupe began to lose interest in the music business altogether and stopped supplying Harold with a regular paycheck. He then went to work for local record man Joe Ruffino, arranging a session for him on the energetic Joe Jones. Released on Ruffino's Ric imprint, You Talk Too Much was making some local noise, "...but me and Joe felt we could make this a big record," Battiste said, "Joe was a real hustler, and we went out all through the South in his station wagon, stopping at every radio station that had an antenna... that was just about the time Fidel Castro was doing his marathon speeches, you know, in Cuba, so Joe started playing off that. He wrote a letter to Castro, and sent him a record... By the time we got to Chicago, we had got an answer back from Castro! One of his boys, they wrote back a nice little letter..."

"So we went over to Jet magazine with this letter from Castro, congratulating us, and they ran a little feature. And the record really began to take off behind this publicity." You gotta love it.

Continuing on to New York City, the pair were flat broke when they saw in the paper that fellow New Orleans homeboy Lloyd Price was performing at a club 'out in Coney Island'. Scraping together enough change for two tokens, they took the subway to where Lloyd was playing and he helped get them back on their feet, arranging a meeting with infamous Roulette Records chief Morris Levy. Jones had neglected to tell Battiste (or Joe Ruffino for that matter) that he had already signed a contract with Levy, and had actually cut a version of 'You Talk Too Much' for Roulette in 1958 that hadn't been released. Levy went ballistic, summoning Ruffino to New York to threaten him with a lawsuit (and Lord knows what else). "After Roulette got Joe's throat there," Harold told John Broven, "boy, I was scared to death... that's the Mafia!" Once the smoke cleared, Levy had made Ruffino an offer he couldn't refuse, re-released the single on Roulette, and asserted his right to Jones' contract, sending Harold home with his tail between his legs.

"After that I started thinking about the way things worked in the recording industry and what could be done about it," he told Sinclair, "...it seemed to me that as musicians on the one hand, and as Blacks on the other, we had to do something to reclaim the ownership of the music we produced so that we would be the ones to profit from it, if there were profits to be had. So I started talking to the cats about this, and we formed A.F.O. as a means of gaining some control over what we were producing. The original shareholders and board of directors were also like the house band, what we called the A.F.O. Studio Combo: Red Tyler, Melvin Lastie, Roy Montrell, Chuck Badie and John Boudreaux."

With 'All For One' representing both the name of the company and it's idealistic world-view, Battiste set out to find national distribution. Sonny Bono, who had been in charge of Specialty's Los Angeles office just as Harold had been in New Orleans, put him in touch with Juggy Murray at Sue Records in New York. The fact that Murray was a black man fit nicely with the A.F.O. vision and they signed on with him. Now distributed by Sue, the label's second single, I Know by Barbara George, shot straight up to the top, spending a month at #1 R&B in early 1962.

...but there was a problem.

Marshall Sehorn had brought Murray's New York competitor Bobby Robinson down to New Orleans in the Summer of 1961 to cut Lee Dorsey's Ya-Ya. "I tried to hire Allen Toussaint to play piano on Dorsey's sessions," Robinson said, "but Allen was 'on staff' for another record company... Harold Battiste, who was another great New Orleans musician, got the band together for me. He wrote the arrangement overnight." Robinson, of course, couldn't resist printing 'Arranger: H. Battiste' on the label as it beat George's A.F.O. single to the top of the R&B chart in November of 1961. "I didn't know anything about that shit, man, New York and all that, Harold said, See, me, I'm still thinking like Muhammad: we're all Black cats, you know what I mean? We'll supply all y'all's music, man, we got plenty of it here, there's no use fightin' over a record - we'll just do another one!" But Murray was pissed off, and his relationship with Harold was never the same. By May of 1962, he had succeeded in luring Barbara away from her hometown, and signing her directly to Sue, effectively sounding the death-knell for A.F.O as a national hit-maker.

By August of 1963, the oppressive heat of the New Orleans Summer seemed to have dried up the Crescent City R&B scene for good. Harold and the rest of the A.F.O. executives decided to pull up stakes and head out for greener pastures on the left coast. There Battiste would re-connect with Sam Cooke, who had started up his own independent SAR label (along with former Pilgrim Traveler J.W. Alexander) which shared much the same vision as A.F.O.. For his part, Sam was impressed with Battiste, and the two became fast friends. "It was obvious," Harold told Peter Guralnick, "that he wanted to be more than a popular singer, that he wanted to be involved in social things." Just as he had done for Specialty back home on Claiborne Avenue, he floated the idea of creating 'Soul Stations' in the heart of the black community in Los Angeles to audition local talent that would otherwise be shut out by the recording establishment.

Sam was all over the idea, and by January of 1964 'Soul Station #1' was in operation on the corner of 37th and Vermont. Cooke was a big enough star by then to be able to call the shots at RCA, and brought the unlikely combination of his Soul Stirrers and the A.F.O. Combo together on the session that yielded top forty R&B hit Tennessee Waltz. Sam then made sure Harold was in the house when he cut the mighty, mighty A Change Is Gonna Come two days later... Installed at the Soul Station, the Combo became SAR's 'house band', and by March of 1964 Battiste had been named the label's 'Chief of Productions'.

Things were finally looking good.

The positively senseless murder of Sam Cooke that December shocked Black America, and brought SAR to its knees. "It was ridiculous, man," Battiste told John Broven, "of all the cats in the world to die under those circumstances, Sam didn't deserve that." He most certainly did not. Although J.W. Alexander would valiantly try to carry on, without the support of Sam's widow Barbara, SAR was doomed to fail. Released in March of 1965, this amazing record we have here today, 'Arranged and Conducted by Harold Battiste, Jr.', would be the final SAR release. With it's lush minor-keyed orchestration and subject matter, at first glance it appears to be an answer record to James Brown's It's A Man's, Man's, Man's World...

...except for the fact that the Godfather's record wouldn't be released for another year! Hmmm... According to BMI, Brown co-wrote his #1 R&B smash with his then girlfriend (and sometimes back-up singer) Betty Jean Newsome. A demo version of the song had been recorded in Chicago in June of 1964, but it remained unreleased until it surfaced on the great Star Time boxed set in 1991. Our Patience Valentine track here was co-written by J.W. Alexander and his then girlfriend, Carol Crawford, and was apparently released before the Brown demo was cut. Not much seems to be known about Crawford (or Patience Valentine for that matter), but it all just seems like too much of a co-incidence...


Be that as it may, while Harold was running the shop at Soul Station #1, his friend from the Specialty days, Sonny Bono, was a frequent visitor. He had hooked up with a back-up singer named Cherilyn Sarkisian, and cut a 45 for Vault Records under the unwieldy name of Caesar and Cleo in March of 1964. On the strength of that record, they were signed by Reprise and, after one more release, somebody got the bright idea to change the name of the duo to Sonny and Cher. Although he is not credited on the label, Battiste arranged their next single Baby Don't Go, which got some local airplay in the Fall of 1964, but apparently not enough to keep Reprise interested.

With Sam dead, and SAR folding, Harold was available, and Sonny brought his secret weapon with him when he signed with ATCO in early 1965. Although still un-credited, it was Battiste's astounding arrangement that sent the eternal I Got You Babe to the top slot on the Hot 100 for three weeks that Summer. Re-released by Reprise, Baby Don't Go would break into the top ten during the same time frame. After a few more releases, Harold was finally given label credit as Sonny and Cher's 'Arranger & Conductor', and would go on to be the Musical Director of their hit TV show for the next fifteen years.

As a respected member of the Los Angeles recording scene at places like the legendary Gold Star Studios, Battiste helped get work for the New Orleans musicians he knew from the Specialty and A.F.O. days, including a young piano player named Mac Rebennack. As legend has it, Harold and Mac hatched the concept of Dr. John the Night Tripper (loosely based on Need You, an unreleased song Jessie Hill had written for Prince La La at A.F.O.) during unused Sonny and Cher studio time that ATCO had already paid for. Reportedly, Ahmet Ertegun was not amused.

In addition to producing the first two Dr. John albums, Battiste formed a company with Rebennack called Hal-Mac Productions and cut some truly great 45s on fellow New Orleans expatriates like the aforementioned Jessie Hill, Alvin Robinson and King Floyd for a short-lived Mercury subsidiary label named Pulsar. With little or no promotion from the parent company, these records went nowhere and, by the early 70s, the 'N.O., LA in L.A.' recording scene had pretty much ceased to exist...

In 1989, Ellis Marsalis, the man who had first accompanied him to Los Angeles in 1956, convinced Harold to return home and join him as a member of the Jazz Studies faculty at The University of New Orleans, where he would continue to influence generations of aspiring musicians. Building on what he had started back in 1961, Harold would then create the AFO Foundation, a non-profit service and educational organization "dedicated to recognizing, perpetuating and documenting the heritage of New Orleans music and the people who make the music... the future of our past."

A true visionary, Harold Battiste's spirit will live on...

...This Is How We Do It In New Orleans.
_____________________________________________

Be sure to check out Harold's great autobiography, UNFINISHED BLUES: MEMORIES OF A NEW ORLEANS MUSIC MAN. Co-written with fellow UNO faculty member Karen Celestan, it was published by the Historic New Orleans Collection in 2010. Click here to listen to a WWNO interview in which Harold discusses the book with our pal Fred Kasten.

Friday, May 01, 2015

Ben E. King - It's All Over (Atco 6315)

With the passing of Don Covay in February, and now the great Ben E. King, the entire Soul Clan has been reunited once again...
Rest In Peace Soul Man!

Here's a piece I wrote about King back in 2010:


It's All Over

You know, after I did that post over on the other side about the Soul Clan single, I realized that the only member of the Clan that I hadn't written about was Ben E. King. I guess I just never got around to it... but there's more to it than that, I think. When people talk about the great Atlantic Soul singers, King's name is hardly ever mentioned. As a matter of fact, people have written (myself included), that Ben E. was a last minute addition to the Soul Clan project, recruited to replace Wilson Pickett. Well, as I pointed out a while back, I don't think that was the case. Don Covay, the principal architect of the whole idea, was apparently a big fan, and had hoped to include him all along...

Born in North Carolina, but raised in Harlem, Benjamin Earl Nelson came up singing doo-wop on the street corners, like most kids his age. His group The Four Bs took second place at one of the Apollo Theater's fabled amateur night competitions, and led to his being asked to join the more established Five Crowns. After the Crowns apparently showed up the listless Drifters (who had been reeling ever since Clyde McPhatter left the group three years earlier) on stage at the Apollo in 1958, heavy-handed manager George Treadwell fired what was left of the original members, and from that moment on, The Crowns became The Drifters.


Atlantic assigned the group to their west coast wünderkinds Jerry Leiber & Mike Stoller, who had just delivered three consecutive #1 R&B hits on The Coasters. They were on a roll. Ben brought them a song he had been working on in their live performances, and had written with their lead vocalist Charlie Thomas in mind. At the sessions in March of 1959, Charlie had trouble with the tune, and so Ben E. (who was usually the baritone) took the lead, and just blew everyone away.

Even more astonishing was Leiber & Stoller's decision to add strings to what essentially was a straight ahead doo-wop record, something that had never been tried before. When they played it for Jerry Wexler, he "pronounced it dogmeat... it sounded like a radio caught between two stations, neither one totally tuned." Ahmet Ertegun persuaded them to remix the record with Tom Dowd, but the company was still reluctant to release it. When they finally did put it out that summer, it took the country by storm, going straight to #1 R&B (#2 Pop) and staying on the charts for almost 5 months as it paved the way for just about everything that was to follow.

Wexler had been proven spectacularly wrong - something which, I'm sure, he was loath to admit.


Leiber & Stoller, on the other hand, had proven themselves to be bona-fide hit makers and began to demand things like label credits and producer's royalties, something which had been previously unheard of.


They brought in fellow 'Jewish Mambo-Nicks' like Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman (who had worked with the group when they were still The Crowns) and created a string of unforgettable Drifters' hits including Dance With Me, This Magic Moment and Save The Last Dance For Me, all of which featured our man Benjamin Nelson on lead vocals. These songs will live forever, and are woven into the very fabric of American Popular Music.

But Leiber & Stoller weren't through.

When Nelson tried to renegotiate the terms of his contract with George Treadwell, it became apparent (just as it had to Clyde McPhatter before him) that he was little more than a hired hand. He left the group at the height of its popularity, and set out on his own as Ben E. King. In October of 1960, with Save The Last Dance For Me at #1 on both the R&B and Pop charts, King entered the studio with Leiber & Stoller and cut two more absolute Soul standards, Young Boy Blues and Spanish Harlem, both of which had been co-written with a new arrival from the left coast, Phil Spector. Released on ATCO, Spanish Harlem would break into the Pop top ten in early 1961 (only to be surpassed ten years later, of course, when Aretha took it and made it forever her own).

Perhaps the most timeless of all the songs that King would record with Leiber & Stoller, however, was cut at those same 1960 sessions. Just as had happened with There Goes My Baby, it was Ben who brought the idea into the studio. Taken loosely from Charles Tindley's Gospel standard (and the Soul Stirrers 1959 adaptation), Stand By Me is just an amazing piece of work. Featuring, once again, that 'Jewish-Latin' beat, and resonating in the heart and soul of everyone who's ever heard it, it spent a month at #1 R&B (#4 Pop) in 1961.

Despite all of this, Atlantic was in trouble. Both Ray Charles and Bobby Darin had walked out on them by then, and things were not looking good. Leiber & Stoller's accountant advised them to perform a 'routine audit' of the royalties the company owed them, and found that they had been underpaid by $18,000. Wexler who (as we've seen) was not their biggest fan to begin with, must have viewed this as the last straw. "I'm deeply offended," he told Leiber. Ahmet Ertegun told them "Fine, I'll pay the eighteen thousand, but I don't ever want to do business with you again..." They backed down, and let Atlantic keep the money they owed them, but the damage was done. By the end of 1961, they were gone.

Much has been made of Solomon Burke's arrival at Atlantic as signaling the beginning of the 'soul era', and perhaps that's true. Wexler himself called it "the infusion of fresh energy I needed," and went on to produce Burke's first single for the label, Just Out Of Reach (Of My Two Open Arms), in September of '61. A sweet remake of a Country standard, it made the top ten R&B, and even broke into the Pop top forty. It was around this time that Wexler latched on to another Brill building regular, and began using him as a producer to try and replace the work Leiber & Stoller (and the recently departed Phil Spector) had been doing for the label.

Bert Russell Berns was yet another New Yorker with a feel for the Latin rhythms he had heard growing up in The Bronx. After a couple of 45s that didn't do much, Bert had decided to concentrate on his songwriting and production. Like Leiber & Stoller before him, he had been doing freelance work for New York area labels like Wand and Big Top when Wexler enlisted him to work with Solomon Burke. They would take a song Berns had written, Cry To Me, all the way to #5 R&B in early 1962, and set the stage for the dozens of records he would produce on Solomon over the next few years. Perhaps the song that gets the most attention nowadays as one of the archetypes of Soul music (even though it only made it to #58 R&B at the time) is 1964's Everybody Needs Somebody to Love, which Berns had co-written with Wexler and Burke.

Right... so, what does this have to do with Ben E. King? Well, Berns had begun producing him as well in 1963, and this incredible number we have here (written by Berns and Mike Leander) was actually recorded two weeks earlier than Everybody Needs Somebody To Love, with the same studio band - a band that featured Wild Jimmy Spruill on electric guitar. Check out King's soulful vocals here, man... I mean, whoa! It's hard to believe that this 45 only managed to crawl to #72 R&B when it was released (two months after the Burke single) in September of 1964. The follow-up, Seven Letters, made it to #11, but is much more middle of the road... a place which Atlantic seemed to have reserved for King from then on.

Despite 1967's ambitious What Is Soul? (whose B side, They Don't Give Medals To Yesterday's Heroes, may have cut a little too close for comfort), and a trip to Muscle Shoals to record later that year - despite sessions held with Don Davis in Detroit and at American Sound in Memphis in 1968 (as well as his inclusion in the Soul Clan) somehow King was unable to claim his rightful place as one of Soul's true pioneers. 1969's prophetically titled Til I Can't Take It Anymore would be his last ATCO single to make the charts. "It was just a sign of the times, really..." King has been quoted as saying, "You have to accept that you are not going to stay on top forever."

As the story goes, Ahmet Ertegun heard him singing in some night club in Miami in the mid-seventies, and was so impressed that he re-signed him to Atlantic on the spot. His tremendous dance record, Supernatural Thing, would become his biggest hit since Stand By Me, going all the way to #1 R&B (#5 Pop) in early 1975. Incredibly, Ben E. King was back, scoring bigger hits in the 'disco era' than any of his fellow Soul Clan members had been able to. His follow-up, Do It In The Name of Love, cruised to #4, and led to his collaboration with the Average White Band, with whom he would chart twice in 1977. After one more chart appearance for the label in 1980, King moved on once more. "I think the saddest thing I've seen happen is the black music section of Atlantic disappear almost completely..." he said, "It shouldn't be like that, everybody should listen to the music, and if the music is good, put it out - whatever the hell it is."

The release of Rob Reiner's Stand By Me sent Ben E. King's original 1961 version of the song back into the top ten in 1986. It would actually hit #1 on the U.K. singles chart the following year, after it was used in an advert for Levi's. Not bad for a 25 year old recording! Stand By Me continues to live on, and was selected as number four out of the top 100 songs of the twentieth century by BMI. It's been covered by everyone from John Lennon to Maurice White (not to mention being sampled by Sean Kingston for the odious Beautiful Girls in 2007), and shows no signs of slowing down.

In 2005, a non-profit group named Playing For Change created this amazing global video based on Ben's song of songs:

How very cool is that?

Ben E. King, who will turn 72 in September, isn't slowing down either. He continues to perform, and is the head of his own Stand By Me Foundation, whose mission is to improve the quality of life for countless children who have been impacted by poverty, and further their education by providing much needed financial assistance. A veteran of over fifty years in the entertainment business, King's unique voice is truly one of the cornerstones of American Music.

No wonder Don Covay wanted him in the Soul Clan!

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Bobby Emmons - Blue Organ (Hi 2090)



Blue Organ

"First of all, he was a dear friend of mine for 56 years. We were very close... We started with the Bill Black Combo, we did those early years at Hi, and all the stuff at American, then came to Nashville. He had success forever, wherever he went. And we had it together. So it’s hard right now. I’m dealing with it - I’m trying... He was an amazing musician, but I can’t stress how decent a person he was as well. That came through in everything he did." - Reggie Young

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Charles Brown - Merry Christmas Baby (Kent 501)


Merry Christmas, Baby


Well, folks, it's that time of year again... time to check out yet another rendition of Charles Brown's Merry Christmas, Baby! As you may recall, we started talking about all of this a couple of years ago because it seemed that the only version of this song you ever heard on those 'streaming services' was the latter-day 1994 Bullseye Charles Brown's Cool Christmas Blues album track, which certainly seems a shame.

Brown recorded what many consider to be the definitive version for King Records in Cincinnati in August of 1968, shortly after Syd Nathan died. By October, King had been taken over by Don Pierce and Hal Neely, who apparently chose not to renew Brown's contract. Upon returning home to Los Angeles (where he had cut the original Johnny Moore's Three Blazers version over twenty years before), Charles was ushered into the studio by Jules Bihari to cut this bluesy rendition we have here today in time for Christmas - any guesses as to who the guitarist might be? Arthur Adams perhaps?

Both records would hit the streets at the same time, but the King version has overshadowed the Kent one, despite the Biharis ambitious annual re-release program...

Merry Christmas, Everybody!

Monday, September 15, 2014

Tony Owens - I Know You Don't Love Me No More (Soulin' 148)


I Know You Don't Love Me No More

As we were saying over on The B Side, Cosimo Matassa's studio on Governor Nicholls Street in the French Quarter continued to play a pivotal role in the development of the New Orleans Sound as the sixties progressed. Home to both Allen Toussaint and Wardell Quezerque, the sheer quantity of music they (and countless others) cut there just boggles the mind. In 1964, Cosimo started a company named Dover Records that helped local and regional labels with mastering, pressing and national distribution of their records. At last count, there were over forty labels we know of that were under the Dover umbrella. As the 'third wave' of New Orleans' popularity in the charts began to take off in 1966 and 1967, Dover was positioned to cash in and finally bring some well-deserved dollars back home where they belonged.

Only it didn't happen.

The unprecedented success of Robert Parker's Barefootin' had stretched Dover's resources (and credit with out-of-town pressing plants and distributors) to the limit. Once Aaron Neville's Tell It Like It Is went positively viral in early 1967, Matassa placed himself seriously in debt to try and keep up with demand. As the creditors (and later the IRS) came knocking on the door, Dover began to unravel in 1968, taking most of those small local labels along with it. Although this might not say much about Cosimo's business acumen, it shows just how great New Orleans music continued to be.

This powerhouse of a record we have here was apparently released in the midst of the Dover collapse and promptly disappeared. It's existence had remained unknown for over 45 years until Sir Shambling dug it out of his vaults literally the day before Cosimo left us. Not helped by the fact that Isaac Bolden had re-released Soulin' 148 (as Confessin' A Feeling, which was later picked up by Atlantic), nobody even knew there had been an earlier incarnation of it until now. Tony is just cranking it out on here, and I can't say enough about how much I love this record...

The fact that, at this late date, the scope and breadth of Cosimo Matassa's work in the studio continues to be discovered says it all...
He was a true legend!