Thursday, April 17, 2008

Tony Owens - I Got Soul (Soul Sound 145)

I Got Soul

When Grapevine released their wonderful overview of Tony Owens' work in April of 2005, it seemed that he was finally going to get some of the recognition he deserved as one of the most unsung heroes of Crescent City Soul. After Katrina hit that August, however, all bets were off, and the future of New Orleans music (indeed of the city itself) was up in the air. Nobody knew what was going to happen.

When I went down there myself in April of 2006, it was still, for the most part, a ghost town. Traffic lights didn't work, gas stations, stores and restaurants remained closed. Most of the population was still out there in exile, and unsure if they'd ever be able to return. The Ponderosa Stomp was held in Memphis... dark days, my friends. According to Jeff Hannusch's excellent article in The Soul Of New Orleans, Tony Owens operated his own 'mule & trap' in the French Quarter. I went down to Jackson Square and asked the other drivers if he was around. They told me that as far as they knew, Tony hadn't come home yet, and they weren't sure where he was...

Owens had sung with a vocal group called The Emeralds in junior high, and won some local voice competitions. He pushed to attend Walter Louis Cohen high school, as it was the most music oriented in the city, and put on a well-attended 'talent show' that showcased their students. It was at one of those that he met Isaac Bolden. Bolden loved his voice and, with backing from one of his father's business partners, started up his own label to record him when Tony was just eighteen. This amazing record we have here today was written, produced, 'arranged & conducted' by Isaac, and gives you an idea of the raw soul and ability these guys had. It's got this this whole big fat atmospheric thang goin' on that puts me in mind of the the stuff Toussaint was producing on Sansu around the same time. I love it. Although it made some local noise, that was about it, and Bolden's partner, Sam Whitfield, pulled out.

Undaunted, Bolden renamed his label Soulin', and kept on cutting great records on Owens. The B sides of his next two releases, Wishing, Waiting, Hoping and I Need, I Need Your Love were again local hits, but Bolden was having trouble breaking into the national market. Soulin' (like so many other small regional labels) was being distributed by Cosimo Matassa's Dover Records, and they were in trouble. Word is that Matassa didn't want to 'play the game', and wouldn't come across with as many free 'promo' copies as the other guys, a practice which had come to take the place of 'payola'. The dee-jays knew that if they pushed a record, the 500 or so copies they had would become worth something, and so, they would hype it. Cosimo didn't care. I've been told that when certain radio guys saw 'Distributed by Dover Records' on the label, they 'threw the record in the garbage'. A situation which I'm sure contributed to Matassa's enforced bankruptcy, and the seizure of his assets in 1968.

Bolden forged ahead and, after taking on Virgil Engeran as a partner, he released the great Confessin' A Feelin' in August of 1970. Tony's romantic vocals over Isaac's great big production made it a huge local hit, and it was all over the radio that summer. Larry Mckinley, the influential WYLD dee-jay who had been a partner in Minit Records way back in 1960, thought it had the potential to break nationally, and started making some calls.

One of the calls he made was to Henry Allen, who was heading up Atlantic's Cotillion subsidiary at the time. He liked the record, and put it out in early 1971. With the big company behind it, it spent a month on the R&B charts, breaking into the top 40. The B side of both singles, Got'a Get My Baby Back Home, just cranks and things were looking good for Tony. He went out on tour in support of the record, and was packing them in at his regular Bourbon Street gig every night.

For whatever reason, Cotillion passed on Tony's follow-up record, and when it was released on Soulin', it didn't do much. His next single didn't come out until 1973, on a local label named Listening Post. Needless to say, any momentum they might have had from the Cotillion hit had evaporated by then and, after WYLD changed it's format that year, any airplay they might have gotten dried up as well. Bolden was now recording at Sea-Saint, and the quality of the work he was doing convinced Marshall Sehorn to go to bat for him. He was able to place I Don't Want Nobody But My Baby with Buddha in 1975, but just as it was breaking big in some southern markets, the company went bankrupt. The Letter That Broke My Heart was leased to Island the following year, but it too failed to dent the charts.

By 1978, Sehorn had re-activated his Sansu label, and Bolden was put in charge of production. Disco-oriented records on both Tony (including a remake of Confessin' a Feeling) and Lee Bates (including covers of songs originally cut by Owens like Wishing, Waiting, Hoping and All That Matters) died on the vine. Tony got on with his life and he and Isaac went their separate ways at this point. Bolden would go on to produce records on local talent like Bates and Jean Knight on his own re-activated Soulin' and Soul Sound imprints well into the eighties.

Tony had begun writing his own material, and Charles Brimmer would cover one of his songs on Chelsea in the late seventies. In 1984, 'Tiger' Owens started up his own label, Melody World, and produced a record on himself that didn't sell, but kept his name out there in the public eye. In 1990, he brought in his friend the late, great Willie Tee as his arranger, and released one last single on the label (which featured yet another remake of Confessin' A Feeling on the flip). He still performed from time to time, and even opened his own club just across from Louis Armstrong Park in the Treme, but closed it down sometime in the late nineties...

Well, Tony's back.

Thanks in large part to the good ol' Mystic Knights of the Mau-Mau, Owens is now the featured vocalist with the Wardell Quezergue Rhythm & Blues Revue, and began singing with them at the French Quarter Fest last year. His positively killer performance at the Stomp last April just stopped everybody in their tracks. He was awesome, man.

So awesome that I went to see the revue the following night at Preservation Hall, where he was able to expand his set a little bit. I sat down with him for a couple of minutes after the show, and we talked for a while about his music. A warm and gracious guy, it's great to see him out there singing like this once more.

He'll be at the Ponderosa Stomp again this year, on April 29th. So will I. Can't wait!

Monday, April 07, 2008

O.V. Wright - Ace Of Spade (Back Beat 615)

Ace Of Spade


Norwegian O.V. Wright afficionado Tom Pelvis had this to say over on The B Side:

"...I have a question regarding his 'Ace of Spades'. I have a compilation CD called 'The soul of O.V. Wright' that features a shorter version of AOS than the version on the album 'A Nickel And A Nail And Ace Of Spades'. Was this shorter (and better) version the one that was released on single? (I also have another long version released on the album 'Treasured Moments')."

I figured the best way to try and answer that would be to check out the original vinyl. One of Wright's biggest hits, Ace Of Spade spent 13 weeks on the R&B charts in the fall of 1970, climbing as high as #11. According to the label, it was penned by 'D. Malone' which, as we all know, is the pseudonym Don Robey used after he paid off the actual writers and claimed the composer's (and publisher's) royalties all to himself. Just a fantastic song, I wonder who really wrote it?

Now, as far as Tom's question goes; There is no time given on the 45, but my rip of it here clocks in at 2:16. That makes it longer than both the 'album' version on the 'A Nickel And A Nail And Ace Of Spades' LP (which is 2:11) and the 'single' version included on 'Treasured Moments' (which is even shorter at 2:08). I don't have that 'Soul of O.V. Wright' compilation, nor do I have the scratch to buy the new Japanese P-Vine box set...

SO, I'm not sure if that answered your question, Tom, but like I've always said:

"In Vinyl Veritas"

By the way, we are still accepting donations over at The O.V. Wright Memorial Fund website. Don't miss your chance to become a part of the team.

Thank You Very Much.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Clifford Curry - She Shot A Hole In My Soul (Elf 90002)

She Shot A Hole In My Soul

...continued from The B Side.

Clifford Curry grew up in Knoxville, about two hours east of Music City. While still in high school, he joined a vocal group called The Echoes. Heading out to seek their fortune in 1955, they signed with Savoy Records up in Newark, New Jersey. The label renamed the group The Five Pennies, and a song Curry wrote for them, Mr. Moon, became a minor hit in early 1956. After one more single, he quit and headed back to Knoxville. Clifford formed another vocal group at this point, and christened them The Bingos. They signed with Nasco, a subsidiary of Nashboro/Excello, at this point, and the label changed their name yet again to The Hollyhocks. Their lone release died on the vine.

Moving him to their primary imprint, the label decided to record him as a a solo artist, calling him Sweet Clifford. Whether he was sweet or not, the Excello releases didn't do much, and Curry moved around a bit, taking work wherever he could get it, appearing as the lead vocalist with outfits like The Bubba Suggs Band, The Contenders, and The Fabulous Six for a variety of small labels. Gayden heard Sweet Clifford performing out on the fraternity circuit and, once again, brought him to the attention of Buzz Cason. Viewed as a perfect fit for the new label, Buzz signed him to Elf straightaway.

As the story goes, Mac Gayden's friend Chuck Neese heard a DeeJay on WVON mention that some song or other 'put a hole in his soul', and told Mac about it, planting the seed for this amazing record we have here today. I can't help but wonder if what really happened was that Neese heard them play the great Potato Salad Part One by Philadelphia Jock Georgie Woods (The Guy With The Goods), in which he admonishes his listeners to never eat chicken on Sunday, as it will 'put a hole in your soul...' [ed. note: Chuck Neese himself contacted us recently with this: "...actually the Nashville r&b station was WVOL & the song the DJ played was Aretha's cut on 'RESPECT' which he back announced with 'If you don't dig that you got a hole in your soul'. Mac & I were writing that AM & he played me a partial tune he'd started about a girl leaving her guy but Mac didn't know where to take the song so I revised the DJ's line to read; 'She Shot A Hole In My Soul' which Mac quickly worked into a complete story song." Thanks, Chuck!]

Be that as it may, Cason's production of this Gayden composition is simply untouchable, and is one of the hottest R&B records to emanate from Nashville in the 1960s, in my opinion. I'm lovin' Clifford's 'Help Me Somebody!' there, right before Mac kicks in with an early example of the 'slide-wah' style that he would later lend to records like J.J. Cale's Crazy Mama. Great Stuff, y'all! That's Gayden on the right in the picture up above, with Wade Conklin on bass and Buzz Cason on the tambourine there in the middle, backing up Curry at an outdoor gig in Nashville shortly after this record came out. It would make #45 R&B, and become a huge favorite on the 'beach music' scene down in the Carolinas, where Curry still makes a living off of it, appearing regularly at clubs throughout the region.

Seven more Clifford Curry releases on Elf failed to sell much, and although the label would produce some coveted deep soul records like Cry, Baby, Cry by Van & Titus (which you can go listen to over at Sir Shambling's place), by the end of the decade it was little more than an outlet for an occasional single by Cason or Bobby Russell themselves. After Russell hit big, with two of his compositions Honey and Little Green Apples bringing in the big bucks for Russell-Cason Music in 1968, he moved on, and both Rising Sons and Elf became history.

Mac Gayden, as we've seen, would go on to become one of John Richbourg's 'Music City Four', playing on those great Sound Stage 7 records we all love, and was in demand as a 'go-to' session guitarist on Music Row for years. He was also a founding member of both Barefoot Jerry and Area Code 615, the influential Nashville 'country-rock' bands.

Buzz Cason went on to open his own respected studio, The Creative Workshop, in 1970, and remains involved in all aspects of the Music City recording scene. His great book Living The Rock 'n Roll Dream: The Adventures of Buzz Cason is well worth checking out, and is where I got most of this information from in the first place.

Thanks, Buzz!