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!

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Bobby Womack - How I Miss You Baby (Minit 32081)

How I Miss You Baby

When Reggie Young came back home to Memphis in 1959, after having backed up Johnny Horton out on the Louisiana Hayride, Elvis' erstwhile bass player Bill Black snapped him up as the cornerstone of the new instrumental combo he was forming.

Within a few months The Combo had broken things wide open with the groundbreaking Smokie, Part 2. This bulldog of a record would shoot straight to the top of Billboard's R&B chart, and stay there for a full month, as would the follow-up White Silver Sands. The fact that this all-white band from Memphis could just own the R&B chart for eight weeks in early 1960 is simply amazing, and set the stage for much of what was to follow.

Reggie would spend those two months (and many more) in the Army, and so Black recruited a series of guitar players to fill in for him during his absence. As you can see in this great photo from the cover of a January, 1960 Cashbox, one of those guitarists was Chips Moman. We asked Chips a couple of years ago if he actually was a member of the group... "Hell, everybody was in Bill Black's Combo!" he said. Named Billboard's 'Number One Instrumental Group' three years in a row, creating and refining what would come to be known as The Sound of Memphis.

Meanwhile, across the big pond, there was another group that was paying attention. Much to their credit, when they asked The Beatles who they wanted as an opening act on their first American tour in 1964, they asked for Bill Black's Combo right off the bat. Black himself was in declining health, and so it was up to Reggie to put together a version of The Combo to take out on the road. With a young George Harrison just soaking it all in (both on this tour and a subsequent tour of England in 1965), it's hard to overstate the influence Young's 'untouchable' guitar had on the future of Rock & Roll.

Once they came in off the road, The Combo (which would include Bobby Emmons, Tommy Cogbill and Mike Leech at one time or another) stayed close to home, evolving into the 'house band' at Hi Records. Instrumental chart hits by Ace Cannon and Willie Mitchell were in actuality cut by that same core group of musicians, and took that 'Bill Black (who would die of a brain tumor in 1965) Sound' to the next level. Howard Grimes told me that when he heard 20-75 on a Memphis jukebox in 1964, he knew that someday he wanted to be in a band like that...

As Hi began to move away from being strictly an instrumental label, it was this Reggie Young led rhythm section that played on elemental Soul records by folks like Don Bryant, Norman West, George Jackson and the great O.V. Wright. Once Al Jackson, Jr. left Willie Mitchell's road band for good, he went through five drummers before he hired Howard Grimes. It was a dream come true when Willie invited Howard to work on the session for Eight Men, Four Women in 1967.

Mitchell also brought along a 16 year old guitar player he had taken under his wing, a kid named Teenie Hodges. Just like George Harrison before him, Hodges was in awe of Reggie, and considered him his mentor. He told me a few years ago that he loved Reggie so much that he named his first born son after him... When Young moved on later that year, the baton at Hi was passed to Teenie who would take it and go on to create his own unique style. Reggie's influence on him, and his role in the evolution of Willie Mitchell's Hi Sound, is a part of the story that's often overlooked.

When Chips Moman decided to finally get serious and put together a studio band at American in 1967, there was no doubt in his mind about who it was he wanted. He had already been working with Tommy Cogbill on sessions for Atlantic at Fame, and was able to lure what was left of 'The Combo' from South Lauderdale over to Thomas Street by offering them a better deal (which was none too difficult, seeing as how they were being paid next to nothing). With the addition of Sam Phillips' regulars Gene Chrisman and Bobby Wood, The American Group was born.

In 2012, when we were lucky enough to get to hang out with Reggie Young for the first time, John Broven asked him "Who was the greatest influence on your own guitar playing?" I think he expected him to say somebody like Chet Atkins or Les Paul... "Bobby Womack," Reggie answered without hesitation... When Womack showed up at American with Wilson Pickett in July of 1967, it ushered in one of the most soulful and creative periods in Memphis music history. With Womack's 'upside down and backward' left handed style of playing, he and Reggie were like a 'mirror-image', and challenged each other to ever greater heights.

Soul was definitely in the house and, in addition to Bobby's collaborations with Darryl Carter on great songs like this one we have here today (taken from his superb Moman produced My Prescription LP), the interplay of their two guitars can be heard on great records by former 'Gospel Highway' colleagues who cut there like Roscoe Robinson, LeRoy Crume and L.C. Cooke, as well as those by a host of other Atlantic and Sound Stage 7 artists. By the time Womack moved on in 1968, he had left his mark. "Just about everything that I play has something to do with Bobby Womack," Reggie said when Bobby passed away last month, "He was a large influence on me."

When I reposted that piece about Bobby last month, I received a comment that read; "...great info, but no mention of the fact that all of 'Communication' and most of 'Understanding' was cut at Muscle Shoals Sound with guitar work by the unsung Tippy Armstrong..." SO, please allow me set the record straight here (thanks, Mark). All I can say is that there was no mention of that fact in the liner notes to the Stateside 'twofer' CD I bought those albums on ten years ago. I will, however, underscore the fact that Womack snagged his first Number One hit by returning to American (and compatriot Darryl Carter) in 1972, and including Woman's Gotta Have It on 'Understanding'.

Now, don't get me wrong, I love me some Muscle Shoals, you know I do... but I just feel like, now that the movie is all over Netflix and everything, there's a big part of the Southern Soul story that remains untold. Roben Jones interviewed 'The Swampers' for her great book The Memphis Boys, and here's what they had to say:

"We were in awe of the rhythm section at American," said Jimmy Johnson... "Man per man, it was just invincible." "We all looked up to the guys at American," said Jimmy's colleague David Hood, "Those guys seemed so accomplished; they played so well." "We were trying to be what the American rhythm section was... We looked up to 'em as guys who had a lot more experience than we did," commented Roger Hawkins. "The Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section, when it came to the American guys, we'd just stand back and say 'Gol-leee'," said Jimmy Johnson respectfully, "When they walked in, everybody got the best from their music. It was real cool to look at them and figure out how to do it..."

I don't think that is conveyed adequately in the film...

I don't know, maybe it's because American was demolished over twenty years ago (there's a Family Dollar store on the site where it once stood), while Fame has continued to operate, same as it ever was, and Muscle Shoals Sound is undergoing extensive renovations in the wake of the movie. In any event, the legend of the studio lives on.

There will be a Historical Marker placed on the corner of Chelsea and Thomas in North Memphis, where so much great music was recorded, on August 13th at 2pm. Chips, Reggie and the rest of 'the Boys' are scheduled to attend. I'm happy to report that my cohort John Broven and I will also be on hand, as well as at The Memphis Boys Salute at Graceland that evening in celebration of the 45th anniversary of Elvis' landmark sessions there.

I wouldn't miss it for the world...

Friday, May 30, 2014

Paul Kelly - Stealing In The Name Of The Lord (Happy Tiger 541)

Stealing In The Name Of The Lord

This is, quite simply, one of the greatest records of all-time. In addition to its ground-breaking subject matter (which certainly still rings true today), it just plain COOKS!

For some reason, in my mind, I always associated this song with Woodland Studios in Nashville, and thought that, very possibly, that was our hero Reggie Young on guitar. It sure sounds like, him doesn't it? Well, as fate would have it, I finally got the chance to ask Reggie point blank. "Not Me," he said. Hmmm... so what about the rest of my brilliant theory? Well, as it turns out, I was half-right.

If I had been paying attention, I might have noted that Sir Shambling, on his excellent Paul Kelly page, places this one squarely in Muscle Shoals. After asking around, no less an authority than David Hood confirmed that it was indeed recorded out there on the Jackson Highway, and listed the personnel as himself, Roger Hawkins, Clayton Ivey, Barry Beckett and Eddie Hinton.

Even though it is Duane Allman who gets all the press, Eddie Hinton was the go-to guitar player in Muscle Shoals for years. Although he (sadly) doesn't get mentioned in the otherwise excellent Muscle Shoals documentary (which is now streaming on Netflix!), Eddie was The Shoals' 'secret weapon', and his tasteful guitar chops show up in all kinds of unexpected places - like this one. How great is that churning Telecaster riff, man? With Clayton Ivey's piano taking things straight to Church, they just don't come much better than this, y'all.

So what about my Woodland Sound theory? Well, as it turns out, Buddy Killen had a secret weapon of his own, a young engineer who had come up listening to John R on WLAC, and knew how to forge 'that sound'. Ernie Winfrey had been the drummer for Nashville Frat-Rock band The Monarchs, and been around the block a couple of times before he got in on the ground floor at Woodland soon after they opened their doors in 1968. He cut his teeth, if you will, cutting great Gospel records for Shannon Williams on Creed and Nashboro, and straight ahead Blues and R&B on Excello (think Slim Harpo), A-Bet and Mankind.

Buddy Killen, who knew talent when he heard it, began using Winfrey exclusively around this time as the re-mix and overdub engineer on the Dial 45s he was recording on Joe Tex. After he had taken prodigal son Paul Kelly to Muscle Shoals in 1969 to cut the record they both knew could be a major hit, they brought it to Ernie at Woodland, who left no doubt that it would become one. Building Paul and his wife Juanita's 'mass-choir' background vocals, and adding percussion (like the 'slide-tom' he played himself), Winfrey helped Killen turn a good record into a great one. 'Stealing' spent three months on the charts in the Summer of 1970, rising as high as #14 R&B.

When Buddy built the fabled Soundshop Studio shortly after that, he took Ernie with him. His work with Killen's R&B roster continued, as he brought in old friends The Memphis Boys to record with folks like Annette Snell and King Floyd, in addition to continuing the work they had begun at American with Kelly and Joe Tex. As the reputation of the studio (and its topflight engineer) grew, clients lined up from far and wide to cut there.

Behind the board for everyone from Paul McCartney to Dolly Parton, to Millie Jackson, Grand Funk Railroad and everyone in between, Ernie Winfrey brought his unique touch to a massive body of work that cuts across all genres and, if this great 45 we have here is any indication, will live on forever. He is being honored this weekend with a well-deserved Audio Engineering Society Lifetime Achievement Award:

Sunday, June 1st - 2pm
Ford Theater
Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum
225 5th Ave South
Nashville, TN

The event is free and open to the public, and if I wasn't a thousand miles away, I'd be there! Congratulations Ernie, and Thank You!

A couple of years back, there was a report that Paul Kelly had left us. So far, I have been unable to confirm that. Paul, are you out there? Thanks... -red

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The Miracles - Way Over There (Tamla 54028)

Way Over There

This is one of those records that still knocks me out every time I hear it. A record that never dented the charts, yet somehow managed to change the world.

The Miracles had the first release on Berry Gordy's newly created Motown label in September of 1959. Through his brother-in-law Roquel 'Billy' Davis, Gordy was able to secure national distribution for the single by leasing it to Chess. Despite the Chicago label's considerable industry muscle, Chess 1734 barely made it into the Billboard Hot 100, crawling to #93 in early October.

It was Tamla 54027 however, which had been released that August, that Gordy believed was destined for greatness. Billy Davis thought so too and, although I'm not sure why it took so long, he picked it up for release on Anna 1111 (which would also be distributed nationally by Chess) in March of 1960. They were right, of course, and Barret Strong's Money (That's What I Want) shot straight to #2 R&B and stayed there for six weeks of its five month run on the charts. It is one of those songs that will live on forever.

It was on the strength of that monster hit that Gordy was finally recognized as the hit-making force he was to become, and he was able to secure national distribution for future releases on his own terms and on his own labels.

The next Tamla release, 54028, was by The Miracles and had been issued in September of 1959, presumably around the same time as 'Bad Girl'. The A Side, The Feeling Is So Fine, wasn't much of a song, and certainly wouldn't fly as the follow-up single to 'Money'. Gordy pulled the record back, and replaced the top side with a great new Gospel inflected song Smokey Robinson had written, Way Over There, in February of 1960. But Gordy still wasn't through. He would withdraw it again, re-cut the song with a little more drive, add some strings, and put it out in March as this third and final incarnation of Tamla 54028 that we have here today.

As I said, I just love it to death. The teenaged Smokey is singing his heart out on this one... dig that little tip of the hat to Sam Cooke there on the fade, man. Awesome. Despite Gordy's high hopes, I'm sure, that the record would become another There Goes My Baby, it didn't happen, and Tamla and The Miracles would have to wait until December to bust things wide open with Shop Around. "That's all very nice, Red," you might ask, "but what on earth does all of this have to do with Record Store Day?"

Well, I dug this one out from under the stacks and stacks of vintage vinyl on a recent foray with John Broven and Dickie Tapp to one of the coolest record stores on earth, Platter World in Garfield, New Jersey.

Beloved owner Charlie Rigolosi passed away at 87 years old in February. "I've had a long run," he said, "...before they close the casket they're gonna play two songs - Artie Shaw's version of 'Yesterdays' and 'Begin The Beguine'. Then they close the casket and that's the end of Charlie." An inveterate record collector since he spent most of his allowance on an Artie Shaw 78 in 1940, it's sad to think that he is no longer behind the counter, surrounded by the incredible mountain of vinyl he nurtured and loved. He will most certainly be missed.

Charlie's daughter Gina is committed to doing the right thing by her Dad's records, however, and she and her husband Joe open the shop up every weekend. This is not some cutesy place that stocks a few vanity pressings by the latest angst-ridden alternative band-du-jour. This is a real Record Store. A place where you can dig through thousands of mostly un-categorized LPs and 45s on your own vinyl voyage of discovery... a rare find indeed in this digital age. You owe it to yourself to check it out!

In Vinyl Veritas!

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Charles Brown - Merry Christmas Baby (Teem 1008)

Merry Christmas Baby

OK folks, as you may recall, last year we did an extensive examination of the many different versions of Charles Brown's Merry Christmas, Baby. At the time I said, "...Johnny couldn't resist cutting his own version of Merry Christmas, Baby, releasing it on his obscure Teem subsidiary. I've never actually seen a copy." Well, since then I was able to score us this very VG- one on eBay (thanks, Eli!), and I figured you'd like to hear it...

Although there's no Cosimo Code on the record, we can date it as being released for Christmas 1963, which would coincide with the first Liberty release of the aforementioned Aladdin/Imperial version. Maybe Vincent thought he had a shot at the Southern juke box circuit, I don't know. In any event, it seemed odd that the publishing on the Teem 45 was now listed as Johnny's own Ace Publishing (a brazen claim even by Imbragulio standards), but now that I've heard it, I can see how he pulled it off. Song titles, as you know, cannot be copyrighted, only song lyrics - so Johnny had Brown write him a whole new version:

"Let's make Christmas merry, baby, make it last through New Year's Eve, I want to kiss and be near you until the old year leaves..."

I am right there with that!

After I wrote that whole thing up last Christmas, I found one more Charles Brown 45 that had somehow flown under the radar, Ace 775. I snagged that one for us on eBay as well and, as it turns out, it is cut from the same master as our current selection. Oddly, it is not listed in The R&B Indies, and the nearest Ace release number I can find is 674 which (according to The Code) was issued in 1966. Hmmm... I imagine Johnny Vincent pressed it up on his main imprint every Christmas, once Teem had ceased to exist. [John Broven has since postulated that the matrix number, 92772, refers to a date, as in 9/27/72. Sounds about right, I'd say!]

"I'm so happy to be near you, baby, on this lovely Christmas morn, well I know we all remember it's today that Christ was born."

Amen! Merry Christmas, Everybody!